Just Plain Foolish

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Over at Peterson Toscano's blog, he has a a post on the power and vulnerability of sharing stories. His post specifically addresses the situation of people who have gone through ex-gay programs, but it spoke to the vulnerability I have sometimes felt as I posted some of the most difficult moments of the last year.

Recently, another regular reader wrote to me that my descriptions had taken her on an emotional journey as she followed my posts on the day-to-day waiting through my dad's deployment. And I found myself glad that I could share the deep tenderness and vulnerability of the wait, the fear, the fierce gladness of occasional contacts, the sadness and worry of hearing each time of another death, the heartsickness of not knowing, and the necessity of "sucking up and soldiering on."

I can remember wandering around a farm market in PA this February, clutching a cell phone, wondering whether I was really there or just some kind of wandering spirit, lost among the colorful quilts and hothoused produce... Dad's voice had a 5-second lag, as it was transmitted from him to a satellite to the phone in my hand, and I could hear that the concept of "home" didn't seem to mean much to him. He asked for descriptions of the market, and told me about the anguish of not being able to carry out a soldier's body, despite the requests of the rest of the troop, because it would have robbed precious seconds from his just barely living comrade, and possibly endangered the rescue mission.

But the one thing not in Iraq that did seem real to him was the blanket I'd made. He wanted to hear the names of every single person who had worked on it, the colors, the stitches. So, there I was, feeling like my spirit wasn't in the room, but was trying to be transmitted by sattelite, trying to give him the life, the calmness of the farm market, that seemed just out of reach for me, as well.

I want people to understand the costs of this war, not just intellectually, but with the wrench in the gut, the pure misery of that half hour, the sorrow of watching my dad flinch when a hummer drove past the restaurant we were eating in last summer, or hearing how he dropped to the floor, rolling under a desk when the heating system in his office kicked in, just before he was deployed again.

And I know that some of what I write can't be easy to read. Most Americans, it feels like, don't want to really understand what we're paying. As I was hearing my mom tell me that my dad had landed in Kuwait, I could also hear a couple of my coworkers discussing the latest "American Idol" and that also felt unreal. Is there really a world where my mom and I are sharing that heartfelt relief while someone else is discussing this total irrelevancy? Or is it that mine is the irrelevancy?

Over the weekend, Cindy Sheehan declared herself to be burnt out, and I really am not surprised. It's hard to even share my story, and hers... well, carrying on with only a small blog and a living soldier is hard enough for me. Dealing with the death of her son in the full glare of the spotlight must have been... oy.

But I do not agree with her analysis that this is it. I believe that her exhaustion and grief have led her to despair, but that only makes it more important for other stories to come forward, for people to understand that it's not just one story, it's all the stories. It's the story of thousands of families like mine, living with grinding fear. It's the story of every single soldier who has died in this conflict. It is the story of every single soldier who has returned wounded in body or soul. It is the story of every single Iraqi. Period. It is the story of what we could do, if we used the resources of this country properly rather than for personal enrichment at the cost of blood. It is the fact that every single military family, every Iraqi, every American has been sold for thirty pieces of silver, and it is a story that needs to be told.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Common Ground...

Both the image and the poem from yesterday's post have stayed with me, calling me from whatever else it was that I thought I was going to post. (I sometimes wonder who else this happens to - I want to post on one thing, but another won't quit hitting me over the head until I post on it.)

The image that is sticking with me is the idea of springs as common places, places where we put aside our quarrels for a time for the precious gifts of the spring: water, calm, warmth, healing... I think about trips up to a local warm spring to help my muscles, and how that spring has been considered public ground certainly since the foundation of this country, and possibly before British colonialism, when many local tribes considered springs to be sacred meeting places, where people could go without fear.

I think about the simple tap, there beside what used to be the gentlemen's bathhouse, where anyone may go and get springwater to carry away or to drink. I think about the pools where anyone may wade, while the guppies and crawdads investigate the fascinating pink toes...

I think about meeting my parents there, about how it felt to have that calm peacefulness invaded by the knowlege that Dad was going again, about how it felt to have that gulf between us, there on the common ground. I think about how we've planned to meet again over water, this time to go canoeing downriver together. Perhaps the river can take us again to a kind of common ground...

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Common ground (One Deep Breath)

The Japanese fountain

We stand, awkwardly aware,
The issue between,
Sorrowfully considering.
Small, shy, hopeful smile offered.
Water melts cold granite hearts.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

At long last.

My dad's boots are once again on American soil. In a week, he will be allowed to step down from his military duties and join my mom on vacation. After that, he will have another week before he resumes his civilian duties and tries to take up the threads of a life put aside for months.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More good news.

As y'all know, before Dad left his station, he asked me to keep in mind his interpreter, who has suffered horribly from this conflict. I wrote to my senators, and one of them has written back, giving me a name and number to call, should S's application encounter any difficulties.

I am looking forward to a chance to meet this person, of whom my dad has spoken very highly. And I, like my dad, look forward to the day when they can see his father's farm in peace.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dear Senator X,

I am a daughter of a soldier currently returning from Iraq. For my family, months of heartache and waiting have turned to the delicate process of helping Dad to return to civilian life.

But there are thousands of other families for whom the wait has not ended. And now, there is a bill that Mr. Bush says he will sign, should it pass, authorizing more money to continue this war. It's time to stop. You have stated your opposition to this war. Now the time has come to stop the funding and work with the rest of the Senate on a way out of this quagmire.

It is time to stop providing more recruits to the insurgency, and work on sustainable political solutions, and instead concentrate on taking care of the returning veterans, who have given so much and need so much.


The Fool

First Amendment Rights

How in the world can we claim to be fighting for liberty abroad when we can't even keep it here? Not only have we lost the basic right to habeas corpus, we've even lost the notion that it's wrong to discriminate against each other based on political opinion.


Have we really regressed so far as not to realize you don't have to agree with someone to sell them a bit of lunch?


The receptionist at my office came over to my desk...

"Your mom is on the phone." My mouth went dry, my heart was pounding. I knew what she said she'd do if it was bad news, and instead of a call, I'd be getting my husband showing up at the office, but I still practically ran for the phone.

He's out of Iraq.

But the war goes on without him. Unfortunately, he will still have the war within himself. While I have a deep, deep sense of relief, I also know what he was like when he came back last time, taut and jumpy, scanning every shadow, jumping at the sound of trucks, ready to react at any second, yet sometimes sitting and staring at nothing - watching the program listings on the television just to have something to look at, sometimes just staring at empty walls. This time, at least I know what to expect.

And this is what disgusts me when representatives of this administration claim to understand the sacrifices my family has made. Have they ever anxiously scanned the face of someone they knew and loved, looking for some trace of that person in the familiar face? Have they sat up nights, worried beyond belief, knowing that all they can do is send an email that may not be read for days? Waited hopefully for a phone call? Prayed that some trace of the person they know will survive in the body that returns?

When I went to send Dad off this time, I was literally sick to my stomach, my stomach refusing to accept the situation. Ms. Rice, Mr. Bush, until you've had to lay your hands right quick on a clean shirt because you're so sickened by what's going on but still have to carry on, don't you DARE to tell me you understand.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

morning in the parking lot
Escaping A.C.
Into Dazzling warm sunlight
And real growing life.

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Real holidays

little blue flowers

My office does not always close on the federal schedule, so we often have to check whether or not we will be getting leave when there is a holiday. We do get Memorial Day off, but not Veteran's Day. This came up as one of my coworkers asked, "Is Monday a real holiday?" and another replied, "Yes, of course Memorial Day is a real holiday." And if that had stood alone, it might not have caught my attention, but it didn't. Next he said something about Veteran's Day not being real, you know, like Columbus Day.

Now, me, personally? I could do without Columbus Day. Old Chris was hardly the first person to "discover" America - not even the first European (check out the Vinland Saga, I believe, for details). And Ferdinand and Isabella give me hives. (Anybody else notice their pattern of genocide in their own countries? Hmm?)

But the contrast between Memorial Day and Veteran's Day is bad. What is says to me is that real heroes die. If you lived, you're not real enough. It echoes the words of a young veteran interviewed about the emotional scars he bears from Iraq, who replied that he wished he'd died "like a real hero".

We need to stop attempting to solve the world's problems through violence. And we need to have a holiday to celebrate the people who attempt to find other solutions. But in the meantime, we need to stop telling our soldiers that we expect them to die.


In response to my post about Henry Windsor not getting to serve in Iraq, Rae from over at Rae's Ramblings spoke up with the excellent reminder that service is not just military service, and we don't even see the children of our country's leaders openly performing non-military service.

While I agree whole-heartedly with this assessment, I also was encouraged that the son of the Prince of Wales was going to face the same kind of danger that children of coalminers face. A major contributing factor to the aggression that this country has been engaged in is the fact that the people who vote for it have no stake in it. If they see a political benefit in prolonging the war, they don't have to weigh that against any kind of personal cost.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Banjo happy dance

My banjo instructor and I have both had a pretty hectic last two weeks, and last week, I didn't get a lesson in, nor did I do much practice, because... well, I've been wiped. So I basically went one week with only a little bit of practice and a second week where there was no practice. Yikes, I figured. I'm going to go back and discover that I can't do anything with the banjo and have to start practically all over again.

I was wrong. Not that I plan to regularly not practice, but I managed to pull off the smoothest g scale I've done yet, pretty much right off the bat. Where the heck did that come from? Admittedly, this was after I spent 15 minutes tuning. Banjos prefer attention, thank you, and leaving them untouched for more than a week leaves you with a banjo that not only is untuned, but that doesn't care to get into tune right away, thank you very much.

And I started practicing scales in different time signatures. And next week, when we both have our act together, and maybe even some actual sleep, I will be ready for a new song. (And I also got a glimpse of future possibilities tonight: my instructor played Strauss' "Blue Danube" on the banjo, then played it again, only in a 3 finger picking style. Whoa!)

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The way that can be explained...

One of the things I really enjoy about blogging is the way that it connects writer and audience (and sometimes we take turns being writer and audience.) This allows the communication to go more easily in both directions. And that's helped me a lot over the last year that I've been writing. (The actual "birthday" for this blog is next week.) It's also made for some interesting exchanges - y'all keep me on my toes.

Recently, a couple of readers, J. and B., asked me some questions about how I come to discernment, what do I do when things are uncertain, how do I see my way? As usual, I found myself falling back on natural metaphors to explain my view of the human relationship to the divine. We are like people gathered around an ocean, looking out onto the deep waves of Grace. Each of us sees something a little bit different, depending on where we are standing and on how we see, yet we are all looking at the same ocean. And even if we surrounded the ocean, there are still bits off the horizon, or deep in the crevasses of the Earth that we cannot see or properly know.

Discernment can be simple and can be harder, and that hardness can simply be my own resistance. Sometimes, I feel like Jonah - no, I won't! Why should *those people* be treated with love and grace? While I haven't been swallowed by a whale (though I did get pretty thoroughly bodysmacked the last time I went bodysurfing...), I do get called to compassion for people I don't *want* to be compassionate towards, and sometimes find myself getting a bit smacked over the head with it.

I try to stay true to what I have been given to say, but that can be very hard going at times, and right now, I feel that my words are not enough for what I want to say. At the same time, I feel frustrated at giving as my answer to some of the questions what feels like a variant on "the way that can be explained is not the Way."

Friday, May 18, 2007

Prince Harry and Iraq

Yesterday, I got an incredibly cool treat: my dad called from base! *happy dance*

We talked about a number of things, from the weather there and here to politics and even a little bit about this blog. One topic that came up was that Dad hadn't heard the news that Prince Harry of England will not be going to Iraq, due to threats against him and the soldiers who would serve under him.

Now, both Dad and I had contrasted the willingness and even eagerness of Harry Windsor to serve with the fact that very few in either the current administration or in Congress have relatives serving. I am one of a minority of Americans who has an immediate relative serving in the Armed Forces, and we had both noted that perhaps our leaders would be less eager to overcommit our forces if they had some real idea of the sacrifices and hardships that military families must endure.

When he heard that Prince Harry was not going to go, Dad's comment was, "I'll bet he's pretty upset," and I mentioned that the newspaper did seem to imply as much. the line was silent for a few seconds, then Dad allowed as how he was upset, too. "If all they have to do to get what they want is make the threat, then they've already won."

Now, I've said the same thing over and over again about the state of fear that so many seem to live in since the September 11 attacks. If we let fear rule our decisionmaking, as it all too often has, then who has won? While I can understand not wanting an extra threat to fall on him and his comrades, I also admit to being disappointed that the prince, who has trained to go will not be sent along with the rest. I had hoped that perhaps, the prince might show America what we are supposed to understand better: that in the end, true nobility lies in service.

A request

Dear Senator X,

I am the daughter of a currently deployed soldier in the National Guard and am writing to you to urge you to help the interpreters who have helped our military and civilian forces to do the tasks we have given them to do.

My father's work is helped by a man whose American nickname is S. He cannot use his real name because already he and his family have been threatened in the unstable situation that our country helped to create when we invaded Iraq. S has risked everything including his own life and the lives of his family to help my father provide medical care in Iraq, and my father's dream is to bring him to the United States, the country he has helped to serve at such a high cost.

While I believe we did wrong to invade a nation that had not attacked us, I believe also that we must do our utmost to help those who have risked their lives to help our soldiers complete the task we have given them.

Thank you for your attention.


The Plain Fool

"Alternative Questioning"

Yesterday, Christine from over at Quiet Paths recommended in a comment that I read an article by Andrew Sullivan on torture, and specifically on why we should not allow politicians to hide behide the rhetoric of "alternative questioning techniques".
We have good questioning techniques already, questioning techniques that have not led people to confess to starting storms by taking off their socks and cursing their neighbors' cows to be dry. Apparantly, the easiest way to get information out of a person is to play on our basic nature as social animals. It involves such instruments as the comfy chair, talking to someone like they're a human being, offering a cup of coffee. You start chatting. It's much harder to confine yourself to name, rank, and serial number when your questioner is commenting on stuff like "Well, I'm sorry, all we've got in the way of food is this stuff, but there are dates and oranges, anyway. You want some fruit?" You pull classic body language tricks that shrinks have used for ages, like echoing the other guy's movements subtly. You forge a connection, and people tell you things.
I once met a retired intelligence agent from World War II, whose job it had been to ferret out Axis spies from shiploads of refugees. She was an extremely intelligent and friendly woman, who had used that charm to find out all kinds of things over and over again. She was the sort of person it was easy to confide in, and was able to say even long afterward that she was proud of what she had done. I think those who serve our country now should be able to say also in 50 years that they are proud of the work they've done. Let's help them to be proud by giving them work they can be proud of.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


There is a restlessness that has been tugging at me recently. I want to be outside, to feel a breeze on my face, and listen to the trees, water, and birds. Luckily, on Saturday, I'll be going out on a sailboat with my husband, his father, and the guy who co-owns the boat with my father-in-law. We'll be packing sandwiches, donning jeans, windbreakers, and boat shoes (in my case, wool socks with hiking sandals.) and sailing her from her winter mooring down to the lakeshore docks. I am totally looking forward to this, even if I'm not good enough to take the tiller.

And perhaps next weekend, I'll be able to get out for a bit of camping, walking, and birdwatching. I really feel that some time outside helps me to re-center, and the time has come. In winter and the early part of spring, I am content to hybernate, curled neatly into my little cave, but as the weather gets warmer and the trees get greener, I start needing to get out and see what's going on. The birds have been all over the place, and I want to be out with them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Benchmarks for whom?

Mr. Bush adamantly opposes any attempt by Congress to "run this war", but he apparantly does not have the same reservations about Congress attempting to "run" a foreign government. The Iraqi government is, after all, foreign, right? It's not merely a puppet, right? I have not yet heard any proposal for "benchmarks" for the Sudanese government. Interesting, that.

Nor have I properly understood exactly what these benchmarks mean. As the playground taunt goes, "and what are you gonna do about it, huh?", although I think we can rule out the use of "you and what army?" because we know what army - ours. What is the incentive for the Iraqis to do what Mr. Bush wishes them to do? Will we withdraw our military forces? If so, why would we put what Mr. Bush calls "defeat" into the hands of someone else? Will we send more military? If so, whom will we send? Will we simply pass a resolution that says "Bad Iraqis, bad! No biscuit!" and if so, what biscuit is it we intend to withhold?


This weekend, I headed home to be with my mom on Mother's day. We shopped together, ran a few errands, and ate out. And a few times we sat, along with my husband, in front of the computer with the camera on, trying to keep a connection going with my dad. Oh, wicked, wicked us. Don't we know it's better for soldiers to be lonely and cut off from their family and friends? Why, he might have said something to endanger himself or others!

If someone had been listening in, they might have discovered that he put the calendar my husband gave him in a prominent spot so he could see the days ticking by, that he looks forward to canoeing this summer, and that he liked the jalapeno mustard in my last care package. They might even have found out that he misses his family and hates to say goodbye. Other secrets revealed were the marriage and expectant condition of an old friend, a new floral arrangement in the living room, and the reef scene I'm painting for them from some of their diving photos. Weighty matters, indeed. Someone might even have overheard that I finally saw one of his favorite movies and also thought it was funny. The horror!

The new DoD policy on internet usage would be less heinous if at the end of the day, soldiers could go home, throw something on the grill, and hang out with their families. Dad has been deployed in situations where he had only intermittant access to communications, and it was hard on him and on us. Even the situation where he can read his email, occasionally get videos from us, and every now and again a teleconference isn't ideal - when I offer him a tomato juice, it has to go a couple of weeks through the post to get there - but it's better than nothing.

The DoD has done its level best to keep soldiers from talking to legitimate oversight, such as Congress or the press. Are they now doing their best to keep our soldiers from even talking to their families? Unfortunately, I think so. Col. Dan Smith, over at The Quaker's Coloniel, has written about this, noting that the official story is that YouTube and MySpace are taking up too much bandwidth. I'm not buying it. There are other ways than an outright ban to moderate the impact of such connections. And, as I've just discussed, there are other programs which can take up bandwidth. But our conference didn't create a permanent record that other people might see. I think that they're more worried about controlling the image people have of war than they are controlling the bandwidth.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Busy weekends

Sorry, folks.

Went home this weekend, and I'm still pretty tired. I was even secretly relieved when my instructor cancelled my banjo lesson today. While I did squeeze in some practice, I'm not sure it would be noticible, since I'm so sleepy.

Mom and I did some prep and planning for Dad's homecoming party. And next week, I'm flying out to my husband's family. I'm really looking forward to next month when the worry will be over for my family, when we will be serving forth our feast in thanksgiving for his safe return.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Got a tent now.

We have a lovely new 6-man tent, because we ended up deciding that it would be better to have a little too much room than to have too little, especially if the weather turned bad while we were out doing something that requires equipment - like birdwatching or astronomy. And we've had the weather do all kinds of stuff while we've been out in it.

After I sent Dad birthday wishes, and let him know what I was up to, he said camping sounded like a lot of fun, so maybe we can all go on a family trip this year - I'd love canoeing and camping, but if everybody else wants something with more excitement, we could go white water rafting in Pennsylvania. As I said in an email, I can just imagine taking the banjo and putting it in a waterproof sack, and canoeing down to a campsite - I've done the same thing with lunches, after all. But if we go whitewater rafting, the banjo stays in a cabin.

Dad also let me know what he's been up to: completing a half marathon in Iraq. He said he felt old when he realized most of the other runners had passed him, but he came in to the finish to the sound of cheers and chanting as his fellow soldiers celebrated his finish.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dad

This morning, I caught the first whiff of honeysuckle for this year. Yum.

And it made me think about my dad. How we used to go on nature hikes, looking at everything. How I first learned to really love camping by going camping with my parents, even as a toddler. (There's just something *about* slightly scorched potatoes dug out of the coals of a campfire, especially when eaten with baked beans and veggie hot dogs.) It made me think of the picture of him letting me hang on to his fingers as I mastered walking across a stream on a log.

Happy birthday, Dad. Come home soon.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Over at Quaker Pagan Reflections, there is a post that spoke deeply to me and to my condition. I've come to see my spiritual identity (not my religious identity, which I think is currently off on vacation in the Bermuda Triangle) as a reflection of the ways God is trying to work change in me. More and more, those changes have been happening in the quiet times and places, in listening and simply opening up the concerns of my heart rather than in anything I could remotely consider traditional prayer.

It has come with a feeling of vulnerability, as though that opening will not close. There is a saying in Judaism: the gates of prayer and repentence are always open. The traditional imagery of that saying is that they are always open in Heaven, before God's throne, but I've come to feel that each of us has a gate of prayer within, and that if we are aware of it, prayer becomes not a separate time or action, but a part of everything. The joy of seeing the trees waving in a spring breeze becomes a sort of hymn of thanksgiving, and the anxiety and sorrow I've been feeling lately also become a sort of shared prayer.

And I find myself wondering, also, if perhaps this tenderness is necessary to begin on the road to reconciliation and healing. I have two dear friends who are deeply tender over the rifts that are occurring in their faith communities. Recently, as this article discusses, there has been an increase in polarization as some religious communities deal with a rise in atheism and secularism. There is much in the article that I found at the least imprecise, but I think it illustrates the recent hardening of positions very well. As I have written about before, this rift has been very hurtful within the American Episcopalian community, and I find myself wondering how the community could come together to share that tenderness and hurt, not with more hurting, but in a spirit of communion. Similarly, I see so many divisions, so much hardening of the heart, that I wonder how the formal religions can keep the gate of tenderness and prayer open within them.

(And a special thanks to Christine over at Quiet Paths for the link to mull over.)

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Deliberate ignorance

One of the things that just about anyone who lives in or near a tourist town grows accustomed to is that you end up playing tour guide pretty regularly. Visiting friends and family will ask what's good and what isn't, how to get places, and so on and so forth. And then, of course, there are the lost tourists. "No, ma'am, you can still catch the right train. Just get off of this one and the next one on the track will take you there. If you can, sit facing forward on the left and you'll see a really great view of the monuments when you cross the river." I've given advice on the proper train station to take to get to the zoo, the Smithsonian museums, and somewhere good for dinner.

So yesterday, when my husband found himself helping a lost tourist and her son, he was pretty used to the situation. "No, ma'am, the Smithsonian doesn't cost to get in. If you've paid your taxes, you've helped to support the Smithsonian." And then she asked for advice - where should she take her young son who likes to run around? Well, of course, there's always the zoo - wide open and built on Rock Creek Gorge, so plenty of terrain to wear him out. Oh, and there are animals to see, too. But there's a storm coming soon, so you might want to consider some of the indoor stuff to see. The Natural History Museum is fun and has an elephant right by the main entrance.

And then she asked the question that floored him. "Does it have a lot of evolution in there?"

And when he told me the story, I found myself wanting to respond - Yes, and conservation of momentum, gravity, and basic thermodynamics, too. If you want to avoid the "evolution" bits, consider heading for the anthropological exhibits, the hall of minerals, and the cafeteria. I believe the elephant is "safe", though you probably want to avoid the dinosaurs and the ancient seas exhibits. Or maybe you just want to avoid anything that might help your son to think for himself, in which case, I heartily recommend the play area at McDonalds.


How much else of interest is she avoiding by wishing to avoid one scientific theory?

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Musical progress

It felt for the last week as though I were getting nowhere. The same 8 bars of music, over and over again, trying to smooth out the fingerings and the timing. And again... no, let's try those last 4 bars again, now all eight... And again...

And it began to come together. So today, I sat down with my instructor and tried to play, but tripped over my own fingers at the end. The second time, however, it worked - it actually sounded like a song. And then, on to the new: two new chords, 3 new timing drills, and, oh by the way, how are those G scales going? Whoof.

And a further admonition: work with what goes well, and take note of what's hard to master. And to add to the whole thing, I'm headed back home this weekend, so I'll have to squeeze in my practice where I can. My reward? A new song next week.

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The beginning of camping season

The old tent is gone. I've accepted that now. It will not miraculously appear in a burst of light and snuggle itself into the hybrid's trunk alongside the sleeping bags and the skillet. Nor is anyone going to offer to teleport a canvas tent, already set up, to and from any campsite I happen to choose. Nor can that faithful hybrid haul even an extremely light trailer (though I've found plans for a 400 pound camper - too cool.) And besides, I live in an apartment. The apartment people already have all kinds of new rules about parking. I don't even want to contemplate trying to get them to agree to let me store a trailer.

So, right, a tent... Anyone familiar with tents knows that the guidelines for how many people you can fit in a tent assume that noone has wide shoulders, pointy elbows, or for that matter, any clothing or other gear along with. And I've ruled out most large tents, both because space is at a premium in the car and because in my experience they're a right pain to set up. So the smallest tent I will consider is a 3-person and the absolute largest would be an 8-person, but that tent would have to be essentially the old tent for me to consider it. (The old tent was a 2-room cabin tent that theoretically held 8, but was perfect for setting up a bedroom on one side and a sort of mini living room/changing area on the other. It was also the easiest cabin tent I've ever seen for setup, but I really didn't like that it wasn't easy to pack compactly.)

Realistically speaking, I'm looking at 3-4person tents and not finding any that are calling out, "Oh, me, me! Put me in the back of the hybrid and I will go camping with you for years! I want to head to campgrounds that used to be amusement parks, roadside attractions, and the modern camping areas of reenactments." The cheap tents I won't buy because they're not likely to stand up to solid use and besides, I don't want a sweatshop tent. The higher quality ones I've seen so far are not impressing me either. And no, before someone even thinks about suggesting it, I really don't want to sew my own tent. No.

So if anyone out there knows of the perfect tent for two, let me know. In the meantime, I'm probably going to head to REI again later this week in the hopes that one of the tents there will call out to me.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Is anyone really surprised?

The DoD has released some selected parts of a study of battlefield ethics. Some of the results include a finding that all too many of our soldiers have been so brutalized by this war that they support practices such as torture. Completely unsurprisingly, servicemembers who had been deployed longer than 6 months or repeatedly were more likely to screen positive for mental health issues.

The time has more than come to find real solutions and to stop this abuse of the people who have sworn to serve and protect us.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

New eyes

Sometimes, there's a real joy in seeing the world through someone else's eyes. I've lived pretty much all of my life east of the Mississippi, and am accustomed to the wet climate here, so it was a wonderful change to get to see the spring through the eyes of someone who grew up in a somewhat less humid and definitely cooler climate out west.

She was amazed at the profusion of flowers here, the sheer variety of them, the warmth of our springs, and the deep green of the foliage. Looking at a stand of trees with borrowed eyes, I noticed how even a small group of them was a solid block of leaves that couldn't be seen through.

And I wonder, with what eyes can we see opportunities to grow together, to lessen the hatred and violence that our world is currently deep in? Where can we see the blossoming of hope?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Many forms of meditation encourage us to be aware of our breathing.

Breathe the good air in.

Blow out the old air.

Breathe the good air in.

Feel the air moving through your lungs, giving life to your body, carried by your blood to every bit of you. Just as a fish is submerged in life-giving water, so we are submerged in life-giving air. We feel the spring breezes and the harsh winter winds. We cough and gasp when the air is polluted, and breathe deep when it is fresh.

From ancient times, the notion of breath and the notion of Spirit have been intertwined. Indeed, the word "spirit" comes from the Latin root word, "spiritus", breath, respiration. And from this root also comes the word "inspiration". We are infused with spirit, with breath, and from there, we create. And the really marvellous part of this is that each of us is individual - while we all breathe the same air, we each have a different way of living in our world, different expressions of our inspiration.

I believe that sometimes that Inspiring Breath is moving like a wind over the world and each of us tries to express that movement as best we can, in whatever way we can, whether in words, paint, actions, a smile...

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The joy of creation

Yesterday, I talked about my first real hurdle in learning the banjo: I have very small hands, which makes some of the fingerings a real stretch. I'm getting around that by changing as I go, but it means my left hand must not only know what my right hand is doing, but keep up with it, doing something else at the same speed. For right now, that means I go slowly. My metronome stays for now set at 40 beats per minute.

What I didn't talk about is what keeps me coming back. And not just to the banjo: I often sew my own clothing, weave, braid, crochet, and knit. I am skilled at the "clean out the fridge" dinner, and have been known to produce pretty good meals out of leftovers, occasionally even cooking from random ingredients someone else has bought. (I have friends who used to do this just to get me to cook such a meal. Oddly enough, I still enjoy doing so every now and again.) With only one exception, all the art in my home is by either me or else artists I know. I like to listen to music made by friends. (And folks, seriously, go check over at Quiet Paths. There's a recording of "Soldier's Joy" on banjo and viola. It was supposed to be a sound check, but is just fabulous.)

I think that all too often, our culture puts us in the position of "recipient" - we eat the food someone else grows, wear the clothing that other people make, listen to other people's music, watch other people's stories. It is a powerful statement today to do things for ourselves, to tell our own stories, dance our own dances, grow and cook our own foods (did you know you could buy pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?), to make for ourselves.

Yes, we are all interdependent. While I can take freshly sheared wool and take it through every step to make a shawl, I know nothing of raising sheep or of shearing them. But I do know the quiet delight of seeing the work of my hands taking shape. How many are denied the pleasure of seeing the competence of the hands they were born with? And the joy of giving gifts that are handmade? For my husband's grandmother's birthday, I have some lovely fiber that I will be braiding into a necklace, with tassels at the end and polished shell beads interwoven. Her card will be ornamented with origami and handpainted detail. (And will use fewer resources than a traditional card, since the materials I use are environmentally sound - I take materials that would otherwise be headed for a landfill and reuse them.)

I take pride in the job I do when making things, and wish that others could be so encouraged - whether to raise a bit of a garden, or to make their own cards, or to sing their own songs. Although, apparantly, with some folks, we'll have to begin with spreading their own peanut butter.

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Freedom and Consequences

I've been thinking a lot about freedom, responsibility, and consequences recently. I recall a time in high school that a teacher in my high school jokingly said to me, "Come on, kid, you don't have a choice" as I dragged myself into my first class of the morning. Now, the first thing to understand is that I am never at my best in the morning. Even as a student athlete when I would swim a morning practice, shower off, and run to homeroom before school began, there was no guarantee that I would be awake even after a few thousand meter swim. But, sleepy as I was, this woke me up. I stopped, looked into his face, and replied, "Oh yes, I do have a choice. I just have to face the consequences of whatever choice I make."

And ultimately, freedom entails the freedom to accept that one's actions have consequences. My decision to learn the banjo has meant spending money and time that could have been spent, I suppose, in another way. But it also means that I can play "Skip to My Lou" on the banjo. My decision to keep up a blog has opened opportunities for me to meet all kinds of neat people and to improve my writing.

And sometimes other people make decisions that have far-reaching consequences. Years ago, Mr. Bush made a decision that is still having consequences for my family, but Mr. Bush was not the only person to make decisions regarding the violence of war. Each member of Congress, each voter in this country made decisions that are still reverbrating today. The current Congress recently passed a bill to continue funding the current war, but to place limits on that funding, and Mr. Bush says that he will choose to veto that bill.

Perhaps Mr. Bush believes that his decisions will no longer have personal consequences because he will not be standing for election at the end of this term, and because he does not have anyone close to him who stands to face the consequences of his decision. But he is wrong. Each of us makes decisions every day and those decision help to make us who we are. I would urge Mr. Bush to bear in mind that even at this late date, the gates of repentence stand open and it is possible to avert some of the consequences of earlier decisions.

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