Monday, May 29, 2006

Becoming Home

These last few days have been all about settling in. We've been unpacking diligently. At the moment we have about six boxes of books left with no more shelves to put them on. (Our last place sported a couple built-in shelves.) We think we have one modest wall left that will be able to take another bookshelf as soon as we can get one. We also have a small sized collection of boxes that are full of papers to be filed. When you have a household with one PhD student and one freelance editor who works from home, well, you tend to have a lot of paper to manage.

In addition to unpacking over these past few days we also hosted our first house guest. Can you believe it? An old acquaintance of ours from the East Coast contacted us about a month ago to say that a friend of hers was getting married out here and she had decided to come out for the event. But she lives simply and didn't have the extra funds to rent a hotel room, etc. We were very happy to provide a space for her--though at the time we didn't even know yet where we would be living!

W was only here for a couple days. But I told her this afternoon that I experienced her presence as a gift. I really have such a distinct feeling that our family feels most like a family only when we are opening our lives to others--and especially when we do so by hosting people in our home. Family is more than the three of us--it is the three of us open to others. So I assured her that in a very real sense, her presence had made our new apartment a home much sooner than we would have otherwise had an opportunity for it to be so. This is gift.

I also felt aware, while W was here, that now that we're finally beginning to settle after the past two months of massive upheaval, we are able to begin to open ourselves to life beyond ourselves. I had been grieved that my entries here had been so focused inward on our search for a new home and the subsequent move. I began to believe, as I often do in the midst of any kind of hiatus, that I'd never had a thought larger than how to pack a box, or deeper than the ins and outs of a lease agreement. But with W here, we fell easily into larger conversations which reminded me again of who we are, where our commitments lie, what we believe in, where we've been.

One of the other cool things about W's visit was her references to our familiar, once-shared landscape. Throughout her stories of home, she would casually mention street names, places, people that once made up our lives. I had the distinct feeling of these places coming back into relief on a map that had gradually faded to black. "In the house over on Walnut Lane," she would say in the midst of her story--and suddenly I would see Walnut Lane again. "The charter school is in that old industrial area off Wissahickon where that place Material Culture used to be." And that part of the landscape would come into view for me again. Little by little, people and places that had shaped our lives were given back to me, at least for a time.

These are some of the gifts of these past few days.

Friday, May 26, 2006

We're Here!

Wow. I guess I hadn't realized it had been a week since my last post. This has been one of those time-out-of-time periods as we made the big move on Wednesday. So I am writing my first-ever blog post in our new home!

The move went very well, thanks to some good friends who helped us out. We have spent the past couple days simply unpacking, re-building furniture, moving furniture (do you like it here? Or here? Is that better or is that better?), putting books on shelves, attaching bookshelves to the wall for earthquake protection, and then collapsing at the end of the day.

The great news is, we absolutely love it here. There seems to always be a generous breeze, like there is when you get close to water. (Aside to my dear Brother--the field across the street is perfect for flying kites!) With our equally generous windows, the air moving through our space is spectacular.

At lunchtime today D and I took a walk through our new neighborhood for the first time. It's really something! We managed to find this terrific bakery/deli and got the best Ruben and Roast Beef sandwich that we've ever had on the West Coast. One of our favorite local coffee establishments has a place just a few blocks from us. And there is a great locally-owned bookstore, too.

The field across the street was hopping from about 5:00 pm until just a few minutes ago--with kids soccer games, practices, folks cheering. Now there are a few adults warming up for what looks like might be a big ol' softball game. Tons of activity over there. It's great.

We still have junk to clear out of the old place. We're hoping to gather up enough energy to host a yard sale, either Monday or possibly as late as next Saturday. (That would be great if we could have a little more time to recover from the physical work of the move. We're clearly not as young as we used to be!)

But things are coming along. We're really happy with the place we found. It was exactly the right decision for us.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Breaking it in

First things first: I turned in my comp exam essay this morning. It's outta my hands. It's done. 2 down; 7 to go.

I spent much of the rest of the day sorting through old piles of papers. I just couldn't stand to throw these stacks into a box and bring them over to the new place to clutter things up there as well. I filled two paper grocery bags chock full of paper to be recycled. Great success.

This evening I had a great time with two good friends. Just a low key evening, drinking some beers, enjoying some salty olives, good bread and yummy maytag blue cheese, tortilla chips and tasty dip. Before we called it quits for the night we drove over to the new apartment and I got to show it off for the first time. We broke open another round of beers there and sat on the floor enjoying them together. These are the things that change a new apartment into a home.

Now my cat is curled up against me, the air still smells of the freshly fallen rain, and I'm content to be at this home for another few days.


I have the greatest brother in the world. He designed E's protest posters. See this post to find out what this is about.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The New Place

We officially have possession of the new apartment! Hooray! We met the landlord there about an hour ago, got our keys, our official copy of the lease, and even watched as he put our names on the mailbox! Guess that means we're really doing this thing.

This is the first we've seen the apartment completely empty. You know how some places look bigger when they're empty? Yeah, well, I'm afraid nothing could make this place look bigger. It's little. Very little. Very, very little.

But nice. If we can truly pare down our belongings enough so it doesn't feel cluttered the second we move in, then I think we will really be able to have it look quite nice. We actually had thought about bringing some boxes over this evening when we picked up the keys, but I decided I wanted to see it just once without any of our junk on the floor! :)

I was happy to notice this time that there are windowsills which we don't have in our current place. So some terrific spots for our cat to sit and gaze out the window.

So now, time to pack, pack, pack.

Dogs in School and Other Things to Celebrate About Life

I've had a great workday, putting the finishing pieces into the Comprehensive Exam paper I'm planning on turning in tomorrow. I would love to be finished with it in time to get it out of my hands tomorrow so I can put my energy to packing, moving, and uh, grading the final projects of my MDiv students (yikes). Actually that latter part should be a pleasure. I'm excited to see what the students in my group have done for their final projects. I think they'll be great!

I got to E's school early this afternoon because I'd had to run an errand beforehand and it took less time than I expected. The student teacher who has been in E's class since January has had her solo week all this past week. Since I got there early, I decided to go right on into the classroom to see if she could use a hand getting all the kids ready to leave for the day.

When I got there, three kids were coming out of the classroom carrying things for recycling and trash (one of the kids' chores). "Hey E's Mom!" They called out. They never call me Mrs D - it's always "E's Mom." :-) "We've got a dog in the classroom today!" They cried excitedly.

Sure enough! The student teacher had decided to bring her dog in to hang out with the kids during the second half of the day. I thought that was so cool. Having a dog in the classroom is just about the happiest thing I can ever imagine. In fact it's a favorite phrase I use when I'm trying to describe that feeling of excited giddiness that comes over a group of people when something unexpected happens, "Like when a dog walks into the school."

When I was little, a dog walking into school only happened by accident. And all the kids would go berserk! Something that we otherwise would take for granted for the most part would suddenly become heightened to unbearable degrees just because the context shifted! What a great feeling.

Here are a couple things going on with E the Intrepid 8-year-old that I hope I'll always be able to remember:

1. He's at the age when he'll run just about anywhere we go. Or jump up to a low wall and walk along its edge. Or swing from a tree branch if he can reach it. Point is--he's still young enough not care what the shortest route is between point A and point B.

2. He almost always has a toy sword in his hand.

3. That he says, "I love you, Mom," before I say it to him first.

4. That he was brainstorming ways to start a student movement in his classroom the other day as we walked home together. Apparently his teacher told them that if they earned 40 points they would get a pizza party. If they earned "more than 40 points" they would also get an ice cream party. Well, they earned 41-1/2 points. But the teacher insisted it wasn't enough to put them into the ice-cream party category. "But we earned over 40 points!" We had a grand time thinking up ways to hold the protest. In second grade one of the skills they work on a lot is greater than and less than-- you know, 121>111. So we thought it would be cool to design protest posters that read 41>40! Of course the chant would be: "I scream, you scream..." None of this came to anything, but we sure had a fun time planning it. (I also told E he came by all this naturally. My Mom organized a strike in her classroom over fifty years ago! It's such a great story.)

5. The love notes I unpack from his backpack that girls in his class have snuck in there during the day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ecstasy and Method

Today I am working on my Comprehensive Exam essay due this Friday. If I can manage to get this essay accomplished even in the midst of all the upheaval from having to move (a week from tomorrow!), then I shall be happy indeed. One might even say ecstatic.

And if one did happen to say ecstatic, one would be making a reference to the topic of this comprehensive exam. :) I'm looking at the ecstatic experiences of the 14th-15th-century English mystic Margery Kempe and those of Jarena Lee, the first woman to be licensed to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the 18th century. Very fun work. Fun enough, in fact, that this is what I plan to write on for my dissertation once all of my exams are finished.

In other news, some of you may recall my evangelical posting about the wonders of Method cleaning products. Well, I've included a link along the right side of my blog to a pretty great introductory deal for their line of laundry products. Read my previous posting about them, then click on the link and give Method a try. (I don't receive any commissions on this. I just love their stuff! It's also not an Amway kind of deal. I mean, you can get their stuff from Target after all. :D)

Okay, that's it for me for now.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The New Floor Plan!

Okay, does this give me official Geek Status? I used SmartDraw trial version software to create my own little "sims" version of our new apartment! This isn't exactly accurate, but it's close enough. I couldn't figure out how to include the closets--there's one in the living room, a linen closet in the hallway across from the larger bedroom, and closets in each bedroom. Also, the space behind the bathroom isn't ours. I couldn't figure out how to change the outer walls.

But it gives you a good sense of about how much space we'll have. I believe I scaled most things pretty accurately. The kitchen will definitely be the tightest fit. We're hoping we'll be able to get the kitchen table in there, but we may end up eating off our laps in the end.

So, pretty cool, huh? (Remember, if you click on the picture here it will open up in its own window at a larger size.)

Transitions - Getting Ready to Move

Things are really ramping up now for the move. Yesterday morning we were able to go in to the new place and take some measurements. The folks who were in the process of moving out were extremely gracious about letting us meander around with our measuring tape! Not only that but they were terrific about giving us some insider information about good take-out joints nearby. How nice is that?

When we came back home (hm, that's getting to be a more complicated phrase), we spent most of the day packing. Lots of books. (Though we won't have near the fifty or so boxes of books of previous moves!) I packed up non-essential kitchen stuff. (I haven't broken nearly enough things in recent weeks to make much of a dent.) :) We placed a couple pieces of furniture out front with big "FREE" signs on them--and they were gone within hours.

When I collapsed from packing boxes, then I printed out some graph paper and drew a floorplan for the apartment to scale. Then I measured our furniture and cut out little representations of those. (I even colored them in with E's crayons.) :) Then we had fun arranging and re-arranging things to see how best stuff would fit. Obsessive? I guess.

This morning I woke up aching through and through. Maybe a little too productive yesterday! I haven't been able to meet the pace we established. But still we've managed to get some things accomplished today.

What's great is that I'm very excited about the move now. After our visit yeserterday morning I have decided I love the new place. A friend asked us yesterday if it had any amenities. "Just the windows," I replied. It's true. No dishwasher, no fireplace, no washer/dryer in the apartment. But the most wonderful windows with North and East exposures. The whole front of the apartment, which includes the living room and the kitchen, is basically be-windowed. The living room window especially is long and wide, taking up most of the length of the room. And of course it overlooks the park and several trees. Seems like such a lovely place to drink my tea in the morning.

We've decided the new place has the feel of a beach house. Airy, bright, small but livable. I think it's really going to be just right for us.

Well, guess that's it for now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Initial here and here and here and ...

Today we handed over just under 8 million dollars and initialed and signed three-thousand pages. Which is to say, we made it all official. We really are moving. It's gonna happen.

Seriously, when I got to page 4 of the lease, with all its tiny print and weighty clauses, I thought, "Good grief, our new landlord must be a lawyer." When I turned to page 7, I saw by his title that I was exactly right. Yep.

I'm so much not a legal document kind of person. [And I'm in the field of liturgical studies. Go figure. I mean, really--have you ever read the book of Leviticus? It's all legal code right? You know what for? The ritual life of the people! It's a gold mine for liturgical studies!] Anyway, legal documents make me queasy. And a litle faint. They are not supple. There is no humor. There is no sense of invitation to them. And they seem to anticipate the worst in people.

I should say, though, after spending all semester creating a syllabus for a seminary course, I do understand a syllabus to be at least in part a legal document. And it can become very weighty indeed with policy statements. Expectations about attendance, plagiarism consequences, due dates, grading policies--even a necessity for a policy on electronic communication nowadays. When my creative energy was especially low a week or so ago, all I felt like doing was to write policy statements for my syllabus. That felt like a containable task. It's a good task for dry days.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not naive. I know the reason and value of legal documents. They help keep things clear. They define roles and expectations. They give you something to fall back on if conflict arises. But, boy, they sure don't communicate grace too well.

I'm not going in the obvious place with this posting, by the way. Though trained in a Lutheran seminary, I don't feel tempted here to do the whole Law/Gospel thing. Mostly because I believe what we call 'gospel' is wrung through the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Christian Scriptures. God's abundant, steadfast love and the concept of hesed are not Christian Scripture inventions. They are only present in Christian scriptures because they are rooted in the Hebrew scriptures.

And in both Scriptures there can be a sense of the Law that'll dry you right up.

I think that's all I really have to say right now. I'm not really going anywhere in particular with this. I'm just sayin'.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Searching for Home (Last in a Series)

We got the apartment we were hoping for! Last evening we received word that our application was approved. We sign the lease in a couple days and fork over a GI-NORMOUS deposit. We asked to be able to move in as soon as May 20--so we're on a runaway train here.

We feel great about this place. While it's small and has none of the impressive amenities of the Sims Place, at least we won't have to apologize for living here. We're delighted that E will get to stay in the same school district. We love the neighborhood. And the light in the apartment is terrific.

Now if only I could channel Mary Poppins and manage to have everything tidy itself then pack itself neatly into a carpet bag. That would be perfect.

Thanks to everyone for your kind prayers and words of support as we've searched for our home. It is so good to know where we'll be. Such a relief.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Pre-Move (P)Urges

Yesterday evening we heard from the leasing agent who told us that they're waiting to hear back from the landlord about our application and that "everything looks good." So I'm going on that little bone he threw us and using it to get me through the weekend.

I've managed, at the moment, to reach a sort of Zenlike hypostasis about it all. (Is there such a thing as a Zenlike hypostasis. Ha!) I think today will be spent in the early stages of purging. Sorting through stuff, trying to decide what we can fit in the new place and what we need to let go of. The good thing about purging furniture is that the more we get rid of, the more what we have left will match. All these years of being married and I still feel like our decorating motif resembles mid-eighties youth group room. Boy, that's depressing, because it's just so true.

Alright gotta run. The purge is on!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Love, Teaching, & Vulnerability

This past week I had to write my final paper for my Course Design class. I designed a course that I hope to teach someday at a seminary near me. I've called the course "Holy Times: Worshipping Through the Seasons of Life." It addresses the liturgical year and the Revised Common Lectionary. But also expands into talking about the seasons of our lives that are not addressed in the standard liturgical year: birth, menarche, menopause, new school years, embarking on missionary trips, going to seminary, moving, loss, unemployment. We'll look together about how to mark these events ritually for individuals, families, churches. We also look at ordinary time and extraordinary time. We'll read Kathleen Norris' Quotidian Mysteries and we'll consider the days after September 11. We'll ask questions about how time is constructed: what are the cultural, anthropological, economic, scientific constructions of time? How does worship shape time itself--on a yearly, weekly, daily, hourly basis? And so on.

A major part of the project was not just creating the syllabus for the course, but spending a significant amount of time reflecting on that process. Part of that involved reflecting on my philosophy of teaching: what do I see happening in a classroom? what dynamics are present? how does learning happen? what makes a seminary classroom unique?

It was a very difficult assignment. Partly because we had an excellent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education which talked about how pompous and detached philosophies of teaching can be. The article advised the writers of these philosophies to be as concrete as possible. Don't just say, "I believe learning is a collaborative process" and leave it at that. But explain the way in which you attempt to live out that belief in the classroom. "Therefore I begin each class session with small group discussions centered on the readings for that week."

The article also encouraged teachers to be honest about what doesn't work for them sometimes. What has gotten in the way for them in the past. Not to make themselves sound like Teacher Extraordinaire.

And finally, to be careful not to root all of your reflections in what the teacher can and should do, but to remember to write about students.

I ended up phrasing my philosophy of teaching in terms of expectations and hopes. So I said things like:

  • I expect my students to have a rich and varied history with the subject we will be engaging together.
  • I expect my students to have very busy, committed, and over-committed lives, of which their academic work is one aspect.
  • I expect my students will be bringing their fears into the classroom with them.


  • I hope my students will see one another as colleagues and as resources to be mined.
  • I hope my students will take our subject to places I never imagined.
  • I hope my students will fall in love with the subject matter.

It is this last one that I thought I'd share with you today. Partly because I've written about the role of love (or eros) in teaching and learning before. And partly because I'm desperately trying to distract myself from the fact that I'm still waiting to hear about our apartment application.

I hope my students will fall in love with the subject matter. This is the stuff of revolution! If my students fall in love with worship, then the way we worship will change for the better. If my students fall in love with worship, then the world will never be the same. I hold very dear a quote from the Jesuit, Pedro Arrupe:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are inlove with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

The only way I know to help people fall in love with something is to love it myself, to show them that the subject is worthy of love, indeed calls for a response of love. bell hooks writes: "When eros is present in the classroom setting, then love is bound to flourish."

Indeed, we ought to enjoy what we are talking about and the questions we are asking. Enjoyment is one of the key intangible ingredients to fostering love in the classroom. There is a sense of playfulness in enjoyment. And there is also a sense of splendid possibility. Enjoyment and eros go hand in hand. They both have to do with knowing, and searching, and being known. Somehow all of these play together in a way that opens us up to the ecstatic experience of learning and breaking new ground. I experience this ecstasy in the classroom when I am brought to a place where my thinking goes to the edge of language, to the very edge where I can see the vast nothingness that has not yet been thought. Even while there, I am confronted by the realization that I have no ability yet to think even that--that is the ecstatic experience of learning.

It is also undeniable an experience of vulnerability. Just as opening ourselves to loving a person puts us in a position of vulnerability, so it is with coming to love a subject. May Sarton writes about the vulnerability in love:
Love at any age has its preposterous side--that is why it comes as a kind of miracle at any age. It is never commonplace, never to be experienced without a tremor. But to stop arbitrarily the flow of life because of a preconceived idea, any preconceived idea, is to damage the truth of the inner person . . . that is dangerous. Are we not on earth to love each other? And to grow? And how does one grow except through love, except through opening ourselves to other human beings to be fertilized and made new? (May Sarton, Recovering: A Journal. New York: Norton & Company, 1980, p. 250.)
Sarton is speaking of falling in love with a person in this journal that she kept in her seventies. But we can apply her insights to the classroom as well. There is at the very least a certain preposterousness about falling in love with a subject in the classroom. But more than that, it can only happen if we keep ourselves from letting our preconceived ideas shut us off from new ideas.

To open ourselves to new ideas is a vulnerable thing to do. It is also, frankly, not very commonplace. In a classroom environment which cultivates the need to prove one's point, to make oneself an expert on a subject before addressing it--it becomes very difficult to open ourselves to new ideas. It can also be a challenge especially for seminary students who may be under scrutiny from their ordination committees who are looking for "right thinking"--or worse, looking to root out "wrong thinking."

A climate of fear will shut down the possibility of falling in love. But an overemphasis on safety is not the solution. A comparison might be fruitfully made between the age of terrorism and its accompanying race for "security"--even at the cost of civil liberties. It is much too facile to make security the solution to terror and safety the solution to fear. According to bell hooks an overemphasis on safety often stems from "the fear that classrooms will be uncontrollable, that emotions and passions will not be contained." In an effort to contain emotions and passions, all too often we resort to a model in which "the professor lectures to a group of quiet students who respond only when they are called on." The appearance of a calm setting, however, is often misleading about what's really going on below the surface. "Many students, especially students of color, may not feel at all 'safe' in what appears to be a neutral setting." (bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress. New York: Routledge Press, 1994, p. 39).

Like bell hooks I believe that cultivating a sense of openness in the classroom (which may exacerbate feelings of vulnerability rather than smooth them over with a false sense of neutrality) is the way to draw people into profound, life-altering learning experiences.
I enter the classroom with the assumption that we must built 'community' in order to creat a climate of openness and intellectual rigor. Rather than focusing on issues of safety, I think that a feeling of community creates a sesne that there is shared commitment and a common good that binds us. What we all ideally share is the desire to learn--to receive actively knowledge that enhances our intellectual development and our capacity to live more fully in the world. It has been my experience that one way to build community in the classroom is to recognize the value of each individual voice. (hooks, 40)
I seek to cultivate a classroom community in which people can "try on" new ideas and insights before attempting to speak authoritatively about them. (Thus one of the final project ideas is to "try on a new spiritual discipline" over the course of the semester and write about the experience.) I also allow space for students to present their work-in-progress, rather than only presenting their completed work. Works-in-progress presentations demand different responses from among student colleagues who must see themselves now as essential contributors to a project which can only get better with their valuable insight. Presenting completed work too often results in either silent reception (students don't understand what response is required of them) or de-constructive comments in which students point out what wasn't present, or what they would have done differently.

I also seek to model openness to growth. I have been known to ask a question of my students during the question-and-answer phase of my lecture: "Do you know what has been confusing to me as I prepared this lecture?" I have said. Then I have followed up by asking for their insights on a certain matter. Such a question in no way abdicates my role as teacher. I take very seriously the responsibility to be fully prepared for each class session. However, it does model for the student the reality that I also continue to be a learner. It is my love of the subject that makes me that way. Not to ask my own questions would be to pretend I were not in love.

(If you made it all the way to the end of this behemoth posting, God bless you.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Searching for Home (7th in a series)

Alright, folks. The other couple has dropped out of contention. We've taken the next step and coughed over the money for a deposit and credit check. The email from our leasing agent said something like, "Bring the check by today and we can have you approved by Friday." That sounds encouraging, right? Yeah?

I looked up some more information about the neighborhood we'll be moving into. It's been described as "upscale bohemian," "eclectic, cafe-society sort of place," "an intellectual, artistic aesthetic sets the tone," "funky, semi-industrial landscape," "where you can still buy art from the maker." In the words of Annie Hall herself (beautiful Annie Hall): "Well, lah de dah. Lah de dah."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Searching for Home (6th in a series)

Well, we have received the opportunity to apply for the apartment as seen in my previous entry. There is still one couple ahead of us, but it may be that our application could be stronger. Let us hope!

I've decided that the picture of the outside of this apartment really is not flattering. It looks better than the picture suggests. (Surely we've all had days like that!)

Yesterday afternoon the three of us went over to the ballfield directly across the street from the apartment and had a fabulous time playing together. We played catch, practiced fielding grounders and flyballs. Had some batting practice. And played a game where we tried to steal bases. (One of us would be the runner while the other two stood at each base and played catch. The trick is to get to the base before the ball.)

We had a blast and felt like we got a good sense of what it feels like to be in the neighborhood and in the park. While we there I called over to D that if we get offered the place, this was a terrific thing to do. If not, we're going to feel pretty sad for missing out. Alas.

It's okay, though. We're doing what we can. And if we don't get it, then another place will come along.

I talked with the guy at Nu-topia and it sounds like their timeline for lining up new tenants is not nearly what ours is. They can afford to be much more relaxed about the whole thing (especially since they're still constructing the place, for heaven's sake)! I also called the folks at the place closer to church and as of today there are no vacancies for a two-bedroom apartment. So the other top options are in some sense purely theoretical. :) As a PhD student, believe me, I love theory as much as anyone! But as a Mom, I like actuality even more. :)

Alright, I've got a major project due tomorrow in my Course Design class. So somehow I need to bracket out all this nervous energy and try and channel it creatively into reflections on my philosophy of teaching. Yeah, right.

(Thanks to everyone for all your encouraging notes and celebratory exclamations in recent days. I can't tell you how much it means to me. Thank you.)