Tuesday, December 30, 2003

What??

My colleague just pointed out a blaring headline on the top right-hand corner of MSNBC.com: "Efforting Relief." Come on, folks, knowledge of the English language hasn't declined that much, has it?

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Two cats on a lap

I returned home after being gone over a week. Not only did my little cat jump up in my lap, she did so with the big cat already curled up taking most of the room on my lap. Nevertheless, after grooming the big cat's head and ears, she managed to find space to curl up, too. Such a warm welcome!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A fragmentary life

At my church we've been studying parts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship [Nachfolge]. My pastor pointed out a passage in the brief "Memoir" of Bonhoeffer's life prefacing the book in which G. Leibholz writes that
Bonhoeffer often asked himself about the deeper meaning of his life, which seemed to him so disconnected and confused. A few months before his death. . . [for plotting to kill Hitler], he wrote in prison:
"It all depends on whether or not the fragment of our life reveals the plan and material of the whole. There are fragments which are only good to be thrown away, and others which are important for centuries to come because their fulfillment can only be a divine work. They are fragments of necessity. If our life, however remotely, reflects such a fragment . . . we shall not have to bewail our fragmentary life, but, on the contrary, rejoice in it." (p. 34)

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Joy notes

Last night, after posting a somewhat whiny entry, I recalled that last Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, was the "joy" Sunday. (It is often symbolized by a pink candle amongst the three purple candles in the Advent wreath.) How quickly I forget!

So I read through texts assigned for Sunday again.
"Sing aloud. . . . Rejoice and exult with all your heart!
Do not fear. . .do not let your hands grow weak." (Zephaniah 3:14, 16)

"I will trust and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might. . . .
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:2, 3)

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. . . .
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:4, 6)

In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist tells the crowds to give away extra clothes and food; the tax collectors not to collect more than was owed (in order to pocket the difference); and the soldiers not to extort money (Luke 3:10-14).

So joy, not being afraid, gratitude, not worrying, and not grasping after extra money and possessions are all tied together. A timely message for me.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Skimming

Every year I think I'm going to do December differently. But it seems to end up being this weird month of things just having to get done. Being a student doesn't help. Then last year I was unemployed, and the previous year or two before that I wasn't sure how long my job would last.

And then there's my house, which is in a perpetual state of untidiness. Or I get one room cleaned and within a day or two clutter has begun to build. I am pleased to report, however, that my dining table remains clear, with only a small white cloth and two blue candlesticks in the center as an Advent reminder.

I need to wrap the presents for my brother's family and find a box somewhere big enough to ship them. So far I've not had to venture into malls or large box stores for shopping—locally owned toy store; locally owned record (i.e., CDs and DVDs) store; museum shop branch. And a great benefit at work is that we can use the company's deeply discounted shipping rates to ship boxes right from work.

I think I'll try handmade gifts next year for birthdays or maybe get organized enough to work on things throughout the year for Christmas gifts. I've been impressed with those knitting bloggers who will be ready (more or less) with wonderful handmade gifts for family and friends.

All this to say, I haven't been focusing on anything too deeply. Just skimming along the surface. Reading for escape. Not able to grasp anything for long. Dealing with what presents itself but not being very creative, imaginative, or engaged.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Because there never can be too many lists of books to read

The first of a series of columns of book recommendations, by John Wilson, the editor of Books & Culture.

[Update 12/16/03]: Column Two.

[Update 12/23/03]: Column Three, a top 10 list.
Old stoves

While browsing the LA Times online, I came across an article about stoves from the 1940s and 1950s that are being refurbished and sold in the LA area. One restorer, Stevan Thomas of Vintage Stoves, left his job at a bank and now finds and restores stoves fulltime. His current featured stove, a 30" O'Keefe & Merritt, is quite similar to mine, although much shinier! I also didn't pay close to $5,200 for mine!

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Second Sunday in Advent

Today is overcast and rainy. We're finally getting a sense of the winter darkness of the season here in So Cal. The Advent readings and hymns for today were centered around John the Baptist's call to "Prepare the way of the Lord."

It is also the feast day of St Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the fourth century, who baptized St Augustine. St Ambrose is considered to be the one who introduced hymn singing in the church. So today we sang one of the hymns credited to him, "Savior of the nations, come."

Advent hymns are quite unfamiliar to me. They're sung only four Sundays of the year and in many churches are displaced by Christmas carols. I was struck by this hymn today, "On Jordan's Banks the Baptist's Cry..." sung to Puer Nobis. The language is perhaps a little dated but it captured for me what we long for in the Advent season.
On Jordan's banks the Baptist's cry
Announcing that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every heart from sin;
Make straight the way for God within,
And let us all our hearts prepare
For Christ to enter there.

We hail you as our Savior, Lord,
Our refuge and our great reward;
Without your grace we waste away
Like flow'rs that wither and decay.

Stretch forth your hand, our health restore,
And make us rise to fall no more;
Oh, let your face upon us shine
And fill the world with love divine.

All praise to you, eternal Son,
Whose advent has our freedom won,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Spirit, evermore.

Trans. from text by Charles Coffin, 17th-18th cent. Tune adapted by Michael Praetorious, 16th-17th cent. From the Lutheran Book of Worship.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Fuller in the news, again

Another LA Times article about Fuller Seminary:
One of the nation's leading evangelical Christian seminaries has launched a federally funded project for making peace with Muslims, featuring a proposed code of ethics that rejects offensive statements about each other's faiths, affirms a mutual belief in one God and pledges not to proselytize.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Fever day

Yesterday I had a fever. I rarely get sick, so when I do, it is a noteworthy event. All I had was a fever—no sore throat, no upset stomach, no stuffy sinuses—just body aches and an elevated temperature.

I came home from work mid-morning, swinging by the pharmacy to buy a thermometer. (My old mercury thermometer had broken sometime between my last illness and now. Now I've got to figure out how to dispose of it properly.) Digital thermometers are quite fascinating. Even without my glasses on, I could watch, cross-eyed, the temperature rising, until the beeps indicated the correct temperature was recorded. So every 15 minutes, except when I was asleep, I took my temperature, watching it rise to 100.3. No shaking down the mercury to the bottom of the glass tube hoping the thermometer didn't fling out of my fever-weakened grip. No more squinting and rolling the thermometer back and forth trying to catch the light just so to read the temperature.

My bedroom is on the south side of the duplex, and, during the winter, the overhanging tree loses its leaves. Noticing the bright afternoon light turn into the dark evening as I lay in bed reminded my of long afternoons in sick bay at boarding school. Afternoons when you're ill always seem so long. Then, even though you've been sleeping most of the day, your body still knows it's time to sleep at night. 3:00 AM 99.5° 5:00 AM 97.1° (or maybe a little higher) 7:48 AM 98.6° On the road driving to work 98.1° Just now 98.1°

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

December writing

I'm pleased to see that Susie of one of the first weblogs/blogs/online journals I came across, Raspberry World, is updating her site regularly again, at least for the month of December. She is currently living in Germany. Her site has beautiful pictures and descriptions of life in Germany, her cat, and delicious recipes.

Susie is participating in Holidailies, a group that is updating their websites everyday in December. Registration for new members is open until Saturday, December 6 if anyone is interested in a little extra incentive to write during December.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Reading for one's life

I've been in a particularly intense reading mood recently. Reading about reading and writing and about readers who write and writers who read.

First, I read a review in The Atlantic (scroll down to the second book reviewed) of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie. The book is about four mid-twentieth century Catholics: Flannery O'Connor (novelist and short story writer); Thomas Merton (monk and writer); Dorothy Day (a founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a writer); and Walker Percy (novelist). One of the themes Elie brings out is that (at least for the converts to Catholicism—Merton, Day, and Percy)
it was in literature, first of all, that they found religious experience most convincingly described. As they read Dickens and Joyce, Blake and Eliot, Augustine and Kierkegaard, they recognized themselves as people with religious temperaments and quandaries.

Emboldened by books, they set out to have for themselves the experiences they had read about, measuring their lives against the books that had struck them most powerfully. (pp. x-xi)

Of course, they all went on to write, in one genre or another, about their firsthand religious experiences, enticing us to seek and taste and see for ourselves, too.

Another book I came across while browsing the poetry shelves is Planet on the Table: Poets on the Reading Life edited by S. Bryan and W. Olsen, a collection of essays by poets about reading. The essays combine pedagogy, autobiography, and criticism. The recommended books and poems to read, as well as ways of reading, are quite diverse.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A reminder

Because I haven't posted an excerpt here from Sr Joan Chittister for a while, here is her commentary on the Rule of St Benedict for March 27 - July 27 - November 26:
The message under the message is that unless the group [e.g., monastery, church] becomes more and more immersed in prayer and the scriptures, giving them priority no matter what the other pressures of the day, the group will cease to have any authenticity at all. It will cease to develop. It will dry up and cave in on itself and become more museum than monastery. This stress on our responsibility to call ourselves to prayer is an insight as fresh for the twenty-first century as it was for the sixth. For all of us, prayer must be regular, not haphazard, not erratic, not chance. At the same time, it cannot be routine or meaningless or without substance. Prayer has to bring beauty, substance and structure to our otherwise chaotic and superficial lives or it is not long before life itself becomes chaotic and superficial. A life of spiritual substance is a life of quality. The Tao puts it this way:
She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.
[Updated 11/28/03]: Sr Joan Chittister's books, tapes, videos, and cards, along with excerpts of her writing, are availabe at Benetvision.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

A few articles

The LA Times is running a three-part series of articles about Wal-Mart, beginning with today's: "An Empire Built on Bargains Remakes the Working World."
From a small-town five-and-dime, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has grown over 50 years to become the world's largest corporation and a global economic force.

It posted $245 billion in sales in its most recent fiscal year — nearly twice as much as General Electric Co. and almost eight times as much as Microsoft Corp. It is the nation's largest seller of toys, furniture, jewelry, dog food and scores of other consumer products. It is the largest grocer in the United States.

Wal-Mart's decisions influence wages and working conditions across a wide swath of the world economy, from the shopping centers of Las Vegas to the factories of Honduras and South Asia. Its business is so vital to developing countries that some send emissaries to the corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., almost as if Wal-Mart were a sovereign nation.
An LA Times Magazine cover article about Fuller Seminary: "Jesus With a Genius Grant": Fuller Theological Seminary Is Teaching That Smart Christians Can Have It All--Science and the Bible, Body and Soul, Left and Right. To Some, That's Apocalypse Now. To Others, There's No Turning Back.

I need run out now and buy a paper copy. Perhaps commentary later.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Mere coincidence or ?

Sunday afternoon I received a call from my landlord asking that I close all my windows before I left Monday morning because painters were going to start prepping to paint the outside of my duplex. Now, when I moved into my duplex over four years ago, the paint already was peeling severely from the outside. I quickly grew a planter of ivy to cover the bare clapboard next to my front door.

I've not worried too much about the outward appearance of the duplex because it was not my responsibility, and the rent was a great deal in a lovely neighborhood.

But I thought it an interesting coincidence that one week after I brought home my oak dining table, my landlords began beautifying the outside of my house, too. They even replaced the garage doors, which previously quite defied description they were so battered.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Grasping the whole

I checked Sparrow's entry this morning at Mercy Street and saw she had posted a quote from the Friend/Quaker Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion, which I had bought just yesterday.

Douglas V. Steere begins his biography of Kelly, which is included as a preface to Testament, with these sentences:
An adequate life, like Spinoza's definition of an adequate idea, might be described as a life which has grasped intuitively the whole nature of things, and has seen and felt and refocused itself to this whole. An inadequate life is one that lacks this adjustment to the whole nature of things—hence its twisted perspective, its partiality, its confusion.
Spending log

One of the exercises this week in The Artist's Way is to keep track of all money spent. I've started this type of record keeping too many times before—lasting, at best, two months. But once more, I'll try. I want to focus not so much on how much money I spend but rather on what I spend it and why.

Starting yesterday, Monday, November 17:
  • $18.23 (cc) for 10.607 gallons of gasoline at $1.719 / gallon; 119,038 miles

  • $4.00 (pre-paid account) for salad mix

  • $20.57 (cc) for three books. I stopped in at Archives Bookshop because I had some extra time before needing to leave for work. Bought:

    The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration—$10.00—because it has a lot of the old evangelical, gospel-type songs that I learned in the Baptist church growing up but that Lutherans don't know and that aren't in their hymn books (although some of the old gospel songs are now being included in newer Lutheran hymnal supplements).

    A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly—$5.00

    Walking with Thomas Merton: Discovering His Poetry, Essays and Journals by Robert Waldron—$5.00. I'm overwhelmed by all the Merton books available and thought this would give me a good overview and guide to Merton's works. I can take advantage of my alum status and check out Merton's books from the seminary library.

  • $4.30 + $1 tip (cash) for pho at lunch on the way to work. Think about what I could do to make and bring my own lunches to work more often.

  • $0.79 (cash) for packet of cinnamon sticks to make Cranberry-Orange Sauce for potluck at work 11/18.

  • $0.75 (cash) for peanut M&Ms from the vending machine at work. Remember to bring my own healthy snacks to work, e.g., an orange or two.
[Update at 9:00 PM]: $0 spent today. Potluck for lunch at work. No other occasion or desire to shop. Middle of the month—no bills due.

[Update for Wednesday, 11/19/03]: $4.00 (cash) for church dinner.

[Update for Thursday, 11/20/03]:
  • $1.00 (cash) for sucker someone at work was selling as a fundraiser for his daughter's sorority for Alzheimer's research.

  • $5.60 (cash) for hot chocolate and muffin in lieu of lunch

  • $31.93 (cc) for used books from Bodhi Tree Bookstore

    The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals edited by P. Hart and J. Montaldo—$8.00

    The Still Point: Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism by William Johnston, S. J.—$10.00. And because I can't pass up the opportunity for yet another T. S. Eliot quote, the title is taken from Eliot's Four Quartets:
    the light is still
    At the still point of the turning world
    The Cloud of Unknowing, 14th Century Anonymous. Thomas Keating's Centering Prayer method draws much from this book.

  • undisclosed

  • $ undisclosed for dinner and fundraiser for Pasadena-area Bad Weather Shelter
[Update for Friday and Saturday, 11/21-22/03]:
  • $2.17 (cash) for yogurt plus granola and the LA Times

  • $2.00 (cash) library fine

  • $3.00 (cash) cut flowers from the Farmer's Market

  • $18.79 (cc) for 10.681 gallons of gasoline at $1.759 / gallon; 119,271 miles (21.81 miles/gallon—mostly city traffic with one 50 mile freeway round-trip)

  • $2.92 (cash) bean and cheese burrito, spicy, with cilantro
[Update for Sunday, 11/23/03]:
  • $2.50 (cash) for load of wash in large frontloading machine at laundromat

  • $1.45 (cash) for coffee and donut whilst waiting for wash to finish

  • $ undisclosed church contribution

  • $3.00 (cash) for sandwich for church fundraiser

  • $1.65 (cash) Sunday LA Times, purchased because the cover article of the Magazine is about Fuller Seminary

  • $358.25 (cc) round-trip ticket to Washington state for Christmas. The fare might have been cheaper if I'd bought the ticket more in advance. But it's difficult to know my schedule so early. Plus it's high demand time for air travel.

  • $14.02 (cc) for Simone Weil's Gravity & Grace.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Alternative giving

I was struck by this paragraph (p. 98) in Week 5 of The Artist's Way describing what Cameron calls the Virtue Trap:
Many of us have made a virtue out of deprivation. We have embraced a long-suffering artistic [or whatever other area you might substitute] anorexia as a martyr's cross. We have used it to feed a false sense of spirituality grounded in being good, meaning superior.
I've been wrestling with what it means to live abundantly in a way that honors the earth and the lives of people around the world. What does it mean to live a life of simplicity yet a life that is joyful and not bound by rules and a sense of superiority?

Today I went to a presentation about the Lutheran Stand With Africa campaign working on the issues of HIV/AIDS and hunger. It was a very hopeful presentation about people in Kenya and Uganda, particularly women, forming successful farming and fishing co-operatives and of programs to assist AIDS orphans. The presenter also brought some fair trade products with her.

As the holiday season ramps up, there are many ways to give gifts that also directly benefit people in need of economic opportunities. For example, Wendy and co. have already purchased more than four $500 "Knitting Baskets" (two llamas and two sheep) through Heifer International. The list below is only a partial listing of ways to celebrate the holidays and give alternative gifts. It is pretty much Christian/Lutheran based, but there are plenty of non-religiously affiliated organizations out there, too.

ELCA World Hunger Appeal Alternative Gifts Catalog, including water projects, farming animals and seeds, refugee camp assistance, etc.

SERRV International, including coffee, chocolate, gift baskets, and gift items.

Alternatives for Simple Living, "encouraging celebrations that reflect conscientious ways of living."

Bread for the World, including a letter writing campaign to Congress to fund the Millennium Challenge Account (anti-poverty programs)and HIV/AIDS initiatives.
William Morris

I'm looking forward to seeing (certainly more than once) the William Morris exhibit that just opened at The Huntington. From The Huntington newsletter:
Of all his interests, domestic decoration most inspired Morris. He once wrote, "If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer, 'A beautiful House.'"

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

New table

On the one hand, writing about the dining table I purchased seems so mundane. On the other hand, I'm very happy about my table, so it will get its own entry.

My previous table had been co-opted as a left-hand return for my desk. Also, it had been damaged and wasn't very attractive anymore. I have been using a card table for quite a while, but it's usually piled with stuff anyway.

I decided it was time to have a proper table. I wanted a round darkish oak table, a similar color as my piano. And it had to be a small table because I just have a tiny space to fit it. So I drove down towards a nice, new furniture store but stopped a few blocks away. I walked into an antique/used furniture place, saw a dark oak table with four caned chairs, and bought the set. I don't know anything about antiques, but I judged the price was reasonable compared to what I'd pay for a new set. The chairs aren't perfect and one of them needs some repair. But the table is in beautiful condition and is exactly what I imagined. It has a leaf, so it can be extended into an oval shape that sits six people comfortably.

Last night I had some visitors over. I displayed a beautiful handwoven runner in browns and creams my dad brought me from Niger and which I've not been able to use until now. I also found four amber-color glasses at the Salvation Army store in which I put votive candles. It was lovely.

New house rule: Not one piece of paper gets put onto that table even if it is right inside the front door.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

A quick update

Well, the week of no extraneous reading is finally almost finished. One more day to go. . . . I've done pretty well, though not totally avoiding non-necessary reading. Last night I was too tired to clean house or knit, so I looked through my books on altars, which involved a little reading, but it was related to one of the exercises for this week in The Artist's Way about altars. I've watched just over one hour of TV for the week and have not listened to the news on the radio.

I had volunteered to lead the women's Bible study today before I planned the no reading week so had to read for that, in addition to work reading. But no WSJ, no weblogs, blogs, or other Internet sites, no reading through mail except to check if it was urgent, no newspapers, no books or magazines. I checked my comments and e-mail. I'm definitely ready to catch up with websites again and read for fun.

So, instead of reading, I went shopping—the book mentioned one of the effects of this week might be a sorting out of stuff and a desire for new things. I did sort through my clothes to store the summer things and, now that it's finally cool enough, bring out winter clothing. And how convenient that the Nordstrom's half-yearly sale for women and children began on Wednesday! I bought a couple pairs of shoes, dress work shoes to replace a worn down pair and a new pair of leather clogs to show off the handknit socks I'll be wearing some day! I also made some great finds at the upscale Salvation Army store (I always seem to hit the 50% off days), as well as at a consignment shop.

Monday, November 03, 2003

No reading week

Although I'm not following the full Artist's Way program, I am writing the morning pages, and this week I'm trying to cut out all extraneous reading. Already I'm going wild. Here at work, I obviously have to read e-mail and read for some of my job duties. But I usually have the WSJ open on my desktop and pull it up to read an article or scan the headlines whenever I'm seeking a diversion. There's also plenty of other "business" reading I do that doesn't necessarily need to be done right now. I find I do it especially when I want to put off a distasteful or just plain hard work task that needs to get done.

At home, one of the biggest reading draws is weblogs and other online sites. I had a lot of "extra" time this morning because I didn't spend it online.

Even when I stopped to get a bean and cheese burrito on the way to work, I had already picked up a paper and was leafing through it while I waited for my order to be prepared before I realized that it was non-essential reading and quickly put the paper down.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

An awakening question

In an instance of synchronicity tying together a number of strands of thought and experience, I found this book this afternoon: Merton & Sufism: The Untold Story. A Complete Compendium. Recently I've been thinking and learning more about Thomas Merton and his writings, as well as about mysticism and contemplation in general. A few years ago I also took a course in Sufism.

Chapter 3, "Merton, Massignon, and the Challenge of Islam," by Sidney H. Griffith, provides rich material to ponder. I had become acquainted with Louis Massignon's work on al-Hallâj when writing a paper for the Sufism course. The chapter focuses on the life of Massignon and on his influence on Merton.

Merton adopts a phrase of Massignon's derived from Massignon's study of al-Hallâj, le point vierge, "the innermost secret heart (as-sirr)—the deep subconscious of a person." (p. 65) Merton describes it this way:
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God . . . the person that each one is in God's eyes. (quoted on p. 67—my ordering of the sentences; from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander pp. 156-58)
All that to come to the passage I most wanted to write here, again quoted from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 131:
The first chirps of the waking day birds mark the "point vierge" of the dawn under a sky as yet without real light, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence, when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes. They begin to speak to [God], not with fluent song, but with an awakening question that is their dawn state, their state at the "point vierge." Their condition asks if it is time for them to "be." [God] answers "yes." Then, they one by one wake up, and become birds. (quoted on p. 68)

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Overheard

Overheard by a veteran Trader Joe's shopper: "Why don't they carry bread my children will eat?" Spoken by non-veteran Trader Joe's shopper attempting to buy groceries at TJ's because of the grocery workers' strike.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Calendars

I popped into a bookstore today and came upon a small calendar, Women of the Old Testament, with woodcut drawings by Meinrad Craighead. Both the subjects and the drawings are wonderful. This is not your Thomas Kincaid style of religious art. In three of the twelve images, the women are holding the instruments with which they killed their male opponents—a millstone, a tent peg and mallet, and a dagger.

Then in The Lutheran magazine that arrived today, there is a calendar advertised based on the Christian liturgical year, that is, it begins November 30 or the first Sunday in Advent: The Christian Seasons Calendar. The press release from last year describes how the calendar is constructed—some pages have only twelve days on them; the season after Pentecost is five months long. I was intrigued by the description of the church that publishes the calendar. It is located in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia.
The weather report

It is raining. This is most excellent news. Yesterday, it sprinkled a slight amount—barely enough to puddle the ash and dirt on my car. Today, the cars driving by are making that swishing, hissing sound of driving on wet roads.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Wildfires

It's strange to be in the midst of the So Cal fires—they're about 30 miles to the east and west of where I live—yet not be directly affected by them.

To get to work, I used to drive over one of the passes the fire fighters are guarding. Some of our corporate offices have been evacuated, either because of fire danger or because the parking lots have been turned into staging areas for fire and helicopter crews. Redundancy systems and contingency plans have kicked in, so business continues in spite of everything.

My favorite LA Times columnist, Mary McNamara, writes in tomorrow's column:
Here in California, we spend much time and money trying to perfect our relationship with nature, to find balance between conservation and development. Being the arrogant creatures we are, we portray ourselves as caretakers of the wilderness, stewards of the land, protecting it from our own imperfect selves.

And so we are astonished when the roles reverse, when we are faced with forces beyond our control. A century after the Industrial Revolution and still there are larger things than other humans with their germs and evil intentions that threaten us. Still there are dragons in the mountains, and when they are truly wakened, it is hard not to believe that the end is near. . . .

How difficult it is for us, citizens of the city of the 21st century with the world wired to our fingertips, to be humbled. How difficult not to see it as a sign of the end of civilization. Through the smoke and the heat, not only the landscape is changed, the entire world looks different, incomprehensible, uncontrollable. . . .

Fire season in Los Angeles. It is a staple of noir, a literary incantation used to call up dangerous nights and brooding days. In most years, there is something sexy about fire season; it is proof that we have chosen a life less safe, that this is a city not quite civilized, where coyotes sit like German Shepherds in million-dollar driveways and the San Andreas fault shivers out there in the desert.

But in days like these, anything edgy and cool is lost in the smoke.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Chronicle of a Saturday

Some days you end up doing things you wouldn't have chosen to do, but it ends up being OK.

First, a Farmer's Market run. There is a new stall, the Lindners, who come on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month and who sell bison meat. (The website talks about a mixture of bison and turkey, but what they were selling today was 100% bison.) They are one of the suppliers listed on the eat wild site I linked to some time ago. [Edit later: April 4 and 1; I really must get a search function on here soon. Going through two plus years of entries to find an older post is not very efficient.] So I bought a pound of grass-fed, naturally raised bison ground meat.

Then I made a few calls about the music for tomorrow. It is Reformation Day, a big day in the Lutheran church. The temporary, substitute musician (who took over the position from me) doesn't feel comfortable with the organ, so I will be playing for the liturgy and hymns in the English service. I'm trying to remember the lessons I've been learning from The Artist's Way group. What I have to offer will be fine, even if J. S. Bach is the archetypal Lutheran musician.

Got my hair trimmed—$10 for wash and cut. (With the warm weather there is no need to have it blow-dried.) I love being able to walk into the shop on a Saturday morning and be out of there again in fifteen minutes.

Then I went to another church that was having a fall craft festival thing. Our tiny church had been invited to participate, as well as provide some entertainment. So, while I would not have chosen to spend my Saturday afternoon there, it turned out to be a right thing to do. I even got some knitting done. Our humble little group sang a silly song about a Swedish wedding, which I accompanied on the accordion (and which won't stop running through my head).

On to the church to practice for tomorrow. It will be just fine.

Came home, tired. Now to relax for the rest of the evening. Then enjoy the extra hour tomorrow and seize the day!

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Contemplation

A long quote from the beginning of Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation:
Contemplation is the highest expression of [a person's] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith. . . . It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation. . . . we know beyond all knowing or "unknowing." (pp. 1-2)

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Altars

Beautiful day today. In the 90s. Began by writing three morning pages. Then gathered up a huge basket of laundry. Washed it in the front-loading machines at the laundromat and hauled it home. Filled all the clotheslines and drying rack. Had wet laundry left over. Hung it in the bathroom. Still had wet laundry. Went to the libraries and when I came home a couple hours later, the dish towels, tablecloth, and door curtain were dry, so hung out the rest of the clothes in the freed-up space.

Saturday mornings are the best time to go to the library. Over the past few months I've been mulling how to make my duplex into a place I enjoy living. Some deep cleaning and organizing began a few months ago (kitchen cupboards and garage). So today the books I was drawn to had to do with that quest.A fascinating book brimming with black and white drawings, illustrations and photographs. I'm intrigued by the cover of the hardback edition I have. (It's different from the version I linked to; I'll try scan it sometime.)

I've also been thinking specifically of the idea of altars or shrines in the home, prompted by the article by my pastor I linked to last month in which she describes creating a sacred space—for her, a dresser top with objects placed on it to remind her of her of the "sacred space within." (By the way, in the article Pr Peg mentions writing morning pages, a reference I didn't understand when I linked to the article last month.) Pr Peg doesn't use the words "altar" or "shrine," probably in deference to her Lutheran audience. Pushing aside the objection (goblin?) that such things are "for heathens" or "too Catholic" or "too New Age," I checked out these three books today:Lots of inspiration and ideas for creating my own space(s).

Many of the ideas aren't specifically religious. For example, in Denise Linn's book, there is a picture of an altar with art supplies and kitchen implements arranged on it to "symbolize integrating art and creativity into ordinary life." And as is often pointed out, a few pictures and objects selected and arranged on a window sill or on top of a piano are a significant expression of our inner spirit, even if we don't label such an arrangement an "altar" or "shrine."

Finally, I picked up this book:I don't quilt, but I've been eyeing the curtains in my bedroom thinking they would make a wonderful quilt background. I bought the batik-inspired material in Martinique for windows in a different house. The curtains are a little short for the windows where I live now and only cover two of the three bedroom windows. We'll see.

All part of "working to allow my outer fantasy life to manifest."

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Great Fire review

Thomas Mallon's review of Shirley Hazzard's new novel is now online at The Atlantic.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

A place in which to work

I pulled out May Sarton's At Seventy: A Journal. After stumbling across a notation that it was she who introduced me to Shirley Hazzard (duly corrected in my Oct. 10 entry), I found another place I had marked. Sarton quotes from a letter she received:
Your description of how throughout your life you have created environments for yourself and how these environments have influenced your work caused me to look at my world and the role physical setting has had in my life. . . . This fall I cleaned out a spare room. . . and set out to create a private place for myself. I culled photos from closed drawers, books from scattered shelves. From the corners of the house I gathered together the parts of me that I had hidden away. I hung the pictures, shelved the books, unpacked my cello, and sat and waited for the fusing to begin. (quoted on p. 263; emphasis mine)
Sarton observes "how closely bound up one's identity can be with the frame in which one lives." (p. 263) Even when she was young and lived in ugly rented rooms, she writes,
[B]y arranging books on the desk, buying a few daffodils from a cart on the street, putting up postcard reproductions of paintings I loved and a photograph or two, by leaving a brilliant scarf on the bureau, the room became my room and I began to live in it, to live my real life there, to know who May Sarton was and hoped to become. (p. 265)

Monday, October 13, 2003

Corporate groceries

Megan at upsaid/oolong has put together a summary with links regarding the grocery store employees' strike that just started here in So Cal. She lists the stores in other areas that are affiliated with the So Cal chains if people want to support the strike by boycotting those stores.

I realized I rarely go into the stores that are affected by the strikes. Instead, I buy produce from the Path to Freedom family and the Farmer's Market; other groceries at Trader Joe's and a family-owned Armenian grocery store; and milk from a drive-through dairy, also family-owned. I go to Food 4 Less to buy cat food only.

A while ago I read about the non-unionized contractors who clean the floors and perform other tasks for the major chains. The conditions reported were quite appalling. Since then, I've avoided the chains as much as possible. Besides, so much of the "food" is way over-manufactured and processed for my taste. And the produce does not even begin to compete with the fruit and vegetables I'm fortunate to have access to and enjoy.

Pasadena has restrictions against mega-stores in the city. Other than Target, which moved into an old two-story department store in downtown, you have to go to other towns to shop at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc. Again, for me, the box stores (except Target) are not even a temptation.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Another Saturday comes and goes

First thing, wrote three "morning pages." I'm dancing around the idea of joining Pioneer Melissa's Artist's Way group. About a week before the topic came up (and never having looked at the book before), I was really tied up and frustrated about something. I wrote it all out in the morning and ended up having a great day. I realized that evening that writing everything out had left me free during the day not to respond out of fear and frustration to what had been bothering me. So, regardless whether or not I join the group, I shall at least try to do the daily writing.

Then I went to the women's Bible study at church. Afterward we finished assembling our first batch of layettes (a dozen) to mail.

This afternoon I was intending to clear off my desk and pick up the living room, but first I wanted to stop by and see Larry at Skein. [Larry happened to leave a comment at PM's site a couple days ago, and I clicked on the link to his site only to find out I knew him from the knitting shop!] I've been wanting to make something from the Baby Knits from Dale of Norway book, so I bought some pink Baby Ull wool to make the Rose sweater, hat, and booties. I knitted my swatch on 2.5 mm (size 1½?) needles, and Larry verified it came out perfectly. But I still need to get 2.5 mm (and 2.0 mm/size 0) 24" circular needles, and the kind I want aren't available at Skein. So I feel a trip to Velona coming up. Meanwhile, I couldn't wait to get started, so I knit as far as I could on a bootie using 5" and 7" double-pointed needles. I really like the look and feel of the wool on the small needles.

I really do not like the look (and feel, when I trip over something) of my living room/study. It has gotten quite out of hand (again).

Friday, October 10, 2003

First editions

I rarely (read never) buy first edition hardback copies of fiction books. I usually wait for the paperback version, find a copy in the library, or buy it in a used bookstore. However, last night I picked up Shirley Hazzard's new novel, Great Fire. I rationalized the expenditure by figuring it's an investment of some sort (like when I found Alice Starmore's out of print Aran Knitting in a local yarn store last Christmas and snatched it up for $40. Used copies are now selling for $159.99 at Amazon. Not that I have any intention of selling the book, but, if I needed to, I could get a nice return on that $40.)

The real reason I bought the book is because I loved Hazzard's novel The Transit of Venus, one of those happy finds in a used bookstore I picked up knowing nothing about the author or book. [Edit 10/14/03: Uh, that's not quite how it happened. I first read about the book in May Sarton's journal At Seventy. "She reminded me of Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus, which is about the best modern novel I have read in years. . . . (p. 300)] Her characters are described with incredible "emotional microscopy," in reviewer Thomas Mallon's words.

The Atlantic has a review of Hazzard's new book in their November issue, which is not yet online. I shall post the link here as soon as it is. [Edit 10/15/03: The review may be read here.]

[Edit 7:45 PM: Whilst searching Abebooks for something else, just for fun I looked up Aran Knitting. One copy is going for $275 at Marion Meyer Rare Books in NY, and another copy is selling for $312.50 at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle.]

Friday, October 03, 2003

Autumn

Today was overcast and cool, with the slightest mist this morning.
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it,
and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth
seeking the successive autumns.
- George Eliot
(Via Mercy Street.)

I especially like the colors of autumn—greens, browns, golds.

[Edit: 9:30 p.m. I really like Mercy Street. I came across the site this evening and have gone back to the beginning to start reading through it. I had to figure out the syntax for the archives as there is no link to them on website that I could see: http://mercystreet.blogspot.com/2002_05_01_mercystreet_archive.html. Swap out the year and month to access other months' entries.]

Monday, September 29, 2003

Cuddly cat

My little stand-offish cat has suddenly become very affectionate. Actually, she's not stand-offish; she just doesn't like to be held. She'll sit next to me but not on my lap. Tonight, though, she jumped up on my lap of her own accord and is now sleeping, while I sit perfectly still and type at an odd angle.

Just checking in

Right now I'm listening to Charlie Rose interview GE's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt. One of the new businesses GE thinks will be a growth area in the future, and, therefore, a business they are getting into, is water and finding enough clean water for the world's future needs. Rose and Immelt are discussing a lot of other interesting topics—and Immelt is a very good at being interviewed.

New knitting book from which I'm looking forward to trying something: Jean Frost Jackets. Many knitting projects are too casual for work, but these jackets would work well—at least for the cooler months.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Scanning the papers

From the LA Times: "The New Insight"—Today's practical philosophers are finding a public hungry to dust off and discuss the big issues looming since Socrates' day, by Bettijane Levine.
The new practical philosophers are bringing critical thinking directly to the people. They are translating the dense, ancient writings of Socrates, Plato, Lao Tzu and Confucius into modern lingo and accessible wisdom. They are writing self-help books based on philosophical principles — books sometimes mocked by academicians for their dumbed-down approach but bought by the same hordes who seek answers from meditation, Oprah, psychologists, Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil.

Philosophy, its proponents say, is an alternative to all that. It's a way to think for yourself and to find satisfying guidelines for living. It's a way to analyze complex issues through the prism of values, ethics and character. Philosophy (which means love of wisdom) is a search for answers that have made sense through the ages.
I'm not so sure what I think about philosophers offering "philosophical therapy," as the article discusses. I do think, however, family settings (such as around the dinner table) are a great place to discuss how philosophical topics are relevant to, indeed stem from, everyday life. I lived with an aunt and uncle and their four sons for a while. One of my uncle's approaches to discussing what it means to live in a family unit was via the problem of the one and the many.

And while I'm on the topic of family dinner time conversation, which I think is a much more satisfying venue for wrestling with great philosophical questions than in a philosophical therapist's office, I love the story of Sir Thomas More, who, in the early sixteenth century, insisted his daughters be educated in subjects such as classical Greek and join the adults at the table when visiting dignitaries were dining so they would learn how to be intelligent, engaging conversationalists.

From the NY Times: The entire Science section. I especially enjoyed this article: "Making Science Rock, Roll and Swing From the Treetops," by Carol Kaesuk Yoon, about getting people to care about science.
[N]ow comes what may be science's blondest and most curvaceous attempt yet to reach the public, the Treetop Barbie. Outfitted with a safety helmet, crossbow for shooting ropes up into trees, field notebook and measuring tape, this Barbie, still a concept doll, does not worry about how hard math is or where Ken has gone. She is ready to swing from the treetops and take reams of data while she's at it.

Not sold by Mattel (at least not yet), Treetop Barbie is the brainchild of Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a highly respected treetop or canopy ecologist at the Evergreen State College in Washington. As a Guggenheim fellow last year, Dr. Nadkarni has taken it upon herself to find every way possible to connect trees, forests and their science to an often apathetic public.

So she has invented a line of botanically correct clothing whose textiles look like actual species of mosses and liverworts. ("People say, `Wow! That looks great!' " she said of the clothes, which do in fact look better than they sound.) She has developed skateboards whose wooden tops bear canopy logos and baseball cards showing players saying things like "Without trees, I'd be batting zero." And she is teaching prisoners how to raise valuable forest mosses. ("They have a lot of time on their hands, and you don't need sharp tools.")

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Archbishop of Canterbury

I came across the website of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (via deep dirt). I did a double-take at the url: www.archbishopofcanterbury.org. An ancient office, going back to 597, and the Internet collide.

The full texts of a number of the Archbishop's sermons and speeches are available, including the text of his speech/paper given at the Benedictine spirituality conference I wrote about here last April 28 and 29.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

An inner spaciousness

I've been trying to wait until Advent to post this link to an article about Mary written by Rev Dr Peg Schultz-Akerson. But I want to quote excerpts from it now.
Mary models a deep wisdom. She knows the delight of opening wide to an emptiness within us that isn't a void but a spaciousness. A void connotes an unfortunate loss or lack. Spaciousness is intentional. It invites the possibility of relationship. It makes room for a holy hunger, a yearning to be filled with the Christ who hungers to come also to us.

Holy hunger is arrived at by a decisive refusal to let the inner chambers of our hearts be filled with anything less than God's word of life. This is a refusal trained by the experience of knowing how sweet it is to wait for real bread.

It can be frightening to deal with emptiness, which has the taste of loneliness. It tugs at our need to feel accomplished and full. It can set us into a panic to find something to take the pangs away, to hush our fear of vulnerability and nothingness. But emptiness is the shape a manger takes. A vase can hold no rose if it has no space within.
Pr Peg then describes how she reminds herself to attend to this empty space.
In our cluttered lives, we must find ways to make friends with the emptiness with which spaciousness begins. In my home I created a sacred space, which can be made in any room, even in a garden, car or office. My sacred space (a bedroom dresser top) is decked with a candle, a small empty bowl, a Bible, a cross, a handmade rabbit, a vase and a book of days to record birthdays of people to remember in prayer. I also have shells, a pen and small pieces of paper for writing prayer concerns. Even walking by this ever-evolving outward space triggers a sense of savoring the sacred space within.
Published in The Lutheran, December 1997.

(There may be some empty spaces on this weblog in the coming days.)

Monday, September 15, 2003

New knitty patterns

The new edition of knitty is up. It has some fun patterns. I like this ruffled scarf and this sweater/jacket.
Yesterday's Times

A smattering of interesting articles from Sunday's LA Times:

"Urban West Collides With Wild West," by Angie Wagner.
Under open-range law, cattle can roam and graze at will. The property owner may fence out cattle if that is his wish, but the owner of the cattle has no obligation to restrain his herd.

Thirteen Western states have some form of open-range law, most similar to Arizona's. At least six California counties have open-range rules — Kern, Trinity, Shasta, Siskiyou, Lassen and Modoc.
Predictably, as more people arrive, there are more oppportuntities for run-ins (literally) with free-ranging cattle.
Home on the range has gotten a lot more crowded as the West undergoes a huge population boom. From 1990 to 2000, the region had the largest growth in the country — 19.7%, to 63.2 million people.
"U.S., State Clash Over Environment," by Gary Polakovic. Two of the contentious issues are vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency.
[D]efenders of the [Bush] administration . . . contend that California lawmakers have overstepped their authority in efforts to regulate such matters as automobile fuel efficiency that should be left to the federal government. Since President Bush took office, the administration has joined with the auto industry in a successful lawsuit to weaken California's mandate to build nonpolluting electric cars. . . .

A federal judge last year blocked the state's so-called zero-emission vehicle mandate, siding with auto manufacturers who charged that the state had exceeded its authority and promoted alternative-fuel cars using fuel economy as an incentive. That authority is reserved exclusively for the federal government, the manufacturers said.

The industry takes a similar view in challenging the AQMD [South Coast Air Quality Management District] fleet rules requiring the conversions to alternative fuels. The Justice Department's intervention bolsters the case for industry, which argues that only the federal government can regulate new-car emission standards. The AQMD says the rule does not set emission standards, but requires that dirty, old vehicles be replaced with new, clean-running models.
Then flip over to the Business section for this article: "Supplier Vulnerability Poses a Threat to U.S. Oil Security," by Warren Vieth. The article gives a brief history of previous "oil shocks" and possible current scenarios, including what might happen if Saudi Arabia's oil production were disrupted.
[F]or U.S. consumers, there are some alarming realities — especially at a time when Saudi oil facilities stand at risk and Iraq's future remains a question mark. In 1973, the United States imported 35% of the petroleum it consumed. U.S. import dependence declined substantially in response to the shocks of the '70s, falling to 27% in 1985. But it began rising again after oil prices collapsed in 1986. The Energy Department expects the import share to hit 55% this year, tying a record set in 2001, and to rise to 68% by 2025.

In addition — in spite of the creation in the mid-1970s of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve — America has only enough oil in storage to replace imports for 132 days. That compares with more than 300 days in 1985, according to James L. Williams of WTRG Economics in London, Ark.
Finally, on the lighter side, a story featuring small houses and apartments in the LA area, "Small Places Fill a Niche," by Diane Wedner. Unfortunately, the picture of a kitchen in the 225-square-foot Santa Monica condo featured (bought for $230,000!) is cropped differently in the online version, so you don't see the wall rack or butcher block island. The article also charts the increase in average house size in the U.S. over the last 100 years.
Year Square Feet
1900 800
1925 900
1950 983
1970 1,500
1990 2,080
2000 2,265
Source: National Assn. of Home Builders

Saturday, September 13, 2003

It's the pipes!

Another find via the Christianity Today weblog (scroll way down): "Organ music 'instils religious feelings,'" from the BBC by Jonathan Amos.
[I]n a controlled experiment in which infrasound [a frequency lower than 20 Hertz] was pumped into a concert hall, UK scientists found they could instil strange feelings in the audience at will.

These included an extreme sense of sorrow, coldness, anxiety and even shivers down the spine. . . .

"It has been suggested that because some organ pipes in churches and cathedrals produce infrasound this could lead to people having weird experiences which they attribute to God," said Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from University of Hertfordshire.
In college we were cautioned from practicing with the 32' stops out for the pedals because of damage too much exposure to such low frequencies could cause to hearing.

Maybe "infrasound" is part of the explanation why I loved practicing in the evenings in the empty 2,000-seat chapel, with only the organ light on and the fading evening light coming through the stained glass windows.

Edit 9/18/03: Via Path to Freedom another article, from the CS Monitor: "Eerie feeling? Maybe you're just hearing things," by Robert C. Cowen.
[T]he infrasound power radiated by the strongest atmospheric storms is estimated to be equivalent to the electric power consumed by a city with 100,000 population. . . . There's even an infrasound background called "the voice of the sea" that probably is generated by ocean waves in storms around the world.

Drs. Bedard and Georges [in a Physics Today article] also point out that winds blowing over mountain ranges can generate infrasounds that last for days. They speculate that increases in suicides reported from the Alps and the western United States "may be due to some as yet unknown biological response" to such infrasound events.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Jumping from one thing to the next

I've been in a rather (even more than usual) unfocused state of mind recently. So this entry may be a bit more anti-linear than usual (not that unfocused and anti-linear are synonymous; I think the anti-linear mode is often a result of intense gaze), not to mention rather replete with modifiers.

I got new glasses earlier this week. While my prescription had to be strengthened, I do not need reading glasses . . . yet. I've decided to try forgo wearing contacts in order to simplify things and not generate so much trash from the cleaning and saline solutions. So my eyes and brain are still adjusting to wearing glasses all the time that aren't blurry.

As for the school vs. work contest, it feels like something is building up inside to go one way or the other. Rationally, I think I should be able to keep both going, but I'm not. Therefore, I'm trying to figure out alternatives, except I can't seem to grasp what the ultimate, big goal in all of this is.

So I escape into reading. Off the new book shelf in the library, I read—and thoroughly enjoyed—Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes by Shoba Narayan. Narayan writes about her growing up years in southern India and early adulthood in the U.S. through the aspect of the food she remembers.

Milk was delivered directly to Narayan's childhood home—by the cow herself (and its owner)! The owner milked the cow's milk directly into a milk bucket while the cow was tied up in the front yard. He would then lead the cow to the home of his next customer.

One of the funniest chapters is about her parents coming to the U.S. to visit her. Her father wants to try foods he's not eaten before, but he's not very accurate with judging quantities. He buys soy products that no one, not even himself, likes, but he refuses to throw away good food. Her description of her father gamely eating soy bologna with his toast and then trying to disguise the bologna in coconut chutney and pass it off on the family had me in tears I was laughing so hard.

I've also been escaping into knitting and have made some progress on my Faroese shawl. I'm making the Barbara Shawl in Stahman's Shawls & Scarves: Lace Faroese-Shaped Shawls from the Neck Down and Seamen's Scarves by Myrna Stahman. I'm making it with Cotton Fine from Brown Sheep Company, Inc. I wanted it in cream color, but the shop only had white. I've been intrigued by this picture of a shawl by Wendy and want a shawl at work for when the air conditioning gets too intense. I've knit about a foot down from the neck, but, of course, the rows keep getting longer and longer.

OK. Enough of this plodding entry.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Olfactory autobiography

What an excellent blog entry idea—an olfactory autobiography, that is, a list of the defining smells in one's life. From Amanda at Household Opera. I look forward to delving into the articles she's linked to when I have a moment.

(I see a mention of Vicks, but no Tiger Balm.)

Monday, September 08, 2003

Sunday afternoons

There's an interesting tidbit in the September issue of American Demographics. I don't have a subscription, so I can't read any further into the Indicators' note "Shop Around the Clock," but the teaser line is:
Americans drop the most dough on Sunday afternoons and the least on Wednesday mornings.
Then I came across a summary on the Christianity Today weblog (scroll down) of a Dallas Morning News report that the Family Christian Stores' chain is now going to open their stores on Sunday afternoons.
Christians are too busy to shop for Christian merchandise on other days. "Customers tell us that they work Monday through Friday, are occupied with soccer and the kids' activities on Saturday," [CEO Dave Browne] said.

"This was a decision that we took very seriously," Browne said. "But after prayer, study and seeking the counsel of others, it became clear to us that the ministry opportunity of opening on Sundays vastly outweighed the operational preference of the status quo."
Operational preference?? I thought it had something to do with keeping a Sabbath day. Although I try not to frequent stores or restaurants on Sundays, I confess I occasionally go to Borders, stop by Burrito Express, or pick up half a gallon of milk and the Sunday paper at the drive-through dairy on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe society overall has shifted enough that opening a Christian bookstore on Sundays is not such a big deal. Or is it?

Maybe it's not the act of shopping on a Sabbath day that's the issue so much as the seeming disregard of observing a Sabbath at all—whether for explicitly religious reasons or for physical and mental renewal.

I used to debate with my grandmother why her sweeping the back porch on Sunday was fine, but it was not OK for my grandfather to drive the tractor—because the neighbors could see the tractor and know my grandfather was working on Sunday but they couldn't see her, and anyway, sweeping wasn't really work? We never did resolve that argument. . . .

Perhaps previous generations have been too legalistic at times regarding the Sabbath. Perhaps our disregard of a day of rest is to our detriment.
Mars and the moon

Mars and the almost full moon are so close tonight. I'm going to miss Mars when it can no longer be seen just by going outside and looking into the southeastern sky.
Fair trade gifts

I just received a catalogue from Serrv International. It has lovely handmade items from around the world—jewelry, baskets, ornaments, musical instruments, toys, scarves, nativity scenes, dragonfly tableware— and the artisans are paid a fair price for their work. Just in case you've started planning for the gift-giving season coming up.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Maple raisin crisps

Today I served the coffee and goodies after church. I wasn't quite as ambitious as I've been in the past, but it still was good. The miniature bagels spread with whipped cream cheese were a hit, especially because the cashier at Trader Joe's suggested strawberry jam tasted really good with them. So I set out a couple small bowls of jam next to the bagels, which I'd cut and spread with cream cheese in advance, and let people add strawberry jam if they wished. I had no leftovers.

I also served organic grapes, dates, and bar cookies from a recipe my mother has made often. The recipe is easy to make (you don't have to remember to soften butter ahead of time); quick because they're bar cookies; fairly nutritious as far as cookies go; and tasty! My mother often made them for road trips.

    Maple Raisin Crisps

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1½ cups brown sugar (I use a little less)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil (You can substitute up to ½ cup of applesauce. The bars will be a little more cake-like.)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon mapleline (or vanilla)
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1½ salt (or less)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2/3 cup chopped nuts

    Mix together oats, brown sugar, oil, eggs, and mapleline. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to wet mixture. Stir in raisins and chopped nuts.

    Spread into 9" x 13" greased pan. Bake at 350° for about 25 minutes. Cool and cut into bars.
(P.S. Does anyone know if there's a number code for 2/3? My special characters' list only has ¼, ½, and ¾, so I just made the 2/3 a smaller font.)

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Twenty pounds of oranges

I really don't know how I manage to eat twenty pounds of oranges all by myself, but somehow I do. And the boy—well, young man—who sells them is so sweet. His father started a tradition of giving each customer an orange "for the road." Today the young man gave me two. Too bad he's quite too young for me. . . .

Friday, September 05, 2003

Mapping the good land

From yesterday's CS Monitor: "Mapping Miniature, Unspoiled Plots of Land" by Tim King.
[A] two-decade effort to find and preserve the last remnants of the nation's most pristine ecosystems is becoming increasingly urgent. Unlike federal efforts to protect vast tracts of untouched land, states are involved in discovering and mapping miniature tracts that remain unspoiled by human interference. Increasingly, biologists are finding these remnants of ecosystems just ahead of the bulldozers.
The article discusses one such project in Minnesota, where a developer donated 29 acres of land next to a proposed new development.
Besides preserving one of the last pieces of original forest land in the county, the plan also delivers ecological benefits, notes Mr. Stein of NatureServe. The woodland, and other forests on the river bank, retain soil that would otherwise enter the river, keeping the water clean for the millions of people downstream who drink it. "Sometimes it's cheaper to maintain green infrastructure than it is to build new gray infrastructure like water treatment plants," he says.
You don't say!

Which reminds me of an ad playing on AM radio for a new, controversial development in West LA, Playa Vista. I don't know all the details of the controversy, but part of it has to do with the development's proximity to wetlands and underground methane pockets. Regardless of the merits of each side's case, the current ad has much fodder for deconstruction, including the phrase "more lifestyle per square foot."

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Starting over

Sr Joan Chittister's daily selections and commentary on the Rule of St Benedict started again at the beginning of the Rule on September 1.

The Rule begins with the appeal to "listen." Sr Joan comments today:
We put off so much in life--visiting relatives, writing letters, going back to school, finding a new job. But one thing stays with us always, present whether pursued or not, and that is the call to the center of ourselves where the God we are seeking is seeking us. Benedict says, Listen today. Start now. Begin immediately to direct your life to that small, clear voice within.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Recycled play tent

Check out Christine's fantastic backyard tent made from recycled wedding props and decorations.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Miraculous recoveries

I was all set to link to an article in the Calendar section of today's LA Times, when, lo and behold, not only do you have to register to read the articles, you now have to pay to read the Calendar articles online if you're not already an LA Times' subscriber. This is quite annoying because I buy the paper when I have time—and want—to read it so paper doesn't accumulate unnecessarily. (I finally figured out how to link to the story without actually going there, in case you're an LA Times' or Calendar Online subscriber.)

Instead I'll just quote an excerpt from the (paper) article "Going Solo in a Man's World." Jennifer Leitham (who played at our Easter service this year) said this about playing jazz bass:
A lot of the fear has left me. I don't care what people think. If you screw up, you screw up. It's been said jazz is a series of miraculous recoveries. And you work yourself back out of it.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

The soil of the Spirit

The invitation to prayer each Sunday in this green Pentecost season begins:
Growing in the soil of the Spirit, let us pray for the church, the world, and all who seek the richness of life in God.
What a wonderful metaphor of the spiritual—and every day—life. But perhaps "growing in the soil of the Spirit" is more than a metaphor.

I picked up Soul Gardening: Cultivating the Good Life by Terry Hershey today, a contemplative book on the seduction of gardening and gardening's cure of the soul.
You are compelled to meander, if only in the garden of your mind. Better yet, the process demands putting your hands in the soil, letting the sun sedate your disquiet and warm your face, feeling your lungs fill with the honeyed sweetness of winter jasmine, or the rambling rector rose, watching a red-tailed hawk surf the currents, savoring the chamomile scent of crushed cedar leaves, allowing the garden to render its power and magic. In a world where we are enamored with image, it is in the garden we are slowly weaned off our steady diet of the spectacular, and the "real story," in order to revel in the daily, the ineffable, the sacred, the surprising. In other words, the garden is a place where it feels good to be alive. (pp. 12-13)
Hershey writes of his move to gardening and writing from a successful career as a preacher.
[T]here is no doubt that I was a success. The bigger the church, the bigger the crowd. The bigger the crowd, the greater the applause. . . .

[But] [t]o find success doesn't necessarily mean that you gain health. . . .

I did not set out to find answers, health, the good life, or even God. In fact, I did not "set out" at all. I knew only that my soul felt malnourished. Then one day I found myself in the garden, and quite without fanfare, the journey began.

Soul gardening is not a cause-and-effect proposal. It happens when you least expect it, germinating when the ground is fertile and primed. (pp. 13-14)

Friday, August 29, 2003

The Sacred Balance

I just watched an interview with David Suzuki by Bill Moyers on NOW. Very sobering and inspiring. Starting on Wednesday, a 4-part series by David Suzuki, "The Sacred Balance: A Vision of Humanity's Place in Nature," will be shown on PBS.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Ideaphoria

Dervala's post on Myers-Briggs types reminded me of a series of aptitude tests I took through the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation a few years ago. (Click here to go directly to their website.) The program was started in the 1920s at GE and is now a separate, non-profit organization.

Here's a description from their website of the aptitude tests:
Aptitudes are natural talents, special abilities for doing, or learning to do, certain kinds of things. Manual dexterity, musical ability, spatial visualization, and memory for numbers are examples of such aptitudes. In a comprehensive battery of tests available only through the Foundation, these and many other aptitudes are measured. These measured traits are highly stable over long-term periods. . . .

You will be asked to do a wide variety of tasks during the program, such as assembling blocks, remembering numbers, solving puzzles, and listening to simple tunes. Paper and pencil tests are kept to a minimum. Many of our tests are given individually; some are given in a small class setting using audio-visual equipment.

It is important to understand what our aptitude measurements are not, for there are many different kinds of tests and testing programs other than those offered by the Foundation.
  • Unlike an IQ score, which is of little value in career selection, your aptitude test results form a pattern showing your various strengths and weaknesses. Two people can have identical IQ scores but very different aptitude patterns.

  • Our tests do not consist of questions. It is too easy to answer a question as you feel inclined at the moment, or as you feel it ought to be answered. You learn very little new information about yourself after having answered in this fashion.

  • Aptitudes are not interests, and unlike aptitudes, interests can change. For that reason, if your interests don't correspond with your aptitudes, we encourage you to develop new interests that match your natural abilities.
The Foundation also emphasizes the importance of vocabulary acquisition, which is not an aptitude but is important for many endeavors.

I scored highest in Ideaphoria, "the ability to produce a flow of ideas." (They stress they do not measure the quality of the ideas!) I also scored high in Inductive Reasoning, "the ability to reason from the particular to the general, to form a logical conclusion from scattered facts." My lowest scores were in Finger and Tweezer Dexterity, so I hope I never have to make a living assembling electronics—and aren't you glad I didn't become a surgeon? The person administering the tests was amazed that I enjoy handwork, but I realize now I probably enjoy it at a slower pace than others.

All this to say, part of the reason I spend so much time online is that the web is a marvelous place to make connections and feed my brain. And my weblog provides a space to dump all those ideas rattling around in my head (again, with no guarantees as to quality of content or whether I ever DO anything with the ideas).

I would recommend the Foundation testing, although it is a bit expensive. It can be helpful to those thinking about vocational options. The website lists the locations of the Foundation offices.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Gardening therapy

Yesterday's WSJ (paid subscription required) ran this article, "The Leafy Green Road to Good Mental Health: New Science Points to Benefits of Weeding, Watering Gardens" by Michael Waldholz.
Common sense and experience tell us that hiking in the wild or working in a garden can be emotionally restorative. Now, scientists are beginning to understand why: Gardening -- or simply observing a lush landscape -- holds a powerful ability to promote measurable improvements in mental and even physical health. . . .

One study published in June found that people who were exposed to nature recovered from stress more quickly than others who weren't; what's more, the positive effects took hold within just a few minutes. Dr. Ulrich's research has showed that hospitalized patients whose windows looked out at landscape scenery recovered from surgery more quickly than those without such access. Other studies have found that simply viewing a garden or another natural vista can quickly reduce blood pressure and pulse rate and can even increase brain activity that controls mood-lifting feelings.

A growing body of evidence suggests that humans are hard-wired not just to enjoy a pleasant view of nature, but to actually exploit it, much like a drug, to relax and refresh after a stressful experience. Our earliest ancestors, Dr. Ulrich theorizes, likely needed a way to swiftly recover from a traumatic experience such as a hunt, a battle or an attack from a wild animal. "You can imagine that those who could look out at the open savannah, seeing its safety and tranquility, and quickly feel calm but also alert to their environment would likely have a survival benefit over others," Dr. Ulrich says. . . .

"The gardens of the ancient Egyptian nobility, the walled gardens of Persian settlements in Mesopotamia, and the gardens of merchants in medieval Chinese cities indicate that early urban peoples went to considerable lengths to maintain contact with nature," according to Texas A&M's Dr. Ulrich. More recently, Harvard zoologist Edward O. Wilson has written extensively on this natural affinity, which he calls "biophilia" and defines as a partly genetic tendency by humans to respond positively to nature.

The latest research and writings are serving as the intellectual basis for the relatively new practice of horticultural therapy. Practitioners say their experience shows that gardening can have an especially beneficial mental-health impact because it provides a sense of control, a psychological counter to stress and anxiety. This is especially important for patients who are recovering from stroke or other traumas or are learning to live with a physical or mental disability, says Teresia Hazen, who oversees horticulture-therapy programs for Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore.
Once again, the old ways, bolstered by new science of course, are being taken seriously.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

People get ready

This morning on the way into work I listened to a story on NPR about the song by Curtis Mayfield, "People Get Ready," that is part of civil rights' history here in the U.S. I first heard about the song earlier this year when I was asked to play it for a funeral. I appreciated today's NPR segment and learning more about the song's history and influence. On the NPR story site linked above, there are excerpts of various singers' renditions of the song. What an inspirational way to start the day!

Monday, August 25, 2003

Buying books

[Written Sunday, August 24, 2003, St Bartholomew's Day]

I was given a gift certificate (well, electronic credit-card type thing) to Borders in payment for playing at a wedding yesterday. A gift certificate that obligates me to buy books (or music) is much more exciting than a plain old check. . . .So this afternoon, in a bit of a downward spiraling state of mind, I went to Borders, partly as a salve for my mood and partly for the air conditioning.

First, I surveyed the knitting books, which were in a more orderly state than usual. Not seeing anything I'd not seen before that interested me much, I headed over to the Farming/Ecology/Nature shelves. I found a book and author I'd not heard of before, You Can Go Home Again: Adventures of a Contrary Life by Gene Logsdon, a story of living fairly self-sufficiently on a farm. The Wendell Berry endorsement on the back cover got me leafing through the book. The author's early training to become a monk intrigued me, as well as his attraction to Martin Luther's understanding of the Eucharist versus what he was being taught at a Catholic school.

Then I read these sentences at the beginning of Chapter 6:
More than anything else, the degree of satisfaction to be gained from a life rooted in home depends on the strength of one's conviction that there is nothing better down the road. Betterment comes from within a person, not from within geography. But I believe that had I not left home for a while, I would not have been completely convinced of that.
I tucked the book under my arm and headed upstairs to the Religion/Inspiration section. Browsing that section in Borders is quite different than browsing religious books at a Catholic or evangelical or New Age or Episcopal or Judaica bookstore. At Borders, the "Inspiration" books are all jumbled together—Rumi next to T. D. Jakes next to Henri J. M. Nouwen.

I zoomed in on Nouwen because an excerpt from his writings had been printed on the wedding program cover yesterday. I have some of Nouwen's books but none of his journals.

The blurb on the back of The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey begins:
When Henri Nouwen left the world of academe and headed for the village of Trosly in France, he sought a place that would lead him "closer to the heart of God." Arriving at the L'Arche community in Trosly, he felt as if he had finally "come home."
So I have some thinking to do on what it means to "come home." Even the paper I've been working on (forever) is about the experience of coming home after being in exile. (Also, both Logsdon and Nouwen left academia, Logsdon before he finished his Ph.D. but Nouwen after a long teaching career.)

Nouwen's journal entries begin in mid-August. I stopped at the entry for August 24 in which Nouwen muses on the Gospel reading for the feast of St Bartholomew. My pastor, too, chose the readings for St Bartholomew's Day rather than the option of the 11th Sunday after Pentecost readings. More on John 1:43-51 another time.

[Edit 8/24/03: I was just over at Lisa B-K's website and saw that she is reading The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon. Then I saw she has a picture of him, which I'd seen on her site before, in the right-hand column. So why didn't I recognize his name when I saw his book in the bookstore yesterday??]

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Interesting tidbits

Some of my favorite sites for finding interesting articles on the web are:

Mirabilis dot ca. Great entries on archaeology, food, religion, language, environment, and generally interesting things. Plus Christine highlights "how-to" articles for those of us who are a little behind on this whole web technology thing, e.g., what is RSS and why might one want to put an RSS/XML feed on one's site.

dangerousmeta. For example, "The Monasteries Mean Business", an article from the Telegraph about how religious houses are taking advantage of people's desire for organic and natural products:
There are Monastic soaps and shampoos, body cleansers and herbal remedies. "Everyone wants natural products these days," says Brother GĂ©rard, his eyes aglow at the commercial opportunities, "and we provide them."

The label - motto "Quality is not a mystery" - is applied only to products made by monks and nuns themselves.

The Cistercians of Begrolles sell apples from their orchards and produce fruit jellies. Among the 500 other products in the abbey shop are cheese made from sheep's milk by Dutch Benedictines, biscuits from La Joie de Notre Dame in the Morbihan, coffee from Cistercians in the Cameroon and embroidered pillows from Parisian Carmelites.
Finally, a long-time favorite, Rebecca's Pocket. I was intrigued by a site she linked to last week, Tumbleweed Tiny House Co., a company which builds houses from 50 to 500 square feet, some of which can be towed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Misc. notes

Eating: Yummy green and yellow string beans from the Path to Freedom garden. I like how they squeak against my teeth as I chew them.

Buying gas: Paid $2.05 / gallon today.
Obligatory comments about the medium

Here are a couple quotes I found interesting re: the use and influence of the Internet.

First, near the end of an essay in The Atlantic, "Four More Years? The Invincibility Question," by Patrick Buchanan:
Bush . . . has something Nixon and Reagan never did: what Daniel Patrick Moynihan called "second and third echelons of advocacy." Conservatives, libertarians, and populists of the right dominate talk radio, the Internet, and the cable-TV channels that are nibbling the network news to death, and they are fully competitive on the op-ed pages of the national press.
Second, a piece in Sunday's Opinion section of the LA Times by Kevin Starr, California's state librarian and an author of many books on California's history, "Politics, Wired: Recall may be dizzying, but it portends a revolution in governance."
As Marshall McLuhan foresaw some 40 years ago, the media revolution has expanded the bandwidth of politics. We live in an around-the-clock information environment in which radio, television, the Internet, newspapers, e-mail, instant messaging, entertainment, blogs, etc. are continuous and interactive. This situation has four major political effects.

First, people are becoming increasingly high-speed and interactive in the way that they absorb and process information. This is especially true of younger people, whose dexterity and speed in navigating the Internet can be breathtaking. Even Californians who came of age in the pre-Net world have broadened their sources of information. Just consider how often you acquire information by word of mouth from someone who picked it up on the Internet, hours in advance of radio, TV or newspapers. . . .

A continuous multimedia environment, secondly, has expanded the universe of governance to include entertainment celebrities, radio talk-show hosts, sports figures, electronic and print pundits, blogs and mega-wealthy activists. One doesn't have to hold office, in other words, to participate in governance. . . .

The high-speed Internet- connected multimedia culture, thirdly, cannot be controlled at any one point. It is open, unfiltered and rabidly democratic. Now it helps spawn political candidacies. For example, Huffington said that one reason she's running for governor is because of all the e-mails she'd received urging her to run. Candidates open Web sites, not headquarters. The political debate is conducted in cyberspace, with blogs of virtually all political stripes and voters providing the dialogue — and it's instantly accessible. . . .

The new environment, finally, demands a personal connection. In the early 1900s, pioneering film theorists — Hugo Munsterberg, Vachel Lindsay and William Dean Howells among them — contended that motion pictures offered audiences a form of collective dreaming in which contact between individuals on screen and in the audience was of a direct and personal kind. We do not merely watch our favorite film actors. We enter into subliminal dialogue with them.

Californians seem to be demanding a similar connection with their political leadership. This doesn't mean they want to press political flesh, though physical contact always seems to help. Rather, they look to media to provide the contact, as Franklin D. Roosevelt did with his fireside chats. Roosevelt exploited what McLuhan later described as the vivid intimacy of radio, second only to the telephone as a mode of person- to-person subliminal contact. Seen in this light, the "Arnold" phenomenon seems more than mere celebrity worship.
Read the full piece for Starr's conclusion that "[g]overnment is just too slow compared with the ways other sectors of society go about their business."