Monday, December 30, 2002

All about Barbie

Here's an interesting article about Barbie in The Economist magazine, via the Ms. Magazine blog.

The PBS program P.O.V. showed a provocative documentary by Susan Stern about Barbie a few years ago: "Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour".

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Fragments of a week

Re-immersion in family Stayed one night with my sister and brother-in-law in Seattle. (My sister used to stay overnight with me in Seattle.) The rest of the time I was with my parents' in the house that used to be my grandparents'. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and the cousins' babies. Visiting my mother's aunt—snow and evergreen trees. Reading my grandfather's travel diaries. Grandmother's and great aunt's stories of simple Christmases in the past where the children each received a pair of mittens as a gift. Occasionally someone might get a doll. I won the Scrabble game we played huddled around the wood stove in the kitchen.

Washington Rain. Always rain. But sun, too. Outside my mother's kitchen window, the neighbor's newly painted barn perched on the edge of the hill. The annual pilgrimage to Easton's Books. In Seattle, we stopped by Chubby & Tubby's for some last minute gifts, a store that, sadly, is going out of business.

Traveling Celebrity sighting: one of the actors from Gilmore Girls, the man who plays Jackson, was on my flight from Seattle to Burbank, where it was unexpectedly and dangerously windy, so we were diverted to LAX until the wind died down and then flown back to Burbank. Rough landing. A fellow passenger in the shuttle on the way home—a float plane pilot in Alaska—said we should complain to the airline and get a partial refund because that sort of landing was inexcusable. Almost finished reading Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, which I want to finish before seeing The Hours.

Home again Raining last night but clear and rather cool today. Two long services at church. Much music; today is the fifth day of Christmas. Listening to a Christmas gift, Songcatcher.

From today's paper An article about a naturalist, Craig Childs, who walks the Southwest. His most recent book, for my "To Read" list, is Soul of Nowhere: Traversing Grace in a Rugged Land. At the end of the article, Childs muses about his desire to be in the wilderness:
"What I want to why am I so hungry for this?"

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Extended family

Here's an interesting trend, "Instead of Scattering, Families are Living in the Same Town," as reported in Friday's WSJ:
In a little-noticed but steadily growing trend, the American extended family is making a comeback. Increasingly, the people next [door] may well be your parents -- or kids. And the in-laws? They're moving into a casita in the backyard. Indeed, according to the most recent Census, the number of households with three generations under one roof has doubled in the past 20 years, while the number of young adults moving back home is up 6%.
[Edit: I finally caught on that I can link to articles in the WSJ so that non-subscribers can read them after the editor over at Path to Freedom posted a link to an article I had e-mailed her.]

I saw the movie The Two Towers yesterday. It was quite good, although I didn't have the same experience of being fully caught up into another world that I did with the first movie. Part of the reason was I didn't see it on the 60-foot screen and, also, the theater was full of elementary and junior high school boys who were a little young to understand all that was going on. Thus, they tended to laugh at inappropriate scenes, such as when the two voices of Gollum were contending for his soul.

The line that struck me was Treebeard's [the talking tree, or Ent] characterization of Saruman:
He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things except as far as they serve him for the moment (p. 76).
Treebeard continues:
He and his foul folk are making havoc now. Down on the borders they are felling trees—good trees. Some of the trees they just cut down and leave to rot...but most are hewn up and carried off to feed the fires of Orthanc....Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost for ever now. And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves. I have been idle. I have let things slip. It must stop! (p. 77)
And then he rallies the other Ents to go against Saruman's Isengard.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

And the rains came down, and down

The sky got really dark, and then it started to pour with windy, driving rain. The gardeners mowing the lawn across the street got soaked. Day two of the rains has arrived. But, already, the rain is much lighter, and the gardeners are still working. I can see blue sky behind the mountains.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Our water supply

I often don't agree with the Opinion page and editorials of The Wall Street Journal, but in its investigative news reporting, the Journal is not afraid to tackle corporate or government malfeasance head on. Today's Page One article (paid subscription required), "Perchlorate Runoff Flows to Water Supply of Millions: A Fuel of Cold War Defenses Now Ignites Health Controversy" by Peter Waldman, is about perchlorate, an ingredient in solid rocket fuel, in water supplies.
In the human body, perchlorate affects production of thyroid hormones -- a phenomenon that the Environmental Protection Agency says can cause thyroid ailments such as Graves' disease and cancer in adults. Fetuses and newborns, the EPA says, are at even greater risk, susceptible to neurological and other developmental damage.

For decades, millions of Americans have been unknowingly exposed to perchlorate through their local water supplies. No one denies that the chemical is toxic. But the level at which it becomes dangerous in drinking water is the subject of a fierce debate that pits the EPA against the Pentagon and its defense-industry allies. As a result, the U.S. is still years away from establishing a nationally enforced standard, and until it does so, a poisonous chemical lingers in the environment in amounts that could still be causing the slow spread of serious disease on a large scale.
Waldman goes on to report:
The EPA wants suspected water supplies tested nationwide for perchlorate, but the Pentagon, which argues perchlorate isn't dangerous in small doses, is resisting in many cases. Instead, the Pentagon has asked Congress for an exemption from environmental laws covering the cleanup of explosive residues at operational sites.
The article investigates in depth the dumping practices of various corporations, including Aerojet, which had a manufacturing plant a few towns to the east of where I live before the company relocated outside of Sacramento, Calif.
The polluting continued for years after evidence began to mount of the dangers of perchlorate. A three-month investigation by The Wall Street Journal has found that even after California regulators tried to control disposal of the chemical in the 1950s, companies dumped it with impunity. It wasn't until the 1970s, after passage of federal clean-water laws, that the defense industry began trying to contain perchlorate waste for treatment. But by then, the chemical had already begun its long, slow seep into water supplies nationwide.

As late as 1976, in fact, Aerojet-General Corp., operator of the missile plant near the Voetsches' home, built a special, 3,500-foot pipeline to dump toxic waste into unlined earthen pits -- directly disobeying a local water-board order issued just months earlier, state documents show. At first, Aerojet told investigators the pipe was just a stopgap measure to bypass a clogged holding pond.
And the article continues. If you don't have an online subscription to the WSJ, pick up a copy of today's paper at a newsstand.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Yet another To-Do list

I've been in this very detached state of being: I survey the many things I should be doing, and then I do none of them and, at the same time, feel no guilt or dread of the consequences I know are unavoidable. However, I received a message yesterday that my job position has been approved, and thus I probably will be employed once again by some time next week. Therefore, more of my life will again be structured by outside demands. So, let's see if I can get things in order around here, so I can make progress in my studies while working at the same time.
  • Clean house. Kitchen. Living room/study. Bathroom. Bedroom. Garage.
  • Finish organizing and assembling Christmas gifts.
  • Do laundry on a day when rain is not predicted.
  • Choose and practice music for Sunday.
  • Get front-end alignment.
  • Finish book review and submit by Friday, December 20.
I am going to start with the kitchen: wash dishes; organize refrigerator; make vegetable stock with accumulated vegetables; make lentil soup for lunch; wash floor; tidy counters. On your mark, get set, GO.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Nature and religion, part I

I came across this book, The Good in Nature and Humanity: Connecting Science, Religion, and Spirituality, edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Timothy J. Farnham, a collection of essays on the subject of the book's title, many of which mentioned this book, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There[: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River], by Aldo Leopold. (My copy of the book is the same one I linked to at, but my copy doesn't state the subtitle although the essays are included.)
There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.

To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside. If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the week end in town astride a radiator (p. 6).

Leopold has many other wonderful observations about the connection between nature and human life:
Every farm woodland, in addition to yielding lumber, fuel, and posts, should provide its owner a liberal education. This crop of wisdom never fails, but it is not always harvested (p. 73).
Growing up in central/southern Africa, we didn't need to fortify ourselves against blizzards, but we did have to burn wood to heat our hot water supply. As a youngster, I know I didn't contemplate the spiritual aspects and value of going into the bush with my dad and loading the wood he'd cut into the trailer, then unloading it at home and stacking it. I mainly grumbled at how hot and sticky and itchy it was. And now I can take a shower at anytime of the day or night, trusting that the gas water heater will not fail. Thanks, dad, for all the wood you cut and hauled and stacked (you didn't make us children help you very often) and for all the mornings you got up early and made a fire in the Rhodesian boiler so that we'd have hot water when we woke up.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

What I need to do today

I've been immersing myself in figuring out a topic to pursue for one of the three papers I need to write. I went out to school yesterday and spent a good four hours in the library. Last night and this morning I've been reading through some of the material I found. Now I just need to come up with a workable subject and start.

However, I volunteered to have a group of people over this coming Tuesday, which means I need to clean up this house. I'll be making lentil soup, so I need to make the vegetable broth today. I've already been to the Farmer's Market and picked up leeks and celery. I think I have enough other vegetables in the fridge to make the broth.

I also need to return a couple items to stores. Shopping list: saline solution; toothpaste; milk; Peet's coffee; some blue balls (the new Advent color) to mix in with the pine cones my mum and I picked up at Big Bear this past spring. And I want to repaint the hearth of my empty fire place or figure out some other decorative way to cover up the evidence left after my cats slaughtered a creature or two there.

So, off I go.

Friday, December 06, 2002

"Eco lifestyling"

From an article in today's LA Times' Calendar section:
Danny Seo, the 25-year-old Martha Stewart of the organic set, speaks softly, but in that rapid-fire tongue so characteristically New York. He rattles off the eco-friendly elements of his ensemble, which he has worn to an important eco-friendly gala in Los Angeles populated by newly eco-friendly celebrities. "This," he says, pointing to his delicate wrist, "is a solar-powered watch. I'm wearing vegetarian shoes from England -- Paul McCartney loves these." His tie, he says, was picked from a clothing designer's trash bin. But the outfit is just the beginning: "It's all about eco lifestyling."
Living an online life

This morning I awoke to news of the unexpectedly high national unemployment rate for November. Well, I know one company that contributed to the increase....

The second issue of knitty magazine has been published. It has some fun patterns and ideas: how about some Kool-aid dyed handknit socks? And in other socks' news, Wendy Johnson illustrates how to knit toe-up socks.

Now to the topic of the day and online knitting convergences: yesterday I met the editor of the Path to Freedom website. She had contacted me via e-mail after I linked to her site a few posts ago and invited me to a knitting group that meets in a local library branch. She brought the two bunnies she wrote about in her November 13, 2002, post. I got some good ideas for the project I'm working on, and it was fun to see everyone else's work. Thus, via my online explorations, I've met someone living out what I've only dreamed about, and I've been introduced to a group of women keeping alive the tradition of knitting. Oh, and I learned about a knitting store that has reopened in Pasadena! Must check it out soon.

OK. When I typed the title to this post, before I wrote this entry, I wanted to write about how I get up in the morning and get online right after making my coffee (so sorry about Peet's, Laura) and toast. In what ways has reading (and writing) blogs/weblogs now for nearly a year and a half shaped my outlook on life or least the arrangement of my life? In certain aspects, how I perceive and connect those things that come to make up what I call "my life" has subtly shifted. And the time, in itself, I spend online counts for (or against) something. For the most part, I benefit from this online life, but I do need to figure out how to give or, rather how to WANT to give, my studies more attention, focus, and time. Enough online stewing.

Thursday, December 05, 2002


My coffee mug from KPCC 89.3 FM is stamped with a copy of an article titled "Fresh-Brewed Coffee May Hold Hidden Health Benefits." A UC Davis professor, Takayuki Shibamoto, "suggests that chemicals in fresh-brewed coffee may form potent antioxidants, similar to vitamin C or vitamin E, which are believed to help prevent cancer." Thus I reassure myself each morning as I gulp (no dainty sipping here) my hand-ground Italian Roast from Peet's Coffee. [Note to manual coffee grinder users: Peet's Coffee Italian Roast is a pleasure to grind because it is so oily that it grinds like butter. I've not tried other Peet's Coffee roasts, so I don't know if the oiliness is a feature of Peet's Coffee in general or only of the Italian Roast.]


I saw the movie Bowling for Columbine. It was very provocative. The underlying theme, that Americans are afraid and that this fear is prompted and promoted by television news, advertising, and American culture in general, challenged me to think about what a Christian response to fear might be. Even in the apocalyptic readings for Advent, "wars and rumors of wars...famines and earthquakes...and then the end shall come," we are told, "See that you are not frightened" (Matthew 24:6). And the phrases "Do not be afraid" or "Fear not!" are found throughout the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and in the New Testament.

The next movie on my list is Personal Velocity. I'm intrigued by the title, especially because a movie of my life would be titled more realistically Personal Inertia.

Sunday, December 01, 2002


Today is the first Sunday in Advent or the beginning of the church year in Western church traditions. I'm just learning how to observe and celebrate Advent, because it wasn't part of my low-church Protestant upbringing. Also, as this article about the Advent wreath suggests, the emphases and symbolism of Advent change with time and place. This year I'm making an Advent wreath by planting herbs around four two-inch clay pots with votive candles in them.

For me, following some of the traditions and meditations of the Advent season is a way to screen out, or at least mute somewhat, the blare of the holiday shopping frenzy.