Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buddha Board

The Buddha Board -- above is a picture of the mini version which I have but there's a larger version as well -- is a mediation device I purchased for myself after I found the larger version was a major success with my grandson and his family. If you go to the main website you will find a calming experience right on screen. This is a trademarked item and others sites offer several ways you can order one. I first saw the Buddha board at the wonderful Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in NYC. When I showed it to Rachel she suggested I buy one for her oldest son as a graduation present. Huh? I said. He'd love it, she said. In fact he told me later that he had it in his college room and several friends were so fascinated they went onlne and ordered their own. Since then I've followed Rachel's advice and bought one for grandson #2 for a graduation present.

What is the Buddha board? It's a painting surface on an easel that comes with a Chinese calligraphy type brush. One draws on the surface only with a water-wet brush. The image will slowly fade. As a meditation device it offers a time-limited object to look at as some mediators look at a candle flame. To me there's a special effectiveness of writing one's name on the board and watching it slowly fade to nothing -- a gentle kind of memento mori, although I believe any drawing, even random lines, speak to the meditator of the impermanence of all things.

In general I very much dislike writing about very personal practices like meditations. I am very put off by people who practice yoga in public places. I cannot believe any public display is other than hubris. I write about the Buddha board here because it's an ingenious device and I believe others might find it calming and useful.

As I just wrote about public display I remembered a very egregious example: during my African trip I took a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls. About half the people on the smallish, flat bottomed little boat were a Polish tourist group who were disruptively noisy as they drank up the supply of brandy. One of their members chose to sit on the very front of the ship in the lotus position, his hands in a mudra, his back to everyone. Okay -- that bothered me, but then he decided to do a headstand, there on the very front. One of the women spotted him as he took the position to make sure he didn't tumble forward into the river. Once he was steady he remained in that position for about five minutes. None of the boat's crew suggested he stop -- I'm not sure why because it was, in fact, a dangerous thing to do. Had there been any kind of bump he could easily have fallen in the river which had a number of always territorial hippopotami not far away. It was a great relief to see him finally resume a normal sitting posture and beam with pride when his friends applauded him. It was not yoga, it was arobatics.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Richard Neal, portraits

Richard Neal's portraits now at the Cape Cod Art Museum in Dennis are unlike any portraits I've seen. I'm afraid these photographs are totally inadequate to show the amount of texture and detail involved. For those who have large screen monitors with good resolution some of the intricacy may be visible but very few really good photographers could capture the wonderful combination of apparently found objects and paint used to give meaning to these faces which are strong faces in the first place.

Before painting the portraits Neal affixed pieces of old blue jeans with their zippers and buttons, packaging materials, cardboard, flat and corrugated, netting, even an iron bolt, to the surface of the canvas and very skillfully used them to give form and texture to the faces. The reference that came immediately to mind was Rauschenberg; Neal's purpose is not abstract but in the service of showing human strength within the randomness of prosaic experience.

For me the above painting was the strongest -- Rachel did not agree, she preferred others although we both agree that the top portrait was very, very strong -- one has to see the texture to appreciate it fully. This painting is call PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. By adding the name the painting acquired one more dimension -- in general paintings don't, or shouldn't, need names. But sometimes this kind of reference gives the viewer just that much more frisson.

The museum is not at all large but was a pleasure. Other rooms held more expected sorts of paintings, landscapes mostly. A small porch -- the building apparently was built as a private home -- has a fascinating collection of sculptures, mostly in iron and found objects. The gardens around are beautifully kept and hold more sculpture among the flowers and trees. Finding paintings with as much force and depth as Neal's in this setting is a wonderful surprise.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Family Tournament

Two weeks of gray days with only a few hours of sun here and there -- none since Saturday. I have plenty to occupy me but simply feeling closed in by a force beyond my control has given me cabin fever. Rachel and Cori were feeling it too. We've long talked of having a Scrabble tournament among ourselves and even had a "prelim" warm up game over two weeks ago.

Today we started in earnest. A real game with each of us looking for the triple letter score, the double word score the the optimal way to use good words already on the board. It was a close game with different ones ahead at different times. That's the best way to play a game, with equals -- so what if we are three generations. We all read a lot, and we have good vocabularies and all are subject to the chance of the draw. I won this one, by only a little. More will ensue, it's highly unlikely I will win the next -- though I'll try my best. It lifted the ennui and the gloom for all of us. We are hoping to see the sun soon -- it's supposed to be summer.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

New England Clam Chowder Contest

Two very nice things combined this afternoon: one is a friend made on an Swap-bot, an internet group, by the name of Jan, and the other is New England clam chowder. [There are several web sites as I've just discovered that give recipes and step by step directions -- Google it].

Jan lives not too far away and invited me to be a part of of the vote counting committee for an annual chowder contest held quite near where I live. This was wonderful for two very good reasons. One is I got to meet some of Jan's friends and being new here it's very, very nice

Another positive was that I got to taste the chowders from some local restaurants and began to appreciate the differences in taste. This was not something I'd ever thought about but now I realize that with New England clam chowder there are many, many subtlties. For those readers from other parts of the US and world: New England makes a clam chowder on a white sauce base with only potatoes and possibly onions added as well as the minced clams. There is what New Englanders consider a perversion which is Manhattan clam chowder. It is essentially a red vegetable soup with chopped clams added. I've always preferred the New England variety [but never knew there were so many slights differences and this was only in one small contest. There must be many more.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon until we emerged from the counting room -- which is the green room of the Music Tent - a Hyannis landmark = to discover that the gray and damp day was revealng now the effects of a Nor'easter wtth chilling winds and a serious drop in temperature over a couple of hours. And this is the summer solstice, for heaven sakes! I've only been this kind of chilly on June 21st the year I was in Alaska for summer solstice. Global warming in it's most erratic manifestation. Brrrr....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Respite from Rain

By some mistake of air currents, the sun actually forced it's face through the rain clouds for about an hour. I quickly took advantage of what I then hoped would be an all afternoon phenomenon. Hurried out, umbrella along just in case, and quickly walked to R's office to fax something and then the post office to mail a couple envelopes. She suggested we have an early lunch on Main Street. Good idea.

Main Street of this major summer tourist attraction as one would expect is full of restaurants. The one R. wanted to try was not open so we went across the street to another where we had Cajun tuna cakes on a green salad [with many mild raw onion rings under the very spicy, very crumbly but quite delicious tuna cakes. A new idea, a new taste in tuna. We liked it a lot. As we sat looking out the window the umbrellas appeared again.

We decided I should not walk home in the rain but she had another hour of work. No prob. Across the street is Tim's used books store of surprisingly large dimensions with a wonderful variety of serious books as well as one long, long wall of junk beach reading paperbacks. I have avoided the store since my move here knowing I cannot go in without finding books I didn't know I wanted but suddenly wanted very much. I did know I wanted more about Isabella Bird's adventures in the Rockies. I read a short selection early this year, loved it, wanted more. There I found it. I've seen Bill Bryson's early travel book about the US but read only one short excerpt about Iowa, I haven't purchased it before but now wondered why I had never read it since I his writing and personality are delightful. I did not know about The Diblos Notebook by James Merrill -- a fascinating non-novel/novel in notebook form. And so it went, another travel book, a book of interesting poetry. In short six books for under $25, half were hardbacks. I DO have space on my bookshelves having ruthlessly given away books when I moved. I must avoid Tim's Books as much as possible because it is likely any trip in there would yield a similar haul. With books, as with quilting fabric stash, I'm trying to use up not stock up.

So I've had a successful rainy day. Now I'm totally ready for the sun to reappear and the clouds to vanish. I'd love to sit on my little patio with the book I've just started -- no, none of the new ones although one of them will probably be next in line. For now it's Simon Winchester's, The Professor and the Madman which I've long been meaning to read. A bang up first 30 pages so far. And a novel by my bedside

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sea, Sand and ... Sun?

So I moved to this very beautiful place where the sea is never more than three miles away, the beaches are beautiful and everyone seems impelled by pure civil good will to fill their lawns with beautiful flowers. What have I to be grumpy about -- other than the quality of fruits and vegetables in the markets? [I will add that yesterday an outing to a market yielded a very presentable ear of fresh corn which had fresh, moist tassls, plus totally delicious sugar peas]. Today my only complaint is that we seem this season to be allotted only one day of sun a week. That was yesterday. The gray has so dispirited me that I've been out only to take out garbage although it didn't rain and I COULD have taken a walk and SHOULD have done so for my own frame of mind and good health. Instead, when not sewing blocks for the almost completed chain patterned quilt, I gazed at the lawn which has been full of very chubby robins and a dramatic blue jay as well as various LBBs -- a small flock of which settled on a spindly little bush and literally bounced like trampoline gymnasts on the scrawny branches.

So why be grumpy? I had an hour with Schubert who seems to master me and not vice versa but I'm trying to meet him half way -- if only he'd stay in one key! But he loved changing keys and since he's dead there's nothing I can do about it but bend to his will. He had the misfortune to die in his mid-30s, half my age. What wonders we would have had he lived longer! The town is full of roses now and I'll happily dedicate these two simple roses to Franz S.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A food rant

A few days ago I saw some lovely nectarines in the grocery store. They were a bit too firm but not rock hard. I thought they would be very nice if ripened at room temperature a couple of days. Yesterday decided to eat one for breakfast. One bite and -- ugh! Sour! And a little styrofoam-ish in texture. I rarely purchase nectarines or peaches simply because that seems to be their usual condition. But I had been lulled because for last summer happened to be a good one for peaches. Ripe, juicy, lusious. Each season I can find only one fruit that's properly ripe and good to eat. Sometimes it's plums. It is NEVER strawberries. I turned those nectarines into kucken.

A contradictory and horrible thing has happened to grocery produce -- and at some farmers' markets too. It seems the purveyors of fruit and vegetables think the public has no idea what ripe fruit tastes like. They insult us by thinking that we want large fruit [those giant flavorless strawberries] and perfectly shaped fruit [those apparently plastic red delicious apples]. I actually believe a generation exists now that does not know that the essence of ripe fruit is sweetness, and in many fruits that is accompanied by juiciness. I have seen many people gnawing on hard, unripe pears as if they think that is what a pear is supposed to be like.

On that same shopping trip I purchased a bag of cherries. They are beautiful, they range from bright [unripe] red to deep red. Some will be delicious, many will not be. I resent that the stores insist on packaging them in two pound baggies and that I cannot pick out my own cherries from a big pile. I love the good ones enough to purchase them anyway but I protest whenever I get a chance.

A good pineapple is a miracle of flavor and delight, and a great rarity. I think few Americans know that kiwis can actually be very sweet and delicious. We still have good watermelons -- hurray! -- but cantaloupes are horribly iffy and so are honeydews. Tomatoes are the strawberries of the vegetable world -- tasteless and artificially pretty. Upon rare occasions the tiny grape tomatoes have flavor, but one can't count on it. And then there's this ridiculous idea stores have of sprinkling veggies to make us think they are newly picked. Like the pretty brocolli I purchased, as wet as if it had just been brought in from the showery weather outside although it was probably picked at least three days ago.

Grocery stores are not really to blame. They get food from giant wholesalers who in turn get it from giant agribusiness. Meanwhile the medical writers and some conscientious MDs lecture that we Americans need to eat much more fruit and veggies and less fast food. Perhaps if the fruit and veggies tasted -- like food instead of something concocted in a laboratory -- people might enjoy them. As it is, we clearly want taste. There's a craving for flavor. Think pizza, salsa, Buffalo wings,and all those salt-saturated snack foods.

I'm old enough to remember when I could be convinced a tomato was a fruit because it was so sweet and tasty. I remember small, field picked strawberries that were so sweet and full of flavor I'd sneak into the refrigerator over and over for more. I'd be happy to live on fruit and veggies if it weren't an exercise in disappointment. As it is, some are truly eye candy no more satisfying than those disgusting gummy bears that have a minimum of flavor and a maximum of gluey-ness.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Curmudgeon or crochety old lady?

Sometimes it's hard to keep one's mouth shut but sometimes I rise to the occasion. Among the bothersome things that have to happen after a move is finding a new MD or two. So I went to nearby group practice, because Rachel goes there and is relatively satisfied and they are quite near. Not the best of reasons but not the worst. The physician of choice isn't free to see a new patient for an intake physical until October. That's ok, October is when my annual physicals usually happen. But I saw a nurse practitioner because I needed prescriptions from a local source. She started a bit of a lecture on never skipping doses. I assured her I understood that and did NOT say that I know and she surely knows too, that something over 50% of the people in the US do not take their meds regularly, they forget, they think it's not important or they can't afford them. I am very religious about it but feel no pangs should I realize that, oops, I was in a rush and didn't take something.

But first a fairly friendly, pleasant tech-type filled in the usual history kinds of info on the computer, did weight and did an EKG. Then the NP came in, 50ish, businesslike, not particularly warm but seeming to know her stuff. Even so, she doesn't know about summing up patients or actually listening. "High blood pressure... you know you have to restrict salt." "I know and I do, although you're the first person who has mentioned it to me." Oops! That launched the spiel and the serious need for tongue biting. Starting with primitive man who ate roots and berries and very little red meat ... well, so she said. i'm not convinced, nor, I think, are most anthropologists. There were a few million years before humanoids became hunter gatherers and in that time they they probably killed and scavaged all the meat they could get and munched on whatever berries were around. They aren't likely to have died of heart attacks or strokes since they weren't likely to have lived very long. This is I did not say.

We reached a point where we moved on to fast food. She said hamburgers were the worst of the worst. I couldn't help saying I think hotdogs are right up there too. Then it was dairy, cheese not good, and never have whole milk. Well, I wasn't about to say I recently read evidence that humans did not drink milk until they domesticated animals -- well along in the evolutionary process and that there was nothing but whole milk until quite recently. I did say that I have not drunk milk at all since I was about 10. Undaunted about imparting information, she assured me I would like almond milk and soy milk too probably. I just listened. I was afraid if I said I have no intention of trying any kind of milk she would launch herself into a calcium spiel. She wrote a list of the "good" foods and the bad. I looked at her middle which had one more roll of extra flesh than my middle area and did NOT ask her if she adhered to such a sensible diet. I noticed she didn't mention exercise, nor did I.

Finally I made a get away with the additional job of getting medical records transferred. That involves telephone calls to secretaries who have to pass on the information to records clerks and leave me wondering if I need to follow up -- I know I should because such messages often get ignored. I hate this diddling stuff. It will get done of course. The great digital era has not yet perfected itself to the extent of being either user friendly or reliable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Small world

Above: Konchong with a 104 woman who managed to practice Buddhism before, all during and after the Communist period in Mongolia.

For about three years I've been reading a blog called Dreaming Dazan Ravjaa which you can go to here A fascinating, multi-faceted blog by an American Buddhist monk, Lama Konchong who is from New England but has been working in Mongolia, centered in Ulan Baator, getting scriptures translated into Mongolian, helping local Buddhists work in groups and in the restoration of monasteries in the Gobi, helping young people join monasteries or nunneries, plus much else, including meeting and describing fascinating Mongolians, writing about Mongolian customs and several times rescuing dogs and cats -- as well as making occasional birding forays into the country side.

Much of the fascination is his writing which mixes Buddhism with American background, but also it's a connection I have enjoyed maintaining tenuously, as a lurker [one who reads but rarely comments on a blog]. In many ways I dislike missionary impulses and the Buddhists mostly agree and do not proselytize. But Mongolia suffered the same kind of destruction of their monasteries and religious life under the Russians that Tibet did under the Chinese. They are a very poor people, especially outside the city and have few resources to resurrect what was destroyed.

I was very smitten with Mongolia and the people I met, their culture and their astonishing landscape when I traveled there several years ago. Now Lama Konchong writes that he is being called back to the US and that the work in Mongolia is at an end. It was sudden and he's not written at length why. He seems resigned but I am sad about it. As if a friend is moving away. The world can really be smaller through the Internet. Konchong seems to have a Buddhist acceptance, I suppose I'll have to acquire the same. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Little visitor

Sunday morning, as if on cue, the sun came out of it's sulks behind the week-long clouds and shown bright and beautiful for my birthday [now I've hit the "more" part of this blog's title] and for Noah's graduation and for the party that went with it all. Gratefully I put my chair on the patio and settled down early in the morning to read the NY Times. A tiny visitor came tentatively tiptoeing through the grass from my neighbor's patio. Mouse size, but not acting like a mouse and with bigger ears, I was intrigued by the little guy who seemed to be curiously searching for something. He did not scurry or scamper away when I made a movement but turned to go back next door. There he inspected that patio as he had been starting to inspect mine.

I went in and got my camera and when I returned, so had he, walking along beside the slider door, then he went away again, came back again. I never saw a mouse act like that. I came in and was going to go next door to knock on my neighbor's inside [not patio] door to show her our visitor. But her newspaper was still out front so I thought she must not yet be up -- it was not quite 7:30. I went out to see the little guy and was truly befuddled until later when I told Rachel and showed her my photos. She solved the mystery, it was a baby o'possum who seems to have lost his mother. This made me very sad although I couldn't think of a thing I could have done. There are many bushes along the sides of this building and areas of trees around the borders of the yard. Besides the geese and many other smaller birds, I've seen squirrels and a chipmunk and neighbors discussed a mallard that had ducklings in a nest on another side of the building.

This is an extremely populous town yet it seems some kinds of wildlife abound. I was told by a friend that she had seen a deer not long ago. I know that Molly, the dog, has at times become too well acquainted with a skunk. Today's paper had an article saying there are at least 30,000 beavers in the State of Massachusetts which cause much consternation in some towns. This is all very enchanting after my years in the Big Apple with it's abundance of dogs and cats, plentiful pigeons and far too many rats although I mostly did not see the rats, I knew they were there. I suppose they're around here too. They seem ubiquitous but adept at staying out of sight.

I keep thinking of the little possum and hoping he found his mother. He had great round translucent ears that made him look sweetly appealing. In fact, my few other sitings of possums have not endeared them to me.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

So, where is summer?

Last weekend was the earliest the Memorial Holiday can be. It is traditionally the start of the summer season -- never mind that summer solstice business. Part of the weekend was very lovely, especially Saturday afternoon. But the skies seem not to have understood that summer should be here now. It's gray -- a depressing gray with sprinkles now and then although no real rain.

As long as we all live, we just can't seem to get it through our heads that the seasons don't come in through an open door and act like well mannered guests. The weather behaves ilke a bratty adolescent with moods of all sorts. Last year we had a very uncomfortable heatwave from about June 3rd through the 8th -- I remember it well for a guest from Australia was happy enough to have escaped their winter but was somewhat flummoxed by the oven-like streets.

Of course I know "everyone talks about the weather even though they can do nothing about it." Which is just what I'm doing. And I'm acting like another sort of adolescent, a spoiled one who wants to go for walks, wants to sit on my patio in the sun, wants to gaze at clear blue skies. Since I'm not an adolescent in age, I know the sun will shine and in the meantime I can find other ways to occupy myself and should have the good manners to stop grumbling and get on with things I enjoy. Will do.