Two Radio Spots

I recently made a trip to Indiana, as is my wont in the summertime. While I’m up there I always try to stir up some trouble. Some of my attempts are more successful than others. International Flag-Burning Day was a bust, for example.

But there is evidence that some of my other provocations were more successful. Audio evidence. These two pieces aired on WFHB yesterday.

Bart Everson, from Local TV Slacker-Provocateur to Atheist Religion Author  ~ less than ten minutes ~ “This month marks the 25th anniversary of the first episode of Rox, arguably the most controversial show ever to air on public access TV in Bloomington. The program generated outrage and calls for its removal during its heyday in the early and mid 1990s. It has also been one of the most popular programs on Community Access Television Services.WFHB News Director Joe Crawford caught up with one of the producers of Rox, Bart Everson, who recently returned to Bloomington in support of a new book.”

Standing Room Only: Can we derive a secular spirituality from the seasons?  ~ almost an hour ~ “On July 7, Bart Everson spoke about eco-spiritual practices at The Venue in Bloomington. A longtime atheist, Everson emphasized the celebration of living on Earth and the process of becoming better citizens of the planet. Much of Everson’s talk revolved around ideas also found in his book Spinning in Place: A Secular Humanist Embraces the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year.”

Your Trip to Amherst

Red Leaves

The nearest airport is in Connecticut, so when your plane lands you still have a good long drive to get to Amherst. You talk to the shuttle driver. She has an accent you can’t place, but she’s lived in Massachusetts for at least a decade.

She drops you off at Allen House, a little bed and breakfast you found online. It proves to be a lovingly-done Victorian-era restoration, cozy and charming. The place is booked full of people from all over the world who are here for the same purpose as you. An instant and easy camaraderie springs up between you.

You’re here for the Fifth Annual Conference of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education (ACMHE), which is being held at Amherst College.

You make your way up the street to a noodle shop with a couple fellow travelers for a quick dinner. It’s cold, much colder than New Orleans, but only outdoors. You’re surprised to find that it’s warm and toasty indoors wherever you go. Apparently central heating is to New England what air conditioning is to the Deep South.

Then you walk over to Amherst College campus. The conference begins this evening. After registering at Converse Hall you find your way to Stirn Auditorium.

The ACMHE conference is a little different from other conferences, and that’s evident from the start. The opening plenary begins with silent meditation. There are a couple hundred people packed into the auditorium. Though no one says a word, you feel the power of their presence all the more. You are aware of the potentialities that will unfold over the next 40 hours.

If that wasn’t enough to distinguish this conference as unique, what comes next certainly seals the deal. An extra space has been reserved on the keynote panel. An audience member is randomly selected to fill it.


And so the conference begins. The theme this year is “Integrity of Practice.” The panel considers questions that revolve around this theme. Then the audience members discuss the questions amongst themselves, and finally share their thoughts with the larger group.

Integrity of Practice

The next morning you have breakfast at the Amherst Inn, owned by the same people who run Allen House. The breakfast table serves as an extension of the conference, the conversations of the night before continuing over pancakes and coffee.

Very soon, you’re back on campus for the first of the parallel sessions. There are nine sessions running at the same time, and all the topics look fascinating. How to choose? You find yourself drawn to a session by David Forbes of Brooklyn College/CUNY, with the provocative title, “Contemplative Education and Neoliberalism: A Perfect World Still Requires Radical Action.”

A Perfect World Still Calls for Radical Transformation

Forbes’ presentation is chock-full of ideas, far more than even a fast-talking New Yorker can cover in the allotted time. He is asking all the right questions. “What is the purpose of contemplative practices in education? Is it enlightenment/awakening and the elimination of greed, ill-will, and delusion for everyone and at all societal levels, or is it a relativistic technology used to improve attention, reduce stress, and gain personal success and productivity in a competitive society?” The conversation that follows is galvanizing.

The morning continues. All the sessions look so promising that you decide to take a cue from the previous night’s panel and select your next session randomly. You end up listening to Ed Sarath from the University of Michigan hold forth on “Integrity of Practice in Meditation and Improvisation Pedagogy.”

Ed Sarath

You’re stunned to realize that improvisation has been perhaps the most central musical practice throughout world history, except for a period of about 200 years in Europe. This seems to throw light on the state of the modern academy, which even in America tends to be both highly traditional and Eurocentric. But that is changing.

You’ve come here from a historically Black university, so it is with special interest that you attend your next session, “Contemplative Race Theory: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Racial Discourse.” The presenters, Seth Schoen and Rev. Christopher Carter, seem very young. In fact, they are graduate students, and this is their first such presentation.

Contemplative Race Theory

They present a “compassion practice” which they have developed together, a fairly advanced guided meditation that is grounded in critical race theory. It would seem to be a good way to prepare classes for difficult, sensitive or contentious discussions. They hope to publish on the practice soon. You make a note for future reference.

In the afternoon, there are open space sessions, organized around topics suggested by participants that very morning. You attend a discussion on race, class and gender.

Open Session on Race, Class & Gender

The conversation is heartfelt, respectful yet challenging. You are taken by one participant’s observation that contemplation disrupts her “default modes of being,” which suggests the subtle potential of such practices for subverting engrained social structures.

The theme for the conference is “Integrity of Practice.” But your own personal theme is beginning to emerge. It might be called, “The Joy of Walking Slowly.” You find yourself walking often in the company of two women who walk slowly for different reasons. Karen is walking with a cane. Eileen simply seems to be the sort of person who is never rushed. You find you must make a conscious effort to slow down and stick with their pace, but this seems entirely in keeping with the spirit of the conference.

Before dinner on Saturday evening Karen reveals she doesn’t have a sprained ankle or a broken foot. She suffered a life-threatening stroke some while ago. You listen in awe to the story of her recovery, and how her 30-year practice of meditation helped her through a very difficult time.

It’s been a full day. You’re tired. You sleep like a rock that night, for about ten hours, disturbed only by a welcome nocturnal visitation from the B&B’s resident housecat.

Sunday morning begins in much the same manner as Saturday, with conversation around the breakfast table as stimulating as any one of the formal sessions. You walk to campus with Robert-Louis Abrahamson. When learning of your fascination with seasonal progress, he bestows upon you a touching gift: a copy of his own CD and accompanying booklet, Journey Through the Seasons, a cycle of meditations on the five Chinese healing energies.

You’re excited to attend a roundtable discussion on “The Role of Teaching Centers in Introducing and Supporting Contemplative Practices,” convened by your new friend Eileen Abrams.

The Role of Teaching Centers

A nascent faculty development network seems to be emerging. You know from previous experience how powerful this can be, and the exchange of ideas is invigorating. For example, one colleague suggests exploring the connection between contemplative pedagogy and retention rates. It seems like a promising line of inquiry.

But the best has, perhaps, been saved for last. The impromptu student panel was one of the most engaging sessions at the ACMHE conference. This was, in part, an opportunity for faculty to ask students, “What do we need to know from you?”

Student Panel

A number of new connections are made for you. For example: Metacognition is enhanced by meditation. We’ve sponsored workshops on both topics but never drawn that connection. You think to yourself: We should sponsor more student panels at CAT. We have much to learn from our students.

On the ride back to the airport, you find yourself once again conversing with the shuttle driver. He hails from Morocco and is a big fan of the Boston Celtics. As you describe the conference you discover what you’ve learned.

Pedagogy must connect course content to a larger whole; otherwise, we are merely conveying disassociated tidbits of information, quickly “crammed” into short-term memory and just as quickly forgotten. Pedagogy must be meaningful, purposeful, and connected to deep values in order to be effective and transformative. You’re struck by the awe-inspiring scope of this charge. You realize that this domain — the domain of meaning, purpose and values — provides a good working definition of spirituality. These issues are the main concern of many religions. Therefore, in order to be effective, teachers must be on a spiritual path or grounded in a spiritual practice. It’s not something extra, some “value added” proposition. It’s absolutely essential. It’s the core, the foundation of what we do. And it follows that a holistic faculty development program must provide support for the spiritual development of faculty members.

The implications are staggering. However will you communicate this to the folks back home?

Cross-posted at CAT Food (for thought)

Uncharacteristic Behavior

I rented a car and drove west. All by myself. I drove and drove and drove until I got to Austin, Texas. And I thought to myself, how uncharacteristic. I felt like I hadn’t done anything like this before, at least not for a very long time.

There was a reason for this pilgrimage, of course. Over thirty years ago, a woman named Lisa and a man named Brendan began a musical collaboration in Melbourne, Australia. Later they moved to London. For the better part of two decades they made amazing music together under the name Dead Can Dance. Then they broke up in 1998. During all that time, I never heard them, never even knew of them. They got back together for a world tour in 2005, but I was still entirely ignorant. I only discovered them around the time my daughter was born. To say I found their music transformative would be an understatement. They’re the only act in recent memory that I would actually want to see live — and they aren’t even together anymore.

Except now they are. When they announced a new album and a new tour, I bought tickets at the first opportunity. The closest they got to New Orleans was Atlanta. I opted for Austin, which is almost as close, but home to many more friends, even some relatives.

That was some six months ago. Xy thought I was crazy and vehemently disapproved. If Hurricane Isaac had come a week later, we might have evacuated to Austin and everything would have worked out nicely. As it was, we were just getting back to normal and it didn’t feel quite right to run off. I mailed my tickets to PJ in Austin. Then I talked to Xy; she’d had a change of heart and wanted me to go, with her blessing.

So I went. PJ came to see the show with me.


And the show was really good.



After the show we stopped to see some of PJ’s friends and jammed until the wee hours of the morning.

Club Pesky

I spent the night at PJ’s house. It was great to see Andrea and the kids.


The next day I drove back home. In total I was only gone 32 hours, I think. I felt bad about burning all that gas just to move my body a thousand miles. If I’d had my act together I might have car-pooled with some other fans. But I’m glad I made the trip.

Step into the Light

Equinox Truck

Now we enter that half of the year where the days are longer than the nights.

The equinox came this morning at fourteen minutes past midnight. I have to make an effort not to fixate on that single moment. I was asleep anyhow. Better to extend the celebration. The equilux was last Thursday here in New Orleans. Why not start there?

I got a second equilux this year, as I flew up to Philadelphia. The equilux, that day when sunrise and sunset are most nearly twelve hours apart, varies by latitude. It comes a day later there.

I went to Bryn Mawr College for the fifth Mindfulness in Education conference, which culminated in a full day of (mostly) silent meditation. I’ve never done anything quite like that before.

In retrospect, it was a great way to celebrate the equinox. Mindfulness surely cultivates balance. But I missed my family.

Then I came back home, and kept Persephone home from school Monday, so we could celebrate the equinox together. In addition to baking our weekly bread, we dyed eggs to decorate an “egg tree,” prepared a vernal-themed feast for dinner, and ran to the doctor for the girl’s four-year checkup and vaccinations. The meal was delicious: spring greens with sprouts, quiche, and charoset for desert. I also made black and white cookies, but didn’t get them done until later that night. By the time I finally hit the sack I was quite exhausted. I bit off a little more than I could chew. Not very balanced.

In the spirit of purification, I haven’t had anything to drink since Mardi Gras. (Well, actually since the weekend after Mardi Gras, but really, who’s counting? We had a visit from Ed the Meat Poet and I popped a cork.) I’ve been tapering off the coffee too, down to just a few swallows this morning. I hope to start on some dandelion-chicory root tea later this week. The idea of a seasonal detox session is appealing to me. In the same spirit I’ve even looked into fasting, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that quite yet. I am eating less, but that’s a topic for another post.

And if the spirit of the season can be maintained why not continue until Hellacious Saturday? Or Easter? Or Passover? Or forever?

Six months ago, at the autumnal equinox, I dedicated myself to a full year of discovering or uncovering my religion. This is the halfway mark, the inversion of that time across the mirror of the year. The dark half of the year is behind us for now, the light half ahead. The past six months have been fruitful, but my spirits have often flagged. I haven’t written about that much. The idea was to post less often and to write more thoughtfully, but to remain continually engaged in that process. Instead I’ve lapsed into periods of complete disengagement. Perhaps I need that reflective exercise to maintain a proper perspective.

It’s always a good time to begin again. Looking forward, I feel a buoyancy.

Welcome Home You Blue-Haired Freak

Twenty-five years ago —

Welcome Home

I came home from Sweden with blue hair, much to my parents’ shock and my sister’s delight.

At least I think she was delighted. Kind of hard to tell in this photo. Certainly I was glad to be back home. It was a great experience, my year abroad, but it was also hard, the hardest year of my (admittedly easy) life, in fact — until 2005 rolled around.

The blue was already beginning to wash out by this time, revealing the bleached blond underneath.

I’m wearing a gray flannel three piece suit I picked up at a secondhand shop in Stockholm. In this getup I felt like a rock star, and I pretended to be one on the flight home. I’m not sure anyone was fooled except maybe myself.

Return Home

I got Persephone up at dawn to see the sunrise on our last morning at Vero. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as dramatic as on the morning of the solstice. But it was still beautiful.


Unfortunately I neglected to tell Xy I was getting our daughter up so early. I also neglected to inform her that we were out of coffee. As a result, she was not pleasant company that morning, or really any of the next 740 miles.


We headed out at a decent hour, with a tank full of gas, but I think we made our first pit stop about ten minutes down the road.

Later, at another pit stop, a certain someone had a bowel movement of a disconcerting fluorescent turquoise color. For a moment we thought she had some strange space alien disease, then we remembered the Superman cone she’d had the night before. Judging by Robyn’s comment yesterday, we are not the only parents to encounter the bizarre after-effects of the Superman.

Despite such distractions we made good time, and soon it was clear that we would be making the return trip in one day, not two. Just as I suspected. The return trip is always shorter.

Back Home

I felt sort of dizzy after driving thirteen hours, but I was glad to be back home.

Things I forgot to note:

  • This was my father-in-law’s first visit to our new house.
  • Somewhere in the vicinity of Madison County, where we bunked down on our first night, Mike and I were discussing where Ray Charles was born, but neither of us could remember. Turns out it was, coincidentally, Madison County.
  • Monday night we had dinner at a place called Mr. Manatee’s. Among other things they had excellent fried oysters — possibly the best I’ve ever had.
  • While making the ceviche I listened to the world premiere of the new album from The Machine in the Garden via A Darker Shade of Pagan. Must have liked it because I bought the album upon getting back home.
  • Maybe next time I should try making escabeche instead. Just a thought.
  • We also saw Bon Iver on the Colbert Report and I bought their new album too, so a good week for new music.
  • We saw Ray Nagin hawking his new book on the Daily Show, and I felt sorry for the man — not because Jon Stewart skewered him, but because he didn’t.

And finally I should note that I don’t think I vacation well. The very idea of a vacation seems antithetical to my nature. Perhaps I’m more suited to quests — something more purpose-driven.

This concludes my travel recap. Tomorrow, it’s back to the present.

Final Friday

And so it’s come to this, at last, inexorably and inevitably.

The final day of our vacation.

Persephone started her morning as she usually did, with some painting.


I spent some time reading Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente, but I didn’t make much progress.


I’d been picking away at it all week. This book reads like a fever dream, gorgeous and strange, but perhaps not the best choice for the beach. It was already so hot that everything seemed kind of surreal.

Atlantic Bells

The Breezeway

Well Carved


Florida Keys

One thing I love about the Driftwood is the fact that there are all sorts of unique little details everywhere. So much of our modern world is prefab and generic. Four year ago, for example, I was taken by the fact that tiles had been set into the concrete stairs. It’s a simple thing, and easy to overlook, which is why I was delighted when Persephone noticed it too.


Each time we climbed these stairs she remarked on the tiles.

As we contemplated our imminent departure, we saw others who were just arriving.

Load In

To celebrate our final evening in Vero, Xy took us all to Kilwin’s.


I know it’s silly but I felt a little burst of civic pride upon seeing a reference to home in the ice cream selection.

New Orleans Praline Cream

I enjoyed my ice cream, but the real treat was seeing Persephone devour a cone of some multicolored monstrosity called “Superman.”



More about Superman tomorrow.

Town Thursday

Technically, the city of Vero includes plenty of beachfront. In fact the city officially changed its name to Vero Beach back in 1925 but old-timers like me still prefer to call it Vero. Anyway, my point is that I don’t feel like I’m in “town” when I’m standing in the surf staring out at the greenish-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Truth to tell, I don’t really feel like I’m in town until I’ve crossed over the Indian River Lagoon and left Orchid Island entirely. That’s not really fair because a lot of people live on the island, but as a a vacationer I can’t help feeling I’m still on vacation when I’m in such close proximity to the beach.

So Thursday was the day we went “into town.” We started with a visit to Royal Palm Pointe Park.

Royal Palm Pointe Park

It’s not huge but it’s certainly gorgeous, nicely landscaped and lavished with original artwork, and featuring at its center a fun splash fountain, inscribed with a spiral pattern. A great place for kids to play on a hot day.

Persephone at Royal Pointe

Every time I see one of these I wonder why we don’t have one in New Orleans. They couldn’t be too expensive to build and maintain, and certainly we have a climate that’s conducive. I’ve heard City Park has plans, but right now the nearest one is in Mandeville. I’ve never actually been, though Xy has taken Persephone there a couple times. I think it’s more basic than the one in Vero.

Compass Rose

After a good drenching, we headed to the Humane Society Thrift Shop. We love to visit thrift stores wherever we go. It’s kind of a compulsion with us. Vero has a good one. Persephone found a straw hat.


She wore it around the store as we shopped and got numerous compliments from fellow shoppers, who didn’t realize she was only trying it on for size. In the end, I shelled out the $1.50 and purchased it for her.

Soon we were back at the Driftwood.


OK, so not much of a trip into town, but it was hot, and we were on vacation.

Being slightly sunburnt about the torso, I took the laptop outside and sat in the shade, posting a meditation on Rogue Spirituality to my blog and catching up with e-mail.

Shutting Down

Then I decided it was time to shut it down and head to Waldo’s for a beer.


Soon I was sitting at the bar while my family joined me in the pool. Continuing the “town” theme, I met a local guy, a freelance nurse, who gave me the rundown on his life story. Mike also made a new friend, a local character named Bibble, I think.

Bibble & Mike

He was playing a miniature steel guitar while wearing a hat of his own creation. He made a little bird for Persephone which is now hanging from our rear-view mirror.


After a few rounds, we adjourned (with our drinks) for another al fresco dinner, burgers on the grill if memory serves.


We’d reached that inevitable point in the vacation when thoughts of our impending departure were beginning to loom. So Xy and her father and I took a good long walk along the beach as the last rays of light slipped away.


Vero Beach at Twilight

Wednesday Night at the Ocean Grill

The theme for Wednesday was love.

Look at the love in this picture.

On the Beach

Mother and daughter on the beach, wading into the surf? You can’t beat it. They are loving each other and the ocean, loving the place and moment they are in.

Another person who loved this place was Waldo Sexton.

Like us, he escaped from that benighted Hoosier-infested area to the north known as Indiana, and found a better life in the subtropics. Like us, he was a little crazy, driven by a mad passion for life. Like us, he enjoyed dressing up in outrageous costumes.

Time has threatened to wash some of his accomplishments away, like the designs we’d made on the beach the day before, but three living monuments remain: The Driftwood, McKee Botanical Garden, and the Ocean Grill.

For those keeping score at home, we lodged at the Driftwood all week, and we visited the McKee gardens for Solstice.

On Wednesday evening, we strolled on down to the Ocean Grill.

Ocean Grill

The place ain’t cheap. In fact, dinner here cost as much as the week’s worth of groceries we bought on our first night. But my family’s worth it. Of course you don’t have to buy a fancy dinner to show your family you love them, but it’s nice if you can swing it from time to time. I’ll forgo a full review of the restaurant, except to say most everything was perfect — especially the cocktails.


According to one journalist:

Sexton was a man who was not afraid to render an opinion and who never hesitated to embroider a story. He loved martinis and women, bells and things from the sea, and he possessed a compelling urge to create. Some people called him an irresponsible screwball, an untruth he shrewdly did not deny, knowing that the world loves an eccentric.


I took that photo at McKee four years ago, but I had to sneak it in here. I’m fascinated with Waldo’s fascination with bells. They say he gave many bells to local churches but never joined one.


Waldo Sexton — truly a model for us all. For what is a screwball but someone who loves the world too much? If you’re a hater, they call you a curmudgeon. Screwballs are lovers, and that’s what I aim to be.

Plus, I love martinis and women too.

For more on Waldo Sexton, you really have one authoritative source: Tales of Waldo E. Sexton: 1885-1967 by George W. Gross. This includes a 1987 reprint of a priceless point-by-point comparison showing correspondences between Waldo and the biblical Jacob.


Tuesday was the Summer Solstice. I got up super early (4AM by my body clock, which was still in the Central Time Zone) and headed down to the beach.

It was still pretty dark, but even at that early hour the eastern sky held a faint glow which grew stronger slowly, slowly, as I watched and waited. There was also plenty of light from a gorgeous half-moon directly overhead.

After a while the horizon was positively rosy. There seemed to be a few clouds there. I figured they might obscure the solar disk, and this gentle rosy glow would be the full extent of the drama.

Pre Dawn Panorama

I was wrong about that. Soon I spotted a planet. I’m not set up for celestial photography, but you can see the planet in this shot if you look really close.


So I thought that was it. Not that I was disappointed. It was quite beautiful. I prepared to head back to our room, when a woman passed by walking her dog. There weren’t many people out on the beach at that time, and I suppose there’s a certain presumption of familiarity, if not fraternity, with other early risers. Anyway, she said to me, in a tone that suggested we were old friends, “Just fifteen more minutes.”

“Hm? Until what?”

“‘Til sunrise!”

Blow me down. I thought I’d been watching the sunrise. I knew the precise time of dawn, as I’d checked on the net, but I didn’t have a timepiece on me.

So I stuck around a little longer, and a good thing too. When the sun finally did pop up over the horizon, it was glorious. Majestic. Awe-inspiring.

Red Dawn

Definitely worth getting up for.

Every year I learn a little bit more about astronomy and other aspects of these celestial events. Most of us know (if we’re aware of it at all) that the summer solstice is the longest day of the year. I always assumed that meant the earliest dawn and the latest sunset of the year as well. Makes sense, right? Stands to reason. But in fact the earliest dawn came about a week before the solstice, and the latest sunset about a week after. Weird, huh? I also learned that idea I have had in my head of the earth tilting back and forth on its axis is not correct. The axis is indeed tilted with respect to the plane of earth’s orbit around the sun, but it stays tilted in the same direction all year round. It’s just that as it revolves around the sun, that tilt means that one hemisphere and then the other gets more direct solar rays. It’s easy to find illustrations of this concept all over the web.

I really wanted to do something special to celebrate the solstice. I got a book on the topic, The Summer Solstice by Ellen Jackson. This book provides a kid-friendly explication of the summer solstice from diverse world traditions and the scientific perspective as well. Includes a story from Hawaii and hands-on activities. If there’s another book like this I haven’t found it yet. (Actually this is one in a series of four books by Ellen Jackson on the solstices and equinoxes, but I don’t know of any other book or series for kids that addresses the topic from a global perspective.) I read this to Persephone a couple times, and my father-in-law did too. She understands the basic concept, I think, and certainly understood this was a special day. She was especially excited to make a wreath in the Bohemian style, which I thought would be especially appropriate given her heritage, but on the day before our departure from New Orleans I realized I should have been drying out weeds, reeds and grasses a week or two ahead of time. I felt bad about having screwed that up. Having a bonfire wasn’t really an option for us. Another cool ritual I came across somewhere was the idea of launching candles on paper boats, but I don’t think that would work too well on the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe next year, if we’re in New Orleans, we could do that on the bayou.

So our celebrations in Vero were less ambitious. Persephone and I spent the latter part of the morning building a big sand sculpture. It wasn’t particularly artistic — just a big circular trench surrounded by towers. It was a solar symbol, at least in my mind. I didn’t take my camera down to the beach while we played in the sand, so I don’t have a photo of that captures the full glory of it, but I did pass by later and take a picture after the water had washed most of it away.

Washing Away

I actually started work on this project before the sun came up.

Sun Circle

Later in the day we made the obligatory visit to McKee Botanical Garden. This place was established by the same eccentric Hoosier who created the Driftwood, the infamous Waldo Sexton. More about him later. Soon we were standing again in the Hall of Giants, marveling at the world’s largest mahogany table and other wonders.

Hall of Giants

Spanish Kitchen


Unfortunately it was blazing hot. In fact our whole trip seems to have been in the middle of a heat wave. When we visited this garden four years ago, the high was 86ºF. This day the high was 93ºF but we were melting like it was over a hundred. I’m sure with the heat index it was.

Fortunately things were much more pleasant by the time we got ready for our evening meal. We decided to dine al fresco on one of the tables by the ocean.

Picnic by the Sea

We used one of the gas grills to cook our food. This was also a nice place to meet some of our fellow guests. I discovered a lot of people were from inland Florida. Many of them had been coming to the Driftwood for years.


We’d stopped at a BBQ restaurant on the way home and picked up a couple pints of sauce.

Here’s a picture of grandma and granddaughter waiting for their dinner. I love their expressions in this photo. I also love this funky triangular table.


The chicken and roasted asparagus were delicious.

Afterward we went for a walk on the beach. A great end to the longest day of the year.

Missing Monday

I took a lot of photos on this vacation. Around 400, I think, the best of which are slowly finding their way into a set on Flickr. I’m using them to reconstruct the trip in my mind, to jog my memory as to what happened when.

And yet there’s a gap. I didn’t take any photos on Monday. Not one.

What happened on that day? Without documentation, I feel bereft — naked — alone on the edge — like Andrew Bowen during Fringe month.

That last reference may seem gratuitous but it’s not. While Xy was in Fishville I bought her a new laptop, but I had an ulterior motive: I wanted a computer to bring with me on this trip. And so I did.

(It’s an Acer Aspire AS5742z-4685 LX.R4P02.020 15.6″ Notebook, Intel Pentium P6100 2.0GHz, 4GB DDR3 Memory, 320GB HDD, DVD Super Multi-Drive, Intel GMA HD, with Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit which I got for $391.09, refurbished, from Cheetah Deals via Thanks to all the folks who gave me pointers.)

And so I was checking my e-mail and catching up with websites like Project Conversion constantly.

Looking back on Facebook, I see I shared this link: 2011 National Days of Prayer to Protect Native American Sacred Places with the comment, “Something to think about as the solstice approaches.”

More on the solstice later.

And on Twitter:

My three-year-old daughter wants to know: “Who is Weiner?” And so it begins.

I also used that laptop to compose my monthly letter to my daughter, though I didn’t publish it until the next day.

Thus, even though I didn’t take any photos, we can still trace my digital spoor, as it were.

I was going to write that the main break in my routine was that I didn’t blog during my week in Vero. But obviously I’ve already given the lie to that. In fact I posted to my blog three times during the week. Oops. I told myself that I wanted to maintain a normal online presence so people wouldn’t know I was away from the house, but that’s bogus.

All of which gives me pause to wonder about routines and habits. I’ve often observed that my life is a process of establishing routines and breaking them. Isn’t the point of a vacation to get outside one’s daily routine, the regular grind of the rat race? But I like my job and I don’t feel like a racing rat. I try to live my life such that I don’t feel I need a vacation. I have the good fortune of generally enjoying my daily routine. Much of that involves having my head caught up in the net. Is that a bad thing? Habits usually feel good on some level, but that doesn’t mean they’re good all the way through. I enjoy having a drink, but if I find myself drinking too much, I cut back. Should I have left the laptop at home?

Maybe next time.

Ceviche Sunday

Let’s see. My last post got us most of the way through Saturday. We arrived in Vero mid-afternoon and checked in at the Driftwood.

The Driftwood Inn

Longtime readers may recall that Xy and I took a vacation here back in June of 2007, a week of lovebugs and lovemaking. We suspect our daughter was conceived in Vero. It makes a nice story anyway. That week was our first break from the maddening grind of postdiluvian New Orleans, and boy howdy did we need it.

They say you can’t go home again. It’s probably also true that you can’t take the same vacation twice. This time around we had a three-year old with us, and my in-laws too, so it was an entirely different experience.

Having said that, I do still love the Driftwood. It is truly a unique place with an interesting history. More about that later.


While the others frolicked on the beach, my mother-in-law and I headed to the grocery and stocked up on food for the week. We might have bought a tiny bit too much. The cart was so heavy I could barely push it to checkout, and upon bagging the food filled a second cart. Thanks to Susie for picking up the tab, which was nearly $300. Back at the Driftwood we had a simple spaghetti dinner, and then I made another crucial run — to the liquor store. After some deliberation, I picked up some Dubonnet Rouge, Averna, Courvoisier, and 4 Orange. More about that later.

Sliced Peppers

Come Sunday morning, I got busy slicing. Red, yellow and green bell peppers. Purple onion. Serrano peppers. Garlic. Cilantro. Fresh grouper. And I juiced lots of lemons and limes. Yup, I was making ceviche. Have I written about my ceviche obsession? I don’t believe I have. It started last summer, prompted my an article in the paper. I’m sure there are some good options at local restaurants, but so far the only ceviche I’ve had has been prepared by my own hand. It is somewhat labor intensive, as lots and lots of fine slicing is the key. I consider such food preparation an act of devotion to family and friends, and of course I was eager to share the love with my in-laws.

While I was busy slicing like a madman, Persephone was having her first dip in the pool at Waldo’s. I was able to snap a photo from our balcony.

First Dip

Soon I had the ceviche “cooking” in the fridge. It’s the citric acid that denatures the fish. But “denaturing” sounds rather unappetizing. I think “cooking” is a better term.

Then it was my turn to frolic in the ocean.


As I mentioned earlier, it was a trip playing in the surf with Persephone. But soon enough we were back in the pool at Waldo’s.


They advertise this place as the “Last of the Great American Hangouts.” Of course we have a lot of awesome hangouts in New Orleans, but I can’t dispute that Waldo’s is a fun place. It’s on the ocean and the National Register of Historic Places. It is a restaurant and a bar and a pool and a hotel. It’s a part of the Driftwood, with rooms above the eatery and kitchen, and it’s named after the guy who created the driftwood, the eccentric Hoosier Waldo Sexton. More about him later.

As for being the “last” of its kind, well, after hanging out by the interstate exit Friday night I was ready to believe that too.

Waldo’s is also a venue for live music. On this particular Sunday afternoon, we were grooving to a duo with a surprisingly full sound, covering mostly 60s psychedelic folk rock.


I wish I’d gotten their name because they were fairly amazing. I think they played three full sets. I could have sat by the pool and listened to them forever.

Meanwhile, Persephone had latched on to a girl just a couple years older than herself and was emulating everything she did. Soon she was diving off the edge of the pool and swimming underwater. The expressions of pure joy on her face were certainly worth the trip. Sorry, I didn’t manage to get a photo.

Eventually, hunger and logic dictated that it was time for dinner. We invited Mike and Susie over to our condo for the ceviche, which I served over avocado halves, with a glass of Twisted pinot grigio. Does a lemony wine go well with a lemony dish, or is that too much lemon?


In retrospect perhaps ceviche wasn’t such a great choice. The idea of eating fish that hasn’t been cooked with heat is not appealing to everyone. I’m just not 100% sure what my in-laws thought of this dish. But I couldn’t resist that fresh grouper, and the end result was frankly delicious if I do say so myself.

Friday Dry

When my in-laws asked what time we should leave, I said 7AM, and they laughed, and my father-in-law suggested 9AM. Then it was my turn to laugh, quietly, to myself. In my mind I thought 10AM, but I didn’t take that too seriously either. When facing up to a long journey, I like to get an early start. If left to my own devices, I would probably leave at dawn. But fortunately or otherwise I am not left to my own devices. I am subject to the devices of others. Years of experience have taught me that fixating on an departure time is a losing proposition, unless there’s a plane to catch.

In the end we rolled out at 9:45AM which was fine by me. All five of us fit into our Ford Escape Hybrid. As soon as we got on the highway we determined that Xy had indeed forgotten the Scrabble game, but we didn’t turn back. Soon we were crossing the twin spans. Soon we were driving through Mississippi. Soon we were plowing through that cool tunnel beneath Mobile, Alabama. Soon we were in the Florida panhandle.

And did we drive on in stony silence? We did not. We were rocking out to a mix of cover songs I’d thrown together. Here is a sampling of the music we enjoyed, ten tracks including tunes by Caetano Veloso, Cash Nexus, and My Summer as a Salvation Soldier. They are all covers.

The title of this mix is an anagram. I was turned on to all these tracks via the late great Copy, Right? music blog by Liza Pavelich (as seen on ROX). Coincidentally it’s her birthday today.

We went 440 miles that first day. That landed us in the quaint burg of Madison, Florida. Actually I’m only guessing at its quaintness. In point of fact we never actually set foot in the town proper. We stayed at the Best Western, conveniently located near the interstate exit.

Since there were five of us in one vehicle, we made an effort to travel light. I did not pack, for example, any booze. It should therefore come as no surprise that Madison County is one of only five “dry” counties in the state of Florida. I always thought “dry” meant no alcohol whatsoever, but in this case beer and wine were legal. We were able to run to the truckstop across the way and pick up as much beer as we could possibly want. I noticed they had beverages with Smirnoff and Bacardi and other famous spirits, but upon closer examination, these all seemed to be malt beverages — in other words, flavored beer without a trace of vodka or rum. Weird. I made the highly questionable decision to pick up a big can of Sparks and an even bigger can of Tilt.

Best Western Rewards

Man — chilling poolside at a hotel in a dry county in the Deep South drinking a damn Sparks. If you haven’t done this, you should try it some time. It really puts things in some kind of perspective.

Sparks and Tilt are examples of a beverage category of which I had been blissfully ignorant. They’re called alcopops, “malt beverages to which various fruit juices or other flavorings have been added.” In retrospect, I wish I’d remained ignorant. Those things were nasty. I also regret that we didn’t at least take a curiosity cruise through Madison. That hotel by the interstate is exactly the kind of non-place that I so intensely despise with every fiber of my being. The only cool thing about being there was the cow pasture out back. Persephone had just remarked a few days earlier that she’d never seen a cow in real life, so she was fascinated.

And the next morning, when we went out to visit the cows again, we got a special treat.

Ostrich Sighting


Yes, it’s an ostrich. Or at least I think it is. A big flightless bird anyway.

We were joined at the fence by another hotel guest, a farmer from one of the Carolinas. It had rained on Friday night, but he wondered if Florida was suffering from the same dry spell as they’d been having in his neck of the woods. He observed the quality of the grass, and the low level of water in a pond in the cow pasture, and he concluded that indeed they were having a drought here, just as we’d been having in New Orleans.

After breakfast at the hotel, we got on the road again. Only 300 miles to Vero. The drive was uneventful, except for one thing. We were on the Florida Turnpike, a toll highway with limited access; we were going to make a pit stop at a service plaza but I missed the exit. So we took the next next exit, which landed us right in the middle of Orlando. (The Mall at Millenia to be precise.) We ended up eating lunch at one of the most upscale McDonald’s I’ve seen. I was impressed by the sanitary door openers in the restrooms. These were little hooks that allowed you to open the door with your wrist so you didn’t have to touch the knob with your hand. Fancy. It’s always interesting to see how the other half lives.


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.


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”

Butts of St. Louis

I thought about doing a photo series titled “Butts of St. Louis,” but I worried that the good citizens of that city might find it disrespectful. I would never, ever want to offend the residents of any Midwestern city that isn’t named Indianapolis.

Plus, I only actually took two such photos.

Butt #1

Butt #2

There’s twenty more photos in this set, but no more butts. Sorry.


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.

Contemplative Academy

I sat next to empty seats on my two flights up to Hartford (changing planes in Charlotte) so I didn’t talk to much of anyone until I got on the shuttle I’d reserved. I was sharing the vehicle with three young folks who looked to be in their mid-twenties. As we pulled away from the airport, I said, “Hey, I noticed y’all had instruments. Are you musicians then?”

The reply: “No, we’re not, we just enjoy carrying musical instruments with us wherever we go.”
Continue reading “Contemplative Academy”

My Boss Is Abroad

Desert wind at night

Strangely enough, just as Islamophobia seems to be reaching new heights here in the States, my boss is in Saudi Arabia. She was invited some months ago, to give workshops at two different women’s campuses on topics such as student motivation, active learning, planning for teaching, and so forth.

It’s a great opportunity, of course. But as she prepared for this trip, I was surprised by some of the things I learned about Saudi Arabia. I knew it’s a strictly regimented society, and that gender roles are somewhat constrained. I knew, for example, that women have to be covered head to toe when they go out in public. (And my boss had an interesting time purchasing the necessary garments here.) I was not familiar, however, with the system of male guardianship. I gather that women cannot travel freely or do many things without approval of a male guardian.

More to the point, my boss is not able to go outside without a male escort. That’s got to be tough for an American woman to accept. I’ve been trying to imagine how I would feel in that scenario.

As I scanned recent news headlines coming out of the Kingdom, I couldn’t help but goggle at these bizarre headlines.

Meanwhile France has banned veils for women in public. It’s a very strange world we live in.

Anyway, my thoughts, and those of my co-workers, are with my boss at this time. (She reports that they have made her feel “right at home,” and she is finding a striking similarity between the concerns there and on our campus.) It’s truly an honor and a privilege for her to have been invited to this faraway place. I hope she reaps a maximum amount of cultural enrichment and personal development from the experience.

Photo: Desert wind at night by Cary Bazalgette, licensed under Creative Commons

Cloudy with a Chance of Tarballs

Emerald Coast

Many months ago, we booked a condo in Panama City Beach, Florida. (I should say, my mother-in-law booked the place. We consulted, but it was my in-laws’ dime.) This was well before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, long before oil started gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say of all the anguish caused by this disaster, my family vacation plans do not factor prominently. Yet still I worried about it. News reports indicated no oil there — until about a week before our trip. A piece of the Deepwater Horizon rig washed up on the beach there. And then came reports of tarballs. In the final days before our departure, I was reading up on public health advisories, effects of dispersant chemicals on toddlers, varying accounts of the situation on the ground (or in the water) in Panama City Beach, and all manner of online monitoring sites. It was maddeningly difficult, impossible really, to come to any kind of conclusion.

I decided if we saw tarballs we would keep our daughter out of the Gulf waters. Dispersant is not so easily detected by the human eye, of course. Once we got there, we found the water crystal clear. I scouted for tarballs constantly but never saw one.

In the end, it turns out I needn’t have worried so much. I think our girl spent no more than an hour in actual contact with the waters of the Gulf for a variety of reasons. On the morning of our first full day there, Xy took her down to the beach and was holding her when a wave knocked her down. That scared Persephone and she preferred the pool from that point forward. Later in the week the waves got increasingly rough as Hurricane Alex churned through the Gulf, and the water was closed for swimming anyway.

We had a great time regardless.

Here are some other random notes.

It’s just over 300 miles from NOLA to PCB. This was our first long trip in the hybrid vehicle, and I was curious to see how it performed. It took less than a tank of gas to get there, and we got about 30 miles per gallon.

We stayed at the Wyndham. I’m sure I’m not the first person to gaze skeptically upon all those highrise beachfront resorts, but you can’t beat a balcony looking over the ocean. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a two-bedroom accommodation so my in-laws were in a separate condo not far from ours, but it worked out all right.

We were there for six full days, bookended by two half-days for arrival and departure — a week. Of those six full days, two were sunny and spectacular, two were overcast with a little rain, and two had heavy rain. (Thanks Alex.)

I took almost 400 photos. I’ve posted a set of the best on Flickr. (Friends and family see more.)

Internet connectivity was problematic and aggravating. I took a laptop from work, which I hooked up to Ethernet in our condo. I enjoyed unfettered net access for two days — and then it just stopped working for no apparent reason. The problem was not the Ethernet but the laptop I was using. A couple guys on the staff came out and tried to troubleshoot but ultimately we were unsuccessful. So I used the wifi network, in a common area not far from our condo, but that proved unreliable as well. The network had a tendency to disappear suddenly for no apparent reason, leaving me disconnected. Thus I was unable to participate in the “Contemplative Neuroscience” webinar which was my ostensible reason for bringing the laptop in the first place.

I finished reading On Blue’s Waters and and started In Green’s Jungles.

I called the front desk and they sent up a pack-n-play crib where Persephone slept comfortably most of the time. On her first night she was restless and ended up in our bed while I moved out to the couch. (I needn’t have bothered as the king-sized mattress was big enough for the three of us.) She had a nightmare one other night, but the rest of the time she was happy to sleep in “little bed.”

We missed the Hands Across the Sands event, alas. We could have walked there.

My friend MAD, who used to live in PCB, recommended a number of local venues. We only went out to eat one night, and we tried a couple waterfront places he mentioned but the lines were way too long for us. We ended up at Scampy’s which proved to be quite delicious. There was no wait for dining on the patio, which I found incredible. Who wants to sit in a dark dining room on beautiful summer evening?

Our friends DJ, Daisy and Lavender joined us for the last two nights. I didn’t think they were going to make it, but they got there just in time for the worst of the Alex weather. Then they stayed a couple nights after we left at a hotel.

My mother-in-law Susie cooked all the major meals. Actually Xy did cook grits and grillades one night. I meant to prepare stuffed peppers but I forgot my recipe and Susie ended up doing that as well. I probably gained some weight on this vacation.

Another contributing factor: We went through one bottle each of Averna, Bombay Sapphire, St. Germain, Hennessy and Limoncello, plus half a bottle of Amaretto and some wine and beer. Key cocktails: Vertigo, Extended Roman Holiday, Horse’s Neck, St. Germain & Soda, and the good old gin & tonic (with and without St. Germain).

My favorite moment of the whole trip was when Persephone and I built a sand castle on the beach one evening. She was crushing towers as quickly as I could build them, until I managed to get a couple up in quick succession. Suddenly she got the idea — this could be a place where Cinderella might live. Soon she was helping me build the walls, and before you knew it we had a most, a tunnel, a bridge, and a domed ballroom. It didn’t look like much to be honest, but in our eyes it was a palace.

Getting back to my original concern, I want to re-emphasize that I never saw a single tarball. There’s probably a good deal of variation up and down the beach, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. I also want to be clear that I think environmental issues are of primary importance to us all. I wouldn’t want to discount concerns about what’s happening in the Gulf right now. I believe it’s a crisis of epic proportions.

Obviously we must be on guard against paranoia. When the water was closed to swimming and a plane came by dragging a banner that said “STAY OUT OF THE GULF” it was hard not to feel alarmed. My father-in-law spoke to another guest at the resort who was sure the closure was oil-related — yet I am certain it was because of the weather.

Which is not to say that there was no oil. There’s a persistent trough of foam that develops between the first and second set of breaks. My mother-in-law said she thought it looked funny, sort of discolored, toward the later half of our stay, and she suspected it was because of oil. I was skeptical, but when Daisy arrived she said the same thing, and she’s a geologist after all. So who knows, maybe there was something to that.

And as far as I know you can’t see dispersant, and no one is testing for it, and no one really knows how dangerous it might be to humans. But that Corexit stuff BP was using was banned in the UK.

All of which gets back to my original point about the difficulty of getting truly reliable information about what’s going on out there. We can only make good decisions if we have good information, but there’s very few sources that I trust anymore.

Up in the Air

A Tale of Two T-Shirts

I spent the last week recovering from my family reunion. We have one every five years, and this was the tenth such event. The family is spread around the country pretty well (except for the northeast) so we have been rotating the location ever since my grandmother sold the farm. This time we were in the Pacific Northwest, on the coast — Manzanita, Oregon, to be exact.

It was a wonderful time for me and, I think, for all 35 attendees. Did I say I was recovering? Well, yes. It was a very full four days. Air travel is no fun, and I was especially anxious about traveling with a toddler, but our daughter did better than expected on four flights totaling over ten hours of air time. It’s actually Xy who’s had the hardest time of it. She doesn’t travel well in any event, and hanging with in-laws over the holidays is of course stressful, and she was coming down with something when we started. She’s got just about the worst cough I’ve ever heard and I think maybe an ear infection too. She’s on an antibiotic now, plus some steroids, but she’s not getting better as quickly as we’d hoped.

Yes, it’s nice to see my extended family, though to tell the truth it’s hard to really catch up when there are so many people and time is so brief. But there’s more to it than just catching up.
Continue reading “A Tale of Two T-Shirts”