Sunday, December 26, 2010


The park system in our area is called Preservation Parks. I always used to think that the thing being preserved was the land--small bits of it being set aside from the rampant development that appears everywhere north of Columbus.

A farmer friend of ours explained why many of the farms end up as housing developments or strip malls: the farmers here spend a lifetime just getting by, and when retirement age comes, they have the choice of either living on not enough money or selling their land to developers and not worrying about who's going to take care of their financial needs (chief among them being health care). Faced with those options, I'm not sure I would be able to do things any differently than those who sell.

But a couple of families near here were lucky enough (I have no idea how) to be able to donate the land to the Preservation Parks system. And boy am I grateful!

Lately, I have decided that it's more accurate to say that the land is preserving me. We walk out on these trails--most of them easy enough for kids, but if you walk two or three you can usually go for a couple miles--and I am so thankful for the access to woods, and creeks, and fields. I think there's something in me that needs to be with the trees and grass. I'd rather not camp, no (especially at this time of year!). But I need to go walking out there.

(A creek winds through Deer Haven... we must have crossed it at least three times)

The most recent park to open in our system is called Deer Haven; we went for a walk there during Thanksgiving break and I took some photos...

(Even the sidewalk between the parking lot and the nature center has leaf shapes pressed into it... cool!)

(This big old tree was leaking sap...)


(Family plus one, walking quickly because it was chilly, noses running...)

(We kept having weird warm spells in November, but it had finally gotten cold over Thanksgiving--cold enough for us to spot the first ice of the season, a delicate edging around a puddle or two...)

(late fall palette... and an accidental self-portrait... I can't even explain how beautiful these colors are...)

I LOVE this place! I am hoping for a walk again at Deer Haven soon--when it's not quite so cold out as it is today. After a rough end to the semester, the busy-busy of Christmas, and some other unnameable stresses, I feel the need for some preservation.

I hope you find a place near you that soothes your soul!


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No! Sleep!

Til Brooklyn!

This is what I've been thinking of in my head for a week and a half as I face down the last week of classes this semester.

It's a challenging time: the last week of classes means it's time to return all the papers I collected just before & just after Thanksgiving break as well as teach the last few texts of the semester and review for final exams. The committees & groups I'm in are trying to have one last meeting or two before the end of the semester. I've got senior portfolios, and freshman paper revisions come in soon. On the assessment committee we're doing the university writing assessment (part one earlier this evening, part two next week, both multi-hour meetings).

Add to that a partner whose final exams have been moved up this year so that we're both super-pressed for time at the same time. PLUS Christmas--shopping, planning, concerts and rehearsals for the boy...

It's all a bit overwhelming! Not necessarily in a bad way, of course--I'm proud of Dexter, and the Christmas songs are wonderful to hear, and I'm excited to be finishing the work of teaching a class (or three), and it'll be good for Patrick not to have exam week hanging over him during the break. It's just a bit much when it all comes at once.

So I haven't been sleeping as much as I need to. Thus the Beastie Boys, shout-singing with me:




(Brooklyn being a metaphor here for the Promised Land of the day grades are turned in? Whatever it stands for, it feels right.)

I posted this video on my FB status today (and I actually get a kick out of it, but only if I overlook the silver-bikini-clad dancer). Other songs that have been appearing in the playlist: "I'm a Survivor" (by Destiny's Child) and "2 Legit 2 Quit" (by M.C. Hammer).

I've never owned any of these songs, so I have no idea why they're coming to me, but I'm grateful. Their inspiring and affirming choruses have been drifting into my consciousness, lending me a little boost, I think. Thank goodness! Plus I'm a sucker for a good beat. (Does anyone else out there remember American Bandstand?)

Hope you're getting some good sleep this week.

Sweet dreams,

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dream a little dream...

So, full disclosure: my spiritual beliefs are pretty... well, what some would call "woo-woo." I believe in ghosts, and that there are spirits all around us. I believe, like many of the authors I study, that the trees and grass and wind and sky and all living beings have a spirit. Given this worldview, perhaps it's no surprise that I would think of dreams as being special.

Except I've never been one of those people who has deeply symbolic, rich, or prophetic dreams on a regular basis. To be honest, most days I can barely remember my dreams within five minutes of waking up. I'm a bit envious of folks who have rich dream lives and who can talk about their dreams the next day.

A few years ago I did an exercise: as soon as you open your eyes, start writing what you remember of the dream you've just had, and keep writing until you feel your consciousness kick in. Once you stop, put that piece of paper away and get the next day's blank sheet ready. At the end of the week, look at what you've written.

It worked amazingly well--each day, I had something to write down, and I was able to tell when my consciousness would wake up and make itself felt, usually in the impulse to edit or correct punctuation or something like that. And at the end of the week? I could barely recognize my dreams as my own. They sounded like some strange fiction someone else had imagined. With one or two I could remember the image I woke up with, but these were hazy; it felt like I was trying to grab hold of fog. It was amazing! I'd like to try it again sometime...

For the most part, I think those of us under the influence of western thinking tend to think of dreams as being a key to our psychology: if we just interpret them correctly, we will understand something of our deeper (sometimes darker) thoughts. A dream becomes a key to unlock something--a utilitarian tool, really.

But I kind of like the idea of dreams as prophecy, as vision, as second sight. Sometimes I wish for that kind of dream...

Recently I remembered a ring that we bought for me years ago, when we really couldn't afford it; it's a round opal in an unusual setting, pretty as can be. Back when we bought it, I'd heard it was bad luck to wear an opal if it wasn't your birthstone, and it's not mine, but I'd just had a baby in October, and I figured I'd earned a special dispensation. I loved that ring, but was afraid to wear it for fear of hurting it. And just recently I decided that we didn't buy it so it could spend the next 10 years hidden away somewhere.

But where was it?

I looked in the jewelry box, the other jewelry box, the sock drawer, the bowl of treasures; everywhere I could think of to look, I searched twice and three times, emptying everything out, to no avail. I even checked the dresser we moved to the basement years ago. Nothing.

So I decided to ask for a dream to help me. As I fell asleep one night, I asked whatever spirits might be able to help to show me some clue to finding the ring. I woke up seeing a gold coin purse--the one my grandmother had given to me some years before she died; it had belonged to her mother, and she was giving it to me. I kept a pair of earrings and a pin in it that my grandmother had worn, and that I'd been given after she died--they were just costume jewelry, but they reminded me of her, and so they were precious. I hadn't seen the coin purse in my searches, either; where was it? I was given the idea that the ring and the coin purse were together; time to take one more look.

Back into the closets and the places I'd already checked. Except this time my eyes laid on a little drawer I used to keep on top of my dresser (before we'd had our remodeling). I opened it, and there was the coin purse. I took out its contents, thanked my grandmother again--for the best hugs in the whole world, and for letting me know she was looking out for me. But where was the ring? I had nearly emptied the little drawer of its contents when I finally spied it. Just as promised, the ring was with the coin purse. And I'd dreamt it. Cool.

Thanks, Grandmom!

(knitting and reading; what could be better?)

I'm wearing it every day now, taking it off sometimes (to wash dishes and such), but really enjoying it. I was never much for pastel colors, but I love the way it seems pink sometimes, blue sometimes, green sometimes. I love the way the white surface just barely covers all those colors waiting underneath, the colors that come alive when you look at them...

(Can you see the setting? I was having trouble zooming
and taking a photo with my left hand...)

May you find something lost, and may you have interesting (in a good way) dreams!


Monday, November 15, 2010


I've been feeling lately that I want to post to the blog, but don't have something sustained to say. I have a million thoughts running through my head on a daily basis, and every once in a while think, "oh, I ought to write about that on the blog." But then what I have to say only turns out to be a couple sentences. Not so much a post.

So I was wondering this morning: what's up with my brain? What seems to have caused this lack of ability to sustain a complex or deep thought?

I came up with a couple possibilities: I've been grading a lot. My students' papers, depending on the class, do indeed contain deep thoughts, but I have to move on relentlessly to the next paper, not dwell on anything for too long.

The more likely culprits seem to be Facebook and Twitter, and web-surfing in general. I have been nearly compulsive lately in checking FB & Twitter--and for no better reason than "what's new since the last time I checked?" I'm not even sure I enjoy it anymore. So they're going in time-out. Or at least in slowdown mode--I'm going to try to make a point not to check them more than once a day. I have a lot of reading that I had put aside because it's hard to read anything long during the semester (I'm usually reading boatloads for homework); perhaps it's time to give that material some attention. Sustained thoughts, sustained ideas--that feels like what I need right now.

In the meantime... here are some scattered photos from the past week or so, and some scattered thoughts to go with them.

Out and about
Recently we went to two events at my school that we really enjoyed: one was a fundraiser for the Bodo Initiative, part of Education for the Future Foundation. My dear former student Lydia Spitalny created Bodo after she spent a semester abroad in Kenya; Lydia is inspiring, and her work is changing lives. Here is a picture of a drum circle, at the end of the evening, that Dexter actually got brave enough to participate in. More cowbell!

And here is another evening in the same space just a week later: the annual Culture Fest. In this piece, our campus group Wafiki wa Afrika were presenting a song...

... and there was also some wonderful dancing from Pakistan and India!

(My photos are bad, but the events were fun.)

At Dexter's school, the students presented a Veterans' Day concert that was quite nice. My favorite part was where they invited all the veterans in the auditorium to stand up, introduce themselves, and tell what branch of the service they were in and when...

(This is the stage before the kids arrived.)

I'm as liberal as they come, and yet events like this get me every time. After we got home, Dexter called Grandpa, Pop-pop, and Great-Granddad to thank them for their service.

Closer to home
Dexter must have had a growth spurt; either that or we haven't bought him clothes in a long time (distinctly possible). It seemed like he grew out of everything at once. So I've set aside the too-small stuff to take to the rez when I go back in March. Pirate has decided that Dexter's old socks make a lovely nest:

He's a sock pirate!

And speaking of happy, here's my teacup, complete with bloom:

Such a nice way to be greeted at breakfast time!

Let's talk about...
The weather here lately has been really weird. Warmer than I ever remember fall being, with three-ish-day spots of cold every now and then. And dry as a bone. Every time we get a little rain, with that warm weather, a couple flowers in the garden come back. They look confused.

Anyhow, here's a tree on campus that one day seemed to drop nearly all its leaves at once:

I was happy to catch sight of it before the leaf-blower crew came by, to have a chance to see the carpet of yellow leaves that belonged to that tree.

Look who I found in our driveway!

I can't remember whether a wide middle stripe means a long winter or not. And: is this wider than usual?

I have no idea...

Back out again
And, lastly, we are indeed turning toward winter, despite the weird warm temperatures. We went walking in a local park that features some meadows--places where the park folks are working on establishing some tall-grass prairies. I liked the splash of red we saw every once in a while among the blonde stalks:

Isn't this a beautiful color palette? We pay so much attention to the trees, but this field, it seems to me, was celebrating fall, too.

I hope you have a chance to celebrate fall, and to gather your thoughts.


Edited to add: the group's name is Rafiki wa Africa. I am a doofus.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The more of life

(My messy desk)

I have been feeling guilty about not getting a huge load of homework done this past weekend. And I've also been trying to balance that guilt with the knowledge that I was out of my routine for some really good and wonderful reasons. It was appropriate for me to take time away from homework to take advantage of these good opportunities that came my way to learn new things and bond with people I admire. And yet the guilt lingers.

Yesterday I came across a quote from Amos Bronson Alcott (famous 19th-century reformer and father of Louisa May): "The less of routine, the more of life." So I am walking around with that sentence in my head, repeating it as a mantra and trying to dispel that lingering guilt, trying to affirm that what I did this past weekend was live life! Life offered me some amazing gifts, and I said yes to them.

Here's some of what I lived (and that gave me joy):

A one-day fiber workshop with Judith Mackenzie...

(Here I am with Judith at the end of the workshop.
Do I look crammed full of good info?
Judith is the most patient teacher I know... plus she's a certified fiber goddess.)

(Before and after the workshop I finished spinning some of the Bison roving Judith sells. It is so soft and smushy!)

A one-afternoon visit with Tom Weaver...

(We took him hiking at Gallant Woods, one of the Preservation Parks near town. It was a lovely afternoon!)

(We admired the trees and sky...
and I talked to the horses...)

(there was an event going on that day, with wagon rides...)

(... and we admired the butterflies; this one is a Buckeye, Tom said.
He knows a LOT about our plant, tree, and animal relatives!)

Tom also met briefly with the student team I'm going with to the rez in March of 2011. He taught us a couple Lakota prayer songs, one of which I recognized and had been wanting to learn. It was also good to just hang out with him in our kitchen, cooking some food and talking about families and getting to know each other.

It was a good weekend. Even if I am behind on my paperwork.

Hope you have a chance to experience the more of life soon!


Monday, October 11, 2010

On not celebrating Columbus Day

All day today I kept remembering and then forgetting that it was Columbus Day. When I was a kid, I associated the day with parades in Baltimore and the Little Italy section of the city (and great ethnic food that wasn't the kind my Polish family made). Not that we were all that into celebrating the day--we were Polish, after all, not Italian, when we expressed our ethnic selves.

(a replica of one of Columbus's ships, docked in Columbus, Ohio)

But now the holiday means something different to me. I see Columbus's landing as the beginning of an American holocaust, and the biggest event in modern times: the meeting between the people of the Americas and the people of Europe. (Of course, shortly thereafter, the people of Africa were taken here against their will to replace the native slave laborers who'd been killed off in droves in the Caribbean islands, including Haiti/Hispaniola, Columbus's original landing place.)

Nowadays I tend to focus not on a celebration of a "discovery" (what an incredible misnomer!), but on thinking about what we lost when millions of people were killed--by disease, famine, war, and colonialism--in the Americas. I think about the knowledge we lost: what the indigenous people knew about this land, its animals and plants, its waterways, its seasons, its hundred-year rhythms. I think about the songs they sang, the stories they wrote, the art they made, the stars they mapped. I think about how they understood their place in relation to the universe--Mother Earth, Father Sky, the divine all around us, the divine within us. I think about how they had everything they needed to create a good life in this place, on this land, with the people they loved.

And I mourn. Because the people who were my ancestors didn't know how to listen, and because so much was lost.

And I remember, too, that native people are still here, still singing songs and telling stories and making art and mapping stars. (For example, listen to poet Margaret Noori read her beautiful and compelling poetry in Ojibwe here.) Native people are still teaching those who will listen how we can be in relationship with the plants and animals and waterways here, and with the land itself, and with the divine spirit that lives in this place.

I want to remember and listen. I am ready to learn.


Friday, October 8, 2010

On not writing poetry

Every once in a while, I get what I think is a good idea for a poem. Only I don't write poetry, so I haven't a clue how to begin, and mostly I think the results would be bad. So those ideas just sit somewhere in my brain, not realized but still there. And they haunt me a little bit. They don't really evaporate, but nothing really comes of them either; it's kind of like they're in limbo.

Maybe someday I will write short essays about them. But really, they're supposed to be poems, I think.

Here are some ideas that I think would make good poems...

-- The kid across the street from us has grown into a high school senior. When we first moved here, he was a little younger than my son is now, and kind of gawky, definitely a little kid though on the tall side. He went through a rather goofy-looking young-teenager stage, and now before our very eyes, he has become an adult human, tall and poised and more graceful than he used to be, but definitely still a teenager. He drives a car and has a girlfriend and is visiting colleges. He's still a little shy. I look at him and I wonder about my son's next 8 years, wonder what he'll look like and how he'll move and what he'll spend his attention on and what will make him laugh and what will make him angry. I see this kid across the street and I wonder about my son and who he'll become as he becomes an adult.

(Here's my boy, by a lake in Minneapolis, his totem animal just over his shoulder.)

-- There's an art installation in back of the NMAI called "Always Becoming," by Nora Naranjo-Morse.

It features structures--smaller scale--that represent traditional native buildings; they're all made from materials that are designed to disintegrate. The art is supposed to dissolve, be impermanent.

And it's in sight of the Capitol. (Here's a photo that shows you the juxtaposition.)

The contrast is there, sure, but it's almost too easy, and repeats some comparisons that people have been making for centuries. (In my classes we talk about the rhetorics of "civilized" and "savage" that has facilitated the processes of colonization for the past, oh, 500+ years...)

What strikes me as more interesting, and probably a more provocative idea, is that the piece also tells us about endurance, survival, perseverance. Those native living structures mean, for me, that native people are still here, in the place that seems to have nothing to do with them, and in fact was the site of various violent plans to wipe them out or benevolent plans help them to leave behind their "benighted" ways, and all of those plans disastrous. The poem would have to include some play on the word "house"...

-- The sky on the prairie. It makes me feel small, and yet it makes me feel a part of the earth, a part of the sky, connected and observing. It's wondrous, and I'm a witness. Here are some photos...

... though of course my camera couldn't capture what it feels like when you've got sky in 360 degrees.

-- And the prairie grass. Someone needs to write a poem about the prairie grass...

... how it's like the sea, how it whispers on a windy day, how it shows you where the wind is going, how it smells...

Once upon a time, when I lived in San Francisco, my friend Jane told me about her attempts to write a poem about what it sounded like when she heard a whale surface and breathe. Yes, it's like that: trying to say something that you know is important and deserves the best, most beautiful language possible.

I hope you find all the words you need today.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A couple things...

... because I can't stand to go another day without posting to the blog!

1. I just handed in a report (late) that took hours and hours of my time, and on top of that exacted an emotional toll--in part because I needed it to be well written despite the fact that it won't have its intended effect. (Sorry to be cryptic here, but I don't feel comfortable saying more!) Suffice it to say it was a drain on my time and effort, and felt like a waste of time, but I couldn't get out of doing it. I let myself be angry and frustrated about it for a while, and now I'm looking for the silver lining, looking for a reason to feel at least a fraction of the experience was a useful exercise. This photo I took recently seems to capture the feeling it left me with--a piece of a wing, but clearly one that has been chewed on (!)... (I spotted it on my walk to work last week.)

(Vanity moment: that same day the sparkles on my skirt caught the light as I walked by a shop window, so I snapped a pic... Can you see them? That was a warm day, probably one of the last this year I'll wear non-covered-up legs!)

2. We have been having adventures of the small-town variety this month--the Horse Parade, the county fair. I haven't uploaded the fair pics yet, but here are some of the parade:

(Miniature horses are always a big hit with the crowd...)

(John Wayne made an appearance!)

(Aren't they beautiful? Look at the curve of that neck!)

The horse parade and the county fair, with its emphasis on harness racing (including the world-famous Little Brown Jug), mean that the whole town gets a horsey theme for the month of September--something my little-girl self gets really happy about. Here's a window at the local teacher-supply-and-kid-lit store:

It would have made the 11-year-old me quite happy!

3. We had what I think is summer's last gasp last week--record-breaking warm temp.s--and all of a sudden a million of these guys were showing up outside, in the house--everywhere, it seemed. They are called stink bugs, which means I respect their space, but I think they are beautiful and fascinating and I do try to look at them close up:

As long as they don't eat my fiber, I'm okay with them being around.

We usually have a LOT of praying mantises in our front yard, but this summer there were fewer. There's a particular shrub they like to hang out in and lay eggs in; I hope more come around next year. They've become kind of our family totem insect over the past few years!

(This one was waiting for us on the porch
when we arrived home one evening.
There were plenty of moths to choose from that night,
so I hope she/he ate well!)

By the way,

Have a good one!