Christmas Cards: an obscenely detailed checklist

  1. Decide that you’re going to frickin’ SEND OUT CHRISTMAS CARDS THIS YEAR.
  2. Take off at least 2 – no, better make it what you have left, all 8 – days off work.
  3. Make preliminary list of addressees.
  4. Check your Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook events, and the township tax assessors to figure out the most current addresses.  Laugh at how your be-all-and-end-all-spreadsheet from 3 years back is hopelessly incorrect on so many counts.  Put a star next to the 5 friends who are…somewhere…you’ll figure out where later.
  5. Gather up all the Christmas cards you have accrued.
  6. Debate how offended your Lutheran friends might be to receive cards from All Saints Convent, which you bought because they were pretty and doctrinally sound enough.
  7. Count your cards, but not in a Vegas casino way.  Find that you have 53.
  8. Discover more addresses, and also summery and autumnal address labels.
  9. Add new addresses to spreadsheet, while wondering how much those address labels cost the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, considering that they send them to you quarterly at no charge.
  10. Hunt for church directory, because what you really need is a longer addressee list.
  11. …Hunt….more…
  12. Find it under a heap of notebooks!
  13. Hope no one has moved in the past 4 years besides the associate pastor.
  14. Realize that the thing you have is a pictorial directory, not one with addresses or phone numbers.
  15. Look through it anyway.  Add 15 families to your list.
  16. Get to the end to find that your efforts have been rewarded!  There ARE addresses here, just at the end.
  17. Wonder idly about the etiquette of addressing one of the church ladies by her full name when you only learned it from the directory.
  18. Wonder what people actually write in Christmas cards, if they aren’t just a family-picture postcard.
  19. Gather up three shoeboxes of old correspondence to investigate the question.
  20. Find that one shoebox actually contains shoes.
  21. Read some old cards.  Resist tearing up, barely.
  22. Hit up your friend’s Tumblr’s “seasonally appropriate” tag to turn on Strictly Advent music.
  23. Count your envelopes (40?  How did you end up with 13 fewer envelopes than cards?!), address labels (plenty), and stamps (48 Forever, 12 44-cent stamps, which should get the job done, unless you add further people to your list, which is nigh-on inevitable at this point).
  24. Re-count your list of addressees.  Debate adding choral union people.  Briefly ponder etiquette of divorcee names.
  25. Make a cup of tea and also a bitter-orange soda.
  26. a-child-is-born-cover-final-600Find that the “seasonally appropriate” tag has only 4 songs in it so far. Put on the King’s College choir singing John Rutter settings of Advent and Christmas music.
  27. Consult the post-its that your past self put on certain cards to earmark them as especially appropriate for certain people.
  28. Actually write out 11 cards!
  29. Get waylaid by a Tumblr friend asking for “religious Advent music,” as though there were a secular equivalent.  Get out hymnals to make a list of recommendations.
  30. Make another cup of tea and eat, like, a pound of green beans.
  31. Sort out which cards go to the Catholic friends.  Write out 6 more cards.
  32. Cook the Advent bacon your roommate got you and make yet more tea.
  33. Wonder whether the addresses in Superior Charter Township get addressed as such, or if they’re sent to Ypsilanti.
  34. Have roommate confirm that yeah, they should all be addressed to Ypsilanti, because the Superior Charter Township has no post office.
  35. Earmark more cards before you stop for the day because you have choir practice.
  36. Go off the deep end completely and ponder writing out an Advent hymn to send with said cards.
  37. Decide you are crazy.  Write 4 more cards.
  38. Try to figure out what to write to that one friend who deserves, like, the best words.  The most moving sort of tribute.  Fail.
  39. Seal up the two dozen or so that you actually finished.
  40. Leave open the cards you never found an address for, to puzzle yourself next year.
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Review: Poetry in Michigan in Poetry

It seems strange to me, how many of these poems wind around death: by drowning, by black ice, a riot, drowning, shipwreck, drowning.

I suppose I still drive with the casual recklessness of one still too young to feel properly mortal,
and moreover, have not frequented rivers or lakes as much as one might,
and as such,
I have never regarded Michigan as, chiefly, the place that might well kill me.

Ten out of ten people die, after all:
in Texas, or Finland, or deep corners of close communities in Greece,
no matter how long that last death takes

(though that IS, perhaps, the matter, when black ice kills an undergrad –
perhaps the loud clear silences of grief float to the top,
the cream of all our poetic impulses)

– anyway, though Death surrounds us all and always,
it’s always seemed gentler here than otherwhere:
the nation’s, the world’s
earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes,
flash floods deeper than a broken sump pump’s 4 inches of water,
and calling Belfor to rid you of boxes
buried in your basement 20 years or more.

Of course the water can kill you
(Flint, anyone?  that
is what you call ironic)

but don’t forget that,
generally,
it enables you to live, first.

and there an answer

I had an idea that I should re-shape my mind to focus less on striving for romantic love, and more on the sweetness of God.

In pursuit thereof, it seemed beneficial to form new habits, which would give a different cast to my mind: reading Scripture every day (less sporadically), praying more regularly, avoiding certain haunts on Tumblr and Ao3, and reading some devotional work or poetry (beginning with The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis).

The poetry that first came to mind was the product of a Facebook friend.  She’s more of an acquaintance after we’ve spent so many years in different places, yet I would delight in any time spent with her.  While I don’t wish to follow her footsteps exactly, her life’s path struck me as a useful exemplar: a woman who reads widely, writes beautifully, has never seemed concerned with Eros in her life, and who has discerned a vocation as a nun.

I set out to capture her poetry (lest she remove it one day from Facebook) and, along the way, also captured her quotations: a sort of vade mecum, even if it was originally hers and not mine.

In so doing…

Well, obviously I fell prey to envy once again.  Not merely over her reading and writing, her photography, or her understanding of the world, but her graduate degree, the time she spent growing while teaching, and her friendships: lively and verdant and close, full of delight and encouragement.

I was also envious, during this process, of my past self’s relationships and pursuits, wishing I’d worked harder and studied more (somehow found energy to do more of everything).  I’m disappointed in the sites or blog posts from 3 or 5 or 7 years back that have since disappeared.  I miss the way the world was, I miss how we engaged with each other, I miss feeling part of it.

I don’t really feel like I’m part of anything, these days.

So of course I asked a different friend how to deal with regret over past failures, and of course he counselled that forgetting what is behind and striving toward what is ahead generally works best.

And so I turned back to today’s reading on Psalm 119 (laboring, as ever, over Oh how I love your law!) and chapters X and XI of Book 1 of Imitation of Christ.

Just look at this:

CHAPTER XI
Of seeking peace of mind and of spiritual progress

We may enjoy abundance of peace if we refrain from busying ourselves with the sayings and doings of others, and things which concern not ourselves. How can he abide long time in peace who occupieth himself with other men’s matters, and with things without himself, and meanwhile payeth little or rare heed to the self within? Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall have abundance of peace.

How came it to pass that many of the Saints were so perfect, so contemplative of Divine things? Because they steadfastly sought to mortify themselves from all worldly desires, and so were enabled to cling with their whole heart to God, and be free and at leisure for the thought of Him. We are too much occupied with our own affections, and too anxious about transitory things. Seldom, too, do we entirely conquer even a single fault, nor are we zealous for daily growth in grace. And so we remain lukewarm and unspiritual.

Were we fully watchful of ourselves, and not bound in spirit to outward things, then might we be wise unto salvation, and make progress in Divine contemplation. Our great and grievous stumbling-block is that, not being freed from our affections and desires, we strive not to enter into the perfect way of the Saints. And when even a little trouble befalleth us, too quickly are we cast down, and fly to the world to give us comfort.

If we would quit ourselves like men, and strive to stand firm in the battle, then should we see the Lord helping us from Heaven. For He Himself is alway ready to help those who strive and who trust in Him; yea, He provideth for us occasions of striving, to the end that we may win the victory. If we look upon our progress in religion as a progress only in outward observances and forms, our devoutness will soon come to an end. But let us lay the axe to the very root of our life, that, being cleansed from affections, we may possess our souls in peace.

If each year should see one fault rooted out from us, we should go quickly on to perfection. But on the contrary, we often feel that we were better and holier in the beginning of our conversion than after many years of profession. Zeal and progress ought to increase day by day; yet now it seemeth a great thing if one is able to retain some portion of his first ardour. If we would put some slight stress on ourselves at the beginning, then afterwards we should be able to do all things with ease and joy.

It is a hard thing to break through a habit, and a yet harder thing to go contrary to our own will. Yet if thou overcome not slight and easy obstacles, how shalt thou overcome greater ones? Withstand thy will at the beginning, and unlearn an evil habit, lest it lead thee little by little into worse difficulties. Oh, if thou knewest what peace to thyself thy holy life should bring to thyself, and what joy to others, methinketh thou wouldst be more zealous for spiritual profit.

Well.  There’s my marching orders.  Lay the axe to the very root of our life!  Thank God for such pointed words.  May He grant it.

A Prayer Before Cleaning

Lord Jesus Christ,

Thank you for this home and everything in it.

As I set out to clean it and to examine my belongings, go with me.

Wash me as I wash these dishes, this tile, this countertop, these stained drainboards, this table.  Sweep away my self-centeredness.

sweep

Make me as aware of your holiness and as dissatisfied with my sin, my pride, my complacency, my slowness to love and to help, as I am dissatisfied with mere untidiness of physical things.

As I seek to clear long-neglected corners, awaken me to my long-neglected faults.

Help me to be as meticulous in the eternal as I am in the arrangement of this room, these books, these papers.

Make me as grateful for the utensils and ability to prepare my daily bread as I am for the supply and the eating of it.

Give me the wisdom to look my life and my possessions in the face.  Grant that I may be able to let go of the needless, both tangible and intangible, the sin that entangles and the objects that distract.

Give me the understanding and the will to let go of the items I do not want or need,
to let go of the preparation for projects I have not done and will never do,
to keep from chasing the wind.  Teach me to number my days.

Preserve me from a covetous and envious spirit.

Grant me peace and not restlessness.

Help this order to be useful to arranging my life and my days for your glory.

As the cats flee the vacuum cleaner, so I flee the roar of life’s trials and duties.  Guard and reassure me, as those trials merely remove dust and filth.  Protect me from worry, distrust, and fear.

Lord, bless this house of muscle and bone,
and come live in it yourself.

gratitude

It’s already been two years
since I got the call
that my father had rung 911
– chest pains –
a stay at Sinai Grace,
and every single idiosyncrasy I’d miss
flashing behind my eyes.

Which bit of tang
helps one find sweetness in the move,
the boxes,
the sorting that he’s still around for,
for better or worse.

It’s just over two years
and/or just under nine months
since my nieces were born,
various degrees of early, tiny, and fragile.
Babies can die, said my pastor,
maintaining that
being subject to death,
they were subject to sin,
q.e.d.

God be praised for baptism, of course,
defense against the second death –
but God be praised more
that these tiny breaths
(and/or huge, red, screeching cries)
persist, right now, against the first.

And now it’s just over two weeks
Since hearing the sweetest “no”
– that your body is not in rebellion
(well.  no more than is common),
that today will not be the day to fight
to quell that invisible uprising.

Surely there are sour notes,
somewhere along the days
but by God I can’t taste a one of them
over the profoundly sweet relief
that today is not that day.

Adventures in Refrigeration: or, Less Orthodox Ways to Cool Off

If this title seems familiar to you, it’s because you have a very good memory for a similar post from October 2012, wherein I shivered in a chilly house, got bundled up, and listed somewhat peculiar ways to get warmer.  But, it being July, the present circumstances present quite the opposite problem: what do you do when it’s too hot to carry on with life?  What do you do when the ancient Greek word of the day, κακοθερής (kakotherēs), unfitted to endure summer heat, describes you all too well?

Again, I present a handy, if unconventional list:

1. Look at your life; look at your clothing choices.  Hot weather’s the worst since you can only take off so much clothing before you’re breaking certain laws of decency. Take a leaf out of Archie Aymslowe’s book – you know, the wizard in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire interested in the “healthy breeze” that attended wearing a Muggle dress?  Ladies can go for any light dress or skirt they like; men might try a sport kilt for maximum ventilation.  Cotton or linen fabrics will breathe the most.

If you refuse to invest in a sport kilt for the sake of summertime comfort, try getting your clothes a bit damp and stick them in the freezer for ten or twenty minutes.

Changing into fresh clothes (frozen or not) will give you a brief respite.

2. Jump in a lake.  Or whatever cold water’s closest. Take a cold shower, sit in an icy bath, spray yourself with a fan-sprayer or SuperSoaker, dash through a sprinkler, jump in a pool. It’s not 2014 but you could still do an ice bucket challenge.  If convenient, wade into one of the Great Lakes (most recommended) or the ocean.  If inconvenient…

3Drink it in.  Lake Superior might be hundreds of miles away, so the next best thing is to imbibe some beverage or other that echoes the chill of the Gitche Gumee: water, perhaps with a bit of lemon, cucumber, mint, or ice; pop; iced tea; Gatorade; or whatever comes to hand. Stay hydrated!

4. Eat it. This could mean chewing minty gum; it could mean meals of salad or gazpacho or sashimi so as to steer clear of the stove; it could mean a steady supply of frozen grapes, freezer pops, fro-yo, kulfi, or sorbet.  Whatever works.  If you’re sweating a lot, bear in mind that you have to replenish your salt/electrolytes on top of staying hydrated!  Get some salt in or you will have a Bad Time.

5. Cool from the skin in. If you didn’t freeze your boxers, you could still strap on an ice pack, wrapped dry ice, or frozen teething ring – Thalia recommends getting several, for a “full constellation” if you’re going to try it – or put on some aloe vera gel.  Sit next to a fan for a stronger effect.

NB that the ice pack is most helpful when trying to sleep in places that have no air conditioner.  Setting it on your back, neck, or stomach will (in my experience) allay the misery of the heat enough to help you get to sleep.

6.  Utilize the power of film suggestion. Watch, for example, The Day After Tomorrow.  As a film it’s rather rubbish, BUT it does get one into a kind of sympathetic mindset of expecting cold things (or appreciating being warm).  If you have kept this from your DVD or Blu-Ray player or Netflix queue, mayhaps go for the Hoth section of The Empire Strikes Back.  Even The Holiday or The Shining or other snowy movies might help.

7.  Go downstairs. Steer clear of attics and higher floors, which are crowded with heat demons, and head for a basement or storm cellar.  There might be different demons and bogeys in the basement, but at least they aren’t the warm variety.

8.  Get out of dodge. If your home is fundamentally unsuited to hot weather, hit the grocery store’s freezer section, the mall, the movie theater, the library, or another space that’s got corporate A/C behind it.  If that’s not part of the general infrastructure, head for the closest lake, the Antipodes, or (in extreme cases) the closest polar region.

9.  If all else fails, sit quietly for a while and ponder man’s ingratitude until your heart is quite chilled. The rest of your body will follow suit presently.

Good luck!  Share any other ideas you may have to beat the heat!

The Summer Game: a love story

If you have spent any amount of time with me this summer, I’ve probably told you about how much I love the Ann Arbor District Library’s Summer Game.

If you haven’t seen me…well, fortunately the internet furnishes the means to tell you all about it from a distance!
AADL Summer Game

The Summer Game is the brainchild of some genius, and since 2011 has been giving library members a more novel way to spend the summer than solely reading novels.  Instead of the traditional dictate to read a certain 5 or 10 books in summertime, it makes the library and all its resources a treasure hunt.  As Minesweeper taught Windows users how to click and right-click, the Summer Game teaches users – children, teens, adults – to use both the online catalog, and the library in general, more effectively.

AADL Badges

Gamemakers have prepared a series of colorful badges, with questions and clues to find the pun-tastic codes needed to earn them.  You learn facts about fallen empires, fashion trends, bears, NASA missions, and comic book heroes, to name a few, as you follow the clues to find which items in the catalog have a game code attached.  You get points for entering codes, and more points when you’ve entered all the codes for a particular badge.  You get points when you check items out, log your enjoyment of them each day, rate, and review them.   

You get points for exploring the library branches.  I live closest to Malletts Creek, but the Summer Game gives me a reason to look at what Traverwood and Westgate have to offer (including reservable rooms and Sweetwaters coffee).  There are codes at various library spots (the director’s office, the Friends of the Library shop, the Goblin game-within-the-game) and events (the Board of Trustees meeting, the Summer Bag sale, the classes in the secret lab, concerts, lectures, the A2 Comic Arts Festival).  Going to the Board meeting is how I learned that across the 5 branches, AADL hosted over 2000 events last year (a number that climbs every year)!

IMG_4259

One of the Goblin Game code boxes

You get codes by exploring Ann Arbor.  Each year features different free spaces, including some of Ann Arbor’s 150+ parks and nature areas.  Specific bits of signage include the words chosen for game codes.

You get points for visiting businesses the library has partnered with: Zingerman’s, Literati, The Ride, The Lunch Room, Food Gatherers.  The code’s in the window, if you prefer not to go in (or visit after they’re closed), but Zingerman’s Deli also took the step of preparing Flavor Passports this year, where you get codes for sampling some of their wares.  Twist my rubber arm, y’all.

You get badges for milestones – a bonus if you read, watch, or download something for 50 days of the summer, a bonus if you rate a certain number of items and write a review.

And once you’ve accrued all your points, you can redeem them for prizes: a fine forgiveness card, coasters, umbrellas, chocolate.  There’s something new each summer, thanks to the Friends of the Library.

When you don’t have the traditional summer vacation, or children who do, the Summer Game is a reminder of earlier leisurely days, a callback to childlike wonder and curiosity.  It’s a reminder to play (very literally the reason I was putting Legos together last night, for the first time in a decade).  It’s a nudge to try new books or movies or tools (like a sewing machine, mini theremin, or guitar), a nudge to make things, to learn, to break out of the bubble and go somewhere new – even if somewhere new isn’t very far away.

If played to the fullest extent possible, the AADL Summer Game makes for eager readers, Ann Arbor experts, contributing users, curious explorers, local consumers, and engaged citizens.

Let’s play!

AADL pennant

My favorite team 😀

The Dragon-Cat’s Hoard

The guardians sleep at night.

They are fools to ignore the hour when the air is awake and the light is dim and the hunting is good.  It is very dull of them; still, their slumber lets me chase and climb, to scratch and claim, to do as I like with no interference!

When I take my own rest, I examine my hoard.  It is hidden from their eyes, but I will show it to you.  Here is the rod they use to make marks on their large white leaves.  Here are the mice, simulacra of prey but no less sweet-smelling for it.  Here are beautiful round coins, resplendent metal with fringed edges that roll and fly when I bat at them, or others that are softer and warmer and good to gnaw.  Here is the jangling ball, which is easier to put in my hoard than to remove.

Here is a forbidden thing, a stretching ring that I rightly covet.  They endeavor to hide it, but when their vigilance fails I seize it for my own, to chew as I like and swallow if I desire.

I do not store all the things I have loved there; many things that are satisfying to chew may be left alone.  Here is their foot-coat and its ribbon; there the hide-containers for their own hoards; there the strange-smelling bricks, a delightful risk.  If they see you chew on it, they defend it with shouts of “Not the library books!” and also “No!!”

But what this last word means, I cannot tell.