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.