Sunday, July 31, 2011

Halos and angels at 3:03 AM

 Sometimes I wake at 3:03 am

leaving a very thin halo where my head was on the pillow, 
and  wish that I could share my idiosyncratic mental unravelings with you.  
I'm scared, fear colored by dreams and weather: the dream where a cute man sees me pick my nose,  the one where I can't find the baby, or maybe hail storming against the window inside lashing winds, the snap when a branch falls from the crepe myrtle.  
I send silent questions to whoever is out there. Sometimes an answer, also wordless, enters the huge space around me, but tonight, I'm on my own. I have heard that it is better to pray with angels than to sleep.  Well, here I am: wide awake, open to messages from any with messages to deliver. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Helpful space

This week I went to bellydancing class in an unfocused, and cranky funk.  I had bothersome things on my mind.  Our teacher was talking, but she seemed  far away. She tried to correct an erratic movement that I kept repeating. I panicked a little because I wasn't focused enough to listen.  I knew that she would keep trying to explain, but I wasn't in a place to hear. I have had it happen before.  Someone tries earnestly to explain a task, and naturally expects me to perform, but my brain is not having it.  The panic comes because I want the teacher to be successful; I don't want her help to go unappreciated, but at the same time I am not capable of receiving help.  At times like that, I need space. Perfecting the angle of my elbows will just have to wait.

 I told the instructor that I just needed to move incorrectly for a little while. I was grateful that she listened, and left me alone.   Class progressed; after I shimmied away the day I'd come in with, I was open to helpful corrections.

   Sometimes the best way to help another person is to respect his ability to figure things out.  Go away, give  time and space.  Let him founder, fail, and cultivate his own rhythms.  I'm grateful that my instructor knew this.  I try to remember.....

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gloucester, Virginia

I live in a county that recently cut the public school year by 20 days rather than institute a minimal personal property tax raise.  The biggest media event this year was when  Chick Filet opened.  People camped out!  Last month, the public library backed down from a controversy and removed it's extremely low key exhibit of Gay Pride books.   These are some trends that I dislike about this county. Republican, right wing, dogmatically religious, conservative Gloucester county...An area not historically known for racial tolerance, or tolerance in general.  These are widely accepted stereotypes about our county, however, there is an increasing diversity of perspective here.  Gloucester didn't vote for Obama; however, after the the Lehman brothers crisis, and especially after McCain chose Sarah Palin,  previously closed doors started opening for those of us who were working to get then Senator Obama elected as president.

The area has many positives. It's a beautiful, rural area within an hour of either Richmond, Newport News, Williamsburg, or Norfolk. Local universities? William and Mary, Hampton, VIMS, CNU.....and  DC is only three hours away.  People garden, hunt, and fish.  There is even a food co-op.  Few people know it, but Gloucester was the location of the think tank where strategies used in the fight for Civil Rights were developed.  "Come to Cappahosic!" was Dr. Robert Russo Moton's invitation to his home, now being restored as  The Moton Center.   Martin Luther King Jr. allegedly wrote his, "I have a dream" speech while looking out at the York River from Dr. Moton's home.  Another mover and shaker from Gloucester was, Irene Morgan Kilkaldy . Before Rosa Parks, and laying the ground work for the Freedom Riders, Mrs. Kilkaldy took the historic stand  that led to a Supreme court decision to outlaw segregation on interstate bus lines.

  My mother married a Gloucester man, and my sister  married a Kilmarnock man.  I moved midway between my mother and sister when Joni was five months old.  I never thought that I'd stay here as long as I have.  I have never lived anywhere that was perfect, but I do find what I need wherever I go.  I always meet amazing people, make friends, and find insight and purpose.  Gloucester is no exception.  I am, however, making small preparations so that I can leave in two years, as soon as Joni goes to college.   I don't know where I'll go, though I have a short list and tentative plans. Maybe I won't do it, but I think that it would be good for my emotional health if I do.

There is a difference between getting along and deeply connecting.  I'm not sure that I will ever really feel connected to this area. Maybe it's just the grass is greener syndrome, or maybe garden-variety wanderlust, but I don't think so.  I have  lived in places that felt right. I don't want to get old  living somewhere I don't deeply want to be just because I have a "make it work" attitude.  Now.  I'm going to eat  leftover cous cous and go to bed early.  Tomorrow I get to pick up Joni from camp!!! I can not wait to see that girl!!!!!! Goodnight.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cooking, eating, lazing

Company of women, waiting for steam to rise the second time from the cous cous.  Talking, sort of dancing in the kitchen.  Now throw in the turnips: red and golden. Later, zucchini goes into the pot.  The daughter teases the mother, "you need a boyfriend," and the widowed mother retorts, "no. no. I married one time. one time." She shows me a photograph of him, and of their wedding day. When she asks I say, "divorced." They say as one, "Oh no. In our family, marry one time. No divorce."  Then they laugh.  Cous cous and vegetables are arranged on  a lovely red tray with the plump saffron chicken in the center.

My fingers greasy, flecked with cous cous, no, I really can't eat one more carrot.  But we talk more, and I eat more.  Until finally we stagger out to the pool so the daughter can smoke.  The children  swim again, and the sky is quite bluer than usual.  Not sure how I manage to repeatedly make such wonderful friends. 
Home again with leftovers, striking embroidered tunic,  new words in arabic, and sunburnt nose.  Days like this, it's easy to feel that life will work out just fine. 


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Far away street festivals

I do not and  have never lived in Ghana, but I do follow several Ghanaian blogs.  In fact, blogs from Ghana  first made me aware that the blogosphere exists.  Two years ago, my  upper elementary students represented Ghana at the Montessori Model UN . Before they could begin researching to write their position papers, they studied Ghanaian geography, history, and culture for many months.   I tried to bring in some aspects of Ghanaian culture as well.  Students at a Ghanaian  Montessori school became our pen-pals (and almost our guests, but that is another story).  We cooked groundnut soup,  tried carving adinkra symbols (inauthentically, out of balsa wood), and listened to a learning Twi CD each day at lunch (The only language I could find).  While researching indigenous/women's/children's rights, and carbon emissions the boys found a riveting blog about coffins shaped like fish, cell phones, and other things (sorry, don't know the name of that blog..).   Let me just tell you that the CIA World Fact book did not come close to generating as much enthusiasm.  I encouraged the boys to read more Ghana related blogs for different insight than what they got from academic papers.  And, I started following blogs too.

Sometimes a controversial subject hits the blogosphere.  One blogger's response to a street festival in Jamestown  created a small storm recently.    I don't usually share my opinion, because I am an outsider, more than 5000 miles away from the action.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it is impossible, impossible, to really get a place without living there for several years, maybe longer. All humans share fundamental needs, yes, but  many jokes, social conventions, and political nuances don't translate cross-culturally.  Sometimes it is better to listen.  But,  I'm in the mood to write tonight.

Chale Wote:   From the descriptions that I read it seemed like the type of interactive, and creative situation that I can believe in. Anyway, one blogger dissed the festival.   She suggests that the money spent on this festival could have been better used to buy food.    She asks, "What is art when you are hungry?"

It is a good question.  What is art when you are hungry?  Another question that I like is: What is food when you are spiritually starved?    Would resources be better used  for bulk foodstuffs?   Or would  the food have been enjoyed, and forgotten?

I will not say that food is not important, or that hunger cannot undermine an individual's desire to create.  It just seems opaque to suggest that a community should not celebrate art until all sewage and hunger issues have been resolved.  Surely, helping people find an opportunity to demonstrate their strength and creativity, will have a positive effect on the community.  Rich or poor, we have the same fundamental needs.  We need food, shelter, water....but aren't abstract needs such as spirituality, communication, and art also important?  I hope there is increased presence of  festivals like Chale Wote.  I always like a good street festival.  And I hope that Chale Wote keeps going.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What I need

I need a place to sit, a route to walk, food, shelter, love, water, an idea, a purpose.  All the rest is meretricious hype.  I've lived in both squalid, and beautiful surroundings.  I prefer beautiful, but have found that I can be happy anywhere.  I can also be miserable anywhere.  My emotions are often in flux; I have good days, but sometimes sink low. However, as long as I have a niche, a question to answer, a book---- I'm home.  If I'm home, peace is nearby and will prevail.  

  I hope that I've moved on from poverty, loss, and depression, but I can't predict that they are through with me.  Through surviving life's inevitable ups and downs, I do know that I am flexible; my sense of well-being does not depend on a static circumstance, person, place, or thing.  Whatever comes my way, I'll survive.  Knowing that I  have what I need is one beautiful gift of getting older.   How sweet it is to have that understanding! 

Open heart

Joni's biological father just called.  He is doing okay. He wrote Joni a letter at camp, so he's getting over his own issues enough to reach out to her.  I hope that he can understand that her anger is partly a response to his actions, and that he keeps trying even when she does not respond.  Over the years, I have been angry at him, hurt, bitter, and really I can't think of any more good adjectives, but there has been a great deal of pain stemming from our relationship.  Still, I want him to do well.  It's more than ten years since I've had romantic feelings for him; I can't imagine wanting that kind of relationship now.  I don't think of him often, but I do wish good life things for him with an open heart.  I may limit my exposure to people who tax me, but how can I judge?  I don't like everything that has transpired, but.....personally, I am at peace.

I wish that I were more vindictive sometimes. I would cleanly and decisively divide people into good and evil.  But that would not be me.  Even the most negative emotions merge too easily into acceptance.  My default way of looking at people is to understand them, which really means, to love them.  I'm not a people person, nor do I want to converse at length with many.  But I do love humanity,  individual by individual, in my somewhat aloof way.  And Joni's father....bless him.  It's out of my hands.

Monday, July 11, 2011


 One sheet of rice paper. The postmark is too smudged to read;  there is no return address.  I scrutinize the blank page; words appear just to fade, and change into something else.  At the cusp between meaning and nonsense, an apophenia induced alphabet leads me deep.  All day, the sun reveals a parade of fresh permutations. By nighttime, I know even less.  If ink words were less ambiguous than these, I would consider my time wasted.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Transition time television

I do not have to go to work this week.  I still wake automatically before 5:30, but summer vacation is officially on.  There's a deep pile of work to do before August, but first it's time to vegetate.  After working two jobs this year: days/ nights/weekends, plus driving children to play practice, band practice, Hebrew school--- the free time throws off my balance.  I was actually pacing the floor yesterday, restless and cagey. To make the transition between work and summer easier, I've been watching a lot of 30 Rock.

Last night, I betrayed Joni and watched the second season of 30 Rock on Netflix.  We always watch it together, but she's away at camp. I feel zero guilt.  I wouldn't cheat with Mad Men which occupies a slightly more elevated status in our family culture. But I feel okay about sneaking the Tina Fey.  

Digression:  We don't have cable or television, but we watch movies (also Madmen and 30 Rock on Netflix!).  We tend toward documentaries, and drama. Lately, however, we have been into old movies.   Movies made half a century or more ago, are super for family viewing.  All the grownup themes are present, but introduced in such a way that your curious six year old won't notice. No explicit sexual activity for example, but it's there if you know how to recognize it.  I like the subtlety.  I  like to see men wearing undershirts under crisp button up shirts.  I also love the clothes worn by women, especially in the forties. I love that the hallucinated temptress/floozy played by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch never screws up pronoun case, noun/ verb agreement, or other fundamental aspects of civilized discourse.  If I could speak with such precision and at the same time wear that amazing white dress that whooshes up when the train goes by.....ah, that would be a perfect day.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hypothetical exodus

For a brief time, twenty years ago, I lived in squalor with a friend and her boyfriend.  Oh, so naive I was.  For forty bucks a month, I crashed there until his alcohol fueled violent tendencies verged out of control.   The friend and I had about five minutes to get out of the apartment.  I didn't have much stuff there; clothes and a cardboard box filled with personal items.  In the panic, here is what I took:  a carved quartz rock that I found on the street in Valencia, Spain (fits into my hand perfectly), a piece of cloth that I used to be able to wear as a dress, my journal.  Those were my impulse choices.  What would you take if you had to suddenly leave?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Properly fitted

 My daughter made me watch a video on finding proper bra fit.  It turned out that I was wearing the wrong size. I went shopping to rectify the situation. Now, with bras that fit, I am  stronger, taller, and much better looking.  Never underestimate the power of great fitting undergarments. Most women are not wearing the correct bra size.  Here is information on how to find a proper size.

I don't have mainstream breasts, apparently.  I can't walk into the Maidenform outlet and find my size.  Two stores that I recommend if you are not a "normal" size: Nordstrom's and Figleaves. I don't ever use this space to hawk merchandise, but I consider today's blog to be more of a Public Service Announcement.

Nordstrom's is expensive, but they have a great range of sizes.  Also, the staff is amazingly helpful. is even better than Nordstroms.  They sell bathing suits by cup size.  This is great for women (not me, other women) who have skinny butts and legs, but big boobs.  No more baggy bathing suit bottoms.  They have decent bra sales, too.  Recently Joni and I went to about ten stores unsuccessfully looking for a bathing suit to fit her.  The experience was frustrating enough to bring her to tears.  Not one bathing suit could we find. We went home from the mall and found satisfaction on the internet. had  pages of cute suits. We bought a one piece and a bikini. Neither looked like matron wear, and they arrived within a week.  Both fit perfectly!  Happy daughter= Happy mom.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Countless petals

The lotus in the fishpond outside of my classroom bloomed today.  A mythical bloom, straight out of Vishnu's belly button and into the new world unfolding from and around me.

I cannot resist.  I'm going to share a picture of our local lotus.

Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth." 
Say not, "I have found the path of the soul." Say rather, " I have met the soul walking upon my path." 
For the soul walks upon all paths....

The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931)

Three cheers for the village

I drive Joni to camp tomorrow.  For three weeks, she'll bike with other unwashed adolescents through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  They'll carry clothes, sleeping bags,and food on bikes as they trek through the wilderness. She's been counting the days until she meets her friends at Common Ground, where I shall drop her off.  I predict that Joni will grow stronger and more capable in the next three weeks.  Through her biking community-- peers and counselors--she will learn things that I couldn't begin to teach at home.  I am  grateful that I don't have to try!

Next summer, Joni wants to be a counselor; this is her last year as a camper.
 Since age nine she has been involved with BYM camps (Click here to see Joni at nine with a pink cloth on her head). I dropped her off the first year, and that was that.  No backward looks toward mom, certainly no tears...She was ready.  Seven years later, Joni has strong roots in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting camp community.  Through camp she has become involved in BYM youth conferences as well. She has friends in high school, but the people who really get her--- and vice-versa---are camp friends. Those are the peers who most support and challenge my daughter.

Joni will come back from camp with an awesome attitude. She will be helpful, cheerful, confident, even glowing.  The post-camp glow will fade somewhat in time; however, the character building skills have taken root and are permanently part of my daughter.   Someone told me that they couldn't do what I do: raise children alone.   I don't think that I do.  The village is definitely doing much of the work.  Montessori school, extended friends and family, religious community, and camp all play an active role in raising my children. I couldn't do it half as well by myself.