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: 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.