Sunday, December 18, 2005

Scheier pottery

This afternoon I happened to catch a short documentary about potters Mary and Ed Scheier, Four Hands, One Heart. It was a very inspiring story of two people making beautiful, useful things and a beautiful life.

The couple taught for a number of years at the University of New Hampshire, which has developed an emphasis on sustainability, including the importance of beauty.
All Bach

Thanks to Jack for letting me know of a BBC radio program that is playing all of J. S. Bach's works between December 16 and 25. Here's a link to the online schedule. I may have to retrieve my computer speakers from the garage and hook them up, as my laptop's built in speakers are rather tinny sounding.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Anatomy of a utility bill

If you've been wondering if you should swap your older refrigerator for a new, energy efficient model, wonder no more. Just do it.

This summer I finally replaced my second-hand fridge I had bought from someone at work when I first moved into my placed six years ago. My electric bill is now consistently lower than my (fixed) garbage bill. And I use the green power option, which is the most expensive electricity option.

For example, for the two months of service ending 12/06/05, my total kwh usage was 125 compared to 402 last year. That's an average of 1.95 kwh per day versus 6.70 kwh per day a year ago (which was lower than usual anyway, for some reason).

So my total electricity charge for the most recent two months was $20.59, and the "refuse service" fee was $22.56 for the smallest size bin.

The gas bill, of course, went up considerably, from about $15 to $17 per month to $25 on the last bill.

Of course, these are Southern California-level utility bills. I don't even turn on the "central" gas heat (central, so-called, because the old gas wall heater is located in the middle of the hallway in the center of the duplex). And I haven't yet plugged in an electric space heater this winter.

[Typo corrected 12/18/05.]

Friday, December 09, 2005

Going Dutch

Life is so rich. Why is it that one can know superficially about something most of one's life, and then suddenly two or three things come together, and you realize there's so much more to explore about the subject?

Take, for example, Vincent Van Gogh. An ear, starry nights, sunflowers, self-portraits.

But then, you read the introduction and first chapter to Don Postema's Space for God, a book you had seen for months but not picked from the used bookstore until just recently after having studied a few chapters at church, and learn why Postema includes so many Van Gogh paintings in the book:
In his art Van Gogh was trying to grasp life at its depth. Since I have found that spirituality means living in depth, I believe I have learned something of spirituality from Van Gogh. (p. 21)
Then you're regrouping, once again, by browsing in a bookstore, and you come across a small, Touchstone paperback of The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. As you page through, randomly reading excerpts, this passage strikes you, even though you're not sure of all the references:
[P]ainting and, in my opinion, especially the painting of rural life, gives serenity, though one may have all kinds of worries and miseries on the surface of life. I mean painting is a home and one does not experience that homesickness [...]

And I was sick of the boredom of civilization. It is bettter, one is happier if one carries it* out—literally though—one feels at least that one is really alive. And it is a good thing in winter to be deep in snow, in the autumn deep in the yellow leaves, in summer among the ripe corn, in spring amid the grass; it is a good thing to be always with the mowers and the peasant girls, in summer with a big sky overhead, in winter by the fireside, and to feel that it always has been and always will be so.

One may sleep on straw, eat black bread, well, one will only be the healthier for it. (p. 229)
*I am not sure exactly to what "it" refers; but I think it is the life of painting, regardless of the difficulties.

But now, to work, in a grey cubicle.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Women reading

A collection of paintings from the fifteenth through the twenty-first centuries of women reading.

(Via Diane at Going to Pieces.)
Free energy

This morning, slightly before 7:30 am. There is a third line hidden behind the middle line.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sign of the times

In response to an article in the NYT about the photograph of the illustrator of the classic children's book Good Night Moon that was digitally altered to remove the cigarette from the illustrator's hand, someone further "purged" an illustration in the book by suggesting digital alterations to make the book "safe" for small children.

(Via Karen at Ideaphoria.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Hotel week

The thing about living in a hotel for this past week was that everything was so simple and focused, the way I wish my life usually was. I brought all the clothes I needed for the week and nothing more. They were ironed and hanging in the closet or put away in the drawers by Monday night. Each morning I only had to choose which top and which pair of trousers to wear that day.

Breakfast was set out ready to eat each morning. I had Kellogg's Raisin Bran with a banana sliced on top, hot tea, and orange juice.

I even read the daily Bible readings appointed for this first week of Advent.

The room was tidied for me each day, which encouraged me to keep my things tidy in return.

A group of us were working at another company testing some software they are developing for us. It was very structured, follow-the-script type of work without the distractions of the home office environment.

Then back to the hotel in the evenings. Above all, it was the lack of distractions, the enforced restriction of options that made the week so different. When I got home this afternoon, though, I couldn't settle down to one thing.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Advent thoughts

I haven't had much access to the Web recently, but I see that Sparrow is again posting daily Advent meditations, this year with pictures. Sparrow always finds thoughtful quotes or questions to ponder during this season.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving weekend

It has been a long, lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I took Friday off, in addition to the Thursday holiday. The next two weeks are going to be extremely long at work, so these days have been time to relax, work around the house, study, and enjoy friends.

Wednesday night was the annual Thanksgiving dinner at church. The Saturday before I rode over to the Farmer's Market to buy Yukon Gold potatoes for my contribution to the dinner. On the way home, I stopped to take pictures of the spectacular fall weather we have been enjoying in So. Cal.

I also bought some more potatoes, Russetts, at Whole Foods as there weren't many of the Yukons Golds left when I got to the market. Wednesday morning, around 5:00, I got up and began peeling potates, twenty pounds of Russetts. The Yukon Golds I just scrubbed and left the skin on. Then I deposited my potatoes at the church hall and went to work.

We got off a couple hours early on Wednesday afternoon, so I was able to go to the church to help with the final preparations for the dinner. Between 70 and 80 people attended. I was surprised that people preferred the mashed potatoes with the skins over the skinless potatoes. Of course, I had way too many potatoes given all the other food that was prepared.

After dinner, we had a Thanksgiving service and then washed mounds of dishes.

Thursday was a quiet morning. I started (yet again) to sort through accumulated stacks of paper. However, the house was quite tidy to begin with as I had cleaned and vacuumed before a friend came over earlier in the week, so the sorting didn't seem quite so overwhelming.

Then I joined another family for Thanksgiving dinner later in the afternoon. It was delicious!

Friday, I finished the book I started on Thursday, Wendell Berry's novel, Hannah Coulter, a fitting book both for Thanksgiving ("This is my story, my giving of thanks") and for domestic endeavors, which Berry describes in detail. More chores around the house. And then I wasted a bunch of time online.

Saturday, I spent much of the day in my head, shopping at thrift stores and bookshops. Then I boiled up some more Yukon Golds and went over to friends' house for another celebration of harvest and thanksgiving.

This morning, the first Sunday in Advent, we studied the texts for the day and then went to church. Afterwards, I borrowed a lefse griddle, pastry board, and rolling pin from a Scandinavian family, strapped them on my bicycle, and rode home. Later this afternoon or evening, I will try making potato cakes from all my leftover mashed potatoes.

(The bicycle would not stay upright with the heavy bag of books and rolling pin hooked on the rack, so this is only an approximation of my load for photgraphic purposes!)

Friday, November 25, 2005

New Orleans account

For a first-hand account and pictures of clean up efforts in New Orleans, read Path to Freedom's report of their recent trip.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Waning moon

Last night I went on the Eaton Canyon moonlight walk again. It's the first time I had been on the walk since the heavy rains of last winter, so I didn't realize how restricted the walk would be. They can no longer offer the "express" walk because of some major slides. There were a lot of people there last night, too, so it seemed crowded now that the full canyon is not safely accessible.

But, after getting over my disappointment at going on the "slow" walk and trying not to be too irritated with those in the group who kept using their flashlights and at how crowded it was, it was a refreshing evening. We stopped and noticed the difference in silhouette against the night sky of a sycamore tree and a California coastal live oak.

The guide pointed out the various ways plants had adapted themselves to survive during long periods without water, including the live oak with the waxy surface of its leaves and pointy edges that pierce water drops that condense on the leaves from the fog so that the water falls to the ground where the roots of the tree can absorb it.

We watched the moon rise a couple times over different ridges along the walk. The moon was still very bright although a few days past being full.

The walks will not be offered now for a few months to give the volunteers some time off. I was reminded that I need to participate fully in things while they are available. Because the opportunity might not be there forever. The rains may come and wash away many of the canyon paths. The volunteers need rest. There need to be interested, committed people to keep the canyon a wild place that can be visited in the midst of the city.

The street lights seemed obscenely bright after my eyes had adjusted to the moonlight (between annoying flashes of battery-powered light). So when I arrived home, I lit my oil lamps, did not turn on the TV or computer, and continued enjoying the calm of the evening without electric light or its accompanying buzz until I went to bed.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Almost full moon

It's 4:43 p.m. and I can see an almost full moon through the office window looking east. It's still quite light out. The sun hasn't quite set, although I can't see it looking east, of course.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fall weekend

Sometimes I want to stay in Southern California forever because of weekends like this one. Spectacular deep blue skies, temperatures in the 70s. A weekend to live the small, everyday things with eyes wide open. A restoring of the spirit after a week of grey cubicle land.

Which began Friday morning, early. I had volunteered to teach part of the women's study on Saturday, as well as provide the breakfast, so I arrived at work over an hour early to sit in the cafeteria next to the window and read the lessons. I am struck by two sentences in one of the articles, "Peace in a Time of Anxiety," by Nancy Roth.

First, a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer while he was in prison, in a letter to his mother (my emphasis):
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting come what may, we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day.
Second, this sentence, because of the image of an "inner landscape":
Prayer transforms our inner landscape because it welcomes God's healing, love, strength, and peace into our hearts, our souls, our psyches—our deepest self.
Friday evening I came home and straightaway began preparing pineapple guavas to cook into a sauce for Saturday morning. I am not very good about cooking a meal in the evenings, but it seemed such a perfect balance to the long day inside dealing with computers and paper to wash, cut in half, and then scoop out the guava insides into the kettle, add a bit of sugar, and boil down the fruit into guava sauce.

Then I assembled a basic cheese strata from old bread, cheese, duck eggs, milk, and crisply fried bacon from Niman Ranch using a recipe from the More-With-Less Cookbook. I felt very pleased with myself for preparing it the night before!

Saturday morning I was up by 5:00 to finish preparing the study and gather all the items for the breakfast. I stopped by the grocery store and to buy coffee and some freshly baked pastries from the bakery. (I gave myself permission not to make everything from scratch as I also had to lead part of the study.)

Then to the church to bake the strata and set up the table. I chose one of the African fabric tablecloths my mother had given me (yellows, golds, and greens) and placed a light amber-colored oil lamp in the center surrounded by pine cones from Big Bear.

The lamp elicited many comments and stories from the older women who had grown up with oil lamps. Sadly, I was in the kitchen so I couldn't hear all they were saying. But one woman mentioned that her chore as a girl was to make sure all the lamps were filled with oil. Another woman remembered the REA, or Rural Electrification Administration, and what a boon it was when electricity came to the rural areas. I'll have to ask her more about what that was like.

After the breakfast, one woman led a thank-offering liturgy and then we briefly studied the story of the midwives, Shiprah and Puah, who refused the Egyptian Pharaoh's order to kill the male Hebrew babies.

Saturday afternoon was warm and sunny. I've been thinking of getting hiking boots, so I went over to REI and found the only pair not Made In China. So, of course, they were about the most expensive. Oh well. Then to Eaton Canyon to begin breaking them in.

There is still a small stream of water in the canyon, but the canyon floor is mostly boulders and rocks washed down in the heavy rains last winter. I was going to try hiking up, but the route I wanted to take was blocked off, so I just stayed on the floor. I sat on a rock for a while reading my novel, About Grace, and then boulder-hopped all the way back to the parking lot at the other end of the canyon. I think the boots will work out fine. I wasn't wearing very thick socks as it was too hot, but I had tried them on in the store with heavier socks, so I hope they'll be OK.

After a rest and supper of leftover cheese strata and guava sauce, I began looking for a reference to prepare Sunday morning's class on the lectionary readings. Which took me out to my garage, where I started sorting through the stuff that had accumulated (again) in the garage. The landlord had recently installed a fluorescent light and electrical outlet, so I was able to work in the pleasantly cool night. Two hours later, I had smashed all the cardboard boxes I had saved, "just in case" I needed them, and disposed of them in the recycling bins. I also brought my shredder out to the garage and shredded a pile of old documents.

I eventually found the reference in the house but was so pleased with the dent I'd made in the garage piles, I didn't mind. A bit of study and then to bed.

Up early again this morning to write up the notes for the class. The Zephaniah reading brought me back to the Ph.D. seminar I had taken on the class and to my professor's commentaries on the book. I realized that part of my struggle with Ph.D. work was its relevance for the church. It was very challenging and exciting to painstakingly go through word by word comparing the Hebrew text with the Dead Sea scrolls, Greek, Syriac, the Targums, and Latin texts. And yet how does one teach a text (especially like Zephaniah chapter 1) to a church class on a Sunday morning? What is the significance of that chapter for the way we live our lives today?

Laundry was washed and hung on the line somewhere between Psalm 90 and I Thessalonians 5.

Then to the church for the class followed by the church service, where I was the assistant and had to read the heavy, rather dark texts assigned for today.

Then I rode back home on my bicycle and spent a couple hours sitting on my front porch reading About Grace. It was the perfect book for this afternoon, with its wonderful, attentive descriptions of the tiniest things, like, that "Tiny fronds of frost were growing on the inner pane of the window" of the airplane. Or the letter of recommendation for admission to graduate school the main character writes for a young woman. After a long list of all the living creatures she showed him "one afternoon, when she was ten," he writes,
To live in the tropics is to always be reminded (I find a hornet in my rice, a minnow in my shaving water) of the impossibility of ownership. The street in front of me belongs more to whatever is tunneling up those hundred or so little mounds of red dirt than to any of us. The beams of this apartment belong to houseflies; the window corners to spiders; the ceiling to house geckos and roaches. We are all just tenants here. [...]

"An amazing book," Naaliyah once told me, "could be written about mites." To know her is to realize the thousand forms of inquiry. The least things enrapture her: she used to lie on her stomach and watch a tiny square of reef through a plate of glass for hours (p. 170).
A nap. A hole dug in the garden to bury my rotting vegetable and fruit scraps. And then, just at sunset, a three-block walk—west, north, and west again—to the drive-though dairy for a half-gallon of milk and a pint of chocolate ice-cream and home once more.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bus commuting

I said I would take the bus to work one day this week, and I did. Now I remember, again, why I do not do this very often.

I left the house at 6:20 this morning and returned at 7:45 this evening. And I was over an hour late arriving at work. However, I did get a lot of knitting done.

The first hitch was the transfer at Cal State LA, where I was supposed to go upstairs to transfer to a different bus. When I got upstairs I just saw what I thought was the campus. The other option was to cross the freeway on the pedestrian overpass and go down again. So I went back downstairs to ask somebody, and, indeed, the other buses were upstairs on what I thought was the campus. By the time I ran back upstairs and onto the campus, my bus had just pulled away. It was over an hour's wait until the next bus, which, if it had been on time, should have gotten me to work only fifteen to thirty minutes late.

Instead that bus was late, and the driver was new to the route. So he was driving while reading directions off a paper he held to the steering wheel. I got off near the off-site parking and took the company shuttle to my building

I had considered calling a cab and probably would have taken one if any had driven by, but none came, probably because it was a university campus, and I kept waiting.

Then, when left to go home, I found that the bus stop next to my building had the bus number erased. So I crossed the five lanes of traffic to take another route on a bus that left about half an hour later. But then the bus I transferred to was at least half an hour late arriving.

Conclusion: The morning route would probably be okay next time because I would know where to go. But the transfer time is still a little close if the first bus were delayed at all. There are some other evening routes I could try, but none too much better. The problem is that if there is a hitch anywhere, it is difficult to readjust and make up time.

I will need to do some further investigation into a bicycle/bus combination if I am to find a workable alternative to my car commute that is thirty-five minutes and thirty-two stop lights one way.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


From a book I picked up on the "New and Noteworthy" table of a local bookshop, About Grace, by Anthony Doerr, a sentence that keeps running through my mind (p. 38):
[T]his, perhaps, is how lives are measured, a series of abandonments that we hope beyond reason will eventually be reconciled.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Prince Charles and small farms

I saw a snippet of an interview with Prince Charles on BBC World on TV tonight ("Prince Charles shows the BBC around his organic farm"). There is a much fuller video version of the interview at the main BBC site. At the moment, the link is on the front page in the Video and Audio section, "Prince urges action on climate change in exclusive interview." [Update 10/28/05: The video link can now be found on this page.]

The interview is somewhat mis-titled; it is about the prince's organic farm and his views on the importance of small farms to save rare breeds of livestock, produce artisan foods, and pass down the knowledge of previous generations. He also emphasizes the importance of buying and eating local foods.

Listen to the interview if you can!

[Update 10/30/05: Prince Charles will be interviewed on 60 Minutes tonight.]

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Two car-free days

I hope to be able to report that by the end of today I will have gone two days without driving my car. Yesterday I rode over to Whole Foods to pick up something for a friend and a half-gallon of organic milk for myself. I think it is around five to six miles one way, the longest ride bike ride I have taken thus far during my reintroduction to bicycle riding.

(Free idea for the online map and directions companies: I'd like to be able to enter my own route and have the software figure out the mileage. When I entered the Whole Foods destination, the route I was given was via the freeway, which was not the route I rode.)

Then I rode over to my friends' house and went hiking with them. The ride home was a little slower than it might have been given that my legs are not yet used to all this activity.

During my travels yesterday, I also used more than one gear! I have been rather intimidated by all the gears and had avoided shifting them. But I definitely felt their benefit! The one time I did something wrong and knocked the chain off the cogs, I was able to fix it easily and keep riding.

Today, I was ready in time and organized enough to be able to ride my bike to church. I even strapped a bucket onto the rack that I needed to return to someone. Then I rode over to Path to Freedom to pick up my weekly vegetable order, and home again.

I still need to figure out the clothes issue. I managed to find clothes that were OK to ride in and suitable enough for church. But coming home after mid-day, I was rather hot. I live UP a hill, so the ride home is the hardest part.

Next challenge: Riding more during the week because riding intensively only two days on the weekend is not the best. I need to see if I can figure out a bike/bus combination until (maybe!) I can work up to tackling the twenty mile one-way route to work.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Stormy weather

It's rained for the past two nights. This early afternoon the sky is greenish-grey with overcast clouds as I look out the windows across to the trees in the golf course.

[Update 15 minutes later: Now I can barely see out the windows because of the rain streaking them.]

Friday, October 14, 2005

Be not afraid

Once again, Leah in her bungalow kitchen has written a thoughtful, pertinent post, this time on the subject of fear and its antidote, joy. Read the poem she quotes. Then read the article to which she links, "The Market In Fear," by Frank Furedi.
Fear has lost its relationship to experience. When confronted with a specific threat such as the plague or an act of war, fear can serve as an emotion that guides us in a sensible direction. However, when fear is promoted as promiscuously as it is today, it breeds an unfocused sense of anxiety that can attach itself to anything. In such circumstances fear can disorient and distract us from our very own experiences. That is why fear has acquired connotations that are entirely negative.
Study what the writer of the gospel of Matthew has to say about fear. Read an (abbreviated, I think,) article about "The Disposition of Joy." Join other Lutheran women in learning to Act Boldly!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bike pannier

This past week, my bike shop ordered in a pannier for me to check out. I'd looked at wire baskets, including collapsible ones, but wanted to see how the nylon bags worked. I ended up getting the nylon pannier—and I really like it.

The bag easily hooks onto and slips off the back rack, with a ring on an elastic band that slides onto a short bar on the bottom of the rack and two hooks that slip onto the top of the rack. So when the bike is parked, I just take the bag with me, as it has two handles on top to carry it.

The bag is resizable via the cinch ties on the side and can be opened up to carry at least a grocery-bag size worth of items.

Yesterday I was able to keep my resolve not to drive my car at least one day a week. I put my books into the bag and rode down to the church for the women's breakfast and Bible study. Then, after I came home, I strapped a box of blankets on the back of the bike that the church women had made some time ago and delivered them to the local chapter of Project Linus. The blanket-making volunteers were having a work day at a nearby church.

It was such a satisfying feeling to be able to run my errands on my bicycle, the happy feelings augmented, no doubt, by the extra surge of endorphins from all the exercise.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Post vacation

I had a wonderful vacation in Northern California, but already there is so much to do upon my return south. Yet there is more to mull and remember and be thankful for. Like beautiful weather and the time to sit outside and just enjoy a chance to sit and soak in the lovely day. Most of my reflections will be offline, but I have some fun pictures to show here and, hopefully, a more substantive post or two.

Animals were a theme of the week. The chickens next door were regular visitors.

On Saturday, we visited the California farm of the Farm Sanctuary organization. Here are a couple of the rescued goats.

There were many more animals and much to ponder.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Having been rather dismayed and disturbed at much of what I've been reading and seeing recently regarding the hurricanes and their effects, I wanted to do something in response, even if primarily symbolic.

I've been trying to drive less, although my plans to take the bus to work haven't happened yet. Saturday I determined not to drive my car. But I had a coupon that expired Saturday for half-off one item at Michael's, and I wanted to purchase a knitting book I'd seen there, The Knitter's Book of Finishing Techniques.

So I donned my Path to Freedom t-shirt (it seemed appropriate!) and pulled my bicycle out of the garage, where it has been stored for a couple years. (I don't think I rode it once last summer.) Both tires were flat, so I walked it over to the gas station after giving up using my little foot pump.

Then I rode down to the bike shop where I'd purchased the bicycle a number of years ago to see what sort of panniers they had. They are ordering in a few more samples, so I'll check back when they come in. I'm trying to decide between the wire basket kind and the nylon kind.

Then to Michael's and then back home, stopping at garage sales along the way. Today I went for another ride as it was so beautiful out. I'm trying to find the best streets to ride on that are fairly direct routes but don't have a lot of traffic.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Late night browsing

Attempt two after deleting original post. So this post has excerpts only and little commentary. From the CS Monitor, a series on Before the Oil Runs Out, nothing new to those who have been following Peak Oil, but a simple, clear presentation of the issues.
[I]s the world really running out of oil? The short answer is no. Earth is swimming in the stuff. What's changed is that the era of cheap oil - a period that has lasted 150 years - is showing its age. Only a dramatic breakthrough - either in technology or consumption patterns - can forestall its conclusion in a decade or two.
When major economic trends are apparent within two years, that is something to which to pay attention.
Some experts who follow these issues closely are getting worried. One big change, particularly in the past two years, has been increasing international competition for oil supplies.
And yet
[t]oday's suburban American lifestyle - built around long commutes to work and large, energy-hungry houses - assumes that low-cost fuel will be available indefinitely.
In a different article, the Monitor links to this helpful guide (.pdf) to eating during an emergency: The Healthy Hurricane/Disaster Cookbook.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Emergency preparedness or...

just nostalgia. Some time ago, I found an old Coleman lantern at the Salvation Army store. It seemed to be in working condition from what I could tell, although I didn't really know what to look for. So I bought it because it reminded me of one camping trip in particular, next to the Kabampo River in Zambia. I have a memory of pressure lamps hanging on a tree hissing and providing light.

I stopped by Berg Hardware to buy replacement mantles and asked someone at my church if he would look at the lantern and see if it was usable. I showed it to him in the church kitchen, where someone else saw it and gave me an animated lecture about how and why the lantern works. After learning what kind of fuel to get and finding it at a sporting goods store (fishing and hunting gear), I brought the lantern to the church member's garage, where we (that would be mostly he) took it apart and cleaned it a bit. (I still need to clean it more, but I just wanted to see how it worked first.)

My gamble was right that it was in good working order. We fired it up, and, WOW, I had forgotten how brightly those lanterns burn! The cap was leaking a bit of air, so I stopped by the tackle store again and bought a new cap. The proprietor, who also repairs lanterns, was enthusiastic about the condition mine was in, even though, cosmetically, it's not in the best shape.

From what I can tell by looking online and the ballpark age the proprietor guessed it was, I think the model is a 228 from the early 1960s perhaps. I can't figure out what the letter of the model is, maybe C, E, or F.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Knitting projects Web site

I've run out of room to upload pictures to this site, so I am copying some of my knitting entries and moving the accompanying pictures over to another site: JBB's Knitting Projects. (Yes, I know, very original title....) Eventually, I hope to revamp the Musings site (thanks to a kind offer of help), but for now I'm gradually moving a few pictures to the new, topical site.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The joy of knitting

From Sandra Tsing Loh's review in The Atlantic (subscription required for full article) of a book about the ghostwriter/author and publisher of the Nancy Drew mystery stories:
The real allure of Nancy Drew is that, almost uniquely among classic or modern heroines, she can follow—is allowed to follow—a train of thought. [...] For clever girls of all ages [...] it's a rare treat to read stories in which our heroine's emotions come alive not with the love of a good man but with the pursuit of a bad one. Who doesn't thrill to the adrenaline-charged arrival of a "hunch"—triggering Nancy's trademark excitement, her thoughts swirling, eyes sparkling, fingers deliciously drumming with impatience to get into the library and pore over long-forgotten River Heights records that might reveal a clue about some suspicious handyman with a name like Nathaniel Mordechai Crumbley? [...]

Because forget sex and romance; the solving of puzzles, mental trial and error, the deeply pleasurable act of raveling and unraveling—therein lies a secret part of the female psyche. (Knitting, anyone? There ought to be a movie celebrating this complex craft, which, if you ever get hooked, can give you—as it did me and a surprising number of women I know—no less than an emotional foundation. I see it as a Henry Jaglom, Sundance Channel movie, all monologues straight to camera: Women Knitting.)

(Now I have to watch a Henry Jaglom film.)
My library books this week are...

War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges. I requested the book be transferred to my library branch after reading Byron Borger's short review of it in his introduction to a longer review of Hedges' new book on the Ten Commandments.

Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry, because I still have not read any of Berry's novels.

How to Organize Just About Everything, by Peter Walsh, because it was there on the new books' shelf close to the mid-700s section where there were no new knitting books.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

New growth

When I repotted my plants six weeks ago, one of them had a bent over branch from occasionally having gone too long without water. Soon after being repotted and watered regularly, new leaves sprouted at the break in the branch and two new flowers even appeared at the end of the branch until they got knocked off.

For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again....[A]t the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. Job 14:7, 9 [RSV]

Friday, September 02, 2005

An unnatural disaster

From a free column in the WSJ, by Sharon Begley:
More than one million acres of Louisiana's coastal wetlands, or 1,900 square miles, have been lost since 1930, due to development and the construction of levees and canals. Barrier islands and stands of tupelo and cypress also vanished. All of them absorb some of the energy and water from storm surges, which, more than the rain falling from the sky, caused the current calamity. "If these had been in place, at least some of the energy in the storm surge would have been dissipated," says geologist Jeffrey Mount of the University of California, Davis. "This is a self-inflicted wound."
And tonight on NOW, a re-broadcast of a program from 2002 about the disappearance of the delta.
The Mississippi River delta is disappearing. One of America's most vibrant and productive ecological regions is slipping into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate. [...] Some of this loss can be blamed on the levee system, which has channelled water and sediment into the Gulf of Mexico instead of depositing them on the coastal wetlands.
Other topics:

A primer on the Incident Command System.

From the discussion on the NewsHour tonight.
DAVID BROOKS: I think it is a huge reaction we are about to see. I mean, first of all, they violated the social fabric, which is in the moments of crisis you take care of the poor first. That didn't happen; it's like leaving wounded on the battlefield.

So there is just -- in 9/11 you had a great surge of public confidence. Now I think we are going to see a great decline in public confidence in our institutions. And so I just think this is sort of the anti-9/11 as one of the bloggers wrote. [...]

TOM OLIPHANT: I would say the fault lines are much deeper than that. I mean, on the one hand there is no question that we can see now with our own eyes the two Americas of which John Edwards began speaking a year and a half ago.

But deeper than that, I think, is the anger that is going to come from the realization that virtually all public policy -- state, local, federal, where this area is concerned, has been against the public interests for decades. And the realization that government is one of the reasons we have government has been violated by virtually everything government has done for decades.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Psalm 77

It has been quite incredible to see the pictures and listen to the stories of the aftermath of the hurricane in the Gulf Coast area.

This morning I woke early and could not go back to sleep, trying to understand and make sense of what is happening but dependent only on what is being reported on the news and then being fully immersed in my corporate, cubicle-and-computer-bound job, far from the reality of what the TV is showing.

My Bible opened to Psalm 77. It seemed especially fitting. A cry for help. Not able to sleep. Questioning God. Violent waters. God's footprints unseen/unknown through the waters. A people being led.

I'm searching for prayers or a litany for Sunday. The pastor is on vacation, and I want to help people—myself—find the words to offer to God. The Lutherans also already have published a hymn (.pdf). It struck me that, once again, the Christmas story isn't confined to December:
Joseph and Mary:
refugee people,
traveled together
to Bethlehem.
Joseph was weary,
Mary expecting.
There was no room for
them in the inn.
[Update 9/5/05: After listening to this discussion on the NewsHour tonight (only available in audio at this time), I came to understand that people are upset about being called "refugees" in their own country because it implies they are not true citizens. I did not think critically enough about the song before quoting it here nor did I consider the connotations of the word "refugee." In the verse I quoted, Mary and Joseph are travelling from the region of Galilee to Judea, more like "interstate" travel than later when they escape to an "international" destination, Egypt. The image that stood out to me was of pregnant Mary having to travel and TV pictures I'd seen of women who gave birth during the evacuation.]

Beyond the hurricane itself, the brokenness of the world we live in cannot be denied. The poverty of so many people. Greed and violence that seem suddenly evident in those who are looting and yet are the same greed and violence that led to the ripping up of the coastline's natural defenses for the sake of "development."

As I wonder how I'm implicated in this all, I'm taking delight and hope in a book my former pastor, Peg, gave me: The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle, by Lynne Cherry. It is a children's book, with wonderful illustrations, about the many creatures who shelter in mangroves along the coast during a storm. They are safe, and, after ten years,

dead bleached branches still tell the story of the hurricane. But new growth has sprouted from the mangroves' broken branches, and the mangrove island is even bigger, wider, and deeper.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Summer job

I happened to pick up the July-August issue of Orion magazine, and as I was browsing through it, I saw this article, "Peas, Man", by Matt Rasmussen. [The online version is abridged.] I had to buy the magazine then because I spent a full summer and part of another one pea vining in the Skagit Valley, not too many years before the author of the article.

It was during the first summer that I lived with my grandparents. Like Rasmussen, I worked the night shift. The viners I drove, though, were the older, tractor-pulled models. It was good money for a high school summer job. Because I was under 18, I had to take a safety course at the local community college, which I later attended as a regular student. The first entry on my college transcript is something like "Pea Viner Operator."

Here are a few pictures. Again, please pardon the quality of the scanning.

Tractor and pea viner. Much of the time you faced backwards monitoring the viner behind you. I got really strong climbing on and off the tractor and spreading pea vines around with the pitch fork.

Cleaning the pea viner. This is early in the shift when it was still warm and light out. As it got darker and cooler, more layers of clothes were added. Like Rasmussen, there were times I had to climb inside the viner with rain gear on, almost swim through the half-digested pea vines and, with a linoleum knife, hack through the vines and caked mud that would stop up part of the machine.

Dumping the peas. When your pea bin was full, you'd signal the pea truck to come over so you could dump your load. The peas were then driven to the processing plant where they were packaged into the bags of frozen peas sold in grocery stores. The rows of vines were cut and heaped into rows in advance by the swathers. Rasmussen's machines cut the vines themselves.

All done. The field is harvested. The viners are lined up ready to move to the next field. As Rasmussen described, it could be rather scary at times driving on the roads. With so much weight behind you, it was easy to oversteer. Going over hills was also nerve-wracking. All the viners would stop at the bottom of the hill, and the mechanics would come around to make sure we were in the lowest gear. Once you started up the hill, you could not touch the clutch to shift down, or all that weight behind you would overpower the brakes and you'd roll backwards into the tractor behind you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Journal Entry

Sometimes (not often for me) an insight into why I might be attracted to an idea or "way of being in the world" occurs to me with clear logic and not a little emotion. Last night was one of those occasions.

I think it started when I popped into the Salvation Army store on my way home from work. I was looking for something I'd seen there some time ago but hadn't purchased at that time. Of course, the item was no longer there. So, I scanned the shelves anyway and noticed some older Pyrex mixing bowls that were like my grandma's and which my mother now uses. (Here's a link, for the moment, to a picture of similiar bowls, although I recall the yellow one most strongly.) I didn't buy them—it wasn't a full set—but the bowls brought my grandmother to mind.

Later, at home, I read ahead to the Isaiah lectionary reading assigned for next Sunday, Isaiah 51:1-6. The second part of verse 1 grabbed me: "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged." [RSV] I know the context of the chapter is very far removed from the personal life of JBB, but I set aside academic hesitations and let my memory run with the verse.

I think I'm like my grandmother in many ways and recognized that some of my present yearnings and dreams come from being hewn out of the same rock as she. Because I lived overseas for much of my growing up years, I did not spend a lot of time with her as a child.

However, I remember Grade Three, when my family came back to the States for one year and lived in my grandparents' house, while they moved next door to the one-bedroom cottage. One of the activities the children did with my grandmother was gather various leaves from the yard and woods, press them under piles of phone boxes until they dried, then tape them into a handmade book, and carefully label them. My grandmother told stories of when she was a school teacher in the mid- to late-1930s and would take her pupils on nature walks. My grandmother believed strongly that children should take piano lessons. That year was also my first year of piano lessons.

In Grade Six, we were again in the States, although we lived in another house. My grandmother started some sewing projects with me, embroidering flour sack dish towels (from flour sacks she had saved) and stamping quilt blocks to be embroidered and made into a quilt.

I remember my grandmother gardening, cooking, baking rolls and desserts, canning fruit and green beans, freezing berries, making her shopping list from the grocery store ads to get the best prices, looking after her day care children, sitting at the rickety card table in the middle of the kitchen writing letters to missionaries with her feet soaking in a pan of warm water and epsom salts, reading a devotional at the breakfast table and my grandfather restlessly clearing his throat if her prayer went on too long, washing laundry in the Maytag wringer washer machine and hanging most of it to dry on the clotheslines under the apple trees, going to church on Wednesdays and twice on Sundays.

The tears came as I remembered the difficulty of one year, in particular, that I lived with her during college. I lived with my grandparents my senior year of high school and then again my first year of college, after a year in England in between. That second year, my grandfather was ill with leukemia and died in the spring. My grandmother cared for him at home, except when he had to go into the hospital.

I don't remember many specific exchanges now, but I would get very upset at my grandmother's dogmatism about certain issues and would often argue with her, even when I agreed with her position, just to oppose her. Part of my opposition was to what I perceived as her judgment of other people who looked at things differently than she. Part of the situation was a sense of being caught between her and her sometimes-expressed disapproval of her daughters-in-law. Much of tension, I'm sure, came out of the sadness and strain of caring for my grandfather that my grandmother must have felt and the guilt I felt for not helping her more. But I wasn't grown up enough to be able to deal very gracefully with all that then.

Even much later when my grandmother was in a nursing home, I regret not spending more time talking with her about her life. Fortunantely, there's still much I can learn about her from my mother and her brothers. But right now I really miss my grandma.

It struck me last night that it was around the twentieth anniversary of my grandfather's death when I was in Washington this past spring taking pictures of my grandparents' farm.

So maybe these thoughts of moving back to the farm are not merely the urgings of a restless spirit ready to try the next new adventure but the longings of a life "looking to the rock from which it was hewn."

My grandmother, summer of 1982

(The picture is small and blurry, but I had to post one. So I searched for a snapshot, hooked up an old scanner, downloaded drivers, used my digital camera software to display and crop the scanned picture, and posted it.)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Stopping in

Overtime at work right now for a while, so when I get home it's knitting to relax, to bed, and back to work again. Not much else getting accomplished or read or thought about.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Knitting again

[Edit 5/10/06: Click here for pictures.]

After not having worked on a knitting project for a couple months, this weeekend I picked up the needles again, or rather, had the needles sawn in two and then started knitting.

I had bought a lace knitting book, Kunststrik II by Sonja Esbensen at Velona's sometime back. But trying to cast on and knit eight stitches with size 30 thread distributed on four size 000 (1.5 mm) slippery steel 8" double-pointed needles was impossible for me.

So, unable to located 000 needles in a shorter length, I ordered another set of 8" needles and brought them to Berg Hardware, a wonderful old-time hardware store where they still price everything with handwritten tags. They cut the needles into 3.5 and 4.5 inch lengths. The ends are a little rough but worked OK for getting the circular pattern started until I could manipulate the full-sized needles.

Lesson learned, however—the needles should be the same brand. The Inox needles I had cut are slightly thicker than the 8" Addi needles, enough to see a difference in the tension.

(This project won't be finished because the thread I used is too heavy for these needles. But it was enough to show me 1) the shorter needles help to get circular lace patterns started and 2) I can figure out Danish patterns!)

Emboldened by my adventure, when I read about Annie's project for Kerstin's family, I thought I'd like to try making a square knitted from the center outwards on four needles. I found a pattern, Beeton's Flower, in Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips (which is available for a very reasonable price at this moment via the Amazon link—the book is out of print). The square knitted up very quickly on size 4 (3.5 mm) needles with sport-weight yarn compared to the earlier lace knitting experiment.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

No time to post...

I've been babysitting for a friend in the evenings this week while she and her husband work with their youth group from Connecticut. I have this evening off. Otherwise, I get off work, stop by home to change clothes, pick up the six month old baby, take her to the guest house where she and her mother are staying, feed her, play with her, go for a walk, put her to bed, and stay with her until her mother returns around 11:00 each evening. Then I come home to bed, get up, go to work, pick up the baby, etc. I really don't know how people work full-time AND care for small children AND do anything else. But it's fun for a week.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Do what you can where you are with what you have*

My mother sent me an article she cut out from a local newspaper in Washington state about a man who has created a garden at his low-income apartment complex. He spent three days hauling in topsoil in a wheelbarrow and then amended the soil with animal manure. He grows both flowers and vegetables. I love that he stores his squash under the coffee table! A short, very inspiring story.

If you haven't already seen it, check out another person's backyard garden here in Pasadena, inspired by my friends over at Path to Freedom.

At Path to Freedom, scroll down to their July 9 post and link to and download a 15 minute interview with Jules Dervaes about the family's sustainable living project. (It may take a while to download if you're on a dial-up connection.) Jules emphasizes taking even the smallest steps toward living more sustainably and growing one's own food.

*Attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Today's Daily Dig from Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain was spot on:
If what most people take for granted were really true—if all you needed to be happy was to grab everything and see everything and investigate every experience and then talk about it, I should have been a very happy person, a spiritual millionaire, from the cradle even until now…What a strange thing! In filling myself, I had emptied myself. In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress and anguish and fear.
And from Eugene Peterson's new book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology,
Only when we do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get the Jesus life. (p. 334)
P.S. I was prompted to buy (from my local bookshop) Christ Plays... after reading this review by a book seller recommended on a site I read to make sure I get an occasional dose of (neo)Calvinism, Gideon Strauss.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


The first thing I did this morning was dig a hole in my clay-pack flower bed to compost my fruit and vegetable peelings that had been marinating for a couple weeks. I don't know if the decomposing peelings will help the clay soil much, but it was very satisfying to dig in the dirt and return my peelings to the earth. I used to compost my organic waste in a worm bin, but since the worms came to untimely, overheated end due to my neglect, I've not been composting. Time to start again.

The gardening bug bit, so I cleaned up another clay-pack area, repotted old plants, and transplanted eight herb starts I picked up at the farmer's market. After three and half hours of work, here are the results:

Not much in the larger scheme of gardening but a small step of doing something with what I had—some old pots; a bag of soil; some very neglected plants; a scant 25 square feet of shaded, except in the mid- to late afternoon, hard-pack; a basket of herbs from the farmer's market; old (toxically treated, I'm sure) boards I'd inherited from a former tenant; and a summer Saturday that wasn't oppresively hot.

This evening I stopped by the Bridge Party to hear a colleague sing in his barbershop quartet and to visit my former boss. The event is a fundraiser for the local preservation society. I didn't stay long but did get a few pictures after eating Pad Thai from one of the food vendors.

(click to enlarge)

Then I came home to sit in peace on my front porch, cat in lap, reading until the light was gone.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Pray for Darfur

By decree of Congress, July 15, 16, and 17 has been designated a national weekend of prayer and reflection for the people of Darfur, Sudan (S. Res 186 and H. Res 333).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Weasel words

Via Mental multivitamin, here's an interesting article and interview with the author of Death Sentences: How Clichés, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language, Don Watson.

I like his proposal that
if companies are serious about their "corporate social responsibilities" they should make the language one of them. They could put "saying what we mean and meaning what we say" into their mission statement. They could employ in-house editors.
The weasel word I've heard around work recently is "advantage" used as a verb—"We need to advantage our resources/market share/fill-in-the-blank."
How to stay awake all night

Stop drinking coffee for over two weeks past, then drink a latté around 10:00 in the morning as an incentive to complete a languishing project. Notice how wide awake one (still) feels by 1:30 the next morning. Dread the thought of the crash that's bound to occur by early afternoon.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Saturday around town

Today is another mild summer So Cal day. Marine layer in the morning to keep it cooler until it warms up beginning mid-day, only to cool off again in the evening.

In the mood for low-key browsing. Went to Needle in a Haystack in Montrose. Bought seven balls of Mandarin Petit cotton yarn on sale in a pale yellow. I bought it mainly because it is manufactured in Sandnes, Norway, near where many of my distant relatives are from.

Then I stopped by a couple shops in Altadena. First, a thrift shop where I found some more yarn, seven balls of Brunswick Pomfret 4-Ply Sport Yarn, 100% wool in Strato Blue. I'm thinking lace socks. I also picked up a couple Sunset gardening books for 15 cents each.

Then I popped into a health food store, one of the older kind (versus Whole Foods or Wild Oats). I bought Puffed Millet Cereal and black licorice from Finland.

Friday, July 01, 2005


For some reason, July seems much closer to the calendar year-end than does June. June 30 to July 1. But tonight has that expansive feeling to it—it's the beginning of summer (and the improved commute season because schools are out), and it's the Friday night beginning a three-day weekend (and we got out of work about 45 minutes early—not much, but enough).

I washed two stacked dish racks' worth of dishes last night; did a load of laundry this morning that was well dried by this evening; pressure-cooked a batch of brown rice and then made a savory rice dish from the recipe on the Sunmaid raisin can as well as a huge salad; washed tonight's dishes; caught most of the NewsHour's report on Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement from the Supreme Court; scanned a few weblogs; and typed up this entry for the annals of everyday life.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A few notes

Just a few notes to keep this site updated. I've not been very inspired to write—I make notes in my mind but don't quite get them written down. For example, I've been wanting to mention the beautiful jacaranda trees, which have now almost all finished blooming. Just as the jacarandas shed their purple flowers, the agapanthus have taken up the blooming task. I have two at their peak by my front door right now.

Part of the problem is that I gave up coffee. After getting my teeth cleaned last week, I decided to try keep them somewhat unstained by foregoing coffee. I didn't realize how off-kilter quitting coffee would send me. Friday was OK, but yesterday I felt thick-headed all day, and today's not much better.

Yesterday I did stop by a couple libraries and, by chance, saw a novel, The Preservationist by David Maine, on the new books' shelf. It's an imaginative re-telling of the biblical story of Noah and the Ark. I checked it out, partly because one of the praise blurbs on the back cover was by Jim Fegus Fergus, an author recommended by Charlotte of LivingSmall in the "What I'm Reading" section of her Web site.

I read the book through last evening—it reads very quickly—and I quite enjoyed it. Each chapter is written in the voice of one of the characters—Noah, his wife, their three sons, and the sons' wives. It is rather graphic in parts; however, I appreciated the characters' struggles with God and with the destruction of all life except that which was in the Ark.

This afternoon, on my way back from church, I stopped by yet another public library and checked out Jim Fergus's new historical novel, The Wild Girl: The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Daily inspiration

I recently signed up to receive a daily e-mail message from the Bruderhof Communities called The Daily Dig. It comes with a short quote, and then you can read a longer essay, if you wish. Here's what was linked to for Juneteenth. And here are some readings for the recently passed summer solstice, which give some background of the Bruderhof communities.

While not necessarily agreeing with all the teachings of the Bruderhof, I am drawn to much of what they are trying to do and their way of life.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


I felt today's earthquake. (I hadn't noticed Sunday's at all.) I was in a conference room on the second floor of the four story building in which I work. We felt the shaking and crouched under the heavy wooden conference table we'd been sitting around. Downstairs some light fixtures fell from the ceiling, but no one was hurt.

The weather's been typically overcast for much of the day during the month of June. Yesterday I hung out my clothes to dry in the slight drizzle, but, by the end of the day, the sun had come out and the clothes were dry.

Check out the giant, container-grown tomato plants at Path to Freedom!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Border country

Esther de Waal has written a tiny book called To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border. She writes about the experience of living near the border of England and Wales, drawing on her knowledge of Celtic Christian traditions and the Rule of St Benedict. In the chapter "Connecting Inner and Outer," de Waal quotes William Countryman, who uses the image of the border as that which connects what happens on the surface in our outward lives with our deeper, inner lives.
This border country is a place of intense vitality. It does not so much draw us away from the everyday world as it plunges us deeper into a reality of which the everyday world is like the surface. [...] Stay at the border, in active conversation with the holy and the everyday.
From Living on the Border of the Holy: The Human Priesthood and the Church, quoted in To Pause at the Threshold, p. 64.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Women farmers

Via Rebecca's Pocket, this NY Times' article: "Women Find Their Place in the Field," by Julia Moskin.
Though American farms have steadily declined in jobs and capital for years, the number of farms operated by women has more than doubled since 1978, from just over 100,000 to almost 250,000 today, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Almost 15 percent of American farms are now run primarily by women - a sea change from 1978, when the figure was 5 percent. On organic farms, according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the number is 22 percent.
And this quote for my uncle:
"Small tractors have become the fastest growing segment in the agricultural equipment industry," said Barry Nelson, a spokesman for John Deere. "We have more women buying tractors than ever before, and more small farms that need just one piece of heavy equipment. It's a lot easier to get started than it used to be."

Monday, June 06, 2005

Clay + Sand + Straw = Cob

Yesterday I spent a full day at a hands-on (and feet-on) workshop learning about making cob structures.

Photo credit: Anaïs

It was a fantastic day. Some random thoughts—James Weldon Johnson's poem, "The Creation."
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled Him down;
And there the great God Almighty [80]
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby, [85]
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image;
The clay ant hill down at the river at school, where we would scoop out clay to make crude bowls. Going through my Ancient Near East reference books looking for information about ancient building materials and techniques. The biblical Pharaoh who made the Israelites work even harder by making them gather their own straw for making bricks.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Saturday @ home

Quiet day. I have declared June as the month in which I am (once again) going to catch up on organizing my house. "June gloom" has arrived, which means a last chance to undertake cleaning and organizing tasks in perfectly livable weather before the heat of summer sets in. Good progress has been made so far.

Thursday evening I somehow twisted a muscle in my neck/upper back. By Friday morning, my head movement was painfully restricted, and the thought of spending nine hours in a cubicle in front of a computer monitor was not happy. So I stayed at home, slept in, and then carefully worked on sorting some of the piles in my living room while waiting for the masseur to arrive at his station at Wild Oats in Pasadena. Happily, the masseur on duty was one who had been recommended to me a few years ago by a physiotherapist who specializes in neck and upper back problems.

I was very pleased with the results of the half-hour back massage and, while still a little sore, have regained most of my range of movement by this afternoon. So, if you're in Pasadena and need a massage, drop by Wild Oats on Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. or Thursdays and every other Friday from 12 noon to 4 p.m. to see Jaime.

The enforced quiet has me mulling a lot of things, which were more compelling earlier. Now the intensity of desire to write about them has worn off. But I'll mention three topics and (perhaps) come back to them later.

First, Thursday night, I set out to find some books I'd read about, none of which were available at Vroman's Bookstore. Cynthia Crossen recently wrote an intriguing WSJ column in which she reviewed the 1951 science fiction book, The Day of the Triffids, about carnivorous plants developed by humans but which got out of hand.
When Mr. Wyndham was writing, the prospect of nuclear conflagration seemed a dark shadow on the future. The combination of human ingenuity and natural force was turning the earth into a testing field for science.

And, like the various experiments humans are performing on nature these days -- cloning, genetically modified crops, biological weaponry -- the development of the triffids had consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. They were plants, after all, and in most parts of the world, "man had succeeded in putting most forms of nature save his own under a reasonable degree of restraint."
(I just called Book Alley and put the book on hold—paperback edition for $2.95.)

The other books I was interested in were cookbooks by Corinne Trang. I've been enjoying reading a couple cooking sites, for example 101 Cookbooks and Obachan's Kitchen and Balcony Garden, although I don't remember where I read the Corinne Trang reference. of her books is on Vietnamese cooking. Two of my colleagues came from Vietnam, so it's been fun hearing about and tasting some of the food they bring in, in addition to going to local Vietnamese restaurants.

Having not found what I'd come looking for, I scanned the Religion shelves. I like to see what books about religion are stocked in general interest bookstores. This book seemed a somewhat unlikely selection—it was probably special-ordered and then never picked up: Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, by Heidi B. Neumark. The book is the story of a young Lutheran pastor who works for twenty years at a small Latino and African-American church in the Bronx. It is the stories of the people who attended the church, and of the church's efforts, along with other churches, to establish decent housing and schools.

I read the book straight through, which probably didn't help my sore neck but did keep my mind off the pain. I need to read it again, more slowly, and take time to interact with what I read. I was struck by many of the author's observations and sketches of her parishioners. Most of all, I'm grateful for having found another story of a woman from which I can outline part of my own story.

[Note for another entry: Carolyn Heilbrun's book Writing a Woman's Life and the importance of having "stories to live by," especially for women: "It is a hard thing to make up stories to live by. We can only retell and live by the stories we have read or heard. We live our lives through texts. They may be read, or chanted, or experienced electronically, or come to us, like the murmurings of our mothers, telling us what conventions demand. Whatever their form or media, these stories have formed us all; they are what we must use to make new fictions, new narratives." p. 37]

My second big topic, which I'll only note here, is the prognosis of the state of the world, as touched upon in this Path to Freedom entry. It's also the cover story of the current The Atlantic magazine: "Countdown to Meltdown. America's coming economic crisis. A lookback from the election of 2016." I challenge myself dig into questions of world crisis/crises, and what I believe my response should be.

Final links for the day, the hillside homes destroyed earlier this week in the landslide in Laguna Beach (free registration required). Ironically, last Sunday's gospel reading was from Matthew 7:21-29, about the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand and what happened to their respective houses when the rains came down and the floods came up. I see The Atlantic has posted an article written in 1999 called "The Liquid Earth" (paid subscription required) about the high costs of landslides.

[Edit: corrected spelling of Corinne Trang's name. Not sure where I got "Connie" from.]

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Nasty burrs

I'm sure I've written it here before, but, again, one of the things I've enjoyed about living in Southern California these past eleven (!) years, in addition to the weather, is the familiar vegetation to what I grew up around in Zambia. Monday's hike brought back yet another memory, this time of a wicked weed. If you brushed up against this plant while wearing long socks, you would have to pick out each black sticker, whose forked end would burrow into your sock.

(click to enlarge)

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Brown Canyon Dam

Yesterday was spent hiking in the upper Arroyo Seco. We were going to have gone up to the Oakwilde campground, but we detoured to Brown Canyon Dam.

After the record rains of this past winter, the pool at the base of the dam was brim full. Such fun to jump into the refreshingly cold water!

We decided that the swimming opportunity was too good to pass up so stayed at the dam rather than finishing the hike.

I found an interesting outline (.pdf) of the efforts over the years to control flooding in the Arroyo Seco. Brown Canyon Dam was built in 1942 after the huge flood of 1938.

(Thanks to Anaïs for the photos!)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Brain food

Via 43 Folders, I read an article in New Scientist about ways to keep the brain in shape. The first suggestion is to eat a healthy breakfast, which may include Marmite!
Beans on toast is a far better combination [than sugary foods and drinks], as Barbara Stewart from the University of Ulster, UK, discovered. Toast alone boosted children's scores on a variety of cognitive tests, but when the tests got tougher, the breakfast with the high-protein beans worked best. Beans are also a good source of fibre, and other research has shown a link between a high-fibre diet and improved cognition. If you can't stomach beans before midday, wholemeal toast with Marmite makes a great alternative. The yeast extract is packed with B vitamins, whose brain-boosting powers have been demonstrated in many studies.
I guess my boarding school breakfast diet was healthier than I knew!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Vegetable wars

Via Path to Freedom, a clever little online movie, Grocery Store Wars.
Le weekend

The thing about working full-time is that when the weekend comes around, I just don't feel like tackling the chores that need to be done (see previous entry). Last week's work ended with finishing a very detailed assignment that required intense concentration but not much intellectual output. So, the weekend was spent relaxing and refilling the brain.

Friday night I spent five hours watching Pride and Prejudice. I now understand Colin Firth obsessions!

Saturday I went bookshopping bookstoring, a most excellent activity for which I now have a verb, thanks to an essay in one of the books I checked out at the library stop—Lost Classics. [Edit: I had a feeling "bookshopping" wasn't quite right but didn't have the book with me to check. Now that I'm home, here's the quote: "If you live where I do, you go bookstoring the way others go hunting or clubbing: hopeful, wondering if you can still get lucky." From "They Feed They Lion—Philip Levine" by Michael Helm, p. 79, in Lost Classics.]

Saturday evening and Sunday morning I put together a lesson on the history of the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity for a Trinity Sunday adult class.

Then Sunday afternoon and evening, I read more than half of a book loaned to me by a friend called Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, by Deborah Blum. It is a fascinating history around the famous terry cloth and wire monkey mother experiments that "proved" the importance of a mother's affection and interaction with her baby.

Well, lunch has ended, so back to work....

Thursday, May 19, 2005


It's come to that point again—many things to do and think about and a sense of not tackling any of them head on. Writing lists here has been helpful in the past, so I'll try it once again.
  • Write up entry on presence, Ascension, and Pentecost
  • Decide how to tackle house (once again)
  • Get more sleep—darken third window in bedroom
  • Plan out Adult Forum sessions
  • Bring more of my own food to work
  • Order more wool from Elann to finish shawl
  • Other projects
  • Type up minutes
  • Write up copyright procedures
  • Go walking
  • Dust off bicycle, which leads to...
  • Clean out the garage again
  • Repot plants
  • Finish writing very overdue thank you notes
  • Make appointment for smog check and renew tabs
  • Get school district information for friend
  • Mail DVDs
  • Send note re: study guide
  • Contact person re: event
OK. That's enough for now. But it all goes back to item three: GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Now I need to go buy cat food and milk at the store.

[Edit: I'm adding things to the list as they occur to me.]

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Small farms, once more

I just came across this Boston Globe article, via Down On The Farm: "Going back to the land: Young people moving in to fill agricultural niches," by Sarah Schweitzer.
As family farms are swallowed up by corporations and housing developers, young men and women, some from suburban backgrounds and families with no agricultural ties, are filling the void. They are opening small niche operations in Vermont and elsewhere in New England to grow hydroponic tomatoes and raise free-range chickens.

Some are going back to the land to escape corporate culture, farming specialists say. Some of the young farmers and farmers-to-be say they are motivated by a sense that farming can save the world or at least some corner of it. [...]

But if they are idealists, the young farmers are also business-savvy. They toss around corporate catch-phrases such as value-added and diversified. They have business plans and have taken accounting classes.
It will be interesting to see if this trend gains enough momentum to offset some of the statistics about aging farmers.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Small farm theme, cont.

A site I've enjoyed recently is Sugar Creek Farm (via Not So Virtual Homestead). The author is documenting her family's adventures in starting a small farm business—both the good and the difficult times. I love this picture of a chicken dining with the cats.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Springs of water

The family farm has its own source of spring water. I don't know all the details of the water system, but here are a few pictures.

One of the last memories I have of my grandfather is when he was in the hospital giving my uncle instructions about when and how to run the water pump.

(click to enlarge)

From left to right. 1) The pump house over the spring on the side of the hill—it was too wet to wade through the brush to get a closer look. 2) The overflow below the pump house next to the road. Fresh spring water pours out of here year round. People often stop and fill up water containers. Somebody put the two little angels there. 3) The back of the other pump house up by the main house. The back entrance of the main house is in the background, and the side of the garage is to the right. 4) Inside the pump house.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Root house

One of the many buildings on the family farm is the root house, a small one-room building insulated with walls that are five to six inches thick. The root house stores fruit and vegetables, both fresh and canned, as well as a lot of miscellaneous stuff. In the heat of summer, the root house is the coolest place on the farm, and it always smells like apples. By April, most of the apples that were stored over the winter have been eaten and most of the canned fruit consumed.

(click to enlarge)

(After nearly four years, I still check out the View: Page Source on Raspberry World when I'm trying to figure out something in html I don't know. Thanks, Susie!)

Friday, April 29, 2005

Another barn

Here's a picture of the back of the barn on the family farm. There aren't any animals in the barn now, but I remember when there were calves in the stalls when my uncle was still raising beef cattle. And I have vague memories of my grandfather milking the one dairy cow.

I also remember my grandfather re-roofing the barn, around 1976, I think. He cut down the cedar tree, hauled out the logs, split the cedar shakes, and then nailed the shakes onto the barn roof. I wonder how long that DIY "barn improvement" project took?

Friday, April 22, 2005


A highlight of last weekend was attending a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah by the Seattle Symphony Chorale at Benaroya Hall. This is my sister's first year singing with the chorale. She is in the alto section.

The performance was beautiful and intense. Originally, the chorale was going to have sung in English, but when Helmuth Rilling was invited to be the guest conductor, they switched to German. He conducted the oratorio without a score.

I was moved by Mendelssohn's depiction of the suffering of the people during the time of drought and subsequent famine. In other tellings of the stories, the focus is often on the show-downs between Elijah and the king/the prophets of Baal/Jezebel/God. Mendelssohn's oratorio opens with Elijah declaring the beginning of the drought, then the overture, and then the opening chorus of the people, "Hilf, Herr! Hilf, Herr! Help, Lord!" The power and pleading of 130 voices crying out to God was overwhelming.

Me and my sister in the Grand Lobby after the concert.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Farmhouse kitchen

The center of the universe in my parents' house is the wood stove. When it's cold outside and there's a fire going, people walk in the back door and go directly to stand against the hot stove. There's nothing like being awakened by the sound of my dad (or, earlier, my grandmother or grandfather) lifting the round cast iron lid to add wood and kindling and start the fire first thing in the morning.

There's an electric part of the stove, too, including an outlet. The hot water heater is encased next to the stove. Behind the stove are shelves for drying nuts and hooks for hanging towels and socks to dry. My grandfather also installed a fan and duct system that uses the hot air from behind the stove to heat the bathroom.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Washington spring

Taken this morning before my return to So. Cal., here's the view out my mother's kitchen window looking toward the neighbors' barn. It had been unseasonably rainy the past few weeks, but this week it's predicted to be sunnier again. The farmers will be happy to have their fields dry out so they can continue their spring planting.

In the foreground, blueberry bushes. Further down the lawn, a gravenstein apple tree. Behind that, a row of marionberry bushes, and a pear tree to the left.

Beyond the fence is the very muddy pasture where a nearby farmer's cows that are about to calve have been housed while they wait to deliver.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Combined knitting

This afternoon I spent an enjoyable two hours being instructed in combined knitting by Annie Modesitt. I'd not attended a knitting class since leaving boarding school as a child. It was very satisfying. I learned a new way to pural purl—wrapping the yarn under the needle rather than over it. This method takes slightly less yarn, and therefore the stitch is slightly tighter. The effect of purling this way is that the knit stitch lies differently on the needle, as when you rip something out and put it back on the needle but "twist" a stitch by mistake and have either to put it back on the needle the "correct" way or to knit it through the back to "untwist" it. In Annie's method, knitting through the back is the "normal" way.

The reasons for combined knitting are speed and evenness of tension. I will need to make some other adjustments to the way I hold the yarn to increase my speed significantly, I think, but I'm hoping my stockinette stitch on two needles will be more even.

Although I had Annie's book, I was able more easily to see the "whole picture" through her in-person explanation rather than trying to read knitting diagrams only. And having your work immediately validated or corrected builds confidence. Also, I realized I already knew half of the technique (knitting through the back of a knit stitch that is on the needle "backwards"); I just didn't realize fully what I was doing other than fixing something.

I appreciate her philosophy of knitting—there's no wrong way!—and her encouragement to be adventuresome and intelligent about knitting. I now "get" her book, and it will be a handy reference and stimulation to try new ways of doing things.