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)