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Here is Christmas. Here is Grace. Best hopes for 2016.



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“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”.
-Abraham Lincoln, 1862 Message to Congress

Over 150 years and We still haven’t disenthralled ourselves about guns.

Yes guns do kill people. What if this latest shooter had had a spear?



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Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth. Scholastic Press. New York. 2010. 36 pgs.

Halloween is just around the corner. First some scary facts:

Halloween is the second largest retail time of year. (After Christmas of course)
This year the average consumer is expected to spend over $75.
$330 million is expected to be spent on pet costumes.

jack o lanternWe’ve got an old electric light up jack-o-lantern and we’ll buy one bag of candy we like just to be sure we have some for the three kids down the street. Living at the end of a dead end street doesn’t lure many others to our door.

But there are plenty of trick or treaters in Jon Muth’s lovely picture book, Zen Ghosts.519j8ZpwF7L

His accompanying illustrations are amazingly evocative, light and shadow, with watercolor brush strokes of autumn leaves and scary nights. To add a Zen koan to a a children’s book is an imaginative leap, but then who better to leap than brand new readers.

We bought this for two of our grandsons who will be visiting just before the holiday. We hope the ten year old will read it to the eighteen month old. And I hope the older can puzzle out the koan. I’m still thinking.Illustration of children trick-or-treating in 'Zen Ghosts.'

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So today we have another. 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook. Here’s a map (click to enlarge):74 school shootings since Sandy Hook


What will it take to change? Even in ongoing grief, it feels like nothing will ever be enough.

This map and other info is from :http://everytown.org/article/schoolshootings/

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Recently we picked up the 2000 book Something in the Soil by Patricia Nelson Limerick. Limerick is leading historian of the “New West Movement”, a group who, in the 1990s, broke away from Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1890 paradigm that the frontier was closed (and so in essence, the West’s unique history had ended) to a much broader and more inclusive, as well as continuing, story. The New Western History presents a more nuanced vision based on different historical “truths”. Here are four.

275534The West, in fact, continued to be settled long after 1890. Western history was hardly complete if defined by white male pioneers from “back east” but needed to include the women and children who accompanied them as well as people moving north, west, and east—Mexicans, African Americans,  and Asians. [Author’s aside: as well as “back easterners” arriving by ships coming up the Pacific Coast as they did to my coastal Oregon town] And don’t forget the continued present of Native Americans. Western history should re-focus away from the romance evoked by the word “frontier” and its underlying implication of US exceptionalism and onto the global reality that taking over Western lands was no more than another example of conquest. Finally it’s necessary to abandon the myth of black hat/white hat style of clear-cut morality which permeates western lore to acknowledge that the West is populated by folks as human as everybody else. As Limerick suggests we’re really all “gray hats.”

Although this new Western history may sound fairly “old hat” in 2014 (ignoring race, ethnicity, environmental issues and that the “end of the frontier” hardly ended the conflicts that continue to play out in the West? Seriously?) it was received by many as cutting edge, unorthodox, and to some historians borderline heretical when it broke into the old “frontier” paradigm.

I have to admit as someone who grew up back east knowing the West only through John Ford movies like Stagecoach, and TV series like Gunsmoke, the Lone Ranger, and Zorro (at least it’s a nod to Old Hispanic California) it rattles my mythos. And still living here, choosing to live here for most of my adult life, it can’t be denied there is something unique “out here.” While all the “out heres” seem so different—New Mexico, Montana, SoCal and the Oregon Coast hardly feel exactly alike to me—they are definitely more related  geographically and culturally to each other than they are to the backeast regions of New England, the South or the Midwest.

I was drawn to the title Something in the Soil. It felt, even vaguely smelled, somehow exactly descriptive of the West. As she explains, in fact, it was a (very negative) reaction of a Bostonian to Limerick’s new history paradigm. As she concludes: “Of course, the West has had a very full life as an abstraction, an ideal, and a dream. And yet the West is also actual, material and substantial—’something in the soil,’a set of actual places now holding layer upon layer of memory.”




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I was in 8th grade.

Mr. Sellier—my homeroom teacher, a diminutive, horn-rimmed glassed, Spanish teacher—told us this: “The President’s been shot.” When I walked out of the school (having been dismissed early) I saw the flag at half-mast. The President was dead.

I’ll never forget that flag.

 I was new to my northern NJ town and I was slated to go on my very first sleep-over! It was exciting…so exciting I went. JFK or not. At Patty B’s house we gathered, around a 12″ black and white TV in the kitchen. Her mom, a blue-eyed redheaded deep South mom, served dinner. I remember the yellow Jello with pineapple. It was novel. It was great.
She suggested I call home. These were uncertain times.
My mother was glad beyond measure. Where was I exactly? She’d let me go (no exact address, no phone number) thinking all would be well. What else would she have thought? That the worst that could happen would? She drove over and picked me up.  I went home.
We went to our church (the largest nave in town) for the town-wide memorial service. I remember my mother’s nails digging into my arm as we sang. There must have been 1200+ people there. Scared almost to death. Where was the future? What did it look like? What did this mean? Why?
“Oh God Our Help In Ages Past, Our hope for years to come. Our Shelter from the Stormy Blasts. And Our Eternal Home.”
While 9/11 may be the great divide for many, this death, the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is my “where were you?” defining moment. It was grief unadorned. It was fear.

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The following selection of photographs has at least in the photographer’s mind a kind logic. Situated somewhere in the interstices between architectural, abstract and urban landscape photography, there pictures represent a kind of personal record of  everyday objects or structures  (most without artistic pretentions) whose geometry “says something”—arcs, angles, lines and circles all mixed together whose random juxtaposition creates everyday scenes that have an abstract intrinsic order, sometimes even subliminal overtones that hint at a sort of beauty in the mundane world of the mass produced built environment. SRE


(all photos copyright SR Euston)

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Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon. Harper-Collins. New York. 2012. 468 pp.

There are certainly plenty of reviews of Michael Chabon’s recently published Telegraph Avenue, from five star raves to one star rants.

I won’t bother with the plot. But I want to single out three episodes because if that’s all there was in this book (and it’s not by a long shot), it would certainly be enough for me.

The first is emblematic of all that reviewers love or loathe: that twelve page single sentence chapter, a reflection woven out of the brains of multiple characters, both male and female, as well as an African Grey Parrot. I think an awful lot of reviewers were itching to edit that sentence into a million little pieces and so to death. I loved it in all its unpunctuated glory—snake-charming while accurately representing (to me) how thought often goes.

Telegraph Avenue courtesy of New York Times

Telegraph Avenue cover photo
© New York Times

The second is the encounter between a running-for-Senate Barack Obama and Gwen Shanks at a hoity-toity Berkeley cocktail party. It’s not just that Gwen and Obama are two of only three blacks in the room (the other is Gwen’s husband, main character Archy Stallings), it’s that Gwen, eight months pregnant, has appeared in a “vintage bowling shirt out of Archy’s library, pink on black, originally sported, according to the inscriptions in silkscreen and embroidery thread, by an inferably large gentleman named Stan, bowling in the service of Alameda Wire and Pipe.” She floats, hugely, in a sea of fancy dresses and ends up being the only attendee to talk deeply to the guest of honor. It’s a beautiful, ambiguous scene, like much of the book, and very, very human. One of Chabon’s triumphs (or disasters depending on the reviewer) is that he, a white guy, has blacks as main characters. And he doesn’t play around; this book is written from the omniscient POV. Daring? Dumb? It worked for me.

Last, I’d like to highlight one detail: Archy’s father figure, Cochise Jones, an aged jazz musician, dies when his Hammond organ falls on him as he is trying to load it into his van for that same Berkeley cocktail party gig. What a way to go.

For me, Michael Chabon’s style is so remarkable, his eye for detail and description so acute, all the reviewers’ psychoanalysis of male relationships and questioning about whites understanding blacks seem irrelevant. Writing like this—“A high point in a life lived at sea level, prone to flooding.”—makes me respond: Who cares?

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After our Amtrak eastbound, seven hours late, 26 hour total coach trip (think steerage) we decided to change our return reservations to  “roomette.” No matter how much it cost. At least it sounded restful.

Shelby Ice Cream Stop © AME

Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder pulled into the Shelby MT station around 7:30 pm, a mere two hours late.

Empire Builder Arrives in Shelby © AME

In contrast to our coach experience, we were greeted by a helpful and friendly porter, Patricia, who escorted us to our very own private, albeit very tiny, space. Two seats faced each other with a drop-down-from-the-roof bunk lashed to the ceiling above. The door slid shut. Ta-da! private room!

Two trains make up the eastbound Empire Builder. One originates in Seattle, the other in Portland. They connect in Spokane for the remainder of the trip to Chicago. Westbound is the reverse. One of Amtrak’s selling points for choosing sleepers over coach is that meals are included. But because the dining car is attached to the Seattle train, heading east dining isn’t a white table cloth affair: we heard dinner had come in a plastic box. But westbound, the dining car was six cars ahead. Dinner was served!

The menus arrived. “Choose anything!” the waitress encouraged. I went for the “Signature Steak.” Not only was it excellent (it came rare), it ended with a flourish the few days I’d spent as a vegetarian in Canada. I even had cheesecake for dessert.

Yes, Amtrak does serve a delicious dinner.

In Our Roomette © AME

Later, Pat came to prepare our room for sleeping. With the door closed and the beds made, our roomette now offered exactly one standing-room-only space. No turning allowed. I drew the top bunk: Only a few inches from the ceiling I could not sit upright. A “seat belt” hooked to the roof, presumably to protect restless sleepers from falling out. Midnight or so, I needed to get up. It required some finesse. First I jiggled free the safety belt and then crouching, with legs dangling over the side, I hunted with my foot in the darkness for the ladder’s first step, many inches below. Although I effected a safe dismount, the adventure left me wondering just how many other passengers over the age of 12 had ever ventured into the upper bunk.

Still that night I caught a glimpse of the bygone romance I had imagined. No whispering silk down the passageway, no muffled screams, no Poirot….just being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic rocking of the Empire Builder hurtling through the velvet night.

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