December 2005

Colorful facade

One cool feature on my new laptop is a digital media slot, which means I can plug my digicam’s memory stick directly into my computer. Although I never used to complain about having to use a USB cable to dump pictures from camera to (old) laptop, now that I don’t need that cable, I’m wondering how I survived so long without the ability to download pictures directly from camera to laptop.

Today’s picture is nothing special: just a quick snapshot of Cool Jewels’ freshly painted Main Street facade. But I am loving the fact that I didn’t need a cable to transfer this pic from camera to laptop…and thanks to my new laptop’s brand-new battery, I didn’t need a pesky power cord for my morning emailing, blogging, and web-surfing. When you have a brand-new toy, even simple pleasures seem amazing. How did I survive so long without the ability to live online cord-free?

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Best of 2005. I don’t know if this is my “best” photo from the past year…but it’s certainly one of my all-time favorites. Taking good pictures on a good day in Keene is child’s play: aim your camera and shoot. If I take a lot of alluring pictures, that’s in large part because I live in a particularly photogenic town…and I carry my camera everywhere, taking at least a handful of pictures everyday.

Although I didn’t list in my Favorite Five countdown the post in which this photo originally appeared, it is one of my favorite Keene-related blog-entries, telling as it does the story of how I came to teach and then live here. Best of all, if you do a Google search for prettiest town on earth, my post is first…and if you do a Google search for prettiest town in America, my post about little ol’ Keene is second, bested only by the Chamber of Commerce site for Woodstock, Vermont.

So, when it comes to asserting America’s prettiest town, who are you going to believe: a Chamber of Commerce site hawking the tourist virtues of some town in Vermont, or an independent, no-strings-attached site written by someone who chronicles her town in all weathers, day in and day out? While you decide for yourself whose town in the fairest of them all, I’ll remain steadfast in my belief that an image of a picture-perfect white church spire nestled in white crabapple blossoms against a spring-blue sky is the best it gets in 2005 or any other year.

Where the women are strong

Yesterday Gary and I took a quick trip to Northampton, MA where we met A (not her real initial) for pasta and margaritas. The last time I was in Northampton, Leslee and I were disappointed by weak margaritas. I can’t vouch for the strength of Northampton coffee, but I do know that strong women occasionally enjoy strong beverages, so I’m happy to report that yesterday’s quest for a passable margarita ended happily at La Cazuela Mexican restaurant and tequila bar. Although the margarita-and-a-half I shared with Gary last night didn’t compare with the margarita-and-a-half I shared with Leslee in Salem in October, last night’s marg wasn’t a bad way to end a leisurely afternoon spent shopping, tea-sipping, and strolling.

I’m typing these words on my new laptop, which I bought (with Gary’s technical assistance) on Tuesday night. It’s been nearly a year since Reggie removed several keys from my aging and quirky-as-hell laptop, so I was long overdue for either a repair or a replacement. Since I was a Good Girl this year, Santa stuffed my stocking with some cash: thanks, Mom & Dad! So for the first time ever, I used this money to make a major expediture for Yours Truly. Although this isn’t my first laptop, it’s my first new laptop, my old one having been inherited from my ex-husband before we divorced. Fittingly enough, my new laptop cost as much as the lute I’d bought my ex three Christmases ago: somehow, I think it’s significant that I’ve moved from buying new loves for old lovers to buying the high-tech tools I need to support myself, thank you.

So today I’m switching back and forth between two laptops, old and new. The new one has all its keys, a functional battery, and plenty of bells and whistles I haven’t yet explored, including a remote that I never knew I needed. The old laptop has all my documents and programs, including msWord…the install CDs for which, I’ve recently discovered, I did not inherit from my ex in our divorce. So today I’ll be pumping even more money into the US economy as I move from looking for the perfect margarita to looking for the perfect educational-discounted software package, the perfect laptop case, and all the other accessories and accoutrements a strong woman needs to carry and tend to her bells and whistles. It takes a strong credit card to keep a strong woman satisfied…and after all the shopping’s done, both Gary and I will probably need another margarita-and-a-half (or two!) to fortify our strong selves.

Yesterday was my second anniversary (blogiversary?) here at Hoarded Ordinaries: yes, it’s been two years and a day since I posted my first tentative blog entry on December 27, 2003.

This past year has been an eventful one in my blog-life, with me making many face-to-face connections with bloggers whose lives I’ve read: Beth and Ivy in Peterborough, NH in January; two overlapping bands of bloggers in New York City in February and Cambridge, MA in May; Leslee, Rachel, and Andi (now Soen Joon!) in Northampton, MA in April; Fred and Tsuga in Floyd County, VA in July; and that girl in New York City in October. Yes, it’s been a wide-roaming year here at Hoarded Ordinaries…and that’s not counting summer trips to see Gary in Findlay, OH or my aunt in Washington, DC.

When I first started Hoarded Ordinaries two years and a day ago, I envisioned myself writing a place blog that would focus on the human and natural history of my adopted home here in Keene, NH. Looking back over those two years and a day, I see my place blog is movable, focusing on Keene when I’m here and other places when I’m not.

In the spirit of last year’s first blogiversary post, here are my five favorite posts from 2005, listed in order of appearance.

Keep Out, January 23, 2005. I wrote a post about the boundaries bloggers do or don’t place around their personal lives…and what resulted was a lively comment exchange on the question of how much self-disclosure is too much. What I find interesting in retrospect is how Hoarded Ordinaries quickly morphed from being a “place blog” into being a “kinda place, kinda personal, kinda literary blog.” I’m still unsure how to categorize HO…but since I’m still here blogging two years and a day after starting, I must be doing something right, categories be damned.

Conspicuous Projection, February 5, 2005. Of my various posts on consumer culture featuing reflective shots of Yours Truly, this one from the Pheasant Lane Mall in Nashua, NH is my favorite (with my March 15th post on Ikea being a close second). I’m particularly fond of the blind reflective shots I captured on an assortment of shiny household items in the mall’s Target store as well as a fuzzy picture of a photogenic baby in a nearby portrait studio.

The art of possibility, February 20, 2005. This post (along with the companion piece Why not “yes”?) summarizes in word and image a whirlwind trip to New York City to see the Gates in Central Park with a merry band of blog-buds. It was a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience seeing installation art with “virtual strangers” turned friends, and I cherish these two cyber-souvenirs because of that.

Aftershock, April 7, 2005. Illustrated with more reflective shots, this post checked my emotional pulse six months after my divorce. Try as I might to insist that HO is nothing more than a place blog, some of my favorite posts are intimately personal. So sue me.

Hunger, April 17, 2005. When I wrote this post about my lean and hungry years in Boston using an image of the Irish Famine Memorial as a central metaphor, I had no idea the essay would garner such positive comments. In my mind, this was another self-centered musing about time and place…but now that I re-visit it as a reader, I can see why it resonated.

I’m not sure what it says that my five favorite posts from 2005 come from the first four months of the year. Perhaps those first four months were a particularly fertile time for my writerly imagination, or perhaps these “older” posts seem more seasoned and properly ripened than relatively newer ones. In recent months, I’ve suspected the obligations of a particularly weighty semester interfered with my ability to devote the kind of attention I feel good writing demands: at times over recent months, I’ve felt I’ve had too many days where a hurriedly posted picture substituted for “real” writing. But maybe 2005 isn’t yet seasoned and ripe enough for me to be a real judge. Maybe I have to wait another two years and a day to tell how resonant my words and accompanying images truly are.

Empty milkweed pods

In the lazy aftermath of this weekend’s holiday festivities, here is a lone image of empty milkweed pods, snapped along the Ashuelot River here in Keene last week. (Click on the image for an enlarged version.)

If you’re looking for something good to read while I continue this weekend’s Serious Napping, be sure to check out last week’s “Finding Home” posts on Qarrtsiluni: a cartoon by Diogenes, a poem by Patry Francis, and a photo by Yours Truly. Enjoy!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then two photos should be worth two thousand. I’ve come to rely on Photo Friday to inspire my quick ‘n’ easy week-ending blog posts. Give me a topic, I slap up a picture, and I’m outta here: bada bing, bada boom.

Unfortunately, today there’s no new Photo Friday topic, leaving lazy bloggers like me without the usual inspirational crutch. So today I decided to slap up two random photos that I took the morning after the big snowstorm that buried my car a couple weeks ago. When you take photos nearly every day, you end up blogging only a portion of those pix: some are too odd, quirky, or random to make the blog-cut, even if they’re shots you personally like. Yes, at some future point I might have need for a picture of a picnic table buried in snow or a rocking horse looking forlornly out a downtown shop window. But for now, these two pix are the makings for a quickie Friday blog post. Having slapped them up, folks, I’m outta here for the holiday: bada bing, bada boom to you and yours.

    PS: One of the cool things about having a blog-bud like Sheelzebub (aka Pinko Feminist Hellcat) is when you see a news story that infuriates you in more ways than you can count, you can forward it to the Hellcat and she’ll express your outrage better than you could. Yes, folks, both racism and sexism are alive in New Hampshire: don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

If you’re wondering how a born-again Buddhist Transcendentalist Zen Mama celebrates the winter solstice, I’ll tell you how: by buying and setting up a Christmas tree right next to her Buddhist meditation altar. (Click any of today’s pictures for an enlarged version.)

As if cards proclaiming “Happy Holidays!” weren’t enough of an abomination, members of the Religious Right would have a collective coronary if they could see my apartment. I’ve already blogged my oddly ecumenical altar with its mix of Buddhist and Christian iconography. After having waited too long last year to buy a proper Christmas tree, this year I wanted to do up the season right. ‘Tis the season, after all.

As I child, I always loved setting up my parents’ shabby old aluminum Christmas tree, the kind of tree that was an embarrassment when I was a teenager but now is a retro collector’s item. When I was married, my ex-husband and I typically didn’t set-up a Christmas tree, either visiting family for the holidays or staying in New England to celebrate in non-decorated Zen fashion. When I was married, my husband didn’t like having a Christmas tree because of the Christian (and commercial) baggage he associated with Christmas. But I don’t have similar issues. I have nothing but good memories of Christmas past, and I seem to have found my own personal peace as both a non-practicing Christian and a practicing non-Buddhist. (Think about that for a moment, and it just might make sense.)

So excuse me if I don’t apologize for my eclectic taste in holiday decor. If you’re offended by the sight of Buddha meditating alongside a Christmas tree, a crucifix adorned with Tibetan prayer flags, or a Santa stocking hung within sight of a bronze Buddha bookend and Kwan Seum Bosal tapestry, you can move along now, thank you. Here at my inn, there’s room a-plenty for the baby Jesus, Buddha, Kwan Seum Bosal, Santa, and any other spiritual aspirant looking for a place to stay. Why settle for just one Happy Holiday when you can have Happy Buddha-days in abundance?

Colony Mill

If you stand in just the right spot in the parking lot at the Colony Mill Marketplace here in Keene, a parking lot lamppost towers almost as impressively as does the old smokestack, a remnant from the building’s previous incarnation as the Faulkner and Colony textile mill.

Yes, I went shopping at a mall yesterday, and although Colony Mill is smaller, quainter, and filled with funkier shops than the big malls in larger cities, the place was still swarmed with holiday shoppers. The parking lot at Colony Mill is large by New England standards, and I had to park in the paved equivalent of the back forty. So I had plenty of opportunity to ponder the towering smokestack and lampposts as I walked the block or so from my car…and even still, against my better judgment, I turned my back on a clear-skied day to shop inside rather than walk outside. Yes, Virginia…it’s a scary time of year.

    I failed to mention in yesterday’s post that there’s still time to contribute to the current qarrtsiluni theme, “Finding Home”; see the site’s sidebar for contribution guidelines.

Now that I’ve submitted grades at Keene State, I can attend to the various and sundry tasks that have fallen by the wayside while I was under the grading gun. Last night, I enjoyed a luxurious (for me) night off, going to a thronged bookstore to buy a copy of Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel (recommended by the Misanthrope, Maria, and others). I walked away instead with Philip and Carol Zaleski’s Prayer: A History. It’s a book I’d not heard of, but it was in the “Featured” section and thus became my Consolation Prize after I found an empty spot on the shelf where Smiley’s book was listed as living.

One thing I sorely miss while under the grading gun is the simple pleasure of curling up with a good book (and the Zaleskis’ book is good in a quirkily “gee whiz” kind of way: just my style). If you’re the type who pays attention to my blog sidebar, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t updated my “Bookshelf” since August, before fall semester began. I’ve been reading in an intermittent, catch-as-catch-can fashion, but I haven’t been posting reviews. So in addition to wanting to tell you more about this current book, I want over break to catch up with the books I’ve finished, partly because I’ve read some good books and partly as proof to myself that I can manage to make time for a Life of the Mind while teaching a brimming courseload.

There are other things I’ve been meaning to tell you. The collaborative literary blog qarrtsiluni is now featuring contributions on the December theme “Finding Home,” edited by Tom Montag and Yours Truly. Be sure to check out Dale’s meditation on the theme as well as a rapturous poem by Karl Elder.

In other news, the blogger formerly known as Andi is back, and blogging, under her Buddhist name Soen Joon. One robe, one bowl is an occasional blog written from a Korean temple, where Soen Joon is training as a novice nun and finding time to compose hand-written essays which she then transcribes on a communal computer. Like Thomas Merton, who entered a contemplative monastery to silence his inner narrative voice, Soen Joon is finding that the writer’s eye never sleeps, not even within the four walls of her new freedom. Welcome back to the blogosphere, Soen Joon: it’s a pleasure to meet you.

And elsewhere in the spiritual blogosphere, Rachel announced not-so-recently the planning of a interfaith blog conference. Progressive Faith BlogCon is the collaborative effort of Rachel, Christian Liberal Thurman Hart, and other progressively spiritual blog-types. If you’re interested in participating in the conference, which is tentatively scheduled for New York City in March, be sure to register for more information.

And more immediately, the ecumenical meditators at 100 days have reached the end of our 100-day commitment to daily meditation practice and have entered Over Time. We’ll be starting another 100-day round of daily meditation on January 1st and continue to practice in the interim. Please feel free to join our online practice community. Beginners and meditators from all faiths and traditions are always welcome, and every day you re-commit yourself to practice is a Number 1 Day.

Yes, it’s a good day to be done with grading, back to reading and meditating and catching up around the blogosphere. Welcome back, Self, and pleased to meet you.

Fisk Quad

Today I have two reasons to shout “Woo-hoo” over the snowy quadrangle at Keene State College. First, I’ve turned in the grades I was toiling over all weekend. Although I still have two online classes that run through Friday, that grading load shouldn’t be as daunting as the pile of portfolios submitted last week by my face-to-face Essay Writing and Expository Writing students.

Second, for the second day in a row, Reggie is markedly better, keeping down small, frequently administered doses of both water and food. So here’s hoping whatever bug was bothering him was temporary and all-but-eliminated.

And yes, the above photo of Fiske Quad shows from a different angle my favorite on-campus tree. Although I did end up failing a couple students this semester, I don’t feel nearly as hopeless about my teaching as I did a couple weeks ago, on the other side of all this grading. As I was reading those Essay Writing and Expository Writing portfolios, I was thinking (as I always do) about how to improve both classes the next time around: here’s how I’d re-word my assignments or tweak my grading policies. And as I actually saw progress over the course of the semester in the quality of prose produced by several students, expecially those in my Expository Writing class, I realized that maybe I really didn’t fail this semester, at least not entirely.

So I guess that’s three reasons to shout “Woo-hoo!” over the snowy quadrangle at Keene State College. And after spending my entire weekend (and then some) grading, I’m taking the afternoon off. Woo-hoo indeed!

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