Friday, December 31, 2010

I resolve to...

Lawrence: "To keep doing what I'm doing, and not get fired from work - that's my resolution every year."
Cayley: "To be a better person, to have more patience, and to be nicer to people."
Alison:  "To be a better person, to have more patience, and to be nicer to people... and also to buy a better quality bottle of champagne for next New Year's."


Happy New Year to all!

The latest gizmo

It originated as a classic example of gender differences:  what the female sees as nothing more than an interesting conversational tidbit is interpreted by the male as an urgently-actionable issue. 

In this case, the informational tidbit was my observation that our current electricity usage seems perplexingly high.  Our new house is Energy Star rated and our SUMMER e-bills are quite low relative to those of the general population.  The trouble is, those bills didn't drop as much as I expected once the WINTER came and the air conditioning system stopped running. 

In my old house, summer bill = 3x winter bill.  Here, summer bill = 1.5x winter bill.  Anyone who lives in the south knows that makes no intuitive sense: air conditioners are supreme energy pigs, consuming way, WAY more than all other consumer devices.  We should not be having only a third of our total bill devoted to the a/c, so I don't know if this apparently-high baseline usage is simply due to the chronic load we put on our system (remember, I run my entire office out of the house), or whether there are serious bleeds and inefficiencies. 

Enter The Engineer and his credit card for the prompt purchase of a TED monitoring system:

One could question the wisdom of spending two hundred bucks on an energy monitor, but the thing might end up paying for itself.
So now there's now a gizmo attached to our exterior electrical panel and another gizmo plugged into an interior wall socket.  And a dizzying array of statistical bullshit emerges from the use of these two pieces of hardware:

This is a small part of what comes across the internet interface.  The other two members of the family are still asleep as I write this, so this basically represents my three oversized monitors coupled to the computer upon which I type, one five-CF-bulb chandelier suspended over my conference table, our huge freezer, and whatever other lights and devices have been left on or are idling or participating in the slow bleed that originates with otherwise-inactive devices siphoning power.

TED has only been running for a couple of days now, but this looks suspiciously like the part that is apparently leading to those perplexingly-high e-bills.  We are running the house in our normal fashion for the next few weeks just so we can get a complete "before" picture prior to instituting behavioral and device changes.
Anyway, this is yet another fascinating foray into the kind of life workings to which one usually doesn't devote much conscious attention.  We can certainly afford our e-bills, but that's not the point.  In general I don't like waste - I think it's unconscionable.  If this can answer for us the question as to whether or not there are ways to trim our usage while not impairing functionality, then it's a worthwhile exercise both financially and mentally. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Longitudinal longings

I have not yet produced a travelogue of our 2010 trip to Nova Scotia (what will become Long Journey Chapter 3) in part because I wanted to expound upon 2008's and 2009's creative efforts by showcasing this one from a longitudinal perspective, and to do that involved waiting.   

It's hard to explain, but I just had an overwhelming sense that this effort had to be all about TIME:  the nature, passage, and effects of it - our relationship with it as we struggle through it in our humanity.

At no point was this feeling stronger than when we visited Dominion Beach, which was opened this past summer for the first time in a long time - five years (public access had been prohibited following pollution by untreated sewage).

Cayley takes her leaping littorally, with the Lingan thermal generating station silhouetted in the background.
The beautiful boardwalk in particular reminded me so strongly of the arrow of time, which only ever points toward the future.
We're all moving thataway, straight ahead, full steam.
She's still so young... Lawrence is ahead of her on his journey through spacetime, and I'm significantly ahead of them both, but sometimes I see things as if I'm actually living in multiple moments, which is perceptually the same as living in no discrete moments at all.
Most of Dominion Beach, including this boardwalk, was destroyed by a massive storm that hit right before Christmas. 
The newspapers don't yet have photo coverage, but of course someone posted a timely video on YouTube:
Same thermal generating station, very different day.
Screengrab courtesy of 1996beardeddragon's crude but revealing video as embedded below.

Time has passed, and the beach is now essentially gone, leaving a rocky erosive scar in its place.  I don't know what the future will bring, but this is the way things are in this moment.  As usual, there's much metaphorical fodder in all this, which I will continue to contemplate as the journey unfolds.

"At one time, thousands of people visited Dominion Beach every day during the summer, making it one of the most popular beaches in Nova Scotia."
-From the newspaper URL cited above.

"The past is right here, all around us - it's just that we can't access it."
-Researcher being interviewed on a TV science documentary produced earlier in 2010.  I didn't catch his name, but it might have been Sean Carroll (if I could go back in time, I'd find out for sure).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Heroes: Greg Mortenson

Thoughtful bloggers flank their daily entries with a variety of gadgets and frames which often include thumbnails of their favorite folks.  I want to expound upon that idea by explaining why I find each of my choices to be inspirational.
Greg Mortenson got lost one day in 1993 while descending from a climb of the world's second highest mountain.  He wandered into a remote village in northern Pakistan and decided that they should have a school.  The institute that he established has since built 130 schools and educated 51,000 children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, most of them girls. 

Cayley and I read Greg's book "Three Cups of Tea" together about a year ago.  It's an extraordinary story!  His thesis is simple: help tribal peoples to develop their own education and economic opportunities so that membership in terrorist organizations such as the Taliban is no longer the only viable option for many of them.

Greg Mortenson is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize - the only question is when

With schoolchildren in rural Pakistan.
Courtesy of the Central Asia Institute
I was thinking that it might be this year, but now I'm glad that it hasn't happened yet.  For as long as he continues to operate without it, he'll continue to grow his influence in a way that derives from his intrinsic authenticity rather than his impending increase in fame. 

This is particularly important now that he has formed an alliance with powerful Houstonian Joanne King Herring
Movie-goers may recognize her as the pivotal female in Charlie Wilson's War, the breathtaking story of how one backwoods Texas Congressman (who got elected in large part because he let his constituents know that his mean-spirited rival had intentionally killed his dog) changed the course of human history by spearheading the effort to fund the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan in the early 1980's. 

That story was particularly effective because it showcased the type of American-spirited underdogs who we all secretly hope will save us from further suffocating decline at the hands of our obscenely-overbuilt bureaucracy.  Big names and international medal winners don't accomplish the type of turnaround that these people did.  Only maverick individuals operating mostly under the radar and entirely according to their own rules can be expected to out-wit the system.

That Mortenson has now allied with Herring represents the ultimate in closure.  In early 2010, Charlie Wilson died knowing that the work in Afghanistan was only half done: the country was liberated but was left in the type of shambles that seeds radical militarism.  Mortenson independently arose to face that challenge and now he is working with the only other person in this country who has a successful track record of making a difference there.  I find this incredibly satisfying:  it was meant to be.

A school built in Afghanistan.
Lawrence's mother is involved with community development work in Fort Bend County and she once mentioned to us that there are something like four thousand registered nonprofit agencies in that county alone.  FOUR THOUSAND??!!?  Imagine how many there are nation-wide!! 

It's hard to imagine any single organization rising above the deafening din of charitable solicitations with which we all must contend, but that's what the Central Asia Institute did for me - it stood out as a clear choice for my donations.  On this page, CAI lists typical costs associated with school-building and school-running.  Six hundred dollars pays a teacher's salary for one year!   If I give $600 to my church, they might use it to keep the lights on for a few weeks, duh.  I must say, I find it much more fulfilling to think that the same sum could support an entire teacher!

Compare these costs with the cost of ongoing war in Afghanistan, currently estimated at
And this isn't just another in an endless stream of American imperialist efforts either - if you read "Three Cups of Tea" you can see the degree of cultural adaptation and sensitivity that they have embraced in building this educational infrastructure. 

Greg Mortenson is the real deal: a selfless American hero setting phenomenal outreach and personal excellence examples for the rest of us.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Terrific touche'

In my Christmas Day post, I explained the following regarding the fact that Cayley is perfect:

Sure, I let [Cayley] know about the little mistakes that she makes (like leaving her dirty socks on the couch and not picking up the dog poop from the back yard), and she still has lots to learn as she grows up, but that stuff does not make her imperfect - it just means that she's young!

So yesterday as we were loading the car for a rare overnight trip to her father's house, she scolded me for locking the front door before she'd had a chance to retrieve her precious iPad, locking it after she had apparently told me she needed to go back in. 
My response was... whatever... and I explained that I actively try to keep my brain uncluttered, so I don't necessarily internalize every single comment that gets directed my way.  No big deal, just re-open the door and fetch the iPad.
When she climbed back into the car, she looked at me with a wicked gleam in her eye and said, "Just because you forget things and don't always listen to me, it does not make you imperfect - it just means that you're old!"

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Crucifying the cruciferous

Native Americans used to honor the animals they slaughtered for food.  I'd like to do the same for the first broccoli I've ever grown. 

It got a lot larger, even in the time since
Cayley posed with it just four days ago.
Cayley wasn't even here to share the moment with me, because she's visiting paternal family who are in town, but the decapitation had to be done tonight.  Tomorrow it would have been past its prime.  This I could tell.

A right proper specimen.
The underside.  Reportedly, gypsy broccoli crowns are not supposed to get as large as conventionals, because they divert part of their energy to their side-shoots.  This guy is fairly large.  I can't tell you how many people tell me in their personal modes of absolute God-given certainty that we can't grow a comparable volume of food using organic methods, because organic yields are so vastly inferior.  Well, I'm not feelin' it: here's a damned big broccoli that I grew in my first six weeks of stumbling through the effort as an absolute Newbie. 
Looks pretty convincing to ME.
The proverbial moment of truth.
Steamed, not too severely, with butter and salt. 

First observation was visual: you probably cannot tell from the photo, but if someone unknown to me had served me this bowl, I might not have eaten it.  It was more intensely green than the grocery store stuff (even the g-store organics), and that would have raised my suspicions about it possibly being color-enhanced.

Second observation was sensory: it didn't taste like grocery store broccoli.  There were whole ranges of tastes that were absent (tough and sharp sensations and bitter undertones) and other tastes that were present (smooth and deep sensations like being in a thick forest in the middle of the night).  Were I a wine-taster or something, I might have better English vocabulary for this.   The best analogy I can give you is that it was the broccoli-equivalent of one of those very large, incredibly expensive mushrooms.  Have you ever had one of those gourmet mushrooms prepared in a fancy restaurant such that the mushroom actually comes out tasting like some sort of complexly-flavored meat rather than like a slab of fungus?   Like the thing in itself is a meal.  That's what this bowl of broccoli was like.  It was just a single vegetable, but it ate like a meal in itself.  I'm not kidding. 

Third observation was intellectual: the first coherent sentence through my mind was, "I would pay big bucks for stuff this good if I could buy it at the farmers market or a specialty store."  It was REALLY good.  I'm not just saying that because I grew it.  Lawrence had a piece and said it was certainly the best he's ever had in his life (and he hates broccoli). 

Fourth observation was emotional:  I was kinda bummed when I realized that I would not be able to buy the likes of it at any price, anywhere.  It simply doesn't exist in the outside world.

I saved about half the head for Cayley (who genuinely likes broccoli, although perhaps not as much as I do).  She HAS to try this.  She has to learn what food is SUPPOSED to taste like, what it DID taste like before industrialization took over virtually our entire food system.  Even if she doesn't get to eat many of these kinds of things throughout her life, I want to see the old wisdom carried forth, at least in the form of awareness

People are obese now in part because they don't eat a normal-calorie diet base that includes lots of vegetables.  And they don't eat vegetables because the vegetables available for sale taste like shit.  And they taste like shit because they're grown in industrial settings calibrated for sheer quantity regardless of whether or not the stuff is actually edible.  If we could just have properly-grown vegetables, people would enjoy them and the act of eating them would no longer be seen as the burden it has become.  And they might then just naturally get thinner and healthier.

It's one thing to explain that causality to a kid.  It's a much more powerful lesson for her to actually experience it. 

This whole gardening thing is fascinating.  I have no idea what to expect next.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas candor

First a few fun shots, and then a seasonal anecdote.

Someone was hoping Santa would bring
an iPad for Christmas...
Does it appear to have happened?!?  :-) 

Here's the dog in a state of abject misery because
Cayley is paying attention to something other than her. 
Does that furry face not say it all??
(Click the photo for a close-up of her tragic eyes)

Of course, Cayley insisted on wrapping a gift for her...
and she's perfectly capable of unwrapping it herself.

Yet another toy waranted to be indestructable...
and we're betting it won't last a week. 
Incidentally, this is the only dog I've ever seen who
uses her paws like hands to the extent that she does.

And of course we had to add an ornament to our memory tree
to mark the year that Nyx came. 
I even attempted to brindle it with a fine-point Sharpie.

I'm not a big fan of posed shots,
but it's our first year in this house, so...
OK, now for the anecdote:
to tea, or not to tea - that is the question.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to work even harder on communicating to Cayley that I really do think that she's already perfect.  She is obsessed with pleasing me despite my daily reiteration that she effectively has no room for improvement. 

I keep reality-checking myself, trying to figure out what subconscious message I might be transmitting to the contrary, because she acts as if I'm not walking the walk.  Sure, I let her know about the little mistakes that she makes (like leaving her dirty socks on the couch and not picking up the dog poop from the back yard), and she still has lots to learn as she grows up, but that stuff does not make her imperfect - it just means that she's young!

Case in point on the urge-to-please-Mama issue: the annual hairball surrounding holiday gift-giving.  I apparently make things difficult by being honest about the fact that there is no gift I could possibly receive that could hold a candle to the gifts life has already provided to me in the form of Cayley, Lawrence, our good health and incredible life prosperity.  I want for nothing, need nothing. 

But my proclamations of existing satisfaction are apparently unconvincing, because she wants to "wow" me with gifts.  This year, she found a unique way to do it.  Every Christmas, Grandaddy Canada sends a nice-sized money order so that we can all avoid bad experiences with international air mail (to send actual gifts is a risky proposition).  We buy ourselves gifts with these.  Well, this year, both Lawrence and I decided that we wanted to give our shares to Cayley.  But Cayley promptly turned around and devoted ALL those funds to an authentic cast-iron traditional Japanese tea set for me:

I could have lived my entire life without this and been perfectly happy, but I DID want to start drinking green tea more rigorously, for the health benefits (transhumanist Ray Kurzweil legendarily drinks ten cups per day). 
Now here's where it gets a bit curious, because right after opening this extraordinary gift from Cayley, Lawrence and I opened this one from Uncle Suresh and his family:
Quantum enmeshment's got NUTHIN' on this stuff.
Do you hear the Twilight Zone theme in your head??
It's true that I DID need a tea pot of some sort for my burgeoning green tea habit - I have not owned a tea pot of any kind in more than twenty years.  And ordinarily it might be less than ideal to receive two of them within a span of five minutes, but in OUR case, it's actually quite helpful, because Cayley has decided that she does not like Japanese imperial green tea.  She thinks it smells like lawn clippings (many connoisseurs would bust a gut laughing over that comparison, given that it costs about $160 per pound!).  Therefore, when I brew tea for us, I need to make two small pots:  one green, and another of a flavor that she does like.

Compound moral of the anecdote:  Money is a much better gift than popular opinion makes it out to be.  It's not cold and thoughtless - it actually facilitates the maximum potential for expression and creativity. 

I actually perceived that for the first time last year, when I gave twenty dollar bills to each of Cayley's closest friends and then turned them all loose in the shopping mall so that they could indulge themselves.  One of the girls squeezed her twenty until it screamed, managing to buy little gifts for every one of her many siblings and absolutely nothing for herself.  I was absolutely floored to see that depth of selflessness and caring in an eleven-year-old, and I'm so glad that I gave her cash instead of buying her some Cheap Shit From China.  Cash is what fulfilled her because she didn't have any of it and it allowed her to treat her sisters in a way that she would not otherwise have been able to do. 

Similarly, I've witnessed something profound in Cayley's use of her cash, and it's something I obviously needed to learn.  I don't think I deserve that expensive tea set, but maybe if I scarf enough green tea, I'll live long enough to make good on what I owe to the beautiful Cayley but perhaps have not been totally providing thus far. 

Happy holidays to all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Let it pour, let it pour, let it pour!

Don we now our gay apparel... which in OUR case was RAINGEAR!!

Working on science project was certainly NOT our first-choice activity for Christmas Eve, but southeast Texas has been in La Nina drought, and tonight was our first rainfall in six weeks, and so we had no choice but to get out there and do sampling. 

It was almost SICK how perfectly this whole experimental thing went off.  Knowing for many weeks that we would continue to have no rain, and also because I was working unusually long hours, we never got our experimental set-up completed until yesterday afternoon:
You can see how parched the land is.
From L to R:  Our stabilized control area, which consisted of our lawn segment east of the driveway, followed by the test areas each fronted by a different construction stormwater control: sod, mulch, aggregate (limestone), and fabric filter fence.

This may look pretty simple, but I had to bury those perpendicular fence segments almost a foot deep to ensure that there's be no cross-talk among the test areas.  It was a LOT of work (but of course I do stuff like that to keep fit).
Aaaanndd, here's what the same thing looked like this evening:
Flash reflecting off the many raindrops.
Here's a pic of Cayley collecting run-off from behind the area protected with a sod berm. 
You can see that the run-off in her dustpan is somewhat muddy.
And here's this evening's sample booty.  The line in the back represents what we call "first flush" (as the areas are just starting to drain) in the same left-to-right order as the areas named in the panoramic shot above.  There are two sample jars for each because I hope to convince a lab to waive the cost of formal analyses on the large jars, while we'll use the small jars for bench testing.

The jars out in front are the same areas but about a half hour into the drainage event.  You can see that they're not so muddy.
Anyway, this is a GREAT Christmas present for us: reduced pressure to get these experimental trials done.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grow ops

That is one damned humungous broccoli plant!
Sleepy 12-year-old for scale.
Do you see Christmas lights in the lower left corner of the photo?  That's not because we decorated the garden.  That's because I've been using them to warm the tank on the nights when it has fallen below freezing.
This is a Gypsy broccoli, which means that the plant will continue to produce satellite heads following the primary decapitation.
It was an organic cultivar, and I've used the best organic growing methods I could muster (no chemical additives, fertilizers, or pesticides).  I planted the thing in the stock tank six weeks ago today, as a slip with about six little leaves on it.  It's about ready to harvest, as that's 42 days and it's rated at 58 days-until-harvest (from seed). 

Just as an illustration of how divorced from our food supply we really are, I didn't even know there was any such thing as "gypsy broccoli".  In fact, I can't tell you if I'd ever seen a living broccoli plant in my life prior to this one.  I remember my grandfather's garden and the gardens of a few other folks, but I don't remember if they grew broccoli, so this may be my first one ever (similarly, when the nurse handed Cayley to me as she was born, she was the first baby I had held in twenty years... my own!).

We have gotten lucky, haven't we??  For the most part, we're still on the lowest part of the garden learning curve, but we've sure had a great success with this one (and there are three other younger broccolis coming up - two conventionals and one other gypsy).

This broccoli is not the only thing growing vigorously around here:
We sure miss the seven years of wall markings
at our old house. 
Now THAT was a growth chart!
From this crude chart we see that Cayley has grown as much in the past ~three weeks as she did during the previous two months.  And almost as much in the past three weeks as during BOTH of the prior three-month periods. 

I can always tell when her growth is accelerating.  I get a feeling.  A little voice in my head alerts me to it.  It's a similar type of feeling I get when she's getting sick.  I am so attuned to Cayley's physicality that I can tell when she's getting sick before she can herself.  She will sometimes come to me and ask, "Mama, am I getting sick?"  I can run my hands over her back and make a determination.  It has always been that way.

Life is cool.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Noodling on Nirvana

I've dabbled in the study of Buddhism for a few years now - NOT its cultural accretions (gongs, statues, chanting, allowing ants to bite me unimpeded, and other useless rituals), but the pure underlying philosophy. 


An organized ritual is depicted here.  From

But just as Christianity is not fundamentally about the Vatican holding billions of dollars in real property and investments, or Protestants squabbling over which of their factions has the fastest track to heaven, true Buddhism is not about who's got the biggest gold statue, the most vibrant robes, or the shiniest head.
I had been thinking all this time that I wasn't getting very far in my perception of Buddhism.  One of the big access barriers to Buddhism concerns the relative inability to form analogies. In order for us to learn new things, we have to be able to associate the new information so that we can incorporate it into our existing framework in its appropriate context.  There has to be some kind of jumping-off point, a recognizeable similarity to SOMETHING that already exists, for that mental integration to take place. 

But even the most accessible practitioners of Buddhism will tell you that the pivotal act of "seeing" as Buddhists define it isn't really "like" anything else at all (and by this I mean the awareness itself, not the Eightfold Path associated with it). There is no, "it's as if you took [this] and made it into [this]..." type of story can be told in relation to it.  The basic assertions of Buddhism are simply foreign to a western way of parsing information. To make matters even more challenging, Buddhist awareness is sort of an all-or-nothing thing: you get it, or you don't. 

Perhaps nobody illustrates that more clearly than Zen priest Steve Hagen, a teacher upon whom I chose to focus in part because he's American and white - and therefore I figured that I'd have a better chance at comprehending his brain-bridge than I would one of those shiny-headed Asian dudes in the bright orange robes.  But not even Mr. Hagen could explain the heart of the matter in a way I grasped.  I'm sorry, but I found Buddhism Plain and Simple to be Elusive and Difficult.  Mr. Hagen says that to step on the path is to arrive at the destination (once again, you get it, or you don't).  Well, I have never been convinced that I was even oriented toward the correct trailhead. 

It took the Buddha himself six years of full-time, epic struggle during which he nearly physically killed himself, before he found his perspective.  What hope have I, who contemplates the resulting philosophical discourses when I can steal an hour of free time here and there?

But today I think I might have gained a bit of ground, because I finally see an analogous practice in the western world:  professional detachment, especially that which is practiced by medical doctors. 

For thirty bucks, you, too, can have a set of these utterly objective triage tapes.  But seriously, who sees more injustice and pain in this world than medical doctors? 
Doctors (and to a much lesser degree, environmental consultants) both work in conditions of physical (and legal, and emotional!) extremis.  They know how easy it is to get sucked into the event-vortex and made an involuntary part of the wretchedly unfair situations to which they are routinely exposed. 

Doctors also know that they can't let their own emotional reactions and personal biases interfere with their actions. If they do, the resulting disequilibrium will cause them to fail outright in their duties.  And so doctors train in an appropriate skill of personal removal that we call "professional detachment". 

Can you imagine what would happen if they did not do this??  Picture this: a little child is brought into the emergency room with her leg blown off by a terrorist's car bomb. 

I could have picked a far more graphic photo than this one, but it would have been difficult to keep reading if I had done so.

The doctor, overwhelmed by the tragedy and injustice of the situation, sinks into the nearest chair, head in hands, and sobs uncontrollably as he contemplates the inescapable horror and brutality of this world.  Meanwhile, the child bleeds to death. 

The Awakened know that the whole damned world is basically like that emergency room scene - the only question is degree.  And they know that if they get mentally and emotionally entrained in all of the world's problems and their own problems, they haven't got a chance of EITHER being happy OR in making a positive contribution - they'll fail on BOTH counts.  As the Buddha told the confused man who came to see him, we've ALL got 83 problems.  The only problem that can be resolved is the most important one - our 84th problem, which is our desire to make the other 83 problems go away. 

In the example above, the doctor does not focus on the problem.  Instead, he focuses on the needs of the situation and he saves the child's life. 

It's like the Buddhist perspective takes professional detachment, generalizes it, deepens it, and elevates it to an existential level for the purposes of maximizing awareness and promoting both personal effectiveness and peace of mind. 
This process of awakening, which requires a type of healthy detachment, is sorely misunderstood in western culture because so many people believe there's only one appropriate response to injustice.  Whatever the situation, if we don't jump on that bandwagon and participate in the group hysteria over "the problem" however it is defined at that moment, we are IMMEDIATELY called cold, or cynical, or selfish. 

But the doctor is not selfish for failing to react emotionally over the bombed child's loss of leg.  The doctor is NOT uncaring.  On the contrary, the doctor cares very much - in fact, he actually cares far more than the righteously-indignant reactionaries that surround both him and the child.  The doctor cares enough to transcend his own reactions, to abandon his own identity so that he is then free to give of himself to the child. 

The wailing reactionaries contribute less than nothing to this situation.  The reactionaries only make it worse for the doctor by distracting him.  The reactionaries only make it worse for the child by increasing her level of terror.  And yet they would call themselves morally superior by being the ones who truly "feel" the event.  The REAL tragedy is that those reactionaries actually believe in their own bullshit.  So it is in this example, and in every other example of life in which "reactionaries-to-problems" want to call the shots. 

Awakening is certainly not exactly the same as professional detachment, but it's similar to that idea. 

This I now perceive.  Yes, I perceive - I don't understand.  There's nothing to "understand" here, just that incremental slice of reality to be seen

This is not a full view of this reality - but it's a beginning.  I intend to keep my eyes open so that I might be able to see bits of the rest.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday greetings!

I sent this link via email but I figured I'd post it here too:

Click the URL above the photo.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Car Chronicles: Phallo-rific!!

I've been traveling for business part of this week and last week, interrupted only by a single full day here in Houston, that being this past Saturday, 48 hours ago.  And we put that day to good use - I bought us a 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan.

Now, being acutely pressed for time, I didn't have an opportunity to comment on this latest consumer manoeuvre here in the blog, but I DID squeeze out an email commenting on the price - only 4% higher than the Sienna I bought 12 years ago, despite this new one being a larger car with more bells 'n' whistles.  Where is the annual 2.5% inflation rate about which government and business issue continual dire warnings??  Where is the eroding American purchasing power??  If that propaganda is generally true, this car should have cost at least $9,000 more than its predecessor. 

Following this email, one of you replied that I have once again managed to take an ordinary daily event (making a purchase) and turn it into something worthy of commentary.  I'll take that as a compliment.

Two others of you informed me that the first and second recalls have already been announced.  Thanks - no worries.  I expect they'll have at least TEN recalls before I'm done with this one.  After having driven a Sienna for 12 years and 145,000 miles with no acute failures, I'll not lose sleep over this recall hype. 

And another of you wondered how the gas mileage might be on such a big-ass car.  Answer: 23 mpg for my first tank and a half of gas.  This included city driving in both Houston and Austin, and (Bless me, Father, for I have sinned - it has been 36 years since my last Confession) I admit to setting the cruise control above 70 mph for most of the return trip between the two cities.  So yeah... I didn't maximize my eco-friendliness there. 

Yet another of you wondered if I'd actually gotten screwed on purchase price of the van 12 years ago, suggesting that the resulting apparent lack of price differential might be somewhat of an artifact of the transactions.  This is a distinct possibility!

Not surprisingly, all of these commenters were male.  But really, the size of this comment collection was mostly an abberation - nobody pays any attention to me most of the time.  It's only when I say a phrase like "new car" that there's significant feedback.  That's a male trigger - a Pavlovian effect. 

OK, now to the part about which I really wanted to comment today:  I took my VERY FIRST photo of the new minivan on the way home from Aus-tin, and it's an Aus-picious one!  Here it is, the inaugural image:

Yes.  SiriusXM satellite radio (which comes free with the car for the first X days whether you like it or not) was playing a song called "Detachable Penis". 

Now, I am perfectly content - overjoyed, in fact - to drive a 12-year-old car (especially OUR 12-year-old car as we are so strongly attached to it).  I don't yearn for luxury or status.  But I had NO IDEA that I was missing out on this kind of cultural content by not having access to this technology.  I have never heard this song before (incidentally, the F-word emanates from satellite radio more frequently than it does from my own mouth, if you can believe that).

It turns out that "Detachable Penis" has such a cult following that it even has its own Wikipedia page:

Except the entry DOES result in a rather unfortunate juxtaposition of the advertising banner above the page title.  YOU thought Jimmy Wales looked rather morose and sheepish in this photograph because he needed his readers to send more money.  But maybe he's actually having member issues of a different sort. 
I'll have much more to say about the minivan later but, for now, I thought I'd leave you with the lyric to this gem of a pop song, which resonates intensely with my love of all things patently absurd:
I woke up this morning with a bad hangover and my penis was missing again. This happens all the time; it's detachable. This comes in handy a lot of the time; I can leave it home when it think it's gonna get me in trouble, or I can rent it out when I don't need it. But now and then I go to a party, get drunk, and the next morning, I can't, for the life of me, remember what I did with it. First I looked around my apartment, and I couldn't find it, so I called up the place where the party was, they hadn't seen it either. I asked them to check the medicine cabinet, 'cause for some reason, I leave it there sometimes, but not this time. So I told them if it pops up to let me know. I called a few people who were at the party, but they were no help either.

I was starting to get desperate I really don't like being without my penis for too long, It makes me feel like less of a man, and I really hate having to sit down every time I take a leak.

After a few hours of searching the house, and calling everyone I could think of, I was starting to get very depressed, so I went to the Kiev and ate breakfast. Then as I walked down Second Avenue, toward's St. Mark's Place, where all those people sell used books and other junk on the street, I saw my penis lying on a blanket next to a broken toaster oven - some guy was selling it! I had to buy it off him. He wanted 22 bucks, but I talked him down to 17. I took it home, washed it off, and put it back on. I was happy again: complete. People sometimes tell me I should get it permanently attached, but I don't know. Even though sometimes it's a pain in the ass, I like having a detachable penis.

Credit where credit is due: 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No trees (or principles) were harmed during the making of this holiday.

When I was a small child in Nova Scotia, I used to set out on long treks through the wild, snowy woods in search of our Christmas trees, sometimes with my Dad, and sometimes alone.  I learned to tell the difference between the various species of fir and spruce (spruce cannot be harvested because they drop their needles too quickly).  There was a sense of accomplishment with finding the perfect tree and cutting it ourselves, and I really enjoyed having the smell of the fresh fir in the house, and the task of making sure it had plenty of water.
circa 1970.
Back then, there was still an uncountable number of trees, and only 4 billion people on the planet.  Now we have 6.8 billion people and the only trees left to harvest are the fakey-perfect ones grown on commercial tree lots.  Are they clones?  They might as well be, because they all look like it. 

No matter how sustainable this practice might be, I have no taste for it.  I don't begrudge those who follow tradition, but I can't enjoy the thought of killing a tree (and a cloned one at that) and then throwing it into the trash just for the sake of a few weeks' window-dressing (literally).  Or recycling it into sand dune anchors (which don't really work anyway).

So each year, we decorate one of our potted Norfolk Island pines

Please forgive her those PJ bottoms and socks!!
Depending on where they are in their growth cycle, on some years, the chosen individual may resemble another famous "alternative" Christmas tree:
But unlike the nonconformist depicted above, I don't feel any sense of anxiety or looming inadequacy associated with this decision.  Our trees live with us for years at a time and, each December, one of them lends a hand in the livingroom.  We ask them if they would kindly hold up a few decorations for a few weeks.  They say, "Sure, because I'd like to get away from the risk of frost anyway."

We also reject commercialized decorations for the most part.  We call the tree our "memory tree".  Each ornament marks a specific event, occasion, or gift.  When I started this tradition almost twenty years ago, I had a barren tree, indeed, with only one or two ornaments hanging on it.  But that was meaningful in itself, because it reminded me that I was just starting out in my adult life.  What good is an end-of-year holiday if it doesn't serve to remind you of where you've been, and where you ought to be going in the New Year?  And how can it do that if your principal holiday symbol is festooned with cheap shit from China?

One of the very first: 
a cat ornament from Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Chuck,
a gift in 1994, folk art from Mississippi.
Now our annual tree has grown to become festooned by all manner of mementos, from folk art to the fancy decorations that adorned some of my baby shower gifts twelve years ago, to the little things that remind me of the people we love, and the people we have lost.

Pew marker from cousin Carolyn's wedding in 2000, where Cayley tossed rose petals as the show-stopping
21-month-old flower girl.
Swarovski snowflake from 1998, a sobering memento of our Enron days, when hundred-dollar trinkets were passed around as freely as Hershey's holiday kisses
The Norfolks can't take much weight, so we hang the heavier oraments on the skirt.  These include an ornament I ordered in duplicate and had engraved, one for us, one for my friend Didi's family, during the last Christmas we spent with them before she died.  This photo also shows oraments from three different trips to Nova Scotia, and several gifts from family members.  The "Dream Snow" book was a final gift from Didi to Cayley.  The "Night Before Christmas" book derived from my maternal family and is over fifty years old.  And the two Santa Claus candles were purchased for me by my late paternal grandmother.  She died before she was able to give them to me, and I have never opened the box. 
As my ex-husband used to frequently remind me, "Not everything in life can be made into a deep, meaningful experience."  That's certainly true, but this is Christmas, for Christ's sake.  If not this, then what?!