Monday, October 31, 2022

One Last Halloween Post

Let me write my last Halloween post of 2022.  I shall miss the festive lights and the decorations both sedate and garish.  

Of course, I'm hoping that homeowners keep some of them. 

Orange lights and pumpkins can work for all of November as we head to Thanksgiving. 

I will take another walk or two today, but I won't be out and about tonight.  My online class that I'm taking synchronously, by way of Zoom, will be meeting, and one of the authors of one of our textbooks is going to be a special guest.

I'm not sure that we'll get many trick-or-treaters in seminary housing.  There are two locked doors before you get to our apartment doors, so outsiders wouldn't come.  We have a few children in housing, but most of them are the children of Korean exchange students.  I made a sign, just in case.

If I didn't have a class, I might have headed over to my sister's place.  Their neighborhood does Halloween the old-fashioned way, with adults in the driveway giving out candy and keeping an eye out for all the children.  We've got rain in the forecast, but I really hope that they don't get rained out.

As I've walked in the evening this past week, I've heard children's voices along with some shrieks. As far as I can tell, they've been having fun.  I thought of my own autumn childhoods, playing Ghost in the Graveyard.

I find myself thinking of the special spin classes that we used to have with Halloween music and decorations.  I am trying not to feel sad about all the communities that the pandemic ripped away.  Let me try to remain in a state of gratitude.

Let me take one last walk in the pre-dawn light.  

I won't be able to see these Kara Walker-esque cut outs, but that's O.K.

I have eaten the applesauce cake, made with homemade applesauce, for breakfast.  I made it on Saturday because I wanted gingersnaps but had no molasses.  Applesauce cake with homemade applesauce is surprisingly delicious.  I have no picture of that cake, since I've eaten it all--but here's one last Halloween picture.  

I love the do-it-yourself ghosts, with gauze wrapped jars and googly eyes--you could put a candle or light in them.

May we all get more treats than tricks, and the only tricks be those of multiplication of things we love.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Ancient Prophets, Modern Art

I have spent much of the week-end writing traditional papers--that process doesn't lend itself to pictures.  But a different project does:

Since this project isn't due until later this week, I haven't spent as much time working on it.  I did take a walk last night and gathered some leaves in the dark.  I was happily surprised by their color.

You may wonder what I'm planning, and to some degree, I do too.  Here's the assignment:

Assignment for November 3:  You are to create an original visual art piece for next class inspired by the following scripture, Habakkuk 1: 1-4 and 2: 1-4. Create a visual art piece using whatever materials you like. Next class you will each present what you created to the class for a liberatory-style “critique” (less of a critique, more of a response to the work).

At the end of our Creative Process, Spiritual Practice class on Thursday, we went to the studio.  Right now, the studio isn't used for classes--the artist in residence has the space to create her work, and hopefully at some later point, we'll get to see the work and hear her discuss it.

But the studio also contains a lot of supplies and equipment, and our teacher encouraged us to take what we needed, and to return on Tuesday, when she's back on campus, if we discover we need something else.  I have a fair amount of supplies here with me, so I wasn't sure what I needed.  The piece of canvas spoke to me, so I took that, especially since there is enough for everyone.

I thought I might create a sketch or a painting on the canvas.  But now I have something else in mind, something that will involve spools of thread and fabric and that oatmeal container.  

I have the work of Cole Arthur Riley on my mind, with this passage from This Here Flesh:  Spirituality, Liberation and the Stories that Make Us from chapter 1: "On the day the world began to die, God became a seamstress." (p.13) and "Maybe the same hand that made garments for a trembling Adam and Eve is doing everything he can that we might come a little closer. I pray his stitches hold" (p. 15). I have used the image of God as quilter in more than 1 poem.

I also have this line that I wrote down on October 2:  Bedraggled floors and a needle / I cannot thread.  But is the word floors or flours?  Hmm.

And now I will experiment with a piece of three dimensional visual art.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Anxiety Dreams and Waking Comforts

I thought of waking up at my usual early time of 4 a.m., but then I let myself drift back to sleep, where I had one of the types of anxiety dreams I have most often:  there's a house that needs renovations, and we're in a race against time.  Last night, the house was beautiful, but when I looked at the ceramic tile we had just had installed, chunks were flaking off, in layers, like flakes.  I thought, thank goodness we've sold this house; this will be someone else's problem.  Then I couldn't remember if we had actually closed or not.  Then I woke up and reminded myself that we only own one house, and it does need repairs, but it's O.K.

I can trace this anxiety dream:  my spouse told me about home repairs in the afternoon, I read a newspaper article about how this time of the real estate market is hard for both buyers and sellers, and then I finished reading Bruce Holsinger's The Displacements, a book about a monster hurricane that destroys both Miami and Houston, which makes it a real estate novel in many ways.

It's an interesting book.  I would have liked more about the run up to the storm and the storm, but he dispatches that part of the plot quickly and spends the bulk of the novel in the FEMA camp set up for the displaced people in Oklahoma.  The end note suggests that Holsinger's depiction of the aftermath of the storm is much tamer than that suggested by climate scientists, and he's likely correct.

The book was due back at the Little Falls branch of the Montgomery county (MD) yesterday, so early this morning, I took it to the book drop.  On my way, I took a brief driving tour through the streets with houses decorated for Halloween.  I have tried to time my late afternoon/evening walks so that I see these lights, although some of them seem to be lit no matter when I walk by.  But walking once it's fully dark is a bit unnerving.

It's also unnerving to consider the reason why:  I am now more scared of tripping and breaking bones/face than I am about being mugged or raped.  I am cautious, of course--I keep an eye out for potential dangers of all sorts, but I'm more worried about trip hazards than predator males.

Last night I walked in the time just after sunset, the time of pale pink light that slowly deepens to lavender then purple then black.  Some of the Halloween lights were on, while others stayed dark.  I got home, finished my reading and writing for the day, and paused to reflect on how much less stress I have now that I'm not responsible for accreditation, retention, building safety standards, and annual evaluations of staff and faculty.  And then I drifted off to sleep.


Friday, October 28, 2022

Bloom Where You Are Planted

I dedicate this blog post to those who remain committed to a different front door holiday, even when everyone else has chosen differently:

I dedicate this blog post to those who are like this hydrangea 

which continues to bloom long after the others have given up for the season:

I dedicate this blog post to those of us who are doing our best to ripen

 but can't conform to a schedule: 

I dedicate this blog post to those of us who will not extinguish our glow, no matter what:

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Quilter Fan Mail

On Monday, I got this e-mail from a member of my church in North Carolina:

Dear Kristin,

Your recent offering in Daily Grace was most insightful. I found it so inspiring that I had to share it. I forwarded it to S___, the coordinator for the Quilters, who has asked me to find out if it is permissible for her use all or parts of the article when the quilts are blessed before being shipped to Maryland. She will be writing something to be published in the bulletin and the newsletter. She doesn't want to infringe on any rules prohibiting it's use. You may reply to me or to S____.

Of course I wrote back to say that of course they could use my work.  And then I wondered where my work is appearing:  Daily Grace is not on my list of places I'm published, so what might it be?  The name of a newsletter?  Someone else's blog?  Somewhere else?  Do I care, as long as I'm getting credit?

I did some searching through my files and blog posts.  The subject line of the e-mail certainly sounded like something I would write:  the Holy Trinity as a Quilting Group.  Why couldn't I remember?  What if it wasn't really mine?

I wrote back to ask about the source:

"I'm not sure I ever saw the published version of "The Daily Grace"--I realize it might not be easy to send to me, but if it's electronic, I'd love to see it."

She sent me the link about the time I solved the mystery:  I wrote an article for Gather magazine, and it appeared in September of 2021.  When I signed the contract, I did give various other ELCA publications permission to use my writing without asking first--hence the excerpt in "The Daily Grace."

There's not an online site that has the whole article, but here's an excerpt that will give you a bigger chunk of the article.

I have been thinking about all the ways I've been published, all the ways my work has traveled in the world.  And I've been feeling a tinge of regret about all the ways I didn't pursue publication.  It's not too late, of course.  But wider publication won't be my top agenda for a year or two as I plunge into seminary studies.

Speaking of which, I have two papers due today, so let me shift my focus there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Deeper Looks at Leaves

We may be at peak leaf week in DC.  I was away for a week-end, and suddenly trees have burst into flame:

I was walking yesterday, marveling at this particular tree, and I saw a student walking with his head bent down, staring not as his phone but at the sidewalk.  For one minute, I thought about becoming the crazy leaf lady, evangelist for fall colors.

But then I thought, maybe I am the foolish one, staring gape-mouthed at the trees.  Maybe he's avoiding sights like this one, trees close to being done for the season.  

Maybe he's avoiding the sadness that comes from knowing how the story ends.

These are all trees from the same walk yesterday.  I am intrigued by how the leaves change color at a different rate, and I understand the broad reasons, the science of water and weather that results in leaf color.

I also picked up leaves from the wet, black streets.  I held them to the blank canvas of the cinderblock walls for a different contrast.

My plan is to do some sketching, to see if I can capture some colors, the way I did at the beginning of October.

But I'm also enjoying just having them scattered around my seminary apartment, watching as they dry and curl.  This picture shows the difference that 20 hours makes.

And yes, I see the metaphor, the symbol, the larger message.  I'm working on a poem, that's quickly becoming a series of poems, that tries to capture these ideas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

October Hinge

I had a night of mixed sleep and woke up with the taste of the latest anxiety dream still in my mouth:  I needed to go to a different city to finish an internship for my spiritual direction certificate program, even though in my dream (and in waking life), I had the actual piece of paper with my certification.  As the dream ended and I woke up, I faced the rear view window, bidding farewell to DC in the sunset light, vowing to return.

I understand how my subconscious mixed the elements of waking life--I had been at a late afternoon Zoom session about changes to the internship requirement of my current MDiv program.

My brain has been thinking about various cities, especially in the light of Church History I class.  Every time we discuss an event in Carthage, I think "to Carthage then I came," and I marvel at how T. S. Eliot is woven into my brain.  Part of me wants to reread "The Waste Land" and part of me wants to read the part of St. Augustine that inspired T. S. Eliot, and part of me feels I have given enough headspace to male voices talking about cities.

This morning I read "End Times," an amazing poem by Dave Bonta, and I am grateful I haven't given up on all male voices.  He so perfectly describes what I've been trying to capture about these last moments in autumn, when some of the trees are still glorious in their color, but you can see the transformation coming.  Here's how it ends, and the poem earns this ending (as my old lit professors would say):

"i sit watching
the treetops glow

in sun that they can
no longer taste"

My thoughts turn, as they often do, to autumns past.  Having just returned from a trip to see my parents, I'm thinking of October of 1983, the first time I left to go back to my family home.  Early in the month, my mom appeared at my dorm room door, as planned, to pick me up and take me back to surprise my dad for his birthday.  At the end of the month, I went home again, and did a bit of shopping.  I bought a copy of U2's War, which I played non-stop as autumn shifted into winter, as the Soviet Union shifted and bombs exploded in Beirut and soon we would watch The Day After and think about apocalypses on a major scale.

When I look back on this autumn, how will I frame it?  Here are some possibilities:

--It was the first autumn in decades where I got to see the slow shift of the trees, as opposed to breezing in for a week-end.

--I was learning about parts of history that had eluded my previous learning, both in Church History I class and by the Timothy Snyder lectures on the making of modern Ukraine that he taught at Yale (so lucky to be getting them in close to real time).

--A different Russian/Soviet leader blusters about nuclear war, and once again, we're talking about a meeting place when the unthinkable happens.  I'm thinking about the scene early in The Day After, as Soviet forces amass on the border between the two Germanys and the Jason Robards character comforts his wife by saying "They might be crazy, but they're not that crazy." 

--I got back into a daily practice of sketching.  What did I sketch?  Autumnal trees, of course.

--I took lots of walks to drink in the autumnal loveliness.

--I thought about various mental states, how they can coexist in one brain.  I'm both happy to be here and missing other places, happy in my solitude and longing for loved ones.

--I am sure I will look back on this autumn as a hinge season, between the old me and the new me, between the world we are leaving behind and the one we're traveling toward.  But isn't every season such a hinge?

Monday, October 24, 2022

Honor Flight Week-end

On Friday, my sister and I headed down the road to Williamsburg.  Even though we both live in the DC area, we needed to be down there, to take my dad to the Mariner's Museum for the Honor Flight experience we'd been planning for months.  We needed to be there at 5:15--yes, 5:15 a.m.

We got our t-shirts and jackets--blue for veterans and yellow for guardians who would accompany veterans every step of the way.  Because our group had more guardians than veterans, my sister and I were both assigned to our dad, which was what we had wanted from the beginning.

We had time to change and time to take stuff back to the car and then we were treated to a full breakfast buffet.  We knew we would get breakfast, but we were expecting something more along the lines of a granola bar or something portable to take on the bus.

All along the way, groups of people were there to greet us and welcome us, all sorts of people, and all ages.  I think my dad was most touched by how many children came along to be part of the crowds of people gathering to say thank you and to welcome the Honor Flight groups.

We got on the bus and headed up the road to the DC area--yes, we've spent the last 4 days up and down and up and down.  We went to a variety of spots:  the Marine Museum in Quantico, Virginia, the WWII memorial on the Mall, along with the Vietnam memorial and the Korean War memorial.  Then we moved away from the Mall, to the Iwo Jima Memorial and on to Arlington National Cemetery.

We were there in time for the changing of the guard and two wreath laying ceremonies:

It was a moving end to a meaningful day.  Well, it wasn't exactly the end.  We boarded the buses and made our way (very slowly along packed highways) back to Fredericksburg where we ate a delicious meal of barbecue:  3 types of shredded meat (chicken, pork, or brisket), mac and cheese, baked beans, corn bread, rolls, and coleslaw.  It was delicious.

Then we got back on the buses and headed further south, back to our starting point at the Mariner's Museum,  We finally got home to Williamsburg at 11:00 p.m.  It was a long day, but a good one, and we're all aware that we may not have this kind of opportunity to be together like this often as the years continue.

It was interesting to travel along these sites and to think about these conflicts that marked the 20th century, conflicts that happened in living memory.  I have had these conflicts in mind as Putin's war against Ukraine has progressed.  These memorials make the human cost clear:

Each star represents US lives lost in battle in WWII, a very small portion of lives lost and altered:

And yet, it's also clear, with the wisdom of hindsight, that appeasement of a despot rarely ends well.  I spent Saturday surrounded by people who know this wisdom, sometimes at great personal cost.   I wish everyone could have the knowledge that monuments to war can give us.

I wish we didn't have to learn these lessons over and over again.

Saturday, October 22, 2022


If we look closely, we can see the seasons changing, in a literal way; leaves on trees are both brighter and sparser than last week:

But also, a figurative way (the skeleton is standing on a campaign sign):

We may have visitors we didn't expect:

The decorations are finally up, and it's almost time to take them down.

Some make good use of their balconies, while others rely on festive lights:

Some of the decorations are so tired that they must take a rest.

Some of them take a rest with friends:

May we all have friends who will keep us company:

long distance shot of a man on a motorized scooter walking his dog

Friday, October 21, 2022

Packing Light, Packing Heavy

I am on the road again this week-end.  My sister and I are headed down to Williamsburg to celebrate our mom and dad's 60th anniversary on the 27th, and my sister and I are going with our dad on an Honor Flight tour of DC.  Yes, we're going to W'burg today, on a bus to DC and back to W'burg tomorrow, then a less-travelled day on Sunday.

As I've packed today, and as I loaded and unloaded and then loaded and unloaded the car after last week-end's journey, I thought, what happened to younger Kristin who said that all she needed was a pocket to hold a lipstick and a credit card?

And then I stopped myself--I used to say that, but I never travelled that way.  On the contrary, I'm the person who travels as if there might be a nuclear war when I'm away:  lots of socks and underwear, an extra pair of shoes or two or three, good books, and now, my laptop.  

Of course, if there's a nuclear war, I'll wish I had packed more books and left the laptop behind.  Hysterical laughter ensues--if there's a nuclear war . . . how things come full circle.  

When I was in college, I'd strategize with my boyfriend who would become my spouse about what we would do if the bombs fell when we were away from each other, where we would meet up.  It was a surprise to hear myself say last Saturday, "Listen, if anything nuclear happens, you stay here.  It's safer in the mountains.  If I'm still alive and if I can get to you, I'll come here."

Immediately I thought about the fact that I'd be travelling on foot.  How long would that take?  Could I find a horse along the way?  Could I ride a horse after all these years?

And yes, I realize how ridiculous it is to ponder these things.  And yet . . . and yet . . . we have at least one despot (Putin) thinking about the use of nuclear weapons.  He's not deranged, and I want to think that might keep us safer (as in, "Only a mad man would drop nuclear bombs . . ."--use of gender intentional).  But I don't.

I am not prepared for a nuclear war, in any sense of that idea.  But I am prepared for my trip to W'burg.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

First Sermon for an Academic Grade

Let me do a deeper dive into my sermon and the Foundations for Preaching class where we gave our sermons.  For some of us, it was the first time giving a sermon, and for one exchange student, the first time giving a sermon in English.  I have given many sermons, but never for an academic grade.

When I've given sermons to my church, I've spent the same kind of time thinking about the upcoming sermon, but I've never written them out.  At most, I've come to Sunday with an outline.  It's partly out of laziness/lack of time, but also to give space for the Holy Spirit to move.

We did not talk about improv or giving space for the Holy Spirit to move in our Foundations for Preaching class.  We talked about how to do the exegetical work so that the sermon will have focus and meaning and not just a collection of loosely related points, or worse, points that aren't related.

The class before we gave our sermons, we had to do a presentation of what we planned to do.  I always say that I've been teaching for decades, so I rarely experience nervousness or outright stage fright.  I listened to other people's presentations and realized they were much further along with their sermons, so I tried to say some extemporaneous talking about what I planned to do.  I felt more nervous than I expected to feel.

We had to turn in our sermon manuscripts after the delivery of the sermon, and it had to be a manuscript, not an outline.  So I might have typed out my sermon anyway, but after my experience in the class before the sermon delivery, I was sure that I needed to type out the sermon.

I was glad that I got to give my sermon in the first round, while I was still feeling calm.  I was also glad that the teacher set up the structure of the class.  We heard 4 sermons, and at the end, the teacher called out each person's name individually, and we had a minute or two to give that one person positive feedback.  After we gave feedback to each one of the four people, we had another group of four, and then another round of positive feedback.

I liked that approach because it gave us a compelling reason to pay attention to each sermon.  I liked the focus on the positive knowing that we'll get more rounded feedback from the instructor.

What I liked most was the 5-7 minute format.  Most sermons are just too long.  I like a short sermon for the same reason that I like a shorter poem.  We have to focus on the most important part of what we want to say.  We need to distill the poem/sermon down to its essence.

In an ideal world, all the exegetical work makes that essence so much richer.  The risk with doing the work is the same risk that comes with doing a research paper or writing a historical novel:  we can't possibly include all the interesting nuggets we've found.

Our teacher finished the class by congratulating all of us on giving stronger sermons than she was expecting.  It's an interesting compliment, but I'll take it.  She also reminded us that attention spans are getting shorter, and so it's essential that we figure out how to say more in a shorter. time.

In an up and down week in terms of instructor response to my work, I'm phenomenally glad to have had this experience.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Work Comes Due (in a Good Way)

Yesterday was exhausting in a good way; in many ways, it was the kind of day that I had hoped I would have when I was back in South Florida, thinking/dreaming/hoping about living on a seminary campus.  Let me try to capture it in words.

--Yesterday was a day of work due, so one of the first things I did was to read my sermon out loud to make sure it would fall in the time guideline--we would be cut off at the 7 minute mark.  Mine was fine, and I read it well, so I put it aside.

--My genogram project was due by 1:30.  I did the genogram part over the week-end, but I wanted one last reading and proofreading of the essay.  Plus, I decided that if I had a conclusion section I needed an introduction section, so I created that.

--My spouse and I had our daily video chat.

--I read my genogram essay one more time and turned it in.  I also wrote a 1 page reading reflection for the same class.  I had thought I would wait on that one, but I had an idea about one of the readings for this week, so I seized the day.

--I went to chapel.  It is Creative in Residence week, so our creative for the week, Rev. Dr. Travis Helms preached.  He's a poet, and the sermon was beautifully poetic.

--There was a meeting on campus (Board of Trustees? some other group that gives oversight?), and there was lots of leftover food.  I grabbed a lunch box and a piece of cake.  That kind of thing should not make me so happy, but it does.  Some people took several boxes, but I wasn't sure that would be O.K.  Later though, when I discovered that the food was actually quite tasty, I wished I had taken an extra.  This morning, I'm wishing I had taken pastries, although those usually disappoint.

--Travis Helms gave a poetry reading at 12:45, but it was unusual.  We sat in the front behind the altar in a group of chairs in a u shape.  The poet read one poem, discussed it, and read another.  Consequently, we only heard about 5 poems--but the discussion was superb.  We talked about Jericho Brown's approach with lines from past poems.  It was really cool to hear about another poet's experiment with this approach.  Helms takes stanzas from old rough drafts, and he also keeps track of observations on the Notes feature on his phone which gives him a starting point each writing day.

--I had to leave for my 1:30 Pastoral Care and Counseling class.  It was a compelling class where we discussed our genogram projects and then went on to talk about issues of gender in a counseling context.

--I am surprised by how the leaves have changed and fallen in the half week that I was in North Carolina.  I decided to go for a walk.  I kicked piles of fallen leaves (not the ones that humans raked, but the wind-driven leaves), but then I felt slickness and decided to stop.  I didn't want to go to preach my sermon with a busted-up face.

--I decided to practice reading my sermon again.  Then, a curve ball:  our professor wrote us an e-mail reminding us that our sermon needed to include the New Testament text.  I rewrote a bit, experimented a bit, each reading went worse, and then I looked at my watch.  6:10!  Time to get ready for class.

--I went to class, and our teacher drew our names out of a pile to decide who went when.  I was second, and it went REALLY well.  Undeservedly well, considering that I change my approach half an hour before class started.  Thank you decades of teaching for the training that you've given me.  Thank you drama club years of practice before that.

--I also enjoyed hearing the other sermons.  At some point, I'll write a longer blog post about writing the sermon and the in-class experience.

--After class, I typed the changes into my sermon manuscript and submitted it.  Whew!  My heavy-duty/wonderful day came to a close.  But I did have trouble falling asleep.

Today will be less structured, but I've still got lots of work to do--that will be my status for the next 8 weeks.  But it's a good kind of heavy-duty schedule, the kind I had hoped to be able to experience, back in those days when I was back in South Florida, thinking/dreaming/hoping about living on a seminary campus. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Leaves of Gold

This morning, I had a piece of apple in all its apple perfection:  crisp and sweet with just the slightest sourness so that the sweetness wasn't too cloying.  I didn't go to an apple orchard to pick this apple, although I spent the last 5 days near orchards.  

No, I got it at a grocery store.  I only needed an apple or two to go with our meal, but the 5 pound bag of apples from a nearby orchard was cheaper than all the other apples that came from the other side of the country.  I've been doing a good job of eating the apples that I buy, so I bought the 5 pound bag for less than 2 apples from the other coast would have cost.

Yesterday I drove away from the mountain home that I love and the man that I love.  Happily, it's not a permanent situation. In a few weeks, I'll drive back.

It was a glorious time to be in the mountains, and I don't use that word lightly.  The days were warm, with highs in the upper 70's.  The leaves were close to perfect, at least on some of the trees.  But Sunday night a front was moving through, and by the time I left on Monday, the road away from my house had so many leaves on it and by it that I drove down the middle, just to make sure I wouldn't accidentally end up in a ditch.

I thought of these lines while on the first part of my drive, while it was still dark:

The road away 

from you is paved with gold,

wet leaves shaken from their perches.

I kept playing with lines and possibilities.  Here are some:

a golden dress shed at the end of the party

the gold sewed into the hemlines of refugees

all the pages I meant to write 

all the wisdom I once transcribed

the bills that have come due, the limbs

that know their limits.

At some point this week, I'll return to these lines.  But today I have some seminary writing to finish up.  I read my sermon that I'll deliver tonight, read it out loud to be sure I'm in the time requirement, and hurrah!  I am.  I'm pleased with it.  

I had looked forward to the drive, thinking I would be seeing lots of beautiful leaves and mountain vistas, and in some ways, I did.  But I couldn't look away from the road for long.  That's OK though.  I had enough glimpses to inspire my art in more ways than one:

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Last Day of Reading Week

Today is my last full day of reading week.  Tomorrow I'll drive back to my seminary apartment and dive back in to my life as an MDiv student; I should be there in time for my 6:30 p.m. class that meets virtually.  

I've put the week to good use.  I've gotten my papers written, my genogram drawn, my sermon constructed (well, that one is in process, but it will be done today), and caught up on my reading.  I've taken walks through the neighborhoods around the seminary, and we've gone on some hikes on the Lutheridge property.  I've reconnected in person with my family.  I've made a quick trip to the North Carolina mountains which has fed my soul in so many ways.

In some ways, reading week has been a welcome disruption of a schedule I've only just established.  Part of me always wishes that we didn't take a break.  Part of me is happy for the unstructured time.  Part of me today is wondering how I will get my academic groove back.

It has been good to get back to my little house at Lutheridge, the house I love so much, even in its unfinished state.  It will be hard to leave on Monday, in part because I'm leaving my spouse, but in part because I love the North Carolina mountains.

What's really strange is this status of loving two places so much:  my seminary apartment and my North Carolina house.  When I created the plans for what I might do if my job ended, I had no sense that I might have a house in the North Carolina mountains.  I know that I'm very lucky to be able to afford both this house and a seminary apartment.  But it's also strange to spend time feeling homesick for 2 places at once, even when I'm at one of them.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Nothing Gold/Autumnal Can Stay But We Can Enjoy It While It's Here

It's been a great time away from seminary.  It's reading week, and while it's a time to catch up on reading and writing and seminary work.  We're also encouraged to reconnect with the people who love us.  I kept remembering that encouragement yesterday, as I tried to make the most of days off.  I did open the papers that I'm in the process of writing, but I didn't work on them.  I felt them tugging at me, but I ignored them.  I'm also trusting that my brain is solving some of the issues that I'll need to sort out soon, like the 5-7 minute sermon I will deliver on Tuesday night in my Foundations of Preaching class.

Yesterday we had a great day, my spouse and I.  We did mundane things, like going to Lowe's and pricing ladders.  We grilled steaks.  We did out of the ordinary things.  We went to a miniature golf place, Lakeview Putt and Play.  We've driven by the place numerous times since moving here, but I had no idea what was tucked away out of view of the main road.  The course was decorated for Halloween, which was fun, and there were gorgeous views of the changing trees, and Lake Julian glinting beyond them.  The weather was perfect, with lots of sunshine and highs in the 70's.

When we lived in South Carolina in the 90's, we would often play miniature golf, so it felt like a return of sorts, a return to our past selves.  In South Florida, there aren't many mini golf courses, and the weather isn't great for mini golf much of the year.

Late in the afternoon, we wandered through a different landscape, but one also ringed by trees with lovely leaves.  We stopped by the Sierra Nevada brewery, but happily, we didn't need food, so we didn't face the 90 minute wait.  We went to the back patio/garden area, got our beers, and wandered.  It was crowded, but the space is so huge that it didn't feel oppressively full of people.  I thought back to August, when we got there just before the lunch rush, when the temperature was similar, but the leaves hadn't started changing yet.

We got back to our own stunning vista.  We sat on the back deck and watched the sun set, the way we did when we first arrived back in July, although the sun sets much earlier these days.  We had both deep conversation, about what makes our house a safer investment than our Florida house was (hurricanes, etc.) and less deep conversations, like about incense and pop music of the 80's and how a very freaky girl in those songs was someone who had incense, wine, and candles.

Finally, the night chill made us come indoors.  We played Yahtzee and listened to Motown.  It was a lovely way to end a lovely day.

Today I'll go back to my favorite farmer's market, the Mills River farmer's market--one of the last chances of the year.  I'll do some work on seminary stuff--I need to create the genogram to accompany my paper.  I've created one version, but I need a neater one, a more readable one, one that I can turn into a PDF.  I need to think a bit more intentionally about my sermon, which means I need to start writing a rough draft.

I will try not to sink into pre-emptive sadness at this time away being over.  I will continue to savor this time, while also getting ready for the next few weeks at seminary.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Travel During a Time of Turmoil and Peak Leaf Season

I am writing in my little house in the mountains, in Arden, NC.  I am at the end of a reading week for seminary, a week where I also turned in grades for one of my online classes that I teach, while also finishing the course shell for an online class that starts Monday.  When I entered these dates into the calendar, I thought my spouse might come to me to spend a few days in our seminary apartment.

But I'm the one that likes to drive.  I'm the one who has been craving a trip to the mountains for an apple orchard or a winery or a hike.  So I offered to be the one to drive back for a long week-end together.

I had been looking forward to seeing the mountains that were supposed to be at full peak color.  As I set out, the rain started to fall.  Through much of my drive yesterday, the mountains were cloaked in mist, clouds, and full out rain.  Although I didn't see far-off vistas for much of my drive, the individual trees were gorgeous.  Or to be more accurate:  some of them were gorgeous, while some of them had lost all of their leaves, while others only had a burst of color amidst full-on green, and others were half in color and half twiggy branches where leaves had been recently.

Despite the rain/mist/fog, it was a fairly easy drive.  When I left my seminary apartment, I heard a BBC episode about how the war in Ukraine might end and the mindset of Putin.  Along the way, I heard from Iranian activists who are hoping to secure more rights for women (and perhaps a regime change) and updates about vaccination rates and upcoming seasons of disease.  

I got back in the car at the end of the day to do a quick grocery store run, and I was just in time for the roll call vote from the January 6 committee, as they voted to subpoena Donald John Trump.  It was an interesting book-end to the day that began with commentators thinking about the path to nuclear war over Ukraine.

But the leaves are glorious.  During the last part of my trip through the North Carolina mountains, I saw the blazing colors that I had been promised.  This morning, I wrote these lines, after reading this provocatively titled essay, "We Are On a Path to Nuclear War."

We wait on leaves to fall
Or maybe nuclear bombs to drop.

Then I added a line from my list of interesting lines that didn't see development in previous essays:

I travel with a bag; I may not make it home

Here's how it looks right now:

We wait on leaves to fall
Or maybe nuclear bombs to drop.
I travel with a bag; I may not make it home

I'll keep this document open on my computer.  Perhaps I will add to it as I work on seminary papers and presentations that are due next week.  Maybe I will just enjoy the leaves.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Inspiration from Pope St. John XXIII

If all goes well, I'm on the road already by the time you read this post. I'm taking part of Reading Week to head back to my little mountain house at Lutheridge. I'm looking forward to seeing mountains full of leaves on my way there and back.

Here's some inspiration for your mid-October:

From Bishop Kevin Strickland's Facebook post on October 11, 2022

"Today the Church remembers Pope St. John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council on this day 60 years ago.

[Here's some inspiration from that Pope:]
'Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.'”

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Grace Notes and Halloween Walks

It has been a blurry kind of morning.  I have spent more time than I usually do scrolling through Twitter, delighting in everyone's lovely memories of Angela Lansbury who died yesterday.  I hope to be remembered the way that she has been:  gracious, kind, gentle, along with being amazingly talented across decades and genres.

My brain feels a bit blurry too because I'm trying to make significant progress on class projects before I leave for North Carolina tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to the trip across the mountains; I think it's about peak leaf season now.

For both my Genogram assignment and the paper I wrote for my Church History class, I've done more moving of chunks of text than I usually do.  With both papers, I'm realizing I wrote a chunk that belongs in a different section.  This may be a feature of having assignments that the professor has broken down into parts we're supposed to address, but the parts have some overlapping features.  It's somewhat maddening, but I am grateful to have clear instructions, even if I need to move chunks of text around.

I'm finding myself a bit more anxious too.  I always worry that I'm making the writing worse.  Perhaps I'm also feeling fretful because I got my exegesis back with my professor's comments for my Foundations of Preaching class.  Her commentary was correct, but my inner good girl student feels anxious because I didn't write the perfect paper.

I am grateful that the weather is good this week.  It's been good to go on a walk and get out of my head.  The surrounding neighborhoods have gone from the occasional pumpkin to full blown Halloween assemblages.  The other night, I walked after my Zoom call with my small group from the spiritual director certificate program.  What a delight to see the Halloween lights!

So I did it again last night.  Does this process always recharge my brain?  No.  But it's a treat in so many ways.

Now that the sun is almost up, let me head out again--I've got another full writing day ahead.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Chlorophyll, for Trees and for Humans

Yesterday I returned to my seminary apartment after a day away to celebrate my dad's birthday at my sister's house where my mom and dad stopped on their way back from their quick trip to Pennsylvania.  It was a whirlwind day, and when I got settled back into my seminary apartment, I felt that familiar upwelling of sadness.

I love being here, being alone, focusing on what matters to me--but I'm also missing a wide variety of people.  This dissonance is not new to me.

So I took myself out for a walk in the glorious autumn afternoon.  I picked up two beautiful leaves--solace for the moment, solace for later, as I tried to sketch them.

I'm using Copic markers, some of which blend better than others.  So there are places in the sketch I'd like to change, but overall, I'm pleased.

I continue to think about chlorophyll, vital to the process of making nutrients for the tree.  It's only when the nutrient making stops in the autumn and the chlorophyll breaks down that we see the true color of the leaf.

Or is it the true color?  Why is the color more true with the chlorophyll or not?  Is the summer color just another version of what is true?

Or maybe I want to think about chlorophyll as masking agent and ask what chlorophyllin our lives needs to fade away so that different colors can emerge.

This morning, as I was doing some online research about chlorophyll, I marveled at all I once knew about photosynthesis and all I no longer know.  I also marveled at the fact that enough people are taking/drinking chlorophyll that there are articles about the wisdom of this supplement.

I will just say that I am not a tree; I find it takes so much time, planning, prep work and eating/chewing/digesting to get the nourishment that my human body needs that I am not going to add tree nourishment to my plan.

My brain often returns to leaves in the autumn.  But this is the first time in decades that I've actually lived in a place where I could see the process, day by day.  It's fascinating, and I'll write more later as I have more time to reflect.

A sketch from autumn 2021

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Self-Definitions: the Poet Edition

Yesterday I went to a harvest festival event on campus--it was primarily for those of us living here, and I did have a chance to meet and talk to some students I had only seen from a distance, plus there was lunch.  Over a never-ending bowl of kale harvest salad, I answered questions, like why I chose a Methodist seminary over a Lutheran one.

I answered that this seminary is one of few that has a track in Theology and the Arts, and one student asked what kind of art I do.  I said, "I'm a poet, and I do visual arts and fiber arts."

She asked, "What kind of poems do you write?"

I tried to keep my answer simple, but I fumbled a bit at first.  "Well, I don't write formal poems.  I'm not concerned about iambs."  Then I shifted:  "I want to write a poem about an autumn leaf that will make you look at autumn leaves in a new way, that you'll think about this new way of looking at a leaf any time in the future that you see one."

And then I asked questions about them, the way I have been trained to do.  But I continued to think about my answer.  The mean voice in my brain broke in periodically to remind me of how long it's been since I've written a poem and how dare I even think of myself as a poet.  

This morning, I resolved to finish a draft I started in the last week.  I have been continuing to work with abandoned lines, and last week, I wrote a few lines to go with one that I took from my master list.  And this morning, that draft is gone.  I had a computer issue earlier this week where the computer stopped saving my written work--at least, I think that's what happened.  I had done a Save As for several documents, and those got saved as the earlier document.  This morning, I discovered the empty page instead of the rough draft of my poem.

Unlike with my academic work, I didn't e-mail drafts to myself as I went along.  I can probably reconstruct the lines, but part of me gives in to the mean voice and wonders why I even bother anymore.

Let me remember that I've had to get a lot--A LOT--of academic writing done this week.  Let me remember that I had a whole summer of healing from a broken wrist while getting ready to do a move across 4 states.

But let me also resolve to return to poetry.  I'd like to write a poem or two or three each week.  I'd like to send out some poem submissions each week, although if I've got a lot of seminary work due, I don't mind letting go of the submission part.  But I do want to keep writing poems, even if I'm not getting them published.  I do want to have a reason to keep thinking of myself as a poet.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

A Week of Large Gratitudes and Small Sadnesses

It has been an up and down week for me--but I hasten to say that even the down times are not the soul-shattering kinds of down times.  It's a wistful kind of down time, thinking about how higher ed used to be in pre-pandemic times, feeling sad about what has fallen away.  But let me record my week's gratitudes, while I still remember them.  I'll also make brief notes about some of the sadnesses, if the gratitude triggered the sadness.

--This week the leaves have gotten down to the work of the season, changing colors.  I had forgotten what it's like to watch a tree (or whole neighborhoods of trees) change colors.  It's a slow process, and it delights me.  Here's the view from my apartment windows:

And a close up of what's actually happening on parts of the tree:

--It's been great having the hybrid students on campus for a week.  Tuesday through Friday, I went to the refectory for breakfast that was offered to all students, faculty, and staff, and we talked about the future of the church, possible careers, all the kinds of conversations I imagined having if I was lucky enough to attend seminary in person.

--I felt a bit sad yesterday afternoon as the campus emptied out again.  So I went to the Montgomery county public library branch that I discovered a week ago, and sure enough, they were willing to give me a library card if I showed them my student ID and a piece of mail that showed that I was getting mail on campus--for free!  

--And even better, they had a copy of The Displacements, Bruce Holsinger's novel about a massive hurricane hitting Miami.  I came home and read for a bit to take my mind off the fact that the parking lot had emptied out during the time I was at the library.  I am glad I didn't spend full cover price when the book first came out this summer.

--After I read for a bit, I decided I needed/wanted a special treat, so I walked to my favorite ice cream place that I discovered the first week of seminary classes, the week I went there twice.  

I had the same thing I always have (so far):  a scoop of mint chocolate chip and a scoop of coffee with hot fudge sauce.

--On my walk back, I bumped into (not literally) a classmate who had been down at the same shopping center having a coffee.  We walked back to campus together.

--As we parted, she said, “If you ever go for ice cream again, I’d love to come with you. Maybe before you leave for reading week?”

You don’t have to ask me twice—I said, “How about Wednesday? Wednesday at 2—we can meet in this courtyard and walk together?” She nodded enthusiastically, and I nodded, and I now have an ice cream outing planned.

--It's been a week of wildlife in the neighborhood sightings.  Early in the week, I saw a beautiful fox near a neighborhood community garden.  We stared at each other for 10 seconds before a man walking his dog scared the fox away.  Thursday morning, I went for an early morning walk through the very upscale neighborhood next to the seminary. I heard footsteps behind me, and expected to see a pedestrian and/or a dog (less worried about muggers). I turned around, and there was a deer, standing close enough I could have leaned forward to touch him. Its head was the height of my shoulders. We looked at each other for 20 seconds, then he ran down a driveway. I say "he" because he had little nubs that will become antlers.  Friday morning, I was still on campus when I saw a deer, and this time, I was able to get a picture, lots of pictures:

--I had a good week in terms of my studies too--lots of positive feedback on my writing and thinking.  My week of classes ended on a high note, with an invigorating Church History I class, the kind of class where I'm happy to be meeting in person.

--And now we have a week off of class--Reading Week!  I will use the time to get ahead on my writing and to see family.  I'll also make a quick trip back to our cozy house in the mountains.  I'm the one who loves to drive, so I'll make the drive down I 81 and see what the leaves have been up to in my absence.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Hurricane Recovery and Houses Back on the Market

A week ago, the remnants of hurricane Ian came up the coast and parked right to the east of me here at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C.  And it would stay parked for the better part of a week, raining and bringing the temperatures down to below normal for October.

I continue reading stories about hurricane clean up further south, which often include an anecdote from a resident who has had everything smashed in the storm just before they were poised to sell their home and make a chunk of money, comments like this one from this story in The Washington Post:  "Three days before the storm made landfall, Dupont, 84, and his wife, Mary Ellen, 71, were ready to close on a $147,000 offer someone made to buy the trailer they’d spent three years fixing up, a ticket to the bigger home they often fantasized about."  That trailer is now destroyed.

Every time I read one of these stories, or any hurricane story or climate disaster story for that matter, I feel all sorts of strange things:  that twinge of guilt for having sold our house before a big storm came and wiped it out, those ghostly feelings of post-storm trauma that never go away, that generalized anxiety from living on a planet that has changed and continues to change in ways that make it hard to know how to make smart decisions.

And then there is the outrage expressed in tweets, about how people have had no power for x days and when will it be fixed.  A week is a very short space in post-hurricane time.  I have never gone through anything like Andrew or Ian, but when we lost power after Hurricane Wilma, most of us were out of power for weeks. After Irma, the same, but that was in part because a neighbor's tree fell and took out part of the pole that supplied power to our house.

And now, to add to my weird house feelings, I find out that our old house is now on the market, as I suspected it would be.  You, too, could have a house in a flood zone, if you have $1,150,000.00.  Yes, you are likely reading that number correctly--over a million dollars.  And that's down $200,000, after being listed on September 13.  

Faithful readers, I assure you that we did not sell the house back in January for that amount of money.

Granted, the new owners put a lot of money into the house.  From the pictures, it looks like they replaced all the appliances, all the plumbing, the flooring, the outside paved areas.  I hate most of their design choices, but I understand that people who watch a lot of HGTV will want kitchens that look like this, not like the kitchen that we put in. I'm trying not to think of all the money we spent on stuff that was just going to get ripped out a few years after we installed it.  And some of it, like the hardwood floors was installed after hurricane damage and the long effort to get insurance to pay.

At least we did get some years of enjoyment out of it. But man, when I think about all that they got rid of--it's a shame they couldn't have teleported it to us--like the back yard patio furniture, the grill, the kitchen cabinets.

Again, my primary response to all this hurricane and housing stuff is gratitude:  gratitude that we're out of the Florida housing market, gratitude that we managed to survive the hurricanes that did come our way, gratitude that I'm here at seminary.  But what a strange week.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Thinking of Heat and Housing on a Chilly October Morning

Our weather forecast for today in Washington, DC:  "Cool with occasional rain and drizzle; feeling more like November."  Well, now I feel better!  I had been feeling wimpy for feeling like it was very chilly.  Now I am feeling a bit more invincible because I went for a walk in shorts yesterday--although in the spirit of full disclosure, that was my morning walk.  By afternoon, I had dug out a pair of leggings to go under the shorts, which I will also wear this morning when I go for a walk.

Over the past several days, I've been glad that I brought back more quilts from the cedar chest, when I was back at my small mountain house in early September.  I thought about the story of how the rock band Three Dog Night got their name--last night was a 3 quilt night.

You might wonder why I don't just turn on the heat.  At Wesley Theological Seminary, we don't have individual control of our heat--it's a central physical plant, and it's either running on AC or heat.  It was scheduled to switch over to heat at some point after October 17.  

Yesterday we got notice that the switch will happen earlier--today!  Hurrah!  It won't be blazing hot, which is fine with me.  We're told that the thermostat is set for 69-72 degrees.  I will be happy with just a little bit of heat to take the chill off the air.  I've been baking more and leaving the oven door open once the baking is done, but that doesn't really work for long.  Leaving the oven on even if I'm not baking anything feels wasteful, so I don't do that.

You might wonder why I don't get a space heater.  Those are strictly forbidden because of the fire risk, and if we're caught with one in our living space, our housing privileges will be revoked.  I've got too good a deal to risk that, and so I add one more layer, drink one more mug of something hot.

I do realize I'm lucky:  I'm lucky that I have shelter, I'm lucky that I will have heat, I'm lucky that I have warm clothes and more quilts for the bed.  I know that it's not nearly as cold as it will be, and I know that many will be unhoused during a winter that's likely to be hard in a nation teetering toward/falling into recession.

Let me not only feel gratitude for my good fortune but to support those trying to create a world where no one shivers in the cold.