Thursday, March 31, 2005

File Form 2210? Concentrate and ask again.

Well I took the first crack at our taxes this year - a bit belatedly, to be sure - and we owe a whopping lot of money. Enough that we will have to pay a penalty, though I don't know how much because despite the fact that the IRS sent me eight different forms this year - cleverly remembering each form that we required last year, what with my self-employment and all - we will have to track down yet another form to tell us what kind of hideous penalty they will extract from our hides for not having complied with the pay-as-you-go tax system.

Seriously, we have TWO analytical masters degrees in this house; Flora has been entrusted with the management of multi-million dollar charitable organizations, and Enrico is a professional financial analyst for our county government. And yet, we never come remotely close on our taxes - and the weird thing is, it could go either way. Last year, we got a hefty refund. This year, we will have to sell off some organs of secondary importance. Go figure.

So, I will go in search of form 2210 to find out what our punishment is - though I'm warned only to file the mysterious 2210 if it "indicates that [I] must do so." How will it indicate that to me? Is it like the Magic 8-Ball? Does it literally speak, like the portraits in Harry Potter? Do I lay my hands on it and get an answer, like a ouija board?

I am also a bit daunted by this "Tip" in the tax booklet: "Because Form 2210 is complicated, if you want to, you can leave line 75 blank and the IRS will figure the penalty and send you a bill. We will not charge you interest on the penalty if you pay by the date specified on the bill. If your income varied during the year, the annualized income installment method may reduce the amount of your penalty. But you must file Form 2210 because the IRS cannot figure your penalty under this method."

Yeah, I have no idea what the hell that means. Next year, it's probably time to find a tax accountant. Boy does that ever make me feel old.

Vacancies available, no waiting!

Family-run avian housing complex in Seattle seeks tenants. Multiple units available:

  • Penthouse Family Unit #1: Long-established bird's nest in the rafters of carport, which last year was host to two broods of baby robins. Family-friendly landlords made not one single complaint to these tenants even as their household waste covered the back of our car for months on end!
  • Economy Family Unit #2: Also under shelter of the carport is a lovely nest built last year by an enterprising wren inside my husband's bike helmet. He has generously given it up for long-term occupancy, and landlord improvements include the addition of another old bike helmet to serve as a roof. Snug and charming!
  • Luxury Unit #3: Spiffy bird house with vaulted ceilings, left behind by the previous owners of our house. Now sporting a fresh coat of cheerful yellow paint and lovingly placed on a choice fence post beneath a cherry tree.
No takers on any of these fabulous accomodations this year, and the proprietors are feeling a little insulted! The neighborhood is good - vegetable garden and cherry trees nearby, along with rain barrels suitable for bathing. Admittedly, the Luxury Unit is in the yard where two noisy dogs hang out, but they've never shown any interest whatsoever in birds - other than water fowl, which after all they are genetically programmed to chase and bring back to us. So, non-waterfowl need not be concerned. The carport with the two Family Units is, granted, the official neighborhood venue for cats in heat to howl all night long amidst sparring suitors (boy, do the dogs ever love that) - but this didn't stop last year's tenants from hatching and raising three healthy broods! Reasonable rent, no damage deposit required. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Victory is mine!

Ha HA, I have finally achieved what for so long seemed impossible, a feat beyond my merely mortal grasp: The ability to speak on a cordless telephone AND connect to wireless Internet access at the same time. Why would they manufacture phones and wireless routers that broadcast on exactly the same frequency, why, why??

When my dog Nelly becomes Empress of the Universe - a goal she has kept firmly in her sights since the day she was born - one of the ways I plan to use the power that will come to me, as her loyal minion, is to fix silly things like this and make the world a more sensible place. Under the new world order, the Empire of Nelly the Magnificent, I will be the Secretary of Making The World Act Sensibly. I think Nelly the Magnificent will be willing to grant me that title, after all my years of loyal service to her - although first I'll probably have to submit to some hot pokers for all those baths I've subjected her to, all the chicken bones and puppies I have pried out of her stubborn jaws, and all the times I resisted her telepathic command to hand over my dinner plate. Not to mention the times I put that plastic cone around her head for her own protection, whooo-baby, that's definitely some hot pokers. Plus I'll have to prove my loyalty by kicking the crap out of that damn furnace that has tormented her so long, her nemesis, the Moriarty to her Holmes.

Nonetheless, provided there is a golden trough of food at her disposal at all times, and she never has to get her feet wet, I think she'll be willing to delegate some actual management of her empire to lowly minions like me.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Miscellaneous Shellfish

Go Illini! Next time, you might try turnin' it back on at, say 3 minutes left to play instead of a minute and change. Just a suggestion.

They should never, EVER put cilantro in mixed salad greens. It's just wrong.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Funniest dog story EVER

Oh my gawd, somebody sent this to me years ago from a pet-info newsgroup she subscribed to, and it made the rounds among the pet-lovers in my circle to everyone's disbelief and mirth. But, though we all reminisce about it from time to time - "remember that story about the dogs and the elk carcass? Do you think that was really true?" - we all assumed it eventually disappeared from the Internet. Until today, that is, when my friend Megan found it again. Actually, it turns out, it's been preserved quite a few places. So I'm not being very original in putting it up here.

But, EVERYONE should read this. Seriously. I'm pretty sure it's even a true story.

A special kind of facial

One of the best things about having dogs? Is that they are the best greeters in the world. When I return from a short trip out of town, my black dog can get the most amazing lariot action going with her curly tail, around and around like she's fixin' to lasso a sheep with it. She's so relieved to know that her protective aura extended far enough to prevent any harm from coming to me, wherever it was I went so recklessly without her. I crouch down, and she greets me with a thorough face-washing of love and glee.

The brown dog, meanwhile, just sits on me - all 65 pounds of him - which probably seems like the best way to keep me from going away ever again.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Poked in the butt by a rhino

Last night I had the weirdest dream. I was in Chicago on a visit - which I am right now in real life - and I was on my way to meet my friend Kate for lunch - which I am doing today in real life - when I was delayed by a pack of escaped zoo animals. I was walking toward a big traffic roundabout, and there were a couple dozen rhinosceroses (rhinosceri?) rumbling through. Some other animals too, but mostly rhinos.

So, I did what any gal would do - I got on my cell phone and told Kate I'd be a little late for lunch, on account of the rhino stampede. And as I was explaining this to Kate on the phone, a rhino came up and prodded me in the butt with her (his?) horn. Not enough to hurt, mind you, but kind of like it was herding me, trying to get me to go in a particular direction, perhaps to join in the rhinoceros fun. At which point I realized that I was surrounded by VERY LARGE STAMPEDING ANIMALS WITH SHARP HORNS ON THEIR SNOUTS, and I got a little concerned.

But Kate, ever non-nonsense and sensible, talked me through how to extricate myself from a rhino stampede and get to her house. I guess that's something big-city folk just have to learn how to do, like discerning between express and local buses, or getting to the airport on back roads to avoid traffic.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Things I love about visiting my sister

...other than just being with my sister, of course, which goes without saying.

  1. Seeing the patchwork pattern of square, flat earth from the plane, which, no matter how much I may prefer mountains, makes my brain say "Hey! We're home!"
  2. Kicking her ass at Boggle.
  3. Getting my ass kicked at Boggle, since nobody else I know can do that.
  4. Playing the big, five-by-five version of Boggle, because she's the only one I know who owns it.
  5. Laughing so hard that I cry, or snort food through my nose, or both.
  6. Taking the El downtown and wandering around the improbably huge buildings like a big girl.
  7. The all-you-can-eat buffet at the Czerwone Jabluszko Polish restaurant.
  8. Visiting our crazy relatives and drinking pink wine from a box.
  9. Catching up in person with my college roommate, and confirming once again that she still gets me as well as she did when we met more than 20 years ago.
  10. Plotting out with my sister how we're going to become famous writers, and totally believing it will happen!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Moxiegrrl,
Happy Birthday to you.

Ms. Moxiegrrl is an Aries, born in the Year of the Pig, and shares her birthday with Chaka Khan, Joan Crawford, and Akira Kirosawa.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Miscellaneous shellfish

Why do I do this to myself? I'm really not a last-minute person, by nature. Why is it that lately I seem to require a looming deadline to get things done? I know lots of people work this way as a matter of habit, but I don't really like it. Hopefully it's just a phase.

My house has been invaded by flies. I just swatted about 15. Usually my dogs take care of the indoor fly population by eating them, but there are just too many and I had to resort to the old rolled-up-newspaper trick. I don't know where they're coming from, maybe from the hole in the wall that was left by the plumbers which opens directly onto the crawlspace under the house. It's not a very visible hole, mostly behind the washing machine, but I should really sheetrock it.

Why do the British people care whether Camilla Parker Bowles is queen? She won't be Charles' successor or anything like that, right? It'll be the cute young prince, What's-His-Name, who looks like Diana, I think. Seriously, dude, I can think of few things that matter less in the big scheme of things. WHY DO THEY CARE?

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Oracle speaketh

Me: Will I have my presentation done before I have to give it on Thursday?
Magic 8-Ball: Concentrate and ask again.

Me: Will I get off my ass and get my flippin' presentation done in the next 72 hours?
Magic 8-Ball: Yes.

Me: Ok. Good to know. Will turbulence on the plane prevent me from working on it en route?
Magic 8-Ball: Outlook not so good.

Me: Outlook not good from my standpoint, or from the standpoint of the turbulence? I mean, are you saying I will be stymied in my desire to work on the plane, or that the turbulence will be stymied in its drive to express itself creatively and, you know, turbulently?
Magic 8-Ball: Most likely.

Me: All right, I can see you're looking for yes-or-no questions here. Fair enough. I will rephrase: Can I count on airplane time to finish my presentation?
Magic 8-Ball: It is decidedly so.

Me: Cool! I feel so much better. Hey, as long as we're having this little chat - should I clean the bathroom tonight?
Magic 8-Ball: My reply is no.

I'm thinking of mailing a whole crate of Magic 8-Balls to the White House.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Ain't That America

I posted this story once, but it included some rather narrow-minded comments regarding Texans which should really be beneath me, so I'm doing it over.

Both my undergraduate and graduate alma maters are #1 seeds in the men's college basketball championship. But yesterday, I went with a friend to watch her alma mater, Illinois State University, play in the women's college basketball championships here in Seattle. ISU was a #15 seed pitted against #2 seed Baylor, and although they played valiantly, they really had no chance.

We sat across the court from the team's main cheering section. The team itself was made up largely (though not entirely) of blond, corn-fed gals the likes of which I remember well from my Illinois upbringing. One of the exceptions was Jaci McCormack, a member of the Nez Perce tribe in nearby Idaho. A sizeable portion of the Nez Perce Nation was there to cheer her on, many of them sporting "One Nation, Under Hoop" t-shirts. So the cheering section for this heavily WASP Illinois team included the university's African-American president in the very first row, and then behind him - a sea of Native Americans from Idaho. Gotta love America, sometimes.

Our ticket entitled us to stay for the second game of the day, Oregon versus Texas Christian University. Since my rather gregarious friend had convinced several Oregon fans to root for Illinois State during the first game, we felt a duty to stay and cheer on our Pacific Northwest neighbors, the Ducks - plus it promised to be a better-matched game than the first. In fact it was a great, close game, and I think it's fair to say we were absolutely, 100% as enthusastically and loudly supportive of the Ducks as the many Oregonians in the arena. I deduce this because at one point, the woman across the aisle handed me her yellow Ducks pom-pom and said, "Here, take this - clearly, you will make better use of it than I will."

Now it's possible - just possible - that I allowed a sports match-up between mellow, tie-dye-clad Northwesterners and a group of conservative religious Texans to symbolically represent, say, the clash of social and religious views currently underway in this country. Not very charitable of me, since in fact I know absolutely nothing about the politics or religious orientation of Texas Christian University. Nonetheless, I guess my quickness to stereotype - and the underlying conflict that was on my mind when I did so - are also part of the country these days.

In any event, it was an enjoyable afternoon of indisputably American competition and entertainment. The Ducks played well, and I was happy for them and their fans when they won. As we walked out, a hard and much-needed rain came steadily down, as if even the Northwestern weather had won that day.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

List: The Small-Town Salvation Story

The other night the movie Chocolat (the 2000 one with Juliette Binoche) was on TV, and although I've seen it several times, I couldn't resist because I am a total sucker for the Small-Town Salvation story.

You know the one - person with recent tragedy, or mysterious past, or something to run from, or just a big case of the doldrums ends up, by design or by accident, in a small town where they confront their demons, discover their own resilience, make new (and usually eccentric) friends, and ultimately find a new home. I don't know why I'm such a sucker for this story archetype, which frequently comes with a very high cheese factor. As my husband can tell you, I do consistently dream about moving to a smaller, simpler place. He grew up in a small town (and I do mean small), and is probably more realistic than I am about the downside to that life. For example, if the eccentric people in your small town don't turn out to be your soulmates, they can get on your last nerve pretty damn quickly.

Nonetheless, the story never fails to work its magic on me. I like to think that's not because I'm fleeing demons or need a fresh source of friends, but rather because I am horrified by the prediction that by 2020 (or something like that) the Seattle area will absorb the equivalent of Portland's entire population. Given how crowded, congested and expensive my beloved Seattle has already become, I'm quite clear that I need to live far, far away from here by the time it absorbs another million-plus people. Even aside from that pragmatic motivation, though, there's a certain inexplicable and possibly naive romanticism involved.

So, a propos of nothing - a list. Feel free to add.

Small-Town Salvation Stories:

  • Chocolat - Great international cast. Vagabond and outsider Juliette Binoche finally finds home and brings a much-needed breath of fresh air to a small French town in the 1950s.
  • Where the Heart Is - I've only seen the movie. Pregnant teen-ager is abandoned by her boyfriend at an Oklahoma Wal-Mart, gives birth in the megastore, and then makes a new life.
  • Under the Tuscan Sun- Book (Francis Mayes) and movie, though I believe only the fictionalized movie version meets the strict STSS criteria.
  • The Shipping News - Again, a book (Annie Proulx) and a movie. A recent widower and general life loser makes a new life with his daughter and long-lost aunt in remote Newfoundland.
  • Hope Floats. Sandra Bullock is a famous model or actress or something who returns to her hometown after divorce and humiliation.
  • Sole Survivor - Book by little-known Australian author Derek Hansen. Set in 1960s New Zealand, a disillusioned woman makes a new home in a cabin she inherits on a remote island. Her eccentric neighbors include a survivor of the Bataan Death March, and they help each other heal. I love this book, though when I loaned it to a girlfriend she was distracted by what she considered a somewhat sexist sensibility.
  • Runner-up: To Wong Foo With Love: Julie Newmar - this doesn't quite meet the STSS formula because although demons are faced and unlikely friends are found, the protagonists don't stay in the small town.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Red in tooth and claw

Just now, there was a bald eagle in the tree across the street. We have lots of eagles here, but rarely see them right by the house like that. It was eating something - I could clearly see it ripping its hapless prey to shreds with talons and beak - and the crows were harassing it, cackling and dive-bombing and taunting. The eagle was stoic though, continuing its meal and ignoring the crows with an aura of screw-you calm, until eventually it picked up its snack and flew off, pulling effortlessly away from the frenetic crows with long, even wingstrokes.

Too cool.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

My first time on the radio

Yesterday as I drove north for a meeting, leaving the little bubble of like-minded thinking that is Seattle, I passed a van with a big sign in the window: "Marriage = 1 man + 1 woman." Now I'm already on record commenting that I don't understand this mindset - this isn't yet another blog on that same subject - but as I passed the van, I saw a man and a woman, probably in their late 30s, white and overweight and looking every bit (ugh, snobbish stereotype to follow, I'm sorry) like typical middle-everything Americans. And I thought to myself, as always, "WHY DO YOU CARE?" Why would these people care if two individuals of the same gender choose to share their life together? How can it possibly affect life in white conservative suburbia?

Simultaneously, I was listening to a discussion on NPR about China and Taiwan. Apparently China has done some saber-rattling this week. As I listened to the panel of experts, a familiar thought was in my mind: "WHY DO YOU CARE?" Why does China care so much about this island? I never understand why one people or country forces another to stay "in the family" against their will. It's like, "I'm breaking up with you," - "No, I won't let you!" I mean, have some pride, they don't like you, they don't want to hang with you and be your friend. It's painful, maybe, but let it go. I understand sometimes there are seaports or oil pipelines involved, but China and Taiwan have been separate for 50 years. Whatever was lost in that separation - everyone's used to living without it by now.

Now, my mama raised me to always try to put myself in other people's shoes. It's a lesson that has served me well, overall. Professionally, it's an asset, helping me to bring people together, but a double-edged one since seeing all 32 sides of an issue at once can be paralyzing. Regardless, the point is - if I don't have some little hook into the other person's thinking, even the tiniest window of insight or empathy, I feel a little unmoored, flying blind. So, at that moment, coming right on the heels of the marriage thing, it actually mattered to me A GREAT DEAL why China cares so much about Taiwain. "It used to be ours and we want it back" was not going to cut it - my grounding in reality demanded more explanation. (I know, it sounds crazy, but that's just how I am. If my husband had a buck for every time I've asked him "what do you think is going through the dog's head right now?" - he'd probably be a wealthy man.)

So, having by now pulled safely into a Starbucks parking lot, I made my first-ever call into an NPR show. The woman who screens the calls asked me where I was, and the nature of my question or comment. I said "I want to know why they care. Why does China care so much about this?" Even as I said that it felt lame, and when she put me on hold, I fully expected to languish there for a while, eventually to be told they were so sorry but they'd had so many callers and just couldn't fit me in. But to my surprise, she put me through as the very first caller.

"Flora is in her car in Everett, and she has a question for our guests," I suddenly heard the host say, "Go ahead, Flora." I asked my question, and at first I thought the expert panelist weren't going to be of help - to my alarm, they led with "well it used to be one country and the Chinese want it back" - but a more nuanced discussion eventually illumated matters somewhat. I still don't truly understand why it's worth all the strife, but I did get the little hook of insight that I needed to prevent my sense of reality from short-circuiting (I mean, who wants their sense of reality to implode in a suburban Starbucks parking lot? that would just suck). So, you know, disaster averted. Plus, I got to be on the radio!

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Argentina Chronicles

For those who just want to read the Argentina postings, here they are, in order. Read each one then hit "Back" here to continue. This entry can be opened in its own window by clicking on the title.

Photo links included within - if you just want to go to the two photo albums, that link is: For those who've already read these tales - I've just added a bunch more photos from my travelling companions.

Don't Cry For Me
Cousin Flora Loves to Pack
So basically, they live on Seattle time here
Re-igniting my love affair with Spanish
So many things to tell
The happy dogs of Argentina
We love Mendoza! (nos gusta Mendoza)
A guardian Angelo
Call me avocado!
The Andean Customs Game
There's no place like home
Photos! *
Don't Cry for Me 2005: Final Chapter
Top Ten Lists
Q: What's hot and bitter with sugar on top *

* includes links to photos.

An entourage of winners

It's possible that I have absolutely nothing to do with any of these events, but - I'd just like to point out my geographic association with a variety of winners this weekend.

  • My undergraduate alma mater, the University of Illinois, is the top-ranked team going into the NCAA basketball championships. Go Illini!
  • My graduate alma mater, the University of Washington, is also a number-one seed in the aforementioned tournament. Go Huskies!
  • This year's US Barista Champion is - for the second year in a row - from my lovely state of Washington. She will represent the US in the World Barista Championship right here in Seattle next month. Go Phuong Tran!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

She's a bad mamajama

Mother Nature is on a bit of a tear here in lovely Washington state. It's her perogative, I know, I'm not criticizing. Just reporting out to those of you who might not pay attention to our obscure corner of the world.

First of all, Mt. St. Helens put up one of its more spectacular shows last Friday. The lovely Helen - whose decimated slops I have climbed twice, trudging up a 1,000-foot ash dune to stand with my toes at the lip of the crater and gaze into the gaping maw - had been largely quiet for over 20 years until last October, when she began spouting off and expanding her glowing lava dome. On Friday, according to the US Geological survey:

A small explosive event at Mount St. Helens volcano began at approximately 5:25 p.m. PST. Pilot reports indicate that the resulting steam-and-ash plume reached an altitude of about 36,000 feet above sea level within a few minutes and drifted downwind to the east-northeast.
Meanwhile, we've had an unseasonably dry and sunny winter here - clear as a bell and temperatures in the sixties for weeks now. In most places, this would bring great cheer, but it bodes ill here. We need all that famous rain, and the snow it creates in the mountains, to ensure adequate water through the summer. This was a revelation to me when I arrived in the summer of 1992, the last time Washington experienced a drought. There was water rationing, and the city gave low-flow showerheads to every household, and I just assumed it was always like that - you know, it's the west, they have water problems here. But no, in most years, the relentless precipitation lasts from October 8 to July 4, which keeps us stocked with water through the most glorious, temperate, sunny summer you can possibly imagine, from July 5 to October 7.

This year, the ski resorts couldn't stay open for lack of snow. And now our governor has declared a drought emergency - with only 20 to 50 percent of normal water flows in critical watersheds, and only 26 percent of normal snowpack in the mountains. So, Mr. Flora and I will not have a vegetable garden this year, and I will forgo the lovely flower baskets around my patio. I'll try to take shorter showers, I really will. But we'll have it easy compared to the world-famous salmon, who depend on water in the rivers in order to survive and spawn. Salmon are low in the pecking order when it comes to water rights, unfortunately.

So I'm not complaining. At least, not about Mother Nature - she knows what she's doing. If her creation is under undue stress because of the careless way we humans live our lives and use her bounty - well, that's not her fault now, is it? And as my mama the biologist says - Mother Nature always wins, eventually. It's folly to think she won't. Just look at those pictures of St. Helens if you have any doubts.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Great Back Yard Treasure

The Great Back Yard Treasure
(To the tune of Rainbow Connection, original words by Paul Williams, music by Ken Ascher, sung by Kermit the Frog)

Why are there so many
holes in the back yard?
What are you trying to find?
You never used to
care much for digging -
It seems that you've changed your mind.
It's like some gigantic gopher has moved in
and gone on a burrowing spree.
Some day we'll find it,
the great back yard treasure,
the brown dog, the black dog, and me.

I see the clumps of dirt
lodged in your paw-pads
when you come back inside.
Amazing how fast you dig,
your paws flying fast and fierce;
I'm sure it's a source of great pride.
I hate to chastise when you have your reasons -
some logic I just don't see.
Some day we'll find it,
the great back yard treasure,
the brown dog, the black dog, and me.

Who says there aren't any
bones in the back yard?
I guess we all must try
to follow our noses
wherever they lead us,
'cause dogs' noses never lie.
Who knows what stinky thing might lie in waiting
to bring us such joy and such glee!
Some day we'll find it,
the great back yard treasure,
the brown dog, the black dog, and me.

Laa, da daa dee da daa daa,
La laa la la laa dee daa doo... Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005


Well, here it is, two years gone by. I still have a message from you in my voice mail, did you know that? Every 90 days the nice automated voice from Qwest asks me if I'd like to keep it. I always say yes.

I always figured you'd be around to help guide me along the path of life. I know it's asking a lot of the universe, to have not only an awesome mom but a second mom too, but I just took it for granted that my good fortune would continue in that regard. And of course, I know there are millions on this planet who have lost so many more people than I have, and lost them in horrible and traumatic ways, to injustice, or deprivation, or inexplicable disaster, or stone-cold evil. I know how lucky I am, in the big scheme of things.

It appears that, instead of being my guide in the second half of life, your fate instead was to teach me about illness and death, to guide me across that threshold of knowledge - inevitable, in the sense that everyone gets there sooner or later, but life changing, in the sense that you can never go back and be the same person again, once you know what you know. I am who I am right now because I experienced your dying and death. So I suppose, simultaneously, I wouldn't give up what that has taught me, the person it has made me, and yet - what wouldn't I give to have you back?

You said that your spirit was strong (and it was), that we'd feel your presence. I really thought that would be true, but you rarely come to me in dreams, I haven't had any of the spooky encounters that you used to have with those who'd gone before you. It's a little disappointing, but on the other hand, more than one person has suggested that I'm channeling you somehow. Which, if it's true, would explain why I don't seem to encounter you outside of myself as much as I expected. You're in here.

Anyway - hey there. I'm doing my best to pay attention.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A new toy

Ok, I caved. I bought a spiffy new PDA/phone. Ridiculously complicated and expensive, but I've been researching and reading geeky message boards for months and there's no doubt that ridiculously complicated and expensive is the only way these things come, any more.

It's like when the Gortex jacket that I bought in the REI Bargain Basement* many years ago finally lost any ability whatsoever to repel water, no mater what renewing chemicals I washed it with. A jacket that repels water is pretty darned important in this town, so I went back to REI to buy myself a new one. And lo and behold, it was no longer possible to just buy a basic jacket. No, they all had zippered vents, and extra pockets everywhere, and a built in keyring holder in the pocket. I needed none of these things, mind you. But I had to buy them.

For my phone? All I really want is a PDA phone on the Palm OS, where I can synchronize my contacts, calendar, Notes to Self, and to-do lists. I don't need Bluetooth (I'm not even sure what the hell that is). I don't need to surf the Web from my phone. I really don't need a digital camera. But I have all of those things, nonetheless.

On the other hand, I did really want Palm graffiti and a clamshell, but alas - these things I do not have. (If you want to know why this did not prove possible - visit some of the aforementioned geeked-out message boards.)

But I'm not complaining. The new phone has much better sound, a better screen, the ability to function in Europe (soon to be important!), and most importantly, it doesn't lock up and die periodically. My previous phone was the first Palm/phone combo ever made, so it was getting pretty long in the tooth. "Wow," said the Cingular sales guy today, gazing with fascination at my relic, "is that screen in black and white?"

Yes. Yes, it is. Look upon it, and marvel at how anyone could tolerate such a thing.

* Longtime Seattlites, remember the REI Bargain Basement? THAT's the mark of a long-timer in this town. Oh Bargain Basement - how we miss you so.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Creative Force of the Universe

I recently told somebody that I had a traditional, progressive, church upbringing, and from there I went to believing in God but not religion, to believing in religion but not God, to coming full circle and believing in both again, in a different sort of way.

I don't want to freak anyone out here - don't worry, I'm not going to evangelize, or bare my soul, or get all New Age-y. I haven't had any kind of born-again experience. I've just been thinking about writing this down in an orderly fashion, and this morning I decided to give it a go. Lucky you!

The path to a belief in God but not religion was a straightforward and, I think, common one: I still had faith in something greater than myself, but the college and young adult years exposed me to so much of the damage that organized religion has done - to entire cultures, to gender equity, to the whole concept of sexuality and reproduction, to the wrecked and extinguished lives of persecuted individuals, to those who simply believe differently - that I could not find a religious service that didn't fill me with the heebyjeebies halfway through. Just hearing the Nicene Creed reminded me that a bunch of men got together 400 years after Jesus died and adopted a slew of rigid rules based on absolutely nothing that Jesus of Nazareth seems to have said or done (before or after death), and selectively chose which writings about him would be permissible. For centuries, those rules have been used to impose norms that were cultural rather than spiritual, and to terrorize people who had the temerity to think differently. Don't get me wrong, the church I grew up in was lovely and liberal, devoid of fire-and-brimstone. Nonetheless, I figured that the real value in my church upbringing was learning (as I particularly did from the excellent example of my mother) that you have obligations to your fellow human and your planet. Through all the centuries of Christian misdirection and obfuscation, that seems to be one thing that Jesus was quite clear on, thank you very much.

And then, I pretty much lost any sense of God, too. This evolution had both an optimistic bent (isn't human reason too evolved to believe in such myths any more?) and a pessimistic one (if there is a higher power, how on earth could it be overseeing this mess?). Both filled with a certain arrogance, I'll admit. But also clouded by my inability to lose that deeply socialized, ingrained view of god as a sentient, parental being, distinct from the creations of the earth, but somehow watching over what's going down here. True, you can get around the whole problem of "why would God allow [fill in terrible thing here]?" by arguing that God just got things started, and does not actively intervene - after all, isn't creating the Big Bang miraculous enough? You can get around the gender discrimination by pointing out that God need not be male or female. But still, like the moment in the church service where we got to the Nicene Creed, there was something in the whole God concept that created an absolute mental block. It just wasn't credible. I can't say I felt much loss, though.

The next step - back to god but not religion - is a complicated one. Suffice to say that, still not craving any organized religion, I nonetheless began to read a lot about religious history, spirituality, quantum physics, and neurology. A weird combination, I know, but if you put them together they can add up to some startling things. And my life took some turns, including the death of a loved one, friendship with a clergywoman, discovery of yoga, and a few strange serendipities, all of which got me thinking.

Long story short, I've come to believe not in a sentient, parental god, but in a sort of Creative Force of the Universe. I believe that all the movement and activity of the universe is driven by an underlying force pushing to create. It may or may not be concious, but it is powerful, and nothing short of miraculous (again - the Big Bang? wow). It relentlessly drives the cycle of creation, death, and recreation, and impels the very universe itself to expand - in the immortal words of Monty Python:

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that's the fastest speed there is.
It's the spark that ignites all of life - as quantum physics and neurology increasingly tell us that there are, in fact, forces that literally connect all things. So I figure you can either try to flow in synch with the Creative Force, or buck it to your inevitable frustration. You can be an extension of the creative process, and life will flow with you - or you can pursue stagnation or destruction, which will bite you in the ass sooner or later.

I still can't bring myself to call this god, or even goddess - too much baggage there, even now - but I can acknowledge that this concept of the Creative Force of the Universe is in the same neighborhood as what other people and religions call god. Or don't call god - the Buddhists seem to have been onto this Creative Force thing for a long time, it turns out. Go figure.

Of course, I could have my relationship with the Creative Force of the Universe in the comfort of my own home - still no need for religion. But meanwhile, I was still reading. Society at large has seen a fair bit of religious re-examination in recent years - revisiting the history of the early Christian Church, for example, and a growing Western interest in Buddhism, and heck, The Da Vinci Code for that matter. I'd never been able to get away from the fact that despite the ill done by organized religion, individual human beings had been inspired to amazing things by their faith and, yes, even by their church. Take Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador - or my mother, whose quiet but persistent pursuit of social justice activities in my hometown church is probably the reason I've spent my entire professional life in the nonprofit sector. Nope, couldn't quite ignore that.

And in reading, I finally realized that underneath the thick cultural layers heaped on all of the world's great religions, they all come down to the same basic tenets in response to the question: "what's the bigger meaning?" We're all fundamentally connected (and we ignore that at our peril), we all have the spark of the divine within us (with all its amazing potential), and, you know, love thy neighbor as thyself. That's about it. Everything else - all of the dogma, philosophical exploration, ritual, poetry, iconography that every religion has created - is just the human way of further exploring and touching that fundamental nut. Or perhaps, for many of us flawed humans, rules and rituals have been a way to avoid a conclusion that's either too simple or too profound - you are divine, you are connected to everything else, so live a life that integrates those realities completely and constantly.

It also occurred to me that, having gone through this whole process "on my own" (in the sense that I didn't belong to any religious congregation - I gratefully and humbly acknowledge the many, many relatives, friends, acquaintances, thinkers and writers, living and dead, who have been teaching me, whether they knew it or not) - perhaps it might be more effective to continue the journey with other people of like mind and diverse experience. In fact, I began to think that this kind of fellowship, a community in which to explore whatever your spiritual beliefs might be, could be valuable regardless of whether or not you believe in a god concept. In other words - religion without god, in addition to god without religion.

Hence, I'm trying out being a Unitarian Universalist, or at least hanging with them for a while. We'll see how that goes. I'm also trying to reconnect with the Creative Force - it felt like I was really surfing the Force there for a while, but last year I let a demanding job get between us, and we seem to have fallen out of touch.

Yeah, turns out, I probably could've done all this in my church of origin. It's an intellectually curious and open-minded kind of place. When I mention my latest theological discovery to my clergywoman friend, or my dad, they kind of look at me like - well, duh. Dude, our church totally had an adult education group on that book two years ago. What can I say, apparently I have a thickheaded streak.

Meanwhile, I feel validated both in my experience, and in my choice to write about it, by other seemingly sane, modern, thoughtful, well-read women who have done the same, and who describe a path that is different, but similar at its core. I particularly recommend:
  • Seeking Enlightenment...Hat by Hat: A Skeptic's Guide to Religion by murder mystery writer and former park ranger Nevada Barr
  • Traveling Mercies - Some Thoughts on Faith by writer Anne Lamott
  • The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness by historian Karen Armstrong
  • Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by poet Kathleen Norris
  • And, lastly, he's not a woman but you can't go wrong with a Nobel Peace Prize nominee: Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace, y'all.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


First yoga class since before I left for Argentina.

How do I hurt? Let me count the ways...

But, you know, in a good way. Plus, the weird airplane-seat-induced hiccup in my right hip joint is gone. That yoga mat is totally going to Italy.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Sometimes I don't know what to think

I was recently listening to NPR in my sensibly progressive town of Seattle, and they're talking about gay marriage. And, there's this guy on the radio from, you know, The Committee to Keep the American Family Firmly Rooted in the Middle Ages, and he's arguing that marriage equity is bad is because it's disastrous for children. He claimed that 40 percent of adoptions in Massachusetts are to same-sex couples, since the advent of real civil unions there. And he opined, as if it were completely obvious, that being raised by two parents of the same gender is "catastrophic" for society, and thus marriage equity is a problem because it will condemn children to "second-class adoptions."

Seriously, people. The hell?

First of all, do they seriously think we're not going to notice that they've oh-so-subtly shifted from arguing that same-sex marriage is bad because it's prohibited by Levitical law, along with mixed-fabric attire and cutting one's hair, to arguing that it's bad for children? You think this little shift from Bible-Thumper to Distinguished Policy Analyst willl just go unnoticed?

And then, what the heck kind of research do they think they have on this question, anyway? I know lots of gay couples with kids - seriously, I can think of, like, a dozen off the top of my head, because they're a TOTALLY NORMAL PART OF LIFE - with adopted kids, birthed kids, you name it. They are, to person, all wonderful and loving parents. Have you ever actually met any of these people, I wanted to ask the man on the radio? And in any case - adoption is an excruciatingly complicated and expensive process. Isn't it possible that adoption by these folks might at a minimum be better than no adoption? And what are you going to do about the gay women who actually give birth, take their children away from them? I mean...the hell?

On Saturday, my husband and I went to a museum exhibit on the Burgess Shale, which preserved an incredible number of fossils from the Cambrian Explosion, when the evolution of multi-celled species went through a phase of massive and diverse growth, the likes of which had never been seen before, nor since. Somewhere amidst all the talk of evolution it was mentioned that the Smithsonian has the largest collection of Burgess Shale fossils, and I actually thought to myself, I can envision an American government that would order this pricessless, amazing, irreplaceable collection destroyed, because it contradicts a literal interpretation of the Biblical creation story. Or, at a minimum, ordered them hidden away, not to be mentioned or displayed or studied.

I thought, there will come a day when there will be an underground railroad for knowledge, and artifacts, for our heritage. There will come a day when there will be an underground railroad for my friends and their children. That's where this country - and perhaps the world - is headed, a bizarre cult that demands literal adherence to stories and rules from thousands of years ago. Stories and rules written for a different way of life, in a time when people posessed less concrete knowledge but a more nuanced understanding of the many ways to find truth in stories of creation, and personal sacrifice, and transcendence.

And when that time comes, the time when the cults take over, and all other views of reason and spirit are forced to go underground, I will have to decide what actions to take each day.

I'm not convinced that bleak vision is our future. But it freaks me out that I could think it so matter-of-factly and calmly, standing there at my local museum on a normal Sunday afternoon.

Who says software isn't punitive?

Ok, I'm really close to having our computer rebuilt. I have wireless working, and both email accounts, and most of our data back, and even a few nice-to-haves (welcome back, Firefox!). But I still have to load the Adobe Acrobat publisher, and this fills me with trepidation.

My husband once said, "the weather isn't punitive," which always cracks me up when I think about it. I had just commented that because we'd had such a lovely weekend, we were likely to have rain all week, or some such thing, and he was pointing out that the weather doesn't do that. It doesn't say, "ha ha! With my left hand, I give unto you a sunny weekend, but yea verily, with my right hand shall I give you drenching rain for seven days, for nice weather comes at a price."

Similarly, you might think that software is not punitive. But you would be wrong. Acrobat and I have a long and unhappy history. That software hates me. I don't have anything against it at all, I think very highly of the Adobe Corporation and all of their fine products. It totally started this grudge. Ask the IT guys from the last place I worked - they know. They, who work with computers day in and out, will be the first to say that Acrobat and I have bad mojo together - very dangerous cross-mojo action. I'd say "hey, I need to update my laptop with the new version of Acrobat, do you want me to do it myself or...?"

"No no!" they'd say quickly. "We'll take care of that for you. STEP AWAY from the Acrobat CD."

But when I became self-employed, I had to be able to produce PDFs. So, I bought Acrobat, and for several days it sat on my desk, and we eyed each other warily. "Ok," I said, "You don't like me, and I don't much like you, but we're going to have to learn to live together." I installed it, and for many months we have had a shaky but manageable relationship.

However, the last significant thing that happened before my current operating system crashed was that Acrobat downloaded a "major update." I don't have any proof, mind you, but I'm suspicious.

So wish me luck. And, if any of you out there know how to intervene with the Acrobat gods, or can get some inside skinny on how on earth I've offended them so - please, I can use all the help I can get on this one.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

My empire for a Macintosh...

My computer lost its mind a few days ago. It cracked, unable to boot. I know a few things about computers, I do. For a layperson, anyway. So I know that when Windows doesn't boot properly, you can redirect it into something called Safe Mode where it boots only what it absolutely must - so you can get in, save your data, fix things, whatever. Actually, there are, like, 15 different kinds of Safe Mode. Some of which seem logical ("Debugging mode," that sounded good, or "Last Known Good") and some of which are quite mysterious. AND THEY ALL HUNG IN EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE.

So, I paid someone (thank you Charlie!!) to at least get my poor machine to the point where I could off-load all of my data. But it wasn't itself any more. It'd had a complete nervous breakdown, its mind was fractured. It would tell me "I can't open this software, it's damaged, you need to reinstall it," and then tell me "sorry, the installation failed." Whenever the screen-saver came on, I'd come back to two dialogue boxes asking me how I'd like to configure my mouse buttons, please? In its anxious state, my little laptop became fixated on those damn mouse buttons, like the computer version of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It was so sad.

So, I'm now reinstalling absolutely everything from Windows on up. Which, since the computer is two years old, includes 2+ years of patches, service packs, virus definitions, driver updates...I almost bought myself a new computer instead. In fact, I almost bought an iBook instead. But I really can't justify replacing every piece of software I own with the Macintosh version.

So now here I am, watching status bars creep across the screen...installing oobe.inf...installing ir41.dll...

And yeah, I'm starting a new consulting gig tomorrow. So this better work.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Bittersweet employment

Ok, it seems I'm working again. Freelance, bien sur. Two projects. Something old, something new.

And frankly, at this point, it would appear I really need the structure in my day. Never thought I'd say that about myself, I of the productive, nine-month, "I don't need no stinkin' job!" sabbatical, during which I laid a tile floor in the kitchen, refinished my fence, learned woodworking and Chinese cooking, dramatically advanced my yoga skills, completed a manuscript, started a film festival, and generally tidied up every mundane loose end in our daily lives. I mean, when Christmas rolled around, and we were invited to a White Elephant gift exchange - there was nothing extraneous in our house to offer up as a White Elephant gift. Not a thing.

I was a Renaissance gal! I was self-directed, dammit! I coulda been a contender!

But the wheels have come off my self-discipline. Maybe the wireless Internet access - and the radical freedom it provides - has unhinged me. I can scarcely do a decent downward dog any more. So - bring on the structure!

At least until it's time for the Italian villa.

Yeah, I changed the template

The art of procrastination, people. Learn from the master.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Q: What's hot and bitter with sugar on top?

A: Yerba mate, a caffeinated herbal drink popular in South America.

We were interested in trying mate, but had heard that the ritual aspects of preparing and serving the hot beverage are such that you can't really walk into a cafe and get it - kind of like a Japanese tea ceremony, I guess. But, on our last day in Buenos Aires, we stumbled upon a mate cafe run by a warm woman named Terese who was very happy to share the tradition with us.

Basically, you have a thermos of hot water and a cup - traditionally made from a gourd - packed with herb. You put sugar on top, add the hot water - no stirring! - and drink it through a special straw, made of silver or some other durable substance. For the first cup, you pass the cup around to the whole group, and everyone takes a sip, gaging your intake to so the cup is emptied by the last person. Then you refill the cup with more hot water, and start going around again, this time with each person drinking a full cup before adding more hot water and passing it along.

How does it taste? Well, I think these pictures speak for themselves.

Also? It's seriously freakin' caffeinated. Puts an espresso to shame. I think we finally figured out how the Argentines survive with no damn sleep.