Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy End of the Year from West Point PEI

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work that you do
with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal
to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert,
approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.
John O'Donoghue
Anam Cara -- Spiritual Blessing from a Celtic World

Friday, December 30, 2005

Five Weird Things

I am so not weird. I am not average either. I am a consummately elegant woman. Well, ok, not so much. I am afraid, in fact, that my husband announced in the context of Christmas dinner preparation that I embody entropy at its epitome. Or something like that. All I can say, sadly, is that everyone else in the kitchen at the time seemed to agree.
Hey! I'm the one who got all those people here! And not one of them objected out loud to those flat cherry pies. (I realize that they had a good laugh at home, but I don't concern myself with such things. They have all made mistakes, too, and I know about most of them in gory detail.)
I realize that the entropy thing might be somewhat accurate, in that I cannot come up with five weird habits. I don't do that many things habitually that are weird. I am not organized enough to do weird things habitually. It's all I can manage to do NORMAL things, like brushing my teeth and showering, habitually. So I have changed the assignment a bit and herewith, in response to the tag from Red, are five weird things about me sort of in general:
1. I read all novels as follows: the first few pages, to get a sense of who and what the book is about; the last few pages, to ward off the anxiety created by my inability to tolerate suspense; and then pretty much every word from beginning to end.
2. However, if I get bored reading a book, I stop. So little time, so many books. I am usually reading five or six at a time, so I don't particularly notice the demise of any one of them. And I already know the ending anyway.
3. I went to two boarding schools, from when I was 12 to just before I turned 18. I don't think that's so weird because it is, after all, MY life, but other people seem surprised.
4. I watch All My Children once in awhile. Now that probably isn't so weird, as attested to by the fact that it has been on so long, but to me it's pretty weird. The summer I turned 17 I got mono, on my 17th birthday in fact. I had a mother's helper job on Cape Cod for two fulltime working parents, so they hired someone else to take care of their four kids AND me, and fed me and paid me for the next three weeks during which I had to stay in bed. I was of course completely humiliated by my plight, but that didn't stop me from embarrassing myself more by promptly becoming addicted to three soap operas. Two of them were cancelled quickly, but AMC rumbles on so, when I am home and really, really sick, I turn it on to ensure that Erica Kane continues to move through life unchanged. Hey -- talk about someone who embodies ENTROPY!
5. The only really weird thing about me is that I have no sense of smell. Nope, none, ever, nada. This makes me a useful person to have around the house when the entropy in which we all seem to be ensconced lends itself to litter boxes that need cleaning and dogs who need de-skunking. Of course, there has to be someone else around to NOTICE the litter box or the dog. (I am lying about the dog. Skunked dogs have a way of making themselves seen and heard -- and smelled, if you are not me.)
I'm afraid I am just not very weird. And now I have to tag other people. Well, none of them will, appreciate it at all, so I tag Lisa, Paul, Julie AND Judith, and Jackie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Dismal Day Redeemed

That's what my grandmother would call this -- "a dismal day" with its unrelenting gray. Nevertheless, I decided to walk around the lakes, thinking that with the warm air the water would be open and there might be some ducks.

I had conveniently repressed the memory of the past month of sub-freezing temperatures.

A few pairs of mallards floated silently on the very few watery breaches in the ice. A lone great blue looked sullenly at the stetch of white before her. But chickadees called through the woods, and titmice dashed back and forth to the Nature Center's feeder. Not a bad beginning to the day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hello Darkness My Old Friend or, . . ."Plastics"

It's funny. I've been trying to decide what to write about Christmas. Or whether to write anything at all about Christmas. I've already spent a good part of the morning venting my spleen about certain frustrations, and it seems kind of pointless to drum up all that energy again. And then as I headed toward the front door a few moments ago, intent on a walk, the sounds of Simon and Garfunkle drifted into the hallway and I realized that The Graduate was beginning on AMC. The music seemed far more apt than the Christmas carols with which I inundated myself last week.

(And no, I almost never turn on the television during the daytime. You will perhaps have some understanding of the desperation of my mental state if I tell you that I have been watching a Doris Day & Rock Hudson movie off and on for at least two hours, in between laundry and checkbook and dog-walking.)

As I write this, Anne Bancroft's long legs fill the screen and Dustin Hoffman is saying, "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me." Things are looking up.

So, Christmas. No more than five sentences, or remnants thereof, for each of its three elements.

I. The Dinner. An extravaganza, for which a surprising 25 people appeared. The college students, it seems, do not want to stay long, but cannot stay away, which is gratifying to the mom who has watched them all grow up. The friends linger around the table for hours, and the kids, who know they are far too sophisticated for all of this holiday nonsense, occupy themselves with a game of some super-challenging version of Trivial Pursuit in the living room. We force them, to the tune of much grumbling, onto the front hall stairs for the annual picture, and one of them, whom we have watched advance from bouncing towhead to professional soccer player, is heard to say, "Come on, guys; you know that for the parents this never gets old." And I meanwhile, am quietly but literally and physically ill with frustration over the family which, per script, appears an hour-and-a-half after everyone else, combining a beautifully prepared offering of food with oblivion to the rumbling tummies and drying meal spread across the kitchen.

"Plastics," says Mr. Robinson to Benjamin.

II. The faith. I am the only one in my family who experiences Christmas as a religious celebration. I'm not sure that my husband, he of the every single week attendance at Sunday School and the years and years of membership in the Sunshine Choir, ever believed a word of it and, when my children got wind of that in the earliest and most cyncial stages of adolescence, they too opted out. They all have harsh things to say about religion in general and Christianity in particular. As a rule I am not too bothered by their views, believing firmly that each of us is called to her own path and that God tracks people down in God's own time and way, and fortunately I do not subscribe to the "Family Values" distortion of faith promulgated by the Christian right. But God has in fact tracked me down -- I find I have no option but to believe in a faith so convoluted and improbable that it can only be true -- and so Christmas can be a very lonely time right in the midst of everyone that I love the most.

"Are you here for an affair, sir?" asks the desk clerk of an astonished (and very young) Dustin Hoffman.

III. The New Year. After Christmas comes the physical collapse, the day spent almost entirely in bed, the children eager to burst the bonds of family and meet their friends at a concert. And then the inevitable realization that the New Year is almost upon is. Time to clean up the clutter, resolve to lose weight, to brace onself for the visits to and from extended family , and to do all the work for which one was paid but did not actually complete in the month of December when one was shopping for presents and stuffing ingredients instead of grading papers. And time, most importantly, to create a new self -- the skinnier, smarter, wealthier, more successful and more accomplished self so hopefully invented every New Year's. The self whose arrival just happens to coincide with a lower back in such pain and sciatica so severe that the old self actually says "Ouch!" out loud as she is walking the dog and finds herself thereby reminded that the old self is probably here to stay.


There is, somehow, a connection that brings us all together: the sad and confused Dustin Hoffman wearing a jacket and tie as he pulls the blinds and brushes his teeth in the hotel room, the diffident Mrs. Robinson smoking a cigarette in her black dress, the sounds of silence and the longing for. . . what, exactly?

Monday, December 26, 2005


After three days of nonstop preparation and dinner for what turned out to be 25, and before going back to bed to read and sleep some more, some playtime from Patrick's Weekender:

1. Which of the following generally costs you more: a normal trip to your barber/hairstylist, your usual lunch at your favorite restaurant, the most recent amount you paid to fill up your gas tank, or your biggest single contribution to a single charity in 2005?

The charity thing.

2. What drink -- alcoholic or not -- do you drink entirely too much of?

I mostly drink water. I don't think you can drink too much water.

3. Did you receive a Christmas card from anyone you didn't send one to? Did you send them a belated card in return?

I haven't sent a Christmas card in years, but I have big plans to send them out this week and I've even written a letter to enclose. So, this year, yes to both.

4. Take this quiz (if you haven't already!): What is most important in your life?

That's an odd one. It says family, which is what I would have predicted -- but my scores for family and career were identical, followed by identical scores for money, health, and love, and a pathetically low score for fun. Well, I guess if you mostly drink water and answering online questions is your idea of fun. . . .

6. Do you believe in soulmates? Do you think that there are at least one out there for every person, that there is a single "true" soulmate for every person, or that there aren't soulmates for everyone?

Noooo???? (said in a tone of incredulity).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

'Twas the night before Christmas. . .

and all through the house, the floors are gleaming, the glass is shining, the silver is laid out on the dining room dresser, the cherry pies are cooling in the cupboard and the pumpkin pies are baking, the downstairs tree glistens with green and blue lights, the upstairs tree with pink lights (guess whose tree that is?), and the presents are ALL WRAPPED.

Tonight my little crew of agnostics and I will go to a 7:30 service at the grand cathedral Methodist church we belonged to when the children were little -- we can't give it up at Christmas because of the candlelighting at the end and the raised candles, 500 strong, in the pitch dark sanctuary as we sing Silent Night. One Christmas Eve, I'd say just about 20 years ago, I spent much of the service pacing the hallway with a cranky one-year-old in a fuzzy footed sleeper in my arms. "Come here, Robin" whispered one of the ushers as the candlelighting began. He guided me to the door behind the altar so that we could watch as the entire church darkened and then began to light up, candle by candle, row by row. What a sight!

These days we tend to go up to the balcony we so that we can watch the same thing from above. Then we head to the annual Christmas Eve party hosted by adult friends -- some complaining from the kids this year, as they know fewer and fewer people at that event. And finally, a midnight service for those of us left standing -- usually just me and that young man who was once the cranky baby. The locale is up to him -- last night he said that he preferred the Methodist church for the atmosphere but the Presbyterian church for the preacher -- "of all these guys we've ever listened to, John is the only way who always has something worthwhile to say."

Tomorrow the gathering will be smaller than usual -- one family divorced and flung from from South Africa to California, one staying home to nurture the dad who just had hip surgery, one single mom who just wants not to do the family thing this year. But the four or five families here will eat and laugh and maybe even sing, missing the parents who used to join our circle and are no longer, and enjoying the college students who are here just a little longer.

Wherever you are and whomever you are with, I hope that your Christmas is a joyous one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Christmas Card

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

(The Gospel of John, as illustrated in The Book of Kells, Ireland, c. 800)

And so begins the most improbable of all stories, the one that we celebrate if we have the gift, or the willingness, or the loneliness, or the sorrow, or the stubbornness, or the wildness, to embrace that which is only just barely imaginable.

May your Christmas be one of a quiet and interior joy, a joy lengthened by the Solstice sunlight and heightened by the knowledge that there is more in heaven and earth than we have dreamed of.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Winter Solstice

I've been rummaging through my photographs, thinking about the year past. So much of what I had intended to accomplish, I didn't. But it's been a good year. A lot of what I have experienced, I never would have expected.
If you had asked me five years ago about my plans for this year in my early 50s, they would not have included becoming an elder in the church, getting most of the way through a master's program, a trip to Prince Edward Island, late afternoons in a Jewish school with Orthodox girls draping their arms around me as we wander down the hallway discussing Gilmore Girls, a child uprooted by a hurricane, the late night vigil as my stepmother died or, actually, pretty much anything else that has happened.
Among this year's delights, pictured above, that 13-degree Thanksgiving morning walk on an empty Michigan Avenue in Chicago (everyone else seemed to know that you could DIE out there), and a walk through the woods on that ONE week-end of fall color that we midwesterners managed to fit in earlier in the month.
And the most delightful day of all, that day of hope, is here: the Winter Solstice came and went this afternoon. It can only get better all the time, now that we are on the road to springtime.
Oops. It's only Tuesday. The Solstice is TOMORROW. Premature happiness on my part. Hold that thought for another 15 hours.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Wise Women

Giotto, 1304-1306.

This was one of the readings at my church's Women's Lessons and Carols service tonight. I don't know the source, but it was a quietly powerful reading. Even those of us who love the traditional Lessons and Carols service that originated at
King's College Chapel Cambridge and is reprised in churches all over the world during Advent have to acknowledge that its litany follows the patriarchal traditions of the Bible. This alternative service, with a different selection of readings and music, lends itself to a different frame of reference.

"Long ago, women of wisdom from all over the earth began to gather together: mothers and grandmothers, sisters and daughters, cousins and aunts. They converged in order to witness and to midwife the birth of a holy little girl-child of mid-Eastern descent . . . perhaps an Iraqi.

This was distressing to the Herods of the earth, who are ever distressed and fearful when women gather together: the male Herods because of their fear that someone might displace them, and the female Herods because someone else might be the fairest of them all. The Herods asked the wise women where the child was to be born: 'Return and tell us,' they said, 'so that we may worship too!' (In other words, give us your wisdom.")

The wise women went on and found the place and helped the birth to come about. And they brought with them gifts -- corn, squash, beans, and bread -- these symbolizing the interconnectedness of all of life, gifts that could be used to feed the whole world.

So instead of the ancient gifts we've been told were brought -- gold for royalty, frankincense for worship of divinity, and myrhh for the embalming of the dead -- these women brought other gifts. Instead of royalty, they brought humility. Instead of worship, they brought partnership. Instead of death, they brought the knowledge of how to live.

And when they had offered their gifts, knowing that they dare not go back to Herod and to the old ways, they made their home with this child. . . and thereby came home in a different way.

Because of that, there was no slaughter of the innocents -- and no Rachel weeping for her children."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Winter Night, Sixty Years Ago

My grandmother leans against the back porch pillar, clutching her wool coat tightly round her and watching the moon cast its almost full light across the snow-laden field. Orion has settled against the winter black, belt twinkling and sword resting quietly at his side.

The feet, well padded with fur, make no sound as the rabbit emerges hopefully from the woods, eyeing the glacial surface before her for the slightest hint of rodent liveliness below.

The soft soft soft wingtips make no sound as they glide across the surface of the snow, the talons sink unerringly into fluff and flesh, and the newly weighted owl flaps silently over the buried cornstalks.

She settles on the branch below the old hawk nest destined for her chicks. Her mate hoots through the woods, his ardour rising. She fluffs her undercoat of down and dines restlessly. The long nights on eggs and beneath snowfall will come soon enough.


This came to me during my dog's final evening tour of the back yard tonight, as I stood on the back porch looking at the moon and Orion in the winter sky and hissing "Hurry up; it's freezing out here!" My grandmother is nearing 100 this winter, nearly blind and deaf, fretting away her final days with only her thoughts to occupy her. I hope she remembers nights like this, when nature's power held sway right off her own back porch.

Merry Christmas III

When the dim light, at Lauds, comes strike her window,
Bellsong falls out of Heaven with a sound of glass.

Prayers fly in the mind like larks,
Thoughts hide in the height like hawks:
And while the country churches tell their blessings to the distance,
Her slow words move,
(Like summer winds the wheat) her innocent love:
Desires glitter in her mind
Like morning stars:

Until her name is suddenly spoken
Like a meteor falling.

She can no longer hear shrill day
Sing in the east,
Nor see the lovely woods begin to toss their manes.
The rivers have begun to sing.
The little clouds shine in the sky like girls:
She has no eyes to see their faces.

Speech of an angel shines in the waters of her thought like diamonds,
Rides like a sunburst on the hillsides of her heart.

And is brought home like harvests,
Hid in her house, and stored
Like the sweet summer's riches in our peaceful barns.

But in the world of March outside her dwelling,
The farmers and the planters
Fear to begin their sowing, and its lengthy labor,
Where, on the brown, bare furrows,
The winter wind still croons as dumb as pain.
-- Thomas Merton

Merry Christmas II

Sigh. . . . .

9:15 PM
11:59 PM
Reason: Schedule change due to Late Arriving Aircraft Terminal 1 Concourse B Gate: B4

11:28 PM
2:07 AM Reason: Schedule change due to Late Arriving Aircraft Concourse B Gate: B7

11:54/12:54: Hi Mom - We haven't boarded yet; there are so many people on standby and they're trying to get them all on.

Have they offered you a free flight to Europe yet?

Ever optimistic, even in the middle of the night. . . .

Friday, December 16, 2005

Merry Christmas I

I think the photo above looks bright and Christmasy.
It's actually an August rose in the Willamette College garden.
Last week-end it was a flight from Chicago; this week-end it's a flight to Chicago. Last week-end my son was delayed a day when Southwest cancelled a series of flights out of Chicago after their sad accident at Midway. Tonight my daughter's flight into Chicago from Portland was delayed a couple of hours; I guess we'll know whether she makes her connection if she makes her connection. So far they're saying that this is a repeat of last night and, if that has any predictive value, she'll get in around 2:00 a.m.
(I can hardly believe it. I haven't seen that girl since the day after Labor Day when I left her to pick up the pieces of her life in a new college in a new city 2000 miles from home less than a week after Katrina. She picked them up just fine. I guess that means she's turned into the woman I was hoping for.)
A 2:00 a.m. arrival gives me just enough time to fall asleep on the couch for a few minutes before taking same son back to the airport for his Christmas present trip to see his girlfriend in San Diego. A year ago it was his twin brother going to France to see his girlfriend. These kids don't waste a lot of time on the ground.
Today my friend Lisa posted a wonderful entry about what kind of writing she wants to do in her new blog. Or her old blog. Wherever. I'm right there with you, Lisa, in wanting to use my blog for some Real Writing. However my brain is in no way geared up for that tonight. All I'm capable of is blathering on about:
two trees up, one with lights, neither with decorations;
kitchen 1/16th (maybe) of the way painted;
turkey not yet ordered;
no presents purchased except that ticket to San Diego(next online stop!);
mission accomplished: shopping trip with sons for
Girlfriend Gift and Hostess Gift;
somewhere between 20 and 35 people here for dinner in exactly 9 days but I probably won't know how many until, yeah, 9 days from now;
trying to keep up with the latest news from Tulane University, which latest news changes approximately every 30 seconds;
and until Thursday night I have to remain marginally focused at work, at least enough to talk about the Mayflower, the Vietnam War, and the 17th-century world economy to students who are themselves increasingly focused on Chanukah but are quite willing to be diverted by Christmas.
Well, at least I'm not a divorce lawyer anymore. This is about the day when the phone lights up with calls from parents whose formerly beloveds have just conveyed the news that they will not be returning the kids after Christmas vacation and that if they want to call their lawyers they can just go ahead and do it.
'Tis the season.
I just want the plane on the ground.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Favorite Christmas Music

Another idea from Patrick, this one the Sunday Seven -- what are your favorite Christmas songs? He starts with suggestions from the ASCAP list, few of which do a thing for me. Most popular Christmas music is just Something That Must Be Endured, in the stores and when I'm flipping radio stations. In fact the other night, en route to the airport for the second time in as many days, I was overcome with ADHD and changing stations every few seconds, so I had a real taste of just how much dreadful stuff is out there. Why does every popular recording start feel the need to produce a really bad Christmas album?

Guess you can tell that this grinch isn't easily moved into a Christmas frame of mind. But this topic did get me moving, however slowly, toward my own stack of CDs; with less than two weeks to go, I really should be more Christmas-functional at this point.

Herewith, in no particular order, my favorites:

O, Holy Night

Sing We Noel (Dost Thou Remember) - the processional from my boarding school days, which I have only ever heard of being performed at Northfield Mount Hermon School, Mount Holyoke College, and my present church (yes, I am in posession of the sheet music and I CD, but I can;t find the muisc online)

There Shall a Star Come Out From From Jacob (Mendelssohn)

What Child Is This?

Once in Royal David's City -- as sung for Lessons and Carols, beginning with a child's high-pitched solo and reaching the fourth verse with a crescendo of full choirs and kettledrums

And Every Stone Shall Cry

Monday, December 12, 2005

SUCH a Great Teacher

So. . . today I went out to lunch and, since I had forgotten to bring anything to read, I picked up a New York Times at the counter.

Imagine my delight when, over my soup and salad, I came across a headline that read something like "21st Century Threat Rooted in the 7th." It seems that members of the Bush administration are wandering around the United States making noises about the imminence of a new caliphate, and that most Americans have a vague enough understanding of the term as dark and ominous and scary that its proclamation by one Donald Rumsfeld just might scarf up a little support for the war in Iraq.

Well, I am always happy for the opportunity to demonstrate to my students that yes, there IS value in studying world history. They can, for instance, read the headlines intelligently.


I whipped out my paper at about 4:30 this afternoon and said, "OK, guys, here's the headline. Now what should it mean to a well-educated world history student?"

As it developed, we had to deal with a literacy-related challenge first. None of them could figure out the sentence.

"Seventh what?"

"Seventh sea?"

"Seventh inning?"

Finally one young man was able to establish to what "seventh" referred.

"Ok," I sighed, considerably less enthusiastic than I had been a few minutes earlier. "Now what happened in the seventh century? What happen that was so important that someone might be walking around saying that it is the root of our problems today?"

"The Black Death?"

"The Fall of the Roman Empire?"

I penciled on the board with my fingernail (no markers in sight), "Ms. C. is a failure," and then I turned to them and said, "If you do not come in here tomorrow afternoon remembering exactly what happened in the seventh century, I am going straight from here to the principal's office to request that he remove the "honors" designation from your transcripts."

Then I suggested they get back to work on the 16th century Latin American economy.

As I walked through the hallway later while they were dumping out the contents of their lockers and packing up to go home, several of my students stopped me to tell me that yes, they now know what happened in the seventh century. And one of them had the grace to admit that yes, since we had spent most of the month of September on that particular topic, the threatened demise of their honors status was not unreasonable.

Sigh. We haven't even come close to the real issue -- whether the headline is accurate, biased, or incendiary. Maybe tomorrow.

(Answer: The founding and rise of Islam.)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tables Turning

I sent this photo to some friends today and one of them responded that I looked "ready for anything." Let's hope that that's the case.
At this particular moment, I'm listening live to the Christmas Vespers concert from my boarding school in western Massachusetts. My son made it home from Chicago tonight and, as I waited for his flight to arrive, I reflected on how things have changed. If I were a teenager in the Connecticut Valley, I would be in a candle-lit chapel participating in a concert of haunting beauty and anticipating my own flight home. But now when I go to the airport at holiday time, it's to pick up and drop off -- my own Christmas traveling days are long behind me.
For the last couple of years I could deny it, but this year I can't: all three children have gone and we are the ones at home, anticicpating their return. It's an odd feeling. They all have lives, activities, friends, far from us. We've never met either of our sons' most important girlfriends of the past couple of years. When they come back, they spend some time with their best friends of those Montessori years past, the closely knit group that numbered only 15 by the time they graduated from eighth grade and headed for six or seven different high schools, and then they are eager to return to the lives they have created as young adults.
I found myself thinking tonight that maybe we should have had the tree decorated and waiting for them. It's always been a family tradition that the five of us choose the tree together, with much squabbling over height and width, and then decorate it over the course of a week. But Christmas will be only a week away by the time the lovely daughter returns -- maybe it's time to revamp that tradition and create a festive atmosphere to welcome them home.
The truth is, I'm not ready for anything. I'd like to turn the clock back at least a few years.

Death of an American City
New York Times, December 11, 2005

We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans." But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles.

There are many unanswered questions that will take years to work out, but one is make-or-break and needs to be dealt with immediately. It all boils down to the levee system. People will clear garbage, live in tents, work their fingers to the bone to reclaim homes and lives, but not if they don't believe they will be protected by more than patches to the same old system that failed during the deadly storm. Homeowners, businesses and insurance companies all need a commitment before they will stake their futures on the city.

At this moment the reconstruction is a rudderless ship. There is no effective leadership that we can identify. How many people could even name the president's liaison for the reconstruction effort, Donald Powell? Lawmakers need to understand that for New Orleans the words "pending in Congress" are a death warrant requiring no signature.

The rumbling from Washington that the proposed cost of better levees is too much has grown louder. Pretending we are going to do the necessary work eventually, while stalling until the next hurricane season is upon us, is dishonest and cowardly. Unless some clear, quick commitments are made, the displaced will have no choice but to sink roots in the alien communities where they landed.

The price tag for protection against a Category 5 hurricane, which would involve not just stronger and higher levees but also new drainage canals and environmental restoration, would very likely run to well over $32 billion. That is a lot of money. But that starting point represents just 1.2 percent of this year's estimated $2.6 trillion in federal spending, which actually overstates the case, since the cost would be spread over many years. And it is barely one-third the cost of the $95 billion in tax cuts passed just last week by the House of Representatives.

Total allocations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have topped $300 billion. All that money has been appropriated as the cost of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. But what was the worst possible case we fought to prevent?

Losing a major American city.

"We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better," President Bush said that night in September. Our feeling, strongly, is that he was right and should keep to his word. We in New York remember well what it was like for the country to rally around our city in a desperate hour. New York survived and has flourished. New Orleans can too.

Of course, New Orleans's local and state officials must do their part as well, and demonstrate the political and practical will to rebuild the city efficiently and responsibly. They must, as quickly as possible, produce a comprehensive plan for putting New Orleans back together. Which schools will be rebuilt and which will be absorbed? Which neighborhoods will be shored up? Where will the roads go? What about electricity and water lines? So far, local and state officials have been derelict at producing anything that comes close to a coherent plan. That is unacceptable.

The city must rise to the occasion. But it will not have that opportunity without the levees, and only the office of the president is strong enough to goad Congress to take swift action. Only his voice is loud enough to call people home and convince them that commitments will be met.

Maybe America does not want to rebuild New Orleans. Maybe we have decided that the deficits are too large and the money too scarce, and that it is better just to look the other way until the city withers and disappears. If that is truly the case, then it is incumbent on President Bush and Congress to admit it, and organize a real plan to help the dislocated residents resettle into new homes. The communities that opened their hearts to the Katrina refugees need to know that their short-term act of charity has turned into a permanent commitment.

If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities.

Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I Just Kinda Feel Like . . .

doing a Saturday Six:

1. You're producing a school program for the holidays and you learn that there will be major objections if you include in your musical selections the traditional Christmas hymns that reference the "true meaning of Christmas." Assuming that there are secular tunes (like "Frosty the Snowman") already included in the program, what do you do with the hymns? Do you allow them to go as is, do you use the melody and rewrite the words, do you include as many pieces of music from other religions as possible, or do you remove all but the secular songs?

I start negotiating to include Christmas, Channukah, Kwanzaa and Solstice songs. My kids' former elementary and middle school has a Solstice Celebration with all kinds of music and it's great.

2. What percentage of your Christmas shopping is done at this point? When do you expect to have it finished if you haven't already finished?

None whatsoever. It will be finished by December 24, unless it isn't.

3. What was your favorite board game to play as a kid? Is it still your favorite now?

Monopoly, then and now. But only if unencumbered horse trading is allowed. (I made my future sister-in-law cry once when I acquired most of the board while she was still figuring out my family's rules.) Truthfully, though, I hate board games. If I really had a favorite now, it would probably be Candyland with a little kid.

4. Take
this quiz (if you haven't already!): What famous artist should paint your portrait?

Seems that "Salvador Dali should paint your portrait. You love to think about the world in a different way then everyone else. You are very ambitious, and you like strange things. You are curious about everything and love to learn."

5. How accurate is this quiz's description of you?

Well, my thinking is reasonably conventional and I'm not terribly ambitious, but I am insatiably curious. I was kind of hoping for Picasso, though. Preferably blue.

6. If you could go back in time and have one more picture taken with a deceased loved one, who would you select and why?

I would love to have a picture of the adult me with my mother and her mother. I don't have any pictures of me with my mother after my seventh birthday, and none of me with my grandmother after sometime in junior high. What I'd really like, though, is to go out for dinner with both of them. And, by the way, my son is not here. Southwest cancelled all its flights out of Midway tonight, so he and his girlfriend have gone back to school. A reprieve for them, since she's off to Europe for the next two quarters, so I'm not complaining.


The View From Above
(Chicago from the Hancock Tower)

I have no idea what sounds a gannet makes. I am guessing that the title hereof works, though, as a sound of triumph: my final exam is done!

What would you like to know about Ignatian spirituality? Just ask. No jokes about Dominicans in lieu of will be entertained.

We have written about 80 pages for this class this past semester. That's a lot of pages -- five or six pages a week which, when you think that each page represents two or three hours of work -- well, that's a lot of reading and thinking and writing for people who have actual lives outside the classroom. All behind me now, though, so I feel quite sanguine about the whole enterprise.

And actually kind of bubbly -- no, not my usual MO -- but now I can think about Christmas! One of my friends "did" her house last week-end -- cleaned for two days and then put up the tree -- and commented how she didn't mind the work at all because it all looks and smells so wonderful. Well, I will miss out on the smells, since I am lacking that sense (makes having pets so much more tolerable) but I am for sure looking forward to how things will look. And just in time to enjoy, since son numero uno arrives from Chicago tonight, if he remembers to get on his plane which, if you know anything about University of Chicago students, you understand is not guaranteed.

And yes, feeling a little sad and troubled, too. When is there NOT sadness in the air? The news out of Tulane University, my daughter's erstwhile and we hope continuing college, yesterday was all bad, in the short-run sense -- undergraduate college reorganization, faculty terminations, the med school closed for the rest of the year, several majors and Ph.D. programs getting the axe. I retain the utmost respect for Scott Cowen, the indefatiguably optimistic and driven president of the university, but he and his board have had to make some tough, tough decisions that have left many young people reeling yet again.

I happened to be on a parents' message board yesterday when another mom mentioned that her daughter was down there and IN my daughter's dorm as we were posting. I had high hopes that she might be able to take a peek and see whether the lovely daughter's possessions are still there, but in the end she couldn't make any headway; the first floor of the dorm is completely torn up. Not the most comforting news for a mother whose child will be moving in in 32 days.

Most of the country has no idea what is and is not going on in New Orleans. The President and Congress have turned their backs; it is up to the private sector and the individuals who want to make something happen to see that it does. We will be trying, however unexpectedly, to do our part, when we settle our tiny, self-possessed, and determined offspring into her dorm on what we hope is high ground above Lake Ponchetrain. The Tulane student population will increase the population of NOLA by twenty percent; I have a feeling some people down there will be happy to see those kids return.

First, however, I will be glad to see one of them back here in another week.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Intentionally Untitled

I'm still so disoriented -

Not ready with the endurance winter requires -

Things going badly at work -

No idea how to respond to last question on final exam -

House a mess -

Way behind on my grading because I just don't feel like doing it -

Kids coming home but not mentally ready for them -

Sad and challenging news today about my daughter's university -

And I can't think of a thing to write about -

Oh, and one more little thing -- today I received the following email from a member of a yahoo listserve I'm on - or rather, was on, since she's deleted the entire thing as a result of this good news:

Yahoo is now using something called "Web Beacons" to track Yahoo Group users around the net and see what you're doing and where you are going-- similar to cookies. Yahoo is recording every website and every group you visit.

I feel hounded, by the media, by the crass commercialism that passes for the holidays, and by the internet.

Maybe it's time to put the blog down for a nap.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Celtic Spirituality - Part II

For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
Writers entrapped by
teatime fame and by
commuters' comforts? Not for these
the paper nautilus
constructs her thin glass shell.
Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
white outside and smooth-
edged inner surface
glossy as the sea,
the watchful
maker of it guards it
day and night; she scarcely
eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
arms, for she is in
a sense a devil-fish,
her glass ram's
horn-cradled freight
is hid but is not crushed;
as Hercules, bitten
by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
the intensively
watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed,
--leaving its wasp-nest flaws
of white on white, and close-
laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the mane of
a Parthenon horse,
round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
is the only fortress
strong enough to trust to.
~ Marianne Moore

A Celtic Spirituality - Part I

The great loves of the Celts: words and music and nature. One of the pleasures of blogging has been the restoration of all three to me in the form of friendships that extend across whatever the internet is, exactly; friendships that develop among people who love the same words, or harken to the same music, or see the same mystery in the eye of a bird or the curve of a shell.

I published an entry about an afternoon on the Lake Erie shoreline and Judith Heartsong asked for some North Shore skipping stones to remind her of joyful days past. She refused my offer of postage and agreed to make a contribution to a college my family cares about in memory of my recently departed stepmother as a way of paying me back. But that Judi! -- an artist's generosity wells up from her heart and she sent me something as well.

Hmmm......I wondered. AOL in disarray and my technological competence in need of a boost. So it took me awhile to get myself in gear. But not so long to find a poem about the nautilus and all those other things that mothers and artists and lovers ponder. So in the next entry. . . a joyful Christmas season to you, Judi and Virgina.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Both Sides Now

I came home to let the dog out, grab some lunch and, mostly, feel sorry for myself.

I've just had my third disconcerting run-in in recent weeks with colleagues and administrators. The details aren't important. Let's just say that it isn't difficult to undermine a teacher's self-confidence. We are pulled in so many directions at once by so many constituencies and have so little control over our work ~ I could probably find half a dozen incidents in any given day which I could allow to eviscerate my self-image if I were so inclined.

Usually I'm not. But sometimes ~ sometimes the critiques just go to the heart of who I am as a person and what I hope to accomplish with my students. Those are the killers. I can set aside parental demands for As, and administrative demands to teach attentiveness, self-discipline, co-operative discussion, history, and writing all simultaneously in the same forty-minute period, and student pleas for attention now see me now aren't I wonderful right this second, but it's much harder to respond with diffidence to words that imply that what I have to offer as a human being is pointless.

I need to take these feelings and use them for someone else's benefit. Late yesterday afternoon, a student nearly sobbed as she pleaded with me to explain why nothing she does for my classes ever works out. (Not exactly the case, but hyperbole is a frequent feature of adolescent self-expression.) I was able to make some suggestions as to how she might approach her work to obtain more productive results, but as we talked it occurred to me that the most important thing that I could do for her was just to sit with her and let her wail.

And today I realized why. She felt just the way that I do right now. She poured her heart into a thesis that wasn't, and spent an hour studying for a quiz via a method designed to ensure disaster, and she feels that her grades reflect something about her as a human being.

If only that were all there is to it. If only the value in presence were more recognized.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Winter is good—his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World—
Generic as a Quarry
And hearty—as a Rose—
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes.

Emily Dickinson

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Chicago - In Front of the Field's Windows - Thanksgiving 2005

The thing about community is -- it creates itself. When there's a reason for folks to go somewhere and a space for them to to be who they are -- they do.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Ohhhhhh....I have these papers to write. They are all due by Monday, December 12 at noon, at which time I can start thinking about Christmas. Not one moment before -- well, that's a lie. I got home from the grocery last night 45 minutes after I said I would because I ran into a friend and after we discussed all the kids, we had to puzzle out Christmas Dinner. Christmas Dinner is usually here, but this year her husband is having hip surgery on December 15. So . . . will he want to come here? What if it's snowy and icy? Should we move it to her house? Will he even be in the mood to talk to anyone? I think we left it that we will both clean our houses and we'll decide where to go on Christmas Eve. Or Christmas morning, if we have to. Everyone brings food so it doesn't much matter where we go.

ALSO, I see that my friend Marian has her tree up. AND we got our first Christmas card yesterday -- from Marian. All I can say to that is that we have a LOT more snow than she does, but no one had a snow day around here.

Anyway, while I am waiting for my pasta to cook and avoiding my papers, I thought I would share the first thing I see in every room of my house (first floor only) to remind myself that it all has to be transformed, and SOON:

Living Room: A couple of my son's projects from an architecture class last summer, stashed on the mantle out of the way of a certain dengerous feline;

Sunroom: The box from the Home/Office Toolbox that one of my friends gave my daughter last June as the best high school graduation gift ever. Of course, given how things go, the box is here, the actual toolbox is in New Orleans, and the daughter is in Oregon.

Back Porch: Eight inches of freshly fallen snow.

Kitchen: A newspaper with the headline: IRAQ: WHAT'S NEXT?, an atlas open to Chicago and a guidebook to Scotland -- YES! Next July! Iona, here we come!

Dining Room: Little piles of books and papers on Ignatian spirituality. Those pesky papers.

Front Hall: The approximately 200 catalogs that have reproduced themselves in the past week.

Front Porch: The Adirondack chairs under that eight inches of snow.

Rudolph, this would be a good day to put in an appearance.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


I have two of them to write about:

Two weeks from tomorrow my daughter will be home, and a month later she will leave again -- off to college for the THIRD time.

In August, she left with high hopes and a heart full of optimism for her freshman year of college at
Tulane and for her life in a new city. She got blown hither and yon by Katrina, showed up back home minus most of her belongings, reoriented herself, and three days later was off for her freshman year of college at Willamette.

("Mom," she said when she got home, "I did everything I was supposed to do. I worked hard, got good grades, visited schools, took SATs, filled out forms and wrote essays and got recommendations, sorted through my acceptances, made a decision, graduated from high school, went to Linens 'N Things, packed up and drove 1000 miles -- and my college DISAPPEARED. What am I supposed to do with THAT?"

"Sweetheart, I have no idea," I responded. "No one does. But we'll figure it out." And we did. And we got on a plane bound for Portland.

She has been so lucky. She arrived to a room with linens provided by Residential Services, goodies provided by Food Services, a welcome letter from the college president, and a roommate thrilled to meet her. Professors made room in their classes and gave her time to catch up on the week's work she had missed. She joined an intramural soccer team and started volunteering at the Salem Animal Shelter. She exchanged visits with one of her lifelong best friends who attends Reed, an hour from Willamette. She spent what looks from the photos to have been a delightful Thanksgiving with her roommate's family in southern Oregon.

And in two weeks it will all be over.

I could shout my pride in this child to the rooftops. She is a model of resiliency and cheerful adaptation. She has made wonderful friendships at Willamette, but she is looking forward to another start at Tulane, more new friends, new classes, and a chance to assist in the rebuilding of a city. Her attitude toward a college experience that is looking nothing like the one she had planned on is one of total aplomb.

But I will admit to some trepidation. I think it will be really hard. The transition from high school to college is something of a challenge in and of itself -- the end of one lifestyle, the reordering of relationships, the beginning of a new approach, and the creation of new bonds -- and now for these NOLA college kids, the same transition all over again, only a few months after the last one. When I looked at the Thanksgiving pictures, I wanted to cry -- the girls have become such good friends, and instead of three more years together, they get two weeks.

I posted something similar to this wail on a Tulane parents board and got little sympathy. Fair enough to call me on excessive hyperbole in the face of the suffering still faced by most NOLA residents. But I also realized from the responses that my daughter really has been the recipient of incredible generosity and good fortune. I would not be so sorry about her departure from Willamette had it not been such a positive experience for her.

As for my own transition, from my beloved AOL journal to this one -- well, bear with me. I have a tremendous amount of work to do in the next two weeks and the challenges of a new system are too time-taxing for me to undertake right now. I think I need a full day to move my life from AOL to my other server, and another full day to really set up shop here. I just have to remember that I had a steep learning curve at AOL as well, and it was a long time before I could create full-fledged entires there.

If my daughter can move back and forth across the country with so little consternation, I guess I can switch screens.