Monthly Archives: November 2008

Puzzles: the pleasure of piecing things together

Puzzle: n. a mental challenge; a problem or contrivance designed for testing ingenuity.

Piece: v. to join into a whole —often used with together, as in a puzzle

Our Thanksgiving was pretty low-key. Just my son, my ex, me and another couple who are old friends thru church.

We skipped the turkey this time and had coq au vin (made by the ex), roasted potatoes (yellow finn, sweet and yams w. shallots and garlic), salad w. pomegranate seeds and pecans. Mary makes killer pies so she brought one. We had some chanterelles my son picked in the Cascade foothills last month (frozen) which I made into a yummy appetizer spread. Lots of very nice wine.  Nice not to be stuffed up to HERE.

After dinner we sat around and my friend Mary pulled out a couple of small jigsaw puzzles, just 75 pieces each, that she and John had picked up on their last trip to the UK.  These addictive little gems are made by a company called Wentworth.

They’re mounted on wood, and the shapes are intricate enough to make the puzzle a real puzzle – straight edges are usually internal pieces and the pieces that go on the edge do not seem to have straight sides. Each puzzle also has a handful of pieces that are thematic – they call them “whimsies” – like in one puzzle of a violin, there were pieces cut like a clarinet, tuba, trumpet, cello, etc. In one of a bucolic scene you’ll find bunnies, birds, etc.


We found 75 pieces plenty engrossing – with two people per puzzle – all talking to ourselves, mumbling, cursing, cheering.  Very relaxing and satisfying.

At the places that sell them in the US I couldn’t find any puzzles smaller than 140 pieces.  I’d start at modest level – 1000 pieces will take you all year!

If you’re into buying gifts this year, these would be fun.

Poem of Thanksgiving: “Gift” by Czeslaw Milosz

I’m clearing paper off my desk and found this poem which has floated around on one or another desktop for years. It’s time to share this lovely thought, even if it’s not exactly a summer day outside. Like Milosz, I feel so grateful to be alive.

Gift by Czeslaw Milosz

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Painter Partner: Eben Drake, RIP

Painter: n. a person who applies colored pigments (paint) to walls

Partner: n. a person associated with another in some activity of common interest

Over the course of my life I’ve done a lot of painting. Not the artistic kind–the home decorating kind. Color is like therapy to me. Each room in my house has a mood that is set by the color on the walls, and as my life changes so do my wall colors.

For the last fifteen years, I’ve finally acknowledged that I’m a shitty painter and I’ve hired someone. That someone was Eben (Ed) Drake.  Around here painters are usually known for being flaky and unreliable, a kind of minimally skilled worker who couldn’t do anything else and who maybe spent too much time sniffing paint fumes.

Not Ed. With his CarTalk guys Boston accent, sense of humor, and craftsmanlike skill, he was the favorite painter of everyone I knew. He painted two houses of mine, outside and in, some rooms more than once.

Back when he first painted for me he was accustomed to the local penchant for walls of white or beige. So when I handed him the chips for rooms in cerulean blue, deep green, red, and gold, he was non-plussed for a couple of days.

But as we worked together over the years he began looking forward to my wild color experiments, working with me and the folks at Rodda Paint to get the shade just right. (Chartreuse is the hardest to get right… not too yellow, not too bright, not too green.)  My skill picking the right shade the first time got better and his faith in me grew.

Every couple of days he’d bring his wife by so she could follow the project’s progress, and occasionally his son or grand-daughter (he adored his family) came too.

Whenever he finished a job, he’d say, “OK. After we have a couple shots of Jack Daniels, you can inspect the work.”  Not that he drank, but it was his little self-deprecating joke. I never found a boo-boo of his, though he fixed up a number of ones I made in my amateurish attempts.

He painted for some of my feng shui clients, and they came to love him too. He set me up at Rodda to get a professional discount and introduced me to Fred, who became my personal color mixer there. He would stop by the house every few months just to say hi and catch up on family news.

Early this summer he repainted my bedroom (photos of the “after” don’t do it justice), and he also painted the stairwell wall that overlooks the living room with some of the leftover chartreuse paint from the laundry room(still good after five years).

Ed had a consistently sunny personality, and worked without complaint thru heat, bronchitis, back injuries. But this time he was dragging. He said he was having trouble eating and had what he thought was pretty bad acid reflux. Serious enough that he had his assistant paint anything where he would have had to lean over.

I kept telling him he needed to see a doctor.  By the time he did, a few weeks later, it was already the beginning of the end. Metastacized stomach cancer.

He told the docs to sock it to him, whatever treatments they had – he’d do ’em all at once if necessary. It was a miserable way to go. And Monday he went, surrounded by his beloved family.

At the service this afternoon, so many people showed up to tell similar stories of this lovely man. I will truly miss him – but at least his memory is there in every room of my house. Especially I think of him when I pull into my sunny garage, which was once a dismal hell hole and he transformed with a bunch of my leftover paint.


Possessed shoppers poleax Wal-Mart employee

Possessed: v. urgently desirous to do or have something, influenced or controlled by something (as an evil spirit, a passion, or an idea), crazed

Poleaxed: v. to attack, strike, or fell as if with a battle ax (poleax)

What have we come to as a society, when holiday shoppers are so anxious for a bargain that they will trample a store employee to death? We’re not talking about starving people rampaging for food.

These folks are rampaging for CRAP – cheesy gifts for their loved ones who are already paralyzed by having more toys than they can ever use.

From today’s paper:

At 4:55 a.m., just five minutes before the doors were set to open, a crowd of 2,000 anxious shoppers started pushing, shoving and piling against the locked sliding glass doors of the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, N.Y., Nassau County police said. The shoppers broke the doors off their hinges and surged in, toppling a 34-year-old temporary employee, Jdimypai Damour, 34, of Jamaica, Queens, who had been waiting with other workers in the store’s entryway.People did not stop to help the employee as he lay on the ground, and they pushed against other Wal-Mart workers who were trying to aid Mr. Damour. The crowd kept running into the store even after the police arrived, jostling and pushing officers who were trying to perform CPR, the police said.

“They were like a stampede,” said Nassau Det. Lt. Michael Fleming. “Hundreds of people walked past him, over him or around him.”

My heart breaks for this young man’s family.

This Christmas my family is giving nothing or just regifting for the adults. The two grandkids will get a couple of things, but mostly we’ll be doing stuff together. None of us needs anything.

What are you doing?

Pilgrims: are they my people?

Pilgrims: n. early settlers of the Plymouth Colony on the coast of Massachusetts.

People: n. human beings making up a group or assembly or linked by a common interest, the members of a family or kinship

The pilgrims left England via the Netherlands on the Mayflower in 1620 as part of a Separatist movement, seeking to separate from the Church of England. According to Wikipedia, they wanted to organize their worship independent of the trappings, traditions and organization of a central state church.

William Bradford, who later became Governor of the Plymouth Colony, kept a detailed journal, noting that in the Netherlands the children of the group were being “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses”. The group not only wanted to pursue their own kind of worship, they also held the “great hope, for the propagating and advancing the gospell of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.”  Missionaries, in other words.

I, an agnostic Buddhist Unitarian Universalist, am a descendent of Christian missionaries! Whodathunkit?

You see, Governor Bradford was my great great great great great etc etc etc grandfather.

It’s not quite as special as you might think: there are something like a million of us who share this lineage. (Aren’t we all related to Genghis Kahn???)  I mentioned my ancestor at book group Sunday night and another member, Glenn, announced that he too was a Bradford descendent. This makes us distant cousins, eligible for membership in the excloosive Mayflower Society, as well as good friends.

Among Glenn’s and my other “cousins” (again citing Wikipedia) are Julia Child (yes!), Noah Webster, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Ambrose Bierce, the late actor and fellow UU Christopher Reeve, Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, George Eastman (of Kodak fame), actors Alec Baldwin and Clint Eastwood….

Evidently Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner tried to get into the Mayflower Society, claiming genetic ties to Governor Bradford.  Hell no! said those uptight keepers of the puritan flame, and they went to great lengths to prove he did not have Bradford blood.

Darn. That would have made my family tree ever so much more intriguing.

Profound gratitude for a President with heart and soul

Profound: adj. characterized by intensity of feeling or quality, all-encompassing.

After eight years in the wilderness we finally get a president who has a big heart and a deep soul.

And he’s very easy on the eye……

Here are some pictures from his family’s surprise visit to a church soup kitchen and school yesterday. All I can say is WOW.





After shaking hands with the food bank volunteers, he came over to the pool and had this to say:

“The number of people who are getting food this year is up 33%. It gives a sense times are tough – and I think that on Thanksgiving it’s important for us to remember there’s a need for support.

“These folks were already oftentimes having a tough time, and it gets tougher now.” He encouraged all Americans of means to help out however they could. “This is part of what Thanksgiving should be all about,” he said.

Asked why he’d brought his daughters along, he replied: “I want them to learn the importance of how fortunate they are and to make sure they’re giving back.”

Pentagon profligacy: prime place for budget cuts?

Pentagon: n. the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, located in Arlington County, Virginia. As a symbol of the U.S. military, “the Pentagon” is often refers to the Department of Defense rather than the building itself. The five-sided building is one of the largest office buildings in the world and houses 26,000 employees. (!)

Profligacy: n. wild extravagance

Prime: adj. the best choice or part

If Obama needs to cut spending (so the rest of us can live, work, learn, have health care) he should start at the Pentagon – the Dept of Defense. According to Frida Berrigan of the War Resisters League, military spending has gone thru the roof under the Current Occupant’s reign:

Under President George W. Bush, military spending increased by about 60%, and that’s not including spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Eight years ago, as Bush prepared to enter the Oval Office, military spending totaled just over $300 billion. When Obama sets foot in that same office, military spending will total roughly $541 billion, including the Pentagon’s basic budget and nuclear warhead work in the Department of Energy.

And remember, that’s before the Global War on Terror enters the picture. The Pentagon now estimates that military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost at least $170 billion in 2009, pushing total military spending for Obama’s first year to about $711 billion (a number that is mind-bogglingly large and at the same time a relatively conservative estimate that does not, for example, include intelligence funding, veterans’ care, or other security costs).

With such numbers, it’s no surprise that the United States is, by a multiple of nearly six, the biggest military spender in the world. (China’s military budget, the closest competitor, comes in at a “mere” $120 billion.) Still, it can be startling to confront the simple fact that the U.S. alone accounts for nearly half of all global military spending.

Here is the priceless demo by Ben Cohen explaining the defense budget in Oreo cookies:

or the cartoon version for True Majority:

I don’t presume to know where the cuts should take place but I feel confident that there is more waste in the DOD than any other government agency.  The ties between the military and industry are stronger than eve, and their lobbyists are among the most powerful.

The skies the limit when our reptilian brain (FEAR!!!!) is engaged…

Obama will have his hands full.

Pillage and plunder: the “Free Market” route to economic disaster

Pillage: v.  the act of looting or plundering especially in war
n. something taken as booty

Plunder: v. to take by force or wrongfully, to steal or loot

According to the news, you and I – and every other man, woman and child in America – are going to spend the foreseeable future paying directly and indirectly for corporate transgressions, malfeasance, and overweening greed.

Depending on how you calculate it, the cost to us could be in the trillions of dollars. Not only that, but we’re losing our jobs and our homes, our retirement savings have shriveled, small businesses are forced to close, and our governments – right down to the local level – are unable to fund the basic services we had taken for granted.

We’ve been pillaged and plundered.  And we’re pissed.

Sure, some saw it coming, but those lone voices in the wilderness went unheeded. What could they do when meaningful regulation of big business had disappeared?  Regulation, loathed by Republicans since the Time Of Reagan, and brought to new heights of abhorrence under the Current Occupant, was deemed antithetical to the Sacred Free Market.

I have ZERO pity for CitiGroup, the latest to cry wolf. Those scumbags pushed their credit on folks they KNEW wouldn’t be able to pay.

Case in point: my son. When he was away at college, the kids in his dorm got invitations for free pizza on a certain night a a local pizza joint.  Being a college kid who was always up for free food, he went, only to learn that he’d only get his pizza after he filled out an application for a Citi credit card.

Thinking: “What the hell, I won’t use the card, but I would like some pizza,” he filled out the application, using his home address (my address).  A few days later, I got an envelope containing his new credit card with a $5,000 credit limit. A couple of days after, another one with a different number arrived. $5,000 more credit. This for a student with NO income.

I called to ask him what he wanted me to do with the cards and he said to destroy them (a less prudent  young person would have kept them…), which I did.

Then the pouty letters from Citi started coming.  “Did you get the card? How come you’re not using it?…”

After a few weeks without a response the letters upped the ante: “We’re disappointed that you’re not using your card, so we’re giving you a FREE starter credit of $20 to use towards your first purchase on your new Citi card…”   Now, $20 is a lot of money to a college student. If that offer hadn’t been intercepted by me, he might have bitten at that point.

Eventually the letters stopped.

For some context on the current economic disaster as part of a capitalistic pattern, check out Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of  Disaster Capitalism.  It’s about how disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, the World Trade Center attacks, and now the current meltdown in Detroit and Wall Street are perfect opportunities for governments and corporations to screw the little guy in the name of fixing the mess (which they often created).

Sorry. This is a downer post. But I am pissed off.

Play: prescription for kids

Play: n. recreational activity ; esp. the spontaneous activity of children

Prescription: n. a written direction for a therapeutic or corrective agent ; specifically one for the preparation and use of a medicine

You’ve read about “nature deficit disorder” a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. It refers to the trend of children spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems and loss of appreciation for and understanding of the natural world.

Now we’re worried not just about kids playing outside, we’re worried that they don’t play much, period.  The experts say they need more time from freewheeling play at home and in school.  Not only is it bad for their little psyches, it’s downright unpatriotic as budding American citizens.  The kids will be at a disadvantage in the global economy where creativity, innovation and cooperation are needed.

The National PTA has launched a “Rescuing Recess” campaign. The American Academy of Pediatrics is chiming in with recommendations as well:

*Developing “safe spaces” where children can play freely outdoors in their neighbourhoods.

*Reduce use of “passive entertainment” including TV and computer games.

*Promote use of imagination-nurturing toys such as blocks and dolls.

* Encourage fantasy role-play for preschoolers.

*Let kids play at playgrounds, etc., without feeling their parent is watching every move.

*Don’t insist on playing with your child if he or she is happily playing alone.

All I can say is GOLLY. When I was a kid (and walked five miles barefoot uphill in the snow to school), we had very few toys. My favorite toy was dirt.

I’m not kidding…dirt. Plus a big spoon, a pot or piepan, some rocks, sticks, and a little water. I was as happy as a piglet playing with these magical ingredients.

Inside my sisters and I threw a blanket over the dining room table and played house. We played teacher and practiced writing like grownups – loopy scribbles that we pretended were real words telling real stories.

We each had a large collection of paper dolls. A favorite game was issuing invitations addressed to a particular paper doll: “Martha is invited to a gala weekend in the country. There will be a hunt on Saturday, a ball Saturday night, a swim party on Sunday, followed by a picnic. Please plan your wardrobe accordingly.”

Of course “Martha” may not have come with clothing appropriate for such a weekend, so we’d have to make our own outfits with crayons and scissors.

Fast forward to a feng shui consultation I did a few years ago. Although ten-year-old Janice, the couple’s only child, had recently been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they wanted me to focus on boosting the flow of wealth into the home.

The house was modest in size and pretension, but there was no place to sit, except at the dining room table. Every chair in the living room had a large stuffed animal in it. The woman had so many potted plants that she spent most of her minimal free time caring for them. And then we went into Janice’s room.

Toys everywhere. EVERYWHERE.  On the chair, on the bed, on the bookcase, spilling out of the toy chest, and all over the floor. Some still in the original box or wrapping. Little Janice sat on the floor, paralyzed by the plethora of toys.

Once in awhile the critical mother-in-law in me overpowers my dispassionate consultant self, and I told the parents that their first priority was to get rid of 90% of the toys and stuffed animals and plants, creating a calm environment so that poor Janice could have space for her self.

They weren’t happy with my analysis. They couldn’t imagine being separated from all this stuff that had taken so long to acquire.  Five years later, I heard that Janice had a bout of depression so severe she was hospitalized.

If I’d known then what was going to happen, I’d have suggested that the family rent an unfurnished home in their neighborhood and move only the most crucial pieces of furniture in from the old house. See how that felt. See how Janice responded. Then maybe add a few favorite books, dolls, etc.  After they adjusted to the spare existence, have an estate sale company sell everything else from the original house.  When it was finally empty, they could move the critical stuff back home from the rental.

Ah, the benefit of hindsight.

Praying: plz make it stop!

Pray: v. to entreat or implore, to address God with a request

Plz: v. LOLcat abbreviation for the word “please”

Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson have had better days. Better months. Better years. Obama’s team cannot come on too soon for them (or the rest of us!).


Cats are cuter.