Monday, August 31, 2015

Time's Winged Chariot

As the week-end progressed, I've heard about the deaths of some figures which have been huge in popular culture:  Wes Craven, Oliver Sacks, and Wayne Dyer.  My writerly brain immediately started thinking about the connections, and here's what I came up with:  all three men understood much more than the normal human about how the brain works.

I won't claim that any single one of them influenced me in the way that, say, Alice Walker did in my younger years.  But they've been there, in the background, inventing and reinventing themselves, while I tuned in occasionally.

Wayne Dyer's views about ignoring societal messages about guilt and living our best lives are so common now that we forget how radical they may have once seemed.  Wes Craven knew how to scare us (Nightmare on Elm Street) and then how to both scare us and make us laugh.  I recently watched Scream again for the first time in 20 years, and I had forgotten what a powerful movie it was.  And by exploring the different ways that the brain can go wrong, Oliver Sacks taught us a lot about brains that weren't at an extreme end of a spectrum.

I was also struck by the age of these men who had died; they've all lived a long time.  I've been spending time being struck by the passage of time.  I've lived in South Florida much longer than I have ever lived anywhere else, since 1998.  I've seen children born who have since gone off to high school and college.  Friends who are my own generation have also aged, but it's not quite as visible year to year.  It only becomes obvious when I slow down to think about it.

Some of the changes, like health changes, are painful, so I try not to think too much about it.  But it's also good to reflect on what we've managed to accomplish:  books written, books published, quilts created, thousands of students taught.  That's the short list.

Have we done the work that will transform the way the larger society views a subject?  Yes, but it's hard to think our work will get the larger attention it may deserve.  It's hard to imagine that me or my friends will become a staple of PBS fund drives or that our scholarly work will be transformed into films.  It's easier to think of acclaim for our creative work.

We don't have as much time as we once did, as we hope we do.  Let me remember that as I move throughout my days.



Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunrise Pictures and A Hurricane Poem from Earlier Days

We won't be dealing with a tropical storm today, but we do have some remnants.  We've had thunderstorms sweep through in waves through the night.  It's unusual for us to have these kinds of storms, with lots of lightning, in overnight hours.

Luckily, there's been space between the bands of storms, so our streets aren't flooded.  There was even a moment of eerie, beautiful light.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a different kind of sunrise picture:



With the flash on, the pictures take on an apocalyptic quality:



Yesterday I wrote about going through old files and finding poems that I thought might be lost forever.  Let me post one here.  I think I wrote it in 1998, when we had a hurricane pass nearby.  My spouse and I went to Hollywood Beach, and I was impressed by the power of the ocean and the wind, even with the storm passing through the space between the Florida Keys and Cuba, some 5 hours to our south.

I wrote the following poem, which I still like.  I look at my current poems and see how much I've grown as a poet.  But I'm glad that poems like these still make me happy.


Clean Sweep


While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Life Returns to Normal-ish

It looks like today may be more of a normal Saturday than I was expecting.  I checked the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, and we are no longer in the cone of possibility.  Hurrah!

Of course, we may still get some heavy rain.  We will now be on the dirty side of the storm, if there's a storm moving north.   If we get enough rain for flooding, which often happens during heavy thunderstorms that last over an hour, we have sandbags.

I had been feeling proud of myself for getting to Home Depot early on Thursday to get sand for the sandbags.  Late yesterday afternoon, I discovered we hadn't gotten enough.  So off we went to Home Depot.  Happily, it wasn't too crazy.  Yesterday we were still in the possible path of the storm, and it was after 5, when many people get off work, so I thought it might be just this side of chaos.

We came home and poured sand into the bags.  Since we were sweaty and dirty, we planted some more seeds in pots.

If we ever do have the kind of storm where we need to move everything that could be a flying missile, we will have a lot of work in front of us.  Happily, we don't have to spend the week-end thinking about that.

By the time we were done, the last light was leaving the sky.  We opened a bottle of wine and took it back outside--there was a lovely breeze, and the humidity felt lower.  We took a swim.  How lovely it is to take a swim after hurricane preparations!

Ten years ago, life would have been different.  We'd have been in the condo that we still owned after the death of my spouse's mom in April, returning to our house to do hurricane clean up from Hurricane Katrina.  Ten years ago today, Hurricane Katrina would have been coming ashore at New Orleans.  And then, the levees broke, which did the true damage.

Happily, this week will be different for me.  My hurricane prep is done, and does not require a lot of undoing--the sandbags can be stored as sandbags.  Hopefully the storm will fall into tiny shreds that bring rain but not much destruction.  Hopefully the island of Domenica, so far the worst hit, can recover quickly.

I've spent the week working on a poem inspired by this hurricane prep, and I started thinking about all the poems I once wrote that have hurricane imagery.  This morning I went through some old files and found some poems I only vaguely remembered from my earliest days of writing post-grad school poetry.  Not bad, not bad at all . . . although some future grad school would likely wonder if my marriage was really that bad. 

I used hurricane imagery as metaphor for troubling relationships, but those relationships weren't mine.  Long ago, I wrote in first person, regardless, because I thought first person gave the poems more powerful impact.

Perhaps in days to come, I'll post an old poem.  We can compare them to my more recent poems.  But since this post is getting long, and I'm soon headed to spin class, let me finish now. 

Headed to spin class--yes, a normal Saturday seems to be in store.  For that, I am profoundly grateful.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Distracted by the Weather

I've always said that I prefer hurricanes to other natural disasters because you can see them coming. 

Of course, part of the problem is that you can see them coming.  I hate thinking of all the time I've spent getting ready for storms that spared us.  But I am always grateful to be spared.

All sorts of people have been posting in all sorts of places about not getting concerned about a hurricane that's a Cat. 1.  But we've had lots of damage from strong tropical storms and weak cat. 1s, so I don't take anything too lightly.

We've had life disrupted from storms that missed us, but veered north or south.  These storms can generate a lot of rain, which can shut down airports and disrupt food delivery.

I remember thinking about how far our food comes during one of the disruptions.  If something happened and we were cut off from the rest of the peninsula for any amount of time, how would we survive?

During the difficult storm season of 2005, the grocery shelves quickly became bare and it took over a month for life to return to normal.  I always joke that I keep a fully stocked pantry, but I often find myself uninterested in the food that I have.  When we've had storms that have disrupted our food chain, I've often been too hot and wrung out from debris removal to eat much anyway.

I went grocery shopping on Tuesday.  Perhaps I shouldn't have bought that extra gallon of milk.  At the time, I didn't really think about the possibility of a storm hitting us.

Yesterday, I got the bills paid and the envelopes in the mail, just in case.  I know that the post office prides itself on delivering through any kind of weather adversity, but we've had mail service disrupted for over a week in the past.

I don't think it will be that bad this time, but the lessons of the past remind me that we can never be sure.  Storms that are erratic and poorly organized, like Erika, often hold nasty surprises.

I did finally get a poem written.  I have felt a sort of malaise through the month of August.  I'm hopeful that I'm coming out of it.  I've spent a lot of time this week going to various weather sites.  I've also started getting ready to mail submissions of poetry packets--it's almost September, after all!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hurricane Watching

Here I am, wide awake, waiting for the 5 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.  Yes, I might have been awake anyway; I often am.  I'm also waiting for Home Depot to open so that I can get some sand for the sandbags. 

Once I haul sand across town, I fully expect the storm to avoid us.  But the last year has shown us how flood prone our new neighborhood is, especially in the back where the alley meets our cottage.

I will haul sand in the same week that we got a refund check from our flood insurance company.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm happy to get a refund, as our flood insurance costs thousands.  Yes, just for flood.  Our windstorm insurance is a separate bill, as is the regular homeowner's insurance that covers everything else.

I fully expect to lose the house in an uncovered catastrophe--actually, I don't really expect it, but some part of me wouldn't be surprised.  I have a vision of nuclear contamination from a terrorist attack that wouldn't be covered even though the insurance company will have collected gobs of money from us through the years.

But back to the apocalypse at hand.  Oops, there I go, overdramatizing again.  And I am not alone.  At work yesterday, productivity plummeted as we kept a wary eye on Tropical Storm Erika.  It's not like we waited for the update at 11 a.m. and then went back to work.  We analyzed the cone of probability.  We looked at possible rain amounts.  We tried to remember which side of the storm is the more destructive side.

The 11 p.m. update last night takes the storm offshore; the 11 a.m. update brought it onshore basically right over my house.  I expect more changes before we're through because it's a mess of a storm.

I have the beginnings of a poem.  Let me record some possible lines:

I have prepared for storms that never came.

I have shopped for hurricane parties that I will never host.

Should I keep it to hurricane images?  I have this line too:

I have sewed quilts for babies that I will never carry to term. 

Let me continue to ponder as I buy some sand for sandbags that I may never fill.  Hey, another line!

That's the problem with a  storm out at sea--I'm frazzled and my attention has splintered.  But if I'm being honest, this feeling isn't unfamiliar to me--I feel my attention pulled in so many ways in any given hour.  Luckily, I'm still capable of pulling myself into a focused attention as I need to do so in the course of a day.

And then it's back to seeing if the latest update has been posted.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Seafood Stew to Fortify for the Tasks Ahead

I've been concerned about how few fruits and veggies I've been eating.  I used to eat pounds of carrots every week, for example--and now, we just threw out a half pound that had rotted in the fridge.  Sigh.

So yesterday, I went to the store with the goal of more healthy consumption.  I came home and baked a sweet potato for breakfast.  How delicious and nutritious!  That may be my go-to breakfast from now on, although I am somewhat surprised at the prices.  I wonder if they'll come down in the fall.  Of course, it has occurred to me that I might have 1980's prices in my head:  I paid $1.29 a pound, and it seems that I once thought that 49 cents a pound was expensive.

I also wanted to make a seafood stew once I saw a picture of one on Facebook.  I'm also concerned that I'm not getting enough fish oils. 

It's been awhile since I posted a recipe, so let me create one here.  It's the perfect soup as summer shifts to autumn, should you be lucky enough to be experiencing that.  It's also perfect to nourish us for the hurricane prep that may be ahead.  It's a flexible recipe so that you can make as much or as little as you want.  If you've got plenty of cash, load it up with seafood.  If you don't have much money, it will taste good with canned salmon and a can of clams.

Seafood Stew

1-2 onions, or onion flakes
a few cloves of crushed or minced garlic or garlic powder
herbs:  a few teaspoons of any or all:  basil, oregano, thyme
a few bay leaves
a few pours of olive oil, or canola oil
carrot shreds or chopped carrots  1/2 C. to several cups
1/2 C. to several C. of white wine--or omit and use water
1 bottle of clam juice
water to thin the stew, if that's your preference
2-4 cans chopped tomatoes (can size 14.5 oz.)
1 can salmon (14.5 oz)--fresh or frozen salmon would work too, but more expensive
1-2 cans of clams with juice
frozen or fresh seafood of your choosing; I used bay scallops (the smaller, less expensive kind)

Chop the onions and in a big post, saute in the olive oil.  Add the garlic and carrots to the saute, and if more liquid is needed, start adding the wine and water.  Add the herbs.

Once the veggies are soft, add everything else.  I rinsed the cans with water and added the water to the pot.

The soup can simmer for hours, or it can be ready in 20 minutes.  It will keep for several days, even a week or two, and can be frozen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

When Markets Tumble

I knew that yesterday was likely to be a rough day for the stock market--one of the hazards of being an interconnected world is that when one market tumbles, the rest are likely to tumble too.

It's not the first time I've watched markets tumble.  I remember in 1987 coming back from my grad school classes and hearing about the drop in the DOW.  It was late October and getting dark already; I remember feeling afraid.  I called my mom and dad, who lived in Northern Virginia, and they were remarkably unconcerned about it all.

Markets rebounded quickly, and I felt silly for feeling so scared.  So when markets got wobbly in October of 2008, I talked myself off my ledge of fear.  But I do remember walking the halls in school thinking about how much ground the stock market had lost.  I did wonder if we were looking at the start of a Great Depression.  I chided myself for being a drama queen.  Little did I know.

Sadly, that recovery took much longer.

You might say, "Oh?  We're recovered?"  I, too, know plenty of people who have yet to recover, yet to be back to their earnings of 2007.

All yesterday, I wished I was at home--I like to think I'd have been buying some stocks.  But I don't really keep track of individual stocks the way my grandfather did.

All the way to her death, my grandmother didn't talk much outside the family about my grandfather's stock trading.  She said that after the Great Depression, people saw buying stocks as gambling.  I'd love to know how my Lutheran pastor grandfather came to have a different impression--I think it was because of the attitude of one of his church members who taught him about the market.

He bought shares in companies that he knew--his portfolio included power companies and phone companies and oil stocks.  Every morning he opened to the section of the newspaper that had the market reports, and he noted the price of shares into his little notebook. 

He got the money for stocks by selling honey from the hives in his back yard.  He bought a share or two at a time.  He reinvested his dividends.  Over time, his strategy was a successful one.

I will keep with my investment strategy.  I'm contributing to my 401K, even though I no longer get the company match.  I'll keep some money liquid, in case I'm laid off.  Like most homeowners, my largest investment is likely going to be my house.  I'll continue to take care of it.

But I do wish I had a bit of courage to buy more stocks when the markets tumble.