Sunday, January 25, 2009

snow / mixed blessings

After the big Seattle Snow Storm of 2008, during which I felt anxiety-provokingly trapped, even though I could walk to work and around the neighborhood, and could get rides to suburbs in every direction from Seattle (I made it to Bellevue, Des Moines, and Everett), the sign of anything white falling from the sky causes me a moment of panic. I felt it today as flakes started to swirl out of the sky.

Really, it is an unreasonable panic. I've never not made it home because of the snow. I've never gotten in a snow-related traffic incident. I've never had a snow-caused injury or loss. But panics don't often respond to reason. However, two experiences with snow may sway me towards calm rather than calamity next time the weather drops and water vapor starts freezing together into ice crystals. The first is this beautiful thought from a friend, that snow is the gift of winter. It is as though winter realizes that it has left us all with a lot of darkness and bare branches and so snow comes along, glaringly white, reflecting light, and clinging to the trees. It even urges us outside to play when it is really far to cold to venture out without good cause. The weather of winter solves the problems of winter weather to some extent.

Today came my second awakening to the possible beauty of snow. As I was walking to work, I noticed the flakes falling on my gloves were not just clumps of frozen water, as snow sometimes is. Instead, each flake was the intricate symmetrical structure that inspires us to fold and cut paper into elaborate six-sided creations. Some flakes looked like spiderwebs, some like extravagant Stars of David, some like confetti snowflakes, some like furry moth antennae tied together. Each was beautiful. I stared at my hands the whole trip. I held my hands out and up and expected something to fall into them from above for the first time in ages. I was happy for what I caught, I let go of what I missed, I didn't grieve as each flake melted.

When snow falls next and sticks to the roads, I may still curse it. But after today I will use it also as a reminder of being mindful, of nature's intricacies, of heaven's blessings, of light coming in dark times, of being at peace in one place, of neighbor's sharing space, of strangers helping a passer-by whose car got stuck in the slush.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Word from Rebecca

Another bit about the Olympics, this by Rebecca Solnit in Orion Magazine (July/August 2008)

"Bodies in peak condition performing with everything they've got are images of freedom, as are pristine landscapes like Yosemite and the Tetons. But the reality of freedom only exists when these phenomena aren't deployed to cover up other bodies that are cringing, starving, bleeding, or dying, other places that are clearcut, strip-mined, and contaminated. Television coverage of the summer Olympics probably won't cut away from those sleek athletes to the charred bodies of massacred villagers and the anguished faces of young gang-rape victims in Darfur, or the bloodied heads of young monks and uncounted corpses and prisoners in Burma and Tibet. But the associations between the two are crucial to our sense of compassion, and of what it means to be a part of a global community."

Read the whole article here:

Why I Won't Be Watching

Trying to be thoughtful in the sense of thinking deeply and choosing consciously, can make a person something of a jerk. For example, I decided, after watching the documentary "Blue Vinyl" about the production of vinyl siding, to be more assertive in avoiding the use of products that are toxic or contain toxins. But then, whenever I noticed a friend's polished toenails, I both envied and condemned their freedom of mind to have painted nails without a second thought or insidious guilt. Needless to say, a good friend neither envies nor condemns her friends.

Similarly, I've decided to not watch the Beijing Olympics. In fact, I've signed a pledge as a supporter of the U.S. Campaign for Burma ( I thought that it would be a simple step to take since my apartment does not have a television. But my friends and family members have t.v.'s and are quite excited about the Olympics, not without reason. There is a lot of beauty involved in the Olympics-- a lot of talent honed by hard work, community amongst athletes, and barriers overcome by perseverance.

But there are also things that upset me about the Olympics-- the amount of money spent on ceremonies and on television ads, the band-aids to cover up problems that deserve real solutions (bans on driving in Beijing to lessen the city's smog levels; really?), the mask that nations put up to suggest that we're getting along when there is very little true effort to resolve differences between countries, the support for a government that limits its own people's freedoms and supports repressive regimes in other places.

Yet I am not convinced that by not watching, I am making any sort of a difference. I feel more like I am making of myself a nuisance, one who won't spend an evening with friends appreciating what is good about sports, celebrations, China, life. I've come to believe, though, that often there is good amidst the bad but it doesn't mean that we accept what is offered. Instead we push for a better, a more beautiful alternative: playing sports rather than watching, learning about Chinese culture and history in our own communities, or starting conversations about important global issues and the roles we can play as individuals in realizing solutions.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Welcoming Myself Back

I've decided to start recording some thoughts again, if merely because the skill of writing is an important part of literacy (I'm working in education and learning that things that apply to the way I teach kids apply equally (or should) to the ways in which I live, i.e. if I think my kids should be reading and writing for their minds' sakes, I should do the same for my mind's sake).

Also, I may yet have some thoughts or stories worth sharing, even if I'm not living as an expat adventurer. We'll see.

I started by posting an entry from Thanksgiving time (see Produce Story below), but there's more to come. I've been thinking a lot about the production and consumption of stuff and stories surrounding that are in no small supply when you live in the U.S. I'll save that for next time. Also, I've been working with kids, studying composting and Spanish, finally digging in some dirt, and I've just passed the quarter century mark, all of which are things from which musings may arise, desiring to be expressed. Until then, peace.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Stories Speak Louder...

An exerpt from "Saying Grace" by Barbara Kingsolver (in Small Wonder)

Imagine that you come from a large family in which one brother ended up with a whole lot more than the rest of you. Sometimes it happens that way, the luck falling to one guy who didn't do that much to deserve it. Imagine his gorgeous house on a huge tract of forests, rolling hills, and fertile fields. Your other relatives have decent places with smaller yards, but yours is mostly dust. Your lucky brother eats well, he has meat every day-- in fact, let's fact it, he's corpulent, and so are his kids. At your house, meanwhile, things are bad: Your kids cry themselves to sleep on empty stomachs. Your brother must not be able to hear them from the veranda where he dines, because he throws away all the food he can't finish. He will do you this favor: He's made a TV program of himself eating. If you want, you can watch it from your house. But you can't have his food, his house, or the car he drives around in to view his unspoiled foests and majestic purple mountains. The rest of the family has noticied that all his driving is kicking up dust, wrecking not only the edges of his property but also their less pristine backyards and even yours, which was dust to begin with. He's dammed the river to irrigate his fields, so that only a trickle reaches your place, and it's nasty. You're beginning to see that these problems are deep and deadly, that you'll be the first to starve, and the others will follow. The family takes a vote and agrees to do a handful of obvious things that will keep down the dust and clean the water-- all except Fat Brother. He walks away from the table. He says God gave him good land and the right to be greedy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Another Produce Story

After work the other day, I walked to Pike Place Market. One of the highlights of my job, besides the people I work with and the people with whom I work (aka clients and co-workers, respectively), is that I can walk to work from home, to home from work, to Pike Place Market or the waterfront or Elliott Bay or Uwajimaya during my breaks. Lovely.

This day, I wasn't walking just for the joy of walking, though it is and was a joy. No, I needed to buy produce for my contribution to the family Thanksgiving feast, and I hoped to find some that would be local and sustainably grown so that I can one day meet Barbara Kingsolver and Wendell Berry and look them in the eye.

Happily, it being Wednesday, and not quite winter, a few local organic farmers had driven from their farms into the city so that I could ask them what kohlrabi was and how to cook it, how it was different than jicama and turnips, etc. (also, I suppose, so that I could buy the things of which we talked). We also chatted about CSAs, local restaurants buying from local farmers, and if I could volunteer at their farms in exchange for produce. As part of this last thread of conversation came the dreaded question: do you have any experience?

I have a strong interest in farming/gardening, but like my interests baking and backpacking, sewing and working in the non-profit world, I haven't had enough time or get-up to let experience come alongside fascination. Ridiculous as it is to believe that urban gardening can change the world for the better without ever having had an urban garden, I do believe and have not been. One thing about me particularly and people in general that has and will always be true is that we are all blessed with a titch of the ridiculous.

Ashamedly, I told the man I didn't have any experience to offer him. And a wondrous thing happened: he reacted with excitement, saying there's nothing better than watching someone experience for the first time the seed-to-plant miracle that is farming. My source of shame became something to be celebrated, my inexperience became a gift; I would not be a burden to be dealt with but would come with an offering, with new eyes that could remind the experienced ones how fantastic everything was before it became just familiar.

Is this something we can offer to each other more often? Can we learn to rejoice in things that the world has taught us to regret or to snub: hopefulness when cynicism proves how much we know about how the world works; the ability to be at peace with rest when being busy proves how useful and popular we are; generosity when resources are tight and best hoarded; a gray understanding when black and white are so much easier to live in?


Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Wonder, post-script

I am not entirely sure that people will be as struck as I by the co-op man's quote, so I was happy to have run across this quote the other day and am happy now to share it with you, my one or two blog readers. It is from Mother Teresa, whose profundity is undebateable, and seems to express the same sentiment that I appreciated in the other words:

"God doesn't ask us to win. He asks us to try."

So, there it is, my second shout-out to trying-- to the fact that it is important to _______ (e.g. to recycle, speak, smile, walk) no matter how many times people tell you what you already know (e.g. that saving that one can isn't going to make a difference in the grand scheme of things). I'm nearly convinced now myself.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The wonder of co-ops

"One wonder?" you wonder. "How could she choose just one to celebrate?"

Really, I'm just saving other wonders for other days, although I'll give a little shout out right now to the joy of shopping in a bulk section and scooping your own flour/spice/snack/tea from a bin amongst an excitingly vast row of bins. Today, though, I'm going to focus on the wonder of who you'll meet in a Madison Market or PCC, that you maybe wouldn't meet at a Safeway or QFC, and what inspiring words said person might say...

The other day, I stopped by a store (indeed, a co-op) to pick up some fruit, etc. to restock my various food shelves (p.s. I'm trying to buy new edibles only as I eat the old-- not an easy thing to do turns out; sometimes you want a new box (or bulk-foods bag, as the case may be) of cereal before you finish what you have).

After wandering a while and sampling some soup, I ended up standing in the produce section, weighing and weighed down by my options, desires, and knowledge. I really wanted apples, they being my favorite food, and maybe my favorite fruit (I have yet to be convinced that if they are the one, they must be the other...). This being the U.S., land of endless choice, there were many varieties available-- some more local, others more tasty, some more organic, others more pricey. I wanted the Braeburn, but also have the character flaw (common, I think, among many of us) of being drawn to the cheapest grocery option. I knew buying organic was important for the land where the apples were grown (and maybe, but less importantly, better for my own health), but buying local would lessen my ever-oversized, much-talked-about carbon footprint. What was I to do?

The point of this story is not that I ended up getting local (yay!), organic (yay!) Granny Smith (hmm...), but that while I stood there pondering, I noticed another shopper also staring heavily at apples. I made eye contact and he said doggedly, humorously, and profoundly, "I'm just trying to do the right thing."

In retrospect, I think he meant he was trying to shop according to his wife's wishes-- to pick out apples that she'd like. But I was so struck by the simple fact expressed in that moment that it is a burden to know what the right thing is and then to convince yourself that it is worth doing; it is comicly ironic that doing the right thing is so damn hard; and it is profound that people keep trying to do the right thing, in matters as small as apple-buying, in spite of the challenges leveled against them.

Anyway, I am encouraged several weeks later when I think of this man and his attempt at choosing rightly, his self-grace at knowing he might choose wrongly despite his efforts, and his choosing to go on as best he could. May we all do the same.


O thing that consoles.
How clumsily I thank you.
~Everett (The Brothers K)


God is a gift giver. I stupidly keep forgetting and needing reminders, and receiving them, undeservedly.