Thursday, August 31, 2023

Salad Potlucks, First Week Seminary Readings, and Other Delights

In a week where seminary classes are underway, and face to face classes that I teach are underway, and online classes have been underway, and another massive hurricane has come and almost gone, let me record some observations, instead of creating a coherent blog post about one subject.

--I have done the first two seminary writing assignments and turned them in.  My seminary is now using Blackboard Ultra (instead of the older version of Blackboard), so it all feels both familiar and unfamiliar.

--It has been cool to see familiar faces on the seminary class zoom calls.  Some I've only known through online classes, some through onground, and some both.

--Yesterday I went to the quilt group at the church near my Lutheridge house.  We had a salad potluck, which was much more varied than it might seem.  I was surprised by the variety of the salads.  I made the pasta salad I've been making since I first came across it in Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook.  A pound of cooked pasta, some cut veggies (bell peppers this time), and a vinaigrette of 1/3 C. of balsamic vinegar and 1/3 C. of olive oil, plus dried basil and dried oregano.  So tasty!  Yesterday I had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

--So far, my seminary reading has been more interesting than I thought it would be--it's been much older theology and church history, which doesn't always thrill me.  As I read about the early church leadership and how canonical texts were chosen for what would become the Christian Bible and what heretical movements were squashed, I was surprised by how much of it I already knew.

--Hearing about my classmates' internship sites made me happy for us all--such a wide diversity of placements.  Our professor reminded us all of the importance of self-care and to remember that we are at our sites to learn, not just to be used as cheap/free labor.

--Hurricane Idalia does not seem to have spewed as much harm as we might have feared, but it will be interesting to see what the final damage estimate is.  Extreme flooding doesn't leave behind as much camera-ready footage as wind damage.

--I got an e-mail from my chair to the English department at Spartanburg Methodist College about what we need to do if we need to be absent.  It was so reasonable.  I was saddened at how refreshing I found the tone, how sad I was that for so many years I have worked for other schools that suspect people of slacking off and shirking if they call in sick and/or arrange an online module when they are away at a conference or taking care of other responsibilities.  

--It is wonderful being at a small, liberal arts college in South Carolina, wonderful to see all the activities that are taking place.  In addition to sports, we've already had auditions for a play, calls for an art show, an ice cream social, a movie night.  And that's just what I see in posters that are up on the walls of the building where I teach and announcements in e-mails.

--I've been hearing so much about the death of higher ed; this week, I've thought, maybe it's not true.  And if it's maybe not true for that institution, maybe it's not true of others, like the mainline Protestant Church.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Weather Watching and Laundry

I feel scattered again this morning.  I got up at midnight and spent an hour reading about hurricane Idalia, at the same time wondering why I was doing this.  In part, it's because I was having trouble sleeping.  In part, it's an abiding curiosity about weather that I share with many family members.  Is it because we come from farm folk?  Is it because my family members grew up with older family members modeling this behavior?

It looks like we have another hurricane that will come ashore in Florida and continue moving over land--and it will be hurricane strength when it gets to Georgia.  It's a category 4 storm at least.  I spent some time in the middle of the night trying to determine how many strong storms have come ashore during my lifetime.  We have definitely had more category 4 and 5 storms strike the mainland U.S. in the last 15 years than we had in the 15 years before that.

It will be interesting to see how much damage takes place in major population centers that are further from the coast, Tallahassee and Gainesville.  It will be interesting to see how other port cities on the east coast fare:  Jacksonville, Savannah, and Charleston.

This morning, I need to face something much more mundane:  the laundry.  It's not as simple as it might seem.  We've been without a laundry room since late June, so every 10 days or so, I wash a load at the laundromat and bring it home to dry.  Today, however, is a day to wash sheets, so I'll also use their dryer.  It's a pleasant enough laundromat and close, and the hi-efficiency washer is a marvel.  Still, I'll be glad to have a laundry room here at the house again--and to get the washer and dryer out of the middle of the kitchen floor, where they've been since late July.  We did get a good deal when we bought them on sale in late June to have them delivered several weeks later.  But I might not have felt the same sense of urgency, had I known that the laundry room construction would be delayed.

But after the laundry, I have quilt group, and we're having a salad potluck lunch before getting down to making quilts for Lutheran World Relief.  And tonight I have my second seminary class that meets for the first time.  I'll read for tomorrow's class as I monitor the laundry.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

First Day of Fall 2023 Seminary Classes

My first seminary class for Fall 2023 semester was last night:  The Ethical Self and Prophetic Witness.  We're meeting virtually, every Monday night by way of Zoom.  I have heard great things about this class, but it's a hard class for me to summarize.  Here's the course description:  

"This course will help students grapple with moral agency in public by inquiring just who is the “self” implied in various accounts of ethics and of Christian prophetic witness, inviting them to consider how traditioned, historical humans can enact moral agency in non-ideal conditions."

After last night, I'm a bit more clear on what the course will cover.  My professor sees that the field of ethics is in serious trouble; the field of ethics traditionally envisions a single person making decisions about what is right and wrong, but that's not a real world vision, at least not these days, if it ever was.  A more real world vision would include the larger community.

So, we'll look at some of the big traditional thinkers in the field of ethics, Kant and Mill, and then we'll move on to more modern writers.  If last night's class is any indication, we'll have rich and interesting conversations.  Another plus:  my spouse might listen in, and we, too, might have rich and interesting conversations.  He has grad level training in Ethics and has been teaching undergrad classes for years, so I was afraid he might be snarky.  Happily, he was impressed, and we drifted off to sleep last night chatting about ethics.

In fact, I had some trouble staying asleep.  In part, it's because I spent much of yesterday at my desk, getting a variety of tasks done.  In part it's because I was excited to be back in school.

Here I am, starting year 3 of seminary.  It's strange to think about the path I've taken.  In some ways, I've looped back:  I started taking classes virtually, then last year I was on campus, and this year, I'm back to taking classes virtually.  Three years ago, I still had my full-time job and my online teaching job.  This year, I'm Zooming in from a different location, and happily, my full-time job is no more.  But I've picked up an in person teaching job, and I'm living in a place with a much cheaper cost of living.  Hopefully it will all work out.

Speaking of those in-person classes, let me go ahead and keep this blog post short.  I need to get my walk in before the rain starts again, so that I can get ready for the commute and the in-person teaching day ahead.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Thinking about St. Augustine in the Midst of Hurricane Season

Today is the feast day of Saint Augustine.  While I respect his vast amount of theology and other types of writing, his work will never be as important to me as they are to so many other people.  For a more straightforward blog post about him, I did write one on my theology blog.

In the past, I might have written a post that took issue with some of Augustine's theology.  But this year, he's speaking to me from a different angle.  My Church History professor pointed out that Augustine lived until almost the end of the Roman empire, and it's important to remember that the end didn't happen with a bang. People like Augustine could see what was coming, and he must have had a sense--perhaps a deep, deep sense--of all that was going to be lost.

I finished that blog post this way:  "Augustine was living in a similar time to ours; there had been diseases and political intrigue and invaders coming from all directions, along with upheavals that kept various populations on the move. I'd like to channel some of his writing energy in response to all of these slow motion collapses."

I am not doing a good job of channeling any energy into any direction this morning.  I am keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Idalia, which I expect to blow up into a major hurricane.  Up here in the mountains of North Carolina, I'm not feeling personally threatened.  In fact, it's days like these that make me SO, so very grateful to be here, even in a house that needs updating.

Still, I can't seem to look away.  And it's more than just leftover habits from living in hurricane country.  I've lost many hours to climate doom and gloom this summer (and for many years before).  I wonder if the same was true for Augustine.  True, he didn't have social media to distract him, but I bet he spent a lot of time trying to think through the implications of what he was seeing.

Let me shift focus, while at the same time realizing a certain amount of time this week will be consumed by hurricane monitoring. My seminary classes start tonight--how quickly the summer has gone.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Pivoting to Past Times

This morning, news of 2 deaths took me back to specific times in my life:  Bob Barker and Maureen Seaton.  I was surprised, in some ways, to learn that Bob Barker had been alive these many years, and saddened to realize how relatively young Maureen Seaton was when she died, in her mid-70's.  At this point, if there's a cause of death, I haven't found it.

Bob Barker seemed old when I was first aware of him, lazy summer days watching The Price Is Right, with my mom and sister.  We loved this game show, and I'm not sure why.  Looking back from a distance, the prizes seem less than fabulous, unless one won one of the showcases at the end.  I remember one babysitter pointing out that the contestant was lucky to have won extra cash because she'd need it to pay the taxes on the prize package.

Still, we tuned in, almost every morning, unless we had swim lessons.  And the show went on--and on and on--long after we quit watching, long after Bob Barker stopped hosting it.  Reading the news coverage, Barker seemed like a good human.  I'm glad he lived so long.

Maureen Seaton also seemed like a good person, but unlike many of my peers, I was not her student.  I was an adjunct at the University of Miami where she taught, but our paths rarely crossed.  Once I went to a reading where she and Denise Duhamel read from their new work.  I bought Little Ice Age, which had just been released.  Seaton signed it, and told me how much she appreciated the fact that I bought her book in the hardback edition.

I looked up the publication history--that reading must have been in 2001 or 2002.  Wow.  It seems a lifetime ago, and in so many ways, it's just as distant a time as my suburban childhood watching The Price is Right.  I went to poetry readings so often that many faces started to seem familiar.  I had dreams of my own book with a spine, and when my first chapbook was accepted in 2003 for publication in 2004, it seemed a tantalizing possibility.

It's also a time before I got a job in the for-profit education sector.  That job at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale was good in so many ways, but disastrous in others (being part of that industry as it spiraled down).  It was a time between disastrous hurricanes, the one that hadn't affected me personally (Andrew in 1992) and the ones that wrecked me in so many ways (Katrina in 2005, Wilma in 2005, and Irma in 2017).

With each death, the gloomy part of my brain says, "Well, so this is how it is now.  More death than emergence."  But let me pivot from gloominess.  Let me be grateful for the time that we have had.  Let me savor what is left.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Brief Reflections on a Second Week of Teaching

I'm feeling tired this morning, and I can't decide if it's a good tired or not--maybe it's a mix of good tired (I did good teaching and preaching this week!  I made mostly healthy food choices and walked every day!) and not-as-good tired (driving!  depressing politics!  no creative writing done!).  Let me record some snippets:

--I have finally gotten the computer in my work office to communicate with the printer, which makes my life much easier.  Hurrah!  It's not a speedy computer, and the keyboard makes writing difficult (it's got a few extra keys, so I hit a backslash button every time my pinkie reaches for the enter key).

--I also got a key to the office.

--I am surprised that it feels easier to teach English 101 than the 102 class, which is the Literature class.  I'm still figuring out the pacing in that class and how many handouts I need.  There's not as much participation as I would like, but it's only the first week of talking about literature so that might change.  And if it doesn't, I'll make adjustments.  I can talk about literature all by myself, even though I'd prefer a discussion.

--I am still loving the ability to feel inspired and/or to find a poem/writing online and to bring it to class.  Finding one poem often inspires me to go hunting after others that I had forgotten that I loved.  For example, I found this New York Times article about hip hop being the answer to poetry malaise, and I wanted some poetry to go with it.  I am not into 21st century hip hop enough to bring in song lyrics, so I went way back and made copies of Gwendolyn Brooks' "We Real Cool."  I tried to think of other great African American poets and went hunting for Natasha Trethewey poems--wow!  She is so wonderful, which I have known since Native Guard was published.

--For the past 3 of my 4 teaching days, I've gotten home and quickly lost any energy that I had.  I have been so exhausted in the late afternoon and early evening, going to bed at 7:15 kind of tired.  I need to figure out how to change that, at least on Thursdays when I am a seminary student in a Systematic Theology class from 6:30 to 9:30.  I suspect that if I don't drink wine and have a bit of iced coffee, I'll be fine. 

--This morning it's time to take the newer car in for an oil change--it's been a year.  Let me bring this blog post to a close so I can get ready to assist.  Then it's time to turn my attention to my other job:  sermon writing awaits! 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Waning Days of Summer

In later years, when I look back on this blog, will I wonder at what I left out?  For example, there's no analysis of the first presidential debate--in part because one needed cable to watch, in part because it started at 9, but in largest part, because I have no desire to watch this madness.  Another example--will I look back and see the plane crash in Russia as bigger news than it seems today?  I figured that the man who attempted a coup against Putin 2 months ago was a dead man, and it did take longer than I was expecting.

When I look back on these days of waning summer, I'll remember going over to the local Lutheran church to work on quilts for Lutheran World Relief.  Yesterday I looked through the big bins of donated fabric and put together bundles for our leader to assemble into quilt tops.  She says she's no good at this, and that I save her lots of time by doing it.  If I took those bundles and tried to assemble quilt tops, it would take me much longer than it takes her.  It is a good partnership.

I did not bring as many tomatoes home yesterday, but that's not because it was the waning days of summer but because we had more quilters yesterday.  That's O.K., because I got a buy one get one free deal at the Fresh Market yesterday--now we have two huge containers of tropical fruit salad in the fridge.  Well, on Monday we did.

I enjoyed going to the Fresh Market so much on Monday that I went back yesterday.  I have loved the Fresh Market since grad school days, back when they didn't sell cleaning supplies, back when I could scarcely afford much of what was for sale.  But back then, the store offered petit fours, each one costing twenty-five cents.  Sadly, that seems not to be the case these days, at least not at our local Fresh Market.

In these waning days of summer, the course shells for my seminary classes that I'll be taking this fall have opened.  Nothing looks too formidable--hurrah!  I will miss these days that have had a more leisurely pace, but it will be good to move forward with my MDiv degree.

Even though the weather is much more like summer, it's clear summer is coming to a close.  I'm seeing leaf color on trees in the lower elevations.  It seems earlier this year than last year, but maybe I just wasn't paying close attention last year.  I've been picking a handful of blackberries every morning on my walk--those bramble bushes are about at their end, which makes me savor the berries even more.

I am looking forward to seeing how the seasons change on this mountain.  But I am trying to savor the last weeks of this season. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Quilt Squares, Literature, and Freewriting

I wanted a unique way to begin a discussion of the topic I wrote on the board:  "What is Literature?"  Just the writing of these 3 words on the board provoked some eye-rolling, and not in a good way.

I brought out this quilt square:

I asked, "I created this with my own two hands.  I sewed it all by hand.  Is this a work of literature?"  Much to my surprise, the students got engaged with this question--I expected mass agreement that a quilt square is not a work of literature, that literature requires words.

From there it was on to works that I consider much more traditional literature. We looked at Carolyn Forche's "The Colonel," which I've seen in Literature textbooks in both the Poetry and the Short Fiction section.  It generated good conversation about what a work of literature needs to have, beyond words.  Is it characters?  Imagery?  Some sort of plot?  Does it need to be about something that matters?  If it matters, what's the best way to get as many people to see it as possible?  From there, we moved to a few other works, as we talked about genre (is it analysis?  What are the limits of a poetry of witness? how can we tell if a poem is about the moon and the sun or something more substantial?).

There was some additional eye rolling as the class went on, which might have been about me or might have been about the subject or might have been about something else.  Much as I want to believe in my persuasive and performing powers, I know that not every student will be happy and completely engaged all the time.

At the beginning of the class, before we did anything, one of the students let out an enormous sigh and declared, "I can't wait for this semester to be over!"  It's only week 2!  So, I might be facing long odds with some of these students, in terms of having happy, engaged students.

But that's OK.  I'm happy and engaged.

My second class was much more engaged than I expected.  We did two rounds of freewriting, where students must write without stopping for 5 minutes.  There's usually one or two (or five or six) who just give up.  Not this group--they wrote and wrote.  

Was it usable?  That is not the point of freewriting.  But I suspect that some of it was.  Tomorrow we'll start working on narrative essays in earnest.  Today I'll join the quilt group at the local Lutheran church and play with their fabric stash.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The Less Thrilling Part of Course Preparation

I know that I have been making rapturous posts about the joys of returning to the in person classroom and doing curriculum design without having a textbook, so let me be sure to mention that it's not all roses and sunshine.  Yesterday, I decided it was time to start adding more material to the course shell.

Yes, even in an in person classroom, I'm creating a course shell.  I'm one of those people who sees the advantages.  Even before I was an administrator, I saw the value of putting materials in an accessible place in case of death or disaster.  I've been the teacher who had to step into a class when the original teacher had to drop out, and it would have been easier had there been a course shell.

I had already put the syllabus in the course shell, which was easy.  Yesterday, I created a module to remind people of what we did last week.  Actually, it was simpler than that.  Here's the module for last week:  

"One reason why I didn't assign a grammar handbook or a College Composition textbook, the major reason, is that so much rich material exists online for free. My favorite is the Excelsior OWL (online writing lab) site. It's got modules on grammar, research, how to write an essay, and so much more. It will be a valuable resource across disciplines as you make academic progress. It's even got resources to help you with a job search.

Here's the link so that you can start exploring:'

It was easy to create this module--hurrah!  Later in the afternoon, I decided to attempt something that I expected to be more challenging:  the gradebook.  Creating a gradebook was much less intuitive than I hoped.

It would help if the directions told me to create assignments first and then link them to the gradebook.  Instead, I typed each one into the gradebook, and then I couldn't enter the points that the Gradebook kept requesting.  I couldn't figure out how to delete anything, but finally I clicked the right combination.  

That still left me with my problem, so I decided to attempt the process from the assignment end.  Here, too, the directions should have told me that I had to enter the points, and then the pull-down menu that lets me link to the gradebook would appear.  Instead, I had to take a leap of faith.

I'm glad that I've done this work before, and that I've been teaching with a course shell for so long.  When I first started teaching online classes, I was terrified of doing something that would destroy the shell itself.  Now I know that it's unlikely.

So I spent another hour, entering points and percentages, and trying to remember the elementary math that I likely was never taught about percentages.  For me, having multiple daily writing assignments that would count for 20% of the grade--that was hard to figure out how to put into the gradebook.  Since I said I would take the top 8 grades, I entered 8 daily writing grades as assignments, which each count 2.5% of the grade.  I think the math works, but I'll likely do some calculating the old-fashioned way, with numbers on paper and calculator, to be sure.

There was a moment when I was tempted to abandon the online gradebook, to go back to creating a gradebook the way that I did it years ago when I first started teaching, on paper, in those small notebooks with a green plastic-y cover and paper that looked like a cross between a ledger and graph paper.

But I know that having a gradebook in a course shell is important not just for me, for the administration, and for the registrar.  It's good for students to be able to look up their grades and to know how they are doing.  And it's good for me:  it's important to learn how to use the technology, and it will help me to have everything for the class in one place that I can access from whatever part of the roads I'm traveling (and here I mean literal roads, since I'm going to South Carolina twice a week and Tennessee once a week for this semester).  

Monday, August 21, 2023

Sermon Prep/Curriculum Prep

This past week-end, my thoughts were mostly about sermon writing, which in many ways is the least interesting writing process of mine.  It's mostly read the Gospel, read my past meditations on it, consult some commentaries (my favorites are the Feasting on the Word/Gospel ones and the Wisdom series, which isn't ready for Matthew yet, alas), and write a sermon.  But yesterday, my spouse said that the morning's sermon was one of my strongest.  So I loaded it to a blog post on my theology blog.

My teaching/curriculum prep process has been intriguing me.  So I tried to capture a bit of it:

--I am watching my teacher brain in action--so many ideas for so many ways to teach literature.  I'm requesting lots of books from the North Carolina public library system.  This morning, I had an idea about Dorothy Wordsworth, her journals, and her brother's poems.  So I did a search in the library system and was delighted to see all the books that came up.  I did place a request for the journals, but not all the other books that mentioned her.  

--Apparently, she's seen as one of the early nature writers now--let me research this a bit further.  Dorothy Wordsworth as one of our first environmentalists!  

--I do realize that an environmentalist and a nature writer might be very different creatures.

--There is a joy that comes from thinking about all the literature I've loved and all the ways it can be combined for a teaching module.  I'm thinking of Dorothy Wordsworth and William and the journal entry about daffodils that became William's poem.  I'm thinking about Amy Nezhukumathil's World of Wonders and Ross Gay's work.  What a day that will be!

--It's cool to think about ways to talk about the literature I've loved and ways to expand the canon, to make sure that students get to experience a wide range of authors writing in English.

--I had my students write some initial thoughts that included what subjects they'd like to read about and what subjects they absolutely would not like to read about.  I need to read those today. 

--I am not a plan way far ahead teacher when it comes to this class.  I have some general ideas, but I want to leave room for inspirations, for the piece I come across and want to share.  It's a bit nervewracking to leave so much open, so I understand why people want to plan the whole thing in advance.  Some day, I might too; I do remember many teaching years when I just relied on what I had already done--but that's because I had a very heavy teaching load and/or a non-supportive space for innovation and/or lots of other stuff going on.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Seeing "Smokey and the Bandit" for the First Time

Last night, my spouse was scrolling through the endless possibilities of stuff to watch; we have a Roku stick and no streaming services except for Amazon Prime, and still the possibilities can be overwhelming.  He clicked on Smokey and the Bandit.  I realized I had never seen it and had never really wanted to see it.  Still, it seemed as good as any other choice, so we settled in.

The film inspired odd nostalgia in me--odd in some ways, because I hadn't seen the film.  But still, it is so much a period piece of the late 70's and with a bit of Southeast U.S. thrown in.  Ah, the 70's, when you couldn't get Coors beer east of the Mississippi River.  There are street scenes that capture the pay phones that once dotted every intersection.  There are scuzzy diners and kids doing activities (football and band) on a field.  The cast was more racially mixed than I expected--hey, a black sheriff, who seems like the more rational law enforcement dude than the crazed sheriff that chases Bandit across state lines.  And that Trans-Am--I remember how much kids in the 70's longed to grow up and have one of those cars.  And CB radios!  I'm surprised by how much of that lingo I remember, particularly because our family didn't have a CB radio.

I didn't expect to like Sally Field so much in this movie:  a runaway bride!  She's adorable and spunky and vulnerable and invincible.  She has agency, which I worried she might not.

It is interesting to think about this depiction of law enforcement, along with other shows of the 70's.  The Dukes of Hazzard comes to mind--shows where the law breakers are much more appealing than the deranged law enforcement folks.  It's hard not to think about our current day and wonder how much these types of shows might have played a part in forming the current muddle we seem to be in, where people can attack the Capitol in Washington D.C., and a huge part of the nation sees them as heroes.

Of course, I've read history and lots of literature, and I realize the appealing outlaw figure has always been with us, and in the U.S. more so than other countries.  

Last night, for the most part, I was able to just enjoy a film for what it is, with all of its overacting and strange plotline and car wreck after car wreck.  Today, I'll get in our sensible car and drive across the mountains keeping mostly to the speed limit, delivering a sermon about how a Canaanite woman schools Jesus in the narrow vision of his mission.  It's a different kind of spunkiness, a different woman with agency, but vital for our time.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Climate Change and Poetry and an Acceptance

In a week where southern California is under a tropical storm watch, with storm Hilary expected to dump as much rain in 2 days as some parts of the southwest get in 2 years (2 years!!!), and wild fires continue to blaze across northern Canada, and a heat dome will break all sorts of records across the nation--I began this week of historic weather by getting my contributor copies of this book, Dear Human at the Edge of Time:  Poems on Climate Change in the United States:

I'm very pleased that "Higher Ground," one of my Noah's Wife poems was selected.  When I read this poem, I remember clearly its genesis:  the flood of 2019 just before Christmas that wiped out one of our cars that was parked on the street.  There wasn't a tropical system or any warning at all.

This week was also the week where another one of my Noah's Wife poems was chosen for publication:   "Noah's Wife Gets to Work."  One of the joys of blogging is that I have an easy way of looking up my writing process, at least for this poem.  This blog post tells the genesis of this poem, the day in January of 2020 when my boss insisted that the registrar put unqualified/uninterested students in classes so that we would meet our ARC goal, which brought the wrath of Corporate on us, which made our boss enraged, an unpleasant day all the way round.

I look back and think about the ways our lives and our school were about to unravel, all of the power struggles that would mean so little in the end, as the pandemic unspooled, and new owners arrived to change the school in ways that meant that very few of us would still be employed there.  I think back to days like the one in January of 2020, and I'm amazed that I could tolerate that work situation as long as I did.

But back to the current publication.  I am pleased with the variety of poems that are included in this book.  One contributor and poet friend of mine, Dave Bonta, made this Facebook post, giving this review, an elegant expression of the beauty of this book:  "I got my contributors' copies of this, and have been extremely impressed by the variety, including poets from various walks of life, not just the usual suspects - everyone from a high school kid to a climate scientist to the current US poet laureate. It's also fun to share space with social media pals like Caitlin Gildrien, Kristin Berkey-Abbott, and Lesley Wheeler, not to mention folks I've met through qarrtsiluni and such. The topic is dire, but the fellowship is real. I suppose there's a lesson in that..."

Here's the poem that appears in the book:

Higher Ground

On the last day of the year, Noah’s wife waits
for the insurance adjuster.
She thinks of the Christmas flood
and the larger flood before it.

Her husband’s god speaks
in terms of measurements and building
instructions. Her husband’s god gives
out directions and punishments.

Noah’s wife has always heard
the subtle messages, the daily
communications that the men
ignore: how to feed
the family, how to comfort
the forsaken, which breaches
need repairing.

Noah’s wife studies
real estate listings and elevation charts
while she waits
for the insurance adjuster.
She should be researching
vehicles. She already knows
what the adjuster will tell
her about the drowned car.
She seeks answers
to the larger question
of how to find
the higher ground.

Friday, August 18, 2023

First Week of Teaching in Snippets

My schedule is more off kilter than usual.  I crashed into sleep last night around 7, only to wake up at midnight.  I never went back to sleep, although I tried.  In some ways, I'm not surprised.  I have a lot on my mind, a lot to keep straight, and that's before seminary classes start on August 28.  Let me collect some snippets here, since I'm not sure any of them are worthy of a whole blog post by themselves.

--Yesterday's teaching went well.  I have been reflecting on how long it's been since I taught a class that meets more than once a week.  For much of my teaching life, I've taught classes that meet once a week, which means 3-4 hour classes.  I am much more suited to my current teaching schedule of classes that meet for 75 minutes.

--I go back and forth between worrying that I won't be able to find readings that I really like to worrying that there's not enough time for them all.  Both might be true.

--In the literature class, a student asked me what was the longest paper I ever wrote, and I replied, "My dissertation, to get my Ph.D., which was 150 pages."  They asked me what it was about.  I was able to tell them--yes, after all these years, I could still talk cogently (but perhaps not concisely).  They seemed genuinely interested, which made me oddly happy.

--At some point, I do plan on sharing my creative work with them.  Hmmm.

--The building where I have my office and my classes is the newest one on campus, and it's primarily used by Humanities people.  Is there a secret newer building on campus that the Business department gets to use?

--Several students asked me if I ever read the work of students that wasn't assigned for class.  I thought about asking, "What kind of writing?"  But instead, I just smiled and said yes.

--On Tuesday, I had a working computer in my office, but it wasn't connected to the printer.  Yesterday, the computer wasn't working.  It had a message about getting ready to do a repair, then it would reboot, and display the same message.  Happily, I don't really need that computer, at least not right away.

--I really love the vibe of the first weeks of fall term; they've always been my favorite.  It's the start of a new year, and everyone seems hopeful.  That is not true in January when people seem a bit more worn down/out, even after Christmas break.

--I am noticing more leaves changing color here and there, even in the lower elevations.  I don't remember it being this way last year in August.  Of course, I was preoccupied with other changes.

--I had forgotten how tiring it can be to teach for 3 hours at a stretch--all the standing, all the talking.  And then there's the commute in the car.  Let me go take a walk and see if I can work some kinks out of my body. 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Nourishment: Quilt Groups and Tomatoes

Yesterday, I made my way back to the quilt group that's part of the Lutheran church that's closest to my Lutheridge house.  This group meets every Wednesday to work on quilts for Lutheran World Relief.  They have a space that would be the envy of many--it's made of two portable type buildings, which means there are larger rooms and smaller and bathrooms.  It means we can work without disrupting the preschool that occupies much of the church during the week days.  It means we have plenty of storage for all the fabric that people donate.  It means we have lots of tables set up in configurations that make it easy to assemble the quilts that are 60 by 80 inches.

When I first joined the group in the spring, they had lots of assembled quilts that needed knotting.  I was happy to help.  Yesterday, we had lots of material that needed to be assembled into quilt tops.  I can do that too.  Yesterday I used one of the sewing machines so that it would go faster.  

It's the fanciest machine I've ever used.  As with many fancy things (the computer, our new stove), it has all sorts of functions that I don't know exist, functions that I wouldn't use, even if I did know that they existed.  

I chose fairly large panels in browns and autumnal colors that went together, and went to work sewing them together.  I worry a bit about my ability to measure and cut, but I came close to the measurement requirements.  If it's not quite square, we can fix that when we assemble it.  With the exception of a few annoying moments in measuring and cutting, it was so, so, so satisfying to put together a quilt top in just over an hour.

I put it in the cabinet where we put quilt tops, and I admired the colors of another one.  The leader of the group said, "You put the fabrics together for me, and I assembled it.  Don't you remember?"  I do not.  I do remember several sessions where I spent a wonderful afternoon going through fabrics and putting them in bundles.  I didn't realize that our leader was doing the next step.  

She showed me another quilt top assembled with fabrics that I had sorted and put together more recently.  I did remember that group.  I was happy to see that the fabrics did match each other in ways that I envisioned.

I tend to assume that anybody could put fabrics together, even though I know it's not true.  As with so many of my skills, I assume that everyone can do what I can do--and that they can do all the things I cannot, which means there's something wrong with me.  It's good that I know this tendency of my brain, but annoying that it can take me some time to realize the dynamic at work.

It's great to work in fabrics that get stored somewhere else.  It's great to work on projects that will head out into the world to do good:  people use them as quilts, but also floor coverings and room dividers and protection of all sorts.  It's great to make friends with women I might not get to know in any other setting (many of them don't go to the church that gives us space and time).  

And I returned home with tomatoes!  The quilt group leader brought the surplus from her garden, and I was happy to take them home with me.  They are delicious in ways that make me remember the good gardens of my youth.  And quilting with this group also makes me remember other good quilting groups, both the ones quilting for charity and the ones that had us working on our own quilts.  What a blessing those groups have been for me, what nourishment.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A Report on the First Day Teaching at a New School

Yesterday, I got in the car at 9:15 in the morning and drove to Spartanburg Methodist College, just across the border in South Carolina.  It was an easy drive, just over an hour, no traffic/construction delays.  I circled the campus and decided to go ahead and park in the empty Faculty/Staff parking spaces.  I was surprised to find empty spaces at 10:15.  I checked to make sure that my parking sticker was Faculty/Staff.

I wasn't able to get the key to my office, but I was able to use the office for the day.  I could remember my system log-in info, and the office computer recognized it.  Hurrah!  I fiddled with the computer for a very long time, trying to brighten the monitor, all to no avail.  In all the places where a brightness slider should have been, there was none.  Happily, I am not required to spend much time in my office, so I won't be doing much work on that computer.

It's a lovely office, especially for an adjunct.  I'll share it with an adjunct who is on campus on a MWF schedule.  I sat in it and thought about past offices, past schools, where people reacted as if I was crazy for wanting bookcases--and this office has two empty ones, plus a metal cabinet.  There's an L-shaped desk with several file sized drawers, and there's another piece of furniture that looks like it could hold lateral files. 

I was happy that the copy machine was working, and I was able to make copies of my syllabi easily.  I met some fellow faculty--everyone was welcoming.  Soon it was time to go to my classes, which went well.  

I have taught in a classroom since 2020, but it was a much smaller group of students:  6 Vet Tech students taking my Speech class was the largest in person class since the pandemic.  Yesterday was very different, with one class of 25 students and one class of 13.  If we had to, we could space out in the room with 13, but we probably couldn't spread out enough to stop disease transmission.  My brain went to that thought several times yesterday, which was not something I'd have thought about in 2019.

Yesterday was also different, in that I was in a room of traditional students in a traditional-ish college.  Most of yesterday's students looked to be 21 or younger, most just out of high school (based on their first day writings).  It was a good mix in terms of race and gender.  By traditional-ish college, I mean that this school has a mix of 4 year degrees, plus Associate's degrees, and the degrees are along the liberal arts and business spectrums, including health and criminal justice in the mix.  In some ways, like the courses offered and the career plans of students, it's similar to the big schools in the south Florida area that began as community colleges:  Broward College and Miami Dade College.  But the campus is much more beautiful, with several buildings of student housing and lots of sports fields and structures--much more similar to other small colleges than community colleges.

I didn't linger after my last class was over.  I had seen the light darkening, and I thought my best bet was to get on the road home.  Indeed, as I drove and listened to the NPR stations, weather alerts chimed.  I was glad that the dark skies and storms didn't catch up with me.

I had an easy drive home, and we relaxed on the deck, enjoying summer weather and waiting to see if the storms had followed me home.  I had a virtual spiritual direction appointment in the evening, my one directee.  I get as much from our sessions as she does; we do lectio divina, so it's not like the spiritual direction that some people do, which is a bit close to psychotherapy for me.

I spent some time this morning, looking through old files, trying to see what I had created, back when I was creating lots of curriculum.  I finally had a moment of insight, where I realized it would be easier to create fresh documents than recycle old ones, if I could find them.  I'm not using a textbook, so I feel a bit of pressure to create some content for the course shell.  Maybe I'll resist that for now.  Maybe instead of writing my own, I'll post links to material that's already out there; I'm thinking especially about grammar refresher kinds of lessons.

I'm really excited about the possibility of bringing in all the literature that interests me, even as I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the directions I could go.  But what a joy it is to have these choices.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

First Day of School, 2023

In a few hours, I'll get in the car and head down the mountain to Spartanburg.  I'll see if I can get the key to my office.  I'm hoping to get copies of my syllabus made, but if not, I have my own copy.  I'm supposed to sign a contract; hopefully I can figure out where I go to do that.  I'm really glad that I went to see the campus way back at the beginning of June.  I'd feel deep anxiety today if I hadn't.

I don't feel anxiety today.  I know how to run the first day of class, and I know where and when my classes are meeting.  I know that I am allowed to park anywhere I can find a space, and I know which building is the one where my classes will meet.  That is all I need to know today.  I will bring a book, in case I can't access the internet.  I will bring a calendar, the old-fashioned kind printed on paper.  I will bring my cell phone, but I may leave it in the car.

I'm thinking way, way back to when I first started teaching.  I wanted a briefcase kind of thing, but I wanted it to look a bit funkier.  I had in mind a messenger bag kind of thing.  I am realizing that I need something similar today.  Happily, I have something that will work without having to clear out my backpack.  My mom used it before she gave it to me--she used it during her church job, and then she repurposed it for a sort of diaper/supply bag when my nephew was young, and then I used it for a gym bag of sorts, the bag that held my spin shoes and some hair clips (I had a different bag for my office clothes, make-up, and work shoes).  When I cleared it out, I discovered an old pair of clean socks that I kept there, just in case I needed them or someone else did.

Good news!  The bag holds my huge mug that I will fill with water.  So far, it's been fairly spill-proof.  I am thinking back to my first day of teaching, long ago in 1988.  I didn't bring water with me everywhere I went.  I showed up with syllabi, which I handed out.  And then I stationed myself behind a podium, where I kept a death grip for the whole class.

I am lucky--that first class was bright and engaged and wonderful.  My life might have taken a very different trajectory had I been assigned a different class.  I'm glad that I had the group of students that I did.

Let me go take a walk; I likely won't have a chance later today.  

Monday, August 14, 2023

What to Wear to the Mass Extinction

Tomorrow I go back to the classroom to teach English classes.  I've been teaching all along, but my online classes are very different from what I'm  about to do.  My online classes are asynchronous, meaning that we don't have a Zoom session or required weekly meetings online.  There are modules, and while students can work their way through at their own pace, there are parts where they need to respond to classmates, primarily with discussion threads.  I am available to answer questions and give feedback, but I don't create curriculum.  Often, my primary role is that of grader.

Tomorrow I meet my classes at Spartanburg Methodist College.  It began life as a junior college, but now it has some bachelors degrees.  A fair number of students still take classes and then transfer to a bigger college, so in that way, it's similar to a community college.  But the campus is huge and aesthetically beautiful, unlike most community college campuses.

I have more freedom in teaching these classes than I have ever had.  For example, I get to choose my own books.  People outside academia might think that faculty always get to choose their own books.  But for a variety of reasons, that's not usually the case, particularly with part-time faculty; book orders often have to be finalized before faculty are hired.

I have the syllabi printed, ready for copying at the campus tomorrow.  I have no limits to how many copies of classroom materials I can make--that, too, is different.  I will get the key to my office, which I share with another person.  I will have a key and my own desk!  That, too, is a very different set up than many adjuncts have.

Even though I'm in a much safer place, in terms of where my house is located, I've continued to read and research climate collapse, which I'm convinced is happening much faster than I once thought it would.  It's sobering to think about the fact that all it takes is a summer of fires like this past one, releasing so much more carbon into the atmosphere, undoing any momentum we had, which was fairly minimal.

At one point, I thought that much of the grimmer climate collapse stuff would happen after I died, but now I'm not sure.

It's strange to think that we're staring at a mass extinction event that will likely include humans, a slow moving mass extinction event, and here I am, finishing syllabi, thinking about what to wear tomorrow, buying shoes that can be worn with skirts in the winter.  It's no wonder that humanity isn't very good at risk assessment.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Constructing a Marriage

On this day in 1988, I'd be getting ready to be married in the same church where my parents were married in 1962, the same church where my grandfather was pastor for many years before he died. That church was in Greenwood, South Carolina, a church I continued to attend through the following decades as I visited my grandmother regularly.  I felt family history every time I was there.

On this day in 2023, my spouse and I will go across the mountains to the church in Bristol, Tennessee, the church that is a descendant of the first church my grandfather served.  When he graduated from seminary, in Columbia, South Carolina, he went to serve 5 parishes in East Tennessee, and that's where he met my grandmother.  Later, those five parishes would consolidate into two parishes.  I took a picture of the picture that hangs in the pastor's study of Faith Lutheran, the church where I serve as a Synod Appointed Minister:

The church in the above picture is one of the churches where my grandfather served.  I wonder if the building still exists.  Probably not--it would be very old by now, and while those buildings were built to last, most of them don't.

After today's service, which will include the Blessing of the Backpacks, we will have a sandwich and ice cream sundae event--it's an annual event to celebrate the end of summer and the start of the school year.  Even though it has nothing to do with our anniversary, I like the idea of celebrating that way.

If we have enough energy afterward, we may go over to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.  They have an exhibit about women in old time music that will close soon.  

At the end of the day, we'll return to this house, the fifth house we've owned, the fifth house that we've renovated.  It's a work in progress, as are both of us, as is this marriage, as is every relationship.  This house is the most well constructed house we've ever owned, and I have hopes that as we head into the future, we'll be able to say the same thing about this marriage.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

The Cassandra Emoji

 Some random bits from the past week:

My friend who is still in Florida made a post about the governor trying to prohibit AP Psychology classes from teaching about sex and gender.  I responded to her post:  "I need an emoji that says, 'I can't believe it's come to this, even in a time of apocalypse!' Something that mixes a bit of Harriet Tubman with a bit of Octavia Butler and some herb that only witches would understand--we could call it the Cassandra emoji."

On Wednesday, I heard The Violent Femmes playing at an upscale grill/bar/restaurant that caters to a world class golf course.  I'm familiar with the strangeness of hearing music from my misspent youth in unexpected places, but "Add It Up" has some lyrics which modern listeners might label as problematic.  Is there a censored version for public places that I don't know about?  Amidst the bustle of the restaurant and the outside terrace, I couldn't hear all of the song.

I've been staying in a place where I can watch The Weather Channel in the morning.  All the men wear vests, the kind that used to come as part of 3 piece suits, so they look like they left their jackets somewhere.  The vest doesn't necessarily match the tie, although it does seem to match the pants.  The fabric looks cheap and shiny.  Is this a men's fashion trend that has returned?  Are the male weather forecasters at the channel amusing themselves in some way?  Is there some thrift store competition I'm unaware of?

My nephew who is 17 years old asked me what my favorite Stephen King novel is.  My first answer was The Stand.  But that's a long read.  Are there shorter books I'd recommend?  There are.  But now I'm thinking about getting him a copy of Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and leaving the question of Stephen King unanswered.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Cassandra Colors Her Hair

Yesterday, my mom treated me to a cut and highlights (or touch up for the highlights I got in January) at her favorite salon.  It's not the beauty parlor of olden days.  I sat down, and the stylist/technician asked me if I wanted something to drink.  I asked for water with fizz in it, and she said, "We don't have that, but we do have beer and wine."

They only had red wine, nothing white or pink or fizzy.  But I'm fine with red wine, and it's an upscale salon, so why not?  They served it in a goblet made of glass, as I would expect in a posh place.  I watched my fellow customers, our hair folded up in foil packets, and thought about how we looked like extras in a 50's or 60's sci fi movie.  I thought about the coast of Maui destroyed by fire and this summer that has smashed high temperature records on both land and sea.  A poem started to percolate in my brain.

The title came to me first:  Cassandra colors her hair.  It will contrast her past life, when she went to salons that served wine along dreams about what a hair cut and color could give us, with a current life in the midst of a climate crisis--or will it be post apocalypse?  I have a vision of Cassandra who knows how to use plants to coax life from a womb or end it, to use plants to stave off infection, to poison or to cure.  But for the most part, she uses her vast garden (and the nature preserve beyond her property) to color cloth and to dye her hair.

Can I pull it off or will it just seem trite?  We shall see.  Even if I can't pull it off, I'm happy that poems seem to be coming more quickly now.  For much of the past year, I've had a line here or there, and some days, I was able to create a poem, line by line, strand by strand.  In some ways, it was exciting to work that way, not knowing where the poem was headed, and being intrigued as I went along.  The work offered genuine surprises and discoveries, if I stuck with it long enough.

Yesterday felt like a process that is more familiar, when the poem comes to me more fully formed in terms of the idea and direction.  That process, too, can offer discoveries, but it's different.  The discoveries and directions don't feel quite as surprising, although they are delightful.

Should I should finish the Cassandra volunteering at summer camp before starting on this one?  Have I ever had 2 Cassandra poems in process at the same time?

At some point, I should look at all of the Cassandra poems to determine if they are about the same character.  My Noah's wife poems are about the same character.  But in the meantime, I'm just happy that these poems are flowing again--even as I am distressed about the climate/planet chaos that is inspiring them.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Love as Fabric Hearts

When my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, I wanted to get them a special present, but I was a grad student with very little money.  I was rich in fabric scraps, so I created 25 hearts, sewed them onto a piece of muslin, and did some quilting.

Fifteen years later, I made another panel.  Ten years later, I made another panel.  Yesterday, I finished another panel that celebrates their 60th year of marriage.  The last panel includes some hearts made out of crocheted yarn.  When I started this project, my sister wasn't crocheting, but now that she is, I thought it would be cool to include hearts from a different kind of fiber art.

I planned to assemble the quilt when I visited in May, but her crocheted strips were delayed in the mail.  When they arrived, my mom sent them to me in North Carolina, but by then, our home repairs had reached a messy phase, so I didn't want to risk working on the quilt in that construction zone.  So, earlier this week, I bundled it all together and brought it with me to complete.  Yesterday, I took advantage of a quiet afternoon, and voila!

I have been touched that my parents have treated this project as a work of art and a treasure.  It has always had a place of prominence on their walls.  Here's how it looks in the larger context of their bedroom:

Yesterday I reflected about how I have learned to work with the heart shape in fabric.  It's not an easy shape, with its curves and points.  Here's an example from 1987:

And here's a later one:

I love these little hearts as a metaphor for love and long term relationships.  Some of them are made of traditional calico, while others are made out of fabric with different patterns and shapes, and later ones are made of crocheted yarn.  Some of the hearts are bigger, some smaller, and others are a bit disfigured.  But when we look at the quilt, they fit into a standard pattern.  Some of the quilting is erratic, some of it is elegant, but all of it functions the same way:  holding the quilt together.

All of this can work well in any number of metaphorical ways, as a way of exploring what and how we believe about love.  It's also an interesting way of thinking about time, especially as I approach my 35th wedding anniversary on Sunday.

My spouse texted, "We've been married for 7 rows."  Wow.  May we continue to have the luck my parents have had, luck that keeps love strong and relationships intact.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Travels at the End of a Semester

Yesterday morning, I got up very early.  I decided I would push through, get my grading done, and get grades turned in before leaving on my road trip.  And that is what I did.

This week is the last week before my fall schedule begins to intensify.  By this time next week, I won't really have a stretch of time to come see my parents in Williamsburg. Between the classes that I'm teaching in person, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the preaching that I'm doing on Sundays, I won't have time to get away.

I always think it should be a quick zip of a drive to see them, but I always forget how far south I live; I'm not just driving east, but it's a 2-3 hour trek to get to the border.  It's a pleasant enough drive, but it does take 6 to 7 hours, and that's if all goes well.  

Yesterday, all went well.  I pulled into my parents' driveway just before 1.  We had a lovely lunch outside, where it was hot, but there was a breeze and shade, and it was worth it to watch the butterflies dart in and out of the lovely blooms that the neighbor has planted in the common area.  Every so often, a gold leaf drifted by on the breeze, a reminder that despite the heat, the season is drawing to a close.

We talked about a variety of topics:  my Monday visit to the dermatologist (lots of zaps of nitrogen to pre-cancerous spots and 2 chunks sent for a biopsy which will likely come back as cancer), Florida's housing insurance crisis (prompted by this story which ran in The Washington Post in yesterday's paper version, but I had seen earlier), and the larger political situation. 

My dad went to his rehearsal (he sings with a Barbershop group in Richmond), and Mom and I went up to the main facility to eat at Archie's Grill.  I had the burger I always have, the one that comes with blue cheese and beautiful lettuce and some balsamic glaze with a side of sweet potato fries--last night, everything was the perfect temperature, which isn't always the case.  I may have it again later in the week.

I ended the evening with my mom in the library, trying to find books to recommend to my mom--I found a few old treasures by authors I remember loving decades ago, like Joanna Trollope and Lee Smith.  I had a very early bedtime, since I had been up early grading and then had a longish drive.  I slept really well, a rare treat these days.

It feels strange to have grades turned in, to have a few days (literally, only a few days) in between classes, the ones I'm taking and the ones I'm teaching.  Let me make the most of it!

Monday, August 7, 2023

Teaching Reflections in Fragments

Today I'm feeling a bit fragmented:  I have grades due this week for my online class, which means lots of grading, plus I'm headed to my parents for a few days before my schedule gets a bit more intense.  Let me collect a few bits before I head out for my walk and/or do more grading.

--The more I read and grade research essays, the more I feel like I am trying to teach a medieval skill that won't be relevant in the world we're inhabiting, like teaching students to shoe a horse in an age of spaceships.  Today, as I wrote a comment about italicizing titles of journals, I thought about how few of my students have held an academic journal in their hands.

--That said, there are so many other types of writing that are so much more valuable.  As I type out the word valuable, I think about how society values writing ("Can you make money from that?") and how I value it (will it help us cope and/or can it help us discover something?).

--I was surprised to find out the the children in my Bristol, Tennessee congregation started school last week.  On this side of the mountain, they don't go back until August 28.  We will do blessings of backpacks at our ice cream social on August 13.

--Next week, I'll be getting ready to go back to the classroom myself.  I start teaching at Spartanburg Methodist College on August 15, and I'm really looking forward to it.  I'll say more about that later, when I'm not distracted by this week's teaching tasks for my online classes.  

--In some ways, I feel like my life has folded back on itself.  I think back to the fall of 1988, when I was in my second year of grad school, so not as anxious about my ability to do grad level work, and I was excited to be able to try out some of my teaching ideas with classes.  Back then, it was my first time teaching, and this year, it's not.  But it feels similar.  I'm excited for the teaching opportunity and for autumn coming and for the classes I'll be taking.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Thinner Bears and Thinner Leaves

Yesterday I took my walk as usual; what wasn't usual was the black bear that I saw just a few yards from me.  I should say, this kind of bear sighting isn't usual for me; this time of year, in this part of the North Carolina mountains near Asheville, bear sightings aren't unusual at all.  In fact, it's becoming a bit too routine for comfort.

I say that, not as someone who is scared that a black bear would attack me.  They don't usually do that, unless someone gets between a mother and cub(s).  I do worry that we're all getting too used to each other; I worry about the loss of wilderness and wildness.

My house is in the residential section of Lutheridge, a church camp that's on 600 acres of undeveloped land (plus a few acres of developed land), so we're more likely to see the occasional bear than our nearby neighbors who live in much more paved over places.  So far, I've seen a bear three times, counting yesterday.  On Thursday, I helped my spouse pick up our garbage that a bear spread across the pavement on trash day.  We may have thought that the Tzatziki sauce was much too beyond the May pull date to eat, but the bear did not.

In short, I knew that bears have been active, but we've also been active at camp, so I don't worry too much.  I try to stay alert, but that's a given for me--how nice it is to be on the lookout for bears and foxes, not for human predators.

Yesterday I was headed up the hill that leads to the chapel, when I saw the bear up ahead crossing the lower road to the chapel.  For a brief moment, I thought I was seeing a large dog, but my brain quickly made the connections, and I backed away.  Then I stood still, looking around to be sure there wasn't a mother bear nearby; I thought I was seeing a much smaller bear.

I stood watching, expecting the bear to emerge from the brambles closer to the the parking lot at the top of the hill near the chapel.  I didn't hear or see any movement at all, so I was surprised when the bear emerged from the undergrowth much closer to me.  He stopped and stared at me.  I backed away a few steps, and then turned to walk swiftly down the hill.  I turned a few times, and he was still staring at me.  But finally, I turned, and he was gone.

It was a bigger bear than I thought I had seen, taller, yet also thinner.  I had thought I saw a cub whose back was as high as my knee, but this was probably an adolescent bear, with a back up to my waist, but not filled out like a fully grown bear.  Of course, this is just me speculating.  It could have been an adult bear that needs to bulk up more before hibernation.  I did not try to get any closer to be sure.  I also didn't have my phone with me, so no pictures.

I kept walking; no need to go racing home, since I wasn't likely to see the bear again.  There were people around, including a man with a leaf blower, so I didn't expect to see more wildlife, and indeed, I didn't.  My startle response stayed in high gear for a few hours.  At one point, I thought I was seeing a bear in the backyard, but it was a car further on beyond the trees.

I am startled, too, in these early days of August, by how much thinner the leaves are.  I look out from the deck, and it's still green vastness.  But when I look more closely, I can see more of the mountain range than I could just a few weeks ago.  The sun is setting in a different spot.  There is a seasonal shift, for those of us paying attention.  

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Last Week of Summer Camp

Some day in the future, I may wonder why I didn't write about the historic Donald Trump news that happened this week, the indictment; of course, future readers may have lost track of indictments or knowing what they know, may think I was wise.  But in truth, it's because I'm weary of Donald Trump, and I don't want to spend too much more energy on this man at this point in time (maybe later, who knows).  But I'm also weary this week for other reasons:  it's been the last week of summer camp, and my most intense volunteer week of the summer.

I am glad that my time as C3ARE leader (what Lutheridge calls Bible study, but it's more) happened later in the summer, when I wasn't taking a seminary class.  When I agreed to be the Bible study leader, I naively thought, how hard can that be?  It left me more tired than expected.

Some of the C3ARE leaders did a lot more with their campers.  I would have liked to go to the craft lodge with them, but they only had one or two craft sessions, at times when I couldn't go.  My campers were part of the Outdoor Adventures Program (OAP), so they were offsite zip lining and white water rafting.  While I might be interested in those activities, I didn't want to go with middle schoolers; I worried about being a drag on their fun.

I did go to the campfire festivities, which were more skits and songs, and much fewer s'mores than I would have liked.  And when I say songs and skits, there was more shouting than I expected.  I went to breakfast each morning and dinner before the campfire, but adults and campers eat at separate tables in the dining hall.  

My commitment was less than it would have been with other campers or other weeks.  Our camp week ended on Friday, not Saturday, which meant that we didn't have an evening of watching campers while the counselors had their own Vespers service. Our OAP campers were off site, so we only led Bible study 3 mornings, not 3.

In short, I don't know why my volunteer week left me so exhausted.  Part of it was my need also to be doing the work that comes with teaching:  grading for my online classes and getting ready for the in person classes that will start August 15.  I was also trying to schedule doctor appointments with my new health insurance, and we spent Wednesday afternoon at the dentist.

Even though I was more tired than I expected, much of the tiredness was a good kind of tired, the kind that comes from leading middle schoolers and keeping them on task and feeling like we succeeded to the best of our abilities.  So, depending on my summer circumstances, I would do it again.

It's the kind of work that we will never know how it may take root and sprout.  I'd love to be able to see these campers twenty years from now, to see how our ideas about God's love shaped them.  But it's also the kind of work that is worth doing, even if it doesn't take root and sprout in any noticeable way.  It's work that not only affected campers but also counselors and those of us doing the work.  

I'm grateful to have had the time and resources to do it.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Extra Yarn and Beads and Prayer Bracelets

Last night, the Bible study leaders at camp were in charge of Vespers.  We were given very little in terms of guidelines; from what I can tell, leaders use a variety of approaches to this service at the end of the day.  My co-leader had a book she wanted to use, but we didn't have it, so we used a different one:  Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

It's a charming tale of a girl who finds a box of yarn that never gives out as she knits and knits and knits:  sweaters for all!  But we needed a bit more than just the story--we were supposed to create a Vespers experience that lasted 20-30 minutes.

I had a vision of tying in to the yarn and having the campers create something they could take with them to remember camp, to remember to pray, to remember that we will pray for them throughout the year.  I thought of a prayer bracelet or something they could keep in their pockets.

I went to the resources room and got a variety of possible supplies:  yarn, ribbon, beads, and more beads.  I spread them out on the table so that it was a focal point:

After we read the story, I said that we would make something out of yarn and ribbon, a bracelet or a necklace or a key chain.  I suggested several strands, woven together, with beads that would represent something to them:  fellow campers, God, prayers that they wanted to remember, elements of nature.

It seemed like a great idea when I thought about it before the campers arrived.  But as my partner read the story, I worried that the creation part of Vespers would fall flat--the campers are in middle school, and they can default into the "I'm too cool for all of this" mode fairly easily.

Our group of campers had their closing celebration before coming to us, which also made me worry.  How would that energy flow into Vespers?

It all went much better than I was worried that it would.  The campers all entered into the spirit of the exercise.  I had brought small plastic bags, and everyone was eager to fill them with beads, yarn, and ribbon.  As everyone was creating, there was a meditative quality to it all that I didn't anticipate, but was so happy to witness.

We closed with prayers of thanks to God who weaves us together, with prayers of requests for a peaceful night that would restore us, and with gratitude for our good experiences together.  I went home with a sense of wonder and a hope that I remember that people are more often open to spiritual encounters than I might think.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Getting to Know You Exercises

We used several getting to know you exercises during our sessions with middle school campers at Lutheridge this week.  I thought I'd make a record of them here so that I can remember later (like in 2 weeks, when I go back to teaching in an onground classroom again).

Moving around the Room Based on Interests

The first day, we came up with a few categories that were likely shared by most of the campers:  has a pet, plays a sport, things like that.  So, first we asked, "Who has a pet?"  Everyone had a pet.

We said, "If you have dogs, stand here," and gave them a minute to move.  "If you have a cat, come to this side of the room."  And then, to finish, "If you have more than one type of animal, come over here."

I was surprised to find out that every camper played a sport, and what a wide variety of sports!  One camper has a black belt in martial arts, and another will earn his later this month.  Very cool.

Tell Us Your Name

The next day, we realized we had forgotten the basics:  we had told the campers our names, but not asked them theirs.  So, we did that, and then moved into the next type.

Three Things that Might Surprise Us but Show Similarities

We handed out index cards and had everyone write 3 things about themselves that might surprise the rest of us.  I used one of my own details for an example:  "I was born on an Air Force base in France on Bastille Day."  We decided to do something different from the directions that came with the curriculum, instructions that told us to read an item from the card and have everyone guess who wrote it.

We collected the cards and went through them, reading one thing from the card.  We said, "Stand up if this describes you."  It was good to realize that we might have more in common than we thought.

I worried that people might overshare, which is why we read the cards.  Happily, no one told us any trauma.  No one gave us someone else's medical details ("My grandma has a fake leg") that might need to be kept a secret.

In the past, I've also used a Bingo kind of exercise at retreats (go to this post and scroll down for details and a picture).  That might be fun too, but it requires more work in terms of assembling the Bingo card. I might do that in the future, when I know the students and the campus better.  But for my classes that start in less than 2 weeks, I think I'll be using the index card example.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Scribner Submission

Yesterday, I was one of 300 poets who got this message after submitting a manuscript to Scribner Poetry during their open submission period that would open at 3:00 p.m. on August 1 and would close after 300 submissions:

I was ready to go at 3:00 p.m.  I had the manuscript updated and the document that has my bio open.  I clicked on the webpage at 3:00 p.m. and didn't see a way to submit.  I opened the page in a new tab and there was the form.  I filled it in as quickly as possible and hit submit.  And voila!  I got the above message.

I was under no illusions; I knew the window would close shortly after 3:00, that 300 submissions would come in quickly.  It was still surprise to go back and to see that it had closed in just minutes.

I only heard about this submission possibility a few days ago from a random Twitter tweet from a Twitter user I don't follow.  For once, the unfathomable algorithm worked for me!  I had wondered if I should submit at all, since my career isn't dependent on publications.  But just because I didn't submit doesn't mean that slot would go to someone who desperately needed the chance.

I have a deep belief in my manuscript, and it's not just me; it's been a semifinalist, and I've gotten good feedback from publishers that I respect.  I thought about spending part of yesterday before 3:00 p.m. reworking the manuscript and adding some of my most recent poems, but I decided against it.  My most recent poems are going in a different direction in terms of form and content, so I'll save those for a different manuscript.

I'm familiar with the work of two other poets who got their manuscripts in, and I see them as peers.  I'm not competing against well known poets; in fact, the call was specifically for poets who don't have an agent.  My first reaction was "Poets have agents?"  I realize that poets who have an agent are often writing in several genres and/or they've had a much more significant poetry trajectory than most of us will have.

The call was open to "poets from all backgrounds and levels of experience, whether they’re submitting a debut collection or they’ve published several collections over their lifetime."  Scribners says that they will respond to every poet by the end of this year.  I look forward to hearing what they say. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Creation Collage

Yesterday was my first day working with middle school campers at Lutheridge.  I am a volunteer this week, the last week of camp, and I'm one of a 2 person Bible study team.  We have some curriculum that was given to us, along with a story book for each day.  Yesterday I talked about how we could create curriculum if we had to, and yesterday tested that capacity.

We began with the first creation story in Genesis, and I brought up the fact that there are two creation stories.  In this one, God declares all of creation good and very good--it's not the Adam and Eve story.  It was clear we were racing through what we had planned, and we might finish 50 minutes early--not cool.  So, I looked out beyond the circle of chairs, thinking about what we might do.

I gave the campers a task and boundaries, to go out and collect 3 items from nature, without yanking or pulling up anything and to bring them back to make a joint collage.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was fairly sure this group could be trusted not to run off into the road or jump in the nearby lake.

They had plenty on the ground to choose from, and they came back with a variety of sticks, leaves, and rocks.  I had them gather around part of the concrete floor, and they took turns.  For round 1, everyone put down one object.  For round two, they could put down 1 object and move one object, and the same for round three.  We ended up with a collage that looked like this:

I asked them what they saw.  Then I had them take 7 steps in a different direction and say what they saw.  It's interesting, what a change in perspective can do:

Then I tied it back to the creation story and God.  What does this kind of creation tell us about those of us who created it?  If we were aliens arriving on this planet, and all we had was this, what would we think about the ones who had made it?  We talked about the big bang and the fact that we're made out of star dust that has been around since the big bang--and did the big bang make us or did God?  Does the process make us or does the creator?

I think it went well, but I'm OK with the fact that I'll never know.  I hope that they remember that they are loved.  It's clear that they've already been introduced to the concept of sin and worthlessness.  Hopefully they'll remember a different aspect of God.