Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"once in a very blue moon"

A few of my blogger/Facebook friends Deborah Godin and Beth Patterson, alerted me to the fact that there will be a "blue moon" tomorrow December 31, 2010. These days a "blue moon" is defined as the second full moon that occurs in a calendar month. These are pretty rare.

NASA has a great piece on the origin of the phrase "once in a blue moon" and the more recent association of it with the astronomical phenomenon of two full-moons in a single calendar month.

My favorite piece of music about a blue moon, is performed by Nanci Griffith and is called "Once in a very blue moon" a song which she co-wrote with folk singer Patrick Alger.

some of us may end up owing the IRS in 2010

Many people may have forgotten this, but back in March of this year, your pay check got a boost from a tax cut included in the stimulus package. How much it was depended upon your income and your tax filing status. My personal tax cut amounted to a little more than $80 a month, or $40 per half month pay period. Over the course of the year that amounted to an extra $800.

Today we received our 2009 IRS 1040 instruction booklet and forms in the mail, and they held an unpleasant surprise. The calculation of taxes for 2009, was reduced, but by LESS than than the amount that withholding was reduced.

The 2009 standardized deductions was increased from $5,450 (in 2008) per person to $5,700 -- an increase of $250. The 2009 individual exemptions (multiplied by the number of persons/dependents) was increased from $3,500(in 2008) to $3,650 -- an increase of $150. And in the 2009 tax tables, the amount tax amount for each level of income was reduced by about $30.

So all told, a single person with my income, who was had $800 less withheld from their pay check over the past ten months, will get an actual tax break of $430 over last year, and could end up owing the government $360. Of course a person with one income and a dependent child (or two) will have additional exemptions, and that will change the equation. Married people with more than one income, will have larger standardized deductions and more exemptions, but both incomes will have had less tax deducted over the course of the year.

Everyone's situation will differ, but in all likelihood many people will end up with a smaller tax refund this year, and some will end up owing the IRS come April 15. Seems like someone in the Federal government didn't think things through carefully enough.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

dangerous beauty

Just before the power went out at 8 AM Saturday December 19, I spent an hour tromping around documenting the snow fall. Notice how much snow is on the telephone and power lines!

This is the most snow we gotten since we've lived in eastern Kentucky (now 13 years). And its the second major snow before Christmas -- a highly unusual occurrence. For those in the know, this is just another example of the weather weirding that results form over all global warming. Here's the explanation:

The unprecedented melting of arctic sea ice the past two summers has undoubtedly had a significant impact on the early winter weather over the Northern Hemisphere. Several modeling studies presented at the December AGU meeting showed that sea ice melt on this scale is capable of injecting enough heat into the atmosphere to result in a major shift in the jet stream. Dr. Overland [Jim Overland of NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory] remarked that the early cold winter over North America this winter, and the exceptionally cold and snowy early winter in China last winter, were likely related to arctic sea ice loss. The sea ice loss induced a strong poleward flow of warm air over eastern Siberia, and a return flow of cold air from the Pole developed to compensate. Thus regions on either side of eastern Siberia--China and North America--have gotten unusually cold and snowy winters as a result. Source: Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog

Not all signs of global warming are warmer days, instead what we see are important shifts and changes in the weather patterns.

the miracle of Chanukkah

Not to make light of my religious observances, but we had our own little Chanukkah miracle -- the Chanukkah candles that kept burning for four extra days.

The last night of Chanukkah was the night the snow storm started - the night all eight of the Chanukkah candles plus the shammus (which makes 9) are lit. My menorah is not a conventional Chanukkah menorah. First of all it does not conform to Halakhah (Jewish rules of observance and ritual). Halakhah requires that the eight candle holders for the eight nights all be the same height, no one more important than any of the others, and only the shammus, the candle used for lighting, is at a different height.

The year I converted (1981), for my first Chanukkah, I asked my father to create a simple menorah for me. I gave him instructions, but he did not understand that the instructions were based on Halakhah. He assumed that I was just trying to describe the simplest possible design. He wanted to do more for me. So he created the beautifully turned candle holder pictured below, which followed conventional western, (non-Jewish) ideas of design. I decided that love trumps Halakhah and have used that menorah every year since, despite its failure to conform to ritual rules.

The second way that my menorah is unconventional concerns the size of the candles it takes. Because Halakhah requires fresh candles for every night, most families' Menorahs are sized to take small candles, just slightly larger than those for birthday cakes. But in my instructions to my father, I asked for a menorah that would take regulation size tapers. That I have come to regret over the years since it takes 44 candles for all eight nights.

Since one uses fresh candles each night, I have quite a store of partially burned candles from year to year that I use for other things. At this point I had nearly 50 such candles that were more than 3 or 4 inches in length plus a few brand new, unused candles from this year (we forgot to light candles one night).

When the power went out, we just kept the menorah on the mantel filled it with previously used Chanukkah candles and kept the family room alive with warm light. Not enough to read by -- for that we had our LED headlamps -- but it made everything seem cozy and added warmth literally as well as figuratively for the duration of the power outage.

P.S. Note the really intriguing way in which the wax from the center candle (which is not lit) is drawn towards the flame of the lower candle.

merry electricity and happy running water

100 hours (4 days and 4 hours) after the power went out, it came back on -- noon today. The water is still not back to full power, but at least there is something coming out of the tap. [The water company's pumps went silent due to the power outage.]

We were very, very lucky. We were able to stay warm and comfortable in our own home, and did not have to seek shelter elsewhere. We would not have wanted to leave all our furry children. Between a nice fireplace and a modern kerosene heater, we were able to keep the central rooms -- family room, living room and kitchen -- around 62 to 63 degrees (warmer right next to the heater), which is not much cooler than we keep them when we do have electricity.

We bought the kerosene heater after two day power outage in our first winter in the house -- thirteen years ago. We never used it, as we've had no winter power outages that lasted more than a few hours in the intervening years. But once new batteries were installed and it was filled with fresh kerosene it worked perfectly. I still have it going to help ease the furnace's load in warming up the whole house. Besides the kitties love the warm glow!

Because John has done a lot of backpacking in previous years, we were well equipped with two propane burners and a number of unexpended propane containers. Plus we had freeze dried trail food packages to cook on them, as well as plenty of easily heat-able canned foods. Piling bags of ice that we had in the freezer into the refrigerator instead allowed us to keep the small amount of fresh foods (eggs, milk, cheese and juice) safely cool -- more important than a vain attempt to keep the pizza and ice cream frozen.

Because of the unreliable quality (many boil water notices) and poor taste of our municipal water, we have drinking water delivered in reused five gallon bottles every three weeks, and our last delivery was less than a week ago, so we had plenty of water for drinking, cooking, and even a little washing.

We had our battery run radio --although the number of stations one can receive in our holler is limited -- to inform and entertain us, and our LED head lamps for reading, and most of all we had each other to talk to, discuss the news of the day, tell jokes and stories.

We were both very lucky in our circumstances during the outage and we are very lucky now, because our electricity is back and tens of thousands of people in the region are still without power, especially in neighboring Virginia. Our thoughts go out to all those still struggling.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

seeing beauty versus photographing it

I live in a beautiful place. There is certainly some ugliness -- mostly in the form of strip-mines, but also a lot of litter on the road sides -- but overall this is a beautiful place. Hills and mountains close in around the narrow valleys and hollers, where communities form like Christmas lights strung along the creeks and streams, and narrow ribbons of asphalt thread among the houses.

Every day, as I drive to and from work, or go out to run errands and go shopping, I see beautiful, inspiring scenes that make my heart sing with joy. Yet when I contemplate photographing this beauty I run up against rarely discussed, yet nonetheless existing "rules" about what makes a beautiful photograph.

For example, electrical wires, light poles, transformers, and other such things are not suppose to "mar" a beautiful photograph of nature. Yet, almost every view I have of the mountains, forest and sky has such things within it. Over the last several years, as I've done more and more photography, I've thought a lot about this.

The human eye in daily life, looks past things like wires and poles, street lights and traffic, and is inspired by the natural landscape beyond them. In our minds we edit out these things, they do not distract us from the view. But the literal eye of the camera locks these trappings of modern industrial society into view, creating images that do not conform to social conventions of natural beauty.

Some man-made objects are acceptable in nature photographs -- the older the better! Old barns, old fences (at least wooden ones), old houses, antique cars (not your old rusted clunker on cinder blocks), old wagons, old tools hand tools (not old rusting mining equipment!). But the kinds of man-made structures (untidy utility poles, trailers and double-wides, pick-up trucks, gas stations and Dollar General Stores) that often end up in one's view around here don't qualify as acceptable backdrops or foregrounds for nature photography.

The biggest problem with this disparity between people's daily experience of nature, and social standards for natural beauty as represented by nature photography, is that it can lead to degradation of the environment. Places like this are often viewed by those with the power to make such decisions as not beautiful or scenic enough to be worth saving.

Between 1976 and 1982 as I did the research for my masters thesis and doctoral dissertation in the nearby mountains of southwest Virginia, I observed a distressing scenario unfold. The United States Forest Service was developing the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and had selected the theme "Rural Americana" for their development. To achieve the idyllic rural vistas that the Forest Service desired for tourists, they decided it was necessary to obliterate several existing rural communities, such as Fairwood, condemning property through eminent domain and bull-dozing homes and outbuildings. Real rural Americans were not "rural" enough for the Forest Service.

It is this type of mindset that also leads decision-makers to say, "what's one more strip-mine?" in eastern Kentucky? How can it matter to anyone whether yet another mountain top gets denuded of forest and turned into rubble. But it does matter.

I live in a beautiful place -- for now.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A really good cup of coffee

While doing shopping for my parents in California this past May, I chanced upon a regional chain of coffee shops, Peets, that I had never heard of before. Peets was started in 1966 in Berkeley, California, and remains a small to moderate sized business today where coffee beans are roasted in small batches by hand and shipped within 24 hours of roasting.

While in the coffee shop I indulged in a steaming cup of Decaf Sumatra and fell deeply in love. I brought a half pound home with me and my husband fell for it too the same way. We have since discovered we can order from Peets on the Internet and last week received a wonderfully redolent box with two pounds of Decaf Sumatra.

My husband feeds his caffeine addiction with the cheapest bargain brands on sale at Walmart, while we reserve the Peets for the occasional leisurely mornings when we can sit down, chat, and savor the full taste of a good cup-a-joe.

sweet buford

Here's my kitty Buford Jacob -- originally named (by me) B.J. after a character on "General Hospital" that died in a heartrending story about that time. My husband who started dating me the very same weekend (July 4th 1994) that tiny, lost kitty Buford wandered onto my back patio, said that every cat deserved to have a real name instead of just initials. So B.J. became Buford Jacob. He's getting a little long in the tooth (what teeth he has left), but is still one of the sweetest natured kitties I've every had. He likes to occupy my desk where he can reach out and pat me, and get lots of pats in return.

Update December 14, 2009
At Bufford's annual vet visit today, the vet was alarmed to note that he had lost four pounds in just six months (since he had dental work in June). Today's blood tests were all mostly normal, so the cause is still a mystery. Something new to worry about.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

take my breath away

I stepped out to let the dog out and saw this, and it did just what my title suggests.

Both photos taken by sgreerpitt this evening (©December 2, 2009) just before sunset.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

home, home on the range (or oven)

Just a little more than a year ago, I was diagnosed as "pre-diabetic" -- blood sugar levels above normal, but not yet in the range of full-fledged diabetes. This shocked me to my core, and I stopped eating (and baking) sweets. With the help of a clinical dietitian I rethought my diet entirely, and over the past year lost more than 50 pounds. By last summer my blood work showed my sugar levels back in the normal range, but I have continued to very carefully watch my intake of sweets (as well as carbohydrates and fats).

I finally felt confident enough in my ability to regulate what I eat, that I was willing to try some baking again. I love baking. Not all that much interested in cooking, but oh, baking! My mother got me a learning to cook book Mary Alden's Cook Book for Children, when I was about eight. It was designed to teach good kitchen habits as well as culinary skills. There were certificates to be awarded by parents when one mastered things such as "The Clean Kitchen Cook."

After mastering all the baking in my learning to cook book, I started tackling baking projects from my mother's 1949 Joy of Cooking. Plus there were great recipes for brownies, fudge and other chocolate goodies on the Hershey's Coca containers. [Remember when those were actually metal tins?]

So in the past few days I've been on a pumpkin rampage. I love pumpkin baked goods, and they have the virtue of using a vegetable, and using less sugar than many other sweets. I substituted a Splenda/brown sugar blend to further reduce the sugar used, and got fat free sweetened condensed milk, and low fat Philly cream cheese for my pumpkin cheese cake, pumpkin pie, and my hybrid pumpkin cheese cake pie. Haven't tasted the last one yet -- its still cooling in the fridge.

I enjoyed the process of baking, got to practice sensible eating of sweets (small slices in conjunction with meals), and delighted my husband the runner who has to load up on 3600 calories a day when he is running five to ten miles a day.

The photo's of the Front and Back covers of Mary Alden's Cook Book for Children, including the Clean Kitchen Cook certificate come from a wonderful cooking blog Sue's Kitchen. Which seems very appropriate.

Sunday Citar

"It doesn't seem to me, on some days, I ever want to move from one spot. God knows, a lifetime would be little enough to live in one valley like this."
--Sherwood Anderson
Letter from Troutdale, Virginia 1927

"How do you know Zoyenk, where on the face of the globe you would be happy? Who can say that he knows this about himself?
--Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Cancer Ward

For more Sunday Citar see Fresh Mommy

Photograph at the top by sgreerpitt, taken November 25, 2009 from my back steps. Photograph at the bottom by sgreer with an Kodak Instamatic, taken July 1977 in Troutdale, Virginia.

Friday, November 27, 2009

twilight gold and silver

twilight beams
limn ridges
in rosy gold;
from shadowed slopes
black fingers
grasp for
silver moon.

Friday November 27, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

in love with November

the November forest
in all her bare-limbed
becomes a play-ground
of light
and shadow.

in naked splendor
she embraces
the sky.

November 25, 2009

Photograph by sgreerpitt, ©November 25, 2009, Letcher County, Kentucky.

climate confusion

Through out our region (central Appalachia) I've seen evidence of trees and bushes that are seasonally out of whack -- putting forth new leaves and blooms in November. The forsythia bush at the corner of our front yard, like hundreds of others around here, began putting forth new blooms with the resurgence of mild weather in November. The photo was taken today (November 25). I wonder what will happen to these trees and bushes when the bitter cold typical of December finally arrives.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

looking up in thanks

This was the sky view about 5 PM this evening in Letcher County.

It speaks for itself.

The other end of the rainbow below:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

reflections on fashion

This morning I was standing waiting for the elevator and noticed my reflection in the lobby doors. I was wearing a new dress, a nice snuggly cotton knit "corduroy" in a dark, rich garnet, just the right warmth and weight for November. The hem of the dress, swung just at my ankles revealing just an inch or two of black cotton stocking. For a moment I marveled at the vagaries of fashion that have allowed me to wear, in middle age, the long dresses that I longed for in childhood.

In the 1950's, I pined for the fashions of an earlier century. I fancied myself in the graceful sweep of long skirts and rustle of petticoats--the sprigged cotton florals, delicate cotton lawns and bright calicoes of the previous century. When I was ten, I learned to sew and the first thing I made was a dress in blue flowered cotton with fitted bodice, long puff sleeves, and full gathered skirt that reached the floor. It was my "Pioneer girl" Halloween costume inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. The next year, I modified the same dress' sleeves with lace and gathered the full skirt into poofy panniers over a long pink underskirt, and became "Colonial girl" -- inspired by a series of books about "little maids" of various revolutionary battles. The year after that, I made another dress in rich, dark red plaid and sewed a hula hoop into a full petticoat to be "Civil War girl." You get the picture -- inspired by Louisa May Alcott. You get the picture.

When the maxi-skirt hit the fashion runways in the early 70's I grabbed on tight to that fashion trend, and never looked back.

letting go of autumn

Each year it is the same, I hang on to each moment of autumn, savor each shift in color, cling to the visual experience hoping to make it last just a little longer. In the end, colors fade, leaves fall.

Yet, this very transience and impermanence is what makes autumn so glorious. If we had these colors all year round, I'd soon stop seeing them and feeling them so intensely. It is the impending loss that makes autumn so precious. This is true of life itself. Our mortality is what gives life vitality.

Even the final moments of autumn have their beauty -- as this last leaf testifies.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

One Single Impression -- Departed

Depart from me
so I may know
the joy
of your return.

Some distance and
a little space
within which
love may grow;
sunlight and
some tender tears
nourish the vine
that twines
our hearts,
strengthing the bonds
of love.

Saturday November 7, 2009

for more poems on this prompt see One Single Impression

Sunday, November 1, 2009

One Single Impression -- Shift in Time

the past is within,
beyond memory,
embedded in every cell,
every muscle fiber,
kinetic response.
playing a waltz,
riding a bike,
painting a portrait--
the vision flows
through fingertips
to brush, to canvas,
without conscious knowledge,
after years of dormancy,
skill returns
hesitant at first,
then bursting forth,
tying past and present
moments of creativity
into one
existing outside
of time.

Saturday October 31, 2009

For the thoughts of other poets on the prompt "shift in time" see One Single Impression.

Photograph/painting of Brandi Bee by ©sgreerpitt 2009.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

One Single Impression -- Elusive


searching for
that flash of scarlet in misty woods,
an indigo bunting on the fence wire,
reflections of autumn across the lake,
just the right words
to make you see
your worth
to me.

Thursday October 29, 2009

Happy anniversary to my husband, John.

The top photo was taken in the late afternoon on the Virginia side of Pound Gap off U.S. 23, on Friday October 24, the lower photo was taken Saturday October 25, 2009 just after dawn at Fish Pond Lake in Letcher County, Kentucky.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

fare-thee-well, tigger

It's been a long time since my cat Tigger was he of the "bouncy, bouncy tail." He's suffered from a diseased pancreas for several years, but for the last six months its been clear that continuing to live was a daily battle for our indomitable Tigger. We had to feed him four or five times a day to make sure that he got even a tiny amount of nutrition. He'd often sit on the kitchen counter waiting for the next meal. Even with all he ate, he continued to loose weight -- he weighed less than three pounds, all skin and bones literally. But he continued to be interesting in life, in cuddling up with humans and other cats, with exploring boxes and investigating corners.

This morning he decided that the struggle was too much, and he stopped eating and lay down. So together Tigger and I made a last trip over the mountain to our friends at Pound Veterinary Hospital. When I came home, John and I dug another small grave at the corner of our yard under the pine trees, and placed Tigger to rest with the other beloved pets who have gone before.

Sleep well, Tigger.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

One Single Impression -- Conquer

I shall not
conquer fear;
shall court,
engage and learn,
thus grow within
fear’s embrace
and dance,

Sunday October 18, 2009

When I first began to think about this week's prompt, several common phrases popped into my head "conquer fear" and "conquered by love." The on-line dictionary gave the meanings of the word conquer as:
1. to acquire by force of arms; win in war: to conquer a foreign land.
2. to overcome by force; subdue: to conquer an enemy.
3. to gain, win, or obtain by effort, personal appeal, etc.: conquer the hearts of his audience.
4. to gain a victory over; surmount; master; overcome: to conquer disease and poverty; to conquer one's fear.

As I thought about these meanings and these common phrases, I became uncomfortable with the connotations. Is love that "conquers" really love? Should love subdue or surmount us? Should we really wish to master and overcome fear? Doesn't a certain amount of fear keep us wary and safe? If we think we have "conquered" fear, perhaps all we've done is driven it underground, suppressed it -- repressed it -- where it will surely do more damage that out in the open and recognized.

For other, worthier poems on the prompt "Conquer" see One Single Impression.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bad Branch at dawn

This is what I got up before five AM to do -- take these two pictures. Actually I took almost a hundred pictures, but these are the two that made the cold, the wet and the dark all worthwhile.

Thomas R. Biggs the instructor of the photography class that I'm taking (which officially starts in ten minutes in a classroom downstairs from my office where I am now), met a few of us more foolhardy souls before dawn at the Bad Branch Falls Nature Preserve in Letcher County, Kentucky. We hiked a short distance in the dark to the first bridge across Bad Branch, and set up our tripods and cameras and waited for the first glimmers of light.

An awe-inspiring, if cold and wet, experience.

On the way out, I snapped a few shots of the trail before my batteries went dead.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


At the last minute, I decided to sign up for a three Saturday nature photography class. The first session was this past Saturday. Inspired by the teacher's photos, and emboldened to learn about the manual settings on my little Canon PowerShot, I went looking for some things to "shoot."

The first photo is the scene across the road from my veterinarian in Pound, Virginia. The colors are not as rich this year as last. A certain amount of dry weather in the late summer/early autumn tends to enhance color, and it has been a very rainy damp fall. But this little glade had some pretty reds and bright yellows.

The second photo is a tree in the vet's parking lot with its clever "dog crossing" sign, but it was the vibrant color in the leaves that caught my eye.

The third photo was just something I happened upon in our front yard. I was struck by the brilliant color contrasts and the textures of the moss, the rock, the grass and the leaf.

Remember, Betti?

Columbus Day

Fog mingles with rain, and snags
in the tops of the redwoods,
not reaching the road where
the trees close in densely.

Morning paper amuses, informs
while the wind shakes the metal shell
around us and blurs the boundaries
between grey waves and grey rain.

We race the shifting sun and clouds
and chase the rainbow
up the coast highway
past orange pumpkin fields and green hills
before turning city-ward again.

S. Greer
October 26, 1973

Photo is this past Saturday in Kentucky, but it reminded me of our day-off adventure, all those years ago.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

complexity of meanings

I'm been quite intrigued today, reading the various comments to my One Single Impression poem (see post below), discovering that most people ascribe positive connotations to the phrase "wearing one's heart on one's sleeve." I begin to wonder why was it that the young man who accused me of wearing my heart on my sleeve had imputed a negative connotation (a view that I had adopted over the years) -- where did that come from, was it an idiosyncratic interpretation or was there a broader cultural source?

The denotation or overt meaning of the phrase "wear one's heart on one's sleeve" is to show emotion, affection or love openly for all to see. In itself does appears laudable and positive. But doing a little bit of Googling reveals that one of the first uses of the phrase can be found in Shakespeare's Othello, produced in 1604. In the play, the treacherous Iago's plan was to feign openness and vulnerability in order to appear faithful:

"It is sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am."

So Shakespeare presents wearing the heart on the sleeve as a sham, a play act, a deception. The open expression of feeling is mere artifice, a means by which one can manipulate others. Clearly it was Shakespeare's usage that influence the young man who criticized me so long ago, and influenced my own interpretation of this phrase.

One Single Impression -- Talisman

she wore her heart
on her sleeve,
embroidered scarlet
in crewel yarn,
a talisman
to ward off suitors
whose reality
might breach
her boundaries,
sweep away her
illusion of control,
replacing genuine passion
for lovelorn fantasy.

Saturday October 10, 2009

I did, in point of fact, embroider a red heart on the sleeve of my denim work shirt in college, a reaction to a something a young man said to me. Although I did not recognize what the talisman meant at that time.

For other poems on the prompt "talisman" see One Single Impression.

Art work by sgreerpitt.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

at a loss

Dad in August of this year by Betti My father, Carroll Lee Greer, died yesterday morning. Peacefully, resting in his recliner at home in San Mateo, California. He was 97 years old.

He was born in December 1911 (same year as Ronald Reagan), in small logging town of Troutdale in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia (about three hours drive from where I live now).

My father with me and charlie in 1958 My dad was like most dad's in the 1950's he earned the income while my mom took care of us kids. He worked as a machinist (and later a engineering technician) at United Air Line's main maintenance base at San Francisco International Airport. When he came home from work, we were suppose to be quiet, and listen respectfully, while he talked about his day during supper. Then every weekday night he watched the news (Walter Cronkite on CBS). Until I was 17 most nights after the news my dad either left home to go to classes at the community college (College of San Mateo) or he retreated to my parents bedroom to his desk to study for his classes.

My dad made sure, by both word and example, that we all understood the importance of getting a college education.He would talk about the things he was learning in his classes. I remember learning from him about the experiments on group conformity by Solomon Asch (some thing that I like to tell my students about today). When I was about eleven, a college algebra class he needed to take was made available on television at some really early hour of the morning, like 5:30 AM or 6:00 AM. I actually got up and watched much of it with him, fascinated, learning about things like square roots before I had completely mastered my multiplication tables (to this day I don't know what 8 x 7 is!).

He was very talented and creative. He won any number of awards and recognition for designing new tools and items for United's planes. He invented the special latches for holding the food trays in place in the galley during take off. He invented the "privacy curtain" on the circular stairwell of the new 747 jumbo jets so that passengers couldn't look up the skirts of stewardesses. At home he created beautiful yet practical handcrafted wood furniture for our home. Tables, chairs, a huge bunk-bed for my brothers, in later years he liked to create craft items, that were sold at the church bazaar.

Most of his creative expression was poured into photography. Everything we did was photographed! There are thousands and thousands of photos of me and my brothers and my mom -- and almost none of him. The few of him were staged with the use of a tripod. He also earned some extra money by doing wedding and event photography. I often got to go with him to weddings and act as his assistant when I was between the ages of 10 and 14.

My father bequeathed me many gifts -- artistic talent, a love of learning (especially mathematics and science), passion for photography. But most especially he bequeathed to me a set of values -- left, liberal, even radical values. He gave me The Communist Manifesto to read when I was about 12. He was a union man and walked the picket line for six weeks when I was 15. He believed in equality for all, and economic equity. His heroes were Muhammad Ali, who he admired for resisting the draft and for getting rid of his "slave name" (as well as for his amazing, beautiful ballet in the boxing ring), and Martin Luther King Jr. I would not be the person I am, the sociologist that I am were it not for the lessons my father taught me. He was a "working class hero."

Photographs are from top to bottom: My father on the front porch less than two months ago (2009) taken by my best friend (and my parents "other daughter") Betti DeMeules Christensen; My father with me and my brother Charlie at our back door in 1958 (photo set up by my dad using a tripod); My father with me, my brother Frank (baby), and my brother Charlie and the apple tree that now dominates the back yard in early 1957 (also a tripod photo he set up); my father writing in his journal in 1987, by me with the new Pentax camera he gave me.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Single Impression -- Descent


angle of sun
creeps slowly towards
the horizon,
afternoons shorten,
shadows lengthen
cross lawns;
summer greens
fade as
first one leaf
then another
flutter gently,
spiraling earthward,
evening chill
comes early,
as earth
its descent
to winter.

1 October 2009

The world seems to pause and catch its breath as summer comes to an end, and autumn begins. Before the colors burst forth, the signs of autumn are subtle. The forest is just a little bit thinner, more sky and sunlight shine through. The leaves have dulled, no longer the rich green of summer. A good time for reflection.