Friday, July 31, 2020

The Frog Whisperer

This week may end up being one of our strangest weeks as homeowners. 

Wednesday we thought our cottage was on fire. I wrote about that in yesterday's post.  But the week wasn't done with us yet.  

Thursday morning, as I'm in the shower about to reach for my washcloth that's hanging over the shower rail, I realize that a frog is in the wash cloth, watching me. I'm not afraid of frogs, but I thought we had a chance of getting it outside. I called for my spouse to come help, and as he tried to remove the washcloth and the frog, the frog jumped away (happily, away from the shower). We couldn't find him in the house. Happily, we're not afraid of frogs, and he's not likely to get into our food, the way a rodent would.

This morning, I heard a giant thump, and I saw the frog in the living room.  It was dark, and I didn't have many lights on, so I couldn't get great pictures:

I tried to show him to the back door, but he was always a few jumps away from me.  Finally, he made his way to the bathroom:

I didn't think to close the door.  I was hoping he'd hop back out, and once again, I could try to show him to a door.

My spouse got up surprisingly early, and I told him that I had last seen the frog in the bathroom.  He said, "And you didn't shut the door?"  Nope.  

My spouse went into the bathroom.  The frog was still there, so he shut the door.  I expected to hear thumping and crashing, but instead, my spouse came out with his hands cupped.  I opened the back door, and my spouse took the frog into the back yard.  The frog immediately sounded much happier.

My spouse has wrangled many animals (mainly bugs and the occasional rodent) in our house, but never a frog.  Who knew he had these talents?

I am grateful that he got the frog outside.  I am grateful that these are the types of housing issues we have.  It could be much worse.

Now, back to monitoring the storm to our south.  Here's hoping our homeowner luck holds.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

When Your Cottage Doesn't Catch Fire

When you begin your morning thinking that your back yard cottage is on fire, the rest of the day seems easy.  I'll spoil the tension:  the cottage was not on fire.

Yesterday, I was almost ready to go to work when my spouse called me from the back yard.  His voice had the urgency that told me either something was wrong or there was an unusual animal in the back.  I hurried to the back of the house to see smoke coming from the roof of the cottage. 

I waited 20 seconds before I went inside and dialed 911.  The operator was calm, and I was calm-ish.  My voice quivered, but I was able to tell her what I saw and where I was and my phone number.  Then my spouse came in to tell me that it was a false alarm.  Smoke was coming out of everyone's plumbing stack.

The water company had told us they were doing a smoke test and that we might see smoke, but probably not.  I envisioned smoke the way I used to draw it out of a chimney, a slender thread.  I didn't expect to see gray smoke chugging out of the roof.

Even though I told the dispatcher that it was a false alarm, she sent the firetrucks anyway.  They were very kind.  They said, "Better that you call us and not have an emergency than to have an emergency and not get help."  The police officer who showed up later was also understanding.

I was pleased that I performed well under pressure.  I don't want to be one of those people who freezes and can't act--or worse, that falls apart in hysterics.  I was glad that I remembered my address.  But more than that, I have been trained since childhood to call 911 in an emergency.  Happily, I've never had to do that. 

Now in the past 6 weeks, I've had to make that call twice.  The first was for a student who was having chest pain and tightness and tingling in his left arm.  He was young and looked like he was in good shape, but the symptoms were close enough to heart attack symptoms that I decided it was better to call 911 than not.  He was fine, although there was some irregularity revealed by the tests that the paramedics used.  They wanted to take him to the ER, but he declined since he was sure he wasn't in danger of a heart attack.

As I said, the rest of the day felt easy yesterday.  At 1:00, I watched the new poet laureate of Virginia being sworn in.  Maybe these events have always been livestreamed and/or recorded, and I just didn't know it--but one of the benefits of this recent time is realizing how many of these events need to be livestreamed and recorded to reach a larger audience.  It was so inspiring to watch--it would have been inspiring regardless, but it was even more so because I know Luisa Igloria, the new Poet Laureate.

As I watched, I made this Facebook post:  "I am watching Luisa A. Igloria's acceptance speech--she's being sworn in as the Poet Laureate of Virginia. How cool that we can all watch, even if we can't travel to Virginia. And even more wonderful to know that she was chosen--it gives me great hope for the future, both the future of poetry and the future of the country. It wasn't long ago that a female would not have been chosen, an immigrant would not have been chosen, a non-white poet would not have been chosen. She's an amazing poet, and I'm so happy that she's been chosen!"

I ended the day by reading Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church, a history of various types of Orthodox Christianity.  It's more compelling than it sounds, although I confess I likely would not have picked it up if it wasn't required reading for my certificate program in spiritual direction.

Throughout the day, my equilibrium didn't slip.  I don't recommend a 911 call as a way to trigger gratitude at the beginning of every day, but maybe the idea that we're not calling 911 can trigger gratitude too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Pandemic Brain vs. Hurricane Brain

Because we don't have enough to worry about, I'm keeping my eye on a tropical system that's expected to plow into South Florida this week-end.  Will it just be a tropical disturbance?  Will it assemble itself enough to be a tropical storm or a hurricane?  Is there any chance it could be a strong hurricane?  A strong hurricane seems unlikely, but in this time of very warm oceans, it's not as impossible as it might once have been.

Ugh.  And I went grocery shopping yesterday and shopped with my pandemic brain (stock up and load the freezer so we don't have to shop again soon!) instead of my hurricane brain (only buy non-perishables).  Of course, if we lose a freezer of food, that's survivable.  

I've been beating myself up for making a rookie mistake, while also reminding myself that we're all rookies, having none of us gone through a global pandemic like this one before.

I came across an interesting term this morning:  holy resilience.  One of my pastor friends recorded a "Come to Jesus" meditation to remind us that these times are hard, but we can be resilient.  She mentioned a blog post that used the term "holy resilience"; I did a search and came across this post.  It's got lots of encouraging words, lots of good ideas, lots of Bible verses that address different aspects of what it takes to get through trying times.

I'll keep meditating on that phrase in the days to come.  

Today I plan to watch the swearing-in ceremony for Virginia's new poet laureate--Luisa A. Igloria.  It's always thrilling to me when a poet I know is selected for publication or an honor of any sort.  It reminds me that there can be rewards for persistence.  The deck is not stacked--you don't have to know someone to get noticed.

Of course, you do have to put in the work.  Luisa has been writing at least one poem a day for years now.  If you want to get a sense of her work, the Via Negative website is a great place to start.  My favorite book of hers is The Buddha Wonders if She Is Having a Mid-life Crisis, which you can buy here at the Phoenicia Press website.

And now, speaking of work, I need to get ready for work.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Preaching to the Chickens

Once a week or so, I leave work to do some errands.  So it was that I found myself in the car yesterday listening to the coverage of the coverage of the body of John Lewis arriving at the Capitol Rotunda and the service that followed.

I was listening in the car as I drove along, weeping so much that my shirt got damp. It was the good kind of tears, the kind that says I'm so grateful to live in a world shaped by these leaders. It was also the kind of cry that knows what's missing still.

I thought it was brilliant of Nancy Pelosi to play part of a commencement address that Lewis gave a few years ago.  It was wonderful to hear him tell us all to go out and make good trouble.

It was also good to have a minute of self-reflection.  When I was younger, I aspired to changing society the way that Lewis did.  He was much more relentless than I am proving to be.  I am sure that he had months or years where he, too, wondered if he was making a difference.  But I am also sure that he did more than I have done.

It's good to be reminded of the importance of trying to do good in the world, of trying to transform the world.  He told the story of asking his parents and grandparents why there were different facilities and services for whites and coloreds, and they shrugged and said, "It's just the way it's always been.  We just have to accept it."

But he didn't accept injustice.  As I listened to people reflecting on the ways that Civil Rights workers did that work, I thought about the simple act of people ignoring the law and sitting at lunch counters and riding buses.  Who would have predicted that those actions could so totally transform society before it was all over?  

And of course, it's not all over, is it?  Lewis also reminded us that the fight for a better world is never over.  In that commencement address, he talks of the evil people who want to take away the hard won rights and how we must never allow that to happen.

I thought of John Lewis as a child, preaching to the chickens on his family's farm.  I thought of what that experience taught him, and how even until the end of his life, he was preaching in all sorts of settings, to all sorts of creatures.

May we all have the courage to follow.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Medieval Mind in a Physical Body in a Time of Pandemic

I know I'm not the only one who has gained weight in this time of pandemic.  My weight was on an upward swing even before the pandemic.

When it became clear that it would be some time before I'd be going back to spin class or any other gym-based approach, I decided to try to mix some more high intensity activity with my walking.  It's hard for me to walk fast enough to get my heart rate up.  So I jog a bit.

Last week, I jogged 2.5 miles without stopping.  Hurrah!

But instead of focusing on this accomplishment, I can't seem to snap myself out of this mindset of body loathing.  But if we're honest, I haven't ever been far away from this mindset--only when I'm at my thinnest, which is usually when I'm at my most athletic, can I seem to rest a bit easier.  And I'm never fully at home in my body.  I joke that I have a medieval mindset, in that I feel like I'm a soul trapped in a physical cage--I joke, but it's not far from the truth.

Recently, I was reading an article about how menopause is similar to adolescence.  The article focused primarily on hormonal changes at both parts of the life cycle with very little analysis of the physical changes that the hormonal changes create.  I've been thinking about how they are similar, and for me, the surrounding culture feels similar to.

I turned 13 in 1978, and the geopolitical changes then feel similar to those we're facing in our current day.  My teenage years saw a hostage crisis in Iran, various other hostage crises, international flares that led many of us to worry about war, and a feeling that the U.S. had lost status in the world.  These days are very similar.

I came of age during the AIDS crisis, and now, we have a different pandemic.  The mindset, however, feels similar:  the hope for a cure and a vaccine, the sense that what we don't know is greater than what we know, the mourning for those gone too soon.

And my physical situation feels similar.  Then I might have some night sweats, and I'd wonder about AIDS--now I wonder about COVID-19.  In all instances, I need to have a thermostat set lower, but I rarely lower it as low as I would like because I'm living with others.

The more important similarity for me is not knowing what body I'll be in during any given day.  Will it be the one that's agile or the one that's klutzy?  Will it be the one that has pain or not?  How much weight might I have gained overnight?  Will it be the body that demands we eat all the homemade baked goods at once or the one that can ration out the sweets--or more rarely, the one that feels no pull towards the treat?

We could debate whether I'm feeling this way because of menopause or because of being unsettled by a global pandemic or because of work stress or because of elements of aging that aren't menopausal (like the arthritis in my feet).  But truth be told, I've always felt this way for much of my life.  In some ways, it's not as disconcerting as it might be.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Celestial and Terrestial (Comets and Wreaths)

I may have finally seen the comet Neowise this morning.  Last night, I left the curtains open slightly to enjoy the lightning show in the clouds.  This morning, when I got up at 4:30, I looked out that east-facing window and at first thought I was seeing a plane--that's how bright the light was.  I kept going out in the backyard over the next hour to see if it was moving, and it wasn't.  I didn't see a tail.  If I hadn't been looking for that comet, I'd have wondered if I was seeing Venus--and in fact, I'm still wondering.  But Venus has been in a different spot in the sky all week.  And this object was even brighter than Venus has been all week.

I do realize that all of the writing about the comet say that it should be very low to the horizon in the morning right now.  But often, we have a different view of the sky down here in South Florida.  I can see the constellation Orion for many more months a year down here than other places where I have lived.

Last night, in those last moments before dusk settled into twilight, we stretched out on the chaise lounges in the back yard.  We watched the clouds roll in and waited for the rain to start.  And when it did, we came in and stayed up much too late watching The Big Chill.  I have a copy of it, so I'm not sure how we got sucked in.

I kept thinking, I'll watch until the next scene is over--I want to see it again.  And scene by scene, I stayed up until 10:45.  It's no wonder that my morning was a bit more low energy than many mornings.

But yesterday I did get a start on my short story that revolves around 3 comet sightings.  And I'm not expecting today to be hectic, so I should be O.K.

Let me record a few more nuggets:

--Today is the feast day of Saint Anne.  I'm very surprised I haven't written about her before.  And now I have--see this post on my theology blog.

--In December, we had a Christmas wreath hanging on our front porch.  By mid-January, I had tried to make it multi-seasonal by taking some of the more festive stuff off, but it was starting to look tired.  This week-end, we turned it into something new with some ribbon and sea shell mixes that I ordered online.  My spouse did much of the gluing:

--I did think about all the shells we collected on Marco Island, all the shells that we left on the beach, because how many shells do we really need?  I'm trying not to beat myself up about that, about not realizing I would want to create a wreath.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Ode to My Bread Bowl

I am old enough to remember the last time the nation went through a bread baking craze.  It was the 1970's, when some of us went back to the land, some of us went off the grid, and many more of us baked bread.  Back in those days, many grocery stores sold only white bread, the kind that has very little in the way of nutritive value.

I remember the first time I had homemade bread that wasn't my grandmother's rolls.  We went over to a seminary intern's house, and she served us bread fresh from her oven.  It tasted like no bread I ever had before.  She gave us the recipe for Milk and Honey Whole Wheat Bread from Ellen Buchman Ewald's Recipes for a Small Planet

My mom knew that our standard mixing bowls wouldn't hold all that dough, so we searched for another one.  At the time, we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, which has a downtown section closed to car traffic, or it did in the late 70's.  At one end, there was an old-fashioned hardware store, the kind that sells everything.  There in the window was the bowl we needed--and it only cost $6!  We bought it, and it's since traveled with me to many states.

Here is the bowl, next to my grandmother's large Pyrex mixing bowl, the kind that's the largest of a set of 4:

Over the past decades, I haven't been baking the mass quantities of bread that require my largest bowl.  But I haven't been able to give it to a thrift store either.  I know how hard it is to find a bowl this big.  Through the years it's held cloth scraps and picnic paper products and all sorts of stuff that wasn't bread dough.

This morning, I realized that I wasn't going to have enough room in the yellow bowl for all of the dough, much less a place for it to rise.  Here's what the bowl looked like before I finished adding all the flour:

I thought about getting out additional mixing bowls, and then I thought, why would I do that when my big bread bowl is right here on top of the fridge?

So I got it down, gave it a quick wash, and finished mixing the dough in it.  The sight of the dough rising has been an unexpected delight to this morning.

I know many people who can tell all sorts of horror stories about how their parents never supported them.  I am not one of those people.  As I look back, I realize more and more how lucky I am that my parents almost always encouraged my native interests, while also trying to make sure I considered other possibilities too.

When I think of my favorite example of their support, I think of my mom and a cold night outside of a window of a downtown hardware store.  I think of summers spent experimenting with bread recipes and my mom taking me to health food stores where I could get some of the stranger flours that the recipes needed.  I think of my family hungry for good bread and full of praise for my efforts.

I realize that I am a lucky woman in so many ways.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Anxiety Dreams/Anxiety Reality

Last night I dreamed I was going to many entrances looking for someone to take my temperature and give me admittance to a campus (not any of the ones I've ever attended or taught at).  I thought I was standing in the correct line, and then I was given a ticket to a classical concert.  I thought that I might as well go, as it was in a beautiful cathedral.  It turned out to be a Christmas concert, which I thought was out of season, but I'm always up for a Christmas concert.  And then I woke up.

It doesn't take a trained psychologist to interpret this dream, does it?  I've known I was anxious about symptoms and entrance procedures, even before the dream.

One of the many things I hate about this new corona virus is how wide the symptom list is, and how they're all items that could be something else:  runny nose, headache, cough, muscle aches.  It's not like Ebola, when cell walls collapse and victims bleed out of orifices that aren't usually bleeding--that's a clear sign.

I've had a headache off and on all week.  It could be stress, or it could be changing barometric pressure, with a tropical system nearby (another source of stress).  I've had parts of the day where I go between sweaty hot and chilly--but no fever.  Is that a tightness in my chest or just uncomfortable underclothing?  Does the tingle in my throat signify a cough coming on or dehydration in the height of summer?

I even thought about going to get tested, just to put all my speculation to rest.  But a test for COVID-19 would only tell me that I was negative or positive today--if I got the right test results.  And how long would it take to get the results?  By then, I could have been exposed many more times.

For those of us who have been out and about in public, or in offices, I'm not writing anything we haven't all been experiencing and/or wondering about.  But it seems important to capture these ideas.

Tomorrow I will stay closer to home and do some baking with my sourdough starter.  Perhaps I can restore some mental equilibrium that way.

And if not, at least I'll have delicious bread!

Thursday, July 23, 2020

My Life in Comets

We have a new comet:  Neowise.  I've seen news articles about how it's visible, and some far-flung friends have seen it.  It's most visible in the northwest sky an hour after sunset and in the northeast sky an hour before sunrise.

Although I don't hold out much hope for seeing it after sunset, I've gone outside to try.  I think we just have too many trees and too much light pollution.  And lately, we've had too many clouds.

I have seen some glorious sunrises, along with some lightning shows, but so far, no comet.  I'm trying not to see this experience as a metaphor.

But this morning, I thought, what if it could be a metaphor?  And during my walk, I started thinking about a short story in 3 parts--and then I thought about writing 2 versions, a short short and a regular.

I'd been thinking about the 3 comets that have been in the sky during different parts of my life.  In 1986, my boyfriend (who would later become the spouse I have now) and I went out to a dark country road to try to see Halley's Comet.  We looked towards the direction where we were told we could see the comet.  There was a smudge.  Was it Halley's?  We told ourself it was.  We calculated how old we'd be in 75 years when it returned to Earth's view:  96 for me.  I might make it.

Like the rest of the nation, I was enthralled by the Comet Hale-Bopp when it appeared in 1996, and I always looked for it when I was out at night.  That was the year that I was driving a lot at night.  My spouse was back in grad school in Columbia, SC, and I worked in the Charleston area--we spent long week-ends together, and I almost always drove to him, so that he had more time to study.  The sight of the comet as I drove up I 26 never failed to make me cheerful.

That comet inspired me in terms of my writing--I remember one short story where it figured prominently, and I know that I comet imagery worked it's way into my poems.

And now we have Neowise.  It's a pandemic year, but so was 1986--a different pandemic, AIDS, but one nonetheless.  It's a year of cloudy bleakness--I'm not surprised that I can't see the comet, but I'll keep trying.

I will try to write the short story this week-end, while I have inspiration and enthusiasm.  I won't say too much about my plans now--I don't want to write so much about what I plan to write that I take all the air out of the balloon of this ida.

I am so thrilled to have an idea for a short story.  As for many people, the past few months have felt arid for me, in terms of my poetry and fiction writing.  I'm glad to feel some seeds of ideas starting to sprout.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Feast Day of Mary Magdalene in a Plague Year

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

The theologian Cynthia Bourgeault wrote a book about Mary Magdalene, and she notes that Mary's presence at the resurrection is mentioned in all four gospels, either alone or in a group, but always there, always named.  Most Christians attend churches that focus on the male disciples, the ones that deserted Jesus at his most desperate. 

Bourgeault says, "What if, instead of emphasizing that Jesus died alone and rejected, we reinforced that one stood by him and did not leave?—for surely this other story is as deeply and truly there in the scripture as is the first. How would this change the emotional timbre of the day? How would it affect our feelings about ourselves? About the place of women in the church? About the nature of redemptive love?" (for more of Beougeault, see this meditation)

In these days of global pandemic, which means that so much of what we understand about the trajectory of modern life has changed in ways that leave us grieving, I think of Mary Magdalene weeping by the tomb.  Everything she thought she knew was in ashes, her best friend/teacher/mentor dead and buried.

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

The story of Mary Magdalene has much to say to us in the 21st century. We need to be reminded to stay alert for the Divine, and for each other. We have many ways to dull our senses, and in these days of many screens, it's easy to be distracted.

If we're too busy, we might miss Christ altogether. Many religious texts teach us that the Divine will come to us in forms we least suspect. If we're not careful, we'll assume that we're not needed and go back to our houses. If we're not careful, we won't notice that the gardener is really the one for whom we've been searching.

It's good to be reminded of the resurrection story in the middle of July. Now the year is over half way done. We may be feeling scorched by the weather and by our dashed hopes for the year. It's good to remember the story that we can be part of; it's good to remember that we're promised grace and salvation.

It's good to know that resurrection can bloom in the unlikeliest places and circumstances.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Hester Prynne's Office Desk

This week we began a new phase of COVID-19 monitoring on campus.  We've been taking temperatures and asking questions about exposure.  Last week we added a sign in sheet so that we have written proof that we asked the questions.  I now put those sheets in a binder.  Yesterday I went to the supply closet to get more binders.  This approach will be binder intensive.

I've been amusing myself by creating a different sign each day to tell people the date:

Of course, many people don't see my sign; they look at their phone to know the date or they ask me.  Still, it makes me happy to make a sign:

Yesterday we also started giving people a wristband.  We'll have a different color for each day.  We'll be able to see from a distance whether or not people have checked in.  I can see the anxiety about legal liability ratcheting up, and I'm not unsympathetic.

However, these wristbands are ugly.  They're the ones given out at bars and festivals so that it's clear who can drink and who can't (or who gets back in the venue for free).  Yesterday I thought about decorating it.  I thought about Hester Prynne, whom you may or may not remember was in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.  You may or may not remember that she embroidered that letter.

Yesterday, I made this Facebook post:  Like Hester Prynne, I am tempted to embroider or otherwise embellish the paper wristband that says that I've answered the COVID-19 questions properly. But no, I am not Hester Prynne, nor was meant to be. I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my face mask as I'm told. (after T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock").

And then I decided I needed a photograph to go along with it:

I'm calling it Hester Prynne's Office Desk.  Obviously, if it was her studio, she'd have more embroidery threads and beads and other embellishments.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Video Sermon/Meditation Outtakes

When I'm working on a video sermon/meditation project (all 2 times I've done it), I always shoot more footage than I can use.  I don't want to overwhelm viewers/worshippers with a 30 minute sermon.  So here are some pieces of unused footage from my video sermon/meditation on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

I didn't use this one because it just seemed too obvious:

And this one seemed to belong to a different project:

I shot this one of friendly dogs meeting each other, but I didn't want to do narration while there were people around and commotion:

I thought I might close with this one, but then I got something I liked better:

I tend to keep every piece of everything I've ever filmed.  When I was first learning to use digital cameras, I keep every scrap because even blurry images worked well in various book trailer projects.  Now I have so much stuff that I no longer remember what I have or which folder it's in.  But if I really needed it, I could find it.

Here's the finished project, for those of you who want to see what I used.  I look at it and see the observations I could have made, the different ways I could have phrased what I was trying to say.  But as with many writing projects, the deadline comes, and what I have has to be good enough, at least for this project.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Baking Report: First Loaves of Bread Made with New Sourdough Starter

I have bread dough rising while the oven pre-heats for an hour.  I'm experimenting with this technique described on the King Arthur website, which means my baking stones are also preheating, along with a cast iron skillet.  An hour from now, before I put the bread dough on the stones, I'll pour boiling water into the hot skillet.

The part of me that is my grandmother's daughter cannot believe I'm pre-heating the oven for an hour.  The part of me that is a fraidy-cat worries about the oven melting the floor if it's on high heat for that long.

The part of me that loves good bread moves forward, writing here, while the oven pre-heats for an hour and the bread dough rises.

For this bread dough, I used sourdough starter, but I also used yeast.  In fact, I used the last of the yeast that I bought at Christmas.  My family met in Marco Island for a reunion, and I bought a jar of yeast thinking I would bake Christmas bread in our rental condo.  I didn't bake, but because we were in a car, I could bring the yeast with me.  In March, when the world ran out of yeast and flour, I was glad to have extra of both.

Yesterday, I did some shopping early in the morning, and for the first time, I found the shelf stocked with jars of yeast!  My first impulse was to buy them all, but I'm not selfish.  I did buy 3 jars, but that still left plenty for others.  I offered a jar or two to my bread baking pastor, but he had bought a pound and a half back when he found it online, so he's good.

I also found toilet paper, so I stocked up there as well.  I am fully expecting some supply chain disruptions to come, so when I can find items that have been in short supply, I do tend to buy some extra.

And now the bread is in the oven baking. 

We are going to have a scrumptious breakfast of hot bread and butter.

It's been a great week-end of stocking up on supplies, baking, cooking, and reading.  I started reading Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodham Friday night and finished it yesterday evening.  It's an alternative history of sorts; it asks the question, "What would have happened if Hillary Rodham hadn't married Bill Clinton?"  It was fascinating and compelling.  It was perfect for my Read for Fun week-end.

And now, the bread has cooled a bit. 

It will never taste better than it tastes right now, so let me eat some:

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Morning Reports

3:30 a.m. Soft rumbles of thunder, inaudible when the AC clicks on.  It feels both comforting, yet slightly threatening, the danger in the distance, even as the plants perk up at the promise of rain.

I woke up very early this morning after having a different sort of anxiety dream.  My usual anxiety dreams haven't changed much--I still get the occasional dream that I'm enrolled in a class that I've forgotten all about until it's time for the final exam or that I lose my cool in front of a class of students.

In last night's dream, I had to be part of a photo shoot for my job, but it was at a different campus.  I couldn't figure out what to wear, and the outfit I finally decided on was at a different house.  I drove to get the clothes, and I realized it was later than I thought.  I couldn't find the house, and I didn't have a cell phone to call to let the other campus know I was running late.  I wondered why we would have a photo shoot at 8:30 at night.  I needed to pee, but I couldn't find a safe spot, and there's a pandemic, so most rest rooms are closed.

It doesn't take a trained psychologist to analyze that dream.

5:45 a.m.  The storms that rumbled in the distance for hours finally arrive.  The doors and windows rattle, and the street lights blink out, even though the electricity in my house stays on.  I turn on some battery operated lights (fairy lights in mason jars) just to be sure.

I've been thinking about the lives lost this week.  The COVID-19 deaths are hard to process:  of the 14 million (14 million!!!) confirmed cases worldwide, there have been 603,059 deaths--139,266 deaths in the U.S.  In an average flu year, we'd have 250,000-500,000 deaths, 36,000 of them in the U.S.  Does anyone still think that this new corona virus will be no worse than the flu?

I was sad about particular deaths this week.  Yesterday, I saw the news of the death of Christopher Dickey, son of James Dickey.  When we moved here in 1998, Chris Dickey had published his memoir, and he was all over the NPR network--and then I kept hearing his reporting from various difficult areas across the globe.  Plus, James Dickey was teaching at the University of South Carolina when I was there as a grad student, and while I never had him as a mentor, some of my friends did, and they spoke of him highly.  Chris Dickey was much too young to die, just 68.

How strange to lose 2 Civil Rights era icons in the same week.  Rev. C. T. Vivian died, as did the more famous John Lewis.  In some ways, their deaths are good deaths--they come at the end of long, productive lives, and the world is a better place because of them.  John Lewis was 80, which these days seems a bit young to die.

I am already seeing lots of John Lewis quotes.  Here's one of my favorites:  “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Do not become bitter or hostile. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. We will find a way to make a way out of no way.”

7:01 a.m.  The rain stops, but I'm not going out on my morning walk.  I'm enjoying a cozy morning with tea and toast made of homemade bread.  The sourdough starter sits on the counter, coming to room temperature before the Saturday baking.  I am reminded of rainy days in college, 6 mile run cancelled, George Winston on the stereo, General Foods International Coffee in my mug.

As is usual, it's been a long and strange week, a mix of surreal and wondrous and hard:

--I've gotten up close to a wonderful number of birds.  I watched geese call to each other across the lake, but based on their later behavior, they may have been claiming territory, not telling each other that they missed each other.  I see a white heron so often that it no longer flies away when I'm near.

--We started a new check in procedure at school; now everyone fills in a questionnaire to answer the CDC recommended questions about the presence of symptoms.  Now we have a stack of paper to show us who is on campus each day.  The stack of paper is a sober reminder of how much possible exposure we face.   As I've said before, I feel fairly safe, since I'm usually working alone in my office.

--I will have a Zoom meeting with my small group that's part of my certificate for spiritual direction program.  My Wednesday meeting with my Mepkin online journaling group was one of our best ever.  It's good to keep feeling connected, even as we can't be together in a physical space.

--I had to abort a planned Trader Joe's trip--I got there to find over 20 people standing in line, appropriately spaced, but still, there's nothing I want badly enough to wait in a line of 20 people deep outside in the Florida summer.

--There is talk of outdoor stadiums for some of the Republican National Convention.  Outdoor stadiums.  In Jacksonville.  In August.  Republicans have lost their minds.

--We've had a slow pool leak that this week sped up--we've been losing several inches of water overnight.  Wonder of wonders, I found a pool repair person who was able to come within 24 hours and fix the broken pipe.

--One afternoon, our group of boys on bicycles came to the school parking garage.  I love watching their fearless attempts to ride with the bike up on one wheel, even as I hold my breath in fear that they'll crack their heads open if they fall.   I always worry that someone will hit them; others worry that their cars will be damaged; others want to call the police to take trespassers away.  I went out to the parking deck and asked them to stay on one side where the parking spaces were empty.  They nodded, and one of them said, "Thanks for letting us stay here.  Most people would make us leave."  As I walked back inside, they all hollered, "Thank you.  You're the best."

--I've been trying to make at least 3 of my morning walks a bit more vigorous, whether by mixing in some periods of running/slow jogging or by going longer.  Earlier this week,

--I have declared that I will read for fun this week-end.  Last night I started Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodham--what a treat.  I also bought treats for the week-end:  coconut popsicles, Chex Mix, and fruit juice to mix with club soda.  I want to pretend like I'm on a plane with lots of reading time and periodic snacks.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Butterflies and Graduates

When I look back on this time in July, what will I remember?  Facebook has been reminding me of this time last year, a time of new gardens and the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies.  In an effort to cheer myself up, a few weeks ago I took a string of  party lights in the shape of Hawaiian shirts and surfboards and created an ode to summer on a bookshelf in my office:

I also added a butterfly quilt that one of my office colleagues gave me, and the painted bowl that reminds me of summer and good friends.

But I hope that in future years, I remember the steady stream of students who came to pick up graduation bags.  Like most of the nation, my school is doing a virtual graduation this summer.   But since students had already been charged for caps, gowns, and diploma covers, we offered to have students drive up, and we'd bring them out to the car.

I've been trying to take as many pictures of the process as I can.  And I try to remember to sing a variation of the birthday song:  "Happy graduation to you . . ."  Yes, I could "sing" the Pomp and Circumstance processional, but I'm not convinced that students would know what I'm "singing."

It's been a very different summer than the one I thought I would have, but I want to remember that we've done our best to make lemonade when life has given us lemons.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thursday Snippets and Inspirations

It's one of those mornings where I wonder if I should even try to write a blog post.  First my computer took a long time completing the updates that I thought were done last night.  Then I took a longer walk and when I got back to the computer, I felt like a dried out old stick in terms of writing.  I don't usually lack for inspiration, even though there may be posts that don't seem inspired.

I blog for a multitude of reasons.  Primarily, I'm trying to record life as I'm living it.  I know it's important to me, and it may be important to others in coming centuries.  Even if it's lost forever, it's important to me.  Therefore, when I don't blog, I worry that I'll wake up in a year, having only written 4 posts.

I also blog to record inspirations, to comment on current events, to comment on historical markers, to comment on anything I don't want to slip away.  I record Facebook posts that I've written that I've liked--it's easier to find them here than on the Facebook site.  I write posts to situate myself, to keep myself grounded, and as spiritual and artistic practice.

So I decided to write, even though it's a bit later than my usual writing time.  Let me record a few things, before the day crushes in.

--We're told we will have wristbands to give out to people as part of our check in procedures.  I'm going to try to see more of the festival/music show aspect of my work life.  Perhaps the wristband will make some revelations!

--Yesterday, my colleagues started singing "Happy Birthday," before we realized we shouldn't be singing in the small conference room.  Some continued to sing loudly--obviously, they haven't spent the last 3 months mired in church debates about the safety of choirs.  Others whispered.  Some backed away.

--In late March, my allergic eye reaction returned, and I stopped wearing eye make up.  On Tuesday, I wore it again for the first time.  With a mask on, I'm not sure the eye make up adds much.  I probably won't wear it again.  If I do, I should probably get some fresh supplies.  My eyes haven't felt good since Tuesday.

--I continue to put on lipstick in the morning, even though I'll be wearing a mask for the first 45 minutes at school as I take temperatures and collect COVID-19 Question Signature Sheets.  Lately, I haven't refreshed my lipstick the way I once did.

--Yesterday, I made this Facebook post:  "When I said I wanted to study eschatology, I didn't really have our current situation in mind. I was thinking more about a deep dive into ancient prophets or T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" or a comparison of nuclear war movies and climate crisis themes. I wasn't thinking about a case history of Florida."

--Yesterday I saw a Tweet that said that the literary journal Waxwing was taking submissions.  I looked to see what I had already sent them, and I realized I had never sent them the story that my Hindu writer friend said was my absolute best.  So I did.

--I spent a bit of time nostalgic for the time when writer friends would go to Panera and read each other's drafts.  I remember how happy it made me to write that story, which is set in the future, and I thought about another story I wrote that was set on a space station.  Remembering writing them made me happy.  Maybe I should try some science fiction again.  Writing about the current situation is too grim, and that includes the way I feel about my novel-in-progress most days.

--Maybe those short stories could form a linked collection.  Hmmmmmm.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Celebrating a Birthday in a Plague Year

I have been known to say, "I have a summer birthday.  Early on, kids with summer birthdays know to bring down their expectations."  I remember feeling left out because there would be no cupcakes brought to my classmates, the main way we celebrated back in the early 70's.  Looking back, I realize it presupposes a mom home to bake those cupcakes, as there weren't bakeries in grocery stores the way that there are now.  Later Kristin would be appalled at Early Kristin assuming that there would be a mom not only making cupcakes but having time and transportation to bring them to the school.

All of this is backstory, so that when I say I had a blah birthday, you won't feel too badly for me.  For decades now, I expect a blah birthday, so I usually get a blah birthday.  I usually make no plans--after all, my birthday is usually on a work day.  And why would I burn up a vacation day on a birthday?  For years, all of my friends would be working too--why take a vacation day to sit home alone?

This year I'm in the epicenter of our current pandemic, so I'm certainly wouldn't plan to go out to dinner.  I couldn't even bring myself to go out and buy a birthday treat.  My birthday dinner of salmon and broccoli was O.K., but it's not an unusual meal for us.

But let me remember some of the good parts of my birthday, even in the midst of a pandemic year.

--Yesterday afternoon, I made this Facebook post:

"Just a typical birthday: taking temperatures of everyone arriving on campus, asking CDC health questions about possible exposure, grading papers, going out to whichever restaurant has the best free dessert if if's your birthday.

So, it's not so typical.

But here's a great birthday present! Rescinded is the heinous, vicious policy about international students needing to leave the country if their campus goes all online."

--I really am happy about the reversal of that policy.  If I got nothing else for my birthday, that social justice gift would be enough.  It won't impact my school; we aren't allowed to enroll international students at my campus.  But it will improve/save the lives of so many international students, and that's such a piece of good news in a world that seems short of good news.

--I was also happy about all the birthday wishes that came my way on my Facebook feed.  Friends I haven't heard from, well, since last birthday, wished me a happy birthday.  I realize that most of them sent the message when Facebook prompted them to do it, but that's fine with me.  Some friends sent me a more personalized message, which was really touching.

--I got my work done for my sermon video for this Sunday, which is an interesting mix of video, poem, parable, and sermon.  That made me happy.

--And then, this morning, two colleagues who overheard me on the phone with my parents yesterday brought in a coffee cake and an orchid.  I was touched beyond all measure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

All the Narrow Gates of Mysticism

I've been meeting with one of my online journaling groups for a little over a year now.  It's a group formed by Mepkin Abbey, who organized all of the retreatents by zip code and encouraged us to meet when we're not at the Abbey.

In the beginning, we all listened to the same recording of a retreat with Don Bisson.  We journaled on our own, and then we met via Zoom meeting.  We discussed what we had journaled, and then we journaled silently during the Zoom meeting, and then we discussed.

This month, we're branching out from Don Bisson, and I am so glad that we are--not because I have anything against Don Bisson, but because our new resource is so amazing.  I spent the morning listening to the first presentation by Richard Rohr--it was recorded during a retreat called Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate.  In the first presentation, Rohr takes us through a history of spirituality.  He traces the development of mysticism, along with other spiritual developments.

It was an AMAZING 75 minutes.  I feel like I understand more about world history than I did this time yesterday--and I know A LOT more about spirituality than I did this time last year.  Rohr did a great job of explaining the spiritual developments across the globe and talking about what's happening in the rest of the world at any given time.  For example, he talks about Alexandria as a site of intellectual and spiritual developments while Rome is busy taking over the road militarily.  He talks about Ireland being protected from Rome and other various invaders which meant that they could develop a more cohesive spiritual practice which would become the Celtic Christianity that so many of us know and love.

He also talks about how monastics through the ages have protected knowledge, furthered knowledge, and occasionally gotten in the way.

I hesitate to even use the word knowledge, since in our culture it has such a connection with intelligence and brain power.  Rohr uses it much more expansively.  He talks about the dualistic thinking that has been so damaging--that knowledge can only be associated with our brains.

When I first went to the CAC website to buy the DVD set, I was a bit aghast at the price:  $60, which is more than I would usually pay for a recording of a conference.  But based on this first 75 minutes, I'd say it's worth every penny.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Photos from a Morning Walk

As I've been walking around my neighborhood, creating little chunks of video that I'll put together for a sermon for this Sunday's sermon, I've been getting other pictures too.  I was struck by this branch, so I moved it to the wall by the Intracoastal waterway.  I think it has a certain beauty:

It reminds me of this picture that I took back in Tampa when I was there for the 2018 AWP conference:

In the last few days, I've been able to get very close to a heron.  The sky behind the bird is actually the reflection of the sky in the water:

Here's an even closer up of the bird's face.

Some of the pictures I get aren't great--this one was taken before there was enough light:

I first noticed this sign (which says "Feel Better World") in the window of a neighborhood house in the early days of the pandemic back in  March.  It's still there.  The world still needs healing

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Strange Days, Strange Weeks, but the Pizza Remains Delicious

This has been a strange week-end after a strange week--but of course, every week feels strange when we're living through a dystopian narrative, especially when one lives in one of the epicenters.  So, in the interest of history, let me record some moments.

--On Friday, I had a phone call from one of my oldest college friends.  It's always a bit surreal to hear from old friends (are we really this old that we have grown children and grandchildren and have lived somewhere for over 20 years?).   But it's even more surreal in a time of plague and closed borders.

--Yesterday, I made this Facebook post:  "A virus rages outside, and we are staying safe inside, experimenting with sourdough starter. Today's experiment: pizza dough. I pulled out my grandmother's oldest bowl and greased it for the rising dough. I want to believe that this bowl has sustained my family through dark days: the Depression, World War II, various family difficulties. I remember my grandmother starting the day, each and every day, by making dough for rolls for the big meal of the day. I am grateful for these memories, grateful for sustenance of all sorts, hopeful for sustenance to carry our society through these days of dismal news about disease transmission."

--The pizza was delicious.  The pizza is always delicious.  At least that hasn't changed.

--Yesterday evening, some friends who live in the neighborhood stopped by.  We kept our distance on the front porch and caught up.  It was good to catch up.  We don't see them as often as we see our other friends in the neighborhood.

--Our friends across town who are moving to the heartland. have accepted an offer on their house and made an offer on a house in Indiana, where it's cheaper to live and close enough to Chicago so that they can see their daughter and other family members on a regular basis.  It's amazing to me that they could find a house from such a distance and that it proved to be the house they wanted.

--When I look back on how little I've been doing with traditional poetry writing, let me remember the other writing I've been doing.  I've been working on a creative video meditation on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.  For several days, I've walked the neighborhood, filming short clips, making the kinds of interesting connections that usually only happen when I write poems.  Here's an example:

--The weather has been very strange.  One of my former colleagues who moved to Brooklyn when she was laid off in 2012 posted a picture of the weather alert that told her that she was under a tropical storm warning.  Our summer weather isn't usually as brutal as it has been--we've not had our usual ocean breeze that keeps us not as beastly.

--Much of my work life this week that didn't involve teaching revolved around the temperature logs that we're keeping.  I spent a lot of time taking and recording temperatures.  I updated our log books.  I sent them to the people requesting them.  We were told we were doing them wrong, so I came up with a different system, a system which will take even more time when we implement it this week.  I am paid well to do this work, but I don't think the people above me really understand how much time it all takes.

--It has been a week of jaw-dropping statements and possible policy decisions from the president and his staff.  But when has that ever not been true?

--I did see the first TV ad for Joe Biden.  I can't remember any particulars, but I did remember being impressed and hopeful--just what I want a campaign ad to do.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Feast Day of Saint Benedict

Today is the feast day of Saint Benedict.  If I had to pick the saints that have been most important to me, he would make the top 10 list.  Female medieval monastics who are saints would come to mind before Saint Benedict, but of course, their lives would have been very different if Benedict had never lived.

It is Benedict who taught us a way to live in community, and more importantly, Benedict wrote it down, thus preserving his ideas.  The Rule of Saint Benedict continues to be important, but if you were to look at it, having never looked at it before, you might say, "This?  This little book is so important to so many across so many societies?"

Yes indeed--it's only 73 short chapters, but it covers most of the important elements of how to live together.  The Rule divides the lives of the monastic community into work, prayer/worship, and sleep.  The Rule talks about how to be obedient, both to God and to the abbot, and what to do when one is not.  The Rule also talks about how to manage a monastery.

It was written in the year 516, and unlike many ancient texts, it still reads well, and the ideas still hold up.  It seems simple, but when one thinks through the implications, it's really not.  Neither is it hopelessly complex--it's not quantum physics.  Unlike many ancient texts, it still seems both brilliant and useful.

Benedict gets the credit for being the founder of Christian monasticism, and rightly so.  He created an order and a rulebook that kept communities together through some of the most difficult times of human history.

I always wonder if these ancient monastics knew that they were creating something so lasting.  I suspect not.  Wikipedia tells me that Benedict founded twelve communities, and he was probably most focused on their success, not in hoping that his brand of monasticism would last into the 21st century.  In fact, he might shake his head at the fact that we're focused on The Rule that he wrote, not on some other project, now lost to us, that was nearer and dearer to his heart.

Today I take courage from the example of Saint Benedict.  Today I am grateful for Benedict and for the monastic tradition he created.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Process Notes on a Video Haibun

I have long been intrigued with all of the experiments that people have done with video poems, and lately, Dave Bonta's haibuns have made me want to try the form.

Here's my haibun, with the words below:

Lower Your Boats

The Holy Spirit is that time in the morning: the sun breaks through, the light spreads across the sky, staining it with color, telling us, “It is time. Time to lower our boats into the water, time to go out onto the sea.”

Leave your safe harbor.
Find other fish to harvest.
Pluck the perfect shell.

To watch on YouTube, go here.

Process Notes:

In May, I was part of a team who put together a pre-recorded worship service for Pentecost.  My pastor asked me if I wanted to do a creative reflection or meditation, and I said yes (for notes on that project, see this blog post).

I spent a week walking around the neighborhood, being hit with all kinds of inspiration, and creating meditations by filming with the camera, while I spoke from behind the camera.  As I walked and created, I thought about how similar to poetry the process was for me.  I was trying to make people think about the Holy Spirit in ways that they never had before.  I was trying to jolt them out of their long held beliefs about the Divine, just the way that the original Pentecost experience had done for those first believers.

I ended up with lots of short bits of film, and as Dave posted his haibuns, I thought about returning to them to see if they might work.

I love the compressed form of the haiku, although I'm always hesitant to call what I write haiku.  Once I went to a haiku workshop at the Morikami Museum, and I learned that there's so much more to this art form than compression and syllables.

And I feel even less secure about using the term haibun to describe what I'm doing--I worry that there's an aspect or two that I'm mutilating.  I was so worried about issues of cultural appropriation/desecration that it took me some time to convince myself to post the haibun.

And then I laughed at myself.  It's a haibun-like thing, for pity's sake.  It's not like I'm writing a novel and appropriating the voice of a migrant worker or a Civil Rights icon.  People will not call for the revoking of my multi-million dollar book deal.

I'll keep working in this format--I like that I have lots of little videos already recorded, so even when I'm feeling blah and uninspired, I can make something new.  I like having a project that inspires me and scares me.  I like sailing beyond the harbor of my comfort zone.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Sketchy Practices

I've been intrigued by my sketching habits.  For much of the month of June, I sketched for 5-7 minutes each morning as part of the Morning Watch devotional time that I led live on my church's Facebook page.

I would return to the same sketch over 3-6 mornings.  I made sketches like the one above and below.

On Sunday, I returned to my habit of sketching in church; I was part of a skeleton crew there to help with the livestream of the service.  I came up with this sketch, which perhaps has more of an Advent theme than a July theme.

I suspect many of us are in this Advent frame of mind, watching and waiting and hoping.

On Wednesday, I created the sketch above.  I started in the morning and finished in the evening.  If I had known how much it would change, I'd have taken a picture in the morning.  Here's what I captured from the Morning Watch broadcast:

I thought it would go in a different direction, a blue and brown direction.  Last night, I kept adding more and more color and then the swirling black lines.  I love the way it turned out.

I return to a theme that must feel familiar by now:  when I feel like I haven't been doing anything creative, let me remember that I have.  I may not have been filling up my purple legal pads with poetry, but I have been creative.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Making Good Progress--a Brief Progress Report

This morning as I was walking across the Hollywood Boulevard bridge, I looked down and saw a woman jogging with her dog.  When I saw her at an intersection about 15 minutes later, I said, "Hey, you've made good progress."

I had a sudden realization--if she's made good progress, so have I.

I realize the lesson here.  I often can see the progress that others have made, while at the same time beating myself up for making similar progress.  Of course, I don't see it as similar.  I'm willing to give others lots of credit for effort, but I rarely extend the same congratulations to myself.

I'm also seeing a side of myself that makes me unhappy--I'm getting increasingly frustrated with others, too.  On my best days, I am always aware that people are doing the best they can, and I'm looking for ways to help them with that.  Lately, I confess, my crankiness has diminished my capacity for giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.

Let me be gracious to myself.  Let me remember all that I am getting done, in this time that no one prepared me for in terms of schooling and training.  I need to repeat this mantra at work especially.

In terms of my creative life, let me also be gentle with myself.  While I'm not writing traditional poems, the way I once did, I am doing interesting work, especially with the intersection of poetry, parable, and theology--in a video format, which is new for me and exciting.  While my novel languishes, I do think about it here and there.

I know that in the past I've had times when I'm not putting words on paper, a creative burst is just up ahead, if I don't give up, if I'm patient with myself.

Let me be patient with myself and with everyone else.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Remodeling at Midlife

I blame my current marital mood (and perhaps the majority of my marital woes) on the older version of the PBS home repair show Hometime, the cousin to the more famous This Old House.  We watched both shows in the first years of our marriage in the late 80's and early 90's.

The two shows have much in common; back in those days, we would watch the shows and dream of the time when we could work on home projects together.  Hometime showed a couple whom we assumed were married.  Each week, Dean and Jo Jo took on a variety of projects as they improved a house. 

The show never showed the couple fighting.  Like This Old House, Hometime never showed the mistakes.  We never saw tile after tile snapping in the wrong place.  We never saw someone glue their shorts to the parquet floor as they sat trying to slide parquet into place.  We never saw fierce battles or the piercing exhaustion that comes as one tries to do a project--and all the gods help you if it's a whole house remodel.

As soon as we could, our younger selves bought their first house.  It was a VA repo, and it needed a bit of work.  And then through the same VA repo program, we found a larger house that was even cheaper, so we bought that too.  And then we almost lost ourselves and our marriage to the home repairs.

Eventually we learned to work with our strengths and around our deficits.  But now, midlife has introduced some interesting changes to our home repair, as midlife introduces so many changes to so many aspects of life.

We now have more money than we had when we were young, and we have more options than we did when we were young.  In our younger years, we went to the home repair store and we had a limited number of choices when it came to flooring or paint colors.  Now, because of global trade and because of more money, the choices are dizzying.  And now that we know about those options, I do wonder if humans are likely to be less satisfied with their choices.

My spouse still wants to do our own home repairs to try to create the vision he has in his head.  I would prefer to pay others to do that.  I have never had the skills that he's had to do the home repairs.  And there's the matter of time.  In our younger years, I didn't have to be on campus 45 to 60 hours a week, the way I do now, along with 10-20 hours of work required for online classes; I simply have less time to do these repairs.

Midlife introduces the diminishing of abilities for both of us.  This Old House shows all sorts of older craftsmen (and yes, I'm using that gendered term consciously).  They don't stand up carefully because of screaming joints.  They don't squint through their glasses and make mistakes because their old eyes can't see as well.

Those home repair shows never show the stress of living in the same place where the repairs are happening--maybe because people in those shows aren't doing that.  Those shows don't show the moments where householders look at each other and wonder if they ever had anything in common.  My books have been packed away for 2 years, and I miss them viscerally.  My spouse assumes that if I haven't needed them in 2 years, why keep them?

I am assuming that at some point our current Great Shelving Project will be over, and marital peace will return.  I want to hang onto the marital peace, so I am often hesitant to take on new projects.  My spouse always has visions in his brain that he wants to try to bring to life.  I wish that he could remember that my capacity to be part of bringing the vision to life will be limited.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Fourth of July both Normal and Strange

Like many people, I spent much of yesterday thinking about how this 4th of July was so very different, and yet so very similar to those in the past.  However, unlike Thanksgiving, I don't really celebrate the 4th of July the same way each year, so that may be a mitigating fact.

My morning walk took me to the beach, which I've often done.  In past years, my spin class routine would be disrupted by the holiday, so I'd walk to the beach; now I may never have a spin class again.  In the past, I always wondered about the people who showed up before sunrise, hauling umbrellas and coolers and chairs and sound systems.  I knew that they planned to stay there the whole day to have a good view of the fireworks show at 9 p.m.

Yesterday, the beach was supposed to be closed, so those people weren't there.  There were still a few folks who had ignored the caution tape to get to the sand to take selfies or do yoga or capture the sunrise on their phones.

In many ways, yesterday felt more like a typical Saturday than a holiday.  We watched home repair and cooking shows on PBS.  We did some cooking of our own and enjoyed some floating in the pool.  I did some sorting of old paperwork.  We kept our eyes on the skies, wondering when thunderstorms would roll in; we had an afternoon storm and an evening storm.  I made myself a cheese plate, and I was struck by its beauty on the plate:

We tried experiments with wine, like this sangria:

I always think about sangria as a way to drink less wine, but in those terms, this experiment was a failure.  But it was tasty and refreshing and perhaps we could count it as a serving of fruit, as we did have raspberries, blueberries, and apples as a base.

In so many other ways, yesterday was strange.  I had some long phone conversations to process the idea that one of my best friends has decided to move to the Chicago area.  I had some long conversations with myself as I tried to process her decision and the larger national issues, like the pandemic and the upcoming election.  I had moments where I felt lonely and made a Facebook post like this one:  "I'm missing my grandmother, along with just about everyone else I've ever known. Maybe I'll make one of my favorite desserts that my grandmother Roof used to bake when I would come visit in Greenwood, SC. But what to make? A lemon chess pie? A chocolate meringue pie made with brown sugar instead of white to give it a slight butterscotch flavor? Five kinds of cookies so that I'd have some to bring back to my friends in the dorm?"

We ended the day the way we often do on a Saturday, plucking out notes on our instruments.  My spouse headed out to the front porch to play his violin.  I watched A Capitol Fourth and popped out on the porch here and there.  I watched the lightning to the west and the fireworks going off down the street as the neighborhood guys had fun with explosions.

Then the rain rolled in, and we all took shelter in our houses.  We watched the beautiful fireworks live from Washington D.C. with those majestic monuments as back drop.  I said to my spouse, "I'm homesick for so many places I wouldn't know where to move."  There have been times when I'd have been watching those fireworks in the D.C. area (although only once when I watched them from the Mall).

In all, it was a good day; now, it's back to more regular life as I try to get ready for the week to come.  I much prefer a Monday off to a Friday off, but I'm grateful for any time off.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Independence and Resilience

How strange to wake up on Independence Day to see my Twitter and Facebook feeds equally split between people who were enjoying the broadcast of Hamilton last night on Disney Plus and people who were watching the broadcast of President Trump at Mount Rushmore.  What a juxtaposition!

I was not watching either.  We went over to our neighborhood friends' house for our regularly scheduled wine, cheese, and other nibbles.  We usually go on Thursdays, but this week, we switched to Friday so that we could do more with charcuterie.  I had grand plans, but in the end, it was just some extras added to our usual treats:  some salami, some cranberry-pepper jam, and two kinds of olives.

I was also feeling a complex mix of feelings because in the late afternoon, I got an e-mail from a dear South Florida friend who is moving to Chicago.  She and her spouse want to be closer to their daughter.

I suspect that this season of pandemic will be similar to a bad hurricane season, in terms of how people analyze their lives and figure out what's working, what's not, and what's important.  The friends who are moving to Chicago are retired, so they have some flexibility that those of us who are tenuously hanging onto our jobs may not have.

I am envious, even though I have no desire to move to Chicago.  They made this decision to move just after Father's Day week-end, and now, here they are, 10 days later, with a plan, and this sense of purpose has propelled them into a grand adventure.  I saw the pictures of their house on a real estate site, and they've already packed up a lot of the house.  I envy them their energy.

I envy them their sense of purpose.  I, too, have been doing lots of analyzing of what's working and what isn't, but unlike them, I haven't come up with a vision for what I want to move towards.

There have been previous 4th of July celebrations that we would have spent with them, afternoons grilling and swimming and dreaming of the future.  At those celebrations, moving to Chicago wasn't ever in their plans. 

How the world has changed.

In other years, we might have sat on our front porch, playing patriotic music on our violin/mandolin/ukulele as people made their way over to the beach to enjoy the fireworks.  That won't be happening this year.  Well, we may play music on the porch, but we won't be watching a municipal firewords display.  Those have been cancelled across the nation.

It's a strange moment in the history of the nation to be having this celebration.  A pandemic ravages the planet, people take to the street in levels of protests that we haven't seen since the 1960's, and there's an economic upset that threatens not only to compete with the Great Depression, but to take the record.  Insert a heavy sigh here.

And yet, perhaps out of these ruins, we can build something better.  It's happened before.

I'm grateful that I had a chance to know my grandmother in a deeper way than I would have if she had died when I was younger.  She had survived more than I thought I would ever face:  the Great Depression, World War II, various types of poverty.  And yet, she not only survived, but she had a rugged resilience and a stubborn optimism.

I began the 4th of July week-end yesterday by hearing this new song by Rhiannon Giddens.  It, too, reminds me that resilience comes out of adversity. 

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

This morning, I made a different piece of art:

In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn't sleep.  I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn't quiet my brain and go back to sleep.  I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, "So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?"

I did some sorting.  My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated.  All I wanted was a place to put my books!  Books that have been packed away for 2 years now.  Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.  They were part of a different art project.  I created this shadowbox out of hurricane damaged stuff, including a chest of drawers:

Then I tried to transform that project into something for an art show that I decided not to enter:

This morning, I found those map fragments as I was sorting, and I thought about how they represented my existential crisis of sorts--what map can we follow to the future?  What makes sense these days? 

I added a few more elements:

It made me happy, making these arrangements, even if I didn't have a flash of insight about the way forward.