Friday, April 30, 2010

Maggie's painting anticipates May

April is drawing to a close, and on this glorious day I felt little desire to dig with either squat pen or fraught pixel. Instead, after dinner I planted ramps in the vicinity of our oak savanna, at the suggestion the other day of Daughter Number Three.

Those, and a rose bush, and lots of onion sets. A chokecherry, and a red oak, given away today by Sycamore Land Trust at all of the Bloomingfoods stores.

We have a newly expanded garden center at Bloomingfoods East, with bamboo plants grounded in mulch swaying in the breeze as perimeter fencing, courtesy of Needmore Bamboo. It's a beautiful thing: taking the parking lot partly back to nature.

Here's a vibrant image that reflects my mood, and my gratitude for this vanishing April: a wildflower bouquet painted by Maggie Bruce.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Watermelon brickyard hails from Japan

And now for something completely different: practical application of the square to the phenomenon commonly known as watermelon.  
These images were at the Huff Po today, of watermelons incubated inside cube-shaped glass boxes, conforming to confining angles as they grow. First available in Japan (where they once cost about $75 each), some growers are said to be trying this in Brazil and California. Square fruits take up less space in the ice box, doncha know.

I just have to say: that factory where the women sort, shrink wrap and label those bricks looks pretty depressing to me. 

Also over at the Huffington Post today, a rant about convenience foods by Michael Ruhlman and a recipe by Stephanie Bejar for vegan banana chocolate chip muffins.

Ruhlman was fresh off what looks to have been a fascinating IACP conference (for the International Association of Culinary Professionals) in Portland, Oregon, and he had this to say (in a somewhat hectoring tone) about that prevalent notion that "everyone seems to believe and propagate: that we all lead such busy lives that we have no time to cook. 

[B]ullshit. Maybe you don't like to cook, maybe you're too lazy to cook, maybe you'd rather watch television or garden, I don't know and I don't care, but don't tell me you're too busy to cook. We all have the same hours every day, and we all choose how to use them. Working 12-hour days is a choice."

Hear, here. Once you choose to loosen up and start to cook things, it can become a great stress reliever, a pleasure, a way to process your your life and the features of your day. Ruhlman goes on: "..spending at least a few days a week preparing food with other people around, enjoying it together, is one of the best possible things in life to do, period. It's part of what makes us human. It makes us happy in ways that are deep and good for us. Fast and easy has nothing to do with it." 

And when you don't want to cook anything time-consuming or complex, improvising with real food is in fact surprisingly fast and easy (dare I say?). Quick oats in little individually packaged bags, at outrageous prices? Regular oatmeal can be made in less than five minutes flat. Saute your ramps, eat an apple. Slow down and chew your food.

While you're at it (and while I'm dispensing commands): make sure that your melons stay round. Filling up every last inch of space in the fridge (or on the shipping truck) isn't high on my list. I do think those melons, in some sort of recyled material, might make a nice building material: their patterns remain quite reptilian and appealing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ramp it up for local greens

Daughter Number Three participated in No Impact Week last week, a project of Colin Beavan (author of No Impact Man), described as a "one week carbon cleanse." She wrote about trash, energy use, local food, water conservation, and transportation, warning that it could be TMI week at her blog: the sustainable, like the political, has its highly personal dimension.

Wednesday, April 21, was Local Food Day, with the challenge to eat only local food. She posted this wonderful photo of ramps from Wisconsin, and confessed to also eating fiddleheads from ostrich ferns (I wonder what those taste like?), and sorrel pesto made from a plant in her yard (sounds delicious). Let's hear it for all the pestos and green sauces: basil, cilantro, parsley, sorrel, thyme, chives, oregano, marjoram, sage, mint. Horseradish greens are also amazing, with a strong spicy taste.

My friend Cheryl reminds me that Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a great place to read about asparagus and ramps (next up: garlic scapes) as harbingers of spring. I have the book, and that's my sign – time it crack its spine.

I ate ramps, asparagus, and local egg for breakfast: it was divine.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mint sauce, like poetry, deserves a revival

Okay, folks – here is more about mint sauce, from our friends at Wikipedia. I am determined to place it on the table, as did Seamus Heaney's mum. With a bit of local lamb, or some new spring peas. Notice the line here about how this sort of sauce "became less common and mostly died out as Europe entered the Modern Era." (That's anything after the Middle Ages, apparently.)

I did have mint sauce at Sunday dinners in Ireland with Eithne and Fred Kiberd, parents of Declan, Damian, and Marguerite. Eithne, like Heaney's mother, would have known and been able to perpetuate the secrets of an older way of life, one that included an admiration for all that rife mint.

I just planted six kinds of mint a weekend before last, purchased at the beautiful expanded garden center at the East Bloomingfoods. Now I have a chokecherry bush waiting for a bit of digging. Here are 10 Essential Herbs to Grow.

This is what I love about Heaney: there is always both a poetic and a practical application to his lines, appealing to the eager part of the mind, as well as to the digger's hunched rump.


Mint sauce is a sauce made from finely chopped mint leaves, soaked in vinegar, and a small amount of sugar. Occasionally, the juice from a squeezed lime is added. The sauce should have the consistency of double cream. In UK and Irish cuisine it is traditionally used as a complement to roast lamb (but usually not other roast meats) or, in some areas, mushy peas. Mint sauce can sometimes be used in recipes in place of fresh mint. For instance, it can be added to yoghurt to make a mint raita. "Sweet and sour" sources such as Mint sauce, and Cranberry sauce were common throughout Medieval Europe, (with the use of mint being more common in French and Italian cuisine of the period than that of the English [1]), however they became less common and mostly died out as Europe entered the Modern Era[2] [3].


  1. ^ The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban, Silvano Serventi, translated by Edward Schneider, University of Chicago Press, 2000, ISBN 0226706850, 9780226706856, page 107
  2. ^!opendocument&startkey=medieval
  3. ^ Cooking in Europe, 1250-1650 by Ken Albala, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006 ISBN 0313330964, 9780313330964, page 15

External links

This condiment-related article is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Seamus Heaney's 'Mint': snippets for the eager parts of the mind

On request, prompted by a question, the last poem Seamus Heaney read here on April 15th was "Mint," from The Spirit Level, reprinted below:


It looked like a clump of small dusty nettles
Growing wild at the gable of the house
Beyond where we dumped our refuse and old bottles:
Unverdant ever, almost beneath notice.

But, to be fair, it also spelled promise
And newness in the back yard of our life
As if something callow yet tenacious
Sauntered in green alleys and grew rife.

The snip of scissor blades, the light of Sunday
Mornings when the mint was cut and loved:
My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Let the smells of mint go heady and defenceless
Like inmates liberated in that yard.
Like the disregarded ones we turned against
Because we'd failed them by our disregard.

-- Seamus Heaney
Note how "defenceless" is spelled the British way, more easily suggesting a "fence" pun around the trope of liberation and letting go. This poem linked back to Heaney's first ("Digging") and to the topic of memory:  

My last things will be first things slipping from me.
Yet let all things go free that have survived.

Heaney's mother made sauce from the mint; he made a kind of music:

The given line, the phrase or cadence which haunts the ear and the eager parts of the mind, this is the tuning fork to which the whole music of the poem is orchestrated, that out of which the overall melodies are worked for or calculated. [from Heaney's essay "The Makings of a Music: Reflections on Wordsworth and Yeats" in Preoccupations.]

Look how that poem moves from the small green beloved-yet-underestimated sauntering thing (every time the word "saunter" appears in Irish literature we have a vivid echo of Joyce, who "owns" that word) – like a mint plant sending out tenacious underground runners. It concludes with another "last thing": the disregarded/discarded "ones we turned against/ because we'd failed them by our disregard."

We turn against "the disregarded ones" and not the other way around, because of our failure to regard, to notice. It's a poem that ponders the enduring appeal of those "almost beyond notice" things (or "ones") we often neglect, that might nonetheless be ripe/rife for transformation .

A few fresh minted snippets of memory, reshaped and arranged – for the eager parts of the mind.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Seamus Heaney at Indiana University

Seamus Heaney visited Indiana University on April 15th, with conversation and poetry. "Famous Seamus!" It was a wonderful occasion – a packed hall in the Fine Arts Auditorium, a hushed awe, excited buzz. His tender wry voice, enduring words, verbs and verbiness ("all verb"), stocky nouns, the arch of a life story in which themes are elaborated and refined, dug up, returned to the ground of poetry over time. He talked about that.

The rhyme in time: the same words repeated, loaded, downloaded, delivered to new ears. The familiar cadence of his voice. His wit, humility. The aging process doing its work on an enduring specimen. White hair now. A right hardy specimen of a man.

Sweetness. He gave me a little wave as he got in the black car and was driven off after the reading. I've seen him a few other times in my lucky life, in Ireland and Minnesota, though that's all quite a long time ago now. And the next time? I hope there is one, somehow.

Heaney began, as he often does, with the poem he says was his first, "Digging." This video catches him reciting that poem in various moments over the years. (Thanks to Jenny for passing it along. Image courtesy of Indiana University.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Switching Landscapes: April showers came down

Back in sweet home Indiana, where we are having a lot of rain. Switching landscapes pretty dramatically. Along came this poem from Jade:

April showers came down. Not a real shower. Just a watering can. I was so happy, I started singing in the rain. 

Here, it's a real shower, steady all day.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Last morning in the Sonoran desert

The last morning on my green patio chair, listening to and watching the birds fly in and out of their spots in the saguaros. We've been staying in little casitas here at the White Stallion Ranch, with a broad boulevard of cactus in the garden outside the door.

Yesterday we took a long desert horseback ride, back to a destination of Rattlesnake beer and Cheetos. (I like Cheetos, but don't like Doritos: Queen Anne is addictive.)

Russell, the owner, was out on the trail with the beer coolers, ready to visit and tell stories about years on the ranch: how cool was that? This place is family-owned, by smart people who are right there at dinner, on the desert outposts, in the saddle, even teaching guests how to throw a rope. They seem to take great care in keeping the place real and the service personable: a fantastic spot for a vacation or something like Dialogue.

There have been quite a few people from England and Germany here, their flights disrupted by the Icelandic volcano. "It could be worse!" they say, over common meals on the patio and in the dining hall.

The staff here will get you up on a horse pretty quickly, too. It's true that on a horse you see the wide and shallow view, the panoramic view (as a horse does, sort of, but not really), whereas when walking you have to be so much more focused on your feet, narrow and deep.

Crisp and cool today...and then comes my plane ride, the aerial view. Kind of hard to say goodbye to the desert and the wonderful people I've met. Like summer camp for adults. (I like summer camp, but I don't like leaving – that's the feeling, even in April.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Saguaros stand tall in the Sonoran Desert

Yesterday morning we walked back into Saguaro National Park until we came to a grove of  mostly old saguaros. Saguaros have long arms supporting arms supporting arms supporting arms, though it takes as long as 60-75 years for them to develop their first one. They become homes for gila woodpeckers, purple martins, house finches, and gilded flickers. Scar tissue nests form in the saguaro accordian-like skin. We saw just a few of the wonderful blossoms, the Arizona state flower.

This is the cactus we drew as a kid, though it only exists in a relatively small area (and not at all in Texas). Note the unusual one with the crossbars, below.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two shots of Hat Mountain...(and one of tequila)

Dialogue in the Desert: We started the day at 5am with a hike in the Saguaro National Park. The desert is in bloom with an unusual number of wildflowers just now.

Here are two views of Hat Mountain – one with the sun coming up, and the other a couple of hours later. We also visited a grove of saguaros. More on that tomorrow.

Oh – and what happened yesterday, on a "learning from horse sense theme" here at White Stallion Ranch. I had a chance to practice "moving the feet" of a palomino named Peaches, eventually convincing her to follow me. That was a fascinating experience.

Later, our team wrangled three longhorn cattle into their pen, in 38 seconds flat. Pretty good for people who hadn't been on horses for years.

Just had a hayride to a cook-out, in the wind, with shots of tequila and grapefruit juice. All part of a necessary acclimation to the dude ranch life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sunrise Desert Meditation

We walked out into the desert this morning, past the grazing longhorns, to meditate as the sun rose, and to hear some flute music. Peace.

Just a couple of photos from yesterday, then I am under orders to power down. It promises to be a beautiful day here in the desert.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dialogue in the Desert Early Morning Bird Calls

Early morning in the Sonoran desert in Arizona means bird sounds – mourning doves, starlings, so many more – flying in and out of their apartments in the tall saguaro cactus. A beautiful little golden white long-eared rabbit just hopped by. I hear the snorting of horses, too.

I'm at the White Stallion Ranch this week for Joe Williams' Dialogue in the Dessert workshop...powering down with the electronics, but up with the sensory apparatus. Off to a dude ranch breakfast and then a full day of learning with folks from Canada, the US, and Australia. Outside my little casita is a glorious cactus garden, in flower thanks to rains this past year.

Many thanks to friends LuAnne and Bill for introducing me to this experience, and to Joe, for making it all happen!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Desert Sculpture

Time and space travel: I've relocated for six days to a dude ranch outside of Tuscon, home of extraordinary natural sculpture. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tomato? Potato? Calling for a Real Food Revolution

This video hints at why I so appreciate "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution". (Please click on that link and take a few seconds to signal your support for healthier eating.) I've had similar experiences with kids in elementary schools, and it is always surprising to learn how little they know about fruits and vegetables. Wouldn't a curriculum with food at its thematic center have cross-disciplinary value in life skills, health, social studies, history, reading, writing, math, science, and art? We all have to eat. (Oh, and economics, too.)

Every March, I serve Fruits of the World to fourth graders at the Lotus Blossoms Bazaar, in a booth sponsored by my food co-op. I'm shocked by how many have never tasted a kiwi, a mango, or even a mandarin orange, grapefruit, or tangerine. Some kids can't pull themselves away from the booth once they get a taste of real fruit. They bounce back all day long with a twinkle in their eyes, letting me know they are ready for another sample. Bounce, twinkle: fruit energy is palpable.

I think children have a craving for real food. We use their so-called aversion to new tastes as an excuse for under-nourishing them, and it's just laziness (and selfishness – greed) on the part of adults. We have a responsibility to do better, and Jamie Oliver is pretty adamant about that. It's so good to see this on tv. Can it make a difference? That's up to us.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution takes aim at school lunches

It's a Friday night thing for me now: checking in with Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, the reality tv show set in Huntington, West Virginia, a place Oliver refers to (somewhat inaccurately) as "the fattest city in the fattest country in the world."

Tonight he is meeting with hospital representatives, making a pitch for money. They point out how damaging it may be for Huntington to be identified with obesity. But Oliver is vehement about bringing change to the town, teaching people how to cook, and building a common commitment to fresher foods.

The show is sponsored in part by Wal-Mart, Bene-fiber, and Scott's Lawn Chemicals, so one has to wonder just how progressive its message can be. Cynical perspective: it's a green-washing opportunity for advertisers. On the other hand, I am convinced by Oliver's energy and the adamant passion he brings to the seemingly impossible task of improving school lunches. He boldly jumps in, takes risks, uses his foreignness to his advantage, and makes direct personal in-your-face appeal to those people who resist his efforts. The goal is "fresh food, cooked from scratch, on-site."

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution brings to a broad mainstream audience bold criticisms of sugared milk, trans-fats, and what he calls "horrible processed foods." It exposes the the bureaucratic issues and "state regs" that hinder change: the notion that kids need calcium from milk and will only drink it if it's altered with sugar and strawberry or chocolate  flavors, the idea that french fries are a healthy vegetable, and so on.

Learn more at the site for the show, and while there, sign the petition! It's interesting to see where the signatures accumulate: still only 5872 from Indiana so far.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Landscape Re-Mix at the Walker Art Center

Last weekend it was possible to drop off electronic waste at Indiana University to have it hauled away to be recycled. I read one comment about how someone dropped off an overhead projector: "I hadn't seen one of those in years."

Watching this very charming video, made by the landscape design studio ROLU, of a Designing Play! event at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, made me want to acquire an overhead projector of my own. In the hands of artists, the old technology tools can be remixed to very useful, beautiful, and contemporary effect. The tool is always only what we make of it.

The music is called "Coloring" by Lullatone. Lullatone "makes loopable lullabies for babies (and adults)" and has an album called Songs that Spin in Circles. If you click here to go to their Raindrop Melody Maker, you just might get lost in a splish splash of happiness and bliss.

This event look place last February, so there is snow outside those windows. Viewed through our windows today, the redbuds and apple trees are blooming. But who wants to be inside, looking out? Spring escapes into the landscape, the Earth having spun its birth circle again.

Many thanks to Nina Hale for tweeting this link.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No Impact Week begins on April 18th

There's a No Impact Week coming up, starting Sunday April 18th. I won't be able to participate this week (I have some exciting travel plans that coincide exactly with the challenge), but I'll be watching the blog when I return, and will probably try it week after next.

I know that for me this experiment will work much better as a result of having seen the film No Impact Man, so if you are interested in the challenge, I'd recommend starting there. Once you register, which you can do from a link at Colin Beavan's blog, you'll be able to download ("but don't print out") a guide to five daily steps, with a page of ideas and resources to help you with that day's challenge.

Day one, Sunday, is a reflection on consumption. To kick off, the project recommends watching Annie Leonard's video The Story of Stuff. That's another thing I've wanted to do. One nifty aspect of No Impact Week is that it rounds up resources you can explore in blog-space conversation with a cohort of others engaged with the project. There are some face-to-face events in New York City, and you can become a local No Impact ambassador in your own community too.

Cool! Regarding consumption: one thing I started to do this past January was aim for at least four Buy Nothing Days per week. This is an interesting way to develop awareness about spending. When tempted to buy something, anything (even an apple) I weigh it against the thrill of adding another Buy Nothing Day to my calendar.

I try to cluster shopping trips onto particular days, making it easy to then track purchases. For example, I might go to the co-op for groceries on a day when there is a farmers market next to it, so I can consolidate my shopping. I'll try to fill the car with gas that day too. If I'm aiming to Buy Nothing for five more days, I'll be more conscious of how much gas I'm using, cutting back on aimless or extraneous trips. This is a great way to curtail impulse purchases of all kinds, creating more consciousness around spending.

Just a statistic from The Story of Stuff, found in the No Impact Week guide: "Ninety-nine per cent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport – ninety-nine per cent of the stuff we run through this production system is trashed within six months." Can this really be true? It's a shocking statistic. Every little bit less is something I can easily buy into.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Real Life in the age of the Interweb

Tom Tomorrow's clever commentary on decorum distinctions between so-called "Real Life" and the Internet, published at Salon. Anonymity makes it so easy to be rude, our attention spans are short, and empathy can be an elusive commodity.

On the other hand, it's also a place where you may just experience the kindness of strangers or distant friends, as I have so frequently here. Thanks for clicking over to elenabella!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Remembering my grandmother Mary

It's April 12th, the birthday of my grandmother Mary, who would have been 103. She died at age 97; it doesn't seem that long ago. I have many memories of this grandmother, but had no photos of her in my computer. Mom just sent these: Mary's high school graduation picture (at age 16), and one of the last pictures taken, of Mary in her 90s on the occasion of an all class reunion in Milton, North Dakota. The last alive from her graduation class (and, eventually, the last remaining sibling in her family), Mary was the grand marshall of the parade they had for the celebration. My mother observes: "So both of these photos are school photos!"

I think of her quite often, especially at this time of year. Lilacs in bloom remind me of her, as does the Easter season.

Mary managed to live on her own until the very last weeks of her life, keeping her sharp mind, sense of humor, and interest in other people. She made hundreds of gifts during her lifetime, knitting and crocheting, embodying a sense of both thrift and generosity. She was very practical, fair, and engaging, working as an English teacher for many years. I miss her, and continue to feel her presence in my life. This late photo brings with it the tone of her voice and the sound of her laugh.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

No Impact Man has big ripple effects

Just home from two screenings of No Impact Man, the film featuring the "no impact family" of Colin Beavan, Michelle Conlin, and their endearing, adaptable daughter, Isabella. If you read my post of the other day, you'll know I was somewhat apprehensive about the eco-extremity of this project: a year of only locally grown food, no electricity, no public transportation, no toilet paper, and so on – from the heart of New York City, no less.

It's a wonderful movie, and I'll make a few observations and comments.

First, the toilet paper. I don't think it's as hard as one would think to make a switch to something else. I just searched for more about cloth toilet wipes, and found a good post from way back in 2006, at Walk Slowly Live Wildly (where I found the photo on the right). No Impact Man doesn't dwell much on the issue of toilet paper, though it shows the couple speculating about the implications of going without, feeling uneasy about assumptions people may make about hygiene. It's the lack of toilet paper that got picked up as a headliner in the New York Times when the No Impact project was publicized there. (I guess the family's solution involved only water and air drying.)

The film doesn't talk much about the family dog, so I was curious about the experiment with regard to pet ownership. It was a great project to undertake with this particular two-year-old, an amenable child who demonstrates wonderful flexibility. The scene when Beavan explains to Isabella that they will not be using toilet paper is worth the price of admission – a lovely inversion of the conversation most parents have with kids of that age.

I was relieved to see them ease into the project in phases, waiting a while to turn out the lights. Both parents struggle with the project and discuss it in revealing, honest conversations. Michelle's ambivalence is very understandable and her story holds the film together; she comes to find more value than expected in the changes that occur as the year goes by. She talks about how long the days become once the lights are out and the air conditioner off in summer, and she huddles under the covers in winter, reading by candlelight. She looks forward to story time with her daughter again, aided by a bedside lamp.

The film made me think about how I washed all of my clothes for one year in the bathtub in Ireland, stomping on them much as the family does in this show, and hanging them on wooden racks, where they would dry slowly over a number of days. (Hanging them outside on the clothesline on the roof resulted in coal-speck-covered clothes that were dirtier than before.) I huddled under the comforter, too, heating one room at a time.

Beavan is so committed to the project, without being too overbearing, and there is a bit of play in their no impact "system", humanizing the film. They are not purists, but are giving us an intimate glimpse of the messiness of their lives. Their apartment appears somewhat chaotic, with books piled high on the shelves. They aren't minimalists living an inaccessible aspirational life, but parents with work to do and the complications of competing desires.

The couple negotiates and explores the value of their decisions, showing us both frustration and joy. They aren't prescribing specifics so much as challenging us to imagine different, more creative ways to live, whether in a large city or elsewhere. It's a great test of both object and human relations, showing the unexpected benefits that may occur with a conscious step away from excessive consumption. The project asks us to ask: what do we truly want and need?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Soup Bowl Benefit 2010 captured on video by Duane Busick

Videographer Duane Busick (whose community videos I've mentioned before) has made another wonderful short video, about the annual Soup Bowl Benefit in the town where I live (just click that link to watch). Phil, who works at Bloomingfoods East, organizes the kitchen for this highly successful, soul-warming occasion.

I like what potter Karen Green Stone (shown in the photo below at the microphone) says in the video about the value of one particular bowl – a tangible object made from ancient clay, shaped by an artisan, fired in the kiln of a friend, finally selected by a Soup Bowl visitor. Here's more history, from Duane:
16 years ago Robert Meitus and Carrie Newcomer brought an idea for a community fundraiser home to Bloomington, Indiana. That idea became the Soup Bowl Benefit, now one of the most popular events in Bloomington, Indiana, providing the largest contribution to the Hoosier Hills Food Banks annual operating budget. Over 30 local artisans contribute hundreds of handmade pottery bowls, local restaurants donate an array of delicious soups, and local bakers provide bread and cookies. Carrie Newcomer's song "If Not Now" introduces the video.
Here are photos from a previous Soup Bowl, capturing some of the spirit of this annual occasion. Now we can watch the video for the more complete story – thank you, Duane!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Google Imitates Jackson Pollock

Shortly after writing about Pi Day on Sunday March 14th, I discovered an essay in the Sunday New York Times T magazine called "Google's Doodles." The author, Alice Rawsthorn, talks about the Google tradition of creating day-specific logos, and the possible broader implications for branding and design. Google, she argues, pushes against the "consistency imperative" (my words) that typically rules under Apple/Nike-style branding. Instead, many of its day-specific logos seem casual, or even amateur in their execution. Yet they fit, somehow, under the wide sweep of the Google identity.

The image used for that article, courtesy of Google, is a take on a Jackson Pollock painting. Of all the day-specific Google logos, this more subtle one is my favorite. It reminds me of a Smithsonian magazine article by Henry Adams, from November 2009, about his wife Marianne Berardi's discovery of a hidden Pollock signature in the 1943 painting Mural. Because the letters in both images are so obscured, they evoke the very act of "searching." Rev up your search engines, and look carefully behind the lines.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Managing the many human obligations – with help from a spring meditation

My mind is drawing a blank: good for a Buddhist, bad for a blogger. Actually, my head is way too full: corralling many details. And our basement flooded in last night's torrents of rain, so we literally had to sweep water down the drain, under the ground. Ground water. It's an interesting form of zen practice.

How to be mindful when you have a head full of strands to connect? That's the challenge of our time, but probably of earlier times, too, in different ways. Wanting to empty the head, the cup, the vessel, the calendar, in order to fill it with something fresh. To experience completion and calm. To tap into the flow state of mental wonder and emotional beauty. To find time to reset.

What do you do – to pause, complete, move on, renew, manage the many human obligations? Give me a tip...

In the meantime, voting closes today over at SAFE: Soap Artisan Friends of Etsy, where there is a poetry writing contest going on. Soapmakers have written poetry in the hopes of scoring some soap supplies. I love this poem by Laura Natusch of Urban Eden; run over there and give her a vote!
(Here is a little "How to Vote" tutorial: First you click on comments. Then you post a comment saying who you vote for. You'll have to do the word verification thingie. And then – this might be the tricky part – you need to choose an identity. This was easy for me because I have both a blogger account and a google account. If you don't, you'll have to register to be able to post. That involves choosing an online identity and giving them an e-mail address – so they know it's not the same person voting more than once. If you've ever made a comment here at elenabella, you're all set up: just use that process. If you are new to this, once you vote over at SAFE, you'll be all set to join the comment gallery over here – which would be terrific!)
An interesting thing about switching to only bars of handmade soap – not only are they wonderful for your skin, but they seem to last much longer than those liquid soaps in plastic dispensers. I see them as good luck talismans for self and household care. Maybe for mindfulness, too, especially when combined with meditations such as the one below.

Gardener's Poem:The Week Before Easter

Walking up Mountain Avenue
With my green plastic watering can,
I head towards the FRESH community garden,
Passing the abandoned pickle factory
And the stoop of a white, wind-chimed two-decker
Where two girls on cell phones
Unfurl their bare arms.

Salsa from the Super Fiesta Market
Mingles with sparrow song

And I think of the squirrel who, earlier this morning,
Raided my compost pile, burying her face
In an avocado with such bliss

That, reading the sign in front of the Madry Temple Church,
I can almost believe
No bunny loves you like Jesus.

Maybe today the pac choi will have sprouted?

Dandelions muscle their way through cracked sidewalks.
Forsythia swells yellow

And when, in my raised bed I find
Not pac choi, but pea seeds
Wrinkling their noses in the unexpectedly dry air,
I tuck them back under their blanket of soil,
Telling them, "Hush. Be patient. Wait
'Til you see what's coming."

Laura Natusch 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Johno! Peeper sounds abound in April

It's the birthday of my brother John, so here's a shout out to him: Happy Birthday, Johno!

I've always thought of April 7th as lucky, marked by his birth in Albert Lea, Minnesota, early in the morning on a spring day, back when I was 7 years old.

April is National Frog Month, and so I went in search of some images for John, whose daughters are fond of frogs and toads. The Smithsonian website has a good collection of amphibians.

A number of facebook friends posted this collective poem. One comment read: "Somewhere I have a haiku about daffodils as the sound of peepers made visible."

I'm lifting their words for a first blog publication, crediting the authors below. A little gift for my bro, musician with a keen ear for natural sounds and peeper songs. Thank you, facebook friends... And hey, poets: weigh in and tell us just how you wrote this poem!

The peeper frogs of April nights
sound like Spring.
They sound
the way the tiny
fat buds on the tree branches look,
and the way the first whiff of thawing grass
smells and like a friendly
alarm clock for your sense of possibility
after the long huddle of winter. I love peepers.

I would wear one as a brooch
if I could.

They sound like
Nothing else.

Music to my ears!
I always wave wildly to them
but I can never tell if they wave
back. So tiny.

Like the stars whistling for the comets
to come home. Like tulip tree fingers
ttrumming harp strings of rain.

Brooch indeed!
Hat brims of peeper songs
spilling over in the dark.

by Julia Dadds, Chuck Rogers, Carolyn VanderWiele, Nell Weatherwax, Melodie Hudson, Lisa Wheeler-Lovell, Diane Kondrat