Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav - Day 2

This post is not meant, in any way, to contradict what I wrote yesterday.

Can we get a grip?

We have evacuated the cities. Early. Every hour, wheels go up on flights; trains rush in and out of the stations; the highways carry lanes of orderly escapees; and buses pick up at check points. Hell, one guy was wheeling his bag down some random sidewalk (you must have really screwed up if your girlfriend kicks you out with a hurricane bearing down), and a bus picked him up. EMS units have come from all over the country. Reporters are holed up on fortified hotels, and Anderson “keepin’ em honest” Cooper is on air in a sweater to show that he sacrificed his weekend for the cause. FEMA is in their element, following well-documented plans, well-documented during press conferences.

The Republicans are making good use of their sensitivity training by crushing the profile of their convention:

“We cannot be seen to be partying while our countrymen are suffering!”
“President Bush will not make an appearance at the convention as the Gulf Coast is his top priority. He will be in Austin, TX monitoring conditions”
“Vice-President Cheney will not make an appearance at the convention as the Gulf Coast is his top priority. He will be in Georgia monitoring conditions. No, the country, not the state.”
(Senator McCain breathes a sigh of relief.)

We are so on it, this time, doing all the things we should have done in preparation for Katrina.

Makes me proud.

But we never seem to be able to stop the pendulum from swing wayyyy out the other side.

The storm certainly damaged the Caribbean, but is there really enough for a CNN 2-HOUR Special? Scratch that. Little else has filled our news channels since yesterday.

Maybe we could just ratchet it down a hair, and people will still take the call to evacuate seriously next time. After all, the gods have a way of catching us unawares.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Exit: Stage Left

People of the Gulf (this means you, too, New Orleans):

I completely understand the desire to hold on, and protect what is yours. I also understand your skepticism in the face of droning governmental warnings and high-tension media hype about approaching storms that never arrive. And, if you have lived through such prognostication for decades, you’ll see my skepticism, and raise me a “get off my lawn!” I get it.

But you people need to get out of town. Now.

Category 4 Hurricane Gustav is spinning toward a gulf near you, and he has already bitch-slapped the Caribbean at Category 1. If he’s anything like his sister, Katrina, you all need to listen to that New Orleans mayor – yes, the one who veers from passion to political within a sentence – and evacuate. Take the buses. Take the trains. Take the cars (yes, even with these gas prices). Go to a shelter. Go see a friend. Go see your aunt. Come see me – I have a spare bedroom. If you go, the worst that can happen is you spend the Labor Day Holiday with strangers – or, even someone outside of your family. If you stay, the worst that can happen is that I see your dead carcass floating by Anderson Cooper’s canoe on national TV.

Sue me, if I speak from a selfish point of view. I just cannot stand another disaster, where people suffer because we all just didn’t get our act together. They say we learned from the last one, that we have implemented better evacuation procedures, better shelter facilities, and better communications. Arkansas has EMS units lined up to take evacuated hospital patients to safety. I believe them. I don’t think they could repeat the travesty of Katrina if they created a special commission. Oh, wait …


Go, people, go. Run away. Save yourselves. Even if you survived the last one on Ring Dings® and hot Gatorade® in your attic. Secure your stuff. Board up your windows. Grab your Granny. Screw waiting on a bridge for the cavalry to bring water. No waiting around for Loot Night. And, you tourists: no drinking it out in the French Quarter. There is no such thing as Disas-tourism. Just, go. And, for God’s sake, take your pets! No more already-traumatized children crying for their dogs. Go. Please. For me.

Except you folks in the bayous. You take better care of yourselves than we ever could. But, before you fade up river, could you help out those old ladies stuck in the Chrysler 300?


Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I love theater.

Denied for eight years, and nursing fears – by necessity – that four more years of denial lurk in the tunnel, the Democrats are putting hurt feelings, bruised egos, nurtured ambitions and animosities in the strong box. Nomination by acclamation? Presto! We are family.

We are family. We are that family that loves and fights, splits and reunites, cracks under the pressure and spackles over. We are the wounded that want to heal, the disgusted that want to believe, and the failed who want to rise again. We are the ones who know what the right thing is, and while we don’t want to wait for it, do so anyway. We are the dreamers who just won’t stop believing.

Tonight, Joe Biden accepted his nomination for Vice-Presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, and I was thrilled again. It wasn’t his speech. Yes, it was filled with dreams and promises – the stuff of campaigns. He praised both the winners and the losers of this election cycle. He castigated the opposition (certainly not harshly enough for the barking pundits). He evoked the golden wisdom of the past and the brightness of the future. All that was nice, but it was not what touched me.

What came through for me was the family. And, not just his family, but our family. Yes, his love for his wife and children were in the forefront. His anecdotes of his mother (teary-eyed in the audience) made we want to invite her to lunch. But it was after he waited (a bit awkwardly) on stage for Barack Obama’s “surprise” appearance, and his kids and grandkids flooded the stage, that I saw that what he was really talking about is our family: our dreams, our efforts, our struggles, our “rising up” to step back on the good path.

As Joe Biden said tonight: "We fall down, and we get back up again.” Together. And, that's worth reaching for.

Say, was that Keenan from Keenan & Kel in the crowd?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back to School

I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind,
Got my paper, and I was free.
-- Indigo Girls

Villanova Cathedral

I always thought that line of the song a bit sad. You invest all that effort and time in higher education, and your prize, your end goal, is the piece of paper you receive at the end, not all the things you were supposed to have learned along the way. I get it – this society rewards credentials, sometimes regardless of the associated knowledge, experience and expertise gained – I just don’t like it. Universities certainly get it. There are accelerated degrees, FastForward courses, all designed to get that piece of paper in your hand with the least time and most palatable expense. I took an accelerated course once. Loved the content, hated the schedule. It was literary foie gras.

ANYWAY, I’m back to school for another semester. I resisted for a long time for different reasons, but changed my mind a few years ago. At part-time, I still have a few YEARS to go, but I find I do not really mind. In fact, I like it very much. My peers are a mixture of young, bored expectation, and older nervous and/or intense expectation. We all bring our own perspectives, opinions and desires. I am always quite entertained.

My professors remind me that it takes a unique individual to teach. Who goes into that (at least in the beginning) without the best of intentions? I find their personalities varied, quirky, strong and passionate (maybe I am lucky in this), and as fascinating as their content. This semester I am studying Revolutionary and Federal America, which in lesser hands could be dismal. Luckily, one of my favorite professors (because he relates things that agitate me) teaches. Also, I am tackling Basic Drawing. That would be "tackling", since I have not attended an art class in … well, a while. To say that my art professor is quirky is like saying that Robin Williams is high-strung. I hope she is also patience as my geometric shapes and blind sketches of a cow skull are not impressive.

More to come …

Monday, August 25, 2008


Call me naive.

C’mon, you know you want to.

I am an unrepentant liberal. I support the Democratic Party – even after all these years. I know the errors, missteps, foibles, hypocrisies, misdirection, crimes and misdemeanors, on both sides. Or on all three or four sides. I know that no one can solve all our problems. I know that some cannot solve any of the problems. I know that politicians lie and fail and fall, and that their failures are no more surprising than anyone else’s, but just more obvious. I know that some will say anything to obtain the power that politicians wield in this country. I know that some will do anything to hold onto that power. Lie, cheat, steal, murder, launch wars – anything.

But, I also know that this country has fallen into a hole. It’s not the first time that we have fallen, and cannot be the last. But this fall is during my time of awareness, and it stings. I am appalled and embarrassed. I am outraged, and truly believed that the damage the current President and his administration have done to this country – to the reputation of this country –cannot be allowed to stand. We have held ourselves up as the beacon of light in the world, and in spite of the social and political hypocrisy we have ignored when looking in the mirror (slavery, genocide, racism, sexism, class-ism, McCarthyism – all in the land of the free) I believe that at our best, we shine that light. At our best, we reach out a hand and shine a light.

Our light has faded in the past few years, and I want it back. Stronger, unequivocally, and “truly”.

So, I hope. I hope that Barack Obama, Joe Biden and all the people they gather to accomplish what they want and have promised, will be able to realize a fraction of their vision. I hope that politics and cynicism will step aside for a time. I hope that both sides of the aisle will look up and see that some goals (health care, economic security, environmental concerns, human rights, and international relations) are worth cooperation across the conference table. I hope that we can focus on 2009, instead of waiting and plotting for 2012.

We have so much to do, and, are so far down in this hole that I can’t look at what Barack Obama has done, but only what he will do. I will add my voice, my attention and my strength to his because I believe that he and his truly want to rise and do better for me and mine. And yours. I believe that hope and optimism cannot be worse that cynicism and greed. I believe that anyone who is willing to stand up and put forth a vision for a better day deserves a chance to rise or fall on their own muscle.

Call me naive. Then tell me what my alternative is.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Skoog Farm Cook Off

Lori Skoog of the Skoog Farm Journal has a farm with horses, flowers, vegetable and organic garlic. Nice: I like garlic, and my mother loves garlic. One day, she posted a photo of her husband surrounded by strings of these plump garlic heads, and I was sold.

“Lori,” I wrote, “let me buy some of that garlic – two bags, and how about some red onions too?”

I sent the check, and shortly thereafter I received a sturdy, wrapped box with ton of beautiful cream-colored garlic and ruby red onions (I posted a picture to show Lori that her goods had arrived). I divided the spoils with my mother and niece. A heap remained, and two words came to mind: Cook off.

At work, the people on my team run from meeting to meeting all day long, and rarely have time to stop and commune. Why not have a cook off with some of Lori’s goods?

So, today we did.

Thanks to all who cooked, ate, judged and provided conversation for the Skoog Farm Cook Off!

And, the winners are:

Overall Superiority in Culinary Delight:

T1’s Romaine Salad with Red Onions Walnuts and Orange Vinaigrette

Honorable Chef's Table:

J’s Salsa

A1’s Beef and Beer

A2’s Corn Salsa

Also Delicious:

T2’s Hot Salsa

J’s Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Onion Hummus

K's Bruschetta

My Shrimp, Garlic and Feta Cheese Stuffed Tomatoes

Lori’s garlic and onions received rave reviews for quality and freshness.

But, I’m keeping the rest for myself.
Thanks again for the food and the fun!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cross my heart/Hope to die/Stick a needle in my eye

I was seeing these distortions in the vision of my right eye, so I dutifully went to pay tribute to the god of Ophthalmology. He accepted my $25 sacrifice – I mean co-pay, and (probably because I did not show the proper level of reverence) sent me to the god of Retinology. He, too, accepted my $25, prodded my eye, dyed my eye, blinded my with holy lights, and told me to come back in two weeks with another tribute, at which time he would stab me in the eye with a needle.

“Are you crazy?” I asked, risking heaven’s wrath.
“Everyone asks me that, but they usually also turn shades of green. You didn’t do that. You must be tough.”
“Yeah. I laugh at needles in my eye.”
“Don’t worry. You won’t even see it coming.”
“I don’t care about seeing it; I don’t want to feel it.”
“Oh, we’ll numb the eye.”

I trust too much.

So, I returned to prostrate myself at the altar. I asked my mother to come with (just in case I could not drive after). Plus, she loves this stuff. We’ll call her Gaia. Gaia picked me up. And, she brought my father. You’d have to meet him to know how great and hilarious that is. I cannot imagine what dark incantations she used to coax him from his realm for this. OK! This was beginning to look like a quest! And, we could do dinner after.

So, we’re in the Retina God’s (big ‘G’, lots of deference for a God with a needle) office, merrily chatting away about his wife’s beautiful paintings that adorn each room, and their garden where he constructs the ponds because she loves fish, and their biking/painting trips to the south of France. Good! Successful Gods are more benevolent, right? He numbs my eyes with sacred drops. I do not see the needle coming. I do not feel it – Yea! Oh, a little bit of pressure there … Hey! Whoa – Oww!

“Sorry to startle you,” he says! STARTLE??? (Geez, I tell a few impertinent jokes, and the god gets all vengeful.)

OK, to be perfectly accurate, he said I would not see it, but he did not quite say that I would not feel it. Only that he would numb the eye. Tricky god (screw the deference). Then he turns to my mother, as if I was eight (OK, I was glaring at him with my one good eye) and says that he had hit a blood vessel, (turns to me), it happens some times, no matter how hard he tries, and the broken vessel would clear in a few days.

“What broken blood vessel?” Mirror. “Oh, that red LAKE in my eye? Think nothing of it.” (I’d post a photo but this is not the Mutter Museum blog.)
“Come back in six weeks, and we’ll do the second treatment.”
“Second - ?”
“Total of three, “ spaketh the demi-god.
“Isn’t modern medicine wonderful?” My mother. (Gee, Gaia, don’t you have some natural disaster to attend to?)

I wore my sunglasses in the restaurant.

Anyone got an eye patch?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mystical Journeys

At a picnic this weekend, Tamesha Hawkins (see video below) was wearing the T-Shirt shown in this photograph. And, I thought, “Good for you,” because it speaks to what lies at the root of so much personal evil. Whatever shape your mystical journey takes (and make no mistake – everyone is on one), there’s always something or someone on the side of the road, waiting to mess with it.

You dream some dream that fits who you are, or who you think you are, or who you want to be. You either painstakingly map, or just stumble upon a path to toward that dream, and go. Hopefully, you are somewhat prepared for a path that will wind through unexpected places, and know that it will likely lead toward destinations that aren’t even on your map. And, hopefully, you are not completely bound to your envisioned path, realizing that dreams – like life – are a journey; that the journey is what you really need; and, that the final destination is where you were suppose to end up all along.

And, along this journey, there are all these unforeseen (and even foreseen) circumstances and situations that rattle you, that make you question your path, and too often, even turn you back for the safety of the familiar “back there”. Then, there are the shiny things (or sort of shiny things) that entice you to abandon the path. They lie right in the middle of the road, twinkling like treasure beneath the X on your map. Hey! Aren’t I pretty? Aren’t I what you were looking for? Pick me up! Yes, that’s it. Yeah – let’s just move over this way …

And, suddenly, you’re in some empty pasture, up to your knees in weeds, trying to remember something about a path.

And, then there are the people who think you are blocking their path, or might be a bit more valuable if you were dedicated to their journey, or might be good for whatever trouble they anticipate up ahead, or just want to mess with you on general, twisted principle. And, there are others who are knowledgeable, with good intentions, and may help you if you ask. But, they are not you, cannot navigate your path, or truly say which branch you should walk.

How to guard and guide our journeys? How to press on through the twists and brambles, conquer the precipices and floods, and overcome the thieves and interlopers? How do we know which shiny bits are true treasure, and when the Emerald City is more than mirage? How do we decide when to leave the path that runs pleasantly across the open field for the one that descends into the dark, unmarked forest?

I don’t know, but I’ll see you on the path.

Picnic Art

This weekend, I attended Ed Shockley's 23rd (or so) Annual Picnic (or Barbeque, if some are sensitive to the word "picnic"). Every year, playwrights, actors, directors, poets, novelists gather to eat, drink, and discuss art/social issues. This year, I met two women writers who (of course) had something to say about their work. I hope you enjoy, and forgive the quality of the video (my first, and if I could just get my big, fat thumb and mouth out of the way ... )

If the music distracts, please mute it at the bottom of the page.

Tamesha S. Hawkins has published her first novel, Sugar Lumps and Black Eyes Blues, and discussed her experiences to-date.

Here's her Amazon link:

Z. Avakian
is about to publish her first book of poetry. Here is a wonderful sample of her work, titled "1915", related to the Armenian Genocide:

Meredith's ankle bears a tattoo of "Justice" in Armenian.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Rumbles, Ruckus and General Rowdiness

Oh my.

I really didn't want to look, but Georgia and Russia keep shouting and throwing things at each other. It sounds like a commercial for the WWE. If they run out of shells, they might start throwing chairs.

Georgia went to crush the separatists because they wanted to … separate, and started killing folks. Russia responded by driving their tanks on Georgia’s lawn – and killing folks. Condoleezza Rice (Russia is her expertise, so why did she let Vlad keep her waiting for 45 minutes?) is on the case, channeling Leona Helmsley, and barking that Russia must leave Georgia Immediately! Bush is waving his … pitchfork. And, French President Sarkozy is accepting the award for Diplomat of the Year, as the only one not talking obvious smack.

I am just amazed at how finely we slice our international relations:

“Invading a sovereign country is unacceptable.”
“But, the US invaded Iraq ...”
“Invading a sovereign European country is unacceptable.”
“Really? Why is that diff – ”
“Oh yessss. Really.”
“Umm … OK …”
“Russia is acting like Cold War Bullies.”
“But …”
“The US stands with Georgia.”
“Georgia wants to know if we are sending any troops.”
“No … our solidarity is more of the spiritual variety. But, Russia must leave immediately!”
“Umm … You already said that, but they’re over in Gori. I’m not sure if they can hear you.”
“We have other tools in our belt. We can isolate them economically.”
“No one else wants to do that.”
“We can boot them out of the G8.”
“No one else supports that either.”
“Bottom line? They really don’t want to mess with US.”

"So, how’s that missile shield coming?”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Skoog Farm Haiku

Box on the doorstep
Skoog Farm garlic and onions
Friends make the best soup

OK, that was truly terrible, but you get my meaning.

Thank you, Lori!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Confluence of Heart & Soul

When do we give up on our dreams?

Is it when we are children, and figure out that our life isn’t THE life- the one dancing just out of reach on TV, in movies, in music, in our heads?

Is it when we are in school, and see that some are better at something than others? Or, when we see others discovering their gifts, while we still can’t truly grasp what a gift is?

Is it when we graduate from college, and take a job, any job, far from the thing we just invested four, five years to fathom?

Is it when we realized that the love we found isn’t love at all? When the mundane eclipses the passion? When the status trumps the bond? When the loneliness is overwhelming?

Is it when we realize that retirement is too far to grasp? When illness is too close to avoid? When death breathes in the ear of a friend, unexpectedly?

Why do we give up our dreams?

Is it the pain we are trying to avoid? All our good intentions, all our invested passion and emotions hung out there for naught? Are we ducking behind a mask of realistic expectations, hoping no one will notice that we have betrayed our own soul?

Why do we do give up? And, why do some not?

Michael Phelps, Garret Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, and Jason Lezak.

Faced with scads of talent and an underdog status, they prepared. Faced with lip from their French competitors, they remained silent. Faced with an Olympic pool and the hopes and dreams of their country, they dove in and swam. Swam like there were sharks on their tail. Swam ahead of the World Record graphical line. Swam until they were dizzy and could barely exit the pool. Swam in the face of the tired, old commentators who doubted them. Swam, in that moment, no for history and legacy, but because they were so damned “tired of losing this race”. Swam beside the best in the world, looking destined for another second place, until Team Captain Lezak, pulled just a bit harder, a bit harder, a bit h– and lunged for the wall, and stunning, cheer/tear-inducing victory.

Why do we give up on that, when it’s always just inches away, in the confluence of heart and soul?

Saturday, August 9, 2008


This is for Lori, regarding my photographic progress. Artists are so tough!!


Walking Ridley Creek today …

These remnants of a stone cabin bring to mind our disposable culture. We do it every day. We leave our waste, our jobs, our families. We pick up and move on. “It’s a healthy thing,” we say. Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. Change is human. There are always new vistas, new challenges, new people, new lives. It’s a flavor of survival of the fittest. That which has grown stale or small cannot endure. And, what of the left behind? It must either prove its worth to new inhabitants, or gather dust and crumble.

This wall stands just outside Ridley Creek. It once was a barn on which a man painted a mural with a dove and the inscription, “Peace on Earth”. Through the 70s and 80s, he changed the mural with the seasons. Spring flowers, summer greens, autumn leaves, winter snows, Christmas Star. He was committed, and everyone looked forward to his changes.

One day, the barn burned down, but this was an artifact that had proven its worth. The community got together and reinforced the wall to ensure that it would not crumble. The wall stood, and the mural continued to change with the seasons.

The man died in the 90s, but someone is refreshing his paint, still.

Sunset on the way home.

Still trying to capture the moon.

Closer …

Almost. O well.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Let the Games Begin!

I love the Olympic opening ceremonies. When the dancers flow, when the fireworks soar, when the teams march, when the colors rise, and when the torch finally bursts into flame, all our good intentions rise and fill the stadium. It is the dawn of the possible, and we know our own names.

Over the next two weeks, we will meet and compete. We will run, jump, swim, sail, fire, dive, flip, lift, throw, shoot, toss, kick, fall, tumble and fly. We will win, lose, cry, and cheer. If we are lucky, we will clasp hands, and forget suddenly, in this time, that we are not one. And, if we are truly lucky, those who watch in-country and around the world, and cheer their team, will forget for a moment too.

Too soon, the Games will end. We will lower our flags and extinguish the torch. We will turn toward our hostilities. We will forget that we found unity in our sweat and tears. We will remember the differences of politics and skin. Those brief, torch-lit moments will fade, and we will see the dividing lines again.

Until the torch flames, in another two years, and our hopes rise.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Random War Narrative

I have a single clear memory of my Uncle Sandy – a childhood flash-memory that I can call to mind: I am a little girl, peering into my brother’s back bedroom. Sandy is visiting us, and wishes me a good night. I can conjure his smile, in a faded movie clip – brief and full and dear.

Uncle Sandy was drafted in the Vietnam War in the 1960s. He was a sailor far from home, and the relative safety of his ship was no comfort. Uncle Sandy wanted to be home, coddled by his family as only the baby of the brood can be. So, he transferred to the USS Benewah because it was scheduled to return to the States. Only, when he arrived home for precious leave, he found that the Benewah was due to return to Vietnam. Ironically, his old ship would have come home permanently long before the Benewah did.

Uncle Sandy feared returning to Vietnam, but his fear was like a fine spider web – cloying, but easily cast off. Until the night he played with a Ouija Board.

In the 60s and 70s, the Ouija Board was a popular parlor game. Two people placed their hands on the heart-shaped indicator, and waiting for it to magically glide over the printed alphabet, or numbers, or a simple Yes or No. Theoretically, astral powers were motivated to reach down, and move the indicator, painstakingly spelling out answers to our most important questions. It was a cheap and treasured peek into the future.

What was really going on? One of the participants would become bored when the damned thing didn’t move, and manipulate the pointer to spell out amusing messages – sometimes, presciently (who else but your best girlfriend would know with whom your husband was sleeping?).

Uncle Sandy asked, “Will my girl say yes when I propose?”
The answer: “No”.

Damn it!

“When will I get married?”
Again: “No”.

(Must have been disconcerting.)

“Will I have a good job when I get out of the Navy?”
“Not coming back.”

For the record, Aunt Valeria was on the other side of that indicator, and she:

1. Doted on her baby brother.
2. Would not have wanted to rattle him
3. Was decidedly not known for practical jokes.

“How will things go in Vietnam?”
“Not coming back.”
“What can I do?”

“Will I have children?”

Uncle Sandy went AWOL. For days.

Aunt Valeria finally talked him into returning, for the sake of his future.

Sandy Rivers sailed up-river on the USS Benewah APB-35 in the Phouc Toy Province. On July 19, 1967, while transferring from a patrol boat to the Benewah, he slipped on the ladder and fell into the black water. He was a good swimmer, but the Viet Cong were everywhere, so turning on the lights to find him was out of the question.

They recovered his body in good light.

About ten years ago, I visited the Vietnam War Memorial with my son, and made a pencil-and-paper impression of Uncle Sandy’s name for my father.

He did not want me to see him cry.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

invisible/other people


Do you see them?

Them – over there.

No, down there.

Poor people. Black people. White people. Brown people. Yellow people. Crippled people. Homeless people. Starving people. Fat people. Ugly people. Crazy people. Old people. The alcoholics. The convicts. The drug addicts. The prostitutes. The slaves. The refugees. The lonely. The dejected. The abused. The sullen. The empty. Unemployed. Underemployed. Uninsured. Disenfranchised. Illegal. Inarticulate. Illiterate.

Not like me. Not like you. Not like us.

Fading, Fading, Fading, Disappeared.

Did you see them?
Me neither.