Category Archives: Home & Family

Starting Book Two

Last month, I finished revising and printing/binding 256 pages (in 17 sessions of Book One – “The Hebrew Bible“) for the pilot version of the new “The Transforming Literature of the Bible” (TLB) course. Today, I finished revising 140 pages in the first 9 sessions (out of 19) of TLB Book Two (“The New Testament“).  Production starts tomorrow.  I am collaborating on the revision of TLB with the Rev. Canon William H. Barnwell who wrote the original course. In addition to revising Canon William’s 2008 course materials, I am running a pilot version of the class itself at Elmwood Jail (Milpitas, California). I am grateful to my Co-Mentors Diane Lovelace, and my husband, John Plocher (with the Rev. Peggy Bryan as backup). This program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy  (CIC) and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.  Thanks to Collette Lynner of CIC for supporting TLB production.

Six students are finishing the 17 sessions in Book One this Friday.  We start studying Book Two next week.  The inmates are very enthusiastic, doing their extensive homework reading and participating energetically in in-class discussions and reflections.  There is a waiting list of inmates from two dorms to join us.

Literary selections are included in TLB to provide a diverse context in which to understand some of the major themes in the Bible passages under consideration.  In addition to readings in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), the students of Book One have also read:

  1. “The Welcome Table” story by Alice Walker (1973)
  2. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1955)
  3. “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” poem by Mohja Kahf (2003)
  4. “The Son from America” story by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1973)
  5. “The Big Red Apples” story by Zitkála-Šá  aka Red Bird (1900)
  6. “My Last Duchess” poem by Robert Browning (1842)
  7. “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King (1963)
  8. O Pioneers! excerpt by Willa Cather (1913)
  9. “The Family of Little Feet” story by Sandra Cisneros (1984)
  10. The Gangster We Are All Looking For excerpt by Lê Thị Diễm Thúy (2003)

The Book Two (New Testament) students will read these literary selections in Part One “A Journey With Mark“:

  1. “At the Arraignment” poem by Debra Spencer (2004)
  2. “A Private Experience” story excerpt by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)
  3. “Sonnet XXVII” by William Shakespeare (1609)
  4. “Under the Poplars” poem by César Vallejo (1919)

One of the TLB students wants me to start another Education for Ministry (EfM) seminar in their dorm after I finish Books One and Two of TLB. Joel Martinez and I are Co-Mentors for a weekly EfM seminar which started in 2015 in another dorm where inmates tend to stay inside longer. I designed TLB to be finished in 5 months but EfM takes four 9-month terms to complete. I told him that if he can find ten other students who will be there for long enough, I will start another EfM class.

Other than my ongoing project as the Mentor for the Shakespeare Reading Group, TLB is one of the few times since I was graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in English (with a specialty in Shakespeare) that my knowledge and passion for literature has been of such use.  I am very much enjoying reviewing potential TLB selections.  Thanks to my daughter Jessica Dickinson Goodman for her advice on some of the selections, and to John for reviewing my drafts.

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Image Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson.

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Chairs Carved by Ella Bolli Van Gilder

Thanks to my husband, John Plocher*, for reassembling and restoring one of the fumed oak chairs carved by my Great-Grandmother, Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder.  We found the chair in pieces in the attic of 2125 Broderick Street, my parents’ home in San Francisco, when we were clearing out the house for sale in 2012.  I have several other pieces carved by my Great-Grandmother – including another of her chairs. I am delighted to have one more.

Ella Rachel Bolli Van Gilder was a remarkable woman who early in her life worked with Jane Addams at Hull House – a settlement house for European immigrants in Chicago.  She later returned to Knoxville, Tennessee, where she married Walter Van Gilder.  They were both were enthusiastic craft workers (in the Arts and Crafts style) and gardeners, in addition to his founding and managing Van Gilder Glass Company.  My mother, Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, grew up in their house at 1007 Circle Park Drive in Knoxville.

* with help from John Gibbs – Workshop (Campbell, CA)

This is what the chair pieces looked like when we pulled them out of the attic:

Here is the chair today, after much effort by John:

1911 portrait of Ella Bolli Van Gilder:

1007 Circle Park Drive in Knoxville: photo taken by Eleanor Creekmore when she was 10 years old, in 1941:

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Images Copyright 1941 by Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, and 2016-2018 by Katy Dickinson.

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Easter Egg Hunt 2018

Easter was on Sunday 1 April in 2017 (also John’s Birthday!) and as usual we had friends, family, and neighbors over for a potluck brunch and Easter Egg Hunt in our back garden and on WP668. The Associate Easter Bunny wrote a very difficult set of riddles for the adults to find the Gold and Silver Eggs.

Gold Egg
The clue has 3 words; each quatrain is a clue for one of them.

Birds circle in their dances, bright pinions
a-spinning as they whirl; making circles
and ovals and untracable-shapes to
describe with their sleek bodies this first clue.
The second clue is the colonial name
of an Alaskan burb, whose name now means
either a place for gathering potatoes
or snowy-owl in old Iñupiat.
Third clue: what do snakes and shells and people
and varicella-pox and cats and dogs
and lizards and chameleons and rats
and nematodes and bats do in common?
Hold up one finger, tap three on your arm:
that’s quatrain one and two. A charades charm!

Solution: The Gold Egg was in a brown paper bag behind a storage shed next to a yellow wheelbarrow.

Silver Egg
Literary references may require a search engine for non-English majors

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote |
In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a
song. | queer / old balloonman whistles / far and
wee and bettyandisbel come dancing |
Can curls rob can curls quote, quotable. As
presently. As exactitude. As | [Here]
keys in hand, I’ll reach the landing and / you’re
there—the one lesson I never get right. |
It has taken / seventeen years. This trip,
these characters patterned / in black ink, curves |
having been previously hardened, tempered
or sprung. Precision Steel’s inventory |

Solution: The Silver Egg was in a brown paper bag tucked into the end of a leaf spring under the WP668 caboose.

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Images Copyright 2018 by Katy Dickinson (with one from Jessica Dickinson Goodman).

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Honored Woman 2017

St Andrews Honored Women 2017 Certificate Katy Dickinson

Four years ago, I wrote about Honored Women’s Day, at which the Episcopal Church Women of the Diocese of El Camino Real join each year with the parish churches to honor a woman for her notable service. I am touched to be the 2017 Honored Woman for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California).  The text on the certificate prepared by ECW Chair Diane Lovelace based on the submission of our Rector, the Rev. Channing Smith reads:

    Katy is creative, knowledgeable, faithful, persistent, and swift to action. These are all qualities that are necessary for leadership, and Katy exudes them all. Katy is involved in many areas of the church. She has served in our vestry, chaired our Strategic Plan Personnel Committee, been an alternate to General Convention, and faithfully represented our community as a Diocesan convention delegate. However, her most recent ministry in EFM, Jail Ministry, and as the Diocesan EFM Coordinator is the reason for her nomination.
    Katy takes part in 3 EFM classes a week: one at Saint Andrew’s, and two at Elmwood Jail. She has been instumental to many parishioners continued faith formation as an EFM Mentor. She has leveraged her creativity to inspire and engage others, which has had a real world impact. Katy also leveraged her talents to set up an EFM jail program (1st one in the country) and took it a step further and got a second one approved. She needed to work with many agencies to make that happen, along with funding for the classes, co-mentors for each class, and negotiating with Sewanee to get a lower tuition rate so it would all be possible. This is a large ongoing time commitment (there are no class breaks in jail ministry). She is an inspiration and a rock for the guys there, and has even led some to join the Saint Andrew’s community. Katy also volunteered to take on the role of Diocesan EFM Coordinator. She arranged training locally, which was no small feat – normally the closest Mentors could go would be Auburn. This has expanded her outreach beyond El Camino Real, to all parts in California. Katy deserves to be recognized for the hard work and dedication that she has made to the Saint Andrew’s and broader community. She is a great example of faithful service to others and sharing the Good News of God’s love which she does so joyfully.

I am honored to be included in the ranks of the women leaders of our diocese. Special thanks to the Rev. Channing Smith for nominating me, and to the Rev. Peggy Bryan for asking my inmate students to write notes to present to me with the certificate.  You can read more about the University of the South – School of Theology Education for Ministry (EfM) program and our jail-based EfM seminars on the El Camino Real diocesan webpage.  If you are interested in supporting the incarcerated in Santa Clara County, please contact the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy.  Please contact me if you live on California’s Central Coast (Palo Alto to San Luis Obispo) and are interested in becoming an Accredited Mentor for EfM.

ECW 2017 Honored Women

Katy Dickinson Peggy Bryan 7 Oct 2017 presentation

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Images Copyright 2017 by John Plocher

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Africa: People, Food, Technology, Business

Katy Dickinson and John Plocher 2014 Church of St. George Lalibela Ethiopia

Tomorrow, I am giving a presentation to my home congregation of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California) about my nine trips to Africa since 2010. The talk is called “Africa: People, Food, Technology, Business”. I have linked the talk here so that my audience can access my pictures and stories after.  My bold intention in giving this talk is to present a small part of the wonderful complexity of the African continent, and to encourage them to visit and get involved in African enterprises.

“If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa – twice.” – R.Elliot

TechWomen and TechGirls in Tunisia 2015

Katy Dickinson presenting to AIMS and TechWomen at in Cape Town by Rejoyce GaVhi Feb2015

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Images Copyright 2010-2017 by Katy Dickinson

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Fabric Arts and Crafts in Sierra Leone

Fabric shopping, Sierra Leone, July 2017

While visiting Sierra Leone in West Africa earlier this month, my daughter Jessica traveled with fellow TechWomen mentor, Terri Khonsari, and with Ibrahim Kalokoh and Joseph Ellie of Families Without Borders Tech Center (FWB). Some of our activities were arranged by Mrs. Thaimu (“Mrs. T”), an entrepreneur in Makeni who works with FWB.

In addition to giving presentations at FWB, the University of Makeni in Makeni, and at Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone) in Freetown, we wanted to learn more about Sierra Leone. In particular, we wanted to purchase some of the elegant fabric and embroidery that we had seen Terri wearing in the Silicon Valley.

Our first day, Mrs. T brought us to her home to show us samples and discuss options for design.  Then, we went fabric shopping, followed by a trip to the tailor. Most of the fabric we purchased was cotton, often with local designs but mostly manufactured outside of the country.  One variegated brown cloth  was made locally from kola nuts. Our shirts, tunics, and dresses were completed in just a few days. We ended up fabric shopping several times during the whole trip: the vast design range and high quality of available materials are remarkable.  Jessica and I will be sewing with our new fabric for quite a while!

In addition to fabric, I purchased a batik panel at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary gift shop. It shows a woman in local costume against a map of Sierra Leone. I made it into a pillow for my office – to remember my first trip to West Africa.

23 March 2019: see also Arts and Crafts in Sierra Leone

Mrs. Thaimu, Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

Fabric shopping, Sierra Leone, July 2017

Embroiderer, Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

Tailor, Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

Embroiderer, Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

Kola nut fabric with embroidery, Sierra Leone, July 2017

Sierra Leone woman batik, July 2017

Sierra Leone woman batik, July 2017

Sierra Leone woman batik pillow and embroidered clothes, July 2017

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Images Copyright 2017 by Katy Dickinson

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Truth on the Internet, Sierra Leone

Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, July 2017, photo by Salwa Campbell

While Jessica and I visited Sierra Leone earlier this month, we gave presentations to Terri Khonsari‘s technical center Families Without Borders, and the University of Makeni in Makeni, and at Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone) in Freetown – to about 300 students in all. We answered many questions but variations of one question came up most often everywhere we went: “How do you tell what is true on the Internet?”

Since we were presenting on web research, e-learning (also known as educational technology), and blogging, and since the topic of fake news has been much discussed worldwide during the last year, I suppose we should not have been surprised at the frequency of this question.  We answered it in a variety of ways, including many that have been widely discussed elsewhere. For example, Factcheck.org provides this list on “How to Spot Fake News”:

  1. Consider the source
  2. Read beyond the headline
  3. Check the author
  4. What’s the support?
  5. Check the date
  6. Is this some kind of joke?
  7. Check your biases
  8. Consult the experts

Two other ways we answered the question:

  1. During our Internet Treasure Hunt exercise at Families Without Borders in Makeni, we asked the 50+ students to find out what the CIA World Fact Book thought was the population of Sierra Leone, and then what Wikipedia said (since they do not agree). We then asked them to find an error on the Wikipedia page and discussed how these mistakes or differing opinions can happen.  We encouraged them to help by correcting the Wikipedia page and directed them to instructions on how to do so.
  2. At Fourah Bay College in Freetown, after asking about Finding Truth, a first year Engineer asked me why someone does not fix the Internet – make it always correct. I looked at the large and eager young audience and asked why someone does not fix them – make their own answers always correct. They laughed. I followed up by saying that the Internet was and continues to be created by people of many viewpoints who may want to deceive, or who may not know what is correct, or for whom there may be many versions of Truth.

Families Without Borders, Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

University of Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

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Images Copyright 2017 by Katy Dickinson and Salwa Campbell

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