Wednesday, January 31, 2024

January's Austere Beauty

Today I did what I have done these past three years:  looked back in my blog at the first post where I mention this new corona virus (go here to read that January 30 post).  Today I also read some February posts, the ones where I was fighting off one of the worst "colds" I have ever had.  Today I read the symptoms from my February 2020 cold again, and the pounding headache struck me.  One of my colleagues from that time remains convinced that we all had Covid, even though it was early days, before we were admitting that it had entered the country.  She and I were both sick at the same time in February, as most of us at the campus were, and her bone-shuddering cough lasted half a year.

I am also struck by the fact that I went to work, where we were all snuffling and coughing.  Back then, I thought it was just a feature of winter to have one snuffling cold.  I didn't have many sick days, and they didn't accumulate, and I always worried about using them too early and then getting really sick.  Many of the people I worked with were adjunct and part-time, and if they didn't work, they didn't get paid.  Back then, our bosses at the school didn't believe that one could work from home--but we were about to find out that much of what we thought couldn't be done from a distance could be.

My current school is different, but that might be for a variety of reasons.  I do wonder if I was full-time, if I would have a different perception.  I'm also not an administrator--back in 2020, I was one of a four person team tasked with overseeing the daily operations of the campus, so I felt even more guilty if I was away.  Plus, if I was there, I could run interference between all the personalities which might clash.

I am so glad to be away from all that drama.

Yesterday I got in from my day of teaching at Spartanburg Methodist College and headed out for a walk.  I am struck by the quiet beauty of January.  I love the way the trees look without leaves.  Sure, I love the look of autumn leaves, but bare branches have a beauty too.  As I was driving home toward the mountains yesterday, I was remembering driving the same road back in 2022, just a few weeks before I broke my wrist, feeling besotted by all the spring green shades.  I love having landscapes to observe, landscapes that will change, and I love having seasons.  I always thought winter would be hard for me, but so far, it hasn't been.

Of course, we won't have a winter like people in Minnesota have a winter.  But I've loved even the colder days here.  Part of that is the knowledge that the colder days have a limited grip.

I thought of these thoughts this morning when reading this post by Rita Ott Ramstad.  She, too, is appreciating January.  I have always dreaded January, but this year, I find myself thinking, well, this isn't too bad.  Next year, as I face the end of December, I need to remember that January might not be as bad as I think.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Creative Monday

Yesterday was the best kind of day, full of creativity of all sorts, some of which was seminary work.  Let me make a list in chronological order:

--We talked about what to make for our main meal, which we usually eat in the middle of the day.  I needed something with more veggies, and my spouse wanted something that wasn't our same old, same old.  We went with a beef, barley, mushroom stew, which also had odds and ends from our past week of cooking:  carrots, potatoes, and fennel bulb remnants.  We created it together, and ended up with something delicious.

--I went for a walk with my phone so that I could take pictures for the Foundations of Worship self-contextualization PowerPoint that I need to create this week.

--I worked on my PowerPoint, which felt more like creative work than academic work.

--Mid-afternoon, I walked to a friend's house to do spiritual direction which involves lectio divina and collaging.  It was the kind of afternoon that I hoped I would have when we moved here to an area where I already knew people.  Hurrah!

--I came home and did some more work on my PowerPoint.

--In the evening, I went to a poetry group in eastern Tennessee that meets by way of Zoom.  My mom's cousin who lives in Oak Ridge invited me.  I said yes, and wasn't sure what to expect.  We went person by person, and each person read up to 3 poems.  If someone didn't want to read, that was fine.  We didn't offer suggestions or critiques, which was fine with me.  There was also sharing of upcoming conferences, workshops/classes, and reading possibilities.  It seemed like the best kind of grass roots poetry group; it was clear that some of them interact in real life, and that some of them have taken classes together.  They brought a variety of poems to the group, and no one abused their time by reading a 20 page poem.

It was the best kind of day.  I didn't feel overwhelmed by all that I need to get done, and all day, I thought about topics that interest me.  And I felt that gratitude that comes from knowing that day after day, I get to be in this state (both the state of North Carolina and my mental state).  It's so different from my pre-pandemic life, when 40-60 hours a week, I had people demanding that I think about what they thought was important, that I solve problems without any resources to do so, and those shouty voices filled my brain even when I wasn't at work.

It's wonderful to be able to hear my own voice, and the voices of those who love me and the things I love (creativity, good food, poetry, good worship, God and God's vision for the world), in my current life.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Winter Weather Inspirations

When we left the house yesterday morning, we thought we'd stay for the covered dish dinner after the worship service at Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee.  But as we approached the higher elevations at 7:45 in the morning, snow started to swirl.  On the other side of the mountain, in Bristol, it wasn't snowing, but the forecast called for rain to turn to snow in the early afternoon, so we decided not to stay for lunch.

On our way back across the mountains, I was surprised by how much snow had stuck to the ground and the trees while we were in Bristol.  The roads were still in good shape, wet, yes, but not frozen.  I was glad we had decided to get back earlier than planned.  The higher elevations were under a winter storm warning, so it was good to get up and over earlier rather than later.

Later, I tried to sketch what I had seen. As with last year, the first glance of a winter landscape looks like variations of gray and black to me, but when I look closer, I see lots of browns, along with some deep greens and burgundies.  I continue to try to capture what I see, but both my skills and my art supplies (Copic markers) are inadequate.

In many ways, it's much more fun to take the longer view (and to take more time):

Last week, I tried to sketch the winter sky, as it shifted from blue to snow, and I thought I had failed.  I was happy to look at my sketchbook last night and like this picture more than I remembered:

A goal for my sketching practice for this year is to include snippets of observations that might become poems.  Here's one of my favorites so far (the sketch itself doesn't photograph well):

Squirrels scamper
across the spines of winter trees.
Skeletons of past springs.
Sunset coming, cold winter sky.

Soon I will bundle up and head out for a different kind of inspiration, the kind that comes from a walk in the winter landscape.  It's the kind of day that will be windy and cold all day, so I may as well go early before I can talk myself out of it.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Scattered Saturday

Despite having had a good week, I feel a bit scattered today.  Let me collect a few thoughts and see if they cohere:

--A week from tomorrow, I need to have a 1-2 page bibliography for my Environmental History of Christianity class, so this morning, I did some library/online searches.  I've gone from being afraid that I might have no sources to being afraid that I have too many sources--and afraid that any ideas I have may have been done to death already.

--In that class, I could avoid a big paper by being part of a small group that would meet by way of Zoom periodically (4-6 times for the term) and discuss other works.  I think I prefer to write the paper.  The small group might be wonderful, but I really need the flexibility of an asynchronous class.  I don't want to have to commit to a Zoom session--and frankly, I don't have as much time as I once would have for a scheduled meeting.

--Today I need to plan for the PowerPoint I need to create for Thursday.  Tomorrow at church, I'll need to take some photos.  Here's the assignment:

Create an upload a 10-15-slide “Show and Tell” PowerPoint/Canva (or any software of choice) presentation introducing your worshiping tradition/s, both past and current.

It needs to have images and/or videos, and it needs to cover baptism and communion and what worship spaces look like.  So I need to make sure I have some images.

--Yesterday I went for a mid-afternoon walk in shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt, and returned home very sweaty.  Yes, I returned home sweaty on the last Friday afternoon in January.

--I saw this article in The New York Times and thought the title would make a great line for a poem:  What do you call a galaxy without stars?

We have lots of rain in the forecast today, so let me bring this writing to a close and head out for my walk.  The weather conditions aren't likely to be better later.  I'm pretty sure I won't return home sweaty this morning.

Friday, January 26, 2024

A Good Day Teaching in the Writing Classroom

Yesterday was one of those rare teaching days when things went well in all three of my onground classes.  Usually at least one class doesn't go as I planned, or we run through what I planned much too quickly, or we cover the material but the students seem tuned out in some way.

Yesterday we did a bit of peer editing, and I was pleased that most students arrived at class with a rough draft.  Since it was our first peer editing session, I had students write on the rough draft something that they particularly liked about the writing.

Even if it's not useful in terms of peer feedback that students get, I think it's useful for them to see each other's work.  But it's draining to try to do it for a whole class, so I decided to only spend part of class time doing it.  I like having a classroom where I can rearrange the furniture.  I had students bring their rough drafts and a writing utensil (and nothing else) to the peer editing area.  In a 75 minute class, we did about 20 minutes of peer editing.

We did some revising exercises together.  I had them read their work out loud, all at once.  I counted "Three, two, one, go"--at which point students were supposed to read out loud.  In the first class, they read softly.  In the second class, I had to count down twice, and the students read softly.  In the third class, which is in the bigger room, students read out loud in normal voices, and at least two of them read with a lot of expression.

I talked about the importance of reading your work out loud so that you have a better chance of seeing what's actually there.  If you read to yourself, your brain knows what you meant, and your brain will fill in the blanks.  I also had them read their work from the end, sentence by sentence, starting with the last sentence and then the second to the last sentence and so on.

I talked about the skills they'll learn in the writing class.  Some skills they may never use again, once they graduate from college, skills like writing a research paper.  But some skills they'll use throughout their lives, and the ability to find one's own mistakes in one's own writing before submitting it to more judgmental eyes (a boss, a hiring committee, colleagues), whether it be in an e-mail, a report, a cover letter in a job search.  Students seemed very attentive when I did this part of the class.

Then I had them read an essay while I wrote comments on rough drafts.  We talked about the essay which is the next type of writing we'll be doing.  All three classes had good participation in analyzing the essay.  

I handed back rough drafts and told them to hang out if they still had questions.  A few of them did, and the rest headed out into the rainy day.

I realize that I could run through the same activities on a different day and come up with different results, although I do think the strategy of several different types of activities in a 75 minute class works well.  I'm making a record of the day so that on days that don't go as well, I can remember that there are days like the teaching day that I had yesterday.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

January: The Cruelest Month or the Comfort Month?

Whoever said that April is the cruelest month was wrong--or he lived in England.  I do realize that T. S. Eliot is the one who first penned the line.  However if you Google the line because you want to be sure that you're remembering where it was in "The Waste Land," you'll discover all sorts of trivia, like that it was a title for an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

No, I think that January is the cruelest month, where it seems that winter has settled in to stay, like a tenant who is at first happy to live at discounted rates in your cottage, but then begins to complain about things you can't possibly fix.  Or about things you dread fixing.  Or maybe the metaphor doesn't work at all.

My spouse and I were talking about January weather.  We are expecting highs near 70 degrees tomorrow.  The temps will be high for January, in part, because of the thick cloud cover that keeps the January heat from escaping.  I would rather have cloudy warmth than cold sunshine, but my spouse is the opposite.  That's not accurate either.  My spouse really missed the warmth and sun of South Florida.

I thought of January cruelty yesterday when I went in to give blood so that the lab could check my health.  Happily, the phlebotomist was wonderful--no cruelty in that needle stick. 

It's January when so many of us bump up against the reality of the riotous living we've enjoyed at the end of the year.  It's January when we try to get back on track.  Cruel, cruel January.

Or maybe I need to reshape my thinking.  Maybe January is the month that reminds us of the better selves that we want to be.  Maybe January is the comfort of the loved ones (human and pets) who always welcome us back with open, loving arms.

Yesterday, after writing an e-mail commiserating about the harsh reality of January, I finished an e-mail this way:

"But know that health can be regained. And it's easier to regain health than it is if one had never been healthy and suddenly needed to adopt healthier habits. The body remembers and wants to be of service to us. Spring will be here soon--resurrection is not only possible, but assured."

May it offer hope to us all.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Thinking about Bonhoeffer and Our Current World

Last night, we watched the 2003 documentary Bonhoeffer.  I needed to watch it for Systematic Theology class on Thursday, and I wanted us to watch something other than the Court TV kinds of shows that have consumed my spouse lately.  I found it riveting, although it wasn't unfamiliar material to me.  Let me collect some thoughts that might not have cohered into a focused essay:

--I wrote this Facebook post:  "Watching a Bonhoeffer documentary for my Systematic Theology class, wondering about New Hampshire primary results, about past being prologue, about history not repeating but rhyming, -- and feeling really intrigued by this new seminary community that Bonhoeffer was creating before the Nazis shut it down. It's not new info to me, but feels newly pertinent."

--I know that I'm predisposed to focus on this topic, but I was surprised by how often Bonhoeffer thinks about how to create/protect community.  I know, I know, he wrote a whole book called Life Together.  It made me wonder what advice he would have to give us now as our communities seem to be torn into bloody tatters.

--Long ago, I read Life Together, but it wasn't what I expected or wanted.  I should revisit it.

--I used to be very judgmental about the churches who tried to keep themselves safe by signing agreements with Hitler or by living in ways that deflected attention.  I now have more sympathy for those impulses, that idea that if we can just survive, that is not something to discount.  I don't get the idea that all of those churches/pastors/leaders were antisemitic, so much as I think they wanted to save their skins and live until the danger was past.  I am not sure that all of those people knew what was going on, but I am no longer as sure of that.

--I had either forgotten or had never known that Bonhoeffer's group tried to kill Hitler more than once.  I thought that there was a botched attempt, which exposed them all and sent them to concentration camps.

--Before they were arrested the family had devised a way of communicating with themselves in prison.  They were allowed to have books, so the person sending a message would put a small dot under a letter every few pages.  With these messages, they could keep track of what they were telling officials.

--They were tortured/interrogated, which Bonhoeffer's father said he feared more than death.

--I am also intrigued by the seminary that Bonhoeffer created.  Did he do something radically different?

--I was struck by how much Bonhoeffer traveled, especially as war efforts amped up.

--I thought about my college years, in 1983 and 1984 where I first heard about Bonhoeffer.  He seemed like one of the fathers of the Church, like Luther and Calvin, and it's sobering to realize that he hadn't been gone very long, 40 years, when I first heard about him.

--His theology seems much more severe, which makes sense, given what he was facing.  My thoughts circle back to the question of evil, and how evil moves in the world.  Those historic films of all the people cheering Hitler--so sobering, even when they're not unfamiliar.

--I'll be interested to see how we use Bonhoeffer's work in Systematic Theology.  Much of the course focuses on Jurgen Moltmann, who my professor says is the most important theologian of the 20th century.  Will the works speak to each other? 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Getting Back on a Healthier Track

It's been a week of doctor visits--I finally found a GP.  For years, when I was younger, having a gynecologist seemed like enough, and because I was healthy and young, it was.  But now, it makes sense to have someone ordering tests and keeping track of some larger issues that I can't keep track of without those tests (like a colonoscopy).  

The Medical Assistant at the GP's office asked me what I was most concerned about.  I said that it had been a few years since I've had a mammogram, and now, I'm one of the few women I know who hasn't had breast cancer.  It's sobering to realize that statement is true--I know more women who have had breast cancer than who have not.

The good news is that I'm relatively healthy.  So far, my blood pressure and resting pulse are still in the healthy range, as is my blood sugar.  But it's clear I need to make some changes to stay that way.  I've gained 15 pounds since June.  That seems hard to believe, but believe me, I've stepped on various scales, and it's true.  

And to be honest, this shouldn't be a surprise.  I've probably gained 10 of those pounds since mid-November, with Quilt Camp, Thanksgiving, and vacation time from early December until now.  Suffice it to say, I have been eating a lot of excess calories without a return to normal eating.

I'm hoping that the good news is that because the weight gain is recent, I can work it off fairly quickly.  I've got some places where I can cut calories easily.  I know what I need to do and how to do it.

I'm thinking about making healthy substitutions.  I know that I often want a treat at night after my classes are over, and that treat has been wine and cheese.  What could hit that "I want a treat" spot, but for fewer calories?

I am going to try baking biscotti on a regular basis.  I like biscotti because they can be lower fat and lower sugar, especially when I make them myself.  I also like baking them myself because they don't have to be so hard to bite into.  They are one of the few baked goods where I can have one and not want to eat the whole batch, unlike most of my cookie recipes.  I did a search on the King Arthur Baking Company site and found some great recipes to try.

Yesterday I tried the first one, pumpkin biscotti.  They turned out to be delicious.  We didn't bake them nearly as long on the second bake--only about 15 minutes.  They are soft in the middle, crispy on the outside.  At first I thought they were too sweet, when they were right out of the oven.  But later, in the evening, they were perfect.  I was able to eat 2 small biscotti with a cup of herb tea and not binge on bread, cheese, and wine.  By then, I could read because my dilated eyes had calmed down.

My eyes were dilated because of a visit to the eye doctor yesterday morning.  There, too, the news is good.  Even with my dilated eyes,  I was able to take a walk yesterday beneath the brilliant blue sky.  The lake was still frozen-ish, but most of the snow is gone.

Today will be a different kind of day, a teaching all day kind of day.  It's scheduled, and it makes it easier to stay on track with my healthy choices.  I have my lunch of lentils, barley, and feta cheese ready to go.  Let me finish this blog post so that I can head down the mountain, into the sunrise, ready to teach college English classes.

Monday, January 22, 2024

The Coming Thaw

This week's weather calls for much warmer temperatures, up into the mid 60's, a weather whiplash.  On Saturday, it was so cold I didn't leave the house, and we left a faucet dripping over most of the week-end.  By Thursday, I might go for a walk in shorts.

On yesterday's walk, I went by the lake which is part of the camp property at Lutheridge.  I usually make it to both the chapel and the lake during my daily walk, which is a delightful benefit of living here.  On Friday morning, the lake was only frozen in places, and across the surface were chunks of ice, as if someone had scattered the contents of a cooler there.

Yesterday, the view was very different.  The light dusting of snow that we had Friday afternoon left the lake looking like it was frozen solid with snow across the entire surface of the lake, although I heard gurgling sounds.  I thought about the various warnings we've gotten from county officials that warned us not to walk across frozen lakes and streams, that nothing would be frozen enough to support our weight.

I've read enough 19th century novels to know the dangers of surfaces that look frozen and aren't.  But all the warnings weren't enough to keep some people from walking on the lake; I saw several sets of footprints in the snow on the lake's surface.  That big hole in the ice in the middle of the footprints--did someone fall in?  It would have been in the very shallow part of the lake, so there wouldn't have needed to be a rescue by people lying flat on the surface to hold a branch out to the person in the lake, the way we saw in Little Women and It's a Wonderful Life.  Sunday's hole was perfectly formed and didn't look like someone had stomped their way out of it and across to the shore.  Hmm.

The view of the lake was so beautiful that my spouse and I returned.  He was not as impressed as I was.  As we talked, I realized that I've never seen a frozen lake or pond before, not in person.  I lived in snowy places, such as they were, in my pre-college years, so we'd have been in suburbs, and none of them had lakes or ponds back then.  We had hills for sledding, and lots of trees, but no lakes, ponds, or rivers.

We didn't have waterfalls either.  My hiking friend went on a quest for frozen waterfalls yesterday, and she posted great pictures.  She invited us to go along, but at the time of the invite, we thought we would be going to church across the mountains yesterday.

We made another pot of seafood stew (recipe here) and I made progress on school and internship projects.  We listened to music and when the algorithm suggested we watch the Lifetime movie about the Clark sisters (a gospel group), we didn't argue.  The Clark Sisters:  First Ladies of Gospel was a movie that tried to do too much, but so much of what we watch doesn't try to do anything at all, so it was a good change of pace. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

What a Google Scholar Search Reveals

The other day, I read a Facebook post from a poet who had a long career in academia.  He had done a search to see where he was cited in the academic work of others, and I did a Google Scholar search on myself.  I have done very little academic writing that has been published, so I wasn't expecting to find as much as I did.

I was surprised to find references to my poems and various books where my poems have been published (and there aren't many since most of my poems have been published in journals).  I had forgotten about some of those publications or maybe it would be more correct to say that many of those publications happened so many decades ago that those publications aren't foremost in my mind.

That Google Scholar search took me back to a time in the 90's and early years of this century when I was trying to get published as widely as possible, in the hopes that a better job would open up for me.  I tried writing academic articles because I thought that might help.  I went to give papers at conferences as I could afford to do it.  It was hard to do academic writing and presenting without a scholarly library and as an adjunct.

In a way, I was successful in working my way to a full-time job, but it wasn't because of my writing, and it wasn't the kind of full-time job I had been envisioning.  When I worked at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, I had the opportunity to teach creative writing and a few other types of classes that encouraged student creativity.  Of course, I also taught section after section of Composition.  The teaching load was brutal in some ways:  when I first started teaching there, it was a 22 course load over the year, a 6/6/5/5 load, with no chance for summers off.  

The Google Scholar search also revealed a thank you in the acknowledgements section of a student's MA Thesis; she got the idea that would become the thesis in my Victorian Lit class.  I remembered her letting me know that she was including that language, but in the passage of years, I had forgotten.  I got a small thrill remembering how the ideas in one class rippled across years and types of writing.  Delightful!

I thought of the Google Scholar search this morning as I was preparing a poetry submission.  There are so few places that have free submissions or submissions that cost the equivalent of some printer ink and postage, which for me is around $1.50.  If I was starting out today, I would not be able to have the kind of publishing track record I had back when I could submit for the price of a few stamps, envelopes, ink, and paper.

I also wanted to record a different kind of accomplishment.  This week, I saw this post and grabbed a copy to keep:

Yep, that's President Biden giving praise for Dear Human on the Edge of Time, a book where one of my poems appears.  I realize it's an election year, so he's probably giving acclaim to all sorts of books, and it doesn't mean he's read my poem.  But still, if any president has ever been aware of a book that contains any work of mine, I'm not aware of it.

If you missed it, you can read the poem in this blog post, which also contains information about the writing and publishing process.  

My spouse celebrated by making this Facebook post as he reposted my post:

"Work read to US Representatives at the Library of Congress = Check
Work read by a sitting US President = Check"

So yes, decades ago Kristin, your writing life hasn't been exactly like what you might have one day hoped to find in Google Scholar.  It's been richer in many ways.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Snow At Last!

My writing time is short this morning, and I know that recent posts may convince some that I've shifted from a poetry/creativity blog to a weather blog.  But that shift is temporary.  I know that eventually the winter weather may seem humdrum.  Or maybe not--I'm closing in on 60 years old and still enchanted by snow.

Yesterday, as I was at the desk of my doctor's office checking out from an initial visit (the one you need so you can have a GP), I looked toward the window and said, "Wow!  It's snowing."  The front desk woman shrugged and said, "Yeah, it's really blowing out there.

So far, I haven't been able to get the kind of photo that captures the snow blowing; above is my best attempt.  It came down steadily for an hour or two, then stopped, then snowed a bit more.  We didn't get much accumulation, but it was beautiful.

I took a picture out of my front door this morning.  My spouse's leaf blower also works well as a snowblower, at least for the light snow we had yesterday.  We are not expecting more precipitation which may be a good thing, as cold as it is (10 degrees this morning).

Because of the severe cold and the fact that Bristol, Tennessee has had substantially more snow, service was cancelled tomorrow--no drive over the mountains in sub-zero weather.  We'd have probably made it just fine, but I'm also relieved that the lay leadership at the church made that decision on Thursday.  The congregation is a small group to begin with, and they thought that we wouldn't have many people brave the cold to come to church--and I would have been worried that those who did brave the cold and snow and ice shouldn't have.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Teaching Report at the Two Week Mark

Here we are at the end of the second week of teaching at Spartanburg Methodist College.  Let me record some thoughts.

--I got to the classroom of my first class yesterday and rearranged the tables so that every student could have their own table.  Each table seats two, so they aren't huge.  I thought I might sit with each student to go over rough drafts.  That didn't happen, but I liked the changed energy in the room enough that I will go every morning to rearrange the tables.

--In that class we worked on a variety of assignments:  reviewing what we talked about previously, a worksheet to help them put the sentences for their paragraph in a logical order (and to help them compose those sentences), and brainstorming for the descriptive paragraph.  I let them do the brainstorming using pen/paper, laptop, phone, tablet, or whatever worked best.  It was great for them to have a whole table to themselves, so that I could say, "Now put this aside" and then later, "Now put your gadgets aside and go back to your worksheet."  It worked better than my Tuesday attempt to ban phones and laptops, so that they had undivided attention.

--I am thinking that students will always have divided attention, so I should strategize ways to minimize the distraction.  Sadly, when I ask students not to use their phones, they will try to use them without me noticing--they don't realize that I can see them, that I always know.  Plus, now students can use their phone by way of their watches, so having them completely out of reach seems more and more impossible.

--Instead of a class participation grade, I have a daily writing grade.  We do at least 9 daily writings, and I drop the lowest grade.  It rewards students for attendance in a way that doesn't reward them for just keeping the seat warm.  It keeps them writing.  Most of them will be an automatic A for doing the task, so they don't have to think about the issues that make many students hate writing, like grammar.

--Yesterday, I did a looking forward/looking backward daily writing.  The looking forward piece had them state what their topic for the next piece of writing would be, and the looking backward piece had them tell me the three most important things they had learned in the past two weeks.  I thought I might check to make sure that they had learned what I wanted them to learn, but in the end, I was more intrigued by what struck them as important.  Most of them said at least one thing that I, too, thought was most important, so I'm not too worried.

On Tuesday, I felt I did my best teaching with my 101 classes, and yesterday, I felt like I did better teaching with my 100 class, and I suspect that most weeks will be similar.  I'm grateful to be feeling effective, grateful for students who are still willing to do the work.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Coldest Weather of the Year

We have not left the faucets dripping overnight since December.  We've had mild weather for much of December and much of January, mild for the month, not mild the way my heat loving spouse defines the word.  But yesterday afternoon, the weather changed.  When I got up yesterday, the temperature was 38 degrees at 4 a.m.  By 4 p.m., the temperature was 22 degrees with a whipping wind.

When I took the extra class at Spartanburg Methodist College, I knew it would meant that I wouldn't be able to walk before getting in the car to make the drive.  My plan is to walk after I return home in the afternoon.  Yesterday, I got in the car and drove up the hill to the Lutheridge Fitness Center.  It was less of a workout than I had planned, but it was better than nothing.

I felt a bit like a wimp, but felt slightly vindicated when Pub Theology was canceled last night due to the bitter cold weather we expected.  Now, Pub Theology is indoors, but it does require people to make a trip and to be out in the cold and windy dark.  I was happy to stay home.

I wish I could tell you that I got a head start on my seminary classes that start today, if the seminary doesn't stay closed because of the weather like it was yesterday.  But I didn't.  We heated up the left over pot roast pasta, watched a bit of TV, and then I crashed into an early sleep at 7 p.m. after setting up the faucet to drip.

I wish I could tell you that I slept through the night, but I didn't.  I woke up about midnight and had trouble falling back asleep.  I wasn't worried particularly, and I knew it was too early to be awake for the day.  I checked to make sure I'm on track for my classes, even though they haven't started yet.  I tried not to get too involved with tasks because I didn't want my brain whirring anymore than it already was.

Today is a day of many varied tasks, including taking my spouse to the eye doctor.  I've been trying to finish this post for hours.  It feels like pure drivel--who cares about the weather?  Well, I do, and in later years, I want to remember how the thoughts of cold consumed me for a bit.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Waiting for Snow

I kept a watchful eye on the weather yesterday.  I knew we were on the outer edge of a powerful storm system; I felt sorry for the local NPR announcer who tried to sum up the weather for the listening area with some people expecting 3-6 inches of snow, some of us rain, and some of us would get nothing much.

We ended up getting nothing, but in a way, that's O.K.  I'm jealous of the snow that some people got, but I know we were more likely to get ice.  So having no precipitation is better than ice.  And it was pleasantly gloomy looking all day.  Oddly, it wasn't too cold.  I even went for a walk yesterday.

I got some writing done, and some reading for seminary classes that start tomorrow.  I created some handouts for the classes that I teach today.  The drywall person came to give us an estimate.  I looked at Bible commentaries to begin thinking about Sunday's sermon.  My spouse did some work to make Sunday's sermon available on video.

He taped me giving my sermon, minus the first minute, where I said I felt sympathy for Thomas, who will always be known as Doubting Thomas, and Nathaniel (John 1: 43-51) who said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" The sermon is in 2 parts:

It was a good day, as I kept my eye on the weather. I even took a nap. I thought of our drywaller who told us that when he was a kid, if there was a possibility of snow overnight, he'd sleep in front of the sliding glass door so that he could be the first to see it. I woke up from my nap, and the gray light made it seem like it might be snowing. But it wasn't.

Like I said, I'm not upset.  It's good to be able to drive down the mountain to get to the classes that I teach.  It's not good to miss too many classes here at the beginning of the term.  I haven't taught them enough for them to have work to do on their own.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Out in the Cold on MLK Day

Here we are, another MLK federal holiday, this time falling on the actual birth date of MLK.  Here we are, another Iowa caucus, but this year, the coldest weather ever faced by caucus goers.  It feels like we're in the middle of some substantial shifts, but it's too early to know how it turns out, too early perhaps to even understand the substantial shift.

Or maybe, as we think about the contours of history that shaped Martin Luther King, my state of mind is not unusual.  There have always been forces at work against the ones arcing towards justice.  Call those forces evil or capitalism or powers and principalities.  Call it ennui or inertia.  Maybe we always have apocalyptic weather somewhere to match the mood.  

One of the benefits of blogging/journaling is that I have a record.  There have been times that seem bleak, times that seem hopeful, and often, I don't remember it all accurately.  I do remember times that surprised me, both for good and for ill.  I remain committed to hope, even as I am aware of all the ways that our current situation could go terribly wrong.

It's also a benefit of having done wide reading in the field of history.  We've been in worse shape before.  I would still rather be a woman living right now than at any time in the past.  If I could time travel in a male body, would I?  Nope--I want the benefits of modern medicine of 2024, not modern medicine in 1955, when I would be more likely to have a heart attack in my male body.  I want the benefits of modern technology.  I want the societal improvements in terms of social justice, even as I am aware of how those rights are in danger of eroding.

This post is not the MLK post I thought I would write.  I am currently listening to the always brilliant Rebecca Solnit interview on On Being; it's an older interview, but it holds up well and is perfect for a day where we're celebrating MLK and shivering in the cold of electoral politics.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Across the Mountains in a Different Direction

I realize I've been going across mountains in multiple directions:  down to Spartanburg, SC, north to Bristol, Tennessee.  On Friday, we went a different way:  west to Knoxville, and then down to my in-laws' new house between Knoxville and Chattanooga.  That mountain scenery was gorgeous in a much more rugged way, a roadway hewn through rock way.

When we left on Friday, the weather on our side of the mountain was sunny and calm, although there was a wind advisory.  As we made our way over the mountains, the wind increased.  As we got closer to our destination, rain spewed from the sky on us too.

It was the kind of wind and rain that uprooted trees along the way and ripped shingles and siding off the new construction; happily my in-law's house held up well.  We hunkered down for the afternoon and had a lovely time talking and cooking and playing cards.

Yesterday was an easier trip back, with no rain and less wind.  Still, I40 has more twists and turns than my usual routes on I26; if I was traveling hours each week on I40, it might feel more onerous than my usual trips.

Because I've been around a variety of people this week, and because some of them have been sick, we both took Covid tests yesterday.  Happily, we are both negative.  So, off we go soon, across the mountains north to Bristol, Tennessee, to Faith Lutheran where I preside as a Synod Appointed Minister.

Friday, January 12, 2024

The Pure Drivel Phase of Writing

I don't have much writing time here this morning, because I'm trying to get a rough draft of my sermon done before we go across the mountains for a quick trip to see my inlaws' new house in east Tennessee.  I want a rough draft so that I can let it percolate and return to it to see if I've got any additional ideas.  I'm at the point of sermon writing where it seems stupid and just repeating what we already read and what is the point of it all?

It's never as bad as I think that it is.  Going through this phase where I think it's pure drivel week after week is both tiring and a comfort.  At least I know it's not unusual to doubt my writing this way.

It's interesting to think about sermon writing and the other types of writing that I do.  Blogging feels less formal to me, and very few people are likely to read a blog post.  I'm not paid to do it.  I don't usually go through the phase where I think it's all too stupid.  

I think of yesterday's poetry writing process.  I had a vision of Winnie the Pooh in the old folks' home, and I wondered what had happened to the rest of the characters.  Writing the poem was a delight.  Is it profound?  It doesn't seem as profound as some of the things I've written, but it also doesn't seem as trivial as some poems I've written.  These days, I'm just happy whenever I write something that could be a poem.

When I write essays for paying publications (rare, but it happens), I sometimes go through the "It's drivel!" phase, but not always.  So I don't think the issue is paid writing vs. unpaid writing.

Well, let me get back to the sermon writing.  It's not the writing that brings me the most joy, but it does bring me satisfaction.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

First Days, Reading Days

In a bit of time, I'll make my way down the mountain--time to try meeting my in person classes in person again at Spartanburg Methodist College.  Tuesday was supposed to be the first day, but it worked out to move those classes online in terms of weather.  Today I'll leave a bit earlier than I anticipate leaving on most days, because I'm not sure what the traffic is like this much earlier than when I used to leave on Tuesdays and Thursdays last semester.  I'll take a book, because I imagine that I'll get there extra early, which will give me more time, even with needing to get syllabi copied and such.

Speaking of which, I read this article in The Washington Post about how many books most people have read in 2023, which also lets you compare yourself to others in terms of percentile.  The 99th percentile was 55+ books read.  I read at least 70 books last year, and that doesn't even count the chunks of books that I read for seminary, which in terms of pages would total at least one book.  Books I started but decided weren't worth finishing--also at least one book.

The article gives all sorts of interesting statistics about how we're reading (paper books, ebooks) and what we own.  It also lists the types of books by popularity--poetry is dead last, sigh.  Of course, as I reread the article, I'm seeing that the sample size is very small:  1500 adults surveyed.   Hmm.

So, it's probably not a surprise that slightly less than half of these adults read zero books.  I always feel like I'm not reading enough, and that's one reason why I keep a list.  Plus, it helps if I to go back to see if I did read a book by a particular author.  It's the rare year that I challenge myself to achieve a certain number, so it's not a high pressure thing for me.

Well, let me go get ready for class, ready for the drive.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Not a Snow Day, but Close

I am glad that I moved my in person classes online yesterday.  The weather wasn't as bad here in the mountains as I was expecting, but it was worse in Spartanburg than I was expecting.  In fact, it was so much worse that we got an e-mail in the early afternoon suggesting that we consider moving our in person classes to online.  From what I could tell, there was lots of flooding.

I expected heavier winds because my family on the other side of the mountain (beyond Knoxville, Tennessee) experienced scary conditions Monday night.  But so far, it hasn't been bad.

I used the morning to get my course shells set up, which always takes more time than I think that it should.  I thought I might do other things, like work on the Bible study that I need to have done in two weeks.  But I took a break for lunch, and we got started watching the Amazon series Transparent, and before I knew it, the first season was finished, and so was the afternoon.

Earlier in the week, we watched another series that was older, Schitt's Creek.  I had heard such good things about it, but we watched three episodes and were done.  My spouse would have been done after the first one, but having heard such praise, I thought that surely it gets better.  I'll never know.

Our viewing experience yesterday was different.  For season 1 of Transparent, we were pulled in.  Then we started season 2, which was jarring.  I felt like I was watching a different set of characters dealing with different issues, and why were they acting this way? I wondered if we had skipped ahead to season 3--so much information was missing.  In season 1, the characters were repellent in many ways, but they had some likeable bits.  I didn't see that in season 2--nothing redeeming at all.  Worse, I just didn't care how the story arcs played out.  So, I won't be losing more time on that show.

I used to like the idea of streaming shows that were more involved than a movie, more deep than TV.  Now I'm just exhausted.  I want a movie so that I know how much time I am committing from the front end.

We ended the day in an old fashioned way, sitting in our chairs, listening to music.  My spouse dozed while I caught up on computer tasks.  I thought about all the rain that had fallen, about how close the morning temperature had been to freezing, about how different it would have been with all that moisture as snow/ice.  I was happy to spend a cozy day indoors and happy that the bad weather wasn't worst--like the best kind of snow day.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Weather Delays

When I thought of the ways that weather might disrupt this week, I thought it was much more likely on Sunday.  There were possibilities of frozen precipitation, and I thought we might have trouble making it over the mountain--and if conditions were bad in Bristol, Tennessee, I thought it might be possible that church would be canceled.

Instead, it was my first day face to face at Spartanburg Methodist College that has gotten delayed.  There's a huge weather system moving west to east, and because of wind advisories, the Spartanburg public schools closed today.  Spartanburg Methodist College usually closes when the public schools close, but this time, the officials decided to stay open today.  However, faculty were told that we could move today's classes online if we thought that driving conditions were risky.

I hoped that the higher ups would reconsider, and I got up this morning, thinking about whether or not I should move classes online.  After several hours of listening to pouring rain and looking at the radar and the weather forecasts, I decided move my classes online.  I've driven in this kind of rain before, but not at temperatures that hovered at freezing, like today's, and not with the forecast of wind like we're supposed to have later today.

It's strange how even after I made this decision, I kept second guessing myself.  I've worked for so many administrators who do not have a generous spirit when it comes to faculty, so it's hard for me to make a decision like this one without fearing icky circumstances.

But I knew that if I made my way down the mountain and only had a few students in classes, which I thought was likely, I'd be annoyed--and I'd have to repeat information on Thursday.  It made sense to upload the syllabus and set up a Discussion post so that students could write an introduction.  

I'll make good use of this time; I'll finish setting up the course shell for these classes, and I'll get some work done on the Lent Bible study for my internship.  We've got a pot of chili that will be perfect for this weather.  It's good to be off the roads today, for this weather event that is likely to last all day.

Monday, January 8, 2024

End of Holiday Snippets

It's been a good week-end, a good 6 week holiday season.  Let me record some snippets before they melt away.

--I had tracked the storm that turned into someone else's storm all week.  In the end, we barely got much in the way of anything frozen.  We did have some snow blowing through the air as we came back across the mountains from Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee yesterday.  It didn't disrupt our travel, and it did make the landscape lovely.

--I'm glad that I didn't have to miss church.  I felt better about the sermons yesterday than I usually do:  more in this blog post.

--It was strange to descend 1500 feet from the top of the mountain range to our house, where the skies were bright blue.

--The classes that I teach in person at Spartanburg Methodist College start tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to it, in many ways.  It will be good to get back to a schedule, and I like the campus and my colleagues there.  Last semester, I had two classes, and this term, I'll have three.  I'll need to leave a bit earlier than last term.  Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be very rainy, so I may leave even earlier.

--Three of my seminary classes start a week from Wednesday, and the fourth starts two weeks from Wednesday.  Two of them are completely online, which I'm looking forward to, more than I once might have.  But in the meantime, I need to finish a Lenten Bible study for my internship by the end of the month.  Happily, I'm 1/6 the way finished.

--For the past few mornings, I've opened up a new Word document and recorded some lines.  At some point, I need to return to all these rough drafts that I've created over the past half year to see if any of them hold up and/or to do more with them to transform them into finished drafts.  

--Or maybe I don't.  I was scrolling through various literary journal sites feeling depressed at all the submission fees.  But why should I feel depressed?  Happily, my career does not depend on me getting poems published in today's literary journal scene.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Epiphany Ponderings

I was up early this morning, listening to the precipitation, trying to determine if it was rain or ice or sleet.  I thought of Epiphany, read T. S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi," remembered a poem I had written in response (go here to read it), did some internet wandering, came across an idea in a blog post of mine, and wrote a few lines in response.

Two years ago, I wrote, "I am thinking of the angel warning Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt, and he does. Did other parents in Bethlehem that night dream of angels with strange messages about their infant boys? Did they remember their dreams? Were they haunted by the memory?"

This morning I wrote about being frozen in place, unable to escape what's coming.  Part of me wants to turn it into a poem that references Gaza; part of me thinks it will be stronger if it's more universal.  Sadly, the death statistics out of Gaza, while shocking, are not unusual for any given year.  At least, I think that's true.

I took some pictures of the ice on the branches, pictures that have more a Halloween vibe than an Epiphany vibe.  Here's one:

I am also thinking of a squirrel who seems to be making a home in a pumpkin by our fence line:

Hoping the animals would eat them, I put the autumn pumpkins down at the back fence after Thanksgiving.  For weeks, the animals have paid them no mind.  For the few days I was gone, they have now eaten their way through much of the largest pumpkin, and last night, I watched a squirrel hollowing out one of the other pumpkins.  I like to think that he is there now, listening to the rain/ice/sleet patter on his pumpkin home.

All of this may come together into a poem eventually.  Looking through my files, I'm amazed at how many Epiphany poems I have.  And I do remember that they didn't all come together immediately.   One of my favorites that I've written was published in Sojourners; go here for process notes and to read the poem. 

I am also thinking of the attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.  It seems there should be a poem that pulls that event into its Epiphany orbit, but anything I have to say poetically seems much too obvious at this point.

Let me add one more detail to this rather disjointed blog post:

Scholar Wil Gafney made this Facebook post last night:  "Merry 12th night! It is the 12th day of Christmas and instead of finality, there is a sense of expectation. Sometime during the night a number of sages trained in astrology and other sciences will come from the east. Tradition says they are three men but that little plural in Greek could also include women and no number is given. Tonight we celebrate the end of one holy season and the beginning of another."

Friday, January 5, 2024

Trip Hazards and Staying Upright

We have spent the past few days being super aware of trip hazards.  My mom and I both have feet that can find the smallest crack in the sidewalk, no matter what kind of shoes we're wearing.  My dad is very anxious about the possibility of my mom tripping and falling.  We've avoided cobblestones and uneven brick sidewalks in colonial Williamsburg.

It's also been cold, so we've stayed indoors.  

Yesterday I made this Facebook post to go with the above picture:  "Writing a sermon, with a different view this week. Here's the view from my parents' dining room table. Now to wait and see what the snow fall and ice will do for Sunday service plans in Bristol, Tennessee."

When I finished my sermon, I got up to put the laptop away.  In the picture above, you can see the edge of the sofa, the end away from the fireplace where my laptop bag was sitting.  I put the cords and the mouse away and turned to go back to the dining room table to get my laptop.

Somehow, my sneaker got tangled in the rug that you can see above, the rug that my parents have had for decades.  Down I went.

Happily, I plopped right down on my rear end, which has ample padding.  Happily, I did not break my fall with my head or my hip or my wrist.  I did somehow hit the underside of my arm on the dining room table, which has left an amazing bruise, and in the process, I moved the dining room table a foot.  Happily, my laptop stayed on top of the table.

It could have been worse, much, much worse.  Nothing broke, not even my pride.  I do not pride myself on how graceful I am, after all.  I know how hard it is to stay upright.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

A Colonial Lunch

Yesterday's weather was pleasant for January, and the Colonial Williamsburg info line told us that the Christmas decorations would be up until January 7, so we headed over for lunch.  Unfortunately, we got there just as they were finishing the process of taking them down, but happily, we still got to see a few.

We expected crowds, so we headed over to the King's Arm Tavern to get there just as the restaurant opened.

We took in the atmosphere and looked over the menu.  

Our server put water glasses on our table, reminding us that we had clean water, safe to drink, which wouldn't have been the case in colonial days.  A nearby table asked what the colonial people would drink, and the answer was beer for all, even the children.  The father told his daughter that no, she couldn't have beer.

The child was actually more interested in her book than in beer or any other part of the lunch.  It did my heart good, although I understand how it was probably frustrating to her family. She made the kind of bargain that you might with younger children:  "If I eat 5 bites of my lunch, then can I read?"  I was that kind of reader too, and with the right book, I still can be.

The meal was full of historical information.  We learned that colonial gentlemen would try to impress women with their shapely calves, and if they didn't have shapely calves, they would put fabric in their socks or a wooden form--this led to the phrase "putting your best foot forward" because men would doff their hats, put a foot forward, and bow, while ladies surreptitiously surveyed their calves.  We learned about people traveling with huge napkins which they would tie around their necks (tying up loose ends) to protect their clothes from food.  

We also had a lovely mini-concert on the Irish harp, and we learned that only Ireland has a national instrument, which is the Irish harp.

The other table was a family speaking Spanish, and I thought about how far the country has come:  we have water that is safe to drink, little girls who want to read, and more food than colonists could dream of.  We have dining rooms where people who can afford it can have a meal, all of us mixed together in ways that wouldn't have happened in the U.S. until late in the 20th century.

We decided to have onion pie for our lunch.  It was a mix of potatoes, onions, and apples, with a pie crust on top, and an egg on top of that.  I thought the chunks of potatoes, onions, and apples would be distinct from each other, but they were boiled into a mush.  It was a delicious mush, like a savory applesauce.  We had carrots and skinny beans on the side.

I made this Facebook post:  "When in Williamsburg, one should eat like a revolutionary. This onion pie is made from one of Martha Washington's recipes."

After lunch, we made our way down the street, being careful to avoid the horse poop from the carriage that had gone ahead of us.  We wanted to see the Bruton Parish Church; on previous trips, we hadn't been able to go inside.

It was truly beautiful.  The decorations were still in place, all made the way they would have been made in colonial times, which is to say, they were made from natural materials like magnolia leaves and pods and flowers.

I've been in historical churches before, always as a visitor, and I always wonder what it would be like if one was a regular worshipper there.  I imagine that sooner rather than later, one forgets the history, except when the building needs repair.

We made our way back to the car, a chillier walk as we faced the breeze.  I was glad to sink into the car, even as part of me wanted to be riding in a carriage.  I wondered what it would be like to work as a server in the restaurant or the people who walk around the town in character and in costume.  It looks like a fun job to me, a former drama club kid, but I realize in the end, it would be a job similar to other jobs that happen without the costumes and the colonial overlay.

It was a delightful lunch, both a trip back in time and a look to the future.  We returned home, nourished in all sorts of ways.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Ferry Crossings

I had a fairly easy trip driving to Williamsburg yesterday.  The last hour of the trip is on little back country roads through Virginia, and it's easy to get turned around.  Yesterday there were big trucks and a smaller truck hauling a trailer of 5 cars, and everyone was weaving about.  By the time I remembered that I needed to be on the lookout for the turn, I had missed it.

Happily, I had my phone, and the traffic was a bit calmer, so I was able to get directions to get back on track.  But it was a different track.  Instead of going across the James River on the long bridge, I was headed to the ferry.

I pulled over to call my mom and dad, who thought I would be arriving earlier.  My mom said, "Are you at the ferry now?  If so, you should just take the 1:30 ferry."  

I glanced at the clock:  1:20.  I said, "Let me see what I can do."

I wasn't at the ferry, and I wasn't sure how far away it was.  I drove as quickly as the speed limit would allow, and happily, I just made the 1:30 ferry.

I've ridden the ferry before, so I had some idea what to expect.  As I had driven, I couldn't remember if there was a fee or how we got the cars parked.   I drove my car onto the ferry and parked, as directed, and felt oddly relieved that it worked out.  I was the last person on the ferry, and soon, the boat was taking us across the river.

I decided not to get out of the car.  People around me were staying in their cars, and I felt oddly self-conscious at the thought of getting out of the car.  Plus I was worried I might lock the keys in the car or that the car would choose this time to stop letting me unlock the door.  I just wanted to sit and get myself centered again.

I'd like to say that I spent the time on the ferry thinking about the ways we get across rivers and other obstacles.  I'd like to say that I wrote an amazing poem during my 20 minutes on the ferry.  I did not.  I am happy to say that my car restarted, and I was able to drive off the ferry to meet my parents, who showed me the way home.

Today I am hoping that Colonial Williamsburg still has their decorations up so that we can take a walk on the grounds.  I am hoping that it won't be too cold; it looks like today will be our best chance for warmer temperatures and less wind.  

I am so grateful for easy travel and for a storm that seems to be waiting until Saturday, which will give me time to get home on Friday.  I'm not sure what it means for my Sunday preaching; I'll know more as the forecast track becomes firmer.  For today, I'll live in the moment and enjoy this time together with my mom and dad.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

On the Road Again

While my spouse stays in North Carolina to make progress on home renovations, I'm making a quick trip up to Williamsburg to see my folks.  I feel lucky to have this extended time off, to be having a reunion while others return to work and school.  

Right now, the weather looks good, and I think I'll scoot home just before the potentially wintry mix moves across the mountains; I'm not sure what that weather forecast means for my Sunday morning travels.  No one is sure, as the timing and the trajectory are still iffy.

This morning is a more leisurely travel morning; I'm not leaving until 7.  I feel lucky to live in a place where I can leave at 7, and not be stuck sitting in rush hour traffic for two hours before I get to the main part of the trip.

Of course, I'm also leaving closer to sunrise because I don't like driving mountain highways in the darkest part of the early morning.  But that, too, feels fortunate--my trip is 6-7 hours, and in the past, it took 6 hours just to get out of the state of Florida, six hours of very boring scenery.  This morning I'll get mountains on one end, and the very different beauty of the James River on the other end. 

Since it's a travel morning, this post will be one of my shorter ones.  Let me focus on the tasks at hand, so that I can, indeed, be on the road by 7.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Christmas Eve Sermons, New Year's Eve Soup, and New Year's Day Reflections

We had a quiet New Year's Eve, but that's not unusual for us.  I am a go to bed early person, and the ringing in of a new year isn't enough to make me want to stay awake until midnight.

However, I did wake up at midnight.  I heard some booming noises and thought that it must be midnight.  It was.  I got up to see if I could see anything since most of our trees have lost their leaves; I thought I might be hearing municipal fireworks displays, but I couldn't see anything.  I know that my neighbors weren't shooting fireworks, and I saw one light burst from the neighborhood that's near the Wal-Mart across the street from my neighborhood.

As I went back to sleep, I reflected on how happy I am that my neighbors aren't the type to spend the days leading up to New Year's Eve and all of the night itself shooting fireworks.  Our South Florida neighborhoods were, and by New Year's Eve, I was exhausted--and I don't have any PTSD issues, so I can only imagine how difficult it is for veterans who do.

Our New Year's Eve day was low key too.  Because the church I serve in a very part-time capacity was having a Lessons and Carols day, with no sermon and no communion, they didn't need me and offered me a day off.  I decided it made sense.

It felt weird to be home, however.  I did some grocery shopping early in the day.  I'm hearing from so many places about disease upticks, and so many people I know are sick, so I decided not to go to in-person church nearby (we did attend several virtual services, both our North Carolina church and our Florida church).  I took a COVID test; happily, my congestion isn't COVID.  I am headed to see my parents tomorrow morning, and I want to stay well.

We made a pot of soup; I had seen the recipe on the Fresh Market website before I did the grocery shopping, and then we made soup together.  I'll paste the recipe below because it's one of those flexible recipes that's also very healthy and quite delicious.  I want to remember this recipe.

In terms of goals for the coming year, my goals don't change much from year to year.  I want to keep moving towards health and away from things that aren't life giving.  So, more fruits and vegetables!  More strength training along with the walking that I do!    More poetry writing!  More reading offline! More of creative pursuits, especially if I'm watching TV!  Less exclamations and more quiet determination!!!!

And if you've been waiting patiently to read my Christmas Eve sermon (which also works well as a New Year's Day sermon), I posted it here on my theology blog.

Here's that great soup to help some of these goals along:

Seafood Soup/Stew


  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 c onion, chopped
  • 1 ½ c fennel bulb, chopped (reserve a few fronds for garnish)
  • ¼ c carrot, chopped
  • ¼ c celery, chopped (we used extra fennel bulb instead of celery)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (makes it very spicy--I would not use more)
  • 2 c bottled clam juice (I couldn't find this, so I used some frozen fish stock that I had)
  • 2 c canned crushed tomatoes (I used the 14.5 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes)
  • ½ c dry, un-oaked white wine (such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc)
  • 3 strips orange peel (cut using vegetable peeler)
  • 2 sachets (.25 ounce) The Fresh Market Saffron (about ½ tsp loosely packed)--I didn't use
  • 1 ½ lb cod, cut into 2-inch pieces (I used tilapia)
  • ½ lb sea scallops and/or peeled, deveined shrimp (I used the smaller, cheaper frozen bay scallops)
  • 1 dozen small clams, scrubbed and rinsed (I couldn't find any--I used 2 cans of chopped clams and the juice)
  • 1 dozen mussels, scrubbed and rinsed (couldn't find, didn't include)
  • Fresh parsley, chopped, for serving (I just used fennel fronds)



1.       Warm oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, carrot, celery and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until tender, about 8 minutes, stirring often.

2.       Add garlic, 1 teaspoon black pepper, fennel seed and red pepper flakes, and cook for 1 minute while stirring.

3.       Stir in the clam juice, tomatoes, wine, orange peel, saffron and additional 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The broth should reduce and thicken a little. Discard the orange zest.*

4.       With the stew gently bubbling (but not boiling), stir in the fish, clams, and mussels. Cover and cook until the clams and mussels open fully, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the scallops; cover, and let stand until the scallops are opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Discard any clams and mussels that do not open.

5.       Serve immediately, topped with fennel fronds and parsley, alongside toasted sourdough slathered in aioli (we just had buttered sourdough bread).