Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dining Al Fresco

When we first moved to our house last summer, one of the people who helped us move remarked on how the front porch looked like a café. He said, "You should put a table and chairs out here. I'd eat every meal out here."

It would have been a good time to buy some furniture, as the end of summer sales were heating up. But I was worried about covering the bills, so we didn't.

I was most attracted to a bar height table--we already have one of those, a beautiful teak table. The bar stools that go with it aren't designed for outdoor use. But back in May, we needed to get that furniture out of the way, so finally, an outdoor eating space for the front porch!

Some people think it's too hot to eat outside down here for much of the year. But we've been enjoying the space on all but the steamiest days.

For one thing, it's shaded. So even on days when I wouldn't want to sit in the sun, the front porch is pleasant. And unlike other southern states where I've lived, we often have a good breeze direct from the sea.

One morning I took my breakfast out on the porch. I didn't have much time, but I took a few minutes to enjoy my poached eggs and toast with the sun streaming through the arches.

For the most part, we've enjoyed our evening meals al fresco. We coat ourselves with bug spray because even our homemade citronella candles aren't enough to repel mosquitoes. We open a bottle of wine and relax.

My favorite times are when it's raining. We're lucky to have a deep enough porch that it's the rare rain that drives us inside.

When I was in grad school, one of our apartments was on the edge of one of the most beautiful parts of town, Shandon. I would take long, rambling walks through the neighborhood and marvel at the beautiful front porches. I rarely saw anyone using their front porch, and I always wondered why you'd create a beautiful space and leave it unused.

I still wonder. There are seasons in South Carolina where it would be wonderful to take a book to the front porch rocker. I never saw anyone do that.

I think of my grandmother's front porch, which was just a bit smaller than mine. She'd have never eaten out there, but we spent many an evening watching the sun set and the shadows lengthen. We'd sit out there in the afternoon shucking corn and snapping beans.

She didn't have the glamorous furniture of upscale neighborhoods, but she showed how an aluminum and webbing lawn chair was just as good. And so far, my furniture designed for indoor use has survived the transition to the porch. I'm hoping we'll have many more years to dine al fresco. I'm hoping that our neighbors don't think it's tacky.

It's getting to be the time of year when more people move their entertaining back outside, for a few weeks/months.  I must confess that during the month of August and September, when our weather was particularly steamy, we have moved inside too.  Now, I'm hoping to have more opportunities for outdoor dining.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Highlights from a 4 Day Week-end

Yesterday at noon, we took my sister and my 8 year old nephew to the airport.  I spent yesterday afternoon getting organized and catching up.  But it wasn't as fun as the several days leading up to it.

What did we do?  Lots of things:

--We spent as much time in the pool as we could.  In fact, we picked them up at the airport on Thursday and went straight from there into our swimming pool.  I had picked up an inflatable basketball set at an end-of-season sale, and it was the hit of the week-end.

--We watched it rain.  Happily, the rain never settled in for good.  Then the sun came out, and we went back in the pool.

--We ate all sorts of things that had been grilled:  bacon, pizza, hot dogs, clams, steaks, a roast.  Yummmmm.  Then we went back in the pool.

--We went shopping so that we could do some craft projects during the rainy time.  On Saturday, my nephew made all sorts of creations out of colored rubber bands.  My sister, spouse, and I made candles, some scented with rosemary oil and some with lemongrass oil.  Then we went back in the pool.

--We went to the beach, but all sorts of warning flags were flying.  There were rip currents and stinging sea creatures.  We played variations of football and soccer on the beach--wow, that sand is really unforgiving!  Then we came back and went back in the pool. 

--We didn't do some of the things I thought we might do, like play games or draw.  Who wants to do indoor activities when there's a lovely pool?

So today it's back to making sure that all the syllabi have been changed the way that they must to make the accreditors happy and catching up on annual reviews.  I would much rather be in the pool with my nephew!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Questions I Don't Usually Ponder, Unless an 8 Year Old Visits

--Who thought of taking the brightly colored rubber bands from orthodontics and turning them into craft supplies?  Who looked at their child's braces and said, "Those rubber bands would make great bracelets if we wove them together!"?

--Why is sand such an unforgiving surface?

--Why does the presence of autumnal beers make me so happy when I don't even like beer?  Is it because we have no blazing leaves to signal the arrival of a new season?

--What will become of all these creatures made of Lego?  Do Lego creatures have a soul?  Did their soul exist before we put them together?  Does it come standard with every Lego kit?

--Why are pretzel goldfish so much more delicious than regular pretzels?

----When do we lose our capability to pursue whatever interests us at any given time?

--Why do some inflatable pool toys and accessories last for several seasons while others come apart within hours?

--Why do stores in South Florida stop selling these kinds of pool items after August ends?

--Will I learn the rules of football before the 8 year old tires of the game and moves on to something else?

--Do all children have the ability to live in the present moment?  At what point do we lose that?

--Children have boundless stores of energy--why don't I?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Time, Technology, and (Im)Permanence

In past weeks, I've said that I love having visitors because they get me out of the house to be a tourist in my own town.

These past few days, I've realized that visitors also teach me about Internet destinations.  I've been watching my 8 year old nephew watch YouTube videos that show people playing Minecraft.

I've always said that few things are more boring than watching someone else on the computer, and I still stick to that assertion.  I won't be watching these videos once he leaves.  But how fascinating that they exist.

I said to my spouse, "Who says to themselves, I'm going to record myself playing this game.  And then I'm going to create a voiceover feature to explain what I'm doing?"

That's the age we live in, of course.  We have cheap technology that makes it possible to record all sorts of things--and to upload them into a forum where we can all find them.

And of course, who am I to even ask that question?  One might ask the same of me:  why do you need to keep a public journal of your daily thoughts and theological musings?  Why upload?

There are many reasons, of course.  I like that by uploading, I can then have access from any computer.  I like to believe that my writing affects some people in some way.  I like the feedback and the support and the exchange of ideas.  I like that I can write a blog post and link to it on Facebook and thus I don't have to write a lot of e-mails and letters to people to let them know how I am.

I think of future researchers who will have a lot of material to slog through as they do their work.  I think of my grad school self who devoured the journals and letters of Dorothy Wordsworth.  That researcher doesn't have as much that documents the time period as a future researcher will have.

Or maybe our future researcher won't have those materials.  After all, if Google decides to delete the Blogger platform, my writing vanishes.  If YouTube vanishes, what becomes of all those videos?

I think of John Keats writing his poems despite the fact that he must have been convinced that they would not survive him and in the face of bloody evidence each morning that he would not be surviving much longer.

In so many ways, almost every creative person faces the same questions.  We know that we are only here for a short time.  We know that our works may not survive us.  What keeps us going?

Those of us who have been creating for some time, we know that the work itself must sustain us.  It's not the praise, although that would be nice.  It's not the assurance that our works will outlast us.  We cannot be sure.  The poets who were the most famous during Keats' time would be unknown to most of us.  It's Keats that we see as one of the greatest English poets--and most of the people who were alive during his time would not have known his name either.

I have time on the brain.  Sandy Longhorn has been having great conversations about those of us who have multiple creative outlets and how we decide which one to follow.  I said, "I tend to follow the muse that's calling me at the moment, what I passionately yearn to do. It's often writing, but sometimes cooking, sometimes fabric art, sometimes simple sewing of a long seam, sometimes planting, sometimes collage. As I've grown older and my work life takes more time, I find myself thinking about the fact that my life will end at some point, and I ask myself which work is most important, which will have lasting impact. I also ask what will make me most sad if I don't finish the work at hand. The idea of partly finished quilts when I die doesn't haunt me. But oh, all those book-length ideas I have!"

I wonder if Keats had other creative pursuits that he put aside once he realized he had contracted the TB that had killed so many of his loved ones.  I wonder if those gamers who record themselves have all sorts of creative interests.

I wonder what will survive the next 200 years and what that will tell the future researchers who think about us.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Other People's Religious Holidays

Yesterday, one of my Jewish colleagues brought a traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert for another Jewish colleague.  The dessert was easily shared:  bits of things (cherries, crisp things,) coated in a dark honey glaze, some with sesame seeds.

We talked about holiday foods.  One colleague is what is often called a cultural Jew:  she likes the foods, she observes the holidays to a certain extent, but she rarely goes to services.  She's not part of a temple.

The other colleague is much more hard-core.  When I asked if it was appropriate for a Lutheran to wish them a happy new year, she gave me a withering look and said, "I've been in intense study for a month to prepare for the holy days.  If you think it's just about the new year, you are sadly mistaken."

I wanted to protest that I'm fairly ecumenical as far as Christians go.  I wanted to defend myself.  Or alternately, I wanted a low-key conversation (not a diatribe, not a lecture) where we compared traditions.

But I know that religious conversations can make surrounding colleagues uneasy, so I backed away.  I said, "I know.  I have a rabbi friend who has been writing a poem a day during the time that leads up to the high holy days.  She's been posting them on her blog, and it's been a fascinating discipline to watch."  Thanks, Rachel!

It made me think about our various religions, of how many Jews I know and how many different ways they are celebrating these days of awe.  I suspect that it will be easier to get parking places at work today, as many folks will be taking today off.  Our public schools give the day as an official holiday, so even some non-Jews will be taking the day off  to take care of children.

It also made me think about how we talk to each other about our religious traditions, especially in places like the office, where we're all thrown together.  It's one thing to have a conversation about religion in a quilting group or over lunch.  But it feels much more risky in an office.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way.  I was brought up not to talk about religion, sex, or politics, not even at the dinner table.  I was brought up that it was rude to talk about those topics at school (unless in a class where we study and discuss the subject from a safe academic distance) or at work.  To look at my workplace, though, I'd say those rules have changed.  Maybe that's not the case in the nation's heartland, but it seems true here.

I'd like a deeper connection with my colleagues by talking about our different religious beliefs, but I also know that religion has been used as a weapon.  And even if not used as a weapon, it's too easy for people to feel trounced by religious conversations.

Today, I will not be at work either.  My sister and nephew come today!  His school district in Maryland also gives this day as a day off.

Happy Rosh Hashanah to us all, whether we be cultural Jews, Orthodox Jews, ecumenically minded folks, or that large group of people who have no religious practice.  May the coming year be sweet!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

God as Fabric Artist: A Poem for a New Season, a New Year

Yesterday I took mail to the post office, and it occurred to me that my mail is travelling further than I am these days.  I sent a package on its way to England and a letter off to Peru.  My Facebook feed is full of people who are having excellent adventures.  I feel a mild jealousy.

Tonight begins a different kind of adventure for our Jewish friends.  I feel a mild jealousy there, too, as I hear colleagues at work discussing food and traditions and more food.

But this year, I will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah in a different way.  My sister lives in a school district in Maryland that has the day as a school holiday, so my sister and nephew are coming down for a long week-end.  What fun!

I know that a Rosh Hashanah tradition is to eat apples dipped in honey to symbolize the wish for a sweet year ahead.  I will spend Rosh Hashanah embracing life in the way that only 8 year olds can.  I'll have the fervent hope that I can carry that spirit into the new year.

That exuberant spirit embodied in many 8 year olds reminds me of a poem that I wrote some years ago, a poem recently featured at the wonderfully cool, online journal Escape Into Life.  Since it's an online journal, they can do neat things with images, and my poems are paired with wonderful fabric art.  Go here to see the feature.

Long ago, at a Create in Me retreat, we talked about God the creator and the various Genesis stories and what they mean for our own creative processes.  And this poem emerged shortly thereafter.

It seems like a great poem for a new year and a new season.  I like that God in this poem keeps creating and keeps trying new approaches, which leads to wondrous new creations.  We are all wondrous creations, with a chance to make ourselves new every day.

When God Switched Fabrics

On the third day, God switched
fabrics. At first, God had followed
respectfully the lessons of the elders:
which fabrics could be used,
which fabrics couldn’t go together,
which decorative objects were suitable.
God stuck to the established patterns:
Flying Geese, Star of Bethlehem, and Log Cabin.

But on the third day, God declared,
“Enough.” God created the universe
with leftover scraps of velvet,
silk, leather, and denim. God stitched
it all tightly together with ribbon and lace.

When God created foliage,
God decided to design new patterns.
Even the elders exclaimed over God’s
grand visions.

When God began the creation of the animals,
God discovered the dimensions offered
by fabric dyes. God played with pigments
and new patterns appeared.

By the time God created humans,
God claimed the title of fabric artist.
God didn’t waste time
in the age-old debate of craft versus art.
God blazed new trails mixing fabric,
paint, clay, and metals to create
new forms yet again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In Which the Poet Writes a Poem Again!

I finally wrote a poem!  I realize that it may not seem like a big deal; after all, it's only been a month since I wrote a poem, and I have very good reasons why I haven't been writing as much as I usually do.  Accreditation visits precipitate much writing, but none of it feels as important as writing a poem.

In fact, so much feels ephemeral these days, from writing to relationships to the endless binders I've been producing to the body itself.  I have all sorts of ancient wisdom whispering in my head, wisdom that reminds me that we are here for such a short time; we are grass blades in the realms of geologic time.

Some days, it's tough to carry on in the face of this knowledge.  Here is where some of my training in a variety of arenas takes hold and carries me through.

In my spiritual life, I sometimes feel empty.  To whom do I pray anyway?  Does anyone really hear me?  Those questions could sink me, yet I just carry on.  I pretend, until the feelings are real again.

Some of my friends might say that I'm offering the kind of hypocrisy that makes them hate Christianity.  And maybe it does mean I'm a bad believer.

But I don't really think that.  I think I'm being honest.  Much of life is less about belief than it is about practice.  We show up and do the work, even if we're no longer enthusiastic, even when we can't be sure it's making a difference.  We do this with our love lifes, our friendships, our work for pay, our work for the sake of creating, our sensible eating plans, our exercise . . . or am I the only one who experiences these cycles?

I need to send my book length poetry manuscript out into the world.  I will enter the competition for the May Swenson prize, since at least I'll get a book.  I will enter this competition at Persea Books, since it's only open to women writers who haven't yet published a full-length book.

And this week, I'll get back to my memoir.  I think I'm very close to a finished draft that will only need one final polishing!