Monthly Archives: April 2008


Precipitation: a deposit on the earth of hail, mist, rain, sleet, or snow;
the quantity of water deposited.

Have I mentioned that I live in the Pacific Northwest? The precipitous PNW? It has rained and hailed and snowed and rained and hailed and rained and hailed and sleeted so often that “April Showers” seems way too mild a tune. It’s also been damn cold.

In a few hours it will be May 1st and the local weatherman will be able to report the precipitation totals for April.

During the spring of 1999 it rained every day for three months. I wrote a poem about it:

Another Rainy Day

Gray streaks filter the landscape,
vertical Venetian blinds
shutting me off from the trees,
the mossy fence
the ducks on the pond.

A stand of sodden daffodils
stagger beside the gate trying
to cheer me,
but a few pale splashes of yellow
won’t convince my bleak soul to crack a smile.

We’re supposed to be used to rain
but this is ridiculous.
I hear they’ve had ninety days straight
in Seattle.
Ninety-five in Corvallis.

Sunday morning the sun surprised us
Shining on our coffee cups.
We ran outside
to capture the light.
With this competition
surely no one would go to church.

By ten the rain was back.
The faithful trooped forth,
umbrellas aloft.
The minister said he would have
preferred the sun to the crowd.

Partial truth

In yoga we are looking at the Sanskrit term “Satya”, which means being truthful, both to oneself and others. It’s interesting how we see in ourselves only the truths that we want to see. Partial truth.

The partial truth is that my income has been severely reduced since my husband and I separated in 2001. This is the truth I wanted to see when it came time to re-up my annual pledge of financial support to the church where I belong.

In the Unitarian tradition we do not tithe the way many Christian denominations do, giving 10% of income to the church. However, as a spiritual practice I (and many other UUs) tithe by donating 5% of income to the church and 5% to various other causes.

So this week I looked at my tax return and said to myself, “You poor poor thing. You’d better reduce your pledge this year.” I gave myself a list of very reasonable reasons for this line of thinking.

Meanwhile, to the rest of the truth:

Wouldn’t it be great to have a projector? It would be very handy for doing certain kinds of presentations, and of course I could use it as a bigger screen for watching rented movies. Heck, prices had dropped significantly and you can get an excellent one these days for less than a thousand bucks!

I should pop by Costco tomorrow and check it out.

Oops. If I could afford a projector, could I not afford to maintain my pledge level?

The whole truth is that while my income is down, I do have savings. The whole truth is that a projector sounds like a lot more fun than giving the money away. The whole truth is that I made a commitment to myself to be generous, regardless of the pain.

Damn satya anyway.

Pathogens in population patterns

What if the way we relate to each other is a function of how close we live to the equator? In an intriguing story in Newsweek a couple of weeks ago, science writer Sharon Begley notes that societies in warm climates (think East Asia, Latin America) are much more collectivist by nature than those of us in cooler climes (No. America, Europe). She says

The West epitomizes individualistic, do-your-own-thing cultures, ones where the rights of the individual equal and often trump those of the group, and where differences are valued. East Asian societies exalt the larger society: behavior is constrained by social roles, conformity is prized, outsiders shunned.

So why is this?

A team of researchers are suggesting that it’s related to disease –causing microbes. Pathogens.

Societies that evolved in warm moist places, where pathogens thrive, had to adopt collectivist behaviors in order to survive. Strong family ties, conformity, and mistrust of strangers all provide buffers against germs from outside.

We in the cooler west have fewer pathogens, “allowing us the luxury of individualism and with it other social benefits such as innovation.”

Having just spent a couple of warm moist weeks in Vietnam, and observing the tight multi-generational family structures there, this theory really struck me.

In the cities we visited people live clustered tightly in narrow three-story homes right on the street. Out front on ground level is the family enterprise, and Grandma lives behind the store. On the second and third floor Mom and Pop live with their kids. Grandma is an essential family helper but relies on Mom and Pop for food and shelter.

Things are shifting though as the Vietnam becomes stronger economically. The younger folks are wanting to move into the new high-rise apartments and condos cropping up like mushrooms in the suburbs.

What will happen to these ancient cultural patterns then? And what will happen to Grandma?


Proliferation: to grow by rapid production of new parts, cells, buds, or offspring; to reproduce freely.

Proliferation was on my mind today as I forced myself to face my garden, where the weeds have been having their annual spring fling. The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the healthiest weeds I’ve ever seen. Dandelions are unusually vigorous this year – I’ve seen plants a foot tall, with a dozen huge cheery blooms from one deep root. Those spots of golden sunshine will soon be hundreds of tiny airborne seeds. Prevention by early digging is the key. I’m late.

Back inside, I discovered proliferation in the virtual realm:
I Googled myself.

Talk about reproducing freely!

The last time I looked myself up was maybe two years ago. Since then the search engine has found me in corners so dusty I’ve long forgotten them.

My current name, which I’ve had since 1982, has eight pages of listings. Of course some of those are for other people with the same name, and many of them are repeat versions of one or another thing I did or wrote or said in relatively public venues, but a surprising number are from sources that I had no idea would find their way to a Google search: a mass email address update from an acquaintance in 2001; comments I’ve made on someone else’s blog; contributions I made to political campaigns; annual reports from agencies where I’ve served on the board or some such.

So then I Googled my maiden name, a name I left behind in 1967. There were even a couple of entries there.

And I’m just a regular gal with a variety of interests. It’s troubling to discover how many threads of my life are out there for the world to follow (if they were so inclined). A private eye would find me in about two minutes.

How does one get rid of unwanted Google listings??? Or keep out of Google’s eye in the first place?

It must be possible, because recently I hit several brick walls when trying to track down a couple of high school classmates to invite them to a reunion. They were both fairly well-known in their fields; both men (so they didn’t lose their last names to marriage). One had a name that was so common as to be impossible to figure out which, if any, was the right one. The other simply wasn’t to be found.

I hate to stop doing anything public just because it adds to my already dubious dossier – what to do?


Patron: a special guardian or protector, or a wealthy or influential supporter of an artist or artistic enterprise

I always thought a “patron” was a good thing to be. But my perspective was just broadened by an extraordinary exhibit “The Dancers” at the Portland Art Museum showcasing the work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931), and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).

Of course the art was thrilling (could lovely dancers depicted by three remarkable artists not be thrilling?) but the back story was much darker.

It turns out that in Paris in the later part of the 19th century, the patrons (men) of the Paris Opera and ballet wanted to see young WOMEN in their tights and tutus. This even to the point where almost all the ballet roles were for women, with the occasional male dancer being played by a female in drag. (What’s a male dancer to do? They went off to Russia or Denmark where employment was less problematic and vitalized dance in those two countries – but that’s another story.)

The ballerinas at the Paris Opera were often from the lower classes and, except for few who became stars (les etoiles), they earned a paltry salary. Rising through the ballet ranks was seen as a way for the dancers to better their lives and contribute money to their families.

Enter the patron.

The most prominent spectators at the Paris Opéra were the annual subscribers, or abonnés—men who were upper class political leaders, industry titans, and financiers. The abonnés bought the most expensive seats, best views—AND the privilege of consorting backstage with the dancers. The dancers in turn felt pressured to succumb to the men’s advances in order to get “financial aid.” Some dancers remained aloof, but in general, the ballet dancer was associated with the demimonde.

patron in the wings

Did you ever wonder about those guys in top hats and tails waiting in the wings in some of the Degas’ paintings and drawings? Those are the fat cat abonnés. They loiter with intent in the shadows, or strike up deals with the girl’s mother. Or the girls are trying to act attracted to some geezer with a big belly.

From the exhibit’s liner notes:

“Degas emphasizes the artifice of the spectacle and the physical reality of the ballerina’s life behind the scenes. Forain rails against the social inequities that made the exchange of money for sex a dilemma in the dancer’s life. And Lautrec employs sexual references in his depictions of chahuteuses, both to titillate and to stress the humanity of women whom society treated as commodities.”

Forain - in the wingsforain


One of the websites nominated for a Webby award is run by a guy who lives in the Portland area. It’s called – but watch out, because if you’re a color lover (as I am), you can get lost there (as I did).

Using their tools you can create millions palettes of five colors, and/or you can take a photograph or graphic and extract five of the colors from it. I stumbled on a blog entry there which extracted the palettes from about ten gorgeous closeups of various stapeliad flowers. Check it out!Kathi\'s cabbage

I tried it myself, uploading a photo I took last fall in my friend Kathi’s vegetable garden – a cabbage nearing harvest. With their Copaso tool, I pixilated the photo and then clicked on five of the pixels that seemed to convey the cabbage’s essential colors. cabbage colors

Totally totally cool. This could be such a boon to a decorator – a client has a favorite painting and wants to pull the colors from it for wall and upholstery colors – et voilà!



When I answer the phone that’s all Heather says. “Pinkeye.”

She lets me register the visual (crusty goop from some over-productive internal glue factory) before she explains which of my grandchildren has this particular ailment at this time.

I get these calls every few months.




These are not complaints; they are reportage. Just the facts.

In the single word I see a hologram of my own maternal career. Staying up with a sick child. Worry. Exhaustion. Patience. This too shall pass… but what if it doesn’t?

Evenutally the symptoms evolve into an ordinary disease with a name, a short arc, and a happy ending. It’s just pinkeye, not the beginnings of a total-body staph infection. I can breathe again.

Until the next time.

That’s motherhood (and now grandmotherhood).

Perniciously Pervasive: Rupert Murdoch

Pernicious, adj: causing insidious harm or ruin; ruinous; injurious; hurtful.

Pervasive, adj: having the tendency to spread throughout or permeate

Rupert Murdoch, the ambitious and avaricious Aussie is at it again, and I’m scared. If one filthy rich conservative can buy whatever media he wants, pretty soon it will be even more challenging to get the truth out than it already is.

This is where he started, from a NYTimes quickie bio:

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and controlling shareholder of the News Corp., is perhaps the preeminent global media magnate in an era of global media empires. After building a chain of newspaper and magazine properties in Australia in the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Murdoch expanded first to the United Kingdom and then the United States, where The New York Post has been the embodiment of his hard-charging tabloid style and his conservative views.

Worldwide, News Corps. is worth $60 BILLION. Here are just SOME of his U.S. holdings (Australia, UK, et al, NOT included):

  • The New York Post
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The Weekly Standard
  • Fox cable stations (about a dozen)
  • Fox movie companies (about a dozen)
  • The National Geographic Channel
  • HarperCollins Books
  • MySpace

With the Post and the WSJ he already owns two conservative newspapers in the New York market. Now, he’s got a preliminary deal going to buy Newsday, which would be his third NY paper. Ultimately his aim is to take on (take down?) the New York Times.

Will the FCC allow this takeover of so many papers in one market??? One would hope not, but George Bush’s FCC has done worse.

Oh – and he’s also hot on the tail of Yahoo…

Plant more trees

In honor of the 38th annual Earth Day.

In the glorious Northwest, Trees R Us. But with the insane rate of home-building and logging, trees are going fast.

Developers raze the land, build a bunch of over-big houses, and then consider it landscaped it when they put in three rhododendrons, a Japanese maple, and some grass.

I have two big deciduous trees, one that keeps the house cool in the morning and one that keeps it cool in the afternoon. No air conditioner.

The New York Times Sunday magazine was all about living green this past weekend. Here’s what they said about planting trees:

Every schoolchild knows there is no poem so lovely as a tree. But does everyone know just how green they can be? According to Deborah Gangloff, the executive director of American Forests, a nonprofit conservation group, “Three trees will sequester one ton of CO2 over a lifetime of 55 years.”

She notes that a carbon calculator on her group’s Web site tells you how many trees you can have American Forests plant (for a $1 donation each) to make up for the miles you drive or the fuel you use to heat your home. “This is a feel-good thing,” Gangloff admits, “but we are really planting those trees.”

American Forests programs have planted 25 million trees since 1990. Some trees do more good than others. When it comes to helping the environment, urban trees “can be 15 times more effective than a tree merely standing in the forest,” Gangloff says.

Dan Burden, who founded Walkable Communities in 1996 in part to promote planting and maintaining trees in urban settings, claims in his booklet, “Urban Street Trees,” that “a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree.”

Shade trees near residential and commercial buildings can reduce demand for air-conditioning; deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, allowing the sun’s heat through. Researchers have developed models to guide property owners on how to preserve and plant trees strategically to realize the greatest energy savings.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, for example, determined the impact of planting shade trees and found that costs of cooling dropped 8 to 18 percent and the costs of heating declined 2 to 8 percent when a residential building was provided with a tree canopy roughly equal to two strategically placed trees.

Papal Presence

Pope Benedict made his first visit to America last week (New York and Washington, anyway). He’s been viewed as a very conservative pontiff, who would roll back the clock on a lot of recent papal edicts if he had his way. He even wears a tall two-pointed hat (miter) that is a throwback to earlier papal garb which supposedly sends a signal to his more fundamentalist Catholic followers that he’s one of them.

I’m not a Catholic, and don’t give a poop for the pope, but this visit offered a convincing example of the power of being with one’s accusers face-to-face, listening and apologizing. American Catholics have been pretty steamed up (to put it mildly!) about the pedophile priests who were allowed to continue in their parishes while their higher-ups pretended it wasn’t happening. It has cost the church dearly both in dollars and membership.

Benedict’s advisors had told him to steer clear of the topic, but instead he waded right in, saying repeatedly how ashamed he was, and he met with a group of men who had been molested to hear their stories. To hear the men tell it, it meant everything to them to be able to go to the top guy and really be heard. And in hearing, the pope said he felt moved to do something about it… of course, we’ll see.

When will America learn that the way to defuse volatile situations is to come together as real people and listen to each other? Works better than bombs. Hello… Mr. Bush???

On a much lighter note, Garrison Keillor did a funny skit on his show yesterday about taking the pope (disguised as a schlumpy New York baseball fan) for a sightseeing stroll around a neighborhood in New York. [Link to follow, once it’s up on the Prairie Home Companion website.] The “pope” got into a whole alliterative P-word riff about going up to Boston for a gig with the Boston Pops, “Pope at the Pops with Puppets and Popcorn….”

Believe it – I’m onto something with P-words. You saw it here first!