Surprising as it is ...

If you knew me in the olden days, you might now wonder if the aliens captured me and put a different brain in my head. But the fact is that I agree with the things Bill Moyers says on this clip. I agree that there are some Ideals which are legitimate American issues of social justice.

We ought not to have water fountains inaccessible to some racial groups or voting booths inaccessible to women. We ought not to have humans owned by other humans, and we ought not to have some people barred from education. We ought to have liberty and justice for all. "A good business model" is not a good model for families, churches, or medicine, and the profit motive is a pernicious and insidious cancer in places where the care of people's bodies and souls are at stake. A country compassionate enough to send billions of dollars to alleviate suffering around the globe ought to be a country compassionate enough to make sure her own people do not pay for health with bankruptcy.
This gives me lot of hope. Maybe store brand organic products is as good a sign as it seems to be. Maybe the 100-mile Diet challenge is having ripple effects, and maybe it's a good sign that popular cinema includes a movie about the Queen of Good Food at Home, Julia Child. Maybe we're going to figure it out. Maybe soon.



For twenty-five years, I have stubbornly, persistently, doggedly pursued courage. I have consciously decided, over and over and over, that my children are at least as qualified as I am (and probably more so) to choose, evaluate, choose again, and live their lives. When they were learning to walk and suddenly fell, they looked up at me with a question on their faces. "Am I hurt?" I still do what I did then. My face always - always - no matter what shuddering or weeping I do in private - my face always answers back, "You're fine, honey. Just get up again." And then, trusting that they will get up again whenever they're ready, I turn my back and calmly resume my own business. Kids are smart. They know you didn't mean it if you worry after you've said you're not worried. You have to live your trust.This stubborn habit of a quarter of a century was easier at first. I'm glad I did a lot of babysitting when I was a girl. I got a lot of practice before I had to be the mom. I started babysitting for other families when I was just 10 years old. I've been in the Child Whisperer business for almost 40 years now. I know, when a tiny child falls the 10 or 12 inches to the floor or sidewalk, a bandaid or a reassuring hug will fix it. And, in fact, most children stop checking to see if they're hurt. They learn very quickly to ignore their fears and trust the next step. Usually.

I had one kid who took a damned long time to learn this. I thought he'd never figure out that being hurt once did not mean that the universe had become a malevolent place. If you fall off your bike, the bike is not out to get you. It is, in fact, entirely predictable - what happens on a bike follows the laws of physics, and these are laws a kid can learn only through experience.

Eventually, he figured it out. He was seventeen when he told me that he remembered all the times I had told him, "You're okay. Just get up again," and how angry he had been that I had refused to see the problem. At seventeen, he said, "But you were right. Really, all anyone has to do is just keep going for it until you get there." He was okay all along. All he had to do was get up again.
This is the stuff of parenting magazines. If you live in a cul-de-sac, or in an urban apartment, and if you home school or send your kids on a bus each weekday - if you buy jello at the grocery store and fuss about how long waiters take with your food at the TGI Friday's - then, "You're all right. Just get up again," makes some sense.

But what about now? What about the sick-making reality of my daughter's life now? She sees the statistics and gives the reports and knows how many more of her battalion are dead today. The guys whose vehicle crashed - and the ones who burned to death in their Stryker. This is her reality. Every day she wakes up (on the days preceded by a night's sleep) and she faces the new information. The new information is not happy. It's not safe. Another one of these guys died. August has been a bad month for American troops in Afghanistan.
Is she okay now? What do I say to her? How do I admit to the horror of her reality and still keep saying, "You're okay. Just get up again?" Is it even still true? For a person who does not and will not turn a deaf ear to the things all around her, is it still true?I know her. I know she feels every wrong thing about her own team. I know she sees every logical inconsistency and philosophical dysfunction. She also sees the people who live in the land she's visiting as people. She's a soldier who sees people. What can I possibly say?

I say this. I say, "You're okay. Just get up again." This will be what I say to my children for as long as I draw breath because it is always true. For a moment, it seems like you are not okay whenever you refuse to follow the laws of physics - or integrity. You're not okay if you argue with reality - or with honesty. It's no wonder soldiers have psychological wounds. Reality is incomprehensible yet denying it unhinges a man - or a woman.
Right now, I know she is okay. I know this because she admits reality. She rails at it and mourns it and still she does her job with efficiency every day. When she was learning to walk, she put one foot in front of the other, rarely toppled over, and chanted her own little baby mantra of, "Ca-foo. Ca-foo." Her whole life, she's been careful - or not. Cautious - or thrown caution to the wind to see what would happen. And she always figures it out. Every fall from her bike has been okay because bikes - and people - and even cultures and wars - obey their own laws. Falling teaches us how to get up again.

I could not do what she does every day. But she can. She's okay. I calmly turn and tend my own work, and I know that she's okay. She knows how to get up again.


Yay for us!

Okay, I'll be honest. I'd like to tell you that this is a little entry that is a good example of the calm reasoning I've been talking about. But really, this is just a "yay for us!" post. You can read the whole article here but this is the part I like the best:

Seven Myths About Alternative Energy by Michael Grunwald
The biggest obstacles to efficiency are the perverse incentives that face most utilities; they make more money when they sell more power and have to build new generating plants. But in California and the Pacific Northwest, utility profits have been decoupled from electricity sales, so utilities can help customers save energy without harming shareholders. As a result, in that part of the country, per capita power use has been flat for three decades — while skyrocketing 50 percent in the rest of the United States. If utilities around the world could make money by helping their customers use less power, the U.S. Department of Energy wouldn't be releasing such scary numbers.

Chicken Little is not a reliable source

A very interesting report this morning. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing here. There is no way to tell if fear will once again swallow reason in its white noise and strobe light, but maybe this will be the moment when we figure a few things out. Maybe we ought to act like humans and not like threatened lionesses who cannot understand that everything is okay. Maybe. So far, we aren't doing too well. So far, we have let fear keep us from reason.

"It's really a case of deja vu," he says. "You hear in today's debate echoes of the past that extend all the way to the early part of the 20th century. And I think the reason that people use fear again and again is that it's effective. It's worked to stop health reform in the past. And so they're going to try and use it in the present."

History Of Scare Tactics

Oberlander says opponents used scare tactics the very first time the idea of national health insurance was broached — around 1915 — by tying would-be reformers to the nation's then-greatest international threat.

"They said that national health insurance was a plot by the German emperor to take over the United States," he says.

The next effort to remake the health system came during the late 1940s. This time the opposition, led by the American Medical Association, exploited the newest fears. "They said if we adopted national health insurance, the Red army would be marching through the streets of the U.S.; they said this was the first step toward communism," Oberlander says.

By the time the Clinton administration took on the health effort, the power of the American Medical Association was fading. But now a new opponent took its place — the health insurance industry. It ran ads using an ordinary looking couple, named Harry and Louise, to raise doubts among middle-class Americans about how the Clinton plan might hurt rather than help them.

Says Oberlander, "The opponents have changed over time; the tactic of relying on fear and scaring Americans has not."

The Science Of Fear

But exactly why is fear such an effective tactic? Simple biology, says Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neuroscience at New York University.

It turns out that fear is a very primitive response, and "once fear is aroused in your brain, it tends to take over and dominate," LeDoux says. A brain paralyzed by fear is unable to think other things through.

Chicken Little was invested in his viewpoint too. He was just wrong, that's all. The sky wasn't really falling. But a whole bunch of others believed him.

Chicken Little was in the woods.
A seed fell on his tail.

He met Henny Penny and said,
"The sky is falling.
I saw it with my eyes.
I heard it with my ears.
Some of it fell on my tail."

He met Turkey Lurkey, Ducky Lucky,
and Goosey Loosey.
They ran to tell the king.

They met Foxy Loxy.

They ran into his den,
And they did not come out again.



New trick:

Shred a pile of zucchini

Let it sit there so the water starts to come out of it

Wring it dry in a kitchen towel

Toss it with flour, lemon pepper and salt

Fry mounds of it in olive oil until crisp on each side (turn once)

Drain on paper towels


Juicy without being slimy. Full of flavor. Salty enough without added salt or sauce or dip or whatever. Crisp edges with little zucchini shreds off the sides all browned and crunchy.


Anne's dad

The dancing, smart work of Anne Fadiman in her small volumes of familiar essays is the sort of writing most deeply satisfying to my soul. As I said before, she's Interrupt the Husband worthy. I love, love, love her work.

She came by her linguistic artistry through both nature and nurture, and her essays that include her family are laugh-out-loud delicious.

Her dad was Clifton Fadiman, US author, editor, & radio host (1904 - 1999), one of the twentieth century’s foremost critics, essayists, and anthologists, he viewed his primary occupation as reading–or, as he liked to put it, “the odd, parochial mania for decoding black squiggles on white paper.” The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction offers a Clifton Fadiman Medal to "to recognize a work of fiction by a living American author that is deserving of rediscovery and a wider readership."

Clifton Fadiman said stuff like this:
When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.

and a personal favorite:

For most men life is a search for the proper manila envelope in which to get themselves filed.



Doing nothing is very hard to do ... you never know when you're finished.
Leslie Nielsen
That was a quote on my home page yesterday. It made me laugh because that is precisely what I have been doing for the past week. I had big plans - but I've been doing nothing. I hope to be finished with it today, though. I'm off to the Chinese Medicine people who will, I deeply hope, make my shoulder and neck cease their joint attempt to turn me into a pretzel. Sleeping in the recliner in the living room is a novelty that has lost its fascination.

Being up all night, neither able to sleep, nor to read (can't hold a book), nor to write (at desk chair, computer, or with a pen in a journal - same reason), and equally immobile during the daylight hours as in the dark, has meant more time than usual looking at the television. Thus, I was awake and watching last night as the announcement about Ted Kennedy came over the airwaves (are the satellites sending "air" waves to my dish? is that as obsolete as "don't touch that dial?") The whole Kennedy family doesn't so much fade away as flame out. No one ever accused any of them of doing nothing. RIP, sir. Heaven will be heaven indeed if even the hyper-vigorous sons of Joe and Rose find rest within its glories.Thinking about Ted Kennedy and all his active relatives makes me think about the interviews with Maria Shriver I've read. The whole family has a pulse of (often too idealistic, ever demanding, perfectionistic, but real) noblesse oblige coursing through their veins. Although we might argue what right old Joe had to the notion of nobility (has the world ever seen a more thoroughly American entrepreneurial opportunist?), the truth of the matter must include the years of service the family has given. Public service. Service to the country.

The country is going to bury another of Rose and Joseph's sons right in the middle of another national shouting match over the "rights" and "role" of "government." This time it's health care again. Yelling desk pounders and ideologues and fear mongers on all sides are pumped up and ready to lend their energy to the noise, and eventually things will settle into a consensus of sorts. That's what we do in America. We brawl in the school yard, but then the bell rings and we go back to school. (We also organize soccer games and play four square, hopscotch and catch in those school yards, and we do that a lot more than we fight.)I've been thinking about the things we have in this land governed by the people for the people, where we pledge our allegiance to liberty and justice for all. You'd never know it if you listened to one side of the crowd currently shouting, "fight! fight! fight!" but the fact is that this land has decided on several occasions that some stuff is public. We want some things to belong to everyone. We all believe in noblesse oblige, and we're all the nobility here, just like the Kennedy family.

Schools, for instance. We think kids have a right to a basic education. I wish we could also figure out that the country would benefit from a lot of liberal arts students in college, but so far we Americans tend to enjoy recess more than lit and history. Someday, maybe. When we figure this one out, we will know what to do about the counterproductive cost of college tuition, the ballooning expenses of the textbook racket, and the mind boggling insanity of students who can get credit cards but cannot get cheap health care or insurance.
(Textbook: n., from the synonyms text and book. def.: (1) outrageously expensive hardbound publications sold quarterly in college bookstores; (2) any volume containing information such as one would hear during ineffectual committee meetings; (3) large, often heavy books which are nearly useless in the short term, and never do come in handy in the long term.)
But public schools aren't the only thing we have decided we want to belong to everyone. While alternating hot and cold packs and flipping channels this week, I have thought about several other things we, the public, value as public property.

We have:

public libraries - local and national

public parks - local and nationalpublic broadcasting (I know there are people on one side of the crowd who would be okay with this one disappearing, but I value it)

public safety - more or less from time to time and in various places, but held as a right we do not question

public policy

And none of these things make the private versions of them impossible or even improbable. In fact, I'd assert that the public version makes the private version much more ... well, private. When we have public libraries, our private libraries can specialize. Our own book collections seem "irreplaceable," but for most of us, that is not true, except sentimentally. Public libraries mean that we have access to information we need not privately own.

Public parks have the same relationship to our private yards and gardens and window boxes and herbs in a cup on the windowsill, don't they? Owning the lawns and fauna and flora in common in the public space means we are all as rich as the lords of the manor, yet we have only the care and keeping of the stuff in our own, privately managed homes.
This is what I think about a "public option" in health insurance. It seems bizarre to say that access to doctors and health care (of all kinds - conventional and alternative) is only for "private" ownership. For one thing, we already have governmental funding for a lot of it, and cheering, fist-thrusting crowds of right-leaning folks notwithstanding, nobody wants to pay "out of pocket" "fee for service" money when their aging parents need care. It's schizophrenic to claim that we don't want this or don't already have it.

But not only do we already have public health care for some of the population, we should! Just as we have a happier, stronger, calmer and safer population when we have public schools, parks, safety, information and policies, so we could have a healthier public if we had public health options. And just as we take nothing from public school when we also have homeschools, magnet schools, correspondence schools, special education, and Sylvan Learning Centers, so we would take nothing from the individual private citizen by having publicly funded, basic access to medical professionals.

I think that's what America does best. I think it's our ability to pool our resources, own things in common, and also still respect each other's privacy that makes us great. Here's another example. Like it or lump it - or deny the moon landing altogether - we all paid for the space program - and we all use Velcro now because of it - but nobody has to. Despite the existence of Velcro, you're still allowed to tie your own shoes with shoelaces, and you can have them in any color you want. Public is not the opposite of private. In a lot of ways, public makes private better. America is famously, publicly private, and that is what makes us healthy, wealthy, and wise.

This fight we're having in the national school yard is a whole lot of doing nothing. I know it has to happen this way - it always happens this way. But until we start to do something, we won't know when we're finished. Hopscotch, anyone?


I didn't want to like it

I did not want to like this book. I wanted to leaf through it, tell myself, "yeah, she's just gotten too flaky and goofy. It was bound to happen." (I'm avoiding thinking about why I wanted it to be a bad book. Don't bother me about that right now, please.)

In Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck set down some of the most practical exercises and structures I have ever seen for getting self-awareness to come to a conscious level. I have used her exercises and techniques myself, I have explained these techniques to other people, and I have wondered about the many overlays I see in my head when I read her work. You know those old overlay pages in encyclopedias? The clear pages with one layer of the thing (like anatomy or botany) that you could put over the top of the other pages and see it in a way that put it all together? That's what I always do in my head with Martha Beck's writing. She's like a really cool overlay page. And now she's done it again. Steering by Starlight contains the next level of the same work, and I will go and buy this one too - for future reference - and for a little mile marker in the road.

I have a few of these mile marker books in my road. They are of different sorts - cookbooks, from which I still cook but which also speak to my first encounters with them and all the things that were in my life then ... novels, from childhood onward, with characters who are as much as part of my life as the flesh and blood people (more so, in some cases) ... and this list of books from various sorts of people, religious or not, who have articulated the human critter - how it thinks and moves and grows and changes - or refuses to do that. Steering by Starlight is going to have a place in this section of my shelves.


Natalie called

What? You don't know Natalie? Well, that's interesting. Neither do I!!

The business line rang. The caller ID was "blocked caller," and I did not pick up. Blocked caller left a message. The message was this.

"This message is for Stephanie. This is Natalie. Please call me at [number - the blocked one, presumably]." Natalie did not say where she was calling from, or what she wanted.

Didn't we have some sort of legal action against this junk? Did it only cover home phone numbers or something? There are several calls a day lately, and they all want to sell us internet listings and services and a bunch of other stuff for which they'd love to record a "yes" from me so that they could say I authorized their charges or services or whatever. One of these intruders actually corrected me for "yelling" as I answered her questions during her barely audible call - and then transferred me to the verification department! (I can freely admit to raising my voice at that point. Few words, though.)

So this message is for Natalie and all her friends. This is Stephanie. Please do not call me at my number. And go find something else more honorable to do with your time.


The Public Option we already have

This might not be the most articulate argument out there ... I'm just writing in a stream of consciousness ... but I do have an observation about the healthcare debate. It's this. Don't we already have a public option? A state-monopoly, tax-funded, no one is exempt, you pay even if you don't use it because we have decided the country has a vested interest, public option ... for education?

That's the model I think we ought to use. There should be publicly funded and publicly available health care the same way there is publicly funded and publicly available schooling everyone has a right to benefit from. There should also be every other option on the table, all of it legal, and all of it available to willing participants.

Co-ops, magnet and experimental, governmentally standardized, avant garde, individualized, out of the box and out of the imagination, ordinary, and extraordinary -- for the life of me, I do not see what could be wrong with setting it up that way. That education is a basic right seems obvious - why isn't the same thing true with medical dollars?

Besides - I already pay taxes for health care. My elderly family members already use tax money for health care. And I already pay taxes for schools, which I only benefitted from in a very tangential way when I was raising kids.

The government funded and/or managed medical system will never be able to move as quickly and lightly and expansively as complementary care can - but so what? Government schools can only do one kind of thing, and other people have filled in at the edges of that so well that in recent years the standard pratitioners have started to integrate ideas from old, new, east, west, and everything in between - in schools and in medical offices alike.

I read two articles today that speak to my philosophy on this. They're here and here. But philosophy is just background for this one question. Why aren't we thinking about this the same way we think about schools? It just seems so practical to me.



She's been in the tent with camel-spiders, and now I find out she's also been housed with these.
They live in the air conditioning vents. They're called "saw-scaled vipers."

Small, rather stout, flat, sand viper, adults avg. 20-30 cm long (max. 80 cm); body grayish, greenish, or yellowish brown; belly white speckled w/ brown or black. Moveable front fangs. Series of middorsal white cross-bars edged w/ black & whitish zigzag along each side. Distinctive cruciform white mark on top of head.
Uh-huh. Distinctive. I see.
Found mainly in open, dry or semi-desert areas, dry savannahs, or even forest edges. Found under small thorny plants, leaf litter, rocks, & in dry scrub jungle. Mainly found in semi-arid regions of southern Asia, India, & Astola Island off the Pakistan coast. Despite some of its common names, it does not occur in Africa.

Activity and Behavior
Mainly nocturnal in hot weather; often diurnal in cool weather. Mainly terrestrial (semi-fossorial; buries itself in sand) but climbs up to 2 m into bushes. When alarmed, throws itself into double coil like a figure-8 & rubs sides of body together, producing violent rustling sounds. Very nervous; quick to strike at slightest provocation. Reportedly oviparous w/ usually 4-20 eggs/ clutch. Main preys on lizards & small mammals.

Venom Characteristics
Mainly hemotoxic. Fangs rather large compared to size of snake. Common cause of snake bites in its range. Local symptoms generally include pain, swelling, & enlarged tender lymph glands. After 10-12 hours, some victims begin to bleed from gums & later develop deep-organ or cerebral bleeding (sometimes fatal).
She wants us to send her some grass. And pictures of trees. You can take the girl out of the Pacific Northwest, but the Pacific Northwest is embedded. And I think I can be glad she's a soldier. I mean, what if she'd wanted to be an ophiologist?


Another one!

Back in December, I wondered on this blog where I might find a Trina Schart Hyman card I remembered with as much affection as I remembered the book Stuck With Luck. And Dianne had one of these cards! She sent it to me. I love it.Well, now another piece of fond memory has magicked itself into my hands. A few weeks ago, I wondered about another book, while I was at work at the library. Some of the other employees there are as nuts about good kids' books as I am, and I was just sure I could describe this book enough to get someone to say, "Oh, yeah. I remember that book. I think it was called ...." But no. I couldn't describe it well enough because all I could remember was how I felt about it when I was a kid. It was a Weekly Reader Book Club book. That much I was sure of. Something about a witch and a cat. It was about the cat somehow. Dang. No other shreds of memory.

And then this week, we opened a box of donations for the Friends of the Library's ongoing book sale. I saw this, with a smaller book on top of it. "That's the book!" I knew it from its back cover! Unbelievable. It couldn't be. Could it? So I turned it over. That is it. And now I know why I loved it so much. Sizzle is a witch who thinks her life is ruined when one of her witch cats is born yellow. And worse, the cat is a good witch cat. The yellow cat makes Sizzle happy. Terrible news for a witch who sells black cats to bad witches, don't you think? But the stuff that seems like a disaster when it happens can turn out to be the best thing about your life.

So ... let's see ... what wants wondering about next, I wonder?


Element: School for a Grownup

Registration opens on Monday. I've cleared my choices with my advisor, and I am so ready to register! School doesn't even start until the end of September, but this is the season to set up and admire the prospects.

This is exactly the same feeling as getting a room ready for a party. As each element in the room is placed, I stand back and look at the whole thing for a few moments. I can adjust to the new reality - a reality I am making with my own two hands - and move on to the next elemental bit of the whole. Add some things to the windowsills. Switch the table cloths. Find something unusual for the candle holders. Look again.

This design element is the school element, and this is school for a grownup.

Like everything else about being a grownup, there are a lot more choices - but unlike child choices, now I, personally, bear all the weight of every single choice I make. I am the head designer for this party. I'm the one with the clipboard, the receipts, and the measuring tape. I decide what to buy - and what I can use from what already own.

For school, there are choices between writing for credits, testing for credits, challenging courses in other ways, or getting new learning. Online, on campus, weekends, weekdays ... lots of choices.

This fall, the choices are for both endings and beginnings. I hope to finish my PLA writing before winter - but this may be a bit ambitious. (My party ideas are always slightly larger than reality allows. But it never hurts to have all the possibilities ready - just in case.) These six essays add up to 18 credits, and writing them would happen in addition to the regular course work - and in addition to regular life work. So we'll see. I might need to do three in the fall, and then finish the other three in the winter. The rest of the courses I want to write for are:

ILS 300: Literature for Children
THT 423: Loss, Grief, Death and Dying
CCM 326: Invisible Gifts: Family of Origin - Influences on Communication
CCM 410: Spiritual Quest
CCM 330: Spiritual Discernment Through Writing
and MSD 129: Exploring Myers-Briggs

That will wrap up the PLA Portfolio so that I can get these credits onto my transcript (the entire portfolio is submitted at one time - mine will have about 40 credits in it unless I find courses to max out the 45 allowed through this kind of Prior Learning writing). I also want to take three CLEP tests this fall, for a total of 27 credits through testing. (And for a mere $70 a pop, that's quite a deal!) Here, too, the maximum allowed is 45, but I don't have 45 credits worth of testable material in my head. My CLEP tests will be:

Analyzing & Interpreting Literature
and College Math

But the real fun will be the two courses I'm taking for new learning this quarter. Beginnings courses. Leaving the starting gate courses. I'll be taking the first of the core courses for a concentration in Human Studies, and the first of the required courses for the Interdisciplinary Studies department.

A year ago, this room was far from ready. Stuff was everywhere. The tables were still leaning against the walls, and the rug needed vacuuming. But now everything is getting prettier and prettier. I never know exactly how it will turn out until it's done, and the elements come together in ways I didn't anticipate even when they stay within the plan. I have to work with a room to get it ready. This room is starting to look like a party.



It's like planning a garden. Or ... um ... making a complicated recipe ... or, maybe it's more like balancing the five elements. It's like anything that has parts which interact with each other, each retaining its own identity and having its own effects, and together making a thing which could not be made without the collection of the whole.

That is what my Augusts are.

The planning and adding and subtracting of elements, the envisioning and what-iffing, the discussions with the people who will be effected -- the balancing of the elements as I set up another year of my life. They seem to me to be balanced like a tire is balanced. These elements are the spokes of a wheel in motion.

The wheel has turned a full revolution since high school and that first college experience. The first time around, I planned for me. Then, for a short time, I planned for classrooms full of students. Then, for a longer time, I planned for my family - for my own growing, changing kids, while we lived at various addresses and during various times in our lives, absorbing all the shocks and bumps and surprises because that kind of planning is as much life planning as education planning. Now the kids are outa here - and the wheel comes around to planning for me.

Only, along the way, the wheel has covered so much ground that it's not the same. I'm bigger inside. More of me interacts with and effects and is effected by the world around me. It's as if the travel has added strength to the spokes even if the outer rims have sustained a bit of wear and tear. The elements matter more than they used to.

Water, wood, fire, earth, metal. Color, line, shape, value, texture, form. Parish, work, school, home, writing. The elements aren't static. They play with each other and threaten each other and feed each other. What they make together is a life. My life.

"The Interdisciplinary Studies program is designed with serious students in mind - students with eclectic interests, a clear sense of academic mission, and high expectations for their undergraduate experience."

It's August. The wheel is turning.

Did you know that there is a new model for the periodic table of elements? It's not a chart with blocks stacked in order of atomic weight. It's a galaxy in motion. That's what we are. People are galaxies in motion. The creator of the galaxy chart is Philip Stewart.
Philip Stewart decided at an early age that he did not want to choose between arts and sciences. After taking degrees at the University of Oxford in Arabic and in Forestry, he spent seven years in Algeria working in forest and soil conservation. In 1975 he returned to his old university, where for 31 years he taught Economics to Biology students and Ecology to Human Sciences students, occasionally also taking Arabic pupils.
Philip Stewart sees the elements like this. "The intention is not to replace the familiar table, but to complement it and at the same time to stimulate the imagination and to evoke wonder at the order underlying the universe."


(click on any of the images to go to their sources)


Awake at that hour too

Sleeping got difficult again -- long about midnight -- when one bearded young giant had not returned home from his brother's 21st birthday "party" - which party, I was well aware, was most certainly going to include local micro-brews, served at local (walking distance, in the neighborhood) establishments - I knew they weren't driving around. Sleep got fitful. And then ...

Phone rang. Newly minted legal adult - slightly tipsy - spilling over with reassurances - and talking in the giddy voice I haven't heard since he was coming out of anesthesia after his wrist was put back together by a very skilled surgeon. He's the only one around here who gets happy on anesthesia. It's all okay. He didn't want me to worry. They had too much to drink ("but i's a twenty first birthday ... to'lly unnerstannable ... to'lly unnerstannable.") So the larger, older one was spending the night in town. It's okay, mom. We're being very responsible.

You gotta love a kid who's that responsible even when he's had a to'lly unnerstannable celebration. Or, I do, anyway. They weren't completely plowed. They just had a party, that's all. And they knew enough not to be idiots afterwards. But ... I do wonder how the older young giant is feeling right now. He was home at 6:45 this morning to be at work at 7.

And now all my "kids" are legal adults.

We've come a long way, babies.


Awake at this hour

That would be a good name for a blog - "Awake at this Hour." I'm not happy about this newly developing thing. Uh.... newly developing habit. See? Technically awake, but brain not functioning. Morning outside my window is like this. Those clouds are moving toward the rising sun, and pretty quickly, too. Nothing down here seems to be moving, so all the air currents are up there. Weather from the west today, and that's very lovely. That's beach weather. That's weather that, even if a bit warm, isn't stifling because it's moving. It's weather in which a person can breathe properly. Breathing is good.


When the brain doesn't know where to look

You know that expression, "I didn't know where to look?" That's how my brain feels right now. It doesn't know where to look.

I used to have one of these: and then she turned into one of these: and then into one of these: and now she lives in one of these in Afghanistan of all places: and NOW she tells me that one of THESE came into that "drash tent" today. People freaked out a bit. I would imagine that they would. (The poster is linked to its source. You can click on it. Or search "camel spiders." Unless you're too busy freaking out. Like me.)

Enthusiasts' Viewpoint

This map is last year's map. But it's the same idea.

"Perfectly Portland" is what The Oregonian called Providence Bridge Pedal. This annual tradition is a community celebration of Portland, the Willamette River bridges and bicycling. It is your one opportunity each year to bicycle across Portland’s bridges.
It is also your one annual challenge for getting across the river if you happen not to be taking part in the commandeering of the bridges, but would rather cross town from one side to the other in order to get to work or to church.

For the record, I get why this is fun. I do. Portland is a generally bike-friendly town, and Portland is also a town that has a river as her east/west dividing line. It's the maritime northwest, after all. There are trees and hills and rivers and streams everywhere, and in the naturally occurring portage that became Portland, the town was built in the trees, up and down the hills, next to the river's east and west edges, right smack on top of all the creeks and streams. Portlanders love their bridges, and riding bikes across them is fun. Usually the cars are in the way, and on some of the bridges, bikes are never allowed except on this one day each year.

Hoards of people get why this is fun. Waves and torrents and streams of brightly colored bicyclists, young, old, wearing regular clothes, or all decked out in Bicyclist's Spandex ... they're all there. Pedaling. Or walking. There are people doing the Providence Stride. And eating. The Bite of Oregon is happening at the same time. Portlanders inherited the Norse enthusiasm for being outdoors for as long as there's summer sunshine, and Portlanders are great enthusiasts.

Ever try to paddle upstream against a tide of enthusiasts? Of any kind? It doesn't really matter what the throngs of people are doing. The stream's torrent is formed by the enthusiasm level of the flow, and anyone who has the temerity to have a different agenda or be going in a different direction is not only going to have a hard time making any headway, but this non-responsive, non-participating, uncooperative person is also going to be quite confusing to the enthusiasts.

What is wrong with you that you do not want to be carried along in the throng? Don't you know this is fun? Fulfilling? Satisfying? Right or true or good or Republican or Democrat or Christian or guaranteed to make you rich if you'll just follow these five steps? What do you mean you don't want to be rich?! Don't be silly. Everyone wants to be rich.

Yesterday, we managed not to get tangled up in the bikes. We found the publicity website before we left the house, extrapolated from the info intended for enthusiastic participants and figured out which bridge was going to be crossable, and made our way across the streams of safety-vested people. We talked about how cool it would be to view the city from the tops of a couple of the bridges.

I have been listening to the political enthusiasts gathering and pooling their streams and torrents of rhetoric lately, too. There do not seem to be any volunteers acting as crossing guards, and there does not seem to be any map -- it's hard to drive around the relentless throngs of people if the throngs aren't following a map in the first place. And I get why it feels good to participate in the enthusiasm of the moment. It's cool to view the city from the top of a bridge.

And if you get high enough, you can see far enough that you might think you can see the whole city, right? Seems like it. (Click on the pic for a good article about the bridges.) It also feels like you're seeing more than usual if you're with hoards of people. And you are. High enough or enthusiastic enough - yeah. That's a viewpoint. That's a perspective.

But it is not all the perspectives.

There are perspectives from the other end of the same Bridge Pedal, perspectives off of last year's map, and perspectives from the pedestrians striding along. And, what most of the peddlers don't realize is that there is an entirely different perspective from anything on the marked routes of the day. There is the perspective of the person trying to get from one side to the other without joining in.

There were conflicts between these perspectives yesterday morning. There always are. A bicyclist trying to make his way around the city was in a really bad place yesterday. Unless he'd paid his entrance fee, he wasn't allowed on the bridge - not even just to get to the other side of the river. Enthusiasts often have a viewpoint oblivious to others. Enthusiasts should learn to listen. And that includes the enthusiasts who attend political meetings in order to disrupt things, and it includes enthusiasts who have started to excuse the most radical, hateful, marginalizing, fingers-stuck-in-ears vituperation. If you can do a Google search for "anti-Obama" and come up with pages of stuff you might want to buy, it might be time to question your viewpoint. It might be time to listen. People trying to get across the river might not be threatening you at all.


Is it time?

I just wondered. Is it time to start worrying about this? This doesn't look like a dangerous project at all - nossir. What could possibly go wrong? Oh. What are they doing, you ask? The brothers are plotting the repair of the barn roof. Most of the bracing under the metal roofing is rotten, all metal roofing slices like a butcher's blade if it's grabbed by bare hands, and the wind in our area of the world is the reason wind-surfers love it here. So ... I ask again, what could possibly go wrong?

The reason

The reason he's been working for the county this summer

The reason the little brother will be a bit jealous when he gets back from camping

The reason I'm glad September is coming

and the reason I might have to run away from home before then

is thisMy brother-in-law figures I'll be adding vodka to my lemonade -- instead of the blackberries.

And if you knew me before I turned about twenty years old, I just want you to know that your laughter is very rude.



If someone made a sound track of my marriage, part of it would be this sound. It sounds like all the vacations, and foreign movies, and all night-watchings, and stinky cheeses, and wine. This is the sound of tears of happiness, and it is the sound of longing. It sounds like the beach. It sounds, to me, like my marriage.

Really good!

Burgerville, our local fast food place ("Fresh. Local. Sustainable."), has started offering a lot more seasonal food, and their idea for seasonal berries in lemonade is really, really good! So far this year, I've had strawberries in lemonade, raspberries in lemonade, and now, yesterday, blackberries in lemonade. I'm telling you, these whole berries and partially crushed berries are absolutely amazing in lemonade!

In fact, last night when I got home, there were still some blackberries in the cup, and I didn't want to waste them. I refilled the cup with my own lemonade, and drank a second serving. Yum, yum, and yum.

The other thing they started doing is to offer the Walla Walla Onion Rings in orders of one, three, and five at a time. These onion rings are huge. Last night I ordered one. One onion ring. Yummy, and not too much to eat. And how ironic -- one of the places that has helped me to eat more seasonally is a fast food joint.

From here

Today there is a fluffy, gray, completely socked-in cloud cover in my part of the world. The air is freshened and the world looks like the latter half of summer. Yesterday afternoon I felt it. Fall is nearly here.

I want to go buy pencils and pens (but I already have some), and paper (yeesh! the paper I've got stashed away in drawers around here!), and I want to make charts for the kids. Only ... they aren't kids, and they have their own schedules to arrange, and the only schedule I need to see to is my own. Something stirs inside of me whenever the autumn gets near. Looks like the house will have to endure my onslaughts since there are no kids to be homeschooled. (Heaven knows the house can stand the full force of my ideas, intentions, and effort. It won't even give me that exasperated look - no matter what I do to it! I hadn't thought about that advantage until just now.)

From here, I can see the approaching school year. For the second time, that bearded young giant will leave for school. This time he'll probably take his car. In fact, this time, he'll probably drive away alone because he's all grown up. He knows his room mates, and he knows where he'll live, and he knows how and where to stand to get all his finances and classes and meals and whatever else he needs. Beer, for one thing. (Oh, shoot. I'm crying again. Danged raw midlife emotional state. I've been doing that lately - every time I think about how eagerly the "kids" are taking up their own lives and how hard they're working at it. It makes me very happy.)

From here, I can see the lovely, long, darkening evenings, waiting for The Great Husband to come home from work. After Michaelmas (at the end of September), I light candles when he's on his way. Or, on the days when I'm at work too, I leave the crock pot full of whatever it's full of, and the dinner scents the house. I might be at school sometimes this fall. I might go in for a weekly course this quarter. I can see it from here.

Fall has always been like that for me. Outdoors, someone has left the oven door open, but the heat has been turned off. Things gradually cool down. The whole earth smells rich and ready to be enjoyed. All the activity and energy and heat of summertime has passed. In the fall, the table is set, and we all sit down to enjoy it. I can see it from here.


If you want to know

If you want to know what is going on in Afghanistan, click on the magazine cover, and go to the article, "Flipping the Taliban: How to win in Afghanistan," by Fotini Christia and Michael Semple.

That is the message from our soldier. She says this is the article to read. And she says that it's 120 degrees outside every day. She's definitely nowhere near here.


"What we eat shouldn’t be determined by diet dictocrats. It should be determined by history, culture, and traditional cuisines"

Go here. Read it. I, too, am a food renegade - I just found this site of renegades. Rebel, people! Rebel!
It’s my belief that this collective wisdom not only represents how our bodies have adapted to getting the most nutritional content out of our food through centuries of scarcity and abundance, but that these traditional diets can be studied — ought to be studied — so that we can know how to eat. So that we can know how to live.

Things that make me happy

(An antidote to the telephone frustrations)

These are things that have been in my life this past week that make me happy:

1. A Ugandan's accent - and his laughter - heard in a radio interview.

2. A son who says, "They're not Arabs, mom. They're Persians." (This would be the same son who says, "Not 'the Orient,' mom. Asia. We don't orient our maps like we did in the old days." --- Sometimes I wonder if I've unleashed something terrible out into the world, but I can't be sorry. This sort of thinking makes me really really happy.)

3. This conversation we had with our two huge young men: (As we're handing over another check.) Dad: "You two need to rebel against your parents' values. Go find jobs that make a lot of money." Son: "How much do high school music teachers make?" (Mom's mental happy dance goes here.)

4. A cool breeze that has ended the ten-days siege of heat in our "temperate zone." A local radio DJ called it "being microwaved." I quite agree.

5. The smell of summer, coming in through the car windows as I entered the woods on Hwy 14 on the way home in the evening. Columbia River making the air soft to the touch. Warm blackberry brambles sweetening everything and conifer cones and needles lying on the ground to give the scent of sun-dried forest. The rocks of a creek bed making the taste of minerals, suggesting splashing water to the person breathing it all in. I don't loathe summer when I smell the woods.

I have a suggestion

I have just spent a few more minutes of my life (minutes I will never get back) talking to the phone company about our business lines. Figuring out what the charges will be with the various options ... and figuring it out on the fly, over the phone, verbally and aurally, is an exercise is such high levels of frustration that the participants should all be entitled to free hypnosis or downers or a month of yoga or something. UGH.

The reason it doesn't work is because the kind of information being relayed is of two kind - a basic and static charge (according to the "plan" one chooses) and the variables that may be added to it. It's base pay plus commission. It's the prix fixe menu with the wine still a question of price and value. The customer chooses a base among bases, and then adds to it in a nearly infinite number of ways, depending on the "features" the customer wants.

And this is exactly the same problem with purchasing:


--satellite and cable television

--and, in some ways, higher education. It's like a school schedule and the finances attached to it.

Too many moving parts, but some immovable parts. (And then there's the taxes according to your location.)


So I have a suggestion. All the insurance companies, television providers, and telephone service providers need websites with charts of products, and a web calculator so that the customer can play with the options and order from that. Wouldn't that make life easier?

The health insurance companies should also include the customer's out-of-pocket charges if that customer decides to do what the doctor recommends and have a "test" to "confirm" the "results" of a recent "procedure." That way, the patient/customer will not get a completely unexpected bill for hundreds of dollars for a "test" that has been "approved" by the insurance company.

(See why I live in my head? The rest of the world is too aggravating.)

The problem with writers

"I am perhaps trying to write my Gone With the Wind. I am Margaret Mitchell. But I give a damn. And that is the problem with writers. They give a damn. They can't walk away from it."

David Kaiza
, Ugandan literary critic and author

(I heard him say this in an interview on NPR. And I am so pleased to have heard his voice. One of our dearest friends from seminary days in California was a man from Uganda. There is something about the Ugandan accent that makes the tension go out of the work of listening to another human speak.)


Am I the only one?

I just wondered.

Am I the only person who thinks that the word "embarq" is silly?

How about the fact that phone companies staff their customer service lines with people whose first language is not English? Face-to-face, I have absolutely no trouble with accents - over the phone, the accents are difficult. If they're difficult for me, they're difficult for everyone, and I just think that help lines ought to be staffed by people who are nearly accent-free in the language of the callers. Of course, that means I assume that callers to our domestic phone companies will have American accents and language skills. But still. It drives me nuts.

And then there's this.

If I weren't already pretty irritated at the wait and the runaround, I'd probably think it was ... um ... ill-advised, maybe? I'm on hold, waiting for the phone company to pick up the phone, and there is an easy listening guitar cover of "Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever."

(postscript: I take it back about the accents. An extraordinarily helpful, knowledgeable and useful man with an Hispanic accent just solved all my problems. Apparently, the problem was the sleepy and clueless Embarq employees (regardless of original language) - the MCI guy was great!)

Shelved life

Do you think books are alive? I think I kinda do.

I've just finished reading the new espionage novel Jericho's Fall, by Stephen L. Clark, and I have some things to say about it, but there's this paragraph near the end of the story that I could relate to. I could relate to it so strongly that for a few minutes I forgot about the fact that I am ignoring all ordinary responsibilities this morning so that I can finish the book. It's really a good story. But there's this:
"One of the wide windows to the living room had burst, and embers were flaking in through the mesh. Soon the books would catch, and then the house would start. Beck ached, unexpectedly, for the loss of Jericho's vast library, but there was nothing to be done."
I read that, and then all at once I was no longer thinking about the story - despite the fact that my heroine needed to get out of there or be incinerated along with the books. I, too, was aching for the fictional loss of the fictional character's fictional and unnamed books. Sheesh! It didn't bother me when other stuff got destroyed in this story. It didn't even bother me too much when some of the characters got mangled - or killed. (But that, I think, is because this is a very plot-driven book and not a character-driven or relationship-driven one. Interesting to read, but also emotionally safe, involving no necessity of kleenex.)

So, do you think books are living beings? When I think about my own library, I get a bit maternal - the books are not just things for me. I like most of the things I've chosen to be in my household. I like my flatware pattern and my plates, for instance. But I have only the fluffiest of sentimental attachment to them, really. Replacing them would be kind of fun. (And if any more forks go missing, the fun will be a home-making imperative.) The stuff like bed linens and bathroom towels - that's just fabric. There's lots more where that came from, and a zillion patterns, color combinations, and textures, and it's just the same thing as pots of paints. But the books? Each one is a kind of a person somehow.

Only, they're not all of equal value - people are. Books are more or less alive, more or less full of an ability to talk to the bones and heart and imagination of the reader, more or less connected to the incarnate ideas that walk about and eat and vote and couple and hope. And some books get adopted - personally. It's funny to me to watch, but all three of my kids choose books that way. They find volumes to adopt. They stand at the shelves of Powell's, and sort through the volumes available in the title they're looking for, and choose the one volume they want to adopt. (Often, it's an abandoned and marked-down orphan, previously owned by someone obviously too calloused to care for it.)

I don't know what I'd do if embers began to flake in through burst windows in this house. I would lament over losses like my piano - we've been friends and co-conspirators in music and childhood, and then adulthood, parenting, Christmas decorating and household atmosphere for so long that losing the heavily carved wood and sounding board would be losing a friend. I would weep over the loss of photos, too - but the people they captured are alive and real and in possession of immortal souls. Photos are just stuff.

But the books! My library. My husband's library. The books left behind by our kids, boxed up and ready for the next round of, "Have you seen ...?" And the books left behind by the childhoods in this family - the hopes and dreams and ideas and imagination passed to sleepy children at night, and gobbled up by wide-awake, energetic kids in the middles of countless days. Just thinking about it makes my heart push against its edges and makes it hard to breathe.

It would be horrible if this little ramshackle, inherited and constant remodeling project (aka, my house) went up in flames, but knowing that the books were in there would probably kill me in ways other deaths could not. I think it's because most of the books we have in this house are alive.