Thursday, September 23, 2021

Poetry Friday: Migrants

Yesterday I saw my first warbler of the year, the first migratory bird this season (except a couple of Ospreys I saw two weeks ago). I'm pretty sure it was a Prairie Warbler, but it's a little hard to identify them when you're a beginner like me, and so many of them are various shades of black and brown and yellow. Here's what I wrote about it:


First migrant this year

Hides behind leafy branches - 

So much I can't see.

 

The main kind of migrants in the news these days are the human variety. Here in Haiti we have been reeling from the photos and words from Del Rio, Texas. It's easy to stereotype the people under the bridge, but everyone there has a unique story, a complex set of events that led to this moment. 


I've been thinking about Rupa & The April Fishes' song Poder. It talks about what can cross the border and what can't. Obviously birds can and do (we're starting to see them arriving here), but for people it's a lot more challenging. The song on the video is in Spanish, and below is the English translation from the CD liner notes. 



Power

 

the fish can

the wind can

even money

but not me

the song can

love can

even a little kiss

ay! because of this border

the earth cries, the earth cries

and I do too

in spite of this border

life is like water

it must run

the coyotes can

an ice cream can

even a whisper

but not me

the televisions can

injustice can

even my work

but not me

my thirst can

my gaze can

even my heart

but not me


Rupa Marya


When people who are being deported arrive back in Haiti, lots of them have microphones and video cameras thrust at them and the raw stories come pouring out. Many have crossed nine or ten countries to reach Texas, facing heartbreaking danger and abuse along the way. And now, they are back where they started. All that money, all that risk, all those months of travel thrown away. Home now in a country they no longer recognize, full of so many new problems beyond the ones they originally fled. 


What should be done? It's not clear. But each migrant has a story; we don't know until we listen. There's so much we can't see.

 

I appreciated this article that goes into the history of the current crisis in depth. There's plenty of blame to go around on both sides of the political aisle in the US, through policies in many countries including the US, Haiti, and Mexico, and in individual decisions. It's long, but well worth reading if you're seeking to understand how things got this way.   


By the way, next Friday is the 1st of October, and I am trying to do at least some of Birdtober this year. I'll be writing, not drawing, and I've only written one post so far, so we'll see how that goes. I thought if I wrote about it here today, I might increase the likelihood that I'll do more! 

 




Laura has this week's roundup.



Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Dessalines Day

This is a version of a Facebook post I put up yesterday.

Yesterday was a new holiday in Haiti, Dessalines Day. Yes, we've had Dessalines Day for a long time, but always in October, commemorating the day of his death. This year we are celebrating the day of his birth (and we will still have the holiday in October, as a day of mourning). The US Embassy put this painting of Dessalines on Facebook with their notice that they would be closed on Monday, September 20th. Then the comments started. Some said the Embassy should keep the sacred name of Dessalines out of their mouths (they aren't worthy to speak it). Many muttered about hypocrisy. Someone asked what independence they were talking about (Dessalines is a hero of the Haitian struggle for independence). Isn't the US ashamed to claim to be Haiti's friend, people wanted to know? One said that the US was deporting 275 Haitians to mark the day. Several said, "Bondye wè nou." God sees us.
Some of the people returning to Haiti right now have been out of the country more than ten years. They went to South American countries for jobs, like getting ready for the Olympics in Brazil or construction work in Chile. Now they have undertaken the incredibly difficult and dangerous journey through South America and Central America, reached the border with Texas, crossed it, and boom, they are suddenly back in Haiti. Many of them are children born in one of those countries along the way, kids who've never been to Haiti before at all. The people under that bridge in Texas aren't trying to make some political point; they are trying to find a place where they can work and feed their families. Have you seen the photos of border patrol officials on horseback with whips, rounding up Haitians who are bathing or washing clothes in the river? I assure you that in Haiti people have seen those photos. When I saw them, they were captioned, "Our misery."
 
 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Poetry Friday: History

There were lots of things to write about this week, but unfortunately no time or emotional bandwidth to write. I just know that Frederick Buechner says to pay attention to things that make you cry, and there were a bunch of those this week. 


For example, today a middle schooler wrote an essay about the assassination of the president of Haiti this summer. She described exactly how he died, because it was reported in minute detail in the news. She said it was the worst way of dying she had ever heard of, and she's not wrong. I wish she didn't know all those specifics. I wish I didn't know them. She ended with a list of things the people who didn't like the president could have done instead, if they weren't happy with him. One of them was that they could have sent him an email.


How do you even respond to this? I really don't know. I told her that her piece was hard to read because the true things she wrote are so painful. But, I said, she had done a good job. I fixed her spelling. 


Here's Billy Collins writing about a teacher who tried to tone things down for his students. It wasn't very effective. I find myself wanting to protect my kids from the world, but it's really not possible, is it?


The History Teacher

by Billy Collins


Trying to protect his students' innocence

he told them the Ice Age was really just

the Chilly Age, a period of a million years 

when everyone had to wear sweaters.


And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,

named after the long driveways of the time.


The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more

than an outbreak of questions such as

"How far is it from here to Madrid?"

"What do you call the matador's hat?"


The War of the Roses took place in a garden,

and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom

on Japan.


The children would leave his classroom

for the playground to torment the weak

and the smart,

mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered up his notes and walked home

past flower beds and white picket fences,

wondering if they would believe that soldiers

in the Boer War told long, rambling stories

designed to make the enemy nod off.



Denise has the roundup today. Happy First Roundup, Denise!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Feather Mug


 Starting the morning

with tea in my feather mug

searching for lightness


Friday, September 10, 2021

Poetry Friday: Sonnet 73

It seems like a day for a classic, a poem people have been reading for 400 years. 

 

TLDR: Yeah, everything and everyone you love will go away, but that's all the more reason to love well while you can. 

 

Love well today, poetry friends! And here's the roundup.


Sonnet 73

William Shakespeare

 

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Another Birding Milestone!

On December 8th I posted about my 92nd day of my eBird checklist streak, meaning that I had posted at least one birding checklist on eBird.com per day for the preceding 92 days. I was pretty pleased with myself, and I'm even more so today, on the 365th day of my checklist streak. 

 

A whole year of daily birding! So many beautiful birds, so many heart-lifting moments! And I have to admit, there's also a lot of pleasure in watching the numbers mount: species, lifers, days in a row. I'm competing purely with myself; eBird shows me that I am now the 89,522nd eBirder in the world in terms of how many species I've seen. And 19,881st for number of checklists. So, not exactly a leading light. But if they could measure how much I enjoy it, I'd be a lot higher on the list.  


You can read everyone else's slices here.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Poetry Friday: Something

Something Told the Wild Geese

by Rachel Field

 

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered,—‘Snow.’
Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned,—‘Frost.’
All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.
Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,—
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

 

It's almost time for the migratory birds to start arriving here in Haiti!  That mysterious "something" is getting ready to send them south! 

 

If you'd like to contribute to earthquake relief in Haiti, I posted some suggestions here


The inimitable Heidi has today's roundup.

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Not All Virtues are Cheerful

This month's host, Karen, has invited us to reflect on virtues. She sent us a list of them and asked us to choose from the list or write about another virtue. 

 

Last week my church group talked about the second of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are those who mourn." It was encouraging because I have been mourning lately for many reasons. It doesn't feel blessed to mourn. It feels cursed sometimes. Mourning isn't on the list of virtues, but Empathy is. Feeling the pain of others is not a comfortable experience, but it is a virtuous one. Sincerity is also on the list, as are Authenticity and Honesty. In times of mourning, we should aim for joy, but not for fake cheeriness. 

 

When I read the book of Psalms, I see a true presentation of emotions that are not all positive. It's OK to express those emotions to God. In Psalm 69, David wrote: 

 "Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies. ... But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good, according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me." 

(And that's all before he gets to the imprecatory part, where he's asking God to make life difficult for the people who have wronged him. Yep, that's in the Bible too. Again, he doesn't have a problem telling God what he's really feeling.) 

 

Here's to the virtues that hold on when times are tough. Here's to Patience and Tenacity and Fortitude. Here's to keeping on asking God for help, continuing to trust. Here's to climbing, muddy and exhausted, out of the mire, sometime really really soon. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Flower Haiku

Cotton candy pink
Petals massed in crowds of joy:
Morning cheerleaders


Here are all the other slices from today.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Reading Update

I still haven't finished reporting on all my summer reading, and now I'm back to work, and have a lot less time to read. The reading I do have time for, though, is an essential to my days. I'm so thankful for books, and for the ability to focus on them and read them, learn and grow from them, relax into them. Reading is a pleasure and a necessity to me. 


Book #66 of this year was Other Words for Home, by Jasmine Warga, a verse novel about a middle schooler who is a refugee from Syria. There's a lot of complexity in this story, which explores different ways to be brave in the middle of so much turmoil. It means different things for Jude, starting school in a new country, and her brother, left behind in Syria, and her mom, adjusting to a new life too, and waiting to give birth. I appreciated the glimpse at what it's like to be a Muslim in the US, too. This is such a timely story, and could help create some empathy in its readers. 


Book #67 was a reread, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times, by Henri Nouwen. I'm sure it won't be the last time I'll read it! "Hope does not mean," Nouwen writes, "that we will avoid or be able to ignore suffering, of course. Indeed, hope born of faith becomes matured and purified through difficulty. The surprise we experience in hope, then, is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. For even when they do not, we can still live with a keen hope. The basis of our hope has to do with the One who is stronger than life and suffering. Faith opens us up to God's sustaining, healing presence. A person in difficulty can trust because of a belief that something else is possible. To trust is to allow for hope."

 

Book #68 was my first by Preston Sprinkle, but I have a feeling it won't be my last. The book was Charis: God's Scandalous Grace for Us. "Peter's denial of Jesus isn't the end of their relationship. It's only the beginning. Because Peter's commitment to Jesus isn't sustained by Peter. Peter remains committed to Jesus because Jesus is steadily committed to Peter. Just before Peter denies his Lord, Jesus promises to never let him go: 'I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail' (Luke 22:32). If it weren't for Grace, Peter would be finished. The same is true for you."

 

Book #69 was 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows, by Ann Brashares. This story takes place in the same universe as the Traveling Pants books; the girls in the story know the Pants girls as older, almost legendary former attendees of their school. One character is a younger sister of one of those girls. I'm sure it says something about me that I love these tales of friendships that last through everything. Certainly it reflects the coming and going of people to and from my own life, and my longing for relationships to last. Here's a quote from this one, about a character traveling down a cliff in a harness and holding a rope: "Away from the group Ama made a jump of pure joy. It was an unprecedented joy, full of opposing properties and opposing parts that for Ama, in that moment, fit together effortlessly: the joy of leaning back, the joy of letting go, the joy of her feet sticking, the joy of pulling them off the rock, the joy of hanging, the joy of not falling, the joy of the past and of the future, the joy of the sky and the mountains and the valley, the joy of having made it, and the joy of not having to do it again."  

 

Book #70 was Pegasus, by Robin McKinley. I really enjoyed this book, and found it absorbing. But I was disappointed that not much was resolved at the end, and there's no sequel. In Lady Sylviianel's world, a princess like her (even if only the fourth child) gets a Pegasus. There is some kind of bond expected between the human and the Pegasus, but for most it is just a formal, symbolic relationship. But it turns out that for Sylvi and her Pegasus, Ebon, the bond goes deeper, and their communication is both a delight to both of them and a threat to the establishment. Robin McKinley, write a sequel, OK? 

 

Book #71 was Jhumpa Lahiri's latest book, Whereabouts, which she wrote in Italian and then translated into English. (I wrote more about her relationship with Italian here.) I feel about Jhumpa Lahiri a little bit similarly to how I feel about A.S. Byatt: I think it's amazing that their books get more and more experimental and that their art is breaking barriers, but at the same time I have to admit (a bit sheepishly) that I prefer their more traditional novels.  Lahiri's The Namesake is one of my favorite novels of all time. I am in awe of Lahiri working in Italian, though, and I think she's incredible in every way. And I did like this book.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Poetry Friday: An Actual Suffering

In 2014, Haiti got hit with the Chikungunya virus, which caused a lot of pain and suffering here before just about everyone had had it. It didn't kill, but it did hurt, at the time and for months and months after. And one thing that we noticed was that it seemed to affect older people worse, and especially older people who had hurt themselves a lot before. If you'd broken bones previously, those parts hurt the most. It was like a reminder of all your past pain. (I wrote about this at the time here.)

 

Trauma works that way, too. Sometimes when you see people in the news because of some enormous crisis, that's not the first time they are going through difficulties. I think about that when I read about Afghanistan's current woes; those people have already been through a lot, both in history and in living memory. And the same is true here in Haiti. 


I was talking to a long-time friend the other day and she commented, "You don't get to be our age without having some pain," and boy, is that true. (But we're also both blessed enough to have experienced many joyful moments, too. I'm not sure that's true of everyone.)


Then I read that my friend Emily Dickinson said this about it all:


They say that "time assuages," -

Time never did assuage;

An actual suffering strengthens,

As sinews do, with age.

 

Time is a test of trouble,

But not a remedy.

If such it prove, it prove too

There was no malady. 


Emily Dickinson


I guess my point is just that we need to be careful with each other, because we're all going through a lot these days. Sometimes a small thing will set someone (adult or kid) off, and you may not see all that led to that moment. It's worth responding with grace anyway.


And also, for those people far away from us who are in crisis, we can help make things a little easier. In my Poetry Friday post last week, I suggested some places you might like to donate if you're interested in helping with earthquake relief in Haiti.  


Today's roundup is here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Kingbirds

Yesterday morning I was on my way to a meeting, looking up as always just in case I could spy some birds. Suddenly I saw, on a wire just on the other side of the wall that surrounds our campus, not one, not two, but four Gray Kingbirds. 


Times have been rough lately here in Haiti. In addition to the stuff that's in the news (earthquake, tropical storm, assassination of the president, political impasse, to name a few), there have been some challenges in my own life too. But there's nothing like the lift a beautiful bird gives me. (See the photo below, borrowed from FocusingOnWildlife.com.)

Source: https://focusingonwildlife.com/news/galleries/small-landbirds/gray-kingbird-tyrannus-dominicensis/

Seeing these birds reminded me that this past summer in the US, I saw their cousins, the Eastern Kingbird and the Western Kingbird, or what I thought of as a matched set of kingbirds. I saw the Eastern for the first time in Kentucky, on a day in June when the news in Haiti reported 102 new cases of COVID, plus street demonstrations demanding that kidnappers release yet another victim. It's an elegant bird, with a lovely white edging to its tail. (See photo below.) Then I saw the Westerns, a pair of them, at a rest stop in South Dakota. That was the day in July when we had woken in a motel room to the news of the assassination. First I heard them, and when I located the source of the sound, I saw the birds flying together in a kind of synchronized dance. They had a similar head shape to the others, but these have some yellow on them. (See photo below.)

Eastern Kingbird, source, eBird.com

Western Kingbird, source, eBird.com

Wordsworth wrote, "My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky." In college I learned that the poem is about perception and memory, and I'm sure it is, but it's also about how something beautiful, and beyond yourself, can give you a moment of joy on a sad day. My heart leaps up when I behold a kingbird. 


You can read other people's slices for today here.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Vocabulary

(If you're here looking for suggestions on how and where to donate to Haitian earthquake relief, scroll down to the end of the post.) 

 

My family and I experienced the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. For eleven years, my life has been divided into "before the earthquake" and "after the earthquake." For example, it was after the earthquake that I started sharing my poetry here on my blog. It seemed the least I could do when friends in Haiti were doing so much to help with relief, and I was in the States with my kids. 

 

Well, now there is a new earthquake in my life. This one didn't happen in our city, like the one in 2010. Last Saturday morning, when the shaking sent my husband and me running out of our house, we thought it was just a small earthquake, though an intense one. We stood in front of our house, where eleven years ago I had felt the earth shake while holding on to my seventh grade daughter's hand and repeating again and again, "It's OK, it's OK." We watched the hummingbird feeder swing back and forth, leading us to remark that even though the hummingbirds have never shown any interest in that feeder, maybe it can have a new life as an earthquake indicator. Then we went back inside.


I checked the USGS website, which used to be open on my desktop at all times, right away. I was shocked to learn that the earthquake we had felt had been a 7.0 (later they updated that to 7.2). That's when we realized that it had happened a long way away, on the southern peninsula of Haiti. And gradually over the next couple of days we learned more about the sickening results of the quake. On Thursday I read these statistics in Le Nouvelliste, the main newspaper of Port-au-Prince: 2,189 are dead and 12,268 injured. There are 30,122 houses destroyed and 42,737 damaged. One hundred and twenty-seven schools, 60 places of worship, and 25 health facilities are destroyed or damaged. An estimated 650,000 people need aid urgently. And around 615 houses were flooded by Tropical Depression/Storm Grace. 

 

Here's a poem I wrote in April 2010. We're feeling its reality once again. 

 

Earthquake Vocabulary

Here are some words I’d rather you not use metaphorically:
seismic,
Richter scale,
epicenter.

Here are some words I used before but shouldn’t have:
devastating,
catastrophe,
disaster.

Here are some words I used to know:
permanent,
stable,
solid.

Here’s a word I thought I knew but really didn’t:
earthquake.

by Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

 

I was honored to have one of my photos featured on Margaret's This Photo Wants to be a Poem this week. Head over and see what people did with the image, which I've pasted below. 

 

 

If you can, please do donate to the relief in Haiti. While this earthquake didn't affect as many people as the one in Port-au-Prince in 2010, there are unique challenges. These communities are remote and difficult to access at the best of times, and these are far from the best of times. Haiti's government is in disarray after two years of political crisis, and the assassination just over a month ago of the president. There is unrest and violence between where I live in the capital city and where the earthquake happened in the south. Plus, oh yeah, there's a pandemic, and Haiti just received vaccinations for the first time in June; very few people have yet been vaccinated. If it sounds like an impossible situation, it feels that way to me too.


Since people have been asking, I've been recommending some organizations that were on the spot immediately helping. Some are faith-based and some are not.


HERO is an amazing organization. They provide ambulance and EMT service on a subscription basis. People who can afford it buy memberships, and those funds support the work HERO does responding to car accidents and other emergencies. So they are able to help people who can't afford care. This is such a simple and brilliant system. We have been members for a while and can't recommend them highly enough. They were on the ground right away rescuing people and they still are. They are working with the US Coast Guard. 

 

MAF has a long-term presence in Haiti. They have small planes, great pilots, and lots of experience with disasters, and they were flying in supplies right away, both after the 2010 earthquake and after this one. They are also taking doctors from Port-au-Prince who would have a hard time getting to the south by road.


Hôpital Lumière in Bonne Fin was damaged in the quake, but they continue to give care. There's a drop-down menu at that link where you can choose to send your donation straight to the hospital.

 

Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante) is Paul Farmer's organization. They have a proven track record of the POP (Preferential Option for the Poor). They have already been doing great work with COVID and now are responding to this disaster.


A friend who has worked on the island a long time suggested this physical therapy center. It's called Fondation Tous Ensemble and my friend writes: "As long as I've known her, 10 years or so, my wonderful friend Consuelo Alzamora has been running Fondation Tous Ensemble, the only physical therapy clinic in SW Haiti, on a shoestring budget. I have no idea how they pull it off, but she and her team help people heal and deal after every kind of injury, strokes and so on. If you have ever had PT, then you know how vital it is to healthy recovery. In the wake of the 14 August earthquake, she and her team is OK, but the clinic and most of her team's houses are damaged. Right now her team is scrambling to do all they can to help treat the many many injured by the quake. The demands will only increase in the months ahead. If you are looking for a worthy place to donate in Haiti, look no further. Your donation can make a big difference. Please give generously, if you can. Last I checked, their donations page had not been updated after the quake. They are just too busy." 


The Salvation Army is very active in Haiti and this organization is at its best in a disaster. 

 

Friends for Health in Haiti works in the mountains above Jeremie. 


These are just a few organizations I or trusted friends can personally vouch for. You don't have to use my list. There are many lists available online. Please find an organization whose values you approve and send them a few dollars if you are able.


The Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Back to School

It's not time for Haitian schools to be back in session, but our international school here in Haiti goes by the US calendar, and we started back yesterday.

 

This is a time of grief and mourning in this country. On Saturday there was a huge earthquake in the south, and Monday evening the death toll was up to 1419. Plus there are thousands injured, and thousands of homes destroyed, with even more damaged. Just like after the earthquake in Port-au-Prince in 2010, thousands of people are sleeping outside, either because their homes are not safe or because they just don't want to be under a roof after seeing so many roofs collapsed. And now Tropical Depression Grace is making sleeping outdoors difficult with wind and rain. Four to eight inches of rain are forecast, as well as possible mudslides. 


It was encouraging to see our students' faces again (at least the part not covered by a mask), and normal is good in a time like this. We'll take as much normal as we can get.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Yes, We Felt It!

The USGS website called Did You Feel It? used to be open all the time on my laptop. I would refresh it again and again as I obsessively watched earthquakes and aftershocks. I haven't done that in a while but this afternoon I'm doing it again after Haiti was hit by another huge earthquake this morning. 


The epicenter was a long way from us this time, on the southern peninsula of the country, and so is the damage and the loss of life. But we did feel this earthquake, and we know Haiti will continue to feel the aftershocks, both literal and metaphorical, for a long time. We are all right, but we are grieving the suffering and loss in this country we love.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Poetry Friday: Stuck With You

 

Every year on my wedding anniversary, I post this song on Facebook. We're back now to the two of us, the originals, as our kids have moved away, one to adult life and one to college. Maybe I'll be able to write about that departure sometime, but not yet. I'm happy to be stuck with my husband still, after all these years; as the song says, "We are bound by all the rest, the same phone number, all the same friends, and the same address." Well, we don't have the same phone number any more, as we each have a cellphone. But the rest remains.


This week's roundup is here.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Reading Update

Book #53 of 2021 was His Last Duchess, by Gabrielle Kimm. I was interested in this book because of the title, since it made me think of the Robert Browning poetic monologue, "My Last Duchess." Sure enough, that's what the book is about. But instead of Browning's subtle treatment, we get a lurid bodice-ripper. I did enjoy learning about the art techniques of the time; I didn't check it out but I assume the author's descriptions of the creation of frescoes are accurate. 


Book #54 was Olympus, Texas, by Stacey Swann. I have a weakness for retelling of Greek and Roman myths, and this one is in that category. In this book, the pantheon of Olympus is transformed into a dysfunctional family in Olympus, Texas. Imagine the behavior of Zeus, Hera, et al playing out in a small southern town! Pretty explosive stuff. 


Book #55 was John Green's collection of essays, The Anthropocene Reviewed. My son introduced me to the podcast of the same name, and we often listened to it together while he was still living at home. The book has a lot of the podcast episodes in it, but also some new material. I could hear Green's voice in my head as I was reading. He has a lovely, emotional prose style, and I enjoyed reading his takes on many aspects of current life. 

 

Book #56 was That's Not What Happened, by Kody Keplinger. After a school shooting in a small town, there's a narrative that has emerged. Everyone knows it and everyone believes it. But Lee, one of six survivors struggling with the arrival of the third anniversary of the event, knows another truth, and she thinks it's time everyone else knew it too. But she finds that the way everyone else thinks it happened has become too important to challenge. 

 

Book #57 was If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, by Gennifer Choldenko, who wrote the book Al Capone Does My Shirts, which I read in 2007 and loved (the link is to my review).  I didn't love this one. The characters seemed quite stereotypical and I wasn't convinced by the over-the-top drama of the plot.

 

Book #58 was Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller. This is about Miller's obsession with the story of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist and the first president of Stanford. She thinks she will get insights from his story for dealing with her own life, which has been messed up in various ways, many of them caused by her own behavior. She interweaves her own story with what she's learning about Jordan and about taxonomy. The main thing I took from this book is that the way we categorize things is only one way to do it; there could be many others. I had heard a bit of this idea before in reference to Linnaeus, another man whose categorizing of living beings has deeply affected the way we see the world. The title refers to the idea that fish don't really have enough in common to be a category. There's a lot of fascinating information in this book, including a great deal about eugenics, which Jordan turns out to have been crazy about. There's also some haunting description of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Oh, and an unsolved murder (?) mystery. The book reads like a very long podcast, and I thought it was well-written. It was interesting to explore the history of Miller's learning about her topic, and the ideas are thought-provoking. I wasn't entirely sure why what she learned about Jordan helped her in her own situation, but it's always mysterious how these things happen. I'm not sure whether to recommend this or not; it's strange, but I learned a few things I'm glad to know.


Book #59 was The Wife Upstairs, by Rachel Hawkins, a retelling of the Jane Eyre story. I found it completely unbelievable, even more so than the original. 


Book #60 was a reread, Pillars, by Rachel Pieh Jones.  This time I read it to my husband, who also liked it. The link is to my review when I first read it.


Book #61 was On Immunity, by Eula Biss. This book on vaccination was published in 2014, but it is of course incredibly timely right now. I found it interesting, as the writer took her thinking in several directions that were new to me. However, I have not read very much about the topic, so others may not find her ideas as new. Here's a taste: "'Antibiotics, vaccines, they're both like time travel,' a friend wrote me that spring. 'You go back in time and you're able to prevent a catastrophe, but who knows how you have irrevocably altered the future? I love my babies, and I go back in time (vaccinate) in order to prevent the catastrophe I can see, but then I risk the catastrophe I can't see.' This was my friend who writes science fiction poetry, of course. And I knew what she meant. ... Every day with a child, I have discovered, is a kind of time travel. I cast my mind ahead with each decision I make, wondering what I might be giving or taking from my child in the future. I send him off to preschool, where he learns about germs and rules, wondering all the time who he might have been if he had not learned to wash his hands and stand in line as soon as he could talk. But even when I do nothing, I am aware that I am irrevocably changing the future. Time marches forward in a course that is forever altered by the fact that I did nothing." 

 

Book #62 was a reread, As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir, by Kay Bruner, which I read, but did not review, back in 2015.  Bruner tells the story of a crisis in her marriage, and how she responded to it. Since she was a missionary at the time, her response was complicated by what the mission organization did. All of this led to a radical transformation of the way Bruner saw the world, and, especially, God and how He works in human lives. When was God there for her? All along. Was He waiting for her to pick herself up and fix her life and her marriage? No! He was there all along. As soon as she fell. This is a very good book and I recommend it.

 

Book #63 was A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds, by Scott Weidensaul. This was so good. I wanted to read it again right away as soon as I finished it (but I didn't, because I had so many other books checked out from the library that I had to read before they vanished from my Kindle). Reading it was like hanging out with birders, which is so fun because they invariably have so many interesting stories to tell (at least the birders I've met - perhaps I have just been fortunate). There is a lot about habitat loss and the way birds struggle due to climate change and other issues, but it's also just amazing to read about the variety that exists among birds, the way they adapt to changing situations, and the obsessive ways humans work to fix the problems - and surprisingly successfully! I loved the writing, too. I would like to share some of it, but unfortunately the book has vanished from my Kindle. 

 

Book #64 was Dakota: A Spiritual Biography, by Kathleen Norris. I visited South Dakota this summer for the first time, and I was fascinated to read this study of life in small towns in this world of huge distances and deprivation (relative to the mainstream US way of life). I don't know how true this book is now; it was published in 2001. I enjoyed it, as I have all the Norris I have read before. And I started thinking about how the places I have lived have affected my spiritual life. 

 

Book #65 was Celine, by Peter Heller. I didn't love this as much as the other Peter Heller books I've read so far (I wrote about them here). Celine is a charming character but not very believable as a detective. Many of her conclusions come purely from her intuition, in a kind of magical-realist way. It also didn't have as many birds in it as Heller's other books. (Full disclosure: I also tried Heller's novel The Painter and didn't even like it well enough to finish it.) I think I will try some more Heller, because I did like the first two I read so very much.


Thursday, August 05, 2021

Spiritual Journey Thursday and Poetry Friday: Difficult Blessings

Hi friends! I didn't intend to take a break from my blog, but it looks as though I did indeed take one. I needed it, just a little bit of extra bandwidth to help me cope with the events of this summer, some expected, like saying goodbye to my younger child and dealing with the beginning stages of a transition to an empty nest, and some unexpected, like reading, in a Midwestern motel room, about the assassination of Haiti's president in an incredibly bloody and brutal attack on his home in the early hours of July 7th. Of course there were lots of other events this summer, easy and difficult, relaxing and stressful, soothing and painful. That's how life is. 


Today I'm attempting to ease back into blogging by combining today's SJT and tomorrow's PF post into one. It's part of my effort to be kind to myself, as I re-adjust to Haiti; we flew back yesterday, and arrived intact but without our luggage. It's a relatively short journey, as international odysseys go; we got up at three and my dad drove us to the airport in the dark, with a fingernail moon watching us from overhead. Three flights later, we were in our home and drinking some cold water by about 2:30 PM. (And that's after dealing with the missing luggage with a gentleman at the airport.) You can get here quickly, but then it takes your soul a while to catch up, at least it does for my soul, slightly battered as it is. I've been taking it slowly this morning, adding up all my birding miles and lifers from the summer, listening to music, drinking good strong tea. 


Haiti looks the same as when we left it, at least the parts we've seen so far. We got in a traffic jam on the way home because dozens of cars were in line at a gas station, waiting to buy gas (maybe they succeeded, and maybe they didn't).  We don't have enough gas in our car to drive back to the airport to pick up my suitcase (no, they're not going to deliver it). They're selling plastic bottles of gas on the street again, just like they were when we first moved here, during the international embargo on Haiti, in 1993. We've had a few very tough years here, and there's likely more to come in the aftermath of this latest crisis. The investigation is ongoing, the international community is urging elections, the security situation is scary. What will happen? We have no idea. It feels discouraging in a way beyond all we've seen before in our two decades plus in this beautiful, troubled country. 


I am a big fan of Jan Richardson, and her book The Cure for Sorrow is one I've read several times. I love her format of blessings, and though she wrote them after losing her husband and while entering widowhood, they are appropriate in many different kinds of grief, including grief for a wounded country, grief for a new stage of life, grief for so many things in this broken and damaged world. Jan posted the following poem on social media recently, and I share it with you hoping that it will accompany you in your own difficult blessings.

 


 


Jacob's Blessing

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. - Genesis 32:24

 

If this blessing were easy,

anyone could claim it.

As it is,

I am here to tell you

that it will take some work. 


This is the blessing

that visits you

in the struggling,

in the wrestling,

in the striving.


This is the blessing

that comes

after you have left

everything behind,

after you have stepped out,

after you have crossed

into that realm

beyond every landmark

you have known.


This is the blessing

that takes all night

to find.


It's not that this blessing

is so difficult,

as if it were not filled

with grace

or with the love

that lives

in every line.


It's simply that 

it requires you

to want it,

to ask for it,

to place yourself 

in its path.

It demands that you

stand to meet it

when it arrives,

that you stretch yourself

in ways you didn't know

you could move,

that you agree

to not give up.


So when this blessing comes,

borne in the hands 

of the difficult angel

who has chosen you,

do not let go.

Give yourself

into its grip.

 

Jan Richardson

 

Check out the other entries in today's SJT here at Linda Mitchell's blog. And today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Summer and Birds

Carol Varsalona, who's hosting today, has invited us to reflect on the topic "Nurturing Our Summer Souls."  

 


 

 

This summer has brought several reasons, some unexpected, for stress and anxiety. Nurturing my summer soul hasn't come quite as naturally as I had hoped. But one thing I have been doing daily is looking at birds, and somehow that always makes me feel better. 

 

I always appreciated Jesus' bird-themed words in Matthew 6:


“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"


The birds aren't just sitting around waiting for their food to come to them. They are in constant, earnest pursuit of nourishment. But they seem peaceful to us, perhaps because they can fly, or perhaps, as a birding friend put it, because they are outside of the sphere of the things that bring us stress, and we can attach any story to them that we wish. 


Even though I always enjoyed reflecting on the ways the birds' behavior comments on human anxiety, it's only been in the last two or three years that I have started to find "considering the birds," as Jesus put it (or "Look at the birds of the air," in the version I quoted above), to be a prescription for anxiety, as effective on the best days as therapy or medication. Maybe it's as simple as turning my eyes away from my own concerns, but lately the words of Jesus cycle through my mind again and again as I focus my binoculars: "Do not worry about your life....Look at the birds of the air." 


Check out what everyone else has to say for today's SJT over at Carol's blog. 

 


 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Poetry Friday: What is so Rare as a Day in June?


What is So Rare as a Day in June?
 
AND what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o'errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best? 

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer's lowing,-
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
'Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,-
'Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season's youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep 'neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.


James Russell Lowell 
 
 
I posted this before back in 2017. 
 
Linda has the roundup today. 
 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Not Giving Up

Sometimes someone else's words help most.

 

Instructions on Not Giving Up
Ada Limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

 

I wrote some about this poem here.  

Friday, June 18, 2021

Poetry Friday: Hispaniolan Woodpecker

 

Photo Credit: Gil Ewing, eBird.com


I remember
the first time I saw
a Hispaniolan Woodpecker
in my yard:

the powerful beak
the yellow cartoon character eye
the black and yellow basketwork of the back
the bright red head.

It was the first time I knew
there was such a bird.
I imagined it rare,
perhaps unique,
an anomaly
about to burst,
phoenix-like,
into flame.

Now
I hear them every day
and often see them.
(Once, four on the same branch.)
Not a surprising bird,
but one of the most common.

And yet perhaps that gasp
from the first time,
that leap of my heart,
was the most appropriate response,
after all.


Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com


Buffy has the roundup today at BuffySilverman.com.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Striking the Set

 

Montessori teachers call cleaning up their classrooms at the end of the year "Striking the Set." Just like you have to take down the scenery after the last performance of a play, so you take down the carefully-thought-out scenery of your room, all the things you hung up or placed just so to facilitate learning. Of course, for us, as for teachers around the world, there have been multiple sets this year. Sometimes it was a Zoom screen where we taught, sometimes the online portal where we'd posted lessons, and sometimes - really quite often for us, thankfully - our classrooms. But really, every year there are multiple sets. You don't ever know where and when and how the learning is taking place, and quite often it's not where and when and how you think. I know that from kids who come back and tell me the thing they remember best about my class, and I lean forward, excited to find out what it is...and it's usually something like, that story I told (what story - could it have been from a different teacher?), or the fact that I had bean bag chairs in my room that they could use for silent reading. Rarely is there a word about the lessons I polished so lovingly.


So anyway, I'm striking my set today, but before cranking the Paul Simon music to which I traditionally do this task, I first went out birding on our campus and saw/heard six species, all familiar friends to me by now: House Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Antillean Palm-Swift, Gray Kingbirds, Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo, and two tiny Vervain Hummingbirds. How did I learn all those names and how to recognize each one so easily? Months and months of daily birding, checking my app, reading my bird books, consulting eBird. 


Back to my room to strike the set, and to reflect on how glad I am that the other set will stay up all summer and still be there when I get back to start again: the trees, bushes, wires, roofs of our campus, all the places where I've loved seeing birds this whole school year.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Reading Update

Book #47 of the year was As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meissner. This is a historical novel about the Spanish Flu pandemic of a century ago. I enjoyed the book, though it asks the reader to accept a pretty big coincidence at the center of the plot. Well, coincidences do happen. I always like stories about people healing from trauma, and I think ultimately that is what this story is about.


Book #48 was The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. I loved this post-apocalyptic, post-pandemic novel even though it is violent and profane to a degree I don't usually choose. But it's so very well-written and puts you right there in this heartbreaking, destroyed world. And it is full of birds and poetry. I loved it so much that as soon as I finished it, I went looking for more by this author, and book #49 was his 2019 book The River. In this one the crisis is more localized and not quite as dramatic, but still plenty dramatic. Again, lots of violence. Again, many little perfectly-described bird sightings. Again, outdoors and survival and being pushed to the very limit. And more poetry! Here's a little snippet: "Last night's freeze had taken care of the mosquitoes. Wynn heard the knock of stone as Jack moved outside, and he also heard the slow creek making the faintest ripple. He thought of the Merwin poem about dusk that he loved so much. Merwin describes the sun going down believing in nothing, and how he hears the stream running after it: It has brought its flute it is a long way. It killed him. The one and only sun without belief in anything and the little stream believing so hard, believing in music even. What he loved about poetry: it could do in a few seconds what a novel did in days. A painting could be like that, too, and a sculpture. But sometimes you wanted something to take days and days." I've got more by Heller on hold at the library. Hope it takes days and days to read. 


Book #50 was Sky in the Deep, by Adrienne Young. This is a YA title set in a Viking-like world where Eelyn is a teen-aged warrior. Very violent, this book is nevertheless a gripping story of family and clan and being at home. 

 

Book #51 was A Vow So Bold and Deadly, by Brigid Kemmerer, the third in the Cursebreaker series, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I read the first two books in December and January, and I've been waiting (none too patiently) ever since for my hold on the third one to come through from the library. I liked the third installment, especially the insights into what it's like to lead, not just to be in charge but to manage people, with all their expectations and needs. 

 

Book #52 was a teaching book and a reread (for the third time - here's what I wrote about it in 2011), The 9 Rights of Every Writer: A Guide for Teachers, by Vicki Spandel. This is a great book for teachers. I really love the way it refocuses what exactly we're trying to do when we teach writing. I especially enjoyed the chapter on why we shouldn't teach formulas for writing. Some curriculum teaches writing that way and I just hate it. No, good writing is never formulaic. "I know the argument: formula is better than no organization at all," writes Spandel. "This is like saying that thinking in a confused way is better than not thinking at all. Is it? Formulaic writing will take our young writers to the upper limits of mediocrity. . . . We cannot possibly create enough formulas to fit every situation. Nor should we. The very presentation of a formula or outline suggests a belief that writing is simple and reductive, when we ought to be teaching just the opposite. We ought to tell students the truth: that writing is complex, and that every single writing situation is different, and must be thought through as carefully and sensitively as a conversation with someone one has never met but would like to have for a friend." This last section is underlined in my copy and my handwriting in the margin says "Yes!" To the extent that I have ever allowed myself to be drawn into this whole horrid formula nonsense (and, in my defense, it wasn't all the way), I repent and make a new commitment not to do it again!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Poetry Friday: Vanishing

This poem by Brittney Corrigan is about the ongoing decrease in the number of birds in the world. I've been wanting to write my own poem on this topic for a while, but in the meantime here's part of hers:


Vanishing

by Brittney Corrigan


... the birds quietly lessen

themselves among the grasslands.

No longer a chorus but a lonely,

indicating trill: Eastern meadowlark,

wood thrush, indigo bunting --

their voices ghosts in the 

chemical landscape of crops.


...Color drains from

our common home so gradually,

we convince ourselves

it has always been gray.


Little hollow-boned dinosaurs,

you who survived the last extinction...


Click on over to read the rest.

 

I have been attending some of the Zooms put on by BirdsCaribbean and learning so much. Today I heard about birding on Abaco, one of the islands of the Bahamas, and the progress in recovering from Hurricane Dorian. A couple of weeks ago I watched as a woman teared up describing her first sighting of a hummingbird after the hurricane. 

 

The vanishing makes what's left even more precious.

 

Carol has this week's roundup.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Is It Almost Over?

 

I started doing Slice of Life back in September, and I hadn't missed a week, until the last two. Somehow it got to be too much, and producing a slice of life felt like being asked to slice soup, or ocean water. A few things happened, like we went back to online school, and everything for my son's graduation got canceled or went online, oh yeah and my family got sick (that feels like a long time ago now, being at the beginning of the two weeks I missed).


Here in Haiti, the COVID numbers soared, and the hospitals got overwhelmed, and there was gang fighting (nothing new, but it intensified). 


Normally we get done with school at the end of May, and the first week of June is final exams and cleaning our classrooms and segueing into summer, but this year we started three weeks late, so we're not done yet, even though we're finishing earlier, because of the COVID numbers, than the calendar says. It is almost over, but oh, it feels eternal. Especially now that we're back to Zooming, and sending out assignments that aren't getting done. 


And yet at the same time, the days are flying by, as my son graduated, and as he goes through the books in his room and chooses the ones he wants to donate to my classroom library, and as he sorts his clothes that don't fit him any more and in various ways ends his time living at home. Is it almost over? Yes.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Poetry Friday: There Are Birds Here

Things fell apart this week, and as the week ends, we are back 100% online to finish our school year. The government has shut down schools as of June 11th and banned graduations and other end-of-year gatherings. All this is due to our COVID numbers going way up again. 


I'm trying to focus on the fact that we spent almost the whole year doing in-person school; we were really only online a few days here and there. We did hybrid school at the beginning; we masked and distanced; we put lessons online all year for the kids who were at home off and on. But we were mostly in each other's presence way more than we thought we would be, back in August when we were contemplating this year.

 

I read this poem that Jamaal May wrote for Detroit, and it made me think of the city where I live, so often defined in print by what it doesn't have. It doesn't have wealth, at least not spread around. It doesn't have infrastructure. It doesn't have vaccines. 


It does have birds, though. 



There Are Birds Here

by Jamaal May


For Detroit

 


There are birds here,

so many birds here

is what I was trying to say

when they said those birds were metaphors

for what is trapped

between buildings

and buildings. No.

...

And no

his neighborhood is not like a war zone.

I am trying to say 

his neighborhood

is as tattered and feathered

as anything else,

Here's the rest.  (You should really go read the whole thing. It's short.)



I spent a lot of time with this poem. Jamaal May is saying many things in it, but I think one of the things he's saying is that just because people aren't wealthy doesn't mean they aren't fully three-dimensional, existing in the world as complete human beings. And it doesn't mean they are pitiful and "ruined," as he says at the end of the poem. And also, they get to make their own metaphors.


At least, I think he is saying those things. 


He's definitely saying that there are birds in Detroit. And we definitely have birds here in Port-au-Prince, too. 

 

Here's another poem about birds that aren't metaphors.

 

 

My Crow

by Raymond Carver

 

A crow flew into the tree outside my window.

It was not Ted Hughes's crow, or Galway's crow.

Or Frost's, or Pasternak's, or Lorca's crow.

Or one of Homer's crows, stuffed with gore

after the battle. This was just a crow.

Here's the rest. (This one is even shorter than the other one.)

 


Margaret has the roundup this week.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Spiritual Journey Thursday: How Are You Doing with Your OLW?


This month's theme is to revisit the OLW (One Little Word) we chose for the year. Was it a good choice? Has it been helping shape our thoughts this year so far? Would we like to recalibrate, refocus, or even choose a new word? (Or would we rather write about something completely different and ignore the theme? That's fine too!) I am hosting today's roundup of SJT posts; leave your link in the comments and I will round them up. Comment Moderation is enabled, so don't worry when your comment doesn't show up right away. I will get to it as quickly as possible. 

 

My OLW for this year is Flourishing. I wrote about it back in January here.


As predicted, 2021 has brought as many obstacles to flourishing as 2020 did. Well, maybe not quite as many. When the 2020-21 school year started, we were back teaching in-person, at first in a hybrid mode and then with everyone there at once - so that was better than the previous school year, when we were in lockdown all but 15 weeks (political lockdown, then COVID lockdown). And now I am chock-full of Vitamin B12, after being diagnosed with a deficiency of it last year, a deficiency that had been getting worse for some time without me realizing it. But of course, tough things continue to happen. That's just called being alive. 


And it's fine not to be flourishing all the time. Someone posted this article the other day which includes the quote: "It is a mistake and a misreading of nature to think that you, a living creature, will be flourishing all the days of your life." (One thing that happens when you choose an OLW for the year is that you sit up and take notice any time that word appears in anything you're reading, and I appreciated this new way of thinking about it.) 


Nevertheless, I have been flourishing so far this year, in spite of terrible news, sickness, challenges of all kinds. You can't discount Vitamin B12 as a factor in that; having basically good health is something I don't take for granted. It helps me face difficulties with more strength; it helps me stay cheerful; it helps my body fight off sickness when it comes. And God continues to show Himself to be good. People, not always so much. But God, yes. 


One thing I'm learning is that sometimes, you can't evaluate a season until it's over, or even until a few years later. Often, as new information emerges about what was really going on behind the scenes, you have to rethink whether a given incident was helpful or unhelpful in your overall development. You may learn something new about someone you trusted that leads you to question everything, for example. Suddenly you're seeing everything from a new angle. Since this is something you couldn't have predicted or controlled, what's the best way to live to promote flourishing, knowing that at any time you could get thrown off balance?


I keep coming back to an effort to live one day at a time, to make choices that I know are right without trying to look too far into the future and imagine all the possible outcomes, to avoid wallowing in the could haves and should haves of the past. I'm trying to flourish today, with God's help. As I pointed out in my post back in January, the Bible urges us to "abide in the vine," to stay connected to God. It's not always obvious how to do that, but that's what I'm trying to do.


I'm about to face a big destabilizing event, my second (and last) child leaving home to go to college. I would like to keep flourishing as my life changes enormously. I'm trying to do all those things I wrote about in January to help that to happen. 

 

And I'm adding an edit on Wednesday night just because it feels dishonest not to. I wrote this post last week and scheduled it to go live today. We've just learned we're going to have to close school early, and do everything these last couple of weeks virtually, because the COVID cases are skyrocketing here. I'd be lying if I didn't say that right now I'm pretty down about how this super-challenging year is ending. But...let's flourish anyway?! 


What about you? 


The posts of my SJT buddies started coming in overnight, so now, on Thursday morning, I have the honor of rounding them up. 


Fran's OLW is Awe, and here's her wonderful prose poem detailing some of the things that are awing her these days. 

 

Margaret's is Inspire, and here's her update on how she continues to be inspired and to inspire others.

 

Denise is checking in from Bahrain with her word, Gratitude


Carol's word is Begin, and she shares some of her new beginnings as she's recently moved.  Instead of being overwhelmed, she's rejoicing in the newness!  


Karen has received some good gifts and some curveballs. She's giving thanks. 


Donna is trying to figure out if she's on track, and what to do next. Sending you love and prayers, Donna!

 

Chris chose the word Results  and is finding the results mixed.   


I love that Linda chose the word Ox. She has a poem about what that means - quiet, steadfast, dependable.  


Ramona's word was Comfort, and it's so great to read about all the comfort that's coming her way these days!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Reading Update

Book #42 of this year was Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I'd read two books by this author before; one was a retelling of Pride and Prejudice that I liked (I wrote a bit about it here). The other was Prep, which I wrote about here. I really disliked that one; I used the word "excruciating." My daughter asked me why on earth I had chosen to read alternative reality fan-fiction about Hillary Clinton by an author I hadn't really loved in the past. I'm not sure why. And while it's fascinating to consider, as the author does, what might have happened to Hillary if she hadn't married Bill Clinton, it felt a little uncomfortable to read about all these real people (who are still alive) doing fictional things. Especially when you're not quite sure where the fiction begins and ends. If you're a public person, does that mean authors can just write whatever they want about what you might have done in a different situation? (Sort of the same kind of argument you could make about the TV series "The Crown.") I don't know - all I can say is I kept reading to the end. 


Book #43 was The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare, which I was teaching to my sixth graders. I read this book when I was their age, and I still like it now. 


Book #44 was Dark Tides, by Philippa Gregory, the second book in the Fairmile Series (I wrote about the first one here). Gregory has written, about this series, "I wanted to write a different sort of historical fiction: actually a series of books tracing the rise of a family from obscurity to prosperity." This one was fascinating and fun to read. I especially enjoyed the character who had left England and gone to the New World. With a lot of Gregory's books, I was reading about history I know well (in the case of the Tudor stories). The Plantagenet history was less well-known to me, but still, since I was reading about real characters, there was a certain inevitability about what was going to happen to them. With these fictional characters, though, absolutely anything could happen. I can't wait to read the next book; Gregory gives some idea in an interview at the end of the book about what might be coming. And it sounds like this series is going to be one of those endless sagas - yay!

 

Book #45 was a book of poetry, Alive Together, by Lisel Mueller. I got it for my birthday back in February, and managed to stretch it out this long by reading just a couple of poems at a time. Wonderful stuff! Now I get to go back and read it again.

 

Book #46 was In Broken Places, by Michèle Phoenix. This is the story of Shelby, who grew up with her brother Trey in an unstable, violent home. After suddenly becoming a single mom, she decides to move to Germany to teach at a school for missionaries' children. I enjoyed reading this, and watching Shelby start to find healing for her past. My favorite part was her relationship with Trey.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Poetry Friday: Carrying Stuff and an Ekphrastic Poem

During National Poetry Month, I got a poem in my email from Knopf Poetry called "Flowers," by Cynthia Zarin. It ended like this:

 

It seemed especially important

not to spill the coffee as I usually

do, as I turned up the stairs,

 

inside the whorl of the house as if

I were walking up inside the lilies.

I do not know how to hold all

 

the beauty and sorrow of my life.

 

You can read the whole poem here.

 

It's true; holding all the beauty and sorrow of life is never easy, and this week was a doozy. So that's a bit about where my mind was as I worked on the prompt for May from the Poetry Peeps, which I read about here. It involves writing an ekphrastic poem using a photo you've taken at a museum. I have so many of that kind of photo, from so many museum visits through the years. I picked out several, and I think I'll go on writing them for a while, but here's one I wrote this week.


 

I took this photo in 2014 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The photo is blurry - I took it with my iPod - but I like it better than the much better photo you can see here at the Cleveland Museum of Art's website, because their photo doesn't have my kids in it.  In addition to looking at their website, I watched a video you'll find at that link, called "On My Mind: Monet's Water Lilies," in which Heather Lemonedes Brown talks about how much the painting means for her as she's isolating at home.


So here's the poem, or at least a first draft of it:


Water Lilies, Cleveland Museum of Art


Sit here
for a moment.
Look at the
water lilies.

The world
doesn’t go away
while you look at
water lilies.
It’s still there,
right outside the garden.

At Giverny,
Monet could hear the guns from the front
as war raged.

But he kept painting
water lilies.

Kept thinking of a future
when all these
water lilies
would be in one room
for people to stare at,

surrounded by
pure color,

hearing
not fighting,
but
peace.

So
sit here
for a moment.
Look,
look
at the
water lilies.


Michelle Kogan has this week's roundup.