January 2008

Monthly Archive


Posted by on 30 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: citizenship, editorial, musings, politics, Politics and War, poverty, Uncategorized

I don’t usually post on politics, but my preferred presidential candidate has stepped down.  I am looking for the “next-best” now…  and reviewing the options that remain.

So, let’s talk politics a bit: What makes for a good leader? What is the difference between campaigning and doing the job? What sort of qualifications should one have to be president of the United States?

Well, those aren’t in a very good order, let’s start with the middle question: The difference between campaigning and doing a job.

Like going to a job interview, or dating, campaigning is almost scripted. There are certain things the person WILL say or MUST say. If they don’t, the deal falls through. The person is on best behavior, and, temporarily, will have abundant verve and sparkle; stamina will seem limitless, just from the adrenaline rush.  They might inflate their qualifications, or even outright lie about their preparation.  Doing the job, you are going to see the worst of the person at times. They will be tired, sick, distracted. They will sometimes take unnecessary risks, they will make mistakes. They may not have the skills or interests they so loudly trumpeted earlier.  When you are interviewing you look for the chinks in the facade, those key signs to the person’s real values…  but it’s difficult to tell sometimes. Once the person is hired, married or elected, it is difficult to change your mind. The difference between campaigning and doing the job? Almost everything.

Next topic. Actually the other two really go together in many ways. So I’ll bundle those responses. What makes a good leader — and what qualifications does one need to be president?

I’ll start with the two key things I look for in a candidate: intelligence and good management skills. The president does need to make a lot of decisions, to weigh complex alternatives, to discern fact from fiction. Only an intelligent person can do this. But no matter how intelligent, there is simply too much information that flows these days, so the president needs to be a good manager — able to pick a reliable team who can parse the information and distill the most important non-routine parts for the president to work on. Micromanagers have no business in office.

But I think a good president has some additional qualities, that we haven’t seen in a very long time (perhaps my entire life!). Courage — not the kind it takes to lead a nation into war, but the kind it takes to place oneself in the light when scrutiny is on the office and its workings. Compassion — a true, abiding concern for the well-being of others, not just when it’s convenient, not just when it garners votes, and even when it means that the status quo needs to be adjusted. Creativity — I think the president needs to be willing to look at new information; to look at old information in new ways; to play around with “what if” and be open to change course if necessary.  Finally, I think the president needs to be a Coalition Constructer — rather than setting up “me/mine vs. them” in the government, the president really ought to look for the common interests, bring the people together and help them look forward.

That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.

I do think the president should be an independent thinker, not bound by religious authorities whose basic theologies undermine the constitution; not beholden to corporations and their profit-margins.  But being an independent thinker doesn’t mean that the opinions and hopes of others are ignored, just that decisions are made based on all the facts, and what will be best, in the long run, for the most people.

I would like to see my country move out of the extremely divisive, black-white thinking modes that have really predominated since the 1980s…  and become a truly United nation once again.

The chances of that happening any time soon, at this point…   I don’t know.


Posted by on 28 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized, weather

Yes, the entire county closed down today due to snow. Out our way we only had a couple inches, but enough to make the roads a bit slick. Tom is waiting until later in the day to go in. He tried once, but the roads were too treacherous.

Here are a few pictures I sent one of the kids out to take… once the sun came out the snow started melting FAST!

The first is the medlar tree by the front door, now pruned (you can see the fresh cuts from last week), looking toward the driveway and the neighbor’s on the north:

the medlar with some snow on the larger branches

Here is the chestnut, again with abundant snow on the lower branches, but the lovely fluffy snow that had been on the twigs had all fallen off:

the chestnut with orange, peeling bark and a bit of snow on the strong lower branches

Last but not least, a picture taken toward the sun, showing the sparkling ice that coated the branches briefly as the snow began to melt:

snow on the ground, ice sparkling on branches above...

Bragging Rights

Posted by on 26 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: children, friends, fun, good things, Kid Activities, music, school, Uncategorized

As you-all probably know by now, I am unjustifiably proud of my kids. Well, it’s school play season again, and our younger has a great part (again). Here he is in a few pics from today, ladies and gents, I present Nicely-Nicely Johnson!

Makeup artist at work:

Nicely gets made up by a Doll

How to take a hat off, you can see the great microphone over his ear:

Nicely and Rusty rehearse

The gangsters all together, Nathan Detroit is in the blue tie:

A bunch of Brooklyn Gangsters

Left to Right: Rusty Charlie, Benny Southstreet, Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and Harry the Horse.

Nicely, Rusty, Benny and Harry the Horse discuss the crap game

Nicely singing “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” — and as he sank, and he shouted someone save me

Nicely rocks the boat

(That’s the moment he woke up — Thank the Lord!)

This production has been great fun. Frank Loesser wrote such great music and lyrics!

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Not too soon to think: SPRING!

Posted by on 15 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: birds, environment, fun, garden, Gardens and Life, good things, Uncategorized

YES! It is that time of year again!

Time to prune, dormant spray, and plan for additions that go in once the spring has warmed enough to support root growth.

Today was VERY cold in the morning. Around eleven, when I went out for the second time to the local school there were only two slick places left on the main road… But now the sun is out (with a few clouds beginning to gather) things are warming up. Almost 12 degrees now, centigrade (that’s about 53 F for us in the United States) — in the sun. Still in the low 40s in the shade. The ice on the rain barrel is more than a half inch thick!

So my task today was to identify the areas that need pruning before I spray. If I had a sprayer I could spray today — no wind and no rain… but as it is, I have to wait anyway. So it looks like I can leave the chestnuts and quince alone this year, and the peach and nectarine need only a little work if any.

However, the medlar needs some modification so it grows parallel to the house and not into the house or the driveway. The viburnum (snowball bush) is out of control.

the medlar tree, with some wild side branches that need removingthe completely wild viburnum

The apples are pretty good, will prune for airflow and remove water suckers later this week. I am also considering removing the lowest branches on the tall apple tree so it doesn’t interfere with the plum (which grows more horizontally than I expected) — or with walking!

the kids 4 in one applemy early bearing apple

I am not sure what to do about the pear tree… It is grafted and I didn’t get the branches spread when it was young. I have two options I can see, both will mean the loss of future fruit, but would ensure some fruit at some point (so far we had blossoms, but it has never set fruit in 7 years). I can remove the grafts that are too vertical and spread what else remains that is able to be bent. OR I can prune for airflow and remove water sprouts, knowing that eventually the tree will weaken sooner than if an experienced orchardist had taken charge. I am tending toward the latter… It is nice and tall, and has good shape so it would be a pretty, if less productive, corner.  For comparison, the second pic is the cherry tree (about the same age) with a couple lower branches that I will take off this year — it is still mostly a whip!

the 3 in 1 pear tree the cherry tree with lots of height, not many branches yet on top

The plum tree is in trouble. Water sprouts have shot up from the dead leader we removed in the autumn, and it needs some serious shape control this year. I can wait a couple more weeks on this, the flowerbuds are starting to form, and if I wait then I can bring the branches indoors and force some pretty blooms. I know that it has a bark beetle of some kind in it, so I need to really work at it this year, or we will lose the tree entirely.

Finally, the lovely magnolia my mother bought for my birthday last year is all but dead. I reached out to look at the buds on one older branch and it came off in my hand, then another, and another. Then I grabbed the leader and pulled. It snapped off, just above a strange lesion in the bark. However, there are some healthy branches coming up from above the graft that may take over. I will take a wait and see approach with this one.

the magnolia, much reduced

Other things I saw on my walk around the yard were a few daffodils starting to push up, irises that I had forgotten showing green (hoping the freeze didn’t damage them), and the gorgeous rose hips on two of the shrubs. One has orange hips (the flowers are a pale pink), the other red (bright pink flowers… year-round apparently, as you can see in the photo). The rosemary grows bigger and happier every year. I know I need to plant a couple more (or start some from the branches) because they do have a limited life, but I just love it’s healthy green-and-silver foliage!

a pic of the orange rose hips, look more yellow in this the pink rose with big red hips

Now that I am inside, I see the birds are eating the seed I put out. Nuthatches and a bluejay so far, but I am sure there are chickadees not far behind!

I leave you with a picture of the moon, hovering over the tall firs across the street…

the moon above the trees

Symphony Etiquette

Posted by on 12 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: art, fun, good things, music, Uncategorized

We attended the Seattle Symphony again last night, the second of the three annual “Baroque” concerts. The original conductor wasn’t able to be there, but his stand in was excellent. Wonderful presence, fun to watch, great to listen to. I was intrigued by the first violist who was highly energetic — fun to watch, and an excellent musician. The concertmistress was similarly interesting to watch, which made for a very fun show.

Trying to remember what the music was, I know the composers: Handel (symphony in G minor maybe?), Alessandro Marcello, J.C. Bach and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Dardanus. The music was excellent, engaging and well-executed.

But our experience was marred slightly by a couple things from the audience. The first piece, by Handel was interrupted after each movement. The audience didn’t understand that applause is held until the end of the entire piece! Or, on the rare occasion that a solo is completely exquisite… but that is highly unusual. Hold your applause until the conductor drops his arms and the musicians relax their hands/lower their instruments.

After Handel, the ushers allowed more people into the hall (note, it is appropriate to leave the hall during a piece for medical or other emergencies, but one never enters the hall while music is being played). Two young women sat down behind us, and before they were fully settled, I bolted for the door. Why? Because they were wearing enough perfume to drown an elephant. And I am sensitive to most fragrances in small amounts. The ushers found me a spot toward the back of the hall, away from other people. I was upset by having to move TWO CONCERTS IN A ROW because someone was wearing perfume in quantity sufficient to chase me out. A hundred years ago most scents were organic, somewhat rare, and highly expensive. One wore just enough to offset body odor. Today, perfumes are usually synthetic, readily available, and really inexpensive. That doesn’t mean you need to bathe in it — remember that scent interferes with taste as well as smell, and for those who are sensitized, it can be dangerous. Be subtle in your use of scents, only the person close enough to hug should notice what you smell like. Don’t wear extra perfume to concerts or restaurants.

Finally, there are always people who need to cough, sneeze, blow their noses, or otherwise be human. Do so discretely, leave the hall if you have to completely clear your lungs. Unlike a movie or a rock concert, where the sound comes from many directions (and is quite loud) live acoustic music is more easily lost in background noise. This time of year, cold and flu season, you’re going to cough, sniffle or need to blow your nose. It happens. But what doesn’t have to happen is rustling papers, whispering to your companions or any of a myriad other common but impolite noise making. Basically, if you must make noise during the music (more than the single, occasional cough) leave the hall discretely.

Other than that, the concert was again lovely. It was nice to see so many children there with their parents, and many young adults. By and large, the patrons of the Seattle Symphony are polite, interested people. They enjoy the music, they enjoy their night out. Benaroya Hall is an excellent venue, comfortable, easy to get to and well-appointed.

Social Class — How Privileged are you?

Posted by on 10 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Peace Making, poverty, social justice, Take Note, Uncategorized

I found this meme by reading a fellow-babbler’s blog (jesdraggon — hi!), then I followed up with a bit of research… you will see some links at the bottom of this. Here is the meme. The bold items are the ones that I know to have been true for me.

To participate in this blog game, copy and paste the list into your blog, and bold the items that are true for you.

* Father went to college He was one of the first to attend college in his family (except for one grandfather; his mother and his elder sister attended just before he did — almost concurrent).

* Father finished college He has always been proud of this, and of the Master’s degree he obtained when I was about 12.

* Mother went to college Except for her mother, who attended and graduated from a two-year junior college, she was the first we know of in her family to receive higher education.

* Mother finished college And also has a Master’s and considerable credits toward an abandoned PhD as well, she studied mostly because she loved her field (education) and believes in life-long learning!

* Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.

* Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers. Middle class, all!

* Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.

* Had more than 500 books in your childhood home. I am including the magazines like National Geographic as well as my own collection of books that was easily close to 200 before I was a teenager…

* Were read children’s books by a parent.

* Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.

* Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18. Horseback riding when I was about ten, piano lessons as a teen, ballet lessons sporadically between the ages of 4 and 12, swimming lessons here and there… some “summer school” elective courses. But see the comment above about my mother’s profession and interest in education!

* The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.

* Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.

* Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs. Actually, my parents had set some money aside when I was young, and so my first year of college was paid for, partly by that and partly by them. The remaining years I was on my own… and I highly recommend letting young people figure out how to finance their education. It meant so much more to me because I was responsible for getting myself there.

* Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.

* Went to a private high school.

* Went to summer camp. Only once, a girlscout camp for two weeks, and I HATED it.

* Had a private tutor before you turned 18.

* Family vacations involved staying at hotels. At least often enough that I have always felt comfortable in hotels, but we also did a lot of camping. TENT camping.

* Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18. or my mother made the clothes; we didn’t have much money at times, but she always made sure we had something nice to wear when we started school each autumn.

* Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.

* There was original art in your house when you were a child. Some was original, some were rubbings of ancient asian stone carvings. Nothing big, nothing highly valuable, but enough to make art seem as necessary as air. We did have a piano…

* Had a phone in your room before you turned 18.

* You and your family lived in a single family house.

* Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.

* You had your own room as a child. Almost had to, my only sibling was a boy!

* Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course. Didn’t do this, but did successfully take two AP tests for college credit as a senior…

* Had your own TV in your room in High School.

* Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College.

* Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16. This was part of being a military brat though, relocations often entailed going very long distances.

* Went on a cruise with your family.

* Went on more than one cruise with your family.

* Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.

* You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family. I have a caveat on this. I know that after I turned 13 things were really tight for the family and the cost of everything was unspoken but understood… We heated in part with a large woodstove.

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Snow Day

Posted by on 08 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: birds, children, climate, critters, environment, Gardens and Life, Making a Difference, parenting, rain, Uncategorized, weather

Today we woke to snow.  No school for one, late start for the other child.  My volunteering for the day was scratched, of course.

I didn’t take any pictures today — I think there will be snow again this year.  The way the weather has been, I rather expect more like this, more regularly than we used to get.

Let’s face it:  the weather has been strange all over the world this year.  Some places are generally warmer, others wetter, still others colder than normal.  That list is our area — mostly colder and grayer than normal.  Established plants have done fine…  but newer ones will probably struggle unless we get to warmer, sunnier weather later this year.

And I will struggle.  I have really done pretty well so far this winter, with the moods and all, but today there was something about the gray skies, the dimmer house (the skylights were covered with snow), and the cold air that drifted in every time a dog needed in or out.  It took me most of the day to really wake up and get moving.

When I did, it wasn’t really that bad.  Went outside with the kid who stayed home, did a bit of yard work, walked a dog, came back in and had a nice hot chocolate.  Played some of the Wii video game — the Mario Galaxy one, of course.

And it was fine.  The kid was happy, we had a good day.  But I am in a thoughtful mood now.  Keeping enough lights on to help me stay awake takes a lot of power.  Playing the video game takes power.

How much of my daily activities are in fact contributing to the changing weather?  To Global Warming specifically?  What am I teaching my children, sitting inside, with the lights on?  Would it be better for me to get rid of the tech toys and instead only use older-fashioned things for leisure activities?

What amount of personal sacrifice is reasonable, what is necessary?  Are the necessary sacrifices reasonable?

Meantime, we are having a decent winter.  So far, the storms have been small for us this year, but the mountains are building a nice snowpack, and if it doesn’t get warm too fast in the spring, we will have enough water this year.

Guys and Dolls

Posted by on 06 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: children, education, fun, good things, music, parenting, school, Uncategorized

Well, you heard it here first (maybe):  our acting stidkid once again has a speaking/singing part in the school production.  He will play Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, Jr.

Research tells us that the original actor of the role was Stubby Kaye, who played Nicely first in 1950 on Broadway, and again in the movie with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.  For an audition piece, the kid chose Nicely’s final song, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” — and wowed those who were watching (I was, unfortunately, not there).  Yes, we have watched the movie several times!

The other productions stidkid#2 has been in have been Iago, the annoying parrot in Aladdin, Jr. (in 2006), and Fat Sam in last year’s highly acclaimed (by parents and grandparents anyway) Bugsy Malone, Jr.

This time, he will not only have speaking lines, but several songs and a solo!  More work, but hopefully also more fun.  There will be three performances.  Tom will help backstage, I will be one of his groupies and attend all performances.  Taking part in things like this — or the student orchestra, or the school Knowledge Bowl or Debate team…  all part of learning to extend yourself, to perform under pressure, to give pleasure to others who get to watch/listen/participate.  This is a great learning experience, and a way to stretch his wings.

Yes, I am very proud of him, and excited that his preparation for this production has paid off in getting a good part again.

National Treasure Two…

Posted by on 06 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: children, friends, fun, review, Uncategorized

Go see it.  It’s funny, fast-paced, engaging and just plain fun.  I don’t think it all hangs together as well as the first, but it was a fine way to spend an evening with five people aged 12 to 41…   appealing to the kids and the adults, the whole theater was giggling and hollering at the same time.

I like Nicholas Cage — and they brought back the same actors for the other parts as well.   As a team, they work well.  Also Helen Mirren’s part was a lot of fun.

Just go see it.

Oh — and a final note.  For us, the movie started with a Goofy short, a new disney animation about how to set up a home theater system…  it will be a CLASSIC Goofy in years to come.  The right amount of dead-accurate (I think Tom’s side is bruised from my elbowing him) “how a man shops” sequences and totally ridiculous antics.  Again, the audience ALL enjoyed it, from tots to grey-beards.

New Year’s Goals and Resolutions

Posted by on 04 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: caring, editorial, Gardens and Life, good things, health, Interesting Websites, musings, plans, Uncategorized

Well, it’s something that takes a while for me… I have been mulling things over all week.  I have read articles on people making resolutions (for about a month pre-new year they appear in various publications), and goal-setting and such, and thought about them.A few days ago, I added an interesting widget to my site on the Cool Things page (or you can go directly to the website that hosts it: Joe’s Goals. It will help me track the things I am actually accomplishing each day and week. A bit of incentive, since now the whole world can see what I am up to — and what I actually manage to do. But I am holding back from actually making any promises about specific goals or resolutions for this year. Why? Because there are many uncertainties in my life right now, and I want to be consistent and steady, not new and improved.

Here’s what I think…

A lot of us make HUGE promises on a regular basis. We start the new year (or season or job or…) with the best intentions, we’re going to lose weight (or get a new job or declutter the garage or…), and when, after a couple weeks we lose steam and things don’t seem to happen as fast as we wish they would…  everything sort of falls apart.

We give up too easily.

I am speaking here of people who are from the United States (though other cultures have similar heritage), with the social conditioning to work very hard without complaining and rely only on oneself: the puritans were strong believers in perfecting oneself. I think those of us from that cultural heritage are caught in an impossible trap. And it’s one that many spiritual and political leaders have perpetuated without thinking about the implications.

There are two flaws, two specific ways of thinking that both lead to the same result. The first is that if one doesn’t do what they said that all is lost. We can see this in children (and their parents) who fixate on making straight As… the first B that shows up on a report card collapses their plans and self-esteem.  All-or-nothing thinking falls apart as soon as “all” becomes impossible.

The second error in thinking is that there will always be another day… another opportunity. The sad truth is that if I pass up this opportunity to stop and visit with a friend he may be gone the next time I have a chance.  If I put off tilling the garden in March, it simply won’t be ready in April when it’s the best time to plant cabbages, and any cabbages I manage to get planted (late) will be small and bolt before they reach the right size.  “Tomorrow” may NOT come, so I really should do what I can today (within reason, see below).

Both ways of thinking can lead to the same result:  NOTHING.

I would much rather take the middle-road.  Some would say I strive for mediocrity.  Perhaps.  But I manage to keep going, and even improving without making myself or the people around me miserable.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Set reasonable, measurable goals.  Something that is slightly more than you are doing now, but well within your abilities and comfort zone.  Measurable, in that you can count it in some way.  You can say, “I did the dishes before playing video games X times this week.”  Or, “I managed to increase the number of miles I can run in an hour by X%.”
  2. Give yourself permission to take “holidays”- or fail – and stick to the program the rest of the time.  For example, if I decide to work out at the gym five days a week instead of the three days I had been, I also give myself permission to miss three days a month.  This way, if I am sick one day, or just tired/distracted/busy, and don’t make it to the gym then I am not guilt-ridden the next day.  But limiting my “bye” days is important, so I don’t just take a whole week off every other week!
  3. Also give permission to change goals mid-stream.  Perhaps I start the season with good health, but get influenza halfway in.  For me, it takes at least six weeks to regain my energy levels.  During that time, I really can’t do as much as before.  So, until my energy returns to normal, perhaps I change my work-out routines to be more stretching, and drop back to two days a week for aerobics, and re-evaluate my progress when my health returns.
  4. Remember that what is right for me is not right for others.  I spent years with extreme back pain.  I simply cannot do certain types of exercises without landing in bed on an ice pack.  And the sort of neat house that was both possible and appealing to my grandmother is TOO neat and tidy for my comfort level.  My goals and resolutions are not an opportunity for competition, they are to help me feel better about myself, to enrich my life.  If they make me MORE miserable, then I have either the wrong levels set, or just the wrong goals.
  5. Review your progress on a regular basis.  Once a year is not enough to stay on top of problem areas, once a week is probably too frequent to get perspective on over-all trends.  Every two or three weeks (depending on the goal) to once a month would let you see progress and problem areas (in time to make changes), and re-evaluate both the status of the projects and whether they are reasonable.
  6. Get someone to help you.  Some folks like exercise buddies, some folks meet up once a week to discuss their successes and failures.  I have put the Joe’s Goals gizmo on my website so interested folks can see what I am up to.  For me, making it more public is good incentive.  Having a sympathetic ear, or a “coach” of some kind can be a good way to both get an incentive to make goals and to gain perspective on where you are heading.
  7. The last bit is:  be patient with yourself.  You aren’t going to get everything done easily if you have set reasonable goals.  If you DO get everything done, your goals are too low.  If you get no sense of accomplishment or always feel you are behind, then your goals are set too high.  You should have to stretch a little bit on a regular basis, but not so far or so often that you end up exhausted or disillusioned.

Anyway, that’s what I think.  That’s why my resolutions are to maintain course this year, to maybe get a part-time job at some point to help finance children’s activities and art supplies, to be more diligent in stretching exercises to prevent injuries when I am working in the garden.

I hope you have a successful, prosperous new year!

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