Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Monday, April 30, 2007

And the difficulties of learning the banjo

Anybody know how to get my hand to widen by, oh, say at least half an inch? It would be terribly helpful in playing the banjo. As it is, my hand simply cannot fret for both the A and the low F sharp at the same time without some pain, so my hands are kind of skipping over the neck of the banjo a bit. This is *not* in accord with my banjo instructor's dictum that we are trying to be lazy about this. I'm getting smoother, but my hand has to move somewhat more to get the same fingerings.

On the other hand, I remind myself that it's like sewing. I have sewed at least a portion of my clothing ever since I was 12, so I tend to "get" patterns, and have been known to ignore the directions that come with them. (We will not, at this moment, discuss the alterations I have had to make in a pattern I worked on this weekend.) But it's not magic. It's practice. More than 20 years worth. It's that jumper I sewed in 8th grade where I couldn't get the buttons to sit right, and the series of identical dresses I helped make for my sister when she went on mission (along with a set for me to take to college). It's the experience of designing and sewing from a young age. And those skills take a while to learn.

So, well, I figure I'm still working on the equivalent of the coverup I made at age 12 that had only two pattern pieces. It'll be a while yet before I can make the musical equivalent of a button-down top, but I'm learning.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Music and inspiration.

I've spent a little of this evening continuing to practice - I have a new variation on the scales to practice and I'm trying to figure out exactly how to contort my left hand to reliably get the notes in the harder bits of "Skip to My Lou." And it's good.

As I came home from work, I realized it was time to turn off the radio again and return to listening to music from a CD. Luckily, I had the perfect music to calm and soothe - Earthpassage by the good folks over at Quiet Paths. And it was marvellous - serene, wearing like the water in the recording at my my stiffness, the tension from listening to the words of people who claim to care about our soldiers while insisting that they can't be brought back, or even guaranteed to be sent with appropriate training and equipment. Wait a second, now remind me of who it is that doesn't support our troops...

But the falling waters, the intricate melodies weaving themselves around the natural sounds... ah. I have now gotten the chance to hear them all, and they are all very good. And so I got home to find that Christine had posted some really incredible thoughts on the nature of inspiration and the sacred. Wow. Check it out, folks.

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Where are the victory gardens?

This morning, as I got ready for work, I heard a commercial on the radio that still has me upset. It features two characters, a child and a "mommy". The mother character was speaking in that voice that adults use when they want to patronizingly instruct children. That voice has long been one of my pet peeves. (Apparantly at least from the age of 3 when I informed my mom that I didn't want to watch television because "they talk down to me.") In any event, the discussion revolves around which suburban development they should move into, with the child declaring "We should move into X, Mommy, because everything is included in one price there." and the "mommy" approvingly replying, "You're going to be such a good shopper one day!"

Aside from the problem of this pricing structure encouraging monster houses because essentially, everyone pays for the biggest house they build, so you might as well get all the "options", since you're paying for them anyway, I am appalled by the implication that the job of adults is to raise the next generation of consumers.

Let us presume that most people have never watched An Inconvenient Truth, as I confess I have not. Let us further acknowlege that our "leadership" has done its level best to insulate Americans from the consequences of our choices. The cost of war has been put on credit, and the bodies for that war have come from a minority of American families. Further, while complaining about the cost of public transit and energy research, our love affair with petroleum has been subsidized heavily.

Even so, I want to know where the victory gardens are. Where is the encouragement for average Americans to reduce our dependent relationship with oil producing countries by reducing our reliance on oil? One reduction could easily come from encouraging families to consider growing some of our own food. This does not require that we all move to the midwest and set up full farms, but how hard would it be to encourage folks to, say, grow a mint border next to the walk up to the porch, or allow apartment residents to have small container gardens on the roof, or a community garden on public land? Mesclun mix makes a gorgeous decorative element, and throwing some garlic in with it makes for some height and visual interest. Plus, you can pick your salad for dinner while thinning out the border.

I am reminded also of the crisis that has been going on for the last 15 years with bee hives all over the country. In the area where I live, beekeeping has been frequently NIMBYed, not just in the nearer-in suburbs, but in those which have taken over farmland for the monster houses mentioned above. (Do families really need over 1,000 square feet per person of enclosed space?) I am, however, seriously enjoying vicariously reading about the beekeeping endeavors of an author whose works I very much enjoy.

I believe true leadership right now would be asking for change. We would be encouraging people to conserve energy, consolidate trips, carpool, grow food or buy local, bring their own shopping bags (paper or plastic? How about canvas?), etc.

Hey, George, don't you know there's a war on?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oh, for decency's sake!

How dare G.W. Bush accept a purple heart from a decorated veteran while pursuing his disgusting treatment of currently serving soldiers?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tuesday is music night

I and my newly acquired "Skip to My Lou" skills will be headed for banjo lessons tonight, where I hope to learn the next couple of bars, and possibly the end bars. (The 3rd set of 2 bars is the same as the first.) Over the weekend, once again, my family got to share some long distance music - this time my three chords and the beginning of "Skip to My Lou", which I hope to have mastered by the time Dad comes home. (He has his travel orders to come home. Woot!)

UPDATE: Well, I did it. Played it through, though now I've got to get the hard parts on the same rhythm as the easy bits.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Justice delayed

The rabbis say that strife came into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied. And there isn't much there that I want to argue with. But when justice does come, even delayed, I believe it is cause for celebration. Today, we have exactly such a case. While I am not happy about more gravestones, I am happy that families of Wiccan soldiers may now put the symbol of their loved one's religion on the headstone. About time.

What this still does not answer is why the VA feels the need to limit what religious symbols may be placed on a headstone. As I have said before, it is none of the government's business if someone's religion happens to be 3rd Reformed Brethren and Sistren of the Great Pumpkin (Smith Patch Convocation - also called the "True Linusians") . Frankly, we're doing enough to our soldiers that if one wanted to have the symbol of "the finger" on their gravestone, I'd back 'em up.

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Yesterday, my husband and I were rolling over the hills of Western Maryland in our little hybrid. Literally over, not through, since we had made the deliberate choice to go as far as we could with the maps we had by the byways rather than the highways. We stopped at a toll booth erected on the old National Pike and climbed around the park for a bit, reading the historical plaques and peeking in the windows at the dusty recreated interior. Later, we pulled over at an incredibly beautiful mountain overlook that stood over 3 states. It was breathtaking.

I felt a little bit guilty about spending so much of Earth Day in the car, but we were returning from a visit with my family. As we stood at that incredible overlook, we could see where the Sideling Hill cut was made of I-68. And while it's really neat to be able to see the layers of rock there in the strange curve, I felt more aware of the mountain as I took the old road around. My only regret was that we hadn't packed a picnic to take with us and enjoy somewhere along the way. Unfortunately, many of the local groceries were closed.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

It has been a heavy week. As I mentioned yesterday, the shootings in Blacksburg have been sitting heavily on me for a number of reasons. I've felt so much sorrow for the folks affected by this tragedy, and yet did not feel I could yet speak.

My family has a history of mental illness. I have an uncle who was hospitalized for a while to help him deal with his illness, and he is still on medications. Another uncle was bipolar before his plane crashed in a field. And I went to a school where extremely abusive bullying was tolerated. And I sometimes wonder what would have been the result had I inherited a stronger predisposition. So my frequent reaction to school shootings is to wonder why there is so little attention paid to the violence of bullying until it is forced by such an incident. And to feel sorrow for not only the victims, but also for the perpetrator and his family. And to wonder not only why he went down his path and I and many other survivors of bullying do not, but also what we as a society can to to better care for our people living with mental illness.

How also can we put limits on the violence of bullying? This morning, the Washington Post had a column on its editorial page that dismissed the potential of words for violence, comparing them to the Virginia shootings. And yet, violence is not confined to its most extreme examples. For instance, we would hardly say that the recent attack was not violence because war results in a greater loss of life. As a high school student, I lived with constant verbal harassment, and the occasional physical assault, including one attack by a classmate that I now know to have been a form of sexual assault, but that at the time simply left me feeling frightened, ashamed, and humiliated. I know violence because I have experienced it on the receiving end, and I am sad to say, sometimes on the attacking end.

And yes, I had some very violent fantasies about what should happen to many of my classmates. But when I got to college, things changed. I was no longer around the same people, and there were many interesting new people to meet. And I gradually let go of the anger and desire for revenge.

How can we help others to recover from the traumas that have already been inflicted and prevent more from occurring?

As a coworker said to me this morning, quoting the radio station he listened to, who was quoting the great poet, anonymous: "There are no passengers on spaceship Earth. We are all crew."

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sorry, folks. I've been spending a good bit of this week looking for the quiet within, and have begun many posts only to discard them again. I was deeply disturbed on more than one level by the recent tragedy in Blacksburg, but I still think that anything I would say on it would be insufficiently seasoned, so I'm going to lay it aside for now.

And talk about something completely different.

Spring is here and the summer is beginning to beckon, even as my legs are still cold from winter, my mind is on the road already. Perhaps it's because I'm going on my first roadtrip of the season this weekend or perhaps it's because next month Dad will be coming home, hopefully, but I've been thinking about trips for this summer - s'mores and campfire songs. (I can now play the first two bars of "Skip to My Lou") Tentage and packing into the new car. Roadside stops and campgrounds. (I was photographed at a tender age in Yogi's picnic basket. That kind of thing can influence future development, you know.) Farmer's markets and fireman's socials.

Local restaurants with good iced tea and sweet potato fries. Or mushrooms stuffed with homemade boursin. And I'm always a sucker for veggie melts - hold the peppers, please. Watching the stars until midnight has whispered a farewell and is long gone. Picking the raspberries and blackberries from my parents' yard. Batwatching at dusk. Potato packets on a park grill. Yeah, I think I'm ready to get out and about again.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

The God of the Quiet Place

I found myself leaving this comment on a link in Christine Bakke's blog, and felt it was worth leaving here as well:

I can remember sitting in 5th grade religion class and hearing my teacher explain that just about everybody was going to go to Hell. And I remember thinking, "that just can't be right." and I started doodling in my notebook my idea of the "path to heaven" which looked like a star, radiating paths of light. That teacher and I never did really get along well.

But I had a quiet place to just go and listen, and it seemed to me that the God I found in the quiet place was a better God than the one that my school was trying to drum into me. So I wound up with a really wierd religious journey, but I also got the God of the quiet place and She's good enough for me.

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Yesterday, I discovered Zach A's Evolt blog. And was both amused and exasperated by the most recent post. Somewhere out there is a tourist who feels they were fleeced by a tourist destination. You see, there's now a skywalk out over the Grand Canyon. And he'd read that the cost of going to see the skywalk was $25, not including the cost to get onto the reservation where the skywalk sits. Turns out the cost of getting to it is $50 - basically, a tour of the reservation plus lunch, since they don't allow outside cars in. For an additional cost, you don't even need to drive your car to the parking lot, but can arrange for a bus to pick you up and bring you in. Cool.

Anyway, our tourist says fine, and pays the $75 for tour plus skywalk, but has gotten so angry over the whole thing (despite reading the brochure, which I thought explained the situation.) that he's not enjoying any of it, including the skywalk. So he posts a rant about the whole experience, which gets a ton of commenters. Zach asks if this is perhaps because it allows people to cast the whole thing in their minds as "see, those Indians cheated this guy, so we get to ignore how our whole nation has cheated the Indians." And that may be how it's being perceived, except, well, it's so not a rip-off, people!

$75 for a tour plus lunch is standard going, if just a bit low. Anything below that, if you get a lunch at all, you can bet it will be awful, and the vegetarian option won't be much better, if there is a vegetarian option at all. If y'all chose not to just relax and enjoy as much of the tour as you could, that's certainly not the fault of the folks selling the tour. If I were faced with a tour that turned out to be more expensive than I thought, I would either find something else to do with the day or else figure I might as well get my money's worth. As I mentioned in my comment, the horse ride is a serious bargain, by the looks of it, and the overnight accomodations look reasonable to me. I find myself wondering when their off season is.

Last night, I mentioned the tour to a friend of mine and she agreed that we'd have a ton of fun if we went. Mind you, this is the friend whom I've frequently talked into going on tourist adventures with me - hey, look at this, only 4 hours away is a hot spring that was famous just before the Civil War. You can still go bathing in it for $14. Wanna go? And across the street is a historic hotel that was converted from a jail just before the Depression when they hoped to hype the spring again. Reasonable rates, and a shuffleboard court, too. With homemade breakfasts... Or we could stay in a caboose in Pennsylvania, right next to a short line railroad and a train museum...

I love heading to obscure tourist destinations. Local museums, oddments of history, all that kind of thing. A ride on a paddleboat along the Ohio, a train park in West Virginia, camping in state parks, a canoe trip down some river that runs only waist deep in places, and I am so there. Someone's got a tour of an old jukebox factory? Cool! Hey, Rae, check this out...

And yes, I know this isn't obscure. That's why I want to know when the off season is.

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Last night

Okay, so maybe I should have been resting more, but my husband and I went with a friend to the Yuri's Night party at the Russian Cultural Center. And it was fun and interesting, though I was rather restrained in accepting potables. (A half shot of the vodka was enough for me, thanks.) The lecture on the New Horizons project was fascinating, and I got to meet and talk to lots of folks interested in space before they turned up the music, at which point most of the geeky types like yours truly headed home.

Where my husband and I, at least, watched Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames. Wow.

Tomorrow, I'm really going to need to get some sleep to make up for all this cosmic exploration, but what a ride!

Oh, and Rae (yep, once again heading out with me on an adventure) put up her thoughts on the evening, too.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The "real" self

Apparantly, some shock jock I'd never heard of until this week (the punishment I think most of them should get - obscurity) uttered filthy, derogatory words that caused a stir. Well, yes, that's what they do, from Limbaugh on through, making clear the point in scripture where it says that what a person says is what defiles them. They utter vileness and become famous for so doing. It reminds me of the moment on the playground when I was dared by a classmate to "cuss".

Now, this same person is claiming that he's not a racist or sexist person. He just says these things, you know? But inside, the "real person" is good. Well, I would agree that we all have that within us which is good. Of course we all do. I'm sure this person has even acted on that good impulse, but I am equally certain that he has tuned it out to do his job. It was not that goodness within him that led him to call those young women names.

Now, I've stumbled and fallen sometimes. And I recognize that I would not want to be categorized by those moments in my life. But I also recognize that I shape my own response to the world, one decision at a time. And those decisions are part of who I really am. I really am the person who didn't rise to the bait back on the playground, and I really am the person who wanted to clock that kid upside the head but didn't. I'm also the person that's lost my temper, said things I regret, and generally been difficult to deal with. I think the difference is that I know that that is part of the "real me" too. And that lets me work on listening more truely to the voice that leads me toward being a better me.

Comfort food

Mmmm. With the rough day that has been going on, I decided I wanted vegetarian comfort food, but I couldn't decide what - hot dish? Welsh rarebit? Indian stews sounded good. Wait.

Stew. Yeah, soup. With potatoes, and onions, and garlic, and carrot, maybe some leeks if they have any that look good... And some hearty bread, preferably of the sourdough persuasion, from the Great Grains bakery. And more garlic as a dip - boiled then caramelized garlic. And some salad - with vinegar and oil and radishes. (Lentil soup would be good if I had time for it. Maybe this weekend.) Hmm.

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Sorry, folks

No, I haven't fallen off a cliff while stargazing. But last week's post that I needed time out was somewhat prophetic. When I don't make time, my body takes it anyway, and that way hurts. I've been out with migraine and my muscles joined in for some serious ache.

Now, I'm doing scales on the banjo and trying very hard to get them on rhythm. G and A and B and C - oops, and C and oh, bother! G and A and ... (And my instructor was right. The cheap metronome I bought is probably possessed by a gremlin that really hates people.)

And today is just rough. (Yeah, I know, whine, whine, whine, but it's my blog and I'm recovering from a migraine.) I will totally not be surprised if I fall asleep tonight in the middle of dinner.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fallow time revisited

I have previously posted about taking time to lie fallow. I have not been doing so recently - getting ready for Passover, heading to seder, helping out a friend - all these are good things, but I'm drained. Exhausted. I feel a bit like all I'll be up to tonight is preparing dinner then going straight to sleep. Banjo practice? Probably not, though I really should - I'm supposed to meet with my instructor tomorrow.

I need to make time this weekend.

Peacemaking as liberation

After reflecting over yesterday's post and taking the advice of a good friend who commented, I checked out the Velveteen Rabbi's haggadah. While there are parts I would add, and parts that do not speak to me, this is a good one, one that tells the actual story we are supposed to be remembering, and gives context to the reminders that built up over the centuries, besides giving space for new ones and new ways of looking at the story.

The language is affirmative of the variety of human experience and the opportunities for sharing in the seder. It directly addresses the many ways we may feel ourselves to be in bondage and the ways we may be undertaking our own journeys of liberation. So I wrote a short note to the author to thank her.

In writing that note, I realized that one of the central things that spoke to me from her work was the idea of peacemaking as a journey of liberation. This year has been a year of taking those shaky, hopeful steps for me. And also a year of realizing that even small steps are indeed steps. As I recently wrote in a comment to a post over at Country Contemplative, I can't make the world a peaceful place, but I can make me a peaceful person.

And also, I've been facing down the shackles that kept me from really participating in music. Even if I don't produce beautiful music, singing makes me happy, so I'm singing if only to myself. And I'm learning to play the banjo, having won one in a radio contest. Each new accomplishment becomes a further platform for more to come. And again, whether or not anyone else particularly appreciates hearing me play, I'm happy knowing I can.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Freedom and the seder

Last night, I attended seder with my husband, his brother, and a friend at a friend of the family's house. It was, in many ways, a typical family seder - and that was good. It was warm, welcoming, and simple. There were real attempts to engage the text and yet I found myself longing for more, for a real engagement with the idea of liberation and the faithful journey.

Part of my criticism is I think my own discomfort with the way that ritual tends to ossify. For example, the story is often initiated with a ritual set of four questions intended to be asked by a young child.

Four questions that don’t make much sense in today’s food culture. We don’t dip on any other night? My grocery has several different sections of dips and condiments spread throughout - hummous, ketchups, ranch dips, tapenade, mustards, onion dips, guacamole, cheese dips, etc. We have a different posture for the seder? Not really. The particular manner in which the seder is eaten in Ashkenazic households is meant to echo the classic Roman way of eating for free people - reclining and with dips. Later, that foodway went, but the tradition stayed. Now, it feels sometimes as though the question might well be, "Why are we all in the dining room, and why can't I have my ipod?"

I wondered about the whole meaning of the bit where we are to consider the pesach - the sacrifice, the maror - the bitter herb of slavery, and the matzoh - the bread of both affliction and freedom. Has it become just another sandwich? Are we finding meaning in spreading charoset (a fruit and nut spread that is supposed to resemble the morter that the slaves of pharoah were expected to make, but which is nearly everyone's favorite sweet ritual food) on matzo and topping it with the bitter maror (usually horseradish)? Or is it simply the next bit in the prayer book (haggadah)?

I found myself wanting to replace a really beautiful passage from the Song of Songs that didn’t have enough space to be appreciated with a haiku on the beauty of the (already beginning to fall) cherry blossoms and some quiet time to think about the coming of spring, of renewal.
Part of it, I think, is the rush to get fed. Read the service quickly so we can get to the soup. I found myself wanting a more bare-bones ceremony so that it could be done with deliberation, actually thinking about what that trip must have been like. Liberating, yes, but frightening, too. What waits for us and who pursues us?

One of the most beautiful moments of the seder is the taking of 10 drops of wine from the glass in memory of the suffering that the 10 plagues caused the Egyptians. I think it deserves reflection and discussion. But it falls in the “home stretch” just before dinner. And it tends to get a little bit lost. Not wholly, but somewhat. And it shouldn't.

So I think I'm going to be thinking about journeys to freedom this week.

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Monday, April 02, 2007


I've done it - all three chords, smooth transitions, on rhythm. *happy dance* And now I'm working on making it happen each time. Lots of practice this weekend.

Along with seed catalogs. Am I the only one to love seed catalogs? Hmmm. Yeah, there are flowers, but look! There's a heritage variety of tomatoes... and golden raspberries... and we're far enough south for peaches and pecans, but far enough north for the blueberries... never mind that I live in a tiny apartment with a balcony in partial shade (we do get a couple hours of sun in the late afternoon.)

I don't want a big house, but I do want an orchard and a garden. And an outdoor sheltered kitchen for processing the lot of it. Unfortunately, there were no jobs for me or my husband where we could have afforded the land for that, and here there are jobs, but no land. So I get a seed catalog and try one more time to get some radishes and thumbelina carrots to grow in a windowbox on the balcony.

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