Monday, December 31, 2018

Renovate: a 2018 Progress Report

My sister and I often choose a word for the year.  My word for 2018 was renovate.  Here's what I wrote in this blog post on Jan. 1:  "Some years I try to choose a word that will be a motto or mantra for the coming year. This year's word is either "Remodel" or "Renovation." Readers may remember that finishing the house renovations was my goal for 2017--and it was, but then, life (a huge accreditation project at work primarily) and Hurricane Irma, intervened."

The past year has been one of renovating, not just a remodel.  We've lived with a variety of inconveniences:  floors ripped up and then put back into shining shape, a kitchen ripped out and still not back yet.  Most of the furniture moved out of the main house and lots of thinking about what we want back in the house.  We had the hurricane damaged fence and rolling gate removed and gotten a new fence.  We've gotten a new HVAC system for the cottage.  We've had damaged walls fixed.

It's no wonder I've been tired much of the year.

Sometimes it feels like we're not making any progress, since we're still making our morning coffee in the bathroom, with most of the books and CDs packed away in boxes, on and on this list can go.  But we are making progress.

And it's been interesting to reflect on our possessions.  If I can do without my books for half a year, do I really need them?  If I haven't needed the variety of art supplies I've collected through the years, is it worth keeping them?

This process will be an ongoing one--indeed, in many ways, it's the life work that most of us do at some point.  I would argue that those of us who are most self-aware are always doing a version of this:  what is necessary?  what can be cast away?  what is impeding our progress?

Let me reflect on some other aspects of 2018.

It's the time of year when writers report how many submissions they made.  I did keep submitting poems and short stories to journals, but I didn't do as much with my book length manuscripts.

I did keep writing.  That feels significant.  I also engaged with my creative self in other ways, most notably in the online journaling class that began on Nov. 4 and lasted 7 weeks.

I continued to try to create community at my school where I work.  Some might question whether creating community is part of my job description, but it's the work that undergirds the other work, the keeping of records, the reporting of data, the strategizing about how to improve the chance of student success at all levels.

And I continued to stay engaged with my church, another site of community creating.  I was most pleased with our Pentecost project, where we engaged with the idea of Pentecost through a variety of art projects (see this postthis post, and this post).  I'm grateful to have a group of people willing to participate in these projects.

My sister and I have decided that our word for 2019 will be treasure.  I found this quote that spoke to me in Anne Lamott's Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace: "Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure."  I feel like so much of my life lately has been a rebuilding of life out of the ruins:  hurricane ruins, the closing of a variety of schools including the one I where I used to work, which makes me feel uneasy, and the many ways that midlife reminds us that big changes are underway.  I need this quote to remind me that it won't all result in mourning in the ruins.  There may be treasure in the ruins too.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

A Different Kind of To Do List

At some point in 2018, I had an Amazon Prime membership that was ending, and I had no plans to pay the price to renew it.  I went a bit crazy ordering things while I still had the free, expedited shipping.  That's how I purchased 2 sketchbooks that were too small.  Here they are beside the size sketchbook I thought I was ordering.

It would cost more to send them back than to keep them, so I kept them.  When it was time for our home remodel, I tossed them in a box.  In the past few weeks, I had an idea for what to do with them, but then I wasn't sure where they were.

So, yesterday I opened some of the boxes that seemed promising.  They weren't in the box marked Blank books or Sketchbooks.  But I was pleased to find my older spiritual sketchbook journaling so I pulled those out.

Finally in a box marked Religious, Bibles, Odds and Ends, I found them.  This morning, I made my first sketch of intentions for the week.

My plan is to make this kind of sketch every Sunday.  I plan to write several goals, most of them artistic, some of them spiritual, some of them pointing me to a different future which is as yet undisclosed.  I will only add the physical stuff (eat more veggies, exercise more, that type stuff)   I will keep the sketch on the windowsill above my writing desk, as the Advent wreath evolves into something else:

My hope is that I will live more intentionally as I write my goals for the week, as I look at them each morning.  I hope that a year from now, when I take the long view back, I'll realize how much more I accomplished by keeping this kind of log:

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Sketching the Human Form

I have continued with my practice of daily sketching, although I did take a break at Christmas.  My sketching delights me, even as I'm saying, "Hmm.  I have much to learn about perspective.  I have much to learn about how to draw a face in profile.  I need to think about how the arm comes into the shoulder."

During my online journaling class, I didn't do much with human shapes until relatively late in the class.  I made this drawing on Dec. 11, 5 weeks after the class started (the quote is from the Joyce Rupp Open the Door book that we made our way through):

I returned to the figure a few days later.  I dealt with my frustrations at drawing the face by sketching her from the back:

And then a few days later, the full face:

I had been thinking about the Gabriel Garcia Marquez story, "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings," and I wondered about adding wings to this figure; with the wings, I added some different colors to my marker bag:

Some members of the online journaling group continue to post, which is wonderful.  In response to a sketch inspired by a Mary Oliver quote, I spent some time reading some of Oliver's poetry.   I came across "The Journey."

I couldn't fit the whole end of the poem in my sketch.  Here's the part that spoke to me enough to move me to sketching:

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

And yesterday, I thought about drawing a backpack spilling open to reveal wings inside, along with a pen and a book and a dry pair of socks. But then I couldn't figure out how to draw an open backpack. And then I thought, a woman with a well-stocked backpack doesn't need a pair of wings: and voila, a sketch and a poem-like thing!

I've wondered about collecting some of these sketches, both ones I've done and ones I hope to do, into a collection.  I've thought of SARK, whose work is so inspiring and comforting--could I create a work that would be similar?

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Sounds of Washing

I sit here writing and listening to the new washing machine.  Are these sounds normal?  Should I be leaping up to make sure that all the plumbing is still in place?

The old washing machine arrived almost exactly 5 years ago.  We knew that my spouse's brother would be staying with us while relocating, and he would need a way to get his scrubs washed and dried.  We had a washer, but not a dryer.  We'd been planning to make a purchase and get rid of the washer and dryer that came with the house.  His arrival prompted us to make the plunge.

I do hope that this machine lasts longer, but I also know that five years seems to be the life of many a major appliance these days. 

I think of my grandmother who had a washing machine on a porch that had no room and no electric for a dryer.  She took the wet clothes to the clothesline at the back of the yard every week of her life until her heart attack prompted the major life change of moving to an assisted living facility.  Her heart attack happened as she was hanging clothes on the line.  She collapsed and stayed there, under the clothesline, under a hot August sun, until her neighbors checked on her late in the evening after she didn't answer the phone.

It was not the first time I realized that my family is made of pretty stern stuff.  On days when I feel disheartened or discouraged, I think about my ancestors, and I find the courage to keep going.

I also realize that almost everything I face is nothing compared to what they went through.  A washing machine that goes wonky?  Kitchen cabinets that are delayed?  I can hear the ancestors snorting at the thought that I have troubles.

It's been a good morning.  I've read some poetry; the new collections by Terrance Hayes and Kevin Young are amazing.  I wrote a poem that's nowhere close to what they've done, but writing is the winning of the battle.  I've got a load of sheets in the dryer.  I'm happy that yesterday gave us an appointment for the delivery of the cabinets:  Feb. 4--hurrah!

And now off to take care of my physical body--spin class calls!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Joy, both Effortless and Hard Won

Let me remember some other tidbits of joy before the season slips away.  Some of these are traditional tidbits, while others may be the last time I have this joy.

Oh, that sounds apocalyptic, doesn't it?  But we did get the kitchen cabinets ordered on Friday, Dec. 21--the shortest day of the year, and finally, we get the cabinets ordered.  Will we ever do a kitchen remodel again?  This ordering of cabinets may indeed be the last time we do this.

Of course, the universe may laugh at me and eventually reveal that there will be 5 kitchen remodels before I die at the ripe old age of 102 in the midst of yet another home remodel.

I hope I am vigorous enough in old age to bend over to wash big pots and pans in the kitchen bathtub and to walk around ripped up floors.

Will a poem emerge?  I've already written a short short story about a woman who decides to live with her unfinished kitchen because it's so much more spacious.

Our washer and dryer, displaced for 6 weeks in this remodel, gave up the ghost.  It had been having problems since summer:  it wouldn't complete a wash cycle unless the dryer was running--and then, the dryer stopped heating, except for every so often when it does heat. Happily, we had a appliance repair person who was honest and told us that the problem was an electrical issue, a design flaw that wasn't fixable.  He was a repair person, not a salesperson, so we got the one he recommended and from a store that could deliver this week. We're getting a Whirlpool machine this time, not the GE machine we had before.

During the week before Christmas, I did the final proofreading of part of a dissertation.  Why is this significant?  Because the Ph.D. candidate was once my student in a first year English class.  I've taught thousands of students during my decades of teaching, but I rarely keep track of them.  Most of my teaching was done before social media would make that possible.  It's a treat to know that some of my former students are doing well.  Statistically most of them are likely doing well.

I had some downtime on Christmas Eve between services, so I read all of Ada Limon's The Carrying.  It's not a traditional Christmas Eve choice, but it made some sense, as so many of the poems revolve around issues of incarnation--not the Divine type, but the type we all face, the questions of how to be in our very human bodies which may or may not do what we need them to do.

But what I will remember most fondly:  the hours we've spent on the porch, eating our meals, enjoying the twinkly lights and the candles on the Advent wreath.  One night my spouse and I sang "O Holy Night" together--our porch has great acoustics.  But I loved how our voices sounded that night.  I don't always hit every note, but that night, I did.

That's the beauty of holiday music for me--I've been singing it longer than any other type of music, so it's easier for me.  Most of the times when I sing, I'm concentrating intently, which is the only way I can hit the notes, and even then, it may not work.  I'm often so afraid of missing the notes that I doom myself to bad singing.  Holiday songs don't carry the same risk for me.

I feel lucky that so many of our holiday traditions are fairly effortless, just the way that singing holiday songs is effortless.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Low Key Christmas

We had a beautiful Christmas day--somewhat quiet, but after staying up very late for Christmas Eve services, a low key Christmas was what we needed.

On Saturday, I bought a fresh turkey.  I honestly can't tell the difference in taste between fresh and frozen.  Ours was organic--again, I can't tell a difference.  I bought it because it was on sale for $1.61 a pound, which seems like a good deal.  Plus, I get a chance to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner all over again.

We used supermarket challah for our communion bread on Christmas Eve, and I took some of the leftovers home with me.  Yesterday morning, I decided that it would make as good a basis for stuffing/dressing as any other bread.  So I spread it out on a tray to dry out a bit.

I also experimented with cranberry relish.  I had bought a bag of cranberries, and I had an apple that needed to be used.  Usually I'd make it with the food processor, but that's been packed away since summer.  So I put the cranberries and the cut up apple in a 9x13 pan along with some sugar and orange zes.  I baked it for an hour, stirring occasionally.  It was delicious.

We started the turkey on the grill and finished in the oven.  We ate a bit of turkey, carved the rest, and settled the bones into the stockpot for a long simmer.

We had family phone calls throughout the day, which was nice.  Some years, I feel sad that we're not all together.  This year, I'm grateful that my family members all seem to be in good health and happy spirits.

I've also enjoyed the Facebook posts of friends and family.  Some years, I'm not online at Christmas because we're traveling.  That component of our celebration made me smile too.

I'm trying not to feel fretful about what's ahead of us, especially as the stock market opens again today.  I'm going to keep my good Christmas spirits as we begin the shift into normal life.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Eve 2018: A Recap

When people have asked how we would spend our Christmas, my first thought is always:  in church.  I have no regrets about this fact.  Advent and Christmas have always been my favorite times in church and in the larger world, and I'm happy to hang out in church on Christmas Eve.

Yesterday I made this Facebook post:

"I need that Christmas message. No, not the baby in a manger message--I need the "It's a Wonderful Life" Christmas message, the one that tells us that one life, no matter how seemingly insiginificant, is so important, and that the trajectory of all the adjacent lives would have been much worse without that one light of a life, shining in the darkness. Wait, that's the baby in a manger message too!

It's 1938 in terms of geopolitics. We are in desperate need of that Christmas message, delivered by fierce prophets or angels that we hear on high or a Frank Capra film or Linus, telling the Peanuts gang about the true meaning of Christmas by reciting Luke."

It's interesting to me to return to these Christmas texts and images year after year as I reflect on what has the most meaning.  This year, the idea of a just ruler leapt out of the passages.  In the past, I've been uncomfortable with the idea of God as king.  This year, with incompetent and/or evil governments taking up so much room in the world, the idea of a God who restores a good pattern of order made me weep with fierce longing.

I have been attending this church for over 10 years, so it's been enough time that the children I once knew as babies are now reading the texts--and some of them are standing in the make-up and heels and Christmas finery, which is both joyous and sobering.  I found myself offering up prayers for the safety of all the adolescent girls at the service last night.  And then I broadened my prayer--we can all use safety as we navigate our way in the hostile world.

Here are some other highlights from the evening:

--We had a typo:  Mary aid him in a manger.  It should have been laid, but not every reader figured that out in time.  So there was one odd moment when I thought, wait, Mary ate him in a manger?  

--Our handchime choir, of which I am part, had a ringing success.  When we first began rehearsing two weeks ago, what we chimed bore no resemblance to "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice."  Last night, we got there!  And I didn't make any mistakes.  I usually get a bell mixed up at least once or miss my cue.  Last night, I was as close to perfect as I expect to be.

--My spouse and 2 musician friends sang "In the Deep Midwinter" before the start of the 11:00 service.  I knew that they had only just sung it together once, earlier at the 7:30 service.  And yet, they sounded like they had been rehearsing for weeks. 

--I love the various sensory details:  the candles and other forms of twinkly lights, the decorations, the music, and the stray whiff of pine needles here and there.

--But more than anything else, I love the central message:  God loves us so much that comes to be with us--and the larger message about the various ways that illumination breaks through into all our most resistant places.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Pre-Dawn Christmas Eve

Soon we shall see our hopes realized:

We have burned some of our Advent candles to nubs, but the season of Advent ends just in time:

The manger is empty, but not for long:

A Prayer in the Pre-Dawn of Christmas Eve:

Oh, God, we weep in our chains. So many things hold us captived in our devastations, the ruins of our cities. Fill our hearts with courage. Remind us of the promise of redemption. Come to ransom us from all the things which hold us in fear. Set us free.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Twinkly Lights and Spots of Joy

This morning, time is a bit short with our church having one service.  So let me record some parts of the past week that I don't want to lose.

--Wednesday morning, a student came to my office to ask if I had any old magazines.  She was making a vision board and needed images.  I was so pleased that she thought of me as a source of creative supplies.  On Wednesday, I only had 1 magazine in my office.  I said, "I wish I had known.  I have more at home."  She said, "I can come back tomorrow."  I brought every magazine I had, and she did return on Thursday.

--On Friday, I made this Facebook post:

Holiday approaches--time for the ritual washing of my mugs that I keep at the office. I confess to irregular washing of them--after all, I'm the only one who uses them, and I only drink water or unsweetened tea. As I scrubbed at them, I thought of a haiku-like creation:

Solstice cup washing
Tea stains dark as cypress swamps
Light comes back slowly

--On Thursday, in the shower, I found myself singing, "Mary did you know / that your baby girl / would some day walk on water"--a poem idea for later!

--Yesterday I wrote a poem about the Snow Queen who is having a midlife crisis, which begins with a yearning for tropical fruits and a snorkeling vacation and ends with thinking about where to retire in a time of climate change. I fret about sea level rise, but the Snow Queen worries about the melting of the most ancient ice.

--I wrote that poem because Jeannine Hall Gailey posted a broadside of her poem about the Snow Queen.  I am so grateful for these connections with poets and artists that our wired world has made possible.

--I went to the grocery store yesterday, much to my spouse's surprise.  He feels it's much too close to Christmas to venture into stores.  But we needed food.  Now we will have turkey for Christmas.  I love turkey, especially leftovers, and I don't get enough of it at Thanksgiving.

--I have picked up a variety of treats this week.  I got eggnog yesterday, a lower fat version.  I bought peppermint syrup at Starbucks on Friday.  The store didn't have the small containers for sale, but the store manager offered to sell me the larger bottle that the store uses.  She even included the pump.

--After my wonderful Starbucks experience, I wrote this e-mail to my family:

So here we are on the cusp of a government shutdown with General Mattis soon on his way out--but let us not focus on the scary parts of life.

. . .

And I also wanted to say that I thought of us all when I bought peppermint syrup at Starbucks today. I thought about the time in California, where Rob bought us all a special coffee drink. I thought of the many coffee dates we've all had together. I thought of the time when we'd never heard of Starbucks, when Dad brought some back from a west coast trip--and Mom eventually loved it so much that she bought stock in the company. I thought about all the times we've had Christmas blend at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I thought of Megan, pre-Jack, who used to take a day off to have a Starbucks drink while she got Christmas shopping done.

So, I also bought myself a peppermint mocha, along with a big bottle of peppermint syrup, and the Christmas Blend coffees by the pound that are on sale right now. I look forward to the days when we're drinking coffee together again!

I love all of you very much!!


--Yesterday I changed the batteries on the fairy lights that come attached to a cork that means they can light up old wine bottles.  Last night, we sat on the front porch surrounded by pretty lights.  I filled my markers with ink, sketched a bit, and enjoyed the season.

--I hope to continue enjoying the season as we move to Christmas and on to the new year.  May we all find some twinkly lights and spots of joy!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Genesis Blessings

When I think of Bible passages that move me to tears, it's usually the Psalms and the prophets.  I've never thought of the first chapter of Genesis as particularly moving--until yesterday.

I heard this story on NPR about the 1968 Apollo 8 mission and the broadcast of the reading of Genesis.  I was driving to work, and the beauty of this passage which contrasted to the social upheaval of 1968 and of our own time:  "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void. And darkness was upon the face of the deep."

The story also discussed this iconic photo:

I was born in 1965, so I don't remember a time before this photo.  I don't remember what it was like not to have this vision of our planet photographed from a distance.  I know that many have theorized that the environmental movements of the 70's were made more likely by this photo that reminded us of our blue and green planet floating above the inhospitable habitat of the moon.

Later, this photo was on my brain as I did my sketch for the day:

I thought of the benediction of the Apollo 8 astronauts, still so suitable for our current time:

"And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a merry Christmas - and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."

Friday, December 21, 2018

Life Lessons from Seven Weeks of Daily Sketching

We are coming to the end of my online journaling class.  What a great 7 weeks we've had together.  Let me take a minute to think about what I've learned.

--I've been doing some initial sketching with a very thin, black, felt tip pen before adding color.  I wouldn't have thought of doing that before this class.

--I also added black marks after my initial sketching.  That's been an interesting element too.

--I've experimented with the back of the page, but I tend not to do that because I don't want to mess up the front of the page.

--I tend to fall in love with my sketches, even if they're not what I envisioned.  I'm so happy to be playing with color.  It's not the painting of my younger years, but I like the portability of the sketching.

--I sketch more if I take my sketchbook and a selection of markers with me.  I still feel odd about sketching in the office, but I do feel refreshed after doing it.

--Although it's occasionally frustrating, I like having only 4 colors to use.  I'm still not great at blending them.

--We've worked our way through Joyce Rupp's Open the Door, which gives us a chapter a day for each day of six weeks.  Sketching has led to much deeper reading than I usually do.  I want to continue carrying a book, a sketchbook, and my smaller marker bag with me.

--Have I had earth shattering insights about the last half of my life?  No, not exactly.  But it's good to be doing some deep thinking about my life's direction.  This week, I had a discussion about vision boards, and I said that the visions that I create are not new to me.  I'm not so out of touch with my inner life that the vision boards offer surprises.  And yet, if I'm not intentional, it's easy to get out of touch.

--I've liked having a community where I can share my work.  It's motivated me to sketch each day so that I can have something to share.

--I had thought that I might learn some new techniques, and I did, but more important was the daily practice, which made me do more exploring of what the markers can do.

--Some of my images were abstract and some were somewhat representative.  I even started experimenting some with the human form, which I almost never do, because my humans come out looking so warped.  But I'm liking the woman who has been visiting my pages in the past few weeks:

In fact, I liked this figure so much that I drew her face a few days later:

--I started taking pictures as I moved through some of the process.  Once, I would have stopped a sketch at this point:

But then I decided to see what happened if I added color.   Unlike some mediums, if I liked the earlier image, I'd be out of luck.  But I liked the finished sketch just fine:

--I also discovered that there are Instagram filters that make some sketches look much better.  I haven't experimented with any filters.  I suspect that many people are using these types of filters in pictures and photos that they post on social media.  It's an important message for us all.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Music in the Ruins

This year, many of our Christmas CDs are still packed away in a box, so we've been listening to the radio more to get our soundscape.  I am struck by how many bad versions there are of a variety of holiday songs.

I'm also struck by how annoyed I am with some old favorites.  Yesterday on the way to Christmas lunch, "So this is Christmas" came on the radio.  I said, "I do not need John Lennon asking me what I've done in the past year."

And I'm struck by how sad some of these songs are:  all the songs with the theme of baby please come home.  And the older I get, the more I think of all the people who won't be coming home.

And yet, there are some musical surprises in this season.  In my high school Facebook group, one of my former classmates posted a recording of him singing "Mary Did You Know."  It's not a song I would have expected him to choose, based on his heavy metal preferences that are much more obvious.  It was beautiful.

As I was driving home yesterday, I listened to the Christmas radio station.  I saw the word Sarajevo on my radio display and heard the cello music and thought about holidays in the ruins.  I thought about a novel or a collection of short stories that revolved around post-apocalyptic holidays.  It could be a work that explored life after disaster and also served as an elegy for holiday celebrations of our current time.  In 20 years, when we're being ever more buffeted by climate change, how will our current mode of celebration be remembered?

This morning, I thought about all the ways I've explored this theme in my writing of poems.  Years ago, I was hearing about a Christmas Eve service being held at the ruins of the World Trade Center, and I created this poem:

Christmas Eve at Ground Zero

We are not the first to be incinerated,
our bones and blood blending into ash.
We are not the first to see the flash.
We are not the first to keep our Christmas
haunted by the ghosts of all we’ve lost.

We light the candles under a cold
sky. We long for good news.
We need that angelic message:
“Be Not Afraid!”

But we are so afraid,
afraid of the dark, afraid of the stranger.
We fear the sound of crickets,
the deep blue sky, the scarred skyline.
We fear occupying armies and upstart revolutionaries.

Across town, a woman strains
to give birth to something new.
A brave band of carolers sings
back the darkness. A young girl pokes
seeds into the construction site.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

No Crying in Baseball--Farewell Penny Marshall

Last night I got home in the early evening, and my spouse had already started a fire--how cozy!  I read a bit while my spouse came to a stopping place in his grading.  We ate lasagne left from a Sunday gathering at our friends' house.  We watched a bit of TV--mostly old reruns from the 90's.

It would have been great to see some reruns of Laverne and Shirley, given the news of the death of Penny Marshall.  I loved that show when it aired originally, but I'm not as crazy about it now.  Parts of the show don't age well--Lenny and Squiggy were always creepy to me, but more so now.

Maybe it would have been better to spend the evening watching the movies of Penny Marshall.  I did enjoy many of them, like Jumping Jack Flash and Big.  I never got around to watching A League of Their Own, but I was glad she made it.

What's more sobering is to think about how much time has gone by since she first burst on the scene in the mid 1970's.  In my mind, she was about 45 years old.  But she wasn't.

Many of my favorite artists are similarly old, but I'm aware of that.  Each year I hope that Margaret Atwood gets the Nobel prize for literature because time is running out for her.  She has the kind of vibrant older age that I hope to experience.

Penny Marshall reportedly didn't like to be labeled a feminist, but she did open doors for women.  Big was the first film directed by a woman to earn over 100 million dollars.  We could see that as the victory that it was.  We could also ask why we still have so few female directors.

But for today, let us be happy that we did have her.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Windowsill Altar for the Whole Year?

Each morning, I've been "lighting" the candles on my Advent wreath creation on my windowsill.  Here's my view from my writing desk this morning:

I've been surprised by how this ritual has come to drench my morning with meaning.  The lanterns to the right are ones I bought at Thanksgiving.  They remind me of that special week; my mom and sister have similar lanterns. 

The creation on the left is my Advent wreath.  I've been thinking of a way to keep this creation going throughout 2019.

I've thought about buying 52 of the little candles, one for each week.  But I do wonder if my window sill would feel cluttered as we got to September 2019 and beyond.

I thought about writing on the candles as we went along.  I love the idea of writing down my goals on the candles.  I even more love the idea of writing down the goals that I achieved, the successes, and the attempts, which are also successes.  I want to believe that being reminded would center me as I lit the candles.

But there's not much space to write on those candles.  Maybe I should have a separate book.  I thought about slips of paper that I could keep in the bowl, but I'd want to keep them, and I'd glue them in a book.

I bought some sketchbooks online that ended up being smaller than what I thought I was ordering.  Perhaps I could use those through the year as a journaling exercise where I sketch my hopes and dreams.  I'm thinking primarily of my creative life, but perhaps I'm thinking too small.    Perhaps it should be all my yearnings.

I feel like those yearnings don't change much as we move through the days and months and years.  Would I feel frustration in writing those down?

Perhaps we shall see.

Monday, December 17, 2018

New Nativity Scenes

We had a great interactive arts service yesterday.  We created nativity scenes after I read the Christmas passage from Luke.

I had set out a variety of supplies from the arts and crafts closet, along with magazines, and construction paper.  I invited people to use what was there or to go outside to see what they could find.  We ended up doing a variety of approaches.

One family worked together.  The mother and daughter went outside to find materials while the older son looked through magazines.  They ended up with an interesting creche:

I love the baby Jesus stuck on a flower pod for a manger.

I put together scenes from a magazine.

The angels are photos of dancers that I got from a photography magazine.

I put the clip of Mary and Jesus at the right side of the page over a photo of a hurricane Maria-wrecked landscape in Puerto Rico.

Another worshiping artist put together this collage:

I found it interesting, the ways we used modern images to revisit the story.  I want to believe that it helped us engage with a very familiar story in new ways.

And people who came into the fellowship hall later exclaimed their pleasure at the creations.

I think this idea could be useful not just in Christian ed--it makes me think about my secular classrooms in new ways.  Hmmmm.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Reflections at the Midpoint of a Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Wittgensteinian Wanderings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Miracles: The Hurricane (Irma) Recovery Update

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, I made this Facebook post:

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

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Sketching as Deep Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some sketches are more words than sketches:

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Keeping the Lanterns Lit

Here is my view from my desk this morning:

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

Metaphor Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 9, 2018

When You Travel for Hours, but Never Get Far from Home

I had thought I would be writing about seeing artist Judy Chicago in person at the Miami Beach Convention Center yesterday.  I knew it was Art Basel week-end, so we left several hours early, but in my head, I thought we'd get there and get parked and still have time for lunch before her 2:30 talk.

I got my first glimmering of the coming snafu when my friend was late to my house.  Still, it wasn't Art Basel traffic in our county, and I thought we should give it a try--after all, my friend had already spent an hour on this project, and I didn't want to cancel prematurely. 

We went on Highway 1, a more scenic, less stressful route.  My friend, who has lived in South Florida as long as I have, over 20 years, kept marveling, "I have never been here before."  We cut across to Miami Beach and sat in a long line of traffic waiting to go south to Art Basel.

I said, "You know, we could just forget this and head north and find some place interesting for lunch."  She didn't have to take any time to think about it.  She said, "That would be fine with me."  I cut into the northbound lane, and we made our way back north on A1A, a much more beautiful route than any other.

We are both fans of the T.V. show Check Please, where regular people choose their favorite restaurant and the 3 person team goes individually and reviews.  We were able to eat at The Tipsy Boar, which had been reviewed that very week.  And because it was after the regular lunch hour, it wasn't as noisy, and we could sit outside.

It was not the day I thought we would have, but it was a very fine day.  Because we were in the car, we had lots of uninterrupted time to talk--and it had been a very long time since we had that kind of time.  We had a great lunch.  And did I mention how wonderful it was to have time to talk?

When I felt stuck in South Carolina in the 90's, I would dream of where I would rather live.  I wanted culture.  I wanted some place to go every hour of the day if I felt like it.  I knew I wouldn't waste those opportunities.

Maybe in New York I would be able to go, go, go, but here where I have a job that requires much of me and a house that wants to consume every hour left, it's hard to make myself partake.  And so yesterday I felt a bit of guilt at abandoning an opportunity.  But it was a good call.  We wouldn't have been able to find a parking place that was close, and my friend is not able to walk as far as she once was.  Judging by the traffic, we might not have found a parking space at all, and that would have been very annoying to wait in that traffic only not to be able to see Judy Chicago at all.

We didn't get to hear Judy Chicago speak, but we still have several months to see her art; go here for details.  I plan to take some time during the holidays to make my way back to Miami for an art experience.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Saturday Snippets: Fetal Puppies and Other Vagaries

It's been a long week:  long hours at work, plus an uptick in work coming in from my online classes that I teach.  But let me capture some notes before I head to downtown Miami for Art Basel and a talk by Judy Chicago.

--"I have a uterus with puppies in it": you can either file this under comments one usually doesn't hear in the halls of academe as I did this week--or you could use it as a line of a poem--or you could create an interesting short story. And for those of you who are wondering, we have a Vet Tech dep't, and I overheard one of the faculty members discussing visual aids that she has to show students.

--I posted this haiku-esque creation on Facebook, but I want to keep it in a place where it will be easier to find:

Write me from the camps.
Be my Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Teach me how to live.

--I am still enjoying my online journaling class immensely.  It's interesting to see how our sketches are informing all of the future sketches--and also interesting to see how I have begun to recognize each person's individual style.

--Here's one of my favorite quotes from this week of the journaling class.  It didn't come from the book we're reading together, but I might not have noticed the Rumi quote if my classmates hadn't been quoting Rumi.  I found it in Anne Lamott's "Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace": "Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure."

--From the book, Joyce Rupp's Open the Door, here's the quote that I chose to sketch:

--All of my tabletop Christmas trees are on the floors.  It's not as desolate as it sounds.

--I keep thinking about where I'd have been 3 weeks ago:  on my way to Columbia, SC, to spend time with grad school friends before going on to Black Mountain to spend time with my mom, dad, and sister before going on to spend Thanksgiving with my larger family.  I wish it was 3 weeks ago so I could experience it all again.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Thursday Creativity Report: Much Sketching plus a Poem and an Altar

Although yesterday was a very long day, it was a great day in terms of creativity.  I began the day by making a sketch.   I took time to go to the back of the sketch I made when refilling my ink(wish I had thought to take a picture of the reverse page before I started sketching on it--drat!):

The other side of the page had blobs that reminded me of planets or electrons. As I sketched, the lyrics of an old song by the Police came into my head. When finished, I'm also seeing beads on a string.

Then I created my window sill Advent wreath, which I blogged about yesterday.  Before I left for school, I wrote a poem.

School felt hectic:  shopping for our Meet and Greet (a combination Open House, pre-Orientation, student festival event) and then the actual Meet and Greet.  I had to stay late to sub for a faculty member.  In a way, it was easy.  I was proctoring an open book, open note exam.  But in a way, it took forever, since it was clear to me that many of the students hadn't prepared (lots of consulting of the book's index).

I took advantage of the time to make two additional sketches.  The first one was pondering the book we're reading in my online journaling class:

The next one was more a simple artistic expression, although I'm seeing elements that keep emerging in my journaling work.

I've been experimenting with the little black marks that remind me of quilting seams.  I'm fascinated by how they punctuate the image and enhance it.  I love the meditative calm that comes to me when I'm creating the "seams."

I confess that I'm more exhausted than usual this morning.  I didn't leave campus until 9:15 last night, and I need to be at campus for a 9 a.m. class where I'm subbing for a different teacher.  But as I think about my creative day yesterday, my exhaustion turns into that good kind of tired.