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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Again

The President speaks before a room of mourners
and before a bank of cameras and microphones
That carry him before a nation
Watching with tight throats and sadness.
Or with numbness, or anger, or disbelief, or... everything.

Twenty young children lost in their classrooms
Or running down their school hallways
In a confused hail of semi-automatic bullet fire;
Six adults lost trying to stop death in its trigger-down tracks
before it claimed the young souls in their care that morning.

Christmas gifts bought, wrapped, and now un-received
Bear witness to the holes powerfully ripped, shot
Through the lives of a community and through
The lives of the surviving family and friends,
Again. We have to add, "Again."

Until we no longer have to say, "Again" we must
Work to change the rules by which we live
And die—all too frequently by which so many die.
Anything less is far too little and leaves us all
Afraid and incapable. Unable or unwilling?

Are we unable or unwilling to do what six brave women did
When death came walking and shooting
Along the hallways of their school, when they said,
"No more!" with their lives and last actions
In an attempt to save lives or end the killing.

We can change this, if we really want to.
We can save a future classroom, theatre, shopping mall
Full of lives not planning to suddenly die
on that particular future day. Or we can wait until
We have to once more say, "Again," inevitably.


- Posted via Hermes.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Kevin's Basic Wholegrain Bread Recipe

Quite some while back I posted my basic bread recipe. I don't often post recipes here, but the few times I have done have proven to be among the most-viewed posts here at Finite Musing. Go figure!

That recipe has continued to evolve, and it seems only fair to post the updated version. What's different? This version uses only whole wheat flour, incorporates chia seeds (great source of Omega-3 fatty acids), and has been scaled down just a bit to better fit two traditional bread pans.

I still recommend using Yerba Mate for some or all of the liquid in this recipe. Even if you are not a fan of mate, the flavor it adds to whole grain bread is uniquely wonderful. However, this recipe works just fine with water or any other liquid you want to use.


Kevin's Basic Wholegrain Bread Recipe

Prep Time: 2 hrs 15 mins | Cook Time: 40 mins | Makes: 2 loaves | Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients:

Pour into bottom of mixer bowl w/ dough hook attached:

- 4 tbsp Olive Oil
- 3/4 tbsp Salt
- Pinch of cinnamon

Dissolve together, then add to Kitchenaid bowl w/motor running on low:

- 2 cups Water, warm (not hot)
- 4 tbsp Raw Sugar
- 1.5 tbsp Active Dry Yeast

Add dry ingredients in this order:

- 1/3 cup Cream of Wheat
- 1/3 cup Zoom (see notes)
- 1/3 cup 10-grain hot cereal mix (or similar)
- 2 tbsp Chia seeds
- 3 Rounded tbsp Vital Gluten flour
- 5 cups (+/-) Whole Wheat Flour

--- Preparation & Baking---

1. Add additional flour or water (very little at a time) to achieve a barely-tacky dough that forms a cohesive ball around the dough hook.

2. Continue to knead with dough hook on low speed (check mixer instructions for bread kneading setting) for 10-12 minutes (I start a 12-minute timer as I begin to feed the dry ingredients into the mixer).

3. Cover with towel, still in mixer bowl, and let rise for 60 minutes. Dough should have doubled in size (at least).

4. Turn dough out on work surface and punch dough down by hand.

5. Split dough in half, shape into loaves, and transfer to two greased loaf pans. (I also like to score the top of each loaf—down the length of the loaf—with a knife).

6. Let rise for 60 minutes in a 100º oven.

7. Turn oven up to 350° and set a timer for 40 minutes baking time (interior loaf temperature should be 200° if checked by thermometer).

8. Transfer to racks to cool.

Notes:

This recipe is designed for a Kitchenaid Professional 600 Series or Cuisinart SM-55/SM-70 (or similar capacity) mixer. The larger motor in these models will handle a two-loaf whole grain dough. For smaller models of mixers, including the Artisan or Classic series Kitchenaids, I strongly recommend halving this recipe and doing one loaf at a time to avoid burning out the motor.

This recipe makes two standard-size bread loaves. I use Lodge Cast Iron bread pans (10-1/4-Inch by 6-1/8-Inch by 2-7/8-Inch).

While the pinch of cinnamon is not enough to make the bread taste like cinnamon bread, it does give the loaf a faint flavor note that really works well with the whole grains. Some sources say cinnamon also helps retard the growth of molds in bread.

Gluten Flour (sometimes called vital gluten) is essential for a good whole grain loaf of bread. It's not cheap (as flour goes) but without it you get a dense low-rising loaf. You can buy it at stores like Manna Mills or PCC, often in bulk bins, or bagged at any grocery store that has the Bob's Red Mill line of flours and grains.

The Cream of Wheat (or Malt-o-Meal, or any farina hot cereal) helps create a smooth grain to the bread, making this recipe ideal for sandwiches.

Zoom is a Krusteaz brand of wheat flake hot cereal I use to give added grain texture to my bread. Anything similar can be substituted. A couple of biscuits of Shredded Wheat makes a great alternative.

This is really a proportions recipe; most of the ingredients can be swapped out for similar quantities of other ingredients. For example:
- Add a tablespoon of cinnamon and a cup of dried raisons, cranberries, or cherries for nice breakfast bread
- Swap oatmeal for Zoom, or use a multigrain hot cereal mix for different grain tastes and textures
- I always swap out half the water for brewed yerba mate tea for added flavor
- You can just as easily swap out some or all of the water for buttermilk, milk, soy milk, almond milk, etc..

Despite what some sources say, making bread isn't rocket science. I scoop my cups of flour (I don't weigh) and I don't worry about precision. It's easy to add a little more flour or little more liquid if I think the dough looks a little dry or wet. The bottom line is that you should end up with a dough that is firm enough to work with (shaping into a loaf) but moist enough to be just barely tacky to the touch. Anything even close to that is likely going to work just fine.

*For a bread machine: cut this recipe in half and add the ingredients to the pan in the order specified by your bread machine guide (usually wet, then dry). No further adjustments to the recipe should be needed.

*To do entirely by hand: Add ingredients in the same order and mix by hand, then knead by hand on a floured board for the full seven to ten minutes. Just substitute elbow grease everywhere you see the word mixer. ;-)


- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Still, in the rain

Wednesday, dark, wet, but not especially cold for December (31° F/3°C). This is the season of the Pacific Northwest where that first sentence can safely be recycled most days of the week, just changing the name of the day as necessary. Some seasons you want check the weather forecast to see what's coming, always with a reasonable hope of seeing sun globes and warm numbers. Now, here, weather apps are as informative as wall paper, and about as consistent:



Still, there is the tiniest hint of something yellow along that top-most hourly view. Looks like maybe some clearing this afternoon, before returning us to rain, rain, rain. No, the weather is not where we find the small satisfactions of life, not in this season.

Not unless I can sit still, with nothing pending, nothing naggingly undone and waiting. Not even a book to read. Just still, someplace where I can see the rain streaking down to grey the view around me, hear the rain spattering rhythmically against a roof, leaves, water, and smell the rain with its steel-deep sharp scent of cleanness. Then rain is soul-balm in a busy world.

Today, however, is not that day. Today is another busy day, and there are things waiting naggingly undone and more things coming that will also need doing. Tasks, like rain, spatter rhythmically against my calendar, to-do list, Evernote, and brain.

And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
- Robert Frost, Birches

"Indeed," he sighs, "...indeed."

Today's full commute playlist:
- Cake: Where Would I Be
- Charles Lloyd: Lady Day
- Belle and Sebastian: Consuelo Leaving
- Wilco: Leave Me (Like You Found Me)


- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

This, and only this, is patriotism

Monday, wet, grey, and low-ceilinged. For me, no commute this morning. Today is the compensating federal day off (here in the US) because Veterans Day (11/11) falls on a Sunday.

Veterans Day was officially established to note the formal end of the Major hostilities of World War I, which happened when the Germans signed the Armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Now, it is a more-general (no pun intended) holiday to honor all the men and women who have been or are in military service.

These days, though, Veterans Day has become an impatient holiday that many acknowledge only as a day off. While some communities still hold parades with flags and veterans, most mark the day with retail sales. Restaurants offer free or discounted meals for veterans as a marketing opportunity, some homes will stick a flag in a bracket out front for the day.

Wars are no longer "Great" or generational, and they rarely require our entire country's collective and visceral sacrifice the way World Wars 1 & 2 did. The collective sacrifice to war these days is huge national debt and the resulting impact that has on politics, taxation, and social services, all kept deftly and patriotically distanced from discussions about balancing the federal budget. Instead, the debt of war is blamed on those who need social services ("takers"), the size of "big" government (never mind that military spending is government's biggest growth program), and that rather vaguely-defined monster "Wall Street."

As a result, our contemporary wars are not daily-headline-daily-life stuff. Identifying what our soldiers serve for is harder to honestly define these days, though we have our comfortingly simple patriotic slogans to fall back on. We have our yellow ribbon stickers to place on the rear-ends of our gas-sucking oversized consumption-mobiles, so we can both ensure the need for more soldiers in the field and pretend to be patriotic on their behalf. We have red, white, and blue sales at the mall.


Meanwhile, countless men and women continue to enlist, serve, and sacrifice. For those who return home we offer an impatient holiday once a year, gutted social services and difficult-to-obtain medical care just when many of them need it most, and a total lack of understanding for the experiences many of these men and women have been through or the adjustments they have to make as they attempt to return home to what for the rest of us has remained a steadily-normal uninterrupted life. War? What war?

So long as we continue to send our men and women to war zones around the world, then, we owe it to them to be consciously informed and aware. We must hold our politicians (who, after all, are merely an extension of our votes and of the corporations who fund them) accountable for this cost, and we must only allow them to spend military service when and where truly necessary. We must make sure we fully fund the full range of services and support our military families need during and after service. We must also fight against the comfortable illusion that war is something other people do or that it has little to no impact on our lives here at home. We must also ensure that our military is only an extension of our country's values, and not allow it to be used for any other reasons.

We are paying dearly for our wars, and it does not honor that sacrifice when we pretend otherwise. This, and only this, is patriotism.

To the men and women of our nation's several military services, to those who have served or who are currently serving, I offer my sincere thanks for your service and commit to do everything in my power to make sure such service is not taken for granted.

I wish you all a very mindful Veterans Day!

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Frost and Pumpkin

The frost is on the pumpkin this morning, as well as the rooftops, lawns, and the cars parked along the curb. Clear skies, already lightening to faint blue in the early morning first-sunlight, are here and there strung with wisps of thin clouds that look like leftover Halloween decoration cobwebs.



The trees outside my office window are now mostly denuded. Only a few days ago they were full of leaves ablaze in orange and gold. Now they cling to the last few shriveled browned leaves, those of the recalcitrant sort that cling on through winter. The only gold left is fading on the ground along the roots, matching the yellow fire-lane strip on the parking lot in front of them.

Today's random "spin" of the Poetry Foundation app brought up an Epiphany, by Joanie Mackowski, which begins:
A momentary rupture to the vision:
the wavering limbs of a birch fashion

the fluttering hem of the deity’s garment,
the cooling cup of coffee the ocean the deity

waltzes across. This is enough—but sometimes
the deity’s heady ta-da coaxes the cherries

in our mental slot machine to line up, and
our brains summon flickering silver like

salmon spawning a river; the jury decides
in our favor, and we’re free to see, for now.

Fortunate we are for that. A clear autumn morning like this is achingly ripe for seeing, smelling, feeling. (Do take a few minutes to follow the link above and read the rest of Epiphany. It's worth it, I promise.)

More seasonally and descriptively apropos to this crisp and clear fall morning is James Whitcomb Riley:
They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here –
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Indeed!

Today's full commute playlist:
- Brandi Carlile: Tragedy
- Philip Glass: The Chase (from the music of Undertow)
- Buena Vista Social Club: El Cuarto de tula
- Sixpence None The Richer: Don't Dream It's Over
- Five for Fighting: Angels and Girlfriends


- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

As orange-toned as the 70’s

Mid-October brings the all-about-orange season. Orange-toned leaves on trees, dark orange-toned (brown accented) leaves along the ground, pumpkins and sweet potatoes, and the candy corn and Halloween decorations already cluttering up stores and yards create a pallet straight out of the 70’s, ready made for dark green shag carpet, rust colored furniture, and avocado trimmed appliances. Is it just me that always forms a link between this time orange-themed of year and the deep 70’s?


Heavy rain last night brought normalcy back to our season. Driving in this morning I felt comforted by the rain. This is what I know so well, this is the fall weather of "home." By February, if not earlier, that cozy home-coming feeling will have been replaced by an impatient claustrophobia of wet and grey, but for now the rain is comforting.

Comforting as in the snug-nested mouse in William Johnson's Explaining It, "...a mouse lies snug in a crib of roots, its fur sleek as babyskin, Lord the body warm," as it/we, "...orphan the dim of a cold October sun."

There is a lot of poetry written about this beautifully melancholy time of year, and about October in particular. I particularly love the imagery of Jacob Polley's beautiful poem, October:
Although a tide turns in the trees
the moon doesn't turn the leaves,
though chimneys smoke and blue concedes
to bluer home-time dark.

Though restless leaves submerge the park
in yellow shallows, ankle-deep,
and through each tree the moon shows, halved
or quartered or complete,

the moon's no fruit and has no seed,
and turns no tide of leaves on paths
that still persist but do not lead
where they did before dark.

Although the moonstruck pond stares hard
the moon looks elsewhere. Manholes breathe.
Each mind's a different, distant world
this same moon will not leave.

As for music, what radio station (Remember those? They were also big in the 70’s) would dare follow Weezer with Billy Joe Walker or Tingstad & Rumbel with Medeski, Martin And Wood? Brilliant, though.

Today's full playlist:
- Weezer: Falling For You
- Billy Joe Walker, Jr.: The Enchanted Forest
- Tingstad & Rumbel: Elysian Fields
- Medeski, Martin And Wood: Off The Table
- Big Head Todd & The Monsters: City On Fire
- Bruce Cockburn: See You Tomorrow


- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Until it bleeds daylight

Cold, I know, is a relative notion. To describe a morning as cold in Khabarovsk, Russia means something quite different than to say the same thing in Tucson, Arizona. Here in the PNW, chilly or brisk is probably a more accurate word for this morning, but cold is the word that comes to mind as I first step outside. A quick check shows 36° (2° C) with a projected high of a digitally-inverse 63° (17° C).

The sky is clear and fades from a pinkish-orange horizon to a very pale blue dome, boldly dotted by a bright, clear, and mostly-round moon. The top on the Miata is still down from yesterday afternoon, so I step back in to grab my wool cap, then head out with the top still down, but the side windows up and heat on. It makes for a beautiful commute, with the moon shining above me, cool air on my face, and the rest of me comfortably warm. Like sitting in an outdoor hot tub on a cold morning.

Cockburn pops up again on the drive in, this time singing:
When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime --
But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight --
Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
- Lovers In A Dangerous Time

Puts me in mind of a wonderful song/video a colleague of mine posted to Facebook last night. The video is in support of Washington's Referendum 74, which would finally allow same-gender marriage equality. The song is beautiful and beautifully explains what is really important. That we are still having to debate the basic human rights afforded to love is sometimes hard to fathom. Kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight pretty well sums it up. Do take time to watch the video (linked above) if you can spare 7 minutes.

As the parent of two beautiful children, one daughter and one son, and two wonderful son-in-laws, I would very much like to see both of my children afforded the same full suite of human rights in our society.

Speaking of bleeding daylight, we have been blessed by some stunning sunsets recently. I snapped this one two nights ago:



Doesn't get much better than that, does it!

Today's full playlist:
- The Guggenheim Grotto: Sunshine Makes Me High
- Bruce Cockburn: Lovers in a Dangerous Time
- Bob Dylan: Forever Young
- Cake: Cool Blue Reason
- Sigur Rós: Gobbledigook


- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wearing my shadow where it's harder to see

Monday early morning under a large bright moon, a 98% full waning gibbous moon, to be precise. The autumnal crispness, all 41° (5° C) of it, combined with my own porridge-brained-morning-tiredness, made me just lazy enough not to push the top of the Miata down. Consequently, I drove in peering up at the moon out from underneath the low roofline of my little car, wishing the top was down but not being energetic enough to make it so. Looks like it will be a beautiful sunny day.

It is officially October today, and the world around us is starting to take on naturally produced Halloween/harvest festival trappings. The view out of my office window is one of sun-limned parking lot trees, liberally sponged with orange and gold highlights and the long shadows created by early morning's low-hung sun.



The iPod was in a Bruce Cockburn mood this morning, granting him a full three quarters of the short commute playlist. Birmingham Shadows is a wonderfully poetic song with a long instrumental section of guitar-rich jazz. I love one line in particular:
I wear my shadows where they're harder to see
But they follow me everywhere
I guess that should tell me that I'm travelling toward light

Cockburn goes on to sing:
I guess something you sang made me remember that
I guess I'm saying thanks for that

Indeed, thanks for that, Bruce. Mondays sometimes need to come with gentle reminders as well as alarm clocks.

Today's full playlist:
- Bruce Cockburn: The Blues Got the World...
- Bruce Cockburn: Birmingham Shadows
- Fountains Of Wayne: Valley Winter Song
- Bruce Cockburn: Dust and Diesel


- Posted via Hermes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fog, fall, and anticipating the next course of the meal

Wednesday, early morning, padded in with the soft tread of a big cat, wrapped in just enough gray fog to blur its movement across our peripheral vision until it was already upon us. Too late - Mr. Malleable has sprung!

I like driving top down through a light to moderate fog. Not really sure why. There is a certain muffling to sound in a fog, a refracting of sound waves (if sound waves can refract, if they cannot, then let's blame the effect on the God Particle) that makes me want to listen more intently as I pass along the familiar pathway from home to campus.

Like bodiless water passing in a sigh,
Thro’ palsied streets the fatal shadows flow,
And in their sharp disastrous undertow
Suck in the morning sun, and all the sky.
- from Fog, by Louise Imogen Guiney



Though we have been enjoying a beautiful spate of summer-come-lately, even with temperatures in the low 80's (upper 20's C), the sun is no longer as warm and intense, the days are noticeably shorter, leaves are starting to fall, and there is that particular crisp in the air that we instinctively know in our bones of ancient wisdom means summer is leaving. It is the hinge in Stanley Kunitz' End of Summer:

An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

If we're honest, many of us greet this with at least a flicker of nostalgic relief. By the end of any given season we may tire of its signature taste and yearn for the remembered favors of the familiar next course. From this vantage point at the end of still-warm-but-fading summer I can appreciate the idea of a warm sweater, a [politically correct gas] fire's warmth controlled incrementally by proximity, curling up with a good book in a circle of lamp light because it's too dark and wet and cold to do anything useful outside.

I was in the mood for some Belle and Sebastian this morning, so today's soundtrack hails from their most-recent album, Write About Love.

Today's full playlist:
- I Didn't See It Coming
- Come On Sister
- Calculating Bimbo
- I Want the World to Stop


- Posted via Hermes.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Today, I will be a cloud

Sunday, summer, and a brief respite from sunny. We had the top down on the Miata on the way back from meeting mom for Sunday breakfast at our favorite local breakfast spot. The clouds were sagging like a late-hour toddler's diaper, and I was watching for leaks around the edges just in case I needed to quickly yard the top up.

Rain is forecast for this evening and tomorrow, which will break a near-record-breaking run of dry days. The forecast also suggests more unbroken sunshine after Monday, so this storm of wetness exists only in the eye of the dry spell.

The first sign of this brief change in weather was a beautiful scatter of small white clouds stretching across the blue above us:




John Keats, in To Autumn, says:
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
or to lift a couple passages (one early, one concluding) from Henry Timrod's amazing Vision of Poesy:
For oft, when he believed himself alone,
They caught brief snatches of mysterious rhymes,
Which he would murmur in an undertone,
Like a pleased bee’s in summer; and at times
A strange far look would come into his eyes,
As if he saw a vision in the skies.

VII
And he upon a simple leaf would pore
As if its very texture unto him
Had some deep meaning; sometimes by the door,
From noon until a summer-day grew dim,
He lay and watched the clouds; and to his thought
Night with her stars but fitful slumbers brought.
and...
“And therefore, though thy name shall pass away,
Even as a cloud that hath wept all its showers,
Yet as that cloud shall live again one day
In the glad grass, and in the happy flowers,
So in thy thoughts, though clothed in sweeter rhymes,
Thy life shall bear its flowers in future times.”

Like this short respite of weather, I have enjoyed the last two weeks as a respite from the weekday routine. I toggled off my campus email and voicemail and am pleased to report I have not once checked it. And won't, until tomorrow (Monday) morning. I enjoy my job and love the campus I have the opportunity to serve, but it is good to take the occasional, complete, and unplugged break. Sometimes healthy perspective requires breathing space.

It is still Sunday, though, so I will say no more about that. My chores are (mostly) done, football beckons, and I intend to float through this day like one of those small inconsequential clouds from yesterday. Shhh...

- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mumbling about weather and bottom biting manners

Tuesday, Monday's extended shadow across the workweek, and it is dark out this morning. This is the first morning I have noticed this evidence of the post-summer-solstice shortening of the days. Granted, I am an early riser and we are now well established into August, but the first time I notice this sign of seasons passing by is still startling. As little summer as it feels like we have had so far this year, fall would be a mite previous to make too many inroads too early.

But that's just my opinion. Besides, it's not like there is anyone to whom you can lodge such a complaint: "Hello, Seasonal Changes Department? Good! I'm calling to complain. What? Oh, well, specifically that your folks were months late bringing out summer this year (with no additional compensation, I might add!) and now you're far too early starting to slide it right back out in favor of fall! I want to know what you're going to do to make this right!" Umbrage is such a cute waste of wind, isn't it? After all, it is still summer, just ask the flowers:


We are a complaining lot, here in the weather-mild Pacific Northwest. We complain when we get too much rain (frequently) and we complain when it gets hotter than 75° for more than three consecutive days and our homes don't cool down at night. If the skies are grey and low we complain about lost umbrellas and getting wet every time we set foot outside. If the skies are clear and blue we complain about lost sunglasses and having to wear sunscreen. Behind it all, I suspect, lies an acute sense of the weather we expect, a sense borne of being used to generally mild weather with a limited range of temperature swings. We distrust much change in the weather as being abnormal. Maybe we need a PEMCO ad for a Who Changed My Forecast Guy?

Given our druthers, many of us would probably order summer like we order Thai food: "I'll take a serving of the Spicy Summer Curry, one star only, please."

On a totally unrelated note, here's a fun poem I stumbled across the other day. It doesn't tie into this post, other than being a very common spring/summer/fall phenomenon. From Mosquito, by J. Patrick Lewis:
He shriveled up his body
And he shuffled to his feet,
And he said, “I'm awfully sorry
But a skeeter's got to eat!
Still, there are mosquito manners,
And I must have just forgot 'em.
And I swear I'll never never never
Bite another bottom.”
The iPod (iPhone, these days) was in a mostly jazz mood this morning, with three dreamy meandering pieces and one upbeat toe-tapper.

Today's full playlist:
- Pat Metheny Trio: Dreaming Trees
- Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Waking The Reluctant Genius
- Jeremy Fisher: Scar That Never Heals
- Lyle Mays: We Are All Alone


- Posted via Hermes.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The quiet of a summer afternoon

Sitting on the deck (porch, steps, grass, curb, bench, log, fence) on a summer day, still and with all pours open to the heat and sensory stimuli of the hour, brings a chance to slow right down for a spell, slow down to a moment.


The breeze, borne of the ocean just over the distant pine covered hills, pulses over me every few minutes, an alternating temperature to the warmth of the sun on my skin. It rustles the leaves of the tomato plants and hedge and bounces through a wind chime someplace in the distance with a musical result.

The smell of warm wood is seasoned with the spicy notes of the sun-roasted tomato and basil plants. Someone's BBQ is heating up and casting the smell of hot charcoal into the air. These are the obvious, the loud, smells. The dogs, basking beside me, have busy nostrils as they parse a thousand breeze-brought nuances of scent I cannot decipher. Rich as my nostrils feel in this summer moment, they are paupers of scent next to those of the dogs.

Someone is mowing their lawn. Again, from some distance away the sound floats over the hills to where I sit. Similarly, I can hear snatches of children playing someplace off to my right down the hill, along with now-and-then notes from someone's music - maybe from the same yard?

A neighbor two houses down, a Seinfeld-ian "loud talker," must be having a cell phone conversation in her yard. I listen in on half of her blaring conversation for a few uninvited minutes until the acoustic winds shift and her noise blows elsewhere again and I am left with the chuga-chuga-chuga of a lawn sprinkler at work. All this until a small plane flies slowly over, it's sharp-roared engine cuts across these other sounds as easily as its wings slice through the cloudless blue sky that upholds it.

Because I am sitting so still, a hummingbird braves my proximity to flit in and out of the fuscia blossoms hanging from the planter to my left. If I turn my head very slowly I can watch it work as the sunlight creates a fluorescent light show across its iridescent feathers. The steady drone of its furious wings creates a two-note chord with the buzz of bees who also service the flowers.

Just as flitting as this hummingbird, snatches of childhood summers slip in and out of my awareness, conjured by a sound, a smell, the warmth: the feel of walking barefoot on a warm lawn or tender footed among the pebbles at an icy river's edge, accidentally stepping barefoot on a sun-warmed still-fresh cow patty in a pasture (at once unpleasant and also, if I am honest, warmly luxuriant as it oozed between my toes), floating slowly down a summer river on an inner tube, half in and half out of the of the cool dark green water.

So here I sit on a beautiful summer afternoon, still of movement but busy of sensory awareness. Like the redwood tree in Dana Gioia's poem, Becoming A Redwood:
Stand in a field long enough, and the sounds
start up again. The crickets, the invisible
toad who claims that change is possible,

And all the other life too small to name.
First one, then another, until innumerable
they merge into the single voice of a summer hill.

I could quietly sit here for hours, I could become that redwood, but I know a timer is about to go off and then I will need to get up to brush butter over the small rounds of rising dough destined to shortly become fresh hamburger buns.



Today's soundtrack:
- all summer's local sounds


- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monsters under the bed

How does the tune by The Mamas & The Papas go?
Monday Monday, can't trust that day,
Monday Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way
Oh Monday morning, you gave me no warning of what was to be
In a sense, that's true. There is often no telling what Monday is going to be, coming in fresh off the weekend. It can be a whirlwind of pent up needs and demands that were impatiently waiting for the weekend to end and me to get back into the office to address them all, or a relatively quiet morning as people stumble in and slowly relearn their work-week routines, getting gradually back into the productivity groove.

Check the calendar, check the inbox and voicemail, look back at the projects list to see where I left off and what deadlines are approaching, then the day starts to take shape. At least until most of the rest of the campus arrives (a perk of being an early morning person is the hour or two of quiet work time each morning before many others come in), when things can change again quickly.

Changing quickly: how precious is this thing called life when it can be snatched away in an unthought moment, as we saw again this past Friday in Colorado. The above-quoted lyric also notes:
Oh Monday morning, Monday morning couldn't guarantee
That Monday evening you would still be here with me.
Sometimes writing, including blogging, is about chasing the ghosts away, shining a light under the bed to prove (we dare to hope) there really are no monsters hiding under there. We can lie on the bed, afraid to move because of all the things we fear may be growling and slithering under us, or move and risk the monsters, if only to resolve our uncertainty, whether moving proves or disproves they exist. It's better to know.

In my case, I don't mean my life, our family, our campus, our community; all of that is clicking along well to reasonably well at present (though for others, any of these circles may be where monsters dwell). No, for me all is well at the micro level, it's the macro that depresses. The larger world outside of my community is being torn in so many ways, approaching flood-stage.



I can't escape a sense that things larger than my immediate sphere of influence are moving toward crisis and I am powerless to shift them, like the storm-tossed voice in John Donne's poem, The Calm:
What are we then? How little more, alas,
Is man now, than before he was? He was
Nothing; for us, we are for nothing fit;
Chance, or ourselves, still disproportion it.
We have no power, no will, no sense; I lie,
I should not then thus feel this misery.
Very much like Dean Young's poem, The New Optimism (do follow this link and and read the whole thing!):
The young who knew everything
was new made babies who unforeseeably
would one day present their complaint.
Enough blame to go around but the new
optimism didn’t stop, helped one
pick up a brush, another a spatula
even as the last polar bear sat
on his shrinking berg thinking,
I have been vicious but my soul is pure.
I wonder, for example, if it can still be called a democratic election when both the message and the dialog is bought and when we cannot get enough people to turn off the television, step away from the programmed programming, and return to honest discussion and dialog. I wonder how democracy operates when "the people" are simply objects to be manipulated by messages (or does history tell us otherwise?). Maybe we do have the right to bear arms, but does that really include urban assault weapons and mail-order bombs? Really? Or can we really do anything about climate change so long as there are still minerals to extract and profits to be made from the old fuel paradigms? Or...?

There is only one way to be certain of my fears, and that is to purpose to take action. The bed isn't really any safer than the rest of the room, if
there are truly monsters underneath it. Monsters never play by rules, and they don't honor the notion that the bed is a safe zone so long as you never move from it during the hours of darkness. We prove our fears justified or silly by summoning the courage to get off the bed, dashing for the light switch, whirling around and looking to see what, if anything, is coming toward us. In so doing we can separate our fears from whatever we really do face, and then we can at least take informed action.

What is certain, then? Only that we move through a complex world interconnected with the lives, passions, and needs of many others. Beyond that, every day brings micro and macro uncertainty. The trick is not to let our fear of uncertainty keep us from living and loving and effecting such change as we can.

Today's playlist:
- Chicago: Wishin' You Were Here
- Sam Baker: Sweetly Undone
- Merl Saunders & Jerry Garcia: That's All Right, Mama
- Madeleine Payroux: Don't wait too long
- John Mayer: Slow Dancing In a Burning Room


- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Strangely together

Thursday, threatening sun, but still cloudy on the drive in this morning. Thursday, the great pretender, pulls the ultimate Agatha Christie surprise ending this week and, in the final scene of the play, reveals he really is Friday after all. The pretense was itself pretense.

Things at the college ramp down a bit over the summer, and I try to summer schedule Fridays off as vacation days. Summer is when I work a little harder at the elusive notion of work/life balance (which, I suppose, is irony). Irony or not, today is Thursday and also Friday for me.

A million years ago (or maybe just two years ago this month) I made the decision to start this blog. I decided to use my morning commute's iPod-shuffled playlist as the daily melody line and riff around that as best I could. I also gave myself a couple of rules I would try to follow: write a blog entry for every working weekday for a full year (or as close to that as possible), and to never skip a tune when it was shuffled up. No matter what came up, I would dutifully record it, from the current and cred-worthy to the dated and laughable.

That year went by surprisingly fast, and I did a pretty good job of meeting those self-imposed goals. Nowadays, this blog is more relaxed and more sporadic, though I try to post a couple times each week.

From the first post to this one, one question remains essentially unanswered: why blog? More specifically, why do I blog? I am not trying to build a media presence, I don't blog to represent my college or any products or services, I'm not a famous personality with fans anxiously looking for anything I produce, I'm not monetizing my blog in any way, and I'm not serializing my first great novel to build up a fan base.

My best possible answer: I came to enjoy the quiet exercise of this form of writing, for me, early in the morning. Having the blog simply gives me someplace to put that writing, and affords the slight chance someone else might read it. The latter possibility keeps the pressure on to write as well as I can, to not post something I will be embarrassed to have my name associated with later.

If you are not me and are reading these posts, then I have connected with others (nearly 6000 views in two years), if only for a brief few virtual minutes, and there is value in making connections as we pass through our world. I'm not talking about the deep mystical connection of, say Donne's flea dining on two frustrated lovers, but something more akin to the accidental and momentary connections of people sharing a sidewalk.

I had a professor who rather dramatically swept into the first day of class, wearing a long black overcoat, and wrote on the chalkboard (yes, it was that long ago, now) the single word, "Strangely." He then turned around and said, slowly and clearly, "Strangely!". Turning back to the board he added the word, "together," then turned back to us and said, "Strangely together..."

He repeated this process as he added each word to the sentence he was writing and speaking until he had the full sentence: Strangely together in a world which speaks.

He then proceeded to describe a world in which verbal and non-verbal communications swirls around us, and used the example of people walking toward each other on a crowded sidewalk. Nobody has to declare their path, and yet everyone (mostly) adjusts their path forward dynamically and we don't (mostly) run into each other. At least, not when our attention is focused on those brief quiet connections we constantly make with the people around us. I wonder if his sidewalk example would still work in our current heads-down-eyes-on-smartphone-screen disconnected world?

Well, if your eyes are on this (or any other) blog as you walk down a crowded sidewalk, I guess it isn't as disconnected as it might seem. It's just being selective about which momentary connections we are engaging. Maybe.

Today's playlist was as good as it gets:

- Bruce Cockburn: The Coldest Night Of The Year (x2 because it's so good!)
- John Lennon: Imagine
- The Carpenters: I'll Never Fall In Love Again
- Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown


- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I hear the rolling, amazed, agonized thunder

Monday wakes slowly to another beautiful sunny day here in the northwest corner of the U.S., with only a thin layer of overcast cloud-haze to shed. Like a lace cotton shawl over a bright blue gown, it is taken off and tossed over a chair back as Monday enters the room. When the Pacific Northwest
does do summer (and it is always a limited engagement), it does it perfectly. Temperatures in the low 20's (mid 70's, F), a light marine breeze to cool things off in the evening, and usually a light cloud ceiling to burn through first thing each morning.

Perfect weather for plants, too, as evidenced by the floral exclamations in our yard:


Very early this morning, though, was another matter altogether. I was woken about 3:00 AM to persistent distant (sounding) thunder. One roll crashing over another like steady surf on a rocky coastline. We don't normally get rolling thunder of that sort around here, and the night had been clear with no sign of coming storms, so I couldn't reconcile what I was hearing with normal and had to get up to see what was really happening.

It was thunder, alright. Regular flashes of what looked like sheet lightening back-lit the night sky, which was glowing a dusky orange even between the flashes. Aren't we supposed to count the seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder clap to estimate the distance of the storm? That didn't work last night because the flash always came immediately after the thunder rumbled.
It approaches from the sea, too small
For thunder and lightning
But ominous as a closed fist
And what it will bring
(Dick Allen, Cloud No Bigger Than A Man's Hand)

No, that's not quite right. This was more unbroken cloud cover than isolated (large or small) thunder clouds. There is a touch of Swift's humor in the unusual nature of this spate of nature noise:
Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower:
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o’er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
and...
Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
That swilled more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
A Description of a City Shower.

And yet, there was no shower (that I could discern looking out my window into the dark of early morning), so Swift isn't quite the right fit either.

Maybe the best fit is in the sense, less than the literal, evoked in the poem So It Goes, by W. S. Di Piero:
That marsh hawk,
its blown-leaf flight
across Tomales Bay fog,
summer’s abraded light,
the Pacific tide pressuring
and squeezing wave on wave
into the bay’s pinched inlet. . .
We feel somehow between us
still water crushed by that sea,
so constant it seems not to be.
The hawk, a circus, tumbles,
stops, stands upon the air,
beats its wings as if to shoo
the sun’s drenched veils,
and its clapping wings stop
our unstoppable argument,
that love goes, who knows why,
and delivers us from pain
to pain, air with teeth
that seems to eat more air.
Northern harrier, owl face,
they sea-changed your name,
who listens with your face
and shows not love but want,
speed, life in flight
toward, forever toward,
pausing at every chance
to use what ocean-born
bayside air sustains you
by resisting you. We thank
your sunken head bones
and wild close-to-water seeking
that somehow speaks to us,
delivers us
to another amazed
agonized place.
Amazed and agonized, indeed. At any rate, we had thunder, lightening, and an overcast glowing sky at 3:00 AM this morning, and now we have beautiful blue skies and a warming rising sun to look forward to.

Today's full playlist:
- Lyle Mays: The Imperative
- Fountains of Wayne: Hotel Majestic
- Phil Keaggy: The great escape
- David Gray: The One I Love

- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Boom! Celebrating a work in progress

Tuesday is confused. Is he Monday's hangover (his usual self) or is he Friday's understudy in this unusual holiday-bifurcated week? Tomorrow is the Fourth of July holiday here in the U.S., our annual flag-waving, pyrotechnic, day of misty-eyed patriotism.



We have much to celebrate, much that is right. Mostly, things work reasonably well here for most folks, though that is not the same as saying things work reasonably. We also have much that isn't right, and that we still need to own and address. We celebrate our national tension between the rights of the individual and the good of the community. Depending on which of those two faiths you embrace, we are great or we are failing. Either way, we celebrate our nation and whatever it is currently, but mostly what we believe it will be, can be, in the future.

Politicians will wrap themselves in red, white, and blue and each will stage many enthusiastic photo-ops showcasing them as paragons of national pride. They will emulate through their marketing our cultural myths about the self-made man, the perfectly assimilated immigrant, manifest destiny, and a society that affords equal opportunity to one and all.

Are we more Hutch, by Atsuro Riley:
From back when it was Nam time I tell you what.
Them days men boys gone dark groves rose like Vietnam bamboo.
Aftergrowth something awful.
Green have mercy souls here seen camouflage everlasting.
Nary a one of the brung-homes brung home whole.

...and...

Remembering the Garner twins Carl and Charlie come home mute.
Cherry-bombs 4th of July them both belly-scuttling under the house.
Their crave of pent-places ditchpipes.
Mongst tar-pines come upon this box-thing worked from scrapwood.
From back when it was Nam time I tell you what.
Or are we more To The King On His Navy by Edmund Waller:
Where’er thy navy spreads her canvas wings,
Homage to thee, and peace to all, she brings:

...and...

The world’s restorer once could not endure,
That finish’d Babel should those men secure,
Whose pride design’d that fabric to have stood
Above the reach of any second flood:
To thee His chosen, more indulgent, He
Dares trust such power with so much piety.
We are, of course, a complex weave of both (and of much that lies between). It is our work in progress we honor on this holiday.

Our neighborhood will take on something of the war zone sound and appearance, from midday until well into the morning of the 5th, as fireworks explode brightly and loudly. Families will celebrate the holiday in spontaneous neighborhood gatherings, sharing fireworks in thousands of small collective shows. The air will be tangy with the after-burn of sulfur and other chemicals, and the spent cardboard shells and wrappings of left-over fireworks will swirl around the street edges with whatever breeze passes through the next morning. Then it will be Thursday.

For the last couple of days I have been listening to a Pandora station based on Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. Complete nostalgia stuff from an era when album covers were sexist and campy, South American rhythms were all the rage, and there was no such thing as too much brass in popular music. Fun stuff, really.



Today's full playlist:
- Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass: Bittersweet Samba
- Gal Costa: Corcovado (Live)
- Chet Atkins: I'll See You In My Dreams (feat. Mark Knopfler)
- Bert Kaempfert: L-O-V-E (Love)
- Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass: So What's New
- Elsa Soares: Say No More
- Nara Leão: Garota De Ipanema
- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, June 25, 2012

We know our world by our passing through it

This morning is unexpectedly clear skied and warm (for morning) at 50° (10° C). The forecast still calls for more cloud cover than this, along with scattered showers. I don't complain. It means I can leave the top down again this morning and listen more clearly to the morning bird song over my commute soundtrack.

This also opens the car, and me, up to the many variations of morning smells along my route in: something blooming fragrantly here, mulching lawn clippings there, diesel exhaust from a ponderously large truck some distance in front of me, a fried breakfast (?) as I pass these houses, the trailing fumes of a cigarette from someone who passes in front of me in a crosswalk as I wait at a light. This is high season for lavender, a spicy-floral scent that pops up more than once along my way. Our own yard is currently abloom with lavender, and it's passing scent conjures a vivid mental picture.



My commute takes me past woods and wetlands, suburban neighborhoods, and through concrete-intense intersections and overpasses. I think, as I move through each distinct zone, I would be able to spot my place on my morning commute just by the subtle (mostly) nuances of each area's scent. It would be an interesting test, at any rate.

Of the many ways we know our slice of the world, traveling by car is usually the least informative. We see, but usually stay well isolated from smell and sound. The car is a controlled space, sealed up and personally defined.

On early mornings when I can have the top down I sometimes go without music altogether. When I do have music on I keep the volume down very low. Partly out of courtesy to the homes I pass, many with windows open and people still sleeping, but partly because I don't want to drown out the exterior soundtrack of the morning commute. As much as I like to entertain the idea that I can identify my commute location by smell alone, I am even more certain I would know my location by its sounds.

Writers and poets (if there is even a distinction) commonly refer to scent and sound when they write of places and journeys, and for good reason.

Scott Cairns, in his poem Another Road Home, writes:
before our mountain, above our mountain tea
suggests in its late, cypress-scented air
a pressing density, a wine-like, whelming
cup, ksinómavro—deep and dark, substantial.
And the road? Meandering, manifestly
inconclusive, and for that reason not
so likely to ferment blithe disregard.

Robert Burns, in Afton Water:
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
Thou stock-dove, whose echo resounds thro' the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear,
I charge you disturb not my slumbering fair.
and...
How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild Ev'ning sweeps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.

Or Bruce Cockburn, in his song My Beat:
Past the derelict mattress
and the overgrown pavement
over the tracks
and through the hole in the fence
Past graffiti-bright buildings
and the junkyard alarm bell
and the screaming police cars
and it's all present tense

It's my beat
In my new town

Past the drunk woman reeling
with her bag of provisions
Down through the tunnel
with the stink-fuming bus
On to the bike path
where it's something like freedom
and the wind in my earring whispers
Trust what you must

It's my beat
In my new town

We know our world by our passing through it, and we know most when that passing has intention and attention.

Today's full playlist (volume – pianissimo):
- The Guggenheim Grotto: The Universe Is Laughing
- Franco DeVita: Si Tú No Estas (Live)
- The Killers: Mr. Brightsides
- Posted via Hermes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday and a mostly Canadian muse

It's Friday, and that means the return of the popular dude. Yesterday was glorious sunshine and the top was down on the Miata all day. This morning is back to grey and threatening. I reach back and pull the top up over me about two-thirds of the way in this morning after a few small drops appear on my windshield. On these maybe-it-will-rain-maybe-it-won't mornings I think leaving the top down to see if I can make it all the way into campus without getting wet is a game I play with myself. This morning I lose just before I get to the second Starbucks along my route.

Regular readers (both of you) will know I am no small fan of yerba mate. My current perfect mate drinking set up for the office looks like this:




A gourd-ishly shaped Pete's Coffee mug rocking a small heap of Guayki's smokey barbacua blend mate, a spoon-style Argentinian bombilla, and a Guayaki travel mug full of additional hot water, to serve as my desk-top termica.

I'd much rather have my morning mate than coffee most days, but there are times (and especially on Friday mornings) when I wish I could get my mate via the Starbuck's drive through. Not because it is hard to make (nothing could be easier than setting some water to near-boil), but for the I'm-treating-myself-today aspect of picking up a cup of coffee on the way into the office. Ok, that's silly, I know, but there it is nonetheless. This morning I pass on by.

Today's commute featured a wonderful playlist, another of those randomly served up lists that make me wonder what magic really lives in the iPod's shuffle algorithm. Two of Canada's best poet/songwriters account for 50% of the playlist. If I were manually managing this list I would be tempted to add in one more song written by one Canadian (Ian Tyson) and made famous by another (Neil Young): Four Strong Winds. But that would be gilding the lily, I suppose.

Leonard Cohen (covering his own Hallelujah, and being covered by Perla Batalla) weaves a beautiful, almost mythical (is it real, or only shapes in the clouds?), story with his Ballad of the Absent Mare. Just one small piece of this poem demonstrates its artful imagery:
Oh the world is sweet
the world is wide
and she's there where
the light and the darkness divide
and the steam's coming off her
she's huge and she's shy
and she steps on the moon
when she paws at the sky

Admit it, you can see that horse now, can't you?

Then Bruce Cockburn with his Iris of the World, which reads, in part:
I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU
on a boulder by the shoulder
the paint will likely outlive
both the feeling and the holder
in the age of Global Warming
when all things are growing colder
it's beautiful the writer
opened up his heart and told her

Passing through the iris of the world
Passing through the iris of the world

I'm good at catching rainbows
not so good at catching trout
I'm good at blowing holes in things
and ranting in self doubt
I've got a way with time and space
but numbers freak me out
I've mostly dodged the dogmas
of what life is all about

Passing through the iris of the world
Passing through the iris of the world

So it's Friday, that saunteringly popular dude, and the skies are grey, the mate is self-serve (as befits the end of the work week), and the muse is mostly Canadian this morning as we pass through the iris of the world.

Today's full playlist:
- Gary Louris & Mark Olson: Precious Time
- Ella Fitzgerald: Desafinado
- Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah
- Fountains of Wayne: Please Don't Rock Me Tonight
- Bruce Cockburn: Iris Of The World
- Perla Batalla: Ballad of the Absent Mare

- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Testing Clover

Tuesday comes wrapped in Nobody Owen's grey winding sheet, damp and slightly chilly this morning. This makes for a commute of adjusting wiper blade speeds to deal with endless variations of mist to sprinkles. As uncertain as Tuesday's role in the work week, the rain today is more mild irritant than significant impression.

Folks are tired of the rain and grey skies this far into June. I can tell by the impatience of their driving this morning. Pressing into each other, tailgating, cutting corners, pushing, pushing. Trying, I imagine, to force their wills onto the landscape of the morning commute, to exercise control over something, anything.

For whatever reason, I can't be bothered to get caught up in that this morning. I feel like I'm simply slipping alongside the morning rush. I am the small twig floating inconsequentially past canoes on the river. My commute is short, though, so it is easy to sustain this illusion. Much more time spent in this coursing stream of collective frustration and I, too, would undoubtedly catch the communicable rancor of the morning commute.

I pull into the sleeping campus no worse for the wear. The quarter break is upon us, and the campus does rest. The parking lots are largely empty, there are no early morning clusters of students moving toward early classes, and the whole place feels quietly different. A college campus should throng and buzz with activity, but these occasional quiet spaces in the annual calendar do have a serene beauty of their own.

Walking across campus yesterday I came across a clump of purple clover in full bloom. Instantly, I was back in my youth, walking in a field on a warm summer day, plucking clover heads to suck the sweet drops of nectar from the base of their flower spikes. I wanted, so badly in that moment, to bend down and pluck a few spikes and test for nectar. Being grown up, though, I also thought about passing animals, th habits of people, airborne pollution, and gardening chemicals (though we do practice sustainable horticulture on campus, so the latter was probably not a real concern), and I resisted. I resisted tasting the clover blossoms, but I did pause long enough to snap a picture:



Like Whittier's musings in his poem The Barefoot Boy:
Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place...

And
Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;

All this swept over me in a flash, before and after I took the adult course of inaction. If I pass that clover again today, and I believe I will, I intend to follow the barefoot boy's free-spirited course of action this time. Maybe they won't taste as sweet as memory, but at least I will know.

Tuesday can keep her grey winding sheet, June her clouds and rain, and the morning commute her seething frustration. Sometimes you have to step outside of time for the briefest of moments (if that isn't a contradiction) and test the clover.

Today's soundtrack (all from the new Sigur Rós album Valtari:
- Remembihnútur
- Dauõalogn
- Varõeldur

- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This rain that soaks us through

It's June in the Pacific Northwet. The weather prognosticators tell us we can expect nothing warmer than 57° (13° C) today and, of course, it is pouring rain. This is quintessential June weather for us. The weather of every sodden June camping trip, every underwhelming June vegetable garden, every long distance stare into the ever-out-of-reach mirage-like notion of summer.

Most of my hiking/camping memories are cradled in the associations of rain. Rain slick creek-side rocks and boulders, fern-rich undergrowth tightly holding fists full of gathered rainwater with which to drench passing jeans, and an ever-dripping canvas of pine trees that didn't so much provide cover from the steady rain as slow it down to a fine steady mist, like flour passing through a giant sifter.


Gary Snyder conjurs some of this in his poem Endless Streams And Mountains, as he follows streams from a lake or river up into many mountains and past several stories. It isn't a rain poem, per se, but my associations of mountain streams invariably dress the mental imagery his poem conjures in wet and steady rain:
Clearing the mind and sliding in
to that created space,
a web of waters steaming over rocks,
air misty but not raining,
seeing this land from a boat on a lake
or a broad slow river,
coasting by.

Because of our rain we are lush, verdant, elaborately and explosively green, redundantly so. There is something comforting about this combination of really wet and really green to those of us born to it. I think we must be rocked to sleep so often by the sound of falling water spattering against foliage and the tangibly expressed humidity of rain that it seeps into our subconscious to become the definition of calm.

Then we grow older and have to commute in the stuff and it begins to form new associations. Ask the many high school age kids I pass on my way in this morning, miserably absorbing the rain without coats or umbrellas (uncool garb), sulkily ignoring each other in small loose groups as they wait for a bus they don't want to take.

Ask the freeway commuter whose already-tedious crawl becomes an instant creep while drivers fail to account for reduced visibility, wet pavement, and failing patience. Ask the parent at home with small children who will not-be-going-outside-in-this-downpour-thank-you-very-much! Ask the employee who works with his or her hands in the outdoors, who knows no amount of rain gear will keep them warm and dry throughout a full day of this rain.

Me, though, I have a short freeway-less commute. Four or five songs worth of travel time, half a dozen at most. I won't get my shot at being wet until I walk from my office to meetings on the main campus, a short half-mile through dripping greenery full of the smell of damp earth.

Driving in this morning, the wipers are swiping someplace within the signature time of the music, while Michele Legrand languidly slides from one rhythm to the next amid a thousand dazzling piano notes. The iPod favors jazz this morning, with Bob James up next followed by Ellington and his band. Just as I pull into the campus parking lot the iPod shifts to a little Rocco DeLuca, and the tempo changes.

Today's full playlist:
- Michel Legrand: Les Enfants Qui Pleurent
- Bob James Trio: Nightcrawler
- Duke Ellington: Arabesque Cookie
- Rocco DeLuca and the Burden: Bright Lights (Losing Control)


- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blessedly beyond bandwidth

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in a quaint little Bavarian-esque mountain town on a beautifully warm and sunny morning, enjoying a couple of days of decidedly non-commuting. This morning's playlist has been selected by Starbucks and has been a steady stream of classic jazz gems that are giving my calf muscles a steady workout as I irresistibly tap along. Temps are expected to reach the mid to upper 80's (25° C or so) today.

The sun sits someplace up beyond the roofline of the building we are in, casting a shadow-theatre of landing and shuffling birds (on the roof above us), elongated and cartoonish, over the pavement and parked cars just outside the window next to me. It creates a constant sense of movement in my right peripheral vision, pulling my glance out the window and onto the not-very-distant Cascade mountain peaks limned in golden light. "Remember," it quietly but persistently whispers, "why you are here."

The coffee shop allows my wife and I to get a little necessary work done by tapping into both their caffeine and their wireless bandwidth, the latter being almost non-existent at the place we are staying. You can pretty well predict what you will find at any hotel or resort that advertises "complimentary wireless" in guest rooms: the meanest hint of a wireless router located someplace just on the fringe of your device's range, flickering in and out of reach. Or, if the router is within reach, it will deliver the sort of bandwidth that feels like an occasional quarter-teaspoon of crawling access. It doesn't help that cellular data service in the area is just as bad.

At a large bustling urban hotel I can almost understand this, what with the rapid explosion of bandwidth-hogging mobile devices and the threadbare profit margins of the hospitality industry. But we're staying in a rambling estate of a resort with small cabin clusters and (if our count is correct) a total of three other parties besides ourselves. The "complimentary wireless" should hardly be taxed. Maybe our cabin's router is located a couple of clusters down the path? After quite a bit of experimentation, I discovered that sitting on the toilet allows me to pick up just enough wireless access to sl.....o.....o.....o.....ly pull up a couple of web pages to check on local attractions.

Still, this is the only disappointment in our destination, which is otherwise charming, beautiful, and tranquil. It makes for a perfect short getaway destination, and offers the chance to restfully recalibrate our internal compasses, if only for a couple of days.

After this brief coffee-shop work break we will do a little more top-down canyon carving (and probably find the magic source of Aplets and Cotlets) before coming back to our temporary resort, with it's tantalizingly teasing "complimentary wireless," to walk the trails along the river, find a warm chair or rock from which to catch up on reading, or to just sit and talk.

And, really, how much bandwidth do we need, under these circumstances, anyway?

- Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not a turning-fifty post

Beautiful sun-draped early morning Thursday and the top was down on the Miata all the way in. Heater was cranked, though, to combat the low 40's (about 6° C) — I'm not that crazy. Bird song was in evidence everywhere along my casual short commute.

Thursday is the great pretender, trying to trick us into believing the weekend is almost here. When he robes himself in golden sunlight he is even more plausible. I can almost taste the weekend, with it's promised mid-seventies (mid-20's) sunny weather. So nice to look at a weather app and see only sun globes for a change.


There is a Board meeting this evening, where I will present our budget for next year, for first consideration. This will be the first year since I have been in this position that the legislature hasn't applied new cuts to our state funding. There are still the cuts for this coming year that were doled out at the start of the biennium, so we still see a further reduction in our state allocation, but at least it doesn't get compounded with more new cuts. [Here I shout a weak hurrah!] Our college has had our state allocation reduced over 30% in the last four years, so stitching a budget together that allows us to continue to serve our mission in our community remains a challenge. We have slid a long way down this bank, and there will be many years of climbing back up to do, assuming this still-fragile economic recovery holds.

Earlier this week I suppose I should have written a post on turning fifty, some short bit on the accumulated wisdom of my ages or something, but I didn't feel any urge to do so. Like calendars crossing century lines, turning fifty is one of those supposedly-meaningful boundaries. And maybe it is, when you eye it from afar and on the lower end perspective of the number line. It must seem impossibly old and far away. I don't remember. To those on the higher end of the number line it probably looks, peering back, as insignificant as any other mile post once you have walked past it a few more miles. I'm not really a calendars-as-significance sort of person, though. Calendars are for scheduling things that must be scheduled to keep track of, not for anticipating or recording major events. Take the calendar away and there is no significance to turning fifty (or any other age). So this paragraph is as close to a turning-fifty post as I intend to offer. I did get an offer from AARP in yesterday's mail, though.

I've been in a Sigur Rós playlist mood again lately, maybe because I am anticipating the release of their new album later this month. Good music to write to, build a budget and budget presentation to, or just to quietly turn fifty to.

Today's playlist (all Sigur Rós or Jonsi):
- Syndir Guös (opinberun frelsarans)
- Ba Ba
- Saint Naive - Live (Jonsi)
- Svefn-G-Englar


- Posted via Hermes.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anything I care to pull out of my tickle trunk

Ahhhh. The first sip of a piping hot yerba mate latte on a quiet Sunday morning. I have travelled a-couple-of-weeks-shy-of-fifty-years through life to get to this point: able to enjoy a quiet morning when I can snatch one.


Bands of early morning sunlight stripe across the chairs next to me and suffuse the room with amber tones. Birds declare their business outside; Twitter in its original and purest format. Every tweet is short and compressed with content, informative and yet melodic beyond the range of human comprehension.

Sunday yawns in front of me as the rare uncommitted day. There is nothing I am intent on doing, nothing scheduled, nothing of the sort that passes for the illusion of certain we usually operate under.

This Sunday could be the Mr. Dressup of my childhood.


Growing up near the Canadian border in the days before cable television, we used to get Canadian programming more reliably than anything coming out of Seattle. Mr. Dressup (think early Mr. Rogers) would dive, at some point in each episode, into his "tickle trunk" and pull out a costume for himself or for the two puppet regulars, Casey and Finnigan. The costume would become the story of that show.


Today is like that. It can be anything I happen to pull out of my tickle trunk, whenever I decide to look. Probably it will include some about-the-house/yard chores, and likely it will include time to read, rocking on the back deck in the promised beautiful weather today. If I'm really good, I will ignore email today, too. We'll see.

Mary Makofske's poem Planting The Meadow catches this mood beautifully:
I leave the formal garden of schedules
where hours hedge me, clip the errant sprigs
of thought, and day after day, a boxwood
topiary hunt chases a green fox
never caught. No voice calls me to order
as I enter a dream of meadow, kneel
to earth and, moving east to west, second
the motion only of the sun. I plant
frail seedlings in the unplowed field, trusting
the wildness hidden in their hearts. Spring light
sprawls across false indigo and hyssop,
daisies, flax. Clouds form, dissolve, withhold
or promise rain. In time, outside of time,
the unkempt afternoons fill up with flowers.

My mate latte is almost gone, time to decide what today will be. And then again...

Today's full playlist: TBD

- Posted via Hermes.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cynicism and the tollbooth

What a beautiful weekend! Here in the Pacific Northwet we are currently in that long-running stage of the seasons where a day of sunshine is worth so much, and we got most of two sunny days, three if you count Friday. What larks!

Monday morning, alas, brings the return of the grey and wet. The forecast calls for a redundancy of weather icons as far forward as the forecast reaches. Sure enough, a fine mist materializes on the windshield as I drive in this morning, wipers occasionally pushing the tiny drops into a merged stream running away to my vision's periphery.

This morning's commute shuffle-playlist is smoothly varied. It switches gears from a lively piano jazz rhumba to Rod Steward trying to croon, from R&B in both Spanish and English to Booker T. Jone's Crazy.

Listening to the latter, a series of thoughts/connections dash through my head (the commute is slow moving, traffic is heavy, lots of waiting at traffic lights, time for part of the mind to wander). Crazy; crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result; heading into the campus again on a Monday morning; working to effect change; "Why," as Bruce Cockburn sings, "does history take such a long, long time?"

Cynicism! Fresh on a Monday morning after a beautiful and satisfyingly productive weekend, cynicism. Really? So readily to hand? This brings me up short and causes me to take a quick mental inventory.

Hmmmm... I don't feel cynical about my life, my work, my commute, the college I am commuting to. So why did a simple train of thoughts deliver me so quickly to that spot? Maybe because cynicism is the low-hanging fruit of intellectual reasoning. It is like the Island of Conclusions in Norton Juster's wonderful children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth. You reach it’s stranding shores simply by making a mental jump (thus the phrase, jumping to conclusions). Cynicism works much the same way, and is dangerously easy to fall into.

And cynicism begets more cynicism. Worse, sometimes it seems witty and even smart, which makes it acceptable in polite society as an entertaining substitute for a bad attitude. But, a monkey in silk, a sow's-ear purse, or, to use the variant that saw more recent political usage, so much lipstick on a pig.

Cynicism also fails to present either a real vision of the world or a meaningful path forward. It often creates a justification for doing nothing and going nowhere. It could be the subject of this passage from The Phantom Tollbooth: "...if something is there, you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn't there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That’s why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones." And as Juster also points out in the same book, "The only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort."

By now, the Weepies are singing, startlingly presciently:
Guess I'm getting old wandering this way
Wondering what's wrong and right
You try to move along but the traffic holds you still
Or did I lose the will to fight?

Monday come like Tuesday
You were something else, I will admit
I remember what you told me
Only I wish I could forget
Only I wish I could forget

[I tell you, somedays I swear there is something sentient about the iPod's shuffle of music.]

I purpose, then, to forget to be cynical, to focus instead on the reasons I do the many things I do each day, and to be thankful for the opportunity to do them. I purpose to walk with my eyes open and to ignore the things best seen through closed eyes. It takes very little more effort to do.

As one of the Tollbooth's characters points, out, "...it's not just learning that's important. It's learning what to do with what you learn and learning why you learn the things that matter."

Today's full playlist:
- Michael Camilo: Armando's Rhumba
- Rod Stewart: The Way You Look Tonight
- Raymond Castellon: Tu No Me Quieres Na
- Traveling Wilburys: Cool Dry Place
- Booker T. Jones: Crazy
- The Weepies: Wish I Could Forget


- Posted via Hermes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Small victories

Sunshine yesterday afternoon, top down drive home, whoop! The top was still down this morning, though the skies were decidedly glowering. Still, it tosses back up quickly enough if necessary, so I braved the drive in leaving it down. The closer I got to the college to the more it looked like I'd be reaching back to quickly pull the top up over my shoulder, but I made it top-down all the way in! This feels like a small victory against another record-set tingly wet recent few weeks. Why must climate change only emphasize the worst weather characteristics of any given region?

Take a look at the near-term forecast and you will see why these small victories matter. I think pretty much all of these lines are trending in the wrong direction (screen shot from Seasonality Go for the iPad) :



The other sunshine in my life returned yesterday, too, though. My wife had taken the oldest grandson with her for a short visit to her sister's place in eastern Oregon, and I had to fly solo for a few days. I find I have a very different routine when I am on my own. I take comfort in keeping busy even more so when the alternative is talking only with myself. Oh sure, I also talk to the dogs, but they just cock their heads and look at me trying to figure out what kind of treat or exciting activity I must be offering them.

So, between the lousy weekend weather and the increased need to stay busy, I managed to bake four loaves of bread (yerba mate shredded wheat loaves), two batches of the ginger-citrus soda referenced here a couple days ago, and enough really good pizza dough to set six dough balls into the freezer for quick thaw-and-bake use later, among lots of other lessor accomplishments. Didn't get the lawn mowed, funnily enough.

Music for today's drive in was all Belle & Sebastian, from a mix of their albums (good stuff!):

- I Took a Long Hard Look
- For the Price of a Cup of Tea
- Your Secrets
- A Space Boy Dream
- Mornington Crescent

- Posted via Hermes

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ginger-Citrus Soda (a recipe)

A while back I came across a recipe on a food blog. It was one of several versions of essentially the same recipe, which probably means there is an original version out there somewhere, but it is hard to tell which is the original and which is a copy.


I have modified the recipe (upped the citrus, toned down the ginger, cut the sugar substantially). Here is my rendition (photo taken during preparation, just because it was so colorful!):





Ginger-Citrus Soda (non-alchoholic)


Ingredients:
3-4 ounces fresh ginger, coarsely chopped-no need to peel
2 limes, zest and juice
1 large blood orange, zest and juice
1/2 cup raw sugar
4 cups boiling water



Directions:
In the bowl of a food processor, process ginger until grated. Remove to a large heatproof pitcher or measuring cup. Add both lime and orange zest and juices, and sugar. Add 4 cups boiling water, then stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool, strain, then chill.


To serve, half-fill glasses with the ginger beer and top off with the soda, tonic water or sparkling mineral water.


If you have an Isi beverage carbonation thingie (http://amzn.to/HdeNdB) you can carbonate this recipe for a delicious fizzy soda.


- Posted via Hermes.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dropping keys in a broken wheel

Tuesday comes around, wet and cloudy again. I say again only because it was that way last week, too. However, several of the days in between were beautiful sun-filled spring days. The Miata's top has been down at least as much as up lately.

The campus is into its second week of between quarter break, which stills so much of the throb and pulse of normal campus activity levels. Those of us mortals still here, for whom the break isn't, are using this slightly-quieted time to plow through some of the backlog of things that need documented, written, edited, or sorted through.

Have you been following recent changes in financial aid policy at the federal level? You really should. How aid can be used is getting tighter and tighter. Students can now use less financial aid toward college prep courses, and what they do use will count toward a total lifetime ceiling for some types of federal aid. This will ensure fewer students who come to college not-quite-ready for college-level coursework will be able to attend. Interest will now be charged on student loans during the six month grace period between graduating and (hopefully) finding a job that will allow you to both live and pay back student loan debt. These changes, and lots of other little cumulative cuts at the availability of student financial aid, continue to chip away at who can go to college.

Did you know that student loans debt now exceeds credit card debt in our country? This isn't because folks are taking more college courses (though more and more students have to take pre-college courses to compensate for what wasn't learned in their K-12 years), but because the cost of college continues to rise as state and federal budgets continue to cut funding for higher education.

Result: more and more only the already-resourced have access to a college education and more of the general populous remains less-educated. We may still decry the fact that fewer of our citizens are qualified to do the work of the 21st century, but our clearly-intentional practices make that a hollow cry. This stuff doesn't just happen. It is engineered.

I stumbled upon a small verse yesterday, credited to Persian poet Hafez:
The small man
Builds cages
For everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

In a world where opportunity continues to retract for most, continues to be further consolidated into the hands of the few, and where lack of opportunity is every bit as much a cage as anything can be, we need more droppers of keys.

I know I have quoted Bruce Cockburn's Broken Wheel before, but bear with me because I think it applies again here in this context:
Way out on the rim of the galaxy
The gifts of the Lord lie torn
Into whose charge the gifts were given
Have made it a curse for so many to be born
This is my trouble—
These were my fathers
So how am I supposed to feel?
Way out on the rim of the broken wheel.

Today's full playlist:

- Frou Frou: Holding Out For A Hero
- Don Byron: The Quintet Plays Carmen
- Fountains of Wayne: Laser Show
- The Killers: Mr. Brightside (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Mix)

- Posted via Hermes.