Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Don't Mess With George

On December 26th 1776 George Washington crossed the Delaware River with his ragged army.  His surprise attack on the British at Trenton was a successful step in the long painful battle for independence.  The crossing was memorialized by Emanuel Leutz in his 1881 painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware".

Now comes a reinterpretation and a new painting offering an historically accurate version of the event.  You can read about it and see a picture of the new work at this link.  The painting is boring.  One is not drawn into the drama.  No heart palpitations. 

Leutz' painting has served a patriotic purpose for 230 years.  The viewer immediately recognizes danger, courage, resourcefulness and determination.  Does it matter if the picture is accurate? 

As an example of the success of Leutz' classic, look at Dan Deroux's painting "Washington Crossing the Khyber Pass".  Deroux is an acclaimed contemporary artist.  He is frequently inspired by historical events and the art of others.  Deroux understands the power of the ice flow and wind whipping at the flag.  He gets it that Washington is leading the way down an untrodden path.  My advice, don't mess with George.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Data Points

I no longer work in an office.  When I did, I maintained a personal goal to use as little business jargon as possible. Much of it is awful.  "Give me your input" is one of the older pieces of business slang.  I did not suggest that we "throw it at the wall to see if it sticks."  However, one bit of business slang is useful for this post: "Data points".  Used this way: "If you have several data points you may be able to draw a conclusion."

Here are my Christmas Eve data points. 
  • Use of the word "Christmas" in public space is frowned upon, banned or prosecuted depending on the level of notice it receives. 
  • Congress is convened in its daily work with a prayer that specifically invokes "The Lord" or "God". 
  • West Point Military Academy produces a wonderful Christmas concert, at taxpayer expense, that includes hymns and carols that refer to the birth of Jesus, God, heaven, and many associated wonders. 
  • Many churches will be closed tomorrow, Christmas day, so that parishioners can spend the holiday in celebration (opening presents) at home.
My conclusions:  it is impossible to separate a people from their culture.  Culture is dynamic, adding and subtracting as times change.  It is difficult to draw a bright line between religion and shared cultural heritage.  When we try, we appear as intolerant as those who drove many to our shores.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Last year I wrote about the winter solstice.  I was gratified to day that the author of one of my favorite comic strips called reader attention to this important event.  See Jan Eliot's "Stone Soup" for December 22.


Do you remember this acronym?  Keep it simple, stupid.  The politicians and media are all over each other today talking about the Social Security tax cut.  Anyone who dares to say anything negative about this new sacred cow is called haughty, uncaring, and perpetrator of an American caste system.

Well, I think it is a bad idea to continue to "temporarily" reduce the social security payroll tax from 6.2% to 4.2%.  Such carelessness immediately raises the ever-mounting deficit by 2% of the annual US payroll.  Notice, there is no accompanying reduction in proposed Social Security benefits.  I am opposed to deliberately increasing the likelihood that our Social Security promise will be hollow for my children.  The longer the temporary tax reduction remains in place the less likely it will ever be reimposed.  Already, political rhetoric refers to the end of this "temporary" cut as a tax increase. 

If we want to mess with Social Security, lets do it right: comprehensively.  Be honest about the relationship between funding and benefits.  Keep it simple. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa Came Early

Last Friday night the Ketchikan Humane Society celebrated its tenth anniversary with a fund raising auction.  If you are not familiar with Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan is one of the communities on the islands of the Alexander Archipelago.  Ketchikan is a small town, about 10,000 people.  Sounds big by "down south" standards, but those people live on a 40 mile road system with no way off the island except by air or sea.  I lived there for almost 20 years.  I was one of the founders of the Humane Society.  I went to the tenth anniversary party.  We raised more money than any of us believed possible.  One week before Christmas, a cold night with colder rain blowing sideways.  Our venue was crowded, the bidding enthusiastic.  At the end of the evening, the proprietor had sold all of his food and beverages, all of our items were paid for and carried out, nothing was broken and we were exhausted.  We watched our slide show one more time.  It was simple.  Before and after pictures of the animals whose lives we had saved.  Mostly dogs and cats.  We were reminded of the wonderful Rainbow Bridge where animals go after death to wait for their human friends.  Get a hanky if you follow the link.  The Ketchikan Humane Society is sustained by the devotion and care of many volunteers.  It succeeds because of the vision and passion of one woman, Gretchen Moore.  We agreed that when Gretchen approaches Rainbow Bridge she will be mobbed by the hundreds of animals who felt her loving touch.  If there is truly a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it is right there in Ketchikan at 12034 North Tongass Highway at Gretchen's boarding kennel and the home of the Ketchikan Humane Society. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Was This Necessary?

In today's paper are two stories that make me wonder, "why was this necessary?"  One is about Jessica Lynch, now 28 and about to receive her college degree in Education.  The other is about Dakota Meyer.  Ms. Lynch served in the US Army.  She did a tour of duty nine years ago in Iraq.  She was a supply clerk.  She was a passenger in a convoy that was attacked.  She was injured - spinal fractures, nerve damage, a shattered right arm and badly damaged legs.  She was taken prisoner.  That story is enough to demonstrate that her service to the country included great danger, and to warrant our appreciation.  But the Army exaggerated the circumstances of her capture, and her role in the combat. To improve their public image? To rally public support?  Why? 

Dakota Meyer served in Afghanistan.   He received the Medal of Honor for his action during an ambush of his unit in 2009.  We now learn that the narrative that accompanied his award was embellished.  Unnecessarily.  It seems he would be worthy of his honor without the misrepresentation of additional enimies killed and wounded rescued.  As with Ms. Lynch's story, the story of Mr. Meyer's heroism was enhanced by the Marine Corps' Public Affairs office.  To improve their public image?  To rally public support?  Why.

Both these young adults deserve our recognition and thanks for their service to our country.  They do not deserve to be pawns in a public relations campaign.  Their personal reputations are at stake.  Shame on the editors.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why "We"?

John Kennedy did not refer to himself as "we". Neither did Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson or any other of the presidents of my childhood.  Today's politician is all about "we" when referring to himself (or, sadly herself as women have adopted the same habit).  Perhaps "we" makes sense when speaking broadly as in "we will address the issue of entitlements this year" or "we have received many letters".  But, "We are the strongest candidate and will make the best President'?  Does the speaker have a frog in his pocket?  When did the aversion arise to speaking in the first person?  It is generally considered that a first person address is will create intimacy between the speaker and audience.  The use of "we" diminishes the personal commitment.  It buffers the speaker from association with his own words.  Winston Churchill did not talk about "we" when making his commitment to defend his country.  Do today's politicians flinch from accountability?   Do they believe that leadership is a collective undertaking?  Do they fear the accusation of conceit?  Listen in this political season for a candidate willing to walk his talk.  Listen for "I". 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Do You Trust?

The mainstream media have been surprisingly quiet about news that many find interesting.  Last week more emails were leaked from the Climate Research Unit of East Anglia University.  Scientists affiliated with East Anglia have been in the forefront of climate research and include many of the recognized spokespeople for the belief that man-caused global warming is conclusively demonstrated by collected data and modelling.  Two years ago emails leaked from the same university fanned the flames of discord about the reliability of their conclusions and forecasts.  And now, a second round of emails that cast doubt on their projections.  You might be interested to read about these leaked documents.  Their authenticity is not questioned.  There are many bloggers and think tank scientists writing for electronic readers.  I am linking here to one that I think makes the case well for those who are troubled by the continuing evidence of hubris within the East Anglia fraternity. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Rule of God or the Rule of Man

Two items in the news this week trouble the Western mind.  In Afghanistan, the plight of a jailed rape victim draws attention to the condition of women in Islamic countries.  She was convicted of adultery because she was raped.  The child spawned by the act was born in jail.  Her pardon was from a 12 year sentence.  She was spared the fate of others who have been forced to marry their rapist.  Some have then been killed in an "honor" slaying because the original "crime" brought the family shame.

In Egypt the much heralded election favored not only the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, but also the ultraconservative Salafis.  Their leader, Sheik Shahat makes clear their view: "freedom restricted by Islamic Shariah, equality restricted by Islamic Shariah..." It is reported that the Salafis won 25% of the vote in the first round.  Those who love freedom do not understand the fervor for Islamic law.  In Egypt we may witness a different contest than we expected.  Not tyranny vs democracy, but the rule of god vs the rule of man.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Please Read

Many know that my husband and I lived in Alaska.  Much of my career was spent working on natural resource development.  I held political appointments to executive responsibility in both the regional office of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and, later, the State Department of Environmental Conservation.  In a decade of consulting I worked with clients in both the timber and oil drilling industries.  I believe that resource development is compatible with the lifestyle and economic goals of modern society.  Resource development is always accompanied by debate over the possible risks.  In the United States we have a permitting process that incorporates important features of a regulatory program: unambiguous statutory authority; a documented basis for concern; protective standards; documented compliance; and a means of enforcement.  The public have the right and the opportunity to receive information and comment at every step along the way.  This process works well.  Since the passage of  major environmental legislation over thirty years ago the air and water are significantly cleaner.

Sometimes an issue draws so much attention that communications campaigns are launched by those for or against. This has happened with the proposed development of the Pebble copper deposit in Western Alaska.  I support providing information, describing personal values and offering a point of view.  I don't support creating false facts.  For an analysis of a recent campaign against Pebble, please read the November 29 post on Andrew Halcro's blog.  Please also visit the web site of the Pebble Partnership.  The Pebble project is moving through required permitting.  A truthful exchange of views is part of that process.  Created facts are not.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Sometimes words get over-used.  Too much exposure.  Before the events of Sept 11, 2001, "horrific" was seldom used.  It was especially not used by television broadcasters.  Someone used "horrific" in searching for a way to convey the dreadful events of that day, and since then, all frightful events reported on TV are "horrific". 

A word you don't hear so often is "thrilling".  Perhaps one man's thrill is another's ennui.  Perhaps the idea of a thrill has been trivialized when "thrilled" is used simply to accept an invitation to lunch.  As I prepared a meal this holiday, and fussed with table linens and flowers, I listened to Verdi's opera "Attila".  For me, Verdi is thrilling.  I catch my breath, wait for the chords to resolve.  I stop and listen to each crescendo.   I never tire of the music.  Roller coasters are not thrilling.  Not for me.  Are they for you?  Does the slow climb and heart-stopping plunge thrill you the way Verdi's music does me?  Lucky us if our thrills are within reach. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Go to Your Room

If they are going to act like children, let's treat them like children.  The members of the 112th Congress have squandered the first session and show no likelihood of anything different in the upcoming second session.  Their hand picked committee put the icing on the cake.  Representative Hensarling and Senator Murray can try all they want to suggest that their failure is not a failure.  It is.  They had blue prints from others.  They had the bulliest pulpit.  They had evidence daily of the need for action.  Frustrated, angry and scared constituents were ready to accept some concessions.  The wagon was ready to roll out of the mud.  And they failed. 

Don't blame the President.  Don't blame your party caucus.  Don't blame citizens advocating for their view.  Blame yourselves.  Go to your room.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20, 2012

One year ago today I began this blog.  I have published 94 posts.  I have enjoyed thinking about each topic - sometimes researching something that caught my eye - sometimes just speaking my mind.  I have enjoyed hearing from you, only occasionally as published comments, but more often by email directly to me.  I have read other blogs regularly, and seen issues from a different perspective than my own.  I have almost completed by first turn around the board in my new capacity as "retired".  I am in better shape, sleep more, and am busier than I have ever been.  I am still very much a beginner - at Taekwondo, at sheep herding, at serious piano playing.  I see more of my children and grandchildren.  Tonight I will collect my $200 and start out again. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

First Song

I believe in evolution.  I particularly believe in the way living things change to take best advantage of their physical circumstances.  Read Jonathon Weiner's "The Beak of the Finch: a Story of Evolution in our Time" for a quick immersion course in opportunistic adaptation.  I follow with enthusiasm the continuing drama of new discoveries showing the evolutionary path followed by earliest man.  I stare at images of cave art. 

But what of cave song?  If they took the time to draw, surely they took the time to sing.  What early purpose favored individuals with the lung, larynx and head cavities necessary to song?  What evolutionary turn taught the mind to tune the voice-as-instrument without an external pitch fork?  What lullaby did the cave woman sing to her swaddled babe?  What triumphal aria did the early hunter offer as he carried home his prey?  What deep bass voice looked out at the clouds and forecast rain?  For surely they sang.  Surely they learned the joy of singing together, the power of unison and rhythm.  In my dreams I will hear these early songs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Watch this in Awe

Alex Honnold ascends the legendary Half Dome without a rope.  I can barely watch this excellent video.  In his own words, "One wrong move, you fall, you die".  This is not a recent accomplishment, but I have just learned of it.  I thought you would enjoy.

Watch it here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Penn State, My Take

No explanation is satisfactory.  Penn State went on with business as usual today.  They played - and lost to Nebraska.  Former players stood behind the Penn State bench in what they called a "show of solidarity"  Solidarity with what?  What does football mean to Penn State now?  On behalf of football and the larger than life program it had become, Penn State subordinated the basic instinct to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  They knew.  They had to have known. Perhaps not the terrible details, but the fact that looking away was better than sacrifice of the program.  Football made them do it.  They should not play again.

No Running, Jumping or Playing

Those are the instructions for "At Home" care for my little dog, Floss.  She is a young Border Collie.  She herds sheep.  She can run hard for hours.  At home she has an assortment of squeaky toys.  She squeaks, tosses, stomps and throws them.  Our daily walks involve running to and fro, sniffing and stalking squirrels.  and now, no running jumping or playing for four weeks.

Floss's foot will heal easily.  She is young and the injured bone will be ready to begin rebuilding her strength in week five.  By week eight she will be back at her passions - sheep and toys.  But today - day three, no running, jumping or playing.  Just big eyes watching me type from the depths of the large Elizabethan collar she is wearing.  As with our dogs before her, and no doubt as with those who will follow, she adds joy to our lives.  I will care for her as she recovers, as she will care for me when I ask for her soft muzzle and warm company when I am blue.  We share our unconditional commitment.  And, in January, we will walk out into a field again, and share sheep. 

Here is Floss.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Namma Nessa

That is what my daughter's children call me.  I am heading to Anchorage for a visit.  I'll return to my blog next week.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tony La Russa

If you read the paper or listen to the radio, or watch a sports cast on television you know that Tony La Russa is retiring  - from baseball.  You can read all about his impressive career.  Less mentioned is his lifetime of advocacy for homeless animals.  His passion was forged into commitment 30 years ago when a feral cat wandered onto the field during an Oakland A's home game.  The story is told on the web pages of "Dog Time".  La Russa and his wife founded the Animal Rescue Foundation to be sure that such creatures could have a safe forever-home.  Fortunately for the countless animals who have been rescued by Animal Rescue, he will carry on in their behalf. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

All Saints' Eve

The little goblins, princesses and Ninjas that came to our door probably know little about the importance of a good fall harvest.  They are not particularly bothered by the shortening days, nor worried about how to light the longs nights ahead.  They will not gather around a bon fire at the edge of their village and make a celebration to the gods and good fortune that brought them food to put up for the winter.  They will not look out into the very dark night and fear that they might freeze or starve before the spring.  I have many small bags of M&M's left.  I have only some ornamental climbing beans from my garden to show for my ability to feed myself off the land.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


874.  That is the number of Border Collies, Aussies, Kelpies and other herding dogs whose lives were saved by Mary Ann Lindsay.  Mary Ann died this week.  The cancer she had fought for 10 years took away one of the best friends dogs in the north western states have ever had.  Helped by her husband Jim Mary Ann took in the stray, the hurt, the frightened and the out-of-luck dogs collected off the streets of Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle. She made them well both physically and emotionally.  She found new homes for them - homes in 40 different states.  Each new owner made the trip to Hayden Lake, Idaho to be scrutinized by Mary Ann.  Knowing her was seeing the best.  No board of directors, no fund raising committee, no marketing program.  Just Mary Ann (and Jim).  Read her own words about why she rescued dogs.  Many dog owners are comforted by the prospect of visiting Rainbow Bridge where their pets wait for them after death.  Mary Ann is there as surely as there is hope and love in the world.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


My husband and I drove east last week.  We had our dogs with us and were headed to a sheep dog trial.  we left our home near Puget Sound well before dawn.  The road we travelled took us due east across White Pass just south of Mt. Rainier in the Cascade Mountains.  The Cascades have a long gradual slope to the West - a steeper slope to the east.  We drove into the rising sun.  The mountain peaks were backlighted as dawn approached.  We drove through nautical dawn, a time that I know well from years lived in Ketchikan, Alaska at latitude 55.35.  At that latitude, in the weeks near the summer solstice the night gets no darker than nautical dawn.  Nautical dawn - or dusk - is the time when the sun is 12 degrees below the horizon.  At nautical dawn objects begin to stand out.  In Ketchikan, we started out fishing at nautical dawn. 

We drove on and crossed White Pass onto the eastern slope of the mountains at civil dawn.  In Anchorage Alaska, latitude 61.17, city league baseball games are scheduled in civil dawn which lasts all night at the solstice.  At civil dawn the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon. As we descended the pass, the sun rose.  We looked back at the red glow on Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens.  This was a good way to start the day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Squash Soup Addendum

Add shrimp or prawns, or for a spicier meal add andouille smoked sausage..

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Squash Soup

Get a winter squash.  My favorite is a big blue Hubbard.  If you are cooking for a crowd, this is the squash for you.  Any winter squash will do and many ripen at a smaller size.  Pumpkins are squash.  The varieties sold for carving are a bit stringier than the sweeter pumpkins and many of the other winter squash.  I have used carving pumpkins for many recipes.  Squash is good for you.  One cup cooked provides 5.74 grams of fiber which is excellent for cleaning out your intestinal track.  Winter squash is also a source of potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene.

I don't specify quantities in my recipe.  More carrot makes the soup taste more carroty.  More onion, more oniony.  Etc...
Winter Squash
Chicken Stock
Canned Coconut Milk
Salt and Pepper

Cut your squash in half, scoop out seeds and drizzle with olive oil.  Add salt and pepper.  Turn halves cut side down in a baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until tender.  Scoop out flesh.  While the squash is baking, dice a sweet onion and saute in olive oil or butter.  Add a bit of garlic if you like.  Cut up some carrots and add to the saute.  Add chicken stock - enough to cover the carrots easily, bring to simmer and cook until the carrots are tender.  Puree the squash and the onion-carrot mixture.  Blend all together and return to the stove.  Salt and pepper to taste.  You might add a little ground nutmeg.   Just before serving stir in coconut milk.  Don't let the soup boil once you have added the coconut.  Put as much is as you want.  Serve.  This is comfort food.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I have read, and reread Nicholas Kristof's column about rape.  He has been traveling in Africa.  His facts are difficult to fathom.  Rape.  Of children.  Of toddlers.  A 2 and-a-half month old infant who died of her internal injuries.  What man would do this?  What others condone it?  We are not civilized if such atrocity exists.  This is not beastiality.  Only the human male with his so-called superior intelligence is capable of such depravity.  How do you help these young victims?  A baby might be born by some of the older girls.  what will those new mothers tell their children?  How will that violent beginning end?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

And Now, the Scores

With those words the radio host read the scores - just the numbers, not the teams.  And not even what sport they played.  This was some years ago in Ketchikan, Alaska.  A small town by "down south" standards but fourth largest in Alaska at the time.  There were two stations, one AM and one FM.  The FM was mostly staffed with volunteers.  The sports-scores-man reliably reported.  The newspaper filled in the details. 

I looked at the scores in this morning's papers.  I thought of the sports-scores-man.  Listening years ago, I usually could tell which sport generated the scores: 2 to 1, probably hockey; 7 to 5, baseball; 14 to 10, football.  Yesterday's college football contests were a rout for the losers.  The top ten teams won their games by an average spread of 34.33 points.  Boise State beat Fresno State 50 to 7.  In the top 25 contests, the average spread was 24.75.  Where were the squeakers?  The games that kept fans glued to their seats, hearts pumping, cheers and waves rolling? Did the cheer leaders keep their pace?  Did the bands roll a crescendo to urge on the side?  Or did the crowd thin, drawn to the tailgates or frat houses, or home to rake leaves?  Its not much fun to watch a rout. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Heaven's Gate?

Perhaps you noticed the award of the Nobel Prize in physics.  It has left me scratching my head.  The prize was awarded "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae".  You can read the details on the Nobel website.  Words are important.  The award citation which is quoted above speaks of the "accelerating expansion" of the Universe.  The science reporter for the Washington Post, BrianVastag, was apparently confused.  In his article today he offers these summaries of the citation: "...for showing that the universe is flying apart..."; "..as galaxies continue to pull apart from one another..."; "... how fast the stars...were racing away from the Earth..."; "...the universe's inflation was speeding up..."; and finally, "...mysterious anti-gravitational force must be pushing the universe...".  Well. Pushing?  Pulling? Inflating?  I learned from his article that scientists have calculated the mass of the universe.  Whether it is pulled or pushed, where is it going?  If the universe as we know it is flying away to someplace else, where is that place?  One of the winning scientists comments that these are very philosophical questions.  I'm not sure if it is an advantage or disadvantage to understand their work.  You can accept the Nobel winning calculation that the result of the accelerating expansion will be a black and cold end.  Or you can believe that this is all part of a greater design that is beyond human comprehension.  Your choice.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Training Wheels

Today is my father's birthday.  He would be 94 if he were alive.  He died ten years ago.  Several years later, after my mother's death, I found the planning calendar she had used in 2001.  March 13, the day of his death was scratched out with black ink - she went over and over the March 13 square, pressing her pen down hard.  They were married for 62 years.  I wrote about my mother in May.

Using today's idiom, my father was a "hands on" guy.  He taught me ride a bike, to sail, to throw a ball and all the other things a kid needed to know. He laced my skates on the coldest days when we skated on the frozen creek by our house.  He never seemed to be cold.  He read what I wrote and improved it with his suggestions.  For thirty years we spoke on the phone each Sunday and talked about the books we had read.  He lured me to read from his library.  When he was weakened by poor lungs at the end of his life, I organized those books for him so he could look over them and recall what he could no longer read. 

Today's dads can use training wheels to help their children learn to ride.  In our day, Dad ran along side holding the seat of my bike.  He kept me balanced until he could feel that I could make it alone, and then he let go.  He was my training wheels in so many ways. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

It ain't BEGUN until the fat lady sings!

Thus spoke the Philadelphia Flyers (ice hockey team) of their adopted good luck-goddess, Kate Smith.  I write about her today because we are entering the season of baseball playoffs.  When major league baseball resumed in the week after the 9/11 attacks, teams began offering "God Bless America" as a patriotic flourish in the seventh inning stretch.  They would do well to play a recording of Smith singing "God Bless America" which was written for her by Irving Berlin in 1938.  The Flyers played it before a game in 1969.  They won.  Over the next 30 years Smith (often in person) and her song (sometimes a recording) achieved a stunning success: 94 wins, 26 losses and 4 ties.  For pure joy, watch this clip of her performance before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals in which the Flyers beat the Bruins and went on to win the championship.

Perhaps today's performers will channel their inner fat lady, stand and deliver in the same way. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

RIP Retired English Teachers

English is a wonderful language.  It is dynamic, changing with contemporary use.  The straightforward syntax of English allows words to tell without elaborate grammatical arrangements. Words can change class easily - a noun in one sentence, adjective in another, even a verb.  For example: George is her husband.  He did not act in a husbandly way when he flirted with the clerk.  He will husband her dowry carefully.  In each generation there are those who resist changes in grammar and usage.  They justify their view by invoking their mother or grandmother as in "my grandmother would turn over in her grave if she heard....".  But the language moves on nevertheless and accommodates change. 

I have my favorite examples.  The use of "atbat" as a noun, as in "He had a difficult atbat, striking out after four fouls".  This week I heard a popular new noun.  On the TV show "Antiques Roadshow", "yard saling" slipped from the lips of an on-air interviewee.  And I saw in print a verb coined by flight attendants telling you to "power down" your computer.  The instructions for my fancy new head lamp (used for walking dogs after dark) advised me to "power down" the light before changing the batteries.

I am a fan of these developments.  Last week I wrote about pipe organs.  It is from pipe organ performance that we have the phrase "pull out all the stops".  The stops are used to control air flow through the pipes.  Pulling out all the stops would result in maximum volume.  You can think of your own examples of our language in dynamic change.  Use a new word today.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Oh, Bach!

Josh Hunt is a nationally recognized expert on why some churches succeed and others don't.  He lectures, consults and blogs about increasing church membership.  He frequently advises churches to take out the ograns that dominate the vaulted space of the sanctuary.  "Young people today don't listen to pipe organ music on their iPod's", he says.  Pity.  Take a short break and listen to the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  Share it with a young person.  Perhaps there is hope.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


It's time for county and state fairs.  If you're lucky there is one near you.  My favorite part of the fair is the chickens, especially the fancy ones with top-nots and fluffy feet.

Many fairs feature extreme vegetable contests.  Eighteen pound carrots and 50 pound beets are wheeled in.  But the ultimate sport in extreme vegetables is giant pumpkin growing.  Pumpkineers are a class unto themselves.  Technology, technique and seed hybridization are closely guarded secrets.  All admit that luck plays a big role.  In the last 20 years pumpkineering has grown from a casual hobby to obsession for the top growers.  Standards have changed.  "Heavy" used to be 400 pounds.  Today the heavy-weights come in over 1,500 pounds slung with hoists and pulleys from the back of big trucks.  Take a quick look on YouTube.

Why do I care?  I love the competition - but more than that I love the demonstration of the power of photosynthesis.  From seed to 3/4 ton in three months.  This is a natural process.  This is the essential building block of life on this earth.  Go green!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Who Should Help?

We are aware of natural disasters around the world.  Television brings the flood waters into our kitchens. When  the earth quakes in the United States, we are on the scene within hours, often seeing real-time video from cell phone cameras.  People are rescued from rising water.  The National Guard is on scene.

Until late in the 20th Century, the hard times brought by wind, rain and fire were endured locally without a TV reporter asking how it feels to lose your home.  The chain of responsibility ran first through the private sector and then to local and state government.  In the great Mississippi flood of 1927 President Coolidge was hesitant to make a federal commitment even when 30 feet of water covered land from Illinois to  the Gulf of Mexico.  One million were homeless.  (Read a great book about this flood by John Barry, "The Rising Tide".  Try, also "The Johnstown Flood", David McCullough's account of the 1889 flood in Pennsylvania.)

Today we have an elaborate hierarchy of  response.  First, emergency.  Second, restore public services.These are clearly the functions of government and are one of the reasons we are willing to pay taxes.   And then, after lives are saved and the immediate danger has passed the more complex challenge of compensation and restoration.  It's not clear whose responsibility it is to hold our citizens harmless against the hazards of the weather.  Some are helped and some are not.  Some built in a flood plain, or out on the beach against the better judgment of others.  Some buy insurance.  Some do not.  Some rebuild in the same place and are flooded out again.  I am not sure who should help and even less sure who should pay.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rubus Fruticosus

The common blackberry.  Yum.  We are at the height of the season here in the Pacific Northwest.  In fact, Oregon is the leading blackberry producer in the world. But you don't need to go to Oregon to find this fruit.  Blackberries tolerate poor soil and will take over any vacant lot.  Who hasn't pushed forward into a tangled mass of prickly vines to reach the ripe fruit?  Who hasn't come home with a pail full and purple stained hands?  Good to eat, and good for you, too.  A handful of blackberries delivers 21% of recommended daily fiber, 25% of Vitamin K and a whopping 35% of Vitamin C.  People have endured the sharp barbs, and put up with the purple stains for centuries.  A woman whose well preserved body was found in a peat bog in Denmark had eaten blackberries for her last meal in the year 500 BC. 

Try Blackberry Mush:
Boil fresh, washed blackberries with just enough water to get the boiling started.  Cook only until tender (about 2 - 3 minutes).  Put the fruit through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and squeeze as much pulp through as you can.  Measure.  This recipe calls for 2 cups of juice.  Mix together in a small bowl 3 TBS cornstarch, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, pinch of salt.  Add, slowly, stirring all the time, to the cooled juice.  When thoroughly mixed in, cook over low heat, stirring all the time, until it thickens and boils.  Boil one minute and pour into a serving dish.  Chill and serve with thick cream, ice cream or sour cream..

The recipe is my mother's.  She loved it and planned an annual visit to me at this time of year to pick blackberries.  Mush is comfort food.  I will make it and think of her. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And Many Happy Returns

A celebration - or perhaps better said, a recognition is underway throughout the Christian world.  2011 marks 400 years since the publication in 1611 of the King James Bible. There are many good books out.  I recommend Alister E. McGrath's "In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture".  If I lived near New York City I would drop by the American Bible Society building at West 61st and Broadway and see their current exhibit of Biblical illustrations,"On Eagles' Wings".  The title is taken from Exodus 19:4 - "Ye have seen...how I bare you on eagles' wings and brought you unto myself".

This focus on the King James Bible has me thinking about language and the difficult art of translation.  For centuries people have gone to war over words.  "Being of one substance" is different than "being of the same substance".  Both are phrases that describe the Holy Trinity at the core of Christian belief.  The original text was in Greek.  Then there were Latin translations.  And since then, there has been controversy.

Everyone should take a turn at translation.  If you think you don't know a foreign language, listen to kids.  A teacher I know had his class translate some Shakespeare into the shortened language of text messaging.  Then they discussed what was gained and what was lost in the translation.  The authors of the King James Bible used simple language that tells the story with nouns and verbs.  The action is easy to follow.  400 years later, it is still a best seller.  Modern translations use contemporary grammar but don't do any better at describing each scene.   Plan your own recognition and read the Bible today.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Am the Cat Who Walks by Himself

My favorite blog is written by Jenny Glen.  It is called Alta Pete Farm Tails.  Jenny and her husband Scott live in Southern Alberta.  They raise sheep and train dogs to manage the sheep.  They compete with their dogs throughout North America.

Yesterday Jenny passed on a piece of blogger-conventional wisdom: "If you are too busy to blog, post a picture of your cat".  Instead, I invite you to read about cats.  The link is to a short story by 19th century author Rudyard Kipling from his book "Just So Stories".  I sat last evening in the last light watching a black cat make her rounds.  If you are too busy to watch a cat, you are missing a great entertainment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Did you watch Fred Rogers?  Did you sing along with him, perhaps as you sat with your very young children and watched him put on his cardigan and sing "... won't you be my neighbor."

Fred Rogers grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  He was born in 1928. ( A year later, Arnold Palmer was born in the same small town.)  Latrobe is a railroad town, 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  There were good jobs in the railroad days, jobs we now call "family wage jobs".  A main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad ran through Latrobe.  The short haul Ligonier line ran along the Loyalhanna Creek through a deep mountain gorge and then on a spur to several coal mines.

No doubt, Latrobe was a neighborhood.  Coal hauling, railroad repairs, engineering, smithing, taking in laundry and preparing meals.  The population was under 10,000.  People knew each other's name.  Your neighbor knows your name.  Your neighbor gives you a hand.  Your neighbor waves in passing.

We have come to live in a neighborhood.  Kids on bikes.  An ice cream truck playing familiar nickelodeon tunes.  Cats in the sun washing and sleeping.   Mr. Rogers urged his young audience to be a neighbor by sharing, protecting, respecting.  Latrobe is proud of this native son - for good reason.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Dust bunnies formed as soon as I opened the first box - first of several hundred.  We are now day 8 in our new house.  We had our internet installed today.  The previous seven days were "radio-silent".  We hooked up our stereo system over the weekend providing music to unpack by. Willie Nelson offered the right mix of sing-along and remember.

Our new house is in a retirement community.  It is a continuing care community which offers no support, some support or full time support as we "age in place".  We both volunteer at a local sheep farm, herding ewes and wethers and lambs with our dogs.  I am in a martial arts program, working towards my black belt.  I am not ready for support for my daily care, but I'm glad to know it will be there when I am.  This chapter is the last, but may be the longest.  For now, I'm glad that someone else will plow the snow.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It Takes a Lot of Living....

My mother was a stickler about the proper use of the words "home" and "house". Her clarification: "It takes a lot of living to make a house a home." Today we made a down payment on that investment. Tomorrow our dogs will join us. Dust bunnies will begin to form under the bed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I have mentioned before that we are preparing to move.  Now it is happening.  We begin this move in earnest tomorrow.  We have done all that we can in preparation for younger and stronger men who will arrive in the morning.   We are experienced movers, but no amount of experience really prepares you for the loss of control that follows the dismantling of your home.  I have wandered through our increasingly empty house with an item in my hand that I want to pack with others like it.  But I can't find the others.  My husband packs more than I am wanting to save.  I throw out more than he is wanting to lose.  We create tension between "it might be useful someday" and "I haven't used it in a year".    I visited our new neighborhood this morning.  I talked with one of our new neighbors and took a picture of our new mailbox with our names on it.  Comforting moments reminding me that when one door closes, another opens.  This time next year I will be thinking about other things.  Perhaps a block party with our new friends.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Do I think?

Casey Anthony.  The media never gave her a chance.  They still don't, calling her a killer and questioning the trial and verdict.  The jury were not convinced.  They were there.  Their word is good enough for me.

Congress.  Doing their job.  The system is not broken.  The hot heads in the House acted just as the Constitutional Convention predicted they would - hot-headedly.  The deliberative Senate acted just as the Constitutional Convention predicted they would - more slowly and with more thorough debate.  Read James Madison's notes of the proceedings.  This is the way our legislative branch is supposed to work.

The American people.  Doing their job.  The elected legislators and executives have heard from their constituents that change is needed - less public expenditure.  Despite fear mongering, Granny has not been thrown off a cliff. 

The US economy.  Working.  Everyone is cautiously holding cash.  Consumers are saving more.  Corporations are investing less.  These are uncertain times.  In a free economy such as ours there will be winners and losers.  We have come through a long hold-harmless era during which government has sought to mitigate the consequences of failure.  We cannot afford to indemnify all risk.  The challenge will be to back away a bit.

The Tea Party.  They acted in the way that we advocate in all civics curricula.  They organized around common principles and values and got out the vote for candidates who agreed.  Those with a different view have the same opportunity.  The Tea Party folk have remained focused for over two years.  I'm impressed. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

R & R

We are now six days away from our move.  Boxes, piles, tape and marking pens surround us.  Books weigh more than they used to.  I feel my standards for organization slipping. 

I took time out yesterday to go to a wedding.  For four hours I was bathed in optimism and goodwill.  With the other guests, I listened to vows that drew married couples closer together to hold hands and remember.  For a brief time, there was only tomorrow - no yesterday. Oh, this is a modern couple.  They have been together for some time.  But standing before friends and family, and dressed like the figures on the cake, they grinned and glowed with anticipation.  The music was fine and some danced.  The food was good.  The toasts were short and thoughtful.  Old friends rewove the threads of their lives.  A summer evening out on the lawn with people all hoping for the good fortune this young couple seek.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ageless Women?

Why are women who appear on stage or in film, or on television not content to wear their age as it happens?  Skin sags a bit, wrinkles etch the face, hair grays.  Why do women try to hide all this?  I acknowledge that men also touch up their hair and have a surgical tuck or two.  But women go to extremes. Blond is a recessive gene.  Why has it become the must-have hair color for TV anchors?  Why isn't gray hair revered as evidence of the wisdom that comes with passing years?  Age brings plenty of aches and limitations.  It's too bad that, for women, it also brings such denial.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Stumped?  It stands for Homeseller Fatigue Syndrome.   My husband and I suffered from Homeseller Fatigue Syndrome as weeks and months passed and the market continued to slip away from us. Our house finally sold, and just in time.  We are moving in two weeks.

Moving is not for sissies.  My back aches just thinking about it.  It reminds me, however, of childbirth.  We have reached that important stage in the process at which we can get into motion. We are no longer waiting for events over which we have little control.  The prospective owners want us out, and our new house beckons.  My blog will ride along in the back seat.  I'll post when I can.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Get Along Little Doggies

Next time you are buying beef, think of this.  After the Civil War, as prosperity returned to northern cities, the demand for beef grew.  Cattle from Texas, the legendary Longhorns, could be sold into the new markets if it could reach a rail head.  The nearest suitable tracks were in Kansas over 500 miles as the crow flies from the Texas range land.  Since cattle can't fly, they walked, driven on by cowboys up the Chisholm Trail.  The trail went north through the Indian Territories (present day Oklahoma) and on to the cow towns where the cattle (and the cowboys) could get loaded.  Before the century closed, and before rail reached into cow country, 5,000,000 head reached Kansas over the Chisholm Trail.  The cowboys, the trail, the towns along the way and the town marshalls have been made famous by John Wayne and others.  Who doesn't know about Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickock?  No matter how hard the ride, lonely the nights, or lawless the life the romance lingers.  Willie Nelson tells it well:

Wichita was on the trail and had rail service.  Wichita prospered.  After the cattle drives came stage coaches and horse and buggy drivers.serving passengers off the Arkansas Valley Interurban Railway and heading for west Kansas.  To capture the travellers' business, in 1921 the Broadview Hotel was built on the banks of the Arkansas River right in the middle of town.  The Broadview was grand in every way with a rooftop promenade offering an all around view of the city below.

On August 1 you will have a chance to celebrate  frontier history in Wichita and meet some 21st century pioneers.  The Broadview will reopen after a 15 month renovation.  The lobby grandeur is restored, but the stone arch on the east side is still engraved with "Freight Station".  Two hundred modern rooms await.  And the pioneers?  The hotel's 9 woman housekeeping staff.  They are long-time employees.  Management wanted to reward their loyalty.  They were offered, and accepted jobs on the construction crew, tearing down walls, breaking tile with jack hammers, caulking, carrying and cleaning up.  The construction job Superintendent says he would hire them again.  He probably won't have the chance because on August 1 they will be busy, again, keeping house and making history.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Recognize the acronym?  Here's a clue: From the Government Agency that regulated LUST, we also have NURP.  Still Guessing?   National Urban Runoff Program - the force behind those stormwater retention ponds that are now a part of every land development project.  There is one about 1/4 mile from our house.  I enjoy walking by it at any time of the year.  EPA analysis from 1979 research concluded that wetlands cleanse pollutants from the water running off our streets, fertilized lawns and super-mall parking lots. Since most developments don't have a convenient wetland located down-gradient, constructed wetlands would have to do.  The word went out, and the beneficiaries include red-winged blackbirds, paddling ducks of all kinds, turtles, frogs, blue herons and my favorite, the tiny marsh wren.  And, of course, urban walkers like me who happen by to enjoy the show.  By design, these ponds are landscaped with grasses, shrubs and marshland plants that stabilize the banks and help with pollution scrubbing.  A properly constructed pond has a sufficient water supply to maintain a permanent pool, and a protective berm high enough to retain a 100 year flood.  As dirty water drains into the pond, sediment settles to the bottom with its adsorbed pollutant load.  Rain, runoff and naturally occurring groundwater keep water flowing down the outlet.  Regular maintenance removes built up sediments.

Keep an eye out for a retention pond near you and enjoy this elegant solution to a water quality problem.

PS on LUST.  Leaking Underground Storage Tanks.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies

We all know the words.  At least the first verse.  Some can go on to the second verse:

Oh beautiful for Pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress.
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control
Thy liberty in law.

But it is the third verse that we should sing today. 

Oh beautiful for heroes proved
in liberating strife
Who more than self their country loved,
and mercy more than life
America! America!
May god thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine.

This is the verse sung so often by Ray Charles.  Perhaps you can hear him in your mind.  It is his signature recognition of those who serve our country.  Here is a vintage performance.

A post script thought.  "America the Beautiful" was written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates  Bates was professor of English literature at Wellesley College.  She was in the vanguard of liberated women.  She was educated, travelled widely, supported herself well and lived in a committed partnership with economist Katharine Coman for 25 years.  Sung in patriotic honor of our armed forces by a blind African American, "America the Beautiful" transcends the squabbling and smallness of much current political discourse.

Friday, July 1, 2011

North Platte Canteen

Out of Omaha, due west heading for Cheyenne, the Union Pacific line runs through North Platte, Nebraska.  In 1941, trains stopped in North Platte to take on water and lubricate the wheels.  It was a quick stop - perhaps 20 minutes.  After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Union Pacific carried troops through North Platte on their way to war.  And, from December, 1941 until April 1946, every train was met.  Six million service men (and women) were greeted with hot coffee, freshly baked cookies, sandwiches and cakes.  The story of the women (and some men) of the North Platte Canteen is beautifully told by others.  At the linked site you can watch a short video and hear from veterans who remember, with tears, their visit to the Canteen over 60 years ago.  Read Bob Greene's book "Once Upon A Town, the Miracle of the North Platte Canteen".  You can get it for your e-reader, or listen to it on your next road trip. But don't think that such human kindness occurred only on the great plains of the mid-west.  Today, in Bangor, Maine, planes carrying troops to and from war in the Middle East are met by volunteers.  The Maine Troop Greeters have greeted over 5900 flights with more than 1,200,000 service members and 296+ military dogs. A documentary film, "The Way We Get By" tells this story.

My husband and I live near a military base.  We buy a meal for soldiers when we can.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stay Tuned

I promised more on North Platte. It's coming. I am "Grandma" this week with my son and his family in California. My son has a blog, too. His new post tells about another great American city. After Newsweek declared Grand Rapids a dying city the Mayor and 5000 citizens struck back with a video. You can see it on my son's blog. You will be packing your bags for a visit.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How Far Did we Walk Today?

My husband and I are moving.  I am packing boxes.  Yesterday I packed two full boxes of diaries, memoirs and biographies of women who walked west with the wagon trains in our country's great migration.  I have collected these, and poured over them.  I have tried to imagine the trip.  I learned that the man who would stop the train while his wife gave birth was called a "Yankee husband".  In all of these accounts, the women note carefully how many miles they travelled each day.  And for a long time I wondered how they knew.

It should not surprise that the Romans had an odometer.  It was a wheel somewhat like a surveyor's wheel that dropped a pebble into a container on each revolution.  Benjamin Franklin invented an odometer while serving his country as Postmaster General.  He wanted to do smart route planning - an activity that USPS is engaged in to this very day.  The first wave of Mormon emigrants designed and built an odometer that operated on the cogged wheel system.  Mounted on a wagon wheel with a known circumference it counted revolutions which could be converted to miles. 

Most of the wagons that swarmed over the prairie did not have an odometer.  They used a tried and true method: tie a red rag to the wagon wheel and count the revolutions.  Who pulled rag-count duty?  How long was each shift?  Incredibly most of those who started out arrived safely in Utah, Oregon, California.  They were tough and determined - walking in shoes with thin leather soles and sleeping on the ground.  On a good day they made 12 miles.  On average, 360 revolutions of the wheel of a Conestoga wagon made a mile.  That's 4320 revolutions.  Who kept score?

PS  The Mormons' first odometer was installed on a wagon  in North Platte, Nebraska.  There is a plaque at the North Platte Regional airport marking the location of the inventor's shop.  North Platte has featured often in American history, most notably as home of the North Platte Canteen in World War II.  More about that next time.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lose Big, Get a Dog

It was raining this morning.  My dogs did not care.  We went for our walk as usual.  I was reminded of Dr. Robert Kushner.  Dr. Kushner is professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine where he focuses on obesity.  He has published over 140 medical articles as well as several books on obesity.  My favorite is "Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together".  Dr. Kushner is bullish on dogs: "Who would know that a dog leash, for many, is more motivating than an expensive gym membership?"  Kushner teamed up with Hills Pet Nutrition to develop a program to combat the combined obesity epidemics in people and dogs.  The program is simple.  Get a dog, get a leash, get going.

For more on this topic, and a bit of whimsy, try "Fit as Fido" by Dawn Marcus.  Her chapter headings give you a hint of her style: Eat like a dog (no table scraps or leftovers from other's plates); Play like a Dog (more time outdoors on your feet); Sleep Like a Dog (make sleep a regularly scheduled priority); Teach an Old Dog New Tricks (Adopt a life-long pattern of curiosity).

The worst walk is always better than no walk at all.  You will only regret the walks you don't take.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jury of Peers

There is a murder trial underway in Seattle.  The defendant complains that the jury is not of his peers.  He cites his personal characteristics, interests and affiliations to establish the criteria for his peers. He says its his right to have a jury of his peers implying that only his peers will do.

I had a look at the Constitution and the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights.   There are two guaranteed rights relevant to a jury trial.  The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to "a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."  The Fourteenth Amendment which describes "Citizenship Rights" says that a State may not deny "..any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."   The use of the phrase "jury of my peers" came much later in interpretation of the guaranteed rights.

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.  I wondered what the word "peer" meant to American citizens at the close of the 18th century.  I consulted Noah Webster's remarkable work, An American Dictionary of the English Language which was published in 1828 in an edition of 2500 copies.  I chose Webster over Samuel Johnson whose British masterpiece was published in 1755.  Webster was a fierce patriot and resented the ignorance shown of American institutions in contemporary British dictionaries.  He labored over his own magnus opus until his seventieth year, and managed a second edition in 1841 before he died at age 85.  We have Webster to thank for the first documentation of true American vocabulary such as skunk, hickory and chowder.  We can also thank Webster for some spelling simplifications such as music for musick, and plow for plough.  Although Webster's dictionary was not yet in print, the drafters of the Bill of Rights used English as spoken in America, the same English that Webster was including in his 70,000 entry work.

Here is Webster's 1828 definition of peer, n.:

1. An equal; one of the same rank. A man may be familiar with his peers.
2. An equal in excellence or endowments.
In song he never had his peer.
3. A companion; a fellow; an associate.
He all his peers in beauty did surpass.
4. A nobleman; as a peer of the realm; the house of peers, so called because noblemen and barons were originally considered as the companions of the king. In England, persons belonging to the five degrees of nobility are all peers.

Do you think the rights guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments would be stronger or more clear if peer were added?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


The Baltimore Symphony ended their subscription season with a performance of Verdi's Requiem. Their audience was in for a treat.  This Requiem  has no musical peer.  Maestro Marin Alsop spoke with a reporter on NPR before the first performance.  She used all the accolades usually associated with descriptions of Verdi's masterpiece: "epic" , "transcendental", "magic".  And she offerd the view shared by many that Verdi's piece is an agnostic tribute to his friend, the great Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni. and not a musical mass. Pope Pius X banned it from use in a church service along with other music that, in the view of Rome, distracted the listener from the message of the text.  The Gregorian chant was considered the perfect, non-distracting genre.

The ecclesiastical concerns that motivated Pius, and that have lead critics to conclude that Verdi was agnostic, are based on a conventional filter for "religious".   Form your own opinion.   Listen to the Requiem yourself.  Not as background.  Put on your earphones and go for a ride.  Your heart will pound.  Your palms will sweat.  Adrenalin will flow.  When the full power of the piece comes to its conclusion, "Libera me", (Free me), you, too will become the supplicant.  Verdi intended to bring you to your knees.  He intended to have you question what was beyond the edge of your vision.  To me, this is the essence of spirituality.

I recommend George Martin's biography of Verdi, "Verdi, His Music, Life and Times".  Let me quote from his analysis of the Requiem.  "(Verdi) succeeded, not only by the excellence of his music but also by stirring in the audience the ancient feelings and fears of primitive man peering nervously into the night, trying to find his God and establish some sort of relationship with him .... Verdi knocks the world apart with the violence of his music...By the end of his Requiem Verdi has his singers and audience praying for peace and light, not for the dead, but for themselves, the living."  Martin's book is available in print and for Kindle.  Martin helps you see that Verdi interpreted the text magnificently - just differently than the view from the Vatican.

Verdi's masterpiece may not have appealed to Pius, but it does to audiences all over the world.  Enjoy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Stepping Into the Void

Are you taking a vacation this summer? Look for a zip line. They are strung over canyons and raging rivers and through tree tops. Afraid of heights? So am I.

My fear of heights is not mental. It's physical. My skin crawls and I feel sick to my stomach. But I rode a zip line and I'm glad I did. The zip line that I rode is a tree top monster. The rider straps into her harness and clips into the trolley 200 feet above the forest floor. The trolley is clipped onto the cable which sags just enough to propell the rider out over the abyss. At the beginning and end of each cable is a platform. To start the ride you have to step into the void.

Isn't that what we need to do sometimes? Step into the void. On the zip line the harness and trolley protect you from falling. In life we have a virtual harness and trolley. The harness frees the mind to engage the world. My virtual harness is my imagination, ambition and determination. The trolley guides the glide. My virtual trolley is my knowledge, skills and abilities honed with training and practice. The zip line ride was thrilling. It also helped me see the merit in taking a calculated risk. The next life-void won't seem so scary.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lust Child

The euphemism is "love child".  I wonder how loved the children of recent celebrities feel?  Would "power child" work better?

I have a fantasy that the next man who drags his dirty laundry across our media pages will say this:

"Today I am stepping out of the spotlight.  I am asking my wife for a divorce so that I can reorganize my life and offer the love and support that all of my children deserve.  I will embrace my children, both those born within my marriage and those born outside my marriage with the same affection and provide them the same support.  My home will be their home when they visit me.  My life will be connected to theirs.  I will be a father to them all.  I realize now that sexual intercourse is a commitment, and a consequence of that commitment is an obligation to children formed in that act.  I do not have a moral choice to claim that my behavior was a mistake that I regret.  It would be wrong to tell any child that he is the outcome of a mistake."

Its unlikely to happen that way.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Singing in the Shower Pays Off

I could not possibly make this up.  Paul Fournier had an unusually good time at Paul Simon's concert in DC this week.  Simon was singing "Gumboots" from his "Graceland" album.  He stumbled over the lyrics and from the front row Fournier shouted out the words.  What followed was fabulous.  Simon invited Fournier up to sing it himself.  Fournier is a patent lawyer who was still buttoned down in work clothes.  Everyman's wildest dream came true for Fournier.  He sang, Simon sang, they harmonized and traded lines.  Simon put his arm around his fan, offered him water and beckoned him back to the microphone again and again.  Watch it yourself.  Get ready to smile.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Please Join Me in Acknowledging this Service

Last night I went to a recognition dinner.  It could have been in any town, for any cause.  It was in my town, a college event, to recognize those who served in leadership.  It was an evening in which the participants applauded for one another and smiled.  The food was good. Spirits were high. There are thousands of such events.  Service and recognition are characteristics of the generosity and good will of the people of this great country.  Those recognized last night came from many different walks of life.  They had in common a commitment to others.  They volunteered their knowledge, skills and abilities. They shared an evening in which each was spotlighted and thanked.  It doesn't get better than that.

I went to the event last night because my sister and brother in law were among those to be recognized.  They have endowed a fellowship to provide full time support for a graduate student in memory of their daughter, a graduate of Evergreen.  Here is how the fellowship is described on the college website:

The Sara Bilezikian Memorial Fellowship

Two years full-time (12 credits/quarter) in-state tuition for one incoming MES (Master of Environmental Studies) student.
This fellowship is offered to one student who demonstrates commitment to environmental protection, environmental advocacy, and social justice. Financial need is also taken into consideration.  This fellowship is awarded every other year (2011, 2013, 2015. . .) to an incoming MES student.  International students are eligible. FAFSA is required.  Next possible round of applications may be in Summer 2011.

My sister shone.  She received their award and turned to the audience.  In few words, simply spoken she told how many of those in the room shared her honor because of the roles they play.  She introduced several recipients of the Sara Bilezikian Fellowship.  She thanked the staff and faculty.  And she acknowledged the loved ones who complete the fabric of community and support.  I know that she will grieve the loss of her child for the rest of her life.  Last night she was bathed in well deserved recognition.  I was proud. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Well Well Well

Do you remember this song?  Although there was no rapture this time, fear of judgment day lives on.  In my formative teens when guitars were acoustic and folk singers wore suit coats,  I sang this song to myself, and with anyone who would sing some harmony.  In light of recent events, its worth 3 minutes.

Friday, May 20, 2011

1 Thessalonians 4:15 - 17

15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  1 Thessalonians Chapter 4 verses 15 - 17 (New International Bible version)

This passage is from the letters of Paul to early Christian communities.  Paul was born of Hebrew parents in the decade following the death of Jesus.  He was a tent maker who became convinced that Jesus was the son of God. He became a missionary, travelled widely and wrote letters to those he had met and proselytized.  He intended that the letters be read out loud.  The letters are chatty at times, sometimes solemn, and both praise the faith and remonstrate the failings of the community.  They make specific reference to events that had been shared by author and audience.  Read in a good contemporary translation the letters sound much like communications on similar subjects today. 

Those expecting rapture tomorrow, and an earthquake signaling the beginning of the end of the world base their reasoning, in part on Paul's first letter to the community of Christians in the bustling Macedonian city of Thessalonica.  Paul was a great communicator.  He painted pictures with his words. He spoke Hebrew and Greek.  The urgency and passion still resonate in his work.

Paul could not envision that Christians in the 21st Century would euthanize their pets, give away their possessions and spend all their savings, believing literally in his words.  Nor could he envision that some might take their own lives if the expected day of rapture passes uneventfully.  From our contemporary vantage point however, we can see the havoc that can be created in the lives of believers. We will know more tomorrow. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

How Many Die?

On my recent travels I filled the long airline hours with Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series trilogy.  These books are great detective stories - good "reads" for the waiting around that goes with any family vacation.  They are best sellers.  Caution: they contain some pretty rough sex that Larsson apparently added after he had plotted the mystery theme.  His web site tells that "... he even reluctantly decided to spice it up with a bit of sex as it would probably please his readers".  Larsson's idea of spice includes sadism and cruelty that may rev up his readers, but made my skin crawl. 

Until recently I had allowed myself to believe that such treatment of women was exaggerated in novels, and only occurred for real is other times and places.  Erik Larson's bone chilling book "The Devil in the White City" is an historical narration of a truly evil psychopath who built a torture chamber in his basement are carried off women whose broken bodies he cremated in a special furnace.  But that was in 1893. 

And then it happened here.  In Western Washington.  Twenty miles from my home.  Subterranean torture chamber and all.  Women who were living their lives in the same time and place that I do.    Kidnapping, abusing, chaining, whipping, sodomizing, burning ... killing.  My pulse races as I write those words.  Only the human animal tortures and kills for pleasure.  How can we explain to our daughters that such things happen?  What punishment is sufficient?  How many women experience this horror?  Are we civilized if such men walk freely among us? How many women die? 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Strange Encounters

The news last week included the account of a truly strange encounter. Two men, in their thirties, met by chance on a beach in Hawaii. In the course of picture taking and small talk they discovered that they are brothers, separated in early childhood, and with no subsequent contact or information. Beyond strange - spooky.

I had a strange encounter this morning. My husband and I are in North Carolina enjoying a small family reunion to see our granddaughter receive her veterinary degree. I set out from our hotel for an early walk. I walked through a residential neighborhood and began to find my way back to the main road. I stopped to ask directions from a homeowner who was lifting a rented carpet shampooer from his car. With my route confirmed I answered his question about the reason for my visit. He told me how proud he was of the NC State Veterinary College and that he was in the habit of rescuing turtles which have been injured - perhaps hit by a car. He takes them to the vet school and leaves $20 in the hope that they can be rehabilitated. The strange part of this encounter is that my granddaughter has been President of the school Turtle Club, and an enthusiastic volunteer in the turtle lab. She has cared for his turtles. My encounter is not quite as strange as the brothers' in Hawaii, but strange enough to make me wonder why I took that path this morning. These things happen.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Note to My Readers

Several of you have called to my attention that you cannot access the speech provided in my Post "The Women Whose Names We Don't Know".  I have fixed the document settings at Goggle Docs and you should be able to open the file now.  Sorry for the inconvenience.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Mother

My mother has been dead for only six years.  From our house I can see Mt. Baker in the North Cascade Range.  With the candor of the old, she told me that I had been conceived on a hiking trip there.  I miss her every day.

My mothers' passion was the power of vision.  What she could imagine, she could do.  Whomever showed up was enlisted in her cause.  With volunteers her armies mowed down the opposition.  She believed in belief.  To watch her work a room was to know that you were an amateur to her mastery of teamwork.  As she lay dying people came to her room to say goodbye - people my sister and I could no longer count or account for.

One of her close friends sent us this poem that was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay about another woman who dedicated her life to the cause of women's rights.  We printed it in the program for my mother's memorial service.

To Inez Milholland

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more;—
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Do Pigeons have in Common with Fire Ants?

They both exhibit the remarkable hydrophobicity demonstrated by the Cassie-Baxter law of wetting.  For us non-scientists, this law describes the way in which bumpy, hairy or otherwise rough surfaces repel water.  Try wetting a pigeon's feathers.  If you don't have a pigeon handy, collect a colony of fire ants and dump them in the water.  They will cling together and form a tight raft: jaw to  leg; leg to leg; clinging to each other tightly in every possible way.  The recent Proceedings of the National Academies includes a report that describes the raft formed by fire ants in water.  The Cassie -Baxter law explains that the very rough surface of the raft repels water.  Duck feathers do, too. 

I read about this in the Washington Post.  I wanted to know more about Cassie and Baxter.  My search led me to the Farady Society, a British society for the study of physical chemistry founded in 1903.  Such societies encouraged research and engaged in lively meetings to discuss and critique their members' work.  The Transactions of the Farady Society were published from 1901 to 1971.  I can almost smell the cigar smoke and see the members in their leather chairs, sipping port and arguing.
A. B. D. Cassie and S. Baxter's work, The Wettability of Porous Surfaces appeared in volume 40, page 546 in 1944.  England, and the world were at war - the outcome still in doubt.  Anything that could possibly aid the war effort was strictly rationed.  Damage from the Blitz was tidied but not repaired.  Throughout those dark days, the human spirit was not diminished.  We have many examples, and with Cassie and Baxter's work, another.  They were inquisitive, disciplined and undaunted by the deprivations of war-time London.  You can join the Royal Society of Chemistry, and  read their paper, or just think of them and whisper God Save the Queen.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Young Again

While walking our dogs this morning I came upon a hop scotch course chalked on the sidewalk.  Despite my two leashed border collies, and despite uncertainty about the strength of my knees, I found the lure irresistible.  Hop, hop, hop, two feet down - an so on to "safety" on square 10.  I was momentarily transported to Beach Haven, New Jersey and what seemed at the time to be endless summer.  Hop scotch, jacks, mumbley-peg when the boys would let us use their knives, capture the flag were the games of my youth.  And of youths for centuries.  Variations of jacks are documented in countries around the world.  A game using stones and bones was played in ancient Rome.  An Australian variation used knuckle bones from a lamb shank.  "Scotch-hoppers" are recorded in the 1707 edition of Poor Robin's Almanac.

Childhood is not what it used to be.  Dodgeball has been banned from most playgrounds.  This year the New York Health Department has identified "risky" activities that might warrant new regulated supervision: wiffle ball, kick ball, freeze tag and Red Rover are proposed.  Now, I am all in favor of helmets for bike riders and arm and shin guards for skate boarders.  I recognize that childhood can be made less injury-prone with similar common sense requirements.  But I wonder how "risky" activities can be codified and how regulations can be enforced over the broad spectrum of childhood play.  Will hop scotch be included?  Will mumbley-peg be banned outright because it involves a knife?  Will jacks be limited to objects too big to swallow?  Quick, get some chalk, draw your course and start hopping before its too late.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Am

How many ways can we define our self?  Mother, wife, sister.  Forester, artist, nurse.  These are the old ways.  They are part of the old paradigm.  Each of these roles exist in the space and time continuum occupied by our physical bodies.  The Internet and the world wide web expand the possibilities.  I can exist in virtual worlds whose dimensions are timeless and boundless.

A stunning illustration of the potential of virtual being was posted today.  Eric Whitacre, composer and musician, offered the opportunity to any singer who wanted to join his virtual choir.  On his web site were the music, scored for three women's and four men's parts; an audio piano recording of the piece, his original "Sleep"; and a video of himself conducting.  Members of the choir selected themselves for the role.  They learned their part, and uploaded a video of themself singing their part.  The result is breath taking.

In the unique musical world created by Whitacre, 2,052 people from 58 different countries can say, "I am a member of a virtual choir."  Look at their faces and listen to the music.  What next?

Monday, April 25, 2011


Twenty five years ago my Alaskan husband came courting.  He suggested we go fishing during the King Salmon Derby in Ketchikan.  We did, in his "skiff" - a 12 foot welded aluminum boat with three plank seats, powered by an outboard.  I was a city girl.  This was my first such experience.  I objected to the sound of the outboard.  He was determined in his pursuit. He rowed.  He took playful revenge by telling me that I could only win the Salmon Derby if I baited my own hook.  The derby prize for biggest fish was $10,000.  I was equally determined and that's how I ended up with a frozen herring and double-hooked leader in my hands.  I did not win the derby, but we did catch a fish, and so began a great romance.  Not ours - that was already well underway.  Mine with fishing.

If you don't like to fish, stop reading here.  If you do, we can think together of fiddling with the lures and weights, calculating the depth, baiting the hook, paying out the line, setting the drag - and waiting.  Waiting in fishing is the reward.  If you don't get that, then you don't really like to fish.  The combination of anticipation and stillness is seductive.  Don't move away now - there might be a bump on the line, the slightest tug, the fish ready to take the big bite.  Or, not.  Fishing is not catching.  Catching is fun, too.  Fishing is sitting perfectly still, attentive and relaxed, lost in time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Women Whose Names We Don't Know

Yesterday I gave a presentation to an assembly at USEPA.  It was originally scheduled for the month of March which is National Women's History Month.  I thought you might be interested in what I said.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


On Sunday a 16 year old girl jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.  She intended to kill herself.  Every 17 minutes a suicide succeeds in the United States.  Hers did not.  She was extremely lucky.  A sailboat came to her aid and the skipper jumped in to hold her face out of the water until the Coast Guard arrived.  She is expected to survive her injuries. The few who do say they knew right away that they wanted to live.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 - 24, the eleventh leading cause for all Americans.  Each suicide intimately affects at least six other people.  One out of every 64 Americans has lost a loved one to suicide in the last 25 years.

Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.

I used to listen to Garrison Keillor's popular program, A Prairie Home Companion.  His monologues can be very funny - laugh out loud funny when you're driving somewhere with the radio on.  One day his monologue segment was about Prozac.  Prozac is an antidepressant.  It is not a tranquillizer, not a narcotic.  It does not give you a quick "high".  It works to achieve balanced brain chemistry and relieve the helpless and hopeless symptoms of depression.  Keillor's segment was cruel.  It portrayed a suburban clique of elderly people trafficking in black market Prozac to take advantage what he called the weak-willed market for drugs.  Mr. Keillor apparently  did not know that there has been a significant increase in the suicide rate in the over 75 age group.

I wrote to Mr. Keillor.  I told him that in my view he had contributed to the stigma that prevents many from seeking help for depression.  I provided information and expressed surprise at his ignorance.  The reply I received was a form letter thanking me for listening to his program. I don't, anymore.

Please learn the facts.  Visit the Suicide website.  Put their hotline number in your phone directory: 1 800 784 2433.  In the time I have taken to write this post 2 more have died at their own hand.  Take the offense against this tragedy.  Stop the stigma. 

Friday, April 15, 2011


I am in Anchorage, Alaska visiting my daughter and her family. If you have lived in a northern city you know what I mean by "breakup". The temperature is in the 20's overnight - still well below freezing when my grandchildren are out the door to catch the school bus. It is what they are wearing that marks them as true Alaskans. Wool hat, light weight windbreaker, shorts and BF Goodrich "Xtra Tuffs". Xtra Tuffs are sturdy brown rubber boots. They are essential in every Alaskan's wardrobe. With these boots they can easily kick in the sides of the rotting snow piles still encircling the bus stop. They can jump on the ice covered puddles hoping to break through. By recess they will have shed their hats and will play outside where the sun reflecting on the snow feels warmer than the mid-thirties temperature. They come home in t-shirts, still wearing the Xtra Tuffs to slosh through the snow melt that puddles everywhere. 
There is a great horned owl in the trees where my daughter and her family live. At night he fills the hillside with his courtship calls. The State Department of Fish and Game has posted warnings to take down birdfeeders in anticipation of the arrival of bears. The Chugach Mountains tower over Anchorage, safe haven for moose, bear, wolverine and all the plants and animals that they eat. Moose tracks show clearly in the snow alongside the road.

I went to an assembly at my grandchildren's school. Martin Buser, four time winner of the Iditarod sled dog race was there with his lead dog and puppies. He talked about safety in the extreme conditions of the north. The kids listened. They need to know.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spend Five Minutes at the Opera

Even if you have never liked opera, I recommend this short excursion.  Much of the image of opera is formed by the sopranos and tenors whose coloratura brilliance is easily admired.  But there are other voices, too.  In Mozart's Magic Flute, sings Sarastro, the sorcerer and embodiment of light.  The plot is simple - a battle between the forces of dark and light.  There is a Queen of the Night, an innocent daughter, a gallant young man and an evil high priest.  And there is Sarastro - a character whose rock of Gibraltar presence translates across language barriers and down through the centuries.  Sit back, click on this link and listen to Sarastro.  This is his aria "Within This Hallowed Dwelling". The very deep bass.  Who would not be comforted. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Take me for a ride in your Car-Car

Peter, Paul & Mary memorialized the Woody Guthrie song.  Take me for a ride in your Car-Car.  For teens it is a dangerous roll of the dice.  Last Sunday, shortly after 3 in the afternoon,  a young man died when his girl friend lost control of her new car and slammed into an oak tree.  According to CDC statistics, seven other teens died that day, too.  Please look at the photograph of the car.  Please show it to the teens in your life.  Remind them that they are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.  Car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.  There are well known factors that contribute to the risk.  The incident in the photograph included several:
  • teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to speed. 
  • The presence of a male teenage passenger increases the likelihood that the driver will speed.
  • Half of teen crash fatalities occur between 3 PM and midnight.
  • 56% occur on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Please don't call this an accident.  Most death at the wheel is preventable.  It is possible to increase the safety of our behavior by understanding the risk factors in our lives, and taking action.  In even the deadliest occupations such as logging and fishing, fatalities have been dramatically reduced through the rigorous application of safety training. We can save the lives of the eight teens statistically scheduled to die tomorrow if we address the risk factors and manage access to the ignition keys.  If we can make the Bering Sea safer for crab fishermen, we can do the same for teens at the wheel.