Beware the Jabberwocks

By | Dean, Living, The Long Road | One Comment

Lessons from the Dragon Boat

None of us knew quite what to expect on Saturday as we gathered at Hawk Island for our one-hour training session for the Capital City Dragon Boat Race to support the Women’s Resource Center of Greater Lansing. Earlier this year, my wife, Val, suggested that the MSU College of Arts & Letters might pull a team together for the race, and she and Melissa Staub, Executive Assistant to the Dean, had been organizing our team, the Jabberwocks, for a few months. But no one on our team of faculty, staff, students, family and friends had any real experience racing dragon boats, so we arrived at Hawk Island for training with plenty of enthusiasm, but little understanding of the intricacies of the sport. Read More

Inhabiting a Liminal Space

By | Education, Living, LwCH, The Administrative Life, The Long Road | 3 Comments

With the announcement that I would be recommended as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State, Val, the girls, and I entered a liminal space.

I have long be drawn to the idea of the liminal, that dynamic space of ambiguity characteristic of transitions, but to conscientiously inhabit a liminal space is an altogether difficult endeavor.

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365 in 2013

By | Living, The Long Road | No Comments

As the year comes to a close, so too does my 365 in 2013 picture a day project. The purpose of the project was to cultivate habits of mindfulness.
Each day I set myself the task of capturing an image of something beautiful in the quotidian. This year, as in 2011, the picture-a-day practice required me to tune my attention to the world around me, to those little, remarkable things that often escape notice.

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Anticipation

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | No Comments

Excitement abounds here in the Long household as preparations are made for the arrival of Santa.

At 9- and 8-years old, the girls are at that prime age when Christmas is long anticipated and full of magic.

This morning snow fell lightly coating the ground in white after a week of rain.

These are the moments for which I am grateful.

As the girls grow, the excitement of Christmas will change.

But for me, it will be forever marked by the spirit of anticipation and hope these two little girls have always embodied.

Here they are at 3 and 2 in 2007:

Anticipation from Christopher Long on Vimeo.

Evening Sledding

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | 4 Comments

It was dark before I got around to shoveling the walkway.

The girls were excited to be outside, but I had a chore to complete. They wanted to go sledding, so they started down the hill toward the fields where there is a nice slope. They were sure I would tell them, “No, it’s too dark, and I have to shovel snow.”

But I decided to let them go themselves.

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This Day is Broken

By | Living, The Long Road | 5 Comments


6/365: Grandparents Clock

Originally uploaded by cplong11

Today is Mack Brady’s birthday; he would have turned 9.

His father has recently written eloquently, even in his grief, about the theological questions the senseless death of a young boy raises. For him, it is not a question of God’s punishing anyone or of some grand divine plan, but of “the broken nature of the world.”

This W. H. Auden poem captures that brokenness; so I offer it here in memory of a birthday that should have been welcomed by the palpable excitement of an energetic little boy ready to enter into his ninth year of life.

W.H. Auden, via http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/auden.stop.html

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

One Week

By | Living, The Long Road | No Comments


Statuesque

Originally uploaded by Targuman

When the Collegian asked me to comment on the scholarship established in honor of Mack Brady for the article they published today, they could not integrate all I had written.

This is what I wrote:

When you look at the striking photographs Chris Brady took of Mack and his entire family, you see a glimpse of the beautiful life that was lost, and of the love that endures.

The entire Penn State community mourns with Chris and Elizabeth and Izzy.
The soccer scholarship they have established will be a tribute to the energy, skill and passionate dreams of a wondrous little boy, and a lasting testimony to the enduring love our community feels for him and the Brady family.

* * *
Tonight marks the one week anniversary of Mack’s death. Here are a few images by which to remember the love that endures:

The Press Enterprise

By | Living, Technology, The Long Road | 7 Comments

West End of Bloomsburg, PA
Originally uploaded by colecamp

I have long had the vague idea that newspapers need to recognize that the core of their business is the business of their communities.

Sometimes the experiences of your friends have a way of making vague ideas poignant and concrete.

Such is the case for me with my friend, Cole Camplese, and his experience with the Press Enterprise of Bloomsburg, PA.

The Press Enterprise is the local paper in Bloomsburg, a town that was hit last week with a devastating flood.

Have you read much about it? No? Well, I would point you to the paper so you could learn more about the lives of those impacted by the flood, but if I did that, you would quickly come face to face with this:

Press Enterprise.jpg
No, to learn about the flood from this paper allegedly dedicated to “Serving Bloomsburg,” you would need either to subscribe or visit their Facebook Page, where you would find comments from Facebook users and the occasional link to the Press Enterprise itself; and if you would like to read the articles to which these links point …  well, then you would need to subscribe.

Of course, you could also look at the images and stories gathered by individuals like Cole.

These images and stories articulate well the business of Bloomsburg at the moment. And it seems to me that the business of a newspaper designed to serve this community should really revolve around the business of the community itself. While the newspaper did unlock its content during the flood and in its immediate aftermath; it has now closed itself off again from the wider community of communication that is the internet.


Cole has written an eloquent post about this on his blog, a post that should move the Press Enterprise to reconsider its business strategy
.

But it is the strange tension in the name of the paper that I find rich with ambiguous meaning. At a time when the culture of printing is giving way to a new, more dynamic digital culture the very enterprise of the press has been called into question.

When we speak of the “enterprise” in business terms, we understand, as Dictionary.com says, “a company organized for commercial purposes.”  But the most common meaning of the term is “a project undertaken or to be undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or that requires boldness or energy.” I like that one. But it does not seem to be the meaning at play in the Press Enterprise.

Of course, we have been living since the invention of the printing press around 1440 in a print culture that has long been characterized by what might be called a logic of compression, impression and even repression. The printing press itself is an impressive machine designed to press information upon us, imprinting mass culture with the ideas, thoughts and values that have the imprimatur of the those with authority.

The enterprise of pressing has been lucrative indeed.

But what might the press enterprise look like if we took seriously the common meaning of ‘enterprise’ as an important, difficult and bold endeavor?

It would need to become something less depressing than the business of printing. It would need to be more attuned to the business of the community as the community engages in activities that make lives meaningful. It would need to become a curator, a collector, an open space of gathering, sharing, re-mixing and responding.

It would need to relinquish its tendencies to impress, compress and contain. In short, the Press Enterprise needs to become a shared, community enterprise.

And if the newspaper business truly becomes the business of communities, I am confident it will continue to be lucrative as well; for people will come not to be told or imprinted upon, but because they find a place in which they can engage in a common enterprise about the business of their community.

Learning the Art of Relaxation

By | Academic, Living, The Long Road, Travel | 3 Comments

STONE HARBOR, NJ – Just midway through my week vacation, I am beginning to learning the art of relaxation.
As a faculty member, when the semester of teaching is over, a span of summer begins in which time takes on a different dimension as research responsibilities press themselves upon you. The result is an expanse of unstructured time that needs to be given structure by disciplined research.

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Letting Jelly Dog Go

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | 2 Comments

On Sunday, ArtGirl stood in front of the mirror looking at herself. I noticed two things: she seemed bigger to me and she was not holding her favorite stuffed animal, Jelly Dog.

It was then that she told me that she was going to try to stop carrying Jelly Dog with her everywhere.

For almost two years, this little stuffed animal was always with her, tucked into the crook of her elbow and hanging over her forearm like a limp appendage.

Throughout kindergarten, Jelly Dog would travel to school, sleep in her backpack during class, and join her on the playground where, somehow, she learned to do the monkey bars without ever fully extending the arm with which she held Jelly.

To see the two of them at dinner was quite a scene. Every item of food ArtGirl ate was first “tasted” by Jelly. She would first pass each bite by Jelly’s mouth before eating it herself; every drink was “sipped” by Jelly before she drank it herself.

During this time, her deepest existential concerns found expression in relation to Jelly. She would often say:

I know Jelly is not real, but I think he is real.” Or: “What will happen to Jelly when I die?” Or: “I don’t want Jelly to die.

So it came as a surprise to hear her announce on Sunday that she was going to let Jelly go. But there it was … and she marched upstairs to put him away in the room where we store a rather large collection of stuffed animals.

She came downstairs in tears. We hugged for a long time.

All day she struggled not to go back and get him, but she missed Jelly.

During this time, she said the most beautiful, poignant, and remarkable things.

She said:”It doesn’t feel right with him, but it doesn’t feel right without him.”

She said: “I want to go and get him, but if I take him back, I will have to go through this sadness again.”

On Sunday night, I brought him back for her so she could sleep. You see, her mother is wise, and she suggested that “going cold turkey” was perhaps not the best option and that we should instead just try to leave him at home when we went out. We agreed, a weaning process would be best.

ArtGirl told me: “Cold turkey is not for me.”

But by Monday night, she had gone most of the day without him. When I asked her if she wanted me to get him for her she said: “I do want you to get him, but I don’t want you to get him.”

Jelly Dog with his FriendsI understood perfectly and suggested that perhaps she needed a little back scratching to help her fall asleep tonight. So there we sat, me scratching her back, her missing Jelly, me thinking how I admired her process, and her falling asleep.

We celebrated on Tuesday when she woke up having slept without him.

And now it is Thursday, and we visited her new school as she prepares for first grade.

We talk about Jelly sometimes, but we both agree that Jelly did his job and is enjoying his retirement with his other stuffed friends.

Prosthetic Gods

By | Living, Technology, The Long Road | 7 Comments

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud writes:

With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning (43).

The passage touches on something I have been thinking about ever more intensely as I consider how the technology I have integrated so completely into my life has changed the way I interact with the world and those I encounter in it.

To illustrate his point, in this section of Civilization Freud points to the motor, which extends the power of human muscles to move the body, and the telescope, which extends the power to see; and he mentions the camera and the gramaphone as fundamentally designed to amplify the power of recollection and memory.

As I have emphasized in a post entitled Brief Reflection on the Essence of Technology, the dialectical relationship between the technologies we create and our human creative capacities is complex.

Freud articulates something of this complexity when he writes:

Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times (44).

As I think about how I use those technological tools that have become adjunct to my body – my iPhone and increasingly now, my iPad – and I consider the extent to which I rely on an application like Evernote or even Things, my advanced ToDo app, I realize the degree to which these devices and applications allow me to focus on what is important to me because they augment the power of my memory – or should I say they deteriorate the power of my memory by taking over the very task of memorization for me? 

The difference seems to be diminishing….

And yet, Freud’s reminder that “present-day man does not feel happy in his Godlike character” (45) gestures to the core of the issue: what is it for a prothetic god to be happy? This is, of course, the age old question of human happiness in the robust, Greek sense of a life well lived.

How can we use the technologies that use us to live a fulfilling human life? How do prosthetic gods become blessed?

My hope is that posing the question and turning attentively to it is itself the beginning of a way of responding that is able to set us on a path toward a life well lived.

Reference

Freud S, Strachey J, Gay P. Civilization and its discontents. W.W. Norton; 1989. Available at: http://books.google.com/books?id=DOGQDHo8ihIC&pgis=1.

Light in Motion

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment



Four Running 2

Originally uploaded by cplong11
My father taught me to appreciate the subtle joys of photography back before everything went digital. In our basement darkroom, we used to develop the black and white photographs we took with his Canon AE-1.

I still love to take pictures and have begun to organize my Flickr page to showcase some of them. My family remains the central focus of my photographic life, although on Flickr I only share those pictures with my friends.
Increasingly, however, I have been trying to take more of what my Dad and I used to call “Artsy-Craftsy” pictures – that is, pictures that are taken exclusively for their artistic value as opposed to those that are taken as mementos of an historical moment. Of course, such historical pictures, if they are good, will have artistic value. Recently, though, I have rekindled my interest in photography as an outlet for whatever modicum of artistic ability I may have.
Here I share a slideshow of some images I took of light in motion over the Fourth of July holidays. For those of you viewing on an iPhone or iPad, I include the link directly to my Light in Motion set on Flickr.

On Hearing Oneself Through Others

By | Academic, Living, The Long Road | No Comments

One of the more important of the many unexpected benefits of
producing the Digital Dialogue is the feedback I have received from
friends who listen.  In a strange way, the podcast offers me some
distance on myself such that I am able to hear certain suggestions and
comments about how I “appear” in public in a less defensive way.  This
strikes me as an important insight directly related to the question of
the excellences of public dialogue.  Appearing in public, appearing to
someone allows you to be reflected back to yourself in ways that are
revealing.  If this reflection can be faced, it opens up the
possibility of self-transformation through/with others.

Let me be more concrete: in the course of a discussion about the sound quality of
the podcasts, I have solicited feedback from those I trust.  My wife,
Val, of course, is my most trusted advocate, adviser and critic, so it
was important to hear her suggest the difference between my philosophy
persona and my more informal and relaxed persona.  We had discussed this
issue before, particularly as she began, early in our relationship, to
come to hear me give papers or lectures.  It is not that I am a
different person, but that I have a way of talking when I am in my
teaching or professional mode.

Allan Gyorke has made a similar point to me in email:

When your podcast starts, I’ve seen you take on a very scholarly persona that is very intense and quieter (Dr. Christopher Long) than the person you are when we were brainstorming about your video and playing around (Chris).

It turns out, however, that this issue is becoming more complex for me as I turn my attention to my new role as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Liberal Arts.  Not only do I need to think about how Chris relates to Dr. Christopher Long, but now too, we have this new fellow, Associate Dean Long.  Of course, these three are also related to the person I am as a father and husband.

We have an ongoing discussion of these various identity questions on my little blog about blogging, Mapping the Long Road, and more questions are being raised in my mind than answers…

Listening: Barb and Jan on Phil and Soph

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

TheFamily.jpgThis Thanksgiving we decided to participate in the spirit of the National Day of Listening.  My cousin, Marjorie, and I sat down with our mothers, Janet Filing and Barbara Almstead, to ask them about their experiences growing up.

We came up with a few questions, but it was most interesting to hear where the conversation led Mom and Barb as they remembered their parents, Philip and Sophia Filing.

Although some of the stories we heard, we knew, there were others that were new to us and even to Jan and Barb.  In the process, I think we learned a lot not only about the history of our family, but also about the relational dynamics that made our mothers who they are.

Listen to Barb and Jan talk about Phil and Soph here.

Below are pictures of Phil and Soph (left) and Aunt Ro, Phil’s sister, with Phil and Soph (right).

PhilSoph.jpg

RoPhilSoph.jpg

When the Berlin Wall Fell

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Zeitkarte.jpgTwenty years ago today, I can remember the buzz that spread among my American student colleagues at the Institute for European Studies in Vienna when we learned that the Berlin Wall had fallen.

Just two weeks before, a group of us had been in Prague where we met a number of students from Czechoslovakia, as it was then called. They told us in no uncertain terms that something momentous was happening. At the time they and we did not know whether this was something to welcome or fear. 

Upon our return to Vienna, we discussed the question in our European History course.  The professor was a former Ambassador who assured us that whatever changes may or may not be underway, the overarching paradigm that held European powers in the grips of the Cold War would not change in his lifetime. (This marked an early realization of a truth that has borne itself out over the course of the last twenty years: professors don’t always know what they are talking about and the more certain they appear, the less their words should be uncritically accepted.)

BerlinWallPiece.jpgTwo and a half weeks later, many of us were on a train to Berlin to witness first hand the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In Berlin the excitement those of us gathered at the wall felt that day remains palpable. Borrowing a sledgehammer from a local German, I can still feel the thrill that came as I knocked off the large chunk I still have set upon my bookshelf.

I recall too, a discussion I had with a very thoughtful and earnest young Lutheran pastor from East Germany who watched the scene unfolding before us with trepidation.  His hope, as he expressed it to a young American student genuinely concerned to try to put a context to the history that he was witnessing, was that the West would not simply view this development as an opportunity to impose capitalist values and culture on the Eastern bloc.  It was, of course, unclear precisely how things would progress, but there remained a sense that a genuine meeting of the best ideas of the East and West might have an opportunity to converge.

id1.jpgAs I think back on those days, I am once again made aware that ideas have the power to transform reality. 

But for me, this had less to do with the fall of the Berlin Wall, than with the students and teachers I encountered and the experiences I had during my semester abroad in that fall of 1989.  To meet students and educators who actively sought to imagine what life was like in another culture, to learn a new language, and to open themselves to the transformative possibilities of education was of decisive importance to me at a formative time in my life.

And although I did not take a philosophy course when I was in Vienna, when I returned, I was convinced that my course would tack toward education and that philosophy was the path it would have to take.

LwCH 1A: First Snow 2009

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | No Comments

TreeSplit.jpgWe woke this morning in a cold, dark house as our power had gone out early in the morning. As we made our way downstairs, we began to realize that the power outage was only the first of our morning surprises.

During the night, the heavy snow from the earliest snowfall on record in State College had caused a huge tree in front of our house to fall on the beautiful maple tree that sits in our front yard. The tree that fell was split at its base, having collapsed under the weight of the snow.

In falling, the tree not only crushed the maple, but came within about 10 feet of hitting the roof of the house just above the girls’ bedroom. After taking stock of the damage, the girls and I returned to the house to check on Val who has not been feeling well for the past few days.

TreeDown.jpgSchool was canceled, because State College Area School District was without power as well. Without heat or power at home, we did our best with breakfast and, making sure Val was tucked warmly in bed, we ventured downtown where I was schedule to receive a flu shot.

By the end of this strange and somehow beautiful day, we found ourselves at the doctor’s office with Val, where we thought we would try to capture something of the day’s events using my iPhone as a voice recorder.  Here is the podcast we recorded.

For Chloe on Her First Day of Kindergarten

By | Education, Living, The Long Road | 5 Comments

Dear Chloe:

Chloe to School.jpgToday you begin a great and wondrous journey. Today, you begin Kindergarten and with it, the formal education that will open you to a world of ideas and experiences that will shape the person you become.

Your Mom and I have sought over the course of these five years to prepare you well for this adventure. You know your colors, your letters, your numbers; you are empathetic and thoughtful, reflective and open. You make friends easily after you wisely assess them in their relations to you and others. You worry, but not too much. You have a passion for art, for new experiences, for writing, and for sharing your life stories with others. You try new foods with joyful anticipation and are not less willing to taste new things after you have experienced something bitter. You have a wonderful imagination and welcome others, especially your sister Hannah, into the worlds you create. You love easily but not indiscriminately; and you are fiercely loyal to those who have won your affection.

So, you are ready for this journey.

As you begin, know that your Mom and I, your sister and your family, are with you even when we are not physically present. We are there in the classroom when you feel uncertain; on the playground, when you need to stand up for yourself or your friends; in your heart and mind as you are enriched by the educational experiences that will sustain your life.

Yet although we are here to support you, now it is time for you to step into a new phase of the journey and to make a meaningful and fulfilling life for yourself.

I am so proud of you and love you more than I can say. I look forward to the adventure to come as I have delighted in your life thus far. You have taught me to see the world anew and the world is made better by your encounters with it.

Go now into this next phase with the joyful integrity that has marked your life from the beginning.

Love,
Dad

Exhilaration

By | Living, The Long Road | 3 Comments

knoebelride.jpg
I begin with this picture because it captures something of the exhilaration we experienced in two very different ways over the past two days.

On Saturday we visited three local farms as part of the 2009 Centre County Farm Tour (for a pdf version of the brochure, click here.) I wrote about our experience on the farm tour in 2007, and this year again, we were amazed by the beauty of the land, the importance of the work and the spirit of the farmers whose work on the land sustains us. 

Beiler.jpgThis year we visited Beiler Farm, a beautiful Amish farm in Spring Mills, PA. There a family of 9 runs a dairy farm. We were taken around by one of the middle sons, Ruben, who was an expert tour guide, and his sister, Martha, who was a knowledgeable, caring and thoughtful young woman. 

Chloe and Hannah enjoyed, in particular, jumping on the trampoline with Martha, one of her sisters, and two of her brothers. For Val and me, it was an important opportunity to expose the girls to a way of life with which they are not familiar. They had many questions about how the Amish live and we were happy to answer what we knew and research what we didn’t. I remain in awe of the life they lead, recognizing at once its nobility and its difficulty.

Stone Meadow.jpg

We then visited Stone Meadow Farm in Woodward, PA, where Brian Futhey produces raw milk cheese and grass fed beef. He is committed to the sustainable practices of rotational grazing, stream bank fencing and making excellent cheese from the most natural sources.
 
He spoke to us about the ways he works with the natural rhythms of the animals to produce cheese and beef. I very much admire his commitment to farming in ways that facilitate a symbiotic relationship between the earth, the non-human and we human animals.

Fiedler.jpg

Finally, we visited the picturesque Fiedler Farm in Aaronburg, PA, where they have a beautiful summer kitchen and a nice little yurt at the top of the property. Val and Hannah are walking up to the yurt in the picture here.
Fiedler Farm is part of a community of farms participating in the Groundwork Farm Community Supported Agriculture.
On Sunday, we went to Knoebels Amusement Park with my step brother’s family, Tom, Amina, Aaron and Danny. The picture with which this post began was taken there. Increasingly Chloe and Hannah are venturing on to more dynamic and scary rides and I, their father, am compelled to join them. It is a happy compulsion and we had a great time just screaming at the top of our lungs and challenging ourselves to try rides just at the boundary of our comfort level. 
It is exhilarating to watch as they grow into the world, learn about the earth that sustains us and risk new endeavors. This fall Chloe will begin Kindergarten and it will be a transition for all of us. Hannah is already expressing a worry about going to pre-school without her big sister.  Val and I are already a bit nostalgic that this phase of Chloe’s life is coming to an end, but we are excited that she will soon begin the exciting adventure that is her formal education. As for Chloe herself, she seems for the moment the most at home with the whole idea of beginning school.
These exhilarating weekends are all the more precious in the wake of the recognition that they are fleeting.
With this in mind, I end with this picture, for it seems to capture something of the more nostalgic side of the exhilaration we felt this weekend.
Fiedler Hannah.jpg

1969

By | Living, The Long Road | No Comments

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. 

The event itself seems, from this distance, to have marked the end of an era of tumultuous creativity and violence in American culture and politics.

The New York Times has documented the year in pictures, video and audio here. For me this feature offers a glimpse into the powerful forces at work in the world into which I was born that year.
It was a year of hopefulness, as marked by the lunar landing, Woodstock, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-in”, the beginning of the US withdrawal from Vietnam, and the premier of Sesame Street.
It was a year of hatefulness, as marked by the Stonewall riots, British troops arriving in Northern Ireland, the secret US bombing of Cambodia, Nixon’s “Silent Majority”, and the Charles Manson killings.
It is unclear to me how much progress we have made in the course of these 40 years to allow  our hopeful spirit to eclipse our hateful tendencies. Yet to look at the earth from the moon is to be made aware of how small and tender our little planet is. It is to be reminded that we borrow this beautiful place for but a brief period. From that distance, the sources of hatred appear diminished, the power of hopefulness augmented. 
On this 40th anniversary of that image and the perspective it offers, may we be reminded that hatred corrodes our relationships with one another and erodes our planet, while the best stewards are those who cultivate community in a spirit of hope.

A Spiritual Voice in New Media

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

TedBlog.jpg

The social web is frequently moving, often inane and continuously ongoing. Its voices reflect the beautiful diversity of the human experience.  
This week another voice was added to the discussion; it is the voice of my step-father, Ted Loder, long-time senior paster at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) in Philadelphia, writer of many books of prayers, poems and dramas, and dynamic preacher.
I grew up listening to his thoughtful, provocative and poetic sermons, challenged by their demand to attend to the divine at work in everyday doings, humbled by their appeal to a deeper mystery than can be adequately articulated, and inspired by their call for and commitment to social justice. 
Although I have never been able to embrace the dogma of Christianity, the roots of my philosophical thinking were nourished by those sermons and my deep commitment to seeking justice in relation was and continues to be cultivated by the dynamic spirituality of Ted’s work and words.
So, I am very happy to announce that Ted has started a blog in which he will continue to put words to the mystery of God’s ways. When you have a moment, click over to his blog to hear what he, in his unique theological voice, is saying. 
The social web is enriched by his contributions.

Local Eating, the Finnish Tart and the Fourth of July

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

ChrisGirlsParade.jpgOver the weekend we celebrated the Fourth of July in local style here in State College. 

The day began with a wonderful children’s parade of bikes through town to the local Central Parklet, where we ate watermelon, sang songs and danced. 
Afterwards, we had a great lunch at Irving’s, where they are very conscientious about buying and supporting local food. 

Valshop.jpgWe returned home and Val made a meal with local food bought at the State College Farmer’s Market and delivered from our Howard’s End CSA

After dinner, we headed out to the fantastic fireworks display put on by the all volunteer Central PA 4thFest.

NaturalFireworks.jpg

While the 4thFest display was amazing, we were also treated to natural fireworks as the sun set behind Beaver stadium prior to the start of the celebration.
Here is Val with the girls in a picture that captures something of the beauty of that most beautiful day.

LwCH 14: Stone Harbor 2009

By | Living, LwCH, The Long Road | One Comment

OC Merry.jpgI have finally processed the footage from this year’s vacation in Stone Harbor and produced a video available here:

In the video you will see much splashing in the pool, reminiscences of last year on the Outer Banks, NC, a few birthday wishes and a photo slideshow of our time in Stone Harbor this year.  I think it captures something of the wonderful time we had this year. 

Time Wastes Too Fast

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

As his wife, Martha, lay dying at the age of 34, Thomas Jefferson and she took turns copying out by hand this passage from the Laurence Sterne novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman.  Martha wrote:

“Time wastes too fast: every letter I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen, the days and hours of it are flying over our heads like clouds of a windy day never to return more–everything presses on–

Thomas completed the passage:

“–and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make.

* * *
Today, Chloe drew this picture of our family:
LongsByChloe.jpg
And the rapidity of Hannah’s pen made this:
Hannah Pen.jpg

Herb Garden

By | Living, The Long Road | 3 Comments

HerbReady.jpgOn this Father’s Day, I felt compelled to see a project to completion. 

Much of my academic life involves projects that take a long time to complete. Last week I spent an entire day trying to get one short paragraph of an essay to say what I wanted it to say. So, I don’t often have a chance to see a whole project come to a completion in a single stroke. 

Although I don’t much like yard work, the one thing I do like about it is that there is a project to be done, you spend a little time doing it and you can see the results immediately. I needed that today.
I mowed the lawn, which was fine.  But I also wanted to complete a larger project that had been hanging over my head for a while: the herb garden off our kitchen. 
Val has taken her cooking to another level, using mostly local products and being very mindful of where our food comes from and how it to prepare it in the most nourishing way. We are members of the Howard’s End CSA, which has been providing us with excellent local produce and fruit.

HerbPlant2.jpg

So an herb garden was the next logical step. Above is a picture of the garden finally ready for plants. Over the past month or so, with the help of a generous neighbor, Neil, and two excellent diggers (Chloe and Hannah), we cleared out old roots, tree stumps, weeds and moved a few rhododendrons to achieve that herb-ready landscape.
Today we added excellent free local compost from one of the State College Borough parks and headed off to Tait Farm for the herbs. 
There we bought Sweet Basil, Oregano, Italian Parsley, Curly Parsley, Sage, Vietnamese Coriander, English Thyme, Chives, Dill. We also have a beautiful Rosemary plant that was given to us by our neighbors, Neil and Julia.
We also planted seeds for some Mesclun Lettuce and Swiss Chard. Finally, we tried to add a little color to the garden with some California Poppies and Cosmos.
My favorite two things about the garden right now is that it is finished and there are no weeds.  I hope that we will be able to keep up with it this year as we try to connect in new ways to the earth, the seasons and the place we inhabit.
HerbPlant.jpg

Leaving the Beach on a Sunny Day

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STONE HARBOR, NJ Last night’s violent storms have given way to one of those crisp, clean, beautiful days at the New Jersey shore. Now, however, it is time to sweep the house, pack the swimming suits and the car; it is time to begin the journey back home.

Another long anticipated week at the beach has run its course; but we have renewed connections with one another, with the sand and sun, with the clouds, rain and the energy of the earth. Next year, the we all will be older, different, exposed longer to the love and hate of the world.

For now, the sun shines beautifully as we pack, grateful for another year together.

On Turning 40

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

SH09.jpgSTONE HARBOR, NJ Today is my 40th birthday: I feel the curvature of the arc of my life, the contour of its trajectory. As it begins, I hope, to press toward its apogee and ultimate return, I sense at once the bodies that influence its course and the direction toward which it tends.

Now more than ever, I am aware of what I can and cannot control. The way I relate to others, but not their responses; the integrity of my decisions, but not their consequences; the living attention I invest in my kids, but not the arc of their lives…

SH09 Laugh.jpgAs I turn 40 today, I pause to appreciate this before I return to running with my kids and laughing on the beach … if the sun decides to burn through the clouds over which I have no control.

Happiness is Love

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The title of this post comes from George Vaillant, the director of one of the longest running longitudinal studies of physical and mental well-being that has ever been undertaken. My attention was drawn to him and his study by Josh Miller after he posted a link on Facebook to this article by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the Atlantic (thanks Josh).

Researchers at Harvard have been following 268 men who entered Harvard in the late 1930’s and who are now in their 80’s. I embed the video of Vaillant talking about the study because it affirms two things I have always tried to embody in my life.
First, in the video, Vaillant says of the study:

“The take home lesson is to always enjoy where you are now.”

A simple lesson, a difficult task. But the study offers a view of each concrete life in one sweep, not as a series of moments, but each as a kind of whole.  In this it is akin to great literature. To see the whole of life in this way is to be reminded of its brevity, and of its incalculable depth.

Second, Vaillant says, “Happiness is love, full stop.” Here too is something decisive, for to enjoy where you are now is at its core to respond each moment with living attention to those with whom your life is made meaningful. 
Happiness is not an individual achievement, but a cooperative activity rooted in engaged encounters and animated by love.

Fragility and Resilience

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PittZoo.jpgIn that moment of silence before the crying starts, when your heart stops, you can only hope it is not too bad, not that bad.

Today on the “tickle bed” Hannah fell into the headboard and we had one of those moments.
Today as Chloe talked to her Nana on the phone, she fell and we had another.
Hannah’s nose was bruised, but it seems OK. 
Chloe scraped her thigh, but not too badly.
Yet for me, these two moments were palpable reminders that in a moment everything can change. The fragility of life announces itself to me in the gut as a poignant nausea. It is related to that feeling of vertigo that comes when I focus too intensely on the finitude of my life, of Val’s and especially of Hannah and Chloe’s.
Even so, as I looked at Hannah’s nose, red and flattened, as I held her crying, I was brought back to another moment, to an early moment with her, when her nose seemed strangely similar, when she too was crying … it was shortly after her birth and I was holding her, trying to comfort her as she was being rudely measured and poked by nurses and doctors ensuring that all her parts were in order.  I remember feeling that she was so small but so strong, so resilient. 
I rely on that resilience; I have faith in it even as that lingering nausea reminds me that there will be things from which I cannot protect them, ultimate things no one can avoid. In the meantime, however, there are the hugs, a bit of ice, a smile through tears, a princess band-aid and the tenacious courage to go on.
 

A New Phase

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As I grow older, I realize more and more that a life is made up of lives, that an individual life involves phases linked yet distinct.

With the approach of my 40th birthday in May, the submission of my second Aristotle book manuscript to Cambridge University Press, Chloe’s pre-registration for Kindergarten, Hannah’s hard earned successes in moving out of diapers, Val’s exciting new adventures with art, bread making and living locally, it seems that a new phase is upon us.

Often the phases of my life have been marked by a shift in location. This new phase, however, involves a deepening relationship to this place: this house, this town, this state, and indeed, now even, to this country.

Spring is upon us; it is again the time of imagination.

And I imagine my way into this new phase of life, where relationships deepen, research stretches in new directions, new opportunities open.

And again I am aware of how fulfilling it is to be right here, now, with these people: family, friends, colleagues.

Cultivating New Ecological Habits

By | Living, Politics, The Long Road | 3 Comments

After listening to this week’s New Yorker comment podcast entitled “Economy vs. Environment” by David Owen, I was struck by three things. 

First, economic prosperity is dirty.  Owens says that “the principle source of [hu]man-made greenhouse gases has always been prosperity.”  The advantage of the current economic downturn is that it has slowed the carbon clock a bit.

Second, new technologies won’t solve our global warming problem.  As Owens suggests, getting increased miles to the gallon is no help if it encourages people to drive more; having electric cars will not help if the electricity is produced by fossil fueled power plants and if we continue, as he writes, “sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful.”

Finally, the real solution to the energy and global warming crisis lies in the transformation of human habits.  Our habits must change. We must cultivate more sustainable ways of acting and thinking, habits that allow us to live in a more symbiotic way with the planet that sustains us.

To begin, let’s figure out how to live closer to where we work.  Let’s ride public transportation when we can, even if it is inconvenient.  Let’s convince our political representatives that it is in our best interest to pay for and otherwise support things that cultivate habits that support a more symbiotic way of living in the world.

If economic flourishing is going to promote ecological prosperity, the new, green economy will have to serve a whole new set of human habits oriented toward a mutually sustaining relationship between the world and its human co-habitants.

Brave Hellos Turning All Goodbye

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

Today is John Updike’s birthday.

Today a friend presented me with a little gift of one of Updike’s poems. It reminded me again how important now is. I knew that, of course, but one must always be reminded of it; one counts on one’s friends for that.

So, here is the poem, retyped for the pleasure of it, but available also here:

Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children

They will not be the same next time. The sayings

so cute, just a little off, will be corrected.

Their eyes will be more skeptical, plugged in

the more securely to the worldly buzz

of television, alphabet, and street talk,

culture polluting their gazes’ dawn blue.

It makes you see at last the value of

those boring aunts and neighbors (their smells

of summer sweat and cigarettes, their faces

like shapes of sky between shade-giving leaves)

who knew you from the start, when you were zero,

cooing their nothings before you could be bored

or knew a name, not even your own, or how

this world brave with hellos turns all goodbye.

— John Updike

 

Magnanimity

By | Academic, Living, Politics, The Long Road | No Comments

I have just finished listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on the Lincoln Presidency, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  Although the book takes a largely uncritical view of Lincoln‘s political wisdom, it was compellingly told and insightful.  What struck me most was the political power of magnanimity. Goodwin does not make this point explicitly, but it seems to me that the central friendship of the book, that between Lincoln and his political rival turned close friend, William Henry Seward, was rooted in the core virtue of magnanimity which both men embodied.

The magnanimity of Lincoln was revealed repeatedly throughout the story as Lincoln confounded rivals who under-estimated his ability to navigate the world of human politics.  It was what allowed him to tolerate General McClellan‘s repeated challenges to his judgment and authority during the early stages of the war.  It was what enabled him to draw on Salmon P. Chase‘s extraordinary ability to raise money for the war effort as Treasury Secretary even as Chase opposed him for the Republican nomination in the 1864 election.  In these and many other cases, Lincoln acted always in a thoughtful, even manner, never allowing his anger to cloud his judgment or his understanding of the forces that animated his opponents. 
William Henry Seward’s magnanimity was of a slightly different sort: he seems to have been free of pretty resentfulness and vindictiveness. After losing the 1860 Republican nomination for President, which everyone expected him to win, Seward was able to find it within himself, despite this disappointment, to campaign vigorously on Lincoln’s behalf in 1860.  Many credit speeches he gave on Lincoln’s behalf for the ultimate Republican victory that year.  He then accepted Lincoln’s nomination of him as Secretary of State (does this story sound familiar?) and became one of Lincoln’s closest friends and most important political advisors.
Perhaps the strong friendship between these two men was rooted in the shard virtue of magnanimity.  What strikes me as worth holding always in mind is that magnanimity requires a great deal of ethical imagination: the ability to imagine one’s way in the position of another in order to gain insight into what animates that person.  From this perspective, those initial impulses toward anger dissolve and new possibilities open for more productive modes of response.  I will recall Seward and Lincoln as I make my way through the politics of the academy and everyday life, remembering not to respond in anger, but with empathy and magnanimity, for it is at once ethically generous and politically, far more effective.

Two Little Moments

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I just wanted to pause to note two small moments that occurred as we watched the inauguration unfold on TV as a family on Tuesday.

As Val and I were focused on the inauguration, Hannah was hard at play with her dolls. As we were waiting for all the dignitaries to be seated, I turned to Hannah and noticed her holding two dolls in her hands; she was making them jump up and down.  They were chanting “OBAMA, OBAMA, OBAMA.”
Then there was Chloe who said as she sat on my lap watching the 21 cannons saluted the new President and the crowd going wild: “Daddy, the whole world is shaking.”
To which I could only reply, “Yes, Sweetheart, it really is.”

Chloe at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

By | Living, The Long Road | 6 Comments

Just before the new year, we took Chloe and Hannah to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Chloe, who is obsessed with everything that has to do with art, was beside herself with excitement.

Once I told her that artists sometimes bring a sketch book to sketch the works of great art in the museum, she insisted on bringing one.

Below are a few examples of her work in the light of some of the European masters:

Chloe Aliza Long (age 4) Van Gogh, Sunflowers (1888 or 1889)

Above (left), Chloe takes inspiration from Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers painted in1888 or 1889.

Léon Frédéric, The Four Seasons (Autumn), 1894 Chloe Aliza Long

Above (right), Chloe depicts Léon Frédéric’s The Four Seasons (Autumn) from 1894.

Chloe Aliza Long Paul Cézanne, Quartier Four, Auvers-sur-Oise (Landscape, Auvers), 1873

Finally, Chloe drew Cézanne’s 1873 Quartier Four, Auvers-sur-Oise (Landscape, Auvers).

Christmas without Batteries

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H&CXmas2008.JPGThis year we had a Christmas without batteries and it was excellent. 

Santa, aka Val, asked for and bought nothing for the girls that required a battery of any kind.  Most of what the girls received for Christmas was made out of natural materials and required nothing more, or less, than imagination to bring them to life.

As a result, we had a Christmas punctuated by laughter, make-believe adventures, games of various sorts, the crackling of the fire in the fireplace, and soft holiday music courtesy of the Jazz Holiday station on Pandora

It was a peaceful day, absent the harsh digitized shrill that comes with toys requiring batteries. And the pace of the day was slower, too, less frenetic than I recall in the past.  In all, it was a quiet, beautiful day for the four of us to be together celebrating the wonderful power of our imagination.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Mortgage Relief

By | Living, Politics, The Long Road | 4 Comments

For those of us who own houses and who are working hard to keep up with our mortgage payments, it has been difficult to hear about multi-billion dollar bailouts of Wall Street banks and financial institutions who have failed to make good on their commitments.

However, according to the New York Times article, Washington’s New Tack: Helping Homeowners, the Treasury Department is considering a plan that would subsidize 30-year mortgage rates so people would have the opportunity to get such mortgages at an interest rate of as little as 4.5%.

This strikes me as a very promising idea, and not only because my family and I would benefit from it. By essentially cutting the monthly cost of living for all current homeowners, the government will be increasing the amount of money middle income families can inject directly back into the economy.  Further, the plan would help the banks insofar as there presumably would be fewer loan defaults and the fees generated by the millions of people electing to refinance existing mortgages would be a windfall profit for them.

There is a qualified version of the proposal, however, that concerns me. The Real Estate lobby is apparently suggesting that these subsidized mortgages be limited to new home buyers. While this would be cheaper for the government insofar as fewer people would be able to take advantage of it, there is no reason to impose such a limitation if a more inclusive relief package would still make the offer available to new home buyers and thus stimulate the housing market. 

I think the proposed subsidized mortgage stimulus package, if enacted in an inclusive rather than exclusive way, would be a far more effective stimulus to the economy than writing individual rebate checks to all tax payers. To have a reduced monthly payment built into the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage would have a profound and lasting impact on the overall wealth of those who are working hard to afford their first home or who are, like us, working to pay off the remainder of a hefty mortgage.

Of course, this proposal only address those with the money to buy or own a house, so it would not address the struggles of millions of the working poor.  For them, relief in a variety of other forms will be needed: health coverage, unemployment benefits, etc. Such efforts, however, would not be undermined by extending mortgage relief to homeowners and home buyers; to the contrary, the overall effect of this sort of mortgage relief plan would be a more robust and strengthening economy.

If you agree, write your Congress members, the President and the President-Elect:

For those who live in Pennsylvania, you can write to our Senators here:

President Obama!

By | Living, Politics, The Long Road | One Comment

ObamaOpening.JPGThe first word Hannah could read herself, or at least recognize, was ‘Obama’.  She has been involved with the Obama campaign for at least 30% of her three year old life, and now she and her sister Chloe will never know a world in which an African-American was not president of the United States.

Here are some pictures that bring into focus how much Chloe and Hannah have grown over the course of this election.  The first is of Chloe, Caitlin and Hannah at the opening of the State College Obama campaign office in March.

Val and Girls Eday.jpgHere is a picture of Chloe, Hannah and Val on Election Day, 2008.  Hannah and Chloe have grown up during this campaign and I hope they have learned something about standing up for what you believe in and putting your energy and efforts into making the world a better place. 

Chloe and Hannah were my intrepid canvassers, walking through many neighborhoods, ringing doorbells, always very happy to be out talking to voters.  They never complained and always were happy to visit the Obama office, where they inevitably received some treats, many stickers and more than a few high fives from volunteers.

To hear President-elect Obama speak tonight in Grant Park in Chicago was gift enough for all the effort.

World Champions 2008!

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NYT Phillies.jpgPhiladelphia has waited 28 years and 46 hours for this moment when Brad Lidge struck out Cliff Floyd to win the 2008 World Series.  One of the most memorable moments of my childhood was watching the 1980 Phillies win the World Series. 

Although I have not followed the Phillies religiously since then, once a Phillies fan, always a Phillies fan.  Watching this team, this year, I was brought back to my younger days, when the whole world seemed to hang on a single out.  I had a sense of that feeling again tonight, and the joy that comes with the last out.

Congratulations to the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies and to all my fellow Phillies fans.

Perfect Sports Weekend

By | Living, The Long Road | One Comment

This has been a perfect sports weekend from my perspective.  Over the last 36 hours, we have seen the Phillies win not one, but two World Series games, the Eagles beat the Falcons and, of course, the Penn State Football Nittany Lions beat Ohio State at the Horseshoe in Columbus.

Aside from the rioting here in State College after the aforementioned PSU victory, it does not get much better than this for a Pennsylvania kid living in State College with leanings toward Philadelphia.
Well, yes it does, but I will wait until after tomorrow night’s World Series game five in Philadelphia before I dare mention it.

Long Time

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I have now posted episode 9 of Life with Chloe and Hannah, entitled “Long Time.” It chronicles our time with my brother, Jon, and his family, Hilary, Hoshaiah, Lucia and Natasha as they visited us from Portland, OR. It also includes footage from the Long family reunion in York, PA, August 16 and 17, 2008.

As usual, the best way to view the movie is from my MobileMe gallery. You can link directly to the video by clicking here.
I have also posted it to my YouTube channel, embedded below. 

A Step Closer

By | Living, Politics, The Long Road | One Comment

Exactly one year ago I wrote of the disjunction between the ideals American professes and the reality it embodies.  That was the second anniversary of hurricane Katrina and the day after the 44th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in which he said “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

On that day, I despaired that “we are a long way from such an uprising.”

Today, on the third anniversary of hurricane Katrina and the day after the 45th anniversary of King’s speech, we are a very large step closer to such an uprising: 84,000 people were present and millions more watched, like me, with pride and, yes, hope, as Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States.
The speech weaved the idea of the promise of America into a tough, compelling and powerful argument for change.  I was glad to hear Obama himself come out strongly against the fear mongering and hateful attacks of the McCain campaign.
I was glad to hear the specific changes Obama proposes: 
  • “In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.”
  • “I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy.”
  • “Now is the time to meet our moral obligation to provide every child with a world-class education.”
  • “Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable accessible health care for every single American.”
  • “I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission … I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century…”
But what struck me most, what encouraged me most, was the way Obama took the ethical values question away from the Republicans and reframed it in terms of our responsibilities to one another. He did this when he emphasized that the promise of America has less to do with what we own and more to do with what we owe one another:

“What is that American promise? It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have obligations to treat each other with dignity and respect… 

That’s the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper. 

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now.”

Today we are a step closer to living out the meaning of our creed, to bringing the ideals of American into closer connection with our reality.  

But we still have a way to go, so keep marching, or to channel Hillary channeling Harriett Tubman, keep going, keep going … now to the voting booth!
Click here to register to vote.

The Joys of Writing

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HannahHeid.jpgI am currently slugging through what I hope are the last few chapters of a book on Aristotle and it is not easy going. Although writing has always been something I love–crafting sentences, considering the nuances of words, playing with metaphors and images–it is also one of the most difficult things my job and career demand of me.

This week, though, as summer comes to an end and the pressure to make significant progress has increasingly taken a toll on my psychological well-being, I was released from my self-imposed obsession with the minutia of Aristotle scholarship by two moments, one involving Hannah, the other, Chloe.

Yesterday, I was particularly frustrated as I emerged from my basement office after a day of writing and torment. The effects of it must have written on my face, because when Hannah saw me, she said, “Daddy, why are you mad?” When I told her I wasn’t mad, just thinking about my writing, she said, “Daddy, I missed you when you were at work. I love you; you’re my best Daddy.  Do you want to sit with me and play?” It was a great gift, a reminder that forced things into perspective. 

Heraclitus put it best: “A lifetime is a child playing … the kingdom belongs to a child” (fr. 52).

The other moment was also very touching. I often bring Hannah and Chloe to the Penn State library when I need to pick up something. They love to run through the stacks of books and play on the ancient elevator with the gate in front of the door. We were in a corner of the basement where the books on Ancient Greek philosophy are and I noticed my book, The Ethics of Ontology, sitting on the shelf. (Shockingly, it was not checked out!)

I picked up the book and asked Chloe if she could read the name on it. She was able to identify some letters and ultimately came to the surprising conclusion that the name on it was that of her very own Dad. “Oh Daddy,” she exclaimed, falling into me with a huge hug, “you wrote that book all by yourself?!? I am so proud of you! That’s great! And how did it get in the library?” When I explained that they bought it from the publisher, she said, “They bought it!  I can’t believe it. Your book is in the library.”

Her pride and excitement were so affirming and genuine that I immediately felt the years of work that went into the writing of that book–and this one–come suddenly into poignant focus: this moment made it all worthwhile.

A Sleepover in Pittsburgh

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PITTSBURGH, PA – The girls are finally asleep in their “hotel home” in Pittsburgh, where we have come for an overnight so we could visit the Pittsburgh Children’s Musuem and the Pittsburgh Zoo.  The day has been excellent:

We left State College around 9 and arrived in Pittsburgh at noon. We went immediately to the Children’s Museum where Chloe and Hannah had a great time doing Arts and Crafts, going through the Gravity Room, playing in the garage workshop and the water room.

At ages 2 1/2 and four they simply soak in the world they encounter.  Their curiosity is boundless. It was amazing to see each moment of the day awaken some new sense of wonder for them.
After the Children’s Museum, we drove to the Doubletree Hotel, where we were greeted with cookies, a little shoulder bag with surprises for each of them and a very spacious suite on the 15th floor.  They were beside themselves with excitement as they ate their cookies and watched the traffic flow around the hotel far below.
We then took a walk through downtown Pittsburgh, which was alive with energy as the Pirates were preparing to play and there was a big Sara Evans concert in the Point State Park.  We ate a nice little meal at Cafe Milano, which is an excellent place to eat with kids.  It is a very casual pizza place with surprisingly good food. Although the Point State Park is undergoing renovations, the concert was in full swing and we were able to enjoy a nice walk through the park after dinner.
On the way back, Chloe said “who built this beautiful city” and Hannah said, “I love visiting Pittsburgh.”

How I Lost 50 Pounds and Gained 7.5 Years

By | Living, The Long Road | 7 Comments

Camp 07.jpgAbout a year ago, Val pointed me to the RealAge.com website and I took the RealAge test. The test is designed to calculate your “real age” as opposed to your “chronological age” based upon your answers to questions about your health and lifestyle.

At the time, I was 38, chronologically, but my “real age” turned out to be 43. You see the “43 year old” here, swimming with his daughters during a camping trip in August, 2007.

The results came as a bit of a shock to me and I took steps to reduce my “real age.” They recommended more exercise, more healthy eating and a reduction in my weight, which was 225 lbs. on a 6 ft., 2 in. frame.
So, with the support and help of Val, I decided to change the way I was living and eating.  Here is what I did:
  • Cut out all junk food completely: I loved anything sweet; no donut, cookie, cupcake, danish, etc. could escape me once it presented itself.  So, I made the decision:
  • Nothing at all between meals; nothing after dinner. I stood firm by this rule for about four months, eating as much as I wanted at meals, but nothing in between.  Now I largely follow it, save in special situations.  I do, however, often allow myself pretzels (Utz Sourdough) with mustard (Grey Poupon) after dinner if Val and I are watching a movie or a TV show.  It helped a great deal that Val is such an excellent cook and we
  • Eat healthy food, locally grown if possible, in reasonable quantities. I tried to listen to my body when it told me that I was full; I ate more slowly (knowing this would be all I would have until the next meal).  Val and I also agreed to
  • Exercise regularly.  We starting doing the YOU: On a Diet 20 minute Workouts every other day together.  We began with the Beginner Workout, moved through the Intermediate Workout and now we have progressed to the Advanced Workout.  In the year we have been doing this, we have remained very dedicated to our every other day schedule.  Working out together after the girls are in bed has been one of the best things about the whole process.  Sometimes we talk during the workout, but just as often we workout together in a supportive silence.

Camp 08.jpg

That is basically it: eat well and move.  If possible, do both with someone you love. 
I started to shed pounds and, most importantly, I started to feel much better. When I wake up now, I no longer have the aches and pains I had a year ago. My back never hurts and I feel much stronger. I feel more in control of myself overall.  Plus, I don’t get as tired as I used to when playing with the girls and when it is hot out, I tolerate it much better.
Now, I am 39, chronologically, but my “real age” is 35.5.  You see the “35.5 year old” here, swimming with his daughters on a camping trip in July 2008. I now weigh a little under 175 lbs. and none of my clothes fit any longer, but I feel much more at home in my body and I look forward to more time with Val and the girls.

Shopping in Enviro-Style

By | Living, The Long Road | 2 Comments

Neela.jpgA few weeks ago my Aunt Cathie wrote us an email about a business her niece, Renee Fischer, had started with her friend, Carla Manna. The name of the company is Neela Products and they make excellent reusable, recyclable bags that are stylish and functional. 

The message came just as our existing reusable shopping bags were reaching the end of their working lives, so Val went to the website and found The Market Pack, which includes a carrying bag that contains five fold-up Market Totes.
We have used the bags now for a few weeks and I have been moved to post this because the bags are excellent:
  • They are a big hit with our style conscious shopping helpers, as seen here above.
  • They are sturdy and large.
  • They are easy to carry when filled, although the helpers like carrying them best when empty and folded into the pack.
  • They hold a lot of groceries – our weekly shops only fill three or four of the five bags.
  • They are simple to fold and store when the shopping is done.
  • They look good.
  • They are totally recyclable when they too come to the end of their working lives.
So, I encourage anyone out there interested in reducing the considerable harm the use of plastic and paper shopping bags does to the environment to look into Neela bags.

A Small World

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KorbinianChrisFreiburg.jpgFREIBURG, GERMANY – I have been struck during my short visit here in Germany by the way the world is at once made smaller by the internet and yet remains also somehow large enough that what concerns people here is rather different from what concerns us currently in the United States. 

I feel the world smaller when I am able to access all the information I would have at home easily over the internet here in Germany. I can still read the New York Times, the Centre Daily Times, Slate.com. I still have access to all the feeds to which I subscribe through Google Reader. I can even talk to and see my family. The world felt small when I skyped with my Mom upon my arrival, and then, later, with Val, Chloe, Hannah and Choo Choo Nana. To be able not only to talk to them, but to see them, made the distance disappear. 
I feel the world larger when I see the real differences between the German and the American academy, when I sit in a cafe and am not rushed out, when time slows, when I hear the city cheer each goal in the European Football Championship (Europa Meisterschaft). 
And yet, the sense of excitement is not unlike that we feel in State College when the town swells with football fans, and so I am left, ultimately, with a sense of how similar we are, how small the world has become.
Note: The above picture was taken in Freiburg of me with Korbinian Golla, the graduate student who spent a year studying and working with us at Penn State this past academic year.

The Moment

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00235_thebluemarble_1920x1200.jpgSo much, of course, can be said about the significance of Barack Obama’s capturing the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States.  I simply want to mark the moment by appealing to a single line from the speech he gave in Minnesota on Tuesday:

… this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal …

I was surprised to find myself moved most by this fragment of a very inspiring speech. Perhaps it is in part because the book I am writing, The Saying of Things: The Nature of Truth and the Truth of Nature in Aristotle, has developed into a study of how human-being exists as a natural being in and with the world of nature. 

Although I am thrilled to see an African-American receive the endorsement of a major political party, and I do not think the significance of this aspect of his candidacy can be overemphasized or celebrated too enthusiastically, still it continues to be the sort of politics Obama articulates that moves me most.  His is not identity politics, but a visionary attempt to transform the nature of politics in the United States.

As I read today of how the U.S. Senate is determined to drown the climate debate in a flood of words designed to foster inaction, I look forward to a President who is willing to use words to transform the way we live in and with the world. 
As Obama takes up the mantle of the Democratic Party, my hope is that he does not set aside the transformative politics that won him the nomination in the first place.  I remain, as ever, confident that he will not.
UPDATE, 8:19: If this story from the AP indicating that Obama has instructed the Democratic National Committee not to take lobbyist money is any indication, my confidence is well founded. 

Gratitude

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STONE HARBOR, NJ – As our week at the beach draws to a close, the girls are in bed, though not yet asleep, I type, watching the sun set from the back deck of our rented house.  

I am struck by a sense of gratitude for this time with my family, for the sun and the ocean and the earth, for my life.

We returned to the sea this year with an ebullient sense of excitement and anticipation.  We return home tomorrow, filled with new memories, nourished by deepened connections with one another and our extended family.

Walking back from the beach with Hannah, slowly, looking for interesting rocks on the way, I was reminded again how important it is to attend to the present, to stop for the beautiful purple flowers, and to share a moment together.   

The Passing Details of Life at the Beach

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SH08 on Beach.jpgSTONE HARBOR, NJ – The passing details of life at the beach:

 

  • Hannah standing on one foot.
  • Chloe and Danny playing with Jake in the pool.
  • The breeze smells of the salt sea.
  • Danny reading a bedtime story to Chloe.
  • Aaron drawing with his father and grandfather.
  • Chloe telling Karen: “I like how you look. I don’t want you to go.”
  • Time to talk.
  • Eating Springer’s Ice Cream. 
  • Nanny Janny playing the wave game with Hannah and Chloe. 
  • The middle-aged Olympics at the playground.
  • Hanging out with Tom and Amina.
  • Chloe, Hannah, Val and Chris alone on the post-Memorial Day beach.
  • Hannah, first with Nanny Janny, then with Baba Teedo sleeping on the couch.
  • Finding a conch shell with a hermit crab inside.
  • The sun setting on the bay.

State College Obama Office Opens

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Tonight I went with my neighbor and friend, Paul, and his daughter, Caitlin, and with my daughters, Hannah and Chloe, to the opening of the Obama campaign office here in State College.  There were many people of diverse backgrounds, much energy and a good deal of excitement for the Obama campaign.

Chloe, Caitlin and Hannah were quite excited, dancing and singing and, of course, chanting along with the “Fired Up and … Ready to Go!” call and response.  It was powerful to feel the energy of so many young people and not a few older ones at the office opening tonight.  

There is a lot of work to be done if Obama is to do well and perhaps even win in Pennsylvania next month.  But after tonight I am more confident that it is possible.

My confidence is yet further augmented by Obama’s speech on race in America today.  It is a sober, thoughtful speech.  It is a challenging speech, one that asks us to live up to the mature politics of which I spoke here months ago. It recognizes that America “is irrevocably bound to a tragic past.” And yet, it pushes us to think about how we will respond to this past.

Will we continue to be haunted by it in a paralyzing way, or will we draw upon it even as we move toward a more perfect union? Or, to use Obama’s words:

“This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”

This is a call to action, to live up to a promise so long deferred. Now is the time.

Winter Hike

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On Sunday, Val, Hannah, Chloe and I went on a winter nature hike sponsored by the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. Although everything was covered with snow, we were about to witness the more dormant side of nature as it waits for spring.


We also made it into the newspaper!  The Centre Daily Times sent a photographer to the event and she captured some excellent pictures.  One of me helping Hannah with her binoculars appeared in the CDT on Monday, March 3rd.  That picture and the others can be viewed from the Centre Daily Times website here by looking at pictures 11-15.

A slide show of the CDT photos of the hike can be seen here.

Laughter

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WNYC’s Radio Lab did a wonderful set of stories on laughter recently.  They appeal to Aristotle as having said that human beings “are the only ones of the animals that laugh” (Parts of Animals, 673a7).  I would like to place this along side of those other claims Aristotle made about human beings–that they are “animals with reason” and “political animals.”  Somehow, that human beings are laughing animals was lost in the shuffle.


In any case, the Radio Lab episode proceeds to prove Aristotle wrong by showing how Dr. Jaak Panksepp, a psychobiologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, discovered that rats laugh when they are tickled.  The story of how he and his research assistants discovered this is quite beautiful.


For my part, however, I think that Aristotle would not have been too surprised by laughing rats, although I imagine that he himself would have been tickled by the discovery.  He always insisted that human beings are part of the animal kingdom and the continuity of phenomena between human and other animals would likely have struck him as natural.

But what I loved most about the Radio Lab stories was the laughter.  So here is my contribution, or that of my daughters:

January Travels, Pictures

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DSC_3509.JPGJanuary is a paradoxical month: it contains the hope of new beginnings in the very dead of winter.

In early January, we traveled to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  Little did we know when Chloe posed for this picture in front of a wall of fish eyes, that just a few weeks latter we would be at the Franklin Institute watching a young staff member dissect a cow’s eye.  Chloe was fascinated.  She is developing a keen interest in everything having to do with the operation of the body.  She watched that dissection with the same sense of curious wonder that she had when watching the video of open heart surgery they have there at the Franklin Institute.  This interest in the body, in its operation and its repair has it roots in her longstanding interest in bodily injury and the possibility of recovery.

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I have written in the past about what a wonderful mimic Hannah is.  Here at the Children’s Museum in Philadelphia, she carries it to an extreme.  To watch Hannah at play with her own image was to see a girl at ease with herself taking pure joy in making herself multiple.  She danced for quite a while to the delight of her parents and grandmother.

No Monsters

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Chloe: No Monsters

Lately, we have had a monster problem in our house. Chloe has been very concerned about monsters, particularly the possibility that one or more live in one of her closets. Checking the closets before bed each night did not seem to allay her concerns.

Now, however, she has hit upon an excellent solution. As we brainstormed ideas about how best to deter monsters from entering our house in the first place, Chloe came up with the idea of an unequivocal, definitive sign. She dictated it to Val, drew some scary pictures on it and posted it in the window next to our front door. The sign reads:

NO MONSTERS ALLOWED – ever.
And I mean it, monsters.

Chloe used her most powerful I-mean-it voice in dictating this sign and the monsters seem to have received the message loud and clear.

Phil & Sophia

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Two boxes of old slides had been sitting in my closet for years. My mother gave them to me long ago with the thought that maybe we might look at them sometime. Over Thanksgiving this year, we decided to have the slides transfered to a CD ROM.

I have posted some of the results on my .Mac account at: http://gallery.mac.com/longc2#100016.

The pictures resonate with me not only because they are images of my most immediate ancestors, but also because my maternal grandparents were themselves parents of two daughters. There is a certain repetition here: the moments of the family seen in these pictures amplify the importance of the moments we now spend with Hannah and Chloe. What pictures of ours will be unearthed by their children, what memories will last, what stores told?

Phil, my Grandpa Filing, died when I was five, so I never really knew him. I knew, however, the stories, told always with laughter. My mother and Aunt Barb can hardly mention their father without breaking into joyful laughter. The stories live on, the laughter lasts. You can hear it in these pictures if you look with attentive ears.

Sophia, Nan as we called her, died just after I graduated from college, so I knew her well. She taught me to be loyal and to love my work. She always had a deep love for us, grounded firmly in a stoic strength that only now am I beginning to truly appreciate. This love and strength too can be felt in these pictures if you look with a sensitive heart.

To Phil and Sophia, for the stories, the laughter and your love, thank you.

The Dazzle of the Light

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Upon passing a cemetery on the way to play group yesterday, Chloe was prompted to a line of questioning that led to the question of death: not only her death but also the death of me and Val. Val was alone in the car with the girls and did her best to avoid retelling those tempting stories we mortals tend to tell ourselves to assuage the ineluctable burden of our finitude.

Yet, what does one tell a three and a half year old asking about the limit of her own existence? Her humanity presses in upon her and she responds with a natural wonder that must be nourished, however much it challenges the securities we have won over the course of a lifetime of living in the shadow of the limit.

Whitman helps me here, although the help is hard to hear:

You are asking me questions and I hear you,
I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.

Sit a while dear [daughter],

Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you
with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.

Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every
moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout,
and laughingly dash with your hair.

-From Leaves of Grass, 46 ("son" changed to "daughter" by cpl)

To invite and hear the questions, to admit the impossibility of answers, to nourish our children and to empower them to be bold swimmers are the true gifts we parents have to offer. In return, there is a nod, a shout, a laughing dash of hair: the dazzle of the light. Let us habit ourselves to every moment of our lives.

Hannah's 2nd Birthday

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Today Hannah Aveline Long turns two years old!  To celebrate I have added one of my favorite pictures of her with a new umbrella she received for her birthday.
This year we celebrate with visits first from Choo-Choo Nanny and Baba and then from Nanny Janny and Baba Teedo. 
Two years ago this beautiful, funny and amazingly smart little person entered into the world.  She has made our lives rich with wonder.  Happy Birthday Hannah!

Gifts of Nature from my Daughters

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There is a leaf in my book bag. I found it when I was standing in front of my class of first-year students, taking out my computer and books, preparing to teach. It brought me up short, made me stop for a moment to consider its singular beauty. On any fall day I would have walked over or stepped upon this leaf, not noticing it for the many others of its kind, and the hectic concerns of the day that press themselves upon me. But there it was, beautiful, brown and orange, veins running from the stem to the outermost edges. A wonder really, more wonderful still in how it found its way to my bag.
You see, I have been finding little gifts of nature in my pockets, on my desk, even in my shoes. It may be a stone, a shell, even a singular piece of mulch. What they all have in common is that Hannah or Chloe found it interesting and, thinking of their father, decided it was a perfect gift for me. Much could be said about the significance of such gifts, of how they signal the wonder of nature, or call attention to the singular existence of even the seemingly most insignificant things, but for me, it is enough to know that they were given to me by one of my little girls thinking of her Dad. There is no greater gift.

Rhythms of Fall

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In the distance is the sound of drums and horns. The high school band has begun to practice again behind the football field where young men run and tackle, drilling for the new season. The band’s music is punctuated periodically by the short, sharp whistle of the football coach barking out discouraged words designed to encourage.
Fall is on its way.
The construction that closed streets all summer has suddenly disappeared as the town prepares for the arrival of 40,000 students. The quiet lifts and a fresh spirit of energy descends upon this college town.
The days are shorter, the nights cooler. It is time to begin again. But as we begin, I take a moment to remember a beautiful summer …

The Farms of Centre County

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The Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) sponsored its second annual Centre County farm tour today. My family, along with our neighbors, the Erickson’s (with whom we share a summer share at the Village Acres Farm CSA and a dedication to supporting the local farming community), spent the day visiting four beautiful farms.
Common Ground Farm
There is a difference between driving by or flying over a landscape and seeing it from the perspective of those who work in intimate connection with it. Since moving here three years ago, the topography and spirit of the landscape in Centre County has become an important part of my life. There is a beauty to the light here as it plays in the foothills of the Allegheny mountain range that often gives me pause. It is a welcome interruption. However busy, stressed or otherwise preoccupied, I find myself brought up short by the beauty of this place, made to feel the presence of a Nature larger than my preoccupations.
Today, we visited Common Ground Farm, Full Circle Farm, Goot Essa Farm and Mountain View Farm. Each place had a special feel of its own, but what struck me everywhere is the dedication of the farmers, their shared love of the land and their deep commitment to working with nature in a sustainable way. I am grateful to live in a place that takes the idea of sustainable agriculture seriously and has such dedicated people working to produce food that is healthy for the environment and for us humans who are its stewards.
For a slideshow of our tour, click here.

Passing Moments

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AVALON, NJ – This is a place of liminal passages: the pines give way to dunes, the dunes to sea, the sea to the horizon and an openness of possibility. The elements too pass into one another: heat and humidity give way to rain, wind and storm, now it is cool and calm again, just the sound of the waves, returning, one after another, from the horizon of possibilities.
The threshold is a place of passing, it joins by dividing.
Here too, there is the passing of the generations. Two grandmothers pass on stories, the wisdom of those who came before handed down in a touch, a game played in the waves, the caring cut of watermelon. Two little girls grow into themselves in an old beach house that must still remember the laughter of another girl, now lost. Yes, this is a place of passing, and our time here too is passing, and yet, in so passing, we contribute to the life of this beautiful place.
If life itself is a sort of passage, a path or set of paths, it is marked by moments of poignancy that make up a landscape of memories. Chloe and Hannah, in hats, dancing on the porch … the sky at dusk, a beautiful purple-pink … two grandmothers laughing with their grand-daughters … Hannah in the waves … Chloe laughing with her mother and dancing in the sand … the hydrangea in bloom … holding hands on the beach, watching our daughters …
To see the a slideshow of our time in Avalon, click here.

Imitation and the Power of Story

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In the Poetics, Aristotle says:

To imitate is co-natural to human-beings from childhood and in this they differ from other animals because they are the most imitative and produce their first acts of understanding by means of imitation; also, everyone delights in imitations. (Poetics 1448b7-9)

I delight in the imitations of my daughters. I am sure this delight is rooted in the recognition that, as Aristotle says, their imitations are their first acts of understanding, their first attempts to feel their way into the world. But my delight is also an immediate response to their delightful ways of encountering the world.
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Hannah is quite the mimic. This morning I awoke to “Daddy. Daaady. Com’on Daddy” and heard an echo of my own repeated calls of “com’on Hannah” on our walks though the neighborhood. Chloe too, with a roll of her eyes, mimics her mother’s playful manner of mockery and shows that she too is hard to impress.
As we were leaving for the grocery store today Chloe and Hannah were going around saying “we’re outta here” after I must have said something to that effect. Part of what makes such mimicry so delightful is that it is like the gift of a mirror that allows you to see yourself differently.
But Aristotle does not have in mind only this sort of mimicry, but also the imitation that belongs to the telling and performance of stories, to the representation of actions in the world of human affairs. And it is here, in the telling and retelling of stories, that Hannah and Chloe clearly seek to find their ways into the complex world of human community.
Strangely enough, they both seem obsessed with stories of tragedy and redemption. Hannah likes to tell this story: “Guy … hit … fall down … Mommy … home,” which, roughly translates as:

Hannah was at the library when a boy hit her and she fell down. The boy’s Mommy made him say he was sorry and then told him they were going home because he was not playing nicely.

We retell this story often, and there is a satisfying sense of justice in it.
DSC_0033.JPGFor her part, Chloe has a battery of stories she wants to hear repeatedly throughout the day. There is the story of Joe Pa who broke his leg while coaching, went to the hospital, but is getting better and, as she often adds, “he’ll be all ready for the fall.”
Or the story of Uncle Hank who was hit by a car when he was a boy, went to the hospital, but recovered in time. Or that of the “old lady” who fell down at a wedding we attended in Chicago last fall and who I helped up to a chair (we tend to leave out the part about her being drunk!). She was taken home and recovered. Or the story of her friend who fell down the stairs of his porch, went to the hospital, but had no significant injuries.
Clearly, there is a theme here, and it has something to do with her attempt to understand human hurt and the capacity for recovery. My first hope for these two little ones is that they never know such hurt, but recognizing this as impossible, my second hope is that a resilient capacity for recovery sustains them through long lives.

Community Supported Agriculture

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Last weekend my family participated in the annual Strawberry festival at the Village Acres Farm, where we are members of their community supported agriculture (CSA) program.
As you can see, the strawberries were beautiful, and my daughter Hannah loved them. We all enjoy the healthy organic food that comes from this beautiful farm.
But what we most enjoy is the sense that we are supporting our local community of farmers, that we are engaged with the environment and community in which we live and that we are afforded an opportunity to experience the cycle of life that brings different food to us at different times of the year.