Friday, November 14, 2008

One Friday Friday

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One pair of shoes Thursday

I’m going frivolous after yesterday’s artsy bit and talking about one of my favorite things at the moment--my birthday present-- Quebec boots in Espresso by Palladium… In fact, between the Palladium boots and the Palladium ballet flats, I hardly wear any other shoes anymore.

Because I love them. PS, look closely at the top and you’ll catch a glimpse of the pretty flowers printed on the suede inside. They make me happy on these cold rainy days!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Work of Art Wednesday

If I could own only one work of art…hm, any work of art? I’m tempted to choose a huge installation (one that I could live in...Oh! I know…I would choose San Marco in Florence, the museum that houses the murals by Fra Angelico. ), but I’ll restrict it to a smaller object. This one is so tough, I’m even going to restrict it to more modern-day paintings.
I can narrow it down to two, at least, two of my favorite redemptive artists:

#1: Everlasting Fire by Erica Grimm-Vance and #2: Columbine Flowers by Makoto Fujimura

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Moment back Tuesday--Monday's post on Tuesday

Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.
Hermann Hesse (1877 - 1962)

We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery.
H. G. Wells (1866 - 1946)

This one’s tough. I’m deliberately not making a regret-based decision (i.e., one-time-I-came-up-with-the-perfect-response-to-that-question/action/comment-2-days-later). There are plenty of those, but I’m going to pick a good moment. College graduation? Getting serenaded by an Italian waiter on my birthday with a concertina? Jumping on the stupid couch and singing Jingle Bells along with the Yule Log after thanksgiving dinner? Nachos on the terrace above Ghirardelli square? Satellite watching on the hill in the park? Walking into an apartment in Rio Maggiore after having been stranded in the freezing rain and lightning storm for over an hour? The Hot Chocolate and Cookies Moment? The Apple Day? The giant organic salad and conversation on religion in Berkeley? The “make your own fun” conversation? The Mat Kearney concert worship moment? Laughing myself breathless with a good friend and a couple of serendipitous hats? I’ve had a lot of good moments. But the one that keeps coming back to me now is one that happened a long, long time ago, the 2nd time I met a girl named Corrie Anne Alyssa.

The thing I like about Corrie (well, there are lots of things, actually) is that rather than play Frisbee (although she loves it) or shop in the college bookstore (although she has a nose for finding the most singular items while shopping), one day at camp she wanted to just hang out with me. And we both agreed that the undeniably best place to just hang out was the civil-war-era cemetery. The cemetery is a walled-in hilltop spot in the middle of the campus. Filled with broken and sunken headstones, with barely readable inscriptions, Metal-work crosses and ancient lilac trees, it’s the perfect place for manufacturing chills while discussing L.M. Montgomery’s ghost stories, the perfect place for talking about light and shadows, death and sunshine, real and ghostly, books, poetry, and the soul. I do believe that moment is the one that sort of made us friends for life.

This time around, that’s the moment I would pick. Yup. It’s a good one.

Got a good moment you’d like back?

If I could only have one...Week

This was a journaling assignment I used to like to give to my students when I taught English. We are so used to variety in our culture, that I always thought it was good to think about limitation. I used it as a segue into talking about word choice in writing. One student wrote about if he could only have one song on his ipod (“Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MG’s—a masterful choice.). Some of the other topics I remember:

If I could only wear one pair of shoes (Chuck Taylor All-Stars)

If I could only see one person’s face (edited to protect identity—I wouldn’t want a high-school crush recorded on the internet, either)

If I could only eat one thing all the time (In’n’out Burger)

If I could only shop at one store (Wal-mart)

The Wal-mart one was obviously practical, but it was great fun to see what they could come up with. I think I’ll try it myself.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One Thing Not to do on a Monday

I failed to transfer my posting genius to my work computer via google docs as I intended to do today, so you get stuck with a makeshift introduction to this week's theme!

"If I could only have one...."

It's Monday; ergo, things go wrong. One thing not to do (lest your Monday go even more wrong): Do not introduce your keyboard to a large glass of tea. (I don't use a mug for my tea. it gets cold too fast. ) I use one of those tall POM glasses, because my tea strainer fits perfectly in it, and since it's clear I can tell how long to steep.

Students of physics will understand this essential fact of nature, that law you may or may not remember from high school that says in principle, "a glass equal to or taller than its width will tip over twice as quickly and spill 4x the liquid in a direction equal to the thrust of its fall."

While attempting to file an invoice in my too-small desk file, I knocked the glass over onto my desk. It was alright--nothing really got ruined since the gushing Formosa Oolong was mostly absorbed by my ergonomic keyboard. It wasn't the greatest keyboard in the world (the previous employee who owned it was apparently a big eater.) It was always full of crumbs from before I inherited it. But it did not create a really irritating chinese language toolbar in the middle of my left hand monitor before today. And it didn't give me three letters for the price of one until this morning, either. I could probably kill the speed-typing record because every time I hit "B" I got pbgh. "N" produced n[ll. And M apparently installed the wierd Chinese toolbar I now cannot get rid of, and also sent an unfinished email to my entire department (the email was full of wacky alphabet characters I had been attempting to type). So I unplugged sad old crumby keyboard and dumped the tea out of it, also dislodging a mass of sticky junk. I pried off a few keys, attempted use in various stages of dryness, and tried plugging in an old, filthy dell keyboard I found in the supply room. Finally I went in shame to tech support and asked meekly for a new keyboard.

Anybody got a bright idea for a POM glass sippy cup lid? Or how to get rid of wierd Chinese Toolbar (it calls itself PinYin) thingy?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Woods Wednesday and Welcome…

…to Socialist Democracy. I couldn’t help myself, it’s a significant event in history. Gotta say, the Obama party looked like fun, kind of makes me wish I could have voted for him.

Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend's success.
Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), The Soul of Man under Socialism (1881)

Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.
Henry Van Dyke

I wouldn’t be a legitimate Whatcom County coffee-drinker if I didn’t discuss The Woods Coffee, the award winner for 3 years running for the West Coast Small Business “Hottest Brand of the Year.” Wes Herman started Woods coffee in my li’l ol’ hometown of 12,000 mostly-Dutch people. To my mind, getting the Dutch population to start handing out $3 per cup for “fancy” coffee to the tune of 7 county locations (at the moment) is an achievement that deserves recognition. However, it’s the marketing that is the real genius behind this operation, and not the coffee. This may sound sort of negative, but it’s really not. It proves that even with little capital, hard work, an incomparable marketing strategy, employee care and team-building, an emphasis on excellence, a few slightly risky investments, and good customer rapport, you can build a great business…although half your hard-earned profits will now go to taxes and socialized medical care, Wes. Sorry about that!

Enough of bitterness…now on to the coffee. Yes, the comparison was intentional. Woods is not the place to order an Americano. They have their own brand of roast, which is deeply loved by some and just as deeply abhorred by the opposition, of which I am a member. Woods is the coffee shop for those who want all of the coffeehouse atmosphere, but want to forget they’re actually drinking coffee. I’ve tried and tried, because I really would love to like the local, small-business chain coffee, but it’s just not feasible. If you don’t like enormous, sugary drinks, the Woods is just not for you. Also, tantrum points for not serving 8. oz cups. Ever heard of controlled serving sizes?

So now I’ll go on to what I do like:

The tea. The Woods serves
Spice Hut teas, now exclusively. What is the Spice Hut? A local small business selling looseleaf and specialty teas and whole spices. My favorite drink is the London Fog, Earl Grey looseleaf tea steeped in ½ cup hot water with a shot of vanilla and filled the rest of the way with steamed milk. Another fave is the looseleaf white blueberry tea.

The atmosphere. The Woods has a consistently customized environment: Stained cement floors, custom lamps (shaped tin to look like trees silhouetted in front of Mount Baker), custom countertops (shaped and finished stainless steel to look like tree grain), pine-log walls, stone fireplaces, comfy leather couches, and Ansel Adams prints feature in every Woods location. And the free wireless is the perfect temptation to walk away from $-bucks.
There you are, folks, now you know about The Woods Coffee. And how I voted. Comments away!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Torre Caffe and Temple Bar Tuesday

All romantics meet the same fate someday. Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe.
Joni Mitchell, song-The Last Time I Saw Richard

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
T.S. Eliot

If you ever come to Bellingham, these are two necessary stops in my “officious” tour guide service—Torre Caffe and The Temple Bar. Torre Caffe is best visited in the bustling morning or at lunch, while the Temple is best late at night.

Torre Caffe is a tiny, bustling lunch spot owned by Pasquale and Louisa, natives of the Ligurian coast of Italy. The dining floor of the café is as packed with tiny tables as possible, and during the lunch rush you’ll often have to take your not-a-thing-comes-out-of-a-can soup to go. One of my favorite things to do while waiting in line is to enjoy an inward giggle at Pasquale’s handwritten non-sequiturs on the signs “Scramblade eggs, sausquage, on english muff” is delicious, though last week’s “roasted paper and tomato soup” was also a show-stopper. Step to the front of the line, where Pasquale is typically waiting for your order amid the chaos of Louisa running the espresso machine and alternately assembling the cannolli at a refrigerated counter at the back: ‘ciao, ciao, come va?! Cappucino?’ This is the kind of place, fellow coffee buffs, where it’s safe to order an Americano or even a Machiatto shot. No need for sugar and milk to cover any off flavor or bitter shots.
Worthy of note is the pesto Lasagna special, the delicious Panini sandwiches, chocolate and cream filled croissants, and especially the dolce menu…made-from-scratch cannolli, chocolate tartufo, and limoncete.

The Temple Bar is through the back door of my office, past the new Pickford Dreamspace Studios and Independent Theater and across the under-construction pedestrian plaza which will be the center of the new downtown Arts district. Named after the “original” Temple Bar in Ireland (there are about 17 bars claiming to be the original Temple, according to my friend Alyssa who went to Dublin in March), the Temple Bar is a bar in the European sense, which is quite different from the American sense. While traveling in Italy this past spring, my friends and I grew to love the sight of the glowing three letters B-A-R on the corner of a busy street or down a small alley. It meant coffee, warmth, a chance to sit with the local community, and (possibly) a latte served in a goblet for breakfast. A bar is a combination of café and bar, and typically serves espresso, pastries and possibly lunch items, along with wine and beer, plus some common liquours like grappa and limoncello.
The Temple Bar is similar, serving a large wine menu, some beer choices, and truly amazing espresso drinks, along with a small selection of appetizers, Panini, and desserts. The best way to hit the Temple is to order a Temple Café—espresso, milk, and a dash of strong hazelnut wine with whipped cream—and sit with friends at the rickety wooden kitchen table in the window with a church pew on one end and a few mismatched kitchen chairs around the other sides. Settle in for a good long chat or card game. The good stuff takes time, just like in Italy.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mocha Monday

Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 'Gift From the Sea'

"ah, ambrosia, Nectar of the Gods."
--Chad Warren

I work downtown. This means that from my office door, I am less than a 10-minute walk away from myriad coffee houses, cafes, and local roasters. Coffee is literally in the air here. But each place has its place in my heart for different reasons. Ordering a mocha, however, narrows the field considerably.

Chocolate is one of my favorite things. However, mochas a la Starbucks are too much sugar, too little chocolate for my taste. I don’t order mochas often (expensive! I leave them for a treat.) but when I do I like a richer variety of chocolate. The best option is a 4-block walk from my office door up to Railroad Avenue to Caffe Adagio. Adagio is a posher, yuppie-ish (for Bellingham) coffee and lunch spot. They serve Torrefazione brand coffee, and a bonus is the beautiful latte art in the foam of every cup, even a to-go cup. No Hershey’s syrup here: Belgian ground chocolate is mixed into expertly foamed milk and rich espresso. Ok, drooling is bad for your keyboard. I won’t mention the Avenue Bread cinnamon rolls.

The two runners-up for mochas are Café Avellino on Railroad, and the Daisy Café on Magnolia. Both use ground chocolate also, but Adagio wins with a slight advantage for the pretty flower in the foam. I’m a sucker for presentation!

Adagio is pretty, too, with spacious skylights, good lighting, hanging ivy, wide stone floors, and painted murals. Couches, a fireplace, and tables of the gathering, kitchen, and café variety fill the floor, and a big bookshelf full of great books on travel, art, and even a few volumes on C.S. Lewis and theology hides a kiddie corner with a piano. It’s a quiet atmosphere perfect for studying or meeting people for a quiet conversation. Bonus: free internet access!

Happy November!

It’s coffee week at the Leaf! Attempting to blog every day can be daunting, so I started with an easy theme assignment on one of my favorite luxuries: local coffee. Buckle up, because Bellingham is just far enough away from Seattle to be a little more independent of Starbucks, and the variety of local and frankly awesome coffee brewers leaves me with more choice than I could ever take advantage of. First up: Mocha Monday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Type-A(?) Tuesday

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
John Lennon (1940 - 1980), "Beautiful Boy"

A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation.
Saki (1870 - 1916), "The Square Egg", 1924

I’ve never been a math person. I scraped pretty good grades by doing all of the homework and extra credit, while hopefully passing the tests. Thankfully, I had a few good teachers who believed the good theory that it’s mostly the hard work and discipline that counts in life, not merely getting the right answers. In spite of being disinclined to mathematical enterprise (my checkbook is ever unapologetically unbalanced), I was inspired to do some math after my pastor’s example several weeks ago. Based upon the average lifespan for people in the US, and barring any major illness or accident, I have approximately 19,000 days entrusted to me. Of course, it could be 1 day, or 10,000, or 25,000. But the point is, there is a limit. My days here are not everlasting, though I often act on the belief that they are.

I still love the song ‘Gone’ from the Switchfoot album The Beautiful Letdown. I remember a time a few years ago when I bought the album and listened to it for about two months solid.

She said he said live like no tomorrow
Every day we borrow
Brings us one step closer to the edge (infinity)
Where your treasure, where’s your hope
Forget the world and lose your soul
She pretends like she pretends like she’s immortal
Don’t say so long
You're not that far gone
This could be your big chance to make up
Today will soon be

Gone, like yeterday is gone,
Like history is gone,
The world keeps spinning on,
You're going going gone,
Like summer break is gone,
Like Saturday is gone
Just try and prove me wrong
You pretend like you're immortal (you're immortal)

We are not infinite
We are not permanent
Nothing's immediate
We’re so confident
In our accomplishments
Look at our decadence

She said he said live like no tomorrow
Every moment that we borrow
Brings us closer to the God who’s not short of cash
Hey Bono, I’m glad you asked
Life is still worth living, life is still worth living

--{respect and credit to Jon Foreman & co.}

Now that you have that song running through your mind for the rest of the day, here's my plan. As you may have guessed from the quotations at the beginning of this post, I'm more a fan of the concept that the strength of any plan is in its ability to be flexible and adaptive than on the side of exacting and rigid scheduling, so all apologies to you type-A's out there, this may not actually come to pass. However, my plan is to post every weekday for a period of time. I have oodles of exciting topics on every subject under the sun ready to go, and I'm open to suggestions. Really, I don't know if I'll live up to every-day thing forever, but I'd like to give it a whirl if you don't mind. So stay tuned for some good posting to come. Also this week, I'm posting at (see the link on the right and check out some awesome writing in Silhouette version 3 by my friends and fellow writers).

Monday, October 27, 2008

A New Leaf Monday

"The world is round, and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning." ---Ivy Baker
“Isn’t it nice to know that tomorrow is a brand-new day without any mistakes in it?”
---Anne Shirley
All the way through college and through the three years post-college work, I was an active personal blogger. I dare you to check the archives of my emotional, spiritual and grammatical growth
here. It’s the last two years which have fallen off. I wrote about this disconnect at Silhouette last season.
In any case, I’ve been wanting to start up a blog again--but a different kind of blog. I have a new plan, a new page, a new leaf. I’ll share more about the plan and the page later this week. For now, let me share with you about the new leaf.
The name I chose for this blog is taken from a short story by J.R.R. Tolkien. Some say it is a sort of parable about his own creative life. The little fairytale contains quite a bit of commentary and satire about the life and impact of an artist, but it ends humbly enough. Here’s an excerpt from near the end of the story, a conversation between Tompkins, Perkins, and Atkins in conversation about the main character, name of Niggle, after his death.
"I think he was a silly little man," said Councillor Tompkins. "Worthless, in fact; no use to Society at all."
"Oh, I don't know," said Atkins, who was nobody of importance, just a schoolmaster. "I am not so sure: it depends on what you mean by use."
"No practical or economic use," said Tompkins. "I dare say he could have been made into a serviceable cog of some sort, if you schoolmasters knew your busi­ness. But you don't, and so we get useless people of his sort. If I ran this country I should put him and his like to some job that they're fit for, washing dishes in a communal kitchen or something, and I should see that they did it properly. Or I would put them away. I should have put him away long ago."
"Put him away? You mean you'd have made him start on the Journey before his time?"
"Yes, if you must use that meaningless old expres­sion. Push him through the tunnel into the great Rub­bish Heap: that's what I mean."
"Then you don't think painting is worth anything, not worth preserving, or improving, or even making use of?"
"Of course, painting has uses," said Tompkins. "But you couldn't make use of his painting. There is plenty of scope for bold young men not afraid of new ideas and new methods. None for this old-fashioned stuff. Private day-dreaming. He could not have designed a telling poster to save his life. Always fiddling with leaves and flowers. I asked him why, once. He said he thought they were pretty! Can you believe it? He said pretty! 'What, digestive and genital organs of plants?' I said to him; and he had nothing to answer. Silly footler."
"Footler," sighed Atkins. "Yes, poor little man, he never finished anything. Ah well, his canvases have been put to 'better uses,' since he went. But I am not sure, Tompkins. You remember that large one, the one they used to patch the damaged house next door to his, after the gales and floods? I found a corner of it torn off, lying in a field. It was damaged, but legible: a mountain-peak and a spray of leaves. I can't get it out of my mind."
"Out of your what?" said Tompkins.
"Who are you two talking about?" said Perkins, in­tervening in the cause of peace: Atkins had flushed rather red.
"The name's not worth repeating," said Tompkins. "I don't know why we are talking about him at all. He did not live in town."
"No," said Atkins; "but you had your eye on his house, all the same. That is why you used to go and call, and sneer at him while drinking his tea. Well, you've got his house now, as well as the one in town, so you need not grudge him his name. We were talking about Niggle, if you want to know, Perkins."
"Oh, poor little Niggle!" said Perkins. "Never knew he painted."
That was probably the last time Niggle's name ever came up in conversation. However, Atkins preserved the odd corner. Most of it crumbled; but one beautiful leaf remained intact. Atkins had it framed. Later he left it to the Town Museum, and for a long while "Leaf: by Niggle" hung there in a recess, and was no­ticed by a few eyes. But eventually the Museum was burnt down, and the leaf, and Niggle, were entirely forgotten in his old country.
---J.R.R. Tolkien, “Leaf: By Niggle”**
In case you haven’t read this lesser-known story, you should latch on to the last four words of this excerpt, and have hope for “poor little Niggle,” whose life seemed to go as unappreciated by most as his art. “In his old country”…The rest of the story shows how Niggle found that being appreciated in the “old” country wasn’t everything he thought it was, and that creativity and art itself must be connected with life, compassion, and community in order to have its eternal, true, and real impact.
I find the story is a great cure for writers’ (or painters’) block. Art and life must go together, so therefore, I need not worry so much, as Niggle did, about the perfection of actual work of art in this old country. There are many arguments for Excellence, and Skill, and Technique; I don’t deny them. But if those were the standard, I would never begin. And I want to begin.
So, with the start of my 29th year, I begin again. A new leaf. Someone once told me that the wisdom part of the brain only begins developing at about age 30. Perhaps this blog will help to chronicle the journey to Wisdom. And I plan to have fun along the way! But more on that tomorrow.
**If you haven’t read it, you should! There are a couple of free online copies available, or better yet, pick up one of the books of short stories, such as Tree and Leaf, where the story “’Leaf: by Niggle” is often published with “Smith of Wootton Major,” “Farmer Giles of Ham,” “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil,” and/or the famously influential essay “On Faery-Stories”.