Friday, December 24, 2010

Xmas Eve

I used to be mildly amused when the ignorant criticized the shorthand use of Xmas for Christmas. "Put the Christ back in Christmas!" they would shout. I would patiently explain that "X" in such a case was not the letter X, but rather the Greek letter Chi, the first letter in Christ, and long used as an abbreviation and symbol.

I'm less amused in these Fox News/O'Reilly/War on Christmas/Tea Party days. What has become clear is that the ignorant do not lack information. They simply ignore any information that counters their narrow worldview. I willingly confess my arrogant pride in my advanced education. I acknowledge how privileged and fortunate I am in that regard. Further, not everyone can or should pursue advanced degrees. But education? Education only requires willingness and the openness to new information. Perhaps taking some time away from "American Idol" or "Survivor" and dedicating it to self-improvement would serve.

No time to write more. I need to check my email, update my facebook profile and play some Farmville.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It's dark. Yes, the sun is taking its sweet time in reaching the horizon, but that's not what I'm talking about. Anxiety about the economy, politics, and terrorism dominate the headlines. For those of us on the left, climate change is the label we use for a whole rash of ecological concerns. We have burrowed so deeply into our depression that we cannot even contemplate a brighter future.

There are four candles burning on the dining room table this morning. They shine brightly and cut through the gloom. On a sunnier morning I'm pretty sure I wouldn't notice them.

Perhaps this winter's darkness is just what we need. Perhaps if our despair becomes intense enough we will throw off the covers of our indifference and do something. Or at least try.

Monday, December 20, 2010

After a big day....

Yesterday was a big day. I preached at the early service and then did an hour presentation for the Spokane Humanists. After a few hours at home I returned to the church for a Finance Team meeting. As I reflect on the day I note that taking on future responsibilities rarely seems daunting from the secure distance of two or three months time. Then, as the fateful day approaches, the sense of dread settles like morning fog. What was I thinking? It all went fine, I slept like a log, and this week won't require the same energy output.

In the news....

I just read about the trend in big business to enforce increasingly restrictive dress codes, including standards for underwear fabric ( I wish to offer a reassuring word to anyone seeking employment with such companies: Don't worry, I'm sure your new bosses will support independent thinking and personal initiative. Like the Army.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmoose!

There I was, sitting by the front window of the house when this enormous, dark brown mass eclipsed the light. In the familiar words of Clement Clarke Moore, Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. Well, OK. I took a moment or two to pull myself out of the chair and straighten my aching back. Then I looked out that window. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear? There's a moose in the yard! Come see, Sally Dear!

That's when in the kitchen there arose quite a clatter, Sally jumped when I yelled and knocked over a platter.

OK, enough. But it was cool. It's been several years since Bullwinkle stopped by our place for a visit. He didn't stay long today, in fact, Sally didn't make it to the window in time to see him.
But the evidence was there - a series of moose prints crossing our driveway and yard, just a few feet away from where I was sitting.

I worry when Nature and civilization come into contact, Nature doesn't often fare so well. I hope our big brown visitor makes it home for the holidays....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Approaching the Solstice

It's dark this morning, unusually so. A pineapple express is moving through the area, bringing with it warm temperatures and rain. So, despite the fact the sunrise was to occur a few minutes ago, there is no appreciable difference in the ambient light. The winter solstice is just a week away. The enclosing darkness will deepen just a bit more before the sun will again move slowly away from the southern horizon that has captivated it for the past months.

These weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with holiday parties and multiple activities at church. I welcome the busy and bustle, as it makes the dark days pass quickly. At the same time Evan reminded me yesterday of my advice to him not to regard life as something that will happen later... Today IS your life. Regard it as such.

Though my advice is usually more palatable when I'm dispensing it, I think I'll gratefully accept it this time and value these days for what they are. Too quickly the challenges of the moment will pass and I'll wistfully recall the good times when I was gainfully employed and fully engaged.

As the Longfellow poem exhorts: Let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate. Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Returns

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

I can almost hear Buck Owens and Roy Clark singing this dirge from the TV show Hee Haw. If you don't remember the show, it featured lots of actors and singers dressed up as bumpkins and simultaneously performing and lampooning Country Western music. Most of it wasn't very funny.

Today the bumpkins aren't just singing and acting. They're governing. And though I still don't find it amusing, I can hear the sounds of laughter emanating from executive suites and board rooms everywhere. The unprecedented infusion of corporate money into this election bought exactly what was intended: freedom from taxation and regulation for the richest of the rich and more power for the powerful.

The bumpkins are singing this morning. They think they've claimed a people's victory. But as been true so many times before, they've been used. And unlike the dems, who seem really reluctant to use their power to accomplish anything other than improving their standing in the polls (which did not work, again, by the way), the bumpkins will act to reduce taxes (on the wealthy) and reduce government (which might regulate the powerful). With another election victory or two the Right might just reach their goal of establishing a Christian Nation.

I'll try to be magnanimous. Maybe the bumpkins aren't stupid. Maybe they're just acting that way.

My gloom, however, is not feigned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nice Weekend

Megan and her friend Andrew were in Spokane for the weekend. We had a lovely visit, including some bicycle shopping, a session at the REI scratch and dent sale, and good food at the Spokane Farmer's Market, Two Seven, Maggie's and Anthony's. Megan convinced Andrew to come to the UU Chuch yesterday by trying to explain that our family wasn't religious, despite my vocation. I think he understood better after hearing my sermon, which was a reprise and expansion of one done in July about "What I Don't Believe". We had a full house for the second service, which felt really good.

The bicycle shopping episode brought up a challenge that I know I will face for the third time in my life. Megan looked at a bike at WheelSport, where I bought mine. She was somewhat surprised that I not only had their phone number in my speed dial, but that the guys greeted me by name when we entered the store. That fact, paired with my seeing several people I knew at the Farmer's Market led Megan to comment on how much I enjoy knowing people and being known. I resemble that remark.

When we moved from Lawrence, Kansas to Mount Vernon, Washington in 1998 I went from being a public figure to being a total unknown. For the first six months after our move I travelled back and forth between worlds, tripping to Kansas to complete my work, and back to Washington again. The contrast was striking. I was once recognized by the hotel clerk in Lawrence where I checked in very late one night after arriving on a delayed flight. In Washington I was totally unknown. In truth I enjoyed fame far more than anonymity.

I am completing the first quarter of my interim year at UUCS. I am fully engaged - a bit too much so - and enjoying my role. In nine months I will drop off the map again. There will be more time for my own pursuits, and more flexibility in Sally and my schedule. There will also be the experience of checking the email in-box again and again for the messages that never come, and being recognized by children in the grocery store who ask their parents, "Didn't we used to know that man?"

Like living without a steady income, I'm confident that I will eventually master the challenges of going incognito. Still, Megan's observations this weekend give me pause.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Late Summer Travels

Sally and I have taken a couple very nice, brief trips to mark the end of our cool Spokane summer. Last week we drove to Kennewick, picking up Megan, and then continued to Corvallis for a couple days with Erin. We had a lovely drive through the Columbia gorge. The low angle of the sun made the water appear deep blue green. Traffic wasn't difficult through Portland. We arrived in Corvallis and road our bikes the two miles from the hotel to Block 15, the shrine to micro-brewing that became my home away from home for the next three days.

While in Corvallis we were able to visit Erin's new house and meet, for the first time, her roommate Kyle. The farmer's market in Corvallis is always a hit, as is the opportunity to peruse the many lovely stores and shops downtown. My favorite acquisition this trip was a new stainless steel travel mug, the "JoeMo". It is really nice to drink from, and keeps the coffee very hot.

We returned from Corvallis via Hood River, where Megan, Sally and I met my brother Tom and his wife Debbie for dinner on Sunday evening and coffee on Labor Day morning.

After a couple days in Spokane Sally and I drove to Lethbridge, Alberta. We ate our way through eastern BC, and then joined Sally's engineering colleagues for an ag conference in Lethbridge. Though Lethbridge is said to be the sunniest locale in Canada, we arrived in a steady rain. I can't help but think of the parallel between this circumstance and those climate-change deniers who use snowstorms as "proof" against climate change. Anyway....

The program year at the church now begins in earnest. I think I'm ready, and know it will pass quickly. At my age a year isn't such a long sentence. There's no hope of parole, good behavior or not, so I'll just do my best, and try to enjoy the journey.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mid-Life Crisis

So is it too late for me to go ahead and have my mid-life crisis now?

Evan texted us last night from the Honda dealer where he was getting his car dropped off for service (again). As he waited for Angie to pick him up he looked at the new cars in the showroom (the real reason why car dealers even HAVE service departments) and saw the new Honda CR-Z Sport-Hybrid. He immediately fell in love, and I soon contracted the bug. Even Sally has been slightly infected.

So we are wondering whether it is our patriotic duty to trade in the Smart car we just bought in March for a CR-Z. Then we could trade it for the next gewgaw that comes our way. I can track the whole progression of purchases on my iPad (Yes, really). I guess we'll pass for the moment, hoping that perhaps the old Subaru will give up the ghost. I guess at my age a mid-life crisis requires quite a bit of rationalization.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Time out

There are many children who have experienced the words "time out" as a part of nonviolent discipline. "I think you need a time out." I'm pretty much in the same position. I'm tired after the summer long effort to establish my interim ministry. The hardest thing of late was to attend the Board retreat and to hear Board members talking about getting the year started. That's what I've been doing for two months! It felt a bit like the joker in PE class who would shout "One!" on your 7th sit-up.

So, I'm all set for a time out. I have had a few minor items to finish up, but the pace is different, as is the place. I'm at home, unshaven, and quite happy about the fact. My degree of satisfaction over having an unstructured day makes it abundantly clear: I needed a time out!

Friday, August 27, 2010


Yesterday was strange... Almost eerie. There were numerous wildfires west of Spokane, darkening the sky and filling the air with smoke. Sally and I willingly took the dogs for a walk, but soon got beyond the feeling that it was like camping. Or perhaps that was exactly what it was like... When you're near a campfire and can't seem to escape the smoke.

We were not alone in those feelings. Mister Cat was agitated, and kept seeking safe haven. He hid in the bottom of Sally's closet for a while, then went down to the basement and curled up under a table. Juni and Cayenne also seemed distraught. The house was warm as we headed for bed, but Ieft the windows closed to prevent even more smoke from entering.

Around midnight I got up with the dogs and noticed the freshening breeze. I opened the bedroom windows, and we all slept better from that point. This morning Cayenne "asked" to be fed before 6:30. Let's just say that almost never happens. We're all relieved that the smoke has cleared, at least for a while.

I can't help but think of and feel sorry for the Russian people, struggling to breathe day after day while the wildfires burn on. The Earth and it's forces are powerful and awe inspiring. Humility seems appropriate, and exceedingly rare.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For anyone still checking for posts...

I'm attempting a post from a mobile device. We'll see if this works.

As I stated in my last post, I've been narrowly focussed on my work at the UU Church of Spokane for the past 8 weeks. Things have gotten off to a good start, though I am clearly ready for a break.

I have many wonderful new friends, which has been the highlight of my work at UUCS. The "lowlight", I suppose, is that I find even the Unitarians to be more religious than I am. I guess that isn't terribly surprising, or particularly difficult.

Attendance has been good this summer, which is a rarity for UU churches, in which pretty much everyone, including the minister, take the summer off. The fall promises to be busy and challenging. A couple weeks of R&R in preparation for e next stint are most welcome.

I hope anyone who reads this (Hi, Arlene!) is well and enjoying the summer. I may post again over the next couple of weeks, depending on how busy I get doing nothing.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Free Weekend

I didn't have any responsibilities at church this weekend. This is the last time I'll be able to say that for 2 months. For the next 8 weekends my attention will be focused on the goings on at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane. The contract has been signed, and so it begins.

One of the realities of my life is the need for focus. On the one hand my mind races along at miles per second, while my attention gets stuck on work. The church for me is a bit like a tune that you get stuck in your head... I just can't escape it. So I end up focusing on one thing, but unable to properly focus on anything else. The short version of this, which you've already discovered, is that I can't blog creatively while I'm spending my intellectual capital on work.

I might try to add a post every now and then, but I'm afraid it will be thin for a while. Eight weekends on, then a couple off. Rinse. Repeat. I'm relatively confident I'll survive the 12 months ahead and come out of it with the desire to think about something else. Anything else. Check in once in a while, and set your alarm clock for July 1st, 2011.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


"I just vacuumed." Were we on Twitter you would read that phrase often, especially this time of year. Even more often you would read, "I need to vacuum." The dogs have been shedding at an incredible pace. ("You can't teach pace" - a phrase we're bound to hear during World Cup coverage in the days and weeks ahead.) I'm somewhat impressed the dogs can shed like this and still have hair. I know that I can't, not that you've noticed.

Shedding came to mind as my mind wandered back to the summer of '84 and our decision to move to California. We had no idea where we might live (though we were assured housing was no problem in the Bay Area!) and couldn't afford high moving costs. So we sold our stuff. Much of it wasn't of much value. Some pieces, notably bedroom furniture we had gotten from my grandmother, I have thought about with a degree of regret. A small degree. For the most part the shedding experience we went through turned out to be freeing. We had a whole lotta stuff we just didn't need. Whew, glad that's no longer a concern!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Summer of Uncertainty

The summer of 1974 was a time of uncertainty, bargaining, and ultimately resolve for us. I had decided to enroll in Matthew Fox's graduate program at Holy Names College in Oakland, known as the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality, or ICCS. Sally had encouraged me, stating that it seemed preferable to having me committed to a different type of institution.

Once the decision was made, we began the process of figuring out how the two of us, with our two little girls, would actually move from Wisconsin to California for the year. How would we support ourselves? Where would we live? What would we do with our possessions? One early thought was that I would ask the church I was serving for an academic year off, with the commitment to serve them for at least a year after completion of the program. This seemed a safer course of action than just dropping off the grid.

As we talked about and lived with the idea of proposing an agreement with the church we came to the conclusion that we were in a psychological bargaining phase. We were trying to hold on to some semblance of security to blunt the risk and impact of our decision. This phase ended when we considered the prospects of returning to a church that had been incredibly difficult to serve. How would that feel after the changes we would experience in our lives and insights? Thus we came to the conclusion that, despite how high and scary the precipice, the best course of action was to make the leap. I gave notice at church, and we began the process of cobbling together our financial resources while simultaneously shedding the material possessions we could not afford to move.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Beginning an Epic Journey

It started 26 years ago at St. Benedict Center in Madison, Wisconsin. I was a member of a committee that sponsored a stewardship conference featuring Douglas John Hall, author of The Steward: A Biblical Symbol Come of Age. Hall was really fantastic. He talked of all the wonderful stewardship going on in the world, and decried his sense that so little of it was happening in the church. His talk was not about the narrowly framed financial development many people had come to hear, but rather about bigger questions of life and what is worth living for.

As committee chair I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Doug Hall while in Madison. That too was a great experience. It rekindled the idealism in me that 6 years in conflicted churches had battered down. Then, in a life-defining moment, I went into the bookstore at the retreat center and bought the book: Original Blessing, by Matthew Fox.

I had read two other books by Matt Fox, both given to me by my internship supervisor, Larry Rezash in Yorkville, Illinois. I had been intrigued by their contrarian view of spirituality. Original Blessing went much further. It was like a spiritual manifesto, calling people to an entirely new view of themselves and the world. I couldn't put it down, or at least didn't want to. Back home in Appleton, Wisconsin, reading the book while putting off going to the office, I turned to the contact information for Matt Fox's graduate program in Oakland, California. I made the expensive, long-distance call and requested application materials.

During this little episode, Sally had been upstairs taking a nap with Erin and Megan, then 1 and 4 years of age. When Sally came downstairs I told her about calling California. Her simple reply: "When are we leaving?"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Time Flies...

It just occurred to me that this month marks the 25th anniversary of my graduate studies with Matthew Fox at Holy Names College. Interestingly enough, that fact came to mind as I was recalling a chant that we used at several rituals that were part of the program. The same chant was referenced in the website of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), an organization that is affiliated with the UU Church of Spokane where I've been working. As I read the words of the chant, the music came back to me. "How long has it been?" I mused. Then, to my surprise, I realized it has been twenty-five years.

I have related some of the stories of that year to our kids from time to time. Given that this is the 25th anniversary of that year's completion, I think I'll do my best to recall some of the events of that year that so shaped and informed our lives over the subsequent quarter of a century.

But not now.... Gotta jump on my bike and ride downtown to "pick up" Sally for the ride home from work. Apparently time flies whether or not you're having a good time, though truth is, I haven't had enough bad times to know if that makes any difference. How fortunate I've been!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"I'm as mad as Hell..."

In the 1976 film, Network, anchorman Howard Beale goes off on one of the all-time great rants, calling his viewers to throw open the windows and shout, "I'm as mad as Hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" Then says Beale, the solutions to all our problems will emerge.

I couldn't avoid thinking of this movie after watching a speech by Joanna Macy last night. Macy is a famed Buddhist scholar, environmental activist, and graduate of Wellesley (I know, Megan...friends don't let friends go to Wellesley.) In her speech at the 2009 Bioneers event, Macy went on a rant of her own, accompanied by video images of the birds fish and mammals placed at risk by human activity. She urged her audience to get angry at this horrible devastation (even before BP's Deep Horizon mega-disaster), that the solution to all our problems might emerge. From our anger.

Macy was clear in identifying where the problem was centered: Them, and who serves as the allies of life and all that is sacred: Us. How original. How helpful.

My problem was that I couldn't listen to Joanna Macy, a writer I have admired, without also hearing Sarah Palin, who I can't stomach. The "Tea Party" is a Howard Beale-esque, mad-as-Hell movement. Terrorism springs from the same source. "I'm as mad as Hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore." Actions often follows this exclamation, but are rarely characterized as solutions to anything.

So let's talk. More so, let's listen. Let's try to understand the perspectives, opinions and feelings of others before they feel compelled to throw open the windows and scream. Let's do what we can to resist anger's siren call. Will remaining calm make everything better? Of course not, but at least it won't make things worse.

I'm sorry, Dr. Macy, but your call to heated emotions and expressions left me cold.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Indy 500

An important feature of Memorial Day weekend is, of course, rain. We have it today, alternately misting, then sprinkling. Not much pouring to report, but the day is young. Over the weekend Sally and I attended a family camp north of Spokane, and it rained all day. To tell you the truth, it just seemed natural. I've spent so many Memorial Day weekends sitting in the rain that I scarcely notice anymore.

Once again this year I did not travel back to Indianapolis for the 500. That's also become a tradition, much like my brother Dick missing the family Thanksgiving gathering because of the opening of goose season. I actually thought about attending the race this year. I have two tickets reserved and paid for. Evan and I thought about a trip. However, that was before my precipitous decision to drive back to Indiana for Butler's appearance in the Final Four.

So, I watched the race from the comfort of a dry chair in Spokane. It was entertaining enough. There was intrigue at the beginning ("Florence Henderson is still alive? Jim Nabors is still alive? Tom Carnegie is still alive?") and drama at the end: The dominant car in the race was driven by a Scotsman named Dario Franchitti. No, the drama was NOT figuring out how a guy named Dario Franchitti ended up with a Scottish accent. The drama was Franchitti's figuring out just how slowly he could drive without being passed.

"What?" you may ask. "The drama was seeing how slowly he could win?"

I know, it sounds more like Sally and I trying to maximize gas mileage in Sheldon the SmartCar than it does the Indy 500. In truth it was a similar scenario ("scenario" is a Scottish word that means "libretto"). Franchitti didn't have enough fuel to finish the race at racing speed, so he kept driving slower and slower while carefully looking in his rearview mirror for his pursuers. The rearview mirror, as you may know, was first installed on an Indianapolis racer in 1911, featured on Ray Harroun's victorious Marmon Wasp. Harroun used his rearview mirror in the effort to go fast, safely, whereas Franchitti employed it in the attempt to win the race as slowly as possible.

In all humility, I anticipated this surprising outcome in a parody of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are a Changin' I wrote for a pre-race party years ago:

Pop-off valves on the cars keep them from going fast
Override it and you're liable to run out of gas
So the last shall be first and the first shall be last
It's a wonder that they call it racin'
Are the great days of Indianapolis past?
Oh the times they are a changin'

Times have changed. Like Soviet octogenarians propped up on the Kremlin wall to oversee the May Day parade, the ancient figures featured at the beginning of the telecast are still wheeled out to perform their familiar tasks ("Mary Hulman George is still alive?"). But the race has changed. They actually installed a limited use "pass button" on the cars this year to try to make the race exciting. (Imagine that... they tried to make an automobile race exciting.) But as Dario Franchitti's car rounded each turn yet more slowly, we knew that the Indy 500 had lost its luster. We employed our own "pass button" - the one on the TV remote. Thankfully there was a poker tournament on ESPN2.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Yesterday was a nice day to ride. That's saying a lot, given our very cool Spring. I rode to the UU church for the first time for a staff meeting. It really isn't all that far - just over seven and a half miles - but it required me to ride elsewhere. Isn't it interesting how going someplace new is both exciting and a bit daunting, as if there would be trolls under the bridge or ogres in the forest? Truth is, there were cars, and potholes, and hills, but not as many of any as to make the ride unpleasant. I'll do it again.

After a few hours at church I rode downtown and met Sally for the ride back up South Hill. Once home I brought in the laundry and Sally mowed the yard. We took the dogs for a short walk and then rode our bikes down to the Two Seven Public House for dinner and good beer. I had a pint of a hoppy cask ale from local brewery Northern Lights, and Sally had an Elysian Dragonstooth Stout. She couldn't resist the name, but the beer was pretty tasty as well.

At this point our strategy began to pay off. It is really nice to ride a bike home from the pub rather than wondering whether you're "OK to drive." We weren't tipsy, but didn't have to worry about it. Well, I suppose we were putting ourselves at risk, but what's the fear of an excruciating death when you're trying to avoid a DWI citation? I told Sally that we were beercycling, which seemed pretty funny at the time. Then we saw a guy on a tricked out Schwinn cruiser dangling a cigarette from his mouth as he passed in front of us. "He's bycigling" I said. "Maybe he should try Nicoride instead."

It all seemed pretty funny last night. It must have been something I ate.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Plum Cake

Last summer, at the height of the harvest, Sally halved, partially dried and froze some Italian plums for use in a favorite dessert, plum cake, based on Marion Barros' Original Plum Torte (recipe here). We love the cake, and decided we didn't want to wait for another harvest season to enjoy it. Today, for the first time, we made the cake using the partially dried, frozen fruit. The cake came out perfectly, and topped with creme fraiche is a taste delight. The plums?

Well, frankly, they were just a bit tougher than fresh plums, and also had a richer flavor. I told Sally that, made with fresh fruit, the recipe is indeed "plum cake." As such it would be well received at pot luck meals and other gatherings. Made with the dried fruit we'd have to call it "prune cake" and it might not be so popular.

Sally replied perhaps, given our age and that of our friends, prune cake might turn out to be more welcome than you'd think.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Toyota to Invest $50m in Tesla

Oh boy! Now you can unintentionally go from zero to sixty in 3.9 seconds!

Longing for the North... or Way South

It froze again last night. In anticipation of the event we covered the asparagus bed, the basil, and the flowers in front of the house. Sure enough, the sheet on the asparagus bed was frozen this morning, as were the tops of two of the tallest spears.

For the most part I love being a northerner. My tender skin has never handled sunlight very well, and thankfully, we don't have that much of it up here. I appreciate the northern European cultural mix that characterizes our region, as well as the bookishness that goes hand in hand with staying inside by the fire all winter. Besides, I just can't do the South. I used to love fried foods, but find my tastes are changing, excepting that little bit of fried salmon skin in the makizushi.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened had the South won the Civil War. The end of slavery would have come, but probably much later and at greater human cost. But going forth the Northern Union could have developed a society, culture and state free from the baggage of southern xenophobia. The problem is, Indiana might not have remained intact, and my kin hailed from the portion of that state that probably would have ended up in the South. And I would have lived to gaze longingly north toward the border, wishing I were from elsewhere, say, from British Columbia. Oh...never mind.

By the way, there was an excellent article about New Zealand on BBC this week. Here is a link.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Look at the Grass

My mother taught me, "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Gift of a Spring Day

Pink dogwood blossoms
Reach skyward to spring sunlight
As if butterflies

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rhythms and Cycles

I've never been all that interested in efforts to characterize human behavior and action by use of biorhythms and the like. True, I have experienced circadian rhythms and being affected by the loss of daylight hours known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Beyond that I'm pretty skeptical.

So how come I can go days, or even weeks feeling physically tired and mentally uninspired, and then have a burst of inspiration and energy? What's up with that?

Yesterday, ideas seemed to bubble up in my head faster than I could describe them to Sally or even write them down. I was on creative overdrive, and neither coffee nor alcohol were involved, at least no more than usual. I wish I could figure out what tripped the switch so I could trip it again on occasion. Or perhaps I could bottle it and make it available to family and friends. You interested?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Asparagus and Impatiens

Sally is undeniably the gardener of the family. Her childhood among the fruit groves of western Colorado shaped her view of the world and her place in it. Asparagus is another thing. In Grand Junction, Colorado, the asparagus grew wild along the unlined banks of the irrigation canals throughout the valley. I remember one late April day when we went out with a bread wrapper and came home with beautiful asparagus spears. Sally had an eye for it. We'd drive along a road or ditch, and she'd see the telltale ferns that were the previous year's mature growth. She'd call for me to stop the car, and in just a few moments we had fresh asparagus.

The first time I realized Sally had this talent was the spring we were married in 1977. We were living in Yorkville, Illinois, where I was completing my student internship. One day, driving along a country road, Sally called for me to stop the car, whereupon she bounded toward a fence row, emerging with asparagus spears.

I was amazed, both at her ability to spot it, and the fact that I actually enjoyed eating it. Fresh asparagus, I learned, is entirely different from the horrid canned goop I had previously, and correctly, rejected.

So we have an asparagus bed out back, in addition to our fruit trees. This is the third year for our asparagus roots, and the spears are coming up thick, lovely, and delicious.

Though I have ceded the vegetable gardening garlands to Sally, I have found my niche. I am in charge of the impatiens in the planter box in front of the house. We only have impatiens there because they do best in the utter absence of sunlight on our north side. On two occasions we have planted begonias, but find that the brown litter from their spent blossoms is unsightly. Impatiens seem to grow quite well in the little planter, and add a lovely touch to our otherwise plain front yard. I call them my green babies.

Impatiently, and impetuously, I planted the impatiens more than a week ago. This week's cold overnight temperatures found me spreading plastic sheets over the planter to fend off the freeze. With the exception of one plant, which fell victim to it's location near the seam in my coverage scheme, my impatiens are alive and well. Summer will come soon enough, marked by luscious green foliage and lovely white blossoms. While we patiently await their emerging splendor, we'll content ourselves by munching on asparagus. And rhubarb. And then raspberries! And apricots...and....

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What do you know? How do you know it?

I'm reading a book that has me reeling. The book is Whole Earth Discipline, by Stewart Brand. I heartily recommend it to anyone willing to have their world turned upside down.

It all started with an NPR interview I heard on Science Friday. I just heard the last few minutes of the segment, but it was enough to pique my interest. First of all, Stewart Brand was talking about our concept of time, and a project to build a 10,000 year clock. Cool. Then Brand, an aging green leftist, chided aging green leftists for their failure to embrace all we might be learning from younger generations of technologically savvy, less dogmatic environmentalists. In light of some challenging discussions and arguments I've had with the kids, I thought I might benefit from learning more.

Though The Clock of the Long Now was interesting, it didn't set me back on my haunches. Whole Earth Discipline did. I haven't completed it yet, but it's already dominating my thoughts.
Just to give you an inkling, Brand writes of the simple observation that those who know the most about climate change are the most worried about it, while those who know the most about nuclear energy are the least worried about it's use. From that point Brand argues that, with growing awareness of climate change, all of our preconceptions about energy, technology and the future should be reevaluated. Compelling stuff.

Taking a step back, I'm thinking about how I have come to the particular set of beliefs about life and the world that I possess. Not doing the research myself, I trusted the insights of others. Once convinced, I allowed their convictions to become my dogma. All further investigations were then gauged against what I already had come to believe. I'm like a little FOX News viewer in reverse. Eeewwww!

Stewart Brand confronts a number of my prejudices, including those about urbanization, population growth, nuclear power, and genetically modified foods. I'm not absolutely sure I agree with him, but it's clear to me that his arguments should be considered, rather than being rejected out of hand because they conflict with what I have come to believe.

Back in the day it was said, "Only Nixon could go to China." Only a Republican, and a bona fide anti-communist at that, could have promoted the idea of normalizing relations with China without a huge backlash from the right. The same dynamic applies to Stewart Brand. He's about as green as they get, a student of population biologist Paul Ehrlich and the founder and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. It takes someone with his credentials to effectively puncture our liberal balloons. If you're secure enough to have your preconceptions challenged, you might give him a read.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Weather

It seems to me that if spring didn't follow winter, we wouldn't think that much of it. Sure, the sun is higher in the sky, and the daylight lasts longer, but what we see in that extended light? Yesterday 60 mile per hour wind gusts scoured eastern Washington. Trees were uprooted or broken off throughout the area, pulling down power lines and blocking streets. Then, in the wake of the storm, temperatures fell below freezing last night. Concern for my green babies got me out of bed to spread plastic sheets over the planters in front. I'm hoping the fruit trees won't be damaged. Tonight will be colder still.

I shouldn't complain. Tennessee has epic flooding, and the entire Gulf of Mexico is covered with British Petroleum. I think my mood is more a result of Sally being in Olympia for the week than it is the weather. The forecast is for dark and lonely until her return Friday evening.

In the meantime, I should take spring for what it is. I'll get out and enjoy the sunbreaks, but take along a jacket and hat. Stifling summer heat will be here before we know it, and being human, we'll look back on these changeable spring days with a sense of longing.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Walk in the Park

Just three blocks away from our house sits Hamblen Park, a natural area that comprises two rectangular blocks south of 37th Avenue. The park is crisscrossed with trails regularly used by folks walking their dogs, as well as by kids on dirt bikes jumping their self-styled ramps. Partly out of the desire to avoid too much dog socialization, and partly out of habit, we too often walk around the park instead of venturing through it. Lately we've changed our habit.

This afternoon I sauntered out with the dogs, and took my camera along. The light wasn't the best - we've been having "springlike" weather, which means being attracted outside by brilliant
sunshine, only to have it rain by the time you change your shoes - but I snapped some photos anyway. The little park is vibrant with native wildflowers, including the ubiquitous yellow arrowleaf balsamroot. Above the yellow carpet stand the syringa, lifting their delicate, white blossoms and sweet scent. Above it all, reaching for the broken clouds and fleeting blue sky stand the Ponderosa pines.

In the undergrowth you might see Valley Quail, quiet for a change as they creep through the grass to safety from the dogs.

I read an article at this week detailing how even brief periods of exercise in a park or other "green" setting can boost your mental health. It sure works for me! So how about you? Find your spot, and tell me about it. Or just find it. Knowing you're doing well is good enough for me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reflection of a Gray Morning

The image came to me as I was sorting the laundry. There was a news item recently about WIN High Performance Sport Detergent, specially designed to removed the bacteria and odors associated with intense exercise. I'm not doing a commercial for them. But it did get me thinking....

Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

-Isaiah 1:18 (NRSV)

I don't view my sins as scarlet. I've been pretty fortunate in my life. I had a stable family life, and pretty good genes. My circumstances haven't placed me in temptation's way, at least not in many of the major temptation categories. As a result I haven't done much scarlet type sinning.

What if your sins are just kind of musty? That's what speaks to me. The mustiness of my life is a problem at times. I read the paper and get disillusioned and feel disempowered. Haliburton announced today that the cement job they did 20 hours before BP's drilling rig exploded had been "in accordance with accepted industry practice approved by our customers." Golly, their customers approve! I'm so grateful they didn't have to comply with any socialist, big-government regulations that might have impacted their bottom line! Much better to impact the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Where was I? Oh yeah, how can I keep from sliding quietly into cynicism and despair? How do we avoid becoming numb in the face of all that is going on? How do we avoid compassion fatigue?

I'm not thinking I need bleach. I just need to find ways to become refreshed and reinvigorated. I need my colors brightened.

Well, writing helps. And talking with others. And chocolate, beer, dogs, bicycles, good music, gardening, going for walks, and counting my blessings. Yes, and being honest about my life and feelings.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. Do you have a novena for mustiness?

I'm going to pass on the WIN Detergent, at least until I get active enough to work up more of a sweat. Come to think of it, working up a sweat might be a good idea. I'll try to type faster.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Beltane Eve

It's hard having your birthday coincide with a holiday. While everyone else gets to celebrate both the holiday in question and their birthday, those of us with birthdays on the holiday have the celebrations fused. We always are left imagining what we're missing.

For example, I've always felt strange about my birthday falling on Beltane Eve. While others are out cavorting around campfires and celebrating the thinning of the veil between worlds, I'm often stuck with a piece of cake and a half-hearted rendition of "Happy Birthday." Alas.

* * * * * * *

For those of you not in the know, Beltane is a cross-quarter day, falling roughly halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Cross-quarter days were observed as pagan holidays in Sweden, Norway, Finland, England and Ireland, and continue to be observed as neopagan holidays. In fact, we often celebrate these days, though without our full awareness as to their origins. The first cross-quarter day on our annual calendar, Imbolc, falls around February 2nd, which we observe as Groundhog Day. Beltane, around May 1st, is May Day. November 1st, Samhain, is observed as Halloween, and August 1st, Lughnasadh, is... usually... hot.

My mom told me that I was born so close to midnight that there was some question whether to list April 30th or May 1st as my birthday. Beltane Eve or Beltane. Either way, there was a thinning of the veils which I'll observe again tonight (I'm guessing beer will be involved -- most likely Tricerahops Double IPA from Ninkasi Brewing Company). And then tomorrow I'll walk or ride through the neighborhood, noting the beginnings of leaves on the Hawthorne and Mountain Ash trees, other sure signs that we've reached a cross-quarter day, and a change of seasons.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Betty's Plea

University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. - Henry Kissinger

I'll grant you, it was an awkward moment. In a tiny office, no bigger than a typical guest bedroom, two committees were meeting to discuss detailed remodeling plans. The Art and Architecture Committee was certain that any changes to the historic structure were within their purview.

The Trustees were gathered at the other "end" of the room. They were charged with the maintenance and upkeep of the facility, as well as the financial oversight of the organization. If money was to be spent upgrading an office, it would be at their behest.

The two groups were each tightly circled around their respective drawings of the office. Like strange bedfellows or kids in the back seat guarding their side of "the line", they were self-consciously avoiding any contact, eye or otherwise.

And in between the two groups was a rather frantic Betty, wringing her hands and intoning, again and again, "Someone needs to mediate!"

Alas, mediation is only effective when people or groups are as committed to finding a workable solution as they are to vanquishing the enemy. We've learned that lesson, again and again, from Israel/Palestine, Russia/Chechnya, England/Ireland, Shiite/Sunni, Hutu/Tutsi, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State, and all varieties of NIMBY's. Groups are assembled, each seeking their exclusive victory, while well-meaning Betty's circles betwixt and between, pleading for peace.

"Can't we all just get along?"

I guess not, though we can pass concealed carry laws to allow the members of these groups to arm themselves, you know, just in case. But we'll provide no public option for health insurance for the wounded. Apparently both stupidity and the predilection to violence are pre-existing conditions.

In retrospect it's good that the groups in the church office that day weren't armed. Betty's plea went unanswered. Instead it was the Golden Rule that prevailed: Them that has the gold makes the rules. The Trustees had the budget on their side, a fact which trumped the aesthetics of the opposition. And the office? When all was said and done it was, indeed, small.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living in Wine Country

I have never considered myself a wine connass...coiness...conassew...lover. Years ago I read and appreciated advice on how best to enjoy fine, California wines: pick up the bottle, break the neck over a rock, wait for the glass to settle to the bottom, take a swig and yell, "Yeehaw!"

Sally and I briefly took advantage of living in California wine country in 1985 by visiting several wineries in the Napa Valley. The tours were interesting -- I learned that a "punt" was something other than a football play -- and we even found a wine we liked: Beringer Chardonnay. After our tour of the winery and tasting, we bought a case. Only later did we discover that the same wine was available at our local grocery store for $2 per bottle less than the bargain we got at the winery. Kinda took the shine off things for us.

Well here we are in wine country again. Washington wines are gaining a wonderful reputation, and the industry has had an economic impact statewide. Small, eastern Washington towns that once boasted only a gas station and a grain elevator are now destinations on trendy wine tours. Who saw that coming?

Sally and I have again gotten swept up in the movement. At a nice dinner with Megan and friends in Richland, Sally ordered a glass of Washington Malbec with her meal. I ordered a Cabernet. In comparing tastes, we both preferred the Malbec. That was surprising mostly because I generally prefer drier red wines than does Sally. We both liked the Malbec.

After a quick bit of research on-line, I have learned that Malbec is one of six grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot) included in red wine blends from Bordeaux in France, called by the same name. In Great Britain such blends are called Clarets (yes, you sound the "t"). International trade agreements now prohibit using names of French regions for wines grown abroad, and require licensing fees for other names, such as "Claret". As a result, red wine blends in the US combining the varieties of grapes associated with Bordeaux wines have been given other names, including Meritage (rhymes with heritage).

Though decent Malbec varietal wines are available from Argentina, Malbec is relatively rare, and thus expensive, as a Washington varietal. It is, however, commonly used in Washington clarets and Meritages. Sally and I, typically low brow, were drawn to another appellation: Freddie's Blend.

No, not Fred Meyer. Turns out that "Freddie" is Federique Spencer, and that she is a respected winemaker and master blender at Sagelands Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. We really like the Sagelands Bordea...clare...Merita... uh, Blend. It sounds like something we would drink, doesn't it? Freddie's Blend. And so, disguised as low brows, Sally and I are now secret connoisseurs, enjoying a really fine Washington wine. Pass the pretzels, would you?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Slowkey Pokey

Yet another cat tail, er, tale....

I decided this morning that Mister has been dancing, for at least the past 6 years, a very slow version of the Hokey Pokey. We first noticed him shaking his tail all about. Then his collar-shaking emerged as a primary means of summoning our attention and directing our activities. In the past few days he has begun shaking his left rear leg as he descends the basement stairs. Eventually, by the time he has used all his nine lives, he will have gotten to the point of putting his "whole self in and shake it all about."

By the way, I learned that there is some controversy about the name of the little dance we in the US call Hokey Pokey. Other names range from Hokey Cokey and Okey Cokey in Great Britain, to Buggy Wuggy in Denmark (probably pronounced "cyoo"), to Hokey Tokey in New Zealand where they don't want the dance to be confused with the popular ice cream flavor. So, when the cat performs it we shall term it the Slowkey Pokey, given the years it's taken him to get to one leg.

As long as we are considering cross-cultural awareness, it might be helpful to note that controversy isn't pronounced "controversy" throughout the English speaking world, and that in Denmark it's probably pronounced "cyoo".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

20 Years Ago

This afternoon I was telling Sally about an article I read by an astrophysicist, detailing how some early images from the Hubble Telescope totally invalidated his post-doctoral work. Sally remarked that it's helpful to note that others experience the sense of their carefully planned work having gone for nought. I stated my sense that such experiences are common, and then asked, "What were we worrying about 20 year ago today?"

On April 25, 1990, we were well into our fourth month in Lincoln, Nebraska. We had moved to Lincoln from Aurora, Colorado at the beginning of February, and were probably just familiarizing ourselves with the city. Megan was in the fourth grade, and Erin in first grade at Calvert Elementary School. Evan had yet to turn 4 years old. Though part of the justification of our move to Lincoln was our proximity to the University of Nebraska School of Agricultural Engineering, Sally had yet to act on her interest.

Most of my memories of the time are centered on my work, where I was trying to establish myself as the new Associate Conference Minister in Nebraska. We also were planning a big summer trip west. I was to be the keynote speaker at the West Regional Youth Event at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Our route took us through Spokane, where we tried to dry out our tent after a wet night at Glacier National Park. Our route home took us through the Washington Tri-Cities.

In those days we didn't spend much time worrying about how Sally's engineering career would work out, though it has proven much more important to our family than my work in ministry. We drove through Spokane and spent time at Forest Grove. We drove within a mile of Megan's present home in Kennewick, yet none of that was on our radar, nor could it have been. Had some time traveler attempted to tell us then how our lives would unfold, we'd have never believed them for a moment.

So what were we worrying about 20 years ago today? It seems to have slipped my mind. The only trace it has left in passing is the reminder to ask myself today, "What are you worrying about...and how much does it really matter?"