Saturday, August 29, 2009

Daily Sustainability

This is it... the last weekend before I return to full time teaching in a high school English classroom. And, if past years are anything to go by, teaching English will live me feeling wrung out and used up at the end of each day, somewhat resentful at the end of each week that I have such a narrow little window in which to fit the rest of my life.

I don't want it to be like that. That's not new. But the both the desire and the challenge is keener now, since buying this house.

I've mentioned before how important the woods behind the house are to me. I grew up surrounded by woods, and I've longed to live in the woods ever since I left them, to go out and try to create an adult life.

As a child, I at least believed that I lived a life with a kind of balance. My parents had important, meaningful work, but also friends, time outdoors, a house and a garden they were able to take good care of... it looked good, and I both wanted a life like that, and have been afraid I'd be unable to have one.

Whether because my parents were superhuman mutants (Don't laugh! It's a theory I have been known to entertain) or because the world had changed, or because the life I thought I knew as a child never really was that life, I have not felt that I've ever managed anything like the graceful life, lived in balance, that I at least believed my parents had. Of course, to a child, a summer is an eternity, and anything that lasts a year is forever. There are ways that childhood, at least if it is a happy childhood, does lend itself to certain illusions. But this one, that one day I will live a life of balance and love, has been remarkably persistent. I don't feel that I've ever quite found it; and yet I've never stopped seeking it: a sustainable, productive life.

This house reminds me so much of my childhood. There are stretches of woods that feel so similar to the ones I remember from years ago that it is almost deja vu to walk there.

What is it that I want? I want, in the midst of my working year, to find a way to have some of the sense of grace and balance I thought I lived with as a child. I want, in the midst of the working year, to find time to walk in the woods, smelling the warm smell of the forest floor. I want to have time to write, and to sit by a window in my new house and breathe in the toasty steam of a fresh cup of coffee while I read a novel. I want to have long conversations, punctuated by firelight and laughter, with Peter, and my daughter, and my friends.

I want to sink deep into worship on a regular basis. I want to watch the moon's face through the fog of my own breath on an icy starlit night, hand in hand with other Pagans in the snow. I want to fold my own laundry, wash my own dishes, keep up with my grading and my lesson planning, and maybe even bake a little bread once in a while.

I want to ride my bike to the library. I want to have a day off sometimes. And I want to be tired from working hard at the end of the day, but not so tired I can't think, or talk on the telephone, or feel the wind on my face now and then.

I want a sustainable life. I want my finances, my relationships, my workload, and my relationships with my gods to be in balance. I want ordinary (or is it extraordinary?) grace, daily sustainability.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Which our Heroine Tells us More Than we Wanted to Know about Her New Old House

So. As previously hinted, I do have more to say about New England Yearly Meeting. However, my ability to say it has been temporarily compromised by two issues: technical difficulties, and finally moving into that new/old house I've mentioned here before.

Unless my personal life and Peter's holds interest for you, you might want to skip this one.

The technical difficulties I mentioned are entirely the normal thing in this technological age; when we arranged to transfer our current telephone and Internet service from our old house to our new one, across town, the telephone company gladly accepted the commission, without mentioning that they don't actually provide Internet service in our new part of town. At all. Three weeks and six or seven phone calls later, we learned exactly why the carefully scheduled transfer of services was so unsuccessful when it came to our Web access.

While I realize that it would be unusual for a service to refer customers to their competition, I think admitting up front that they didn't provide the service at all would have been the thing to do, rather than canceling it without admitting to us that's what they were doing. Once we figured out what had gone wrong, it did make the decision to switch to their competitor an easy one! Unfortunately, since we do in fact want to keep our old phone number, there's going to be about a two week delay. Since we made the initial set of arrangements more than three weeks ago, I find that annoying. We will have no Internet service here until the 22nd.

Whenever I get warmed up to whine about it, however, Peter points out how smoothly this move has gone so far. And he's right. With so much to be grateful for, I have a nerve kvetching over the small stuff!

Under the header of what has gone right I'd have to put being here at all. Oh, it's not the fact of getting the loan I mean. Peter and I have known for some time that the bank was going to be willing to loan us more money than we would be comfortable owing. Our credit history is reasonably good... and the bank does not have the same priorities we do about our daughter finishing college. Their standards for our money and ours are not the same. So even in the midst of a credit crisis, we were pretty sure of qualifying for the mortgage.

The difficulty has been trying to finance the house while juggling so many midlife financial matters: that daughter in college, saving for retirement, concerns about how an illness might affect our ability to keep working (and working hard enough that fatigue is a daily problem as it is) in addition to paying for a mortgage. It took us a long while to figure out whether or not we dared take on a major new debt at this point in our lives. Over a year, in fact. And for that whole year, this house, which we fell in love with at first sight, has been on the market.

It made it as far as offer and acceptance four or five months ago, but the offer was withdrawn before the deal went through.

Our house waited for us! That's the feeling of it. I've been hesitant to put it into words before, because there is hubris as well as gratitude in the Quaker idea of "way opens," at least in a personal matter. But way has been opening for us like crazy in this move, in big ways (like the house waiting for us) and smaller ones (like the extreme generosity our friends have shown us in helping us with the move, from lifting boxes and toting furniture, to the donation of a big TV we can all watch videos on when they come to visit). Even finding a new tenant for the unit we used to occupy ourselves happened through community, and within two weeks of our offer and acceptance on this house. Truly, it has been remarkable how much has fallen into our laps.

Don't get me wrong: we've been working hard ourselves, too. I have personally scrubbed every single wall, baseboard, and molding in the rental unit. Peter is there now, prepping and painting the last two rooms. We're still hauling boxes, repairing fixtures, sash-cords, and latches all over that old apartment. We've figured out, too, that we're not going to make the deadline on handing it off to our new tenants without a little outside help, and a connection of Peter's through two of his best students at school (there's that community piece again!) is going to come in and help with the last of the carpentry.

Work. It's been plenty of work.

But also gratitude. I'm still in love with the woods--today was the first time we brought the dogs out in them for a walk--but I'm also delighted at how much the house itself really does feel like home. From the first night we slept here, it has felt like we belong here. Oh, part of the delight is the new-house pleasure of playing house: the first meal I cooked in the kitchen, the first load of laundry. All of it feels a bit like being a little girl playing with a dollhouse.

But it's more than that. The house just fits, just feels like a pair of broken-in hiking boots or a favorite sweater. Both of us have had the experience of just looking up from whatever it is we've been doing, sighing happily, and announcing to the universe, "I love this house!"

I love this house.

It has room for us. It has sun that streams in the windows, and grass outside that's thicker than velvet, and enough cupboards in the kitchen, and a laundry that's not down two flights of twisty dark stairs and a cozy room for my office and a spacious one for Peter's and a fireplace and a front porch and slate steps and a Rose of Sharon and a flowering quince and such a pretty view from the big front windows. And best of all, it really feels like home.

I cannot convince myself that we have earned this, or that we deserve it. But I can feel grateful for it. And my gratitude moves me to look for ways to perhaps live as lightly on the land as we can.

So many dreams. My friend Beth may be willing to give us a chest freezer she has. And while running a second freezer is not without environmental cost, it would allow us to buy things like local produce and chicken in bulk, and to freeze them: to eat like locavores, with less packaging and shipping to get our food to our plates.

Our new house's furnace is on its last legs. We're looking into getting a pellet furnace: a bit more work--OK, quite a bit more work, with hauling the pellet fuel by hand into the cellar--but to burn locally grown wood pellets would be kinder to the earth than burning Middle-Eastern oil. Not just the reduced shipping and refining costs, but also the fact that fossil fuels release new carbon into the atmosphere. Burning wood, provided one lives in a region (like New England) where new growth exceeds the harvesting of trees, means releasing some carbon into the atmosphere... but carbon from a source that has actually fixed more carbon into the soil (in the form of fallen leaves, twigs, and needles) over its lifetime than is released when it is burned.

(And its cheaper, at least around here, and for now.)

We talk about where the indoor clothes drying lines will go, and what sort of clothesline to put up outside. We dream about solar panels--and that is a dream, given our finances, but, with our southern exposure, I suspect it will be a recurring one. And we dream about planting trees, and a garden, and where the compost heap can go.

I'm liking these dreams.

Though they, as well as our technical difficulties, may keep me from writing about other things, or even any things, for a while. Still. It's good to be home.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

New England Yearly Meeting Affirms Same-Sex Marriages


This was a sort of a breakthrough year for me at New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers).

I want to write about that, but I feel that, this year, I need to allow NEYM to scoop me. Because it was a breakthrough year for Friends in New England, too; we minuted our clear sense of the right order of same-sex marriages performed among us.

It is probably worth mentioning that same-sex marriages have been performed by monthly meetings for a number of years now, and that many of our quarterly meetings have affirmed this practice. We have, however, been laboring with this issue, and with our relationship with Friends United Meeting (which continues to be a tender spot) for a long time now.

I mention the issue of Friends United Meeting, which has a personnel policy many of our members find discriminatory and painful, because it was grappling with our discomfort over FUM that kept pushing the matter of same-sex marriage, and of glbtq rights in general, into the limelight for us. Try as we would to separate them, the two issues persisted in rising together.

Ultimately, while recognizing the sincere and possibly prophetic witness of our members who feel that they cannot make financial contributions to FUM, we came to strong and clear unity on two things:
  1. We are clear that we wish to remain in loving relationship with Friends United Meeting.
  2. We are clear that we have been blessed and honored by the ministry of many glbtq Friends in our meeting, and that every marriage taken under the care of our meetings, without regard to the sexual identities or orientations of the couple, is a blessing and a joy to our meetings.
We love our relationships and work in Friends United Meeting.

We love our glbtq Friends, and recognize the love of Spirit working through them in their relationships with one another and with us.

The minute does not mention Friends United Meeting at all. Though our concerns with the wider body remain, and some Friends are in a place of deep pain and have great demands of conscience weighing on them over how to carry our concerns within other branches of that body, this minute addresses our own meetings, urging each to examine what they can say on the subject of holding up the equality of glbtq members. Each meeting is asked to "discern how they can best offer to all couples the same care and affirmations of their leadings to walk together in love."

Though directed at our own meetings, it is probably relevant that NEYM is a founding member of FUM, and quite active in that body. I believe this represents either the first or second such minute from a yearly meeting within the larger, and worldwide, body of Friends United Meeting.

Spirit labored a long time with us to bring us to this point, and my heart is grateful for the grace we found to arrive at this point today.

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