Friday, April 30, 2010

Beltane Eve

It's hard having your birthday coincide with a holiday. While everyone else gets to celebrate both the holiday in question and their birthday, those of us with birthdays on the holiday have the celebrations fused. We always are left imagining what we're missing.

For example, I've always felt strange about my birthday falling on Beltane Eve. While others are out cavorting around campfires and celebrating the thinning of the veil between worlds, I'm often stuck with a piece of cake and a half-hearted rendition of "Happy Birthday." Alas.

* * * * * * *

For those of you not in the know, Beltane is a cross-quarter day, falling roughly halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. Cross-quarter days were observed as pagan holidays in Sweden, Norway, Finland, England and Ireland, and continue to be observed as neopagan holidays. In fact, we often celebrate these days, though without our full awareness as to their origins. The first cross-quarter day on our annual calendar, Imbolc, falls around February 2nd, which we observe as Groundhog Day. Beltane, around May 1st, is May Day. November 1st, Samhain, is observed as Halloween, and August 1st, Lughnasadh, is... usually... hot.

My mom told me that I was born so close to midnight that there was some question whether to list April 30th or May 1st as my birthday. Beltane Eve or Beltane. Either way, there was a thinning of the veils which I'll observe again tonight (I'm guessing beer will be involved -- most likely Tricerahops Double IPA from Ninkasi Brewing Company). And then tomorrow I'll walk or ride through the neighborhood, noting the beginnings of leaves on the Hawthorne and Mountain Ash trees, other sure signs that we've reached a cross-quarter day, and a change of seasons.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Betty's Plea

University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. - Henry Kissinger

I'll grant you, it was an awkward moment. In a tiny office, no bigger than a typical guest bedroom, two committees were meeting to discuss detailed remodeling plans. The Art and Architecture Committee was certain that any changes to the historic structure were within their purview.

The Trustees were gathered at the other "end" of the room. They were charged with the maintenance and upkeep of the facility, as well as the financial oversight of the organization. If money was to be spent upgrading an office, it would be at their behest.

The two groups were each tightly circled around their respective drawings of the office. Like strange bedfellows or kids in the back seat guarding their side of "the line", they were self-consciously avoiding any contact, eye or otherwise.

And in between the two groups was a rather frantic Betty, wringing her hands and intoning, again and again, "Someone needs to mediate!"

Alas, mediation is only effective when people or groups are as committed to finding a workable solution as they are to vanquishing the enemy. We've learned that lesson, again and again, from Israel/Palestine, Russia/Chechnya, England/Ireland, Shiite/Sunni, Hutu/Tutsi, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State, and all varieties of NIMBY's. Groups are assembled, each seeking their exclusive victory, while well-meaning Betty's circles betwixt and between, pleading for peace.

"Can't we all just get along?"

I guess not, though we can pass concealed carry laws to allow the members of these groups to arm themselves, you know, just in case. But we'll provide no public option for health insurance for the wounded. Apparently both stupidity and the predilection to violence are pre-existing conditions.

In retrospect it's good that the groups in the church office that day weren't armed. Betty's plea went unanswered. Instead it was the Golden Rule that prevailed: Them that has the gold makes the rules. The Trustees had the budget on their side, a fact which trumped the aesthetics of the opposition. And the office? When all was said and done it was, indeed, small.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Living in Wine Country

I have never considered myself a wine connass...coiness...conassew...lover. Years ago I read and appreciated advice on how best to enjoy fine, California wines: pick up the bottle, break the neck over a rock, wait for the glass to settle to the bottom, take a swig and yell, "Yeehaw!"

Sally and I briefly took advantage of living in California wine country in 1985 by visiting several wineries in the Napa Valley. The tours were interesting -- I learned that a "punt" was something other than a football play -- and we even found a wine we liked: Beringer Chardonnay. After our tour of the winery and tasting, we bought a case. Only later did we discover that the same wine was available at our local grocery store for $2 per bottle less than the bargain we got at the winery. Kinda took the shine off things for us.

Well here we are in wine country again. Washington wines are gaining a wonderful reputation, and the industry has had an economic impact statewide. Small, eastern Washington towns that once boasted only a gas station and a grain elevator are now destinations on trendy wine tours. Who saw that coming?

Sally and I have again gotten swept up in the movement. At a nice dinner with Megan and friends in Richland, Sally ordered a glass of Washington Malbec with her meal. I ordered a Cabernet. In comparing tastes, we both preferred the Malbec. That was surprising mostly because I generally prefer drier red wines than does Sally. We both liked the Malbec.

After a quick bit of research on-line, I have learned that Malbec is one of six grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot) included in red wine blends from Bordeaux in France, called by the same name. In Great Britain such blends are called Clarets (yes, you sound the "t"). International trade agreements now prohibit using names of French regions for wines grown abroad, and require licensing fees for other names, such as "Claret". As a result, red wine blends in the US combining the varieties of grapes associated with Bordeaux wines have been given other names, including Meritage (rhymes with heritage).

Though decent Malbec varietal wines are available from Argentina, Malbec is relatively rare, and thus expensive, as a Washington varietal. It is, however, commonly used in Washington clarets and Meritages. Sally and I, typically low brow, were drawn to another appellation: Freddie's Blend.

No, not Fred Meyer. Turns out that "Freddie" is Federique Spencer, and that she is a respected winemaker and master blender at Sagelands Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. We really like the Sagelands Bordea...clare...Merita... uh, Blend. It sounds like something we would drink, doesn't it? Freddie's Blend. And so, disguised as low brows, Sally and I are now secret connoisseurs, enjoying a really fine Washington wine. Pass the pretzels, would you?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Slowkey Pokey

Yet another cat tail, er, tale....

I decided this morning that Mister has been dancing, for at least the past 6 years, a very slow version of the Hokey Pokey. We first noticed him shaking his tail all about. Then his collar-shaking emerged as a primary means of summoning our attention and directing our activities. In the past few days he has begun shaking his left rear leg as he descends the basement stairs. Eventually, by the time he has used all his nine lives, he will have gotten to the point of putting his "whole self in and shake it all about."

By the way, I learned that there is some controversy about the name of the little dance we in the US call Hokey Pokey. Other names range from Hokey Cokey and Okey Cokey in Great Britain, to Buggy Wuggy in Denmark (probably pronounced "cyoo"), to Hokey Tokey in New Zealand where they don't want the dance to be confused with the popular ice cream flavor. So, when the cat performs it we shall term it the Slowkey Pokey, given the years it's taken him to get to one leg.

As long as we are considering cross-cultural awareness, it might be helpful to note that controversy isn't pronounced "controversy" throughout the English speaking world, and that in Denmark it's probably pronounced "cyoo".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

20 Years Ago

This afternoon I was telling Sally about an article I read by an astrophysicist, detailing how some early images from the Hubble Telescope totally invalidated his post-doctoral work. Sally remarked that it's helpful to note that others experience the sense of their carefully planned work having gone for nought. I stated my sense that such experiences are common, and then asked, "What were we worrying about 20 year ago today?"

On April 25, 1990, we were well into our fourth month in Lincoln, Nebraska. We had moved to Lincoln from Aurora, Colorado at the beginning of February, and were probably just familiarizing ourselves with the city. Megan was in the fourth grade, and Erin in first grade at Calvert Elementary School. Evan had yet to turn 4 years old. Though part of the justification of our move to Lincoln was our proximity to the University of Nebraska School of Agricultural Engineering, Sally had yet to act on her interest.

Most of my memories of the time are centered on my work, where I was trying to establish myself as the new Associate Conference Minister in Nebraska. We also were planning a big summer trip west. I was to be the keynote speaker at the West Regional Youth Event at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Our route took us through Spokane, where we tried to dry out our tent after a wet night at Glacier National Park. Our route home took us through the Washington Tri-Cities.

In those days we didn't spend much time worrying about how Sally's engineering career would work out, though it has proven much more important to our family than my work in ministry. We drove through Spokane and spent time at Forest Grove. We drove within a mile of Megan's present home in Kennewick, yet none of that was on our radar, nor could it have been. Had some time traveler attempted to tell us then how our lives would unfold, we'd have never believed them for a moment.

So what were we worrying about 20 years ago today? It seems to have slipped my mind. The only trace it has left in passing is the reminder to ask myself today, "What are you worrying about...and how much does it really matter?"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back in (the Coffee) Business

A replacement seal for the Presso coffeemaker came in the mail yesterday, and I'm pleased to report that the contraption was back at its best this morning. In its absence we've been drinking brew from one or another of our three French press pots (2 cup, 4 cup, and 6 cup). The biggest problem with coffee from a French press comes when you forget what you're doing and throw back the last of the cup, thereby consuming an ounce or so of coffee sludge. Further, I feel presses use a higher quantity of beans per cup, and dislike cleaning up the grounds afterward.

I briefly toyed with getting back into the high end espresso business, considering a range of semi-automatic and manual espresso machines. I admit to being cowed by the initial investment cost. Truth is, I also like using our eccentric little Presso. Cost of this repair: a $5 seal plus $8 for shipping from Ontario. Sweet! And so is the coffee.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Fans of the edgy television series Fringe are well familiar with Walter. Walter Bishop is a modern day mad scientist, freely mixing psychedelic drugs and cutting edge science, and amply seasoned with dry humor. Walter is an intriguing character, wonderfully portrayed by John Noble, who also portrayed the mad steward of Gondor, Denethor, in The Lord of the Rings.

Sally and I are watching the first season of Fringe, thanks to Netflix. In the episode we watched last night, Walter's son, Peter, chides his father to remember which toothbrush is which. "The red toothbrush isn't yours, Walter." Walter turns to the other main character and says, "White, W for Walter. That's me, right?"

I decided that Walter would be a great new name for our 11 year old cat, pictured here making himself comfortable on my Butler sweatshirt. The cat hasn't acquired a new moniker in years, and may be due. We first knew the cat as Casper, which was the name given him by Sally's parents, Joe and Cleo, when they adopted him from the Humane Society of Western Colorado. We're unsure what he was called before that. When we rescued Casper from Cleo in December of 2004 we changed his name, befitting his change (improvement) in circumstances. We rejected "Bob", briefly considered because of his owl-like head movements when attempting to focus his eyes, and instead settled on "Taj Mahal." Given his coloration and 15 pound girth, the name seemed to fit.

Soon enough Taj acquired an additional name. His dignified bearing and utter disdain for the dogs led first Erin, and then the rest of us, to call him "Mr. Cat." Eventually that was shortened to "Mister", to which he is most often referred at present.

Last night opened yet another chapter in the Mister's saga. I couldn't find him. He didn't come in the house at bedtime, as is his custom, nor did he answer my hissing calls with his customary collar-jangling shake of the head. I checked in all of his customary hideouts upstairs and down, but he wasn't to be found. I got up at 10, and 11, and 2, but without result. When Sally let the dogs out at 5, the cat was still AWOL. As I shuffled into the kitchen I told her, "He's either stuck in someone's garage, or the worst has happened.... Or perhaps he's sitting at the top of the basement steps!" There he was, looking somewhat perturbed.

With last night's Fringe in mind, given his white coloration, I thought, "White, W for Walter." The cat is, after all, a bit looney. But, with a look of disdain, Mister dissented. "Me? Looney? I'm not the one who went to the door at 10, 11, 2 and 5 looking for a cat who was already inside."

As he turned and ambled away, I could swear he called me a name....


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Newsweek on Green Shopping

For those who didn't get the link by email, here's a good article about the folly of saving the planet by green shopping. Happy Earth Day!

A blog I like... because it's about time

If you haven't yet come across the blog 13.7 Cosmos and Culture, I'd like to recommend it. Today's post, indeed, is about time.

Hurray for Rain

It's raining. Raindrops are splashing on the street and driveway in front of the house, and cars driving by are making that unique sound that indicates wet streets.

We've been pretty dry this spring, making me worry about our trees, vines and garden. The lawn is green, but I know that hue can change quickly in the absence of precipitation, even in April.

I recall one particular instance of hearing a television weather reader, in the midst of a protracted drought, gush enthusiastically about the clear skies and warm temperatures in the forecast. I ranted in Sally's general direction ("general" because she keeps moving in unpredictable directions when I start my rants) about the idiocy of that particular meteorastrologist. The problem, I think, is something larger. Despite our much ballyhooed ability to reason, humans seem unable to embrace the reality of the world in which we live. Faced with darkness, we turn on floodlights, extinguishing the softer glow of the moon, stars, nebulas, and galaxies, including our own. Faced with an awareness of the hidden life of microbes all around and within us, we grab the spray disinfectant and a prescription for antibiotics. There are ants outside - sometimes inside - and bees, and birds, and bats. Yes, by the grace of all that is holy there are still birds and bees, and bats.

So, I'm embracing the rain today. It might last only a few hours, or continue for days and wash away the effects of all my little exertions, but I'm so thankful - so thankful - that it came into my life this day.

There's a wonderful statement I first read as a signature on emails from one of my wonderful friends, perhaps one of you. It's variously attributed to Sir Rannulph Fiennes and as a traditional Scottish saying: There's no such thing as bad weather... only inappropriate clothing.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stranger than Fiction

OK, I admit that sometimes even I am surprised. You know how people occasionally read a parody in The Onion and think it's real? Well how can you blame them, when what is "real" is so often unbelievable? A case in point... visit the following link and click on, "Watch the TV Commercial!" Here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Trip Caught Up With Me (continued)

Today my back came to the conclusion that it had been in the car too long. Either that or it decided that being in the car is normal, and that I've been out of the driver's seat too long. Either way....

It is gently raining today. Though our fruit trees have been starting to blossom, this morning, for the first time, the grass looked green. I also noticed that the overnight low temperatures are edging upward again. When the lows remain around 50 degrees, our fruit trees, grape vines and flowering plants will begin to grow in earnest.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My Trip Caught Up With Me

Upon arriving back in Spokane following my trip to the Final Four, I was amazed at how good I felt. Given the miles and hours I had put on, I was doing really well... until mid-afternoon yesterday. I had quite a little letdown yesterday afternoon. It was experienced as physical fatigue, but also as mental exhaustion bordering on depression. OK, I also experienced a seal failure on my precious Presso coffee maker, and that influenced my mood. Still, by 7pm I was ready to hit the sack.

Today has been somewhat better. Sally and I got up fairly early and shared a nice breakfast. I then turned my full attention to doing my taxes, and had that nasty task completed by around noon. I have discovered the significant tax advantages of not having much income. Hurrah, I guess.

Sally is heading off to Omak for three days for a series of meetings with contractors on her big design project, so I'll be on my own for a few days. Thankfully (!) there is a new wave of tension at the church, so I'll have plenty of email exchanges to read.

Before I go, I thought I'd share a highlight from the trip. Here's the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. You can barely make out the words "Go Dawgs!" emblazoned on the rear window of the Subaru in white shoe polish.

What with visiting such tourist hotspots and all, it's little wonder I'm a bit tired!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Back Home Again...

Just returned from my whirlwind trip to Indianapolis. Over the last 10 days I drove the old Subaru an average of 441 miles per day, spent an average of $121 per day for gas, food, lodging, Final Four tickets and Butler paraphernalia, saw three basketball games, cried with joy once, pride another time, and laughed a lot. I listened to "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" over three days of driving, and exhausted my entire supply of podcasts.

I'll try to write a bit over the next few days. Glad to be home.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Final: Duke 61, Butler 59

So very close. So very proud. If 3 months ago, had anyone offered Butler a chance at having the ball with 13 seconds left with a shot at the national title, my guess is they'd have said, "You're kidding!"

So very close. So very proud!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Final: Butler 52, Michigan State, 50

Yes, I was there. Well, here, I guess. I'll still be here, in Indianapolis, for the national championship game tomorrow night. This game has cosmic implications. Go Bulldogs!