Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday, January 29, 2010


So, I promised the next time the forecast was dire I would not roll my eyes. But the kids were released early from school today a good 4 hours before the first flake fell... However, the flakes are really falling now.
As the locals noted, "The last time Ray's Weather called for a Big Snow..." (See the post below!) And he's calling for a Big Snow again. Just this afternoon, he upped his prediction because the snow started at 4:30 instead of sundown like he'd expected: 12-16 inches is his latest estimate.
I'll probably get out and do some shoveling tonight since the Dr. has to get into the hospital tomorrow morning...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I’ve wanted a podium for our poetry reading* ever since we moved from Blue Moon Books to Main Street Books. Periodically I would stop by the used furniture store in town and poke around, ask if they ever saw any at auctions. They’re not so common as you might think. You can’t just pick one up at Target or Wal-Mart (as if you’d really want one from there anyway). I just kept expecting one would turn up. But none ever did.

Finally, I asked a woodworker friend of mine if she’d make one. I was hoping it could be that easy. It’s not, though. We had to meet, in person, at the church, so we could try some out.

“Just something simple,” I said. “Something we can easily carry from the back to the front of the shop once a month. I don’t care if you make it out of old barn wood or scraps. Whatever.”

“Well, how high to you want it?” she asked. “But you’re tall. How big do you want the face? What about the angle of the face? What kind of wood do you want to use? Do you want a shelf? Here,” she thrust a book at me full of photographs of artfully crafted wooden furniture with torn bits of paper marking certain pages. “Which of these do you like? Do you want it solid? or open, so that you can kind of see through it? What do you think about some brushed steel inlayed into the front?”

Then she started musing about gluing the face out of two boards, expansion and contraction, the mellowing of the color of cherry over time. She pondered how many connection points between the face and the pedestal portion and how sturdy it needed to be. “You know some people get nervous and drape themselves all over the podium when they’re up in front of people. You wouldn’t want it to tip over on them. No. That wouldn’t be good.”

We decided on cherry with some lighter maple panels. We chose a height better for women. We chose to make the face big enough to hold two sheets of paper. We chose to make a little shelf just big enough to hold a bottle of water.

“You know,” she said on the phone a few days later. “I was looking at designs for V-shaped podiums, like the one I’m making for you, and they kept calling them Victory Podiums. I guess because of the V shape of the pedestal.”

“Perfect,” I said.

Because it’s a victory that this podium is here; made by a mother of four during the month of December with extended family popping in unexpectedly. It’s a victory that we gather here each month. It’s a victory every time we create, bring our ideas into existence, write them down. It’s a victory when we simply stand up, behind this podium, in front of others and share our work.

(I know that, by strict definition, podium refers to the platform and the lectern is the stand... but in many cases podium is used "incorrectly" as I have used it here. They simply do not use the term victory lectern, and besides, it just doesn't sound as nice.)

* Eve's Night Out is a monthly open-mic reading for women that meets the 4th Friday of the month at 7:30 at Main Street Books in Burnsville. It's for prose writers too. (MSBs is open Saturdays during the month of February.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

GC's Decision to Play the National Anthem

This is a rather long winded response to the following article and it's other companion pieces.
I deeply regret that I was oblivious to the task force (Come on, though, who are you kidding? It was a committee) on this topic when they were seeking alumni responses. I surely would have sent this in before the decision was made.
An Open Letter to Goshen College,
The issue of playing the national anthem, saying the pledge of allegiance and flying the flag in a church or church school is a charged one for me—one that I have a long personal history with.
When I entered the ninth grade, I made the choice to attend a private Christian high school affiliated with the Mennonite Church. It wasn’t such a stretch since my mother graduated from that same school and I grew up Mennonite. I knew it made me “different,” but there were other kids there who were the same kind of different as me: committed to pacifism, eager to attend college, and rather rooted in traditional, if not agrarian, values. We were rarely put to the test for our counter-culture beliefs because we were surrounded by like-minded peers and teachers in all of our classes.
Then, in my junior year, the Gulf War broke out. Suddenly everyone in the surrounding counties noticed that we didn’t play the national anthem before our basketball games. There were letters to the editor of the local paper. As an athlete playing basketball at the time, it was something we were very conscious of. At away games, people scrutinized us, to see if we were standing respectfully as they sang and saluted. At home games, the visitor section would sing the anthem on their own. (I will add, though, I do not recall a single school being disrespectful during our prayer.) I remember attending a boy’s game at an opposing school where nearly every student in the cheering section waved a flag and during time-outs repeatedly tore across the court in front our cheering section with a large one snapping behind the proud bearer. We even had a few schools drop us from their athletic schedules over the issue.
It would have been easy for the school to change its policy then. But for me, it reinforced the message. As Mennonites, we believe in peace, peace between nations, peace between people. We align ourselves with God’s children, who belong to God regardless of their country. Or loyalty to God supersedes our commitment to our country. This difference, not playing the anthem, allowed us to articulate our beliefs to ourselves and others when such dialog would never have occurred had we simply played the anthem like everyone else.
Finding myself in such a situation in high school was good preparation for my later, though short, career as a public high school teacher and coach. As a religious person employed by a public school I had to be considerate of how I conducted myself with respect for others’ religion or lack thereof.
It is typical for the coach, whether in Indiana, Michigan, or North Carolina (all places I’ve coached) , to lead the team in prayer before each game. Always, I declined to do this. I would attempt to explain to my players that I consider myself a religious person and hold my religious beliefs very dear, but I cannot, out of respect for the separation of church and state, hold a prayer that I’d expect players to join me in. I never forbade them to pray, and often a student leader would step up and begin the Lord’s Prayer.
The next challenge at each game came with the playing of the national anthem. There I would be, standing on the court in front of my players, their parents, other students, the other team, the athletic director who employed me and I would not sing. (Although, I will admit that I often hummed the alto part as an ironic nod to my Mennonite roots.) Each game I coached, I aligned myself with my Mennonite values of not placing my country before my God and God’s children. It wasn’t easy in a new community that knows nothing about Mennonites. And while it scared me that someone might confront me about it, I also welcomed it as an opportunity to express my beliefs.
Last week, at my daughter’s elementary school awards program, set deep in the Appalachian Mountains and Southern Baptist country, I rose, but remained silent as they asked everyone in attendance to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Already we are different here because our northern accents and for being mover-inners. The last thing I want is for my daughter to be ostracized at school, made fun of or taunted. It would have been so easy to just mouth the words, but I didn’t. We are different. We are called to be. I’m sure other parents noticed my silence, but no one has brought it up with me yet. (Though being from a small community, I suspect they’re talking about it.)
I feel I have to take these little stands to teach my children what it means to be Mennonite, to be a pacifist, to be an Anabaptist.
Aligning ourselves with God’s children all over the world is the foundation of our pacifism. Pacifism—our great claim to fame, our right given to us by this country with freedom of religion. Certainly Mennonites might be seen as abusing this freedom of religion because we can claim conscientious objector status as a part of our religious rights. Indeed, how convenient that we refuse to fight to defend the country that gives us such a freedom. How cruel that we expect other mother’s children to die and we would not sacrifice as much ourselves. Point taken.
I know, from high school, how not playing the nation anthem can make people think Mennonites are not patriotic or do not love our country—though this is far from true. I know how people can jump to conclusions, like the ones above, that Mennonites are just chicken, scared of dying or being subjected to the horrors of war. Especially in times of war, like now, when families are grieving the loss of soldiers, how we are perceived by a non-pacifist public is on our minds. Apparently Goshen College wants to be seen as welcoming, as though we are actively trying to mitigate our pacifist stance with the outside world. It also makes me wonder if believing “it is the right decision for the college at this time,” as Brenneman writes, has something to do with recruitment, tuition and finances.
We are not letting go of pacifism, though. In this way we want to be different, to hold ourselves apart from the norm. But the ways in which we hold ourselves apart seem to be growing fewer and fewer.
I am certainly an example of new Mennonite mobility. Currently, the closest Mennonite church to me is almost an hour away, so I have begun attending a Presbyterian Church. I believe it is important to be a part of a community of believers and for my children to have friends in the church. But I do not want to give up the core values of the Mennonite faith. Being “different” is hard for my children and for me, but I feel that is what I am called to do. My children are the only ones in our home church who do not partake in communion, because they have not been baptized. We did not baptize them as infants like other Presbyterians, continuing our Anabaptists convictions. Communion Sundays they remain conspicuously seated while everyone else files up the center aisle. They know they are different, as does everyone else.
Yet that is important to me: to be Mennonite, to be different. Being outside of the Mennonite community I have to make some hard decisions about what beliefs and behaviors define a Mennonite. Sure I’m scared that if one of my sons would be drafted years from now, the government would not honor his conscientious objector status because he did not grow up in a Mennonite Church. And it’s not that I’m trying to take the freedom-of-religion cop-out to keep my sons from dying in a war. I would be proud to send them someplace scary and war-torn as peacemakers. It’s like I tell them, I’m not so much scared about them dying as I am them killing someone else. (That’s why I still have not allowed any water guns in our household.)
So, when I read today that my alma mater Goshen College has chosen to begin playing the national anthem before ballgames, I was very disappointed. It seems that a Mennonite College should also do the little things to hold itself apart make itself obviously different from other colleges, because it is. I am hoping Goshen College can remain a bastion of Mennonite belief and behavior in the face of the pressures of the outside world. I hope it can remain a place that opens young people’s minds to new knowledge, a greater understanding of the world, and God’s people. I believe that by refraining from playing the national anthem Goshen College invites dialog. We must continue to dare to be different and be open to the ensuing conversations. I believe one can be Mennonite and patriotic and still respectfully decline to sing/play the National Anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance. Hopefully I will have a chance to communicate that to my children and the community which I am a part of now. I think that’s what Goshen College taught me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Office

It is my Room of Her Own. Unfortunately, due to Christmas shopping, Christmas vacation, snow days, two hour delays, school awards programs and doctor's appointments, I don't think I've spent a morning here since the beginning of December.
I'm glad to be back.
The room itself isn't much-- maybe 10 by 10. But it's warm in winter, cool in the summer and has two windows: one facing east for the morning sun and one facing north.
Instead of a desk, which would accumulate junk, I chose a kitchen table. I'm going for Spartan: nothing to do here except write.
However, the place does have wi-fi. Which, while it's pretty crucial for a writer these days (and my ability to blog), does provide endless distractions. Today, though, I'm using my powers and the powers of wi-fi for good purpose. (No Bejeweled Blitz. Yet.)
The sad part is that I've realized I'll probably stop renting this space at the Heritage Center this summer. I just won't be able to justify it. With all the kids home for the summer and the garden and yardwork, it's unlikely that I'll use it much. And then, in the fall, once all three kids are in school, I'll have a quiet house; no sense in driving into town for a quiet space.
There are a lot of great people who have studios here: the Parkway Playhouse, the Yancey County Literacy Council, several artists, MAC Photo Studios, and we always meet here for Literary Festival planning sessions. I'll miss rubbing elbows with other folks pursuing creativity
as a major part of their lives.
But for today, I'm very glad to be here, typing away.

If anyone in the Burnsville area is looking to rent studio space, you should seriously consider The Heritage Center. It's an old dormitory that has been renovated to accommodate artists' studios on the second floor. The first floor has a few offices, a meeting room/recording studio, and some display/gallery space. Rent is very reasonable, and some of the rooms have tile floors and big laundry sinks in them for painters/potters etc. Click here to find out more.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Test

So, last week American Idol and Project Runway began new seasons. I watched.
Last night the 2-hour season opener of 24 began. I watched. I'll watch the hour-long new episode of 24 again tonight, I'm sure. And on Thursday, the new season of Burn Notice will begin. I'm quite certain I'll watch that too. Along with PR and Idol. Sigh.
I did, however finish Barrayar by Lois McMasters Bujold last week too. Thumbs up. She's creating a very convincing world/universe. I like the quirky main character, even though she's a Betan frill.
Also, I do have the rough draft of two new poems.
So it's not all bad.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

2010 - Resolution/Goal #1

Every year I say I really should watch less TV. But I end up getting addicted to various shows: 24, the many CSIs, Project Runway, Burn Notice, American Idol (I know, I know) and now add to that list Glee. The problem is that they have continuing story-lines that I just can't let go!
I do believe this show is my favorite. New episodes on Jan. 21.
This year, though, I'm taking a different approach to watching less TV. The real reason I think so much TV watching is bad, is because it takes up my evening time... time I should be spending reading. (That is a much more helpful hobby considering my desire to write...)
In 2010, I resolve to read between 2 and 4 books a month (with a goal of 40 total).
That should significantly cut into my TV watching time. Or, if I find that I'm still able to get my reading done and watch a few shows, perhaps I will feel less guilty and like I'm managing my time better.
I'm well on my way. I finished R. A. Mac Avoy's Tea with the Black Dragon last night. (Thanks, Alessa, for sending that along.) Perhaps I will go make myself a cup of Oolong right now to celebrate a New Year's goal begun.