Tuesday, December 25, 2007

All I Want for Christmas is a Working Sump Pump

Merry Christmas!

This morning, I was working on the soup I was planning to take to the potluck I was going to, when I noticed strange sounds coming from the basement. I opened the basement door, turned on the light, looked down, and my worst fears were realized: the basement was flooding. The strange noises were my sump pump trying to turn on.

Yes, it was warm today (34 degrees, just above freezing), and so all of that snow was melting and seeping into my basement. (We've still had a white Christmas -- there's lots of snow still left!)

So, bravely I went down and poked at the sump pump a bit, but to no avail. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. I tried to call for help, but (not surprisingly) had a hard time finding someone. After assessing that the basement was not flooding that quickly, I decided to go to my friends' potluck and deal with it later.

So I went, and had a nice time, but remained preoccupied with worry. Finally I left.

When I returned, the water had advanced enough that I became really worried. Finally, I got hold of the emergency technician on call from the company that usually helps me with these kinds of problems. He was very cheerful, came over, and told me that I was "only" his second call of the day. "I thought I'd get a lot more," he said. "The other was a sump pump too. With all the snow we've had, I thought there'd be a lot more with this problem today."

I really appreciated his cheerful attitude.

Happy is the sound of a working sump pump!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Quakers and Christmas

There was an article in today's paper on Christians who do not celebrate Christmas. Briefly, the reasons some Christians do not celebrate Christmas include: it's now a secular holiday; it has become too commercial; there is not really a Biblical basis for believing we have the right calendar date or that Jesus wanted us to celebrate his earthly birth.

The article listed some Protestant denominations that have had times, at least in the past, of not officially celebrating Christmas, and the Quakers were listed.

While recognizing that the questions of whether Quakers are Christians or are Protestants are themselves contested questions (but let's not get sidetracked with these questions for the moment...): The reason that Quakers didn't/don't officially celebrate Christmas may not be so much for reasons like those summarized above, but probably has to do more with the fact that (most) Quaker Meetings don't "officially" recognize any holidays.

Yet I know that many (most?) Quaker families do celebrate Christmas at home. And some Meetings do mark the occasion in a number of ways (singing Christmas hymns, having a special potluck, maybe having a special Meeting for Worship on Christmas day, though I have seldom seen the latter during my many years among Friends).

So I am curious about Friends' thoughts on this. If you feel so moved, please consider responding to some or all of the following:

  • Does your Meeting do anything special for Christmas? (Any other holidays?) Why or why not?
  • Do you celebrate Christmas at home?
  • If so, do you regard it as a secular/cultural holiday or a religious one? That is, does your way of celebrating it come more from family traditions than from your Quakerism, or vice versa? (I know that Quakers want to say that there is no distinction between their Quaker life and the rest of their life, but those who do not come from Quaker families may engage in Christmas traditions inherited from their non-Quaker families even if they now infuse them with Quakerly meanings).
  • Do any of you hold strictly to a Quaker-inspired practice of not honoring any holidays in any special way, including Christmas? If so, how do you communicate this to family and friends who may expect some participation?
  • If you do celebrate Christmas, what about the way that you celebrate it is most meaningful to you? Or, if you could celebrate Christmas any way you wanted, how would you?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

More Snow, and Huge Piles of Grading!

We've had yet more snow. Some of the Ridges have collapsed into the sidewalks. Since my car is still in the shop getting fixed, I've been doing lots of walking around town, and so I've seen (and walked through) lots of these mini-avalanches.

Meanwhile, we had final exam week this past week. Now I have lots and lots of grading to do.

I'm astonished to realize that Christmas is just three days away!

Needless to say, I'm not ready for it! But I am keeping things simple this year. (I've been forced to, by my busy life, and my having to get along without a car for the past week.)

It's strange how different life feels when I know that the semester is over and the students are gone. A lot of faculty disappear too. Our work is not over -- we have all this grading to do. Nevertheless, everyone suddenly is just gone. Our university shuts down completely for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. I think they even turn the heat way down! Our grades are due just after the new year begins.

I'm seriously considering ignoring grading completely until after Christmas. That will give me a little time to get ready for Christmas, which would be nice.

In case I don't get a chance to write again, I wish my readers Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lots and Lots of Snow

Yes, sure enough, we have been having a snowstorm. I've lived in northern snowy lands for quite a few years now, but I do not think I have ever seen this much snow fall all at once.

As I walked home this evening, I was knee-deep in snow (even though the sidewalks had in fact been plowed several times), and the ridges on the edges of the road were sometimes up to my shoulders (usually 3-4 feet high; sometimes 5 feet).

People were out in the middle of the day trying to make a start on clearing driveways and such. My neighbor had a snow-blower, and came over and did my driveway. With my shovel, I did what snow-blowers cannot handle for both of us (front and back steps). It took me as long to clear the steps and back walk as it took him to use his snow-blower on my driveway! I was really grateful for his help.

But coming home this evening, there was almost no sign of all of our work. Yet it would be so much worse if we had not done what we did then!

We'll see what the official amount turns out to be. It's still snowing.

Tomorrow Final Exams begin. I will walk to work. (Anyway, I already took my car to the shop to get it fixed -- I knew that if I waited until tomorrow morning it might be a real challenge just to get it out!) It's hard to focus on normal life and act as if our dramatically changed landscape of Enormous Snow Mountains is nothing out of the ordinary. But that's how things will be tomorrow. Our students will be exclaiming and we professors will smile at their excitement but give those exams anyway... Our attitudes will say, "this is just how it is here." Life must keep trudging forward at its same relentless pace no matter what! (Sigh.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Another Snowstorm Coming

We are due for a big snowstorm this weekend.

As long as it is light, fluffy snow, I'll be happy.

The only problem is that it may dump two feet by exactly the time I am due to take my car in to finally get all fixed up again.

Well, I can really test my snow tires! And if anything further bad happens, better for it to happen on the way to the shop instead of coming back from its being all spiffed up! (The weather forecast for when I am due to pick it up again is snowless -- at the moment, anyway. These things can change...)

I was wrong about the local newspaper reporting our latest two inches as "trace." It actually said, "none." But I say, "if you can shovel it, it exists."

I did get the Ridge cleared from my friend's driveway. We had warmer temps yesterday, so I took time in the middle of the day to tackle the 2x3 ft ridge of slightly softened icy rocks. First I took a heavy metal garden shovel and broke it all up. Then I shoveled the broken ice chunks away. It took almost an hour.

You know all of that helpful advice to "push not lift" when shoveling snow? Whoever puts out that advice doesn't know what they are talking about. You run out of room to push show aside. You have no choice but to lift it up over the 2-3 ft high snow walls that form along the edge of your driveway, or the 3-4 ft high towers that form at the foot of your driveway.

I really am getting quite the workout! My snow shoveling muscles are, surprisingly, not sore at all any more -- even after yesterday's heavy ice hauling.

When I was in the thick of it, I saw two joggers run past, and I could not help but wonder if they hired people to clear their driveways, or if they used snow blowers. I don't know, of course. And even if so, I don't really blame them.

But even though there are times that my commitment to doing my shoveling myself brings me to tears, and it would be easy for me to hire out this chore, I stick with it for the spiritual and physical value of this kind of honest hard work. If I hired someone to do it, that person would probably use a snow blower. My using my own muscles and effort to do it seems a good way to get exercise. My exercise serves a practical purpose that benefits others besides me. And my doing it this way expends energy in a way that is not contributing to global warming.

What I am also appreciating is the way that I am feeling more in relationship with nature. The demands of the weather carry their own necessity that is indifferent to the other kinds of urgencies that drive my life. I must be more aware of nature. I must try to anticipate and plan for the complexities that the weather may bring.

This is true every winter, but I am more aware this year, in part because we are getting more snow, earlier, and in part because I was already behind in important dimensions of my work, for other reasons, and so the unusual amount of snow has felt like more of a burden than I've let on so far in my postings (in my attempt through writing to cast a positive spin on this dimension of the endless complexity of my life)

So it is nature that determines my exercise schedule now. And I like this. Nature is my coach, giving me different kinds of workouts each time. The onset of cold weather is initially hard to bear, but there is nothing like getting out in it and working hard to help you to reckon with it, adjust to it, make peace with it. My spirit rises to the challenge, and I am starting to feel like a better person: more aligned with the simple but compelling realities of nature and weather.

This is why I love living in a cold northern land. Life really does get harder in the winter, but reckoning with this is good for me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


I know it's not officially winter yet, but nevertheless, winter is the theme of today's posting.

Like I mentioned last time, my winter exercise program is in full swing. Never mind that slippery sidewalks make walking and running treacherous -- no need for them anyway, because it is snow shoveling season, off to an early and impressive start this year! Nearly every day I go out at least once to work on the fine artistry of maintaining the clearness of my driveway (and this week, the driveway of a friend as well who is away for the week).

So, since I wrote last time: first we had wet heavy snow.

Then we had medium consistency snow, but I couldn't get to it right away (except I had the amazing foresight to at least clear the Snowplow Ridges before work), and it melted a bit during the day and then refroze. So it was a two-inch-thick slab that I had to deal with when I came home from work that day (yesterday? Yes, yesterday). It wasn't rock-solid, thank goodness. It had kind of a porous texture. It broke in chunks and was modestly heavy but not as bad as it could have been. It was very good that I had cleared the Snowplow Ridges because they would have been really bad. This I know experimentally, because today I tried to tackle the Ridges in my friend's driveway and finally gave up. (I'll try again tomorrow.)

Today we had another two inches of light fluffy snow! After struggling with my friend's Ridges and giving up (I did clear the driveway, just not the Ridges), it was a joy to come home to my own driveway because all I had to deal with here was the two new inches of light fluffy snow.

According to today's local paper, our total snowfall this season has been 22.5 inches already (not counting today's 2 inches, which they will probably record as "trace").

Meanwhile, I've been trying to finish grading one more set of papers (before finals), and really want to get them back to the students tomorrow (the last day of classes). I imagine myself facing my class and saying, "I tried, but it was the shoveling of driveways that defeated me." But that would be pathetic, so I'll probably be up late tonight...

Meanwhile, I got my new snow tires put on my car today. When they were ready, it had started to snow again, so I got to test them and see if they really make a difference. I think they do. I did feel a bit more secure. And it wasn't as expensive as I had thought, because there was a special sale: buy three, get one free (I'm not kidding)!

These happy surprises are so nice! I've been finding life very hard lately, for a lot of reasons, and so I find myself appreciating such happy surprises even more than usual.

I'm gaining insight into my main spiritual struggle, and so I probably will be writing more about that soon.

But for now, I have papers to grade and snow to shovel!

Thursday, December 06, 2007


The after-effects of my mishap on Friday have been interesting. Physically, I have felt fine; psychologically I have felt far more shaken up than I expected to feel.

Lots of people have suggested I get snow tires. I've gotten along for years living in snowy lands without them, but this is a different car, and maybe it just doesn't handle as well on snow as my previous one did. So I do have snow tires on order.

And meanwhile my life has been further complicated now by all that is involved with trying to get my car fixed up again.

And we have gotten a lot of snow. So my winter exercise program of shoveling my driveway has begun! It's a 30-60 minute workout, depending on the amount and consistency of the snow. Monday's snow was heavy "igloo-building" snow -- the kind you can carve into blocks. It's a fun consistency, but heavy to dig out. Plus we got a lot that day.

Then I had two follow-up powdery snowfalls to shovel. Those are downright fun. When the snow is light and fluffy, you almost can dance while you shovel.

The shoveling, oddly, has been about all that I have been able to handle lately. Oh, and I have been going to class and teaching, and doing a surprisingly fine job, mostly. And I've kept up with quiz grading and the bare minimum of absolutely urgent tasks.

Then I come home with great ambitions to practice music and then put in a few more hours of grading and other catching up before going to bed, but last night I suddenly could not do anything.

So I told myself I had to do something frivolous and fun at least, to cheer myself up.

So I pulled out a book from my childhood: on string figures. And I ended up staying up much too late training myself to do again all of these string figures I used to be able to make as a child.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, I was in a much better mood today and got a lot done.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bad Faith, or Bad Luck?

My latest adventure: driving back from a performance on a snowy night (Friday night), my car hit a patch of ice and went spinning off the road, and into a ditch. I live where it snows a lot, and so I am used to driving in these conditions. I was going slowly and carefully. It is probably because I was going slowly and carefully that things were not worse. As it was, I was not injured, and the car was just dented and scratched up a bit.

It could have been much worse. If there had been other traffic, cars most likely would have hit each other. If other traffic had been going too fast, there surely would have been injuries. If I had been going faster, my car would have rolled instead of just slid into the rather steep and deep ditch I slid into. In retrospect, I realize that I am very lucky.

But at the time, during that split second when I was watching disaster coming straight at me, and I didn't know how exactly this all was going to end, and there was absolutely nothing more I could do but wait for the rest of the story to play out, my life didn't flash before my eyes. Instead, I found myself (a quiet, gentle soul, usually) yelling "No!" in fierce protestation, with an emotion more like anger than anything else.

Here was what I was feeling: I try so hard to do the right thing. I try to live with awareness, compassion, respect, and care. So why does my life feel like it is spinning out of control? It was an existential moment.

Referring back to a comment on one of my recent posts, am I living in Sartre's "bad faith"?

Or was this just a moment of bad luck? (It does bring new problems that I do not feel I have chosen.)

Or was this a moment of good luck? (It could have been so much worse! As it is now, the problems this creates for me are all solvable and finite in duration. I was not injured, and some day my car will be all fixed up again -- this was not an event that would leave lasting bad effects. In fact, having this story in my history will help me respond with more effective compassion and reassurance to others who experience similar situations.)

Most haunting to me is this: sometimes I have powerful dreams, and those dreams reflect, in highly symbolic form, aspects of my normal waking life. Reflecting on those dreams gives me insight into my life.

This is the reason this was such an existential experience for me. It is soul-shaking to find a kind of metaphor my dreams often employ suddenly erupting into real life. So I want to read the symbolism of this event like I read dreams. But its happening in real life makes it seem more urgent than ever.

What message am I to take from this?