Blue Blazes

Is it me? Man, it feels hot! As I’ve written about before, one of the reasons I moved to Virginia from Massachusetts was for the weather. I don’t like cold and I love the heat but man, it’s been hot here lately. When I came here in the summer of 2012 I relished the 90 degree days. I’d compare temperatures on my Yahoo Weather app and then call my sisters back in New England and ask them with stifled laughter if they were chilly. There were fifty 90 plus degree days that year and I rejoiced. So far this year there have been 52 and I’m uncomfortable.

Is it me? What’s different this year? Is it because 2013 and 2014 weren’t as hot? Did my Boston bred body reboot? These last couple of days, I thought my car thermometer was broken because it read 90 every damn time of the day and night. That was until yesterday when it read 93. And today it read 95!  I was actually annoyed to see a group of high-school students, during only the second day of the new school year, practicing band OUTSIDE, laughing and dancing. How dare they look fresh as little daisies while I look like a wilted brown-eyed susan, bent over in the heat.  And I’m tired of seeing skinny, good-looking young women in cute sundresses and Michael Kors sandals. I need for them to need to cover up.

Every morning for what seems like a month, as I sip my morning coffee (ice coffee), I hear the words “hazy, hot and humid” coming from the local TV meteorologist. I’ll give it to her, she has tried to change it up a bit lately by using expressions like, “trending above normal” and “summer continues” but we all know it just means it’s hot as hell. As a matter of fact, there was a fire in a field nearby a couple of days ago and the combination of the heat and red glow made me wonder if I’d slipped, bumped my head and now… Anyway, I’m not tolerating it well. I feel as if someone soaked a lead x-ray apron in water and threw it on my chest. The only consolation is that I’m not the only one. I’ve seen other folks huffing and puffing as they push grocery carts to their cars in supermarket parking lots under the blazing sun. And I was behind a man in FedEx today whose shirt back was completely wet with sweat even though the AC was on full blast. Earlier this afternoon,  I was stopped by the neighborhood dog walker who told me he’d never understood the term “hot as blue blazes” until today. Speaking of the neighborhood, I’m just moving in this week, this incredibly hot week, and three of my boxes collapsed  from the sweat on my hands. I’ve already written off the 3 new neighbors who asked, “Is it hot enough for ya?”

The forecast is for cooling in the next few days, a quick change which is good, I guess.  I thought I’d remembered there being a transitional period in August, a cooling off period, a winding down time between pool days and apple picking days. But that’s probably a memory created by classroom posters. When I was in elementary school I more than likely I went to the first day in shorts gratefully washed by my mother just like every other kid in my grade. So, right now I’ll wait with heavy, congested breath for the cold front I hear tell is about to pass through. Now watch, I’ll post this and tomorrow I’ll be looking for my sweater.

How about where you are? Has it been devilish hot where you live? Do you see a change in recent weather patterns?

Summer Meditation: Notes From the Road

 

jeep-218956_640It’s sunrise and I’m on Route 95 headed toward Richmond. The early sunshine works its way through thick bands of pine and maple trees along the highway. Puffy clouds sit static behind the green backdrop. I’m glad to be on my way further down south from Virginia. This visit to my cousin in Raleigh means I get to explore what I’m told is the “real south” which is what I’ve been trying to do since I moved two years ago. Funny, when I lived in Boston I thought northern Virginia was the real south but apparently Richmond is a dividing line, it’s history as the Confederate capital still having significance.

I’ve been to Atlanta and Myrtle Beach but as I enter the city of Richmond it feels different. I can’t help wondering what this landscape looked like 150 years ago. Did the sun penetrate the foliage then as it does now when soldiers stood between the trees trying to detect the blue or the gray of the perceived enemy? Did any of my people run this route on their way from confederate North Carolina to the contraband camps in Alexandria where I live now? I see long swaths of grass between mighty trees. Were they part of battlefields? As I pass by I’m thinking about all those who might have been left lying out there. What a time that must have been! Were the issues of the Civil War clear-cut back then to the citizenry of both sides or did they seem as confused as the ones we wrestle with now; war, conflict, ideology?

I exit onto Route 85 and into North Carolina. The cops are less visible than on the Virginia roads. Are they waiting til they have a good breakfast of grits and eggs before starting their patrols? Old time asphalt reverberates and rattles my soul along with my wheels. I see a sign for Ace Hardware and Gun Store. Hills, valleys and pickup trucks. No helmets needed by the Harley riders here. Cigs three dollars a pack and a speed limit of whatever you can bear. Ghosts of tobacco plantations, dusty hills, slave-owning forefathers but license plates that only mention Kitty Hawk. Places like Creedmoor and Falls Lake; Ruin Creek, Nutbush Creek, and Bullsville inhabit this two lane stretch. I roll down the window a bit to smell the air. It’s hot and humid just the way I like and aromatic with bellflowers and jewelweed in full bloom. I know this place’s unsettling and violent history but like many folks, I still find the scenery beautiful and somehow peaceful.

I turn off the highway just outside Raleigh onto the Triangle Expressway. It’s a big, newly paved road dotted with the shiny office buildings of tech companies. I start looking for my cousin’s subdivision. There are so many of them here that have replaced old farms although, come to think of it, it’s the same in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I find the “Springwell” community and pull in. (All the subdivision around here are named.) I’m looking forward to the lilt in my cousin’s speech and his traditional southern hospitality. I hear there are only three Starbucks in these parts but that’s ok because I’m ready to try something else.

 

Winter Meditation: Tribes-Trying to Feel Connected

IMG_2285I wrote in my last post about how we cling to the tendency to divide into tribes and what I image a world wide tribe would look like. It was an optimistic post bordering on naive.  It’s a subject that’s important to me because I was brought up without a sense of being part of a specific population so I think a lot about who and how people form social groups.

I want to begin by talking about the positive aspects of the way I grew up. I never felt I was forced to have an alliance to any group, clan, or other homogeneous body and there’s a certain freedom in that. I always felt removed from the bubble of ethnocentricity. That can be beneficial. As Fr. Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation explains in the discussion of his  Second Stage of Spiritual Development,

“At Stage Two, your concern is to look good outside. Your concern with pleasing the neighborhood, the village, your religion, or your kind of folks becomes such a way of life that you get very practiced at hiding or disguising any contrary evidence. That’s why it is so dangerous… Your whole identity becomes defending your external behavior as more moral than other people, and defending your family, your community, your race, your church or temple or mosque, your nation as superior to others.”

So I was spared that kind of “tribal thinking” and that’s a good thing. I’m more apt to interpret the clan affiliation of individuals in a global context. It also allowed me to be more objective about human behavior. I could observe it without feeling too invested to be objective. I think the reason I studied journalism was to learn how to write social commentary that was as unbiased as possible. I’m glad and grateful for that.

The downside was that kind of “otherness” made for a sometimes lonely, always complicated  upbringing and personhood. It’s taken me up to this, the third trimester of my life, to internalize that humans are social beings and I’ve come to truly believe that we’re all connected in The One. But I was brought up divorced from the cultural group that I would naturally have been a part of, the African American community, so my socialization within it was cut off. I was disconnected and because of the way American society was when I was growing up, I couldn’t feel part of any white social group. Those groups saw me as part of the separate black world. On the other hand, I had a parent who told me that I wasn’t part of that community so it was hard for me to know where my place actually was. Eventually, I came to feel that my place was totally “outside”. My saving grace was that I’m naturally an introvert and need a lot of solitude anyway so isolation wasn’t completely intolerable to me. But still we all have an intrinsic need to feel connected to others. My feeling of being an outsider is also why its been hard for me to practice compassion (I posted about this in Back To The Bow) and conversely seeking connection is what’s made it so important to me.

My mother, may her soul rest in peace, I understand her rationale, I absolutely do. She grew up in a time when institutional racism wasn’t even questioned and she had the desire and the intelligence to do so much. She wanted to break out of the confines that were dictated by racism but felt as if she couldn’t in the life she was born to, so she ran. She ran from the south, from the memory of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, Reconstruction and the Great Migration. She had to reinvent herself down to the cellular level to excise all those memories. She was wasn’t unique. In his book How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston chronicled the phenomenon in other African Americans and even said at one point,  “..lots of black people have had the desire to escape their blackness.” But my mother went so much further than that. She was an African American Jake Gatsby. She reinvented where she was born. She reinvented her spirituality. She changed whatever she felt she needed to in order to mitigate the consequences of being black. I’ve written here before about the distance that put between my nuclear family and my traditional culture. (Conflict In Commemoration) There was an absence of things like a black church and trips down south for me to see ancestral homes or visit gravesites. My mother was trying to live up to her potential and by the sixties when things started to change she had hope that her children would not have to be afflicted with the limitations that she felt had hemmed her in. That’s why she didn’t want us to be defined by African American culture, which to her reflected those limitations.

There were of course, a lot of flaws in her thinking. One was that she assumed we would want the life she wanted.  I’ve come to understand as a parent that you can’t assume that about your kids.  The biggest flaw however was that she didn’t realize we might feel alienated in the larger society by not being able to relate to a specific culture. She grew up in an all African American community so I don’t think she ever understood what it was like not have that relationship. She could always relate because try as she might, she was never fully unyoked  from the culture. But she needed to see it as an intellectual exercise and not feel it as an emotional condition.

My mother did the best she could and she thought she was doing right by us. Unfortunately, it was a life fraught with challenges to our identities that the three of us found hard to get through to varying degrees. So that’s another one of the reason I had to come south.  I’ve been fortunate enough to form a strong sense of self that includes but is not exclusive to my African American heritage. Yet I still want to embrace the missing and difficult parts of our past that my mother felt she had to escape. Every time I walk around in Old Town Alexandria on ground where “contraband” slaves once lived during the Civil war, my history is finally personal. I can plot the place at Arlington National Cemetery that was once the Freeman’s Village. I drive around the VA countryside contemplating what my ancestors thought of the weather, the soil and the work. In those ways I create a link to people, place and time; a sense of sharing in a legacy. I didn’t experience the kind of intimacy with my familial history in New England the way I do here. I have a richer perception of my identity now that includes pain and sorrow. It leads me to feel sympathy for other people who are facing similar struggles and compassion for those of us, not just black folks, who live with the challenging aspects of our shared American story.  It allows me to feel part of something larger than myself.

Cool Change

IMG_1805Well, fall is officially here. The autumnal equinox occurred just 2 weeks ago and I already miss summer. It could be my imagination but I feel cold. One of the many reasons I moved south is because I like it hot and humid. In the summer, I enjoyed going out for my 8AM morning walks when the temperature was already a steamy 80 degrees. I’d rather sweat than turn on the A/C. Ok, that might have more to do being cheap but when it’s below 70 and the air is dry, my lips get chapped and my hands get ashy. My friends and family in Boston feel differently. They wilt in the heat and perk up on the first crisp morning with a nip in the air. Fellow blogger The Modern Philosopher  lives in Maine and recently described summer and fall the way a typical New Englander does.

There is a lot to like about the fall, though. I do love the autumn foliage, exposed as I was to its glory growing up in New England. The trees here in Virginia turn later than they do in the Boston area. It feels to me as though in New England the change is dramatic but too fast. The trees have started to color here and I’ll grudgingly admit that it is beautiful. It feels as though the slower southern way of life extends to the foliage and I can take it in over a longer period of time. I saw a tree today that was green except for the tippy top, which was bright red. (It reminded me so much of a Dr. Seuss character.) And of course there was the stunning Harvest Moon last month.

Still, I’m slower to wake in the mornings now that the sunrise is later and I experience some anxiety since the sun sets sooner. Did you know Daylight Savings Time ends on November 3rd , darn it? There are days when I ask the migrating birds stopping by my feeder on their way farther south to take me with them. They give me looks of pity with black birdie eyes then fly off without me.  On the other hand, I watch the squirrels pull the acorns from small oak branches and throw the defoliated sticks to the ground. They dash across the streets of my community with stuffed cheeks to hidden homes. Obviously their internal season sensors are telling them there is limited time left to store their supplies for the winter. I’m taking heed and doing the same by making soup and canning vegetables. I appreciate the heads up.img_0344.jpg

So while I feel the pangs of a loss of summer’s delights like long days, dips in blue water and inhaling warm, moist air instead of using my neti pot, I also appreciate the wonder of the change of seasons. I don’t take for granted the blessing of awareness; intellectual, sensory and spiritual, of nature’s cycles being played out miraculously and in living color.

My gratitude goes to Little River Band for the title of this post. I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound banal.

Reblogged for:  The Daily Prompt: Mid-Season Replacement, October 11, 2013. 

Success? You Betcha!

So the Daily Prompt:Success asks us about a time when things went the way we’d hoped they would. This is an easy one for me.

Last summer I moved from Boston to Virginia. I felt leaving Boston would help me move past the miasma I was mired in. It did. I’m happier than I’ve been since…..Isn’t that funny. I don’t dare write since when for fear of bringing on something as traumatic as the loss I experienced back then. I don’t believe I have that kind of power but I don’t believe in tempting fate either. Things have been going so well since my move that I have the jitters about it. I took a big leap of faith uprooting my life and thankfully its paid off big time.

I suspected a change of place would jazz me and pique my interest. I obviously picked the right place because there’s always something for me to do here. I live 15 minutes away from Washington DC and there is no lack of action there. Between the political types and tourists I can spend a whole day just people watching. I’ve always loved visiting historical sites and Virginia wins the contest against Boston when it comes to history as far as I’m concerned. As an African-American the Civil War is important to me because it’s so much a part of my history. And I got to go to the presidential inauguration!

I knew moving here would bring my family closer together geographically but I had no idea it would bring us together emotionally. We had a tough time being a family for a while; we were far apart because of distance and different forms of grief. Moving our base to Virginia made it easier for us to have time together at holidays and vacations. We used the time to knit ourselves back together as a whole family. And our family has grown larger which I like to attribute to the better weather.

IMG_0451I hoped my move would bring about the changes I planned and not the unintentional ones my friends warned me about. I’m glad to say this past year has been absolutely wonderful and more than I could have hoped for. Success? You betcha.

FYI

FoodI’m grateful my area (Washington D.C./ Northern VA), didn’t get hit as badly by Hurricane Sandy as some other states did yesterday. We were affected though so a lot of businesses are closed and there’s no public transportation right now. It’s pretty quiet. I’ve decided to spend the day cooking. I pre-cooked some staples in case the power went out and I need to use them up.  Soups on!

Deciding on a day of cooking reminded me that my daughter said I needed to add some more recipes to this blog. She’s right (as usual). That was always my intention. So I’m committed to adding at least one recipe per month from now on. Please check the Heaven’s Menu page for the new monthly updates. This month’s recipes are Pork Tenderloin with Sauerkraut and Apples & Mediterranean White Bean and Spinach Soup.

History Lessons III

Image courtesy of ushistoryimages.com

The other night I took in a lecture at The Lyceum in Alexandria, VA.  It’s a historic landmark and the lecture was on the role Alexandrians played in the Underground Railroad.  As I’ve mentioned before I’m very interested in studying American slavery, the Civil War and my family’s southern history so I was looking forward to learning something.

Unfortunately, I was distracted throughout the lecture. The first distraction was the presenter. I didn’t expect a speaker with the oration skills of Frederick Douglas but I didn’t expect a soft-spoken elderly woman reading from shaking notes either.  She was informative and clearly very dedicated to the subject but her style was challenging to the attention span.  The second distraction was the language. The presenter is a researcher from the “National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom” program and she said they call those who used the Underground Railroad “freedom seekers”. Really? I kept thinking about the term. It seemed to me that it makes the slaves sound like they were armed soldiers. It undermines the horror and indignity of their condition by framing it in positive language. The researcher also kept using the term “master” to indicate a slaveholder. I thought that wasn’t used anymore because it seems to elevate the status of those who simply dealt in human flesh. The program  is federally mandated and administered by the National Park Service. That probably explains both the elderly speaker and the language.  Anyway, the website is:  http://www.nps.gov/subjects/ugrr/index.htm .

I left the Lyceum with the discouraging thought that even when we try as a nation to take in the complexities of slavery and it’s effects on race relations, we can’t bear up under the weight. The next day I was reading a piece on the Pro-Slavery Constitution  by Paul Finkelman. In it he says,

The problems created by slavery-the moral and political legacies of slavery-were further complicated by the fact that the national constitution protected slavery in a myriad of ways…

We should not be shocked or surprised that the Constitution protected slavery. Slavery, after all, was a powerful economic institution…. But, slavery in the United States was more than simply an economic system designed to extract labor, at a relatively low cost, from those who were enslaved… 

Slavery was also a system of racial control.”

Even during the time of slavery the tendency was to try to frame it in the cleanest of terms (simply economic) without the ominous undertones (racism). And that’s why we can’t hold it. We want to think of ourselves as a nation of freedom seekers and not a nation of enslavers. I recommend the article. In plain, unflinching terms Finkelman speaks some realities we have yet to face on the national level. The “National Underground Railroad Network To Freedom” program attempts, in its own way, to hold a national conversation about slavery. We really need to have that conversation so it is a baby step in the right direction.

To read Paul Finkelman’s article search http://racism.org.  “How the Pro-Slavery Constitution Shaped American Race Relations”   

Here and Now

I’VE DECIDED I’M GOING TO STAY HERE.

DC

This morning, I found myself sitting in gratitude on my balcony sipping my coffee, listening to the birds and feeling positive and vital. Suddenly, I realized that moving to the DC/VA area has unblocked a vein of energy in me that I didn’t even know was blocked!  Since I’ve been here I’ve been engaged in activities that I couldn’t find the energy for in Boston. For instance, I joined a couple of meet-ups here. One is the history group I wrote about in a previous post. They like to experience historical sites by walking to them. Who knew I would enjoy it as well? The other is a group that deals with spiritual and religious matters. If you’ve read other posts of mine, you know how important that has always been to me. What’s different now is that I’m willing to discuss the topics with other people…face to face…in real time and I’m not emotionally spent afterwards. (See my post on introversion.) And where did I find the energy to keep up with my grandbaby? I mean really, do you know how busy a toddler is? Also, I’ve been writing. Obviously I’ve been writing all along but up until this summer, it’d been laborious and kind of scary. Now I’m writing regularly and with alacrity. That hasn’t been the case for a long time.

Four years ago my life veered unexpectedly and onto a path I didn’t know was there. This happens to a lot of people. We come to a twist or turn in the road and lose our sense of direction. Before we can move forward again we have to develop a strategy to figure out where we are. The unexpected path I found myself on was one of great loss and big change. It’s apparent to me now that part of my coping strategy was hunkering down inside myself and giving away the pieces of me that I thought contained the pain. So I stayed in a place that no longer suited me doing things for  people other than myself. I had gotten through the hardest time of my life without falling apart but I didn’t understand that I wasn’t whole.

The atmosphere here feels right for me. It’s a combination of being around people with whom I’m more comfortable and paying attention to the things that are important to me. So I’m not going back to Boston. I’ve rented out my condo and put in a change of address. Some of my friends cautioned me about making such a significant change at this point in my life. But I’ve decided that if my life can be changed dramatically without my intention then what’s wrong with changing it with intention. I’ve learned that there will be unfamiliar consequences either way.

I feel like my recovered self on this new path and I like where I’m going.  Last night I went with a group to the National Cathedral for a walk around the labyrinth there. How about that, people and walking all in one night!

History Lessons II

I was exposed to a lot of history being brought up in the Boston area. Most of it had to do with the Revolutionary War period. It’s all about the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, etc., up there. As I discussed in my last post, now I’m interested in learning more about the Civil War so I’ve been going out to and taking pictures of, historical sites here in Virginia. I even joined a history meet-up group. (No easy step for an introvert!) What I realized while walking with my group last weekend is that where the Revolutionary War was about the U.S. creating itself, the Civil War was about the U.S. defining itself. That’s important to think about, especially in this election year.

Historic VA I Example of historical architecture of some VA homes 

 

I’m going to look into the history of this” free black” community

Ghosts in the doorways   

 

Next up for me are sites in Washington, DC . Oh by the way, I said in my last post that I’d let you know about any comments I heard about the Civil War. To be honest, during my meet-up I was too busy thinking to listen to anyone. (LOL!)