Category Archives: If a thousand monkeys…writing attempts

Bunga, Bunga, Cowabunga


(Sophie watching me update the blog.)

Not much motivates me to write these days; I’m continuing to bounce around in day-to-day mode, living in the moment. But, while in the shower this morning, just thinking about writing something trailed off into considering my communication skills in general.

Abby has just dropped off of Facebook and I suspect it’s not in small part because she has reached a point in her academic and professional development where she doesn’t want a lot of silliness on such a public forum- and face it, many of us have a lot of silliness hanging there on that page. It may also be that she is simply more mature and productively busy than, say, her mother and doesn’t want to bother with the distraction of idle one liners. Whatever it is, she’s off FB, along with all of her cute photos of her in dreads when she was fourteen and so forth. So I wrote her an e-mail last night and said I missed her presence there (and being able to communicate with idle silly one-liners) and that I had only signed up for FB in the first place, all those years ago, so I could keep track of her life as she moved away from me. Hover, intrude, that sort of thing. She answered my e-mail promptly with, “Too bad you can’t talk on the phone.” Well, she’s correct about that. I really dislike talking on the phone and now I fear that there are people who think I just don’t care enough about our relationship to have a decent telephone conversation with them. If I answer the phone at all I usually, in short order, concoct some ridiculous lame ass excuse when they are mid-sentence (“whoa! call you back! someone just drove up on the lawn!” click.) or worse yet, I interrupt them as they are telling me about a life-changing experience with, “Okay then. Talk soon. Bye! Love you!” Recently, to compensate for my inability to stay on the phone I’ve developed the habit of adding, “Love you!” at the end of all together too many calls. I did that the other day with a total stranger who found my number and wanted to talk to me about whether she could felt her cat’s fur. I do care about my friends and family and I think about them a lot; I guess I just don’t care enough to work through my telephone issues. However, you should all believe me when I suggest you come see me, on the mountain or here in Florida in the cold months. Those offers are sincere and I really would like to see you and cook for you and look at you, possibly hug you.

Another thing that really annoys my children and husband is my habit of stopping mid-sentence when I’m speaking with them. I would be concerned that this is some sort of dementia setting in except that I’ve done this for years. Abby says things like, “yes, and then?” to jump start the completion of a thought; Rich just says, “finish.” Perhaps it comes from spending 30+ years as a therapist, trying to make sense of the words and thoughts of others while simultaneously rooting around for some sage advice or resolution to their problem. This process involved organizing lots of jumbled ideas combined with the need to offer an enlightening response in fairly short order.

Working as a psychotherapist means spending a lot of time sitting in a chair, lost in the world of stream of consciousness- theirs, yours. It also, for me, involved a lot of time on the telephone- taking and returning calls that could go on for a bit. For years I functioned very well with high level communication skills, very successfully. Many therapists take the easy way out by narrowing their vocabulary to “ah” and “um-mmm” but I did not. I’m not being immodest here when I say I was quite competent and much sought after as a psychotherapist.

As a lot of you know, when I was through with that part of my life I moved on to the Lincoln Park Zoo. That was a great transition for me. I desperately missed my profession and the people I cared for, but the zoo provided an opportunity to talk with hundreds, no, thousands of people on subjects I was passionate about without having to worry lest someone jump off a bridge.  I’d get so wrapped up in talking about the mating rituals of Piping plovers or the niche occupied by the Sichuan takin that eyes would glaze over and people would wander off to the sea lions. Seriously, I was good at that job, too. If I’d stayed at it for decades I most likely would have become like one of the other docents who no longer spoke to the visitors and, in fact, detested them; she just wanted to hold the blue-tongued skink and shoo the children away. But then we moved from the Windy City to the mountain house.

So now I teach felt-making. Apparently, I’m pretty good at this too but much of the communication evolves around demonstrating with my hands. I still have to talk and I’m sometimes concerned that a lot of what I’m saying is coming out as gibberish, especially when I start comparing wool fleece to human hair (some is good for dreads, some is not, etc.).


(Sophie is rolling her eyes. What is she telling me here?)

Okay. Now I’m sitting here wondering where the hell I was going with this post. When I was in the shower, in a mere 6 minutes, I covered my communication skills, my relationships with Rich and the children, the roll of stream of conscious thought in my life, Virginia Woolf and her position on the plotless novel, the insane gibberish of certain presidential wannabes, the slippery slope of verbal promises impossible to keep, and plans for making a felted moon jelly. And, I was going to discuss the origins of “bunga, bunga, cowabunga” which, contrary to popular thought, were not from Chief Thunderthud on the Howdy Doody Show of my childhood but were really tied to Virginia Woolf and the Dreadnaught hoax. And I had all of that worked into a cohesive blog post. Now I’ve wasted an hour plonking away and have come to the conclusion that when your mind works like this it’s best to say nothing. Nothing at all.

Whoa! The mailman just knocked the box off the house! Love you!


Tabula Rosa

Slightly less than three years ago I wrote this post about the death of my laptop. It came close on the heels of some of my best writing which was, unfortunately, about the death of my mother. Well, I’m not sure what it is about MacBooks but they seem to have a life span- with hard use, lots of airplane travel, cat fur all down in the keyboard and a couple of slip/drops- of just under three years. Hurrah for the three year extended warranty program. 

The monitor on mine went black and then it started making ominous noises that clearly fell under the heading of computer death rattle so I called up my trusty customer support person and held up the phone and he promptly mailed out a pre-paid box. He was quite certain it was the logic board so he wrote a note in the service record DO NOT ERASE THE HARD DRIVE. Cuz, you know, unlike you, I don’t think to back up my life until everything goes dark and then it’s too late. Well, those service people did not erase my hard drive. Nosiree. They just took it out and threw it in a dumpster in Niagara, Ontario, along with my logic board and the fan that takes care of hot flashes. So, that was it. I was disappeared. Gone. No identity, no pictures of my beautiful home in Asheville and of course, no memory of any user name/password combination ( and we’ve discussed previously how  3 user names and 3 passwords equals 4867 possibilities.) No investment accounts, no ongoing scrabble games (which I was winning, for a change) and no BLOG. 

Further exploration led to the discovery that I also had no software to speak of, other than that little puzzle where you move around the  pieces trying to make an Apple. I called customer support again and asked them what I was supposed to do for say, writing documents, and a woman on the other side of the world asked me, “You are veddy sure you had a process worder already in you former computer?” New fan or no, I started getting hot and it took considerable restraint to not get sassy, as in, “No bitch, all I did was play the Apple puzzle for the past three years. Yes, I’m veddy sure.”

But I didn’t, because it’s a clean slate around here. I’m going to be an all new person: kind, patient, faithful and loving. Beautiful, too, with skin that tans nicely and a slim, trim youthful figure. Not like some middle aged person who weighs three pounds less than when she gave birth to a nine pound baby, with stitches sticking out the side of her neck, ala Frankenstein’s mistress.

(A little aside on the neck: all is well because it almost always is with basal cell cancer. It merely maims rather than kills. And I have complete confidence in my wonderful dermatologist who sews like a dream. He told me that the stitches would dissolve of their own accord but I could come back in a week and have them taken out for comfort’s sake. What? Spend 30.00 co-pay for the sake of comfort when nature could take it’s course for free? Nonsense! Anyway, I must of missed the part where he said they decompose at the same rate as bituminous coal because now they are just sort of a random frayed mess snagging against every shirt, sweater and towel. Wheezer, the screech owl, is eyeballing them in a way that makes me nervous.)

So, back on the phone with Ms. Pakistan, I was polite and asked to please speak with her supervisor and there was some clicking and muzak and then Michael in Austin, Texas came on the line, asked me my address and said he would send out iLife and iWorks pronto, no charge. So it pays to be polite.

Other than practicing my manners for my new persona and trying to remember the name of my kindergarten teacher or the maiden name of my first pet, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in wool. And loving it. I’ve been helping to tend the BOP (Birds of Prey, for the one of you who is not a bird person) down at the nature preserve and I also started up a Saturday morning “Creature Feature” at the education center there. I get out the lovely red rat snake or the giant king snake and a turtle or two and entertain educate the visitors, much as I do at Animal of the Hour back at the zoo in Chicago. This Saturday I’ll have Wheezer out on the glove for a while unless she’s too intent on her cage mate, Stretch. It’s that season and I noticed she’s shredding up the twine on her perch in her nesting box.

I’ve been missing you, so I’ll come by now and see what’s new.

photo-3(You know that knitting has taken over your life when you look at your cat and think about all of that perfectly good fiber going to waste…)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I wrote a really good post yesterday morning, on the slings and arrows of Mother’s Day around here, and then bam! Some gray furry thing stepped on the keyboard and that was that. I was so frustrated I decided to quit blogging forever and didn’t change my mind on that until last evening.

The point of that post was that, oh, dear, it was a great post. I just can’t rehash the whole thing. Whatever. I had been thinking about good mothers and Boppys and from there I got to wondering how Mother’s Day ends up as such a mucked up holiday over here.

I started by saying that I was just going to get my Mother’s Day post up now and be done with it so I could come by on the weekend and hear all about your Mother’s Day. The one where your beautiful and sticky bundles of joy leap upon the bed Sunday morning with homemade waffles drowning in maple syrup. The one where the doting and endlessly grateful father of those treacly tots slips a curved link of diamonds about your sylph like neck and shoos the children off to watch cartoons while you model your jewels.

And I wasn’t writing in jest, either, because I think Mother’s Day is the holiday to end all holidays and forget about Jared’s; only Tiffany’s will do. Christmas? All we had to do was fall from Grace to get presents on that holiday. Ditto Easter. Sin and get forgiveness and Cadbury eggs. But Mother’s Day? This is a day that celebrates the literal blood, sweat and tears of our labors (or c-sections, as the case might be.) Only a Commie would fail to recognize this as the mother of all holidays.

Around here, you might say Mother’s Day sucks. First of all, my mother is dead and that’s still relatively new. Plus, she was not exactly June Cleaver. Frankly, she had little aptitude for motherhood. She didn’t cook, she didn’t sit on the floor and play and she had no truck with Dr. Spock. She failed to see the charm of drool, pee and poop. Plus she believed people when they said babies don’t smile, they just have gas. Amelia Earhart or Margaret Mead were more likely matches for her aspirations. Also, she didn’t have much truck with my father either, since he was a Republican farm boy and she was a liberal Connecticut college girl. After a while they threw in the towel on family life and my mother moved us to a slum and let ME be the mother while she went back to school, wrote poetry and…joined the Communist party (briefly).

After a while, love found a way and Bud came on the scene- along with my baby sister. You have no idea how cranky my mother was to find herself pregnant past the age of 40. Back then, most women were done having babies by the time they were in their mid-twenties. But Bud, being the No Choice kind of opportunist he was, saw his one chance for a child and so sweet Laurel joined the brood. And I became a teenage mother in earnest. A clear memory from this period was my mother blowing up at me because I had signed up to take the SATs on a morning when she needed me to watch Laurel. Soon, I left home and had little contact with my family for well over a decade.

One fine May, after I had graduate degrees and a professional life under my belt, Daniel was born. He was slated to arrive towards the end of April but Mother’s Day came and went that year and I remained hot and bovine. Always resistant to change, he never would have come of his own accord; after some thirty hours of labor I went under the knife and came home with a 10 # healthy brown eyed boy and an insane case of postpartum depression. How crazy with despair was I? I called my mother for help.

She came, bearing a handmade quilt with sailboats and puppies and a little school house, all of the squares designed by her and “made with love, from Grandma” stitched on the back. As though she had been lurking in the wings for a few years, just waiting for her entrance. But still, she seemed uncomfortable when it came time to snuggle the baby or do diapers; instead, she cooked and did laundry and tidied up and left me to find my way with him. She only once suggested that he must be crying all the time because he wasn’t getting enough breast milk but she frequently suggested that my mood would improve- she knew from her own experience. One day, the cloud layer lifted a bit and I looked at my mother and we agreed it was time for her to go home.

A short decade later I was happily thriving as a busy mother of two when their father announced he didn’t really want to be married any more. I’m sure he had his reasons for wanting out, but I will never know why he chose Mother’s Day to break the news. You don’t read here tales of resentment and self-pity related to that divorce; now we both look at our lives and say, wow, if not that then we wouldn’t have this and it’s all fine. We both enjoy close and loving relationships with the children. But he certainly did put the icing on the fucked up Mother’s Day cake.

Because young children need a father to aid and assist with the celebration of Mother’s Day, we didn’t much celebrate the day during those early difficult and tiring years of single motherhood. One Mother’s Day, when Daniel was in that dark and sullen middle school phase, he gave me a tee shirt that reads, “It’s Mrs. Bitch to you.” That smart aleck attempt at humor still makes me smile every time I open the dresser drawer and see it.

From Abigail I have my other all time favorite Mother’s Day gift, a fat little handmade book of crayoned coupons that bestows the oddest gifts:

“This coupon is good for cleaning one poop out of the litter box.”

“This coupon is good for the mirdur of six slugs.”

“This coupon is good for folding two towels.”

And so forth. She’s always had a mind for numbers.

This year is one of the “special Mother’s Day years” when Daniel’s birthday falls on Sunday. He will be in Europe with his cellist sweetheart. Abigail will be winging her way to the Dark Continent, land of endless starry nights and plagues. Because they are not yet parents, they can’t really appreciate how a mother feels about her children and her role in their life, on this day of days. They are busy living life.

So there you have it, a brief history of Mother’s Day in my world.

What will I be doing, come Sunday? Maybe I’ll wander up to the zoo and see all the new babies and their mums. Spend a little time puttering in the courtyard. I’ll definitely be counting my blessings. They include a mother who left me a legacy of open and fair minded thinking, good stewardship to Mother Earth and the understanding that children can grow up and love and appreciate mothers who might not fit the usual jello mold. When we were growing up she let us have any animal we wanted as pets and before she died she saw thousands of acres of pristine Lake Superior shoreline protected and preserved, thanks to her efforts. In the end, those things count for almost everything. I miss her mightily.

I’ll consider my grandmother and feel gratitude. Gratitude that when my mother was overwhelmed by her children, she had the good sense to turn us over to the care of her mother, who nursed me through eye surgeries, hard measles, chicken pox and taught me to garden. She also told me that if you are lucky you will always have people who love you in your life but you must still learn to be okay all alone.

Then, armed with some kleenex and a glass of good bubbly I’ve been saving, I’ll consider those two nearly perfect children and give myself a pat on the back. Through my efforts and their father’s and the wonders of our peculiar DNA, I am blessed with a finely tuned and gifted musician son and a smart and sunny daughter who has every chance of becoming a current day Amelia Earhart or Margaret Mead.

Finally, I’ll think about the twists and turns and good fortune that brought me to here, to Rich and his two lovely daughters. All four of these children will definitely call, from long distances, with good wishes and love.

So, you might say Mother’s Day sucks around here, but it doesn’t really. I just have to think outside the box a bit- and go buy myself a present. And I’m NOT cooking dinner. Happy Mother’s Day, one and all!

(today’s pictures come from the Lincoln Park Zoo page; these are of the baby Takin born late this past winter. We are expecting another any moment- maybe for Mother’s Day?)

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need…”

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Lift Up Your Eyes

There’s fine stuff up there that I see and I wish I could snap with my Canon EOS, but it’s all moving so fast. I try to get a focus and blink! Gone. Maybe in my next life I’ll get to be a photographer and figure out how to capture an image of perfect form and function, on the move.

Hannibal and the missus have at least one juvenile out of the nest today, learning to do those things that hawks do. This morning it was aerial acrobatics. Straight high speed streaks from tree to tree, landing on the very best branches for preening, resting, scoping out the next meal. Diving and soaring from one level to the next, offspring close on the tail of parent. Loop de loops that look for all the world like just plain joie de vivre. Seriously,it does make my heart beat faster to see the grace and compact beauty of these raptors. Then, after a midday rest, they were back out and Hannibal demonstrated the fine art of snatching a finch in mid-flight while his heir apparent watched from a high branch just beyond the nest.

These Coopers Hawks remind me of a poem by James Dickey, The Heaven of Animals.* Not that Hannibal and his family appear to be headed for Heaven any time soon, although you never know. It’s just that the poem explains heaven to me in a way that make sense and defines the very essence of these birds. In the poem, these creatures of the earth are simple, not confounded by things like souls in need of salvation. And they get to go to a heaven where they are more purely and simply what they are, in a most perfect way. There’s joy for them in that heaven.
Then there’s all that stuff up there I can’t see, forget about taking a picture.

My dearest friend just buried her 13 month old grandson after he died from complications of a congenital heart defect. He left behind two young sisters who would like to know exactly what and where this Heaven is all about. They are 5 and 3 and I think the 5 year old is just old enough to be suspect of something that sounds both like a fairy tale and incomprehensible to a lot of the grown-ups around her.

At what age are you the right age to make a giant leap of faith? Because that’s what this bit about Heaven takes, right? A huge step. Bigger than a man on the moon step. I guess it’s pretty individual and some people make that leap without much question while others wrestle with it for years and years. I know there are lots of times I’m thinking hmmm, this makes no rational sense whatsoever. Which is, I suspect, the whole point of believing. Right now, I’m thinking this tiny boy, who went through so much to live and gave joy to so many, is in the Heaven of Babies, which must also be a place that is simple
and pure and uncomplicated. You get to be a perfect baby with a whole
heart, held in loving arms forever.
I’m sad for my friend and her family, more than I can say. I wish I was back in Michigan right now for two reasons: to be close to her in the days and weeks to come and also, I’m missing the best season. The season where you can witness miracles, whether you are a birder, a botanist, a biologist, even a goofy and/or serious Lutheran. You can see these miracles unfold overnight and your heart leaps about with Spring fever as you hum, “Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome, please don’t take my Kodachrome awaaay!” There’s a reason all these days of magic and bloom and resurrection and rebirth are crammed into Springtime, you know. It’s the Leap of Faith season, when it’s easier to take that one giant step. Mother, may I? Yes, you may!
No pictures for you today, despite the beautiful things I’ve seen. There are lots of little miracles pictured about the blog neighborhood right now; the place is awash with the most amazing images. Laura had a photo of a star magnolia bud that defies description, except that she managed to do that as well. Lots of avian friends, both in and out of nests, a blush of pansies, an out of focus bunny come to visit, a bumble bee bum that made me laugh out loud. In April, I will be hosting Good Planets on two Saturdays so my mailbox will be full of beauty in addition to hoodia and junk stock offers. Lucky me. Lucky us. Just Lift Up Your Eyes.

*Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains it is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these, it could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

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The Night Buckminster Fuller Came to Dinner


(I posted this for the first time last year on Dec. 23rd. There’s a lot of truth in it. Whatever else, it is a memory of my childhood: Christmas, my father, the Ford Rotunda and things that mattered and still do. I wish you a most wonderful holiday, filled with the magic and mystery of childhood. I wish for us all the quality of life that Buckminster Fuller envisioned.)

R. Buckminster Fuller was friends with Boston artist Pietro Pezzati, singer John Denver and also, my father. Even though my father was but half his age.
Bucky came into my life at Christmas time, in 1953. I was three years and three months old. Do I remember him? Yes, I do.

Although we lived in a Pete Seeger ticky-tacky post war house and not a Dymaxion House, he came to dinner one night in early December. And he pet our giant gray and white cat, Ike. As in, “I Like Ike.”

It was a Friday night and that was fortunate because on all the other nights of the week we ate tuna noodle casserole, spam with brown sugar and New England boiled dinner. On Fridays we dined on fish and chips from Suzie Q’s, located at the corner of Woodward and 8 Mile Rd. It came in yellow cardboard pie-plates stapled together to form a dome of sorts, although not geodesic. The fish was sole and there were crinkle cut french fries and a giant blueberry muffin. Food fit for a king and also Bucky.

My father and Buckminster had been working together on a project for Ford Motor Company for over a year and they were nearing the end of their joint effort, the Ford Rotunda. An architectural wonder originally built for the Century of Progress Exposition (aka, the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair), the building was moved to Dearborn, Michigan in 1936 and closed to the public during WWII. Described as “ultra-modern”, the Rotunda reopened as part of Ford’s 50th anniversary celebration on June 16, 1953. A radioactive wand (the tip contained a small amount of radium), said to be symbolic of the arrival of industry at the threshold of the atomic age, turned on golden floodlights and lighted 50 huge birthday candles around the rim of the Rotunda. The wand bombarded a Geiger tube with 44,890,832 gamma ray impulses in 15 seconds. The final impulse (the number signified the number of vehicles produced by Ford since 1903) was said to trigger the electrical system. But most people would come to associate the Rotunda with an annual Christmas display called the Christmas Fantasy, which first opened on Dec. 15, 1953. In the last two weeks of that December over 500,000 people would visit the Christmas Fantasy at the Rotunda.

Back at our ticky tacky little house my mother and father were in the kitchen unpacking Susie Q’s fish and chips. My brother was in the den, watching the 10 inch diameter black and white TV screen housed in the 38 inch console. It was Howdy Doody Time. Bucky sat on the sofa petting Ike and I sat on the floor staring up at him through 1/2 inch thick eyeglasses which didn’t really fit a 3 year old all that well. Blind in one eye, my world was blurry, to say the least. And then Bucky (Mr. Fuller, to me) said something quite odd.

“Listen, little billionaire, have you considered the benefits of polyphasic sleep? You may not remember when this was second nature to you, but you should practice this all throughout your life. You’ll get more done.” Then he said, “Excuse me momentarily” and he stretched out on the sofa, without removing his shoes, and instantly fell asleep. Ike and I watched him until my father came in about seven minutes later and announced that dinner was out of the bag. Bucky sat up, blinked and said, “Better now!” and we all went into the kitchen (for want of a dining room) and sat down to Susie Q’s.

I only saw R. Buckminster Fuller one more time and that was a couple weeks later when we went to the opening of A Christmas Fantasy. I was dressed in my best dress and leggings, patent leather shoes, a wool coat, matching hat, a rabbit fur muff and those ridiculous glasses.

I should take a moment to note that my father was not a distinguished architect, a man of radical philosophical beliefs or a great visionary. He was an Ohio farm boy who grew up, went to war, married young and formulated plans to sell Ford tractors. It’s true that he was exceptionally good at coming up with ideas to sell tractors. My father and Buckminster Fuller were an unlikely pair and yet in some fashion, they became a pair around the building and promotion of the Ford Rotunda.

And so, we were among the first in line. We arrived in the late afternoon while it was graying but still light and stood in a cluster of VIPs and their children. A red and white bow, far larger than I, was tied across the winged entrance and someone, while my feet grew colder and colder in those patent leather shoes, said some things about the wonders we would see and cut the bow with a flourish and a giant pair of scissors. We filed in and the magic began. It was snowing inside! Inside the biggest igloo of a building you could ever imagine- it was snowing! In the center of the igloo stood a Christmas tree 4 stories high with thousands upon thousands of lights and shiny ornaments.

I slTree_1ipped my mother’s grasp. You can see that her attention is elsewhere; that’s little me, the smallest child, in the dark coat and cap (too bad you can’t see the disproportionately large eyeglasses). And I ran to the tree: I needed to touch it and smell it, to feel the bright hot colored lights, to brush snow from the limbs. I stood transfixed and then, from inside the branches of the tree, I heard a familiar voice.

“Ah, my little billionaire! What do you think of my tensegrity structure?”

“It’s very nice, Mr. Fuller.”

“Yes, in here, there is no sunsight or sunclipse, but only the endless recycling of sustainable snow. Oh, and be sure to stop by Santa’s workshop. The elves are building toy Ford tractors on the assembly line.”

My mother came then and reclaimed me. I’m certain she was unaware of Mr. Fuller sitting on a branch inside the tree. We moved on and saw all that there was to see.

There was ‘The Night Before Christmas’, an almost lifesize house with Rudolf snorting puffs of steam impatiently on the rooftop while Santa emptied his sack under the tree. Story Book Land came to life, with Hansel and Gretel, Little Boy Blue, Puss in Boots, Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty animated by machines performing around a vast Santa Claus castle. The best was a 15,000-piece miniature circus with a parade, a 10-piece band on a wagon pulled by a 10-horse team, a steam calliope and 800 tiny animals, 30 tents, 435 performers and a full audience, all in a scale of 1/2 inch to the foot. In addition to the circus, we saw a rustic barn dance, a shopping center with a doll beauty shop, animated dolls representing children of all nations, and woodland creatures frolicking in the snow. The blur of partial blindness only enhanced the wondrous effect.

The Nativity included a life-size manger scene set in a lean-to built into the side of a hill, with a huge star glowing in the heavens. (In 1958 Ford would receive a commendation from the National Council of Churches for emphasizing the spirit of Christmas with what the Council determined was “the largest and finest Nativity scene in the United States.”)

In the end, all roads led to Santa, but I was tired and tiny and shy when it came time to sit on his lap. My father said, “Hop up, Tadpole” and so I did.
And here is what Santa said to me, speaking ever so softly and near enough to my ear that his beard tickled:

“And what would you like for Christmas, my little billionaire?”

I thought ‘how strange’, at least in the sense that a three year old can think ‘how strange’ but I answered, “Santa, a bride doll, please.”

And Santa responded, “Well, little B, you would be wiser to want an Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. It will teach you that through ephemeralization and synergetics we can waste not and want not and the worldaround will be populated by 4 billion billionaires, each able to enjoy Susie Q’s fish and chips whenever they wish. You will come to understand that less is more and cooperation is the optimal survival strategy. This manual explains how selfishness is unnecessary and irrational, and war is obsolete. It explains how we can recycle both our knowledge and our materials to live ever more fulfilling lives. Wouldn’t you rather have that for Christmas instead?”

I considered a minute, as much as a three year old can consider, and said, “Ummm, no thank you, Santa. I think my brother wants a spaceship but I would like a bride doll.”

And then my father was there and said, “Hop down, Tadpole.” And I did and we held hands and walked out of that fantastical place with the never-ending warm snow and I fell asleep in the car on the way home.

That Christmas Santa brought me precisely the bride doll I wished for. She was as tall as I was and had eyes that opened and closed and the most beautiful of bride’s dresses. Bruce got a model tractor rather than a spaceship.

I don’t recall what became of that bride doll after her hair tangled and I lost interest and now I often wish I had accepted the Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. But that is hindsight rather than foresight and hindsight is usually the path not taken, yes? (This is the end of my Christmas story)


Buckminster Fuller died at the age of 88, a decade before my father did. He was a guru of design, architecture, and ‘alternative’ communities. He was (hopelessly) optimistic that if we carefully, conscientiously and thoughtfully managed our resources there could be high quality life for all the creatures of the earth.
When his wife was comatose and dying of cancer he visited her in the hospital. At some point he exclaimed: “She is squeezing my hand!”. When he stood up, he suffered a massive heart attack and died within the hour. His wife died 36 hours later. John Denver wrote the song “What One Man Can Do” for Fuller. A new allotrope of carbon (fullerene) and a particular molecule of that allotrope (buckminsterfullerene or buckyballs) have been named after him.

If you want to know more about Fuller, Buckminster Fuller’s Universe, His Life and Work by Lloyd Sieden (ISBN 0738203793), explores Fuller’s personal life, his beliefs and important contributions to society.
Rotunda1933_3Designed to be the showcase of the auto industry, the Ford Rotunda was opened to the public on May 14, 1936. The original steel framework was covered with Indiana limestone, forming a design representing a stack of gears, decreasing in size towards the top. Located on Schaefer Road, across from the Ford Administration building, the circular structure had an open courtyard 92 feet in diameter and a wing on either side.Huge murals on the walls depicted the manufacture of the Ford automobile. Exhibits were changed regularly, but Ford products always took center stage.1958_edsel_exhibit_at_rotunda

The grounds contained reproductions of 19 historic Roads of the World: the Appian Way from Italy, the Tokaido Road in Japan, the Grand Trunk Road in India, a Mayan road from the Yucatan, the Oregon Trail and a wooden plank section of Woodward Avenue from the earliest days of that thoroughfare.

Besides its own attractions, the Rotunda served as the gateway for tours of the Rouge Plant. In 1960, the Rotunda ranked behind only Niagara Falls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Smithsonian Institution and the Lincoln Memorial as a national tourist destination. It was more popular than Yellowstone National Park, Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty.

The building was closed to the public during World War II, and following the war underwent a massive remodeling in 1952, in which the courtyard was covered with an 18,000 pound dome. The weight of a conventional dome, 320,000 pounds, would have crushed the structure, so Ford turned to R. Buckminster Fuller, who came up with the design, the first commercial application of his experimental geodesic dome. Later, Buckminster Fuller would perfect his concept of tensegrity to the degree that he could cover the same 92 foot diameter area with a permanent, secure dome weighing less than 3,000 pounds.

The preparations for the 1962 Christmas display were well under way when disaster struck on Nov. 9. While workers applied tar to the dome as weatherproofing, they kept it warm with an infrared heater. The tar caught fire. Shortly after 1 p.m., an employee saw flames on the ceiling of the main floor, and gave the alarm as workmen raced down from the roof. Sheets of flames shot 50 feet high. The black smoke was visible for miles.

In less than an hour the Rotunda lay in ruins. The Christmas Fantasy was completely lost to the flames. All that was saved were the Christmas tree, which had not been put in place, the 2,500 Goodfellow dolls shown yearly which had not been delivered, and the miniature circus, which had been packed into trunks and was ready to move in.1962_nov_rotunda_burns_1

My father did, in fact, work with Buckminster Fuller on the geodesic dome aspect of the Rotunda and they became friends. A Christmas Fantasy was an integral part of the Christmases of my childhood.

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Even the Sparrow…

Sometime ago I wrote a piece about finding a home for my faith (which,oddly, won a Blogging for Books award) and then I left that topic because it’s pretty personal and not necessarily fodder for this blog. I know some people are comfortable sharing their beliefs and biases, one way or the other, but if ever there was a subject that falls under the heading of “preaching to the choir”, this, of course, is it. You do, you don’t, you’re on the fence. I have to say that Jen’s explanation of her religious views that I found on her profile at FaceBook made me laugh: All of the Above, none of the Above.

I’m not that ambivalent but at the ripe old age of 55 I’m still not as clear in my head and heart about it as either Hoss or Ms. Belle, who are on opposite ends of the continuum and, Amazing Grace!, they still enjoy and care about each other. Actually, now that I think about it, I suspect Hoss only pokes people about his lack of belief in “Big Ernie” so he can get the rest of us to pray for him and his aneurysms, his prostate and that he’ll stop with some of those photos he posts.

My faith is simple and childlike. It persists in this fashion, despite reading theological tomes and classes in religion and in spite of church memberships and life’s miserably unfair disappointments. As often as not, the driving force behind my faith is the natural world. Curiously, the more I educate myself about that the stronger my faith. Go figure.(Check out The Beak of the Finch, A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner) When Abby and I kayaked the Inside Passage we spent one long silent morning, sitting absolutely still in our tiny two person boat, watching pinnipeds and mammoth whales the size of buses breach and dive twenty feet away on the other side of the kelp line. How could I doubt?

In keeping with my simple mindedness about all of this, most of my praying is reduced, ala Anne Lamott, into two categories: “help me, help me, help me” or “thank You, thank You, thank You”. For me, it’s as easy as humility, charity and reverence. And believe me, that is not easy at all. So it’s no surprise that I’m most likely to turn to Psalms for the
passage du jour and I’m quick to relate to those that reference
sparrows. In the Book sparrows come off as the meek, the humble, the lowly
who are still cared for, who still find a place.Sparrow1

But face it: in reality sparrows are one of the messier, most pea-brained, common and unattractive of God’s creations. I mean, these birds are the white trash of the avian world. Carolina Wrens build neat and pretty little stick nests; sparrows nest anywhere, as in Psalm 84, “even the sparrow hath found a house.” They are so lazy they prefer someone else’s abandoned home and what they bring to it-gum wrappers, popsicle sticks and knotted bits of string- just slums the place up further.

I am most familiar with feeding a couple of titmice, a nuthatch, a Downy Woodpecker and some glorious goldfinches. On the ground I would have cardinals and juncos. Here in Chicago, only the sparrows have found the three feeders I put in the courtyard. Every morning there are hundreds of them, scrapping with each other, crapping and dancing around on the lawn furniture. They manage to poop sideways, midflight, so it hits the sliding doors. These tiny bits of dirty brown feathers have torn up planters filled with sharp needled cactus and delicate ferns.

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD,
And let my cry come to You.
2 Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my trouble;
Incline Your ear to me;
In the day that I call, answer me speedily.
7 I lie awake,
And am like a sparrow alone on the housetop.

Between you and me, I don’t think the author of Psalm 102 was much of a bird watcher. I have yet to see a sparrow alone; it’s always him and 8 dozen of best friends.

I’m starting to loathe these birds. What am I to do? Take down the feeders? Turn off the cat TV? (Sophie
has already decided this is the feline equivalence of South Park and
lost interest…) Is it possible there is a lesson for me here? I want
goldfinches but I get sparrows? I have no idea. But most assuredly, just as there were two teinopalpus imperialis and two balaenoptera musculus, there were two passer domesticus on board that Ark. (submitted for Friday’s Ark)


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2005_participant_trans_2It was precisely because she was so small, living in such rocky terrain surrounded by people who were so much larger than life, that she was usually searching for meaning outside herself rather than in. She was too often certain that the hidden raison d’etre could be found and it merely eluded her, not others. They had found the key to the map while seasons, years and lifetimes later she was still looking. Looking for signs in everyday objects was her usual recourse. This approach appealed to her because answers readily at hand would be so much easier than those that might be secreted away in an esoteric tome or awaiting deep excavation far below the surface of mind or matter. And, being of such small stature and average mind, she always opted for the easiest path to enlightenment.

She read the falling autumn leaves as reliably as the soothsayer/desk clerk at Shaman Drum Bookstore read tea leaves. She pondered the significance of the various places the tail-less squirrel buried his hickory nuts he would soon forget. What did it mean that she had failed to brush her teeth that morning and she would choose to spend the day worrying that people would judge her foul breath when she could simply go and brush them?Bread

This day Marta was concerned with discerning the meaning of the loaf of bread on her kitchen counter. What did it mean that it easily weighed 3 pounds and yet was not much larger than a dinner roll? Was it like the grilled cheese sandwich sold on eBay for 24,000.00? The one with Jesus clearly burned supernaturally into the top slice? Wonder Bread! Was there something she should be seeing here, in her bread? Perhaps a Holy impression? It was, after all, All Saint’s Day. She wondered if she went away and came back in an hour would stigmata be seeping from the cracks? She was fairly certain doubters would dismiss it as red dye # 2 and then she’d have to turn it over to some authority for further scrutiny. But in all those craters and ridges there had to be more to this bread than just expired dead yeast, yes?

She spent the few moments she felt she could spare and then, thinking her time would be better spent brushing her teeth, she pitched the sorry loaf across the yard, striking a glancing blow to the squirrel without the tail. What did it mean that now he also sported a small bald patch on the left side of his head, just behind the ear? This didn’t bode well for the cold times ahead.

And thus began her day.
unrelated: Dan and AlexisDan_1

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