Friday, August 31, 2018

Poetry Friday: "The Journals of Jesus"

Greetings from insomnia land! If I had enough publishing opportunities to waste a title, that might be one I would use for a memoir.

 I did get 5 hours of sleep, but still, it's strange to wake up at 1 a.m. while much of the rest of the Eastern seaboard is either just going to bed or hasn't been asleep long.  It's strange to go to bed at 8, and even stranger to admit that I often struggle to stay awake until 8.

There are advantages to having an extended morning--that sounds so much more lovely than "insomnia" or "wrecked sleep schedule."  I've gotten some writing done!  I even wrote a poem.  I'd been fretting about my lack of poetry writing, even though I've written 2 poems in August.  I wrote a bit more of the short story I've been working on.  I saw that Rattle is asking for persona poems (go here to know more about that call for submissions), so I went through my unpublished poetry folder to find my persona poems.  I realized that I've written fewer of them than I thought, so I briefly played with the idea of transforming some past poems that I wrote in 3rd person to first.

While I wouldn't want to have this sleep schedule permanently, I'm happy for the occasional sleeplessness.

I'm realizing I haven't left myself much time for blogging, so let me post one of those persona poems.   I'm writing in the voice of an unknown follower:

The Journals of Jesus

Atheists will say that Jesus never wrote,
but they would be wrong.
I was there to keep the notebooks.

Jesus loved to write haiku.
He’d leave them scattered about Galilee.
Some lines found their way into the Gospels.
“You are the light of the world.”
“Who do you say that I am?”
Count the syllables.

Jesus kept a journal,
but the scraps of writing blew away.
He shrugged and talked about the wind
blowing where it wished, and his words
moving with the breath.

Jesus wanted to write a longer piece,
but you’d be disappointed
in what he wrote. You come to Jesus
for answers, while Christ
concentrates on questions.

I knew the human brain couldn’t comprehend
Christ’s writing, so I cast it into the sea.
Every so often, I catch a glimpse of the scraps,
moving with the tides, just below the surface.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Possessions and Echos

I am getting used to the echos that come from a house that has a lot of furniture gone.  We got rid of the dining room table about a month ago.  We had tried to sell it for years, and then we tried to give it away, and finally we donated it to a thrift store.  I was worried that it was so scarred that they might not take it, but they did.

While the first half of the Great Flooring Project was underway, we slept where the dining room table had been.  Now that the first half of the flooring is complete, we've moved the bed back to the back bedroom.  We're keeping the front bedroom empty for the furniture and the kitchen appliances that it will hold during the second half of the Great Flooring Project.

The other night, I packed up much of the china cabinet.  We have so much china--and now, no dining room table.  But we'll keep it for now, even though I prefer eating on our stoneware.  The stoneware can go in the dishwasher--of course, for many years of my adult life, we've not had a dishwasher, so I could have been using the "good china," since I'd be washing by hand anyway.  But I haven't.

I've been thinking about how we accumulate stuff and how we get rid of it.  Part of it comes with marriage.  I'd get rid of a chunk of our stuff, but my spouse wants to keep it.  He'd get rid of a different chunk, but I want to hang on a bit longer. 

Some of that stuff has been moved to the cottage.  I have a few boxes of childhood/teenage memorabilia that I'm not ready to get rid of yet.  I have several boxes of writing that I'm likely never going to need--and yet, it's hard for me to toss.  We'll keep the photo albums because digitizing them would take too long.  I've put them in plastic bins, all the better to weather the weather.

We're keeping a very long sofa.  My spouse loves it; I do not.  But that's O.K.  I tend to sit in my one favorite chair.  I still miss the favorite chairs of yesteryear.  We're hoping to find and buy some incliners in the shape of a wing chair.

For now, we will keep the books.  I've gotten rid of lots of them.  Will I really reread any of these books?  Perhaps.  I have a vision of a long retirement where I've outlived everyone and need my books and memorabilia for company. 

I think about what various religious traditions say about our accumulations.  I think about the emptiness and how much I'm liking it, even though I know that the emptiness comes because the cottage is stuffed with our stuff.  I'm thinking about how it is hard to find people who need our overflow stuff.  I'm thinking about the china we have, the stoneware set in the house, and a different stoneware set in the cottage--and now we have no table.

Zen Kristin wants to keep the emptiness.  Ancestor honoring Kristin wants to keep her grandmother's stuff.  Christian Kristin wants to share with the less fortunate.  Capitalist Kristin realizes she's been collecting the wrong things.

And so we limp on.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hurricane Katrina on the Ground and in Poetry

Seven years ago, New Orleans was being slammed by hurricane Katrina. I didn't watch it happen in real time, or even see much about it. I remember hearing a radio snippet for a brief time when the power blipped on and then blipped off again. The levees had been breached, but had not broken. We know how that was about to turn out.

No, we were dealing with this:

It's a downed ficus tree with my spouse and his chain saw in the foreground of the picture. The standing tree stretched across the whole back border of our fence. The downed tree took up our whole back yard.

The pictures are grainy, because they've been scanned and saved through many formats. What you can't see underneath the green at the lower right is a smushed shed.

The picture below gives a bit of a sense of perspective. Look to the left of the picture, and you'll see my spouse by the fence. You can see the twisted trunk of the tree rising in the center of the picture.

Some day, I'll scan the rest of the pictures. We've got a great picture of the tree on top of the shed, very Wizard of Oz.

Of course, we lost most everything in that shed. But it could have been much worse. The tree brushed the wall of our house as it gently fell over, after a day of soaking rain, but it didn't go through the roof or the windows. I'm still not sure what prevented that.

We spent a week cleaning up what we could, and then the insurance folks finally got in touch with us, and we used the insurance payment to have an arborist company finish the job. We never could have done the trunk grinding by ourselves.

If you want a book-length treatment of hurricane Katrina in poems, I recommend two wonderful books. Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler does amazing things, an astonishing collection of poems that deal with Hurricane Katrina. I love the way that Katrina comes to life. I love that a dog makes its way through these poems. I love the multitude of voices, so many inanimate things brought to life (a poem in the voice of the Superdome--what a cool idea!). I love the mix of formalist poetry with more free form verse and the influence of jazz and blues music. An amazing book.

In Colosseum, Katie Ford also does amazing things. She, too, writes poems of Hurricane Katrina. But she also looks back to the ancient world, with poems that ponder great civilizations buried under the sands of time. What is the nature of catastrophe? What can be saved? What will be lost?

I fear we'll be asking these questions more and more in the 21sr century.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Day Old Bread and Pastry Day

At my campus, we are always looking for ways to make life better for our students, and not just in academics and future jobs.  Many of our students have a variety of issues that make it difficult for them to complete their programs.  I can't solve all of them, but I'm always on the lookout for ways to help.

I know that Publix, our local, large grocery store chain, gives away bakery goods that are at their pull date.  Once, long ago, I did the bakery run for our church's food pantry.  I was amazed at the amount of bakery goods given to our food pantry.

A few weeks ago, I was in the Publix by my school to buy cookies for an event, and the bakery manager was shelving some products.  I asked if she had people picking up the day old baked goods every day, and she said once they had, but now, they had very little interest because they all went to the bigger Publix.  She told me the simple procedure to follow to be allowed to get the baked goods before they were thrown away.

I wrote the letter and had the campus director sign it.  I took it to the Publix, and I was told that I could show up any time either after the store closes at 11 or before it opens at 7.  Last Thursday, I showed up, but there was nothing set aside.  The manager suggested I call next time.

On Sunday, I called to see if they would have anything Monday morning.  The person on the other end of the phone said, "Oh sure."  I half expected to arrive to find nothing again.

I was wrong--two carts of food were set aside for me, enough to fill up the back of my Prius hatchback.  It all had a pull date of yesterday.  I set out a lot of it in our student break room:  lots of donuts, various types of bear claws, some rings with pecans, 6 kinds of muffins, 5 boxes of croissants, and a bag of bagels.  I put the loaves of bread in the freezer, with a sign that invited people to take a loaf, if that would be helpful.  I put aside some cookies for an event today.  I put other pastries in the freezer of the fridge in the other break room.

Most people were enthusiastic to arrive at school to find a variety of treats.  Some groaned about the weight they might gain.  But I know that some of our students have food and financial instability.  It's not the most nutritious food that we offered yesterday, but it's food.

I had thought I might go back again tomorrow, just to see if a Wednesday haul is different from Monday.  Did we have so many treats yesterday because the bakery manager planned for more sales on a week-end?  Is that what they throw away every day?  Surely not--it's a small Publix.

I think I'll just go once a week, unless I perceive that people would benefit from more bread.  I had hoped for more bread to give away, as it's more nutritious than pastries and it can last several days.

It's a shame that there's no shelter that needs the food.  It's a lot of food, and I know there's lots of hungry people out there.  There are days we won't be picking up the food.  There's enough to share.

Through the morning, as I threw away the packaging once the food was eaten, I reflected on the waste not only of the food that might be thrown away, but the packaging--so much packaging.  In my quest to feed a hungry campus, we filled up one big garbage bag with cardboard, plastic, and foil.

I can't solve these problems.  We live in a society where for most of us, it's cheaper and takes less time to buy baked goods at the grocery store, which means that we'll have a surplus of bakery items and the packaging that makes it possible to sell bakery items.  We live in a society where many people experience food scarcity, even as enormous amounts of edible food are discarded.  I cannot redistribute all that food by myself.

So I will do what I can do.  I will pick up a load or two of bakery items each week.  I will hope that it makes the campus a more cheerful place to be (which hopefully will help our retention numbers).  I will hope that some of the food gets to our students who genuinely need the calories.  I will hope that those of us who shouldn't eat those calories are able to resist them.  I will hope that the good outweighs the problems.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Sparkle of Neil Simon

Long ago, when I first started reading plays, I would have said Neil Simon was my favorite playwright.  Long ago, when I first started reading plays, I read them out loud.  His work sounded the best to my 12 year old ears.

What was a 12 year old doing reading plays out loud?  Somewhere in my 12th year, I decided I wanted to be an actress when I grew up.  I decided that I would practice delivering lines, even if I wasn't in a play.  I would check books of dramas out of the library, the place where I got most of my books, and I'd read my way through them.  I'd choose a character and read those lines.  If along the way I realized I'd chosen a minor character, I'd change.  Sometimes, I'd revisit a play and read the lines out loud of a different character.

Now that I'm older, I look back on my childhood and adolescence and wonder what my parents thought of me.  I was a weird kid.  I had no interest in dating, the way that other pre-teens might have.  No, I sat in my room and read plays out loud.

I can't tell you what my favorite Neil Simon play was.  In many ways, the more I read them, the more similar they seemed.  I remember some of them more than others, vaguely, and it's probably because I saw the movie version or TV version or the TV version made of the earlier TV version, such as The Odd Couple.

As a writer, he felt important to me too.  I admired his output, often one play a year during many years, and how much of it was quality on some level.  You might say, "Well, he was no Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams."  But comic writers rarely get the kind of respect as those writers who dissect the darker elements of society.

I haven't read one of his plays or seen one of his movies in decades.  I wonder how well they hold up. I imagine that the dialog would still sparkle consistently, play after play.  That's a skill I'd love to have, the ability to capture the way that people speak and to capture it in a timeless way.  Maybe it's time to return to Simon as a writer.  Maybe he has much to teach us.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sunday Retrospective

For those of you hoping I would write a post about the death of John McCain, I did--it's here on my theology blog.

Yesterday my computer kept freezing so I wasn't able to blog or to do much on the computer at all in the morning.  So today, let me take a look back on the week to capture some elements before they slip away:

--My Friday was the best kind of work day:  people came to me with problems that I could solve.  Hurrah.  It was the kind of day when I felt so effective that I said, "I should buy a lottery ticket.  Clearly large forces are working in my favor."

--But it's also been a frustrating week.  We're still in the middle of a fence installation which hasn't always been going well.  But by Friday, adjustments had been made, and while the fence isn't perfect, it's better than what we've had.  Even before Hurricane Irma finished off the fence, it was becoming increasingly clear that we'd need to replace the fence at some point--it kept losing metal spikes.

--Let me remember the good things in terms of the house:  we've gotten rid of the algae in the pool, we're sleeping in our bedroom again, and we've found a yard person we like (yes, we've finally admitted our defeat in controlling the yard).

--I think we've fixed the washer-dryer (it's an all-in-one).  It was refusing to go through all the cycles as a washer, but if the dryer was running, it would work.  I spent some time researching the issue, and decided we weren't likely to be able to fix it on our own.  We had repair folks out yesterday, and we've had a load of clothes successfully go through all the wash cycles--fingers crossed!

--In terms of writing life, I'll record small successes:  I got back to the short story that I've been working on sporadically for ages, and I wrote a poem.  Plus, I figured out the ending to the short story, and even better, how it will fit into the linked short story collection.  It will be second to last, because it will end by mentioning the school's closing.  Hurrah!

--Let me also record a compliment that my school campus got from the Corporate team:  we are light years ahead when it comes to doing social media--hurrah--our efforts are being noticed.  I've been doing some social media on behalf of my writing for years now, so it hasn't been difficult to do the same thing for my school.  And happily, now we have a social media person who does all the posting on a variety of platforms.  I just send her as much stuff as I can think of.

--Yes, overall, it's been a good week, even though I've felt a bit more tired than usual.  We've also had lots of good times with friends--I feel fortunate that we've all managed to stay in touch and gather together, even though we don't work in the same school any more.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Thinking about Hurricanes

I have hurricanes on the brain.  Part of the reason is Hurricane Lane, still on some sort of hard-to-predict path to Hawaii.  Part of the reason is that we're at important anniversary dates.  Yesterday in 2005, Hurricane Katrina formed.  Today in 1992, Hurricane Andrew smashed into Homestead.  We're approaching the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.

My writing time is short--but I am back to my writing space in the front bedroom.  Not much else is in the room but my desk.  There's an echoing quality in my typing.  I'm listening to NPR on headphones because the bed is just outside the open door--we're sleeping in the dining room for one more night.

I like the empty quality to this room--the way the floor is visible.  Part of me wants to give away everything that was once in this room so that we could keep it this empty--the guest room bed, the books, the shelves that held the books.  But that would be silly.  Wouldn't it?

I will refrain from writing about the fence repair.  I have hopes that even though the work crew thinks they're done, the fencing company will be here today to make things right:  the post that still needs concrete, the 1 3/4 inch gap in the front gate, the back gate with no way to lock it.

No, let me not think about hurricane repairs this morning.  Let me think about those in the path of Hurricane Lane.  Let me pray for the best for them.

And let me offer a poem. Paper Nautilus published my poem "What They Don't Tell You About Hurricanes," but I'm fairly sure that this title is not my original creation. I'm almost sure there's an essay with the same title in the wonderful book Writing Creative Nonfiction. The essay stays with me even now, the writer who bought his dream boat, only to see it destroyed by Hurricane Fran. I'd look it up, except that I don't own it.

So, here's the poem, all of it true, except for the reference to an industrial wasteland. I wouldn't have written it at all, except for the strange incident of weeping in the parking garage some 4 or 5 years after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. The industrial wasteland is actually a water treatment plant, but I changed it for some dramatic impact.

What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes

You expected the ache in your lazy
muscles, as you hauled debris
to the curb, day after day.

You expected your insurance
agent to treat
you like a lover spurned.

You expected to curse
your bad luck,
but then feel grateful
when you met someone suffering
an even more devastating loss.

You did not expect
that months, even years afterwards,
you would find yourself inexplicably
weeping in your car, parked
in a garage that overlooks
an industrial wasteland.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Thirty Years Ago: My Teaching Career Begins

Thirty years ago, more or less, I'd have been reporting for grad school orientation.  I'd have signed up for classes, the few classes that had open seats.  That's how I wound up taking the class on James Joyce, a literary figure I'd barely heard of.  It was such an inspiring class that I went on to write my MA thesis on him.

Actually, that's not true.  It would have been 31 years ago.  Thirty years ago I'd be about to teach my first English 101, English Composition class.  Yesterday I spent some time in Google land, trying to remember which day would have been the exact day.  But while the University of South Carolina has many old catalogs online, they haven't archived very far back, certainly not 30 years.

I had been in grad school for two semesters, so my school saw me as fully eligible to teach.  I'd had a required class that gave us the theory behind effective teaching of the first year Composition class.  I'd spent many years thinking about how I would teach, and finally the day came when I had a class of my own.

I was able to create my own syllabus with very little oversight.  I had three textbooks to choose from, but that was more for the convenience of the bookstore than about the department wanting to control the class.

I made copies of the syllabus on the ditto machine--ah, the smell of the purple ink and the dampness of the paper!  Those were the days when photocopying was almost cheap enough to make the ditto machine obsolete, but not quite yet.  Or maybe the department just wasn't ready to move ahead with the latest technology.

I came to class with my dittoed syllabi, which I handed out, and then I went to the podium, where I stayed for the next 50 minutes.  It was a great class, very welcoming with a good energy, but I kept that podium in a death grip.

I thought about that class yesterday, when I went to sub for a Speech class.  I no longer need to hold the podium in a death grip, and I'm able to teach a variety of subjects, for an hour, if not for a whole term.  Some classes still make me break into a sweat, but that's more about the temperature in the classroom, not about nerves.

I'm still teaching, but it's a very different world now.  I'm online only, which would not have been a remote possibility 30 years ago.  Distance education meant something very different, although we're still arguing about the basic principles of this kind of education:  do we lose something if we don't gather together in the same physical classroom?

I would argue that yes, we do lose something, but we also gain something too.  In our arguments about the best education, we often forget that just because we gather in a physical classroom, that doesn't mean we'll have a great class.  In fact, we might have a lackluster, uninspiring class--or worse, a class that leaves some feeling bullied or depleted. 

In one area, peer editing, I've seen much better results in my online classes than I ever did in my classes that met in a classroom.  Because we're online, people have time to read, to think/reflect, and to write a coherent response.  That almost never happened in peer editing groups in classrooms that I managed.  I had become so unhappy with peer editing results that I had left the practice behind in my onground teaching.  I'm happy to have had these online classes to show me that it is possible to have effective peer editing.

What will the next 30 years bring?  I'll still be teaching for part of that time.  I look forward to seeing
what develops!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Shifts in Light

Last night, I went to the public library to admit that I've finally given up hope of finding the lost library book.  A few weeks ago, I left it on a table in the church fellowship hall, while I went to the chancel.  I completely forgot about it until I was almost home.  I figured I'd pick it up the next week; after all, we have books from the 1970's that are still in the fellowship hall.  Nope--the book was gone and has remained gone.

I envision someone so desperate for Louise DeSalvo's The Art of Slow Writing that they took the book with them--for weeks, I've hoped that person would return the book to the library when they were done, as it's clearly a library book.  Alas, that never happened.

Happily, I can pay for the book and the $10 service charge.  I hope the reader who has the book treasures it.

As I came out of the library and walked across the parking lot that was crowded because of early voters, I noticed that the light has shifted.  It's that subtle shift of light that I often notice early in a seasonal shift.  My spouse claims that the weather has changed slightly, but I don't feel it yet.  Last night, the light seemed different, and it likely is.  The sun is not as high in the sky at 5:45 on a late August evening than it is as on a late June evening.

Later, as I digested the news of two guilty verdicts, Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, and Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, I thought that the light has shifted in other ways too.  It's too early to know in what way, but I know my history, and I know what presidents might do in the hopes that we ignore their legal woes.  It would be an interesting exercise, to go back to various airstrikes and see what else was happening at the time.  But I'll leave that to someone more conspiracy minded.

Last night I arrived home to see that part of the fence replacement has been completed--hurrah!  Eleven months and three weeks ago, we returned to our hurricane damaged property to find that our fence was severely damaged; we've now spent much of a year having to wrestle the back gate open.  We got quotes on a new fence and made our decision.  In April, we mailed a check to the fence company, and we've spent months waiting.  We needed a site survey during what happened to be one of the rainiest Mays on record.  We needed a permit--that only took two months.  We've been waiting on the construction of the new gate. 

As with many home repairs, we've had so many months of non-progress, and then suddenly--wham!--any progress seems like a quantum leap.  Hopefully today they'll return to finish the job.  Hopefully, the final inspection happens soon after.  Hopefully, there are no problems.

This morning, I returned to writing something beyond blog posts.  I wrote another few pages on a short story that I have neglected since early June.  I had to neglect the voice of my inner critic who shouted, "Who do you think you are?  You're no Flannery O'Connor.  Why can't you write something like 'A Good Man is Hard to Find'?  That story has amazing foreshadowing.  You can't do anything nearly as skillful."

Happily, I just ignored that inner critic and forged ahead. 

Yesterday, my independent study student and I discussed that Flannery O'Connor story.  We meet in my office once a week to discuss literature as the Vet Tech faculty in the office next to mine are discussing issues with students, issues with their pets, and other stuff.  I wonder if they hear us.  If so, yesterday's discussion of O'Connor's story must have seemed particularly lurid.

I miss having these conversations about literature--and they're not the same with just one student.  They're delightful in a different way, but it's a much more limited discussion.

I need to get back to poetry writing too.  It's been a dry August, but I did write one new poem.  Hopefully there will be more in September.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Discernment by Way of Job Titles

My pastor forwarded this message to me:

Hi Pr. Keith,
I continue to be impressed by what your congregation does in terms of worship and art/s.  I’m wondering if one of your folk would be willing to set up the chapel space at the Assembly in 2019, and specifically include some sort of interactive prayer station?  I can probably find ways to cover the cost of supplies.  I don’t know who you send as voting members to the assembly, but if one of those people would be willing to set up and oversee some (or at least one) prayer/art stations in the chapel space, that would be phenomenal.  And maybe we could find a way to incorporate the created art into closing worship?
Lots of time to finalize details, but wanted to send out the question/idea while it was on my mind.
Michelle Collins, ELCA Deacon
Director of Discipleship and Communications
Florida-Bahamas Synod


That message alone would have made me very happy. But my pastor's reply made me even happier:

Dear Sr. Michelle, 
It is so kind of you !
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is our arts guru - let me check with her and we can go from there. 
Ever in Christ 


Happily, I have been in my new job long enough that I have vacation time--and so, I can go to Synod Assembly in 2019. I'm happy that our efforts are being noticed and that we're being asked to bring these experiences to a wider group.

I'm really happy that my pastor called me the arts guru--it's a job title that I love.  I'm also intrigued by the title of the writer of the e-mail:  Director of Discipleship and Communications.

But what makes me happiest of all is that I'm in a church that is willing to experiment with all sorts of uses of various art forms and creativity: from using creative expression in worship (sometimes for decoration, sometimes for deepening the experience, sometimes for expanding the worship elements, sometimes for transforming the act of worship), to using experiences to bring us closer to each other and God, and using creativity as a way to interpret the Bible and as a way to explore what God might be saying to us.

Monday, August 20, 2018

An Illuminated Prayer for the Start of the School Year

If your county's children haven't yet reported to school, they will soon. They will learn to stand in neat lines:

They will have reading to do. Will they have stacks of books to read--or is all reading done on electronic devices now?

They might have new art forms to learn:

Perhaps there will be time to play outside:

But the desk will rule the schedule:

May teachers remember the precious lives they hold in their hands:

May students be able to make sense of it all and to see the illumination lying underneath:

May baskets of angels protect us all:

(pictures are from Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, SC)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

How the Landscape Changes

This week-end, we have taken a brief break from our home repairs to focus on getting ready for classes that start on Monday.  My class took less time--I teach online, and much of the curriculum is imported into the course shell.  I have a lot of inputting of dates to do, but I don't have to create course items the way my spouse does.

I started preparing for materials for a specific course I would be teaching, the first college course, almost exactly 30 years ago today.  I had spent years thinking about how I would teach a college level English class, and now I would have the opportunity:  I was excited and thrilled and scared.

Now I am just as happy to be managing the curriculum as it is imported--how the landscape of my teaching life has changed.  First Teaching Year Kristin would have been frustrated.  Of course, it helps Thirty Years Later Kristin that the curriculum is of good quality.  Why invent my own when I have good materials right here and ready.

Our flooring crew will be gone for a few weeks which gives us time to get everything moved back to the half of the house that has new floors.  I hesitate, of course--those floors are so lovely, the walls freshly painted, the emptiness so alluring.

Some of the stuff that needs to be moved is big, like the fridge.  Will those big items go through a bedroom door?  I am so very tired of thinking about these things.

The South Florida world seems divided into distinct populations:  those of us who had no hurricane damage, those of us still working on hurricane recovery, and those who are done with hurricane recovery.  Parts of Broward county were untouched by Hurricane Irma.  My neighborhood, on the other hand, has an unusual number of houses for sale, and an unusual number of blue-tarped roofs, waiting for repair.

This morning, I am thinking of events outside of our control that change the landscape.  Last year was Hurricane Irma.  This summer, it might be the closing of the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale.  Always, there's a back drop of the developers scouting new sites.  Who will live in these new condo developments?  As we continue racing towards our warming future, I expect that sea level rise may come to shape our landscape in ways that we can't even anticipate yet, long before the final transformation that will involve a different coastline.

This morning, I'm thinking about all the coastlines of our lives that will change, that are changing.  Should we try to be more observant?  Should we try to shape the changes?  Or should we let them swirl around us and carry us on their way?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Smart Phones and Friends

This has been a week of many things:  new paint for the walls and ceilings in the two bedrooms with the floors done, a lunch and learn, various meetings (some with yummy goodies, some not), finding out that no other group is picking up Publix bakery items that are at their pull date, friends from church who invited us to their house for a home-cooked meal in the midst of our home reconstruction, arranging for a yard care service, waiting for the fence company, and making travel arrangements.

I began the week by making hotel decisions for the 2019 AWP convention in Portland and at the end of the week, I had bought airline tickets to go to Asheville for the retreat to plan the Create in Me retreat in September.

I used to travel back and forth to South Carolina to see my grandmother, and it wasn't uncommon to find cheaper airline tickets to Europe than to regional southern airports.  This week, I found round trip tickets on Allegiant direct to Asheville for $159.00.  Of course, I had to add some expenses:  I decided that I wanted to choose my seats, and paid $19 each way for an exit row seat (it would have been $12 a seat for the economy seat), and $18 each way for a carry-on bag.  It still seems like a heck of a deal.

The retreat to plan the retreat is a short time away, usually less than 24 hours, over part of a week-end.  I used to drive, staying with friends along the way.  Some years it's been easier to get away than other years.  One year I tried to participate by Skype, but neither end had the right equipment, so I was frustrated.  Last year, I hadn't accumulated much vacation time in my new job, so I decided to try Skype again, but that ended up being the week-end of hurricane Irma. 

Being able to take a direct flight instead of driving 12 hours makes this feel more do-able.

Pastor Mary, one of the camp directors, told me that she had marked my flight details on her calendar so that she could pick me up from the airport--that makes me feel so nurtured and cared for.  I wrote back, "Thanks for the offer of picking me up on Friday--I'll happily take you up on it. Sunday's departure is very early--I'm willing to call a cab or figure out some alternative. I don't have a phone smart enough to Uber."

She wrote back a response that contains my favorite sentence of the week or perhaps the month/year:  "Sunday's not too early- and the airport is so close. You don't need a smart phone when you have kind friends."

You don't need a smart phone when you have kind friends--so much wisdom contained in that sentence!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Who Teaches Us to Sing These Days?

I don't have anything new to say about the music of Aretha Franklin that others haven't already said, and usually in a much better way than I would have done.  Her music always seemed to be on the radio when I was a child in the 70's.  I loved "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" of course.  Once I would have said that was my favorite song, but as the tributes have rolled across the airwaves, I've realized how many Aretha Franklin songs might be in the running for favorite.

As I've listened to stories about her life, stories that always start with her singing in the church, I've wondered how people learn to sing these days if they don't go to church.  There's singing along with music in the car, of course, but that's not real training.  And I do realize that plenty of people don't get that training in the church choir either.

I know lots of horror stories of how singing in the church choir can turn one off of singing forever.  But I know far more people who got basic musical training in the church.  I'm guessing that the opportunity to get that training exists less and less in public schools these days.  The church fills in the gaps, as it always has done.

It would be interesting to look at the history of all sorts of music, especially popular music, to see how many of those artists come to us out of a church tradition, even if they've moved away from that church tradition.  I suspect it's more than we might think.

In a hundred years, as we look back, will people even know how to sing anymore?  As we have more and more technology that can change the way we sound, who will bother to learn?

When I learned some ukulele basics a few summers ago, I was startled to realize how little music theory I know.  I can't take a song written in one key and transpose it to another, the way a true musician can. It's a skill that fewer and fewer people have.

This week-end, I'll go to church and rejoice in the opportunity to sing together.  I'll say a prayer of thanks to church choirs which have nurtured such a range of talent.  I'll also take comfort in the music of Aretha Franklin, which I expect to hear swirling around me.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Inner Life of the Disney Princess and Other Inspirations

Let me record a few poem ideas before they slip away.  In ordinary time, I'd jot these ideas down on scraps of paper--now I have no paper near by, no pens, no light to see by.  And even if I did, those scraps of paper might be lost in these days of renovation.

Of course, even in ordinary time, those scraps get lost.  I came across a sticky note with an idea for a poem, which I recognized from World Labyrinth Day, but I couldn't remember what I thought would make a good poem.  I went back to blog posts and Facebook conversations from that day, but the poem inspiration hasn't come back.

So, some inspirations:

--This morning, I write on a laptop with my sleeping spouse in the bed behind me.  The kitchen is just a few steps away.  I thought of all the reasons why people move their bedrooms, all the ways our sleeping patterns change during our lifetimes.  I thought of all the people in the D.C. area who live in townhomes, who have to move the bed to the living room area as one partner ages and can't manage the stairs.  I think of us, sleeping in the dining room during floor restoration.  I am thinking of bohemian apartments I have known/seen, apartments carved out of once-grand houses.

--This summer, as I've watched Facebook posts that are pictures of children posing with Disney princesses at theme parks.  I've thought of writing about the inner life of the Disney princess, especially the people who show up to inhabit the costumes at the theme park.  Or maybe it would be more interesting to explore the woman who wishes she was at a park working as a Disney princess, but instead she has a boring job at a desk or a library.

--The other night these lines drifted through my head:  Once I saw the world as full of opportunities / now I see the trip hazards.

On to other aspects of writing life.  Yesterday I got an acceptance from a journal that hasn't accepted my work before, TAB.  And even better, they took not one, but two poems.

As I always do when work is accepted, I went through my submission log; happily those poems aren't under consideration at too many other journals.  As I made my way through the log, I thought about how long they've been looking for a home.  I thought about long ago, when I read a poet who said that after 10 rejections, she assumes the poem still needs work and does a revision.  But I know that the odds of acceptance are cheap--there are lots of poems out there, circulating, looking for a home.

Yesterday's acceptance is a good reminder that progress can be made in a writing life, even if one has only scraps of time.  In past years, in days of paper submissions and postage, I'd have already created packets of poems ready to be mailed at the first moment that literary journals opened for submissions in September.  These days, I try to remember to send out several submissions a week, which during busy weeks, turns into only several submissions a month--which is still better than nothing.

Some journals have just opened for submissions again as of August 15--let me remember to make a few submissions this week and next!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Summer's End

Today our public school students go back to school.  The summer has zoomed by.  When I think about this summer, I may see it as a lost summer.  I didn't swim much.  I didn't get away to my sister's sailboat.  All the books I thought I might read still sit on my books to read shelf. 

But we have made a lot of progress on the home repairs that needed to be done.  I knew it would take a lot of time and energy--and mental space, in terms of planning and organizing.  There's a reason why I procrastinated.  It is good to get the work done, and it has taken much of the summer.

Maybe I will remember this as the summer of the watermelon tubs.  At least once a week, I've gone to Doris' Italian Market, where they have huge tubs of watermelon for $4.99.  I thought it was a sale early in the summer, but it's been the price all summer.

Yes, I could buy a whole watermelon for five dollars--but then I'd have to cut it up.  The watermelon in the tubs has been consistently delicious, unlike the cantaloupe that I bought on sale at Publix.

I'm always looking for ways to get more fruits and veggies into my diet, and this has been a sure-fire way.

It's strange how the cycles of the school year don't really apply to me anymore.  My job is year round, and my school is on a quarter system, so there's never a whole season off.  But much like church seasons, which got soaked into my circadian rhythms very early, the school year cycle is the same.  I still feel the urge to buy some new school supplies each year.  I know that it will be months before our weather changes to anything that would require a sweater--but I want to change out my closets nonetheless.

As school buses begin their trundle through the day, let us say a little prayer for everyone who returns to school today.  Let's pray for students and teachers--but also for the non-teacher staff members who do their best to keep everything running smoothly.  Let's pray for the rest of us--may we be careful drivers as we approach buses and schools.  Let's pray for what used to be so common we didn't even think of it:  may we have a school year free of gun violence. 

And while we're at it, let's pray for the larger world, which is in such need of the kind of inspired visions that the best education encourages.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

AWP 2019: Portland Here I Come

In the past few weeks, when I haven't been thinking about home repairs, I've been thinking about the 2019 AWP conference.  Could I really get myself to Portland?  Could I be gone for part of the week before the Spring quarter start?  Is this conference really worth the effort?

I decided that it is worth the effort.  When it comes to deciding the best time to be away from work, the time when I'm least likely to be needed, the only time that's clear is the week between Christmas and New Year's Day; in short, there's no great time to be away, so it's important to make that time happen when possible.  And it's important to model good behavior:  taking time for professional development.  And for now, there's still travel money.

So, last week, I went ahead and registered for the conference.  Then I researched hotels.  I learned from various comments on Facebook friends' feeds that there's really no conference hotel that's close to the convention center, the way there was in Tampa.  And yesterday, when the availability of conference hotels was released to those of us who aren't presenting, I didn't see anything that jumped out at me.

I made reservations at the Embassy Suites, the one that's at 319 SW Pine Street in Portland, Oregon. In Tampa, I was so impressed with their breakfast buffet and evening happy hour (free alcohol! free snacks)--and no hotel is really close to the Convention Center. This one is 7/10 of a mile away--but the Marriot was almost a full mile away. I decided I'd walk a bit further, to be able to have free food in the morning. Plus the location is much better--right by Voodoo Donut and Powell's Bookstore.

The good thing about this hotel reservation--another reason I chose this hotel, instead of the others listed on the AWP site--is that I can cancel or change the reservation without penalty 2 days before the check in date. I decided to go ahead and hold the hotel room instead of waiting until I was absolutely sure about the arrival day.

I became a rewards member so that I could get free wi-fi at the hotel.  And then I called to see if my March stay could count for the points.  I was still in the 6 month window--hurrah!  I have no idea if I'll ever accumulate enough points to be worth anything.

Now to see if I can make magic happen when it comes to airline travel.  How I hate airline travel.  And I'll need to travel with luggage.  Ugh.

I find myself feeling both excited and scared at the thought of this trip.  It will be good to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thirty Years Married

Today we celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary--30 years! It feels like just a blip.

Thirty years ago, we'd have been in Greenwood, South Carolina. I'd have slept in the house that used to be a parsonage where my grandfather served a congregation for many years. Thirty years ago in that house, my grandmother ironed my wedding dress. Below you'll see my grandmother, with my aunt Joyce helping.

Yes, I had a long, white dress. We got married in the same church in Greenwood, South Carolina where my parents had gotten married in 1962, the same church where my grandfather had been the pastor. We had the ceremony at 11:00 in the morning, so that our out of town guests with long travels home would have plenty of time.  We tried to keep the ceremony and the reception relatively simple. For example, we chose daisies for our bouquet. Our reception included sandwiches, so that our out-of-town guests wouldn't have to buy lunch on their way out of town. We had the best wedding cake I've ever had.

In many ways, we're still that same couple: we try to keep life simple, while at the same time, keeping a commitment to hospitality. We are hyper-aware of our blessings, and the fact that much of the world will never taste the extravagance of a wedding cake. But we don't deprive ourselves--we stop to admire the daisies.

Here you see a picture of us on this day in 1988, and the two of us at our 25th anniversary dinner:

Here's my final thought for an anniversary morning. I'd expand the thought to include not just our spouses but also our friends and colleagues and family members.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hurricane Recovery Report: First Half of Flooring Almost Done

I don't have great pictures that show the fake wood flooring that was in the front two bedrooms when we moved into the house.  I don't have pictures of the thresholds between rooms that were uneven and caused me to curse every time I vacuumed.  I don't have pictures of where it had begun to peel.

But here's a picture that will give you an idea:

We had the flooring guys rip it all up, and to our great delight, the subflooring looked to be in good shape.

We chose a red oak in a 6 inch plank to match the flooring in the other half of the house.  Here it is before it was stained.

And here's how it looks after the first coat of sealer:

The pictures don't do it justice.  You can't see the golden glow.  I can hardly wait to see how the whole house looks with these floors.

And here are some pictures of how we've been living.  It's not as bad as it looks.  I want to think it looks like a bohemian apartment in New York or Paris, but it probably just looks messy.  I'll be glad when it's all done.

Our flooring guy has to finish a job in Miami so he won't be back until the first week of September.  We'll use that time to paint walls and ceiling--and move the furniture into the two finished bedrooms.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Taking Stock of Successes

It's not unusual at work for me to have a day where I marvel at what my professional life has brought to me.  Some days, the marveling is along the lines of feeling lucky.  Other days, I mutter, "Grad school did not prepare me for this."  Yesterday was a work day that brought many joys.

Because Fridays are usually quiet, and because a friend was in the area at a different school getting ready for the new term, I was able to meet her for coffee.  It was great to catch up.

Later in the afternoon, the Director of Admissions and I went to a local ice cream shop to hammer out a deal for our ice cream social that the Davie-Cooper City Chamber of Commerce is holding to raise money for education scholarships (our school is a member of several Chambers, including this one).  We tasted spoonful after spoonful of homemade ice cream so that we could narrow down our selection to 6 flavors.

I know, I know, it's a tough gig.

I finished the day by composing an e-mail in response to a request that I send a list of all the charitable/benevolence activities that our campus has done in the past year.  I was amazed at the length of the list. 

When I'm creating a food drive or when I hear about students administering in a health screening or going to a wildlife rescue center to assist, I'm happy.  When I see the complete list, I'm thrilled--especially because I often wonder if our campus is doing enough to give back to the community.  It's certainly plenty, of course, to do a good job educating students and giving them a chance at a better future--but we have resources to share beyond that.

As in many areas of life, it's good to take stock occasionally and to realize that we're doing more than we may think.

I finished the day by coming home to our lovely new floors, now stained to a golden color, shiny with the polyurethane protection.  After a supply run, we finished the evening by sitting on our front porch, watching the rain as the day ended--a satisfying end to a satisfying day.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Canvases for Creativity

In later years, when I wonder why I accomplished so little creatively this summer, let me remember the other creative projects--specifically, the house.

Yesterday I wrote an e-mail to a friend.  We both live in the same county, but it's harder and harder to carve out time to see each other.  She and her spouse share a car, and they're both working, and my job requires more and more hours.  So we e-mail each other, as if we lived hours away.

As I made a list of all we've been doing in terms of the Great Housing Project, I thought, I have been creative, but it's seldom been my writing in the past two months.  We spent a chunk of time yesterday contemplating wood stain colors.  Over the week-end, we spent a chunk of time thinking about Corian countertop colors and ordering some samples--when they arrived yesterday, we spent time last night moving them around and staring at them.

Soon, this phase of the Great Housing Project will come to a close, and we'll spend days moving the furniture again--but at the end of that moving, I'll be back to having a writing space where I can have the lights on in the morning.  I didn't realize how much parts of my writing and revising process requires the lights be on.   I still draft my poems on paper first.  I revise my fiction by looking at the rough draft on a page and making handwritten notes to be typed in later.

This week-end, while I'm still drafting in the dark, let me return to a short story that I'm writing.  My past week of blogging has showed me that I can write this kind of draft without the lights on.  I have a few weeks before the pace of my online classes picks up again.  I'd really like to get something new written.

During these past weeks of upheaval on the home front, I've really been grateful for creative time at church.  A few weeks ago, we painted canvases to prep them.  It was so satisfying to blend different shades of green together.

I am now surrounded by walls and a ceiling that need paint, but that won't be the same kind of thrill.  I don't think I'm brave enough to experiment with the canvas of a house as I am when it comes to my sketchbook or a canvas. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018


Living in the reconstruction has begun to wear on me.  At first, it was fun, like camping in the house, only with electricity and indoor plumbing.  Now our campsite is feeling cramped and dirty.

We moved into this house 5 years ago, with many of the repair projects not yet done.  Our kitchen was supposed to be temporary.  People asked me how I could live without a dishwasher or an automatic ice maker, but I've spent more of my adult life without those things than with them.  I used to joke, "Oh, I'm just pretending like we're stationed in some exotic outpost."

I know that our exotic outpost will get worse before it gets better--that's a bit wearing too.

Let me record some other aspects of recent life:

--Last night, I dreamed I was in the last months of pregnancy, and that I hadn't created a nursery or bought diapers or read What to Expect When You're Expecting.  It doesn't take a trained psychiatrist to analyze that dream!

--Yesterday a much younger colleague at work said, "He commented on my jacket and said something about Sergeant Pepper.  Who is Sergeant Pepper?"

I said, "You've never heard of that Beatles song?"  And then I sang a bit of it.  He said no.  I felt very old. 

Later in the day, we looked up the song, and the album cover was there with the YouTube recording.  I pointed out the similarities between his jacket with its mandarin collar and longer length and the jackets of the 4 Beatles.  I said, "Yours is less psychedelic though."

As we chatted, I had a memory of getting the 1978 album of the same name, with the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton covering the same songs.  I haven't thought about that album in a long time.

--As I've been reading Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions, I've wondered why these time periods of the planet aren't familiar to me yet.  Don't I spend a lot of time reading about these mass extinctions?  But when I stopped to think about it, I realized I really only return to this topic once a year at the most.

It has been interesting to read the book and realize how different the planet has been at different points.  It will be different again, and this time, humans are functioning as the triggering event.  We are the asteroid that hastened the end of the dinosaurs.  We are the giant trees that changed the atmosphere which led to the Permian extinction--but am I remembering the correct extinction?  I've already returned the book back to the library.

--As I listen to coverage of the California wildfires, it does feel like the end times.  But humans have often felt this way.  At my theology blog, I wrote a post about the atomic explosion that destroyed Nagasaki on this day.  I think of all the ways we've envisioned the apocalypse, from pale riders on pale horses to a mushroom cloud. What will the twenty-first century choose as its apocalyptic icon?

Now I need to take my walk--the day begins!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Brave New Teaching Worlds

Every so often, I'm struck by how much the world has changed since I started teaching--and I'm not talking about political change or generational change.  I'm really talking about technology, at least for today.

I'm teaching an independent study for a Business student who literally has run out of courses to take--so I offered to teach Introduction to Literature as an independent study.  Once a week, we meet in my office to discuss literature.  It's quite delightful, and in some ways, she's learning the material the way she would have had we been teacher and student in the days of Socrates.  Except that we have literature on paper.  Perhaps the more apt historical reference is the way that students learned (and probably still learn) in the hallowed halls of Oxford and Cambridge.

Yesterday she wasn't as prepared to talk about Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," so we switched gears.  We looked at poems, and we spent time with Gwendolyn Brooks.  When we read "We Real Cool," I had a memory of Gwendolyn Brooks reading the piece, and I thought, let me see if I can find this.

We meet in my office, which has 2 computer screens, so I found a clip which included Brooks discussing the poem and arranged the screens so we could both watch.  It was a still photo, which in a way was great because we could focus on her voice.  She reads the poem so differently than I do--which lead to a great discussion of how the words are arranged on the page.

Later, I thought about the miracle of the Internet.  Once, if I wanted my students to hear Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem, I'd have needed to plan ahead:  I'd need to find the recording, and I'd need to make arrangements to play the recording.  In fact, I stockpiled materials so that I wouldn't have to think ahead.  Yesterday it took about 30 seconds from the idea of Brooks reading the poem to her voice coming to us through the speakers.

I do understand all the ways that technology can detract from the learning experience:  the constant distractions, the materials that seem like good sources for a research paper but aren't, the technology failures which disrupt our teaching plans.  But what an astonishing world we've created in just a few decades.

I came home to complete my online classes, another miracle afforded by the technology that's emerged in the past three decades.  When I started teaching in the fall of 1988, I turned in my grades by using pen and paper (or pencils for a scantron sheet).  Last night, it was all electronic--which means I plan ahead, in case my internet connection isn't working that particular day.  I turned in grades for students whom I have never met in person, but we have been communicating by way of satellites and computer connectivity.  A brave new world indeed!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Gratitude Amidst the Detritus

The Great Flooring Project is coming along nicely--that said, we are far from done.  The hardwood flooring is completely installed in the two bedrooms that comprise half the house.  Next up, the sanding, staining, and sealing.

Then we move everything to the other half of the house and the flooring folks take care of the half that we're living in right now.

We are lucky in so many ways.  We have a cottage in the back where we have stored extra stuff that we won't need during this process:  the guest room bed, the cedar chest, the bookcases, the books, the kitchen stuff that we don't use each day.  We have money for the project--of course, we got the money because of hurricane damage, and we have to make these improvements because of the damage, and I do wonder if this price is worth it.  But I am aware of people who have damage who haven't gotten any financial help in dealing with the mess.

Each morning I listen to the news of terrible fires out west, and I'm aware of my luck.  Our natural disaster could have been so much worse--and of course, the fear is that the next natural disaster might be the one that does us in.  But we go forward through the fear.

We are living in a space that's smaller than many New York City apartments--or than the space that many assisted living facilities offer.   In some ways, it's plenty of space.  In other ways, it's still strange to have everything just steps away, to be living in one big room.

I've also been listening to the NPR series on housing in America.  It won't come as news to many people that we don't have enough housing in much of the country:  not for poor people, not for the middle class, and increasingly, even rich folks find the choices sparse.  We are lucky to have a house that needs our care.

But we are in the life of the house where I just marvel at the amount of care it needs right now:  the pool is a mess, the weeds are about to take over the whole yard, not just the river rock areas where it shouldn't have intruded in the first place, and the inside of the house is an incredible collection of dusts from all sorts of detritus.

Still, let me keep myself grounded by reminding myself that we are lucky to have this house that needs us so much.  Let me remind myself of how many people will never be lucky enough to have a house that needs them.  Let me take a minute to offer a prayer for us all.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hiroshima Anniversary

On this day in 1945, the world was about to change in dramatic ways that we likely still don't fully comprehend. On this day in 1945, the first nuclear bomb was used in war.

The effects of that bomb obliterated much of Hiroshima--and vaporized some of it. There were reports of people fused into pavement and glass--or just vanished, with a trace remaining at the pavement. The reports of the survivors who walked miles in search of help or water are grim. And many of those survivors would die of the effects of radiation in the coming years.

On this day, and on August 9, in 1945, nuclear weapons were used in war, and so far, we haven't used them in war again. We have been lucky that nuclear weapons are so complicated and pose such a health risk in terms of radiation that terrorists have stayed away from them.

Let us do all that we have in our power to do to make sure that these weapons are not used again.

We may not feel like we have much power to have any impact on nuclear treaties. Until recently, we might not have worried about it. Now, like many people, I find myself worrying about treaties that our president might decide to abandon.  Happily a treaty is something that a president can't decide to abandon on a whim once it's been ratified by Congress.

Today is a good day to meditate on power and how we seek to harness it and how we use power once we have it. Can we also celebrate the transfiguring possibility of power? After all, not all uses of power lead to destructive explosions. Some times, we find redemption.  Sometimes wars end.

On this anniversary of the Hiroshima blast, I am aware of the very temporary nature of our lives and our artifacts. One fine morning we can be eating breakfast one minute, or walking to work, and then, in one blast, in just a few seconds, we're fused into the concrete. It's a sobering thought, and a good one to have, to move our hearts to gratitude for a day where we're not facing a thermonuclear blast, where we don't have to deal with an electromagnetic pulse, where our loved ones are still here, on this side of the earth.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Blessing of the School Staff

Many churches now have some sort of back to school ritual; will your church be blessing backpacks? We will do that next week, the Sunday before classes start.

Today we will bless teachers, administrators, and staff. From what I can tell, many churches now have a backpack blessing service or part of a service. Some churches bless backpacks of supplies that they're donating to less fortunate children, while others bless the backpacks of children going back to school. Some bless the children, not the backpack.

Our church blesses children and backpacks, which I've always thought was great. We also bless teachers, usually on the Sunday before we bless the children, since teachers return to school first. Lately, we've been including staff--anyone who works with a school in any capacity is welcome to come to the altar for a blessing.

As an administrator, I go up for the blessing. At first, back when I was doing more teaching, I hesitated to go up with the other teachers, but my pastor was clear: all teachers, from pre-K to college. So, up I went, even though I thought I had the easier job.

Now I'm an administrator, and some weeks I feel I have the easier job. Other weeks, I feel like teachers have the easier job, college teachers at least.  As I've been teaching online, I also ponder which delivery system is easier on me, the teacher.  It depends.  The more I work in school settings, the more I realize that we all have a role to play, and we each have weeks where the brunt of the burden falls on us. 

I'm glad that our approach has expanded to include all teachers and all staff--anyone who will be working with students throughout the year.

So yes, I will be happy to be blessed today. Anoint my hands with oil! My hands metaphorically touch many other lives in a standard work week, both students and faculty and my fellow administrators.

Let me be blessed to be a blessing!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Dispatch from the Drywall Dust

My thoughts this morning may be more scattered than usual.  But I've often had that thought and gotten a good post of collected observations anyway.  Let me begin:

--This week at work, I saw the first application from a student with a birth date in this century.  I'm not sure why it felt so momentous to see that birth year of 2000.  But it did.  Hers was likely not the very first application with a 21st century birthdate to cross my desk, but it's the first time I took a look at that birth year and thought, whoa.

--In other workplace observations, yesterday I had a primal start moment when a student walked out of the bathroom with a live snake around her neck--which led me to words I never imagined uttering in my professional life:  "I don't mean to complain, but I have a problem with a student with a snake around her neck outside of the classroom."  Happily, the Vet Tech faculty agreed with me.  Our Vet Tech students often forget that not everyone has warm and fuzzy feelings about their pets that they bring to class--especially the pets that aren't warm and fuzzy.

--I think of this week as being a slow writing week, but I did write a brand new poem, along with some revisions, and I did send work out to journals.

--This is my first blog post as I sit in the dark with my sleeping spouse just a few feet away.  I'm working on the new laptop, not the old laptop with a big monitor plugged in.  This morning, the light doesn't seem to be keeping my spouse awake.  Hurrah!

--You may ask why I don't just switch to the new laptop permanently?  I can't get the Fitbit app to download onto this one.

--Our house is a complete and total mess.  I tried to wipe drywall dust off of the desk before I turned on the laptop so that the laptop wouldn't suck it in, but who knows how successful I was, dusting in the ambient light.  It seems a metaphor for something.

--My spouse had a chat with the drywall guy.  His family immigrated from Vietnam in 1971, and his wife's family is from Afghanistan.  Take a moment and let that sink in--how on earth did these two people manage to find each other?

(Update:  it wasn't the drywall guy.  It was a fellow adjunct)

--It's not a typical South Florida immigration story either.  Until recently, this area hasn't had as many immigrants from Asia or from the Middle East.

--Our house is a mess, but we're making progress on some longterm projects, so I'm not as aggravated as I might have been otherwise.  The Great Flooring Project is progressing nicely, and we're getting places in the walls and ceiling sealed up with new drywall, so that our living space and kitchen becomes one large space.  It gives us lots of options, especially since we got rid of the dining room table and chairs.

--The pool has been taking on a greenish hue.  I poured algaecide into it last night and let the pump run all night.  In poolcare, as in life, it's so hard to maintain a balance!

--I ended the day by sitting on the porch, listening to my spouse play the violin, and reading Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions.  I read the end of the book first, the chapter which discusses whether or not we really are in the middle or early days of the 6th great extinction.  It was not lost on me that I'm reading about sea level rise on the front porch where I've gone to escape the chaos of the home reconstruction after one of the more devastating hurricane seasons in recent memory.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Tasks in a Time of Flooring Change

I expected the Great Flooring Project to be disruptive in many ways, and it has been.  It's temporary, and we've controlled some of the parameters, so this aftermath of Hurricane Irma feels a bit less awful than the hurricane itself, but it may end up being just as disruptive.

Today I sit here waiting for contractors; Monday I took a day of PTO to get everything moved out of the half of the house that gets new flooring first.  We are now living in the half of the house that has no walls.

I didn't realize how much of my morning routine needs light until I was trying to attend to basic tasks while my spouse was trying to sleep just feet away.  I could make the coffee using just the ambient light.  I can find the clothes I need in the laundry basket by sense of touch.  I used to tidy up by washing dishes before I left in the morning, but that's impossible since most mornings, I'm leaving in the 6 a.m. darkness.

Writing is turning out to be more difficult.  My computer system (old laptop, large monitor) at the foot of the bed sends out enough light to disturb my spouse.  I can't easily write by hand in the dark.  I've still not resolved this issue.  Write regardless?  Decide that I can't really do writing tasks in the early morning hours the way that I used to do until this phase of the Great Flooring Project is over?

Happily, I think this state of affairs will change in a week or two.  I am aware that I might find myself in a new set of circumstances that won't make writing any easier.  I'll look for ways to insert bits of writing into different parts of my day.  Maybe I'll see some options I haven't seen before.

The good news is that the sub flooring looks to be in fairly good condition.  That suggests to me that the joists aren't going to rot out from under us.  My spouse would want me to point out that the joists are made of Dade County pine, a very tough wood.  It will likely not rot even when the seas rise up and submerge it--or I should say, it will be the last wood to rot on the bed of the new sea floor.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Great Flooring Project Begins

We expect the Great Flooring Project to start today.  We have moved everything out of the east part of the house, either to the cottage or to the west part of the house.  Our bed is where the dining room table used to be.  I am writing while my spouse is sleeping. 

I don't have a sense of the timeline of this project.  The next part is slightly more complicated because we're taking out our kitchen and doing a kitchen remodel.

The kitchen was supposed to be temporary.  We put it in so that the house would pass inspection/appraisal for sale, so we put in the bare minimum:  a cabinet and a long countertop for the sink and a tall pantry.  We had linoleum squares for the floor that we installed.  The former owner had a fridge and dishwasher.  It passed inspection and we got the appraisal needed, and we've been waiting for the right time to rip it out and do the remodel.

Now is that time.

Most of our whole house will have hardwood floors to match the floors that are in the living room and dining room.  The bathrooms and laundry room will keep the tile floors they have now.

These next few weeks will be an interesting experiment in minimalist living.  How little space do we really need?  It would be easier, perhaps, if my spouse and I kept the same sleeping schedule.  My writing here has made my spouse a bit restless.  I don't sleep well until he turns off the TV at night.

I'm not sure what happens with the next phase of the project, where we're down to 2 bedrooms separated by the part of the house that's under construction.  Will we do all of our living out of the master bedroom?

I will do my best to be patient.  It will be good to get this project finished.