Tuesday, December 11, 2007

putting it out there

For a while now, I've entertained this vision of finishing and recording at least a few of the dozen or so song fragments that I've begun writing since the demise of RingsEnd in May of 2003. Four and a half years later, I haven't made all that much progress. The number of fragments increases faster than the completed songs. Still, I have managed enough discipline to birth four or five fully-formed tunes with another half-dozen nearing the end of their creative gestation (talk about a long labor).

Anyway, in my original grand master plan, I envisioned myself finishing all of these songs, recording them with exquisitely eclectic arrangements (professional sound quality, of course), and releasing them as a solo album all at once. Needless to say, that hasn't happened. And since I have no idea when that will happen, I've decided to quit being so picky about it. I can polish them later with some studio time: for now, I just want to complete what I've started and get some ideas out there.

To that end, I've uploaded four songs to a site called virb.com. Of the four songs, two are new-ish (written within the past year) and two are a little older. Two are recorded with a little more polish and two are very rough guitar/vocal demos. For a slightly better description, here is the paragraph that I included on my virb page:

The songs on this page are like a bunch of teenagers, all in various stages of development: some of them are young, brand new, a little rough around the edges, barely conscious; others are a little more mature, been around a while...slightly more polished, with just a glimmer of what they potentially (God willing) might become. But none of them have reached "adulthood" yet. I don't like to share parts of songs while I'm writing them - a verse here, a chorus there - but each of these is finished to the degree that it is complete. (N.B. - Don't equate "complete" with any assessment of quality.) And while I suspect there may still be musical or lyrical changes to each at some point in the future, I feel as if maybe it's time to throw them out there while they're still coming of age.

If you want to give it a listen - and I hope you will - here's the site:

P.S. - As a total aside, I just want to state publicly that this blog is lame. I know. It used to sit untouched for days, and now it often goes weeks at a time without a single new word. And I know you're tired of my empty promises to do better...but...maybe in 2008??

Monday, November 19, 2007

outta the way, here comes W.

I am currently sitting in the Richmond airport waiting to board a plane that should have left twenty minutes ago. Travel delays typical of Thanksgiving week, perhaps? Nope. The airport is on lockdown. Looking out the window as I typed the last sentence, I watched Air Force One cruise by on the tarmac with El Presidente aboard. He apparently has decided that Thanksgiving week would be an excellent time to make a quick little jaunt down to Charles City County to visit Berkeley Plantation. Thank the good Lord W. will be on hand to "talk about what we as a nation can be thankful for during Thanksgiving," as one White House spokesman put it. I'll tell you what I WAS thankful for an hour ago, Dubbs: flying on Monday of Thanksgiving week in an attempt to get home in a timely fashion and avoid delays later in the week. Instead, I'm now sitting in a crowd of people who are thrilled - no, really, just THRILLED - that your arrival has meant the delay of thousands of passengers during the busiest travel week of the year, since no one in the airport can move a muscle or look sideways or sneeze while your plane is on the ground.

And now, there goes the Presidential motorcade. Tax dollars hard at work. Anyway, don't mind us - you go enjoy Berkeley Plantation. Take your time. We'll just wait here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

now hear this...

Resting on my blogging laurels again...for a whole month (plus) this time. Whoops.

I seem to remember expressing an intention to post thoughts on a variety of topics a while back. Obviously I have some catching up to do. To begin, a few bits of compelling music that have been using using up my mental bandwidth lately. It’s worth noting that memorable songs tend to pop up with some frequency. But in last few months I’ve come across several albums - both intentionally and by chance - that have lodged themselves in my psyche. I don’t intend for the thoughts below to be comprehensive reviews, rather a collection of impressions about each of these particular albums and artists.

Surprise - Paul Simon
The title couldn’t be more apt. The conversational patter of lyrics and complex intrumental layering are quintessential Paul Simon, as are the unexpected rhythmical accents and shifts that have been keystone’s of his music since “Graceland” and “Rhythm of the Saints.” But this album is...different. First of all, it’s produced by Brian Eno, who is best known for his extensive production work with U2. Eno tends to use a lot of electronica and unexpected sounds to create sonic landscapes. It doesn’t sound like something that would work with Paul Simon’s style at all. But somehow, it does. It’s similar to the way the songs on David Gray’s “White Ladder” mesh perfectly with the electronic undercurrents on that record. But here, it’s more interesting, more in the forefront, more a defining piece of each of the songs without getting in the way of the musical textures and lyrics. For example: in “Everything About It Is a Love Song,” the first verse begins with a loping, syncopated feel. But halfway through the verse, the electronic rhythm pattern kicks in, and suddenly the song has a straight-ahead double-time feel. An unexpected "surprise." Good stuff. One of my favorite lyrical lines comes in that same tune:
A tear drop consists of
electrolytes and salt -
the chemistry of crying
is not concerned with blame or fault

Other album highlights: “How Can You Live in the Northeast?”; “Outrageous”; “Wartime Prayers”.

Emotionalism - The Avett Brothers
Each Avett Brothers album seems better than the one that preceeded it. Without a doubt, there are some real gems on Live Vol. 2, Mignonette, and Four Thieves Gone. But if one looks at the Avett Brothers’ work through the lens of their previous albums, Emotionalism represents a vision coming into focus. The sound is still raw and heart-felt (you never doubt that they mean every word they sing...or scream), but the playing here is just better, the singing is tighter, and the songs are well-crafted and downright catchy. Their melodic lines are the best they’ve ever been, and the album has a consistent feel throughout. I find myself picking through songs on the Avetts’ earlier albums. Definitely not the case here: I love this album as a coherent whole. I love it for its musical and lyrical honesty. I love its inherent melodrama (it IS called “Emotionalism,” after all) and the fact that it somehow manages to feel exposed and vulnerable rather than contrived. In short, I think it's pretty brilliant.
Album highlights: “Die, Die, Die”; “The Weight of Lies”; “Pretty Girl From San Diego”.

Kismet - Jesca Hoop
I came across this album by accident, and now I can’t even remember how. Was it an Amazon.com recommendation? An iTunes highlight? Did I read about it while searching for info on another artist? I honestly can’t remember. But I’m glad I found it. Jesca Hoop grew up Mormon in Northern California, broke away from her family tradition, and lived in the Wyoming wilderness before coming back to California and working as a nanny for Tom Waits’ kids. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up. Kismet is a quirky album. There are several different styles and genres going on here, all of which make sense when you read Jesca’s myriad musical influences. In the first few seconds of “Summertime” (the first track), one has the sense that this might be another cheesy pop album. And then, something happens. I’m not sure what. It builds. There’s a hint of opening and widening. She sings variations on the syllable “la” in a way that, for me at least, conjures images of running and African grasslands. I have no idea why. And just as I begin to get used to the feel, to come to terms with it, there’s a totally unexpected chordal shift. Abrupt without sounding ridiculous. The whole album is inexplicable like that. Songs morph from one genre to the next, but they’re all connected by an intricacy that is perpetually unexpected and refreshing. Interestingly, the best song on the album is the last. The first time I heard “Love and Love Again,” I said out loud (to no one) at the end of the song, “Oh my God, that’s really good.” And I went back to the beginning of the song. Three times. The melody line is so well written it sounds as if it would be right at home as a musical theater ballad. In fact, it conjures the same sensation that one gets when watching a play, the sensation that the too-perfect backdrop and too-convenient love story and too-perfect timing just might be real in some parallel universe. And this is the theme song for that parallel universe.
Album highlights: “Enemy”; “Love Is All We Have”; “Havoc In Heaven”; “Love and Love Again”

Friday, October 05, 2007

remembering eleanor, remembering the south

As promised, despite the maelstrom of activity swirling around eating up the hours of my days, one of the topics that currently warrants the most attention in this forum (albeit a bit belatedly) is the passing of my grandmother a few weeks ago at the ripe old age of 93. My August vacation didn't begin the way I'd planned after I cut my foot on the oyster beds and subsequently hobbled around for the next four or five days. Likewise, it ended differently than I'd anticipated as we made the five hour drive from St. George Island up to Selma, Alabama, for my grandmother's funeral.

I could provide a blow-by-blow description of the familial activities and the service itself, but I don't think it would do justice to the experience. I was more struck by the abstract facets of this visit than the concrete. To explain: I've been away from the Deep South for a long time now, longer than I'd realized. While the memory of it is familiar to my conscious mind, the experience of it is an entirely different being altogether. I sensed in myself a very definite internal response to being in that part of the country...largely because of its familiarity to me, but also because of some inherent, undefinable quality that belongs to the land and the people there. It would be only partially accurate to call it an emotional response, or a spiritual response. The word that comes to mind is from my high school Latin class: "animus." It is a word that means mind and spirit and consciousness and being, all in one. Finding yourself in Selma, Alabama, in late August (or any time of year, really...but especially summer) is not just a different experience or way of feeling or way of thinking. It is an entirely different mode of being altogether.

People tell stories about the past. They talk about people they knew and knew about, and the ways those people were interconnected. This practice obviously is not unique to the South, but I think the method of doing so may be. These stories are told with the same wide-eyed enthusiasm and charisma one would expect from a children's fairy tale or a campfire ghost story. It's a consequence of inflection, an unconscious rise and fall of the voice, a slowing or quickening of the words at just the right time. It isn't affected...it's just the way things are done. The brilliant thing about it is that it is unintentional, off-the-cuff, and universal - it seems as if everyone is capable of this feat, as if the ability to be a storyteller is just another genetically defined trait like green eyes or tan skin. (N.B. - I'm reluctant even to point this out. Much like the "observer effect" in physics, I fear that, in shining a light on this phenomenon, I will somehow change it in the process.) Even the stories themselves have a mythical quality to them. There is a sense that they don't even belong to the world in which we live, to this culture or this time period, but to some parallel universe that is often richer, darker, more mysterious. Is it any wonder that when I read Flannery O'Connor's short stories in college, they never seemed to be too bizarre, too gothic, too far afield?

So, on a thick, muggy August afternoon, I found myself in suit pants and rolled shirt sleeves standing with my family in Selma's Live Oak Cemetery, shovel in hand, sweating through my clothes despite the shade of enormous two-hundred-year-old oak trees. We - my parents, my cousin, my uncles, my aunt...even my grandparents' housekeeper (as much a member of the family as any blood kin) - we turned shovels full of red-clay earth on top of the ashes of both my grandparents as we sang "I'll Fly Away" and "Amazing Grace." Acapella. In harmony.

The experience was so vastly different from day-to-day life in Richmond. Simultaneously (paradoxically?), there was a strange sense of it being more familiar, more directly linked to the essence of my animus. The line between the mythology of the Deep South and the mythology of my grandparents has always been blurry and shifting for me. It's like trying to define the point at which the ocean meets the land. It changes every second. Eventually you stop trying to pin it down and begin to regard that liminal space and the regions it separates as components of a single, unified landscape. Such was the case as the physicality of my grandparents was fused - quite literally - with the land that sustained sustained them and the culture that defined them.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

it wouldn't be fall if there were no football

Just before the kickoff of the Auburn vs. Florida game in The Swamp, Lou Holtz had this to say (in his crazed, increasingly senile mode of shouting at the camera) about unranked Auburn's chances against #4 ranked Florida:

Lou Holtz: "[Florida] will be totally focused, the fans will be excited...and they will win BIG."

Scott Van Pelt: "Any chance that Auburn - I mean, we've seen that upsets happen - is there any chance in your mind that Auburn gets it together in this game?"

Lou Holtz: "I think about the same chance of me being senator of Florida....It isn't going to happen, it isn't going to be close."

I've got two words for you, Lou: EAT IT.

After a 14-0 lead at halftime (yes, that's right Lou - Florida DIDN'T SCORE in the first half), Auburn managed to hang tough the whole game, even after losing Quentin Groves to a foot injury. Tied at 17 with three seconds to go, Wes Byrum - a true freshman - knocks down a 43-yard field goal to win the game for Auburn. And he does it not once, but TWICE, after Urban Meyer calls a clever (but kind of cheap) timeout right before the snap of the first kick.

Yes, Wes - you can Gator-chomp at the Florida fans all you like. You earned it. War Eagle!

Friday, September 21, 2007

next topic, please

My nasty foot has been on the front page of my blog for long enough. Gross. It's much better now, having healed very cleanly from the mess that it was. Thank God it's been captured forever in digital format and paraded like some freakish spectacle for almost a month on this page - I'm certain you've all been enraptured by it for weeks.

There is, of course, far more to report than I have the energy to write at the moment. Hopefully, upcoming posts will include stories and pictures of the shed that my dad and I are building in my back yard (really more a small house - you'll see), my thoughts on Paul Simon's most recent album (released May 2006), and an homage to my recently deceased grandmother, who passed away at the ripe old age of 93 last month. Just a smattering of the happenings around here, but that's the way it goes in September. Never a dull (or spare) moment.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

beware the oyster beds

OK, so...this is not exactly the way I'd planned to start my vacation.

I like to think of the Gulf coast of Florida as a second home. I've been coming down here in the summers since birth, and my parents live here full time now. I know the land, I know the waters, I know how to fish and how hot and humid the weather really gets. In short, I may be on vacation, but I'm no tourist: I know how to live in this place. That being said, I may as well have been wearing plaid shorts, long white socks, brown loafers and a big stripe of white zinc oxide across my nose yesterday while fishing with my dad. The afternoon went like this:

Dad and I are out in the bay in our 19-foot Mako, fishing our third spot in as many hours. This particular spot is called Dry Bar, a very shallow (1-3 feet deep) bit of water over oyster beds surrounding a narrow, dry strip of sand bar. It often serves as a feeding place for speckled trout (and the occasional shark, but that's neither here nor there). As we anchor, I come around to the back of the boat, where the sides are low. With my back to the side of the boat, I place my rod in the holder and reach up for a loose piece of fishing line that has spun off another reel and into the water behind the boat. A wave rocks the boat suddenly, causing the side of the boat to clip the backs of my knees and seat me quickly on the edge. I instictively pull the line in my hand, but it's not taut. There's nothing to grab onto. My sudden movement - along with the rock of the boat - sends me tumbling over the side into the water. It's less than two feet deep. As my feet splash down, my right foot lands on sandy bottom, a single oyster shell near my toe. My left foot is not so lucky. It crashes down at an angle onto a pile of oyster shells. Initially, I think I've scraped the top of my foot - annoying, but not serious. I float to the front of the boat and hoist myself up by the bar around the bow. I swing into the boat and look down as my feet hit the floor. Expecting to see the equivalent of a skinned knee, I am surprised by the flow of blood and water off of my foot that reveals a jagged line of splayed skin almost three inches long. It's deep. I see a tiny piece of something shiny, which I later learn is the tendon to my pinky toe (not cut, luckily).

Dad is calm about the whole ordeal, as he always is (as long as the blood is not his own). On the boat ride back to the house, I clutch a towel over the wound as we weigh our options. There's the possibility of having Dad sew it up in our living room using regular needle and thread, a thought to which we give considerable attention. But we eventually decide that ice cubes and tequila shots are probably not adequate for anesthesia in this case. Instead, we pick up my Mom at work and make the half-hour drive to the Weems Memorial Hospital Emergency Room across the bay in Apalachicola. It takes eleven creative stitches to close the wound tight. The doctor does a phenomenal job, an artistic masterpiece given the ragged edges I'd presented as his canvas.

I admit, I feel foolish about the whole thing. I'd just taken off my Crocs five minutes before I fell in. I'd had them on all day, and if I had kept them on, they would have shielded my feet against the shells. But beyond that, the heart of the issue is the fact that I've grown up in and around the water my whole life...who falls out of an anchored boat? Even the most land-locked turista can stand in a floating structure without falling into the water, right? I feel like the pale guy who falls asleep in the sun and becomes the object of muffled snickers by the tanned locals when he has to buy multiple bottles of aloe for his sun-blistered skin. Or the guy who treks off into the woods convinced that he knows how to rough it for a few days, only to slink sheepishly back into town hours later with frostbite, snake bite, or a searing poison ivy rash all over his body. I want to shout, "I know better! I know better! I promise! I'm no amateur!" But the fact is that I fell out of the boat onto an oyster bar when I was not wearing shoes, and I've got eleven stitches that suggest I'm not quite the pro that I think I am, after all.

On the upside (for what it's worth), I did catch one gray snapper.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

view from the top

We got back from Alaska on August 1, and it's almost impossible to believe that that was two and half weeks ago - I can feel time beginning to accelerate as September approaches. This picture is from the ridgeline of Mt. Fellows in Alaska. After our week of work, we did a three-day, two-night rafting and camping trip on the Nenana River along the border of Denali National Park. We camped in the same spot that we did the two previous years, a river-side site that's only accessible by water. On the middle day of the rafting trip, we did an all-day hike up Mt. Fellows in an attempt to reach the summit. We didn't quite make it all the way (ran out of water near the top), but we did make it to the summit ridgeline. It was approximately 8 or 9 miles round trip over a vertical elevation of about 4,000 feet. By far the toughest hike I've ever done. But the view from the top was well worth it!

Meanwhile, lots of things happening over the past couple of weeks: Leslie moved up to Richmond and is preparing to start grad school at the VCU Ad Center, Mom and Dad came up for a visit, Dad (and the rest of the fam) helped me build a new shed/workshop in the backyard (or, at least, we got started), and I'm heading down to Florida tomorrow for a week of vacation at the beach before the program year at the church starts on September 9. It will be nice to have a little quiet time just to relax and read, do a little fishing, a little scalloping...basically a week just to enjoy existing.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

the end begins

It is currently about 20 of 2:00 in the morning. The flight for our youth mission trip to Alaska leaves in less than 12 hours.

Exciting, to be sure. But so is the fact that the final Harry Potter book is now in-hand. Like true book-nerds, Nancy and I ventured to Barnes and Noble at 11:30 p.m. for the midnight sale. We joined a crowd of approximately 700 other people (no exaggeration) equally excited about the final installment of the series.

I have to give credit to Barnes and Noble: we were near the end of the line, and it took us less than an hour to wend our way through the entire store to the cashier's desk. Pretty efficient...and, truth be told, shorter than most of my browsing trips to B&N.

I'm off to read a few pages before bed. Looking forward to spending the better part of three long plane rides reading. Being the relatively slow reader that I am, I'm thankful that I'll be in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness for a week and a half where no one can spoil any of the book for me. If only I can make it through the airports tomorrow, I should be home free...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

more africa photos

Weeks after the fact, I have finally managed to sort through the 1,296 photos that I took in Sudan and Kenya. I'm picking up prints (yes, actual photographs that one can hold in hand) this afternoon from Richmond Camera. I culled the mass of photos down to just under 200, and I have uploaded them to Kodak Gallery and arranged them chronologically to provide some semblance of a story line. If you're interested in seeing our little corner of Africa as we saw it, you can get to the online Kodak Gallery Album here.


Monday, July 02, 2007

toothpaste epiphany

I had an epiphany while brushing my teeth a few minutes ago. It's so simple and obvious that it hardly seems worth the breath to say it. The thought (I swear I've been mulling this over like a Zen koan for the past 15 minutes) is this: You can only see what is right in front of your face. It's so obvious as to sound painful, idiotic. Reminds me of that line from the play Anything Goes: "It's always darkest just before they turn on the lights."

What I mean is that you can't really know something fully until you experience it for yourself. And we can choose, to some degree, what we see and don't see (and here I intend "seeing" to encompass all types of personal experience). For instance: we can know - rationally - that a sunset is considered beautiful...but we don't know it as a part of ourselves until we actually see one in all its grandeur. We can "know" that disease exists, but we don't know it until people close to us (or we ourselves) fall ill. We can conceptualize what it is like to be incredibly wealthy or unacceptably poor...but we don't feel those things fully until we see them firsthand.

I guess what I'm getting at is that most of us living as middle-to-upper class Americans are comfortable. Yes, there are things that we want and need that we don't have. But generally speaking, we have the comfort of being able to choose. There are any number of things and experiences that we can't control in our lives...but there are a vast number that we can. And if it's true that "we can only see what is right in front of our faces," it seems to me that we have a moral obligation to place in our field of vision ideas and experiences that benefit others as much as (or more than) they benefit us. This is a tough idea in a country that prides itself on "the individual" and the personal gain inherent in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. But given our global position of relative wealth, choosing to put others' needs in front of our faces - voluntarily compromising our anesthetic blindness of unknowing, the comfort of our unwillingness to look closely - seems to be the only responsible course of action in order for us to evolve as humans.

(OK, I admit it: this post is an oblique reflection on the whole Africa experience. Still struggling with what to make of it and, more importantly, what to do with it...especially as I increasingly see it as a microcosm of the human condition. Feel free to call me out if you think this is all pseudo-philosophical overly-sentimental idealistic B.S....but be prepared to defend your position.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

garden in the paper

A follow-up on the May 30 post about my garden being in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The article ran on Saturday, June 9 while I was in Africa. I was really happy with the way it turned out and the amount of space given to this edible front yard idea - the article about Antonia's garden covered the entire front page of the Home and Garden section. Very exciting - and affirming - for these projects to be displayed so publicly. Here are links to both articles (mine is the second, leading out of the first):

Times-Dispatch article on Antonia's garden
Times Dispatch article on my garden

Sorry the pictures seem to be unavailable at this point, but at least the articles are still there...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

a thousand words (i hope)

A few more pictures from the Sudan trip. I fear that Africa may be the predominant blogging topic for a while - if that suits you, excellent; if not, bear with me.

I hope these images begin to capture the scope of activity, emotion, and atmosphere of our experience. I considered not including the rather graphic image of the slaughtered bull below, but I felt it would be dishonest not to attempt to show the full breadth of what we saw. Hope you find something you like within these images:

Friday, June 22, 2007

(re-)defining a sense of place

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
homesick- (adj.) longing for home and family while absent from them

This word feels strange to me. It feels as ambivalent now as it once felt unequivocal. The concept seems so obvious: you have a home and family, and you long for those things when they are not near you. It is cured when you return to them.

The problem is that I am tempted to claim that I am homesick for Sudan. But I can't. Not really. It isn't my home, and the people there are not my family. Still...the feeling is a close approximation. I miss Sudan in a way that is more than just "missing" it. I long for the land, the people, the way of life, as if it makes as much (maybe more?) sense to me than my own home. It feels more immediate, more intentional than Richmond. Less anesthetized than life as an American. I'm certain that my perspective will shift back to "normal" at some point...but a week and a half after our return, it still lingers like the residue of a dream that continues to color your waking hours long into the afternoon.

More photos and thoughts later - about to head out the door...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

the garden

One last post before I go. Here's an updated shot of the garden with things growing, the beds weeded, and the path re-mulched. The Richmond Times-Dispatch is planning on doing a little story on the edible front yard thing, and it will feature my friend Antonia's garden as well as my front yard. More on that after I get back!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

t-minus 1 day: it's go time

Tomorrow I leave for the Sudan.

The month of May was relentless, with event after event, week after week. The occasional day of rest wasn't so much restorative as it was an all-too-brief respite in the midst of a beating. Like taking a 5-second break between running endless wind sprints. In any case, this Sudan trip has been looming on the horizon for some time, and I've been consciously aware of how fast it's been approaching. I just haven't felt ready yet. I've been pacing myself and trying not to procrastinate as I've gotten all my shots and shopped for necessary items and begun to pack my bag. But I just don't quite feel ready.

But here's the thing: I'm not sure I'll ever be ready - mentally, physically, spiritually. Not fully. I can research Sudan the country, I can find photographs of Sudan the people, I can read articles about Sudan in civil war. I can learn about its political climate, its meteorological climate, its social climate. And the gleaning of information does make me feel more ready. But I suspect there is no substitute for the experience, for the "being there." When it comes down to it, I know only that I will be there soon...and I will do the best that I can to help the people who spend their lives living in that difficult environment every day without any other choice but to do the best that they can.

I may have a chance to post once more in the morning before I leave. If not, I'll be back in the country on June 12. In the meantime, throw out some good vibes and little prayers for me, the team, and the people of the Sudan...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

a travelling dollar

Back in September (09.28.06), I wrote a post about a currency tracking project that I'd come across called "Where's George?". The basic gist is that people enter dollar bill serial numbers into the wheresgeorge.com database, mark those dollar bills with the wheresgeorge.com site address, and then spend the dollars in the hopes that someone else will enter them into the database so their "progress" can be tracked.

Over the course of a couple of weeks back in the fall, I entered 14 bills into the database. Because I didn't have a "Where's George?" stamp and I got tired of writing on bills in red pen, I gave it up. But lo and behold, I got an email yesterday saying that one of my bills had gotten a "hit" - after 234 days. Someone in Milton, West Virginia, had entered one of my marked bills. I Googled Milton and found a few stats on this little town:

- Location: Cabell County, WV, about 30 miles west of Charleston
- Population: Approximately 2,250
- Median age of residents: 39
- Racial distribution: 98.7% White, 0.7% Hispanic (Which still leaves 0.6%, or roughly 13 people unaccounted for. Go figure.)

A little silly to get excited about tracking a dollar, but it makes one wonder what the bill has been doing for the past 8 months. Has it changed hands a lot? Or did it sit in a bank or a cash register for a while? Who knows? But, for the moment, it's chillin' in Milton before moving on to its next destination.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

little updates

I know, I know. Almost three weeks since the last post. Virtually inexcusable. You've probably stopped checking at this point. April is indeed the cruelest month, at least in terms of scheduling. Plus, when the Virginia Tech incident happened a couple of weeks ago, it felt crass to try to write about anything else, even though I didn't feel as if I had the capability to say anything significant and insightful about the Tech tragedy itself. Thus, no words for a while.

The countdown has started for the Sudan trip at the end of this month. For the most part, the small collection of folks who read this blog know about the trip...but for those who don't: I'm going on a medical mission trip with St. James's to a little town called Akot in Southern Sudan on May 30. At present, there is a widespread meningitis epidemic ravaging that part of Africa (as tends to happen every year during the rainy season). Thousands are dying because the meningitis vaccine is unavailable in the Sudan. Working through a clinic established by Mustard Seed International, our goal is to provide 12,000 vaccinations while we are in the country. I feel certain that it will be a life-changing trip, though I feel equally certain that any expectations I have will fall far short of the reality of the situation. Anyway, more on the Sudan in future posts as the trip approaches.

Meanwhile, on the home front: I've spent a good bit of time in the garden lately trying to get things going. So, a quick update on what's happening for those keeping score:

To date, I have the following plants sprouting from seed:
- Swiss Chard
- Snow Peas
- Carrots
- Hidatsa Shield Figure Beans
- Mesclun Lettuce
- Thyme
- Basil
- Chili Pepper

The following seeds have been planted, but not yet sprouted:
- Yellow Squash
- Zucchini
- Butternut Squash
- Bibb Lettuce
- Green Onions

I bought a few small plants this past weekend and transplanted (most of) them into the garden:
- Thai Basil
- Bronze Fennel
- Sweet Peppers
- Ancho Pepper (Poblano)
- Several tomato plants (not yet in the ground)

Will post more pictures when I can take them. I realize this post feels a little perfunctory - will try to be less clinical and far more interesting in the future.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

a sign of the times?

A little break from life in my "Garden of Eden" to wax (un-)eloquent about media and culture. Indulge me for just a minute and take a look at the following "news" headlines:
- Wife doused with gas, set afire; son also hurt
- Smith's baby's dad? Answer may come soon
- Coyote attacks young boy playing in back yard
- Mom admits trying to drown 2 daughters in tub
- Fleeing suspect caught after fake leg fell off
- 2,000 stolen wedding gowns seized at border
Looks typical for the National Enquirer, no? Or perhaps some other supermarket tabloid like Star Magazine, or The Sun in the UK? Sadly, the headlines above are (apparently) considered legitimate top news stories taken straight off the CNN.com website. What's worse, this is not the result of an isolated slow news week. While all of these "news stories" have appeared in the last 48 hours, this particular week hasn't even been as bad as the usual drivel that has appeared over the past six months. How we can put "American Idol sends another contestant packing" in the same short list as "Iran may have nuclear weapons soon"?

General nausea aside, I'm not quite able to discern whether this is more upsetting because of the commentary it makes on the state of our media, or the commentary it makes on the state of American culture. (Maybe it's not either/or: maybe it's BOTH). Is it because the media think these nuggets of information are honestly worthy of our time and attention, or are these headlines really the things about which we want to be informed? Does knowing that a woman tried to drown her child or that a man's fake leg fell off make me a better, more informed citizen of this community, this country, the world? It's as if we are so in love with ourselves, so infatuated with our own dysfunction, that we are utterly blind to the things around us that actually do matter. We're like the spoiled teenage debutante obsessing over the state of her makeup and the gum that's somehow gotten tangled in her hair and the bad shoes that her friend has decided to buy for $400 and the boy who's run off with her best friend...all the while completely oblivious to the fact that she's standing in a house that's burning down.

Admittedly, I don't know the cause for this sensationalism, and I'm even further away from having a solution. But this I know: the line between cheap entertainment and real news shouldn't be so blurry.

Monday, April 09, 2007

completing the curve and building up

Just a few quick photos to show off the garden progress for the weekend. The trellis is in (obviously), and I planted seeds for snow peas today. I also put one butternut squash seedling and one yellow squash seedling in the ground this afternoon just to see how they do. Not to sound callous, but if they die I have a few "backups" growing in the seed tray inside.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

mother nature strikes back

I realize it's not all about me. I know that. But I feel as if this morning's meteorological activity was Mother Nature's way of reminding me that no matter how much I try to arrange and construct and organize and plan my little corner of creation (read: putting plants in the ground when and where I want to), ultimately she is in control.

Today is April 7th, the 18th day of spring and the day before Easter in a year that has been unseasonably warm thus far. Nevertheless, here was the scene out my front and back windows at 7:15 this morning:

It's beautiful, but I mean...are you kidding me??

So. I guess this means no planting today, at least until the temperature promises to be good and stay above 32 degrees...which likely will not happen until early next week. Nevertheless, I did finish the "S" garden path yesterday, and I hope to build a bean trellis this afternoon if my fingers don't fall off from the cold. Will post updated pictures when I have them.

P.S. - I looked out my bathroom window 20 minutes ago and just happened to see two squirrels "going at it" on a tree limb. Come on, now, Mother Nature...wasn't the snow enough? Do you have to rub it in with an unobstructed view of copulating squirrels? Please.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

the transformation begins

I spent most of last Friday and Saturday working on my front yard garden project. I definitely panicked a few short hours after my last blog post when I got about halfway through tilling the left side of my yard. Looking at the churned dirt, I thought to myself, "My God, what have I done?!?" But since the plowing began I have come up with some semblance of a plan, at least for half of the yard. I built a little retaining wall along the sidewalk. I planted a Bing cherry tree and began to brick in a path mulched in red bark. The path will eventually form an "S" shape, though I've only had the time and supplies to do the lower curve. I planted rosemary, thyme, and sage along the front as a border. The other night, I put seeds of carrots and chard along the section next to the sidewalk. Meanwhile, in my seed trays indoors, I have all kinds of plants sprouting: pumpkin, butternut squash, yellow squash, zucchini, marigolds, peppers, thyme, basil, etc. Too bad I will have to wait a few more days to put them in the ground since it is supposed to freeze (or come close to it) for the next few nights.

And, of course, all of this sprouting and growing and gardening is happening concurrently with Holy Week, which makes for a consistent theme of growth and renewal in all that surrounds me. I love the springtime!

Friday, March 23, 2007

little miracles

The tiny black dot in the middle of my hand is a single seed of thyme. It is miniscule, insignificant. Hardly bigger than a granule of dirt. That it will grow into a plant large enough to fill two hands is baffling to me. Even though this is the reason for a seed's existence - it's what it does - I can't help but feel skeptical that this little speck will amount to anything. My doubt arises even in the face of my own eye-witness proof: last year, my seeds did indeed turn into plants (much to my awe and amazement). And yet still I feel unsure that this tiny piece of potential can become something so largely actual.

The fact of this seemingly impossible metamorphosis and our trust that it will occur successfully each time represents for me the most tangible, simple expression of faith I have encountered. A plant begins life from seed, grows to its full stature, then dies; but only in dying can it create the tiny dried seeds necessary to start the cycle over again. Each time we plant one of these seeds, we trust that it will in fact turn into the plant it is destined to become, impossible though it may seem. This has great spiritual significance to me: it points toward a larger meta-structure, a pattern in nature of life springing from death. From the weakest and smallest in appearance come the greatest and strongest, far beyond any reasonable expectation of potential. The last shall be first.

On this first weekend of spring, I am about to celebrate the beautiful weather by going out in my front yard and plowing up the weeds and grass in order to plant my front yard garden. When I dropped my seeds into a tray of peat cups earlier this week, I said a little prayer that they would sprout. I cling (albeit with uncertainty) to the trust that these seeds will germinate in time, and I hope that this simple act of faith nudges me closer to the sublime force behind it all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

through the looking glass

It was pointed out to me earlier this afternoon that I haven't even posted anything "to tell the world that I'm now 30." Both parts of this claim are indeed factual: the sun has set on my 20's and risen on my 30's, and I have neglected to say anything about it.

Turning 30 felt different than most events that tend to elicit increasing anticipation (or apprehension?) as said event nears. A big vacation, a work deadline, waiting for the $365 million Lotto numbers to appear...there is build up to these events that reaches a peak at the happening itself. Turning 30 should be bigger than any of these, right? A once-in-a-lifetime shift from being 20-something to 30-something? Paradoxically, it seemed less of a big deal the closer it got. So much so that, by the time March 10 arrived, it finally just...was. I don't mean to make it sound anti-climactic in a negative way: it was a smashing birthday. Frankly, I was glad that it felt like more of a pivot-point than the leap I had imagined six months ago looking ahead to the date. I truly only felt one day older than the day before.

But there was a subtle shift in perspective. Instead of seeing this new age as the endpoint of my present decade - the only perspective I could feel while still 20-something - "making the turn" has placed me in a context to view this point in time as a beginning, the starting point of the next decade. It feels new, more present, less anticipatory. An end turned into a beginning. Through the looking glass, so to speak.

Anyway...it is what it is, I am what I am, and enough of this pretentious display of sappy pseudo-philosophizing: I'm too old and too tired for this crap. I'm going to bed!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

the more things change...

I love this video. As the youngest person in the office, I have become the de facto computer geek despite the fact that I have no formal IT experience. The lack of training doesn't really seem to matter, though, as most of the problems people encounter are blindingly simple. The timbre of the conversation here is dead on - utter confusion on the part of the helped, respectful and patient attention (at least outwardly) on the part of the helper. Classic. (N.B. - as I reread this post, I'm aware that the subtext reads something like, "Look at me, I'm so computer savvy...and aren't I patient with all these ignorant techno-plebes?" I promise that implication is not intentional. Even if it's true.) By the way...I just remembered that this post was supposed to be more significant, as it is the 100th post to this blog. But I'm terrible at doing lists of 100 things or whatever other protocols are prescribed by the unspoken blogging rubric. Maybe I'll get my act together by post #200.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

my front yard: to eat or not to eat

Days and weeks are flying by. I can't believe it's March already. I have so much to post about...but it seems as if the more there is to write, the less time there is to write it.

In the meantime...it's starting to warm up, and it will be time to plant the vegetable garden again soon. Even though I'm still pretty much a novice when it comes to growing veggies, I am inordinately excited about the start of growing season. So much so that I'm beginning to feel like a greenthumb nerd. Lately I've been fascinated by this landscaping project called "Edible Estates." Architect Fritz Haeg has been designing front yard landscaping that gets rid of the lawn and instead incorporates indigenous and edible plants. Admittedly, some properties look better than others (and the website is rather clunky and hard to navigate)...but I'm captivated by the idea. The project adheres to the notion that the front lawn - a symbol of suburban Americana - is really a fairly useless waste of good earth. It looks nice, but it's high maintenance and relatively unhealthy for the environment. A good lawn requires chemical fertilizer and a lot of water, not to mention regular mowing with a two-cycle engine mower that releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. An ABC News article about the project points out that the front lawn is actually a British aesthetic, but "in England, constant drizzle keeps lawns green. In the United States, sprinklers and fertilizers do the job."

So the question becomes: why not make that space work for you and look nice at the same time? Who's to say that a plain, flat, green front lawn is the ideal (unless you have kids playing on it)? I never sit in my front yard and enjoy it - I only mow it. I do spend lots of time in my garden. Plus, I think it could look kind of cool if it's tastefully done. Here are three photos showing the progress of one of Fritz Haeg's "Edible Estates" - feel free to click on them to get larger views:

Here's the thing: I'm going to have a garden whether it's in the front yard or the back. But if it's in the front yard: my front lawn is two perfect-sized rectangles facing directly south (ideal for vegetable gardening); I wouldn't have to mow; Scout gets the whole back yard to herself; I wouldn't have to wrap each bed in chicken wire to protect it from Scout; and it's an opportunity to do some interesting, different (and edible) landscaping. Good stewardship of the land that I own and, hopefully, the environment in general.

A handful of you have been very supportive of this idea (each of you knows who you are - thank you!). The rest of you feel free to chime in and tell me that this is (a) sheer genius or (b) absolute neo-hippie insanity brought on by some premature midlife crisis.