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.