Sunday, December 26, 2010


To: Self
From: Me & I
Re: Christmas 2011

Lest you forget the adventuresome nature of this year's celebration, here's a list of things to do next December.

1. Thaw the ham before the day.
2. Check to see if said ham is cooked. If no, check the cooking time of uncooked hams.
3. Trust but verify with the propane company. "You are scheduled to be filled." does not mean "We will definitely get to you before before we go home and enjoy the bubbly."
4. Posting wish lists online doesn't work for mother in law. Make sure she has access to them even if it means printing them out and mailing them with a stamp.
5. Dark chocolate, figs, anise, salt, and pepper make great bark.
6. One batch of sugar cookies may not look like much, but it is indeed sufficient. Congrats on your baking restraint.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas, Adam

Dear you,
These are some of the poems I wrote in April 2010 as part of the National Poetry Writing Month challenge. Thanks for the inspiration. Merry Christmas ! 


Meeting You
I stand there stickily seething, contemplating
my brand new Mr. Pib perfume and body lotion.
You introduce yourself, offering help.
Gratefully, I accept. A decade later, I am still grateful
to a child and a can of soda on a camping trip.


I knew

I knew that you
would share my children
the moment I saw you
rescuing a friend's
child from a dreaded
splinter with
patience and a
pocket knife.


Talking to You

Your eyebrows say so
much, just by
going like this:
Always asking me
the question of
the moment.

The alarm goes off
"I slept great. You?"

You open the bathroom door
"I'll be done in just a sec."

The kids race between us,
trailing their argument
like a kite.
"They've been like this
since lunch. It must have
been something in the
peanut butter."


evidence they leave behind

socks on the sofa
pencils on the table
underwear under the chair
science experiments in the corner
crumbs on the tile
hugs in the morning
mischievous smiles


Country City Mouse

If only,
if only you had chosen me
if only...
you would not
end each day with dirt under your nails
you would not
spend precious hours commuting to your life
you would not
have to sweep the yard back out of the kitchen everyday
you would have
enough time for art, for poetry, for music
for unhurried creation and uninterrupted appreciation
If only you had chosen me,
had stayed on the coast in the capital...
If only!

All of that might be true
if only I had chosen you.
I would wear heels and suits
instead of slippers and sweats.

I'd plant in neat balcony pots
instead of sprawling yard plots.

With you, though, I would not
live in the harmony of seasonal time,
appreciating super starry nights
and putting up fruit in its prime.

If only I had chosen you,
would I value you? Or -
would I ache for this
the way I ache for you now?

You might have led me around the world
following fulfilling work,
but you would never have given me these
children, who are products of this place.

You would never have shown me this path.
I did not choose you. I chose this, and
I am finished with 'if only'

for now...


We Two

Always one step beyond,
you ground me
keeping me from
blowing in the wind.

Always patient,
you put up with
my waffling
in my decisions.

Some days,
I drive you crazy,
but where there is tolerance
there is love.

Monday, November 29, 2010

juxtapositions and hope

Happy Advent, Everyone!

I'm noticing the increasingly early darkness this year more than usual. I think I may have to start lighting candles in my apartment in the evenings so their warm glowiness can carve out a space for light.

Last night, I heard a great sermon in the Rethink series at Purdue's Wesley Foundation. The topic this week is Rethinking Family, and the speaker quoted the African proverb I am because we are; since we are, therefore I am.” 

Then, this morning I read the sermon from last night's American University United Methodist service, which centered on the text from Isaiah 2:4 "...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

Wouldn't it be easier to beat our swords into plowshares and respond to the people around us with love rather than violence if we recognized the collective nature of our existence? A tall order indeed, but this is the week of hope.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

neverending stories

The power of the fairy tale is that it never ceases to be relevant because it allows each new generation of readers and tellers to reshape it into the discursive space that they need.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rita Sabina’s Smile

In my earliest memories of her, my father's mother is more a presence than a person. When seven of her eight children still lived close enough that Sunday dinners stretched the house to its limits, she was the bustling nurturing nucleus in the kitchen, felt more than seen by the pack of preschool cousins, or at least by me. 

My memories of her face begin later, when my parents divorced, when, family by family, we left Long Island in the eighties, when my grandfather became sick, when he died. Mostly, I remember a serious face, not a sour face, but one full of the cares of a lifetime. But her smile was a transformative power. When she smiled and laughed, her joy bubbled up and sparkled in her eyes, and I knew that she was present with me.

When I look at her smile in this picture, I remember her other smiles, too. When I look in the mirror, I see the faint outlines of her cheeks on my face and the beginning of wrinkles and creases in the same places she had them. I only hope that when I carry the cares of a lifetime with me, my smile still sparkles with joy and etches itself into the memories of my grandchildren to have when I am gone. 

Rita Sabina is in the back on the left. This picture was taken as  my mother, sister and I were leaving Florida and my Aunt Jane and Uncle John were arriving to visit my grandparents.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Entire Apartment Is My Laundry Room

When you make the decision to move from the 1800 square foot Rambling Farmhouse with a barn and garage on 12 acres to the 600 square foot Cute Apartment on the second and third floors of a Victorian on a small city lot, you tell yourself that you're going to have to give some things up. You can't take the chickens. You can't take all the books and all the toys and all the dishes if you still want to be able to walk through the apartment.

Even though you know the loss is not in vain, after all, you are trading these things for other things: You will be close to the art museum, and the tea and yarn shops, and the bakery. You will have busses and bike lanes. There is a note of melancholy in the catalog of things you know you will have to give up. You know you will miss that which you are trading away.

The more I am here, the more I realize that some things don't need to be given up, just remolded. Take, for example, the laundry, one of the few household chores that I enjoy. At Rambling Farmhouse, I have a system of hanging laundry inside and outside on racks, hangers, and clothesline that is nearly Byzantine in its complexity and is customized to the space there. Decisions of whether to hang and where take myriad factors into account, including, but not limited to: level of sunshine, time of day, relative humidity, fiber content, and garment construction as well as total volume of laundry and urgency of need. It is a system years in the making. I find myself at square one again in the new space. Here, outside is not really an option, and the washer and dryer are in the entryway closet, so there is no way to sequester the laundry in a room of its own.

Yesterday, as I was doing laundry, Adam asked how my laundry room was working out, and I had to laugh. I had just put the smallclothes in the dryer and hung the dress shirts and dresses on hangers on the shower curtain rod in the bathroom. I was in the processes of putting the kitchen linens and t-shirts on the compact drying rack in the kitchen next to the window with the fan blowing out, hoping to draw air through the wet things. The entire apartment is my laundry room and it's working just fine.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The New Girl

I hate being the new girl, not knowing the lay of the land in the group, not seeing familiar faces. One of the things that bothered me about living in Michgan is that, even after 10 years here full time, I always feel this way: at church, at La Leche League, with my husband's friends. I have always felt welcome, but I also always feel new.

Recently, we hosted the monthly meeting of a sustainable food group we joined in February, and there were two families there who were newer than me. This week I stopped downtown and ran into four people I know. I'm not the new girl! Finally!

But next week, I start all over again. In a new city and a new school, back to being the new girl. *sigh* At least Adam will be in the same boat. Remind me again why I'm doing this?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Desire to Communicate

This was presented as a Sermon at the Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches on July 4, 2010. The text from the Revised Common Lectionary was 2 Kings 5:1-14 (Year C, Proper 9).

In these last few weeks as the lectionary has guided us through the history of Elijah and Elisha in the book of Kings, I’ve been struck by the important role of communication. We listened with Elijah for the still small voice, and we observed as Elijah and Elisha discussed what would happen when the Lord called the teacher to him. This week’s text is no exception.  Every step taken depends upon communication.  Servants, generals, kings and prophets use spoken and written words to act in the world.
I suppose that I’ve been paying so much attention to communication because it is my stock in trade. I write operations manuals that tell people how to use the machines they purchase. I interpret when English and Russian speakers want to communicate with each other. I teach English to speakers of other languages so that they can better communicate here in America. At home, my husband and I work hard to communicate with one another so that our disagreements don’t become fights. (And I’m proud to say that in 10 years of marriage, no one has had to sleep on the couch.)
Sometimes, like Naaman, though, I still have trouble communicating with God.  I don’t  understand his communication or I reject it because it is not the communication I was expecting. Part of the problem is that God does not communicate the same way that we do. We humans may be created in God’s image, but we are not the same kind of being. We are not divine. The thing is, I know how to talk to God, I know how to praise and thank and how to make requests. My problem is listening and understanding, and not rejecting the message like Naaman did. You see, when I talk to God, I talk the same way I talk to you, the way I’m talking right now. I speak English, I use my voice. But what voice does God have? I don’t know what to listen for.
In thinking about all of this, it occurred to me that in some ways, talking to God is like talking to a foreigner. It’s not that God doesn’t speak English, God uses a totally different mode of communication.
            When the students in my class are at their most frustrated with the patterns of English grammar and pronunciation, I tell them that the most important thing is the desire to communicate. Grammar and pronunciation rules are just the tools we agree to use to make communication easier, but they are not the most important thing. The desire is. If I want to express something to you, and you want to understand, we’ll find a way. If I speak only Russian, and you speak only Swahili, we’ll find a way. If I am blind and you are deaf, we’ll find a way. If you are divine and I am only human, we’ll find a way, as long as we both have the desire to communicate.
            There are four key things can help us find the way: attentiveness, patience, humility, and practice. I’ve noticed as a professor and as a traveler that if I’m not attentive when I try to communicate, it won’t work. Speaking English to another English speaker is easy. They have the same grammar and pronunciation tools. I know what to expect form them. But when communicating with a foreigner in English or in their language, I don’t know what to expect, and the mismatch of expectation and reality can sometimes lead to misunderstanding if I’m not paying close attention. I have to put down the other things that I am doing, face toward the speaker, and just listen to the words and discern the intended message. Attentiveness was part of Naaman’s problem in today’s text, too. God couldn’t get a message directly to Naaman because he didn’t know God. Naaman was an Aramite. So God uses the captive girl, who does know Him.
            This kind of attentiveness requires patience. We 21st century Americans are so used to doing many things at once, we rarely stop to just listen to one another. And we’re so used to quick, easy communication with one another, we don’t tolerate communication that requires us to listen patiently for each piece of the sentence or communication that makes us think about what the other person wants from us. When Elisha gives Naaman instructions about how to cure his leprosy, they are not what he expects. He hears, but he doesn’t understand, and he almost misses the communication.
            Communicating in a challenging situation also demands the humility to say, “Wait. Stop. I don’t understand. Can you explain it to me a different way?”  We have to be able to admit the failure to understand so that we can repair the communication and move forward, but failure is always a difficult thing to own.
            Practice helps. The more we practice attentiveness, patience, and humility in communication, the more easy they become. My students often tell me, “Teacher, it is so easy to talk to you, but it is so hard to talk to regular people.” Well, that’s because I have a lot of practice talking to non-native speakers of English. I have a lot of practice talking to God, as well, but I need to practice listening more.
So I think these are things we can practice to help our communication with God especially on the receiving end. We need to be attentive to God’s message and aware that it might come to us in a variety of ways: a still small voice, a gut feeling, the words of a friend. In addition, God’s message might not be at all what we expect it to be, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. We need to be prepared for God to present us with the unexpected.   We must also practice patience since God’s participation in our communication might not come when we want it to, and we might have to do some mental work to decipher the message. Humility is also a key to communicating with God, we need to be able to go back to God and ask again. The more we do this, the easier it will become.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Nurturing Life

These are food. Let’s get that straight from the beginning. They are babies and they are cute, but they are food. That is why the hatchery inseminated their mother, incubated their eggs, and shipped them to us as hatchlings. That is why my friend kept them in with her batch of new turkeys while we were abroad. That is why they are in my yard now. Their destinies are Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Sylvester, and Easter.
But…They are not food yet. They’re not ready, so I have to take care of them. Furthermore, I don’t want them to become food for the fox, coyote, or raptors in the woods around my house, so I have to take care of them.

In some ways, they are like having four more chickens. They share the chicken coop, they eat from the same feeder and drink from the same water tank. Their instincts tell them to walk around and look for sustenance at their feet. In fact, these four are even better foragers than the chickens. The tom has already won several battles on our behalf in the War Against the Slugs. The chickens, though, came to us as adults, while these are still very young. At the farm that started them for us, they were in a pen in the garage with hay bales for sides, loose hay on the floor, and food and water in the corners. They ate and slept in this area. Here, though, they have to navigate the ramp of the Poultry Chalet to find safe sleep on the second story and good food on the first floor. They range free during the day and have to find their way back to the Chalet in the evening.

While the chickens tolerate their presence, the old biddies are in no way interested in fostering and caring for these young whipperschnappers. So, it falls to me. The first night they were here, they bedded down in a pile on the lower level of the Chalet, so husband and I fished them out and put them up top. The next morning, I had to nudge them down the ramp to find the food.

Generally, during the day, they are happy to wander and forage. They make a yippy cooey noise that helps them stay together, though the smallest female has a tendency to wander a bit from the group. Periodically, I hear a different noise. When I go to investigate this loud peeping, I find them standing together looking around rather than eating, often in the middle of the stone patio where there isn’t food anyway. I lead them back to a food source in the yard or back to the Chalet, and they are happy. As a break between other daily tasks, I mosey through the property listening for their soft music and looking for the way they make the tall grass sway until I find them, and sometimes they come looking for me. As I was beginning this post, they were particularly peepy and distressed, pulling me from the kitchen to the patio twice, so I brought the laptop out to the picnic table where they foraged at my feet for a bit before wandering off.

They are amazing creatures. They take good care of themselves, but, like all young, sometimes they just want to check in and make sure they are in the right place. Right now, their right place is here in my yard, foraging for their nourishment and peeping when they need a nurturing presence. Eventually, it will be their turn to nourish me and my family, and we will get back all the nurturing we have given them.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Grand Plan (such as it is) for the Next 4 Years

(Beginning with some background) When I finished my BA in Russian Studies, I could have stayed in DC and become a low level functionary at the State Department or a translator with an NGO, but I got married and moved to Michigan instead. No one here in Michigan was looking for translators or low-level functionaries with excellent command of Russian. (Fancy that!) So, I had a baby (which I wanted to do anyway) and went back to school for certification so that I could teach Russian (and history, and English, and ESL (Michigan prefers versatile teachers.)) and had another baby. Along the way, my professors started saying, "You know, you don't really belong in that certificate program, you belong in our MA English Lit program." And I agreed, but then they upped the ante. They started saying, "You really should consider a PhD." What?!?! (I had honestly never considered this as a possible path.)

I said, "Nah." (You have to draw the line somewhere.) I took the amazing knowledge and experience of my two language degrees as well as the teaching certificate and started to make a career for myself as an adjunct professor of English as a Second Language. There are some really nice things about being an adjunct professor. You don't have to attend committee meetings, for one. You are not tied to a single institution (some semesters I taught for the Community College and the University). Did I mention that you don't have to attend committee meetings? The downside of adjuncthood, though, is your position at the bottom of the totem pole with no job security. And since you are happily not attending the committee meetings, you are also not helping to build the kind of institution you want to keep working in. The work environment at the Community College became toxic (don't get me started on the evils of shortsighted management) and all the full time job postings I looked at listed an MA as a requirement, but also said "PhD preferred." Ugh.

So after two years of searching for a specialty and then for schools with that specialty, and applications, and rejection letters, and starting over, and an acceptance letter (finally!), I am starting a PhD in Comparative Literature at Purdue University in the fall of 2010. Which brings us to (drumroll, please)….

The Grand Plan (such as it is)

This PhD program will consist of 2-3 years of classes (it is highly customizable based on my dissertation topic (memo to self: find dissertation topic and plan courses accordingly)), grueling paper and oral exams during the last semester of classes, and the most gigantic term paper I have ever even dreamed of writing (for which they give me 4-5 more years). As long as I "make steady progress toward the completion of my degree," the university has pledged me tuition remission, health insurance, and an adequate housing stipend for four years. The first year will be a fellowship (no teaching required), during the other three, I will teach in return for this generous package.

I know. Your questions at this point are legion: The kids? The house? The husband's job? Stay tuned – here we go:

Purdue is in West Lafayette, IN, which is Three Hours from where we live now. Definitely too far to commute. The children and I (and the cats) will stay in an apartment (this apartment is so cute, it will get its own post) in Lafayette (just over the river, still walking distance). They will go to an elementary school 6 blocks away, and I will not have to drive my car unless I want to. (We do the dance of joy!) We'll come back to Rambling Farmhouse in MI one weekend a month as well as holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break. Summer is, as yet, undecided.

The husband will keep his job which is an hour from Rambling Farmhouse, but still two hours from Cute Apartment. Sometimes, he will join us in Lafayette and telecommute from Cute Apartment, sometimes he will go to work and sleep at Rambling Farmhouse. The chickens, which are vehemently not permitted within Lafayette city limits, will stay at Rambling Farmhouse where husband will look after them. My mom and sister are living in the Rambling Lakehouse next door, so there will always be someone to keep an eye on things when we are all at Cute Apartment.

When I have successfully run the gantlet at the heights of higher education, we'll retreat to Rambling Farmhouse, regroup and decide where to go from there depending on where I can find work and what the husband would like to do. He has this dream of taking a year off to tend the grapes he just planted. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

CSA box supper - week 2

We came home from Europe (I promise to blog about that later) to find the second weekly CSA box in the fridge (Thanks, Mom!). Since we'll pick up a new box tomorrow, we began the Tuesdays-in-summer tradition of making supper out of the bits of last week's box.

This time of year, the 1/2 bushel box is mostly salad greens and early roots like radishes, carrots, and an odd little turnip like a bleached radish. I really enjoy the greens. I missed piles of greens on my sandwiches in the winter, and nothing beats a giant bowl of mixed salad greens with oil and vinegar for lunch (crumbled bacon optional), but I never know what to do with the radishes and mini-turnips. Today, I had a stroke of brilliance:

Radish Turnip Slaw

3 radishes
3 mini-turnips
2 carrots
top of one green onion
(rice wine) vinegar
(sesame) oil

Grate the radishes, turnips and carrots into a bowl. Mince and add the green onion. Add pinch of salt and splashes of oil and vinegar to taste. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust.

Delicious! The anti-radish faction even ate it without complaining.

Friday, April 30, 2010

evidence they leave behind

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo # 30 Fare thee well

evidence they leave behind

socks on the sofa
pencils on the table
underwear under the chair
science experiments in the corner
crumbs on the tile
hugs in the morning
mischievous smiles

Thursday, April 29, 2010

to my uncle

Read Write Poem NaPoWriMo #29

to my uncle

will always be the smell
of joy and love
because of your baking

will always be the game
I play with children
because of your marbles

will always be an organ donor
because someone gave you
a heart

live on
in me, darlin'

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I knew

Read Write Poem NaPoWriMo # 28 Intuition

I knew that you
would share my children
the moment I saw you
rescuing a friend's
child from a dreaded
splinter with
patience and a
pocket knife.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo # 27 Acrostic


Keep the bells ringing
over the town,
lifting up praise,
off'ring thanksgiving.
Keep the bells ringing
over the field.
Listen - the sound
chimes through the sky,
hopping on hilltops off
into the night.
Keep the bells ringing
into the day.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Talking to You

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #25 first things's first

Talking to You

Your eyebrows say so
much, just by
going like this:
Always asking me
the question of
the moment.

The alarm goes off
"I slept great. You?"

You open the bathroom door
"I'll be done in just a sec."

The kids race between us,
trailing their argument
like a kite.
"They've been like this
since lunch. It must have
been something in the
peanut butter."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

epigram 1

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo # 24 find a phrase

epigram 1

you can't
go home again
home rides along
wherever you go

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Fork

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #23 Odd Couple

The Fork

I am that restaurant, that one
where people go to do and to be
seen doing in the poshest of places.
I contain them:
the genuine adulterous lovers
the legitimate deceitful businessmen.
Oh, the things I could say
about who comes alone
about who meets whom
about who leaves how.
I am that restaurant.

I am that table, the one
in the corner, where people
have their most private
public events.
I cover them:
the crossed fingers of the crooked promise
the wandering fingers of the indecent proposal
the occasional kiss.
Oh, the things I could say
about who meets here behind the greenery
about what one man tells three different people
on three different days
I am that table.

I am the fork, the one
that these lovers and doers use
to bring the food into their bodies.
They choose the restaurant,
they choose the table,
but me they just accept without noticing.
But I notice.
I touch their tongues,
I feel their lips,
I resist their teeth.
I taste the tang of their lies.
I know the sweetness of the truth.
I know who should be here and who should not,
who is genuine and who is false.
Oh, the things I could say,
about young women's innocent duplicity
about men's sincere infidelity
about entreprenurial altruism
about restrained anger
and, occasionally, about true love.
I am that fork.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

in the kitchen

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #22 a wordle

in the kitchen

saffron and pepper reverberate,
tappingtapping to open the door
their dizzyfierceness seduces
and I succumb
liberally sprinkling the spice and
a squall of sent wafts up
enticing the tongue

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Poetic Apprehension

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo # 21 Perfection

Poetic Apprehension

is impossible at
the rate of one
per day.

But no one
expects it

and revision
and time
and some more revision
that will bring perfection.

Keep dreaming.

Perfection is
ever unattainable,
only, like infinity,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Boast of Me

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #20

A Boast of Me

I, Kate, am the daughter descended of myriad marvelous mothers
of she whose picture-painting needle never pauses
of she whose fleet feet fly hither and yon
of she who brewed the dandelion wine.

The many of America mingle in my blood
Irish and Dutch, Mohawk and German.
I am a weaver of cultures, reaching across the chasm
and making of myself a bridge for my comrades to cross.

Notes: Because I need to believe in myself more and be my own hero, I chose to write an Anglo-Saxon style boast in response to this prompt. You should write one, too.

Friday, April 16, 2010

coconut lotion

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #16 What is that smell?

the smell of coconut
lotion eclipses all else
my feet remember scorching sand
my eyes remember glaring sun
my ears remember wheeling gulls
my tongue remembers salty brine
I return to childhood

Notes: I wish I could still find sunscreen that has that smell. This poem came without punctuation. What do you think? Is the repetition of remember too much?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spinach Haiku

NaPoWriMo #15

Spinach Haiku

so long have I
longed for your spring return
to my bowl, spinach

Note: An increased commitment to eating locally and in season meant that I wasn't purchasing greens in the grocery store through the winter. My brief sojourn in Brazil was a nice salad interlude, but for the last month or so, I have been craving a giant bowl of spinach salad, and I finally got it thanks to Bluebird Farm and Sustainable Greens.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Making Friends

NaPoWriMo # 14

Making Friends

We cut a complicated dance:
I bare an ankle,
you a wrist,
then a knee,
and an elbow.

We don't quite get
to hips and shoulders-
today that would be
too much.

We spiral together
and back away,
passing face to face
and back to back.

We leave the dance floor
still wanting more.
for next time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ducks fly north

Read Write Poem #12 Secret Codes

Ducks fly north
the secrets of spring
under their wings.

Geese cry greeting
to be meeting
their summertime friends.

Notes: Today's prompt called for secret code, which reminded me of a story a fellow expat had told me when we were studying in Moscow: Years earlier, her parents had visited the USSR and wanted to send themselves a postcard. Not knowing what to say to themselves, they just wrote "Ducks fly north." The postcard arrived months later with all manner of stamps and notations in Russian all over the back. Their theory is that the censors had to make sure it wasn't super secret spy code before it passed through the Iron Curtain to the free world.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Country City Mouse

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #11 The Thing You Didn't Choose

Country City Mouse

If only,
if only you had chosen me
if only...
you would not
end each day with dirt under your nails
you would not
spend precious hours commuting to your life
you would not
have to sweep the yard back out of the kitchen everyday
you would have
enough time for art, for poetry, for music
for unhurried creation and uninterrupted appreciation
If only you had chosen me,
had stayed on the coast in the capital...
If only!

All of that might be true
if only I had chosen you.
I would wear heels and suits
instead of slippers and sweats.

I'd plant in neat balcony pots
instead of sprawling yard plots.

With you, though, I would not
live in the harmony of seasonal time,
appreciating super starry nights
and putting up fruit in its prime.

If only I had chosen you,
would I value you? Or -
would I ache for this
the way I ache for you now?

You might have led me around the world
following fulfilling work,
but you would never have given me these
children, who are products of this place.

You would never have shown me this path.
I did not choose you. I chose this, and
I am finished with 'if only'

for now...

Notes: I like where this poem took me. It is something that rolls around in my head quite a lot now as I stand at another decision-required intersection. I would like to keep working on the style in the second half of the poem, bringing in more rhyme and meter to differentiate it from the voice of the first half of the poem. We'll see.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Preparation for Celebration

Read Write Poem's NaPrWriMo #10 Celebration

Disclaimer - this is very definitely just a draft.

Preparation for Celebration

For forty days and forty nights,
we ate no eggs - no omlettes,
no french toast, no pancakes.

To be ready for the Feast of Easter
with paskha and kulikh, which
we have been eating for a week.

Easter week has come to an end,
but the chickens continue to lay,
and we return to omlettes,
french toast and pancakes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Questions I Could Never Ask My Hostess

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #9 Your Mission

Questions I Could Never Ask My Hostess

I prop the electric torch against the pail
where I will stow the paper
when I'm done.
(I hope the batteries will survive
nightly trips to this necessary)
The outhouse is one of a million small inconveniences
on the fringe of a village in the middle of Siberia.

What must it be like in the winter-
when the bruising wind grabs the door out of your hands
and with all your might you lever it closed
before the snow flies onto the rug?
when the drifts on the path make you limp to the loo?
when the sun shines so little and the chimney puffs so much?

Lost in thought, I stumble, startling myself and the chickens.
Exhausted by your way of life, I dream of home's conveniences.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

cookie haiku

NaPoWriMo day 8

once again
meringue cookie clouds collapse
failure *sigh*

Notes: This one is not written to the prompt for today.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Meeting You

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #7 Funny side of love tanka

Meeting You

I stand there stickily seething, contemplating
my brand new Mr. Pib perfume and body lotion.
You introduce yourself, offering help.
Gratefully, I accept. A decade later, I am still grateful
to a child and a can of soda on a camping trip.

Notes: I have not experimented with this form of poetry before. It was interesting, and I think I'd like to try my hand at tanka again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Making Pirozhki

Read Write Poems's NaPoWriMo #6 Converse with an Image

Making Pirozhki

roll, flatten
scoop, fold, press
set to rise

Many hands on the small table
harmoniously dance
in and out of the dough,
in and out of the filling.
then the dough
roll, flatten
then the filling
scoop, fold, press
set to rise

A molehill
of flour water onions eggs
becomes a mountain
of pirozhki.
roll, flatten
scoop, fold, press
set to rise

Monday, April 5, 2010


Read Write Poems's NaPoWriMo #5 Give Your Poetry a Name


A private person,
usually keeps to herself
in the pages of my journal.
( a nice home of handmade
paper bound in leather
with careful stitches)
(I wouldn’t mind
living there myself)
She sings eclectic songs
(bits from here and pieces from there)
while rearranging the furniture
and tending the flowers.
Recently, an inexplicable
impulse drives her
to meet all of you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #4 Inside-out


I leave the windows open so the birds can come in.
Their morning chorus, swirling avian energy
into the room,
but never depleting their reserve,
from some mysterious source,
drawing more.

The music washes over me and seeps through my skin,
Infusing me until I am ready
To act in the world
To teach my children
To cook and clean
To sew and study
To tend the garden

To pour human energy out
To participate in the cycle.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #3 Fear


When the envelope comes
will it be fat or skinny?

Will it say 'Yes, we want you!'
or 'Nah, no thanks.'

This time next year where will I be?
Here still again or
in a new city in a new program
with new knowledge?

Which do I want?
Is it telling
that I don't know?

Change and status quo -
Fearing both,
I'll embrace either.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Reading Walden Pond

Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo #2 Acronym Switcheroo

Reading Walden Pond

When I slip into the pages
of Henry David's Walden,
I dip into the self-same
stream Thoreau went a-fishing in.

Reading, remembering, relearning-
sitting at the feet
of the master reflecter
I am connected.

This prompt was harder to write to. Nothing in the list sang for me, then I read Rob's take on RWP in Remembering Willow Pond, and Walden popped into my head. Not every poem-in-a-day will be a gem, but this may grow into something better with time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday Away from Home

You, stranger, kneel
before me
with a basin of
warm water between us.
Humbling yourself
to wash my feet.

I, wanderer, sit
in this strange apse
with my bare toes cold
on the marble floor.
Exposing myself
to your care.

Trusting that you
will not wrinkle your nose
at the perfume of shoes
that have circumambulated
the city today.

Hoping that you
will not look askance
at the hobbit hair
my razor missed.

Wondering what
this ritual will bring.

We are not, you and I,
Mary and Jesus or Jesus and disciple.
I have never
raised your brother from the dead.
You have never
called me to be a fisher of men.
Yet no one has ever
held my feet so reverently.
You have
touched my most private public part.

I, now clean, clothe my feet.
I resolve
to tap you on the shoulder
to take your place
to know the humbling.

But the line is empty.
Too nervous to expose myself,
I had waited too long.
And did not seize
the opportunity to be humble.

I could not sleep last night, and, anticipating today's holy day, I recalled the time I spent Passion Week at a conference in Boston. I had made the travel arrangements not realizing that it was Passion Week, and was initially disappointed to be away from home. But I was able to attend services at an amazing cathedral in Boston and to be fully attentive while there. I will never forget.
Free verse is fairly new to me. I find myself clinging to parallel structure in the absence of meter and rhyme.
Read Write Poem's NaPoWriMo Challenge #1 Shuffle Poem

We Two

Always one step beyond,
you ground me
keeping me from
blowing in the wind.

Always patient,
you put up with
my waffling
in my decisions.

Some days,
I'm such a stewball,
but where there is tolerance
there is love.

Using the Refresh button in my iTunes DJ, I came up with these five songs:
Tolerance by Michael Franti; There is Love, Blowin' in the Wind, and Stewball, by Peter, Paul, and Mary; One Step Beyond by Karsh Kale.
(The collected works of PPM album really stacked the deck in their favor!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring is like a perhaps hand

The crocuses and snowdrops are up and in bud, the scallion medusas are reaching for the sun, and e e cummings has taken up residence in my internal soundtrack.

Spring is like a perhaps hand
by E. E. Cummings


Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

shamelessly copied and pasted from

Take a Break

Take a Break
This was presented as a sermon at Jones United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 7, 2010. They asked me to speak a little bit about my time in Brazil in January of this year.

As you all know, I love to travel. Anywhere. To the woods, to the city, to Siberia, to Germany. Offer me a ticket, and I'll go. There is nothing like steeping myself in another culture to prompt reflection on the way I live my life at home and to ultimately live my life better. Let me give you a couple of examples:When I visited France in 1999, I learned about the pleasure of shopping for my daily bread and fruit from the baker and the farmer who produce them and also about the more intense experience food can provide when you enjoy a restaurant meal slowly, one small portion at a time. When I visited Russia in 1997, I learned how 5 people can comfortably live in an apartment with only four small rooms. The keys are having just what you need, assigning everything a place, and always putting it there. Where there isn't room for impulse buying and needles accumulation, you won't do it. I value these lessons, and I know that travel will always teach me something if I am willing to learn. So, when Andrews University, where I am an alumna and an adjunct professor asked me if I would go to their Brazilian sister institution UNASP to teach in an English Immersion program for a month, I said, “Where do I sign?”

Brazil is a beautiful country. The tropical birds, flowers, and trees are amazingly different than what we find here with vibrant colors, giant blooms, and cacophonous songs. Like the exuberance of the flora and the fauna, the Brazilian people are exuberant with their smiles, their music and their hospitality. They took such good care of me at UNASP that I sometimes felt like a queen. But that's not the lesson I brought home.

The lesson from my time in Brazil that I want to share with you this morning is about my learning to value the observance of Sabbath for the rest that it offers. Having grown up with Jewish friends and studied and worked with Adventists, the concept of Sabbath was not new to me. I have seen a variety of ways to observe Sabbath ranging from resignedness to joy. I got the resignedness. God commands it, so we do it. Period. End. But I didn't get the joy. I didn't understand how my fellow students who, I knew, were just as buried under work and as behind on papers as I was, were so grateful for a day that they couldn't get any work done. I wasn't comprehending the gift of Sabbath, just the duty.

Because I was living in the dormitory at UNASP, I lived in the rhythm of Brazilian Adventist life. My days in the intensive immersion program began at 6 AM and often didn't end until after 11. I planned, I taught, I graded. I shared meals with my students and participated in the program's planned recreation like swimming and choir. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. By our after lunch class on Friday of the first week, both the professors and the students were drained. Thankfully, classes ended early on Friday so everyone had some free time before the beginning of Sabbath at sundown. We American professors used the time for an outing, wanting to see as much of Brazil as we could, something, anything outside of the UNASP campus. The students, on the other hand, used the time for recreation and to prepare for Sabbath. When we gathered again at dinner, we professors were on the rumpled side, wearing the clothes we had put on that morning, happy to have had an adventure, but still tired. The students, on the other hand, had used the time to shower and change into Sabbath clothes. Some of the girls curled, braided, or straightened their hair. All in all, they came to supper looking more relaxed than they had when our class ended. The mood of relaxation was palpable in the air.

After supper came Friday vespers. Saturday morning brought worship and Sabbath school, and Saturday afternoon was a wide open block on our schedule. Any planning or grading or homework to be done for Monday could wait for Saturday evening or even Sunday. At lunch after worship on Saturday, we chatted about what we would do with our afternoons. The consensus was sleep.

By respecting the customs of my hosts and participating in this observance of the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, I experienced the gift that God gives us when we tithe one seventh of our time to Him. The day of Sabbath rest and relaxation was a sharp contrast to the energy and effort of the other six days. On Friday afternoon, I was exhausted and wondering how I would make it through the next week, but by Sunday morning, I was refreshed and ready to prepare and to grade and to teach again on Monday.

The new challenge has become bringing this lesson home with me and transform my Sunday into a Sabbath. I am not, after all, an Adventist, and I don't live in a world which supports this kind of Sabbath observance. My world consists of mainline protestants and Catholics for whom Sabbath is a couple of hours on Sunday morning and secularists for whom Sabbath is irrelevant. For several years now, I have been committed to not engaging in commerce on Sunday because if I go shopping or to a restaurant, that means a whole team of other people had to come to work on Sunday. Many of them would like to go to church and to spend time with their families, but often refusing to work on Sunday is asking to be fired. Everybody deserves a day of rest.

Now, I am trying to keep my Sabbath more Holy at home, too. I don't deal with school related e-mails or work on my freelance work. I also don't do any schoolwork with the kids. And when it comes to housework, if I can't do it with a joyful heart, I don't do it on a Sunday. I have realized that although stressful events may drive us to our knees and lead us to talk to God about our problems, it is only in our relaxed moments that we are available to listen to God, and to let His peace fill us up. Stress consumes all that space and drives the peace out. Sabbath rest with God can restore it.

In another way, this trip to Brazil was a sort of Sabbatical for me. Yes, I was there to work, and I worked hard! But this work was different from my usual work, and there is rest in that difference. At UNASP, teaching was my only work. I did not have to be involved in administrative decisions and politics as I so often am in the ESL department at Andrews. I also didn't have to do any housework beyond keeping my things tidy so that the staff could clean my room. Having the freedom and the necessary support to be wholly a teacher was really nice. And as I return home and take up my life here in Michigan again, I am trying to be more mindful about the commitments that I make. Do I really want to add that to my list? I ask myself.

Our Lenten journey together as a church family has given me some additional insight on these ideas, too. The 15 quiet minutes with God that our text challenges us to take are like a mini-Sabbath each day. In these 15 minutes, we give ourselves permission to just be with God, and to let everything else go. Just like grading and planning can wait until after Sabbath, washing the dishes and taking out the garbage can wait fifteen minutes. This time alone with God makes room for peace, and renews the feeling of Sabbath throughout the week.

Dedicating time daily time to God with our families can also work a powerful change on the way we live our lives. With my students in Brazil our instructional day began at 7:45 with 10 minutes of worship and 5 minutes for announcements. Most other departments at UNASP began at 7:30, so as I made the 10 minute walk each morning from the dorm to the classroom, the songs of the tropical birds mingled with the songs of each department joining their voices in praise to God. It was beautiful to hear and beautiful to know that everyone on campus though divided by occupation was united in praise.

Praise services like these are democratic moments. Teachers, students, and the praise leader are all doing the exact same thing, and the academic classes begin on a different note when we all pause from our rush to arrive to spend some time together with God. We come to the tasks of the day more united and with a greater sense of calm centeredness. So, this is what I'm trying to do now both alone and with my children. In Brazil, this time was built into my day, but here at home, I have to carve it out for myself. There, we had a dedicated space that we used only for worship, but here, I have to find that same relaxed stillness among all the tasks and objects that fill and sometimes clutter my day, and I challenge you to do the same. Go ahead, give yourself permission to take a break, and dedicate that break to God. I promise that if you do, the reward will be great. Sabbath rest, daily and weekly, is as much God's gift to us as our obligation to Him.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An Interesting Conversation with Sofia

In the bread aisle at Meijer, an unusual place to find the Koppy girls since we usually bake our own or buy at the artisan bakery:

Sofia: Can we buy some French toast?

Me: What?

Sofia (making a tiny circle with her fingers): You know, those round ones.

We stand there looking at each other for a bit. I'm thinking: Is my 6 year old asking for baguette?

Anna: Waffles!

Sofia: No. We cut them open and in the toaster and spread butter on them.

Anna and I are still stymied. I'm running through my mental rolodex of bread products. Hard rolls?

Sofia: We had some at church.

Me: Do you mean English muffins?

Sofia: Yes! (sheepishly grinning)

We bought some.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Recently, I updated my facebook status to say that I was watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with the girls, and a couple of friends said, "Ooh. Tell me what you think." When I started writing, it soon got way to long for a comment on a status update, so here it is.

I slid this movie into the DVD player expecting to see an animated version of the children's picture book. The title is exactly the same, so the story, with some additions, deletions, and mutations (as happen when changing media) should be more or less recognizable. I had even read the book with the girls and asked them to make predictions about what the film might add to go from a 10 minute read-aloud to an animated feature.

In reality, the story is totally different. In the picture book, Chewandswallow is presented as a tall tale, within the frame story of Grandpa flipping the pancake onto Henry's head. And, as in tall tale tradition, extraordinary events are not explained. They simply are. And we suspend disbelief, enjoying the story. This attitude allows the events in Chewandswallow to be extraordinary and accepts that what seems supernatural to us may be perfectly natural somewhere else. After all, there are "an ocean, lots of humpy bumpy mountains, three deserts, and one smaller ocean" between us and Chewandswallow, so anything can happen there.

The film, though, is more science-fiction than tall tale. It explains why Chewandswallow has food for weather (young inventor's transmuter machine accidentally gets booted into the clouds) and why that food weather gets out of control (gluttony and pride). Science provides means, while psychology provides motivation. Having expected the tall tale, I was initially disappointed by the science fiction.

There is, however, a lot to like about this film in and of itself. Both the hero and the heroine grow, and their success is interdependent. As a parent, I really appreciate the way that the characters take responsibility for their mistakes and work to fix the resulting problems. As a grown-up, I enjoyed the satirical jabs at American culture. As a long-time fan of the picture book, I reveled in the appearance of the Jell-o sunset, the pancake on the school, the salt and pepper wind, and the bread boats. As a Star Wars fan, I laughed out loud at the meatball Death Star.

All in all, I would give this film a thumbs-up. I do wish that they had changed the title, so that it would suggest Chewandswallow without leading one to expect the picture book on film.

There you go, ladies, that's what I think. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

_____ Ash Wednesday

What kind of Ash Wednesday ought we to have? I've been pondering this question since midmorning. As I was leaving the tea shop after elevenses, a woman responded to the smudgy cross on my forehead with, "Happy Ash Wednesday!" and a smile. I mumbled, "Thank you" and kept walking, but the moment has stuck with me all day. The image of that woman is as fresh in my mind as that of the monk who had imposed my ashes during Terce.

Ash Wednesday isn't meant to be a day of joyful celebration. Some celebrate mass, many impose ashes, a few observe a fast. So, what should we say to each other on this day that marks the beginning of Lent? What is it that we wish for one another on this holy day that mainstream America has forgotten?

I wish you a Meaningful Ash Wednesday and a Meditative Lent that leads you to a Fruitful Easter Season and a Transformative Pentecost.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Favorite Sonnet

I have lots of favorite sonnets.
Here is one by e e cummings. More may be forthcoming.

The Aeronaut to his Lady.


Slow ! '

Saturday, February 6, 2010


This is the product of my very first attempt at making cheese. I started with a quart of raw goat's milk from the dairy up the road, added heat, cider vinegar, and time. Voila! Queso blanco.

A whole new world of culinary exploration awaits! (Just as soon as I procure the necessary ingredients and gadgets, of course.)

So, you want to bake some challah?

This post is in response to Thirty Things to Make While I'm Thirty by my friend at Apple a Day.

Challah is not the easiest yeasted bread to make, so try this only after you've had French bread or wheat bread turn out well a couple of times.*

Hallah (abbreviated recipe)**

2c. lukewarm water

3 pkg yeast

8 c. flour

1 ½ c. sugar

1 ½ t salt

½ lb butter or margarine

5 eggs (1 will be reserved for glaze)

Mix water and yeast in super-huge bowl. Add 3 c. flour and 1 c. sugar. Let rise for ½ hour. Meanwhile, mix salt and remaining flour and sugar. Cut in margarine until texture of coarse meal.

Add 4 beaten eggs to yeast in the super-huge bowl and stir well. Add flour-margarine mixture to yeast mixture. If sticky, add up to 2 c. flour. Knead on floured board 'til smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise in an oiled bowl 'til doubled (2 hours). Punch down. Knead lightly and divide.

4 small-medium loaves 30 min

3 medium loaves 30-45 min

2 large loaves 45-50 min

1 super-huge loaf 50 min +

Divide each loaf into three long snakes and braid. Place in oiled loaf pans and let rise as long as possible (3-5 hours). Brush top with beaten egg and bake at 350°, time per size of loaf.

Some notes:

-In the Phoenix area, you may find that you need less flour for kneading, etc. because the air is so dry. Don't feel like you need to use all that the recipe calls for.

-Fresh, free range eggs with bright orange yolks will make a more dramatically yellow bread. You can also add saffron to the lukewarm water at the beginning if you want to amp up the color.

-You are welcome in my kitchen for bread baking any time you want!

* If you're looking for a good place to start with yeasted bread in general, check out The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. It is published by Shambhala Press, but should be available through your favorite book store. I like this bread book above all others because of his artistic approach to baking. He tells you how the dough should feel and behave rather than giving only times and amounts. There is also a nice section on different ingredients and how they change the bread. (In the muffin section, check out the recipe for Something Missing Muffins.)

** I don't have the un-abbreviated recipe. This is the way I got it from my bread guru, otherwise known as Uncle Jill.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Things (beyond the obvious ones like hugging my children) That I Am Happy to Do Since I Came HOME

--in no particular order--

Speak English without pausing to check for comprehension.

Buy stuff without multiplying the price by 2/3.

Wear jeans.

Speak Russian.

Sit on a sofa.

Drink tea in Starbucks, at Fiddler's Hearth, at home, everywhere!

Wear socks.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Fear of Beginners

I used to be afraid of teaching English learners at the beginning level. For many semesters, I studiously avoided teaching their classes, and during the summer intensives I would only teach grammar, since it's usually the shortest class and gets the most chewed up by announcements and procedural activities. And at least that subject is nuts and bolts and rules at the beginner level. Even as I was finding comfort in the orderedness of beginning language instruction, I have often felt guilty that all too soon they would start discovering the multitudes of exceptions to the so-called rules I was teaching them. You have to start somewhere, with some framework, though. So we English teachers have this set of rules for beginners that some other English teacher will get to disabuse them of.

I would think, "How could I possibly teach a conversation class for beginners?" What on earth would we talk about? They have no vocabulary around which to build conversations. I was less than thrilled when we created the schedule for this month's intensive immersion and my name was next to Beginning for an hour of grammar and 2 hours of conversation each day.

Once the program began, I was frustrated with their incessant use of the native language (they all have the same one) in the first few days, and then I realized that they did not know the language they needed to interact with one another in the classroom. They weren't using English to ask each other, "How do you say ____ in English?" because they didn't know how. So, we spent an afternoon learning this phrase and others like it. How do you pronounce this word? What does _____ mean? Repeat, please. I don't understand.

Then, I looked around at the program and realized that their participation in our social activities was severely handicapped by similar lacks of vocabulary and sentence structures. So I started building them scaffolds. From that point on, our two daily hours of conversation were largely given over to preparation for participation in other aspects of the program. We reviewed the scriptures and ideas mentioned in the morning devotional. We examined the vocabulary and images of the praise songs and hymns we sang everyday. We brainstormed questions they could ask other students or teachers during mealtimes. I would write on the board any announcements that had been made orally by the director or the support staff. It was incredibly draining to constantly be analyzing each item on the agenda for what these students may not know and then seeking out the staff members who could tell me what would be on the menu at the restaurant on Wednesday or which hymns we would sing on Sabbath.

However, it was also incredibly rewarding. This month I have learned how wrong I was and how my fear and avoidance of beginning level students caused me to miss out on the opportunity to create wonderful relationships and connections. The new language learner must be willing to make mistakes, must humble themselves to take correction and redirection over and over and over again. This vulnerability creates a unique intimacy among unrelated adults. Beginning students fall in love with the teacher. By trusting me with their vulnerability, they give me an incredible gift, and the only way I could repay it was to teach them more.

One night when I volunteered to sit with the beginners during Sabbath School for the second week in a row, a colleague said to me, "You really do love those Level 1's." You know what, I think she's right. I do. Next year I'll request beginning conversation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Brazilian cuisine excels at barbecue and pastry. My students delight in presenting new foods to me, watching me experience them for the first time, and then teaching me to say the Portuguese name. Nothing, apparently, is cuter than hearing their English teacher struggle to wrap her tongue around Brazilian food and Portuguese pronunciation.

The food of the day on Thursday was the beijinho (j=zh; nh=ñ). This delectable confection is like a soft white truffle rolled in coconut. If I understood correctly, the main ingredients are coconut milk and condensed milk, and at least a platter of these is de rigueur at Brazilian birthday parties, which we had since several of us gain a year this month.

After a grueling explanation about how the name 'kiss' is already occupied in English by a small chocolate candy and so couldn't be used to describe this coconut ball which is, sadly, completely lacking in chocolate, we settled on a new word: -- OED, are you paying attention? – kissinho.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I've always wanted to see an owl, to look up in a tree and make eye contact with one of these centered beings who land and settle and are secure in their space. I got my wish this month, though not in the way I had envisioned. Here in Brazil they have burrowing owls who live like rabbits in the ground. (Apparently they also exist in the US in warm places like South Carolina, but I'd never heard of them. Yo, South Carolina, why didn't you tell me you had such a cool bird?)

Some of you will probably look at this picture and say, wow, her shutter speed was way off, why is she sharing this with me? So, let me tell you that I rather like the motion in this frame. I like the way the grass and the feathers slide in opposite directions. And, you know what, it captures what I saw. This owl was a blur to me. I got too close and – whoosh -- there he went.

Not Creepy, Just Brazilian

So there I was in the computer lab with my students yesterday. The lab tech was helping them with some persnickety TOEFL software, and I was getting myself set up to be productive while they moved through Kaplan's TOEFL tutorials on their own. The next thing I know, the tech has his arm on the back of my chair, his other hand on the top of my monitor and is leaning with his head next to mine. Just as I'm beginning to panic, "Teacher," he says, "What do I have to do if I want to study in the U.S.?"
"Whew," I thought as I clamped down on the panic reflex. "He's not creepy, he's just Brazilian."
Intellectually, I know that the minimal amount of personal space necessary for comfort is a variable defined by culture, and when my students and colleagues join me in my personal space, it's okay. In fact, the novelty is refreshing. When I was teaching high school, I had to train myself not to touch students as I worked with them, and the Koreans I sometiems teach at the university level work together to erect a fortified barricade between the students and the teacher.
Not until now have I realized how aloof Americans can be. We might smile or shake hands, but not much more than that. Touch can be a simple yet powerful tool to request attention, to show compassion, to share joy, yet in American workplaces and schools, we deny ourselves this form of communication for fear that it will be misunderstood or, worse, misused.
Ultimately, the tech and I had a nice conversation about the elaborate hoops and reams of paperwork required for an international student to study English or music in the United States. He's a blues guitarist, acoustic as well as electric, an informal music teacher with some area children, a skilled computer lab technician, and a proficient speaker of English. Eventually, he got tired of leaning and squatted next to me, still surrounding my personal space with his arms on my chair and computer. It was an act of will not to let my discomfort rise above slight tremor. The words not creepy, just brazilian were flowing through my head like a mantra.
At dinner, I told this story to a Brazilian colleague who has just returned from 16 years in the United States. When he stopped laughing, he commended my self control.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Living in Brazil: Accomodations, Part 3

Hey, Ladies! Here is the last set of pictures for my room.

I have 4 beds in my room. The one closest to the window is the one I sleep on. The next one is my couch.

The other two beds are my wrinkle-free closet extenders. (They didn't give me any skirt hangers, so I've laid mine out flat over here.)

Here's the rest of my wardrobe. This piece of furniture was designed for a very tall person!

This is my kitchen.

And the bathroom.

So, what else do you want to know about?

Living in Brazil: Accomodations, Part 2

Hi, gals, here's the next installment.
This covered walkway connects the Men's Dorm to the Guest Housing. It doesn't look like much, but it keeps the evening rain and the noontime sun off.

This is the entrance to the wing where I am living. There is no sill on the door, and most of the time it just stands open like this. When they wash the floor they pour soapy water all over the place and then squeegee it out the door. It looks like fun. I don't think it would work at home, though. My room is down the hall: second door on the right.

This is the first thing I see when I walk into my room. Those windows look out on the big tree from the previous post.

Can you imagine me with all those empty shelves? Where are all my books?

Isn't this a funky painting? I like it a lot. I think the orange bit looks like a tiger-skin rug, and the green lady is dancing on top of it. Then, there's the stripety snake. What do you see? (Click on the picture to make it bigger.)

Living in Brazil: Accomodations, Part 1

This post is to my children who are wondering about where I am staying.

It's summer here in beautiful Brazil, and I'm on the campus of UNASP, the Seventh-day Adventist University in the state of Sao Paulo. We are about 2 hours inland from the city of Sao Paulo. Above is a a view of the part of campus where I am staying this month. You can see the Men's Dorm on the left and the Guest Wing on the right.

This drain gutter outside the Men's Dorm is the home of a family of cats, a mom and 4 kittens. They are scrawny, but scrappy.
This is the main part of the Men's Dorm.
I'm amazed at the possibilities for architecture when your most extreme weather is evening thunderstorms on a hot day. This is the main entrance to the Men's Dorm. The sliding glass doors open wide enough to allow a car to drive through. Mostly, they remain open to allow students to walk into and through the building. The deep porch is a place to meet and get out of the afternoon sun.
This tree stands in front of the main entrance in the last picture. Beyond the tree, you can see the wing where my room is.

Well, I've reached the size limit for pictures on this post, so more in the next one.