Sunday, December 31, 2017

CY365, Year One

Today I had a feeling of accomplishment as I posted my photo for Day 365 of 2017.  This year I took at least one photo (usually many more) each day.  I chose one (at least) to post on Facebook in response to a prompt from's the post from last January where I announced in a rather half-baked way what I intended to do.

The fact is that this was a difficult year.  It was a difficult year for my family, and it was a difficult year for the world.  But when I look at the folder marked "CY365," I see blessings.  I see beautiful moments.  Some of the photos I don't like at all; in all of them I see flaws.  But I see evidence that there was so much to thank God for, every day of this year.

Here's the first photo of 2017, a bowl of soup joumou, the traditional Haitian food for New Year's Day.

And here, for December 31st, is a vegetable stand on the Jacmel road selling joumou for tomorrow's soup.

I don't know if I'll do this forever, but for 2018, I'm going to keep posting a daily photo.  I started this as a way to be rooted in my everyday life, here on this beautiful island where God has placed me.  I liked the results; I liked starting my day by sharing my life with others.  To be honest, I liked best when others enjoyed the photo, too; my children accused me of "living for likes."  But some of the ones I liked best were ones that didn't get much response, and that was OK too.

Here are some more of the photos I took and liked this year.

Here are a couple of articles from CY365 that I thought did an especially good job of capturing the experience I had this year:  What it Means to be an Everyday Photographer and Shedding Light on Your 2017 Capture Your 365 Project.  I don't consider myself to be a "real photographer," though I did learn many new things about photography this year.  But I do consider myself to be someone who is looking around for beautiful moments and trying to record them, every day.  I'm looking forward to capturing another 365 days. 

Reading Update, What I Read in 2017, Favorites, and a Bonus!

My daughter is in college in the United States, and thus benefits from the bounty of libraries - her college's, the public library, and all libraries reachable by inter-library loan (which is basically all of them).  Every time she comes home, she brings me a little handful of books she has checked out for me.  The next three books were the ones she brought this time.

Book #93 of 2017 was Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor.  Actually, this one wasn't a library book at all, but an ARC my daughter won in a drawing.  I enjoyed this very much, as I have all of Taylor's books that I've read, but the last line in the story was: "Because this story was not over yet."  So now begins the wait for the next one in the series.

Book 94 was The Necessary Beggar, by Susan Palwick.  This was just the kind of immigrant story I love, with the slight difference that the immigrants are from another dimension.

Book 95 was Life Among the Savages, by Shirley Jackson.  This was entertaining.  The voice is reminiscent of Gerald Durrell, except with children, not animals.

Probably book 96 was the last one I'll finish this year (although you never know).  It was the seventh in the Inspector Gamache series, A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny.  

This was a good reading year.  I didn't read as much as some years, and I read more than others, but in general the quality was high.  Here are links to my reading update posts:

Books 1 to 5 
Books 6 to 12 
Books 13 to 21
Books 22 to 27 
Books 28 to 36 
Books 37 to 40 
Books 41 to 45 
Books 46 to 55 
Books 56 to 60 
Books 61 to 67 
Books 68 to 75 
Books 76 to 83 
Books 84 to 92  
And of course, if you scroll to the top of this post, you'll see books 93 to 96.

I encountered some amazing writers this year.  One was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I actually read my first book by her right before the end of 2016, and I read several more this year.  My favorite so far is Americanah, which I reviewed here, in May.  

Another new-to-me writer was Derek Walcott, who died this year right after I started reading Omeros (reviewed here in April).  I have been reading more of his poetry, and I hope to read more of his narrative works in 2018.  Walcott's world is so similar to mine (he's a Caribbean poet, from St. Lucia), and I am fascinated by the way he blends history and mythology into the current lives of people of this region.  

My daughter has been telling me about Mary Doria Russell for a long time, and this year I read three of her books.  The Sparrow, reviewed here in July, was a harrowing but riveting reading experience.  

Two more wonderful writers I've encountered in the last month or so are Imbolo Mbue and Julie Otsuka.  

And now, the bonus from the title.  In November 2016, I read Ted Oswald's book Little Flower.  Ted was in my writing group, so I got to read a manuscript copy.  Because it wasn't yet published, I couldn't put a link in the post when I reviewed it.  I've since edited my review to add a link to the Amazon page, since the book came out this month.  Go read it - it's really good!

At this time of year, I read lots of lists of what was good and what wasn't, and I've also noticed articles on how to get in the reading habit.  While there are many good habits I need to cultivate, I am so very thankful that reading is firmly part of my life, no effort required.  I can't imagine living without a book or two or more in process, and I'm privileged to have a job where I can share books with others (some eager, some reluctant). 

What did you read in 2017?  What should I add to my list for the new year?  

This post is linked to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon for December 30th, 2017.  People are sharing their reading lists for the year.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Poetry Friday: Islands

I got a book of Derek Walcott's poetry for Christmas from my daughter, and here's one of the first ones I read:

(for Margaret)

Merely to name them is the prose
Of diarists, to make you a name
For readers who like travellers praise
Their beds and beaches as the same;
But islands can only exist
If we have loved in them.  I seek,
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water;
Yet, like a diarist, thereafter
I savor their salt-haunted rooms
(Your body stirring the creased sea
Of crumpled sheets), whose mirrors lose
Our huddled, sleeping images,
Like words which love had hoped to use
Erased with the surf's pages.

So, like a diarist in sand,
I mark the peace with which you graced
Particular islands, descending
A narrow stair to light the lamps
Against the night surf's noises, shielding
A leaping mantle with one hand,
Or simply scaling fish for supper,
Onions, jack-fish, bread, red snapper;
And on each kiss the harsh sea-taste,
And how by moonlight you were made
To study most the surf's unyielding
Patience though it seems a waste.

Derek Walcott

I've been an island-dweller myself for more than twenty years now, and I have definitely loved in this beautiful island of Haiti.  I'm looking forward to reading more of Walcott's "verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight, cold as the curled wave, ordinary as a tumbler of island water," and as a wannabe poet myself, those are some good goals for the new year.  

 Heidi has today's roundup.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Poetry Friday: First Day of Vacation

First Day of Vacation

I finish turning in my grades
and look up,
amazed to find the world still going on around me.

I haven’t put away laundry for weeks,
and the piles of clutter have taken over.
I’ve forgotten what the faces of my life look like,
but there they all are,
smiling hopefully
and seeking my attention.

I’ve been too busy evaluating to live,
too busy assessing to appreciate,
too busy wielding my multicolored pens (not all red)
to let color seep into my soul.

Today I will observe
with no rubric in hand,
I will listen
with no agenda,
I will read
without judging,
and just because I want to.

Today I will rest
and ignore schedules
and eat when I please.

Today I won’t teach anyone anything,
except, possibly, myself.


I took this photo at Wynne Farm, Kenscoff, Haiti, last month.  

Here's today's roundup.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Reading Update

Book #84 of 2017 was a reread, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, by Lauren Winner.  I read it for the first time last year, and it is such an honest book, and such a relatable one.

Book 85 was Anne Bogel's Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything.  This was very interesting, and at some point I will go back to it and delve in more deeply.  It gives an introduction to several of the best-known frameworks for identifying personality types, like the Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and Love Languages.  I love Anne Bogel's podcast, What Should I Read Next?, and her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy.  On the podcast, she has an amazing ability to cut to the essentials of people's reading tastes after just a few minutes of conversation.  The other week, she did a live event where she recommended books based on even less contact.  Some of that incisive understanding is on display in this book, as well.

Book 86 was The Actor and the Housewife, by Shannon Hale.  There are very few books which examine a long, platonic friendship between a man and a woman.  Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings (briefly reviewed here) is one, and there are hardly any others that I know of.  While I didn't necessarily believe all the details of this book, I very much believed the essentials of the friendship, and I loved reading about it.  I find Hale's books uneven; some I enjoy, and some I can hardly finish.  This one was lovely and surprisingly touching.

Book 87 was Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue.  This book, set in New York City in 2007 and 2008, is about a couple from Cameroon who are trying to make it by working for successful, wealthy Americans.  I liked the realism of the book and the complex, imperfect characters.  Books about immigrants are my favorite, and this one is up there with the best.

Book 88 was Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God, another Lauren Winner reread.  Winner explores metaphors for God and the way humans interact with Him.  This is a wonderful book, my favorite of Winner's.

Book 89 was English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing Toward Faith, by Andrea Lucado.  Yes, that Lucado; Andrea is Max's daughter.  Her voice reminds me more of Donald Miller's than Max Lucado's.  I enjoyed this book and would like to read more of her work.  The "English" of the title refers to Lucado's time studying in Oxford.

Book 90 was How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem, by Rod Dreher.  Dreher combines his reading of Dante with therapy and meetings with his Orthodox priest to make sense of his life.  I could very much relate to his approach, as I often find myself and my life situations in what I'm reading.

Book 91 was The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka.  I loved this poetic, wonderfully written story of picture brides coming from Japan in the twenty years before World War II, and the way they were caught up in the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.  I've never read anything quite like the first-person plural voice of this short and beautiful novel.

I've been reading Book 92 for a long time, and I finally finished it.  It's Isabel Allende's novel about Haiti, Island Beneath the Sea.  This was hard to read because of the subject matter, Haiti's bloody history of slavery and oppression, and also because it seemed to go on and on.  I wanted to finish it, and eventually I did.  The characters had a lot happen to them, but were surprisingly forgettable; this may be partly because I took so long to read it, and kept going weeks between sections, and partly because the details of the story are so horrific and gory that I was almost flinching as I read parts of it.  It also felt very much as though I was reading in translation, which of course I was.  I haven't read any of Allende's other books, but maybe I should try one. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December Vibes

I’m nearing the end of my first year-long Photo-a-Day project.  Each day in 2017 I followed prompts and posted photos online.  It’s been fun, grounding.  I’ve learned new things about photography, about the world around me, and about myself.

There are just a few photos left this year. Tomorrow’s prompt is “December Vibes,” and as I walked to work this morning, I wondered what that even means.  “Vibes,” short for “vibrations,” is a word that generally annoys me.  People write online in response to reports of illness or trouble, “Sending good vibes.”  It’s a secular alternative to prayer, an idea that if we think pleasant thoughts really hard, positive effects will follow.  I can see why that seems like the same thing as prayer, but it just isn’t. 

And December?  Obviously the intention is “festive,” and perhaps “snowy,” but as I walked down the trash-lined Port-au-Prince street on this toasty morning (the temperature was probably somewhere in the mid-eighties), on my way to finals week at school, I felt neither festive nor cold.  I didn’t have any exams today, and I wasn’t proctoring, and my daughter is home from college, so it was downright painful to force myself to get up and get to work.  As I looked at myself in the mirror before heading out, I thought how old and tired I looked: old lady face, old lady hair, old lady clothes.  December vibes were definitely grumpy.

There’s a major construction project near my house, with guys up on shaky, scary-looking wooden scaffolding working with cement, and dropping bits of it on passers-by.  I moved to the other side of the street.  Then, unbelievably, I heard kissy sounds and catcalls in Kreyol from up above, falling down on my old lady head instead of crumbs of concrete.  “Really?” I wanted to shout, incredulously, but instead I followed my usual procedure of ignoring, pretending I didn’t understand, continuing on my way. 

When I got to school, I went to the teacher work room, since exams were taking place in my classroom, where I usually work.  The air conditioning wasn’t functioning, and there are no windows in the room. The assortment of torn desk chairs fixed with duct tape appeared even more pitiful than usual.  The few teachers already there looked as though their December vibes matched my own. 

But, ah, on the table there was a gingerbread house, an annual tradition made by a fellow teacher.  Immediately I knew I’d found my December vibes.  I grabbed my camera and took some pictures.

This was no kit gingerbread house, constructed with cardboard and tasting like it.  No, this was a gingerbread house filled with character, made from dark, spicy gingerbread, tasting delicious and also nourishing.  It had a bit of a wonky shape to it - think Dr. Seuss architecture rather than modernism - and it was topped with white icing and gumdrops.  “Merry Xmas,” it read.  My colleagues had already begun to eat the roof, so I needed to feel no guilt about digging in myself, and very soon, the exam-grading teachers had made the house look as though a hurricane had passed through.  December vibes don’t include hurricanes because the season ends the last day of November, but we’re all too familiar here in Haiti with hurricanes, and earthquakes, and the idea that everything is temporary.  How much better to cause the destruction yourself, with your fingers, and eat the delectable results, than to wait for the elements, or the construction workers dropping things on your head.

December vibes include evaluating your students’ work, and realizing they learned less than you had hoped, but in some cases, more than you realized. 

December vibes bring our alumni sweeping back home after their first semester in college, or their third, or their fifth, or more.  They come in to visit, remarking on how much they miss my classroom, which if I recall correctly they didn’t love quite as much when I taught them in middle school.  At my house, we have a tradition of waiting until my own college student returns to do all the Advent rituals from the first two and a half weeks of the month.  How we missed those kids, and how thrilled we are to have them home! 

December vibes stir up memories from Christmases past, friends and family, moments lost and never to be repeated.  There’s a definite touch of melancholy in December vibes.

But December vibes are also scrumptious, filled with the strains of Handel’s Messiah, the anticipation of beach trips coming up soon, the careful setting out of the coconut shell Nativity scene - and the sweet, spicy taste of gingerbread. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Poetry Friday: Warm at Christmas

I found this poem one year when looking for Christmas poems about warm places.  You'd think there would be a lot more of them, and maybe they are, just in languages I can't read.  Do any southern hemisphere Poetry Friday people have any other poems in this vein to share?  My students just can't relate to cold weather imagery the way they can to beach-going at this time of year.  

I don't mean to gloat (OK, maybe I do, a little), but the weather is so lovely here right now.  The perfect time to live in the Caribbean - hurricane season is over, and it's in the eighties every day.  Come see us!  (My daughter will be coming home soon from her college in the frozen north, and I just can't wait.)

Carol for a New Zealand Child

Christmas in the picture book
Gold and white with snow,
Winter in the desert
Where the three Kings go.
Ice on the camel-rein,
Rime on the crown,
Snow round the stable doors
Of Bethlehem town.

I carol Baby Jesus
On a nor-west day,
A summer wind is blowing
Across the beach and bay.
Sea gulls whir where
Children run to swim
Laughter in the breakers
Their Christmas hymn.

Dorothy Neal White

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Poetry Friday: Sonnet 65

Sonnet 65

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

William Shakespeare

My favorite part in this Shakespeare sonnet is the third and fourth lines, "How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, Whose action is no stronger than a flower?"  Everything falls to time, even strong and mighty things like brass, stone, earth, sea, rocks, steel.  How can beauty survive?  And yet it does.  It's amazing how strong beauty is, really, especially when you consider that its action is no stronger than a flower.  Four hundred years later, Shakespeare's love still shines bright "in black ink." 

These have been some pretty "battering days" recently, and I am so grateful for the beauty around me and for its power to make everything better.

Here's this week's roundup.

Monday, December 04, 2017


I wrote this poem a few weeks ago, exploring metaphors for Communion, that ritual central to the Christian faith.  The "you" in the poem is my husband, and the conversation at the beginning really happened.  I was amused at the juxtaposition of the sacred feast with the banal travel mug.  Then I started thinking further about all that Communion does and is.  "Dan" is a doctor friend of ours who helped my husband out a few years ago during a health emergency here in Haiti that ended up in surgery.

I'm posting this today to go along with the Advent Photo-a-Day prompt "Presence."  One of the ways I experience God's presence week after week is by taking communion with my church family, passing the bread and wine around our circle, saying to one another, "The body of Christ, broken for you."  "The blood of Christ, shed for you."  I'm no theologian; people much smarter than I am have argued for centuries about exactly what the Eucharist means and doesn't mean.  This poem attempts to put into words some of what it means to me. 


I laughed at you
that Sunday morning
for transporting the communion wine
across Port-au-Prince
for our service
not in a chalice or grail,
but in a travel mug

As though it were coffee to wake us
(Which I suppose in a way it is)
Or cocoa to comfort us
(Which I suppose in a way it is)
Or soda to refresh us
(Which, again, it is).

Perhaps an IV bag would be a better choice.
Remember that time Dan drove you to get another scan
Before your gall bladder surgery
And the way he held the bag up over his head
as he helped you to the car,
and then how he rigged it to hang from the handle above your window
and then drove you carefully,
swerving and avoiding potholes,
to the place where the machine wasn’t broken?
Glucose solution to keep you going,
Carried by a friend.

What’s really in that mug, you know, is blood,
Blood given freely,
Blood to transfuse us,
To pump the life back into us
When we lie near death.

And since there are many who need

And who aren’t
right here
right now

A travel mug
(or a whole fleet of travel mugs)
will do nicely.

Ruth, from