Placemaking Reimagined Tuesday, Sep 20 2016 

The death of a dream and the future we are walking into are absolutely related.

The quote above, and the other quotes interspersed throughout this blog, come from The Art of Simple podcast, episode 32: Placemaking. This particular podcast came into my queue at the perfect time and spoke just the words I needed to hear. I am a dreamer and planner. I do live in the moment, but always have a project I’m thinking about and planning for in the future. For about the past three years we (read: I, with a supportive husband) have been looking forward to selling our 1970s, Brady Bunch tri-level in a small “suburb” to move 7 miles up the road into a 75+ year old Craftsman home in the university town where I work, where our church community is, and within walking and biking distance of the places we go.

For three years I have followed realtor.com daily, saved houses, watched how the market was going, gone to open houses, and worked on all the little things we needed to do to get our house market-ready. I have painted everything, including our bathtub. Robert has replaced sinks, toilets, and fixtures. I have cleaned, decluttered, packed, and started to depersonalize our house. We have had quite a few roadblocks to getting our house on the market, but this past summer was IT. We finally got the house to the point where we were ready to bring a realtor over to do a market analysis, tell us what else we needed to repair/update/stage, and put a sign in our yard. Part of the reason for the move was also to downsize since we are now empty-nesters and are trying to embrace a more intentionally simple lifestyle. Therefore, we would “make money” on this deal regardless because we were going to buy a house that cost about 1/3 less than what we bought our house for. However, we had put some work into house and we had a magic number for the amount of money we wanted to get back. After her analysis, the realtor came back with a number $5000 less than what we had hoped. There is no rule that says we had to offer the house for the price she suggested. We could have still put it on the market at the price we wanted, but once we negotiated, paid closing costs, realtor fees, etc. it just kind of took the wind out of our sails.

Boom! It was immediate. We had this number in our heads, the realtor didn’t match it, and it was like instantly we knew we weren’t moving. It was a total God-thing. Robert hates moving with a passion. I don’t love the act of moving, but I do love the opportunity to get rid of stuff, settle in a new place, and potentially find our dream home. So after the realtor left our house, we talked, and we agreed not to sell. Robert kept asking me again and again if I was okay. He was saying that we could offer it at our price and see what happened or try to sell it ourselves so we wouldn’t have to worry about the realtor’s cut. It’s so weird, but I felt an immediate peace about not selling. I have been planning on and dreaming about moving for THREE SOLID YEARS and it just stopped. I had been looking at real estate online daily for over 1000 days and I just quit. I still have my “new house” Pinterest board, but I haven’t added anything to it.

craftsman

My “new house” dream board on Pinterest

And now I have created new boards for making our current house even more of a home for us. One of the things I don’t like about our house is that we have so little natural light. We are surrounded by trees, our windows are small, and 1/3 of our house is halfway below ground. I am now re-envisioning light fixtures, paint, and flooring to make the house feel brighter.

light

New Pinterest board for current house

Aside from the lack of natural light and the dated 1970s exterior, we need new flooring throughout, the paint colors that a decorator chose for us are not really colors that I like, and the expensive Italian tile is not what I would have chosen, so now back to square one. We had painted every square inch of this house, inside and out. It’s dawning on me that some colors just aren’t “us” and other colors that I liked at the time, I have grown tired of. I kept my laundry room the same yellow throughout much of the house for continuity and resale, but I want a pink laundry/craft room, by golly! The green with brown accent wall in our formal living room will be re-imagined into light greys and muted blues in our home library with built-in book shelves.

In the podcast referenced above, Christie Purifoy says this

Home for me…is a place that I create. Something that I make.

and this

Learning to be at home in a place is about loving one place–it’s so much like loving a person. We don’t love perfect people.

and then, this

I feel like everything I do…it’s all about placemaking, creating a special place and sharing it with other people…cultivating beauty right where I am.

So, that’s we where are. You’ll find us here in Plover on “Tree of Life” Lane. Yeah, I’ll still have to drive to work and I can’t easily walk or bike to the farmer’s market or the river. However, I have great neighbors and although we live in a subdivision, the back of our lot abuts a school forest to it feels like we live in middle of the woods. It’s dark and quiet and peaceful at night. We planted a church around a table in this dining room.

Our Brady Bunch house will be in a state of ongoing transition for the next 3-5 years. We have plans…big plans which include ripping out carpet, tearing out tile, new bathtubs, landscaping, cutting down trees, building a pergola, replacing windows, and putting in new doors. However, we are thrifty and we are do-it-yourselfers, so it will have to be a slow, process as we have time and money to get things done. In the meantime, being big believers in hospitality, we will continue to invite people into our mess to do life, eat meals, and watch the Packers. You just may have to step over paint cans and deal with some dust.

As I have been going through the loss of the dream of my craftsman home and embracing the idea of redefining my current home through my safe, secure, middle-class lens, I want to give a shout out to friends in Baton Rouge. Many of our friends and former co-workers lost their homes and all their furnishings, as well as their cars, in the flooding. We have followed photos on Facebook and instagram and seen all of their worldly goods heaped along the street for the garbage collectors. We have seen houses stripped to the studs and concrete foundations with cabinets and appliances sitting on the curb. But in the midst of that, these dear friends are getting to (forced to) reconsider their “place,” what home is and what it means, and what it should look like now.

I asked our friend Jessica Black for permission to share a photo that she posted to Instagram a few weeks ago. It moved me to tears and Robert’s comment was, “That is so Jess.” Jess just recently got married on July 10. She was just settling into her new life with her husband when they lost everything in the flood. They had a couple of days before he closed on his old house, so when their house flooded, they temporarily moved into his former place, as newlyweds on an air mattress. Here in the trauma of losing almost everything that they owned, Jess made a home for them on the floor through the simple act of a lamp and beautiful pillows…on an air mattress. This is placemaking at its purest form. This is home.

jess

Quilting (Life) Lessons Wednesday, Aug 31 2016 

I spent my 3 day weekend piecing a quilt from scratch–literally the whole weekend. I worked between 8-12 hours a day on it and then 3-4 hours on Monday and Tuesday evening as well. I haven’t quilted in over a year, so it was good for my soul to work on this project. This quilt was borne out of necessity. I made the quilt on our bed several years ago and due to the daily use, plus abuse (frequent washing since it our cat’s favorite place to puke) has made the fabric start to wear and fray. Our current quilt is blues and browns. While I like those colors together, I am really not a fan of the color brown so I was looking forward to new colors. I love color! Lots of color! I did keep this new quilt more subdued with lighter colors, but there are a lot of them. It is a combination of feminine florals and masculine strips and plaids–a perfect marriage of fabrics.

While spending so much time quilting, which is largely a solitary activity, I listened to a lot of podcasts, played favorite songs from Spotify, but also spent hour upon hour with nothing but the whirring of the machine and my own quiet thoughts. I muttered throughout the stages of quilting–washing and ironing new fabric, meticulously cutting the pieces, sewing squares to strips and strips to bigger squares and rows to rows. And the ironing of seams–so  much ironing! At one point Robert asked if I really liked quilting with my griping about being sick of cutting and sewing. Well, yes, I do like it. It’s just after cutting fabric for about four hours, my hand is tired, my shoulders ache from being hunched over the cutting mat, and I am ready to move onto the next phase. Patience…

So, during the monotony of certain phases and the solitary quiet, I had a lot of time to think about the metaphors of quilting. Here’s what I learned.

 

balance

I had to lay out all of the individual squares on my living room floor and play around with them to get the right balance of florals and stripes, of dark and light fabrics. It took crawling around on my hands and knees to rearrange the individual blocks, then getting up and walking back to take in the big picture, then on the floor again to adjust and rearrange. However, it wasn’t until I started taking photos that I could really get a sense of balance and symmetry. Some times we focus too much on the detail and smaller aspects, that we miss out on the big picture. Or…we need to look at something with fresh eyes and a new perspective to see what is, rather than what we want.

 

rip

This is my seam ripper and many of the threads I had ripped out. Part of creative work is making mistakes, undoing them, and trying again. Some errors were made because I misread the instructions, others were because I was impatient and trying to rush through, and still others were because visual-perceptual skills are not my strength. Sewing right sides of fabric together at angles and visualizing what it will look like when flipped back the opposite way is quite a mental challenge for me and sometimes I get it wrong. It’s quick and easy to make a mistake, but picking apart and tearing out a seam is a time-consuming and tedious process. However, I learn from the mistakes and rarely repeat the same mistake twice in one project. It also helps me to slow down and work smart, rather than spend time rushing the creative journey. I also learned that when I was tired and trying to power through to finish just one more thing that I tended to make more mistakes. Rest is important for the best and most enjoyable work.

 

compare

In the photo above, note the mint/grey plaid squares. The top one is just perfect! The corners of the plaid square align perfectly with the corners of the abutting squares. This is what quilters strive for. It is the mark of excellent attention to detail. I am pleased to say that I have more of these than not (which isn’t always the case). However, lest I get too confident, I have more than a handful of squares like the lower ones in which the circles indicate gaps between the points and the arrows point to where I actually got it right. No one would notice these gaffes from afar and likely only quilters would notice them up close. But I know that there are there and I have to release perfectionism for the greater good. I love the Amish tradition of a “humility block.” According to tradition, Amish quilters intentionally screw up on one block in every quilt as a reminder that no one is perfect apart from God. I (unintentionally) have m0re than a few humility blocks in every quilt I make and I have learned to laugh and embrace the Amish concept. I love the little quirks of my quilts.

 

whole quilt

I love that quilts come about from taking pieces of fabric that don’t match, cutting them up, and reconfiguring them into something new…and that something happens to be beautiful and functional. About half of these fabrics are new fabrics that I bought intentionally for the purpose of this quilt. The other half came from fabric I had bought for other projects that I never got around to or they are leftover scraps from previous projects. I love the blending of old and new, the recycling and repurposing of old fabric, and finding a way to make them all mesh together in harmony. The tedium of cutting and sewing parts into a whole to create something becomes a joy.

 

hot mess

But as pretty as it may look on the outside, the backside of a quilt is a hot mess. The ugly seams, loose threads, and frayed edges on the back of a quilt top also tell a story. You can tell where and how things were joined together, where seams were ripped out and rejoined, and where I had to fudge a little to make things work. The underbelly, which will be hidden when the three layers are quilted together, tell a story and form the structure of the quilt. The outside often hides the layers underneath and we are all so much more complicated than what meets the eye.

 

dog quilt

Quilts are made with literal blood, sweat, and tears. They are labor intensive, result in crying when having to rip out and re-do, and I typically end up pricking my finger (and maybe even sewing my finger into a quilt a time or two) at least once per quilting endeavor. However, the hard work is always worth it, because who doesn’t love the warmth, love, and snuggle factor of a handmade quilt?

There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.

Elizabeth Berg, The Art of Mending

The Trouble with Boobs…and Other Thoughts Friday, Aug 26 2016 

WARNING: Yes, this is a post about breasts. It’s mostly a philosophical, biological musing about my current conflicted thoughts about this one body part, spurred on by a “bad” mammogram and a conversation with a friend in the same situation. I’m not writing to over-share or shock, rather to bring some sense of validation to other women with the same thoughts and issues related to mammograms.

Last week I went for my annual check up with my gynecologist. I really like my doctor. She is a good listener and even though I typically just see her once a year, she remembers little details like what year of school the boys are in, asks about the church, my classes, etc. Last year she stopped in the middle of my exam to write down a couple of books I suggested. This year, we discussed how to make a t-shirt quilt during that awkward moment when she is doing the breast exam, her face is within my visual field, and I am staring at the ceiling wishing I were somewhere else. From there we moved onto the even more unpleasant part of the exam, which ended up with some (surprise!) painful cervical biopsies that ultimately came back negative. Anyway, we finish that nonsense, I jokingly, but sincerely, told her that she managed to outdo herself, making our annual meeting even more unpleasant than usual.

I came back the next day for modern day, medically-sanctioned, insurance-covered torture preventative medicine. In other words, a mammogram. There is nothing quite like the experience of dangling by my breasts from a machine that is exerting many, many pounds per square inch of pressure to mash them into mammary pancakes. I swear that the technician caught a couple of my ribs in the machine too. As I am trying to remember my Lamaze techniques and Bradley breathing to get past the pain, she nonchalantly asks if I’m okay. I want to scream, “Don’t talk! Push the button and release these large plates of torture. Let’s get this over with.” Two films on each side–squished top to bottom and side to side, then I’m on my way out the door with the reminder that I’ll get a letter if all is good and a phone call if not.

…The following day I got a phone call.

 

IMG_1976

The screen I got to watch while the radiologist did the ultrasound

 

There was a suspicious area in my left breast, so I needed to come back in for an ultrasound for sure and possibly a diagnostic mammogram. I was scheduled for the following day, this past Wednesday.

At this point, I should state that this happened to me a few years ago as well. A “bad” screening mammogram led to a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound which were still suspicious. I was then referred to a breast surgeon and at that point I started googling breast cancer and mastectomy information, to be honest. I met with the surgeon, then had a breast MRI and finally it was concluded that I did not have breast cancer. What I did find out is that I have “dense breasts.” This is not something that can be diagnosed by  a physical exam, only mammogram. Women with dense breasts have less breast fat and more glandular/connective tissue and milk ducts. Fat appears grey or black on a mammogram and cancer appears white. Dense breast tissue also appears white, so it is hard to detect cancer among the other dense tissues. That whole previous hullabaloo involved my right breast, so this time my body decided to switch things up.

Honestly, I wasn’t the least bit worried the first time, until I had to meet with the surgeon and even then, I wasn’t losing sleep. I used to be a huge worrier, but (true story) God removed 99% of my worrying from me over a decade ago. (Happy to relay that story, confessions of a recovered worrier, another time). This time I wasn’t worried either. I knew I had dense breasts and that it is hard to determine anything from a mammogram, so I would just wait to be worried when/if there was a reason to be.

 

IMG_1977

Here we go…

 

So two days ago I went for my ultrasound. While I was in the waiting room, in walked my neighbor with her husband. Since she is just a couple of years younger than me I knew she and her husband weren’t there for a pregnancy visit, so it must be not-so-good news. It turned out that she was there for the exact same reason I was and had also gone through multiple tests and biopsies a few years ago. She and I talked in detail about our problematic boobs (and laughed a lot), which is the reason for this post. Basically, the gist of our conversation was that our relationship with our respective boobage could only be defined as “it’s complicated.”

 

Complicated

 

Why are things so complicated? Well, as women in our mid-late 40s, our breasts have largely served their purpose. An evolutionary biologist would say that our breasts, along with waist to hip ratio, signaled to potential mates that we could produce, bear, and nourish offspring. Well, I got me a mate and we managed to produce two sons. I then breastfed each son for a year, so my “girls” fulfilled that biological obligation too. My boobs have done their duty. As far as their roles in procreation and nourishment goes, their job is finished and they are “out to pasture.” As my friend and I discussed, breasts have no biological purpose anymore and due to our bad mammo history, sometimes we look down at them and think of them as nothing but a liability. As my friend put it, “It’s like I’m waiting and wondering when one of them is going to ‘go bad.'” I can relate. Sometimes I look  at my chest and wonder when or if one is going to go rogue. We talked about how sometimes we wish we could just get rid of them and the what-if that we lug around daily in our bras.

But radical, preventative mastectomy is not the answer either.  I don’t have a strong family history of breast cancer, fortunately. I totally understand someone with the breast cancer gene having a preventative mastectomy. However, I don’t have that history. And the milk production purpose aside, the girls do still have roles to fulfill in my life. They still have a place in my marriage (and that’s all I’m gonna say about that–read Song of Solomon in the Old Testament if you don’t know what I mean). Also, none of my blouses or dresses would fit right anymore without my mammary glands. Finally, having breasts is a part of my identity as a female. They have been with me since the age of 12-13. Even though they can be awfully inconvenient at times (exercise, seat-belts, etc.), they are a key part of my body that make me more feminine.

I think there is another issue at play that makes women feel hyper-aware of their breasts and the inherent risks of having them attached to one’s body. Breast cancer is the most advertised, hyped, and frankly, sexualized cancer of all. In October we will be bombarded with fund-raising races, advertisements, and pink everything to increase breast cancer awareness. Much of this is very good. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and we have made progress in early detection and improved treatment.I would bet that anyone reading this could name more than one person that know who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. However, it is not the deadliest cancer in women. That dubious award goes to lung cancer, yet how much do we hear about it? Lungs just aren’t quite as titillating (pun intended) as breast cancer. You don’t see lung cancer slogans as provocative as “Squeeze a boob. Save a life.” or “Protect second base.” That’s a problem of which much has been written, include this website devoted to critical analysis of “pink ribbon culture.” The whole issue about breasts, the role that play in the female life cycle and identity, the marketing geared toward them, and the medical approach is a complex one.

Fortunately for me, my ultrasound took only about 5 minutes. The radiologist went right to the problem area and located a fluid-filled 6 cm cyst. No problems, no additional testing.–just return next year for my annual mammogram. So I have another  year with this post-pubertal tissue sitting on my chest to ponder my ongoing conflicted relationship with my breasts. Being a woman…it’s complicated.

…And, to add insult to injury,  both of my favorite, daily, utilitarian bras both sprung a leak in their underwire the same week. Can’t catch a break.

Caught My Eye: August 25, 2016 Thursday, Aug 25 2016 

Here’s what caught my eye this week

I Would Rather Do Anything Else Than Write the Syllabus for Your Class

As I prepare to go back to work on Monday after a barely-there-not-quite-full-week of vacation, this article in McSweeney’s made me laugh in delighted solidarity. An acquaintance once chuckled and said, “All you do anyway is change the dates on the syllabus, right? It’s no big deal.” I guess if you aren’t reading, studying, attending conferences, reflecting, and growing then you just change dates. For me, writing a syllabus takes a lot of time and reflection. I have no way to anticipate the chemistry and rapport of a room full of new students, what there interests are, what their level of competence is, and what will confuse/excite/challenge them.

Here’s my favorite tidbit from the essay, although the whole thing is great:

I would rather go shopping for jeans or foundational undergarments or practical-yet-cute footwear than write this damn Syllabus because I do not know what I will want you to read on November 22.

No, My Son Doesn’t Play Sports…Really, It’s OK

As the mother of two sons, I appreciated this article. As the opening of the essay asks, “What can we possibly have to say to a boy if we can’t ask him about football, basketball or soccer?” This is so true. Any time anyone met my sons for the first time or any routine visit to the doctor or dentist, questions about sports ensued. They both dabbled in sports a bit, both socially and occasionally in organized school or community teams, but they weren’t big sports guys. This was especially true in high school. I’m glad to say that at the ages of 19 and 22 neither of them have ever had a concussion. Instead of sports, Adam was really into music, art, and writing and Noah was exploring photography and playing pick-up games of ultimate. How about instead, let’s ask boys and young men what they enjoy? What are their passions? What challenges them? Let’s not ask them what sports they play and assume that they all do play one. Just like the red carpet campaign #askhermore to ask female celebrities about more than who designed her dress, let’s #askhimmore than just sports.

How True Art Points to God

This topic probably will ultimately result in its own post, since this is a soapbox issue for me. Christian art—music, fine art, movies, literature, etc.–what even is it? Since art doesn’t have a soul, it can’t be “Christian” unless someone (usually a marketer) labels it as such. We don’t need the sacred and secular denotations. If the artist has a Christian worldview that will be captured in true art, whether intentional or not. Many times, even when the creator of art doesn’t have that worldview, truth is truth and may still point back to God. I personally don’t see how anyone can watch Gran Turino, an R-rated movie laced with profanity and some violence, and not see a Christ-image in the way that Clint Eastwood’s character sacrifices his life for his marginalized neighbor. On the flip side, one could read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and take it as a  simple and engaging story of four children, a witch, and a lion…or they can see that Aslan is Christ in all of his glory. (P.S., I don’t read “Christian” fiction because 90% of my experiences with it are that it is formulaic, poorly written drivel.)

Six Word Memoirs

I thought this was a fun little mental exercise. How would you write your own memoir in six words? Some of my ideas:

  • Open your eyes and be amazed.
  • Keep reading! It takes you places.
  • I met my husband in third-grade
  • Southern belle to cheese head…really!
  • Hard times are teachers–listen, learn
  • Unlearn everything you thought you knew

How Adults Talk to Children

I try to emphasize the negative impact of directive language in all of my language disorders courses. Directive language is talking to children in short, abrupt sentences usually while telling them to do or not to do something. It is not warm or instructive and the vocabulary level is usually very poor with lots of repetition of the same words–“sit down!, come here!, what did I tell you to do?” The above article and the compelling video make a really good point of showing the negative effects of directive speech and easy alternatives. This applies to school and home.

Quote of the week

magic

Art of the week:

well

Photo by my friend, Debbie Haltom, taken outside of a home devastated by flooding in Baton Rouge. The house was gutted, with all furniture and appliances out on the road–yet “it is well” (which is also my favorite hymn).

 

Caught My Eye Friday, Aug 19 2016 

So almost a month ago, I said that I would try to do a weekly blog post of articles and links that caught my eye. Knowing myself as I do, I did give myself an out and stated, “We’ll see if I can be diligent or not. Only time will tell.” Well, I think I can and will be a little more diligent than I have been, but I’m thinking Saturday or Sunday might end up being a better bet than Friday postings. I’ll have to wait until fall semester gets going and figure out my best groove. Anyway, here’s what has caught my eye over the past few weeks.

The Truth About Living with an Invisible Illness

I have an invisible illness myself, subglottic stenosis, which causes me difficulty in breathing, a chronic cough, and voice changes. I periodically go through phases of grief for things I can no longer do (shout, speak with a clear voice, walk and talk simultaneously) and the frustration of people thinking I have a cold or cough and trying to “help” by offering me water and cough drops. I liked this line, “Invisible illness has been the crucible of God’s love in my life.”

The Weird Route to Real Community

Hospitality is one of my spiritual gifts, although I frequently get lazy about using it. I loved this article about a family moving from the country into the city because they craved community. However, when that community didn’t spontaneously happen, they realized that would have to seek it. “If we wanted anything to change, we were going to have to become the community we longed for.”

A Failure of Empathy

This article from Inside Higher Ed recounts one professor had an important lesson in empathy from a student. I had a similar incident years ago that has haunted me ever since. I even saved a copy of the student’s paper that changed everything that I had previously thought about her as a reminder that I what I see in the classroom is not always what is present in the soul. It’s a good reminder for us all.

How Did Hitler Rise to Power?

This is actually a link to a TED Talk, shared by my sister, who is a high school history teacher. In an ever changing political environment in which both parties are more polarized than ever before, this is food for thought. I also remember that years ago, when I read the book Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi, I realized for the first time how “good people” could have slowly bought into the Nazi ideas and principles. I highly recommend the book and need to read it again myself.

What Makes Us Happy

The results will likely surprise you, as they did me.It turns out that it is not engaging in leisurely pursuits or exciting experiences that brings us happiness. When we feel good, we actually tend to engage in un-fun tasks, like house cleaning. Who knew?

And I’ll end with a quote and some art.

From Wendell Berry (if you want more of his quotes, go here):

Nothing is more pleasing or heartening than a plate of nourishing, tasty, beautiful food artfully and lovingly prepared.

You can buy this painting here on Etsy, in the shop, Zendrawing

rocks

 

 

Caught My Eye Friday, Jul 22 2016 

A year or two ago I used to do a weekly blog post called “Thrift Store Thursday” in which I showed outfits that I had purchased at various thrift stores. I had fairly good feedback from those posts and it was an easy way to post regularly. However, I discontinued it because I purged over 50% of my clothes and embraced minimalism (umm…actually “simple living.” More on that distinction at a later date). I still shop ot thrift stores, but only if I actually need something, not just for fun. I decided that consuming just isn’t all that fun after all.

However, a couple of blogs that I regularly read post a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning list of “happy links” or thought-provoking blog posts and articles. I enjoy reading over these leisurely on Saturday morning. I thought I would do the same with the plan of posting every Friday on things that “caught my eye.” Some will be serious, some will be silly, and I will include a work of art and a new quote as well. We’ll see if I can be diligent or not. Only time will tell. So, without further ado, here’s what caught my eye this week.

Trump’s Ghost Writer Tells All

This article from The New Yorker, is about Tony Schwartz, who was the ghost writer for Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal. He has never spoken out about Trump or the process of writing the book (which ruined his career), but because of his concern about the election he finally did. It is a compelling and important read.

Cats are the Unsung Heroes of Mental Health

Anyone who knows me knows that I am on Team Cat. Dogs are tolerable, I suppose, but cats are my jam. I am a card-carrying crazy cat lady with no shame. I really enjoyed this article about how beneficial cats can be with people with mental health issues and autism spectrum disorders. Bottom line: dogs are so easy going that they tolerate bad behavior, but cats won’t so those on spectrum can start to learn social skills. Plus…purring heals the soul.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People about Racism

“The antidote to white fragility is on-going and life-long, and includes sustained engagement, humility, and education.” A great article with lots to chew on including white privilege, what it is, and why we (as white people) don’t really think about it. 

Syrian Children Hold Pokemon Go Pictures

The Syrian refugees. Syrian children. Remember them? With the GOP Convention, black lives matters, blue lives matters, should we discuss all lives matters, shootings in Nice and Munich, etc. we seem to have forgotten all about them. I’ll just let a quote from the article speak for itself,  “Syrian graphic designer Saif Aldeen Tahhan has also used Pokémon Go to highlight the devastation in the country. He created images — each carrying a ‘Syria Go’ logo — to show the impact of the war on the Syrian people over the last five years. ‘I created these images as a way to turn attention to the Syrian war, and to focus on Syrian suffering instead of Pokémon, which people are crazy about,’ he explained. He told Al Arabiya: ‘The world has become obsessed with this video game, so I told myself why not use it as a medium to convey our suffering. Everyone is now searching for Pokémon, however, Syrians are searching for the basic necessities of life. Honestly, I don’t think the world feels for us.'”

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An interesting article that gives one pause  when considering the next great app or gadget to improve productivity, to climb the corporate ladder, and to win friends and influence people. Instead, the author muses, “I’m not trying to climb the ladder. The status quo is a world of ladder-climbers evaluating their worth by rungs. Teach me instead how to cultivate wisdom and mastery, so I can make a difference and enjoy a life of progressively deeper insight and influence among the places I’m invested.”

Curiosity can be purchased here

What Happened?! Friday, Jul 8 2016 

It seems that we all woke up to a new reality in the United States this week. Although, not really a new reality, but likely one that my fellow brown-skinned Americans have been quietly living and it was just brought, again, to our collective attention. So here I am a white woman stumbling through a post on race, so let me preface it with this. I had never heard the term white privilege until a few years ago. I am now very aware of the privileges inherent to my skin color and am trying to further educate myself. It is a hot topic in higher education and I have been to many workshops on privilege and inclusion and try to be mindful. I’m sure I still have miles to go. I have not lived the experience of being a minority in the United States.

 

black lives

 

I am currently reading A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra and today I read a passage that kind of sums up how I feel as a white woman writing about race. (Akhmed-male oncologist; Sonja–female surgeon, Deshi-female nurse; all in war-torn Chechnya in the mid-1990s)

“You’re the nurse,” Akhmed said, curtly. “We met earlier.”

“He speaks out of turn, without being addressed,” Deshi observed.

“I just wanted to say hello.”

“He continues to speak without being spoken to. And he has an ugly nose.”

“I’m standing right here,” Akhmed said, frowning.

“He tells me he is standing right here. As if we have been made blind and idiotic.”

“What am I doing wrong?” he asked Sonja. “I’m just standing here.”…

“Do you see the way he looks at me?” Deshi asked, her voice trembling with indignation. “He is trying to seduce me.”

“I am doing nothing of the sort. I’m just standing here!”

“Denial is the first impulse of a traitor.”

“You’re quoting Stalin,” Akhmed said.

“You see? He’s a lecher and a Stalinist.”

In the above scenario, I might be Akhmed, trying to make comforting comments or ask honest questions, but somehow accidentally offending someone. So I ask that you please extend me grace as you read. I have so many emotions, thoughts, and questions running through my head that are hard enough to articulate. Offending those whom I am wanting to stand in solidarity with is the last thing I want to do. If I do offend, it is in my ignorance and your gentle correction is appreciated. (Hateful comments are not and will not be published. However, you may feel free to disagree with a rational and well reasoned argument.)

I went to bed Wednesday night with the heartache of the Alton Sterling killing on my mind and woke up on Thursday morning reeling with news of Philando Castile. I lived for 6 years in Baton Rouge and MN is my neighbor to the west–all too close to home and heart. Normally when I hear about tragedies on the news I feel sad upon initial hearing, maybe for a few minutes after, but that’s about it. It’s not that I’m uncaring. In fact, I’m an easy crier and  am not ashamed of my emotions. It’s just that news of refugees, loss of life from natural disasters, bombings overseas, etc. seem (a) so far removed from my life and daily experience, (b) I hear so much bad news that I become numb and immune, or (c) I get overwhelmed by the details of my own life that feeling for others not in my immediate circle gets crowded out. Often times, I think that is a protective mechanism because we can only bear so much hurt and pain before we get paralyzed with sadness. However, the past two days I have silently cried several times and had one big ugly cry while watching black female police officer, Nakia Jones, share her thoughts via video.

This is different. I have many black friends on Facebook and I am seeing their fear, grief, anger, and sadness playing out in raw, real, and honest ways. Yesterday morning, when my 19 year old son, Noah, woke up and I told him about Philando Castile, I followed that up by asking him, “You know we’d be having an entirely discussion this morning if you were black? Do you understand that?” One night earlier this week at about 9:00 pm  Noah had a slight headache, wanted some caffeine, so he went to a convenience store to grab a Dr. Pepper. I didn’t think twice about it…because he’s white. I can’t imagine what I would think and feel for him to do the same simple act if his skin were a different color in these days. I want to hug my black friends and let them know I that understand how they feel, but I don’t. I can’t. What I can do is listen. I can be a witness to their feelings. I can say that it is very scary, but I want to stand with you.

I wrestle with what CAN I do in central Wisconsin, which is the whitest place I have ever lived. In my county, the racial demographics break down as follows: White–94.4%, Black/African American–.8%, Native American–.5%; Asian–2.9%, Hispanic/Latino–3.1%, and other mixed races (http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/55097). Can I protest? Should I write my senators and congressional representative? I feel helpless and I don’t know quite what to do. I wrote a blog post over nine years ago pondering who I would have been during the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, it seems like I will get the chance to know if I would be the person who would stand up or sit down. I want to stand. I also want to know how.

I know what not to do:

  • I know that to say “all lives matter” minimizes the situation. Of course all lives matter! No one is debating that. It’s just that all lives aren’t at risk right now. We are focusing on a crisis, not elevating one race above the other.
  • Responding in violence and hate is not the answer. Since I started formulating this blog in my head, we learned of more senseless shooting, this time with snipers targeting police who were simply doing their job to keep peace and maintain order. As attributed to Gandhi, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
  • Don’t create a strawman argument. This means that ranting about “black on black crime” and Alton Sterling’s rap sheet which have nothing to do with the  issue at hand.
  • Making assumptions about someone else’s lived experience is dangerous territory. We can take some advice from Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. “First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


strawman
I also know some things to be true

  • All men (and women) of every color, occupation, social class, religion, and morality (even the “bad ones”) were created in the image of God. (So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Gen. 1:27). My fabulous husband wrote more about that here.
  • I serve a God of peace and it is there even in the midst of chaos. (Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14: 27)
  • Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13)
  • Beauty can come from ashes. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

So for now, all I know to do is pray–for healing in our country and our world; for safety of our police officers; for the careful judgment and calm under pressure of law enforcement; for peace that passes understanding; for release from fear for the black community, for sensitive hearts, for honest and loving discussions, for love and understanding.
stewart

2016: Looking Forward Friday, Jan 1 2016 

NYE

I love the closing out of one year and the welcoming in of another. While this year we actually got dressed up and left the house to attend a wedding and reception, we typically ring in the new year on the couch in our jammies watching movies. It was fun to get dolled up and leave the house for a change of pace, but home is nice too.

It’s nice to celebrate, with great fanfare, the change from the old to the new. I so enjoy the idea of a whole new year that lies ahead, full of possibility. The new year contains no mistakes, no regrets, no new experiences, no adventure, no disappointments. It just exists. It’s full of potential joys and possible heart break. While thinking ahead to this new, blank year, I am a natural dreamer and planner. I relish thinking about the what-ifs, how-tos, and should-Is of the new year.

Last year, I wrote about being more intentional and also my ongoing “relationship” with my iPad. Well, I had no idea that last year would involve a cancer diagnosis and passing of a close family member, several months of Robert covering another chaplain’s territory and working about 70 hrs/week, and new course preps and overload at work for me. Instead of being intentional, 2015 was more about survival. Not only was there not much creating, I also did not develop great habits and routines and I feel back into the TV/iPad trap. We were lucky to have a home-cooked meal a few times a week. However, my one great success was that I did establish a good nightly routine of writing all year in my gratitude journal and reading poetry each night before bed. I filled a journal and read three complete books of poetry. That routine is not firmly developed.

There are plenty of people who think making resolutions is stupid or pointless. The nay-sayers claim that most resolutions are never kept or followed through with. They claim it is an exercise in futility. Or like one of my favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton, stated  in her New Year’s Day blog post, “I don’t want a new, better life in 2016. I just want new eyes to see that my life is already staggeringly beautiful.” Those are lovely words, but I disagree. (Sorry, Glennon. I agree with 93.74% of what you write.)

I do want to notice the beauty in my daily life, hence the reason I started a gratitude journal last year. I try to find the joy in the small things, give myself and the people I interact with an extra dose of grace, and reflect upon and appreciate what is. However, that doesn’t mean that I still can’t dream. The Bible tells us that “without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18) and Willie Wonka, with apologies to poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy, stated, “We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams.”

So yes, I want to lose a few pounds, exercise more, and develop a good morning routine. I still need to put my iPad in its proper place. However, my main priority in 2016 is to create with my hands. I love to crochet and quilt, and I just joined an embroidery club a few months ago. I also want to write more poetry and learn how to create mixed media fiber art. I want to try out new recipes and complete some DIY projects. I will make time to create. There is no quota on how much time or how many projects–just an intent to do so. If I make one thing, then that is one more thing that I have created.

finaly

Today was a ridiculously successful day in that regard. Of course I have been home today with no agenda, so it is not a realistic gauge of the what lies ahead when the realities of work and daily life become more real and consistent. However, today, I colored one of the pages in the coloring set that Robert got me for Christmas–so relaxing and so fun!

coloring

 

For the past few days I have been crocheting a bed for kitty girl and I finished it today. She’s hard to see in it since she is black and against a navy blue chair, but she does like it.

 

And I made chicken and sausage gumbo from scratch, which is the most labor intensive meal that I ever cook. It’s pretty much an all day affair.

gumbo

 

So, here’s to a 2016 full of new creations and hand crafting!

So About My Morning Routine… Wednesday, Dec 9 2015 

morning

It’s been over two months since I last posted here. At that point I was 4 days into my 31 days of developing some new routines…particularly a new morning routine. It never happened. October was a hard month. 10 days after my last post my father-in-law died from cancer. There was my own grief, travel, and most importantly, supporting my husband and children through their grief. All routine went out the window. That was not only okay. It was the best thing at that time.

Due to a multitude of factors that I won’t go into because I don’t want to be a whiny baby, it has been a very hard semester. It’s been tough emotionally, physically, and mentally. I have never felt caught up or on top of things. I’ve been tired and overwhelmed which has made my brain feel fuzzy. Yet this is my life for this particular season. So, do I feel like I was defeated by not establishing a good, solid morning routine this semester? No! I adapted and did what I needed to do each month, week, day to maintain homeostasis.

Not only have I not had a good morning routine this semester, but my house has frequently not been as clean as I would have liked, I have not engaged in many creative pursuits (crocheting, quilting), and we have eaten out or had thrown together meals more than I would like. That’s the best I could do. I have peace with that. There have been other life periods when that has happened such as finishing my doctorate, being bedridden with a herniated disc and recovering from back surgery, and my first year on the tenure-track. I have learned that these times are temporary and I give myself grace.

I’m still alive and well. My life will be chaos for the next two weeks as finals roll in and massive amounts of grading await, but then comes sweet rest and a change in routine. We are very much looking forward to my mother-in-law coming to spend Christmas with us and creating new memories with her.

I will revisit the morning routine issue again in January. In the meantime, I would like to share an interesting and thought-provoking blog called My Morning Routine. Various up and comers are interviewed a couple of times a week with the same questions about their morning routine. It’s kind of an interesting read. Check it out!

 

31 Days of Routines: Baby Steps Sunday, Oct 4 2015 

Woo Hoo! I did it. I ate breakfast and had a leisurely quiet time this morning.

  
To be fair, I must remind you that not only is it a Sunday (which is way easier and different than a work day), but it was an unusual Sunday. Normally I am heading out to church, but today I had a special lunch with some ladies in a town about an hour away, so I had to miss church which gave me more time at home this morning. I had an unrushed morning of breakfast, then I was able to bring my fall/winter clothes up from the basement (Brr…it’s gotten chilly here) and load the dishwasher. 

If yesterday was about eating frogs, then today was about biting elephants. 

 

The elephant is an article that a colleague and I have been intending to write for months. Aside from the fact that we have both have had some unexpected family crises, we also keep letting it fall to the bottom of the priority list. I mentioned that I thought we were both overwhelmed by the enormity, so we needed to break up the article into six parts and each write about three. This morning I tackled one of my three parts. I wrote for an hour. I didn’t get finished, but I made a good solid dent in it and now I’m not staring at a blank computer screen anymore. I’m hoping to finish chewing that bite of elephant tomorrow.

And finally, I’ll be going to sleep before midnight which is a rarity for me. Not only that, but I have overnight oats in the refrigerator for an easy, filling, and nutritious breakfast tomorrow, my clothes are picked out and hanging up, and my lunch has been fixed.

 
P.S., Typically I prepare steel cut oats overnight (heated up, turned off, and then sit all night), but I only had about a third of a cup. I am trying refrigerator rolled oats for the first time. Hope they’re good!
  

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