Archive for December, 2010

December 24 Prompt – Everything’s OK What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright?

Several moments come to mind:

1. The morning before my wedding, as my friends started to arrive in the hotel room. That morning was one of the happiest in my life– my best friends in the world, the men and women I adore and am inspired by–in one space, surrounding me with energy, humor, witness and joy. I felt then that even if the church burned down and the reception hall cancelled, my friends would be able to make something work, and it would all be okay, so much more than okay.

2. Canada. Lying in a hammock, hearing the voices of Matt and his Mom and aunts from across the hard, with a book and cup of coffee, or book and mug of wine, or a pillow and blanket to nap… breezes rustling in the pines, sun warming my feet, a dog investigating occasionally. I had so many moments of “Everything is okay. Everything is going to be okay,” in Canada.

3. One night, my friend Nick and I had been out, drinking and talking over the various challenges of adulthood. Tricky situations, decisions, lessons learned, things mutually inspiring, how we get through and through things. As we walked out of the bar, and to my train stop, I was suddenly so filled with appreciation for his friendship and support, and simultaneously thankful to be young and alive in the city, and strong. I felt strong. Strong and grateful, and a little in love with being young and vital. That was a powerful moment of “Everything is okay.”

4. Driving to our honeymoon, we listened to Matt’s iPod. A band I really discovered for the first time, The National, I really noticed on the honeymoon trip. They have one song that has a piano that is always present, but really asserts itself about a third of the way through the song. It’s so marvelous. It’s sweeping, it absolutely sweeps. Every time the song comes on, as I hear that piano get started, I turn up the volume, up and up. I can’t describe the thrill of hearing that part of the song swell up, and then the singer’s voice enter again. Being with Matt, in a car on an open road, hearing that song, and reaching over to touch his arm– everything is okay.

I notice that the moments where I feel most okay are often when I am with dear friends. (Blessedly for me, Matt is my dearest friend.)

From Emily Dickinson: “My friends are my estate.”

The first photo is from that wedding morning, three of my dearest friends, looking at jewelry while we prepare to get dressed. I love how beautiful they are, three women from different parts of my life. In the second photo, Nick leads us out the door, and my lady friends help wrangle my hoop skirt.


Read Full Post »

I’m Mrs. White

December 23 – New Name Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why? (Author: Becca Wilcott)

I found my baby book while home for Christmas, mostly unfinished, or half finished. The old photographs were wonderful, as was the tiny tuft of golden-colored hair, taped into place three decades ago. One of the pages prompted my parents to write in nicknames for me, cute names people called me. The list included, “Steppenfetchit, Stessie Rae, and Lori.” I went by “Lori” in kindergarten because my first name was too long to spell, and I had a hard time holding a pencil.

When I was in grade school, I thought the most exotic and glamourous possible name was “Egypt,” and named all of my Barbies that.  When my sister was born, I lobbied hard to name her “Rainbow,” but my parents didn’t go for that. My Cabbage Patch kids were named, “Joey,” (born/arrived “Linus Donovan”), “Elva Francis,” (the name she came with), “Gretchen,” (a doll from Germany with all papers in German, and my Grammy told me “Gretchen” was a German name), and “Sally,” (an astronaut doll I named after Sally Ride.)

I loved playing school (with my dolls, my stuffies, and my baby sister), and began every session of play by creating a class roster. I had to have at least 20 names, a good mix of boys’ and girls’ names, and everyone had to have a first and a last name.

I had a full set of Uncle Arthur’s books for children when I was little, and got lots of good ideas for names for my students from those books. The books were a bit old-fashioned even then, so children in those books had names like “Agatha,” and “Millicent.”

I don’t think I would change my name. I had a classmate in graduate school who created a stage name for herself, first and last names based on inspiring characters, one from a book, one from a movie. I thought that was a bit much.  But then, I like my names, all of them. I like writing them, and saying them, and hearing people I like saying them.

Our students have a thing where they declare many, many circumstances, “Racist!” They cry it out, accusing each other and various situations: “That’s racist!!!”  Matt especially, as their humanities teacher and advisor to several of them, tries to help them understand what that word means, and what situations it correctly describes, and what it does not.

Also, our students think it’s shocking and hilarious when I reference my own race, like if I say, “I’m a white woman.” It practically makes them fly out of their seats. I’m not sure if it’s because I am the only white woman in the room, and the obvious is always kind of funny, or because it’s funny to say things like that out loud, or because they’re a bit uncomfortable.  Sometimes, if they’re describing a classmate to me, they might say, “No, not that Joel– the black Joel. No racist!” So I have to explain that identifying what race someone is is not racist. I am white. That’s my race. I am white, I have blonde hair, and blue eyes, and I am a woman. Those are all facts.  Stating that isn’t racist.

The other day, a particularly wound up kid was careening about the hall, declaring someone to be racist. I said to him, “R., just because she said he’s black doesn’t mean she’s racist.  That’s just a fact. She was describing him only.  Right? Like, I’m a white woman. Right? I’m a white woman.”

I realized that one of the students standing nearest me on line speaks no English, so I said to her, “Yo blanca senora.”

She and her bi-lingual friend giggled. I said to her friend, “I just said, ‘I’m Mrs. White,’ didn’t I?”  F. giggled again and nodded yes.

Our school has added ninth grade this year, as it’s grown a year up every year since its founding. One of the privileges of the high school students is that they may call their teachers by their first names, if the teacher invites them to do so. I did welcome my students to call me “Stephanie,” or “Ms. V-H,” or by my full last names. It’s funny, though– the ones who do call me “Stephanie” still put a “Miss” in front, so it becomes “Miss Stephanie,” which basically sounds like I’m their Sunday school teacher.

Read Full Post »

December 16 – Friendship How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick)

Gradual…  I think about my friends Tom and Eric and Jodut, and how they have influenced how I think about teaching, studying, being political in the world, taking care of my self…

I’ve grown closer to my friend Nick this way. For some reason, we hung out this year more than we have, and he went through some tough times that encouraged many deep conversations. He holds me accountable to my heart, and to living authentically.

Before the wedding, my friend Amy was a dream– I mean, she is always a dream, a gift, an inspiration, but particularly in the year before the wedding: she was everything to me. I am amazed at the grace, smarts, kindness, and humor that she’s able to bring to every conversation.

My friendship with Matt has deepened, of course. We see each other all day most days, and he influences how I teach, how I interact with students and colleagues, how I want to live my life… and all the little living details: cooking, reading, day-dreaming.

Read Full Post »

December 14 – Appreciate What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? (Author: Victoria Klein)

Thanks to reading Lee’s blog, I can no longer just write about one thing.

1. My husband’s family. I think about them nearly every day, thanks to the Facebook. And being with them at holidays, and feeling surrounded by their love and _acceptance_ at our wedding is such a blessing.

2. Health insurance.

3. Being able to teach drama. Not by sneaking it in to an ELA curriculum, but outright, whole-heartedly, full on.

4. Working with Matt. Sharing students is wonderful, but also: when he hasn’t had time to do his share of dishes, I know it’s because he’s been working like crazy at school. It’s so easy to appreciate his time and the things that wear him out.

5. The nuns. They give me so much support–written, phone calls, e-mails, little postcards and prayer cards and notes. Just today I picked up a postcard Sr. Cyril Marie had sent in the midst of my certification troubles, and it re-inspired me. My Dad says the nuns are like the Elves in Rivendell. Not like us, and not of this world, and fading out of this world. Fewer and fewer women are entering the novitiate, so they tend to be old… and they are certainly not of this world. Some of them, they mystics, the ones who do not live in the world or even in the larger community: when they look you in they eye, you _feel_ their closeness to that close place.

6. Cable TV and DVR. Honestly: sometimes, I just want to watch _Law & Order_, and only _Law & Order_. It’s a comfort.

7. Our neighborhood: great fresh Mexican food, outdoor shrine at St. Lucy’s, public library in walking distance, seeing our kids and their families, Botanical Garden and Zoo in walking distance…

8. Living within our means. Having a good relationship with my student loan lenders, not having consumer debt, working on a budget and being mindful about what we have and don’t have.

9. Cooking with Matt: we complement each other, we take turns, we chop or clean up for each other.

10. Fiddle lessons!  I’m actually starting to learn things. I can play two tunes.

11. Baths. Reading in hot baths until I’m falling asleep.

12. Broadway UCC. This is the year I came to think of it as my church home. I have been fed and supported there.

13. My growing Sunday school there. There were years where I only had two small chickadees, some weeks I had no one. But they believed in keeping me around, and I believed– I could visualize, someday, Children’s Sermons on the chancel steps, full of kids, and so: it happened. It is joyful to see them and be with them.

14. Christmas songs. Oh, I love so many of them. Nothing beats singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I know the harmonies, and can sing without looking at the hymnal– allowing me to gaze about whatever space I’m in.

15. New clothes. There were a few years where I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. This year, with working full time, and with losing weight, I’ve been able to buy some new things. Buying new pants was so much fun! Having some new options is exciting, and I so appreciate it.

16. Daily Puppy.com  I can’t tell you how many times those puppy photos have helped me wake up of a morning, or in the middle of the night. Cuteness = serotonin, which helps anxiety.

17. How Facebook helps me keep in touch with some of my favorite friends, and hear their voices, and see photos and videos… I love feeling connected to in that way.

18. Getting manicures. They’re affordable in this neighborhood. I don’t quite get them weekly, but it is so luxurious to have freshly painted, colorful, unchipped nails. No dry, raggedy cuticles. Pleasing, glossy, candy-colored fingertips.

19. My Christmas stocking. My Grandma made it; I think there must have been a year when she made them for all of us grandkids who were born by that year. She did our names in glue, with red glitter. You can tell my name is a little too long, or maybe she didn’t plan for it well, but the end is kind of scrunched in. And some of the glitter is chipping away. There was a time in my early adulthood when I was ashamed of it. It looked kind of cheap and white trash-y. The mother of the guy I was with at the time got me (as a replacement) an embroidered one from Neimann Marcus. I don’t even know where that one is anymore.

20. How Matt knows me well enough that he can check out a stack of library books for me, and I will love every one.

21. The weddings of beloved friends. Inspiring, fun, gorgeous.

22. My own wedding. One of the happiest, most fun, most exciting days of my life. I fell in love with my friends, and with Matt, and with our families, and with my church, and with flowers and song and food… over and over again.

23. Knee socks. Last winter I discovered that knee socks are fantastic. And that I could wear knee socks under leggings under pants, on the coldest days, and be completely warm and comfortable.

24. Canada. My first trip there with Matt was sheer heaven. I only want to go back there again and again, and there is a whole subset of things I appreciate in Canada: pie, hammocks, water, swimming, stars, cooking with family, tiny Anglican church services, painting, reading…

25. The written word. I get so much: pleasure, excitement, learning, truth, perspective, connection, ideas, inspiration… from reading novels, posts, scripture, essays, articles. I am so grateful I can read and write.

Read Full Post »

December 13 – Action When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)

PhD. Possibly. In fact, all of my applications were due today. I had been going to take a personal day to complete them, but then felt bad about not being a team player– we’ve had a ton of absences, and it’s been taking its toll morale wise. So I got my essays and CV written and polished, and submitted everything before school and between classes.

After the series of rejections (more than six!) two years ago, I’ve been much quieter about my ambitions this time around. And, this time, instead of pursuing Byzantine hagiography, I’m working on a plan to design and pilot a curriculum for multi-religious education.  So, even the places to which I am applying, which have the best fitting programs, are very different.

I’ve also come to a place where I feel differently about being rejected. My heart was really broken last time, especially being rejected from Union, where I had worked and served so hard.  Two years later, I am happy with my teaching, and very happy with the state of the journal, and feel successful in both of those. I think I would be content carrying on with both for another year or two… and then eventually decide if I want to try editing full time.

It feels good to daydream with Matt. I tease him, saying: “Would you come to California with me?  Scotland?” and then I name bad places: “Atlanta??  Phoenix?”  He always says yes.

So– my idea? That teenagers are in a perfect place to talk about their own interior lives, and to meet and make relationship with those who are different. And, given the right resources, they certainly can be leaders who work for peace, even in communities full of religious difference, and even religious conflict. I haven’t seen a curriculum that speaks to this need, and feel like I could make one work, and share those ideas with others.  We’ll see in the next few months if others also see that as a good idea.

Read Full Post »

December 12 – Body Integration This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? (Author: Patrick Reynolds)

This is an interesting question. I mean, I think I would like to have a conversation with many people about this. Frankly, I don’t often feel _disconnected_ from my body, or mind, and this question sort of presupposes that I’m walking around in a fractured state.

I will say that when I am anxious, I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. This can be kind of alarming, except that now when it happens, I can say, “You’re anxious. This is a sign of it.” Sometimes I even stare really closely, checking off things I know to be true: blue eyes, blonde hair, mole here, pierced ears…” as if doing an intellectual check list of things that fall into category “Look like me,” will make the image in the mirror suddenly fall into recognizable focus.

When I first read this question, I immediately thought: My wedding.  That was truly a day when I felt like every moment of my life, and every relationship I’d ever treasured, were perfectly resonant.

I also know that sometimes when I pray, the least spiritual parts of me, that is: not my body, not my hair, not my intellect, not my language abilities… those parts are very unimportant and can fade a bit. So that I’m more aware of the strand of communication between me and God, and everything else is pale. If “pale” were a textual thing.

Read Full Post »

December 11 – 11 Things What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? (Author: Sam Davidson)

1. Drama on Facebook. I’ve done a pretty great job of keeping my friends pool small enough that I’m rarely the target of off-tangent political conversations, or unwanted or frustrating overtures. Because these are all people I know, though, I think I still spend too much time over-thinking my own comments and those of others.  I want to keep my Facebook mind simple: it’s best to keep connected with some of my long-distance favorite people, and to benefit from the clever, sweet, honest, poignant remarks from friends and family. If it starts to feel burdensome, that’s a real problem.

2. Guilt over saying, “No.” I’ve actually been working on this since I turned 30, and think I’m getting pretty good at it.

3. Extra stockings and bras that are uncomfortable and I’m not going to wear.

4. Old Christmas cards and birthday cards that aren’t particularly meaningful.

5. Every single scrap of tissue paper that enters my life.

6. Shoes or handbags I don’t like.

7. Magazines, after I’ve read them and enjoyed them.

Items 3-7: Anything that is pretty, and I _might_ need someday… I keep it. My dresser drawers were filled to bursting earlier this year. Now, if it’s nice enough, I take it to the free table. If not, the trash.

8. CDs. I don’t listen to CDs, and I don’t have that many. Onto my laptop, into the trash. No more space for them.

9. Earrings for whom I have lost the match. Why do I do this?

10. Hotel soaps and shampoos that I don’t actually like. This is tricky because my Mom mails me big boxes of them (she travels for work). The little soaps, sometimes they’re nice and I use them. Sometimes they’re not. But she sends them faster than I can use them. I hit upon taking them to school– the kids’ bathrooms never have soap in them. I’ve noticed the elementary school teachers, when they let a kid go to the bathroom, equip him/her with a little shower caddy with soap in it, so the kids can always wash their hands.  I’m going to do the same thing, with all of these soaps.

11. Gift jams and dressings. If we’re not going to eat them, I’m not going to keep them. Here I do solemnly swear 🙂

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »