Thanx*10

I was searching high and low for turkey drumsticks. They’re normally available in most local stores, but suddenly, the weekend before the holiday, we couldn’t find them anywhere. We visited seven groceries. Plenty of whole turkeys, turkey breasts, turkey thighs, ground turkey — but no drumsticks. Finally we found them at Rouse’s on the second visit. They were buried under a mountain of turkey necks.

I bought two packages, ten legs, and marinated them in two bottles of mojo criollo for a couple days. I drove all the way out to Kenner to pick up some pecan wood chunks, but I forgot that Bassil’s Ace is closed on Sundays. Fortunately Michael picked some up for me the next day, and so on Thanksgiving I was able to smoke the turkey over a pecan wood and charcoal fire for about three hours.

After

I’d never had turkey mojo before, and I was very happy with the result. I’ve tried several different ways with turkey legs; this had the advantage of being supremely easy as well as delicious. The skin was a little tough. That’s the only thing that might bear improving, though I’m not sure how. Other than that they were just about perfect. Even Persephone liked them.

Eating

More is merrier for Thanksgiving. My parents came to visit, and we were joined by our friend James as well. At the last minute I also invited my old friend and guitar hero Jeff Lee whom I’d only recently learned was here in town, but he couldn’t make it.

Of course we had plenty of other items on the menu besides just turkey, a vast array in fact, prepared mostly by Xy and my mother, everything from sweet potatoes to turnip greens to cranberry salad.

I’d found a pamphlet full of “Inclusive Mealtime Prayers of Thanksgiving” online, and before the meal I asked my father (as the eldest present) to pick one out and read it before the meal. This is the one he chose:

We thank you for this earth, our home; for the wide sky and the blessed sun, for the ocean and streams, for the towering hills and the whispering wind, for the trees and green grass.

 We thank you for our senses by which we hear the songs of birds, and see the splendor of fields of golden wheat, and taste autumn’s fruit, rejoice in the feel of snow, and smell the breath of spring flowers.

 Grant us a heart opened wide to all this beauty; and save us from being so blind that we pass unseeing when even the common thornbush is aflame with glory.
 For each new dawn is filled with infinite possibilities for new beginnings and new discoveries. Life is constantly changing and renewing itself. In this new day of new beginnings, all things are possible. We are restored and renewed in a joyous awakening to the wonder that our lives are and, yet, can be. Amen.

For desert we had pumpkin pie, which Mom made from scratch, from a real pumpkin — not canned. I didn’t think that was done anymore, and I seem to remember a gourmet chef actually recommending canned over fresh, but Mom’s pie certainly made a powerful case in the opposite direction.

After the game we watched the Big Game. Dad and James and I all caught a nap during the second quarter, but we made our way down to Michael and Therese’s house for the second half.

Of course, my parents came down for more than just a meal. Wednesday morning I took them to campus and we toured the new Qatar Pharmacy Pavilion. Then we went to City Park and wandered through the Besthoff Sculpture Garden for an hour while we waited for the New Orleans Museum of Art to open. Amongst all the paintings, we made a special point to visit the life-size portrait of Marie Antoinette, as recent genetic test results indicate she’s a relative on my father’s side of the family.

My parents are really amazingly active — I was about to add, “for their age,” but the truth is I’d be just as amazed if they were in their twenties instead of their seventies. They were constantly going out for walks and exercise, and they made their way back to City Park at least once to enjoy the loop around Big Lake. A neighbor expressed concern over my father’s safety as he roamed the blocks around our house. I just shrugged and said, “He’s lived a long full life.”

Dad was in the midst of a book about the notorious Skull and Bones Club, and he kept making dark conspiratorial comments about the various skull logos emblazoned on my shirt, scarf and bandanna. Eventually I hinted that he should check out the Illuminati. I shudder to think what might happen to him if he investigates too deeply.

And no visit from my parents would be complete without putting Dad to work on some house projects.

Sanding

Friday night we headed back to City Park for the first night of Celebration in the Oaks. The crowds were surprisingly thin, perhaps because of the sudden turn in the weather from unseasonably warm to unseasonably cold — or maybe people don’t really turn out in great numbers until later in December.

Gators

It was a good visit, and a good holiday. I’m also happy to say Thanksgiving no longer vexes and perplexes me. I now understand it as a time to celebrate a particular sentiment — namely, that sense of gratitude we all feel, at least occasionally. Last year I posted a list of people to whom I’m thankful, and that remains pretty accurate. If I wrote such a list now, the main thing I’d want to do is expand the scope, to include the Earth and cosmos.

But Thanksgiving is over, and I’ve got to get back to work on other things.

PS: I finally caught up with Jeff on Friday evening, and we had a blast jabbering into the night for hours on end.

Day in the Life

Here’s my entry in the Day in the Life contest. If you like this, please visit the mix on 8tracks and click the ♥ button so I can get a piece of the glory.

Here’s a handy guide to help you enjoy the mix.

1. Rising with love and positivity
2. Morning commute
3. At the office
4. Losing myself in my work
5. Dinnertime unwinding
6. Evening telecast
7. Nocturnal revelry
8. Ready for bed
9. Hit the coffin for a while

Five Biggest NOLA Blog Stories

I’m going to be making a presentation to a special interest group at the American Educational Research Association’s upcoming conference.

My topic? Blogging in post-Katrina New Orleans.

My idea is to recount five or so of the biggest stories to emerge from the local blogosphere since the flooding of the city in 2005. I mean “stories” in the broadest possible sense, not just investigative journalism or any other narrow conception of the term.

So I’ve compiled my list, but I thought this might be a fun game to play — and also a helpful reality check for me. What are the top five stories in your opinion? I will share mine in due time but I’d really like to see what people say independently first.

I would love to hear your take, and as I said it will help me as I prepare my talk.

Microaffirmations

So. My boss and I went to St. Louis for five days and four nights for POD 2010. Here are some notes on the whole experience.

Perhaps most noteworthy, from a strictly personal perspective, was the fact that I co-presented at not one but two sessions. The first was called “Investigating Our Blind Spot,” which I co-presented with my boss to a packed room.

Blindspot

I was proud of this because it was at least partly my idea. It grew out of a conversation we had on the way back from POD 2009. Here’s an excerpt from our proposal, which I wrote all by my very own self.

As faculty developers, we often rely on chronic participants to assess our programs, “frequent flyers” who see the value of our offerings and keep coming back for more. These faculty provide valuable insight into what we are doing right and how we can improve our services. However, the limitations of such an approach are self-evident. Chronic participants present an incomplete picture at best, and at worst they may contribute to a narcissistic cycle of self-admiration wherein fundamental assumptions are rarely challenged. As a result, even while we learn to better serve our most ardent supporters, our effectiveness across the institution may be limited.

If chronic participants act as a mirror, reflecting our own values, what might we learn by looking beyond the mirror, into our “blind spot”? Faculty members who never (or very rarely) take advantage of development opportunities can provide information that is just as useful in setting the direction of our offerings. Yet most of our knowledge about these nonparticipating faculty is anecdotal or speculative. Who are these faculty? Why don’t they participate, and how might we better serve them as faculty developers?

We conducted an investigation into these questions over the summer. I can’t take credit for the research. I had no clue how to proceed, but it was right up the Boss Lady’s alley. It was an educational experience for me. I won’t get into all the details here, but the turnout for the session indicated that the concept resonated with others. Perhaps a publication will come out of it.

On a truly bizarre note, after the “Blind Spot” session, I was asked for my autograph by a ROX fan. No lie.

The other session I co-presented was “Uncovering the Heart in Higher Education.” I mentioned my involvement with this previously. Here’s the description.

Beneath the frenetic pace of the academy and its superficial busyness, many of us feel an emptiness and absence of purpose. Surveys of faculty in the Spirituality in Higher Education project confirm the underlying fragmentation in the lives of faculty. This session extends a conversation ongoing at the conference since a symposium cosponsored by POD, the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Fetzer Institute in October 2008. Participants will experience aspects of the new academy we imagine including silence, mind-body practices and sharing personal worldviews. The session will also provide opportunity for exchange of promising faculty “heart” development practices on campuses.

It was a fun session. We took a moment of silence to contemplate some serious questions, we did a yoga breathing exercise, we broke into dyads to discuss our fundamental worldviews. We also shared what we were doing to promote this work on various campuses. That was my contribution; I discussed our modest efforts here at the University, which I have also written about here over the last few months.


As for sessions at which I did not present, the most interesting one I attended was called “Gateway to the East? Professional Renewal Using the Chakra System” by Michele DiPietro. This was fascinating to me because although I’ve heard of chakras for decades I know almost nothing about them, and certainly I’ve never thought about them as a framework for professional development.

My golden shining moment came during a plenary session by Kristen Renn of Michigan State University, titled “Intersections of Identity, Teaching, and Learning: LGBT Issues and Student Success.” At one point she talked about the concept of microaggressions, a term coined by Chester Pierce in the 1970s. These are everyday verbal comments or other behaviors that fall short of outright physical aggression, but serve to assert and maintain the dominance of a majority group over various minorities — basically little ways of putting other people down and perpetuating inequalities. When Renn talked about strategies for supporting students who might feel marginalized, she talked about small positive behaviors intended to indicate solidarity. These might be considered the opposite of microaggressions, but Renn complained that she didn’t have a word for such behaviors, and she invited suggestions from the audience during the comment session after her talk. When the time came I stepped up to the mic and offered my idea: microaffirmations. I got a big round of applause for this, and received continuing kudos throughout the rest of the conference. One person even mentioned how much she liked my voice.

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. It turns out this term was already coined by Mary Rowe in 1973. But I’ll happily take all the credit.

I don’t think POD 2010 will prove as transformative for me personally as POD 2009 was. How could it be? This is not a real disappointment nor a criticism, just a statement of fact. But only time will tell.
Continue reading Microaffirmations

Thirty-Three Months

Prsefuney

Dear Persephone,

You sure are getting big. I know this because you tell me about it. Constantly. “I’m big. I’m big. I’m so big. I’m too big.” There was a statue of at the New Orleans Museum of Art, a headless Winged Figure, which used to scare you, but now you’re not frightened anymore, because you’re “big.” Yet also, at the drop of a hat, you’ll reverse direction and assert that you’re a baby, and that you need to be spoon-fed or some such foolishness. But more and more, the emphasis remains on how big you are.

Along with getting so big, you’ve also gotten kind of bossy. Last weekend, when we were planning a family outing, you decided that I should not come with you and Mama. You instructed me to “stay home and took.” (That’s your way of saying “stay home and cook.”) Funny thing is, that’s exactly what ended up happening. Now you seem to think you’re running the show here.

Another good example would be your morning routine, which I am ostensibly in charge of. Lately, you insist on wearing dresses. No matter how much I (or your mother) plead, cajole or threaten, pants are out of the question. It’s dresses or a meltdown that would put The China Syndrome to shame.

Of course, we do not give in, except most of the time.

Also this month: We celebrated your 1000th day of life, I taught your how to dip your ciabatta in Parmesan and olive oil, and we visited the local cemeteries repeatedly. You like to look for “fall-down flowers” and put them back in their vases.

You have become a great believer in tape. That’s the way to fix anything that’s broken. Scotch tape. You don’t know about duct tape yet.

A funny thing you said: “I can’t walk because I don’t have any feet.” Also, at bathtime: “The water is playing hide and seek under the bubbles.”

One evening at dinner you actually tried to eat the butterflies on your pants. You said the purple ones taste best.

You haven’t been sleeping so well lately. As the weather’s gotten colder, blankets suddenly matter. You seem to kick them off as often as five times a night. I’m often called into your room to get things straight. We call this “blanket maintenance.” It’s a pain. We tried giving you a bigger quilt in hope it would stay in place, but you insisted on sleeping on top of it for some reason.

Speaking of bedtime, the most heart-rending thing you’ve said to me lately has been when we’re winding up our nightly ritual of book, story and song. In your wee small voice you say: “Protect me, Dada. Stay and stay and stay and stay and don’t leave.”

It’s hard to leave the room after hearing that. But I harden my heart and do it anyway.

Update: As of this afternoon, you are now very consistently claiming to be “almost big.” You’re still little, apparently, but not for long.

Energy Usage

I mentioned last January that we got stuck with a big ($500) utility bill that month. There was no question in my mind that our energy consumption was off the chain because of a record-breaking three-day cold snap. Now that I’ve got a year’s worth of utility bills, this is even more evident.

Here’s a handy chart from Entergy.

Energy Usage

And here’s the detailed breakdown…

Month kWh Used Days Billed Avg. Daily Usage
11/10 711 30 23.7
10/10 874 29 30.1
9/10 1661 29 57.3
8/10 2112 31 68.1
7/10 1393 30 46.4
6/10 1400 30 46.7
5/10 598 32 18.7
4/10 706 30 23.5
3/10 2574 29 88.8
2/10 2955 32 92.3
1/10 5947 34 174.9
12/09 2459 30 82.0

As one can see at a glance, we consumed about twice as much energy in January as we did in the month before or after.

I’m particularly happy to have this baseline data, because we are getting some insulation underneath our house Monday. As I mentioned in January, there was a study which looked at four different ways of insulating beneath raised homes right here at the Musician’s Village in New Orleans. After some nagging, I finally got Dr. Samuel V. Glass to send me a preview of the study, “Moisture Control in Insulated Raised Floors in Southern Louisiana.” Glass is a research scientist in the little-known field of “Building Moisture and Durability” at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. The authors are presenting the research at a conference in December so it’s still not public, but you can view a news-style summary.

The main concern most people in these parts have about insulating underneath relates to moisture accumulation in the warm months. Moisture can lead to termites and mold and other bad things. From what I got out of the study, I think the number one thing that can minimize moisture problems is to just not set one’s thermostat too low in the summer.

Other than that, they seemed to find rigid foam boards and closed-cell spray foam to be the best. We are going with the latter from GreenBean. Closed-cell is purported to be the most expensive option, at least in terms of materials; it is costing us just over $2,000. I think I can also file for some sort of tax break before the end of the year.

So we’ll see what our energy consumption is like over the next year and compare. I’ll get back to you in November 2011.

The Awakening

Dawn over Mississippi River

It’s been almost two weeks since I got back from POD 2010, and I still haven’t managed to write about it.

But I find I can’t write about POD 2010 until I’ve addressed POD 2009.

POD stands for the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, and it’s pretty much the big conference for faculty developers.

POD 2009 was my first such conference, and it has proven to be a truly transformative moment for me. In retrospect, I’m tempted to call it a spiritual awakening. That seems funny, but I guess such things happen in funny ways. It was a subtle thing, but at that conference in Houston (of all places) I found myself drawn to sessions on religious literacy, contemplative pedagogy, integrative learning, transformative education and the like. Did I attend a single session on technology? If so, I don’t remember it.

No one could have been more surprised by these developments than me. After all, on the airplane flight there I was celebrating my apostoversary. What business did I have being interested in such matters? Some of my self-definitions were beginning to shift. I have even found myself saying that I went to POD 2009 as a technology specialist, but I returned as a faculty developer. Similarly, I was broadening my understanding of just what religion and spirituality could in fact be.

Of course this turn of events didn’t come out of nowhere. I was ready for it. In fact it was well underway, and I think it would have happened eventually, inevitably, even if the circumstances were different. (But how? Why? Tracing back the roots of this awakening, if I can call it that, is an indulgence which I have not yet fully plumbed. Surely the birth of my daughter played a role, but what else? I could go back decades, I’m sure.) It was a subtle thing, as I said, not the stuff of dramatic revelation, nor did it bear fruit rapidly. Looking back on what I wrote at the time, I can see the profundity of the experience was not immediately evident. It took some months to emerge.

Virginia Lee unintentionally kicked it up a notch back in February. She invited me to co-present (along with 30-odd others) at this year’s “Uncovering the Heart” session at POD 2010. I nurtured a suspicion that she had me confused with someone else, because I had absolutely no qualifications, but I jumped at the opportunity. I knew it would require me to stretch in new and interesting directions — and so it has. Much of my work over the last eight months has been oriented toward learning more about contemplative pedagogy and the other subjects I’ve mentioned.

But these developments have not just been professional. Indeed, the very essence of what I’m on about is the notion of integration and holism. We are all of us whole people; the systems and schemes that fragment our lives can have a dehumanizing effect. In the academy we have a moral responsibility to educate the whole student, body, mind and soul; to teach with our whole selves; to resist fragmentation when it is harmful. (I’m not so ideological as to deny the value of “fragmentation” entirely.) In the broadest context, we all have a responsibility to look after our whole selves, to attend all facets of existence in ourselves, in our families, in our communities.

I have multiple roles that I engage every day: artist, writer, father, husband, son, employee, faculty developer, friend, citizen, president of a small nonprofit, techno wizard, member of various civic organizations, self-made celebrity — the list goes on. Where and when do we have the opportunity to address all these roles, bar none? When are we most whole? I think that is the domain of religion and spirituality and philosophy. Of course there’s plenty of other stuff that falls under these headings, plenty of oppressive dehumanizing constructs which I don’t find helpful at all. Nevertheless, I am increasingly becoming comfortable with the idea that this is the domain where the biggest and deepest and most important questions are asked. It is this inquiry which I find endlessly fascinating, and inspiring, and rewarding, and relevant.

Perhaps attentive readers will have already noticed this burgeoning interest in my writings over the last year — or even longer.

I am rambling. But at I think I needed to clear this out before I could write about POD 2010 in St. Louis… which I will do… soon.

Two Videos

Here are two cool videos that have bounced into my life over the last 24 hours.

Hola, B!

This comes from someone I’ve never met, a guy in Philadelphia. Sometimes with all this “cultural production” I do — not sure what else to call it — I feel like I’m whispering down a well. Why do I bother? Feedback like this reminds me.

Drypoint Printmaking

Drypoint Printmaking from XULAneXUS on Vimeo.

This is a basic introduction to drypoint printmaking. I shot this video, but all the rest — script, voiceover, editing — was done by Nile Lang who is also the star. I did a little advising but Nile did the work, and I believe it’s the first video he’s ever edited. Well done, Nile. I’m happy with the result and glad to have been a part of it. This is a project for XULAneXUS.

I should stop here but because I’m a firm believer in the “Rule of Three” I’ll throw in one more, which doesn’t have any connection to the above or to me, except I find it amusing.

Got Satanists?

1000 Days of Persephone

As a number of people pointed out to me, the trouble with celebrating the first thousand days of life is that the number 1,000 is generally beyond the grasp of most two-year-olds. A couple friends had funny ideas about how to communicate the idea. “Let her play in a pile of 1,000 $1 bills so she can feel like Scrooge McDuck!” Or: “Ball up a thousand pieces of paper and fill a room. Or go to the hardware store and buy a thousand metal washers.”

Sadly I did not have the resources to pull these off. I tried taking some photos to document a “day in the life” but that didn’t pan out so well because of schedule conflicts. Who knew you could have schedule conflicts with a toddler? In the end we went out for pizza which seemed suitably festive.

Also I put together this mix.

See if you can guess the theme.

Thousand

Persephone is a thousand today. It’s her thousandth day of life. It seems like the sort of thing that should be celebrated, and I’ve had it marked on my calendar for a while. But time got away from me, and now it’s here, and I haven’t a clue what to do.

How do you celebrate a thousand days of life?

Celebrating Saturday, Morning and Night

Saturday morning I was out early conducting a short tour of the Lafitte Corridor. I was skeptical about how many people would be up for a hike at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but pleasantly surprised when a dozen people showed up, plus a half dozen more who joined us in progress.

Edgar & Vance

Hike

Lindsay & Helen

We walked from Sojourner Truth Community Center to Bayou St. John and back. Actually we had to turn back before we reached the bayou. I was worried I wouldn’t have folks back to Sojourner Truth in time for the main event, namely the Walk and Roll Louisiana Summit 2010. I was supposed to be on a panel at the summit titled “Building successes from the ground up: The legacy of walking and cycling advocacy in Louisiana.” But thankfully I was able to get one of my esteemed FOLC board members, namely Edgar Chase, to represent us.

See, I couldn’t stick around for Walk & Roll because I had a prior commitment. The second Saturday of the month is my book club. Don’t get me wrong, I think Walk & Roll was a fantastic event, and bike/ped issues are near and dear to my heart. But I’ve been going to this book club for almost ten years now. I’ve missed a few meetings here and there because of levee failures and the like, but as a rule I do my best to be there. Second Saturdays are sort of sacred to me.

Drawing boundaries like this is important to maintaining my sanity and my sense of balance. There are many needs in this community, and I try to do my part, but in order to stay happy and healthy I have to know where to draw the line, to say “sorry” and enjoy my personal pleasures as opposed to serving the elusive public good.

(As another example, I was recently asked to serve on some neighborhood committees. I was on the verge of saying yes when I remembered that in 2008 I essentially made a vow, to my wife and my daughter and myself, to limit my involvement to one organization only. I chose Friends of Lafitte Corridor and resigned from two other boards. It was a good decision, one I need to continue to honor, so instead of serving on one of those committees I made a counter-offer. I’m going to recruit someone else as a Greenway Liaison for Mid-City. I suspect there’s a FOLC member living in Mid-City who’d like to get more active with FOLC and/or MCNO. This might be the perfect opportunity for getting started. I’m hoping that this will be a way to expand the circle of neighborhood involvement for a net gain.)

So that’s what I did Saturday morning, and I’m glad I did. I really enjoyed talking about Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others with my fellow club members. Even so, I felt slightly guilty about not being at Walk & Roll to show my support, and about not being home to help with chores and looking after my daughter, especially after being gone most of last week.

But only slightly.

Actually, that may have added to my enjoyment. I felt like I was getting away with something.

I’m still planning to write more about the trip to St. Louis, by the way.

Saturday night, Xy and I dropped Persephone off with a sitter and celebrated — I wasn’t sure exactly what we were celebrating, but we had a good time which included dinner at Crescent Pie & Sausage. It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized it has been a year and a day since we closed on our new house. I wonder when we will stop calling it “new”?

For Veterans Day

Since it’s Veterans Day, I thought I’d point to something written by a veteran. Here’s an article by Bradford J. Kelley, which appeared in the morning paper.

Election glossed over wars — and warriors

He begins by noting the lack of attention paid to our current military engagements in the recent election cycle, but notes that politicians can’t really be blamed for failing to focus on a topic people don’t really seem to care about.

The apathy in American society regarding these wars is appalling.

Can anyone seriously disagree with that sentiment?

Kelley argues to an inexorable conclusion.

The current situation is unsustainable and something has to give. Perhaps the cost of these wars needs to be levied upon all Americans in a more direct way, whether this involves increasing taxes on all Americans or reinstating the draft.

Although Kelley goes on to say he favors an all-volunteer force, I disagree. I think we need to go one step further in the other direction. The draft is not enough. We need compulsory service. Two years, with alternative service (Peace Corps, for example) for conscientious objectors.

As a father, this is not an easy thing to say. But I think it would ultimately make us a more responsible nation, and thus create a better future for our children.

So, this Veterans Day, ask a vet what he or she thinks of the idea.

Bouncing Back

I think I got a bad burger at the airport in Houston. Ugh. The very idea of an airport hamburger sounds kind of gross. Anyway, Sunday evening I was feeling kind of queasy. Over the course of the night I didn’t sleep much, as my body forcibly ejected all contents from my gastrointestinal system in both directions. I had plenty of delirious imaginings, but they were mostly so abstract and weird I can’t remember much; take a bunch of academic verbiage visualized as a black metal framework twisted into non-Euclidean shapes and you get the idea. I also kept thinking how fortunate it was that my daughter wasn’t the afflicted one. I don’t think she’s barfed in almost two years. I was still feeling pretty shaky when I dropped her off at daycare Monday morning. I rode back home, took a hot bath, then collapsed into bed for six hours of deep sleep. By Monday evening I was back on solid food, though somewhat tentatively, and as of this morning I’m functioning at approximately 87%. Hopefully I will be back to writing regularly here soon, with an account of my trip to St. Louis and other fascinating details.

Moscow

25 years ago today I was visiting Moscow.

Red Square

That was a great trip, which remains a highlight of my life. Back in 1985, visiting Moscow was no trivial thing for an American. It meant going behind the “Iron Curtain.” It was toward the end of the so-called Second Cold War. Gorbachev had become the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that March, and he had his first talk with Reagan in Geneva later that November, I think. Still, things were quite frosty between the US and the USSR. I had the good fortune to be escorted by a family of Finns, which made everything easier.

Coffee in Moscow

So what were you doing 25 years ago?

Seriously, I’d love to hear from everyone who reads this. “Don’t remember” and “wasn’t born yet” are acceptable answers.

Dead Time

Over the last few weeks I’ve been fiddling with constructing my family tree on ancestry.com. (Thanks to my old high school friend Georgie for getting me hooked.) I managed to trace one line back as far as Torvild Ljøstad, my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather (that’s 17 greats) who was born in 1370 in the Norwegian county of Aust-Agder, possibly at the site of present-day Vegårshei.

I take that with a grain of salt. The further back you go, obviously, the more chances for error. I haven’t double-checked every link in that lineage. Still it’s interesting to think about.

At the same time I was playing with that, I seemed to find myself making more trips to the local graveyards, which led me to contemplate the untimely demise of a young woman named Virginia. I even started actively searching for certain graves. And generally I have just been enjoying the cemeteries.

T

We also discovered the shrine to Santa Muerte — Saint Death.

Sheer coincidence? Perhaps. But this is, after all, the time of year associated with such matters. The Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Hallowe’en, Samhain — many names, many cultures, many traditions, but sharing a common theme of remembrance and reverence for ancestors, those who have come before, those who are no longer with us.

Fittingly, Persephone had the idea that she wanted to be a ghost princess. That led to a costume idea for the whole family.

Ghost Royalty

We attended a Samhain ritual. It was focused on remembering ancestors, and it was quite beautiful — or at least I think it was. I was distracted by a certain toddler who was getting antsy. The “Samhain for Kids” celebration was fun, even though our girl was the only child there, but by the time the full grownup ritual was underway, well, it was just too much, too long, for a two-year old, and we were not familiar enough with the surroundings or the proceedings to really cope effectively as parents. I hope our daughter’s behavior was not too distracting to the other celebrants. It became more of a “learning experience” than a spiritual one for me. I wish I could have been more fully present, but in this case I guess you could say my descendant trumped my antecedents.

Nevertheless I got a good snippet of video from before the ritual began.

Here’s the moment I want to hold in my memory of that night: dancing barefoot on the grass with my wife and daughter dressed in ghostly white robes while a dead geisha played the drums by a bonfire. That was magical.

We cut out early and got back home in time to receive several troupes of trick or treaters. I was surprised by the number of kids making the rounds (under adult supervision) despite the big Saints game underway at the time. But the all the kids were home by the time the second half began, and that was a much more exciting half as it developed.

And so yesterday morning, on the Day of the Dead, Persephone and I visited the shrine of Sante Muerte.

Satsumas

When I posted about the shrine to the Mid-City discussion group, a neighbor reacted as follows:

I’m don’t really want to judge any religious beliefs but just so people know, the SANTA MUERTE (Holy Death) is considered almost devil worship by most of Mexico. It is used by most criminals in the narco trafficking, kidnapping, & underground Mexican world to legitimize their activities. It is why the country of Mexico has not recognized it as a legitimate faith. Like all religions or political idealogies, extremists can twist anything to legitimize their activities. Just thought people would want a little perspective. For Americans who don’t know better, in Mexico, it would be similiar to glorifying Islamic terrorists & their warped string of Islam…. I travel to Mexico a lot & enjoy studying the history & culture of the country. But I admit, the statues & shrines are pretty weird & cool.

I’m not sure what to think of that reaction. I do know that I misquoted the sign when I wrote about it the first time. It actually says, “Welcome! To the Shrine of La Sante Muerte and the Dead.” I had forgotten that last part, “and the Dead,” but it’s crucial. Clearly, whoever erected the shrine is thinking about the same thing as the Wiccans who devised the Samhain ritual we attended and the Catholics we saw at the cemetery whitewashing the family tomb.

We left three satsumas.

I wonder what Torvild Ljøstad would have made of it.