Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I agree with Claude

quote below is a bit vulgar...

I am treating myself to some short story reading before sleep most evenings, so I have been reading through The Best American Short Stories 2003 and found myself hoping to get to the end of Edwidge Danticat's Night Talker before sleep arrived and then the book would flop out of my hands, thus waking me up.

A side character named Claude returned for the final scene, and when someone expressed the words "I am sorry" to him because of having lived through a terrible event, he responded with these words ...

"Even with everything I have done, with everything that has happened to me, I am the luckiest fucker on the goddamned planet. Someone, somewhere, must be looking out for my ass."

I feel this way. I am blessed. Maybe all who have hit rock bottom feel this way. We know it can happen again and everyday we experience outside of that hell makes us grateful like Claude.

Anyway, as I go into my past, you may feel sorrow at times, maybe not, but remember this, I am one lucky bastard to have a life, that in the midst of it all contains my four favorite words: peace, hope, joy, and love.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

who knows? -- 2

Is stoicism passed by genes or environment? doesn't matter, for it was passed onto me at an early age.

My motto for decades became, not "Just do it," but instead "just deal with it." I really couldn't get why people were troubled by bad things they had to face. Of course I wasn't facing much of anything, but that was despite the point.

I can imagine a small boy hiding, crying, running away, throwing tantrums... anything to get out of going to the doctor. and maybe I did. but I don't remember doing any of those things. I think that I just grinned and bared it. When I began to face my past, I looked up stoic in a dictionary and stared at myself. One of the wise folk, who led me to healing, told me, "It saved you. It was your strategy to get through it, but you might want to think of other options now that you are in your late 30's."

Then their is the stoic love that my parents gave me. OK, so they were not programmed to do much hugging or saying the words, I Love You, however, one can show love through actions. Within a clean house containing no violence... praising my successes, taking me to grandmothers who made me quilts and strudel, planting seeds of faith, taking me to his work place where I saw my dad in a new light (come to my classroom and see me in a different light), playing basketball and ping pong with me, feeding me real mashed potatoes and homemade apple pie, taking me to cool places (all those Phillies games as a child has led to a man who was just so happy when that double play ended the game yesterday!!!!!) and what about those vacations including the epic drive to see the Rockies, Yellowstone, Badlands...

And then there was the gift of a second chance when I crashed and burned. Then giving me a rare hug when that second chance led to success.

I know my dad held my hand while the urologist did his thing, until the doctor advised I go it alone. I think I became more human on the day I tried to imagine how hard all those doctor visits were for him.

And though we didn't talk about it much, when the appointments rolled around my mom gave me the gift of hope. "maybe one day you won't have to go anymore." I didn't believe her and I don't think they ended as she thought they would, but I am a man who is usually hopeful.

Friday, September 26, 2008

work-- an excellent gig

I do see my job as an excellent gig. As many teachers stress through the first half of June counting days till graduation, my students and I are creating vegetable and flower gardens at the speed of sound. The summers I get paid to garden and cook. An excellent gig at an imperfect school. Sometimes while talking with Mosaic Woman I speak more of those imperfections than the joy that happens in my classroom.

As the years have moved on my part in that joy has grown and the wrath from my terseness has declined, but not been eliminated. so I am an imperfect teacher with a good gig at an imperfect school.

I could easily pass more of the tests that would certify me to teach science in public schools and leave special ed behind to search for a good gig elsewhere, but I am not one to think that jobs are perfect places and many have left to wonder why they left, except for the increase in pay and the state pension.

The enthusiasm for biology and geology has carried on through the first few weeks of school. I am doing more of what is expected of me as a teacher, and that almost always leads to better classes. I might be a bit of a character, and that may explain why even these special needs students enjoy my lectures. I had them laughing today as I was finally going over my classroom rules. Last year I was told all teachers should have rules posted so...

My rules include things such as: be hopeful, use anger to create positive solutions, be mindful, be joyful, leaves of three... leave them be, be compassionate to humans and plants... and feel free to wear good clothes, the dirt just might come out in the wash.

I was about to handout my first biology test the other day... I hate testing these guys and gals but I have been given the charge to teach the brightest and prepare them for college. Having them function in a classroom is the first step, passing science tests is not what all of them need at this point of their journey. And indeed one student chose to read the text instead.

So there I was with test in one hand and ringing my Tibetan prayer bowl to get their attention, when the not so unexpected anxiety attack came.

so I said this.... "In 11 years at this school I have only failed one student, and that was a horticulture student who was either throwing the potted plants to the ground or eating basil nonstop. Do you plan on doing anything like that?" They shake their heads. "So I will find a way for you to pass this class, trust me."

The student hit an easy question and moved on. Later he gave me a test with many blanks. I told him to set the test down, listen to his favorite tune on his I -Pod and then try to get something into blank spots. He got a B. On the day... one student in each class crashed and burned (later told that I could easily forget that grade if they and I learned from the experience and we became a better teacher and student) and a student in each class nearly aced what I had thrown at them. One expected, one a very pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

fresh and frozen

Life is good... a friend is someone who knows you well, or at least well enough that when you mock her, she laughs. It goes like this. Sunday at church she asks you for a gift of sorts. Monday night at Bible study you give her fresh rosemary, parsley and thyme. Tuesday night you run into her in the corner deli in our neighborhood (yes we have one) as she buys butter for the chicken pot pies. Wednesday, the phone takes you out of the studio, and you are offered a pot pie. In no time at all she is at your house and she dares to tell you that she used frozen veggies instead of fresh root vegetables. You say, "how could you have done that to my fresh herbs!"

there are more than one way to say thanks.

anyway, back to my after dinner snack. It is tasty.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Last train to Lansdale...

The R5 to Lansdale was barely out of Philly when we all turned into pumpkins, but it was worth not running for the 10:50 train.

I've never been part of a crowd that worked so hard to get encores, but we did and we were treated with respect. Prior to each the jazz men came out, took a long bow and walked off the stage, all in all we brought them back out 7 times for three encores. What a hoot! Maybe knowing we were headed to become pumpkins, Keith Jarret (born 1945), Gary Peacock, who is 73 this year, and Jack DeJohnette played this for their first encore (wish I could have found them playing it, but Brubeck is no slouch).

It is so past my bedtime. I will tag this later.

Oh yeah. My eyes were closed for much of the show, but I was aware and awake to the music.


  • five solid hours of sleep later...
  • KJ is the baby of the group of men who are willing to play for three hours.
  • These men who knew each other for a long time, came back together 25 years ago to form what is known as Jarret's standards trio. 17 recording dates, billions and billions and biiolns of shows later they are on the road celebrating these 25 years of friendship and love. No other way to stay together that long.
  • There were many many folk a the show who were in their 20's listening with so much enthusiasm that it gives me hope that jazz is alive and well.
  • How did this old guy stay awake past 10 Pm on a Friday night...Naked Chocolate Cafe on Walnut Street in Philly. Coffee and chocolate pastry is the answer. It was our first time there.
  • After one hour they moved away from their instruments, bowed silently, and left the stage... "please don't tell me this is over." The man with a red jacket and badge by the door told us there was more to come. We chatted about how wonderful sleep is, and eventually were talking about the prodigal son.
  • KJ said few things to the audience and only spoke into a microphone once. At 10:30 they left the stage. The audience stood and refused to leave. They came back and gave gave us a synchronised deep bow (how flexible are these old guys?) and left the stage. I kept my eye on a row of young fans sitting in the first row of a balcony directly behind the stage. They reminded me of the sports fans who lean over to give high fives to thier sport's idols after games. Most of us stayed with these young guys and cheered. The house lights were put on hold. Again they came out and gave a long synchronized bow bent over to the floor, pausing in submission to our appreciation their talents shared with us. They left the stage. We stood and cheered forbidding the lights to come on. Again they came out side by side and bowed to us. Then moved towards their instruments. The crowd roared and I knew I was going to be a pumpkin. They played the tune I linked to Brubeck. The crowd roared. It was around this time that KJ went to the microphone and said something like this... "This reminds me that this nation is lacking in energy. and I am not speaking of oil. Or non-oil." We stood and clapped keeping the lights off for several more bows and two more tunes.
  • The man with the red jacket smiled at us as we left the show and headed out to experience the big city late at night. We will be back.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

today and tomorrow

The day started with me writing "Bacteria in the NEWS..."
  1. we now know a trick of TB which may lead to new drugs... hope
  2. cars in England have well over 200 species of bacteria living in them... I wonder how many were in my car I just donated to charity.
  3. Traditionally used Korean copper bowls kill a nasty bacteria that thrives in raw fish... cultural evolution meets biological evolution.
  4. a cyanobacteria can fix nitrogen and it can do photosynthesis... blows the mind of biochemists. It also has linear chromosomes for those who care to know.
  5. E coli have been engineered to make the plastic used in spandex and car bumpers... "green" plastic not from oil... this ones scares me and makes me say how cool.
The day ended with me sending an e-mail to say OOPS. Was not a great sin, but I wanted my supervisor to not lay full blame on another staff, declare my imperfections, explain the situation in full, and I wanted the person to reconsider a decision that will make a student sad.

So tomorrow I will head into work with the uncertainty of how my e-mail will bounce around in the head of the one it was sent to??????

Night also creates uncertainty. Uncertainty brings on fear. It is no wonder we love our electricity and that there are image after image in the Bible of God and Jesus being compared to light. Light is good.

Those who have journeyed with me know that Mosaic Woman and I do our fair share of cultural events. In 11 years of being in the suburbs, we have not headed to Philadelphia at night with each other, though we have each gone with friends. Tomorrow night that changes. A living legend, who graduated from the same school as my dad, is coming to town. In my opinion, the most beautiful jazz CD I own is The Melody of the Night, With You solo piano jazz by Keith Jarrett. In his early years he was known for epic imrovs and this album may shock those who have only heard those albums. Most of the tunes he selected are classic jazz standards, but not this one, click here, give your eyes a break, and listen to a man who is known to grunt at his piano to pull out notes he imagines it can make, if only he hopes and dreams them into being. Do you have 5 minutes and 46 seconds to share with the man's passion? I wish all of you do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

mandalas with burning bush

For now, preparing for next Monday's adult group has been going to the first verses of Chapter 3 of Exodus. I have been doing this when I sit in the chair of contemplation to reflect upon my day. Now the last three nights has made me see the burning bush in both of my recent mandala designs (how to design a mandala: 1. draw a circle 2. pray 3. fill the circle in).

The first was clear from the beginning, glowing earth, flames arising. I saw the story in the design and chose glass as I saw fit...

I recently spoke about imaginative prayer, but I most often read the Bible looking for a verse, phrase or word that catches my eye. It draws me in. Then I sit and ponder why those words caught my eye. This time it is a most appropriate verse... Exodus 3:3 --- Moses said "I must go across and see this strange sight..." I try to think what sights have drawn me to them. Am I being drawn by God when this happens. Two times in my life come to mind. I saw a woman walking in a library. That night after no conversation, only that sighting, I tell a friend that I saw a woman. I had never said such a thing in my life before. Now you all know her here as Mosaic Woman. I was so drawn that I overcame all the shyness and introverted nature I could to approach her. Was it holy ground I stepped upon to speak.

The second event happened a year earlier. I am walking on a snow covered path in the Pocono Mountains. I am stopped by an urge to be still and turn my head to the left. Often I will see a bird when I do this, but now a dead mouse rests in the branches of a sapling. I grow closer pondering how this came to be. Tears fill my eyes for the first time since who knows when.

The second mandala was drawn to improve upon the design of the first--- more branching and get rid of that mound of earth. I choose green for the branching. going with the complimentary color, red, for the background. Not seen as what it was at first, I now see it as a better representation of that event by the mountain of God. For in the Bible what caught Moses eye was the unburning (yes, I made up that word and I like it!) bush. Here the bush remains green in the midst of a fire storm of God's visiting spirit.

OK, now to get goofy. Before my theological insights, I was going to call this post a toilet with a view, for both of these are hanging in my bathroom window. Even took a lovely photo featuring the toilet and the two stained glass mandalas over the weekend. For now they will hang there unless someone discovers them at our ETSY SHOP. Then in November (unless sold) they will travel to a craft fair, which I will advertise in due time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

quilt shows in Pennsylvania

8 days ago we decide it was best not to go on an adventure, there was a tropical storm overhead. The next day at church, I was asked if we had gone to the quilt show. It seemed like it wouldn't be seen, but her question made me wonder how late it was open. Home from church, I asked Mosaic Woman if she was up for a whirlwind trip to our state capital. Two hours and some minutes later we were at an international display of quilts.

My passion goes back to visits to my grandma who quilted. I own three of her creations. Ask Mosaic Woman why she makes so many mosaics in quilt patterns, and it may go to the day the third one came into our life. The first she ever owned, a gift to both of us. Mamie sensed the time had come to make one more quilt for all of us, and that is how a beautiful blue log cabin quilt arrived.

What quilters can do amazes me. Check these out:

need to see more and the names of the quilters... HERE

At the time it didn't seem like a blessing when the batteries went dead, but after all the posting at FLICKR, I am glad I didn't have more to tag and name.

So, you say, "Give me some of those great quilts of the late 1800's." Well, they didn't let me take my camera out, but if you are close to SE PA go over to Ursinus College in Collegeville to see their EXHIBIT. It just opened today and to escape sweltering in our house, we went on a shorter adventure to check it out.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Iggy slaps me upside the head

a lousy night of sleep, well, till 4:19 AM it was going fine sent the end of the work week to a groggy point in time. I was glad to see Gannet Girl had written a post, but it sent me in a tail spin.

She spoke of how hearing others say it is impossible to imagine the pain you are feeling is not helpful. So some ancient part of my brain responds... "how dare she say that I can't say I can't imagine this pain. How could I imagine it." I take a nap. I read a short story. I start roasting an Asian eggplant, a patty pan squash, a red onion, and a two pound German Pink tomato. I think of a response. I start an e-mail to GG. I ramble on as words and thoughts remain a mess. I break away to eat the roasted veggies (first adding a can of beans, some salt, some pepper, and some balsamic vinegar).

As I nourish my body, Iggy (Saint Ignatius) and his Jesuit thugs slap me silly. "Stratoz, how can you tell GG and yourself that you can't imagine? Have you not imagined yourself into the life of Jesus? Have we taught you nothing about imaginative prayer?" I go to the gym to workout. I go to bed.

This morning Mosaic Woman headed out for breakfast with a friend. I headed to my chair of contemplation. I don't think it had that name at the store.

I imagine I am GG at a Jesuit retreat center... I am eating in silence with my fellow retreaters as I have a memory of a movie I saw years ago. I leave the cafeteria and check the message board. There is a note to call home. Stop, go back. I leave the cafeteria and there is no note on the board. I am sitting in my room reflecting on Jesus but thoughts of that movie scene keeps interrupting. A knock on the door. A spiritual director I adore guides me to her office. I have lost a son to death. I sit in silence, in prayer, in conversation, in lament. A Jesuit enters with a glass of wine. I will forever be grateful to the love I feel in this room. I am back in my room. I am alone. I should be packing. I am sitting on my bed, feet on the ground, head lowered as it is held on by my hands... Stop Go, back. I am not alone. My husband is there. My head rests on his shoulder. Days pass. I am wondering how I am to believe what so many can't imagine. It is real. But how can it be? The movie scene does not leave me. Was the memory sent by God?

I rise from my chair of contemplation and clean the shower.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

strains credulity

The Bible should be shocking. The charge given by Jesus that ends Matthew should make my head spin. A man who was dead is alive and setting up meetings. There have always been those of two minds... the doubters. Jesus claims the authority of God, thus revealing his true nature. And those 11 folk who showed up to worship and/or doubt, led to the Reverend John Touchberry becoming a disciple, and thus turning me into a disciple.

We are a varied group that meet on Mondays to speak about our journey.... what is the punch line to this joke... 3 ex-catholics, 2 life time Episcopalians, a protestant mutt, and an ex- Lutheran meet to discuss how they were made into Christians...

I remember a few things from my youth at church (keep in mind I do not have one memory of elementary school).... I loved the end of the worship service. As we stood after having sung the last hymn, the organist would play through one more time. In the silence of the music I would make up lyrics in my head. I remember thinking about becoming a minister, but by the time I was to be confirmed, I was going through the motions. It was a fake confirmation. I was on my way out of church, away from belief, beyond doubts. 20 years or so pass.

Then a few weeks after moving to Lansdale we walked into a UCC church, and the man mentioned above caught my spirit on fire. Who would think that a ex-Southern Baptist minister would do that to the likes of me? It wasn't what I expected. I don't know what I expected.

What those early years as a Lutheran did was to "make" a Christian out of me. It seems right to me that God loves all humans and sees no perfect path to take on a journey. If born to folk of another faith, I would not have been made a Christian. I still may have been made a Christian later in life.

Today in Biology class I started with all of life and kept drawing branches till humans were standing alone on the evolutionary tree. I try to imagine a tree going back in time from those disciples who made a Christian out of me--- my parents, ministers, friends, authors strangers. It is as mind blowing as the tree that would take humans back to the bacteria we are most related to on that tree of life. In the case of my disciples they would take many a different journey, but it would lead to one of those 11 who were charged by Jesus, then to Jesus.

Today in geology I wrote "strains credulity" on the board. We had just finished speaking about the first 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 of a second of the universe. densities and temperatures beyond imagination, unification of matter and energy, expansion rates beyond compare.

Even one who believes too easily would have doubts.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

my church... Holy Trinity in Lansdale

I turn my head to the left often in Church because this is what I see. Today we toasted our past, present and future as we ate lunch together. We have hope and it reminded me of how earlier in church we sang this hymn that I feel is our theme song these past couple years...

Shout To The North

Men of faith rise up and sing
Of the great and glorious King
You are strong when you feel week
In your brokenness complete

Shout to the North and the South
Sing to the East and the West
Jesus is saviour to all
Lord of Heaven and earth

Rise up women of the truth
Stand and sing to broken hearts
Who can know the healing power
Of our awesome King of love?


We've been through fire, we've been through rain
We've been refined by the power of Your name
We've fallen deeper in love with You
You've burned the truth on our lips


Rise up church with broken wings
Fill this place with songs again
Of our God who reigns on high
By His grace again we'll fly


Listen to it by the man who was moved to compose it... Robin Mark

and finally I have been reflecting on Matthew 28: 16-20 this past week, and that is because a wonderful small group of friends are willing to show up when I ask for messages, like the one printed below, to be sent to the congregation... all are invited.


The adult study group will gather on Mondays this year at 6:30 pm. I recently received a copy of A Well-Built Faith by Joe Paprocki. A book published by Loyola Press, a Jesuit press in Chicago. The very same press that published My Life With The Saints by James Martin, S.J.

A Well-Built Faith is designed for Catholics, who teach catechism classes, but in reading it I saw how it could promote some interesting discussion. We are a varied group of folk, who have arrived at Holy Trinity at this time in our journey. It will give us a chance to explore what we have in common with each other and with Catholics (some diferences will surely arise... I am sure some Lutheran thoughts still arise in my brain). One change for this year will be that we will meet every other week, not specific weeks of the month as we did last year.

The book ends each chapter with three items, which will center our class. A Bible passage given for further reflection on the theme (I have extended some to include complete passages), a prayer which will end our time together, and a section Paprocki calls, "So What--- What difference does it make that Catholics believe in...?" I will use this section to pose a question to lead us into a time of personal reflection. All are welcomed to attend. Again we will gather at 6:30 in the office area.

Here is the schedule for the first 6 weeks:

September 8th--- Matthew 28: 16-20 How Did You Become A Christian?

September 22nd--- Exodus 3: 1-6 How has God been revealed to you?

October 6th--- 2 Timothy: 3: 14-17 How has the tradition of your church shaped you?

October 20th --- Matthew 3: 13-17 What Does the Holy Trinity mean to you?

November 3rd --- Romans 8: 31-39 How has Jesus, in his conquering death, strenghtened your faith?

Novemeber 17th--- Revelation 21: 1- 8 Perhaps the greatest mystery... How has your journey shaped your view of life after death? plus some thoughts on Mary.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Mosaic Woman does not work the same hours every day, but there are two days of the week that allow us to commute together, if we choose to do so. On those days, she takes a shower while I eat breakfast, and check on the weather and e-mails. When I clicked on one from a blogger, I expected to see a simple response from a comment I had left the night before. Not a truly personal message

It asked me if I knew someone IRL. Then told me something devastating had happened to her. I responded that I had not known her In Real Life, but that I appreciated knowing what had happened.

Then I cried. Maybe because I couldn't imagine the pain she had in her soul. Maybe because I thought of the one death I truly feared living through and it is unimaginable.

I walked upstairs to shower and passed on the sad news. We left the house and I left the notes I had taken on the evolution of bacteria. The sad news sent MM into a funk and she read about my blogger friend at work. We talked about the sadness on the way home.

It was a good night to meet with friends who make us laugh. I wish that in this time of desolation my friend has some distractions too, even if brief. The taste of food given to nourish her. The flash of color from a bird she loves. I wish her peace in this time.

I have a student who would be happy spending all his time connecting with people on the computer. I have heard many say that computer relationships are not real. I am grateful to experience both. In my introverted nature folk who know me IRL are getting to know me better through this blog. I spent yesterday curious about that phrase IRL. This woman traveled with me through the spiritual exercises. She knows me well. I have traveled with her through a year of her life including praying for her as she completed CPE this summer. I know her well, in this life of mine. In my mind I see her experiencing what I can't imagine. I wish her comfort, peace, hope, joy, and love and call on God to send forth his spirit. I almost deleted "joy", wondering if it was wrong or strange or unexpected to wish for joy at this time. But then I thought, how could I not wish for moments of joy to enter into this sadness.


Monday, September 1, 2008

jazz concerts

So I tend to blog after the show. I repent. The other week after church, chatting with a friend, I said that I was awed by the fact that we had tickets for 8 jazz concerts... never before has this been the case, however, we jumped in for reduced prices at two colleges.

The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, Dizzy is gone but the love continues...September 3, 2008 at Lafayette College, Easton PA Many living legends here who played with Dizzy!

The Back Bay Saxophone Quartet (well we don't have tickets, but if we hop on RT 78 after a quilt show in Harrisburg, it will take us to Bethlehem where they are playing at Moravian college this Saturday, September 6th. OK so they are jazz and classical music influenced composers who play saxophone.. could be interesting and maybe have time to say howdy to my parents in Bethlehem. Moravian's concert hall is a short walk from their condo. We have met there to listen to the Moravian College Big Band, who always puts on a great show.

Hank Jones playing piano duets with pianist Mulgrew Miller, who is also in the big band mentioned above. Hank is nearing or past 90 years of age his siblings, Thad and Elvin are also jazz masters. Piano duets, how cool will that be... Lafayette College on October 12, 2008.

Here Hank plays My Funny Valentine with the Meridian string quartet.

Speaking of string quartets, the innovative Turtle Island String Quartet is arriving at our local community college, MCCC, in Blue Bell on Novemeber 8, 2008. Not long ago I came across their new CD on which they do a tribute to sax legend John Coltrane.

Mulgrew Miller will be on stage yet again at Lafayette College with his band, Wingspan, on November 22, 2008. want a listen... here is Samba D'Blue composed by Miller.

December 12, 2008 at MCCC will be the night we see the master of the acoustic and electric bass, Christian McBride.

I am so glad I found the piece of music I highlighted by Hank Jones, because on January 24, 2009 at MCCC we will see jazz pianist, composer, arranger... Billy Childs playing with a string quartet, The Ying Quartet.

Dianne Reeves finishes off the jazz series at Lafayette College on February 7, 2008. Have you seen Good Night and Good Luck, the movie about Edward T Murrow? Then you have seen and heard her. She was the singer in that studio they kept flashing to throughout the movie. Many consider her the best jazz singer out there right now. here she is singing One For My Baby on the sound track to mentioned movie.

back again at MCCC on February 13, 2009 we will see John Blake Jr play some jazz on his violin... listen to some here if you are curious

OK, I am linked out. this is such a range of music... who could have imagined this coming into our lives before the pamphlets arrived this summer. We are excited and blessed to have the opportunity; and thanks to all those organizations that give grants and support cultural arts series, it makes it affordable for us.

remember support music... applaud, celebrate, enjoy