Handwriting

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Students are beginning to return to the classroom after spending their summer days in any number of occupations: swimming, playing baseball, attending family reunion cook-outs, reading on a porch swing, riding bikes, or perhaps at summer camp. Summertime allows for a break from early bed times, early risings and homework assignments. Remembering back, if they are anything like me, about this time of the summer they are getting itchy to have school begin again-to resume the routine and regimentation. There is something different about the air these late summer mornings; fog more frequently hangs in the air, crickets are not as frisky in their calls, and there is the slightest tinge of color on the leaves. Parents are taking their sons and daughters on the hunt for backpacks, shoes, school supplies and new clothes-unless they send their child to a parochial school, where uniforms are required.

I was sent to one of those Catholic schools, St. Mary, from grades one through six. One of the memories that stays fresh in my mind, along with memory of my blue serge uniform, is the subject of penmanship. I was taught the Palmer Method by Dominican nuns whose own handwriting differed not one stroke from the manual we copied out of. Lessons were accomplished meticulously on special paper that had to be purchased at twenty-five cents per pack. I remember, every time I asked my Mom for a quarter for another package of “control paper”, the refrain: “you kids are going to nickle and dime me to death”.

It must have been something in my personality but I loved penmanship class. I loved an unblemished sheet of paper, the challenge of creating perfectly formed letters, and the zen feeling I achieved while copying line after line of text. The only fly in the ointment was that I was left-handed. A curse-especially when we began writing in ink. My perfectly formed letters would become smudged and that blemish-free paper became dirty looking. I am sure that if they could have, the nuns would have tried to change me, but by that time it was not allowed-no ear turning or knuckle rapping. They did try to make me turn my paper to the left-as I am one of those crabbed pen-holders-but it didn’t work. True to stubborn form, I kept my paper in a right-handed position and earned accolades in spite of my handicap. I practiced handwriting even when I wasn’t in school, loosening up the letters and adding my own flourishes, because I loved how it felt to create beautiful script.

We are losing what I consider an artform in many schools as keyboarding is deemed more important to learn today. Although I would agree that it is important to learn how to type, I think that for many children, the loss of this unique form of expression that is handwriting is unfortunate. I have followed the development of my ownchildren’s, and now my grandchildren’s, handwriting from primitive scribbling, to circle and stick letters that they laboriously formed to write their names, to their adult hand. Each child has his or her unique, unmistakable form of cursive. There was a time when you knew, even before you read an addressed envelope, who it was from. I could tell my Grandmother’s handwriting before I could read and keep recipes written in her spidery but neat hand. My Mother’s brother’s handwriting was from heaven with its beautiful flowing loops and serifs and his spirit lives in his eldest daughter’s handwriting. When my former husband and I were dating, before I even put my key in the dorm mailbox, I could recognize his script on a note through the small window and get a thrill.

I love getting handwritten letters and thank-you notes, keeping every one in my “proof of love” box. Keeping letters and postcards hand written to me by my children lets me hold on to them a little closer knowing that they took time to confide in or remember me-it’s personal. In one of the final acts of my marriage I re-read all of the lovingly signed cards and handwritten letters my husband had sent to me over the decades and wept. It is a powerful thing to catch sight of someones handwriting and know in an instant their identity. I had kept all of those communiques carefully tied up in a ribbon and cherished them but I knew it would be too painful to keep them, and had to leave them behind in order to move forward. I have kept a check, written out to me as a birthday gift from a dear family friend, uncashed for more than twenty years, so that I could save her handwriting-my name and hers together in her hand-her last gift to me. I treasure the last words my Dad wrote in a letter to his five children when he knew he would not be with us long. That letter witten long hand on blue grid paper, makes tears jump to my eyes whenever I unfold it to read. The pain of leaving us is written plain on the paper for all time.

I don’t know if society is diminished by the demise of penmanship classes and I don’t know enough about the science to determine whether it is necessary for success in school. I only know that for me it is part of who I am. My carefully formed signature is my introduction to the world and I am proud of it.

Here, for your reading enjoyment, from The Atlantic, is an article by Josh Giesbrecht about the most fascinating subject of the ball point pen.

Click here.
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Laudato Si, Continued

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“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

This past week we remembered the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. She took nearly two thousand lives, caused billions of dollars in damage, left many people homeless, and permanently altared the landscape of the Gulf Coast both in terms of its physical attributes but also in terms of its economy, its exposure of long simmering racial tensions, and recovery efforts that, largely, left the poor of New Orleans behind.

Some areas of the City of New Orleans have certainly benefited and ten years on, newly gentrified neighborhoods are once again thriving. Others of those, lucky enough to have escaped the flooding, have found that they are unable to return to their homes, due to a lack of employment opportunities that disappeared with the storm. As a result, they lack the financial ability to repair or replace the homes that were either severely damaged or washed away. They have become economic refugees permanently exiled from the city.

I’ve read accounts this week of how much better students are performing over scores from ten years ago, but what isn’t covered in most media accounts is how dramatically demographics in school populations have changed and how, after all of the public school teachers were fired, a network of charter schools sprang up. Charter schools typically maintain a highly selective admissions policy designed to keep test scores up. Adding insult to injury, the poor were once again marginalized.

In the second paragraph of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, he says, “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” A major reason why New Orleans suffered the tremendous devastation she did was of what happened to the natural buffer of the coastal wetlands. Here are a few facts:

Louisiana contains approximately 40% of the nation’s wetlands and experiences 90% of the coastal wetland loss in the lower 48 states.

60% of Louisiana’s land loss occurs in the Barataria and Terrebonne basins

Louisiana is losing 25 to 35 square miles of wetlands per year and the highest rates are occurring in the Barataria and Terrebonne basins at 10 and 11 square miles per year.

At current land loss rates, nearly 640,000 more acres, an area nearly the size of Rhode Island, will be under water by 2050.

What has caused this deterioration and the resultant devastation of America’s largest port city? Man. He has been creating havoc on the Gulf Coast for some time. It began with the introduction nutria, a type of burrowing of rodent, for the fur trade. Then came rising sea levels, due to world wide climate change, which science can now attribute to human activity. However, today there are two primary causes of the deterioration of these important areas, the first is the decision to “straightjacket” the Mississippi River in between a series of levees. While the levees do protect communities, economic infrastructure and croplands from flooding, the river can no longer supply the Delta with its life sustaining sediments. This has its own negative effect on the economies of fishermen and shrimpers. The second reason is the creation of thousands of miles of shipping channels for the oil and gas industry which have altered the natural hydrology and changed the salinity of the wetlands. This change in salinity has ultimately destroyed protective vegetation which allows subsidence of the land. With subsidence of the land, comes the destruction of the natural barrier that once protected New Orleans. This allows hurricanes, which are becoming ever more powerful, to exert a much more devastating blow.

At the root of the majority of this destruction is man’s greed. The oil and gas industry in particular can be singled out. Koch, BP, Halliburton, Exxon, et al have profited immensely from the exploitation of these natural resources but have not been required to pay any of those profits back toward the restoration of the coastal wetlands. After the Macondo well explosion, and resultant oil spill, a paltry fine was levied against BP to clean-up visible damage and reimburse individuals for lost revenue but it did not altar significantly the way they do business.

It is the moral responsibility of the Corporations who profit the most from this extraction to shoulder the burden of restoring the coastal wetlands, of remediating the damage caused by the creation of shipping channels, and of ensuring the future safety of the people who live along the Gulf Coast. It is our moral responsibility to hold them, and our elected officials, accountable.

Saturday Reflection

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I have heard repeated comments lately from members of an older generation that this generation has no morals, no standards. It has caused me to reflect on what this means. I suppose because it was inculcated from an early age to be seen and not heard that I find great difficulty in speaking up to my elders when I hear comments that I find offensive. I was also taught that it was improper to discuss sex, politics, and religion in polite company. So when my beliefs are assaulted it is in my very nature to weakly smile and hold my tongue. I do not think, nor would the commenters admit, that their opinion of “this generation” includes me personally, nontheless I take offense. What I want to say to them is:

Is it moral to support a political party who supports abortion rights on one hand, yet also supports universal healthcare, food assistance, housing for the poor, and the right to higher education, once the child enters the world? Or rather, is it moral to support a political party who claim to be pro-life and are opposed to supporting that very life once it draws its first breath; a party that agitates for perpetual war, for the death penalty, and for unlimited rights for gun owners?

Is it moral to support a political party who strives for peace through diplomacy and promotes strength through the use of soft power? Or is it moral to put our nation on a perpetual war footing; to use our military to fight wars of agression; to ask our soldiers to serve multiple deployments without considering the mental and physical toll it takes on them; to continue war for a decade and a half without paying for it; to inflict misery on innocent men, women, and children, to salve a bruised ego; to withhold medical treatment or funding for returning veterans for the invisible wounds of TBI or PTSD when 22 (one every 65 minutes) die every day from suicide?

Is it moral to support the human and civil rights of people to marry whom they choose. Or is it moral to deny some of God’s children the privilege of joining their souls together no matter their orientation? If we acknowledge that we are ALL made in God’s image and that man was not meant to be alone, why is this right to be denied to a segment of our population?

Is is moral to support the human and civil right to participate in the struggle for a living wage and the right to organize under a union? Or does morality dictate that workers take what they are given and be satisfied, that in today’s world, they are lucky to have a job? Is it moral that wealth is concentrated in the hands of one percent of our population and that, by virtue of the power they control over our elected representatives, they determine what the other ninety-nine percent will earn, what protections they are afforded, and how they will be supported in retirement?

Is it moral to support a small, sustainable, green, lifestyle without being derogatorily called a tree-hugger? Or is it moral to consume natural resources, not only our own but those around the world, at an unsustainable rate; to extract oil and mineral wealth from the earth while causing enormous environmental damage; to garrison the world to secure these resources for our own use; to support corporations and brutal regimes that strip natural resources and wealth from a country and leave their own people impoverished?

Is it moral to find a humane solution to our immigration “problem”, where the workers, employed by large corporations and agribusiness, can do so legally, with wage protections and benefits afforded Americans? These individuals do tasks no American would lower themselves to do, under horrible conditions and at appalling wages. Or is it moral to want to round up eleven million people, many of whom have children who are American citizens, and deport them? Remember, immigrants are hired by companies that want to maximize their profits and do so without scrutiny. And, lest we forget, and most certainly we do, this IS a nation of immigrants.

I was born when Eisenhower was president and there was a thriving post-World War II economy. My Dad worked hard for a living, when I was born he delivered dry-cleaning. He later found employment that provided him a good living wage, union protections, a pension, and the solid guarantee of Social Security. My Mom was able to stay at home and do all of the things Moms did back then. I knew absolutely no want. To me it was an idyllic childhood with unlimited possibilities and the expectation that one day I would go to college. With the election of John F. Kennedy as President there came youthful optimism, fueled by science and technology and the prospect of landing a man on the moon.

The promise was truly shattered after President Kennedy was assassinated. Although civil rights legislation was signed under Lyndon Johnson we were slowly becoming mired in a Southeast Asian conflict and racial tensions would flare. Soon JFK’s brother, Robert, was assassinated, then Martin Luther King, and the world spiraled out of control. My generation was handed the Vietnam War, Watergate, an economy that has been stagnant, in terms of wages, for more than forty years. We were handed job insecurity, the loss and security of a pension in most jobs and the possibility of an insolvent Social Security program. My generation has seen the destruction of unions, the escalation of the cost of education, the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar. My generation has seen the gains of the civil rights era eroded by the bigotry, bitterness, and hatred of a nativist, Confederate-flag-waving segment of the electorate whom one could politely call low-information voters. My generation has seen the rise of a breed of politician who is more focused on gaining power, retaining power, and using power to advance the agenda of the monied interests of those elect who bought him his office. Once that politician is out of office he continues to wield power in the corridors of Washington from his highly paid position with a lobby. The era of statesmen has long been dead and the lowest, most base, and least informed partisans control the levers of power.

My children, the next generation, have inherited the residue of what my generation was given. They have not inherited the glowing optimism of my generation, they have not inherited the expectation that they will go on to college without incurring huge debt, they have not inherited a government focused on doing the will of the people and achieving great things. They have not inherited an economy in which their wages keep pace with inflation, and their retirement will be secure. For the most part, they do not enjoy the protections of a union. They have inherited a country where science and technology is derided and sneered at by our leaders. Yet, I see in my children and many of their generation, a willingness and openness to serve others, a return to an attitude charity and compassion for the poor, people of color, and people of any sexual orientation. I think that they are moral and that they do have standards. There is hope that when it is their turn to rule we will be in better hands.

If my generation, and that of my children, is deemed immoral and without standards by the previous generation, then I am proud to wear a big, colbalt blue “I” on my chest.

On Simplicity

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Site of Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond

Our life is frittered away by detail.
An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers,
or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest.
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand;
instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.
In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life,
such are the clouds and storms and quicksands
and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live,
if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all,
by dead reckoning,
and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.
Simplify, simplify.
Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one;
instead of a hundred dishes, five;
and reduce other things in proportion.
— Walden
Henry David Thoreau

Less Is More

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Stripped down to the minimum all humans really need is food and shelter and a means to obtain those things.  Of course, in order to be human we also need love.  In today’s world, in our country, we have distorted the priority of these three things, often placing status and money above family and experience.  Many people spend their lives in a stress-inducing job, accumulating money to buy a large house, which needs filling with stuff that needs to be cared for.  Often accumulating the money, the house, and the stuff leaves little time or money left over for recreation, relaxation, and experience.  This results in a spirit that is totally depleted.

Three and a half years ago I found myself facing the devastating reality of a divorce.  My life and identity had been wrapped up in being a stay-at-home mother, raising children, and creating a home.  After my children were in school full time, I went back to school and later worked various jobs that paid for things like college tuition and debts incurred through my then-spouse’s “medical leave” from work.  Without going into all of the detail, my life as it had been was over.  My new job would be to dismantle what I had spent more than thirty years creating and I had no idea where or how to begin. I had a long conversation with a friend who had made many transitions in her life.  At one point, when moving to a new location after her own divorce, she opened up her home to the Navajo people she worked with, inviting them to come and take whatever they needed.  Some came and took only a coffee mug or a place setting of dishes, another a blanket-simply, they only took what they needed.  She stressed to me that what was important was not the stuff.  Go home, she said, and pray about it, you will get an answer.  I did as she advised and the next morning woke up with clarity and peace.  When it came time to submit my list for the division of property, it consisted of my collection of books, keepsakes from friends and relatives, my clothing, and a few items that were intended to be passed on to our children.  It all fit into a small U-Haul pod with room to spare.  The pod arrived in northern Michigan on a blizzardy December day and was put into storage until I could find a permanent place to live.

Eventually I did find a small, humble, home and I have moved those things into their new space.  I pruned further as I unpacked and many things found their way to the local thrift store.  Today I cannot say that I miss any thing I left behind. My treasure is stored up in my children, my grandchildren, my relatives and friends.  I eat simply, have simplified my wardrobe, make time for exercise, and cultivate spiritual peace.  I take time to enjoy sunsets, listen to concerts in the park, and appreciate the place where I get to live.  I have joy, contentment, and an inner peace that I wish I had been able to attain a long time ago.

Many of the lessons we learn in life can only be learned by experience and most of us want to “do it by myself”, which is often the most painful way.  Although painful circumstances forced me to change my mindset, I am grateful to have arrived where I am today. I am much more aware at this time in my life of what is important.  I know now that it is not the job, the prestige, the money, the house, the clothes, the car, the neighborhood; it is the people we love, sharing a meal and conversation, knowing that you are loved, and realizing that today is the only thing we are given.  We must simply make the most of that gift.

Sand Castles

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Fall seemed to be stalking northern Michigan today.  The weather was dismal; a howling wind made my windchimes clang, rain lashed at the windows, and the mercury barely made it into the mid-50s.  I donned a sweater, wool socks, brewed a cup of tea, and spent the afternoon reading.

It is still August but one week from today the calendar rolls over to September.  Harvests are coming in and our local Farmers Market is bursting at the seams with fresh vegetables, fragrant peaches, and juicy pears.  The first apples that let you know that soon we will begin that languorous slide into Autumn.  There are still many weeks of beautiful weather ahead but up North we are on notice that we had better cherish these last days of Summer.

Every child, young or old, who has spent time at the beach has grabbed a bucket, filled it with cool, wet, sand and built a sand castle.  Building these architectural fantasies, filled long sunny afternoons along the shore under a crystal blue sky and wheeling gulls.  Some creations are humble-just some sand packed down into a pail and flipped upside down; other are more elaborate-having multiple turrets, a moat, walls embedded with seashells,  opaque sea glass for windows, maybe a weathered piece of driftwood for a drawbridge.

Before Summer bids us adieu, I thought you might want to take a look at some surreal creations by sand architect, Matt Kaliner.  His works is featured in an article by Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic magazine.

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On Iran

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I have had my fill of war. I have had my fill of people who have never served in the military pound the drum for war only to send our sons and daughters to fight wars of aggression, that they are too cowardly to authorize. I have had my fill of politicians who, seemingly have never read a history book, stand before the electorate and purport to have the solution to the Middle East. I have had my fill of our tax dollars, and the billions borrowed in our name and our children’s name, being directed to members of the military industrial complex to enrich their coffers. I have had my fill of willful ignorance on the part of the voting public who rely on the biased “news” shows to inform them as to whom to vote for and how to think.   In the same vein, I have had my fill of “news” anchors and pundits, so ignorant of history,that they are unable to challenge or to pose an intelligent follow-up question when a politician’s answer is little more than a rehersed talking point.

On July 14, 2015, an agreement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 and EU, was announced. Then our leaders in Washington decided that they needed to weigh in and vote whether, indeed, the United States would participate after all. The rhetoric is as stunning as the ignorance that informs it.  Many have come out to denounce it without ever having read it. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is allowed to address a joint session of Congress and rail against the agreement, sowing fear here and silencing his critics at home.

An important vote is coming up on this agreement and there are many people who do not want to see it passed. Among them, architects of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

From TomDispatch, posted by David Bromwich:

“The danger of playing favorites in the world of nations, with a partiality that knows no limits, was a main topic of George Washington’s great Farewell Address. “Permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded,” said Washington, because

“a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

As a nation we must not become further enmeshed in the unending war in the Middle East. We must not let Israel dictate our foreign policy. We must not send our military men and women back into a part of the world that has known only conflict for millenia  and without this agreement it becomes a more distinct possibility.

I urge you to follow the link below

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Laudato Si

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I don’t think that I have ever read anything as compelling in my life as Pope Francis’ s encyclical, Laudato Si.  It aligns in so many ways with how I see my life unfolding and echoes the thoughts I have concerning our life on this planet, the environment, the peace that simplicity gives us, the way we share natural resources with our fellow travelers, and our role in the changes we all need to make to enable us to pass a better world onto our children.

The very word “encyclical” could make the eyes glaze over or intimidate most into never bothering to read it-thinking that it would be too dense, too full of clerical language so complex and foreign to us laypeople as to leave it to sombody else to decipher, summerize, and explain.  Yet, true to how Francis appears, it is beautifully and simply written.  From the opening paragraph, quoting from the beautiful Canticle of Saint Francis, “our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” What follows, in simple, understandable prose, is an outline of where we are and the direction we need to follow.

I would like to explore Laudato Si in more depth and so encourage you to read it so that we can have a dialog. It seems to me that so often, in today’s world, political affiliations hamper us from having frank conversations about a subject that strikes me as, first and foremost, a moral issue. It is from this perspective that I would like have our discussions.

Our lives on this fragile earth are but a shadow, however I believe that it is our duty to be good stewards of the home that has been entrusted to us to care for.

A Poem

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Birches

By Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust,
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows,
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.