september

On September 7, my mom was headed on a trip with her sister to Philadelphia and New York and then on to Israel with her high school friend. I got a text from my aunt saying my mom had fallen in the Phoenix airport and they were heading to emergency to have her checked. (I figured they’d watch her overnight and then she’d be back on the road, so to speak, the next day.) Then I got a call from my aunt saying it didn’t look good and the neurosurgeon would be calling (I have the health power of attorney). Then I got a call from the neurosurgeon asking for consent to do brain surgery. Then I got on a plane to Arizona.

My mom is still 75 until the end of this month. She lived independently in Leisure World (my dad died last year) and was very active in her church and community. I had expected to have to step up at some point, but I was giving myself another decade.

My aunt lives 2 hours away. I live 6. My brother lives 16 or 20 or something like that (Northern Cal). My mom’s younger brothers live near me and near my brother.

I teach M/W, but I can cancel classes twice without having to find a sub, so I cancelled my classes and stayed for a week. I’ve been there two more end-of-weeks (Thursday-Saturday) since then. My brother and his wife, my aunt and uncles, one of my mom’s cousins, have all come as well. She has moved from the surgical ICU to an acute care hospital and is supposed to move today to a skilled nursing facility. Her brother and sister are there. I am home for a couple weeks because my 12-year-old is heading on a school trip to Chile and I want to be here to send her off and welcome her home. It’s also giving me a chance to catch up on grading papers and on life in general. But I am torn. I want to be in two places at once.

My mom is awake and responsive sometimes and sleeping sometimes. She has been able to walk some steps with a walker and the physical therapists on her side (her right side is not working well). She has a trach inserted, so talking has been tough. We’re not sure how much she is knowing or comprehending.

Life changes in an instant. I am still reeling, still trying to comprehend, still wondering what comes next.

But there are things for which I am grateful:

  • The accident happened in Phoenix before the trip started.
  • My aunt was with my mom.
  • I was able to fly over immediately.
  • My spouse and kids have stepped up to the challenge.
  • My brother and his wife had a planned mini-break so already had days off work.
  • My mom’s family has stepped up and been amazing.
  • The EMTs took her straight to a trauma hospital with an excellent neurosurgeon.
  • She had all her travel papers with her, including a copy of the Health Power of Attorney.
  • People from church have been terrific support, especially the car pool family as they have worked out transportation with my spouse.
  • My students have been kind and have not asked about when their papers will get graded (I am finally getting to them).

I am sure there is more, but that’s a start.

And here’s the other thing I keep thinking: My mom is a great believer in the the idea that all things are in God’s hands. When I think about all her plans, I know that her core belief is that it’s okay, that she would generally say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” There is a subtle difference, at least in my mind, between this and “everything happen’s for a reason.” No one wants this to have happened, no one thinks it’s okay that it has happened, but God is still here, God is present in the situation, God Is.

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graduations

As a faculty member, I’ve always loved graduations. It’s the last bastion of pomp and circumstance in our regular world. It’s the last vestiges of historical (European) scholarly life, where the gowns were the uniform of the scholar. By showing up and robing up we mark the occasion as important, we tell the students that they matter.

Because of my niche, teaching the British Literature survey, I get to have students who are at the sophomore level, many of whom do actually graduate as they transfer and some of whom walk at graduation. I had about 8 students whom I had taught for 2 semesters graduate last night. One of them was the reason I had pushed myself to go to the ceremony. I had just written him a letter of recommendation for a transfer scholarship, and he said in his email, “maybe I’ll see you at graduation.” I had wanted to go in past years, but we had always had church camp over this weekend and I hadn’t pushed it. Church camp got moved, Jack said, “maybe I’ll see you,” so I went. And he had a thank you card to give me.

I was sitting with a couple of English faculty members. My department chair teaches all composition and he had very few students graduate, but when he did, he called out to them with pride, and for one young person he jumped out of his spot to greet her on the stage (chancel?).

Selfie getting ready

When I received my Ph.D., my friend Jim gave me his robe. He was a retired community college teacher from Canada who came to California to live by the beach and finish his Ph.D. He graduated the year before I did. He really wanted the regalia (UC Blue instead of rented black), but would likely never need it again. He justified getting it by passing it on to me with the idea that I would probably be involved in graduations in the future and would wear it again. I finally was and did last night.

Sunday morning at the lectern

The funny thing is, and neither Jim nor I had any idea about this, I wear the gown a lot more often than once a year at a graduation. Because along with graduation ceremonies, there’s one more place the historic academic garb hold sway, and that is the reformed churches. When the reformation was happening, the clerics chose academic garb as their ministerial robes because it didn’t set them apart as priests. In mainline churches we wear robes on the chancel not to set ourselves apart, but to mark the occasion, to show that it matters, to note the sacredness of the function and the moment, and, particularly as women, to not call attention to ourselves and what-we-are-wearing. When I was commissioned as a pastor, I was given a simple white robe that I wear more often, bit there are times I pull out my UC Blue Geneva Gown with dark blue Ph.D. stripes. And I love every minute of it.

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gratitude post 3 days 5-11

day five: a song I am thankful for

This is where I got stuck, trying to find the perfect song. So. There is no such thing, but a couple youth were asking each other their favorite church songs last week and “Gather Us In” and “Lord of the Dance” were their answers, and that makes me pretty happy.

day six: a place I’m thankful for

A week ago, I went “up the hill” to have lunch with my friend who stood with me in my wedding. We haven’t gone up to Lake Arrowhead for awhile, especially to the village area (we camp there with church on Memorial Day weekend and CG’s friends Labor Day weekend), especially in the fall, and I was reminded of its loveliness so close to where we live. We ate lunch overlooking the lake, and it was beautiful and peaceful. It was a Friday and it was busy but not weekend busy. Computerguy and I got married there and we used to get up there fairly often.

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day seven: a gift I am thankful for

While I was there, my friend gave me a Brontë Sisters mug. It’s a great mug, and a fun, thoughtful gift.

day eight: a family member I am thankful for

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My mom and my kids. Thankful for all of them.

 

How do you choose? We celebrated my mom’s 75th birthday last month. The kids have Thanksgiving Week off and they are flying to her on Saturday. We will going them on Thursday. So this month, I am truly thankful for her. And I am always thankful for her.

day nine: a simple pleasure I am thankful for

morning coffee.

day ten: a possession I am thankful for

Since I’m working on it right now, I suppose I am thankful for my MacBook (and all my Macs from the past). It’s a pretty great machine.

day eleven: a gift from God I am thankful for

Words and the word and The Word. Words.

(The Rev. Traci Smith, who wrote Faithful Families, a book we bought all our church families, offers a November 2018 Gratitude Every Day calendar. The calendar has just a small box in which to write a gratitude, but I haven’t blogged for a long time, and it’s November, so I though I might try blogging my gratitudes.)

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gratitude post 2 days 3 & 4

Day Three: A Freedom I Am Thankful For

The first freedom I thought of was freedom of the press, which I translate to mean, freedom to speak out and freedom to be critical of those in authority. This is a freedom I learned as a child. My parents modeled and accepted our questioning of actions and words of those in authority. That didn’t mean we could be disrespectful, but we were always encouraged to question.

My second thought was a freedom I’ve granted myself: Freedom to substitute in a recipe. I still remember an advent devotion I read years ago (written by a woman in our congregation) that talked about the concept of “mise en place” having everything ready and in its place before starting a recipe. I am a complete failure at this. I OFTEN get part way through a recipe and realize I am missing something I need. And so I go to my friend the interwebs and start checking for substitutions. Friday I was making a pasta salad for a Saturday luncheon and I realized I had only half enough mayo (we don’t use it often enough to justify buying big jars.) I did have Miracle Whip, but that has too much flavor of its own to work in recipes (I’ve tried). So I thought, Sour Cream! I checked the interwebs and sour cream or greek yogurt were the big suggestions. I made my salad with half mayonnaise and half sour cream and did NOT have to go to the store. Freedom!

Day Four: A Taste or Food I Am Thankful For

I’m writing this in the morning, so coffee becomes obvious. I’m drinking a gingerbread flavored coffee this morning, so that, too, seems right. I am thankful that gingerbread exists. I am especially thankful for soft gingerbread with icing. And I am thankful that it only comes at Christmas because it does seem like an indulgence.

(The Rev. Traci Smith, who wrote Faithful Families, a book we bought all our church families, offers a November 2018 Gratitude Every Day calendar. The calendar has just a small box in which to write a gratitude, but I haven’t blogged for a long time, and it’s November, so I though I might try blogging my gratitudes.)

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gratitude 2018 post 1 days 1 and 2

The Rev. Traci Smith, who wrote Faithful Families, a book we bought all our church families, offers a November 2018 Gratitude Every Day calendar. The calendar has just a small box in which to write a gratitude, but I haven’t blogged for a long time, and it’s November, so I though I might try blogging my gratitudes. People have mixed feelings on Gratitude posts every day in November. They can seem like bragging. I hope the prompts on Smith’s calendar are more reflective. I missed yesterday which might be a boon. I can’t be perfect if I try.

Day One: A memory I am thankful for: This may be my single best story. Picture it: Taiwan, 1981. Pre-Americanization of the world. No McDonald’s. No Dr. Pepper, though plenty of Coca-Cola. Very little beef on this Asian island nation. Had to be bought special. Special dinner. My dad is barbecuing (grilling for midwesterners) steaks. He asks, “What would you like to drink.”
I say something I hadn’t said before and wouldn’t say again in those years, “Coke, I guess, but I’d really rather a Dr. Pepper.” And he pulled out a Dr. Pepper he had bought at an import shop for me. Perfect moment for both of us, I think.

Day Two: A color I am thankful for: Well, purple of course. It was my favorite as a kid. I had a purple room. It’s my favorite now. And it’s Computerguy’s favorite. So we had a purple wedding, and it was all good. It’s also the color for Lent and Advent (though we do blue in our church).

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things that capture our attention 3: land of stories

Image result for land of storiesThe girl chose The Land of Stories book 1 a year ago when she was gifted a choice of books on her way to sleepover camp. She picked it because it was good and thick. She didn’t get to the book then because they kept them busy and her counselor read to them during rest time, but she read it soon after. She really enjoyed it and ran through the whole series of 6 books quickly. I saw how intrigued she was, and I liked the premise (2 kids find themselves in the world of fairy tales), so I asked if I could read one. The series was written by Chris Colfer of Glee fame, so I had my reservations, did he get to write it just because he was a celebrity? In fact, from the first book, it was super clever and imaginative. The writing wasn’t fabulous, but the ideas really were. Twin brother and sister find themselves in the world of fairy tales and go on a quest to find spell pieces so they can return home. The fairy tale characters were fun to meet and main characters Alex and Conner were well drawn. It was worth reading. I continued to slowly read the second book, and by the third I was hooked. They continued to be clever with surprising twists and turns. I could guess some, but not all of them. They are long books, and maybe could be a bit shorter; I got bored at a few points in the penultimate one, but by and large they are fast moving and exciting. It’s a series well worth reading if you like books and fairy tales and teenage angst. The minor characters are filled in more and more as the series on and the writing improves quite a lot between 1 and 6. Really fun read.

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things that capture our attention part 2: wordgirl and jean little

Image result for Look through my window jean littleI’ve shared many books with my girl; it’s one of my great delights of mothering a daughter. We’ve read or she has read and we’ve talked about Harry Potter (all 7!) and Anne of Green Gables (all 7!) and Little Women (3 out of 4) and The Chronicles of Narnia (3 out of 7) and Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Family series (the first 3 anyway). She’s also read a bunch of series I don’t know anything about (Benedict Society, something about spies and clones) and a 5 part series (Land of Stories) I began reading at her request (it’s taken me awhile, but I’ve enjoyed it).

For all the fantasy and science/speculative fiction series and fun, the girl says that her favorite books are realistic fiction. She’s been on a kick right now of historical fiction around World War II and the Civil Rights era. But her first taste of realistic fiction is still her favorite, and it utterly delights me.

Jean Little is a Canadian author of books for middle grade kids (or, as I like to say, books about 10-year-old girls, though she did eventually expand that slightly). As a 10-year-old-girl (or 8-11), I felt a resonance with the girls in her books that I didn’t feel with any others, even Madeleine L’Engle’s protagonists, whom I loved. Jean Little’s protagonists were so normal and so me. They read a lot. They never quite felt like they fit in. They tried anyway. I think my first one was One to Grow On. Janie doesn’t quite fit in with her family. She doesn’t fit in at school. She wants to be like the popular girls except that she doesn’t. It just resonated with me. And then the school library in Taiwan (grades 4-6) had a bunch of the books. And I read them all. And re-read them. I lived and laughed and wept with Sal who comes home from a special needs boarding school to live at home and go to regular school for the first time and Anna who comes from Germany as an immigrant and learns she has vision trouble, and Jenny whose twin brother died in a car accident, and Janey who’s just a normal misfit kid, and Laurel who is shy and protective of her little brother, and Emily who writes poems and is lonely. And then, my senior year of high school, Little’s autobiography came out. I read it, and in some ways I could have been reading about myself. I understood why I resonated so much with her characters. We were so utterly alike. Part of it is the third culture kid thing, but part of it has to be just deep and intrinsic personality. And so. As a grown-up, I slowly collected all her books that I had loved as a kid (Yay for trips to Powell’s Books first and later Amazon). And so it was with some trepidation that I handed the girl a Jean Little book. The girl was and is not me. For starters, she is not a third culture kid. By the time I was reading these books, I was living in my 4th country. She has lived in one house her entire life, gone to one school, one church (except when she was tiny). but she was a 10-year-old girl, and she liked to read. So I took the chance. And it was good. She has read and re-read them. She is surprised and a little put out that they aren’t well known, that no one has made movies of them (“they’d be easy movies to make, Mom”). They are akin to Katherine Paterson’s books and Paterson’s books have recently been made into films (and the girl has read both Bridge to Terebithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins) (and the writers know each other– Little discusses the connection in her second autobiography), but Little’s books are smaller in scope and they are Canadian, not from the US. The girl’s very favorite, a little bit to my surprise though it shouldn’t have been, is Look Through My Window, the story of Emily, the lonely only child who lives in an apartment in the city and writes poetry who suddenly finds herself big sister to 4 small cousins living in a big house in the country. The girl child has always wanted younger siblings. Emily gets to live out the dream. This is not just Wordgirl’s favorite Jean Little book, it’s her favorite book. Period. The one she keeps in her bed and reads when she can’t sleep or just needs something to read. It’s THE book.

So, slightly obscure books written by the almost blind daughter of medical missionaries from Canada. The things that catch our attention.

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