Monday, January 28, 2008

Loving then Reading Books

Tess and Colm have spent countless hours like this on couches, chairs, sprawled on the floor, the lawn, or the deck, at home, on boats, in airplanes. It's always been her holding the book and holding too the pose of the reader with Colm at her side contentedly looking on.
This photo taken almost a year ago in Arles shows them absorbed in the act of studying and turning pages. It was a ritual act that for them which had some sense for them insofar as there were pictures to contemplate and spur their private and collaborative imaginings. Both of them knew of course that words existed on those selfsame pages; they knew that those words could be read, and that when they were read(by us), the pictures themselves could be made to swell inside their frames as if they were about to explode on to another page.

But till recently Tess and Colm usually contented themselves to sit alone together in the presence of the mysterious promptings of images and to leave the text to crawl ant-like about the margins of their vision.
This year however Tess has found her attention captured more and more by the words. Now when she and her brother sit together, instead of improvising story lines triggered by the pictures, she reads painstakingly what is written there. Colm, ever impressed by his sister's inclinations, has also become more conscious that words inhabit these pages. He looks from the image to the word and occasionally to his sister's face.
There are more clues than he can sort out, but he manages nonetheless to recognize here and there a word, no doubt aided by the way Tess traces her own progress on the page with her index finger. Tess still sets the pace, but there is a different cadence to their ritual, a different reason animating their decisions to turn the pages.
Beth and I look up every so often, prompted perhaps by the recognition of a stealthy calm that has enveloped us like a warm blanket. We see them on the sofa, oblivious to everything but the book on her lap - content to be alone together, somewhere within the covers of a book.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Future Vs The Past

People get ready...listen to part 1 of Obama's speech last night.

here's part 2

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

False Pretenses

A couple of impressions on the campaigns: first, Hillary is a force to be reckoned with in a debate. She is quick, thorough, and relentless. She also seems to love scoring points much more than she does illuminating them. She seems unable or unwilling (for my money it makes no difference which is the case) to resist telling a lie if it suits her needs at that moment. Whether it be the assertion that Obama was beholden to a "slum lord" or that he thought Reagan's notion of privatizing Social Security was a good idea, Clinton will say it if it she thinks it will play to the house she's in. Obama by contrast comes across as restrained, defensive and maybe even awkward in a debate setting. He doesn't do well presenting himself as a policy wonk nor does he seem to relish the low blow. The worst thing he could think of to say about Hillary in the debate was that she used to work on the board of directors for Walmart, which happens to be true.
In short, Hillary (and her campaign) is all about defeating whoever is in front of her; Obama seems reflexively attuned to truth telling and nation-building. Historically, the former strategy wins elections, the latter wins only admiration.
Here's where I think the electorate has a chance to align itself with a fresh perspective on governance and political discourse in this country. Obama is not a perfect candidate. I wish he had more executive experience for one thing. But he is a good candidate in a way that Hillary can never be. He is unafraid of ideas, nor is he overly concerned about where ideas come from. Having taught law in the nation's most elite conservative university, the University of Chicago, he seems to have become comfortable with an intellectual discourse that ranges across the full political spectrum. Most important, he gets the American theme of calling people to service and of calling them to become their best selves.
I think this is vital today.
We are a nation at risk, not from terrorism, not from recession, nor from climate change...we are at risk from our own complacence, our own comfort and accommodation with the practice and habit of lying.
No one was more cynical with the American people on this subject than Bill "it depends on what is is" Clinton. His dissembling was sad and pathetic, mixed as it was with a certain charisma that was even more insulting because it implied that being cute trumped being truthful. But the last seven years under Bush have been a frontal attack of an Orwellian nature on the very foundations of truth telling in politics. The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan and non-profit organization, recently published this painstakingly researched catalog of intentional public lies made by Bush and his officials on two subjects: WMDs and Saddam's relationship with Al Quaida. Read the one page summary here. To issues treated there I would add that of torture, or should I say "enhanced interrogation techniques"?
The bottom line is crystal clear - Bush lied. He lied repeatedly; he lied intentionally; he lied purposefully. And we slept through it.
Our ability to speak truthfully about things in the public sphere has been seriously undermined if not crippled by the way we have allowed our language to be corrupted and co-opted by cynical people. To the extent that we wink or shrug our shoulders and say that it was ever thus, we collaborate in the steady erosion of the only thing we really matters, our integrity.
If I'm right about integrity, then the key question is, "Who best to help us restore our integrity?"
Hillary? Huckabee? Rudy? Romney?...don't think so.

Monday, January 21, 2008

fun in the snow

We went up to Morgan Lake for a little hike and some sledding.

The fog and cloud cover were just starting to burn off which lent a ghostly air to the place.

Colm started talking about skiing about a week ago. Beth took him to the sporting goods store and rented a pair of cross country skis for him. The owner told me later that he'd never seen a kid so excited about getting a pair of skis. Beth took Colm and he began by motoring his away around the back yard.
We went back to Cove this weekend and he and his sister spent a good portion of the time going up and down the driveway which had the right combination of pitch and length for them.
Once they figured out how to get up by themselves after falling, they were totally self sufficient. See for yourself.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Feeling war

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I began reading everything I could find by Thomas Merton whose explorations of Catholic and Asian mysticism spoke to my own spiritual yearnings. It wasn't such a long leap from there to the radical and pacifistic writings of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement founded in 1933. My dalliance with pacifism and radical poverty was borne perhaps ironically, out of an idealism that I had inherited from my father, himself a career military man and Vietnam veteran who became a Catholic during his service in Southeast Asia. My father never ever relished the bellicose rhetoric of war; rather, he spoke of duty, of defending freedom, of helping those in need. He meant the words he said, and when he volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1968 it was for him the natural extension of turning belief into action. The priests he met there helping orphaned children, inspired him, and when he came home to us, he was a practicing Catholic. We said rosaries at home for world peace and world hunger and for the sick and dying. My father's military calling was informed by an intention pure and simple to serve always on the side of the angels, at least insofar as he could discern what that side was.
It is that simple equation, that ideas and convictions must translate into action that my father imprinted on me. In yet another irony, the very pacifistic ideas which I first discovered in Merton and which informed in part my own opposition to the Vietnam War can be traced to my father putting Merton's spiritual autobiography The Seven Story Mountain in my hands as a young teen.
In the years since then, I've turned away from religion and from pacifism. The catholic definition of a just war remains a coherent notion to me as does, perhaps paradoxically, the notion that war is inherently evil. To quote Whitman, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself."
It's hard therefore for me to talk about the war in Iraq without feeling profoundly conflicted. For one thing, I can't shake the idea that for most Americans, myself included, the war has been more of a media event than anything else. The word "war" has been bandied about so often and in so many guises and contexts that I fear we have become inured to the word and even the thing itself.
To be sure, there are American soldiers in Iraq serving, dying (over 3,000 last time I checked), and getting wounded over there. For those veterans, their families and friends the Iraq war is something all too real.
Yet a nation really at war doesn't need to be reminded that it is at war, does it? Doesn't it feel war viscerally; feel it upon waking in the morning; carry it about as it carries on with life, and try to escape it as it closes its eyes to sleep at night? War, it would seem, is a thing that invades your space and your sense of well being and occupies your universe leaving you yearning for peace, perhap trying to remember what peace even feels like.
I do not feel this war, not in the way that I imagine others have felt war, other Americans in different wars. I ask myself, why? Why don't I feel it?
It's not that I crave the experience of war so much as I grieve the absent sense of purpose. Living begets a desire for purpose. The thought that soldiers go to die, that civilians are killed, and that this happens for no morally compelling reason is hard, very hard to swallow.
Perhaps this is what it feels like not to know what our own language signifies any more, to be told we're at war, to be cajoled into believing it without feeling war today. Perhaps war today is less purposeful than it formerly was (though I doubt it). Perhaps a powerful sense of purpose feeds great wars, engulfs entire populations, levels cities, kills their inhabitants wholesale while a weak and vacillating purpose leads to showy, inept little wars which justify themselves to the common man in part by pointedly not resorting to wholesale slaughter all the while prudently regretting the inevitable collateral damage of its more pliant and political designs. Perhaps between a great and not so great war there isn't really much to chose from. Or is there?
It's not that I pine for a great war over the one that's been handed to us; rather, my sense of justice and democratic idealism is incompatible with the notion that we are a people who would allow proxies to fight our wars for us, that we are willing to subcontract out our dirty work and to fight our battles on the cheap by the most politically expedient means possible. Worst of all, I am offended by the dissonance in our own national discourse that speaks of threats to freedom and security by invoking the victims of 9-11 yet is strangely mute on the terrible price inflicted on the Iraqi people by the war there.
We in America tend to think of the Iraq war as our war, but the numbers say otherwise. In a country with a population roughly the same as Texas, Iraq has by the most recent and conservative count lost 151,000 people to this conflict. Texas, by contrast, has lost 330 soldiers. I doubt there is anyone in Iraq who has a hard time "feeling" this war. How many of us have reflected on the notion that our commander in chief has not so much led Americans to war as he has taken it upon himself to embroil the Iraqi people in a war?
There is a side of me that is ashamed by the asymmetry of suffering. Have we stood shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi people in their fight against a common enemy (Saddam?...Al Quaida?) and have we mingled our blood with theirs in a way that is truly mutual, OR have we risked the least possible cost, dispensed favors here and there, and attempted to pull the proper levers in the hopes of harvesting a windfall benefit if not to the Iraqis then at least to ourselves? The former description befits a just and defensible war of self defense while the latter describes the cynical machinations of empire. Who are we and who do we want to be?
The fact that so many Iraqis continue to say that they are glad that the US invasion deposed Saddam only underscores how stark and horrible have been the circumstances under which these people have been forced to live for so long. But for a president to cynically trade on this horror as if it were a blank check for tinkering almost absent-mindedly with their lives is, I think, unworthy of any government that stakes a claim to moral leadership in the world.
I don't just point the finger at Bush either. I do fault him and his administration for incompetence, moral neglect and subversion of the Constitution, but I fault the Congress and ultimately us for believing that because we were America we were exempt from paying the real price of taking up arms. I fault us for surrendering almost without a whimper our constitutional duty to decide when and where to declare war. We let Bush have the war he wanted preferring to delude ourselves that it would be the equivalent of a walk-off home run, all shock and awe, a cinematic moment...and then, mission accomplished.
A leader earns no thanks or honor from his people for simply leading them into war; he earns scorn, however, for failing to rally them all to a common purpose that will inspire them to bear and feel and, later perhaps, celebrate enormous sacrifice.
The sacrifices of this war have been borne disproportionately by people, American and Iraqi, who have died on the margins of our awareness. And for what? Anyway you slice that, it is a travesty.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fear and loathing...smearing Obama

The bottom feeders are getting busy. My wife got this group email today from a casual acquaintance who apparently thought we were ready to be let into her inner circle of email contacts. The email has obviously been around awhile; it's origins are obscure (democrats and republicans both have been passsing it around); its purposes, however, are anything but obscure. Hold your nose and read the following, reprinted almost in its entirety...

Subject: Obama's church

Obama mentioned his church during his appearance with Oprah. It's the Trinity Church of Christ. I found this interesting. Obama's church:
Please read and go to this church's website and read what is written there. It is very alarming. Barack Obama is a member of this church and is running for President of the U.S. If you look at the first page of their website, you will learn that this congregation has a non-negotiable commitment to Africa. No where is AMERICA even mentioned. Notice too, what color you will need to be if you should want to join Obama's church... B-L-A-C-K!!! Doesn't look like his choice of religion has improved much over his (former?) Muslim upbringing. Strip away his nice looks, the big smile and smooth talk and what do you get? Certainly a racist, as plainly defined by the stated position of his church! And possibly a covert worshiper of the Muslim faith, even today. This guy desires to rule over America while his loyalty is totally vested in a Black Africa!
I cannot believe this has not been all over the TV and newspapers. This is why it is so important to pass this message along to all of our family & friends. To think that Obama has even the slightest chance in the run for the presidency, is really scary.
Click on the link below: This is the web page for the church Barack Obama belongs to:
If you do not ever forward anything else, please forward this to all your contacts...this is very scary to think of what lies ahead of us here in our own United States...better heed this and pray about it and share it. We checked this out on ''. It is factual. Check for yourself
Who is Barack Obama?
Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu , Hawaii , to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black MUSLIM from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white ATHIEST from Wichita , Kansas . Obama's parents met at the University of Hawaii . When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father returned to Kenya . His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a RADICAL Muslim from Indonesia.? When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocated to Indonesia . Obama attended a MUSLIM school in Jakarta. He also spent two years in a Catholic school.
Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he isa Muslim. He is quick to point out that, 'He was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school...
Since it is politically expedient to be a CHRISTIAN when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background. ALSO, keep in mind that when he was sworn into office he DID NOT use the Holy Bible, but instead the Koran.
Let us all remain alert concerning Obama's expected presidential candidacy..
The Muslims have said they plan on destroying the US from the inside out, what better way to start than at the highest level - through the President of the United States, one of their own!!!!
Please forward to everyone you know. Would you want this man leading our country?...... NOT ME!!!

The reference is an especially slimy tactic. It says, "Check for yourself." So I did. If you actually go to ( a fact checking website) you will discover, not surprisingly, that at least two of the letter's key assertions are outright lies: first, Obama was not sworn in on the Koran, and second, he is not a Muslim. As for the rest of the letter, only says that there are "multiple truths and untruths" represented there. So much for fact checking.

Not content with unearthing these cancerous assertions, I decided to also visit the Trinity Unitied Church of Christ website and do some poking around for myself. While it's certainly true that the church is a "black" church with an African orientation, it is also decidedly not Muslim. It is in its own words "unapologetically Christian" and Christ-centered. The words "Christ" and "Jesus" appear everywhere you look. Nowhere in my reading did I find a single use of the word Muslim.
Lastly, I decided to email the church myself and see what they had to say for themselves. It's strange how little time we devote to going straight to the source as opposed to endlessly triangulating information and sources...keeping the wingnuts and the pundits busy and the public permanently distracted. I asked the folks at TUCC if they had racial criteria for membership in their congregation and whether or not their congregation was racially mixed. Here's the reply I received this evening from Trinity United Church of Christ:

Thank you for your interest in Trinity United Church of Christ and for your consideration of our member, Sen. Barack Obama, in the Democratic primary election. Due to the high volume of emails and inquiries, we are unable to respond to each one personally. We were overwhelmed with "hits" after Senator Obama's historic victory in the Iowa democratic caucus.

Barack Obama has been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ for nearly two decades. As a young community organizer, new to Chicago, Barack met with Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Trinity's Senior Pastor, seeking advice. He received good counsel about the complexities of life in Chicago and the challenges faced by residents in poor communities like South Chicago's Altgeld Gardens.
The United Church of Christ (, Trinity's denominational affiliation, is "a community of faith that seeks to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed." It was founded in 1957 through the union of several different Christian traditions. Not only does Trinity not exclude anyone from membership or attendance based on race or ethnicity, but:
The majority of UCC members are white; the conference minister of the Illinois Conference of the UCC (Rev. Jane Fisler Hoffman) and her husband (both white) are members of Trinity (You can watch a video of Rev. Hoffman speaking at Trinity about her positive experiences there.); Trinity has been instrumental in working with and lending financial and staff support to the development of new UCC churches in Gary, IN (with the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the UCC, Milwaukee, WI (with the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC), and Benton Harbor, MI (with the Michigan Conference of the UCC). There is no anti-American sentiment in the theology or the practice of Trinity United Church of Christ. To be sure, there is prophetic preaching against oppression, racism and other evils that would deny the American ideal. Trinity is "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian."
Trinity was founded in 1961 and had 87 families when Dr. Wright started his tenure in 1972. Currently, as Dr. Wright anticipates a 2008 retirement, there are more than 8,000 members, 70 ministries, and three Sunday worship services. You and your family can watch these services online at 7:30am, 11:00am and 6:00pm CST.
If you require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact Senator Obama's office:
Mr. Robert Gibbs
Phone: 312-282-3172
Yours in Christ!

Sound like a real racist, jihadist, anti-american bunch don't they?
Honestly, I wish Obama did not belong to this or any other church, Christian or otherwise, since I view the influence of religion in politics today to be detrimental to the search for sound public policy and the preservation of our core freedoms. My sense of Obama is that he is not slavish to the teachings of this church, and that he keeps his own counsel, and that he is not a secret operative for Al Quaida. I hope that is true of the other candidates as well.
You don't have to like Obama or vote for him, but you should call bullshit whenever you hear it. That's our civic duty.
This is bullshit.
p.s. - please pass this around if you like

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

what are you looking for?

Yesterday a friend of mine complained to me that he wanted to vote for Obama over Clinton but he felt Clinton had more specific proposals, more details. This meme seems to be fairly widespread, and I wonder sometimes how deep our desire for details really goes. Do you really have a detailed and wonkish set of policy criteria, and does your vote go, therefore, to the candidate whose positions match up most neatly with yours? It seems to me that other factors have to not only come into play but even be decisive. Here's a quote that I quite agree with - it's from an anonymous reader on Andrew Sullivan's blog The Daily Dish.
You’re right to note that Obama, too, "has plans," but frankly, when it comes to electing a president, I don’t care so much about that. Congress will have a legislative agenda, and they will (or they won’t) implement it. The president’s agenda too often is set by someone else, like al-Qaeda. And when that time comes, I want a measured, principled, reflective president with a rigorous intellect who will capably work with people on either side of the aisle to ensure that the right decisions are made. What I don't want is a partisan warrior for whom political power and public service have become all but indistinguishable. That’s why I’m backing Obama. It’s also why I’ll make McCain the first Republican ever to get my presidential vote if the race comes down to him and Senator Clinton.
Speaking personally, I'm thinking that choosing a candidate is not entirely a rational process. Which is not to say that I don't subject my political choices to reasoned analysis, I do. Reason helps me construct a map, chart a course, weigh alternative routes, but the non-reasoning part of me has a large say in picking the target destination. The heart wants what it wants. When a candidate or a politician or anyone for that matter succeeds in kindling a non-rational connection with me, it can in many cases trumps policy positions. It has something to do with identification and with intuitions of what is truly good. I'm not suggesting that this is a reliable process, quite the contrary, it feels a bit risky to me. Nevertheless, I am not inclined to act contrary to such promptings when I feel them. That's one of my rules in life, find out if what you feel is real. Obama is someone I'm going to give a chance to disappoint me. I've already sent my first donation.
Which is not to say every election presents an opportunity to fall in love with someone. Sometimes it not about love, it's just about living together.
And then there's this comment from my father in a recent email.
I guess you could say that I have persuaded myself that if Hillary or Obama is elected I will not move to Ireland or Australia.
I know you're reading this, dad, so let me just say that Ireland's gain would be America's loss.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Fighting flat surface disorder (FSD)

Otherwise known as clutter...on tables, counters, floors, bookshelves, pianos, microwave ovens...FSD is a plague.
I'm willing to believe that people's inability to cope with FSD is partly responsible for their going into debt for houses they can't afford and for garages filling up with junk as cars get pushed by necessity to the curbside. Yard sales are a natural outgrowth of FSD, but they do nothing to relieve the problem since the same people who unload stuff at them also frequent them looking for different stuff.
FSD strains marriages sending spouses into rants over the whereabouts of car keys and purses. "I left them right on the coffee table." You look at the coffee table and reach a sobering conclusion. Even it's true (which you doubt...blame and suspicion are part and parcel of FSD) there's no guarantee you'll find them anytime soon. Every time you disturb a pile which you've watched grow with the detached interest of a geologist observing an emergent cinder cone, you risk upsetting the angle of repose and sending catalogs, unopened mail, checkbooks, and tape dispensers cascading to the floor. Worse, if you move things, you lose them. Those of us who live cheek by jowl with FSD know how comfortable we become with knowing that things are buried in plain through obscurity they call it.
FSD stresses entire families by creating chronic crises at home...where are my socks, where's my favorite toy, where's the telephone, the electric bill... How many times have you reconsidered inviting people over dinner after estimating how long it would take to put away everything "temporarily" stored on the dining room table? Isn't kind of quaint to keep calling it a dining table?
Periodically, Beth and I declare war on FSD, employ a kind of scorched earth campaign, get most of the table and counter tops visible for a day or two and then watch morbidly as it all reverts back to its natural state....entropy....clutter.
The solution?...for the denialists like us it is simple. More shelves.
So here's what I did this weekend...Beth drew it and I built it. See the clutter on the desk (reduced greatly by our need to install the shelf unit). See the empty shelves above. Imagine the transformation.

Beth's genius is to turn our improvised and shoestring projects into opportunities for transformations of other kinds. It's never just about function. Some flat surfaces are not a field upon which our neuroses inevitably play themselves out. Some surfaces become the tabla rasa upon which we envision and project a more beautiful world...

it helps when they are vertical surfaces, of course.
ps. among the flamingo's many attributes are it's long and graceful legs (not unlike Beth's I might add) with enable it to step lightly and precisely over the clutter below in search of whatever it imagines it is looking for at the moment.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


I guess the weather here has hit the news wire services overseas because I got an email from Francis, my former colleague in France, asking if everything was okay here. The short answer is yes but there was some excitement around here.
When we were in southwest France last year, the big weather event that got people's attention was called a tempete something approaching hurricane like winds in the coastal areas. Here we don't get hurricanes but the wind does blow once in awhile and when it mixes frigid temperatures and snow, well that's a blizzard. We had one day of school canceled due to blowing snow (not falling snow) that drifted over roads, cars, you name it. We had another day where Tess and I walked to school with a forty mph wind at our backs. We got there in record time needless to say.
During that day many very big trees fell - here's another (actually from the previous day)- and some roofs blew off ...all that happened while we were in school that day. The lights flickered a few times; I could tell the kids were praying for a blackout but we rode it out though one of my students did get a cell phone message from her mother saying a tree had fallen on their house. When the girl asked her mom if she should come home, her mom said that it wasn't serious.
Cell phones...sigh...

Friday, January 04, 2008

People get ready

I'm a registered Republican from the Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield, and Bob Packwood (good Bob not bad Bob) wing of the party. I voted for Reagan, though that was the last time voted Republican in a presidential election. I've kept my Republican registration in the hopes that someone would come along who could represent the values of liberty and justice. I've just about given up on that one, though I respect McCain as an individual.
Last night I watched Obama's victory speech in Iowa. I was all alone in my classroom. It was late in the evening. I stood there with my arms folded and I said to myself as he began, "Ok Obama, let's see what you've got."
Let me say that I'll confess to having a soft spot for anyone with a real feel for language. He's got the gift. In this class of candidates he is without peer when it comes to shaping a message in front of a live audience. But having said all that, what I most remember about listening to him last night was the way he made me feel. I felt proud to see this man represent so clearly and so honorably America and american values. I felt a little thrill in my bones that I haven't felt since...well, I'm not sure I have felt it since I was a registered voter. That thrill came, I think from a sense that he was speaking to just to his supporters in Iowa, nor just to his party; rather, he seemed to be talking to us.
It's been a long time since I felt viscerally that sense of us. I'm willing to appear a bit foolish to those who fancy themselves as realists and just say that buying into Obama's message of hope is not naive, it may well be the only way out of the mess we're in. Something important and essential has been lost that needs recovering.

Listen to what he says about hope. It's not the moon-eyed variety of hope that we associate with the 60's; it's not the hucksterish populism of class warfare; it's not impersonal ideology either. He strikes me as someone who knows how to roll up his sleeves and work hard while keeping his eyes locked firmly on those ideals that should define us and bind us to one another.
I know there's still a long way to go, but his speech last night was for me a memorable moment.

I'm officially off the sidelines. People get ready.


ps- one year ago I was in France teaching at Lycee Nord Bassin. I remember my colleagues there being intrigued by the phenomenon of a woman and an african-american dueling for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party. When I told them that I could imagine Americans voting for a black man for president, I saw mostly surprised and skeptical expressions. One can hardly fault them for that reaction, since it was not unknown in american circles at that time either. I'm pleased that somehow we as a nation and a society still maybe have to the capacity to surprise others and ourselves in a good way.

New Years in Cove

We decided to travel over the break after all...15 miles to Cove. We house sat for friends who were traveling even further. They live on several acres on the slopes of Mount Fanny. A 2.5 acre parcel of this land is actually what we've been talking about trying to buy. You can see the old barn, a spring and some cherry trees.

Our friends have an old farmhouse that's been fixed up and added on to, full of interesting little hiding places and cubby holes.

They have chickens and a rabbit too. Each morning the kids went to look for eggs, and they always came back with something. We played in the snow, read books, and had Meg and Chris and their two kids, Edan and Emily, over for New Years Eve.

We surprised the kids, sort of, with home made robes, crowns, swords and shields.

The most fun thing of all by universal acclaim was the hot tub on the back deck. We all took a soak at least three times each day.

At night you could see millions of stars; during the day, birds came to feed at the many nearby feeders.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

air pollution in LA...oops

Looks like I was wrong in this post about air pollution. A reader writes:
I thought you might want to know that all that pollution you were seeing from Cove is actually blowing dirt. It happens here when we get these heavy winds for days--first it blows off the snow, then it dries out the dirt, then the dirt starts blowing too. We have been eye witnesses to this phenomenon more than once. One time we couldn't even see our barn! Gilbert says the valley topsoil is ending up on Cricket Flat. It is supposed to die down today, and then rain, which will clean things up considerably.
That's not to say La Grande doesn't have an air quality issue; it does. But the photo is evidence of something else altogether. Thanks for keeping me honest!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Tess 2008

This year's model -
Gap toothed (lost another one)

and now she's sporting a bob...

perky, spunky, and, when the mood strikes her, elegant.

Get ready.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

air pollution in LA... Grande that is

We spent the last three days of 2007 in Cove house sitting for friends. I'll blog a little more on that later. On New Years day I took this photo.

Notice the layer of blur running like a jet trail across the foot of the mountains. Our little town of La Grande is nestled somewhere inside that blur.
That's not a problem with the photographer or the camera; rather, it's what they call air pollution. In the winter, when folks (like us) fire up their woodstoves and a temperature inversion hits (not uncommon) this is what you get.
I knew this happened, and I even knew about the data chronicling how bad air quality is here in the winter and during field burning in the summer, but until I took this picture it hadn't really registered viscerally with me.
All I can say is, yikes...gotta do better than this.
Here's a picture taken 24 hours earlier of almost exactly the same area. Notice how clear it can be (if you can take your eyes off of the adorable children that is).

It's interesting how far a 20 minute drive can take you, how it can alter your perspective.