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:
Richter scale,

Here are some words I used before but shouldn’t have:

Here are some words I used to know:

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

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.