Monday, October 25, 2010

Small But Mighty

Celebrating the development of the telemicroscope, CellScope, Aardman animators produced, at 4 seconds-a-day, The Story of Dot.
Here is Dot: Pursued by an unraveling world, 9mm high Dot races through a landscape of damask and pin heads, pencils, and pence - it looks just like Surrey. With tiny gasps and oophs, she runs. She jumps. She fences. She knits!

It's a dotty bunch at Aardman fusing art and mad-science - painting its dress blue without knocking off its head or losing an arm. The science part they showcase is CellScope, which, as you know, is half Nokia cellphone and half microscope developed by Dan Fletcher's lab at UC Berkeley. In places where it's difficult for a sick person to get to a hospital, the image of a sample, like blood, from a patient can be transmitted to a physician - anywhere in the world - for diagnosis. The optical power can transmit information about skin diseases, ear aches, sore throats, and now malaria.

It's what you do with science, isn't it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Neurosurgery and Sneezing

Just back from the Doc, who jimmied out 15 staples from the handsome curve of B's brown, and powerful back. It will scar rakishly, we said. We shuffle around the neighborhood in the evening. People jog by. He walks like he's in a paper gown, avoids curbs, and will not turn his head when I say, "Oh! The Millers painted their shutters that green. What do you think?" 25 minutes to walk a mile ."Thousand Year Old Man" and "Stabs from a Molten Dagger", he says, are the names of the bands he is currently in. He is looking forward to being able to sneeze, really big sneezes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Not the Good Kind of Twain

Last Wednesday's spinal surgery has cleaved dear B in twain - and not the good, steamboat pilot, humorist kind of twain, but the gashed muscle, sweat on your upper lip, Vicodin chewed from a fist in the dark, drooling over the sink at three am, incendiary pain, scary pain, shredding, tearing down the once strong-still beautiful left thigh, kind of twain. So beautiful that thigh.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stranger Things and Pizza Pockets

Hail the size of cantaloupes dropped like ordinance from the sky in Vivian, South Dakota smashing roofs and windshields. Old men in Cat hats ordered another cup of coffee in the Sunflower Diner when they saw the storm coming knowing that, for this one, they'd better stay put. It came across RR 17 from the north west, set the traffic lights swinging and blotted out the lights in the Wal Mart parking lot. The sky was "taller than I'd ever seen it," said Ernst Hamman, 78, and "kind of sparkling" added Gunter Sibley, 70,"course, that might a been the silos". "We could see the green in it, so we knew that was hail." And hail it was. Hail stones dropped out of the sky "like it was raining rocks," said Bonnie Gardner, 83, owner of the Sunflower Diner, "so I put another pot on".

The biggest stone measured in at 8" in diameter and 18" around. It had been bigger, more like 11'' across, they said. The young man whose mailbox it wrecked, yelled for his wife and she came out of the house wrapped in his Carhartt and flip-flops, and they stood with a thoughtful hand on the exploded mailbox and looked at it like a spiky rugby ball. "That'd kill you if it hit you," she said, and they looked out over the empty land where the storm was moving south out to the Southern States silo in blinding light just before it disappeared and they could hear the clatter on the grain dryers. They looked at it flashing out there, and then at the fields full of torn-up corn across the road shiny and creaking. And they rolled the stone with their feet toward the house, clacking through all the other hail stones like a crowd, and put it in the freezer, and they called her mother. The neighbors started coming over around 2 to take a look at it in there with the blue plastic ice trays and the Pizza Pockets, and opening the door, and the power went out around 4 - transformer blew in Pierre - so little by little a record of the strange things of heaven and earth sublimed.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thyme Enough

Prim and flower-sprigged when planted in April, now the thyme is gushing out of its pot like bosoms out a bodice, like foam out of a stein, crazy like a troll head, gobbling up its basil neighbor and eying the tarragon pot next door.
"Sweet in spring, beer and boobs by summer," says B, watering the sun-trounced garden at 1 and 95 degrees, "Yeah....troll-headed gusto: the sign of a good garden."

But what to do with it all? We've eaten hanks! Hauled in dewy in the evening, chopped blossoms and all, to mound over chicken thighs baked in clay or roasted stewing with the carrots and garlicky olive oil. We're sprinkling it on melon and honey: a little hairy while chewing, but deliciously fragrant too. A mouthful of thyme and watermelon brings both the cool melon belly of the cultivated garden and wild, baked hay field together and right up your nose - and with the fork still in your mouth, you're in an old walled garden, English, I'd say, sitting in wicker in a grass-grown orchard.

But wicker sitting garnish is too coy for my supply. Careful to keep a little shower of blossoms in reserve for the bees, the exuberant plant is so densely matted, we can cut it from below without making a gouge, we nibble it absently while reading on the deck, we pinch it just to sniff it as we go by, bringing bruised leaves to each other across the garden saying, "Here. Smell." and holding a hands under a nose. The other one says, "Ah. Thyme. Yes. Nice." It seems all the better for the hedge clippers. We think it likes us to eat it.

If that's the case, we've been trying to accommodate and learn something about it, since we're eating it, writing about it, taking its picture, reading by its side, sitting with it in the evening as the robins chuckle good night.

Today, while we lunched (the thyme stood up to and then held hands with a burly tomato and cumin curry full of sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, and onion mounded in a bowl of brown rice and raw spinach doused with a sluice of soy and orange juice) we wandered, bowl in hand, around the library and Web looking for Thyme lore.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

There is a Danger of Being Uncomfortable

With my nose: running in Great Fall, Virginia
I'm going to run 10 miles now. It's 7 am and 82 degrees and the cicadas are already buzzing like electric castanets filling the tree-tops all along Virginia's W & OD Trail.

With a fistful of half-frozen cherry Powerade, SPF'd to the bone, and absolutely no plan, I set off from the last scrap of pretty Dun Loring, Virginia - a cluster of rose-gobbed, stained glass, picket-fenced Virginia surrounding a oak lined common green that had held the Dun Loring train station until as late as the 70s with its deep eaves and a big leaky wooden water tank pleasant to stand under.

The W & OD, which runs from Washington, DC, 45 miles west through Virginia suburb and gradually into countryside. Even at 7 am it's filling up with bikers - wasp-waisted and surly, runners, herds of walkers.

Setting off, it's always the same. The first step - there's always a first step - and it always seems like you're kidding. There is a second step. Ridiculous. You listen to your steps: crunch crunch crunch on the cinders: what are you thinking? You are choppy, too fast, you take little old lady steps, chop-chop-chop. A glossy beauty lopes by: gleaming brown as wood, cruel sunglasses; tidy shoes; legs all one color. What must you look like? You realize you've forgotten to inhale. That, or you are being water-boarded. You breath in - breathing all the way up into your clavicles, you think about how your lungs fill up your torso. It's good to breathe, you think, and wander away and think about how there really is no good place to get shot, even in the shoulder, because your lungs go all the way up there and....then whoosh you breathe out like a horse, and in again, and all the while crunch crunch crunch.

And your old body, having been under the impression you were merely going for a drive and possibly a stroll, is surprised and not a little indignant at being so misled, having done nothing to you all these years but work and toil and put up with abuse, and now this? - when there is a clear possibility - a danger, in fact, of becoming uncomfortable at some point.

She refuses to believe your story that you and she are a person who runs. Ten miles. Your shoulders are climbing up to your ears - your body trying to get a hold of yourself. You keep up the story. We'll just run out to five and come back. Don't think about 5 miles. Think about your left foot. That's all. And she thinks about your left foot. How perfectly serviceable it is. Even better for being, you know, so really huge. In fact, it's possible there may be some benefit in a surf-board-sized springing off ...and she begins to believe you and the story isn't a lie, it's happening, and you and she are running along crunch crunch crunch, and you've become somebody else.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WikiLeaks, but without a Filter

Valiant Protector of Free Speech. Puller-back of The Curtain. WikiLeaks publishes leaked documents and protects whistle-blowers with virtually no money and a handful of staff. It is an "uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking" driven feverishly by an acid-pure ethic of journalistic probity.

"There should be no subjectivity," says its founder and mercurial guiding light is Julian Assange. But WikiLeaks is all over the place. It has no discernment. Like a soothsayer it throws the bones for us to see, but maybe a 15-year old soothsayer, who doesn't consider the consequences of those bones. Wikileaks posts anything: Sarah Palin's email, and shameful and vicious footage and voice-over of US helicopter pilots shooting twelve people, some of them children and journalists, on an Iraq street. That's its strength, some say.

Trading Cause and Conscience for Calm, it's nice, romantic, probably wrong to think of Assange as the earnest guy with backpacked laptop over one shoulder, boarding pass in his pocket, forever blending into the line that's taking off its shoes at security. But "everything about this is odd," said the Guardian's Stephen Moss who interviews a rather petulant, hardly romantic Assange here here.

Being an information activist does have its intrigue, I suppose. Journalists say phoning him his a multi-leg relay of murmurs passing the coded message, the phone ringing at midnight, interviews through a trans-Atlantic blur. And surely it's not an easy job. Some say huge, mindless powers: exposed corporations, peeved governments, Sarah Palin, would like to get him in the sights of their high-powered attorneys, or something more diabolical. Others say, nobody's listening.

Is Assange the first of us screaming and pointing to the grassy knoll? If we turned our heads and looked at the grassy knoll would there be a billboard that says "Your Newspapers Have Been Co-opted! Do Something!" What would we do?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Indiana Jones on the Frontiers of Science

The ho-hum title of this video is, "Dr. Ian Lipman Discusses Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Potential Promise of Personalized Medicine"

Ho-hum probably because there would be no way to glibly sum the electric, fantastic, mind-boggling description Lipman gives here of The New Biology in Action in language and tenor graspable by young biology students. He starts by describing A Day at the Bioinformatics Lab: "I'll get a phone call or an email...and they say, 'Call such and such a number, we'd like to talk to you about an outbreak'..." and they all set off to solve a respiratory, diarrheal, or neurological mystery. Then, when he's not wearing his Disease Sleuth hat, he runs the Northeast Biodefense Center keeping terrorists with a handful of soil, a synthetic genomics kit, and evil intent from wiping out our cows and corn.

What Lipman is describing, of course, is the NRC's vision of "New Biology"; it's rousing enough to be called "Indiana Jones on the Frontiers of Science", but even better because these stories are happening now.And it's action-packed! He describes multidisciplinary science moving so fast we're throwing the track down from the front of the train kind of action. But it's his description of "Personalized Medicine" that excited me most: "...genomics, metagenomics, proteomics, metabolomics...all these 'omics'," he says will predict and tweak our health, working with or against the microbes and viruses that live on and in us before we're born and throughout our lives. "No longer will we be flying blind until we're 50 and suddenly have heart disease."

Frontiers are exciting and here we are: we're building the ladder while we're climbing it, we're sewing the dress while we're wearing it. I thought you'd like this, targeting budding biologists, as it does - it's a lot of rousing text and labfuls of young people wielding pipettes and looking earnest and smart in latex gloves, protecting our cows, our microbes, our babies, and our hearts.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Toffle and Us

Getting to Morogoro: Africa

On mid-summer's night, under gobs of mosquito net, in our tree-top tent, with civet cats and a honey badger stomping and snorfling below, and the Southen Cross wheeling above, here are some things we've learned:

1. Elephnts are as beautiful as you thought they would be.

2. Giraffes run in slow motion with schools of impala and reed buck (who bounce). In sun and storm, everything seems submerged in the Uluguru hills.

3. At 2 a.m., the pied crow in the garden will call, "Baaark Baaark Baaark Baaark" until 3 a.m. when you and your husband in a towel go out and throw cashews at him, which wakes up the dogs.

4. African nights are noisy.

5. African moonlight is blue.

6. On the bus, offer your lap to people looking for a place to put their child, or rice sacks, but not the transmissions or sacks of fish.

7. If you film them, poachers will fuss and bang on the windows. "Wei-Wei" means "Hey you."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Oh, It's Just an Ant... Hey! What th'! Gaaaack!
Last week,
Purdue entomologists were, it seemed, a little unnerved to find that, in an urban environment, ants will form colonies thousands of times larger than they do when they live in a forest. They pointed out that ant colonies, made up of millions of individuals, unobtrusive by themselves, should really be thought of as one, big animal. Now this:
New research reveals the ambush strategy Azteca andreae captured here (oh I can't get the damn photo to show up completely the email. Less dramatically, here is the link which shows 8350 worker ants who, in early morning and then again in late evening, hide with their mandibles open, side-by-side on the shaggy underside of their Cecropia obtusaant host's leaf margins - the leaves' loop-shaped hair anchoring the ants' hook-shaped claws, Hanging on and "waiting for insects to alight," says the rather poetic report.

Everybody was probably made pretty introspective by what the ants did next - see video Really rather horrible what with the cicadas whirring and French Guiana dripping all over the place, a lot of tussle. It took hours they said, with the moth still struggling a little in the morning (see photo A). Bakersfield is surely next.

Well then! So! Have a happy holiday. Liz

Monday, June 28, 2010

The New Acropol:

In Morogoro, we stayed in a decaying colonial hotel called e the New Acropol. Pitch dark when we arrived crashing around in the dining room and we could find no one in the bar full of papier-mache trophy heads with an autographed photo of U2 under the Tanqueray and a kudu, but we could hear laughing and pots banging. Everyone was in the kitchen trying to fix the oven. Which set the tone.

The hotel's run by a Canadian woman who had come out to Tanzania 25 years ago to fix the railroads. Which she did. Tuesday night we sat with her on the veranda (which was draped with yellow argiopes the size of thumbs and you could hear them clicking when they caught moths and baby birds) with all her little dogs piled up around her in mosquito coil smoke, candle light, and her cell phone that kept ringing and she's say, "Well, he can stay here the month if that's what they're paying, but if he tries that bit with the razor again....Alright. See he doesn't." and she tore the filters off her Marlboro Lights and talked about how Tanzania's gone to hell, glacier's are gone, bushmeat's free ("I can't compete with free.").

But now, the railroads wrecked again, and her rooms are booked with International Development agencies come to fix them. "We're expecting a crush of Danes," she said.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Getting to Morogoro

Your Vacation Summary
To Foxes Safari's Web site:
Please contact us. We are horribly late.
Name: Liz Kirchner

I want to visit: Mafia, Mikumi, Udzungwa

I want to experience: We'd like to see fruit bats, wild dogs, edible orchids, and Tanzanian agriculture.

No one is ever prepared for edible orchids.

(Running shoes, DEET, sunscreen, and cameras)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Who Are You, Alex King and Mito Media!?

A Night of Single Drinkin' // A Photofilm from Alex King & Mito Media on Vimeo.

Hahaha! Happy sweet singles with good teeth on a summer evening rooftop. Things get blurry. There are grilled sausages, spin-the-bottle, tongues, more spinning. Things get blurry. Happy. Sweet. Nothing lasts. Hahaha!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bike the Planet with Sustrans

Walk, cycle, or sustainably trans-it 'round the planet with Sustrans, the people who made walking, cycling, and sustainably transporting around the UK a reality.

It's Sustran's virtual globe-trek called Change Your World.

They're going round the world, 25,000 miles, they've gone 18,181 miles as of this minute which puts them somewhere in the Bering Sea, and they've 31 days to go. People pledge their journeys. These are small trips - just popping out to the shops or down the lane, catching the train, or walking the dog.

Join them: if you're going anywhere by foot, bike, or public transport, really make the trip, join the movement, pledge your mileage here.

Heroic Sustrans are the Bristol-sprung people who, with a rather wobbly start in 1975 (!) made it possible to bike and walk from the English Channel to John O'Groats, along the length of Hadrian's Wall, down the Thames, or off to the pub in Woolton, Liverpool.

Since 1975, Sustrans has developed 12000 miles of traffic-free walking and cycling paths, quiet, art-filled, biodiverse lanes and on-road cycling routes passing within a mile of over 55% of the population taking them to schools, shops, businesses throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Get a move on.

Love You Virtually All

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Binacle

binnacle |ˈbinəkəl|
a built-in housing for a ship's compass.
ORIGIN late 15th cent. (as bittacle): from Spanish bitácula, bitácora or Portuguese bitacola, from Latin habitaculum ‘dwelling place,’ from habitare ‘inhabit.’ The change to binnacle occurred in the mid 18th century.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Choral Reefs

Coral Reef Ecologist Mark Vermeij of the CARMABI Foundation
Coral larvae, which are the size of fleas and hairy with neuromasts, spend their early days, sometimes months, wafting with plankton in the open ocean.

To find established reefs on which to settle, they use light, touch, and scent. But these cues only work if they find themselves both down-current and nearly home. Now scientists out of Carmabi Foundation, Willemstad, Curaçao are finding that settlement-stage larvae are attracted to reefs from meters, possibly even kilometers away - by sound.

The scientists, whose previous work found that coral reef noise provides auditory orientation cues to young reef fish and crustaceans, write here that sound in the sea propagates such tremendous distances that the role of coral reefs "as a beacon for pelagic life stages of marine invertebrates deserves critical attention".

In their elegant study, when biologists moved submerged plexi-glass-boxed speakers playing day and night reef sounds "which consisted of fish calls and grunts and the continuous crackling sound of snapping shrimps" around submerged, coral larvae-filled chambers, the larvae consistently moved toward the reef noise; in one trial, by positioning the speakers above the larvae chamber, the test over rode coral larvae's tendency to swim down to a reef.

"This is the first description of an auditory response in the invertebrate phylum Cnidaria, which includes jellyfish, anemones, and hydroids," write the investigators, and they suggest that the findings present profound implications for connectivity models that can no longer consider larval dispersal as passive. Further, because in open ocean, habitat sought by settlement-stage fish, crustaceans, and coral is so far-flung and "patchy", alleviating anthropogenic marine noise pollution takes on greater urgency.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nimbleweed: Tumblin' Happy

Bluegrass and Chuck Taylors, I do believe in a thing called love! So happy, they are Nimbleweed, who are, as yet,un-Googlable. The YouTube video is notable not only for its horrible carpet, but that there are only five comments (one of them's mine) all said words like: "happy" and "brillant" and "where can I get an mp3?".

Who are these happy, talented sensibly shod young people? Happy, talented, exuberant, skilled people. We need more of them. They could be us. Let's go practice.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

They Collapsed Like Calving Glaciers

Two of the neighbor's massive arbor vitae out of a whole hedge of them like a rampart that sinks us in gloom by 3 on that southern side making the lilacs climb out into the driveway like drowning women collapsed like a calving glaciers under snow this February with a big, nautical creak, a big sigh, and whump. They were 25 feet tall and 25 years old, so their collapse was like an apartment building toppling - its wreckage spilling sparrows and dumping appalled robins and squirrels dashed like birdseed onto the snowy patio over and the trees like masts burying their handsome teak patio furniture and finishing off once and for all our decaying fence.

And that's just the things we see, of course, who knows the millions of spiders and egg sacks tucked under bark whittlings, and hunkered down safe in chestnut duff caught in the crotches, sifting down as the robins rummaged above all summer, safe while the storm roared. And down below! Think of the cicadas! Plump babies in thin husks like creamy shrimp, blind and sucking, nibbling in the dark, in the sweet, glistening, black soil like embryonic kangaroos curled and clinging to those dark roots, sweet, piney juice, relying on them, waiting until it's time, until it's time, until...big, nautical sigh, and whump.

The snow pulled those trees down like wildebeest. It's hard to be sympathetic, though, arbor vitae are sterile as concrete - good for shelter, but they don't fruit like junipers, the lacier, cedary scented indigenous tree they replace in suburban landscapes. Arbor vitae grow fast. They're dense as a rug. They're good for privacy. So down they went, leaving an embarrassing hole. Baring us both. Our dandelions and bare patches. Their impeccable outdoor-room furniture precisely lined up like they're planning to watch a movie. Making us seed and sweep. So completely altering the light dynamic that the old dogwood that had spread flounces and blossoms for years until they flanked her like kidnappers, goons on either side of her, hustling her to the sedan, stuffing her in the trunk, and she was on the wane until they were felled themselves, but something bigger. A snowflake. Now in the sun, she's sprouting leaves from her trunk from her arms. She's gobbling it up. You can practically hear her sucking up the sun. I'm feeding her stinking blood meal, watering it in. This morning the landscapers swarmed hauling two more arbor vitae to fill the hole.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kitty in Death's Driveway

Our sickly kitty.

We are waving our arms like lunatics, chasing her up the sidewalk, and diving under the azaleas to steer her away from Death's actual Door, but she's hunkered down on Death's Deck wedged between a pretty swank Weber and a glass-topped table that still has ice-tea glasses on it maybe from sitting outside in the evening listening to the robins chortle across the yard and whinny goodnight, and the cardinals zoom like Cupid's arrows across the yards and fences home as the arborvitae blackens and the cool comes up from the earth and ferns. The ice-tea glasses on Death's glass-topped patio table all have slogans on them. They say, "Florida! The Sunshine State" and "Connecticut: The Nutmeg State," and "Arkansas! The Toothpick State," which is odd in a way, but not if you think about it, I guess.

Tomorrow we go to the Annandale Animal Hospital where Dr. Paradise, which is her real name, will teach us how to administer fluids subcutaneously.

I hadn't really grasped the gravity of the situation, and said, "Oh. I'll bring the cat then." And they said, "Good idea, Ms. Kirchner."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Be Bio-Logical

Barefoot, bespattered, and fuming at the door - dead bees in her hair, a bloody lip, and a fistful of black coral - I think it's for you. Earth Day is here and wow, is she mad. Appease her by mulling birds, bees, air-miles, and fish-smothering phthalates -
then, be bio-logical.

Here are some ways to Eat, Drink, Think, and Love deeply this weekend that will make her happy.

At the Phillips tonight, my friend, Ann Yonkers, moderates the discussion: "Earth Day, Landscape and Local Food"
Maryland winemaker Robert Lyons, chef Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora, and Pennsylvania farmer Mark Toigo of Toigo Orchards talk about art, food, and the Terroir that makes it good. The brochures says " a light tasting follows," which means something wild like: Crispy nettles and Chili Roasted Asparagus, Fiddleheads, and Ramps.

Drink: Deep six sensibly disaster-plastic bottles, and don't buy any more. What are you thinking?

Memorials by Moonlight with DCTours: Moonlight, marble, a general glowing
"How the Sinking of the Titanic Changed Washington" Bike Tour: He would go down with the ship for you in that helmet.
MOCA DC Art and Film Space at M and 31: Wander, ponder, brush fingertips

Bee-keeping classes are everywhere

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Friend, Kim, Plays the Harmonica

Kim Addonizio is a poet

...and by "friend" I mean, at the end of a party in a Houston art warehouse, I once stood next to a woman who smelled like roses and Marlboros, who turned-out-to-be-her, and a table, which earlier that night had been loaded with hors d'oeuvres, and on which during the height of the evening, someone had rolled, making a point in a conversation. Smashed - really smashed - pastry, bunches of exploded black grapes, their skins spewing guts and seeds, and the green grape cracked, and pineapple chunks and carrot shards like shrapnel, and tiny pink crab quiches dumped in piles like girls with their petticoats up - pink kneecaps and cream.

So, we were standing there staring at the wreckage, she-who-turned-out-to-be-her and I, and I was embarrassed to be associated with it, and I didn't know what to do with my hands, so I said to her, this woman who smelled like blossoms and leather, "Crab quiche?" and she looked at me, or sort of probably at my chin because she was small, but even standing beside her, she didn't give that impression, instead, she said, ".......don't mind if I do." So I leaned over the table, curving my body over the juice and pulp, shoved through a mound of broccoli floret with my palm, and found the last, battered crab quiche, pink, frothy, kind of oozy, and I brought it out holding it by its crumbling buttery edges, carefully, like a old compass or a lens, placed it on a soggy paper napkin that said, "Starlight" on it in gold, and wiped my hand on my dress. Then we went to get mojitos.

"Contemporary Day" - Wipeable Elegance Documentary

Washington DC's Textile Museum, is up to its usual effusive "We Are Wrapped in Beauty, Are We Not?" revelry as it announces the screening of the documentary, "Contemporary Days: Robin and Lucienne Day Design the UK."

The ninety-minute film premieres at 7:30pm on May 15, 2010 at the National Geographic Museum’s Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC. Tickets are only gotten on-line and in advance.

Here is the site for tickets and a little about the designers R and L Day post-WWII British furniture designers who brought modern design to everyday life, which one can imagine, would have been rather grey in 1951.
But these two were not daunted and carried the light and hope of bold prints, plastic, steel, and plywood (materials no body had used before) into our homes, offices, and schools.

Sixty years later, like illuminated letters, their "accessible elegance," their wipeability-meets-modernist-sensibility twinkles most obviously in our own grey little worlds in the form of those liquidly-curved, plastic chairs with aluminum legs and, if you're lucky, the chair is turquoise or mango or lime. So iconic, the British put it on a postage stamp. Lovely.

In fact, for many of us, when we think "cafeteria" it is those Day chairs we think of: wipeable, bash-able, quickly stack-able when clearing the floor for dances or neighborhood association meetings. Designed designed with that hole - low in the back both useful as a handle, and (horribly, but humanly) as a drain. If you're anything like me, circa '62, when you think of those chairs, you think simultaneously: "What a lovely curve...Are we having Tater Tots today?....Shiny legs....oooh grapes..."

Ah modernist sensibilities.

The film has not much to do with Tater Tots ( might argue...), but everything to do with the pleasure of form and the beauty that surrounds us.

Much love and bold print to you, L

Friday, April 2, 2010

Garden of Grrrlz: Roller Derby in DC

This morning, planting lettuce, I was mulling my Roller Girl name...Having some trouble...
Some were:

Peace and Carrots
Mother Dearth
Sunbeam of Doom
Spring Rain of Terror

Peter'd out with "Alexander the Skate"? Completely ran out of steam and went nautical with:
"Tell it to the Marines," which I just like to say.

"A Few Screws Lucy" and "A Kate 47" are already taken, but Ms. Anne Thrope was offered by the World Famous Roller Derby Girl Name Generator under the "Smart" category. I'm guessing Edith WarTon and is too....

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Freelance Whales, Pigeon Holes, and a Wooden Bowl of Apples

What could be more footloose than a Freelance Whale?

These Freelance Whales, they're unpigeon-hole-able. The New York quintet call themselves and have been called: 'Indie' 'Rock' 'TechPop,' and, dismissively, 'fuzzed-out synths with raw Americana,' but together, what they are is an exuberant tumble of glockenspiels and banjos, harmoniums, cellos, and something called a waterphone that I had to look up* all plinking innocence, green-as-young-wine in a children-in-sun-and-grass home movie flicker. But, it's the bones, the infrastructure, holding it all up - the girders and cable of microKorg layers, MOOG lilt, and piles and piles of drums that saves these whales.

To me these two songs, Generator First Floor and Generator Second Floor, help conjure a whole Green and Pleasant place full of on-the-loose childhood with not a guardian in sight, just long days playing dress-up in uninhabited manses, parading over meadows, roaming overgrown gardens, with all the dark possibilities of lace curtains in sunny nurseries blowing from windows carelessly left open far above the gravel drive.

This is, of course, is a neighborhood peopled with playmates like Cymbals Eat Guitars (who probably live in the woods), pianist and erstwhile computer engineer Vienna Teng, The Fruit Bats, even The Weepies, who, like countrified cousins, would have come for a visit worrying they don't have the right high-top Converses, or enough JP-8000s, but they connect with the city kids through the candid vigor of musicality that they all have.

And it's against modest poets like the Weepies, though, that the Whales sink. Weepies' lyric beauty, while more rough-hewn, honest as the notebook paper it's written on, with the frankness of a wooden bowl of apples.

*A waterphone has its own colorful history involving B. Franklin and Tibet. It is related to the nail violin, says its Wiki.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Secret Life of Scientists: Pea is for Peer Review

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a small, peer-review group. We're biologists - we know about birds, cows, soil, traumatic brain injury, and wolves. Many of us can perform autopsies if given something sharp. While tongues and pencils are often the sharpest and easiest to hand, on warm afternoons in early spring, we plant peas.

Small Biological Sciences NonProfit Linked to Mysterious Global Movement

Last week, the Director of AIBS, Dr. O'Grady, sent us the following, seemingly light-hearted email that said,

"Because when all of sudden there are no more olympic highlights on TV in the evening, you have to do something:

And the following message."

We thought nothing of it.

Until this report on NPR:

"This spring, in a tremendous cult-of-personality wave surrounding a pleasantly professorial avatar with Stephen Hawking's voice, ET's head, and the fashion sense of an Oxford don, named, it is rumored, "Vavilov," or just "V," people all over the planet are adopting ranunculus-yellow bow ties, loam-brown suits, enormous Petri-dish glasses, and polishing their foreheads to a lunar gleam.

Sending a message of "simply doing good in this world," "facilitaing peer review," with the mantra: "We Press on Together," V is thought in reality to be the nom de guerre of Gregor O'Grady, a reclusive author, political poet, adroit humorist, and an outspoken opponent of the balkanization of the world's scientists. But V's true identity remains tantalizingly unknown. Tracking O'Grady to a canopy zip-line in a Costa Rican rainforest as he collected bromeliad demographics, reporters, clamouring in the under story, falling down, getting muddy, and scaring some tapirs, called up to him, "Is V with you now?" O'Grady yelled down "Yes!"

In fact, V seems as ubiquitous as mycelium in an aspen grove. His name has been linked to Jennifer Aniston; Neytiri, with becomingly downcast eyes, says they're "just friends"; and Colbie Caillat says she likes him to wash her hair. Folk rock harpist Joanna Newsom's song, "You have Long Fingers. I Like That," and Patty Griffith's 'Messenger Salamander' are said to be dedicated to him. John Meyer and Alec Baldwin are sporting V-tribute comb-overs. iPhone is launching an app. Congress, the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and the eight most powerful nations, now called the "V8," are opening their sessions with a gavel-hammer and the shout "So, how about it?!"

Looking back, there were hints of him throughout the winter, like a secret handshake in a dangerous place, like a swelling bud under ice. A lift of a brow that could be a flirt, a crazy graffiti tag that wasn't there last night, a lunatic-poet's street corner howl, murmurs from the coffee shop girl touching your finger hard as she gives you your cup, or that lady on the bus. Were they saying, "I see you"? No. All along, they were saying, "I V U."

What a relief. And it's spring.

Diversity in the Workplace: At SPARS We'

Because when all of sudden there are no more olympic highlights on TV in the evening, you have to do something:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Field to Fork Talks African and Heirloom

The 1902 Carnegie Library that houses the Washington DC Historic Society is a Beaux-Arts bon-bon box with a copper roof, marble columns, and, that day, hundreds of people in hand-dyed wool and well-worn Merrell's talking about urban agriculture, land-sharing, suburban agriculture, heirloom seeds, native tree planting, "Food as Social Justice", double-digging, and the Beauty of Earthworms - all things green and spring.

We heard Yao Afachao, of UDC, talk about the newly resuscitated (really, we thought it was dead) university's agriculture extension efforts working with former tobacco farmers in Maryland to grow alternative crops that serve the culinary desires of African and Latin communities.

In the newly revamped, but still-echo-y, museum space - which is gorgeously gilded and there are lit from below maps in the floor - Yao showed slides of Maryland fields full of eggplant cultivars from Togo. They're lime green and the size apricots. You can eat them raw. They're growing among acres of chiles - crazy hot and sweetly tangy, solanaceous greens called njama jama, and a beautiful Avuvo: slender, blossomed, with edible leaves, called "the husband stealer." Yum.

We heard Tony Cohen's - so smooth from years thinking and talking about food, history, slavery, and freedom. Dazzling photos - some from the Smithsonian magazine's documentation of his walk as a graduate student in the 90s following the Underground Railroad from Sandy Springs, Maryland to the border of Canada.

Then many many photos from summery Button Farm ( - 200-year-old, 70-acre farm, lost in the center of Seneca Creek Park - his Dream-Made-Reality Living History Center in Germantown, Maryland. The Center features retreats in which participants (families, individuals, corporate team-building groups) immerse themselves in 19th century rural life in America. That immersion can be a dunking or a dabble, choosing characters black, white, rich, or poor. He said, "It doesn't matter what color you are. People, at the end, call the experience 'freeing'. Everybody's a slave to something."

He talked about Oprah Winfrey (his slide showed her immaculately coiffed and glossy in watered silk and pearls). In preparing for her film role in T. Morrison's Beloved, she asked him to give her an authentic experience of slavehood. They blindfolded her, drove her out to the Center, and she began an experience that involved being chased through the woods at night by bloodhounds from Frostburg, sleeping in caves, and wearing chains.

Interesting questions about carrying seeds with you when you set out for freedom, about poring over 19th Century agricultural journals to find out about traditional cropping techniques, pest control, and how to keep the deer at bay (use a fence and hunt them). Cleverly, Cohen read old cookbooks to find out what people were eating. Button Farm, with Cohen's tireless - really tire.less. - cheer-leading and touting and recruiting of volunteers, and dredging and pleading for dollars and support, sleeping surrounded by heat-lamps and delicate seedlings or tobacco and squash, is now a beautiful, if fragile success.

He works at times with food historian Michael Twitty, founder of the fantastic AfroFood Ways (

Then we had vegan lunch on our laps sitting with everyone on the marble staircase in the sun. The Carnegie Library is a beautiful space to talk about food and freedom.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In Annandale, a Stream of Consiousness, Shoveling, Bison, and Gunshots

We are snowed in! Three feet deep! There is a gentle swell in the driveway where the Honda used to be. All of us! From the Atlantic to St. Louis. Socked right under! Two feet of tiny, tiny Remarkably Tiny! They are really little! snowflakes, and how they do add up! Let that be a lesson to us all. They are pulling down the trees!

The snapping of branches has been like gunshots all night, and there is nothing worse than the noise of a tree collapsing. Like hair tearing. With an exhausted creak like a huge and heavy door and that vacuum void, like just before a big bell bongs or a car crashes. It makes you want to yell. And then Whump! or Whooomp!, possibly, if it is a very old tree, or possibly, Whoomp. Ka-Smash! Wheep Wheep! Wheep Wheep! if there is a car alarm involved.

That Ancient and Towering and Bird-filled Virginia Pine (It is Pinus virginiana - famous for all the lower branches snapping off leaving just their grey shattered limbs and a gorgeous crown - a forest by itself - 175-feet up and, as it happens, perfect for yanking out of the soil like a carrot, like a troll by the hair. Perfect for flinging onto the neighbor's new and pricey cedar shake roof by the slightest zephyr or perceived insult. This beautiful tree has dangled over the house - my bedroom - for years - perfect for 'The Three AM Fret', but could not be cut down to preserve us all from Death and Needless Expense and Prosecution, precisely because it is Ancient, Towering, and Bird- and Who Knows WhatAll-filled, and beautiful, really the way ship wreckage is beautiful. And this morning full of Red-tailed Hawks, at least four, creamy bellies bared to the sun in the freezing blue and forest green and cirrus beyond, being set upon by crows winging in like the sun from all directions at 17 degrees. With blizzard on the way, that beautiful tree is expected in the kitchen any minute as the wind picks up.

Preparing for A Snow Emergency, on Friday, the Crack Team of my Pop and B, at the Safeway were swept up by a screaming wave of mob grocery shopping. Now that the frenzy has subsided, and the sun shines clear, our refrigerator is crammed with pistachio-crusted goat cheese, Dutch bell peppers, and a brick of ground bison. The pantries are full of man-sized - as in, they are the size of men - bags of Cheetos, a satchel of what must have looked like Wine-in-a-Box, but turns out to be gravy, and a 25 lb bag of cardamom. If these are End Times, the house smells great. It makes me want to invent algebra.

This morning, in Annandale people are cross-country skiing down Gallows Road in the sun for lattes. We're holed up lying in piles like lions in the DVD player's glow. B chopped wood and stacked it by the front door, but we were more interested in identifying the lichen on it than setting it on fire. Here are 10 Things You Should Know about Lichen .

My greatest fear is tomorrow, I'll have to use chocolate milk in my coffee. I will steel myself for the hardship.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Isn't it odd to live in a world in which there are objects - brilliant red or orange or talon'd like Vikings, or the size of and shape of seckle pears, delicately billed, shooting through the air all around you. Odder probably, is you are not surprised.

They're everywhere, you know. Birds.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Slow Food is Good Food and the Snail is Metaphorical

Slow Food USA's logo is a snail. Good in a garlicky butter-and-parsley sizzle of course, good too as metaphor for us, of course - plump and happy, clambering through arugula and heirloom tomatoes of an evening. "Soil, water, air, and light. Simplicity," the garden says to us, "Now, That's Delicious."

Slow Food USA ( a movement, a grassroots groundswell, and, as missions go, "the revival of the kitchen and the table as centers of pleasure, culture, and community" is a mission as profound, pleasing, and optimistic as soup.

Slow Food USA and all its state affiliates (SlowFoodDC is the closest/biggest to Annandale) is an educational organization dedicated to land stewardship and ecologically sound food production. They work to establish sound food policy, healthy, affordable school lunches, encourage people to plant victory gardens, save heirloom fruit, veggies, and animals (see Orange Oxheart Tomatoes and You).

These are hardly smug and indulgent goals. The group works to feed kids and families. Slow Food USA is one of the reasons why your town has a farmers' market. It's why you know the words "sustainable" and "organic" and "community-supported agriculture."

Then, like all People-Plant-Earth revelries, there are poetic connections. The message is that Slow is Good. Slow is a crusty loaf and dewy glass, snowy cloth and chiclet-toothed friends. Under an arbor. It's history human and animal in that Norton grape, in that Amish Pie Squash. Thoughtful Food. Eat slowly, it says, talk, nod, mop that thick plate with a chewy slice.


Slow Food says that eating is another opportunity to exercise calm in our worlds - to exercise ease, naturalness, frankness, maybe even, what's this?, Love.


Beauty, Tin Snips, and Heart-Broken Me

Running to work on the beautiful W & OD. At last, with fists of fern and sumac and a tuft of the Japanese knotweed with its navy blue berries and its stem full of backward teeth sawing my palm, I got to work in Reston and had a reborrative sluice in our building's clean and roomy and biker-friendly shower, with its little fold-down wooden slat seat like a sauna for all your bottles and balms, and was drying my hair - my old, spidery, webby, haunted, hemp-hank Bedraggle ...sigh...Poor, old, Hemp-Hank...when...

There I am. All adrip and I fire up the Travel Air 1800, and am fluffing and poofing gamely, and curling with an Encouraging Lift for a Youthful and Flirty Wave - all of which is akin to yanking on the armrests to keep the 747 in the air, but I'm beaming bravely and exclaiming heartening things like, "Wow! Burt's Bees Organic Green Tea and Fennel Seed Shampoo! We are glossy, richly foaming, and we smell great!"

So the first floor Ladies's Room at 1900 Campus Commons is drenched in fennel steam and all the while am whipping around with my little blue fanny-packable hairbrush....

But the Serpent was indeed among us. And lull me she did, that pretty blue brush, and wrapped me in clouds of Green Tea and Fennel Seed making me beam like an idiot as we merrilied along - the Travel Air 1800 roaring like a Harley on a mountain curve, buffeting me with a blast like the ginger and nutmeg-scented winds baked out of the hill grasses above Santa Barbara, and I'm singing a Camera Obscura .

"Hey! Lloyd...I'm ready to be heartbroken..." I croon (pretty loud, really) through the roar, sweeping up a magnificent Farrah-y hanks, swathed in scarves of black currant and jewel weed extract, and I switch 'er on High and I'm really singing now: "Cuz I can't see further than my own nose at the moment!.." And Lloyd and I are loping in long, tress-swinging, brown-legged lopes over sand that glitters like sugar - just like me - or smashed glass. Glittering like Me and Santa Barbara. And we are both the color of Demerara sugar.

So, all of us are swinging and loping and gleaming and we smell delicious and we're ready to be heart-broken, when goddammit that vicious little blue hair brush whips around and cleaves itself to the side of my head like a lamprey with its rasp-toothed suckering mouth parts, and would not come loose.

And I had to put on a shirt with one hand and go across the hall to the HV/AC guy who cut it out with tin snips. Now, when I see him in the hall, he pretends it never happened.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sweet Doodling for Jesus

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Sweet, hopeful, a little worried, rather wiggly are cartoons by young Dave Walker, who himself looks all of those geekling things in his photo: swarm of curly hair and glasses for shoving up nose when thinking. He's a Scots artist doodling at Weblogcartoons. His work is dedicated to art, faith, and justice within Scotland’s cultural life. He supplies cartoons. You can upload them to your blog, your newsletter, email them about.

His FAQ title is "Why am I doing this?" which I guess he hears a lot. And the answer, and I think it's a pretty good guess, is that he like to. He's prolific, he writes The Dave Walker Guide to the Church. Arch Bishop Alan Wilson tweets him joshing him about his timely iPad cartoon, which was called "IPad Envy" in which everyone has their strapping iPads and, sigh, there you are with your puny iPhone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Green Turtles Dive Down

Here is a poem - I'm afraid it clunks like an old mill.

I told you, "Yep, the Equinox," yet not the Equinox at all,
It's the Solstice
when Earth slides in place like a socket cups a ball.

Flying through the universe, our hipbones and our hands,
We dive down with green turtles, then the sun warms hips in other lands.

Crystal, carapace, and bone,
On the pendulum we sway;

Til at that instant, long nights dissolve,
We turn and swim the other way.

It's all in our heads.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Is It About Hotels? A Man Carrying His Own Coffin and Jr. Walker

Overheard at the second floor elevators in a hall full of sun and lumps of soiled linen at the Sheraton Hotel in Reston, Virginia.

What is it about hotels?

Music is welling up the atrium from the airy lobby, and the Pips and I are taking the Midnight Train to Georgia. We're all in the little ice-machine nook in my socks, just run down the hall quick with my little plastic ice-bucket, singing the way you do in your socks in a hotel in the morning: "All aboard all aboard the mid-night train...I've got to go! I've got to go!" I pull the train whistle, and the Pips "Woo Woo!" and we are all singing when...

Me: There are two people just outside the nook. They're waiting for the elevator. I can see them through a thicket of potted plastic bamboo in which someone had dropped his gum. Just by the way they're standing it's clear there is something happening between these two, and before I know it -it must be something about hotels - I am absolutely skulking in the bamboo, and listening with my ice-bucket empty and my mouth open.

She: a bulging satchel with a broken zipper over one nicely shaped shoulder. Over the other, an unfastened purse spouting wallet and what looks like several of those MacIntosh apples you get from the bowl on the front-desk. Two boxes of shoes and several paperbacks are mashed, but struggling to get loose, against the sagging V-neck of a too-short dress. Her hair, a youthful tumble, contradicts her wattled neck.

He: a slim suit-bag draping an elegant sleeve; jeans a precise business-casual fade, breaking perfectly at the instep of a well-shod foot. His neck is nice.

Down in the lobby, I can hear the Pips noodle, "My. World. Is his. World. His and his alone..." and I'm watching her because she's talking and it's pretty animated - she's talking with her whole arm and all her bags are shifting and heaving like ballast in what would be a very heavy sea. He's not saying anything at all, but looking at him says a lot. As smooth as he is, he is crumpled. Like crumpling. Like in the act of crumple. Standing there in front of her, while I'm watching him, he looks like he's sort of caving in - as if he's being belly-punched in slow-motion.

So, there I am watching these two through the plastic bamboo and the gum, and Ol' Worldly Me is summing up the scene for the Pips saying, "Yes...the arm-waving, the slow-motion belly-punching, the metaphorical luggage, neck wattle...Unmistakable. It is, I'm afraid, the classic: two people, signs of a struggle, complete mess," All the Pips shrug and nod in unison, and we're all turning around smug and jaded for ice, when She says this:

She:"...All I wanted was to tell you about fishless ponds. That's all. They are amazing! Wonderful! Full of Wonder! A world redefined! I wanted to tell you. I want to tell you. But now you look like a man carrying his own coffin."

Me: "Fishless ponds?...'You look like a man carrying his own coffin...'?
And then..."That's a nice simile....I hope to god I never have to use it."

This fierce proclamation is so strange - fishless ponds? It was like an incantation - Looking back, I think those words - the whole: "fishless ponds and full of wonder, silent man and ten feet under" owlet-wing kind of vibe all doused in their intensity, I think it was a spell - a spell that set in motion the cascade of peculiar and beautiful events that happened next.

So, I look out and she has now made a "ta-da" move - a little stomp with her big hands down low, her arms straight, juggling shoe boxes, and her chest open to him. One of the apples - a beautiful, glossy red one like a jewel - falls out of her purse with a bonk, and rolls against a heap of soggy towels under a bench.

But he will not say anything, and her outstretched hands are getting tired. She shakes them down hard to make him look, but he won't lift his head. God! Even I'm exasperated! and the silence of every thing unsaid between these two is seeming to drown them - and me too and my bamboo - all of us. This silence is like clear green syrup pouring down the hall, washing in around our knees and our bellies and gulping up our heads filling up the whole second floor of the Reston Sheraton filling up our ears and our noses, down the hall, the maids toss armloads of sheets into the halls with muffled whumps,laughing in Spanish sounds submerged.

But the most underwater-y eerie-y thing is that something must have gone wrong with the sound system, because, there's no music - no sound - at all. I'm sure Gladys and the Pips are in Georgia by now and in the hall, She and all her messy bags and her apples, and He and his stupid shoes are bobbing horribly drowning in the sun-filled syrup, upside down with the maids and the bamboo and the laundry and I'm thinking this will kill us, when suddenly, from out of nowhere, out of everywhere, from out of the walls, there is this click. This big electric crackling click, and the music wells up from below. It's Jr. Walker and the All-Stars! They're soaring up the atrium swinging gorgeous saxophones. They've overheard the whole thing and have come soaring up.

And it's loud. Something has definitely gone wrong with the volume, or maybe the doorman in his giant coat and brass buttons likes this song, and has turned it up because the music and words rise up from the lobby. Like a big, golden, buttered curl of sax and sun. It is pretty unignorable.

Jr. pleads to us: "Oh I tried I tried I tried...Every way I could....To make you see how much I love you. I thought you understood." It's really loud. Drowned as they are, those two blink the syrup from their eyes. Maybe it's a message. Jr. Walker is throwing us a line.

The All-Stars are demanding, "You gotta make me see. What does it take to win your love for me?..." Da! Da da da da da da! cries the sax, and in front of the elevator, at that moment, he lifts his eyes to hers and she sees him. As many times as she has gazed on him, it has taken Jr. Walker and the All-Stars to show him to her. She sees him. And. He. Is. Miserable. She stands there appalled and hangs her head.

As the music fills up the Reston Sheraton swirling around all three of us and maids and the doorman, we all think: "Yes. You gotta make me see. What does it take?"

Then"Ding!" The elevator arrives, and The Spinners spill out in a big clanking jumble and let us all know that It's a Shame. Which it sure is.

He steps in. I can see right in the elevator and he doesn't even turn around. It's just his long, graceful back, and crumpled suit-bag, and smooth, bent head, when the door slides shut, leaving her with too much luggage standing there in cheap shoes and a pile of fruit muttering, "I didn't understand. I truly did not see. But the ponds. The fishless ponds. That's all I have ever wanted to talk about... Why didn't you say? Why didn't you let me know?"

I lean against the ice-machine, clutching my bucket, singing softly. "Yes, I tried and tried and tried...every way I cooould," and when I peer out through my bamboo, she's gone, and I dunk my bucket in the box and scoop up the ice and in my socks scamper, as you do down a hotel hall, back to my room to find out everything I can about similes, saxophones, fishless ponds, and love.