This is where I lay my hat

This is where they know my name
This is where they show me that
I'm not so all alone.

And what's really cool is how well the visitor describes the whole thing!

After Christmas

Two untouched bottles of cola and
the rum was barely breached and
the wrappers from the bits and pieces of
now pulled crackers and
their prizes
and paper crowns
refolded neatly - set at right angles to the books -
little pointed careful neatness in the mess.

And there was laughing.

I think I may have laughed myself.
But for all of these
and all the other sins I cannot now remember
I beg forgiveness.

The offspring of the Virgin's womb
the boy she bore to live, to love us all
and prove it by a death so brutal and inglorious
the fine exacted punishment for Love.

Last week we called it Christmas.
And I think I laughed.
I know the others did.
I know I cooked. We feasted and we even loved
the brussels sprouts.

The scattered bits and pieces and the dishes
sitting waiting to be cleared
restored to order
put away privily because I will not
make it public.
I ponder in my heart.

I think I laughed on Christmas.
I know I loved.
I wanted quiet, but the shepherds came.
Of course they did.
The whole of arching, reaching, dark and vaulted
sky was full of angels, and the startled shepherds
had to come.

I have read the story.
I know
what happens next. Here is a little space of time and
quiet so that
the baby grows until another angel brings
a message.

Gold and frankincense and myrrh and
terror as the blood of babies
drips from soldiers' swords and
Rachael weeps.

This is the One enormous Glory
as it labors and delivers.
This is the stuff of saints and angels.
The innocent and martyred babies, dying,
make their mothers

The Holy Family flies to refuge
in a place that is not home and do not know
that it will all be right
in the end
after the blood is shed and tears dried up.
They do not know.
They have not seen.
Not yet.


This Christmas

  • I made a largely successful, but not universally loved trifle.
  • My husband found one first edition, one British edition, and one other very well preserved book to buy me the whole Eliot trilogy, by Elizabeth Goudge. And not satisfied with that, he also found and bought for me a very unusual pearl bracelet!
  • The newest consensus on Christmas stockings is this: "Having a stocking is not the important part, Mom. If not having a stocking means less candy, I want a stocking. If having a stocking means less candy, I don't want a stocking." (Santa used bags this year. Momma needs newer, larger, more manly stockings to hang.)
  • A person who attended Midnight Mass put a drawing into the offering plate and told my husband, the usher, "This is all I have."
  • I got a hand painted cross from one of my Sunday School children ... wrapped in the most amazingly spiraled gift wrap, stuck together with bright blue duct tape.
  • The next day, I got a handpainted wooden tulip from another of "my" girls ... I feel very loved, and both handpainted wooden items are now part of my growing Fontanini nativity set on top of my piano. (I got camels and camel accessories this year.)
  • After getting past the initial surprise that my 23-year-old son would rather go back up to school a week earlier than classes start because he has reading to catch up on, I realized that I am relieved to have a week's space before my classes start. I need to do some weeping, and I can only hold it together for a couple more days.
  • My daughter has spent "Christmas" in a convoy in Afghanistan. (Hence, the necessary weeping time.) And that same daughter pretty much provided Christmas for us this year. She shopped online, and the nice delivery men have been greeting our dogs every few days for the last couple of weeks. The ... uh ... "tavern puzzle?" Uh, yeah. Now everyone's irritated by it, and the youngest young giant took it home with him, determined to solve it.
  • I bought some Armagnac soaked prunes stuffed with foie gras for my husband. He has only eaten one of them. We have two Christmas crackers left. I figure we'll crack the crackers and eat the earthy, fragrant, permeating, gorgeous, rich, decadent little bits of amazingness on our first evening alone in our house again.


Does anyone know

where my trifle bowl is???

I have a small house.

In my house I have too many things, but not THAT many! I'm not completely buried under! I can see inside my cupboards just fine.

And the bowl is not small. In fact, it's rather impressive.

Straight sides. Flat bottom. Beautiful, clear glass bowl. I've had the thing for more than 25 years. And THIS year I can't find it! I made the pudding and cut up the pound cake ... I'm ready to assemble my Christmas trifle.

But WHERE is my BOWL??

Ring out, wild bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Happy Birthday, Grandpa Les

This is the only Norwegian language I know. I found a kitchen tile with the words painted on it - the words feel like roots to me. Roots under the fjords, and woven into family gatherings, and passed all the way to my generation via the grace at dinner. We used to pray this together on December 23 when we got together for the extended family's "Christmas" on my Norwegian Grandpa's birthday. Happy Birthday, Grandpa. I miss you.


I do not think he's gotten to the depth of the matter, but I think he is accurately describing its clothes - its words and actions. He is not talking about source or trajectory. But he is describing what it looks like, and this is indeed how we can recognize what the Christians call malice. Zimbardo calls it "evil" - it is, I think, what evil most often looks like.
Social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, author of The Lucifer Effect, says that Evil is:
  • The exercise of power to
  • Intentionally
  • harm another person psychologically, and/or
  • hurt another person physically, and/or
  • destroy others mortally, and
  • commit crimes against humanity.
He says that the antidote to this definition of Evil is to give to our children a heroic imagination. Heroes, he says, are
ordinary people whose social action is extraordinary, who act when others are passive, who give up ego-centrism for socio-centrism.
I had heard of the Stanford experiment, but I had never heard of the book Zimbardo wrote until my daughter read it while she was at AIT in Arizona. (Advanced Individualized Training, in which the Army teaches you to do your specific job - theoretically, that's what it is - practically, well ... it's the Army. The right hand is not only ignorant of the left hand's actions, the right hand is pretty sure the left hand was blown off in a previous conflict, so the hands don't much communicate. But AIT is supposed to be about training for a specific job, her job is intel, so - on her own - she read this book.)

Now, the reason I have been thinking about this is because this is the season of evals. Yeah, that's right. Evals. Rather than getting grades, my son gets evaluations each term from his instructors up at The Evergreen State College. (This poses us a new twang to the twizzle with this kid. Now he scorns music with meter and the convention of grades. I've taken to rolling my eyes so much I'm getting dizzy. Whatever, dude.)

My eval season looks back every Christmas - across the whole vista of all of the years - and asks, How did I do? What has been the effect? What did my kids do with what I taught them ... and what I prepared them to learn on their own? Who have they become in their own rights?

The same world holds both angels and demons. The same opportunities and situations produce both heroes and tyrants. So ...

My actions? My social life? My private life? How about my marriage? I do my evaluations, and I - conventionalist that I am - I tend to assign grades. I don't think to myself "I've gotten about a B+" or anything like that. But I do think about my placement on a reasonable expectations scale.

Zimbardo's "20 Hints About Resisting Unwanted Influences On You" read a lot like an Examination of Conscience before Confession ... but not on the level of the inmost soul. On the level of the psyche, this is a good evaluation form, I think.
  1. Do not maintain an illusion of “personal invulnerability” – If it can happen to them, then it can happen to you too.

  2. Be modest in self-estimates – it is better to perceive yourself as vulnerable and take necessary precautions than to go “where angels fear to tread.”

  3. Engage in life as fully as possible, yet be mindful and aware, attuned to the moment, and prepared to disengage and think critically when necessary – people are generally good and trustworthy, but others make their careers as “influence professionals” who try to get you to do what they want.

  4. Be aware of Cialdini’s contexts and principles of compliance; when you sense you are operating on one of the principles, look to the relevant context being manipulated on you and pull back; where the context is obvious, expect the principle to be activated.

  5. Be ready to say the three most difficult phrases in the world: “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, and “I’ve changed my mind.” Cut bait, accept immediate loss of money, face, etc. that could lead to bigger long term losses – Dissonance and consistency then go limp in the face of such self-honesty.

  6. Separate your ego from your actions; maintain a sense of positive self-esteem, that is independent form the occasional failure and your stupid actions at times (Laugh at yourself once a day. This is especially true for shy folks.)

  7. Separate messenger from message in your mind, process each systematically not heuristically, be aware of being tired, a “cognitive miser,” wanting simple short cuts, giving in to non-verbal tricks. There are no free lunches and no quick and dirty paths to anything worthwhile – sloth and greed breed gullibility.

  8. Insist on a second opinion, a delay in signing contract while thinking about it away from the situation; never immediately sign on the dotted line.

  9. Develop ‘Discrepancy Detectors,’ alerting mental and intuition systems that stem from vague feelings of something wrong, something in the situation or the story you are being handed that does not fit to analysis to counteraction -> dissent -> disobedience.

  10. Try playing devil’s advocate, be the deviant, to assess the reactions against you and that position, when the influence agent says he/she is only doing X for your good.

  11. Avoid ‘Total Situations’ where you lose contact with your social support and informational networks (cults and the most powerful forces of social influence thrive there), you do not want all your reinforcers to come from these new sources.

  12. In all authority confrontations: be polite, individuate yourself and the other, make it clear it is not “your problem” in the process, or situation; describe the problem objectively, do not get emotional, state clearly the remedy sought, and the positive consequences expected – hold off on the threats and costs to them or their agency as last resort.

  13. When in some situation of authority encounter, you are being challenged – ask for identification, demand to see it, get person’s name (write it down) and all details about the encounter.

  14. Never allow yourself to be cut off emotionally from your familiar and trusted reference groups of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – do not accept putdowns against them.

  15. Remember all ideologies are just words, abstractions used for particular political, social, economic purposes; be wary taking actions proposed as necessary to sustain that ideology – always question if the means justify the ends, and suggest alternatives.

  16. Think hard before putting abstract principles before real people in following other’s advice to act in specific ways against what they represent.

  17. Trust your intuition, gut feelings when you sense you are becoming a target of influence, put up your counter-arguing mentality, and dig down for sources for resistance.

  18. Rules are abstractions for controlling behavior and eliciting compliance and conformity – challenge them when necessary: ask, who made the rule? What purpose does it serve? Who maintains it? Does it make sense in this specific situation? What happens if you violate it? Insist that the rule be made explicit, so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.

  19. When developing causal attributions for unusual behavior – yours or others – never rush to the dispositional, always start by considering possible situational forces and variables that are the true causal agent, and seek to highlight them and to change them where possible.

  20. Imagine Dr. Z as your conscience, your personal Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) sitting on your shoulder and saying be cool, be confident, be collected—to avoid becoming a Jack Ass.
In this season of evals, I listened to a presentation by Philip Zimbardo, and I thought again about the cost of heroism. I can almost regret raising children to be valiant - after all, I have one of my babies calling me from Afghanistan's brutal winter and brutal war, another one talking about living for a year or more on yet another continent, and the third actually proposing to earn a living in the music industry. I laugh - a little hysterically sometimes - because I may have overplayed my hand. Maybe we read one too many hero stories. But I would rather take the phone calls, encourage the courageous, and weep when the medals are passed out. In fact, I hope to earn one for myself.


Compiling Christmas

This was on my Quotations widget on my homepage this morning (without the picture, of course):

Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
Arnold Lobel

I did a search. My brain wasn't clicking on the right name, but I knew the name Arnold Lobel was in the file somewhere. Oh!!! Of course! It's the Frog & Toad guy! Those are the most wonderful books! Now, why didn't I know there was this little volume of verses? My children would have loved this book. I am going to have to go find a copy in the store and add it to my collection soon.

I do not currently have books to the ceiling, books to the sky in my office, however. Well, not really. I mean to say, the books to the ceiling, books to the sky are not the ones that were piled in here a couple of weeks ago because of school. I took all those books back to the library libraries from which they came. Next quarter, the piles will be compiled once again. (Best use of the word "compiled," don't you think? Compiling: verb, indicating an action taken with books, done by a researching student during the school term. Compile: To pile books higher and higher.)

About ten years ago, my daughter once threatened to switch my piles with the piles of a family friend - and then sit back and see how long it would take the two of us to figure out we were working on someone else's piles. (She's got a mean streak, that kid.) There are fewer piles in my house these days, though. I don't think it's less stuff - it's just more selective. Fewer categories of time and attention = fewer piles.

Piles I want to compile in the next few weeks are food piles. I want to make bits of things on sticks and toast dollops of things on little toast triangles, and then pile those up onto pretty plates on the table near the bottles of lovely things to drink. The Great Husband seems to be thinking along the same lines. He just sent me this picture of Stilton-Pear Crostini drizzled with pumpkin seed oil. That's what was on his home page this morning. (You can click the pic for the recipe.) See how the little crostini are piled up? There are only two, and yet the photographer/food stylist person felt the need to pile them. We're in a compiling time of year.

People compile lists of things at this time of the year. Gifts, and shopping items, and people being invited to the party. Soon, it will be annual resolutions - and receipts. My lists of compilation are mostly interior right now. I've been compiling memories and prayers and perspectives, largely due to the fact that I've now got three adult children who are spreading my inner world to four corners of the earth. It's an interesting thing nobody ever told me. If you expand your heart so that your children all have access to it, and yet are not confined by it -- if your heart allows their growth and their comings and goings and successes and failures as theirs, not yours -- then you end up expanded and pried open and broken and renewed much, much larger than you'd ever meant to be. It's very odd.

Right now, there is a pile of UPS and FedEx and USPS boxes compiled on a side table, unopened. I'll open them - wrap them - and that pile, all things sent to us by our soldier daughter, will become the bulk of our presents pile under the tree. It's a lean year - for us, and for a lot of people. Those expansive offspring have also expanded our financial obligations for now, and so their Christmas piles are going to be a collaboration between Santa and their soldier sister, with their parents providing bits of things on sticks -- and duck a l'orange -- so it's not like anyone's doing Christmas with Oliver Twist in a cellar or anything. There just won't be compiled toomuchstuff this year. No one will be sad, I'm sure.

We'll compile heaps of branches and clippings in the middle of the living room floor in a few days. Someone asked me if I was going to buy decorative greenery this year, and I had to tell 'em. I live on forty acres of decorative greenery. I just have to go outside and cut some of it. To that pile, I'll add a whole tree for decorating. That I'll have to buy - but I'll go and pick it out where it stands now, growing in the good Pacific Northwest earth, waiting for me to find it.

Then we'll pile up the boxes of decorations, and somehow, inevitably, there will be people in the living room, leaning to the left and right, watching the television while I walk back and forth between them and it. Why is that? Why is there something on the television when the tree is being decorated? Decorate it at another time, you'll say. Yeah, yeah. The theory's sound, but it just never works that way. It's one of life's mysteries - like the fact that the less distance there is to travel, the more likely you are to be late to an appointment. And when the tree is decorated and the various annually displayed oddments are nested into random bookshelves or perched on picture frames, the boxes will all be compiled in the cupboard for a few weeks until they're filled back up and stored away for the year.

Here we are, at the compiling time of the year. We heap up the piles of This Year's Stuff - or, I do, anyway. Look it over. Set it out where I can see it. Take some of it back to the libraries (seasonal work that's over now), throw some of it away (because some packaging's just packaging and how you learned that or where you did that isn't the point of it), wrap some of it for giving to others (right now, I'm very busy packaging a lifetime's study, learning, experience, and enjoyment for a suddenly larger Sunday School), and some of it gets displayed where everyone can see it.

But some of this year's compiling is private. After the shepherds came to worship the Baby, after they left and noised it all abroad, the Blessed Mother began a life that was about to hold all the pain and difficulty of the best of blessings. That Baby of babies was God, and she knew it. Yet she didn't feel the least bit like following the shepherds out the door to help them prove their story. She didn't show that tiny bundle to the folks in house after house, saying, "See him? This is the Incarnate God! Isn't it wonderful?"

No, the Blessed Mother did something I am very glad the Evangelist included in the story. I'm glad I know about this part. I feel a particular fellowship with her this year. She "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."

Some compiling is private. This year, on my fiftieth Christmas, pay no attention if you see me cry. I'm just compiling.


Fat in a lean year

A couple of years ago, once all our kids were up and out and in their own adult lives, we declared a New Normal for Christmas here. Presents are not forbidden ... but now presents are officially declared to be beside the point. Now, when the children who are no longer children come home, they are supposed to bring food for the feast.

And for starters, this year, taller young giant tells me he is bringing home eggnog from Golden Glen Creamery. They use non-homogenized milk and he says it's delicious. That's my boy!

Other things I'm thinking about are found at places like smitten kitchen. Things like "Creamed Mushrooms on Chive Butter Toast," and "Vanilla Roasted Pears" have me ready to make very detailed grocery lists.

Many years ago, when that same young giant was so active and so young that we put our Christmas tree up on the table where he couldn't reach it, we made Duck L'Orange from the French language cookbook my husband had. (has? -- hm. I wonder where it is now?) We made it together because I can't read French. I've decided this is a good year to reprise that dish, whether we use the old recipe or I find a newer one on the web somewhere. Christmas Dinner just might be:

Onion Soup (smitten kitchen again)
Duck L'Orange
Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta (ditto, s.k.)
Garlic mashed potatoes
Roasted beets
Homemade rolls

I might even try a Buche de Noel

Wanna come?


To ponder

"Moments of clarity, attempts to focus, and questions to ponder in an intentional life"-- that's what this blog is supposed to be about. It says so - right at the top of the page. Well, I do have some questions right now. Does anyone know:

1. ... what Scandinavian women do to keep their skin from becoming all cracked and itchy all winter?
I have Nordic skin - and it's having an issue with this cold we're experiencing. I figure other very pale people might know what to do since they've lived in the cold for generations.

2. ...how cats know what part of the paper on the coffee table is the part that you're reading? That's always where the cat sits. Why is that?

3. ...if there is such a thing as a warm slipper that will not also become a sweaty slipper? I am not a fan of shoe-wearing, especially not in the house. I can't think with my feet all covered up. But I need slippers for the winter, and winter slippers are toasty warm, and toasty warm leads to slightly sweaty, and that's just gross.

That's all. I'm just wondering.



The ocean is my friend. The ocean is my primordial home. My retreat and my perspective and my sure and certain awareness of my most real self. And sometimes, the ocean gives a hint of the things it usually doesn't say. (Click on the picture to look at a slideshow of the most recent Eddie. For video, go here. This kind of power is what expletives are for. Use your own. I'm using mine.)


Smitten Kitchen cliché indeed

If I ever learn to paint, this is the still life I would put into oils on canvas. Her Flicker photostream calls the pile of peelings a "smitten kitchen cliché" - and it may be because everything else at Smitten Kitchen is this good, and all the food is this good, and now I want to make these "Vanilla Roasted Pears" for Christmas. I mean, seriously. Wow.

Up, out, numb, happy

Did it. Missed the Saturday Quiet Day - but that was weather related. I simply do not drive in freezing weather, and the car's back end slipped and fishtailed on Friday evening when I was coming home, so I didn't drive on Saturday. But I did get my papers handed in, I have attended my last class for the quarter, and I am all done with school until January. I'm happy, I think. I'm kind of numb. I'll take today to re-normalize a bit - rest - watch a movie, probably. It's not like the schedule calms down much - it's just that school work is over. I'm at the top of the huge cave again, and it's cold out here, and the wind is blowing, and it's good to be out. Call off the search team. I made it out.

And note to self: the thing a person buys by completing tasks as soon as the tasks appear is this: peace of mind. Many things conspired to force my last week of the quarter to be a real squeeze, and that's simply the way it fell out this time. But still - putting things off in order to build a momentum and an energetic push has very limited power in it. The common claim, "I work better under pressure" is true, but it doesn't answer the whole issue. Better than what? I now suspect that the desire to have the "pressure" is actually the desire to avoid awareness of the whole task. Pressure forces us to focus on only one piece at a time. Maybe it's better to learn to ride a wave than to hold one's nose and tumble ashore inside of it.

(yikes. even my metaphor maker is tired out.)


Merry by Monday, and May Mute Monks Make Music for you too!

What I want to be hearing in my head in a couple of days, when (dangit!) I've missed the Advent Quiet Day (I refuse to drive on slick roads and they're slick today), hosted the St. Nick party with my Sunday School kids, attended Advent Lessons & Carols, finished and handed in my last essay, and attended my last class for the quarter:


Dropped and ticking

And now it's 10:30, and I've just clicked on "submit" -- which always strikes me as humorous when I am sending in a school assignment.

The final draft of my final paper for HMS 481 has been dropped into the drop box, and that's the 10-pager knocked outa my way. I've got about 30-35 pages left to go.

Pages, and a package to mail to my soldier, a forty-page essay to deliver to my school, a haircut appointment to keep, and a parish hall to decorate for the St. Nicholas party on Sunday. Let's see ... it seems like there was something else.


Library books to return.

I think that's everything.


I couldn't sleep past five in the morning, so I started writing. By seven, the first draft of the 10-page paper was laid down.

Last night, I made fresh leek and potato soup for dinner - with several different kinds of tiny potatoes, and since there was no red wine in the house, we drank champagne. It's all improvisation, really.


Yee haw

Okay then.

The forty-pager is done. I'll take it to the school tomorrow. It ain't no draft. If there's something wrong, I'll take my lumps.

Now a ten-pager and a 30-35 pager to go.

I even showered and went downtown to get the mail today. AND I stopped for lunch.


it's pretty, and because I keep skittering in and out of concentration and focus so I just saw this, I thought I'd post such a good example of design -- and it's so Pacific Northwesty! You can click on it and see what I mean.


Things I need to learn to do

1. Acquiesce to the concept of linear time ... at least when it comes to school work.

Time - for me - usually - especially when I'm doing a lot of contemplating and cogitating - it seems so much more global than it is. Omnidirectional. Optional, even. sigh ...

2. Re-learn walking.

After an autumn of stump-drag ... stump-drag ... stump-drag ... my gait is not exactly graceful anymore. I've started hauling myself around like an old woman - a fat old woman. Not pretty. (And this is not the first time I've had to re-learn walking. I had to do it after I had rheumatic fever as a child, I had to do it after I broke this same foot in high school, and now I have to do it again. I'm sure it's a manifestation of something, but I have too much school work to do right now to stop and think about it.)

3. Continue the habit of jotting notes in the night.

I discovered a great technique last night. Rather than turn on a bed lamp and wake my husband, I stayed as quiet as possible. Rather than toss and turn (making the thought in my head foam and froth), I got up. Rather than take a notebook to the living room and write whole thoughts, I came into my office, turned on the overhead light in here, and penciled a couple of notes on a notepad (not into the computer, which I left turned off). This morning, my notes make sense and I know what to do with them ... and best of all, last night I could get right back to sleep.

This midlife stuff. It's like living with an adopted child - or a new roommate - or someone else who brings a life and a personality to the relationship, and I'm doing my best to have a compatible life with her. But she's a bit distracted, and sometimes she gets hung up on the most basic stuff! She's making me a little nutty. I want to go home now.

Only I am home, and that's my soldier daughter in Afghanistan during winter, and these are my assignments put off for too long, and that's my face in the mirror. I'm my own weird roommate.


Time for Derek Walcott again, I think.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sent to me by my soldier:

Our Ticket Out of AfghanistanThe Afghan National Army is a powerful force for upward ability and national stability.

Afgan army soldiers. Click image to expand. President Obama wants to send 30,000 American soldiers; the Germans have promised more money; the Poles have just taken charge of a province; even the Dutch are thinking of keeping some men on the ground. This is all very well, as long as everyone realizes that the long-term solution to Afghanistan's security doesn't lie in soldiers sent by Washington or Berlin but in the ones who can already be found on a square of dusty desert a half-hour's drive from Kabul.

(Read the rest here)


Please explain it, Mr. President. I'm listening.

For the first time since she joined the Army, I am worried about my soldier as a soldier. This is all starting to sound very South Asian ... very VyetNaamish ... very "One, two, three, four"ish ... I'm only barely old enough to remember the era, but I'm old enough to put things together and I'm old enough to remember the sound of national screams of pain and outrage and bereavement and disillusion.

I'm not a hippie. I'm too young, for one thing, and I'm not quite crunchy enough for another. I believe in a greater good worth dying for - and worth living for. We are proud of our soldier and the ideals that caused her to enlist. But now I'm worried.I'll be listening tonight. I want to hear the reasoning. And I want for my daughter what she wants for herself -- I want her to come home intact as a human being, and not just in body. It's not pretty over there. Most reg'lr 'mericans would be horrified at the daily goings on, and I'm not going to elaborate here because it's not fair to my soldier and it's not the whole picture either. But descriptions like "cockup" and "fubar" come to mind. Thirty thousand more soldiers?
O LORD God of Hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the soldiers of our country. Support them in the day of battle, and in the time of peace keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty; and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


If I'm not back by Monday ...

Okay ... so I'm goin' in ...

This is Sunday. Tomorrow is a very full day and then it's nose to the grindstone for one week with the most slim of slim chances that this can actually be done. If you're the praying type, pray for me. I have a lot of writing to do in a short amount of time, and I know it sounds whiny - but this is going to take more focused energy for a longer time than I've exerted in a looooong looooong time.By Monday of next week, if I haven't come back out again, send someone in after me.


One down

Last night, nearly the last thing I did before bed ... all my final course work for INT300: Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies went into the course "drop box" online. One course finished so far this quarter. Feels good.For this course, each of us had to come up with a way to organize the degree, articulate the rationale and common thread between the disciplines, and propose a presentation for a final portfolio. I want my final portfolio to be volumes of a little library of books, so I had to turn in my plan for this. (The photos will take you to BookCrafts - "where we do judge a book by its cover" - the slogan alone is going to make them my first choice!)
Here it is:

Composing the Human Experience:
Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies
with concentrations in English Literature & Writing, and Human Sciences

Volume 1 – Plan and Overview
Title Page
Table of Contents
Mission Statement
Degree Plan and contract
Rationales and Evaluations from INT courses
Course Reflections from INT courses
Introduction to the set of volumes
Index of Learning, outlining the set of volumes and their contents in order of presentation

Volume 2 – Liberal Arts Core
Title Page
Table of Contents
Rationales and evaluations for LAC courses, specifically as they relate to INT degree
Samples of work from the courses in the LAC, including PLA work
LAC Bibliography

Volume 3 - Human Sciences

Title Page
Table of Contents
Rational and Evaluation for the concentration
Rationales and evaluations and samples as in Volume 2
Reflective Paper for HS
Human Sciences bibliography

Volume 4 – English Literature and Writing
Title Page
Table of Contents
Rational and Evaluation for the concentration
Rationales and evaluations and samples as in Volume 2
Reflective Paper for EL&W
EL&W bibliography

Volume 5 – Senior Project and Index to the Degree
Title Page
Table of Contents
Rational and Evaluation for the senior project
Senior Project
Reflective Paper and Future Plan for “Composing the Human Experience”
CHE bibliography
Final Index : Chronology of work; Themes, keywords, etc; Instructors

Someday in the not too distant future, it is going to be very satisfying to look at my shelf and see these five little volumes. "That is my degree," I'll say to myself. "Right there in those books. That's what I did."

Record keeping is just about my worst thing, so I'm glad they're making us do it. The only time I really panicked during this course was at the revelation that we had to hand in a contract for keeping on track with the plan.

We were brainstorming ideas for staying on top of such a large project over the course of a few years, and the very organized lady two tables over suggested marking our calendars for updating our portfolios each quarter. I said, "Will you mark it on your calendar to call me and tell me to do it?"

She is a very nice lady. I'll be getting to know her because she took me seriously. And she won't just be calling me. I'll be showing her what I've got so far and discussing changes and tweaks at the end of every quarter. When she gave me her card I saw that she is an executive assistant in real life, so she knows how to keep track of idea people.

And now I'm thinking about book bindings.


Happy. It just makes me happy.

The phone just rang. The Great Husband answered it. On the other end was one of the young giants (one of whom has shaved off his beard! - I'd forgotten what he looked like under there). The two of them have spent the entire day before Thanksgiving outdoors, tramping around in the woods. They popped in in the afternoon, all breathless and windblown, exactly like they would have done at half their current size and age, but then then popped out again. "We're going downtown. We still feel like walking." And off they went.

It's a nice crisp night for it, too. Here's a picture from the live camera downtown tonight. The lights at the top are out on and across the Columbia River in the background.Then The Great Husband came home from work ... got his dinner ... heard all my exciting news of the day ... and as I said, the phone rang. It was one of the young giants, saying, "We're at the Walking Man. We'll walk home after awhile."
That just makes me happy. The fact that the two boys together grew up to be two men together, at the pub together right here in their hometown on Thanksgiving weekend ... it just makes me happy.


Wow. Her reputation for both style and substance continues well and truly earned. State dinner indeed. Michelle Obama is elegantly perfect once again.

Closer, closer

(gasp! gasp!)

This climb is quite steep - but it's going pretty well. As of last night, I'm well into my Children's Lit PLA essay . I'll probably finish it today.

And now I've got the news and a few pictures from the leg of the route that's just up ahead! I mean to say, hooray, hooray, calloo, callay, I have figured out what I'm taking this winter! Climbing this degree via the Marylhurst Route makes for a very unusual experience, I think. But it suits me down to the ground. On this route it's possible for me to change what I'm doing as I do it.

What started as an Art Therapy Counseling preparatory degree morphed first into a Human Studies degree. This fall, Human Studies morphed into Interdisciplinary Studies to include Humans Studies and Writing as my concentrations.

And now, as I head into winter term, the morphing continues. Since Human Studies entails a very specific backbone of core courses, and since I want to head toward the Writers Peak, and because taking the Human Studies side path, means missing out on a few other things I will want when I get to the Writers Peak ... I made a phone call. I talked to the Human Science chair, and she just asked me straight out, "What do you want?" "I don't know how your degree has morphed," she said, "Do you still want to do Human Studies for your concentration? Or do you want to do Human Sciences?"

Every time she does this, I suddenly know. All at once, just like that, I know exactly what I want. I want Human Sciences and English Lit & Writing. Apparently it's morphed again.

The weirdest thing about all of this is that I'm not at all chagrined about these frequent changes in plan - this constant checking of the map and the course and redefining of the goal. Doing a degree without a path already set out, without its being handed to me so that I just do what I'm told - it feels odd, but it feels really really good. I doubt I could have done it this way 30 years ago, but at this point in my life it's okay to figure it out as I go. Weird. But I like it.

So this winter I will continue (hopefully finish) my PLA writing while taking not just one, but TWO online courses from the amazing "What do you want?" Dr. Jennifer Sasser. I'll take:

History and Philosophy of the Human Sciences
a rich and comprehensive survey of the historical and intellectual contexts out of which the central theories, methodologies, and practices in the Human Sciences developed.
(skippity do dah ... skippidy-aaaay...)

and I'll take Qualitative Inquiry
an approach to inquiry in the Human Sciences that is predicated not only on a significant reframing of what it means to do theorizing and researching, but on a radical shift in how we think about what it means to be a human being.
(my oh my, what a wonderful day)

And from the English Lit and Writing department, I'll be online for Modernist Literature and Culture from Perrin Kerns, another of Marylhurst's amazingly insightful instructors. At least, I do know for sure that she's amazingly insightful during short personal meetings in which a fuddled student asks for clarity and insight. Now I'll find out about her online teaching style too.

(plenty of sunshine coming my way,
skippity do dah, skippity day!)


Always surprised

I don't know why I'm always surprised.
But I am.
It makes me feel like this.

"What do you want for Christmas?"
She wants a magazine subscription.

Normal, right?
Well, the one she wants is this one.

Published twice yearly by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, it is fast becoming required reading for those who want to go beyond the headlines, and the conventional wisdom, of U.S. national security and foreign policy in a rapidly-changing world.

And this article is the one she was quoting on the phone today. (again ... makes my eyes cross) She loved the sentence, "How is it that a country founded upon rational deliberation has been reduced to kinetic means as its primary, perhaps its only, means of communication?"

Not surprising, I guess. It's just that I'm the mom. Buying a subscription to American Girl wasn't that long ago, and even from the Klutz Book of Knots it's quite a leap to International Security Affairs. I'm just sayin.

Anxiety Ratio

Fall Term ends December 11. Today is November 24. Today is Tuesday of this week, Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow, and then there's next week, and the week after is the end of term. The sound you hear is my struggle to fight off hyperventilation. I have rather a lot of writing left to do before the end of the term.

This isn't performance anxiety. I know I can do all this writing. PLA (Prior Learning Assessment) holds no terrors for me - yet my breath comes faster and more shallow when I think about the volume left to do in the next two weeks. (New video up over at Prattlenog - another PLA student has completed her portfolio for the full 45 credits! She's got good tips too.) I've written for 19 credits so far. I do know how to do this. I've proven it to myself.I am also certain that there is - in reality - enough time to complete this work. Despite the fact that my autumn's healing of a broken/sprained foot sucked all my life's energy into some sort of chi black hole, and despite the fact that I got a suddenly demanding work schedule from the library as a sub during October... despite the fact that I have a soldier in Afghanistan who is never far from my thoughts ... despite the fact that the holidays are mounting their annual energy and attention onslaught ... I do know I can get this done. I have no leeway - no extra time - but I have enough time.

No, this is not anxiety about performance, and it is not anxiety about time crunch. This is the Desire Anxiety Ratio. During the course of the quarter, Jackie Fowler, my instructor in my Human Studies course, mentioned very casually during a discussion that she experiences an increase in resistance as she nears a genuine and deeply desired goal. The more right it is, the worse the resistance. That, I have decided, is the Desire Anxiety Ratio.

The DAR makes children hesitate to pick up and hold small furry animals - there's the "what will it do?" question, of course -- but look at the child's face. Sometimes it's more than that. Sometimes the anxiety means, "I want this so much it takes my breath away."

Desire Anxiety is making me crazy. The closer I get to my project's completion with each project, the closer I get to the quarter's end each quarter term, and the closer I get to a degree I can really own, the higher goes the internal resistance.I.
I am resistant to claiming it.

Today it ratchets up one more notch. Chest contracts. Breath shallows. Pulse speeds. A small anxiety attack ensues. And why? Desire. The Desire Anxiety Ratio. The oxygen thins as I ascend this Everest of mine, and apparently that's just the way it is. Today I know that I have to reach the next plateau before the sun goes down. My feet are sore, my legs feel like wood, and it's time to set out because the afternoon is closing in. I have time. And it's time to go.


Let Me Think

Somewhere (I really should start writing these things down) I read that it is an act of power and self-protection - an act of strength - for an introverted person to insist on a moment to think before answering. Think before speaking. Think before responding. Wait. Think. This made sense to me. I have seen children do this, and I have seen their adults get very impatient. "Well? Well? What do you have to say for yourself?"

I have realized lately that this moment to think is something I have been surreptitiously carving out for myself for about three decades. Childhood's "Well? Well?" rings in my ears. It's not that I haven't had these periods of thoughtfulness - I have had them. But I've stolen them like apples at the edge of an orchard, taken when the owner's back was turned. I did not think the juicy refreshment was rightfully mine. I repress the guilt - or I confess it, depending on the moment - and on how much the pleasure bothers me.

Enjoying it seemed worse somehow. I mean, it is, right? There you are. Caught. Chucking the apple away isn't much use if the juice is dripping off your chin and the joy of it is still in your eyes.
Now, for me, there has been one bright and shining exception to the guilt. Yesterday I figured out that I have never had one moment's hesitation if I was choosing an apple - preserving the Moment of sovereign contemplation - of quiet and openness - for Someone Else. "What should I do?" the Someone asks. "Do you like it?" "What do you think?" Respond. Validate. Give me some feedback. Now. If I rush to an answer for Someone Else, if I pay no attention to the importance of the Moment, I always regret it. Much better to wait and study it. Wait and choose. Let go of clever. Breathe into calm. For Someone Else - especially if Someone Else is a child - I know how to do that.

But not for me. Stealing cannot be justified if it's only for me. That's what I've thought.

Writers everywhere and for all time, and most other artists too, have defiantly declared themselves to be a selfish lot. They admit to being thieves - they steal the apples simply because they must. It's apples or starvation for writers. Write or wither. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, they say. But it cannot be helped. I must have these Moments. I will die unless I pick them - juicy or dry, large enough for ebb and flow and small enough for silence, I must have these Moments.

In the summer of 2010, I will be fifty years old. In half a century of life on this earth, I may have finally figured out that defiance is and has been utterly unnecessary. Silly, even. I have discovered that the apples are mine - and they also belong to anyone else who wants them. The owner doesn't mind if I wait and study - if we wait and study. The owner doesn't mind if I breathe a minute and choose - if you breathe a minute and choose. The owner has given us blanket permission to glean from this orchard whenever we want to. And it doesn't even have to be for Someone Else. No justification is required. Permission has been given.
So turn a deaf ear to anyone who yells at you from across the road. That - over there - where they are busy, busy, busy ... and noisy, noisy, noisy ... doing all the work of commerce, and trade, and bargaining, and buying, and selling (and often posturing and approving of postures) - you need to cross the road and join them when you want dinner. Or fresh paper and paint. You need those people, and they need you. You are supposed to love them - not beat them or join them. Your job is choosing and picking and tasting the apples. The noise they make has nothing to do with you. Don't be distracted by it. Breathe. And choose. And create your art in your Moment. You have permission. And so do I.


I might never know

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind,
what is the significance of a clean desk?
Laurence J. Peter



This is a view as familiar to me - as deeply a part of me - as my own name. It's the coast of Oregon, where the mountains meet the sea, and it is one of three places where, if I stand within it, I know exactly who I am. I know myself if my bare feet are on that strip of sand; I know myself when I am on my knees in church, and I know myself when I am pouring out my inner life inside my house, lighting candles or dusting and arranging things in the living room, baking in the kitchen, ironing ... or writing. Here. At my desk, with my view outside the window and my computer streaming radio or - finally - when I am all the way, deep inside, when I turn it off because all the sound is coming from inside of me. This morning I realized that the avoidant silliness of, "I work better under pressure," has a sister who tells the truth. I realized that I work better within, deep within, and I work better when the water is moving. And the water does not move unless it is huge. It has to be large enough to respond to the magnetic pull of the moon - it has to have incoming and outgoing tides. The place where writing happens is a place of enormous power, and foam, and rich salt air, and the inconvenience of sand. In my worshiping soul, this means increasing practice and skill at becoming "recollected" when I get to that pew you can see in this picture. It's on the right side. The first wooden end is the front, then the first pew behind that, and then my pew behind that. I kneel down, I collect "all that I am and have," and then, just as if I had gathered up the things themselves and put them all into one place, I step aside. I come to God with all of this, I name some of it (the most present, most worrying, or most amazing at the moment), I refer to the rest, and I step aside. Here it all is, Lord God of Hosts. And here am I. "Be it unto me according to thy word."When I go to the beach, the same gathering - the same recollecting - the same wholeness of self has sandy feet and awareness. When I do the creative parts of keeping a home, I bring my whole self to that too. And today I have realized that the gathering of the whole self is the thing I do when I write. (That photo is from a cool blog I just found called, "Stuff Journalists Like.") Today it dawned on me that it's "the same, only different" when I do this recollective gathering for the purpose of writing.

But now I'm annoyed. I am annoyed and irritated because the fact is that to gather up my whole self for the creative task of writing is really really hard. I don't relax into this. It doesn't feel like release (which is what happens at the beach), and it doesn't feel like presentation and trust (like what happens in church.) No, the recollection necessary for writing feels like sit-ups or plank pose or hiking up a steep hill. Ah! Now, here's a good picture of it. I found this picture at a very lovely (often laugh out loud) blog called Bath Daily Photo. See the cow? Yeah. That's my pile of writing to do. The cow is walking up to St. Michael's Tower, which seems quite perfect to me.The schoolish part of writing has been surprisingly hard, and turning in drafts for other people to see has been and is still really hard. Just finding the tide shift and the momentum I need is hard. This, then, is the definition of difficulty for me. Writing - the thing I love best - the task in which I recognize myself most clearly - this is my difficult thing. Crap. Do you know what I thought? I was actually silly enough to have believed that the thing I loved the best should be one of the easiest things to do. Why? Why would I believe such a goofy thing? I can think of no reason at all - other than just because I'm human. Wishful thinking, maybe? Probably. I hate Plank Pose. But Plank Pose it is, then. Dolphin Plank Pose for me. Holistic, recollected, deep, deep, deep within. Apparently, bringing the whole self is bringing the whole self, whether I do it in prayer, at the edge of the ocean, or in front of a keyboard. C'mon, cow. We have a hill to climb. There are only a few weeks of the quarter left, and I have a lot of writing to do.



After posting about these
(okay okay) helpful shoes

I remembered the shoes I posted about when I started this blog.

THESE are the shoes I wish I were wearing.

I don't own these shoes in real life.

But they're much more to my taste.

Just thought I'd say that.

(Are the flowered heels a bit much?)


Shhh! Don't tell my husband

And for that matter, don't tell my sons either.

I've started listening to Christmas music for part of the day.

I know, I know. It's not even Thanksgiving yet. But it is almost "Stir Up Sunday,"*** and on Stir Up Sunday I have to be ready to stir! And one of the fastest and easiest ways to get ready to do anything is to listen to the right music for it. Music begets inclination, inclination begets planning, planning begets list-making, and list-making begets shopping. And shopping must happen before stirring.

And speaking of planning, I really really really need to make a trip to IKEA. I've burnt up all my candles - or, all the candles that are not those little tinned votive candles. Those little rounds must've had a frisky summer in the drawer because I have zillions of them for some reason. Begetting. That's the only reason I can think of. Candles begetting candles.

I need the box of white candles for my very Nordic looking black IKEA five-candle holder - and I want to add this charming candle holder this year. It's a floor stand for the block candles - a metal one. It's three feet high!!

So ... that's
  • block candles
  • white candles for the candle stand
  • floor stand
...and ironing board. After two decades of hard use, I've actually broken my ironing board. I couldn't have been more surprised if I'd been ironing and suddenly fallen through the floor. (Actually, the longer this house remodel goes on, the less surprising the floor surprise would be. But that's another post.) Does an ironing board count as a household appliance? It'd be my first IKEA household appliance if it does.

I'll add some more votives to my Whole Foods/New Seasons list as well. Those are the real candles that smell like real candles - IKEA candles are for light and fire; real candles are for scent. The WF/NS list is the one that includes high quality dried fruit for the stirring - on Stir Up Sunday - which is on November the 22nd this year - which is the Sunday right before Thanksgiving Day - which is why I'm listening to Pandora's choices for a station called "The Choir of King's College."

But don't tell my husband.
***In the Anglican Church, the Collect for the Sunday before Advent, or the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, which occurs some time in late November, commences ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’, and all over the country this has given the day the colloquial name of Stir-Up Sunday. Brand reports a verse recited by children: ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, The pudding in the pot, And when we get home, We'll eat it all hot’. The day was taken as a marker to advise the housewife to start her Christmas preparations, and the grocer to see to the Christmas stock of his shop (Sussex Archaeological Collections 33 (1883), 252-3).


Cooks, cookery, and a last meal

This interview and story about Thomas Keller is well worth a listen. He understands food, eating, recipes, taste, and love.

Thomas Keller is the French Laundry guy - but down the street from French Laundry is the restaurant Ad Hoc, where there are no menu choices. You just order dinner, and you get what the cook's cooking - just like home. I'd take this guy's dinner choices any day! Keller has written this new cookbook, in which
Mr. Keller leads with his heart. He dedicates it to his brother Joseph and lays out in loving, exacting detail the recipes for the last meal he made his father. He reminds readers that life is better when you eat together with family and friends.
So I started looking around a bit. Well! No wonder I liked listening to Keller talk about food! He's yet another person connected to Michael Ruhlman, "the food writer who has been Mr. Keller’s voice on paper in each of his cookbooks."

Figures. I bet that if I looked for the various cooks Ruhlman has been associated with, I could outfit my own cookbook shelf with the best of the best and never need to look anywhere else for suggestions. I swear, Ruhlman's got a sixth sense about cooks and cookery. Flawless instinct, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, Keller's cookbook includes the details of that last meal. He has the sense and awareness - and fearlessness - to face what that meal taught him, as a cook and as a man. (Here's the NY Times article.) He talks about food that way - he says that you have to let go of fear, feel the food, love what you're doing. Never mind the burns, you'll learn. It's okay. Touch it.

Life is like that. It's delicious if you can let go of the fear. Never mind the burns. It's okay. Touch it.

Keller's words have connected me to something very large. We cook within a context, after all, and I'm a mom. And today is Veteran's Day. Before the horrible events at Fort Hood and all the news coverage, I didn't know about the custom of calling the roll, listening to the gut wrenching silence when each fallen soldier's name is called ... and not answered ... or not answered in a world where we can hear it, anyway.

And my daughter is in Afghanistan and may be moved to a different post. There is no way to know if I have already cooked the last thing I will ever cook for her, or if, like Keller's dad, she'll come home and live out her life in peace and safety. Her being there reminds me every day, at random moments, that there is also no way to know if my sons will ever come home, or if my husband will come home today for that matter. We never know. Life is like that. The part of me that weeps at the shattering silences in roll calls knows that life is like that. Knows, weeps ... and accepts because you have to let go of the fear, and never mind the burns, and go ahead and love.

When people ask me about my daughter, and whether it bothers me that she's in the Army, I always say, "Yes, of course. I'm worried about her every day. But I taught my children that everybody dies. What matters is why you lived." I taught them to never mind the burns - so I dance with glee when one of my sons says, "I totally blew it -- next time, what I want to do is ...." Go ahead, kids. Touch it. Life is scary sometimes, and sometimes you get burned, and you never know which meal will have been your last. It's all true.

And I promise you that Thomas Keller is right. "You learn by not being afraid, by not being intimidated by the food - just getting in there and enjoying it." And if the meal you just cooked turns out to be the last one with that person? "It's one of those things that happen, and in retrospect you feel blessed that that happened." Blessings on you, kids. And blessings on me. And never mind the burns.