Friday, March 28, 2008

32 weeks and up to...

...finally getting this piece signed and mounted.

What you see above is perhaps the perfect melding of my love for found objects, fibers and paper...  The photograph looks a little washed out, but you get the idea.  This one is a gift, meant for the music director (one of the few souls I had found here who appreciates the arts) who recently left the church Wes and I are with.  It feels like her, if I do say so myself.  This is actually the second woven mixed media collage I've completed; the first was also a gift, done completely in cremes and whites with a little gold to accent and given as a wedding gift to my mother-in-law.  I wish I would have taken a picture of that one, too, but alas, I never think of these things.  In order to keep these looking minimal and in line with my more modern style tastes overall (a difficult merging, really), I've mounted them in very simple shadow box frames -- this one in black.    

The key you see was from the old organ the music director played for nine years before her departure; the small violin 'charm' I found in some old stuff that I think belonged to my great grandmother; the various beads, fibers, etc.? Picked up here and there.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Momofuku Noodle Bar

Many of you may recall that I have sworn off Ramen for a few years now (although, I must confess that I fell off the rickshaw a few weeks ago, since there was some extra ramen laying around after we made an Asian cabbage salad).  Well, hallelujah, my life may yet end with a heaping bowl of noodles to close out my winter days.  

I read an article recently in The New Yorker about chef David Chang, who has successfully opened a number of eateries in New York, including the one showcased below, "Momofuku Noodle Bar."  Be careful when you say that (by the way, "Momofuku" means lucky peach in I'm-not-sure-what language; it also happens to be the last name of the man who invented packaged ramen noodles, which again is like crack).  You can discover more about Chang's restaurants by clicking here.

For a quick tour of the way ramen should be prepared and served, just click play.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


PBS' Frontline airs the second of a two-part series tonight labelled "Bush's War."  Thankfully, you can watch it online as well as on television (click here).  If you've been looking for a matter of fact, coherent, informative and sound documentary on how we ended up where we are today, this is a great place to start.  

The website also has some incredibly rich resources to give the historical and political realities at play in the 80's and 90's that precluded our direction following September 11.

Of most interest to me is the way the series shows how certain personalities were able to bully-pulpit their agendas into the national conscience, effectively utilizing fear and uncertainty in the American people to eliminate due process and so many constitutional necessities and rights.  Not to mention international law.  

It seems to me that rather than asking "how are we going to get out of Iraq?" we need to first ask, "how did we get there?"  Why?  Who led us?  Asking the first question is easy; everyone is ready for an escape.  But, the second question demands accountability and truth-telling.  Those are the hard questions.  They are also the only questions that can produce renewal in relationships.  Before we can go forward as a nation, we have to face this wrong.  We have to admit that we screwed up.  If we do not, we continue the ugly trends of deceit and shady business.


Thursday, March 20, 2008


After hours of research (which will become null and void minutes into the games today), here are my picks ... 

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Traveling Wilburys - End Of The Line

Rex McDaniel was my pastoral mentor while I studied at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He was profoundly distinct, complete with many habits that I loved and some I may never understand.  

One of Rex's signature lines: life is "rich and thick."  So, I was not surprised to find an email in my inbox this past Thursday carrying that same expression in the subject line.  

The actual email did not seem thick and rich.  Rex was writing to inform friends and family that his father died recently.  He also was wrote hoping to share some of the thickness and richness he found in the thin and bare places of his father's passing.

Rex is a wonderful man, and I think you will see his depth and beauty by reading the reflection he wrote to digest the fragility and preciousness of life he has experienced lately.  

One last thing ... he mentions in his reflection the song "The End of the Line" by the Traveling Wilbury's.  I couldn't remember the tune by name, so I found the Wilbury's classic hits at the library.  Then I listened to the song, and it came alive with a host of memories and seasons.  

It's here for you as a Youtube video.  Listen to it before you read Rex's thoughts.  Then, after you're done reading, listen to it again.  

Thanks, Rex for giving my own soul a tremendously needed resuscitation.  You're thick and rich of soul.   

I spent the last night of his life with my father in room 135 of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California. He had a roommate, William, until about 8:00 pm but the hospital team knew we were there with Dad in final approach mode so they moved William next door. About 9:30 pm the last of the numerous loved ones who had been in the room over the previous thirty hours headed home and by 10:00 pm I, having changed into my jammies, had settled into that lean mean recliner you find in hospital rooms and docked it next to my father’s bed so that we could face other – our head and shoulders slightly raised - and hold left hands.

I took immediate advantage of the empty room and began singing – Kyrie Eleison - using the lilting melody for that prayer from Rudder’s requiem. Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison….

And then what bubbled up was the Traveling Wilbury’s – “it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line’”

For us, the end of the line was the ‘Golden Corral’. My father moved from Palm Desert California to Joplin Missouri two years ago. Fundamentally he made the move to live near his high school - turned late life - sweetheart, Mable. A cherished and nourishing (in the best sense) ritual of each week for Mable is meeting her sister and brother in law at the ‘Golden Corral’ for lunch. Although my father didn’t like going out to eat (he didn’t really like staying in to eat either – hence the nutrition issues that plagued his final year) Mable did lasso him in for these weekly luncheons. Happening to be there on a Tuesday during a visit last year I was invited and went along. Our party looked a little out of place at the Golden Corral whose typical patron has the fashion sense and the body type one would expect to find at an establishment that offers, for one low price - all the sugar, saturated fat and cholesterol you can hold. One of the last indicators that my Dad was in dialog with his surroundings was his comments about the size of the diners at the ‘Golden Corral’. Still, this weekly luncheon got him out of the house and he would always finish up the meal with one of his favorites - peach pie.

Two days after that meal I shared with the usual foursome at the “Corral”, a rainstorm blew threw Joplin and left a lovely crystal clear late afternoon. Straining to address our concern about his failure to exercise (a companion concern to the nutritional deficit) I coaxed Dad into a windbreaker and out into his neighborhood for a walk. We went around a few nearby blocks and then came to an intersection with a street that seemed to go slightly uphill for a long way with out obstruction. I asked, “Dad, do you think you could go further, maybe up this street?” “Sure” he said! So up we went for 8 or 10 blocks until it was clear that the street ended abruptly – a ‘dead end’. Just across the drainage ditch at the end of the street, cars flew by on the east/west interstate that skirts Joplin. On the far side of the interstate stood a billboard to lure east bound traffic into town for a meal at…..the ‘Golden Corral’. When I saw the ‘sign’ instantly I knew the message God had for me. You will walk with your father uphill, to the end of the road and just on the other side will be the feast at the ‘Golden Corral’. It deeply comforted and centered me. And so as we began his last night I said to whatever consciousness may have been beneath the morphine, “Seems like we may be headed for the Golden Corral. It will be a rich blessing to me if it turns out that way.”

Over the barely audible gasps he made for air twenty or thirty times a minute I sang ‘it’s all right’ and “Kyrie’ while I called to mind memories:

…of the night before my high school graduation when his patience with my college/vocational choices reached its breaking point and he declared a cut-off of support and a wish that I would instead be a trash man and at least earn my money.

…of the letter he sent me some 25 years later expressing doubt that he would ever have said such a thing and wondering, to the contrary, what could make him as a father happier than to know that I his son, loved my vocation.

…of the time he told me about the moment he first saw the Pacific Ocean in 1942 from the train taking him to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, as it chugged out of Capistrano Valley and turned south at what we now call Doheny State Beach.

…of the time he had me lead a peer, the son of one of his colleagues, on a hike up a mountain. Well into adulthood I realized this was a therapeutic intervention for all concerned. It was a way to demonstrate ability to find our way up and down a mountain, to complete a journey.

…of the hike with him up the mountain at the end of range that semi-circled his home in Palm Desert. He made this hike dozens of times, usually to reset the flag staff topped with a white rag which he planted in the rocks there and which could be seen from miles away and thousands feet below with binoculars from his backyard.

…of the way this connects my father with the iconic image from Iwo Jima and the dear men in the book Flags of Our Fathers and of my son’s pride in the fact that his grandfather had gone across the ocean in each of America’s mid century wars to fight in the Solomon Islands, Korea and finally Vietnam.

…of the damage he did for years using drink to try to fill in and cover up the deficits and disappointments in his life.

…of the startling vitality that remained when one day on his own, after several of the most approved interventions had failed, he simply quit using drink and somehow self exorcised the demons that had possessed him.

…of the last day on a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back just short of his 80th birthday when in a more dramatic fashion he gasped for air and I feared with every step he might keel over on the trail or misstep and pitch over the edge onto rocks below.

…of a completely tame hike, a walk really 10 years ago or so through a nature park when we came upon a colony of ants working furiously to establish a new base. We knelt down to observe their frantic activity and noticed that hundreds of times the worker ants would rush up out of the ground, fly to an invisible circumference, turn abruptly and rush back. Having picked up enough trivia about insects to be really dumb, I speculated out loud that the workers were on a chemical leash…that some pheromone from the queen let them go only so far. Dad kept looking. “No” he said “they are carrying a grain of sand each. When they get to the divide where gravity will pull their grain outside the new home they immediately drop it and return for another.” I looked more carefully and sure enough he was right. I can wish it was forty years earlier, when I was eight rather than fifty. But that seems small when nothing can take away the moment on my knees in the sand with my Dad learning about ants.

…of a final test of wills just two weeks ago when I insisted that he return to Southern California to finish out his life.

“Kyrie Eleison”

I only let go of his hand for a moment at quarter hour intervals to push the button on the morphine pump. When our night began we were about thirty hours into a regime of palliative care. There were no monitors in the room and Elizabeth, our nurse left us alone all night. His hand remained warm and although the little breaths got hard to hear, whenever I would open my left eye I could see them continuing. Just before she went off shift at 7:00 am Elizabeth came in to change the saline bag on the IV pole. I called my wife, children and siblings to say there had been little change, that Dad was still with us.

So, I spent the last night of his life with my father in room 135, of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California.

Just before noon, lunchtime, just when my sister on the other side of the bed had asked me what I loved about my work and I had turned away from him for a moment to conjure my answer, we finally arrived at the “Golden Corral.” He went on in. I trust he had a dessert plate heaped with peach pie.

Post Script: My sister and I met with the mortician later, at 3:00 pm. It was 4:30 pm and in the very bowels of the traffic when I got on the 5 freeway to come home. The random shuffle of the I-pod made the traffic more than bearable. The music and lyrics unleashed emotions, gratitude and tears. At about the time I should have been paying attention to exiting onto the Pasadena Freeway I was lost in Springsteen’s “The River”, the live version from the Springsteen Live 75-85 album. It is the one that begins with the long story about the conflict between Bruce and his father. I got lost in this and missed my exit. I drove on to the 2 North and got into another run of stop and go. But the I-pod kept playing and when I finally got on the 134 east with a just a couple of miles to go it served up in its ‘randomness’ ………………………the Traveling Wilburys – “it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line….maybe, somewhere down the road a ways, you’ll think of me and wonder where I am these days…..well it’s all right”

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Several people inquired into my mental health after I posted "Poverty" a few weeks ago.  Some were even close to checking me in for monitoring and psychological evaluations.  Okay, you were right.  That was dark.

Without trying to convince you that I am not deeply depressed, I do want to say briefly that writing is therapeutic for me.  So, writing those thoughts helps me expunge the emotions that otherwise might take me down.  

Anyhow, I owe it to you, and - more importantly - myself to go in the other direction tonight.  So, here you go.

I got home on Tuesday afternoon in a vibrant mood.  The sun was out, a caressing, uplifting surprise - especially given that a remnant of a serious snow fall still lingered in those places in our roof that escaped solar elimination.  That same snow fall also brought the usual filth and grime that accumulates on curbs and cars.  So, I took the opportunity to take Wyatt over to the local car wash - hoping he would enjoy the chance to spray winter away as much as I would.

I figured there would be a good many cars at the car wash.  There were and there weren't.  The car wash included four bays for manual washing, and one automatic run through.  Each was filled, but there were no other cars waiting anywhere.  Upon turning into the car wash, I faced a probability game, and logically pulled in behind a blue Chevy pick-up that I felt was far cleaner than most others.  

I've been to the car wash enough this season to know that each car typically requires seven or so minutes of washing.  By the looks of the Chevy, I figured there was maybe two minutes left of quarters.  Playing Mr. Cool and Super Dad altogether, I leisurely put the parking break on, got out of the car, went around to the other side and cradled Wyatt out of his protective shell of a car seat.  

I then took him over to the coin machine, and deposited three singles into the slender opening - trying to explain the absurd and magical wonder of how one dollar equals four quarters.  After I had multiplied three to make twelve, I strolled back to my car, expecting the Chevy to be gone.  

Instead, I found the woman who also had a small girl with her applying a soapy foam with a brush, a technique which meant there were many more minutes of waiting ahead of me.  Sure enough, as the woman continued to cleanse her truck, other bays began to empty.  I contemplated trying to maneuver my car such that I could steal the opening - much like we all do at the grocery store.  Then, I thought better.

Parking my need for expediency, I simply sat watching the woman thoroughly extinguish the dirt, from inside the deep caverns of the wheel, off the bumper.  Meanwhile, I also began to watch the small community of folk who were now going about their own rhythms with efficient anonymity:  the young "Jack and Dianne" couple in the Ford Probe, the Latino brothers or cousins in the ark-like American cruiser, the blue collar man digging in his car for quarters.
A car pulled up even behind me, setting the deepest queue at two.  And still the woman continued to spray her Chevy as though it would never see a speck of dirt again.  By this time, I had given up on my need for progress and had settled into the pleasant confines of release.  Wyatt lay comfortably on my chest.  I had been calming and soothing him of his fear of the whirling brush in the automatic vacuum that looked somewhat like a Sesame street character in a tornado.  His initial fear turning into a soothing posture of dependency and trust.  

Maybe that is what won the woman over.  I do not know.  I never saw her take a long look at me and my child.  Her attention was perpetually upon the sole duty of cleansing, so much so that I began to wonder if she would ever break the cycle.  The blue paint on her truck sparkled brilliantly, and she even took a solid minute to spray away the dirt that lingered at the based of her freshly groomed industrial horse - an act I took as both economically stupid and immeasurably centered.  I was doing much more than waiting by now.  I was watching, learning even.  Which is precisely why I was more awed than aghast when I saw her reaching into her jeans for what I already knew contained a wellspring of quarters.  

She headed over to a small panel that looked something like the display of a pay-phone, and, just out of line of my vision, began to eliminate the bundle in her hand.  

I was mystified by this point, ready to expect anything.  But, somehow, I knew precisely what she was doing, and I couldn't do anything except just accept it for what it was:  grace.

And that is what I found as I rolled our little car into the washing bay:  eight minutes and twenty three seconds of grace put into my life's clock.  That's probably just about the same amount of time I sat there with my son watching the world go by, and enjoying the beautiful day.  That's what she bought me.  Not a free car wash.  She bought me time, the very thing I am working against so often, the very thing I seek to wrestle into my own terms and hopes.

That's quite a gift.  I'm just sorry I could only leave five minutes and twenty eight seconds for the next guy.  


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Children's Museum

We went with Mimi to the Children's Museum while we were up in Indianapolis last Friday.  It just so happened a huge snow storm came through the midwest that day, which made for a pretty good day to be inside.  

At first it was a little overwhelming for Wyatt - especially considering sixty-five bus loads of middle schoolers trampled into the museum right after we did.  And, on top of that, they went straight to the one place I definitely thought Wyatt would love:  the Curious George play station!  Anna thinks Curious George is one of the dumbest cartoons on PBS in the mornings, but I love it.  So, of course, I took Wyatt to the Curious George station anyway.  Big mistake.  All these kids were running around, big kids were dominating the slide and playground area, and a bunch of parents tagged along behind their screaming, flailing children like terror survivors.

Anyhow, it got much, much better.  And, overall, it was a wonderful day.  Below are several pictures from the adventure:

Here is Wyatt getting submerged without getting wet.  

Wyatt and Anna checking out the boats in the science room; here again the middle schoolers were a major nuisance, with their splashing and running.  But, Wyatt still got to see how a boat floats according to the current.

What I remember about the Children's Museum is the spiral path that moves you from level to level.  Above is Wyatt taking advantage of the opportunity to run down the slope!

Happy kid with his new balls.

I love this picture.

Wyatt getting to oogle over a Curious George on high.

Mimi helps Wyatt draw a dinosaur.

Wyatt intensely studies a robot; some of the other robots totally freaked him out.

I can't remember what they called this thing, but it was wicked awesome.  The hand-blown pieces were made in Seattle, and then they were inserted into a type of rebar to make this structure.