Inspire. September.

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BACK TO SCHOOL

And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.

Meister Eckhart
On the cusp. (c)2020

This back to school will be quite different from years past. My youngest starts high school, and yet won’t see the inside of the high school until January. She opted for fully virtual school while my other child in school opted for in-person/remote hybrid. Even back to school night will be virtual.

The above picture I chose was from the last day of our vacation. It is on the cusp between both summer and fall. Its place is so far north that is on a second cusp, balanced between the United States and Canada. It is a home away from home although we’d only stayed at this hotel the one time.

Reading and absorbing Meister Eckhart’s words, I will strive to be more in balance; to start something new; to find the magic of beginnings, and keep moving forward.

This year will be challenging.

It will be hard.

We’ve come through worse, both personally and as a country. We can do this – – – together.

Two days ago, we began school here. We have our agendas and our schedules, our chromebooks and our notebooks.

Yesterday marked forty-nine days until Election Day. As I said then, create your voting plan, and implement it. I was going to do a mail-in ballot, but I think my current plan will be for early voting. I have the dates and the locations, and I’m ready for this new beginning.

This week includes a doctor’s appointment, a therapy session, and the first part of a four part Cursillo workshop and concludes with the observation and celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. That holiday is my personal traditional time for starting anew with plans and changes and goals.

I’m wary… but excited.

I feel goodness and hope. I hope you can feel it also.

Thoughts On An Overcast Day

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I keep a planner. The monthly part of the calendar is my personal calendar of appointments and scheduling, birthdays and anniversaries to be remembered, and the weekly pages are where I plan my writing for Griffins and Ginger Snaps. This year, writing has been a struggle.

I have been more or less reliable in the publishing of posts, but these last few weeks have certainly been more difficult. There was so much going on in August and when I looked back on it, it seemed that they were all mental worries.

Not that they were all in my head, but it wasn’t that my feelings of busyness was having a lot of appointments or places to go, but it was all mental gymnastics – getting dinner planned, communicating with the school for my kids’ return, planning our vacation while simultaneously planning on not going, keeping up on election news, and so many other things. It’s been rough, and I know I’m not alone in this.

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John Lewis: In His Words and Of Him

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Instead of what I had planned for this week, I decided to compile the many things that I’ve heard about and from John Lewis and share them with you.

One of the reasons for this was the realization that while I adored and admired John Lewis for a very long time, I was unaware of his esteemed place in history. I knew about the Edmund Pettus Bridge and I knew he was a “civil rights icon”, but I did not comprehend the vast expanse of what that actually means.

A few weeks ago, I began to read The Children by David Halberstam. I’ve had it in my library for some time and just hadn’t gotten to it, but it begins at the beginning with the young people in Nashville, Tennessee, with John Lewis and others.

I read it and had only gotten so far when Congressman Lewis passed away. I’ve said before that he was one of those people, those heroes, those strong voices that I thought would never leave the earth. He may be gone, but his voice will live on.

In retrospect, growing up in New York I would have thought we’d have a better understanding of the Civil War, its causes and its outcomes, but I’m saddened to realize that I learned more about Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis than I did about John Lewis, Jim Lawson, and Diane Nash. At fifty-three, I am rectifying that.

John Lewis is an American hero. Hero and iconic are words that don’t live up to the lived life of John Lewis. He embodied peace and love, and as I type out these words I hear his voice in my head, and I hope to hear his voice for the rest of my life.

What follows are the words of some from his celebration of life service as well as three videos that I would encourage you to watch, although watching the entire service would be a valuable use of your time.

May John Lewis rest but may we not rest until we reach his beloved community with equality, liberty, and justice for all.

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I Miss…..

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The five things I miss the most during pandemic lockdown are simple things; things I’ve taken for granted or didn’t realize how much I enjoyed them until they were gone. I’m looking forward to having them back.

  1. Chinese food.
  2. Sitting in Starbucks or any restaurant alone with my computer and writing.
  3. Strolling through Target rather than rushing through to only get the necessities.
  4. In person mass and in person therapy, although online/phone do have their positives also.
  5. My retreat house.

Five things I’m tired of:

  1. McDonald’s.
  2. Eating in the car.
  3. The overtaking of cans and bottles in my house and garage because the recycling centers at the supermarket are closed.
  4. The phrase, “What’s for dinner?”
  5. Empty shelves for toilet paper and soap.

In Time

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It’s noon on Friday.

I woke my family to the greeting of “It’s Hamiltime!

Get up, get dressed, there will be no talking, no singing, no pausing, no leaving in the middle. The intermission is one minute long. Please plan accordingly.

When Lin-Manuel Miranda announced that a film of Broadway’s Hamilton performance would be premiering in theatres in October of 2021, I put it on my calendar.

Immediately.

When he surprised us a few weeks ago with a new, moved-up date of July 3rd of this year, I think I may have shrieked and then I put it on my calendar in big, bold, capital letters. Back when Hamilton was on Broadway, and then later on, locally at Proctors [live theatre], I had thought about getting tickets, but it was well out of my price range, and I accepted that, but I also knew that there was a filmed version in a vault somewhere, waiting for the right moment, and I waited.

I believe I’ve been rewarded for my patience.

I mean, I could have watched it at 3am when it began streaming on Disney+, but I waited for my family even though they’re only watching it with me to indulge me. (I must confess that since I was actually up at 3am, I did watch the first song, and let the second one start, but that was it. I turned it right off. Honest.)

Patience is a virtue, they say.

And patience is something we’ve all been living with and being forced to accept during these last few months. Hurry up and wait. It’s been frustrating and sometimes a little scary being in this new place we’ve never been before. Even the meaning of time changed for many of us. While my kids had school remotely, they didn’t have very much online class time so they were very flexible in doing their schoolwork. It didn’t matter when they woke up or when they went to bed, their video game consumption or facetime as long as they got their work done. That same level of “flexibility” stretched into grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning. Things definitely got a little lax there; after all, who was coming to visit?

There was also something hanging in the air. It wasn’t tangible, but something changed. Time is often described as fleeting, but in March… it just stopped. Our whole lives jerked to a stop, and when it started again mere moments later, it began a slow crawl to nowhere and no-when. Days slipped into weeks. It took a year to travel through March, and the next three months weren’t any better. At times, it seemed that we were moving backwards. We weren’t of course. Time wasn’t fleeting, but we also weren’t standing still. Here was where we established the days by Sunday’s livestreamed Masses and Monday’s Rosary [with the Cursillo movement], and time by watching the Governor’s daily briefing. As each pause of society was extended in two week intervals we were given some semblance of a hope that we would return to normal. If only we had patience. Collectively, we learned to focus on our present and be patient for the tomorrow that is yet to come.

And now with the majority of the country failing the present crisis, we try to slip by the inevitable return of lockdown, balancing our lives with our life, and those around us. It’s tiring. It’s frustrating. It’s certainly not how I wanted to spend my summer. But I remain in faith. If we all do our part, together we will get through this crisis, and come out on the other side.

Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr sings in Hamilton, “I am the one thing in life I can control….I’m willing to wait for it.

And as St. Paul tells us in Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

In the meantime, that’s really all we can do.

De Colores.

[De Colores is a greeting, farewell, and song used in the Cursillo movement by many of its groups.]

[This was previously published in our local Cursillo Weekly Digest the first week of July, 2020.]

Labyrinths Heal; The Rain Reflects

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Early on in the pandemic, when we’d just begun the lockdown with work places shutting down, restaurants closed, and schools closing, we were only just getting used to having the kids at home, shopping once a week, avoiding people as much as possible, including even our son who lived on his own, plus being in a constant low level state of anxiety, keeping ongoing lists in my head, living, breathing, reading, and writing everything I could about coronavirus 20/7 with four hours leftover for sleep. Often, I couldn’t get through that minimum of four hours. I tried watching the White House’s coronavirus briefings; I thought they would be useful and informative. I thought they would quell my anxiety of those early days of unknown. My priest called them “dark days of confusion,” and they truly were. We’re still in them sometimes now. Those briefings didn’t help; they left me with higher levels of anxiety.

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In the Midst of Loss

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My retreat house recently began to offer some limited online experiences. The first one that I explored was about the losses we’ve confronted during this pandemic since March. This was a two hour session, split into two days one month apart. I know the presenter, Father K, through other classes and workshops I’ve taken through the Diocese. He’s a local priest who also works in the area of mental health and I really enjoy the way he approaches things. He also reminds me of my therapist. At the end of the first hour, I thought I had been given an extra therapy session this month! It really was a comforting hour that led me to spend the next twenty-four hours deep in thought. For the first time in a long time, I felt calm and thoughtful but also, in a way invigorated.

To start out, he asked us to think about the losses we’ve faced since March, and to write them down, and then to share a couple of them with the group. I was one of the first called on, and for me that meant that I hadn’t any time to prepare what I might say. I had a list, but it felt superficial. I began with a pseudo-apology; something that many of us do on a daily basis, especially women. That isn’t to say that men don’t do it, but women, I’ve found are the primary apologists for things they aren’t at fault for. For example, have you ever had someone walk into you on the street or in a store, and you apologize to them? I do this almost every time. Women apologize for taking up space, for taking too long, for a myriad of things that men just don’t apologize for, and really, that we shouldn’t apologize for.

I began by saying that I was fortunate that my family and I haven’t lost anyone to covid and we haven’t been ill, minimizing what we have been going through, and that while it hasn’t been life-threatening (so far) it has also not been easy for our family. My husband already works from home, so we continued receiving our salary. I feel guilty. All of my losses come from a place of privilege and I feel it’s my obligation to add the disclaimer of our privilege even while trying to be honest with the emotional and mental toll this pandemic crisis has put upon us. I mentioned a few things that we have lost since March, and as I listened to the others share their losses. I was reminded of things that I hadn’t thought of as losses and I added them to my list as well.

At the close of this part, Father K said what I already knew (and I’m paraphrasing): whatever I’m going through is just as valid as the next person. Their struggle may seem more difficult, harder to get through, having more emotional value, but my losses are still just that: my losses. These are the losses that I’m feeling every day; that my family is feeling every day and I shouldn’t dismiss them because someone else has had a more challenging time than I have; whose struggle appears more difficult or more painful.

My losses are real, and this session allowed me to accept that and confront the actual loss and how I can move forward.
What are the losses that I don’t feel measure up to others’ losses?

The loss of time. What day is it? Even trying to tell time based on a favorite television show has been eliminated with the shutdown of Hollywood and all the global acting studios. Anything that wasn’t completed before March 17th ceased production; how many season finales were postponed? How many cliffhangers left hanging? On March 31, more than one friend mentioned how long March had been. March was a year long. I felt it in my soul. Would April also be a year long?

The loss of routine. School was canceled for my kids, but their schoolwork continued. They slept until nine, did some work, took naps, grazed all day or skipped meals. We were eating breakfast at ten in the morning, and dinner at nine at night, bedtime after eleven even on a “school night”. Haphazard doesn’t scratch the surface of our “new routine”. The kids’ independent learning and creating their own schedule seemed to be working, but at what cost?

Mass was canceled, and it took a few weeks to get the livestreaming set up, so at least now I know when Sunday is. All of my spring retreats were postponed at first, then canceled entirely. Therapy moved to the phone. Meetings canceled or moved to Zoom. If school and work were gone, was there even a weekend to look forward to?

The loss of being lazy. That’s wrong and a little harsh on myself. It’s more the loss of choice. It could also fall under the loss of routines. If I didn’t feel like cooking, we couldn’t just go out to dinner. Even if we did takeout, the restaurants closed about two hours earlier than normal. Menus needed to be planned so groceries could be shopped for in a way that minimized our leaving the house and coming in contact with other people. Planning every meal. Having food for the kids to eat lunch when they would normally eat lunch in school.

The loss of of seeing and hugging my adult son. We barely saw him. He came by once every two weeks until I was exposed to covid, and then he stayed away until my fourteen day isolation was completed. He’s an essential worker and a first responder, and even if he wasn’t I wouldn’t want to expose him to something that we still know so little about. Fortunately, I did not have covid. We eventually had our family Easter dinner.

The loss of myself. I stopped being me. I had to become the covid expert. I had to tell everyone to wash their hands every time they came home from school (before the lockdown) or the grocery store after. The one time my husband needed to go into the office, it was half an hour of discussion weighing the pros and cons, and how to do it safely. I had to know how much toilet paper we needed and go shopping with all the others preparing for their own lockdown. I had to educate people about this virus and call out misinformation because if I didn’t do it, who would? I became teacher again.

And the burden that I put upon myself led to the loss or permanent change in status with some friends. It’s hard to maintain the reciprocal, balanced relationship with people when their fundamental values are so at odds with mine, like wearing a mask and isolating or simply the basic idea that covid was made in a lab somewhere to ruin the President’s term of office.

Some losses that others in the group brought up that resonated with me included the loss of purpose and the safety and peace of mind that I’d had from only a week before; the loss of trust especially in the authority of the federal government to take care of something so catastrophic as this and which they ignored so much and let us fall so far, and of course, the loss of the Eucharist and the rituals of mass, so much a part of my life.

I craved the Eucharist, but when the opportunity arrived to return to in person masses, I decided against going, and I surprised myself that as those in the pews received their communion while I was at home watching the livestream, I felt just as close as if I’d been there and received it in my hand and consumed it. I credit my parish and my priest for giving me that feeling of belonging and even though I wasn’t there in front of him and others, I was still present and G-d was still present for me. That was a good thing.

In the midst of the losses, there have been some gains, some good things to reflect on. What was good about this time as lockdown comes to a close? The last question asked in the session was how do we find joy in the confusion and the chaos? These are things I need to meditate on, to think about and discover the answers to. Reflecting more on the losses I’ve documented above and move toward accepting and then moving forward to finding the joy is a thing I want to work on between now and the next group meeting. I want to acknowledge the gains; find my joy.

In the coming days, I’ll share the one day back in March that kept me going, and then hopefully after that I can answer the question: how do we find the joy? At the moment, I don’t know, but I hope to find out.

Inspire. June.

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Lilacs. (c)2020

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.

John Quincy Adams

This pandemic has taken, but for those of us continuing to live through it, it has also given. More time with our families. More time to think of our priorities, our spirituality, our blessings, and our failings.

As President Adams said above, this pandemic has brought patience and perseverance to all of us in varying degrees of success. We all have both despite having different levels of both, and through it all, in whatever way we are and we can, we are moving through it and adapting.

It is ever with us.

Wear your mask.

Keep your distance.

We’re all in this together.

Be well.

Patience. Perseverance.

Is It Really Quarantine If You’re Not Baking Bread?

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About a week into quarantine, I told my kids that we’d make bread. They groaned. We had all the ingredients – at our first grocery run before isolation I got a bag each of flour and sugar. I don’t know why; it just felt like a staple I needed like milk, bread, and eggs. I just thought I should have it in the house as if I were Ma Ingalls and baked fresh bread every morning (which I do not).

The next week, I said it again. Hey kids, do either of you have any FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) class assignments? Let’s bake bread. They groaned. We did not bake bread.

Another week went by and my daughter asked to go to the supermarket; she had an assignment that she needed to prepare and photograph and submit for FACS. I cheered. We’ll bake bread! No, she said after she groaned; I’m making a grilled chicken salad. Fine, I said, but you need to make enough for all of us to eat lunch. She groaned again.

I watched people all over Twitter and Facebook baking bread. Some used regular rising yeast, some used self-rising flour, some used starters, mostly sourdough starter, a lot made banana bread. A lot. Why were my kids immune to the call of the fresh smell of baking bread. Sure, I could have made it on my own, but we can buy bread. I didn’t need fresh bread. I hated the kneading, and my dough was never smooth like in the photos or on the Food Network, and I wanted it to be a family project. Me and the kids, measuring and watching the dough rising, kneading like we used to do with playdoh, and then baking it at three hundred fifty degrees for thirty to forty minutes. Why wouldn’t they cooperate?

Five years ago, I would have had them. They’d put on the too-big aprons and they’d get flour on their faces, and they’d burn their fingers trying to pull bits of bread right when it came out of the oven. Five years is a long time in kid ages. My two youngest are fourteen and fifteen, and they had no interest in baking bread with Mommy.

We have to, I said more than once. Everyone is baking bread. Everyone, I whispered. Is it really quarantine if we’re not baking bread? They looked at me in that way that teenagers look at their parents – the face that is partly pity and partly embarrassment; and not of you, but for you. I let them walk away.

We were cooking at least I thought with a shrug. We made pasta, Chef Jose Andres‘ Angel hair with tomato sauce (he called it pomodoro), chicken Alfredo, meatloaf, homemade meatballs, lasagna, roast chicken, pork in orange sauce, even my own leek and potato soup.

And still no bread.

Until….

I have a friend in Oklahoma who made a starter and offered it to her friends, like a chain letter. You get the starter, you grow it, and then, after ten days, you bake your bread, and you share the rest with your friends leaving one cup for you to continue the starter or freeze it for when you’re ready. for more Hmm, I thought, sure why not.

About two weeks later, a small postal box arrived at my doorstop. My starter was here! This was day one, and the directions couldn’t have been easier: do nothing.

I can do nothing.

For ten days, I mix the starter in the bag and I feed it twice. At the second feeding it’s ready to divide and use.

I put on my red apron, I got covered with flour because really what choice did I have – that stuff gets everywhere! One of the best parts of this type of bread is that apart from the starter, I already had every ingredient in my house.

I mixed it smooth. There is no kneading; it has a batter consistency and it poured into the loaf pan easily. I covered it with cinnamon sugar, although I feel as though in the end I should have mixed the sugar with butter to give it a streusel-style topping. I will try that when I make this the next time, and I will definitely add my results in here with an update (but not for awhile). I baked the bread on Wednesday, and I still have a full half of a loaf left. I think my family hasn’t figured out where the bread is or it would be gone already.

Apart from the community of what seems like the entire world baking bread simultaneously, the act of baking the bread is its own therapy. It brings out the homesteading, the nurturing, the nesting that just naturally happens in days of trauma, especially this shared trauma we’ve been facing. This feels different, though, maybe not as natural as other moments, and there is a level of stress and an undercurrent of fear sitting on the surface; the unknown that awaits. Like a rising tide lifts all boats, bread rising is an act of faith. You can follow the directions, mix all the ingredients, knead and rise, and it works or it doesn’t. Sweet breads are a little different, but there is still the wonder of making something from your hands and then sharing that with the people around you, whether that is physically with your family or here online with the people who make up our community.

I got the starter and I followed the directions. I added the ingredients. I mixed. I poured. I spread. I baked.

It hadn’t taken much for the house to smell like a bakery. A little cinnamon and vanilla goes a long way. The smells combined with each other – the cinnamon mixed in with the vanilla – and then it spread throughout the entire house until it was just there; it was consoling, comforting. It calmed. It’s quiet work reassured that things are okay and if they’re not okay right now, they will be. They will be.

Twenty-twenty’s been a year, hasn’t it? We’ll get through it in our own ways and yet still together.

It will take time, but we’ll be okay.

And there will always be bread.

For anyone who wants to make this bread, this is the link for the ingredients and directions as well as a few photos from my baking venture.

Domestic Violence and Abuse

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Nine years ago today, my friend was murdered by her ex. Up until that point, I was mostly unaware of the enormous domestic violence problem we have in this country.

I was unawware that 1 in 3 people are abused in their relationships.

I was unaware that women go to jail more for defending themselves against their partners than their partners do for abusing them.

I was unaware that I was part of the problem by not believing my friend when she did talk about her experiences in our mutual friend circles.

I was unaware.

We can no longer live in the darkness of ignorance; of platitudes; of living in our own bubbles.

If you know someone who is being abused, reach out. They may not accept your overtures, but they’ll know that you will be there when they are ready.

If you are being abused, there is help.

Contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-700-7233 or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

or online at The Hotline

In New York State, there are new options available related to an uptick (30% higher in this past April than in April 2019) in the domestic abuse incidents and reports since our pandemic related isolation began.

Coronavirus and Domestic Violence (NY Times)

New Yorkers in Need of Help or Assistance Can Text 844-997-2121 

or Can Go to the New Confidential Online Site to Reach a Professional on http://www.opdv.ny.gov

Office of Prevention of Domestic Violence in NY