Saturday, December 22, 2012

Calling Out the Clutter

some of the contents of my former office
now cluttering up the kitchen

Meditation To End Clutter:"First, prayerfully choose the space that needs your undivided attention.  Do nothing today but bring it to prayer."

I should never have attempted the "Meditation To End Clutter." 
By some law of inverse ratio, instead of disappearing or even decreasing, the clutter in my house has grown exponentially.  It's as if I called out the clutter to meet me in the street for a showdown, and the clutter won.

The clutter invasion began in earnest the day my adult son moved back home.  I never knew he had accumulated so much stuff in the seven years he lived away.  First, my office had to be cleared as a living space for him.  In the picture at the top of this post, you can see some of the contents of my former office, now shoved into a corner of the kitchen.  The rest of the contents can now be found in boxes on the enclosed upstairs back porch.

My former office space, now turned into my son's studio apartment, holds a large chest of drawers, a full-sized futon mattress, a 46-inch flat screen TV (on the desk where my laptop used to sit), a stereo, a coffee table, a shelf full of DVD's, two 30-pound barbells, a 7 cubic-foot freezer, and a newly constructed toddler bed for my grandson.

Step 2.  Do nothing today but bring to prayer the space that needs your attention.  

I might as well write off my former office (there is no reason to give it any attention since it is off limits to me now).  Also, I might as well write off the space that was formerly known as the cellar, a space de-cluttered by me six years ago, after a flood left a foot of water in our basement, and I spent days on my knees, shoveling out wet clutter and hauling it to a rented dumpster.  This formerly clutter-free space is now packed with my son's overflow possessions-- a bicycle, something that he calls a work bench that is as big as an entire department in a furniture factory.  Two electric saws.  Wood left over from the construction of the toddler bed.  And other things I don't even know the names of.  But never mind.  None of this needs my attention.  I will put it out of my mind, the way sinners are said to put Hell out of their minds until the day when it is too late to do anything about it.

I might as well also write off the space formerly known as my attic.  On two different days I witnessed Michael and his friend hauling more of Michael's possessions to my formerly uncluttered attic (I cleaned it out at the same time as the flood six years ago).  After Michael left for work one day this week, I checked out the space formerly known as my uncluttered attic.  There I found some sort of exercise contraption known as a gym, an air conditioner, a fancy chess set, boxes of I-don't-know-what, Pfaltzgraff dishes, stainless steel utensils, pots and pans, my college diploma, and a needlework picture of a circle of grandchildren that I made for my mother-in-law nearly thirty years ago.  I was thankful that at least the stand-alone basketball goal wasn't present amidst all this clutter, but I was discouraged to see my own two-bike-stand-alone bicycle rack lying on its side on the floor, banished from its place in my office, leaving my bicycles to clutter up other spaces, on the porch and in the yoga room.

"Let there be a space of four or five days so that you can prepare spiritually by inviting your Whole and Holy Self to this beautiful spiritual event."

I soon realized it was going to take more than four or five days of spiritual preparation to convince anything whole or holy to show up at my house.   I will need to put in as much time giving my undivided attention to prayer as this Hindu Holy man apparently has.

I had to skip the next seventeen steps in the "Meditation To End Clutter" because they all involved doing things I could not possibly do such as LABEL BOXES TO BE GIVEN AWAY OR TAKEN TO GOODWILL.  I wish!

This left me at step 20: "See your Whole and Holy Self as an Emptying Vessel waiting to be filled, not with more stuff but with the freedom and joy that will overflow from you." So that is what I will attempt to do.

     Here I am at Step 20, a very good place to be.

             No clutter in sight.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Georgia OKeeffe Pain Rating Scale

Last week as I waited in the doctor's examination room, I noticed a new chart on the wall.  "Talk about dumbed down!" I muttered.  Have we all been reduced to this, communicating like three year olds? I wondered.  I couldn't help thinking that if I were in pain, I could do a better job of communicating with language rather than smiley faces, toddler vocabulary, or numbers.  Later, a nurse told me that the pain rating scale was the medical field's attempt to be more sensitive to their patients' pain levels.  Formerly, they tended to deny that patients felt pain.

The only other wall-hanging in the doctor's office was a Georgia O'Keeffe print.

That print inspired me to imagine a different sort of world.  In this more nuanced world, O'Keeffe herself would serve as model for the pain rating scale.  After all, she posed for Alfred Stieglitz's photos many times.  Surely, we could find the full spectrum of pain represented there.

                    "No hurt"

           "Hurts little bit"

                "Hurts little more"

         "Hurts even more"

     "Hurts whole lot"

                            "Hurts most"

I don't think the Georgia O'Keeffe Pain Rating Scale will ever be as popular as the smiley faces, but I can always dream.       





Thursday, November 15, 2012

King Solomon's CAFO

Solomon offered a sacrifice of fellowship offerings to the Lord: twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats. 

                1 Kings 8:63

"Boy,imagine the smell, with all those animals!" said someone in our Bible Study class last Wednesday.  

"King Solomon had a CAFO," I said.  All the people in the class gave me blank looks.

"A CAFO," I said.  "You know, that's what they keep a lot of the livestock in now. A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.  It's one of the reasons why e- coli is more and more of a problem."

More blank looks.  Evidently, no one had seen the movie, Food, Inc.  I risked one more comment.  "You can see the cows in CAFOs on Google satellite images."

No one cared about CAFOs.  They were more interested in the golden oxen outside Solomon's temple.  

But I couldn't stop thinking about CAFOs, which are even more shocking in close up photos.

                         "Home on the CAFO"

It's not exactly the life we picture for the cattle that provide our beef.

Of course King Solomon didn't really have a CAFO.  He had a CASO, a Concentrated Animal Sacrifice Operation.  Although the idea of sacrificing animals to God seems primitive to most of us, King Solomon's CASO had some real advantages over today's CAFOs.  Mainly, it showed a recognition that the source of life goes beyond us and that we must never forget that.  On the other hand, today's CAFOs display an utter lack of that understanding.  CAFOs not only confine animals in horrific surroundings, they are terribly destructive to the earth, contaminating water and air.  

In his New York Times article, "This Steer's Life," journalist Michael Pollan described his first visit to a Kansas CAFO, where he went to follow up on the life story of a steer he had bought.

You'll be speeding down one of Finney County's ramrod roads when the empty, dun-colored prairie suddenly turns black and geometric, an urban grid of steel-fenced rectangles as far as the eye can see -- which in Kansas is really far. I say ''suddenly,'' but in fact a swiftly intensifying odor (an aroma whose Proustian echoes are more bus-station-men's-room than cow-in-the-country) heralds the approach of a feedlot for more than a mile. Then it's upon you: Poky Feeders, population 37,000. Cattle pens stretch to the horizon, each one home to 150 animals standing dully or lying around in a grayish mud that it eventually dawns on you isn't mud at all. The pens line a network of unpaved roads that loop around vast waste lagoons on their way to the feedlot's beating heart: a chugging, silvery feed mill that soars like an industrial cathedral over this teeming metropolis of meat.

Michael Pollan's description of the "silvery feed mill that sours like an industrial cathedral" reminds me of where I started this essay, with King Solomon's CAFO,which actually turned out to be a CASO, where the people's connection to the source of life was never forgotten.  Later in his article, Michael Pollan emphasizes the way the factory farming model fails to acknowledge the way we are connected with all of life.

Yet the factory metaphor obscures as much as it reveals about the creature that stood before me. For this steer was not a machine in a factory but an animal in a web of relationships that link him to certain other animals, plants and microbes, as well as to the earth. And one of those other animals is us. The unnaturally rich diet of corn that has compromised No. 534's health is fattening his flesh in a way that in turn may compromise the health of the humans who will eat him. The antibiotics he's consuming with his corn were at that very moment selecting, in his gut and wherever else in the environment they wind up, for bacteria that could someday infect us and resist the drugs we depend on. We inhabit the same microbial ecosystem as the animals we eat, and whatever happens to it also happens to us.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

trick or treat for---

File:Trick or Treater.jpg

This week involved two sets of preparations, preparing for the possible challenges caused by the onslaught of Superstorm Sandy and preparing for the flood of trick-or-treaters on our street.  Our area was spared the worst of the storm.  The town next to us cancelled trick-or-treating, but in Chambersburg, the trick-or-treaters were out in force on Halloween night.    This year I opened the door to vampires, soldiers in camouflage, princesses, the offensive line of a football team, a nun with a surprisingly deep voice and a large cardboard cross, and many others.  After we ran out of candy for the second time that night, we turned off the porch light and I prepared to send money to the Sandy relief effort.  That made me think of the way we always used to say "Trick or treat for UNICEF" on Halloween nights of my childhood.  My husband remembered doing the same.   "I guess that's a thing of the past," he said.  And I agreed that I hadn't heard "Trick or treat for UNICEF" from anyone in years.

My husband and I both remembered collecting coins in milk cartons.  The carton above is a specially made Trick or Treat for UNICEF carton.  But what I remember best is the type of carton shown in the photo below.  These were real milk cartons with a UNICEF band glued around the middle and a slot carved to turn the carton into a bank for collecting money.  In the picture below is Mary Emma Allison, the founder of Trick or Treat for UNICEF, with her children.  Mrs. Allison started Trick or Treat for UNICEF in 1950.   That year they collected $17 for the United Nations Children's Fund.

I was surprised to learn that Trick or Treat for UNICEF is not at all a thing of the past.  Trick or Treat for UNICEF has been ongoing for over sixty years, and now, the little orange milk cartons are just one way to contribute.

"Children (and adults) in the U.S. have collected over $144 million for Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.[5] In 2008, the U.S. Committee for UNICEF introduced mobile phone text message donations as well as a MySpace and Facebook


And of course Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has a website,

Participate Banner

You can still color your own collection box.

I really don't understand why it's been so long since I've heard the words, "Trick or treat reat for UNICEF" at our door.

Trick or Treat for UNICEF is a reminder that one person's  "small" idea can have a big and long-lasting impact on the world. 

About Page Banner

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Another Virginia Lee Burton Moment

After spending a week watching the sun rise over the ocean and listening to the sound of the surf day and night, I received a rude welcome back to reality when we returned home.  The Borough of Chambersburg had perfectly timed their latest street excavation project to coincide with our homecoming.  I don't quite understand why they must dig holes and pave them over, then dig them up again, with such frequency, but the plumber who came to replace our hot water heater, which died when we were away, told me that it's just another example of the way the Borough works. The contractors begged them to let them pave the whole street and be done with it, he said, but the Borough refuses.  All I know is that it wasn't that long ago that they sawed a hole in the street outside my window, dug up the hole, and filled it in.  

No wonder I was having a feeling of deja vu.  It was another Virginia Lee Burton moment. 

Yes, I seem destined to live in the world of Virginia Lee Burton, where there is always lots of construction and digging going on.  I read this about the plot of her picture book, Little House.

The story centers on a house built at the top of a small hill, far out in the country. Her builder decrees that she "may never be sold for gold or silver" but is built sturdy enough to one day see his great-great-grandchildren's great-great-grandchildren living in her. The house watches the seasons pass, and wonders about the lights of the city, which grow ever closer.
Eventually a road is built in front of the house. This is followed by roadside stands, gas stations, and more little houses. Next, the small houses are replaced by tenements and apartments. Streetcars, an elevated railroad, and a subway appear to surround the house. Finally, two gigantic skyscrapers are built—one on each side; now living in the city, the house is sad because she misses being on the small hill in the countryside and that her exterior looks shabby due to no one living in her and the city's environment.

If you look closely, you can see our new "skyscraper," the addition to the hospital, looming behind the truck.

Today is the second day of Project Dig Up and Fill In.  I feel like I am in the midst of some sort of Machine Ballet.  At the moment the digging machine has retreated across the street.

The street cleaner has chosen this moment to make its dance across the stage, though why it would want to clean a street where holes are being dug, I don't know.
And now, a few moments later, the digging machine has returned to dig another hole outside my window.

This hole will be a mate to the one they dug and filled in a little while earlier.

I can always hope that they are making a Zen garden.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Judgment Day

It is always so easy to agree to things months in advance.  Perhaps it's the small extroverted part of myself that steps forward and says the horrible word, "Yes."

The day when I would have to make good on my promise seemed so far in the future.  I thought of it as something like Judgment Day, an event so remotely distant that there was no need to worry about it any time soon.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at my calendar a few weeks ago and realized that the day was not only going to arrive, but it was going to arrive soon.  And it was not actually one day but three!  I had agreed to two author visits at elementary schools and one library reading.

For an introvert, the "author visit" is the stuff that nightmares are made of.  I found verification of this when I came across a site that described the author school visit as "not for the faint of heart."

If anyone was ever faint of heart, it's me.

Nevertheless, I dragged myself to the first elementary school, where I had asked to visit no more than one class at a time, was warned to expect two classes at a time, and arrived to find three classes at a time.  

I couldn't complain.  At least, it wasn't the dreaded "all-school assembly" that I had often found myself in front of during my days of author visits back in the '90's.  And thanks to the helpful school librarian, I came out of the two-hour visit in much better condition than the poor woman in the illustration below.
Visit Number Two was to the library.  Since all I had to do was read my picture book, Grandaddy's Highway, I could face Visit Number Two with a little less dread.  The calm scene below

was what I saw as I looked out from my chair in the special events room.  The children would sit on the floor, the librarian informed me, and the adults would sit in the chairs behind them.  But the children never showed up.  And neither did the adults.  This special event was a non-event.  I was glad that I'd ridden my bicycle five miles through the countryside to get to the library because at least the morning wasn't an entire waste.  I'd gotten in my bike ride.

I had been warned by School Librarian # 1 about School Visit # 2.  "That's our inner city school," she said.   She implied that my presentation might not go over as well with those kids.  So I went home and planned a new presentation.  

I planned to select volunteers to reach into this box full of shredded paper and pull out my writing secrets.  The one below was their favorite, judging by the shrieks.

The inscription on the severed hand says "Write by hand some of the time."  

Judgment Day is over, at least for now.  And I can go back to being an introvert in peace.

An author school visit most likely provided the inspiration for this detail, the last ordeal, from Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgment.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the end of summer

Last weekend was one of those weekends when you know summer is over and fall has arrived, no matter what the calendar says.  The chill in the breeze when we arrived at our cabin last Friday told us that morning swims in the Cowan's Gap Lake had come to an end.  Instead, we went swimming late Friday, on a perfect fall afternoon.  The beach is still open until the end of September.  Yesterday, we almost had the lake to ourselves.   One strong, young swimmer sped up and down the lap lane.  A couple sat in the sun on the beach.

When we woke up to a fifty-two degree morning, we were glad we had already done our swimming.  I was so out of the habit, I forgot to make a fire in the woodstove until it was almost time to go home.  

At home I found more evidence of the end of summer, late blight on most of the tomatoes.  

That meant the end of our tomato crop for this year.

No more sights like the one shown below on my kitchen table.

The kitchen is full of signs of fall, including these butternut squash, harvested a little early because they were growing right beside the sidewalk, and I heard one of the schoolchildren passing by yell out, "What the heck are those?"

Another sign of fall is this summer squash that got lost in the garden until last week and seems to have turned into some sort of mutant.

Maybe it is grooming itself for a part in this movie:

Site Meter