Category Archives: Adverbs & Adjectives

Purple poop: blackberry season

Purple: adj. a color intermediate between red and blue

Poop: n. excrement (but you knew that).

I’m a blackberry addict (and not the phone).  As much as I love eating blackberries, my addiction is actually to picking them…

I know when they’re ready for picking without tasting a single one; I just look down at the sidewalk near my house and see purple seedy bird droppings. From the color of the walk, we’re now at the height of the season.

It’s Blackberry Central here in the Pacific Northwest.  The bushes (Rubus, spp.) can be found wherever the dirt remains untended in vacant lots, by the road, along the walking paths. They are hardy and ingenious plants, doing whatever they can to ensure the survival of the species.

The long vining branches take root wherever they touch the ground – and with a plethora of thorns they protect these rooting branches from their human enemies who would destroy them.

To prevent the thicket from becoming too thick, blackberry bushes use their fruit to entice birds to spread the gospel far and wide.  In a bird’s belly, the berries mix with certain chemicals that help the seeds germinate once they hit the ground in plops of purple poop.

Over the years farmers have bred fancy berries that have no thorns, that are plumper, that are bigger – but IMHO none of them can compare to the deep flavor of the real “wild” thing.  Some of the most important commercially grown brambles are actually blackberry/red raspberry hybrids. Think Boysenberry, Loganberry, Marionberry and Youngberry.

Blackberry picking is part treasure hunt, part dance, part meditation. First you have to find the right bushes. Some look promising as you speed by in your car, but when you return later with the pail you discover that the berries are dessicated, under-ripe, or much less accessible than it first appeared.

New rule: However tall you are, the best berries dangle just six inches higher than you can reach.

If you find a good spot, and no one has beat you to it, you have to activate special berry sensors. The best berries often lurk just out of sight a few inches into the bush, so you have to “be with” the bush for a few minutes before your eyes calibrate on your tender targets. Your fingertips ever-so-gently palpate each berry to feel if it’s plump enough to pluck.

But no grabbing! Carefully rock the berry off its stem. If it resists at all, it’s not ready. If one of the drupelets near the stem is still red, the berry will be sour. Leave it. (A berry is made up of a collection of fleshy drupelets, each one encasing a seed.)

Retrieving berries without ruining your clothes or shredding your skin is where the dance comes in. Counter-intuitively perhaps, it’s best to wear a short-sleeved T-shirt (unless you’re picking at dusk when the mosquitoes are out).  This way you can snake your arms into the bush past the thorns without getting snagged in a bunch of fabric.  It’s a dance.

Time stops because you can think of nothing else when you’re picking berries. You have to be totally present to do the dance without getting hurt. You have to be totally present to sense and corral your prey. And finally, if the briar-patch is big enough, the quest keeps on, and on, and on.

“Just this one more cluster…”

“Oh, and THIS cluster… ”

Once a season, I make my favorite dessert of all time: blackberry cobbler. Served warm with vanilla ice cream. Omigod.

I freeze most of the berries, though, so I can enjoy them on my cereal through the long winter, reminding me that summer will come again.

Prime time for Plant Pests

Prime: adj. first in time, first in significance

Plant: n. vegetation

Pest: n. a plant or animal detrimental to humans or human concerns (as agriculture or livestock production)

Plant Pest invading my asparagus bed.

Plant Pest invading my asparagus bed.

I posted this unidentified plant pest last week and asked for help identifying it, so I could figure out how to attack it.

A sharp-eyed reader suggested that my plant pest was actually a lovely wildflower known as the marsh marigold or cowslip (Caltha palustris).  And indeed the picture looked right.

But the description of its behavior didn’t match. The marsh marigold stays green all summer; mine disappears by June. The marsh marigold isn’t considered invasive.

Mine is DEFINITELY invasive. It’s not just in my asparagus bed now, it’s cozying up to a rose bush and I just found a plant in the midst of my ground cover by the front door.

I googled “marsh marigold” and “invasive” together and bingo! What is flourishing in my yard is the Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). In the olden days it was known as “pilewort” and used to treat hemorrhoids (piles) because its tubers looked like them. (Well, it made medical  sense back then…)

Removal will take persistence over several years because it spreads by every possible means: stem nodes AND seeds AND  deeply rooted tiny tubers. The tubers are attached to the plant by the slimmest of long root hairs, and when you dig you break the root hairs and the tubers just smirk in their dark hiding places.

Despite my normally organic practices I’m going to hit it with Roundup tomorrow – giving it 24 hours to be absorbed to the roots (I hope), and then I’m going to do my best to rout them with my shovel. Wish me luck.

The Petulant Posturing Party of NO! – Today’s GOP

Petulant: adj. characterized by capricious ill humor, peevish

Posturing: adj. assuming an artificial or pretended attitude

Party: n. a group of persons organized for the purpose of directing the policies of a government

The current Republican party is behaving like a bunch of spoiled 4-year-old brats whose mama has said “No more cookies!”

When they were in control of the government, they thought nothing of shutting out anyone who disagreed with them. They had ZERO interest in bi-partisanship.

Now that they’re in the minority, despite Obama’s efforts to include them in the debate, they scream bloody murder unless he agrees to follow their agenda. No compromise considered.

They have become the Party of NO!  If it’s Democratic Party sponsored legislation they’ll shit on it.

It used to be that to pass legislation in the Senate, a majority of Senators (51) had to vote yes.  That’s the democratic process – majority rules. But under Republican obstructionism, nothing passes without 60 votes.

Their game is to threaten a filibuster, which continues debate indefinitely unless a cloture vote passes (requiring 60 ayes) to force a vote on the issue at hand. They wouldn’t give a rip if the entire Congress ground to a halt. Or the country for that matter.  Posture and partisanship above the people’s needs.

Right now, Democrats have 58 votes. When the smarmy Minnesotan soon-to-be ex-Senator Norm Coleman finally gives up his bogus court fight over what he claims are wrongly marked ballots, Al Franken will be our 59th.

It’s especially galling when they postured loudly against the stimulus and budget bills because they’re full of earmarks (pork). No matter that earmarks were a Republican specialty when they were in power – now they have the gall to pronounce the packages “porkulus”. Then they go home to their districts and brag to their constituents about how they brought them money for their local projects.

 \pi = \frac{C}{d}.

Some Republicans even voted against pi last week.  The House periodically passes non-binding resolutions that are mainly symbolic and as such usually pass unanimously.

The ten nay-sayers refused to declare March 14 to be Pi day, to honor perhaps the most famous constant in mathematics. (Pi has been understood since ancient times, and is defined as the circumference of an arbitrary circle divided by its diameter.) It was first celebrated by a bunch of scientists from San Francisco 21 years ago.

Pressfield on the Protean Power of Resistance

Protean: adj. readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings. Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity.

Power: n. ability to act or produce an effect

Screenwriter Steven Pressfield has written the definitive book on the struggle involved in becoming a professional writer (artist, creative person), The War of Art. He is, how shall I say it, a muscular writer. Very yang. The artistic process is a WAR in which you either emerge victorious (and bloodied) or you die.

He attributes all my procrastination proclivities to RESISTANCE, that force that prevents me from producing a plethora of perfect prose .

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be….

Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mown down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: we don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again thirteen times and I never even knew it existed.

Once he’s kicked the reader’s ass around, he grapples with what it takes to be a Professional. It has to do with nailing your butt to the chair and just DOING IT. Every Day.

Although I write for hire, I’m clearly not a Professional – at least as concerns my OWN writing.

I’m taking a 4-week writing workshop in which we are to move a stuck project forward.  The third class is this weekend and  I’ve done almost nothing (again) on my project. While it’s true I’ve been busy with other things that seem essential, I should have been able to carve out a mere 30 daily minutes, for gods sake, to work on it. Flails at head and shoulders in pathetic gesture of self-abasement.

Even this blog, which has been such fun, is seeming onerous right now. 344 posts in 11 months; don’t stop now!!! Who cares. (the critic speaks.)

My daughter is blaming her blahs on sun-spots or solar flares. Sounds about right to me. Better than blaming it on my own resistance.

Pillows for the persnickety

Pillow: n. a support for the head of a reclining person; esp. one consisting of a cloth bag filled with feathers, down, sponge rubber, or plastic fiber

Persnickety: adj. fussy about small details

People can be very persnickety about their pillows. As well they should be.  Pillows can make or break a good night’s sleep.  I’m often shocked, when I do a feng shui consultation, by how many people hate their mattresses or their pillows….


Pillow choices are very personal. Some like them plump and turgid – and even prefer to prop themselves on more than one at a time. Most hotel rooms and relative’s guest rooms seem equipped with these:


You can try to pummel them into submission, but they bounce right back.


Then there’s the memory foam pillow that remembers how big your left ear is:

And the special cervical pillow to keep your neck properly angled:


And pillows made of gel, filled with water, five feet long to snuggle with lengthwise…. you name it, there’s a pillow for you.

I prefer a pillow that is totally malleable: I punch it and scrunch it into a wadge to support my head when I lie on my side; press it down to a slender edge when I want to sleep on my stomach; or roll it into a sausage under my neck if I want to gaze up at the ceiling:


But Friday when I was at the Asian Art museum in San Francisco I saw the be-all and end-all pillow. From the Song dynasty about a thousand years ago, it’s made of porcelain. The descriptive placard said that once you get used to it, it’s really very comfortable.  Sure.


Parallel Planets: GOP chutzpah

Parallel: adj.  extending in the same direction, everywhere equidistant, and never meeting

Planet: n. any of the celestial bodies that in ancient belief have motions of their own among the fixed stars

As the $787 billion stimulus bill weaved its way through Congress Friday night – an effort many economists think is not nearly BIG enough – the Republicans almost unanimously voted against it.  In fact John Boehner went so far as to dump a copy of the 1,071 page bill on the floor in a gesture of supreme contempt, saying it’s all “about spending, spending, spending.”

[Question: in spite of Democrats antipathy towards Bush’s shameful policies, did any congressperson try this sort of disdainful political theater?? It’s soooo tacky. Soooo GOP.]

This, after Obama made all sorts of bipartisan gestures and concessions ($282 billion in tax cuts over the next two years… the biggest ever!)   Which means that the Republicans voted AGAINST a tax cut… and AGAINST spending to create millions of jobs (jobs which were lost by at least as many Republicans as Democrats).

And now they’re going on all the talk shows with their new talking point: this is “generational theft.”

Generational theft! My jaw is scraping the floor. Forget for a moment about how the Bush administration took a trillion dollar surplus from Clinton and managed to leave Obama with a trillion dollar deficit, an economy in shambles, our reputation in tatters – for what? An illegal and failed war? Wasteful spending and incompetent management in every corner? Tax cuts for the wealthiest?  Was that not generational theft?

Maybe they’re hoping we’ve already forgotten that. Ok. fine.

Let’s just go back ten days to Feb. 4th. That’s  when a group of 32 Republicans put forth an alternate economic rescue bill for a very regressive $3.1 trillion tax cut that wouldn’t even start until 2011.

As Dailykos blogger LeftyCoaster said at the time:

The Senate Republicans’ tax cut would be paid for with massive federal borrowing, or as the Republicans like to call it [when Obama spends money] “Generational Theft”. Of course that’s not how they describe their tax cuts “We call it the American option” the amendment’s author Jim DeMint told the Senate. I call it the oligarchy option.

How a tax cut that starts in 2011 is supposed to help the economy in 2009 is too much of a stretch even for Republican Voodoo Economics. Logic was never was a part of the Republican repertoire.

The most significant feature of this tax cut proposal was a cut in the top rate for individuals and businesses from 35% to 25%. A naked favor for the wealthiest Americans, that would destroy the progressive structure of the American income tax system.

This Republican proposal was only a tax cut with no infrastructure spending, and no additional help for those being thrown out of work, for those losing their health insurance, and eventually their homes.

It’s clear the GOP lives on another planet, where none of the citizens can add or subtract, few of them read the paper, and most of them have Alzheimers.

Purchasing Power: passé; ditto “consumers”

Purchase: v. to buy, to acquire in exchange for money

Power: n. the ability to act or produce an effect

Passé: adj. out-moded, past its prime

James Kunstler says it’s time to pucker our purses. Put down those precious pearls. Hands off the purple Prada pocketbook. And for god’s sake don’t purchase more plastic.

Say goodbye to the “consumer society.” We’re done with that. No more fast money and no more credit. The next stop is “yard-sale nation,” in which all the plastic crapola accumulated over the past fifty years is sorted out for residual value and, if still working, sold for a fraction of its original sticker price. This includes everything from Humvees to Hello Kitty charm bracelets.

It will be a very salutary thing if we stop even referring to ourselves as “consumers.” This degrading moniker, used for decades unthinkingly by everyone from The New York Times Nobel Prize pundits to the Econ 101 section men of the land-grant diploma mills has been such a drag on our collective development that it has extinguished the last latent flickers of duty, obligation, and responsibility for the greater good in a republic of broken communities shattered by Wal-Marts.

Kunstler is right. It’s high time we the people were called “people” or “citizens” instead of “consumers”.  The first step in changing our behavior is changing our thinking and language. I’d much rather be known as a citizen, which implies an awareness of and participation in the society around me.

We do have lives beyond the shopping mall, don’t we??  Lives of meaning even: we’re parents, children, workers, savers, helpers, voters…

Time to reclaim our humanity.

The “pragmatic particle” – public speaking nemesis?

Pragmatic: adj. practical, as opposed to artistic, theoretical or idealistic

Particle: n. a unit of speech expressing some general aspect of meaning or some connective   relation and including the articles, most prepositions and conjunctions, and some interjections and adverbs.

Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s only surviving child, tentatively tossed her hat into the political ring when Hillary Clinton left her NY senatorial seat open to become Secretary of State. Unfortunately, Caroline inherited the fabled name, but not the Kennedy silver tongue.

Among the albatrosses around her neck as a candidate was her inability to express herself clearly and succinctly. Her specialty is the phrase “you know,” which in two recent interviews she used 138 times and 200+ times.

You know, that’s hard to do!

In Toastmasters, you know, we have a person whose role at the meeting is to keep track of every speaker’s verbal stutters – um, uh, er, like, you know – and other elocution no-nos. By merely becoming aware of these verbal distractions, you know, it’s possible to reduce or eliminate them.

I thought they were just verbal tics, but “you know” is a special case about which someone actually wrote a doctoral thesis in 1980.

Linguists call “you know” a pragmatic particle, and it has its linguistic counterparts in many other cultures around the world.

“You know” typically occurs in face-to-face interactions, and can indicate discomfort. However, it can be used (usually unconsciously) as a mediator of social relations.  “You know” implies an attempt to maintain an already close relationship with the person being addressed, to simulate shared views – or to establish such a relationship.

In the case of a political candidate, who wants to be seen as at the same level as The People or be persuasive about an issue, “you know” brings the listener in closer.

I still think the repetitious use of  “you know” is annoying, sloppy, and unprofessional.

Before Caroline returns to the public eye she needs to detour through a year at a Toastmasters club. A club is easy to find (enter your zip code here) because most communities have at least one club – and some have dozens.

Paradox of thrift: what’s a poor consumer to do?

Paradox: n. a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true

Poor: adj. impoverished, beseiged

Paul Krugman (Nobel prize-winning economist, Princeton professer, and liberal NY Times pundit) spoke to a packed house in Portland the other night as the first in our annual World Affairs Speakers Series.

The theme for this year’s series was supposed to be “The World in 2020” but Krugman rightly assumed that his audience was much more concerned about what was happening in the world in 2009, so he talked about the economic crisis.

He was funny*. And pessimistic. His basic message was that it sucks out there, everywhere – and that we have a right to be worried because we’ve never been in quite this sort of pickle. And furthermore, it’s a global crisis.

We poor consumers who have already lost jobs, health insurance, and homes  aren’t stupid. We tighten our belts, hunker down and dust off grandma’s formerly quaint advice on cooking dry beans and saving string.

But thanks to the “paradox of thrift”, our sudden crave to save is making the economy spiral down faster. If we don’t buy stuff, companies don’t earn enough money to make stuff, so they lay off workers – or they drop their prices to woo buyers, causing their competitors to do so as well which also leads to stuck inventories and laid off workers.

Giving us a tax credit or tax cut may put a few bucks in our pockets, Krugman says, but we use that to pay down debt, which doesn’t help the economy. We should be spending

(Didn’t we just try that?? like for the past couple of decades?)

If he were to advise Obama he’d tell him to make the stimulus package big enough… like about $2 trillion (!) because that’s what’s needed to get people working again so we can return to our spending ways. Unfortunately a ginormous stimulus package is a hard political sell.

Meanwhile, all the money I’ve saved from eating dog kibble the past few weeks just flew into my dentist’s pocket. It appears that kibble chomping can crack a tooth.

* Sample Krugman joke: “Capitalism is a system of exploitation of man by man. Socialism is the reverse.”

Proud: Obama taps three Wellesley alumnae

Proud: adj. much pleased, feeling credited

Some years ago I graduated from a fabulous women’s college – one of the few that haven’t succumbed to coeducation.

At a college for women only, you don’t spend time fussing over your clothes or hairdo to impress the guys (and we could look coyote ugly* during the week), you don’t worry about speaking out in class for fear you’ll seem smarter than the guys, and you get to fill all the leadership roles – no competition from the guys.

As it turns out, with higher learning the main focus, you graduate well educated and qualified for great things – like being Secretary of State (Madeleine Albright**), Senator (Hillary Clinton), President of Duke University (Nan Keohane), a journalist (Linda Wertheimer, Cokie Roberts, Diane Sawyer), writer (Nora Ephron, “Carolyn Keene”, Carolyn Heilbrun) plus hundreds (thousands) doing less celebritous great things.

And now three Wellesley alumnae have been named to leadership posts in Obama’s administration, just one more example of the man’s good sense.

Hillary R. Clinton’ 69 becomes Wellesley’s second secretary of state.

Chicago business leader Desiree Rogers ’81, has been named White House social secretary – the first African American to serve in the position, which is responsible for organizing and overseeing all White House functions and ceremonies.

And Katie Johnson, class of 2003, is the new personal secretary to President Obama. As part of the position, Johnson will manage the president’s daily schedule.


* Coyote ugly is when you wake up, hungover, with a stranger in your bed who is lying on your arm and she/he is so ugly you’d rather chew your arm off than risk waking them.

** One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons ever (wish I could reproduce it) is of a woman skeptically trying on a new suit before a 3-way mirror,  while the saleswoman urges her on, saying, “Madeleine Albright kicked butt in that suit.”