Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fireworks in a Time of Drought

We are often on a sailing trip during the 4th of July; we won't be doing that this year.  Our church has an ice cream social before the Pembroke Pines fireworks display, but I don't feel like heading across the county on the 4th. 

Can we see the beach fireworks from our house?  We shall see.

It seems like a good 4th to stay close to home.  We've had a very dry summer, and now everyone will be shooting off fireworks.  I feel uneasy, all that open flame, all that dry tinder.

I love the kind of fireworks that municipalities display.  I hate, hate, hate the noisy things that ordinary citizens buy.  They sound too much like gunfire. 

In some ways, this holiday reminds me of Halloween.  The rest of the nation celebrates and has fun, and I feel under siege.  And I feel like there's something wrong with me, yet I also wonder why others don't see the dangers.  With Halloween, it's adults in costume with lots of alcohol--what could go wrong?  With Independence Day, it's fireworks in a time of drought and alcohol--what could go wrong?

I have a watermelon.  We can have a cook out.  Maybe I'll zip to the store to get the materials for s'mores.  But I'd like to do something more memorable.

I'd like to be near a national monument.  I used to spend the 4th in or near the D.C. area.  There are so many reminders of what a miracle our country is. 

When I'm on Facebook, I'm amazed at the anger and vitriol that some display, the sweeping generalizations that I see and hear.  I want to go into teacher mode.  I want to point out how wonderful it is that so many of us can have such a wide range of opinions, and none of us will be carted off to jail, unless we decide to do something violent on the behalf of those opinions.

So today, let me give thanks for this freedom that we've somehow managed to maintain.  But let me not be blind to the oppression that many still face.  Even in our country, we have too many citizens who are not safe, who do not have their basic liberties assured.

And let me try to be festive, even as I'm staying alert.  In a fit of exuberance earlier this spring, we bought a lot of festive lights, solar powered, lights that after dark twinkle in different patterns and colors.  They're designed to float in the pool.

Back before the stifling heat descended, we sat outside for hours, watching the lights in the pool.  We will do that again tonight.  And because it is so hot, we will swim in the sparkling water.

We will also have a fire in the fire pit.  We have lots of wood left over from an old fencing project that we should get rid of.  And tonight the air will be heavy with smoke.  There are times when I feel guilty about creating air pollution with a open fire, but that will not be the case tonight.

Along the way, I'll play with poetry, teaching, and other art forms.  My spouse said, "What should I do with these old watches that no longer work?"  I said, "Build a sculpture."  So I might do that.

And I will remember to pray:  for peace in our time, for those who aren't assured of their basic liberties, for those who need freedom from tyrannies of all sorts.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Independence Eve Thoughts

The day before Independence Day--as I drove to spin class, I heard the annual Morning Edition reading of the Declaration of Independence.  What a well-written document!

It's interesting to hear that reading just after the newscasts about Greece and bankruptcy and the future of Europe.

It's interesting to think about how 13 feisty colonies fought themselves free of the world's superpower back in 1776.

Those signers of the Declaration pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, so great was their belief in what they were doing.  It's a good day to think about our commitments, our values, what we hold most true.

Of course, it's always a good day to do that--let me always be trying to live a life that's in sync with my truest values.  Let me always be ready to stake my sacred honor on principles that are that important.

If you had to choose your most important truth to be self-evident, which one would it be?

You might think that the freedom to practice my spiritual faith is most important to me, and I do value that.  But having access to information might be even more important to me.  If I had to choose my favorite right from the Bill of Rights, it might be freedom of the Press.

I like the ability to read just about anything that comes my way.  But maybe the ability to create is even more precious to me.  Unlike Chinese artists, I don't have to worry about being arrested and sent to jail.

For many of us, Independence Day is a day of cook-outs and fireworks.  If we don't live in a place that has preserved colonial history, or if we live further west, Independence Day may seem a distant holiday.  But this holiday week-end gives us a good reason to remember the high stakes that those signers of the Declaration of Independence faced.  It's good to remember how much they valued the idea of freedom, even if they didn't extend those freedoms to all.

In this time after momentous Supreme Court decisions and actions by evil-minded people, it's good to think of freedoms and what freedoms still need to be won.  I will spend some time thinking about all the female clergy in South Carolina who are getting vicious threats and hate mail.  I will think about people who still don't have basic protections, like the right to work at a job without harassment.  I will think of people still going to bed hungry, still out on the streets.

I will say a prayer for protection and for liberty from tyrannies of all sorts.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Results of the Motorcycle Skills Test

Yesterday, as we went round and round the motorcycle training course, I thought, I really need one more day of this to solidify my skills.

And now, I will get that day.  I'm trying to see the events of yesterday in terms of getting more training with no extra charge, not as a failure.

There were moments yesterday where everything went well, and I could see why people love riding a motorcycle.  There were many more moments of frustration and times when I couldn't remember why I thought this class would be a good way to spend my valuable vacation time.

I do think it was easier to learn during a class than to try to learn on my own.  I am amazed at what I was able to learn after just 2 mornings on a motorcycle.

Unfortunately, it was not enough to pass the skills test on the bike.  The written test I passed with flying colors.  I'd have been really spooked if I couldn't do that.

Fortunately, I get another session of training and another chance to pass the test.  The trick will be finding a good time to do that, and soon, before I forget what I've learned.  I'll call later today to schedule it.

We had a practice time just before the test.  We worked on our own, with no input from the instructor.  I did most of the activities almost perfectly.

What went wrong during the test?  Partly, I overthought things too much.  It's a habit of mine that I recognize.  If I could just get out of my own head, I'd get out of my own way more often.

I have no problem recognizing these thought patterns, but I have not yet learned how to banish them.  Sigh.

I was also a bit spooked because we had had a morning of spectacular crashes--all unintentional.  Happily, no students were hurt, but it left me unsettled.

Then, during the test, I thought the instructor motioned me to demonstrate a fast stop.  It's a small course, and it was hard for me to get up to speed, then apply brakes and shift to first.  I did, and perfectly.  Unfortunately, the instructor wasn't actually ready for me.  So I had to do it over again, and I goofed.  I shifted up to 3rd instead of second, and downshifted to second, not first.  Why didn't the bike stall?  I don't know, but probably because I was so desperate to build up speed and so wanting to do it correctly.

If that had been the only mistake, it wouldn't have been enough to sink me, but it wasn't.  I got progressively more flustered--again, my head getting in my way.  And my physical state didn't help either.

The test was held at the end of a long, hot morning of training.  My hands ached from squeezing the clutch and the break.  My feet ached.  My body burned from the blazing heat.  I tried to stay hydrated and sunscreened, but I suspect that my physical state led to diminishing returns which led me to not passing the skills section.

My instructor said that even if I had passed the skills test, she'd have begged me to come for one more training session.  I'm just not ready.

She's right. 

I will come back and get more training and hopefully pass the test.  Then I will keep practicing on less-traveled roads.  I can't imagine how I will get up to the level where I will feel good about getting out in real traffic with lots of vehicles.

Perhaps I won't.  But at least if something happens to my spouse while we're out on the same bike, like if he breaks an ankle or a wrist and we can't get a cell phone signal to summon help, I could get us back home.  That was one of my goals.

As I was struggling, I thought of all the students through the years, mine and those who are taking classes with faculty in my department, students who fail for all sorts of reasons.  I thought of their frustration and wondered if karma is catching up with me.

But of course, that's not the reason why I had trouble.  And it's not the reason why our students have trouble.  Some subject matter is just hard and doesn't come to us in the time period that we had scheduled for it.  That's not easy to hear.  It wasn't easy for me to hear yesterday.  It's good to be reminded of how it feels to be on the receiving end of that info.  It's an empathy-creating experience.

I will shake off these feelings of inadequacy and failure.  I tried my best.  I'm not where I need to be.  I can get there. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lessons from Day 1 of Motorcycle Riding Class

My first day of motorcycle riding class went well.  If all continues to go well, today will be my last day, and then I'll have the certificate which means I can update my license--a trip to the DMV, hurrah!

It was an interesting class:  1 guy, 5 females, and me.  Our two instructors are also female; they commented on the unusual gender balance of the class.

I felt bad for the guy, who has already been riding several years.  The state of Florida now has a law that to get your motorcycle endorsement, you need to take a class like the one I'm taking, and that's why he's here.  He must be terribly bored.

The rest of us had never ridden before yesterday.  It's amazing to me that you can take a group of people and after 4 hours, have them riding.

There was only one real mishap--and it was mine!  At the end of one exercise, we were supposed to line up.  I was slowing down, braking--and I'm not sure what happened.  Suddenly I speeded up a bit.  I bumped the guy on the bike in front of me.  Happily, it was at low speed, and no one was hurt.

I'm still not sure what happened.  Our instructor tells me that I let out the clutch, but my instincts were right--I immediately put the clutch back in.  I suspect that I thought I was in Neutral, but was really in first.

I learned a lot yesterday.  Here are some of my insights:

--What I assume would result in catastrophe may not be that big a deal.  So I zoomed ahead and hit a parked motorcycle--no one was hurt and the bikes stayed upright.  In some ways, it was a success, since I didn't get spooked and stop.

--We learn a lot from mistakes.  I knew that, but it's interesting to learn it again, to see it firsthand.

--We would try to master a riding lesson, and then we'd analyze it.  What did we learn?  What did we do right?  What are we still working on?  It's a good way to solidify ideas in our head, and it seems like a process that can be used in other aspects of learning.

--The body and the bike will go where your eyes are looking.  I first learned this lesson from swimming, but I've heard many an instructor across disciplines remind us of this basic fact, from yoga to spin class to boot camp class.  It seems true on a metaphorical level too--where are we looking in terms of our creative lives, our spiritual lives, our work-for-pay lives, our relationships?  Again and again, I'm reminded that I need to change my vision.

--It's good to be a complete beginner.  I think that all instructors should force themselves to learn something completely new every few years.  It's good to remember the terror.  It's good to remember that most things can be broken down into a series of processes.  It's good to see other instructors in action.

Today after learning more skills and theory, we have a riding test and a written test.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Technology Miracles Old and New

Yesterday was delightful.  I worked on my angel Gabriel poem and accompanying documents (writing process, updated bio, picture), while also working on the online classes which started yesterday.  My brother-in-law popped by for a visit while he was on call, and I worked on a quilt while we chatted.  And at the end of the day, I got the mail that told me that Atlanta Review accepted a poem of mine, "Coracle of Prayer."

I thought about how I would likely not have written that poem without the Internet and blogging.  I came across this post and video that Dave Bonta posted.  In pre-Internet days, perhaps I would have come across the facts about coracles--but would I have been as intrigued and inspired if I hadn't had the video to watch?

My purple legal pad where I write poems shows me that I was playing with the Gabriel idea before I saw this post of Beth's art that she posted in January.  I had the idea during Advent, the mingling of the thought of John the Baptist as that homeless guy under the overpass, the idea of God coming where we least expect to find the Divine, and the godlessness of South Florida. 

But when I saw her post on a day when I saw other images, I wrote a blog post about the poem I was trying to write.  That blog post led to an electronic conversation with Beth, which has led to a publication opportunity, about which I will say more later.  It's another opportunity which I wouldn't have had without modern technology.

Or perhaps I would, but at a different pace.  I could have written a letter, after all.  But without the Internet to distribute information, I would likely never have seen her piece of art from her studio in Canada.

It's a theme I return to again and again, how technology has changed our lives.  I thought of this in a different way as I set my oven to self-clean yesterday.

Note to self:  it's better to clean the oven during cooler weather.  Having the oven self-clean at a high temperature on a sultry summer afternoon is not the wisest approach.  But the result seems miraculous.  No noxious chemicals!  No scrubbing!

I wonder what technology that's just now being tested will come to seem like a miracle to future generations?

Now it's off to motorcycle training--another technology which once seemed miraculous.  I will bring a book to read during down times, if there are any--an old technology, which still seems miraculous.  I will use my reading glasses--yes, another miracle.

The world is full of wonders, if we had but eyes to see.  What poems will I weave out of these ideas?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer Vacation, of a Sort, Begins

This week will be very different from the past few weeks.  Our school has Friday off as the 4th of July holiday, and a few weeks ago, I decided to take my motorcycle training class on Tuesday and Wednesday, since there's a discount, and I didn't want to spend a week-end doing that and then trying to be functional at work.  And then, I thought, well, why not take the whole week off?

People assume I'm going somewhere, but I'm happy to be staying at home.  I've got unfinished  projects the way one does when one has hectic weeks:  I need to do some cleaning, some laundry, some banking, some cooking.  I've got online classes starting and shifting into high gear.  I've got a writing project due date.  There are non-school friends I want to catch up with.

I feel that strange tingle of nervousness--we're halfway through the year, and I've taken half of my Paid Time Off--what if I get sick?

But I also don't want to get to December and need to take the whole month off so that I don't lose my PTO.  So, it's good to take days here and there.

Plus, I've been feeling so exhausted, between school issues and Vacation Bible School--I've had lots of signals that it's time to take a few days off to regroup.

I'm hoping also to have time to read.  I've finished Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins, and I can't stop thinking about the characters--it's almost enough to make me want to go back to reread Life after Life.  But there are so many books I haven't read yet.  Next up:  The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer.  It's hard to believe how many years it's been since I read her first novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier.

Now it's time to make some homemade granola bars (recipe in this blog post).  I have trouble envisioning how motorcycle riding classes will go.  Will I need dry clothes to change into?  Will we have snacks provided?  I'm fairly sure lunch is not provided.  Will I need to bring all my own water?  Will there be an air conditioned place to leave my lunch/snacks or will I use my car for storage?

Regardless of the answers, my homemade granola bars will be just fine.  And so will I.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Salads Salt and Sweet

A few weeks ago, I went to a restaurant planning to get some happy hour snacks to go with some wine.  I wasn't planning on eating dinner.

My friend and I got ourselves settled at the bar to wait for the others who would join us.  It was fairly early, so there was only one other person at the bar.  She waxed euphoric over the salad.

Yes, the salad.  She had a bottle of wine and some other goodies--but it was the salad that made her so deliriously happy.

So, of course, I had to order it--plus it sounded good:  grilled peaches, prosciutto, goat cheese, on top of salad greens with a honey lemon vinaigrette.  Were there nuts on the salad?

For days, I wanted to go back--but the salad was a special, so I doubted I could get it again.  But how hard could it be to make?  So the other day, I stopped at the grocery store.

I got nectarines, which I like better than peaches.  I added some cherry tomatoes.  I got chopped romaine lettuce, because it was on sale.  I got a log of goat cheese and prosciutto.  You can mix it all in the proportions that you like.

For the vinaigrette, I used 3 lemons, but it was almost too tart.  I used 4 T. of honey.  I mixed in a cup of good olive oil.  It still didn't taste quite right--too tart.  So I added some balsamic vinaigrette and some ginger preserves.  I just kept mixing in small amounts until I got it close.  It still wasn't as good as the restaurant version.

But then I let it sit in the fridge for a week--it got so much better.  I made another version of the salad.  When I didn't have grilled peaches, I made the salad with chickpeas--not quite as good, but more protein to be sure.  I love the mix of salt and sweet.

I think I'll explore the whole summer creating salads that celebrate that mix.

This past week, I've been pouring the vinaigrette on non-salads too.  I had a can of chickpeas that marinated in the vinaigrette--delicious mixed with goat cheese.  I also poured it over a leftover pasta with tomatoes and olives pantry kind of meal that I put together when I was out of most fresh foods--much tastier than the original pasta meal with parmesan cheese that I first served.

I liked the vinaigrette so much that I made another jar full.  I used 2 lemons this time.  It was almost not tart enough.

In my younger days, when I had lots of unstructured time and a kitchen (think grad school), I kept a variety of sauces and vinaigrettes on hand.  I had forgotten how transformative they are.