Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Phenomenon of Blogging Friends

I am grieving today for a woman I never met. A friend I never saw. We linked each others' blogs and encouraged each other. I sensed her inner beauty and saw her amazing talents on my computer screen. She had a keen eye for the quirky and an ability to mix beauty and humor. Sometimes I'd click on her name just to see the title photo at the top of her blog which I thought was the coolest photo ever. But she is gone now.
While browsing through my favorite blogs yesterday I read about her but didn't even know her real name - just Liquid Illuzion. (click to see yourself) At Writing in Faith I discovered that on Christmas Eve a blogger shot herself. Sandy wrote an eloquent post about suicide. I clicked on the link and it was Liquid Illuzion. I clicked off - there must be a mistake - I clicked on it again. She had posted a humorous photo on Christmas Eve and then shot herself? Then I found other bloggers who had dedicated their posts to Suzanne Horne since last week. I cried. I wondered why. I didn't even know her, but this blogging phenomenon makes us friends. I know more about some of you out there than some of the people I see every day. You know more about me than many people who see me everyday too, I'm sure. But if we are to take the joy of our blogging community then we must endure the sorrow also.
Good-bye Liquid Illuzion - good-bye Suzanne. I can truly say I will miss you and the beauty you brought to the world. I wish you would have seen the beauty yourself.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Vandals

No one would choose to be gay
I heard him say, I'm surprised I lived through
my adolescence.

An abandoned child remains in neglect
in lieu of two moms or two dads that love.

Why would someone escape their own beautiful island
into the sinking boat of a cloistered world

of vandalism and horse blinders, of rosy
perceptions and boomerang standards,

while the poverty of minds and imaginations
that sacked Rome in AD 455 still lives on?

Who can be a mouthpiece for the ages?
In the bathtub don't we all sit in our own dirt?

Paper can spiral ashes from the fire,
but words can live on in their infamy.

You can try to sew up the wound with
catgut thread, but you still killed the cat.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Coexist XIV- Social Situations

You can probably tell by the name of this blog that I am not confortable with conflict or confrontation. Coexisting appeals to me, in part, because I lived through a few horrific years of conflict and rage. In those years I became quite adept at expressing my anger, then I learned, I grew and I had to depend on God's healing to go on living a productive life. I intend to never go there again. I had to be done with anger.

Judgment is often a precursor to conflict. It is difficult to be at peace when your mind is focused on the weakness, opposing opinions or wrongdoings of other. This year I found it difficult to deal with those that had vehement political beliefs that I did not share. I was completely okay with their beliefs, but they weren't okay with mine. I did not voice my opinions in order to avoid the conflict or hurt feelings it may have caused.

I'm not sure that was a good solution. How do you deal with social situations when people are critical or judgmental of you, what you believe, or what you choose to do with your life? When you are constantly hearing pejorative remarks about yourself and your interests - how do you react? I am always blindsided by comments like you must have too much time on your hands or you need to get a life or something else that infers that my interests in writing, blogging or any other creative endeavor I choose to pursue is a waste of time. I feel foolish when I have no comeback for these comments even though it happens at every get-together. I don't anticipate being put-down because I do not concern myself with what others choose to do with their life.

At work I often encounter teachers that compare how much work others have or how hard (or not) they are working. I never think about what another teacher is doing - I have enough to worry about with my own job, let alone someone elses! I assume everyone is doing their best.
In these social situations (that I hope to enjoy) I suppose I can continue to take the negative comments that feel like a slap in the face and turn the other cheek for the next slap. But I have a relentless and annoying need to understand why. Am I offensive in some way? Are they trying to boost themselves up by putting me down? Is it a joke and I don't get the punch line? Do they truly think so little of me? Any advice out there in the blogosphere?

Coexisting includes allowing others to have differing opinions and not be enraged by them. Coexisting allows others to make their own life choices without judging them. I certainly have not always lived up to these standards, but the older I get the easier it seems to let others be as they are. It is not my concern. Jesus accepted, befriended and loved the sinners in His path with no conditions. I am not even close to that ideal, but I am working on it. I find that allowing others to have their own opinions and live the way they see fit is freeing. I no longer carry the burden of judgment. That is God's job, not mine. And His world would be a boring place if we all did and thought alike.

During the Presidential campaign, the reporters could not wait to get Obama's comments on the newly revealed pregnancy of Sarah Palin's unwed teenage daughter - I loved and admired his comment, which I think is the essence of coexisting, even in competition when he could have slammed the Palin family.

He simply said - "My mother had me when she was eighteen years old."
That's coexisting peacefully.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Prophecy of Isaiah


During the Christmas season my church choir did two selections from Handel's Messiah. As a first soprano and classical choral music lover singing this is a always a real joy and thrill for me, and always has been. Not only could I sing Messiah selections all year long and be a happy camper but I am continually amazed at the text. Of course Handel did not write the text - it is all from the book of Isaiah. Messiah tells the life of Jesus, taken from Isaiah, which was written about 700 years before the birth of Christ. Really. Read it again and be amazed.

He grew up like a tender root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering...
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep have gone astray
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth,
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"A Christmas Story" House!


If you watch any of the 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" on TBS tonight or tomorrow you will see this house located on the near west side of Cleveland. We finally got over there to see it yesterday, but we picked the day it was closed! I really just wanted to see the outside anyway. You can see the leg lamp in the window of course. Across the street there is a museum and gift shop as well. For more info check my December 19 post. You can click on the photos for a better look. Merry Christmas and if you get a BB gun don't shoot your eye out!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Disruption

Conceived in a scandal, born in a barn,
Jesus disrupts and disturbs fallow lives.

He offended his people by breaking their rules,
bringing not peace but a sword

to vanquish the old ways, to unshackle the laws.
He was a dissident, an insurgent, a dent in the world.

Some who'd awaited God's final word
were disappointed, insulted, outraged.

There was no throne, just a stumbling stone
no peace before or after that day.

Your waiting is ended this Christmas morn,
a soul choice is His unending gift.

He is here. All is changed.
Now in silence He waits for you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Robert Shaw Chorale

It is not Christmas morning if I do not hear a certain hymn. "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light" from "The Many Moods of Christmas" by the Robert Shaw Chorale.

Break forth O beauteous heavenly light
and usher in the morning;
Ye shepherds shrink not with afright,
But hear the angel's warning.
This child now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be.
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.

I thought the piece was written by J.S.Bach, but on closer inspection I see that he wrote the harmonies - which are gorgeous. Johann Schop wrote the melody. The song just sounds like Christmas to me, but beyond that I am reminded of singing with the great Robert Shaw in 1990. Robert Shaw is considered to be the most influential choral conductor in American history. I had heard about him all my life from my mother who sang with the Mendelssohn Chorus in Pittsburgh under Shaw's direction. Growing up I heard the music of his chorale and stories about the amazing and charismatic man he was.
In 1990 I was singing in the summer version of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus - The Blosson Festival Chorus. I actually lost count of how many years I sang with them in the summers. (14-15 I think!) It was a great thrill to sit behind the Cleveland Orchestra, long thought to be one of the greatest in the world, and to sing with many guest conductors. Not only did I meet Mr. Shaw (and get his autograph) that summer we did my favorite choral work with him - Brahm's German Requiem. It was an experience I will never forget. My mother was thrilled that I had the experience as well, of course.
The Many Moods of Christmas is the quintessential Christmas album. It was originally recorded in 1963, but you can still buy it today. Click on both of his names above to learn more.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Cleveland Christmas Memories



In the first half of the twentieth century Cleveland was a well established major city, endowed with the cultural arts thanks to people with names like Rockefeller. Christmas was a magical time. I grew up in a village in the eastern suburbs about 20 miles from the city, but it seemed like another world. In the city I saw people with different skin color than mine for the first time. The gaseous fumes from buses was foreign to me. My mother and I would venture downtown on the "rapid transit" and visit my great-aunt Irene who worked at The May Company, which later became Kaufman's and now Macy's. Sadly, all the downtown department stores are now gone. Back then the store windows would display elaborate Christmas scenes with moving figures. At The May Company I remember being relegated to a children's playroom so my mom could shop.

Higbee's was another department store. Established in 1929, it became Dillard's in 1992. Higbee's was a store with wooden escalators and revolving doors. It had a well-loved restaurant called The Silver Grille. It was THE place to see Santa. At Twigbee's, children could do their own shopping. But the best thing was to see Mr. Jingaling! Mr. Jingaling was a Cleveland Christmas institution for 25 years. His real name was Earl Keyes, which is ironic because Mr. Jingaling was the keeper of Santa's keys. Not only could you visit him on Halle's seventh floor (the other big store), but you could receive a coveted cardboard key. I still have one stashed in a trunk somewhere. Mr. Jingaling would come on the local TV station every evening during the season, so he was a celebrity.

I still remember his song -
Mr. Jingaling, how you tingaling
Keeper of the keys
On Halle's seventh floor
We'll be looking for
You to turn the key.

We still saw him occasionally until his death in 2000. Once I saw him in a store and practically had a conniption. My children were with me, but were completely unimpressed by the weird looking dude.
If you watch "The Christmas Story" this season you will see Higbee's prominently featured in the movie. Part of the movie was filmed on Public Square in Cleveland and you can go to see "The Christmas Story" house which is now a public attraction in an area called Tremont. (I was hoping to report first-hand, but I haven't made it there yet.) There was a "Christmas Story"convention in town a few weeks ago and 4000 people traipsed through the house to see the leg lamp.

From 1909 to 1968 there was another large store called Sterling Lindner. Every year it would put up a Christmas tree that was purported to be the largest in the nation. Another must-see. Other attractions from childhood included the lighting display on Public Square and at Nela Park (the GE plant). My dad made sure we had an annual trek in the station wagon to see all the lights.

These are a big part of my Christmas memories and I know they are to others my age as well. The magic existed because there weren't a lot of special things the rest of the year. My childhood was somewhat prosaic and normal, so an animated store window was something special. Making an effort to go all the way downtown to see the one and only Santa was so believable. Meeting Santa's helper in person - priceless!

I don't want to sound like an old fart, but I wonder what is special to children now? They don't have to wait in anticipation all year to see Rudolph or Frosty - they own them on DVD. Animations and special effects are a part of their everyday lives. Maybe - I hope - there are magical experiences to replace the ones we had. I know nothing stays the same - but sometimes I wish it would.




Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For the Love of Winter


My abundance is in winter.
I dwell in the peace
of the silent snow,
sitting by the yellow
light of a lamp
with a blanket and a book,
or comfortably close
to him on the love seat.
I find joy in the lack of humidity and
the offensive noise of lawn mowers.
I feel happy covering my homely limbs
with sweaters and jeans instead
of sticky sunscreen and sweat,
and I am justified drinking another hot tea.
There is beauty in the stark outline
of trees and squirrels against whiteness,
or watching my little dog sniff deer tracks
and race inside with a snowy nose.
To come out of the quiet cold
into the warmth of a home,
to hear the furnace kick on,
to snuggle up to a warmer body
under chilly bedsheets
is the abundance of winter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Angels I Have Seen on Google - and Karen Carpenter


I painted these angels as gifts for my friends, but they're so cute I want to keep them! Here's something weird: the photo to the right - the one of the angel with a trumpet? I painted that. It's sitting, as we speak, on my shelf just as I photographed it last year and put it on my blog last year. Recently I was looking up Christmas pictures on Google Images and there was my angel! In my house! And I didn't put it there! How did it get there? Weird.
Here's a random Christmas memory. When I was very young - fourteen to be exact - I had a boyfriend and we were deeply in love. :) God knew I was getting in too deep and had the boy's parents move him to Albuquerque, New Mexico that autumn. That Christmas, my singing idol, Karen Carpenter had a popular song - Merry Christmas, Darling come out. If you have lived in America for more than a year I'm sure you're familiar. It's a beautiful song sung by an amazing talent. Well, every time I hear it, even all these years later, I think of that sweet boyfriend, Doug. I remember spending a lot of time that Christmas season in my bedroom sitting by my little electric heater crying my eyes out and singing " I've just one wish on this Christmas Eve, I wish I were with you - I wish I were with you...." I can still remember how that felt. How unfair to have him taken from me - how unfair to have that song come out that same Christmas! If, for some reason, you've never heard it click HERE.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Chapel Bridge Souvenir

Five years ago I was fortunate enough to go with my church choir on a singing tour through parts of Europe. We visited and sang our way through Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and a bit of Liechtenstein and France. It was a dream come true for me. I had yearned to see Austria ever since I was ten years old after seeing The Sound of Music for the first time. Salzburg was more beautiful than you can imagine. Throughout the trip I had my heart set on finding one special souvenir - specifically something for Christmas. I thought there would be numerous Christmas stores in every city. You know how you always see the German wooden ornaments and candle holders? Well, either they were not there or I missed every one of them. About half way through the trip I began to panic. I had not seen one single Christmas ornament! (It was July, but it was Europe. We want our souvenirs) We spent a free day in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was a rainy day. My daughter was with me on the trip and we really wanted to shop. We crossed the Chapel Bridge (see above) and there was a tiny little Christmas shop on the bridge. We continued through the city and then, after an exhausting and sopping wet search I decided at the last minute to run back through the rain and get the Christmas candle/nativity set you see here. I'm glad I did and I love it. I had expected to find a terrific deal but it wasn't any cheaper than those I'd seen at a specialty store here in Cleveland. But the biggest disappointment was to find out that my special decoration from far away Europe came from a shop called Joe's Souvenir's!



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Erasing Names


This past week it was time to do the Christmas cards. I remember a time when I actually looked forward to sitting down and writing little notes to everyone and now somehow it seems more like a chore. Maybe because with email and cell phones we are able to communicate with those we don't see often so much easier than 10-15 years ago. I went through my address book to check and see if there was anyone new to add to the list. There was not. But sadly there were five names to eliminate. Two friends and three relatives, gone from this earth, but not from my heart. What is sadder than erasing someone's name? The loss of two friends this year is still difficult for me to fathom. They were both in their fifties, so close to my age. Jeanne left two teenage children that she will never see grow up. But both friends were women of deep faith and I know they are held in God's heavenly arms now. The poem I posted last week called "To Have Love" was in part, about my thoughts for their husbands left behind and alone now. The photo is a shelf in my writing room. Three dear friends gone. Two from cancer and one from muscular dystrophy - rest in peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Religion vs. Faith

"Religions are not revealed, they are evolved. If a religion were revealed by God, that religion would be perfect in whole and in part and would be as perfect at the first moment of its revelation as after ten thousand years of practice. There has never been a religion that fulfills those conditions."
Robert Blatchford (1851-1943)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

And for today's inspiration. . . .

Click HERE and find an article about a mailman named Don Szczepanski.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jesus of Nazareth

In my humble opinion the most outstanding production ever made for television was "Jesus of Nazareth." It is a six hour mini-series first shown at Easter in 1977. If you would like to remind yourself why we're celebrating Christmas you will not be disappointed in watching this beautiful depiction of the life of Jesus. Sometimes I just watch the Christmas or the Easter portions. Above is the scene when Mary visits Elizabeth to tell her that she is with child also. Luke 1: 41 says, "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby (John the Baptist) leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit." It is said that John recognized the divinity of Jesus in the womb with his spirit-filled leap. Cool.
This series has an all-star cast - Lawrence Olivier, Christopher Plummer, James Earl Jones, Anne Bancroft, Ernest Borgnine, Olivia Hussey - among others. To me, Olivia Hussey portrayed Mary with the utmost innocence and humility. Robert Powell is so amazing as Jesus that I remember spending months afterwards picturing him while praying! Even now I do not find the production or the acting outdated in any way. I know it is just a movie, but it always brings home the reality of Christ's life to me in a wondrous way. If you need a pick-me-up this holiday season I would recommend this movie. Happy, happy holidays.






Sunday, December 7, 2008

Scandalon

This morning in the choir room our director was trying to figure out where we would all sit in the choir loft. He commented on the fact that some of us have our favorite seats and we had dented the cushion to suit ourselves. We all chuckled. Then Pastor Chip came in to pray with us. His prayer included the phrase, "God you dented the world with Christmas." I love the notion that God puts a dent in our comfortable places and makes us just a little uneasy. During Advent we often hear the words of the prophet Isaiah. Handel used Isaiah's words to bring his glorious "Messiah" to life.
Isaiah 8:14 says - He will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.
I am not a theologian, but I think Isaiah is predicting how Jesus will be a scandal when he comes. He will challenge us to a better way of living. He will get people out of their easy chairs and face a new life in Him. Recently I have forced myself to read some of the Old Testament through a daily devotional. Boy, those folks were messed up. How they needed a new way of life and a new attitude.
I have always thought that even if you are not a Christian you can see that Jesus's way is THE way to live: Love, forgive, turn the other cheek, be at peace. Many other religions revere Jesus as a man that showed us how to live on this earth together. That's what Advent is about. We await the newness and the better way that we all need so desperately. As Christians we believe Jesus is the way.
Michael Card is a Christian composer and recording artist that almost exclusively uses scripture for his songs. He has a song called "Scandalon" that I have always loved the words to:
He will be the truth that will defend them one and all
A stone that makes men stumble and a rock that makes them fall
Many will be broken so that he can make them whole
Many will be crushed and lose their own soul.
It seems today the scandalon offends no one at all
The image we present could be stepped over
Could it be that we are like the others long ago?
Will we ever learn that all who come must stumble?
This Advent let Jesus put a dent in your world. Stumble into Christmas. Believe.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

To Have Love

In the midst of your hands on me
peace arrives

the music stops and a nothingness
fills the void, a quietude

your whisperings
my clutching

where am I?
when did you come

to bring all thesse
senses to life

and all this gratitude
coagulates in my brain

for what we have in this moment
and then a sudden sadness

for someone who does not have
what we have

does not know
what we know

has never been loved
as we have loved.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Another Child's Poem

Winter is so fun and cold
While I watch the ground
sparkle, it is so pretty
While I watch the snow
fall from the sky.

By Kayla Rosell
fifth grade student

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Child's Poem

I am an Intervention Specialist for fifth and sixth graders. I used to be called a special education teacher, but that's not PC -so now I have a title that basically means I help the special education students in the general classroom as well as bring them to my room for small group instruction. Anyway - the belief is that if students are "exposed" to the general curriculum and are with typical same-age peers that they will learn better. That is not always the case, but sometimes I see the benefits of "Inclusion". The other day the fifth grade teacher was teaching the students about free verse poetry after previously attempting rhymed verse. The classroom that I work in is the only one in the building to have a SmartBoard, which is an interactive whiteboard hooked up to a computer that can display the Internet or be used as a chalkboard with memory. I brought up this blog (which usually is blocked in the public schools, but somehow works with the SmartBoard) to show the students some of my free verse. They didn't seem all that impressed, but one of my students, Courtney Gipson-Payton wrote this lovely poem. I think he understood the lesson:
As I fill the life
As I fill the air
As the season goes by the month
I still am a part of life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Haiku for a Wednesday

Brought to each new day
fellowship in mere living
survival of love

In my creation
a solitary journey
to heights unknown

The sun of my soul
fell into total eclipse
the day I left God

Monday, December 1, 2008

What Fades Away

Today I'm pondering something seemingly unimportant, but I write about it to ask the bigger question - how does our culture slowly change? Most of us can identify each decade in the twentieth century by clothing, music, government, and national or world events. (I'm not sure about this decade and I'm not even sure what we're calling it yet.) Here's a question to my female readers: Did you play "dress-up" as a child? Did you have a box full of cast-offs from older sisters, cousins and your mom? High heels to toddle around the house in? Then as a teenager - what was the most exciting part of dances and proms? The dress, right? (Hopefully it wasn't the paramount focus of your wedding though.)
In my young adulthood I attended many employee Christmas parties, some class reunions, weddings, anniversary parties and my annual union banquet. At all of these events everyone dressed formally - suits and ties, dresses (sometimes long) and your best jewelry. In the last ten years I have watched it all disappear. Company Christmas parties have either been discontinued or relegated to appetizers in someone's family room. My neighborhood Christmas party lessened in its formality until it was in a bar in January and this year ended altogether. Class reunions that used to be dinner-dances are now picnics or golf outings. (My daughter just attended a class reunion. She wore a flirty Betsey Johnson dress and said all the other girls had jeans on. )
I used to buy something special every year for my union banquet, but over the past ten years people have come in increasingly casual outfits. I think it's kind of sad. I'm witnessing a cultural tradition disappear in my lifetime. It's not that pricy clothes are so important - it's feeling that the event is special, that it's something to look forward to, that it's not just another occassion to wear jeans.
When I started teaching I dressed like a, well, a teacher! Skirts and blouses, nice shoes. I remember wearing suits when I would be meeting parents for any reason. Now teachers wear jeans, tennis shoes, sweat suits, shorts, anything goes. Another example is from the times I have attended Broadway plays in New York City. I thought the theater was a place to get all gussied up. But tourists are at the shows in their shorts and tee-shirts after schlepping around the city all day.
I don't think I'll try to rebel against this trend very much. I like to wear something besides jeans on holidays or when I'm entertaining, but I don't care what anyone else wears. I wonder who sent out the memo telling us that we don't dress-up for anything anymore? When did that happen? And if I do dress up am I just going to look like an old person from another era because of it? Kind of like my grandma who wore dresses and nylons to clean house?And most importantly where will little girls get the their dress-up clothes from now?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Book Review and a Movie Review




I thought I'd share two things worth checking out. If you don't mind reading long books you'll love "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski. It is 562 pages of gorgeous writing and an unusually beautiful story of a boy and dogs - but it much more than that. It is reminiscent of a Shakespeare tragedy. Set in 1950's Wisconsin, the Sawtelles raise a fictional breed of dogs. Edgar is mute but not deaf. The reason for his inability to talk is never answered. When Edgar's father dies suddenly and his uncle Claude insinuates himself into his life and that of his mother, Edgar, in his grief, makes some mistakes that change everyone's lives. Wroblewski took ten years to write this masterpiece and it was worth it. (And it's his first book!) The language, the story, a tiny bit of magical realism, and the setting will all entrance you.
I'm not a big movie watcher. The movies we rent on Netflix now are mostly so forgettable. Recently I've enjoyed having the Turner Movie Classic channel and especially watching some old Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movies. So I cannot remember how long it's been since I saw a newer movie I would actually recommend. This one is a couple years old, so many of you have probably already discovered it, but if not - see "Pan's Labyrinth." It is called an adult fairy tale. The setting is World War II Spain. (It is subtitled - but that won't scare readers away, now will it?) The movie brilliantly combines the realistic horrors of war with a child's fanatasies. The special effects are wonderful and the story is compelling. The little girl, Ofelia, is amazing in a way only child actors can be. There are fairies and a faun that somehow seem completely believable in the horrible life of this young girl. The ending is tragic and satisfying all at once. I won't give any more away.

If you have books or movies to recommend I'd love to read about them.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Winter Again


Flying creatures, unfrozen
clutter and dance at the feeders.
Deer huddle in snowhills
only head and ears silhouetted
against stark ice-blue.
Picnic tables smothered against white
and a scarlet bit
of cardinal on a barren twig.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving

Earth is turning and a massive star burns.
The unfailing harvest from the soil arrives
in its true season and every living day
succumbs to the dark and restive night.

Hearts are beating and lungs expanding,
the brain exerts its power of language and love,
blood strains relentlessly for its destination
as our living bodies continue on.

We do nothing in all the days of our lives
to keep these laws in motion
or call them forth to complete their roles.
Nothing we do allows our eyes to open each morning.

And so for all that we cannot do on our own,
for the gift of free will and lives of unending choices,
for this food and the love we learn through time on Earth
we thank you God for your blessings.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Three Haiku Poems

Snowflakes like fairies
from a fissure in heaven
a fun flotilla

A daughter will fly
each generation is more
she is more than me

A son makes you smile
because now he is a man
his voice brings new joy

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Musings

I haven't been a very good blogger this week. I've been sick, report cards and conferences are coming up, as well as 20+ people coming to my house for Thanksgiving - so things are not looking good for this week either! But don't give up on me yet.
Here are some random photos to ponder:
This is my forlorn little Ferri fairy that my daughter got me. (Her wings broke off) She sits in my flower box. Today we have about 5-6 inches of snow so it's already hard to remember when we had flowers.

Wine update - still waiting....


Is this cute, or what? I feel like Woodstock visited my deck.

This is what happens when you leave your ferns out until it snows. They turn a reddish-purple color.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Daily Dilemma


Our neighborhood has one lake and eight ponds - and dozens of geese! Where did they all come from (Canada? If so why won't they go back?) I truly love birds but all they do is honk and eat and poop and reproduce. Our little lake beach was almost unusable this summer due to their waste products and the lake filled with ecoli as well. We've tried all the legal things and are moving towards desperation. This photo is typical but there is a group of 30+ here all the time. The place that a gosling hatches is the place it will always return, so sadly, the eggs are shaken and unhatched in the spring - but that hasn't stopped them from coming from neighboring ponds. It's too bad there's not room for all of us.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

All My Dogs

I read this "meme" on a couple other blogs. (Someone still has to explain to me what exactly a "meme" is and how it is pronounced.) Here's what you do:

1. Grab the book nearest you right now.
2. Turn to page 56.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post that sentence with these instructions on your blog. (If you don't have a blog just try it anyway - it's fun)
5. Don't look for your favorite book, coolest book, or most intellectual book - just the closest one.

I love the sentence I came upon. If you're reading the most acclaimed books right now you might know where it came from.

"She was holding a pup in the air in front of her, examining it and singing under her breath how she was crazy for tryin', crazy for cryin', crazy for loving it."

Isn't that a beauty of a sentence? It made me think about the dogs in my life and how I never saw one of them as a puppy. There have been four dogs. Two were family pets and the last two were completely bonded to me and I to them.

The first dog came along some time in my teenage years. It was one of the funniest looking dogs you've ever seen. She had the body and face of a beagle-shepard mix and the legs of a dashhound. She had a big bark and her name was Tiger (Lily) . She was passed down the street and we were the last house on the street and after a lot of C'mon, Moms she stayed with us.

The next dog was a German Shepard named Guy. A friend had lovingly trained this wonderful dog and couldn't keep him anymore - so at age two he came to my family when my children were very young. Sadly, he left us only six years later because of the heart-breaking (and human) disease, myesthenia gravis.

I missed having a dog and so within about three months I got a call from my mom saying a neighbor found a cute stray dog. We all went to see her and immediately fell in love with Quinci. She was probably about six months old by then though. Quinci stayed with me through the worst days of the life and let me cry into her abundant blond hair on many lonely nights. Then she let me know when she couldn't go on and I teafully had to have her put to sleep. I will never forget watching the life go out of her eyes.

I think about a year went by and again I missed having a buddy on my walks. I visited several shelters and chose a cute little mixed breed named Stella. Stella came with separation/anxiety disorder, but she's okay now. She was a year old when I brought her home.

So that is why I've had dogs but never a puppy. That's a lot of information to give you from just a sentence in a book.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Canary

This poem will be published in Plainsongs in January.

I imagine her face flushed
with windburn on the trek
from the apartment building -
its dull ochre bricks spitting
her out onto the sidewalk -
to the hole where people move
downward through timeless grime
and black puddles, like a whale
sucking fish through its baleen.
Forced into a silver bullet,
under water and cement,
the weight of the world above.
Earbuds, paperback, downcast
eyes poised for solitude,
her body toggling with the erratic tracks.

A canary in a coal mine;
Flying out of the pit, wings
of yellow hair and striped knit
scarves lifting, buoyant in the
whoosh and clash of hot and cold.
The miasma and matter
stinging her eyes and tongue.
The burden of bags pulling
at slender shoulders, her heart
heavier than what she carries.
Platform boots sprinting over
clotted paths - so far from my
peace and quiet - on into her life.
Her smile piercing each new arrival
like a baseball crashing through a window.

Friday, November 14, 2008

S'more Haiku


scrape of metal rakes
copious piles of red leaves
jump in and smell them

smell of burning wood
smolders into a new day
permeates the air

amidst the purple
clouds like spilled ink in the sky
then peach-pink of dawn

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Irritating Phrases

A fellow blogger at Working With Words recently linked to an Oxford University study about the Top 10 Most Irritating Phrases. Here's the list and then I'm going to list some of my own. What are yours? What are those words or phrases that you get so sick of hearing or being used incorrectly.

1. at the end of the day
2. fairly unique
3. I personally
4. at this moment in time
5. with all due respect
6. absolutely
7. it's a nightmare
8. shouldn't of
9. 24/7
10. It's not rocket science

These are mine:
1. YOU GUYS (How I hate this term! I always tell my husband that if the server at a restaurant calls me a "guy" I'm reducing their tip.)
2. I could care less (if you COULD care less that means you actually care.)
3. awesome ( very few things are awesome - maybe God, that's about it for me)
4. supposably ( I don't know how many adults I've heard say this - it's supposedly)
5. absolutely (I agree with this one - why is everything suddenly absolute?)

There are probably more I'm forgetting, but here are some new words or phrases in education that are used to sound progressive , but they are just new terms for old ideas.

1. short cycle assessments (aka - SCA)- this is what we call quizzes now.
2. summative assessments - this was formerly a test.
3. professional learning community (PLC) This is what we call a meeting now.
4. roll out - instead of introducing something, now we "roll it out"
5. front loading - this used to be called pre-teaching.
6. schema - instead of asking children how they learn the best, we tell them to discover their individual "schema".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Power in Us All

A couple weeks ago a parent came into my room and spoke to me in a very disrespectful and insulting tone of voice. She was angry and would not let me speak. I spend every school day helping her daughter, yet I was being spoken to as the enemy. It was very upsetting, of course, even though this woman is known to have done this many times to other teachers. The following week we met as a team with her. There were five professionals, all people who knew and had worked with her daughter. She continued her onslaught of disrespectful tone and language. It left all of us red-faced and flustered, and probably ruined the day for most of us.
There is a quote by the renown child psychologist, Haim Ginott that I always keep on my bulletin board at work. As you read it replace "child" and "teacher" with person, and "in the classroom" with anywhere I go, and think about the fact that we all have the power to lift up or destroy someone's day.
"I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable of joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Haiku for a Monday


These are my first attempts at haiku. If you remember from Junior High English class the first line is 5 syllables the second is 7 and the last is 5.


our nation now stands
on a fragile house of cards
please come and save us

a small wooden cross
by the roadside reminds me
to buckle up now

bird arrows, hawk's wings
slashing contrails intersect
the pure and blue sky

eyelids flap open
songs waken me in the night
music in my dreams

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Grandmother's Gift - Part 3

I recently wrote about receiving my grandmother's manuscripts. I just finished reading one of her novels entitled The Humble Ones. It turns out that the reading of this book couldn't have been more timely. The setting is a small Pennsylvania town, probably in the early 1940's. A major part of the plot concerns a young girl who befriends the town's only black family. She desperately wants them to join her church and is met with racial prejudice and bigotry that shocks and upsets her. My grandmother did a wonderful job of portraying a variety of townspeople and their reactions to meeting black people for the first time in their lives. The story continues to contrast the innocence of an unknowing child to the realities of our society before the civil rights movement. As the girl grows into a young woman she continues to befriend this family and advocate for their rights. Some of what my grandmother wrote would be considered politically incorrect now, but her true desire for social justice shines through the entire book.
Here is a brief excerpt that I found particularly interesting:
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if in some time in the future we hear of a great negro leader, or statesman, or even a president, you and I could say we predicted it. Both girls laughed and Laurie added, "And we would be proud too, and remember that we had been his friend."
My grandmother has not been around to witness all the changes in America in the past two decades - but this week I think she would be amazed - I'm sure she would be proud.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Coexist XIII- The UNITED States of America


This morning anABC reporter recounted a moment last night on Times Square. He was standing next to two African American women and saw their legs buckle under them as they gazed upward. He looked up to see on a huge monitor with all the US presidents - and Barack Obama. The reporter said to them , "Twelve of those men owned slaves." And one woman responded, "That stain is now washed clean." Wow. That touched me deeply. I hope it's true. I hope we are entering an era when Americans truly begin to understand the beauty and unique value of our diversity.

I watched Obama's inspiring acceptance speech with fifth graders today and I was emotional. Maybe because I spend my days with mostly black, mostly underprivileged children. These children are typically surrounded with white teachers and administrators for all of their school years. We are always telling them they can succeed at anything they choose. But I've often wondered if any of them believe us. Maybe now they will.

Maybe their parents didn't believe that they could be Dr. Cliff Huxtable or lawyer Claire Huxtable because that was just a TV show. Now a man brought up by a single mother and grandparents, not rich, not privileged, has achieved the ultimate dream right before their eyes.

I hope that Obama feels the collective weight of our hope. I pray God protects and guides him. And no matter who you voted for - let's go back to being the UNITED States of America now. Let's experience together the audacity of hope.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Day 2008


At first I thought the early morning exhilaration was from the knowledge that it's finally over!!! But then I realized that the joy I felt in voting this morning was more than that. It was a feeling of hope. It was hope in my future and the security of retirement someday. It was hope in my children's future. It was the hope of real change in this country. It was hope in educational reform that will touch the children I work with everyday.

Some people get upset with the idea of someone not voting as they are. I do not. I know that everyone has valid reasons for choosing their candidate. We all vote our conscience. And after all the name-calling, ridiculous emails and misleading advertisements - we all vote for the person that strikes us as the most capable, reasonable and with the most integrity. I believe that Barack Obama and John McCain are both decent, intelligent, capable men who love their country.
I think we've all felt the stirring of something new in the air, something uplifting after years of war and the downward spiral of our economy. I don't remember feeling this way on other voting days. I sensed the privilege of what I did this morning more than I ever have. I believe the best man will win today.
God Bless America.

Monday, November 3, 2008

You Can Vote However You Like

There are still beautiful things happening in America.

Click HERE

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Childhood in Iraq

I don't usually do this but I'm going to use a newspaper article as the basis for my post today. It touched me and I wanted to share it. I will paraphrase from the Los Angeles Times article by Jeffrey Fleishman and Raheem Salman.
They describe two brothers Karrar 12, and Allawi, 10. The school year has started but these boys have never been to school because they must work to support their parents and eight children in the family. Their father is ill and has no job. Karrar says,
" I'd like to go to school. I've never been to one. Not a single day. My friends tell me school is very beautiful."
A man named Ali Rashed owns a muffler shop and gave the boys a job after seeing them collecting tin cans.
He says, "It is better for the boys here than in the streets where they face bombs and explosives. I don't think they will have a good future. They are not educated and their family can't help them. They sometimes don't have anything to eat. How can you have a future if you have nothing to eat?
These boys and hundreds of others have been "shaped by war, honed by poverty. They are witness to sectarian violence, Shiite militias, angry sermons echoing through mosques.....These children might not know grammar and punctuation, but they know what to do when the bullets come, how to take cover, to hide from the kidnappers, the militants and the soldiers."
A United Nations report found that 94 percent of boys in Iraq attend elementary school, but that drops to 44 % by high school. For girls, 81% start elementary school; 31% go on to high school.
Karrar says, "I would love to join the National Guard. When I see them , I love them. They are brave, and I love how they stand with their guns."
Children passed beyond the garage; a few had book bags and new clothes, or at least well-scrubbed clothes. Karrar's father, Abdul Bidan, who has stopped in to say hi to his sons, whispered, "He gets jealous when he sees kids with book bags."
Imagine.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

One of my favorite Halloween memories is the year my girlfriend Patty and I went out as the Laugh-In characters Gladys Orphmsby and Tyrone. Whenever someone would answer the door I would start hitting Patty with my purse and calling her a dirty old man and we'd laugh hysterically every time. Upon leaving we'd say Merry Christmas and we thought that was really funny as well. I wish I had a photograph of Patty and I , but this photo of Ruth Buzzi will have to do......And I just love pumpkins.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Snow and Fall




There is something poignant and bittersweet to me when snow falls on the autumn leaves - like Mother Nature can get as confused as we humans do sometimes. Since I am in the midst of a little confusion of my own right now - this is strangely comforting to me.



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Damage

Children are not resilient
as those who hurt them like to say.
They are not buoyant in a sea of insecurity,
and do not forget what they see and hear -
or what they never see and hear.
Like a camouflaged white winter rabbit
children know how to be quiet and survive.

Humiliating words, indifferent glances,
missing hugs, a blow to a helpless body
breaks something inside. It heals in a crooked way,
leaving damage that burrows into a wordless place.
One day the unspoken will speak:
talking back to authority, arguing with a teacher.

He will whisper your mama to someone,
ask a little girl to have sex.
She will throw food in the cafeteria,
leave homework on the kitchen table,
start a fight on the playground.

He will choose to do nothing with his worthless life.
She will have babies for the unconditional love.
The wordless pain might resurface and run away,
buy a gun, rob a store and kill someone -
someone in the way of that quiet damage.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Traveling Mercies

I am hosting the neighborhood book club tomorrow night (Monday). I chose the book Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I have to admit I am a little nervous about how the book will be received. Lamott has been described as a "dreadlock wearing, politically liberal, born-again Christian who uses biting humor - and sometimes foul language - when she describes her deeply held personal faith." She's a recovered alcoholic and bulimic who has raised her son alone. I love her writing, her wit, and her candor. Some of her sentences make me laugh out loud and some bring me to tears. I love that she is a Christian who freely admits how hard it is to keep the faith, to trust, to be good, to keep getting up every morning and trying again. I love that in Traveling Mercies she has a whole chapter on her weird hair, and how, even though she is a white woman she finally found her true beauty and freedom in dreadlocks. (I can SO relate to that chapter.) She calls her plump thighs "the aunties" and has a chapter about body issues and being on a beach vacation with tiny teens, and that even though they're perfect now, we all know that they have the same self-consciousness we all do.
I wanted to tell them the good news - that at some point you give up on ever looking much better than you do. Somehow, you get a little older, a little fatter, and you end up going a little easier on yourself. Or a lot easier. And I no longer felt ugly, maybe just a little ridiculous. I held my head a bit higher: I touched the aunties gently, to let them know I was there, and that made me feel less afraid. Ugliness is creeping around in fear, I remembered. Yet, here I was, almost naked, and - to use the medical term - flabbier than shit, but deeply loyal to myself.
I forced myself not to check out their butts.
Maybe all the book club ladies will relate to some of that, but it's all the Christianity I'm nervous about. But, you never know, maybe it will speak to someone - quietly - unexpectedly. I hope so.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October Sunrise




I've been going through a period that I can only (and profoundly) call the "Blahs". I dont know if it's the aforementioned underlying stress of the economy, politics, etc. I can't put my finger on it. I felt like I slogged through the week - went through the motions with little joy or motivation. Yesterday was going to be a busy day and I tried to face it one step at a time and not get anxious about anything because I knew it wasn't worth it. I had to leave early to get bagels for work. This is a responsibility I take seriously because I know how much the teachers look forward to Friday morning breakfast. One time I got a speeding ticket less than a mile from work because I was in such a rush.

ANYWAY! This is what I saw when I left early yesterday. An answer to my prayers in a way I never would have imagined. I can't see the sunrise from my house - only in leaving early on a bagel quest. I had to take these photos from the moving car - but wow.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other, nothing is hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:5-6


Thursday, October 23, 2008

By the Lake

I sit before the beauty
to comprehend
how small I am
how small my concerns are
to learn how much
I need to surrender
to swallow the wallowing discontent
to acknowledge the only things
I truly believe in
to live the day in a new way
by the renewing of my mind
to feel, if only for this moment
worthy of love, empowered to forgive
to review my skewed vision
to re-angle the lens
and hear the music again

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fragile as Glass

This is a glass plate my daughter gave me (hmmm - did it remind her of me?) Today it illustrates how I feel. I don't think it's just the craziness of my work schedule. I think that we absorb stress without being conscious of it. Stressors are all around us. Even if you initiated a moratorium on all media and didn't hear about the economy and your shriveling 401K, or the innocent young men and women dying in Iraq, or the Presidential candidates calling each other names like 9 year olds - the vibrations of dis-ease are still all around us. There are political signs and billboards, there are conversations in the work hallways, there are YouTube videos being mailed to you - it's hard to get away from! I feel an inner tension and weakening patience. I have decided to start saying a daily prayer that I treasured long ago. It helps.

Create in me a pure heart, O God
and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me from Your presence
or take Your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Psalm 51:10-12

AMEN.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time


Now time goes away like sugar
dissolved but still sweet, wafting
through the smell of burning leaves,
root beer floats, plastic dolls.

Hear the soft scrape of a snow shovel
or a rake, our songs in the back seat of a car,
my mother's voice at the piano,
the baby crying in a wooden-slatted crib.

Clusters of bicycles looped in tissue paper
decorate a neighborhood,
little legs pumping months after the snowman
in daddy's hat melted in the front yard.

Toads in shoe boxes, fireflies in jars,
water in a plastic pool soaking up the sun's warmth.
Children waiting through an unending,
capricious summer day.

Feel the quietude of a Sunday morning,
sense the sparseness of each new day.
Nothing happened today, but yesterday the milkman
and the crazy-haired egg lady delivered their goods.

Lying in a pile of leaves, dreaming
in the daylight, finding faces in the clouds,
waiting for something - but not knowing
the intermezzo would ever end.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke


Why am I reaching again for the brushes?
When I paint your portrait, God,
nothing happens.
But I can choose to feel you.

At my senses' horizon
you appear hesitantly,
like scattered islands.

Yet standing here, peering out,
I'm all the time seen by you.

The choruses of angels use up all of heaven.
There's no more room for you
in all that glory. You're living
in your very last house.

All creation holds its breath
listening within me,
because, to hear you
I keep silent.
from the Book of Hours

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The UnDebate on Education

With all the other #!$#@# going on in America now, education only rated as the last question in the last debate. I was disappointed with what I heard too.
I 'm going to preface my thoughts by telling you that I have worked in four school systems and eight school buildings over the past 30 years. Suppose that each elementary school building has an average staff of 30 teachers and other professionals. That means I have worked with more than 240 other teachers (many have come and gone over that time too). So I think I have a decent perspective on teachers in Middle America. I'm a special education teacher, so I have had to work collaboratively with many teachers as well as spend time in their classrooms.
They say America's schools are failing and are not equitable. The politicians don't really know what's going on so they came up with charter schools and school vouchers. It's hard to understand how giving a small percentage of families money to go to another school is the answer to equal education and improving education in America. If you can explain that to me, please do. Here's a keen idea - how about giving the schools we already have some more money and resources and make that available to all schools, not just a chosen few? Or how about helping schools instead of punishing them as parts of No Child Left Behind does? I'm against school vouchers because they won't solve the problem.
Each of the candidates brought up paying teachers more, but you know what? I've never heard a teacher complain about salary. Never. If you ask any teacher what they would like, most of them will say smaller classes. Why? So they can pay more attention to each child and assure learning for all of their students.
Both of the candidates used the word "competition" as something schools need more of. This is disturbing to me. The word competition connotes that there are winners and losers. Shouldn't all the schools in America be winners? My assumption is that "competition" is supposed to make for better, more hard-working teachers. Here's where my 240 teachers come in - I will tell you honestly that I have never worked with a teacher that I would not describe as dedicated and hard-working. There have been teachers whose teaching styles I didn't particularly like, or even teachers who did not treat children exactly the way I would - but I would not say that they were not trying as hard as they could to teach their students.
What teachers DO want is time to do their job without weeks of punishing test preparation, technology that is updated and actually works, smaller classes and parental involvement.
I applaud Obama for having the guts to bring up the responsibility of parents at the debate. I also agreed with his statement that early childhood education is crucial to doing well in school and for the social skills that so many children come to school lacking.
The candidates mentioned keeping good teachers and McCain said if they weren't "we" would find them another job. Really? Most states have a mandated mentoring program now that is meant to ease entry-year teachers into the profession and give them the support they need so they will stay in the teaching profession. This is to prevent teachers leaving within the first five years as the trend has been for quite a while. But teachers don't leave because of pay or because they don't like teaching - they leave because of the pressure to do so much with so little.
Last on my list of rants is that McCain pulled out the "special needs"card - but he was in error. He said that no one knows more about autism than Sarah Palin - but Sarah Palin does not have an autistic child. She has a child with Down's Syndrome - not even close. Secondly, she has not even begun to raise that child yet - he is only a few months old. I knew a family with a Down's Syndrome child and I remember one story of how the whole family and all of the child's teachers took two years - not weeks or months - to teach him the alphabet. Every night - for two years. He's in his late thirties now and continues to live with his parents. Those people know about raising a special needs child.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty

I did not know that bloggers were writing about poverty today until I got home from work and started reading some other blogs. It's funny though because I was thinking of writing about something that I think is in direct correlation to the poverty that is all around us right here in the United States. I have been disturbed for a couple weeks by seemingly insignificant moments with my fifth and sixth grade students. Here is a sample:
Two students arguing about whose family is more "ghetto" and who has more relatives in jail. (They both wanted to have the most).
While discussing the consequences of failing grades in school, one student, obviously imitating an adult, said - "they'll just say - I don't care about F's! I don't care about school - school don't tell my child what to do!"
When I asked students to think about words that describe their neighborhood their first words were -blood and thugs and people screaming.
During a geography lesson I asked a student what people in the Midwest do for a living and he answered - gamble.
I have tried for five weeks to get sixth grade boys to write in a journal. One boy had not written one word until the other day when an eighth grade girl came in to tutor. Now I understand they are sixth grade boys and I understand that the girl was extremely distracting to them, but what they wrote in their journals was filled with obscenities and vulgarities. Blantant sexual scenes - and strangely they knew how to spell the key words correctly even when they can't seem to spell anything else correctly.
Those are just a few results of the poverty of money, parenting, attention and education that I deal with everyday. It's disturbing. A few years ago I went to a seminar on the values of poverty versus the values of the middle class. Middle class America teaches their children to value education, security and achievement. The values of poverty include relationships, entertainment and survival. We were told that in a poor neighborhood the family that has the most children is considered the "richest". They can't necessarily have more money - but they can have more children. Food for thought.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October Again

It is difficult for me to write or think about anything but October in October. The month of October is, of course, visually spectacular and it is also filled with wonderful childhood memories for me - the smell of burning leaves, the homemade scarecrows (of Dad's old clothes stuffed with leaves), big fat orange pumpkins on every doorstep, and the excitement of Halloween. But October is significant to me in a much more bittersweet way. October is the month that I changed forever. It was many, many years ago and nothing is more shocking to me than realizing how long ago it was because there is still a physical flinching in my body when I think of that time.
It was a wonderful and horrible time all at once. It was the fear of the unknown and the rush of something new all stirred into one pot in a secret chamber in my heart. It was a time that I gained knowledge that I could never unknow, when my spirit came alive and was terrorized all at once. Even with all the words and phrases that I know and seek out I cannot name the feeling of that October. Every year I think of the people that I believe God sent into my life then to rescue me from myself. Sadly, they are no longer in my life but I will always be grateful to them.
Back then I was angry at God, and I shouted questions to Him nightly. I had a lifelong faith, and that was the only thing that did not change that October. I can now concede that I will never understand why it all had to happen, but it was the quintessential God hitting me over the head with a two-by-four since all of His subtle whisperings had been lost on me.
Everything I thought I knew about myself was false, but everything I knew about God was still true.
I want to say I walked through the fire and didn't get burned, but that would be a lie. I was badly burned - but also, in time, incredibly healed. I wanted that October and the following months to be my one trauma, my one breakdown, my one time of questioning my God - but there have been other times since then - more heartache, more fear. Even if more is to come I know that God is unchanging. His grace is sufficient.
I spent years after that apologizing, explaining, doing penance, and then one year I wrote on the front of my journal - no more apologies. This is the path God sent me on - the good and the bad, the right and the wrong.
The path is life itself.
I cannot change that October , nor would I want to, because, as horrific as some of the memories are - so is the beauty of salvation, the tender comfort, healing and hope that only comes from God.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Emerald Necklace




Cleveland is blessed with an incredible park system - the Cleveland Metroparks. Its nickname is the Emerald Necklace because it encircles the city of Cleveland. The park system has sixteen reservations consisting of over 21,000 acres of park land. You can reach beauty and nature in minutes from the city itself or from any suburb. I took these photos yesterday on a walk.



Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Perfect October Day in Ohio



I looked up to see
the colors of life in my heaven,
the benediction of the waving leaves,
their gasp of flashy beauty
and reflection in the cooling waters.
I felt the rhythm of Earth,
constant and unchanging as
a breathing body or a turning season,
immutable as God's love.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

All Dogs Go to Heaven


This is from an email I received. It would be funnier if you could see the actual signs, but these statements alternated on outdoor signs for two churches. The first is a Catholic (C) church and the church responding is a Presbyterian (P)church . It made me LOL. This is my little buddy Stella. One can only hope I guess.What do you think?


C- All dogs go to heaven.

P- Only humans go to heaven - read the Bible.

C- God loves all His creations dogs included.

P- Dogs do not have souls. This is not open for debate.

C- Catholic dogs go to heaven. Presbyterian dogs can talk to their pastors.

P- Converting to Catholicism does not magically grant your dog a soul.

C- Free dog souls with conversion.

P- Dogs are animals. There aren't any rocks in heaven either.

C- All rocks go to heaven.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Umoja

(I don't know about you but I feel completely fed up with this country's politics and problems right now. We are so self-involved and so dependent on so many things to live the way we live. I wrote this poem several years ago after reading a newpaper article about Umoja. Today it reminds me that there is a world of people out there making their own way, struggling with issues and injustices we've never dreamed of.)


Sitting cross-legged on a sisal mat,
thatched roof and the equator sun above,
Rebecca holds the 13 year-old girl's hand
You don't have to marry that old man
even if he is my brother.
Rebecca goes house to house
You don't have to have sex with a man
that beats you, exposes you to HIV,
a husband with other wives.

Shamed by rape and then abandoned
Rebecca's women grow a circle of mud
and dung huts in parched and barren grassland
and call it Umoja, in Swahili, unity.

A sanctuary for Sarah's little girl body
from bearing a child that would have shredded
her insides, causing her to leak, to smell,
to be shunned into a beggar's existence.

No men live in Umoja,
a haven for Mary from circumcision,
mutilated genitals that would have forever
brought pain and denied pleasure.

In Umoja children go to school for the first time,
women work in the cultural center
inviting tourists into the beauty of Kenya,
selling red and white Samburu beaded necklaces.

Rebecca ignores spiteful men setting up
their own village, spying, failing to imitate
Umoja's success but hiring the men to haul firewood
as women change the rhythm, the power of a village.

Rebecca throws back her brown cloud of hair,
laughs at stone throwing and death threats
as she boards a plane to a world conference on
gender impowerment an ocean away.
If you remain silent
no one thinks you have anything to say.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We've Come a Long Way, Baby!


Somehow I am positive that no one that reads this blog is not registered to vote by today, but here is a little further inspiration:

It was only 88 years ago women were granted the right to vote. Before then women were jailed for picketing the White House and carrying signs asking for the vote. In 1917 forty prison guards went on a rampage against 33 women wrongly convicted of "obstructing sidewalk traffic." They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her our cold. Her cellmate Alice Cosu thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack! Alice Paul went on a hunger strike but was held down and force fed with a tube. For weeks the women's only water came from an open pail and their food infested with worms. A doctor said "Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity."

This was less than 100 years ago - some of our grandmothers were alive then - talk about injustice! (see yesterday's post)Thank you our suffragette sisters!

Monday, October 6, 2008

COEXIST XII - Small Injustices

I need to learn to COEXIST with small injustices. I have always had a sense of righteous indignation when it comes to children and that is why I became a special education teacher. Other than that, as a child and young adult I was a tolerant, go-with-the-flow kind of person. In my mid-thirties, no longer having any choice, I learned to feel anger, rage and disappointment. Ever since then I've had much more difficulty handling anything I find unfair or unjust. I struggle with it and pray about it and think about Jesus famously overturning the money changer tables in righteous indignation. Does that mean we can do that too?
At work my frustrations are in advocacy for my students, yet time after time I have been slapped down for those legitimate concerns, so I go to work telling myself to keep my big trap shut. When my former church planned to move to another community I became the unwitting spokesperson in the fight against it, but ultimately put in my place when they moved anyway. I've been an incessant letter writer and have sometimes regretted my words (or the fact that they were in writing!) My poor husband has received more than his fair share, but fewer and fewer as the years go by, so I've made a little progress.
This leads to the weird thing that happened today: In our city there has been a controversial plan to build a lifestyle center/shopping center. Its entrance would be near my neighborhood, so petitions were started and outrage expressed at council meetings. I wasn't entirely against it. Last week signs against the issue were placed at both entrances to my development as well as on over a dozen front yards. Our association has deed restrictions that are fairly rigid and everyone likes it that way because they enhance the appearance of the neighborhood. Well, one of them is NO SIGNS!. So I got my panties in a twist about how one particular person could overrule the deed restriction and decide that he could speak for all of us. I couldn't stand the thought of looking at all those signs for another month so ---you guessed it ---I wrote a letter. I edited it several times into a more polite and unoffensive one too! It said, as secretary for the association (which I am ) I was reminding them that signs are not allowed. I could have left it at that but noooooo - I had to get my two cents in saying that signs at the entrances purport to speak for all of us and each voter has the right to their own opinion and vote. I also added something about all the lesser complaints that had been heard at meetings over the years and that if we make exceptions now then we can expect to continue that precedent blah, blah, blah.
In the darkness of night I put them in the offenders' mailboxes last night. This morning as I drove to work I wondered if any signs would be taken down by the time I got home. Then - when I got to work I checked email and saw that someone had informed me that the whole project has been canned!!!!! Today! The same day I sent my letter! The day I just had to spout off!
Is God trying to tell me something???
PS - all the signs are still there. :(

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Her Favorite October


Within a yellow glowing
a smoky fire burned
the contents of two hearts and minds
as fluid as the air
rekindled, reunited
from a time of ashy tears

from the sweetness of the chocolate
their lips, their tongues, their kiss
it all tasted good and true
and he said that he loved her
and she said that he was right
and only two best friends
could have created what they did

the day transcended their darkness
the hope sparked into a flame
the lonely days were smothered
in a smoldering autumn burn
their journey will continue down the path
of leaves and grass and snow
and this October is her favorite October
because of them