Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Neighbor Totoro Crib Mobile

So, did you know you can get all kinds of cool handmade mobiles for a baby's crib (or changing table) on etsy? (A "must-have" for every new hipster parent!)

You could buy a Dr. Who mobile, a Super Mario mobile (after all, it is VERY important that your child begin to recognize a Fire Flower and Goomba before they start solid foods--not to mention how vital it is to implant a sense of nostalgia for these figures) ...

... You could even get a three-toed sloth mobile (!!!) ...

So many enchanting designs! Only one crib! And a limited budget. So, I took my inspiration from this excellent My Neighbor Totoro mobile (available on etsy for $95 -- yeah, not gonna happen for me) ...

This was my model ...

And I tweaked the design a bit to make my own. For example, the catbus (nekobasu) in the above mobile does not have enough legs. Mine has more--actually, I guess I somehow miscounted and thought it was supposed to be eight on each side; really should be six. Whoops. Oh well. The more legs, the better, right? Also, I tried to show a little bit more of the different personality of each Totoro. Overall, I would say the model I used was more abstract and professional looking (and bigger), but I think mine ended up having more "character."

Here are the elements before I put them on strings ...

And here, hanging above baby's crib.

Anyway, I wanted to leave this on the internet in case anyone else out there is looking for more inspiration/ideas/examples for a felt handmade Totoro crib mobile.

I hope the baby likes it! She should be "arriving" somewhere around a month from now ...

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Legend of Charles Plumier and the Tree of Riches

Several months ago, I came across a delightful little book called Hidden Stories in Plants by Anne Pelowski. The sub-title is: "Unusual and Easy-To-Tell Stories From Around the World Together With Creative Things To Do While Telling Them. "

My favorite story is the pseudo-historical tale of Charles Plumier. He was a real person, but the story is, apparently, completely made up. I don't remember the details exactly, but here is a "creative" retelling for you:

There was once a restless young man named Charles Plumier. Ever since he was a small child, he loved to hear stories of sailors and travelers who had visited strange and exotic places and he dreamed that someday, he would find hidden treasure on a daring adventure in a faraway land. So, as soon as he was old enough, Charles set out to explore the world.

Charles became first an experienced sailor, and later a well-to-do merchant, traveling far and wide and seeing many new and fascinating sights. But he never felt that he had found what he was looking for. Then, one day, having just arrived in the West Indies, he met a kindly old woman who invited him to share a cup of tea. He found himself surprisingly at ease with this woman and spoke to her about his restless search.

The woman smiled and looked directly into Charles's eyes. "On the next full moon," she said, "Go to the cemetery at midnight. Find the tree with white blossoms growing beside the south wall. Give the trunk a good shake and you will find the treasure you are looking for."

So, Charles waited for the next full moon, and when it came, he went to the cemetery and found the tree growing beside the south wall. He took hold of the trunk and as he shook it, a shower of blossoms fell all around him, filling the air with an intoxicating fragrance.

Charles breathed deeply and realized that in the stillness of the cemetery, the beauty of the moonlight, and the loveliness of the flowers, he had found true riches.

With a new sense of wonder, Charles Plumier dedicated the rest of his life to studying the natural world, becoming a distinguished botanist. And the "tree of riches" with the fragrant night blossoms is now known as "Plumeria" in his honor.

[the end]

It's also called "Frangipani," by the way. And here's what it looks like:

So, now, whenever I see this lovely little ornamental, I think of the apocryphal story of Charles Plumier. Apparently, the tree really is traditionally planted in cemeteries in certain countries (in the East Indies, though). 

And Plumeria really is named for the botanist, Charles Plumier who did, in fact, travel to the West Indies. But, (according to Wikipedia) rather than starting out as a fortune-seeking sailor, Plumier became a monk at age 16 and studied math and physics before making his botanical expeditions. Oh well. It's still a nice story, and because it's already a total fabrication, it doesn't really matter if I change the details in my own re-tellings of it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Celebrating Today

On rare occasions I have had the blessing of being nudged, shoved, or tumbled headlong into a new way of being, such that it feels as if I've only just begun "really living." Recently I've had a not-dramatic kind of learning experience, just gradually wandering into a state of greater enjoyment of everyday life. I used to like to sign off emails "Happy Ordinary Day!" Now I'm sort of saying it to myself inside all the time (though not literally).

Here are some ordinary things I saw and noticed how beautiful they were:

Soft, verdant moss and a sprightly weed in a concrete frame with obscure abstract symbolism!

Flowers like fireworks caught in mid-explosion, steadily and quietly displaying their brilliant color-burst for the mostly oblivious passersby 

A cascade of wild green curves!

An insect of elegant symmetry who appears to have died peacefully, in a zen-like position on the sidewalk.
Hope you're having a happy Ordinary Day, too! Now it's time for a walk without the camera. (-:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The "Real Story" Behind the Recent SCOTUS Gun Control Ruling

I don't watch any kind of televised news program, but I do listen to NPR. And that means I am most often exposed only to the leftist bias in the media. So, this post is for anyone else who gets their news from a liberal source, but is interested in hearing more from "the other side."

Yesterday, NPR was reporting on Abramski v. United States and the way they introduced and explained the facts made it sound so obvious that Abramski was in error, I wondered why the court would have heard the case at all. Then they mentioned the conservative justices had dissented and I guessed there must be more to the story than any good progressive journalist would want to tell the public.

So, today I looked up the case on and skimmed the petitioner's brief and the dissenting opinion. The way the story was told on NPR was basically like this: current gun laws state that you cannot buy a gun on someone else's behalf and so, at the point of sale, one must sign a statement identifying oneself as the "actual buyer." This is in order to keep people from buying guns and then selling or giving them to individuals who would not be able to pass a background check. Abramski bought a gun, certifying himself as the "actual buyer," but then gave the gun to his uncle. Abramski argued that this should have been fine because his uncle was eligible to have bought the gun himself.

Okay, so, that version of the story doesn't sound too good for Abramski. But here is the story from the petitioner's brief (found here, on the SCOTUS blog--I'll put it in purple because it's easier than trying to indent with blogger):

"In the fall of 2009, Petitioner Bruce Abramski’s elderly uncle decided he wanted a gun to protect himself 
inside his home. He went to petitioner for advice because petitioner was a former police officer and had experience with firearms. Petitioner told his uncle that he could obtain a law enforcement discount at gun stores and offered to buy the gun for his uncle to save him some money. Pet. App. 3a; JA 26a, 28a.

"Petitioner’s uncle wanted to ensure that they 'do things by the book,' so he spoke to three different licensed
gun dealers to ensure that petitioner could buy the gun for him and legally transfer it to him at another gun dealer near his home. JA 27a-28a, 31a. All three gun dealers confirmed that petitioner lawfully could purchase the gun for his uncle in Virginia and then transfer title to his uncle through a licensed gun dealer in Pennsylvania. Pet. App. 3a; JA 28a, 31a.

"After determining that the gun transfer would be legal, petitioner’s uncle sent him a check to cover the cost 
of the gun. Petitioner then went to a local gun store and bought the gun. As part of the necessary paperwork and background check, petitioner filled out ATF Form 4473, discussed supra at 8-10. Petitioner checked the 'Yes' box in response to question 11.a, indicating that he was the actual buyer. SA-1.

"After buying the gun, petitioner traveled to his uncle’s hometown and met him at a nearby gun store. 
Petitioner and his uncle filled out all the necessary federal paperwork to resell the gun to his uncle. His uncle passed the required background check and petitioner and his uncle paid all the necessary transfer fees. At a hearing in the district court, an ATF agent testified under oath that petitioner’s transfer of the gun to his uncle was lawful." [Boldface and italics added by me for emphasis.]

Different story, eh?

I also thought that the dissenting opinion made an excellent point with the observation that a person is lawfully deemed the "actual buyer" even if they purchase a gun that is intended as a gift, or intended for resale, or even intended to be given away at a raffle. In none of those cases would the person at the counter be considered a "straw" for calling themselves the "actual buyer."

Also interesting is the following from the "opinion analysis" on the SCOTUS blog by Lyle Denniston:

"The practical effect of the ruling is likely to be shutting down, or at least cutting back on, an active market in gun-buying by 'straw purchasers' — that is, mere stand-ins for the real buyers.  The Court cited data that about half of all federal investigations of illegal gun trafficking involve such purchasers."

Denniston implies that it's both common for people to act as "straws" in cases of "illegal gun trafficking" and (until now) difficult to prosecute them. But if that's true, why didn't any of those cases make it to the Supreme Court? Why is the issue only coming up in a situation like this, where the poor gentleman convicted of a crime had only positive intentions and had taken reasonable measures to ensure that everything was above-board?

Well, anyway, I don't have a personal opinion on whether the majority or the dissenting opinion was right on this case. But I do like to find out some of the additional details of stories which are reported upon in a biased manner in major news sources. And now I have shared some findings, in case anyone else is interested.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why Have Children?

Some recent conversations got me thinking about why I want to have kids--a relevant topic as I've been enduring some miserable symptoms of early pregnancy--good to remember what the point of it all is.

And the main thing, for me, is that I had a very happy childhood and I cannot imagine a greater gift I could give to another person. That's not to say that it was perfect; far from it--there was quite a bit of unhappiness, too--and that's probably inevitable. But I have so many memories of beautiful, joyous moments.

It's true that I was plagued from a very young age (if not from the beginning of conscious life) by a deep and pervasive sense of shame--as if there was something wrong with me for which I deserved punishment that had not yet come, but surely would. And thank God that's gone away by stages later in life.

But in spite of that anxiety-producing and ever-present backdrop to all experiences, I nonetheless also felt secure and loved by God and my family, enjoying a kind of peaceful trust and faith that all was well and would be well. Maybe those two things sound contradictory or mutually exclusive. It's always seemed strange to me, as well, that the two feelings about the universe and my place in it could coexist, but as I recall, they just did.

I hope that my children might have even less anxiety and even more happiness--but I know it will be some kind of mixture of the two. Anyway, I will do my best.

Every person who comes into the world is a glorious gift and for the few that I'll have the honor of parenting, I just want to give the very best chance I can offer them at realizing their potential. It's what my parents did for me, for which I am genuinely grateful, and I'd like to pass on the favor to the next generation.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Foresty Excursion

Earlier this week I got to visit (very briefly) a Presbyterian retreat center in Montreat, NC.
The air was so fresh and clean, I felt all vivified and renewed.
A few pictures from the trip:

Takeoff in Tampa

Mystery tree on the right with white flowers. Wondered if it could be dogwood (state flower) but seems the leaves are too wavy(???). If anyone knows, please help!


Fraser magnolia? (Or maybe bigleaf magnolia?)

And this is some kind of "mountain laurel"

Friday, May 9, 2014

Why Americans See Fewer Miracles

There are primarily two explanations I've heard as to why we seem to see fewer miracles in the U.S. (and other developed nations) than in third world contexts:

1. People there are more credulous--they describe things as miracles which westerners would explain in a more scientific manner.

2. We have less faith.

Neither of these explanations has ever felt entirely satisfactory to me. In my experience, it's usually been western missionaries who make the comparison between the prevalence of miracles here vs. there--so a kind of culturally conditioned credulity wouldn't completely explain the difference. And as for faith: it's such a poorly defined term, it just doesn't seem very meaningful to use as an explanation without further elaboration.

But I was thinking the other day about the utility of religion (in general) as a sociological phenomenon. And as I asked myself whether "secular humanism" should be considered a religion, since it is a set of beliefs and values, I considered that there are no ceremonies or rituals associated with it. And I then thought to myself that religious rituals and ceremonies are primarily a way of putting people in touch with, and perhaps shaping, the unconscious mind. Chanting, singing, meditation, memorizing and repeating liturgical statements in unison with a group, symbolic actions, dancing, "speaking in tongues," etc. are all intended to help people enter something of a trance-like state in which the power of the unconscious can be accessed. 

And that's actually very important. As we learn very definitely from the (scientific) study of hypnotic states, some things that are impossible for the conscious mind are quite easy for the unconscious mind to accomplish.

But most Americans don't seem to be at all aware that trance or trance-like states are desirable or even possible. I wonder if people in other countries who experience more miracles may have cultural practices that help trance states to become a normal, everyday occurrence. If so, it would make sense that they'd be able more easily to access the unconscious mind in their prayers for healing.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Winter (poem and pictures)

Okay, so I started writing a poem about winter a while ago and only just finished it this evening. Here it is with some wintry photos from earlier this year. Sorry it's so unseasonal now.



Why should I not welcome
the bitterness that bites
all that was lazily flowing
pinched and dry?
My heart has learned to wait
on flames that rise from cinders;
to pulse with, sense the latent sap.
I have seen many winters.


Falling mercury understates the slowing down of
—molecules in stately waltz—
the things of earth, reduced, distilled:
the undisturbed reflection
 of their former selves yet more:
the thing of which the self is a reflection.
Be still and know.


Imperious ice demands its due,
wind whipping subjects to submission.
No hint of summer’s warm inviting
stirs the hardened air itself.
Yet flame and frost as any pair
of lovers at their heart are one:
at winter’s core, a blaze must roar.

Lake Lanier, Georgia

Near Duvall, WA

Near Duvall, WA

Lake Lanier, Georgia

Elementary school garden, Duvall, WA

Monday, February 3, 2014

Rest In Peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman

When Brandon told me last night, I was ... well ... shocked. I guess you could say "of course," but I've never been so affected by the death of a celebrity. It's not just that I'm sad I won't get to see him in more movies (which is very sad, indeed). Before yesterday, if his name had come up, I would have said that he was a phenomenal actor, which is true. But I didn't realize until I heard he'd died what a unique and powerful presence he had. His performances spoke so directly to the heart. (Being habitually cynical/suspicious about emotional ways of "knowing," I doubt myself even as I write this, but I tell you, I don't think I would be so grieved if Hoffman hadn't communicated something especially "real" through his movies--more so even than other great practitioners of his craft.)

Rest in peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Your loss is felt.

Monday, January 13, 2014

World's Largest Entertainment McDonald's

We finally made our pilgrimage to the World's Largest Entertainment McDonald's (located in Orlando). It was ... well .. let me show you ...

As I understand it, an "entertainment McDonald's" is a McDonald's that contains an arcade. And the World's Largest Entertainment McDonald's also has a "gourmet bistro" with special menu items not available at a normal McDonald's.

While you wait in line to order, you can look into these glass cases that display plastic incarnations of the novel offerings.

(The "play food" looked even more unappetizing in real life than in these photos.)

After ordering, we waited about 20 mins to pick up our food. Luckily, the ordinary large fries we ordered was given to us immediately, so we didn't starve. But the fries were old and stale. The only sense in which I can say it was worth the wait for the unusual food items is that we then knew what the food was like (and no longer had any reason to order there again.)

The Reuben looked better than it tasted.

Brandon got some kind of patty melt. It was also kind of gross.

We probably should have tried the pizza. It looked okay.

Brandon was surprised I knew the name of this old mascot: Mac Tonight.
(Sadly, he doesn't actually make music or anything--just a statue.)

The second floor of the building is an arcade.

It has some interesting decorations.

I was tempted buy the Fry Kids wall clock in the gift shop, but I somehow managed to resist.

To fully appreciate the place, I think you'll have to witness it in person.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Every Choice Is Evil, But We're Making Progress!

A little while ago I was listening as someone articulated the common notion that no one will know what our present society’s major moral blind spots are until many generations in the future, when we’ve all died off and can be judged safely, from a distance. It’s the conventional wisdom, but I don’t quite buy it. Not that there isn’t some truth in it: I agree that oftentimes we humans are blinded by self-interest or simply act in ignorance.

But my own opinion is that pretty much any way of structuring a society and deciding on public policy involves moral compromise. Because upholding one moral principle will so often mean violating another. And when we look back on previous societies and declare how “evil” they were (for approving of slavery, misogyny, xenophobia, etc.), we’re really being extremely arrogant, because we pretend it didn’t matter that there were, in fact, real advantages to the whole society in having things set up that way. Is it really better for everyone to be equal in the eyes of the law? Well, it depends on your circumstances. And I’m not saying it depends on whether you’re one of the people who gets treated better than everyone else—I’m saying that inequality can enhance the chances of your civilization’s survival. Every society gives special treatment to certain classes of individuals.

Actually, I guess this is an example of why it’s sad that anthropology hasn’t really influenced mainstream thinking about ethics very much. Even though postmoderns supposedly adhere to some kind of “moral relativism,” in my experience it typically doesn’t go any further than a vague belief that “You shouldn’t judge people who are different from you”—which is accompanied by a tendency no less powerful than in any previous generation to judge and condemn all sorts of people.

My opinion is that true wisdom is not throwing up our hands in despair over our limited abilities to discern the great moral issues of our time (just as previous generations have failed before us, etc.) but true wisdom is to learn from the past (and different cultures), not as mistakes, but as alternate evolutionary paths whose benefits we should consider with as much care as we consider their disadvantages—because it’s not unlikely our current system neglects the values served by the cultural norms we find objectionable.

I think it would be best if people stopped feeling superior to the racist white Americans of the 18th century who approved of slavery—not because we probably would have gone along with it, too, if we had lived back then—but because it was not as easy a moral decision as we make it out to be. The economic and political implications of ending slavery were complex and unknown. In fact, we can see even better today that abolition would not/did not fix the problem of black poverty and oppression.

And the thing is, it is not difficult to name many similar situations in our society today where we know that something we’re doing is evil, but we’re afraid of what the unintended consequences of changing things might be. We Americans approve tacitly or by our economic choices things like sweatshops overseas and a federal minimum wage that is far below a living wage (present-day slavery)—not to mention the degradation of the environment, pornographic advertising, a conspiracy of conceited mediocrity, the tyrannical rule of corporate entities, irresponsible sexual decisions, etc.

So, anyway, I think that just as we can make progress as individuals by examining ourselves with grace and love instead of hatred and fear, such a thing can be done at the societal level, as well. And you may note: I used the word “progress” very intentionally. Because while I do not think we are any more “moral” than previous generations, I do think we have gained greater knowledge and self-awareness, which can help us to make better moral choices. We have no moral superiority over past generations, but we do have a potential moral advantage. So let’s not excuse ourselves from the only-sort-of-difficult task of figuring out what our society’s major blind spots are and do what we can to increase our knowledge, decrease misinformation, let go of prejudices, open our minds to new possibilities, actually learn from people different from ourselves and use our moral advantages wisely!