Just Plain Foolish

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

Friday, December 28, 2007

A moment of quiet in the storm

Christine talks about the unsettling news from Pakistan, and about the need for a bit of calm in all the violence that the world seems intent on producing sometimes. I was deeply saddened by the news of the assassination as well, and decided to "light a candle" over at gratefulness.org. (And check out the rest of the site, including a virtual labyrinth and some thoughts on peace...)

Oh, and thanks to Don, over at Country Contemplative, for introducing me to the site in the first place.

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Some fuel tips

Over at Country Contemplative, Don talks about the burden of rising gas prices on the poor. And later in a comment, he says, "People making $100,000 a year are inconvenienced by $4 and $5 per gallon gasoline. People making half that much and less are crucified with those prices. The poor don’t get to drive hybrids. "

Even if you add my husband's income to mine, we still do not make even close to $100K/year, but we do drive a hybrid, the Honda Civic Hybrid - the savings on gas is actually worth it, despite some media assertions to the contrary. We bought used, and the difference between ours and an equivalent non-hybrid was about $1500. Because of the efficiency guage, I am able to improve my own fuel use and teach myself to drive with more awareness of my use of resources. Our old car had been paid off, but the savings on gas from the old car pays over half our car payment. (and that's with older, lower gas prices.)

But I'd also remind folks that it's not necessary to drive a hybrid to conserve fuel - smaller cars use less fuel than larger cars (and are often less expensive) And combining errands not only conserves fuel, but also time.

Wait to start the car until after you've put on your seat belt, settled yourself in, and released the parking brake.

Turn off the engine when you get where you're going. When you idle, you're getting 0 mpg.

Go a little slower and be more considerate of other drivers. When you leave a generous stopping distance, you're not constantly alternating between the accelerator and the brake and your milage goes up.

Don't step on the accelerator if the next light is red. Why speed up to a red light only to have to stop?

Cultivate a "feather foot" on the accelerator.

Carpool, take public transit, walk, bike when you can. The lowest tech bike beats the highest tech hybrid on carbon emissions every time. Plus, you get to meet people.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Morning's cup of tea

I have a somewhat battered infuser - the kind that looks like a measuring cup. It's been camping with me and exactly fits my camping mug. This morning, I pull it out, and tip a scant teaspoon of Earl Grey in, then just smell the leaves, all brown and small at the bottom of the mesh cup. Mmmm. Citrus and tea...

And then, the magic of hot water from the coffeemaker, and slowly, those small brown leaves bloom, become soft and full, transforming and being transformed by the water. My scant teaspoon of dry leaves is now a plump tablespoon of glistening tea leaves, and there are more colors - various shades of reddish brown with hints of green, and even one leaf that is now a sort of celadon.

The light is returning, the new year coming, and I have a beautiful cup of tea. May the new year be filled with such pleasures for us all.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A gift

Snow between the trees,
a veil of ice cascades
over limestone cliffs.
Still I journey forward
carrying the gift within.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Holidays, everybody!

I'm outta here for a little while - spending Yule and Christmas with family and not likely to be online much.

For those of you travelling, travel safe and have a wonderful time!

For those staying at home, have a lovely cozy time, and think of us fools on the road as you sip your tea.

And happy holidays, everybody!

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Morning tea

Some of y'all will remember that I really love my cups of tea, especially herbal and fruit teas. This morning, one of my coworkers approached me because she'd only recently discovered that I write haiku.

Somewhat out of character for me, I had gotten cocoa instead of tea this morning, and I found myself looking at *her* morning cup of tea, made from loose green tea and red dates...

Red dates float
in morning's cup of tea,
calm, soothing islands.

Okay, that's it. I've got to bring a loose tea canister to work... (probably for my hibiscus tea...)

And she said nice things about my poetry, too. Whee!

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This morning...

Morning decorates
With finest sparkling lace
The parking lot.

Cars speed, unseeing
past the hawk, silent, intent,
watching for breakfast.

Cold hands hold a cup,
Gentle warmth easing fingers,
ready for the day.

Cocoa, tea are warm,
but not so warm as a word
spoken to the heart.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Last night at the Japanese cultural center was wonderful. My husband and I went to hear a lecture on the Selene/Kaguya project to study the moon. We got to see some of the first high definition digital images from that project - 3-D images of the moon's surface, and a totally breathtaking Earth rise over the moon.

While we were there, I took the opportunity to visit the current exhibit of Japanese pottery, which is truly beautiful. The forms and the glaze work were all just gorgeous, and I was glad I'd gotten a couple minutes to enjoy them. I also got to meet a couple of people and had an interesting discussion as we all drifted out into the evening, where folks broke up and headed wherever they were going.

My husband and I, along with one of his coworkers, headed for a nearby Korean restaurant that also carried some Japanese specialties, and proceeded to continue the discussion over agedashi and sushi. (And yes, I admit that mine was vegetarian. Call me a wuss, but I really do love inari and umemaki.) And finished off with a lovely Korean ginger and cinnamon drink "to aid digestion" our waitress assured us, before we headed off toward the Metro station.

Less than a block from the station, the fly in our ointment appeared, in the form of some young idiots in a red sports car who turned into the lane we were crossing (still missing us by a fair margin) who decided to shout a Jew-hating threat at us before speeding off. As you might imagine, this was upsetting. All I can pray is that perhaps one of the people in the car will be so embarrassed this morning that it will cause him to consider how he ended up like this and begin to turn around. Sadly, I don't count on it, and can only be thankful that I was spared the violence visited on a friend of mine last year, who had first insults hurled at him from a car, before someone decided to get out of the car and escalate.

And the struggle goes on.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Still overwhelmed

December tends to be hard on me. There's always so much going on that I find it hard to find time to relax, so things tend to drop - admittedly, this year including this blog. I've travelled to my husband's family for Hanukkah, and will be travelling to my family for Christmas. Plus both company holiday parties (both this last weekend) And this evening, a trip to the Japanese embassy for a lecture.

And of course, the homemade candies and other handmade gifts. I'm really looking forward to relaxing tonight, after the lecture, with some music. (Okay, I'm being selfish here. Help support some really good musicians, so that they have more leisure to get out their next CD, which my greedy little ears are hankering for... Christine even assures on her blog that it's not too late...)

I'm really looking forward to the quiet of January.

(Oh, and a quick note for those following my banjo adventures: I did it! I've been playing "Red River Valley" on time and without mistakes! Whee!)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Just Plain Furious

As if it weren't bad enough that we are abusing our military through more and more frequent deployments, now we discover that funds raised for veterans are being frittered away. This really makes me angry. Hasn't this war stolen enough?

Over the weekend, someone asked me what my dad thinks of the war. I trotted out my standard response that I really can't be his spokesman, for fear of oversimplifying his thoughts - but I also pointed out that one of the things he's talked about since getting back is the level of profiteering off the misery of this war.

And I felt odd, out of place, cold. The table was full of holiday cheer - Holy Day cheer - candles, special foods, made this one season in the year, cookies and even my candies were there, festive tableware, a special centerpiece, everyone dressed colorfully. Everyone looking forward to the gifts that would come out after dessert. The room was full of joy and fellowship, but I was talking about death and misery and the pathetic mindset that looks at that and sees opportunities for profit.

I said afterwards to my husband that I wasn't sure whether they'd wanted the answer they got, but how could I say anything else? He pointed out to me that I was alone in that room in being related to a soldier, that it's important for others to hear the real story, because it's not being told in the places it should be told.

One of my favorite stories is the one about a worthless item that turns out to be a precious gift: the hospitality of Baucis and Philemon, the fool of Notre Dame (part of the inspiration for my blog's name), the clockmaker who brings only a sandwich to the offeratory, having sold the beautiful clock he had intended to give in order to support his neighbor. I agree with O. Henry. These are the gifts of the Magi, the gift of love. Often, it's a hard gift to give. We can't know how it will be received, or what the result will be. All we can do is give in hope and trust.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'm back.

Caught up on my rest some after the grand train adventure. We wound up going sleeper car both ways, and it was lovely. While the "roomette" accomodations are indeed tiny (there was essentially no room for more than my husband's messenger bag, my small handwork bag, our coats and our two selves), they were plenty comfortable, with room to stretch out a little, a fold-out table, and a tiny closet. Meals were included, and while the selection was limited (it might be difficult to maintain a strict diet for more than a day on board), the service was prompt and the food reasonably tasty.

And they provided a space to go for quiet. While we enjoyed meeting many people over meals, it was also nice to be able to go to our own space and shut the door. In the dining car, we met train enthusiasts, a Katrina relief worker and his wife travelling to relatives, a professional dancer on vacation, a woman travelling to a school reunion and other interesting people.

I think if I were travelling with children, the train would have to be my first choice - on our way out, there were two infants on the same car with us, and a family with children. Unlike air travel, there were no major pressure adjustments, even as we travelled through the Appalachian mountains, since we mostly rode along the valleys. There was room to move about for the older children, and even my husband and I found ourselves practically glued to the windows, stopping only to sleep and eat.

The scenery was fabulous: from rolling hills and tumbling rivers to the vast open expanses of the Plains. At night, we found ourselves watching the Christmas decorations flow by. One house was plainly waiting for the train, because as we passed, they blinked the lights and waved to us. On the way back, we were able to tell when we passed the Eastern Great Divide, simply by watching the waters beside us - and watching the Potomac turn from a tiny mountain stream to the churning whitewater near Harper's Ferry was incredible.

Frequently, we found ourselves saying, "That town looks interesting. Can you tell where we are?" We were grateful for local businesses, because they often incorporate the name of the area, or prominant local features. Also, they were often nicer to look at.

As we left Chicago, we passed a large shipping yard and were simply blown away by the volume of freight containers - One part, we weren't sure - was that a warehouse made of freight containers, or simply a stack? We found ourselves thinking about the incredible wealth of a nation that produces those vast yards of food and goods. How can it be possible that we have created a system where so many lack basic heathcare? How could that happen?

Frequently, especially in some of those small towns, or along the rocky gorges of the Appalachians, we found ourselves wishing we could somehow both ride the train to see what comes next, and also that we could get out and explore the treasures that we passed...

I guess what I'm saying is... Wow, what a ride!

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A choice

The Washington Post reports that American students did less well than the average on an international test of math and science. I find this totally unsurprising, in large part because we have not chosen to teach the theory behind the sciences, instead giving a gloss of trivia and memorized facts as our "science curriculum".

Science, contrary to the view most frequently presented in our media and public discourse, is far more than a collection of technological advances. It is, in fact, a form of philosophy, a way of understanding knowlege, hence the name which is derived from the Latin "scire", to know. All too often, the "science kits" available as toys for children might as well be recipe booklets. Rather than foster questioning, these seek to impose knowlege from above.

And as we move to an educational system dominated by tests with limited answers, we depress the questioning that forms the basis of true science. It is by looking around at the world and asking questions, often open-ended questions, like "why?", "how does that work?", and even "does it really?" that scientific discoveries have been made. Science is a means of putting questions to the test: will a heavy ball fall faster? There is only one way to know and that is to carefully measure and observe balls of various weights being dropped.

Sadly, many in this country fear that open questioning, and so science curricula have been gutted, stripped of a real understanding of what science is, and what it can and cannot do.

And so we discourage children from questioning, and from learning. I have sometimes thought that the primary purpose of schools was to teach children to sit still for hours at a time while being bored out of their skulls. Sadly, that is what it felt like to sit, listening to droned repetitions of facts I already understood, with no encouragement for further questioning.

In the face of these results, I think we are faced with a choice: accept that we have done this and work to remedy the problem, by supporting teachers, students, and families in their search for an education for our children, or continue to undermine our own future.

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I hear that train a-comin'

Last minute decisions loom: do I try to take the banjo on the train? How should I pack the gifts? But tomorrow, those decisions will have solidified and however they go, we'll make them work.

Have a good weekend, folks!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Excuse me?

The New York Times has an article on those of us fools and nutcases who would prefer to see less waste over the holidays. It is, of course, presented as those austere green grinches verses the merry traditionalists.


My er... favorite part of the article is the characterization of a "call for less excessive consumption during the holidays" as "un- American". Oy.

For the record, my gifts, mostly homemade, all in reusable bags or containers, are also ones that I think the recipients will enjoy. For those who can't or shouldn't have sweets, I'll be roasting cashews with spices and including a card with the recipe. Frankly, small gifts of handmade candy rarely wind up in the trash. And since I'm putting the effort in, anyway, I can personalize the gifts with little additional work: an initial worked in a crocheted cloth is not difficult, once you've already decided to do the cloth. Nor is choosing colors that the person enjoys to begin with. And I don't think the recipient of that gift will be tossing it, either.

And apparantly, they ran a different version of the same story last year. Come on, people, this isn't difficult. (And just a hint: it's a good idea to turn the thermostat down during parties, because lots of people in a small space generate plenty of heat. It gets warm fast if you don't.)

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Check it out.

Don has some interesting thoughts on the politicization of Christmas display decisions.


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Well, I've finished my candymaking.

I realize that I haven't been posting much. The holidays have swallowed me whole, frankly. Currently sitting in my apartment are:

1 batch homemade from scratch caramels, neatly separated and put into containers.
1 batch chocolate dipped glazed apricots, still sitting on their wax paper until I find the energy to deal with them. (and not incidentally, where I put the roll of wax paper...)
1 batch candied apricots, drying until they are dry enough to get their final sugar coating.
1 triple batch dark chocolate cherry fudge, cooling.
1 quart homemade apricot preserves
Surprisingly few dirty dishes from all this (Thank you, dear!)
Several fabric gift bagged little gifts of candy and nuts for the dreidel game to be played at my husband's aunt's house.
Several origami fabric pouches.
Another yard of fabric to be turned into gift bags and pouches.
A mostly finished silver crocheted necklace with art glass beads
A few CDs for gifting by some independent artists I really enjoy. (Hi, Christine!)
A printout of some of the poetry and essays that I think a friend of mine will enjoy who does not have online access.
One wiped out fool who is enjoying a break by blogging and listening to music by Lorcan Otway and by Christine and her husband.
One messy livingroom that will have to be attacked this week.
One husband who is beginning to do that.

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