Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What I'm Reading #38

Just finished Abraham Verghese's first novel, "Cutting for Stone." It's a sweeping novel that takes us from the India and Ethiopia of the 1940's to an inner city hospital in NYC in the 1980's and back again to a missionary hospital in Addis Ababa. The course of the lives we're given cross history and localities few Americans have knowledge of while discovering the pain of betrayal and the power of redemption. And like all great morality plays, there are sacrifices for the propitiation of the sins committed.

The book is dynamic, extravagant, enthralling and composed with tremendous attention to detail and the emotional universe. You will love these characters. They will bring you to tears, cause you shout at them and at times curse the world in which they struggle for meaning.

Amazed and transformed by this one.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Revelation One

I shared this post earlier with a friend on FB.

I came upon a realization on Saturday morning while running errands and it shames me to share it, but I think it's important. I used to stop and contemplate whether or not to give money when I happened upon a beggar at an intersection. I would study them to determine their worthiness, and sometimes I would just be annoyed by them. Then on Saturday morning I happened upon a man with a bad leg who was holding the ubiquitous cardboard sign declaring his homeless status and some other information. Suddenly I got it. I had some money, he needed some money (far more than I did). So I called out to him by shouting "friend." And his face lit up as he turned in my direction and I gave him a handful of quarters and said, "Take care of yourself, friend." Later, in the day I gave some more money to another beggar. And today I did the same for an elderly beggar and this time when I gave him the money I pressed my hand into his and let it linger while I said, "Friend, be good to yourself." Now, I know, as long as I have money I will never again waste a single brain cell on what to do with it in the presence of a beggar.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene Solitaire!

Life without electricity. Candles, crackers, and solitaire!

Irene Clean-Up!

For anyone who has ever experienced a hurricane, you know that there is no more clear and beautiful a sky, than the one that opens up like a flash after the storm pulls away. And so the clean-up begins...

Irene's Calling Card

My neighbor's home, across the street and 5 houses down.

Trees down in the park at the bottom of the hill, the end of my street.

A little honey locust down and blocking Sligo Creek Parkway at New Hampshire Avenue.

I measured 4.5 inches of rain which was enough to fill the creek, but no where near flooding. The summer had been very dry up until now here in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Dogwood Fruit

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aquarium Update

To recap, I started an aquarium back on June 2nd and introduced its first residences on the 4th. I started with 3 zebra danio, 4 harlequin raspboras, a pair of sunburst platties and a brilliantly aqua blue male betta. All was well for the first couple of weeks and then calamity. I introduced a small rainbow shark and 3 cherry tetra. Within no time the plague had broken out. In the end all of the cherry tetras, the rainbos shark, two of the zebra danio, the betta and the male sunburst platty were dead. The world of the survivors was very reduced.

A week later I introduced another pair of the sunburst platties and a frenetic little chinese catfish. I wasn't terribly impressed with the knowledge of the sales person and as it turned out the platties were both female, however; they both bonded quickly with my surviving female and the three of them seem to keep one another in merry company. All remained stable, so later in the week I added another male betta, this one with a rosy pink/red body and blue fins. For the past 6 weeks all has been quite harmonious.

Today I purchased 3 more zebra danio to give my little lone survivor a school to attend. As it turned out the sales girl sold me 4 for the price of 3, something I didn't realize until I got home and prepared to release them into the community. Watching them tonight, they all seem to be doing well. Here's hoping!

Pride Birthdays and Memorials for the Coming Week ~ August 28th to September 3rd!

What I'm Listening To #101

I heard this song. It thrilled me to core. It's called Silvertown and the vocalist is Isabel Morris. Based on that alone, I bought this CD. I don't care a bit for the rest of it... but I still LOVE "Silvertown!"

Have you ever done that? Bought a CD on the strength of one amazing song? It perturbed me at first, but then I thought the song was worth the price. And the purchase supports the artist. I don't like everything the Picasso has painted, but I do love some of his oeuvre.

What I'm Listening To #100

Ben Sollee is a Jazz/Folk/Cellist who has an amazingly soulful voice for a white boy from Kentucky. So go out there an discover his genius for yourselves! You will not regret coming under the joy of his charismatic musicianship.

Friday, August 26, 2011


The weekend has arrived, and all we can think about in the Nation's capital is Hurricane Irene. She's due to beat on us between Saturday evening and midday on Sunday. Everyone in the know keeps us on our toes by painting a worse case scenario. I guess that's to be expected after the horrors of Katrina; you can regret over preparing with a smug indignation, while under preparing can devastate your life or worse.

This week is a curious one in the annuls of disaster history in Washington, D. C. On Tuesday we were hit by one of the most frightening and unpredictable disaster events in a significant earthquake. Four days later we wait with baited breath for one of the most frightening and predictable disaster events in a major hurricane. And in the end it doesn't matter whether we can prepare for calamities or not, they happen. The bottom line is neither shaken nor blown away. We remain on a continuum that goes from materialism to resiliency. We either depend upon the things that fade or build our foundations upon the ideals that transcend our circumstances.

And with that in mind, my circumstances between now and Monday are very open to the interpretation and imprint by powers that are completely out of my control. Why would anyone ever imagine our lives to be otherwise?

New Earth Stamps

A new set of commemorative stamps has just been issued to honor 4 of the founding fathers of independent Africa. Every High School student in America should know these names as readily as they know the names Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaul, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mikhail Gorbachev. That they don't explains why we are not yet a post-racist nation. We've grown so much, but we still have not reached the goal of equality as "one nation under God".

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Poet Has Died

The poetry I most love is the poetry that paints with a stingy brush. Samuel Menashe knew how to paint like that. The only comfort to a great mind's demise is the legacy that will always be with us.


rippling under my eyes
Bulrushes tuft the shore

At every instance I expect
what is hidden everywhere

~ Samuel Menashe, 1925 - 2011

What I'm Reading #37

Never one to walk with the crowd, I just finished Barbara Kingsolver's highly acclaimed "Poisonwood Bible". It's the story of the Price family from Bethlehem Georgia, a Baptist preacher who accepts a posting to a remote mission station in the dense jungles of the Belgian Kongo on the cusp of its independence. Nathan, his wife Orleanna, and there 4 daughters, Rachel, the twins Leah & Adah, and the toddler, Ruth May arrive under the sheer unquestioned righteous will of the father. They are utterly without any acquired capacity for being able to do what he has brought them there to do. They arrive an African tabula rasa, and become the very white heart of the continent, marked in a way that intertwines one to the other.

Adroitly, written within the ephemeral web of political, cultural, racial, linguistic, religious, and emotional histories, you will be deeply moved by how these characters, and the ones we meet, navigate this compelling tapestry. To get us through, Kingsolver adopts the persona of the daughters and Orleanna over and over again in turn. Each one is a unique voice, and one wonders how many personalities inhabit the creative genius of the author.

Any positive thing you've every heard about this novel is richly deserved and woefully inadequate.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Land-"Shakes!" Alive

Oh my, another earthquake in the land of ... well, no earthquakes. The first one occurred in the wee hours of the morning back on July 16, 2010. It was a paltry 3.6 by comparison, but the epicenter was much closer. And still it's relative lack of energy only rattled my in my bed.

Then today there was this considerably more enthusiastic shaker. 5.8 centered some 85 miles to the south of where I live.

At the time, I was leading part of a training with about 40 teachers when I started to feel the floor vibrate, as the vibration continued to slowing intensify I said, to the people in my discussion group, "What is this? An earthquake?" and then the floor bounced a little and bucked good jolt sending everyone swaying and then it rumbled to a halt. Yep, it was an earthquake.

To be honest, I was a little embarrassed for how many people around me overreacted. It's given me a mite of concern over experiencing a REAL disaster around them. But then, everyone wants their lives to be the most amazing, exciting things. Which isn't to say that being in a second floor cinderblock classroom while it shifts a couple inches one way and then abruptly back to roughly it's original GPS locale isn't extraordinary. It's just not the same as the end of civilization as we know it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Iowa Straw Pole - By The Numbers

You know I love math. I think people need to embrace it more and the world would be a saner place. With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the Iowa straw pole.

Iowa has a population of 3,046,355 of which 23.7% are too young to vote. Of the remain 2,214,700 eligible voters in the state 4,823 said that they believe that Michelle Bachman is the best choice for president of our nation. So all the world is to come to the same conclusion by virtue of the opinion of 0.00218% of the people of Iowa? That's 2 one thousandths of a percent of Iowans.

It's an absurd proposition. Extrapolate that out to the population of the United States as a whole, and who would take seriously in a democracy the choice of 0.0000206% of the population imposed upon the other 233,715,549 Americans of voting age?

So 2 one hundred thousandths percent of the American people want Michelle Bachmann to be leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Hmmm...

Getting back to Iowa, the National Institute of Mental Health states that 4.5 % of Americans, age 18 and older, suffer from some form of a serious mental illness. By comparison that would suggest that Iowa is home to about 99,661 adults struggling with their sanity. They remain for the most part productive and yet anonymous members of Iowan society. However, on this past Saturday evening, we can be fairly certain what 4,823 of them were up to. Just sayin'.

Today's Sermon


Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow

changed by white curtains—
Smell of cleanliness—

Sunshine of late afternoon—
On the glass tray

a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which

a key is lying—And the
immaculate white bed

~ William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963

Pride Birthdays and Memorials for the Coming Week ~ August 14th to 20th!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Toilet Fixin' Time!

The fluid valve on my toilet is leaking.

It began some time back as an annoying drip and now has progressed to a fine, gurgling dribble that benefits from the tiled acoustics of the bathroom to sound like a distant clarion tinkling out some hysteric new age composition. The time for "gettin'-around-to-it" has come, and I aim to fix it myself. After all, I performed the exact same surgery on my second toilet in the basement about a decade ago, and how much can things have changed since then?

But this is not the point of my story. It's not the fixing that I am reflecting on, but the buying of the parts with which to complete the fixing. For these I went to my local Home Depot. It is a familiar haunt for me, and once I find the aisle with the new toilets aligned high on a shelf along one side, I do what I always do at Home Depot; I wait. And I do believe that for anyone with half a brain, I looked like someone who was waiting. I waited because besides the parts, I have this fantasy of finding someone who will assure me that what I plan to do is easy and only a fool would pay a plumber to do it for them.

This time as luck would have it a handsome young employee in the orange apron was already in the aisle helping a young couple with the sink faucets. Finding what they want in this aisle, he accompanied them to some other part of the store in search of their next item. As he passed, we made eye contact and he smiled, so I thought, 'Great, he'll be back to help me when he's done with them.'

Now, I was waiting alone.

But not for long, a woman pushing a shopping cart entered and planted herself midway down the aisle examining faucets. We were waiting together.

Finally, a young woman in HD orange passed by in the main aisle, and I asked her if she could help me. She couldn't (she's just a cashier), but she promised to find someone who could. She seemed sincere, so I go back to waiting. The funny thing about waiting, without a watch, it's really hard to get an accurate idea of how long you waited. It felt like a very long time.

Finally, an older gentleman with a deliberate gate and a thick West African accent shuffled over while tying on his orange apron and asked if I need help. I explained to him what I was looking for and he decided that what we needed to do was look at new toilets, which confused me briefly and led us both to a model in the middle of the aisle.

The woman with the shopping cart was still waiting,

Once I caught on to the direction of his line of reasoning, I stopped him and explained again that what I was looking for were kits that contain the innards for a toilet made in 1942. I assured him I knew that new toilets don't come with those parts anymore, but I didn't want a new toilet.

"Oh," he said, "Those are in aisle 9."

As we turned to make our way to aisle 9, the women cleared her throat and interjected, "Can you help me when you're done with him?" And I thought to myself that that was my first mistake back with the young man and the couple. I should have made a verbal request and exacted a spoken appointment for help from him before he slipped away. A smile is such a fickle thing.

This request seemed to confuse the man, and he looked at me for some inexplicable reason, and I said, "It's okay. You can help her now."

Here's where things got awkward for me. The woman commenced into explaining about how she has this faucet that has one of the swing-arm in the middle controls, but she wanted to replace it with one that has a separate hot and cold handle. She was under the impression that with her old faucet there was only one source of water, one hose, if you will, and that the new faucet she wanted would require two hoses. Based on this she had two questions: A) Could she change between the two types of faucets? And B) if so, where would she get the hoses that she will need?

For the life of him the older man couldn't give her a straight answer. They spoke at one other creating a confused tangle of thoughts that seemed further from making sense with every new statement or question. Finally, I just couldn't take it anymore and so I slipped in a question that allowed the woman to know that I understood what she was trying to ask. I hoped it would by extension help the HD assistant to get on board, too.

But it only seemed to confuse him even more, so then I just gently stepped in and explained to the woman about how the faucets work and that she doesn't need additional hoses or to worry about changing from the one style to the other. I explained that I had recently done the same thing with my kitchen faucet. She seemed elated and thanked us both in a way that emphasized me by adding, "and you too sir, you've been very helpful."

So, here's the thing. The assistant who I will guess was around the other side of 60, and who was born in another country on another continent, probably didn't train for a career at Home Depot. He demeanor suggested an upper class education and up bringing. For all I know his could have held a degree in engineering or accounting, education or law. But there he was. Working at Home Depot. And in spite of his intelligence and good manners, not doing a very good job of it. I thought about this as we walked to aisle 9 and hoped that our interactions there would prove more fruitful.

What he knew about aisle 9 was the general contents, but aisle 9 like all aisles at Home Depot is long and has a lot of stuff in it. Finding a place where a bunch of plumbing related items where arranged on hooks in plastic packages he declared, "Here it is."

But it wasn't. None of the stuff had anything to do with toilets. In fact, as shiny and fascinating as some of the things were, I'm not exactly sure what most of them had to do with anything! I waited awkwardly for him to grasp this, which he did and then we moved a little further down and he again announced that it was "here".

This time I suggested that all of this stuff looked like it was related to bathtubs.

"Oh, yes, you are correct," he responded. "So let's see...."

Now he stepped back and surveyed the rest of aisle 9 with a chin pinched between his thumb and the facing side of his index finger.

"Over here," he declared and pointed and at last we found what I had been looking for, or more accurately, what I had been waiting to find, for the past 30 minutes easily.

What I will tell you now is something of which I am not ashamed. There are times when falsehoods are not simply acceptable, but seemingly required; this was one of those times.

I thanked him profusely for all his help. I went so far as to shake his hand. I do wish him well, too. After all, who knows what I will be doing when I'm 60-something?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bread Night

Today I baked bread. Tonight I ate it!

Monday, August 08, 2011

Reckoning Day in Wisconsin

The political up-roar is about to land it's most important blow. In all of the kafuffle over Republican Governor Scott Walker's assault on the middle class workers of Wisconsin and the ensuing protests by teachers, police and fire fighters among others the recall became the weapon of change.

In this battle and counter battle there are 3 phases.

One, a Democratic senator was petitioned for recall and faced re-election on July 19. He won re-election, round 1 to the Dems.

Two, Tomorrow is round 2 when 6 Republican Senators face the recall re-election. If 3 of them loose, the senate flips to the Democrats, if 5 or more of them win it's a done deal and the focus turns toward the recall of the governor himself.

Three, round three which happens next Tuesday features the recall election of two more Democratic Senators, both of whom handily survived a faux primary challenge drummed up by the Republicans back in June.

End game: The magic number is 3. When the dust settles, there needs to be 3 more Democrats in the Senate of Wisconsin.

KEY: the blue are the Democratic held senate districts, the green are held by Republicans, and the purple are those that are being challenged.

Lego Hope!

Fresh Fruit & Flowers

Fresh fruit from the local A & H grocery store. After weeks of national chains selling mounds of bruised strawberries "on sale", there beautiful, perfect berries were too hard to pass up.

But the real find are the green plums! It is so difficult to find a plum in a grocery store that doesn't taste like mush, and these green babies are honey sweet and tart at the same time. They melt in your mouth! A & H on University Blvd just west of Riggs Road.

Gitchy, Gitchy, Goo?

I swear, if they're fixing to make a wish, I'm gonna scream!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Today's Sermon

In Heaven

In heaven,
Some little blades of grass
Stood before God.
"What did you do?"
Then all save one of the little blades
Began eagerly to relate
The merits of their lives.
This one stayed a small way behind,
Presently, God said,
"And what did you do?"
The little blade answered, "Oh my Lord,
Memory is bitter to me,
For, if I did good deeds,
I know not of them."
Then God, in all His splendor,
Arose from His throne.
"Oh, best little blade of grass!" He said.

~ Stephen Crane, 1871 - 1900


All-Time Record Highs (Any Month)

These cities have recorded temperatures this year that exceeded any temperature on record for any month.

Tallahassee, Fla. - 105 on June 15 (records since 1892)
Amarillo, Texas - 111 on June 26 (records since 1892)
Borger, Texas - 113 on June 26 (records since 1949)
Dalhart, Texas - 110 on June 26 (records since 1948)
Childress, Texas - 117 on June 26 (records since 1893)
Gage, Okla. - 113 (tie) on June 26 (records since 1947)
Resolute, Canada (one of Canada's northernmost communities)- 66 on July 9 (records since at least 1951)
Newark, N.J. - 108 degrees on July 22 (records since 1931)
Georgetown, Del. - 104 degrees on July 22 (records since 1948)
Washington, D. C. (Dulles Airport) - 105 degrees on July 22 (records since 1962)
Reading, Pa. - 106 degrees on July 22 (records since 1869)
Bridgeport, Conn. - 103 degrees on July 22 ties record (records since 1948)
Hartford, Conn. - 103 degrees on July 22 (records since 1904)
Salina, Kan. - 113 degrees on July 27 ties record from July 1954 (records since 1948)
Ft. Smith, Ark. - 115 degrees on August 3 (records since 1882)
Little Rock, Ark. - 114 degrees on August 3 (records since 1877)
West Plains, Mo. - 108 degrees on August 3 (records since 1948)

All-Time Record Highs for May, June or July

The locations below all broke or tied all-time monthly record highs during May, June or July.

August all-time monthly records:
Joplin, Mo. - 110 on August 2 (records since 1902)
Springfield, Mo. - 108 on August 2 (records since 1888)

July all-time monthly records:
Oklahoma City, Okla. - 110 (tie) on July 9 (records since 1890)

June all-time monthly records:
Mobile, Ala. - 103 on June 4 (records since 1842)
Pensacola, Fla. 102 (tie) on June 4 (records since 1879)
Houston, Texas - 105 on June 5 and 6 (records since 1889)
Shreveport, La. - 104 (tie) on June 14 (records since 1874)

May all-time monthly records:
Tanana, Alaska - 89 on May 28 (records since 1902)
Wichita Falls, Texas - 110 (tie) on May 28 (records since 1923)
Abilene, Texas - 109 (tie) on May 28 (records since 1885)
San Angelo, Texas - 110 on May 28 (records since 1907)
Amarillo, Texas - 104 on May 29 (records since 1892)
Baltimore, Md. - 98 on May 30 (records since 1872)
Wichita, Kan. - 100 (tie) on May 9 (records since 1888)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

pride Birthdays and Memorials for the Coming Week ~ August 7th to 13th!

Mother Nature Doesn't Live NEXT Door....

Okay, remember I live on the very edge of the District of Columbia in a tree filled suburban area WELL WITHIN the capital beltway. So what do I discover when I step onto my backyard deck? Just about anything!

The other day I was running the sprinkler and as it swept the yard it dowsed my Japanese Maple where, after watching Mr. Cardinal use the spray and the wet leaves to take a "bath," Ms. Catbird jumped into the crown of the tree and did likewise! I love my birds.

Today it was these two beautiful little fawns, no mother in sight.

They are standing inside my backyard. Just beyond the fence you see and down a steep embankment are the 6 lanes of New Hampshire Avenue! I assume the doe left them in my yard thinking them safe while she foraged on the bank of the hill. Although, it's also entire possible that they are not siblings. The one on the right is noticeably larger and usually there are two to four doe that visit my yard as a group. I've never seen a buck in all the years they've been around. So this winter, will I have SIX DEER! to contend with? Oh, my.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Lego Mecca! Lego Rome! Lego Jerusalem! LEGO PARADISE!

I have just discovered a site MOCpages is a site dedicated to Lego enthusiasts and designed to allow us to share our creations. I have found my church. I am no longer alone. I always suspected that there were maniacs as obsessed as I, but now I have found them, my tribe.