November 2008


Gloves

If you happened to misplace a pair of fuzzy-cuffed black gloves while in Newton sometime this weekend, as of this morning they were waiting for you at the Village Bank ATM in Waban Square.

Tree shadow on street

I can easily imagine misplacing my gloves while fumbling with cash, keys, and wallet at an outdoor ATM on a frigid weekend…but I can’t imagine going far without them. In only a matter of minutes, I think, my fingers would loudly let me know that I’d left something important behind. But then again, maybe the unfortunate owner of these lost gloves owns several pair. Maybe by the time she got back to her car, she grabbed the second pair she keeps there, or the third pair she keeps in her coat, or a fourth pair she keeps in her purse. Or maybe in the glove-rich town of Newton, she’s found that matched pairs grow on trees.

I’m serious about my multiple-pair theory because I do own about a half-dozen (at least) pairs of gloves, and I do parse them out so I’m almost never without a pair close at hand (pun intended). Over the years, I’ve learned to stock up on new gloves in the spring, when stores sell them at deep discount, then I stick them in the pockets of every coat I own. I stick the rest in a ragtag bag of winter wear I keep stashed in the closet over the summer, then right about now I transfer that bag to my car in case I ever find myself stranded and in need of an extra hat, scarf, or mismatched pair of mittens. You never know. When it comes to gloves and other cold-weather wear, I definitely subscribe to my mother’s philosophy that it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

Make way for turkeys

In Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book Make Way for Ducklings, a kindly Boston police officer named Michael stops Beacon Hill traffic so a family of ducklings can waddle from the Charles River to the Public Garden. In Newton this afternoon, an anonymous driver in a Lexus pulled out to block traffic on Dedham Street so a largish flock of wild turkeys could cross unmolested.

Dedham Street is a highly trafficked suburban thoroughfare, Boston-area drivers can’t always be trusted to leave you unmolested, and it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving. The word “overconfident” (or even “oblivious”) doesn’t come close to describing these birds’ attitude.

Apologies for the poor quality of today’s image, but I hadn’t planned to be shooting wildlife pictures on the way home from running Saturday errands. Click here if you want some better images of an impromptu turkey crossing.

Table with tapas

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Food, so here’s a rerun of the “table with tapas” shot I blogged after my birthday in January.

Table with a view

Although I have more than a month before my next birthday, I’ve started to think about what I want to do to celebrate the Big 4-0 this year. Interestingly, I can’t think of anything I want to splurge on. It isn’t that I don’t want to celebrate a milestone that some women find depressing; instead, I find myself so grateful for the metaphorical full plate that is my life, I can’t think of anything I want that I don’t already have.

In my Zen school, we sometimes use the term “enough-mind” to describe the sense of satisfaction you feel when things are, as Goldilocks would say, “just right.” “Enough-mind” doesn’t feed the extremes of starving or splurging; “enough-mind” pushes away from the table, satisfied, at precisely the moment it feels full, not stuffed. “Enough-mind fish never touches the hook” is one of the idiomatic phrases Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say. If you have a mindset of having “enough,” you won’t be tempted by even the most alluring bait. If you are content with what you have, you won’t swallow anything hook, line, and sinker.

Ambience

In the days immediately after my divorce, I experienced a strange thrill of satisfaction whenever I went grocery shopping. The simple act of filling my cart with food, paying for it with money I myself had earned, and then unpacking it into my own refrigerator, shelves, and cupboards felt like an unimaginable luxury. What richness there is, I thought, in having a week’s worth of food close at hand, even if that food is something as plain Jane as oatmeal.

Interestingly, I’ve not lost that sense of awed wonder in the four years since my divorce: I still feel amply and wonderfully blessed when I come home from the grocery store. Last night, as I made my weekly commute between Keene and Newton, I arrived with groceries: enough food to last the weekend and week. J and I have planned a quiet Thanksgiving: nothing fancy, just enough. It feels good to know how much your metaphorical larder can hold; having stocked that, you need nothing else. Enough is enough, and sometimes that’s very good indeed.

More evening wear

I wonder what Frank’s daughters think about the latest piece of evening wear on display at Miranda’s Verandah.

Alien eyes

It was brutally cold and windy when I walked Reggie this morning, with a temperature in the low-20s and a wind-chill of 10 degrees. Only last week, temperatures were in the almost tropical 50s, so my body feels dazed and disoriented, having lost an entire season over the course of a weekend. What happened to autumn?

Alien eyes

It was brutally cold and windy when I walked Reggie this morning, and the glowing window reflections I call alien eyes were out in full force: a coincidence? Might an overnight invasion of extraterrestrials explain a sudden shift of weather, ET and his buddies tampering with the time/space continuum so we went, meteorologically speaking, from mid-November to early January in the blink of an (alien) eye?

There’s definitely something odd afoot in Keene, where temperatures have plummeted and the alien eyes, no longer content to hang out on walls, are starting to take to the streets. Take me to your heater!

Alien eyes

Crabapples

Today during my lunch-hour, I walked through the brisk blue over to the Keene State athletic fields, where the home team plays. It’s not a long walk there and back, just an illusion of escape from my office, paper piles, and to-do list. A welcome midday reprieve.

This way

We’ve reached that point in the semester when things are heating up for my students. Next week is Thanksgiving, when everyone’s mind is elsewhere, then we return from the holiday to find it’s the last week of the semester, with everything due or almost due. My first-year and intermediate writing students’ essay portfolios are due during finals week, which is the week after we come back from Thanksgiving, so right now is when I start to sound positively maternal in my pedagogical nagging: “I’m telling you: once we get back from Thanksgiving, everything will go by really quickly. You want to be working on your papers NOW because you won’t believe how busy things will be later on.”

My intermediate writing students know this. Buried somewhere in the foggy recesses of memory is a vague recollection of last year: “Oh, yeah. Last year, I vowed not to leave everything until the last minute. Last year, I couldn’t believe how quickly the semester was over after we got back from Thanksgiving.” But my first-year students haven’t been up this mountain before. They see that their essay portfolios are due in December and think that’s a month away. They’ve never experienced the avalanche-like tumble that is the transition from late November to early December. They don’t know that time itself speeds up at semester’s end, with one’s day-planner operating like a car’s passenger-side mirror: “Deadlines in this calendar are sooner than they appear.”

Walk this way

Because I know the way time warps at the end of an academic semester–and because I know how fond college students are of procrastinating–now is the time of year when my pedagogical nagging gets more emphatic. Last week, I returned essay drafts with constructive comments and the cold, direct threat of a projected grade: “If you keep working on this project at your current rate, you’re going to get a D.” For the past twelve weeks, I’ve played Good Cop, encouraging my students with motivational promises: “You can do it! Keep writing!” Now that we’ve almost rounded the corner to Thanksgiving, I’ve morphed into Bad Cop, trading my carrot for a stick as I “remind” students of the looming deadline that is to come.

I don’t like playing Bad Cop: I don’t like using my grading pen as a tool of intimidation. But as someone who is, myself, prone to procrastination, I realize some of us need the tough love of a radical wake-up call. When gentle nudges and whispers don’t work, you sometimes need to grab Sleeping Beauty by the collar and give ‘er a good shake. Already, I’ve had several students approach me about their projected grade: “Thanks for being honest: I needed that.” Only the next few weeks will tell if my under-performing students step up to the plate and pull out a come-from-behind win in the bottom of the ninth. But on days when I’d far prefer to be walking in the brisk blue than staying inside reading papers, I realize that a good teacher, like a good coach, sometimes has to play Bad Cop along with the Good.

Which way the wind is blowing

January isn’t the only month that is two-faced. After regaling us with weeks of warm, crystal-bright days, November showed her teeth this weekend as the weather turned cold and windy. A lazy wind doesn’t take the time to blow around you; instead, it blows right through you. This weekend’s winds were a foretaste of a lazy season to come.

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