Is What We (Who are Not Pumpkins) Need Here?

early novThis is the sunrise in Ripley Ohio today.

My stomach has been in knots for several days now – in no small part to the terrorist events in our world – far and near.

For me, my sadness is only in part about the bombings in Africa, and Beirut, and Paris – it’s about noise. Our world is so full of superficial noise. I don’t want that for my grandchildren.

That is not what I want for them. I want more than for them to know that Granny’s new favorite phrase in ASL is “my hear is your heart.” I want more than to teach them to say that to me in silence. I want more than to sing them to sleep. I want far more than to hear their squeaky little voices. I want them to trust the world beyond the front door…beyond the village borders.

I want them to trust the feeling of joy – but if I don’t – how can they? And I don’t.

As I get older I question joy, all….of….the….time.

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Every year at this time I have the same dilemma, one that is shared with the couple of weeks that come before Lent: how will I celebrate Advent this year?

“What do you need this year?” I ask myself – “Where are you hurting? What do you need to deepen? Question? Celebrate? Learn? Strategize?”

Don’t know about you, (you who do the Advent thing that is….) but it’s a matter of setting up routines. Likely, most people fall into the comfort of old routine – pull out or make the wreath, gather a prayer book, set aside a few extra minutes.

But of all church seasons….Advent means the most to me because it is about quiet. I love quiet as a way of life more, and more, and more….every day.

Neurotic am I though….part and parcel of not coming into the world as a pumpkin in a patch or a set of shoes on a store shelf – I worry.

So, every year at this time ruminations are about what routine will be set forth in a week or so for the next month of preparations for……drumroll…

the

                                                          holidays.

This year I’m going to try and write.

My prayers, unless they go in a different direction…will be about abandon. The process of finding work, making friends, committing to a bit of a career shift, and enjoying the luxury and privilege of yet another educational gig – it has softened me. I hadn’t realized how lonely and bitter I’d become because…well,

because I’m not a pumpkin or a shoe.

So, that’s that….here are the flagship words that sit by my desk and tempt me to walk out the door as I do these days….

“What We Need is Here” ~ Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear

in the ancient faith; what we need

is here. And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye,

clear. What we need is here.

Lord have mercy.

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Don’t Panic. Get Your Flu shot.

Rosie Red card

Please listen closely as I need to be very blunt and clear about something that is on my mind.

(Good morning by the way and to those who may have missed my postings, not to worry Life is good and I’m loving my studies 🙂  ).

Okay – back to asking you to use your listening eyes as you read my minirant. I refuse, now and perhaps forever more, to panic about the Ebola epidemic on the continent of Africa and the potential crisis that Europe, and America and all of the other corners of the globe will be facing as the experts scramble to try to confine and treat this strange virus.

Yes, I know this is big, but

I would like us to, for the most part, to shut up and let the experts work their magic on the topic.

Please don’t leave comments in my box or anywhere in my life that are political or argumentative on this topic.

I will delete them without a blink and perhaps even block your ability to comment ever again on my blog.

Let me explain….

Sports are not my skill or interest, but smart is my skill. In addition, kids and language are my thing.

Worry and panic and anxiety are, unfortunately, a daily shadow in my world and that of many of my family members. In my case these tendencies are somewhat due to genetics, yet more so because I am a sensitive soul, very introverted, and a creative thinker.

But I am not now, or hopefully ever going to go into a full panic about Ebola.

Please, please know that I understand why people – media, friends, family, strangers – are fantastically concerned. It is a reasonable concern. America hasn’t had a plague in a while.

But here’s what is making me angry at the moment on the topic. In a nutshell…

A few weeks ago I started hearing my son and his friends converse about Ebola. They were also trying to beat Brazil at soccer on a video game and I started overhearing what I think may have been the beginnings of sorting through predjudicial comments at school tied to the topic. For sure, they were talking in boy code about how frightening the Ebola news is on top of figuring out how to avoid acne. At one point they started argueing a bit about what country is where on the globe. In true boy form though, two seconds later they were teasing about who’s family came from a stronger and taller ethnic background. I had to kind of laugh when I heard them consoling each other saying – “Bro, don’t worry, it’s just in South Africa and that’s pretty far from Iowa.”

This was a real consolation – I heard that for sure. It was a quick, “let’s just wash our hands and not worry about it guys” plan of action.

The other day they stopped back over and I caught them in the back yard using far too many garage tools to create some sort of back yard civil war reenactment or something along those lines. I found food and soon they were inside and back at international soccer competition by way of XBox.

Thank God my oldest son was doing most of the cooking because I was exhausted. I was siting in the BigSoftChair and trying to do homework and one of the guys launched into a list of who is your favorite “XYZ” sports figure questions and I was proud to have one for each sport listed. (Kareem, Pele, William “Dummy” Hoy and Derrick Coleman). If they had asked about golf I would have said Uncle Norm.

Anyway – it was a good time. They asked me to teach them some sign language and enjoyed a minute of bragging to me about all they had conquered in middle school thus far. I hadn’t seen these two kids in several months and was a little bit floored by some sprouting facial hair and nearly six-foot status. Impressive at barely twelve years old.

But – back to reality – is it appropriate for Twelve year old boys, changing voices or not, to be exposed to more than what is reasonable concern about Ebola?

No.

A million no’s.

Should I have done what was my instinct when I was finishing up the meal and heard some comments that seemed prejudicial about “them” at school? I felt like dropping the salad bowl to the floor and launching into teacher mode. Had to really try and hold back and not be an embarassing cranky mom.

My ears weren’t hearing all that they were saying and my stomach was growling like a mountain lion at the time, but I’m certain I heard a “them” comment from the kids. It was some how on the tail of another Ebola chat and seemed to refer to African-American kids in their school. Again – it could have been that they were talking about how short girls have cooties and bright orange tube socks are the new black, but still. My anntena perked up.

My youngest son is passionate about a lot of things, but diversity and equality is at the top of his list (along with dogs, basketball and BBQ ribs). His dad and I both love history – his dad more than I, and we do a lot of pondering in terms of African-American history. We are white, but grew up in small towns that were stations on the Underground Railroad. As a result, this son is a history and civil war buff and has already been known to wrangle on diversity topics with his peers.

I’ve had a packed several weeks as my studies to become an American Sign Language Interpreter or an advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has ramped up and become a challenge. This is a good thing. I have fallen back in love with a language that used to be a constant on my brain. I haven’t had time, or to be honest patience, with Facebook threads on anything other than photos of my nieces and nephews.

But,

this week, right around when I was trying to sort out if I should follow-up and ask my son if there is school smack talk about Ebola and ethnicity that is getting on his nerves or….

just roll with his reports about basketball season that has just started,

I started to see Facebook Memes and commentaries that are not funny about Ebola. I assumed that stupid comments would soon be flooding social media about my all time favorite presidential first lady who OWNs her awesome waistline, but jokes about intentionally funneling an epidemic into the Whitehouse?

No. Back off. Hold the phone.

And no. I won’t tolerate that.

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Abe selfie

Yes. I know. I’ve been told. There are a million and one ways to create the perfect Facebook filter – block this person, hide that feed, unfriend, refriend, IM, hide and filter my stuff.

Ignore, ignore, ignore.

(that thingy above Abe is an antique hearing aid by the way).

I’m trying to keep up with all of my options and create the most calming yet informative feed possible.

Once again though, like many of us, I feel like just leaving Facebook altogether. I do need to stay connected to family and all of the supplemental readings for my classes are shared videos in a private FB group, so I need to stay connected there on some level.

I’m being told that there are ways to not go through the drama of “unfriending” and just hide someone’s posts and then still have the ablitiy to stop by their page and check on their photos or have a quick instant message chat.

But, you mess with my sons and you mess with me, and I am already fed up on this particular side spread of predjudice and political garbage as a result of this immunology international concern.

At any rate. That is my rant.

And here is my recommendation if you aren’t sure what to do about this news that is in our every headline:

GET A FLU SHOT.

get a FLU SHOT.

Go GET a flu shot!!!

(and read this great article sent to me by a cherished friend who is a lauded expert in Pediatric immunology and related international concerns:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/15/opinion/frank-bruni-scarier-than-ebola.html?_r=0 )

We all have immune deficiant folks in our lives. Grandma, new babies, a friend with cancer or arthritis. Did you know that viruses are one of the top causes of hearing loss? Quite often the loss can be profound and permanent. Strange eh?

So spend the 25 bucks and reduce all of our worries please. CVS is currently giving a huge coupon along with it and our grocery store is giving away free gasoline.

And then do whatever it is that you do to try and manage stress and anxiety. Two minutes of kitchen dancing, an hour of screaming at the Steelers (against them preferably and in favor of the Bengals) , a triple scoop of ice cream – do it every once and a while. But when you are done, I ask you kindly to think long and hard about what you are saying in front of young children about Ebola and African plagues and immigration. I’m talking about in your house, AND in the grocery line of strangers.

This generation has enough going on as it is.

Don’t pity them that “this” is their world –

please protect them by managing your anxiety

privately amongst adults

or in your journal or with your pastor or,

Yoga instructor or Family Physician.

If you have stuck with me thus far on my ramble, thanks. I feel better now. A lot better. I miss having time to blog! It is fun for me.

As a token of my appreciation check out this adorable video about the excitement of the start of school :

http://d-pan.org/videos/dpanvideos/whitestripes/

Or this one about a little girl named Tamara who loves her mom to the moon and back again:

http://t.co/496jMBSB6D

Have a great weekend. Peace! Kate

Life Goals: Happy vs. Contented

CND campfire

I have a confession. I hate the “Happy Song” by the dude in the ten gallon hat.

(I couldn’t find the only video of that song that I like, but I found this instead and it’s hysterical. And includes hats. You don’t have to know American Sign Lanuage (ASL) to see the humor. They are hearing brothers with deaf parents, and from what I can catch, they are just signing “flower, pain, love, all year – PAIN, horrible!” So funny.)

I love music, and I love the look of goofy hats, but I utterly HATE the happy song. As in, I have to stop myself from screaming “change it to NPR or else!” at my tween son when it comes on the car radio.

Another confession.

I’m tired of the phrase “it’s all good.” I will say that the cartoons that go with those t-shirts and mugs of little stick people camping and enjoying flowers are awesome – takes me right back to being a residential camp counselor and to be honest, living a “happy song” kind of life. It was a blast…work hard doing fun things with goofy little kids, weekend parties, beach sunsets, card games and summer romance.

camp letter

BBC camp

A few decades later, I know now that what made those times so happy was that the middle-aged and beyond leadership was masterful at harnessing our insecurities, raging hormones, and gullible personalities by:

1:Making us work dawn to dusk. If we weren’t taking care of kids or getting activities ready we were expected to find someone who needed a hand or a poison ivy vine that needs to be hacked or a campfire skit to be planned.

and

2:Expecting that we should otherwise be

a) Doing something prayerful or reflective. Or,

b) Doing something outlandishly fun or crazy to burn off aforementioned                                                 insecurities, hormones and guile.

But, and…

please forgive me if you are a positive psychology research professional or a maker of affirmation posters….because

it’s not all good,

(attatched link is powerful and empowering – it is about domestic violence and is communicated in both American Sign Language and captions,)

and I’m sick of media and the world, particularly the American world, trying to cram the word “happy” into my face and life.

It’s exhausting.

I had a brief but great conversation with a friend about it this weekend. We were at a get together where some acquaintances, rather than hearing what we were saying about some very real and tough life realities, they replied with: “smile and the world smiles with you” and “oh, you can do it”, or

“BEEN THERE, DONE THAT”,

and: “if I can solve that same life problem, you can too, and here’s an App for you to tap!”

Having shared our frustration on the topic before, and because we both try to not blurt out the constant sarcastic flow of venom that we secretly share about the saying “been there done that” kind of mind-set, we had to pull ourselves aside from the conversation and debrief before saying or doing something regrettable.

I suggested that we go find some full-bodied Muppet type of costumes and come back to the party just to throw things off, but we decided to reapply our lipstick and enjoy how Ninja we feel in dangly earrings instead.

CND path

This is what we came up with – and it’s that the real reason, I now know with complete certainty, that I was so happy during those summers on the lake. The thing is, there wasn’t conversation or debate about what “happy” has to be at camp….for any of us. We weren’t trying our hardest to keep the campers constantly jovial – that was impossible. As a matter of fact my dearest memories are of consoling home sick children, of trying to point out to the popular kids that an awkward one was being left out. Of the chubby kids who were falling out of their clothes and the skinny ones who could barely keep them on. My favorite camper was a boy who was deaf and started the week out being very rough with the other boys because he know he was being picked on and made fun of without the single exchange of a word.

I am really attached to the memory of him slamming that wooden screen door on another kid when I was at the front of the line trying to get that stinky, mud covered, whining group of little guys out of the rain and into the cabin so that they could climb in their bunks and be homesick in peace.

Why? Because

it wasn’t all good. And I’m not afraid to remember that, or look at what sucks in life.

Agreed, I am a bit too drawn to the dark side of things, but that’s why God gave me a family who tells me to knock it off when I a become annoying and dogs who shame themselves if I ignore their request to fetch or go outside for a pee break.

This quote better says what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to say that what I’m shooting for is contentment, while, sometimes, the world seems to be all about happy:

“I want first of all… to be at peace with myself.

 

I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.

 

I want, in fact–to borrow from the language of the saints–to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus when he said, “May the outward and inward man be one.” I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

 

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

 

Oh, and about the angry Deaf kid? He ended up having a great week. And he stopped punching and slamming.

Why? Because the other camp counselors and I listened to him first, and distracted him next. We signed in American Sign Language that “angry” happens, and that other boys being mean is not “fine.” And, we tried, in no uncertain terms, to tell him that slamming and hitting was not going to lead to friendship.

My other favorite memory from that week? (I can’t believe I can still pull this out of my brain. It was like, 30 years ago.) We were trooping through the summer heat and itchy fields after one of those scuffles. There had of course been a  “shape up boys!” talk with both kiddos and my rough and tumble little friend fell to the end of the line for a good old-fashioned sulk.

I doubt that I had to fake my exhaustion or frustration about the whole thing as I trudged them toward the pool.

He then suddenly broke protocol and was of course tattled on: “He’s out of line! Why is he allowed to get off the path! No cutting!”

For which, and this makes me tear up every time I think of it, I was delivered a huge bouquet of weeds with a couple of wild flowers and a most beautiful and thankful smile. Guess he found a way to be at peace with himself, even if for a while.

The thing is…if we hadn’t squared up to the rain and the slammed door there wouldn’t have been any flowers for him to pick. Know what I mean? Jelly bean?

 

 

Defining Grace One: Kind and Generous

Okay class, let’s define the theological meaning of grace…

 

Excellent answers! Yes, all of the scholars agree that grace is 1) an amazing experience because it is undeserved and overwhelming.

 

and 2) meant to be fun and joy filled.

My Goodness. Quite an October we are having. You as well?

Last week, I became overwhelmed while working on getting an anniversary gift at Sam’s Club and had to call and text my friend in Pittsburgh multiple times. She and I both struggle with insomnia more than the average bear.

The season change (ahh-choo), changing sun patterns, and worry about national leadership to get our youngest into adulthood had been keeping me up for several days in a row.

A couple of weeks prior, she had been having some tricky waters and after 25 years of both of us not caring a hoot to talk politics, we are suddenly planning odd campaign tactics that involve kittens with press passes and gummy bears by the pound.

I honestly can’t remember what we were going to do with the gummies.

Thankfully,

the wonder of text slowed me down and I asked her while pushing a trolly down aisle 23:

12 or 6 lbs of gummies?

she said:

Six. Fer Sure.

copyright free, care of FotoSearch

The calm of having her friendship and an additionally silly text conversation with my niece who is in baking school, I traded six lbs of Gourmet Gummy Candy and a case of something for a big white board. My hope is to manage some of this “ain’t got no time to even jot blog outlines” tap dance I was doing with debit card in hand, while the sticky notes of household needs were long lost.

A few days later I carved out an hour to do some white boarding of some of these definitions of grace packed in my noggin, and I have about five of them to start. There are five songs that go with each definition as well.

The first definition is the imaginary classroom chat above:

The experience of grace is not something we earn, it is overwhelming, and almost always fun. ~

K. Cooper, M.A.

The song “Kind and Generous”as sung by Natalie Merchant is my go

Natalie Merchant, photo source unknown

to song that guts out this particular feeling that something huge

(in a good way,

like being snagged by a handsome young graduate student twenty years ago this fall,

or seeing your child wake up in a recovery room,

or hearing from two seperate friends that an organ donation had finally arrived,

or…you tell me! I’d love to hear an example from your life as well).

You Tube the song if you like – Ms. Merchant is a lovely dancer and funky dresser as well.

Happy Autumn ~ Kate.

A Poem Saying: Slow Down and Remember You are Royal

I have a poem that I want to share in this post.

It is by a professor and writer who I met last week named Erin Bertram.

In fourteen lines, this poem, to me, says pretty much I’d like this blog to be all about.

I know that poetry isn’t for everyone. It’s usually pretty obtuse. Yet, I’m glad to be reminded that I like really, really good poetry because it slows me down. Most writing spells out the authors message and doesn’t make the reader work hard to understand what the writer hopes to impress on the reader. 

The bold and italic marks are mine, not hers. They highlight what I first heard when Erin read it at a gathering. When I asked if what she was saying was – “life’s in the here in now, so grab it if you can,” and she smiled and said “yes!”

Lucky me, she gave me a whole booklet of her poems the next day. Thanks Erin! And thanks family for nudging me down the sidewalk and saying “go make some friends!”

[We Are All Of Us Adorned With Crowns]

~ Erin M. Bertram

There are five forms of lightning:heat,ball,ribbon,forked,

Sheet. We are all of us adorned with crowns. Take my hand

& consider it tender, consider it, slack-jawed & open palmed,

Most days entirely capable.When you leave for work mornings,

Leave your necessaries strewn across the dresser as leaves

Mid-November & wanting. Sundry nights disrobe wildly & call me

By my given name, the one everyone knows but few harness

Into use. Make my parents proud. This life in all it’s tattered glare

Offers up more than I can chew, a fact I’ve come slowly,

& not without fight or requisite scar, to accept. Scattershot,

Lift your head to the sutures of exhaust in the sky & recite

All the things your hands have moved gently over. The fault lines

Of our all but sullied hands. To body the many shifts of an afternoon.

To be the thing which in the distance does the vanishing.

 

My Son is a Rediculous RefusalMan

This is how the letter "r" looks to the peRson who is Reading the woRd that is being spelled in sign language. "R"eally. It is.

Definition: A boy or man who is endowed with greater than usual avoidance and refusal skills that take battle with anything which he does not consider fun.

True Example: The Mom chased the boy around the house with increasingly stern reminders to get the school work done. She set kitchen timers. She used a happy face approach. She warned him once. She used a serious face approach. She warned him twice. She tried to not use a “red in the face” approach. She went for a short walk. After he finally gathered his books, on the way to his room the kid said: “Mom, I’m just a rediculous RefusalMan.”

Saturday and the Letter G: Don’t Peek!

Sign Language "g" from the back...

Raise the roof for a "g" to the front!

(this post is meant for Saturday, April 7th, a day when I will be on a famorama duty of one sort or the other and away from the desk)

Made up word of the day: GrannyBird

GrannyBird (proper noun): A grandmother of unique design.

Eg: GrannyBird chased the kids out of the kitchen so that she could finish the rainbow jello-mold dessert.

Forgiveness Friday: Fan Mail to Sendak

Did your parents send you out in warm summer rain and force you to dance?

Mine did.

Did your parents tell you to get lost because they were busy reading their mystery books or the New York Times?

Ours did.

Did your parents, some how, some way, help give you the confidence to write a letter to Maurice Sendak with the expectation that he would write back?

Mine did.

And he did. I was a senior in college and felt faint when opening my mail box.

Among replies to the fan mail that I have sent over the years, I have gotten hand written replies from Lou Jacobs (famous Ringling Brothers clown), Maurice Sendak (author of In the Night Kitchen) and most recently, Martin Sheen (lead actor in the recent movie The Way).

Not only did these gentlemen return a reply soon after I wrote my letter of thanks and interest, each of them wrote back by hand.

Who DOES that any more?

And…why me? Mine was certainly not the only letter they received in the mail on whatever day their agents let the letters pass through.

I think, much like I said to a neighbor and new friend yesterday who was so kind as to give our son two hours of wonderful stories of his childhood,

I think that sometimes the Holy Spirit knows who and what we need far better than we do.

In the same way that my son Joe needed Edward’s advice and insight about prejudice yesterday, perhaps Edward needed an eager young boy who is willing to listen closely to what he has to say.

” ’tis a glory hallelujah to believe…”

“…we shall only know the blessing of our founders sweet caressing when they ring the golden bells for you and me.”

~ When They Ring the Golden Bells by Dan­i­el de Mar­belle

* P.S. I was looking for a version of Emmy Lou Harris singing this song, and stumbled instead on to one of my mother’s favorites: Mahalia Jackson. If you click on the song title you can listen to Mahalia on YouTube. ~ Enjoy!