Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Books Read

The Pinhoe Egg: A Chrestomanci Book The Pinhoe Egg: A Chrestomanci Book by Diana Wynne Jones
rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the Chrestomanci books, but perhaps it's been too long since I read them. I couldn't remember the history of the characters, but it seemed I was supposed to.

That said, I still liked it, and liked returning to the magical world of the Chants. Theirs is a slightly different magic than that of the villagers, who seem all secretly to be hedgewitches. They especially don't want The Big Man, Chrestomanci, to know of the extent of their abilities, and set up diverting spells to keep all non-Pinhoes from their town.

This was categorized as a teen book. With a horse, a unicorn, and a fairy tale creature I won't give away, this one's for kids. I would recommend it for kids reading higher than their age level.

Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life by Pattie Thomas
rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pattie Thomas shares her personal journey recovering from treating fat as the enemy, and applies her understanding as a sociologist to her experience, and the messages we all receive.

She says, "Learning about sociological theory has afforded me a view of the social structures that shape my life and other people's lives in a way that is usually not noticed in everyday life. We do and say things with little thought to how we know what we know or where we learned what we think. Social interactions are often reactions and replications. We often follow certain preset scripts as to what is normal and acceptable in these interactions."

It becomes especially clear that those in the health care industry do this regarding fat. In some ways my recovery from fat phobia paralleled Patti's, though I was fortunate to turn away from dieting at a much younger age. She says, "I came to believe that I was engaged in a cultural struggle, not a medical one." Over and over she points to instances where health is cited as the reason for dieting, but the true motive uncovered is the unreal beauty standard.

As a sociologist, she traced the origins of the so-called medical condition of "obesity" to the 20s. Women wanted the waifish look of the flapper, and turned to their doctors for help. In turn, the doctors made 'excess' weight a medical condition.

Like other books debunking the obesity myth, she traces the link between fat and other diseases to faulty conclusions or inconclusive links. With a sociologist's eye, she roots out the faulty premises that affect studies and conclusions. This allows a culture that recommends dangerous procedures as a precaution and as a solution, but when they fail, it is the fat that is blamed, not the procedure. Again, when diets fail and poor health follows, it is fat that is blamed rather than the diets. Indeed, she traces how the average fat American has been blamed for our high health costs.

She uses the image of the sumo wrestler, and a theme throughout the book is her own quest to carry her own weight gracefully.

I appreciated this view of a sociologist. It helps not only with finding our own way in this war on obesity, but with politics, and with choosing any kind of life swimming against the tide. She says, "Culture is built largely upon repetition of words, images, and thoughts. The battleground of the war on fat is wherever the idea that "fat is bad" (or its equivalents, such as "fat is ugly," "fat is dirty," "fat is ignorant," "fat is unwanted," "fat is unsightly," fat is lazy," "fat is unhealthy," and so forth) is repeated. A reasonable argument will not make the idea go away. ..."Fat is bad" is an extremely embedded given in this society. If we are to eradicate this idea, we will have to repeat other messages, loudly and often. Stereotypes are most often replaced rather than erased."

Also included are poems, diary entries, and drawings. While these give a broader picture of Pattie's journey, I think the book could have used better editing. Some of these were included in a sidebar format that went on more than 2 pages. This made it difficult to read at times. I think the book would be more powerful if these personal bits were more judiciously used.

Wizards at War (The Young Wizards, Book 8) Wizards at War by Diane Duane
rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I was previously turned off by the good/bad/savior metaphor of the series, this thread wasn't as strong in this book. I appreciated how well the author integrates plot and details from previous books, including them seamlessly in conversations and descriptions. Characters from previous stories return in this one, adding to its appeal as a series book.

VoicesVoices by Ursula K LeGuin
rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first it seems this could be a good/bad, right/wrong sort of book...but this is Ursula LeGuin we're talking about.

The occupiers outlaw books and have their way with the people. The occupied hide their books, and keep their magic hidden, what they have left. A girl is born from both sides, and learns to find her place and her talent.

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Weekend Treat

I had time to snap a quick photo of my new house color including trim before I left for work on Friday. It looks so sweet. After work I left directly on a weekend out of town hosted by a Buddhist friend and mentor. She gave me a ride, and grilled me on my life so far. She scared me with tales of cabin traditions such as playing games while only talking with fake accents. On the way we stopped for food for the weekend. Of course I had to snap a photo of the library next door.

nearest store Hoodland Library

Her cabin is on National Forest land. She and her co-owners lease the land, and own the cabin. No new building is allowed, and the government agency wants buildings dismantled whenever possible. It's as close to camping you can get with enough of the comforts of modern living: plumbing; full-sized beds; and electricity. The owners were allowed to keep the outhouse because sometimes the water gets turned off. Some things sometimes missed, but not essential: internet access and cell phone connection.

The first night there we played UNO and Clue, and drank Pina Coladas. I messed up the clues at Clue. The next day more folks arrived, and after breakfast and some puttering about, we went on an easy (for them) hike. I didn't plan to do the whole thing because I didn't want to hold the others back, but they didn't seem to mind waiting. A hike for me by definition includes weight training. I've noticed recently that when I walk with others I have to be careful of this. When I forget myself and try to keep up with others I can't get enough air. So I was going to ferry the car to the end of the hike.

we're starting here

I kept going though. When we stopped for lunch, we were more than halfway through. I'm not very hungry in the midst of a workout. Somebody else got most of my sandwich (but of course I made up for it later with snacks, as we all did).

We passed by Enid Lake.

Enid Lake

and this big boulder, about 15 feet high. J seemed quite sure it came from a volcanic explosion.

giant rock

After I got home, I saw this NOVA episode on a Northwest Megaflood. I'd wondered about that, if that had anything to do with the big rocks, but I had no clue about altitudes. Our mutual friend the scientist had told me about this flood that washed down the Columbia River basin. I researched the question, and must conclude J must be right. Enid Lake is 1102 meters high, while the flood at its height reached 170 m. (See page 5 here.) I found this cool blog on Pacific Northwest history while doing my research.

Mango the dog found snow, which made him very happy:
patch of snow

and S found a Medicine wheel which needed mending, so she fixed it.
medicine wheel

See the full slideshow and more narrative from the weekend right here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Books with a Spiritual Thread

The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville
rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read some, skimmed some of this book. In some ways it reads like an overview of philosophy through the history of the Western Canon, as one of the prevalent themes of philosophy has been the attempt to posit the existence of God. It took me back to my college days, and reminded me of that all-consuming quest of the Liberal Arts student. Even science seeks the truth to the Root Cause of All Things.

If a reader doesn't have this literary background, it's possible the philosophical name-dropping of this book could be confusing and fatiguing, or it could ignite an interest in further study.

It has 4 sections: I. Can We Do Without Religion? II. Does God Exist? III. Can There Be an Atheist Spirituality? Conclusion: Love and Truth.

In short, to answer the first: yes. The second: all those philosophers could not prove the existence of God. Thus Pascal's Wager, and the author deals with that. The third: is answered by the conclusion.

That said, for those interested in this subject, the book is worth reading for that overview of the Western Canon on religion and God. In essence, the author is outlining how one could be an atheist, and still find a place in religion for spiritual connection.

This summary on why he does not believe in God is quite useful:

1. The weakness of the opposing arguments, the so-called proofs of God's existence.
2. Common experience: If God existed, he should be easier to see or sense.
3. My refusal to explain something I cannot understand by something I understand even less.
4. The enormity of evil.
5. The mediocrity of mankind.
6. Last but not least, the fact that God corresponds so perfectly to our wishes that there is every reason to think he was invented to fulfill them, at least in fantasy; this makes religion an illusion in the Freudian sense of the term.
In the end, he has some intriguing thoughts and quotes on mysticism, and how it is not mutually exclusive with atheism.

"The prophet receives and transmits the word of God to which he adheres through faith; the mystic is sensitive to an inner light that exempts him from believing. The two are incompatible." ~French Jesuit Henri-Marie Cardinal de Lubac

"I am a mystic and believe in nothing." ~Nietzsche

The author did touch on Buddhism and Taoism at times as quite compatible with his thinking. Sometimes it was frustrating to me that he argued with Western thought when I thought Buddhist thought would have met those arguments easily.

Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment by Audrey Yoshiko Seo
rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Buddhist name my Zen teacher gave me is Enji, which contains the same character as Enso, the word for this circle that symbolizes Zen for many, so of course I had to pick up this book. In the introduction we learn that early Indian culture is credited with the development of zero as we use it in mathematics.

Not only does the book share various historic versions of the Enso and explain this particular tradition in calligraphy, it is a window into a small section of the history of Zen itself.

The author says "Torei Enji is considered by many to be the King of enso." I think he may be my namesake, but can't be sure as I don't know the kanji. When you see these circles, you may think they're not perfect...but according to the book, they meant to do that. I don't know, there was at least one where I thought the verse was attached to joke about the unintended mistake.

Enso pictures were often accompanied with traditional verses, or verses coined by the Zen master. Torei Enji (1721-1792) often used the verse from the mythic words of the Buddha upon his birth, "In Heaven and the Earth below I alone am the Honored One."

The verse I like describes the enso and my name comes from the Third Patriarch Chien-Chih Sen Ts'an, "Precepts of the True Heart": Round and perfect like vast space, nothing lacking, nothing in excess.

Often the artists would incorporate pictures with the round circle, often making the picture dark and the circle a lighter grey. I was inspired to make a habit of drawing the enso myself. Here is one of my first efforts. I should mention I used a marker brush.

enso fox 07 2008

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book on Burma

Down the Rat Hole: Adventures Underground on Burma's FrontiersDown the Rat Hole: Adventures Underground on Burma's Frontiers by Edith Mirante
rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edith Mirante has spent her life working in temporary jobs so she could spend much of her time traveling. Only she isn't just a world traveler, she helps to spread independence in the most dangerous places. You wouldn't know it to look at her. I happen to work at one of those places where she works on-call to make that money, and I overheard her telling another about this book of hers.

I don't usually read daring travel memoirs, but it helps if you've met someone, and it helps that I wanted to know more about Burma. All I knew was, SLORC=BAD.

This book covers over 10 years of her travels into Burma. There are tantalizing references to her previous life in Thailand, and how she was deported for her subversive activities (one would need to read her first book, I presume, to find these details: Burmese Looking Glass). I found myself wanting to know more about why she loved Burma so. You get glimpses of her daring personality, mostly downplayed, when she lets slip little tidbits like this:

My earliest memory, from before I was two years old, had me up against the baby gate at the top of the stairs of my family's old house, demanding in whatever speech I had to be let out, to be let through. I still loved a border violation. Evading a checkpoint, busting a gate, climbing a fence would always make me happy. It got me into Burma.
More often than not, it seemed, that's exactly how she did get into Burma, calmly risking her life and bringing health info, hand to hand combat lessons, messages for revolutionaries, her opinions on war strategy, as well as gifts for her hosts. She smuggled out taped interviews, traveled as an "artist" and treated leech bites with Bactine. She went where other travelers never went.

She is the driving force behind Project Maje, and the voice behind the videos from Salon that are found there. Considering how much SLORC controls the media in Burma, this is no doubt a valuable resource of the history of resistance in Burma. Here is one video, go to the website for the other:

I find myself admiring her matter-of-fact conviction that armed resistance is necessary, and bemused that she even did her bit to support that resistance. As a pacifist, I have no response to that. This attitude got her places no other foreigner could go, I'm sure. Perhaps if faced so squarely with a ruthless force like SLORC, my pacifist conviction would be shaken, I don't know. I do have to wonder what is missing though. What details about the violence would I dwell on that she accepts with gritty pragmatism? Would I see acts destined to continue the violence while she would see spirited steps toward independence?

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I was taped shut

My first glimpse of our house's new paint color was the spray on the plastic covering my doorway. This surprised me because our painters had another job lined up, and were planning to do prep this week, and the actual painting in a couple of weeks. Their other job was delayed for a few days so they kept going with this one. If all goes well, he tells me, they will finish with the trim tomorrow. I spent a good part of the day with the cat on my lap, as she needed reassurance with all those strange noises going on outside.

As you can see, I chose the color to go with the brick that decorates the doorway side of the duplex.

This 6 year old photo reveals just how long our house has needed paint. We are so tired of the rental blue-gray. Isn't that a rental color if you ever saw one?

The painter told me when he first saw the new color (Miller 1011 Semolina) he wasn't too sure, his eyes rolling up, but now he could see it's a great color. It contrasts nicely with the many colors of green that surround us. It also is a completely different color from all the other houses on our block. It is an autumn color, or a New Mexico color. Tomorrow they paint the trim. Below you see a glimpse of the old blue trim. The new trim will be light, a sandy color (Miller 1009 Bedtime Story).

That sudden realization makes me very happy. I still am in love with New Mexico. When I went to my 10 year college reunion I said I wouldn't wait another 10 years to go there, but it looks like I did that after all. Next summer, 20 years since I graduated. This year, 20 years since I became a vegetarian. Last year, 20 years since I began a meditation practice. I chose a little bit of New Mexico and I didn't even know it when I picked the color with the help of my sweetie. That's 2 big expenses this year: the roof, and the exterior paint. Next year, getting those juniper bushes gone wild pulled out, yet another rental staple that we are so tired of.

It's not me, it's my brain

(random photo from my flickr: garden in re-used pond liner at Cart'm Recycling Center on the Oregon Coast)

I continue to find it difficult to get certain things done, and to make choices. Next spring I must remember this and just not take on too many things besides the Buddhist festival.

Now rather than my own laziness, I can blame the way the brain works, according to Scientific American. When we take on too many decisions, it wearies our brain. If we waste our "executive function" on little things like what movie to see, or which clothes to wear, we don't have as much capacity left for making the big decisions. That could explain why (perhaps this is a myth) Albert Einstein had clothes for each day of the week so he wouldn't have to decide. It could explain why there's a stereotype of high-powered decision-maker types liking the submissive role in sex play...maybe when we have to use a lot of brain-power for big decisions, we need to have someone else take charge to counterbalance those decisions.

This could also explain why spiritual traditions have rituals that give us focus without having to make decisions about the little stuff. You don't have to make a choice about eating a cookie, or when to go to bed, or even when to stand up. In Zen meditation, and meditation retreats, this is all prescribed. You just sit. You just do the ceremony. You just eat what is put in front of you. Those little rhythms of life are taken care of, and this allows the bigger rhythms to become apparent.

Indeed the very act these past few weeks of trying to choose what to write about next has depleted my "executive function," so I then write nothing. Perhaps I need to prioritize meditation itself to replenish that brain muscle.

I have developed a small habit of avoidance that involves shopping online, be it clothes or bags or little trinkets. (Small as in I surf around at ebags every 3 months or so.) Maybe those little decisions become more attractive than bigger decisions. So now I find myself possibly entering into that slithery world of spiritual materialism by coveting this. Is that bad? Good thing I can't seem to decide between that one and this one. It's possible I could delay that decision to infinity.

Books Read

Ethan FromeEthan Frome by Edith Wharton
rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was a little underwhelmed by this one. I didn't buy the narrator, who had to have filled in a lot of gaps in his imagination to be able to tell this story of Ethan Frome. I wasn't compelled to pull the book from my bedside, where it sat as going-to-sleep reading. Ethan as a tragic character was just kind of lame in his wintry entrapment.

MimusMimus by Lilli Thal (audio)
rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was inspired to listen to this after reading this review. Truthfully, it was her review that kept me going, because I found the character Mimus to be unrelentingly sardonic, and I did not like the reading of his character. Yes, he was a jester, but when was he going to reveal his humanity? To me, while it was clear the author was leading to that, that moment took too long to arrive. Same with the prince getting on with the task at hand. It also didn't help that the name of the King, Theodo, sounded like a speech impediment.

But, since she did love this listen, I got past my initial dislike, and it was indeed a good story. A prince captured and made into a jester and as lowly as an animal is not something you come across in fantasy books.

The Witch's Boy CD The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber (audio)
rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's nothing I didn't like in this book, and everything to love. It's chock full of fairy lore and fairy tales. (I think of fairy lore as those tales of fairies under the hill, magic, and witches, and fairy tales as those we know from the Brothers G and HCA.) The fairy tales are turned inside out from our usual knowledge of them, for instance the parents were bad, the witch was good in Hansel and Gretel. Just what tale corresponds to the story of the witch's boy isn't immediately apparent. The other tales are anecdotes dropped here and there about acquaintances and distant news.

For all that rich detail, the core story doesn't get lost. It is a story of love, and of a boy growing up and experiencing the tension between love for mother and love for a girl. He's raised by a witch with the help of magic, a bear, and a djinni who can't be trusted. Neither he nor his mother are perfect, and there is where the depth of the story can be found.

King Rat King Rat by China Miéville
rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently learned this falls under the subgenre of Urban Fantasy. I was introduced when that blog linked to a review of that's the kind of fantasy I gravitate toward.

I also gravitate toward views other than mine, and this one coming out of London does not disappoint.

A young man has a fight with his father, nothing unusual there. Then his father is murdered, and the young man is locked up as the number one suspect. It's smelly, bloody, gritty, and dirty. Even as you cover your mouth you keep reading to find out more about that strange rat man that breaks him out of jail, and just who is this kid anyway? You find out there's a culture of animal-people and this kid is destined to be the King Rat. These Kings of the animals have a natural enemy...can he prevail even though he grew up wholly human?

I came across this author when there was a kerfuffle (Leila's word) among YA book lovers and authors when this NYT reviewer showed undue disrespect.

Peace: The Biography of a Symbol Peace: The Biography of a Symbol by Ken Kolsbun
rating: 3 of 5 stars

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the peace symbol. (ND, not broken cross.) Various myths have propagated as to its origins, but this book has the definitive answer, as well as many heretofore little seen photos of the peace sign in counter- and popular culture. This book would also do as a light introduction to the history of the peace movement. It's definitely worth a look if only for the photos, and a quick scan for peace factoids.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Books Read

Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir by Janice Erlbaum

4 of 5 stars
A co-worker saw me with this book and warned me it could be triggering around drug issues...not an issue for me. What is it about super-smart girls and getting involved with drugs early? Author Janice Erlbaum leaves home because she told her mother if he took the abusive stepfather back, she would. This is her story about that time. I knew I was in for a good read at this early sentence:

Dave Malley was crazy. He smelled crazy. He smelled like bad soup and aluminum foil, and his unfiltered camels left murky stains on his fingers and teeth. I was introduced to Dave when I was twelve years old, and I wrote down that he was itchy.
The moment Janice told her mother this was when Dave attempted to kidnap his and her mother's baby. When he came back, Janice left, and went directly to a shelter. There, drugs cured boredom, and "group therapy" was about "How bad can I admit I am?" She hung out in Washington Square. Part of what tickled me about this book, for once a place was mentioned that I had visited. She did a lot of acid.
Some people will tell you that LSD makes you paranoid. Paranoid, hah! --aware is more like it. Acid elucidates all those things you would ordinarily take for granted: the color of the clouds, the frailty of the social contract, the disgusting miracle of the human body...
Of course I'm fascinated with descriptions of the use of drugs that I've never done, but more than that, this was a great memoir of a strong young woman who creates her life the way she

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

rating: 5 of 5 stars
One of my favorite authors to read in the 90s, reading this again for my book group reminded me that it's been too long since I've read Vonnegut.

People often focus on the time-travel, but gloss over the significance of the beginning. Vonnegut himself really did go back to Dresden, really did win Guggenheim money, really did take over twenty years to write about Dresden. He writes, "I think about how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about...." He has to keep singing the same song over and over, invoking a limerick and a song, "My name is Yon Yonsen..."

At the end of the first chapter, perhaps to let the reader know that this song will not go on forever, he says this:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

It ends like this:
I wonder if he could have written of horrific war scenes any other way but a man unstuck in time. While I love Vonnegut for the science fiction elements, I cannot help but read those elements as metaphors of a philosophy. When a death occurs, the Tralfamadorians say, "So it goes." They create books in a way I think Vonnegut wished us to read this book. It is very Zen...very Dogen.
"...each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message--describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."
Marvelous, funny, profound, tragic moments, all contained in a whole that couldn't be written for the longest time. I read this a year after Vonnegut died. So it goes.

A Wrinkle in Time A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

rating: 3 of 5 stars
For it's time, this was ground-breaking, and is a classic sci-fi book for kids. I recall liking it more when I was young, but now it seems more dated and less sophisticated. Strong Christian themes make it less appealing to me.

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Lloyd Alexander

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Carlo Chuchio loves to read and daydream. His name, translated as a certain braying animal, earns him further disdain. He works in his uncle's business as a clerk, but his imagination doesn't do well with numbers.

A bookseller gives him a book, and in it Chuchio finds a map. He will seek the treasure, and adventure. After a costly mistake, his uncle sends him on his way with a little money to get started.

Complete with swords, a maiden in need of help, a questionable guide, it's a book made for dreamers. This was the last book offered by Alexander before he died. I can't say I've read any others. Time to get started...

For a better review, go here. I took just too long between time of reading and reviewing.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Alternet blogger on cheating

A blogger I read regularly has discovered a good way to gain readers, in fact that's how I found him: he comments regularly on Alternet articles and blogs, and sometimes leaves a link back to his own blog.

I used to read Alternet regularly, but don't have the time. Now sometimes I drop in when a blog or a google alert sends me there, usually about polyamory or non-monogamy. Yesterday, Libertine's post pointed me to this blog article on cheating. The author takes a look at sexless marriages, mentioning the advice Dan Savage gives. She then comes up with a solution I think is still coming from a monogamous mindset, that it might be ok to cheat. In my experience, cheaters do still think of themselves as monogamous...they're just failing at it. In a sexless marriage, they see no other recourse but to seek secret affairs. For a brief time, I would log into Yahoo IM, and I would get such potential cheaters contacting me. Some were astounded there could be another way, but didn't think they could risk it. What the Alternet author missed about Dan's advice, was that the potential cheaters in a sexless relationship should be up front about it. Cheaters don't like to take that risk.

I thought what everyone missed was acknowledgment that people change, thus I commented:

As others have commented, I too feel the default of monogamy needs to be questioned, but that the lack of communication and dishonesty that comes with cheating are not acceptable responses to the lack of a sex life.

I love the practical no-nonsense way Dan Savage approaches this issue.

I think what's missing here, but is included in Savage's advice, is the understanding that people change. People can change in drastic ways. People who get into relationships in their teens and twenties are still growing up. Physiologically and emotionally they are still unfinished. It is wishful thinking to suppose that contracts, agreements, understandings that are created in those years will still apply to the 30 or 40 something. Add to the mix the unexpected life experiences that change perspectives, and that person 20 years later is even more so a different person.

Understandings in relationships need always to be revisited, renegotiated, and recommitted to. To assume a default is asking for failure.

It has been my experience that allowing for this uncertainty, expecting it, makes the present ever more precious, and commitment even more certain.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Books Read

The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going
Eve's mother was the one that told the stories, but Eve's mother is dead. When her father buys a farm, Eve doesn't want to go. Neither does she want to give up the last piece of clothing that her mother bought her, even though it is too small. The trees of the orchard do not bear fruit, and Eve and her father arrive just as a funeral takes place. The boy she sees playing on gravestones seems to be a ghost. Eve has been bequeathed a seed. How did that happen? Does her mother who told stories about Eve's Garden have anything to do with this? She plants the seed, and only she and the ghost can see the tree that grows from the center of the orchard. Of course she must climb the tree. I am not usually enamored of Biblical metaphor, but I really liked this story that brought archetypal themes of grief and regrowth to a child's world. This might be just the story for a grieving child.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
My favorite book blogger doesn't like this character. I cringed at the meanness of most teens, and admired the tenacity of flower-child Stargirl, and of course the hint of Buddhist thought, even if pop Buddhism, gave me more reason to like it. Mostly I liked her as the girl I wish I could have been.

This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness
I was very enthusiastic about this book until I read the jacket cover. If at first you think these are poems written by a 6th grade class, inspired by the famous poem of apology by William Carlos Williams, you will love this book. When you find out they're not really, it's still a good book, but not quite as amazing. You can just imagine the two boys whispering, "I'll write a poem on dodgeball if you do." You'll wonder a little more if a girl could really apologize to her teacher over making fun of her dress*, or if a boy would really understand that he picks on a girl because he likes her. Not only poems, it is a vignette, a peek into the lives of 6th graders.

*You smiled
but your smile looked like a frozen pond
People were high-fiving me on the way
Down to lunch, but I felt like a traitor.

Teacher responds:
Just these few warm words
and spring sunlight fills the room;
my dress turns to sky

Take a box to go

This is a japanese lunch box set. Krissy gave it to me 4 xmas. When i sent her the photo she said i should blog this. Reduce waste people! Refuse the disposable to-go box and be fashionable too. (this has been a test of the emergency blogging phone system. Who needs twitter? We shall see...sent from my phone.)

UPDATE: It worked! I tried and failed to set up blogging from phone in the past. Duh! I failed to realize I needed to give my phone email address permission to post. To do so, I had to set up a google account for my phone. Now I can blog from anywhere...

Unfinished Business

Now that I've had a little more space to breathe, I can get back to some unfinished business. There came a moment leading up to the Buddhist Festival that I just had to drop extras. I meant to get started today, but my time was taken up with little errands that added up. So it goes.

I got caught up with some rss feeds this week, including Scientific American. I found this review on the book On Being Certain: Believing You are Right Even When You Are Not. This is one piece of why I blog. Memory is extremely faulty, yet we humans will insist years later that we remember something as if it were yesterday. If I write about it, I can look back later for the closer encounter. So can my friends. Another feed I am staying on top of is Hemant's Friendly Atheist blog. (I read his book and wrote about it.) His blog keeps me thinking about the impulse toward religion. I think some of people's certainties about religion come from this amended memory thing we do. We change the story so it's more like...a story.

So, some things I took notes on, but have yet to transfer here:

  • Seeds of Compassion: The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. I gathered some blogs about it for the NW Dharma News. Also look there for a short reflection from me among the reflections. I have more. I'm actually thinking about discontinuing my writing for the NW Dharma News. I have a hard time saying no, I can't do this anymore. Something has to give though.
  • Town Hall, and the last Unnatural Causes. I blogged on every episode so it feels unfinished, as I didn't do the last one. Nor did I write about the town hall that I was invited to because of my writing about the series.
  • No Time to Lose: I think I have 2 more chapters to write about, maybe 3. Then a synopsis to complete the class. I might be able to finish the Buddhist Studies program at the Zen Center (formerly named Seminary) this fall, if I can just get past papers done this summer.
  • Books and movies. I've been keeping track of books and movies just not writing about my impressions. I finally started doing ratings at IMDB for this very reason.
  • This spring we had a staff day, I wanted to blog about that. (I also have a few photos I need to get to people.)
  • I also have several Dharma School lessons to write about, but I'm doing that at my Dharma School blog.
Groan, this could take me awhile. I have ideas about which I will do first, but if my few loyal readers have a preference about which ones I do first, just say Hey, do that thing. I may not write about all the books and movies, so if you have particulars you'd like to read about, say that too.

PS: nobody wants a free canvas bag...a Portland collector's item?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Market Day Giveaway

I haven't had many chances to go to the farmers market this summer. I was too busy, and then gone on my trip. Last week I took my mentee and her little sister. This is what I'm missing out on, not having kids. It was so much easier with them there. They pulled my rolling crate. When I bought something, they lifted the lid and I just placed the purchase inside. Alone, I'm juggling 3 or 4 things in my hands and at least two things on the ground. They were great helpers.

I've been going on Wednesdays, either to the market in the South Park Blocks, or the market at People's Co-op. Today I went to my old Thursday haunt, the Eastbank market on SE 20th. I've missed it. The park blocks one can be so very crowded and too big, and the People's not big enough. This one is just right, with plenty of lane space, enough but not too many booths, and the farm with my favorite tomatoes. Tomatoes are important. Krissy's been enjoying her market visits. I missed running into her tonight.

Here is the bounty I came away with tonight. Notice the bag that says "Recycle" in the back. That was free for pledging to take my own bag to the store, plus I learned more about our improved curbside recycling. Businesses already have curbside compost pickup, and residential homes will too, eventually. Unfortunately, the company taking the business compost is not interested in residential, so metro is searching for a business that will. My 5-foot wide yard is just not big enough for our own compost heap. I would love to send it away, and I would even buy back the dirt they made out of it.

Here's the thing. I actually have too many re-usable bags, but I couldn't turn down a free bag. So I'm going to give you one. Not this one, but another one. Whoever can name the most vegetables and fruits correctly in this photo wins the prize. Some of them you can barely see, but they are there. Some are mysterious. I blogged about at least one of them last year. Go ahead and name the different versions too. You're right, no, I did not get the kinder eggs from the market. I got those at a European import store a few blocks away, across from my bus stop. Click to enlarge the photo.

Here, my friends, is the prize you could win. This is a piece of Portland memorabilia. The Daily Grind was a store that was here for years and years. When I moved here in 1991, my friend T introduced us to the store. It had already been around then for years and years...a Seventh Day Adventist store chock full of old-timey vegetarian goodies. It was the one place in town where I knew I could get my favorite, the Worthington Dinner Roast. At least TDG will be replaced with another locally-owned market, a New Seasons store. I may have to beg them to carry certain Worthington products.

canvas bag

Please note that I really do like this bag. I'm sure you will too. I imagine my Portland readers would be more interested in it, but if you live far far away, if you win and you want it I will send it to you.

After working, going to the market, and waiting for buses, it was a bit late when I finally made dinner. I made a soup with the stuff I had left from last week's market that I needed to use up: zucchini, broccoli, onion, garlic. Of course I had to add some of this week's tomato...that I just added to the bowl...the heat cooks it just enough.

I also made cucumber salad.

Wisconsin visit

As I mentioned earlier, it was a dark and stormy night when I arrived in Wisconsin.

By staying in Fond du Lac, I chose to stay in a place I never have before. My mom told me at the last minute it was possible I could have stayed at my grandma's house if we scared up some furniture, but I told her I'd already said my goodbyes anyway. I didn't even visit Plymouth, come to think of it. I had no wish to drive by.

I chose Fond du Lac partly because I got the best deal on a hotel room, and partly because my dad is there now. My mom had been concerned I wouldn't have the time to see her, being so far away from Waldo, but when I called about that, she was busy herself. I would have liked to see her more.

After my frenetic but satisfying New York visit, I was glad to take it easy. My dad called me early, and I told him I would be sleeping a little longer. Then he called again to say he was on his way over on his tricycle. (Pretty nifty, his tricycle.) He wasn't sure I'd be able to find my way to him (he was right) due to street closures due to the flooding. I was just about ready when he arrived. I took him to lunch at Faro's Family Restaurant, located right next to the hotel, and whose parking lot I'd used the night before and hoped wouldn't get me towed, because, you know, the flood had caused my hotel to be completely full, and semi-trucks were taking up parking spaces that I might have used, so I used the parking lot next door. Did you notice that, I ran on my sentence and used 'you know' funny how that happens while I'm talking about Wisconsin. I learned that there.

Then we went driving around a bit, and I asked Dad if there was anything he'd like to do that he couldn't usually do without a car. He wanted to shop at Piggly Wiggly, too far for him to get to normally. I wish I'd taken some photos of the worldly goods damaged beyond repair that had been pulled out of basements and put out on the curb. Already on that second day of the flooding the local paper announced the city would be doing bulk item garbage pick-up. That is something about Wisconsin...the people meet such exceptional needs in a methodical, practical way. Also something about Wisconsin, the people will take all they can get from it. We saw kitchen sinks, bicycles, and many non-flood-damaged items as well as melting cardboard boxes full of lost basement treasures.

We got to see the flooded football field:

I found out later that my sister-in-law Cathy and my nephews also got to see it, that in fact they were in Fond du Lac when the flash flood began. They didn't have any troubles themselves, but they were delayed for hours due to other stalled cars. My nephew Jake got a dramatic video of the water rushing around the cars. I have to pester him to get that on youtube with all the others.

Unlike my many other visits, when my visits with my Dad were relegated to a short afternoon, or in one case, a very short visit before I rushed off to catch my plane earlier than expected, I got to see my Dad almost every day. His creativity has taken a kooky crafty turn, as seen in this tape-covered paper mache hat and this braided-plastic-bag footstool.

homemade hat homemade stool

More Dad and flood photos here.

Dad told me a neighbor girl was playing with her friends, and asked him, "Are you the mad-man?" My dad said he looked at her, and just gave an expressive non-threatening shrug that he demonstrated for me. It seemed a good answer. We talked about that a little. I think it concerned him that he would be the strange scary mad-man of the neighborhood. I suggested he could say something like, "I suppose so, but I'm not dangerous," and we strategized ways he could let the little kids know that while yes, he is strange, he's nobody to be afraid of.

And that's the truth. He is what you could call the mad man. It's pretty amazing he's survived schizophrenia as long as he has. He's still working on finding ways to live with that in the world. He asked me if I was able to relate to him better than my other family there. I promptly said yes. Even when he was deeply into bible-thumping Christianity, we could still talk in a way I can't really with the rest of my family.

I found out on this visit that my brother listens to right-wing pundits and voted for the frat boy residing in the White House. His in-laws are conservative, and now so is he a bit. I think I convinced him to listen again to Obama, and set aside the biased views he's been fed while he does. Cathy said she would. I couldn't get through by phone, but I decided to take a drive out to their place on the second day, and we had a pleasant evening, albeit smoky. We sat at my grandpa's picnic table, which happened to be downwind of the barbecuing pork roast my brother was cooking for the grad party the next day. I especially enjoyed talking to Jake. Cathy told me later they left us alone on purpose so we could get to know each other better. I do hope the boys will visit me soon. Both artists, Jake and Abe are considering coming to the west coast for college. For now, they're staying close to home for their first year.

On Father's Day, the graduation party. I got myself a little lost trying to find it at the Sheboygan Marsh. This is the first time google maps failed me. You see, it sent me to the edge of the actual marsh, to a dead-end gravel road, nowhere near the other side with the Lodge and the campground. (If I hadn't been in such a hurry I could have looked closer before I set out and seen that on the map.) I found myself back on the road to my brother's house, but of course no one was there. Back in Glenbeulah, at the Citgo station where I got gift cards for the boys, I discovered I was very close, I just had to follow county road P.

So I got there, I finally saw my mom, we visited. I took photos. The boys played croquet, just as they did at Zac's graduation party.


The twins have worked at the Marsh Lodge for years...since before high school I think...mowing the campground, taking care of garbage, etc. The owners lent them the space for free. At Zac's party, Cathy put together a photo display. At this one, not only photos but a wrestling-mat display of all Jake's and Abe's letters and medals. The E is for Elkhart Lake, of Road America fame. Well, maybe fame. I'd be surprised if I have racing fans reading my blog. Abe had a special medal for 100 ?wins ?events but Jake just missed out because he only had 99. Abe, my brother tells me, has the perfectly-formed body for the exceptional runner.

The rest of the photos are here.

I didn't really have plans for after the party, and since none developed, I called my dad and asked if he'd like to go to dinner. I took him to Schreiner's Restaurant. He got liver and onions, which I remembered him getting years before when he took me to the Big Boy restaurant in long gone.

Finally, the next morning I visited my mom and her husband before I drove to catch my plane. At least they are voting for Barack Obama. I think the boys might be too. Mom and I went to lunch, and we stopped at a store to try to find a dress she could wear to a wedding.

Their neighbors had this cool bowling ball bug sculpture:

bowling ball bug

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Passing Strange

I went to see Passing Strange when in New York. It came highly recommended by Spike Lee and the only celeb blogger I read, Rosie. (I like her more as a blogger than as a celebrity. That's probably how she'd prefer it.) I thought maybe I could say I saw it before it was a big deal. It had 7 Tony Nominations. It won Best Book of a Musical. Best book? Poor Stew. What do you say to that? He didn't quite know.

I enjoyed it, but there were some things, nothing to do with the musical itself, that made it a less than stellar experience. For one, the theater seats were old, ragged, small, and uncomfortable. For another, I was in the third row (wow yeah the third row) but also right in front of the amplifier, and this was a rock musical. In the big finale, the singers practically screeched, caused feedback, and that hurt.

I've seen enough musicals now that I have some bases for comparison, and I have to say, I can't garner the enthusiasm that Rosie did. A young man sets out around the world on a psycho-spiritual journey, tries to find the "real", expresses his quest through music, and finds the real in the family he left. But too late, or is it too late? I could see how Rosie identified...she often talks about losing her mother as a child...and part of Stew's quest becomes finding his mother's love after she's gone.

He's a black boy who grew up in a middle-class Christian house. Sometimes he presents himself as the ghetto, or as passing for black, thus the title. So while he's seeking the real, he doesn't present his own real self. The real he's looking for is an ideal, and someone points out to him that kind of real can only be found in art. What he's really looking for is "more than real," and that is love, and that is what he left behind when he left his mother and didn't return to visit.

When it comes to a psycho-spiritual journey expressed through a musical, I really like our own home-grown One: The Musical much more. Not that I'm biased or anything. It does reinforce that New York feeling that nothing else exists for them but New York. For me, it goes to show the best art might not be found in New York. (ChezBez, take note.)

I will say I liked the autobiographical nature of it. At least I think it was that, and I liked the way Stew, as an older man, narrated the story, sometimes singing, sometimes interacting with the characters of his past. That dialog of past with present was a nifty sophisticated way to present the story. Also noteworthy was the way all the actors besides Stew and younger Stew switched seemlessly to different characters in Stew's life as he moved around the world.

When I debated with myself over what musical to see, it was between this, or Spring Awakening, or In the Heights. I don't regret my choice, even though In the Heights got more love from the Tonies. Beforehand, I wasn't as drawn to the music. Interesting, now I can't find those videos on the website, and the montage in their place sounds much better.

Brooklyn Museum

I got a little ahead of myself, posting the video and mentioning the adventure I had driving to my hotel from Milwaukee. (Keep in mind I drive maybe 3 miles in a week, on city streets, in the daytime. I hardly ever drive on the freeway, even less on country roads, and rarest of all, in thunderstorms. It was quite the adventure.)

Earlier that day I had time in the morning to visit the Brooklyn Museum. I knew I wanted to thanks to the New York Public Library Blog. Did I mention that already? Unfortunately, I did not have the time to visit the tunnel from Brooklyn to London. That might have been fun, but more so with kids or at least with someone to laugh about it with. I heard about that from the same blogger who told me about the Murakami exhibit.

There has been very little about anime or manga that has appealed to me, so I thought this would be interesting but wouldn't necessarily hit me where art hits me, but it did. For one thing, I learned Murakami isn't just about marketed Japanese pop art, including mass-marketed stickers, but about deeper elements of fine art. One of the first pieces I saw were two anime characters, life-size male and female...he with...oh, just go here and click on exhibit 1. Really, go there. I thought, Oh, those poor inhibited parents who thought this was cartoons for kids. They'll be covering eyes today. The artist says something in the video about wanting to shock Japanese audiences. I saw those jagged white whirlwinds an abstract painting, and that bumped it up for me. How often do artists give you clues in one piece about the meaning of an image in another piece? (Maybe they do and I don't know it.)

I was impressed with the threads of Buddhist thought I saw in the art. I could not take photos in the exhibit, but Mr. Pointy was in the lobby.

Mr. Pointy is obviously a bodhisattva, but a bodhisattva unlike any I've seen before. I couldn't wait to share the photos with my Dharma school kids.

The museum has a neat time-lapse video of Mr. Pointy being reborn here.

Other stuff by Murakami made me think, well that's funny, this is Japanese psychedelia. There are mushrooms, distorted images, stuff coming out of heads, heads upon heads (that's also a Buddhist thing) and I liked it a whole lot more than American psychedelic art. I found it interesting there was no mention of drugs in the descriptions. It had to be there though, at the very least, homage to psychedelia. Taken as a whole, when I compare this to my impression of American psychadelia, I get the feeling Murakami is more comfortable with these natural forces of the internal human mind. He depicts them as teenagers. They can be raw, primitive, yet have a childlike innocence.

I liked his Warhol-esque treatments of some of his characters, and I really liked his series on Bodhidharma. They were selling limited edition prints, but the postcards worked well enough for me. Each print had a quote with it, too bad not all the postcards included the quote.

This one says, "That I may time transcend, that a universe my heart may unfold."

Regular readers must know why I like that one.

That wasn't all though. I was there just in time to catch the Utagawa exhibit. By this time I was a bit fatigued. I'd been walking everywhere, including a large percentage of the Met Museum the day before.

I learned in this exhibit that it was kind of common for big-name Japanese artists to create erotica. So that explains Murakami a little too. One that caught my eye was based on The Tale of Genji. Who knew that modern-day porn borrowed from Japanese art with their puns on well-known mainstream titles?

I quickly toured around The Dinner Party and Ghada Amer. A person could spend a day just on that, but I had a plane to catch. Of course I also visited the regular exhibits of the museum. I could take pictures in the regular collection. You can see my complete Brooklyn Museum photo set here. It includes some of the subway station art.

I was delighted to see a print I own in
the Utagawa exhibit. I won it as part of a fund-raising raffle. In the exhibit, I got to see three versions of it at different stages in the printing, starting with washes and ending with detail.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Driving in thunderstorm

driving in thunderstorm
Originally uploaded by hoogstra
I've just uploaded my first video to flickr.

The night I arrived in Wisconsin, there were tornadoes and thunderstorms. I was still in the air during the tornadoes, but drove through bands of thunderstorms to get to Fond du Lac. The music was eerily the same as if I had never left 23 years ago.

I was only 25 miles away when I was routed off the highway. The detour was confusing. I thought it odd that they would not do the usual partial road construction and keep us on the highway.

With the detour and the storms, it took me about an hour longer to get there from Milwaukee. At 2 am, I checked into my hotel, where I learned the road was closed due to flooding, and that much of the town was flooded. The hotel was full, the clerk's replacement could not get there, and she couldn't leave either. Without my reservation, I would not have a room.

There's a nice dramatic flash near the end of this video.