Friday, October 31, 2008

Obama Posters: Power to move those undecideds?

Jess at How About Orange did the search for artists' posters of the candidates, and while she only found one for McCain, there's a website with a whole lot of wonderful ones for Obama. Click here, and be amazed!

Any undecideds out there: let art make the difference! (Click to David Sedaris's piece about that in a recent issue of The New Yorker). Wouldn't it be great to have a president who actually uses the word "art" now and then? And who has the ability to inspire this kind of creative outpouring?

You can also download printable art posters from AIGA here, urging everyone you know to vote.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama Boyz – and Girl

I've had a request for a photo of our Obama boyz, and we recently celebrated Lenni's 17th birthday. So here you have it, a couple of photos. It's an exciting moment for Lenni to be in the US, and it's very interesting to hear his perspective on the election.

I really like the photo of Lenni and Sav, with Reece Witherspoon laughing in the background. It catches
the spirit that infuses our house quite a bit just now. There's a whole lot of homework, video gaming, talk at the dinner table, and affectionate joking going on.

And then there is the mood in the air: the election is almost over! I am reminded of this line, from Proverbs 13:12: Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Newest Baby in Far-Flung Family

This is a shout out to our relies near Melbourne, Australia, Genou and his partner Sheryl. My sister Kathy (who lives in Canberra) sent this photo of them with their new baby, Finlay, born October 2nd.

Genou is Kathy's oldest stepson. He has a son Jasper (now 10) and Sheryl has older kids, too, ages 19,14, and 10. Finlay is an old Gaelic name: fair-haired courageous one, little blonde warrior.

Who would think we'd have a Finn McCool in our family, living in the woodsy foothills and vineyard country about an hour out of Melbourne? (Finn McCool makes several appearances in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, with its title – 'Finn Again's Awake' – from the street ballad 'Finnegan's Wake'.)

Congratulations, Genou and Sheryl! I hope life is sweet in your household, with this newest far-flung family member. Finlay reminds me of golden haired Jack (now 17) at that age, when his cousin Nathaniel (Genou's half-brother, the youngest of my 4 nephews in that part of the world) wrote this sage advice in Jack's baby book: "Don't think you're the only baby." Oh go ahead, for now, Fin – wallow in it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mad Men Typos

Now that was fun: at the recommendation of Daughter Number Three, I took a trip to the site of to read about the type used on Mad Men. For anyone out there who is font-sensitive, this is a great excursion.

And damn – they are getting it wrong on Mad Men too much of the time! I especially liked Simonson's observati0ns about the Holy Innocents dance poster, because on the show Peggy Olsen so adamantly defended that poster (and the better judgment of the designer). Perhaps with a break between seasons, creative can get up to speed on this dimension of Mad Men: so important for an ad agency.

Mark Simonson is a freelance graphic designer and type designer in St. Paul, Minnesota, whose past work includes a lot of the Garrison Keiller ephemera from the 80s and 90s, as well as art direction for the Utne Reader of the mid-80s. (I still have a few of those old Utne Readers, I must confess.) If the old Lake Wobegon packaging pulls at your heartstrings, you must make it over to take a look at what he is up to now. He's a acute observer of the ways in which lettering and type are always over-determined, communicating extra effects as they mediate language. (By the way, don't get them confused: as Simonson puts it, "Lettering differs from type in the same way that modeling clay differs from Lego bricks." And language is not the same as lettering, fonts, type, speech, or communication.)

This guy knows type inside out, and it looks as if the television and film industry would be wise to hire him as a consultant. Click here to find the very interesting piece Typecasting: The Use (and Misuse) of Period Typography in Movies.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mad Men

I'm usually more of a book than a screen person, but I fell in love with the AMC series Mad Men. Now the 2nd season has ended...and a bit of melancholy sets in. What will I do without my weekly Sunday night fix – of the enigmatic Don Draper and the rest of those vivid characters at Sterling Cooper?

What is it about this show? The slower pace, the gorgeous male lead, the exquisite production values, the news reels from the 60s, the inside jokes, the focus on the creative process in an increasingly commercial world, the work of art in the age of mechanical is all so immensely satisfying. I'll have to fill my time before the next season studying all of the extras available at the website: the fashion files, commentaries, interviews, and such. Maybe I'll learn how to make a few cocktails, too. (I'm still in the dark about those gimlets.)

It was fun to see Jon Hamm on Saturday Night Live this week too, or (in fact) to see the sketches at the SNL website. (Click here to see the parody of a Mad Men pitch). Writing that, I am just now "getting" an inside joke from earlier in the series, when Betty says to Don (in her pitch to him about her desire to go back to modelling): "There will still be ham." And of course Don tells Bobby, his son, that his own (abusive, long dead) father liked to eat "ham" ...and a kind of candy that smelled like violets.

Food co-ops took a hit this week on SNL, though, in the "Ralph Nadar" appearance on Weekend Update. Ouch! So much for contradicting outdated perceptions of food co-ops in the national media.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Palin Family Cleans Up

I like fashion, don't get me wrong. But I've never been that captivated by the idea of owning a Louis Vuitton bag.

I was amused to see this piece about the Palin family cleaning up at the Mall of America. You can go there for a slide show with pictures of the ruby slippers Palin wore for the debate. There are other compelling images, too, including befores and afters. My favorite is this one of little Piper Palin with her big Mac soda and her Louis Vuiiton bag. (Way to set an example for the real kids of America, Piper!)

I was at the Mall of America the day after the Republican National Convention, in Bloomington, Minnesota, with my relatives from Papua New Guinea. We saw a lot of women with garish elephant jewelry, but we didn't see Sarah Palin: I guess she and Todd and the kids were in the dressing rooms at Neiman Marcus.

I bet that Cindy McCain had her hand in all of this. Cindy sometimes looks like a Star Trek queen, in her pricey get ups. It looks like the Republican party is doing that dreaded socialist thing after all: spreading the wealth around, at least as far as Wasilla.

I'd rather buy something from Blue Q, like my Happy Camper bag (pictured here), or the new Sarah Palin WTF? Car Magnet. (Thank you, Justin, for sending me there!) The Happy Camper costs $11.99, and that just seems so much more reasonable (and responsible, in these hard times) than $1,350 or so.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lasagna Demystified

Jack asks: "Since when has lasagna been shrouded in mists?"

But you have to admit, there are a lot of ways to make it. That's good: there are many possible themes and variations, including the bechamel sauce variety. The first thing to realize, when demystifying lasagna, is that it's just noodles, cheese, and sauce.

The second thing: don't bother precooking those noodles. It's uneccesary and makes a sticky mess requiring you to stir devoutly and/or peel apart glued-together noodles. You don't need to purchase "precooked" noodles either. Just try Bionaturae "made with bronze die-cast molds" organic noodles. (I'm not fishing for a job with this company, honest. A trip to Tuscany? Sure!)

When making Lasagna elenabella, I usually don't mess around with meat. I do go through the cheeses we have on hand, and use up any stray bits and pieces: options include mozarella (fresh is great), parmesan, ricotta, farmer cheese, sour cream, feta, cheddar, romano, and goat cheese. Find a balance that tastes nice, grating and mixing these together.

I use a lot of greens in my lasagna. Spinach, or red or gold chard (especially at this time of year, when chard is still abundant at the farmers market). Chop a big bunch of chard or spinach and cook until wilted, salting it slightly. When you remove this from your wok or pan, you'll have a delicious, nutritious liquid left behind. Drink it!

I process the cheese and greens together: this becomes the cheesey layer of the lasagna. If I have an egg, I throw that in, too (but it's not absolutely necessary).

Chop and sauté some onions, red and/or green peppers, and garlic. Add a jar of tomato sauce, cooking with the onions over medium heat for a few minutes. This time I used a Seeds of Change Romagna 3-cheese sauce, which I buy in part for the lid on the jar. (Can you tell that I am a consumer who is very influenced by packaging? But I make something out of those lids that I'll divulge another day. And I love a journey to the Seeds of Change websites: the food site and the seeds site. Lots of great information there, beautifully presented). Add fresh chopped herbs: basil, oregano, marjoram.

So there is the sauce. It's a bit thinner than a sauce made with tomato paste. That extra liquid helps cook those uncooked noodles.

Sometimes I cut thin strips of zucchini to layer in with everything else. To assemble: oil a favorite lasagna pan, put down a thin layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of noodles. I like to grate a bit of parmesan onto the noodles, then add a layer of cheese and greens, then the (uncooked) zucchini, then another layer of tomato sauce. Continue until the pan is full and your ingredients have all been used. Grate some parmesan cheese on top, and add a handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley. You might sprinkle with a few red chili seeds, to give it a little heat.

Cover with foil and cook at 350º until the cheese melts and bubbles appear in the sauce. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy with a nice red wine, a salad, and some crusty bread. Make enough so that you can enjoy this cold for lunch the next day. You can even freeze this lasagna ahead, if you make 2 pans.

There you go: nothing too mystifying about it!

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Personalized Message from CNNBC Video

I got this wild message from those tireless people at you've gotten it already yourself. I think this takes personalized marketing to the limit. It's a fascinating sensation to watch it: your own 1.5 minutes of simulated fame. And it pretty much made me decide to vote early, next Monday. I promise!!

Click on the link, watch the video, and customize to send along to your friends.

(It's definitely worth a trip to click on that link, I'm telling you!)

Dear Ellen,
Oversleeping. Getting the car fixed. Having to pick up the second-cousin's stepkids on the other side of town. These are just a few of the reasons millions of Americans won't vote on November 4th.

It's not like they hate voting. They want to do it. They know they should. And mostly, they intend to. But some of your friends won't get around to actually voting because they haven't been reminded vividly enough.

That's why we developed this funny, scary video. It shows people what it might look like if we lose the election by a single vote: theirs.

Here's a version we prepared for you. You're in it—seriously, you, Ellen. Check it out—and if you like it, send it to your friends:

Watch it:

Thanks for all you do.

–Peter, Joan, Carrie, Daniel and the rest of the team

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What I Bought at the Truckload Sale

I finally stopped by the Bloomingfoods Truckload Sale, which has been extended through the weekend in recognition of Co-op Month. First I helped front and face boxes and case stacks, and tried my hand at a box knife for the first time in years. Then I shopped.

Wow, such great bargains. I like to keep a pretty well-stocked larder, so this was my chance. Let's see if I can remember what I bought:

• There was a great assortment of BioNaturae pasta from Italy, and I love those, so I got a case of spaghetti. I may need to go back for spirals and bows. These are organic pastas mixed with natural spring water and pressed with antique bronze dies. Their packaging looks like it was created by kids in a Waldorf School, with lots of soft colored pencils. This pasta does have a great texture, and it originates from small organic farms in Tuscany: those have to be a good thing, right? There were other very low priced pastas at the sale, but I went with BioNat.

• We go through a lot of pasta sauce, so I got a case of organic Marinara Sauce.

Tree of Life organic ketchup and mustard: just when we'd run out! I timed this pretty well with last spring's sale.

CitraSuds laundry detergent: maybe enough to last through the end of the year. And a case of 7th Generation toilet paper. I still remember the first time I used CitraSolv: we had moved to Bloomingfon into a tiny filthy house, new baby in tow. I was so grateful to be able to clean it with something non-toxic that smelled wonderful and seemed to instantly dissolve the grime. And now years later, I kind of like those icons on the CitraSolv home page.

• Enough Nature's Gate herbal shampoo and conditioner to last at least until spring. I still haven't found a sodium laureth sulfite-free shampoo that I like. This one is not SLS-free, and like most shampoos, there are a lot of laureths and sodiums in the ingredient list, alongside those herbes aromatiques. I really like the Nature's Gate herbal conditioner – the smell makes me swoon. (But later: I think they have changed the formula and added the dreaded unspecified "fragrance": damn!)

• A whole case of Emergen-C, our family secret to staying healthy in the winter.

Ciao Bella sorbet: blood orange! And Ciao Bella pistachio. We rarely purchase frozen treats since getting an ice cream maker, but these are so delicious. They have nice packaging and a pretty cool website, too.

• Enough 100% recycled aluminum foil to last until spring, the kind with that funny name: If You Care. (Great product, lame website.)

• Lots of Organic Valley cheese in assorted flavors, and some OV cultured butter. I'm an Organic Valley fan, especially after touring the butter factory in southwest Wisconsin and watching the butter squeeze out of the stainless steel tubing into its little wrappers and packages. Come to think of it, I'll have to write about that experience some time. Organic Valley is a producer co-op: it's worth a visit to go to their site, their headquarters in LaFarge, Wisconsin, and to their butter factories!

Traderspoint plain yogurt in a glass bottle. This yogurt won a national award for being the best in the country, and it's from Indiana, so I feel a twinge of regional pride. It is so delicious, and the glass packaging is beautiful, too. I intend to use this as a starter to finally try to get into the habit of making my own yogurt.

Fischer Farms (local, natural) beef patties. And some natural ham rashers like the kind I used to eat in Ireland.

Ling Ling vegetarian potstickers, TOL frozen organic blueberries, and organic frozen corn.

• 25# bag of Lundberg short grain brown rice, to make rice and cheese, a family favorite. Risotto made simple: cook rice, grate cheddar cheese on top, mix and eat!

• 25# bag of unbleached organic white all-purpose flour. Again, I just ran out.

• 4 big bags of seed starter organic soil enhancer: such a good deal I couldn't pass them up.

• Organic raisins, fig bars, apple cider vinegar, and other assorted tempting treats.

• Big bags of organic onions ($2), 2 butternut squash, a 5# bag of organic potatoes, and bags of organic Honeycrisp and Ambrosia apples.

If you don't have a food co-op in your community, you might just want to run right out and start one. (Visit Food Co-op 500 for How-To information.) I'm very proud of the fact that we assemble such good bargains at Bloomingfoods. Here's a nice article from my favorite trade journal, Cooperative Grocer, about our truckload sales. There's a lot of good information in that magazine, by the way, about the current state of the world and the future of food.

I passed on the chips, beverages, cider, cereal, and many other fantastic offerings...but I'll be going back tomorrow to pick up a gorgeous local pumpkin for only $3!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dinner Talk with Teens

Some of the questions hovering around the dinner table at our house lately, not all of which led to full-fledged conversations:

1. Are we human, or are we dancer?
2. What would it mean if we were "denser"?
3. Would that be better than dancer, or worse?

4. Have you seen the lyrics to the Palin Rap from Saturday Night Live? Aren't they great?
5. What do other kids say about your Obama t-shirt?

5. Is Joe Plumber in jail yet? We heard a rumor that he was. Did you know there's a Joe Plumber who is really a plumber?
6. What about that Joe Leiberman, how did he go from being Al Gore's running mate to stumping for John McCain?
7. Will McCain say that everyone who owes back taxes will have to go to jail under Obama's "regime"?
8. What has happened to the polls since Powell's endorsement? How can the polls be accurate with such a small sample? (Click on that phrase to go to Daughter Number Three for a look at cell phone phenomenon and how it affects the polls.)

9. Why is there that creepy line in Carousel, when Julie (mom) says to Louise (daughter): "Yes, it is possible for someone to hit you real hard, and you can't feel it."
10. Is it possible to interpret that line in a positive way, rather than as an indication of masochism or an apology for domestic violence? Did the kids at South know about Middle Way House before they got involved with Carousel?
11. What does Carousel imply about childhood trauma and the stigma of a parental legacy? About masculinity and low self esteem? About carousel barkers as "artist types"?
12. What is antisocial personality disorder? Jigger has it, but does Billy Bigalow? Could he have turned his life around, if he'd had the right words, and not missed all of his "golden chances"?
13. What's up with that sexual assault scene in the woods between Jigger and Carrie? Doesn't it remind you of Little Red Riding Hood? Is it true what the song says: "There's nothin'so bad for a woman as a man who thinks he's good!"? Is Carrie trapped by Mr. Snow and all of those children?
14. Is it ever possible to change someone fundamentally, through the power of love?
15. How is Carousel a story about atonement and reparation? And does Billy "walk alone" at the end, as he heads back to purgatory, or wherever he seems to live, in limbo?
16. What about those class tensions in the story? Kind of neat and tidy (or classically oppositional) the way it's set up from the beginning as a choice between two different types of men: the sexy-but-tortured On the Waterfront carni guy, or the fishy patriarchal entrepreneur.
17. How are the kids in Sounds of South dealing with all this heavy stuff? Isn't it impressive that they are thinking about these things?

18. By the way, why does your English teacher give you such an unreasonable amount of homework?
19. Why would anyone ask you to write 10 poems about To Kill a Mockingbird, and even insist that each poem be 10 lines long? Doesn't she know that real poets probably don't set line limits at the outset of writing most of the time anymore? And why do you have all of those other huge assignments for that book, without any class discussion?
20. Do you want me to bring this up with your teacher?
21. Are there connections between Carousel and To Kill a Mockingbird?

22. How will you ever find time for dance lessons? Which kind would you like best? When can you start? Are you human...or are you dancer? What would the lyrics to a song called "Dancer" be?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Low Budget

Low Budget is a 1979 album by the English rock group, The Kinks. With all the economic turmoil out there, their song "Low Budget" seems more timely than ever. This Christmas, instead of giving that designer bag or trendy sports vehicle, consider a Kinks CD.

If you are paying bills and worrying about the future, click on this link to Ray Davies singing "Low Budget" on YouTube.
It'll make you feel better, for sure.

You might even be able to work yourself and a crowd up into euphoria with "Low Budget" as a party song – perhaps the anthem of the year?

Low Budget
Cheap is small and not too steep
But best of all cheap is cheap
Circumstance has forced my hand

To be a cut price person in a low budget land

Times are hard but we'll all survive
I just got to learn to economize
I'm on a low budget
I'm on a low budget
I'm not cheap, you understand

I'm just a cut price person in a low budget land

Excuse my shoes they don't quite fit

They're a special offer and they hurt me a bit

Even my trousers are giving me pain

They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn't complain

They squeeze me so tight so I can't take no more
They're size 28 but I take 34
I'm on a low budget

What did you say
? I'm on a low budget I thought you said that I'm on a low budget I'm a cut price person in a low budget land

I'm shopping at Woolworth and low discount stores
I'm dropping my standards so that I can buy more

Quality costs, but quality wastes
So I'm giving up all of my expensive tastes

Caviar and champagne are definite nos,
I'm acquiring a taste for brown ale and cod roes
Low budget sure keeps me on my toes

I count every penny and I watch where it goes
We're all on our uppers we're all going skint

I used to smoke cigars but now I suck polo mints

I'm on a low budget What did you say Yea I'm on a low budget I thought you said that I'm on a low budget I'm a cut price person in a low budget land I'm on a low budget Low budget Low budget

Art takes time, time is money

Money's scarce and that ain't funny

Millionaires are things of the past
We're in a low budget film where nothing can last

Money's rare there's none to be found

So don't think I'm tight if I don't buy a round

I'm on a low budget
What did you say Yes I'm on a low budget I thought you said that I'm on a low budget I'm a cut price person in a low budget land I'm on a low budget Say it again Low budget One more time Low budget

I look like a tramp, but don't write me off
I'll have you all know I was once a tough
At least my hair is all mine, my teeth are my own
But everything else is on permanent loan
Once all my clothes were made by hand
Now I'm a cut price person in a low budget land

I'm on a low budget I'll have you all know We're on a low budget I'm on a low budget

Ray Davies has a new musical, too: Come Dancing. Kind of makes me want to hop on a plane to Theatre Royal Stratford East. (But wait – I'm on a Low Budget...)

Hmmm, reminds me of the new Killers song, "Human", with its question: "Are we human, or are we dancer?" My kids say that the word is out on that: We're dancer, not denser. Here is Marilyn, a philomath from North Dakota, providing more insight into that topic. (Thank you, Marilyn!) She's got really cool Obama wallpapers at her site, too: just click on election.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Colin Powell Endorses Obama

I was very pleased to see Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama, and was especially taken by these remarks about religion. No one else of his stature has yet given "the really right answer" to that question, so far as I know.

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said: such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim; he's a Christian, has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, "What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" The answer's "No, that's not America." Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Meanwhile, McCain's campaign makes robocalls, planting seeds of fear, falsehood, and innuendo. As Powell makes clear, that's not the direction we should be taking, "not the way we should be doing it in America."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Love of Theater Cements Marriage

I know, doesn't that sound like an Onion header? But there is truth to the name of this post.

My parents were just here for two days, a quick trip to see Sav in the Sounds of South High School performance of Carousel. Here is one of my favorite photos of them, taken on the rocks on the north shore of Lake Superior near Tofte, Minnesota.

We had a wonderful visit. The weather was beautiful and yesterday we drove to Brown County State Park for a walk in the woods. The terrain was a bit more challenging than predicted, but they are experienced hikers and did just fine.

Only few years ago they made a September camping trip around the edges of Minnesota, pitching a tent in the woods and prairie of the state they migrated to after childhoods in North Dakota. I was impressed.

My parents met in a performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (Or What You Will) at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, when my mother played Viola, the lead, and my dad was Sir Toby Belch (–Sir Toby Belch? I used to think apprehensively, hearing this story as a child).

A love of theater has been a constant in their lives together, and in our experience as a family. When I was a kid in Albert Lea, Minnesota, we would drive up to the then-new Guthrie Theater, where we were season ticket holders. Many of the plays were beyond my comprehension, but I loved the ritual of attending them and trying to follow along as best I could. I remember the thrill of meeting Sir Tyrone Guthrie once, too. I liked that Mondrian-like modernist exterior of the old Guthrie, and its proximity to the Walker Art Center. (The new Guthrie is cool for other reasons, and the Walker still – and always will – rocks my socks.)

When Joyce and Wally get back to Minneapolis, they'll be going to a production of Twelfth Night by an all-female cast, at Ten Thousand Things Theater Company. It's just the latest of many productions of this play they've seen, but I think it's the first with an all-female cast.

Carousel was really terrific. It got us talking about various theatrical themes and adaptations, and thinking about that song, "You'll Never Walk Alone". If you click on the image at the left, you go to a futbol and culture site by Jennifer Doyle with lots of good info about this song in the soccer arena. There's a link to a photomontage of Fellowship of the Ring images, too, with Judy Garland's just-try-to-keep-a-dry-eye version of the song. Doyle even explores the song's history in relation to folk music! (And isn't that a very groovy Carousel poster?)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dream On

The cat scratching at the door just now woke me from a wonderful dream. I was traveling to a large commemorative reunion on the subject of folk music, and the destination was somehow Indiana University, home of a world famous ethnomusicology program.

At the end of the dream I was at a large public ceremony, crossing a packed auditorium to a long grassy hill – an architectural innovation involving a building both indoors and out. (Come to think of it, a bit like the wonderful Bruce Springsteen Seeger Session concert at Verizon Center.) I warmly greeted two older women I hadn't seen for some time. One was a newly bereaved widow; we hugged and she said something about how she'd long been looking forward to this event. (Now I have no idea who she was, but I was so glad to see this old friend in the dream.)

Before this I was on a bus (– isn't it interesting how in recollecting dreams, you often have to run them backwards?) where a man was giving a little front-of-the-vehicle slide show, about postcards that had once been created in Bloomington using silhouettes of people connected in some way to the world of folk music. This all was history now, an effort long in the past, but part of the day's Salute to Folk Music. (Here is a link to the work of artist Kara Walker, famous for her silhouettes, and her visual exploration of history as collusion of fact and fiction.)

A man sitting in front of me turned around and announced quietly but proudly that he'd sent 50,000 of these postcards to people over the years. 50,ooo! I thought. That's a lot of postcards! I wonder if he sends other kinds of postcards, too – or just these? Such loyalty to the postcard program – that's impressive!

Another guy across the aisle nodded his head and said he'd done much the same thing. I thought to myself – surely those two must have sent each other quite a few postcards then? How many people in the world care that much about folk music? This is a pretty select community, right? But they didn't seem to know each other. The two men shook hands, exchanged names, and shared their mutual enthusiasm for the postcard project.

I thought to myself: That's how it is in the arts – a few people keep the flames burning, through irrational but dedicated passion. 50,000 postcards! Sent by one guy! And then another guy! Just think of what that must have done to spread the word about folk music! The slide show ended to quiet, contented applause for the folk card silhouette effort issuing from Bloomington, Indiana.

So here comes my plug for dreams: they are a gift of story and unanticipated adventure. I could never have dreamed any of this up in my waking life, but there it was – a rich, exciting (and yes, mystifying) experience, inviting me to consider the riddles of my life. What does any of it "mean"? Does that matter? Or is this just an invitation to pay attention to the ways we make meaning up?

Who knew I cared so much about folk music, for example, or that so many others did too? I'll have to think about that. Was this a dream installed by the local Bloomington Entertainment & Arts District (BEAD) effort, with its focus on the value of the arts to our community? And just how are we going to define "folk" after all? (My son always pronounces this word with an audible 'l', just to bug me.)

So...a little gift delivered from the detritus of daily life, amid the pure potentiality of the universe. That last image is from, the wonderful website of artist Vicki Bennett. I think it's a picture of me as a child, listening to my beloved Pete Seeger We Shall Overcome album!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe Co-op Weighs In

There's more on those Joes than maybe you wanted to know out there on the airwaves.

Joe Biden is on the campaign trail, Sarah Palin is palling around with Joe Six-Pack, and during the last debate Joe Plumber had his 15 minutes (and 27 mentions) of fame. He still thinks McCain is his only man, and he plans to capitalize on the publicity to catapult his business (which he hasn't yet purchased or or gotten the license for – how do you say pipe dream, Joe Plumber?) over the $250,000 zero-tax increase mark. Go for it, Joe – whatever!

I had a chance to check in with Joe Co-op at Bloomingfoods. Nearly everyone who shops there knows him, if not by name. He's worked at the store for more than two decades, and he fits all of those categories: dedicated dad, hard-working American, sports enthusiast, decent guy, team player, you name it. He's good old, good looking Joe. (He stays young by keeping fit and not eating sugar.) People move to the coasts for a few years, then come back to the Midwest, and Joe takes notice and says hello, from the long-term perspective of a heavy-lifting job at the back of the store unloading trucks.

So hey Joe – who ya votin' for?

– Geez, it's making me nuts – who do you think? OBAMA! I was talking to one of our truck drivers today, and he said he read on the Internet that Obama was involved in all this illegal activity, from the time he was young, and if he's elected they'll impeach him within a few months – and I'm thinking Dude! What planet are you living on?

I've never really liked McCain all that much, but that Sarah Palin – she scares the begeezus out of me. That close to being the leader of the free world? There was a guy downtown last night who said he was going to vote for McCain because Palin can skin a moose! What, are you crazy? Like that's gonna help us.

That's the word from Joe Co-op, here in the swing state of Indiana. He's very busy today, by the way, because we're having a huge Truckload Sale, helping people "load their larders" with great bargains on natural foods. (And now I'm asking myself: were those quote marks entirely necessary? Just who do you think you are, elenabella – Emily Dickinson?)

In the big battle of the Joes out there, I go with Joe Co-op.

Obama vs. McCain: Three for Three

The debates are over, and I thought this was the best of them. I don't think the side-by-side at the round table format served McCain so well, showing viewers his shaking hands and that perpetual thumbs up.

He seemed so palpably relieved at the end, when he thumped Obama and pumped his hand, saying "Good job! Good job!" I get the feeling that he'll be relieved in November, too, when this is over for him – he doesn't seem up to the enormous challenges.

Too often McCain, in this and the other debates, tried to gain traction by attacking Obama, raving vaguely about this or that. It has been impressive to see how cool, calm, and collected Obama remains: coming back on point with clear sentences, facts and clarifications – force, lucidity, and ease. Flashing a grin at the occasional attack absurdity, and then regaining his serious countenance. Refusing to take the bait. For this he gets called "flat" by some of the pundits, who seem to relish the prospect of more Jerry Springer-style TV.

This unflappability is one of Obama's most attractive features: his steady calm invites intelligent interaction rather than emotional bluster. McCain's darting tongue and self-satisfied sneers and grins add too much erratic static to the conversation: whether it's with voters, Joe Plumber, Joe 6-Pack, or in future conversation with Putin, should he "rear his head." We sorely need someone with a different conversational demeanor.

I hate to dwell so much on personal appearance, but I do think this points to deeper issues, born out by McCain's self-definition as "maverick." I looked up "maverick" on Wikipedia, and here's what I learned:

Samuel Augustus Maverick (July 23, 1803–September 2, 1870) was a Texas lawyer, politician, land baron and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. His name is the source of the term "maverick", first cited in 1867, which means independent minded. Maverick was considered independent minded by his fellow ranchers because he refused to brand his cattle. In fact, Maverick's failure to brand his cattle had little to do with independent mindedness, but reflected his lack of interest in ranching. He is the grandfather of U.S. Congressman Maury Maverick, who coined the term gobbledygook (1944).

Hmmm...the connection to Texas and gobbledygook seems very apropos.

I enjoyed clicking into Daughter Number Three's play-by-play of the debate, and especially liked this laugh-out-loud observation at 9:25, quoting McCain: "The same opportunity you and I and Cindy and your wife have had." Guess McCain is for same-sex marriage after all.'

And I thought Hillary was outstanding in her after-debate comments on CNN. Interesting how she insisted that she wants to remain in the Senate: she'll be the lioness of the Senate now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Air Quotes with Emily Dickinson

If you are tired of obsessing about the election, checking Real Clear Politics for the latest polls, or thinking about bouncing numbers on Wall Street, Main Street, and Broadway, I invite you to turn your attention to something else: the unnecessary use of quotation marks.

I was at the delightful, insightful blog of Daughter Number Three (highly recommended: check out her play-by-plays of the debates), and found DN3s post about The "Blog" of Unnecessary Quotation Marks. This filled me with an immense sense of gratitude for the Web. I, too, can be unhinged by odd punctuation, especially on Power Point slides at school orientations.

Okay, so if you are still here at elenabella, and not laughing out loud over at those other two blogs, I invite you to take a deep breath and reflect for a moment about Emily Dickinson. How's that for a change of pace? You know, Emily: the one who never left her backyard or bedroom, who wrote about bees and the Grave and said "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" The secretive stitcher of "fascicles" – which is just another name for handmade books. (Whoops: what's up with those quotes around "fascicles"? And have you noticed that today there is a "fascicle revolution" going on?)

Anyway, I turned last night to the newish reading edition of The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin. And there they were: a million air quotes. Emily, it turns out, is the poet of unnecessary (make that "unnecessary") quotation marks! Who knew, or noticed, besides R.W.?

Consider just this poem, number 225:

I'm "wife" - I've finished that -
That other state -
I'm Czar - I'm "Woman" now -
It's safer so -

How odd the Girl's life looks
Beyond this soft Eclipse -
I think that Earth feels so
To folks in heaven - now -

This being comfort - then
That other kind - was pain -
But Why compare?
I'm "Wife"! Stop there!

This is why I love poetry. In a perfect world, we could spend all day discussing Emily's use of punctuation above. What do the quote marks signify? Why isn't Girls life in quotes in the poem? Is this a poem that Hillary would find compelling? And does a reader need to use air quotes when reading Emily D's poems aloud? Let's hear some blogside lit crit in the comments!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Traintracking the Candidates

This train metaphor for the candidates has been making the email rounds, and I made a few modifications.

I wasn't crazy about that sleek missile for Obama, so my version replaces the silver bullet with a Front Runner train. Notice how he's headed in the right direction.

And is that the commuter train to Delaware for Biden? Hope so!

I couldn't resist including Hillary as the Little Engine That Could. She tried and she tried to get that train over the mountain (the one no one else really wanted to pull) – to bring universal health care to the boys and girls on the other side. She thought she could...she thought she could...

I know Hill is no longer a presidential candidate, but I hope she still has a chance to pull that health care train.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I associate borscht with having babies. When I was pregnant with Jack, my caregivers were naturopathic doctors who gave the best care imaginable. (Thank you, Helen, of Wellspring Naturopathic Clinic!) To keep my immunity supercharged in the winter, they suggested that I learn to make borscht.

Later in Indiana, one of Sav's midwives, Mary Helen, served beef borscht as the centerpiece of a big party. We talked about recipes – with borscht there's a lot of room for play and taste adjustments. You can click on the Ball jar beets on the left to go to a website recipe with theme and variations.

(There's a lot of play in the act of childbirth, too. Click here to read more about midwifery in Indiana, concerning Jennifer Williams, the wonderful head midwife who helped bring my daughter into the world.)

I just made a huge batch of borscht – some for us and some for friends who are dealing with illness. Here's how I made it this time.

Borscht elenabella

I had frozen stock on hand, made from vegetable and meat scraps. I've gotten into the habit of using every bit of meat and bone, throwing clean food scraps into the freezer until I can make a pot of stock. Buy stock in a can or box? Never again: too expensive! And the homemade kind just tastes better. (Plus, I like the smell of soup stock on the stove.)

I bought local chuck steak at the co-op, as well as potatoes, beets with greens, cabbage, carrots, onions, and garlic. I'm using all organic ingredients, as this is a super immune buster for someone struggling with cancer – why make it with chemical additives? Plus, it tastes better. Food is our medicine here.

I thawed the stock and cut the beef into chunks, seared them, and threw them in a slow cooker.
I cut up onions, sauteed them with a bit of butter, then added them to the beef.

Meanwhile, lots of chopping and cutting during last night's episode of Mad Men: of beets, carrots, and potatoes. Once they were all in chunks, I roasted them in the oven for awhile, to soften them. You can also used the microwave to jumpstart your veggies, cooking them about halfway.

Toss all of these vegetables into the stock pot, and add the seasonings of your choice: lots of dill, a bit of cumin, some tumeric (for medicinal properties), sea salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic, mixed herbs. Add a bit of red wine vinegar...or maybe some red wine.

Then come the softer vegetables: grated purple cabbage and chopped up beet greens. Sometimes I throw in a can of diced tomatoes, or some black beans.

By the time you've prepped all of the veggies, the beef is ready. Add to the soup pot and let it all simmer on low heat as the flavors meld. Just before serving, throw in a handful of chopped broad leaf (Italian) parsley.

Serve with plain yogurt, creme fraîche, or sour cream: each imparts a slightly different flavor. A good loaf of mixed grain or rye bread with some cheese makes this a fantastic meal. Maybe you'd like a dark beer – or a white wine – with your borscht. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hello to Heike

It's time to give a shout out to Heike, my sister-in-law, who is recovering from surgery in Germany. She is married to Chris, Andreas's youngest brother, and together they helped bring us Lenni, the foreign exchange student living with us now. Lenni is Heike's godson.

Well, first of all: we love Lenni – he is a joy! He's a senior in high school with Jack, a couple of years older than Savannah. The three of them became easy, compatible siblings almost immediately. Lenni is smart, kind, funny, and he plays the piano each day, often when I'm fixing dinner, or just before school. So, thank you, Heike, for thinking of this arrangement – it couldn't be better! The hard part will be saying good-bye to Lenni in February.

I'm including a couple of photos here, one of Heike coming home after work at her house in Germany, when we were guests there. She is walking up through the gorgeous garden she planted that includes some flowers from mother-in-law Marlies. And there is Christoph on the left, on the same path.

Hey Heike – we hope you are recovering at home with your feet up, a cup of tea, and time to relax. We miss you and hope you'll send some words to elenabella, visiting often. Here's a photo of the 3 teens.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Go Co-op!

A couple of days ago I went to a Co-op Summit here in Indiana. This was a day-long meeting of people within the cooperative business sector, from credit unions to rural electric co-ops, food co-ops, producer co-ops (wine and cheese) and so on.

This is a relatively new event, only 2 years old. My co-op, Bloomingfoods, catered the (delicious) food. I talked with people from Paoli IN who started their own food co-op, Lost River Community Co-op (also known as Lost River Market and Deli); with a woman from Terre Haute who is helping start Terre Foods; with someone from Indy who is working on a start-up food co-op there; with Patty and Gwen, who helped start the Community Farmers Market of Owen County, and others.

Okay, the world was falling apart around us: crazy economic news. But not in that room. The people from the credit unions said "We have money in the bank – ah, make that CREDIT UNION – and money to lend." (If you don't bank with a credit union, you may want to make the switch: profits go back to customers and not down the golden parachute drain.)

Our lunchtime speaker, Brent Hueth, Director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, talked about how his team is creating the first census of cooperatives, to help assess their impact on our economy. So far the number is about 1 trillion dollars, or the size of AIG.

It was really fantastic to be in that room, and to hear people speak who are optimistic, smart, and dedicated to the improvement of their communities through the power of cooperation.

To learn more about the cooperative business model, a good place to look is Go Co-op. And did you know that October is Co-op Month? (I love this logo, designed by the very talented Pat Thompson, of Triangle Park Creative.) Don't waste time despairing about the fact that the sky seems to be falling – educate yourself about co-ops, and take heart (and action)!

Friday, October 10, 2008

At one ment

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement in the Jewish tradition. A day of fasting, prayer, and reconciliation, it ends the 10 Days of Awe following Roshashana. Yom Kippur invites a searching of the soul, of consciously trying to repair injuries, right wrongs, and bring things into balance. It often involves committing to charitable efforts.

I have been thinking about these 10 Days of Awe, and about the value of a time of meditation on the topics of reparation and reconciliation.

I found an interesting site: the Coalition of Women for Peace offers information about many women's groups, including The Fifth Mother, wh0 use peace strategies to aim for reconcilation between Israel and Palestine. The Coalition of Women for Peace helps women from disparate backgrounds explore the complex nature of the Middle East conflict, find ways to think through divisive issues, and promote peace within their own groups and communities.

Artists often explore peace and conflict in profound and moving ways. Musician David Harris, of St. Paul, MN produced a musical event called Peace in the House at the beautiful Southern Theater in Minneapolis in February 2006. (Alas, I remember missing this because of a blustery snowstorm, while visiting my parents in the Twin Cities.) Harris is the artistic director of Voices of Sepharad, a group that specializes in the music of Sephardic Jews. That's his photo above.

On the left you'll find a picture of the Portland Maine human peace sign. And here is the California state capitol seen through a peace symbol made of flowers, during a demonstration against the war in Iraq in March 2008.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Is it just me?

I guess that's not a question that makes sense on the Internet, or in the 'blogoshere.' The answer is No, you are not alone.

But there is something so uncanny about the Internet. For example, ever since I posted about Sarah and Hillary American Girl dolls, I've had banners for Kit and Ruthie at the top of my NYT pages.

And yesterday, after using the word "disrespectful" in an email, the next page opened with ads for human resource seminars on "overcoming your fear of confrontation and conflict." (Lots of good advice there, as a matter of fact.)

Is it just Google? The Internet is like Thea's gift: it has long bookmark arms. If you are a Post-it Note (as I guess you are, if you have a blog), it draws in more of whatever you put out. Perhaps it invariably (commercially, cunningly) illustrates a law of Karma, or of the Golden Rule. It divines more of the same – whatever you're searching for, or thinking.

This reminds me of a story once told by a friend about the housekeeper she was close to as a child. When she would randomly open the kitchen cupboards, Ruth would say, "Whatever you're looking for, darling, it's not in there."

Or maybe it is? As Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, puts it (in an article about the three physicists who just won the 2008 Nobel Prize for Physics) "You have to look for symmetries even when you cannot find them." You have to look for patterns, recursions, rhymes in time. You are just trying to divine the markers of 'broken' or hidden symmetries.

What are you looking for today, and where will you find it? What sort of broken (or hidden) symmetry will fall from the sky, or from the hand of a child, into your lap?

(Maybe it's something from the clip art library you'll find if you click on the Hidden Symmetry patterns on the left: thanks to Jess at How About Orange!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thea's Gift

I want to create a little archive of gifts I've received, as a way of further appreciating them, and passing the ideas along.

This is the ultimate green gift, a handmade treasure made from a cast-off post-it note and page markers. A modernist spider? A conceptual self-portrait? Or just a cool thing, emblazoned with the gift-giver's name.

If you receive a gift like this from a child, you may experience the pleasure of knowing that you have been given something completely unique, touched by the mystery of the creative drive. No matter what else is going on, your life has an element of sweetness.

Thea is a member of the somewhat exclusive TH Club, that includes Thierry and Thealani, friends of hers (and relatives of mine) from Papua New Guinea. Here's a beautiful picture of the club meeting for the first time last August.

We need to create a world that allows the TH Club to best use their talents and gifts. Here in the US, we have a chance to vote in November in an historic election. We owe it to these and the rest of the world's children to choose hope, not disdain.