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Saturday, July 30, 2011

For all Design-obsessed Peeps -- Day 5/UNCONVENTIONAL GARDENS (Coral Reef)

Barrier Reef of Belize


While working with the landscape crew in the garden today, I could not help reflecting on the ironies of the times.  Cynics, critics, skeptics, and others who deny the effects of global warning would need to simply venture from the cooled comfort of their homes and offices, and into the 102F plus temperature presently experienced by our region in order to experience the precursor of the inevitable.  It is alarming when native grasses, rose-of-sharon shrubs, and catmint start to wilt under the stressors of extreme heat and the lack of rain.  Water can be quite costly, and in some states and counties ration quotas and schedules are in effect; it seems almost inhuman to run the sprinkler on a suburban lawn in the pursuit of some ideal of lawn perfection, knowing that the general populace of many African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries faces dehydration and starvation.  A very cruel death as the body attempts to eat itself in order to survive.  Sadly, lawn sprinklers at many homes still pop up on schedule, golf courses continue to proliferate in the wealthier parts of some states, and Las Vegas and Palm Springs still appear mirage-like in their parched surroundings.  It is predicted that within our lifetime, water will become the most essential and valued natural resource (read commodity).

This week’s peepshow devoted to unconventional gardens ends today; day 5 features the underwater garden, or coral reef.   To my eyes, neither plant nor animal while simultaneously of both categories of nature, the coral reef is comprised of the skeletal and living structures of the coral polyps, and provide within its protective depths and shallows a wonderful habit for countless fish, crustaceans, assorted sea life, and vegetation as yet unknown.  Hypnotic, awe-inspiring, and languidly wondrous, the marvels of this liquid world continue to thrill visitors to this ecological paradise.  The Great Barrier Reef of Belize looms large in my thoughts, and is my idealized version of utopia; perhaps eclipsed only by the dream of cool morning rain falling softly on endless plains, across sharp ranges of hills and mountains, as well as watering the parched deserts of the world.  Better rain than tears, yes?

You can make a difference in this world-our only—by making a small contribution to  Revive someone’s life, drop by drop. 


PS:  Heading down to the Chincoteague and Assateugue beaches where the thought of swimming (au natural) will invigorate me on tonight’s drive.  Hope that you enjoy Augusts’ schedule of visual treats comprised of essays by guest writers and vintage remixes.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Visual Treats (forallofmydesign-obsessedpeeps) News Update


As is customary, during the month of August the theatre remains dark.  We will reopen on September 5 with the peepshow entitled:  5 COOL AMERICANS.  Our blog will be featuring weekend visual treats provided by guest writers and a series of remixed vintage treats.  If you not already done so, please sign up for email notifications, so you can enjoy all the additional fun.


PS:  Got a call from Bernice, our editor who has been on vacation in Syracuse.  It seems that I keep missing the typos, as well as forgetting to water her potted plants on the window-sill.  Last evening's visual treat devoted to the Victory Garden had two boo-boos in the narrative, which were:   'also means less of the grocery budget gets to stay at home,' should have read: 'also means more of the grocery budget gets to stay at home.'  Also, 'Not to mention the pickers and pickers who endure something just short of chemical genocide,' should instead read, 'Not to mention the pickers and packers who endure something just short of chemical genocide.'   It stands to reason that behind every writer, there sits a sharp editor.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For all of my Design-Obsessed Peeps -- Day 4/UNCONVENTIONAL GARDENS (Victory Garden)


The Victory Garden that Mom or Grandma carefully tended is probably not there any longer; nevertheless the underlying principle still remains, and with the increased emphasis on sustainability, nutrition, and quality of life, items such as tomato cages runner-bean tepees, and potted herbs have become almost commonplace in many cities and towns.  Sure, I admit that driving down a quiet tree-lined suburban street of manicured front lawns, pristine-white picket fences, and the requisite clematis climbing up the mail-box post (or street lamp) is enjoyable, nevertheless the site of corn and artichokes plants carefully and skillfully integrated within a perennial bed of peonies, boxwood, and shrub roses, quickens my pulse for here is someone who ‘gets it.’ 

‘Getting it’ for myself and many others means finally realizing how easy it is to convert a small area of a suburban yard or garden plot into something which provides hours of enjoyment in growing our own food; gets us out of the house-from another episode of the pouty, moronic Kim K. and her equally questionable siblings—to being outdoors and the enjoyment of nature, some physical exercise, and the opportunity to bond with next-door neighbors over something much more meaningful than a gripe session about the lack of speed-bumps, and the rising price of gas.  Also means more of the grocery budget gets to say at home, and perhaps one less trip to the chain grocery store for flavorless monster vegetables grown in hothouses hundreds of miles away, picked by hands insufficiently compensated by health insurance, or protected by judicious labor laws.  Also means buying less of produce grown under the spray of pesticides and herbicides which wreck havoc on birds, bees, and butterflies.  Not to mention the pickers and packers who endure something just short of chemical genocide.

Starting with the vision of Alice Waters and others who advocated for the pure simplicity of fresh food; small organic farms, as well as farmer’s markets where the dignity, pride, and love of the earth is celebrated; farm-to-table restaurants that demonstrate a commitment to the food-cycle and its intersection with our life-cycle; proponents of a healthier diet such as Michelle Obama, Prince Charles and home-town pioneer Nora Pouillon,  keep reminding us that bigger is not better, it all starts at home, and nothing compares to the taste of earth’s fresh bounty.  It seems that this could be our victory against expanding waistlines, higher health insurance premiums, and our dependence on petroleum used to move food products over long distances.

It all starts with awareness, then motivation, and finally actualization.  And a pack of seeds or a flat of seedlings, and a watering can.  Victory is then clearly at hand.  Or sprouting across the land.

Enjoy today’s visual treat.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

For all of my Design-obsessed Peeps - Day 3/UNCONVENTIONAL GARDENS(Alnwick Garden)



I am shocked and saddened at the death of Amy Winehouse; it seems quite surreal that all that remains of this particular individual’s life are the images we experienced electronically, shared moments in the attendance of a live performance, or the singular bewitching voice which pierced through our consciousness thereby forcing us to understand her—as well as our-- need to feel, to risk, to love, to live.  Brilliantly and mischievously, she made not being good, devilishly good.  She will be missed.

She will be simultaneously missed and remembered for both on and off stage performances; there is no denying her incredible talent, yet lately this had been clouded by public incidents of the loss of control attributed to drugs and alcohol, both poisons to which much caution must be attached.  It is argued that the substances (or the base materials) in themselves are quite benign, and only in application does any danger arise.  I find much merit in this assertion, and apparently so does the Duchess of Northumberland who created The Poison Garden within Alnwick Garden near New Castle, reputedly the most beautiful garden in Europe.  Designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz, it features beautifully landscaped grounds, architecture, and waterfalls.  Themed gardens include The Ornamental Garden (the country’s largest selection of European plants), The Cherry Orchard, The Grand Cascade, The Serpent Garden, The Bamboo Labyrinth, and The Poison Garden.  A press release reads:  In the intriguing Poison Garden, behind locked gates, guides share tales of deadly plants. Myths and legends are uncovered, along with facts from science and history.  The Garden features many plants grown unwittingly in back gardens and in the British countryside, as well as many more unusual varieties. Flame-shaped beds contain belladonna, tobacco and mandrake. The Alnwick Garden has a Home Office licence to grow some very special plants; the cannabis and coca which are found behind bars in giant cages.

In addition to the more obvious miscreants such as monkshood, poison oak, and nightshade, many of our favorite garden plants if accidentally swallowed, can also be quite fatal.  Some of these are the boxwood, lily-of-the-valley, columbine, foxglove, oleander, the common ivy (in addition to being invasive, quite toxic) and many others which may be easily seen at 

Enjoy today’s visual treat; the peep-show continues tomorrow with The Victory Garden.


PS:  New York Magazine’s Nitsuh Abede offers an insightful and beautiful essay on Amy Winehouse at the following link:

For all my design obsessed Peeps -- Day 2/UNCONVENTIONAL GARDENS (For the Blind)



   Kind and wonderful persons in my life have made me quite aware of the challenges faced by many individuals in our society.  The blind and visually-impaired and the manner in which they negotiate through the maze of obstructions, hazards, challenges, and limitations--as well as biases and prejudices on the part of others-- has always interested me.  Probably the idea of losing my eyesight fills me with some fear, and as an artist and writer I strive try to understand how the lack of information provided by the sense of sight forces optimization of the other senses, which for the simple reason of survival must move quickly to complete a person's individual consciousness vis-a-vis the perceived world outside our body. Vision provides the brain with information of a large object moving towards us, this combined with the sound of a angry car's horn and compounded with the feel of a swoosh near our arm, as does the smell of a car's running engine and burnt tire-rubber makes us quickly realize that we have wandered from the sidewalk and onto the road, and the sudden appearance of goose-pimples means DANGER.  Thankfully, seeing-eye dogs, canes, braille signs on street-posts, walk signs equipped with sounds or voice commands now help to facilitate navigation among streets and paths.  Nevertheless, I don't see how it could be easy for the blind or visually impaired, much less the sighted pedestrian, who must contend with other walkers, joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders, Segway cruisers, tourists, panhandlers, dogs on leashes, baby carriages, strollers and red wagons, delivery carts, sandwich boards, thrash-cans, newspaper-stands, information-kiosks, parked food-trucks, and a thousand other distractions which make for a challenging journey.

   Kind and wonderful people have made the journey throughout a garden very pleasurable for the blind and hearing-impaired by the establishment of gardens especially designed to stimulate the senses of smell, touch, and hearing.  Access throughout the gardens are designed to allow easy access to touch and smell the plants; signs and information plaques are printed in braille; headphones also provide a recorded commentary as to the description, usage and origin of individual specimens; three-dimensional maps or legends are available for the visitor to touch and mentally recreate the layout of the garden (prior to entering the Zen rock garden in Ryoanji, Toyko a miniature model is located near the entrance, which allows the blind visitor to feel the location and shape of rocks, and the famous garden's overall layout).  The sound of being outdoors is especially cultivated to allow the visually-impaired visitor to experience nature through the sounds of birds, water features, and musical wind-instruments.  A list of gardens specially designed for the blind and visually-impaired can be easily found through an Internet search, or by visiting, where detailed information is provided for gardens located in Pittsburg, Cleveland, Glendale, Seattle, Little Rock, and Fort Lauderdale.

   Kind and wonderful people such as ourselves can make a difference by a small contribution to any of the organizations dedicated to preventing the loss of sight; these range from the Lyons Club, the Society for the Prevention of Blindness, Blind Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Foundation for the Blind, the National Foundation for the Blind, and the European Blind Union, and many others.  Better yet, each month volunteer a few hours to helping someone else and see your best self emerge.

   PS:  Besides anything written by the incredible Helen Keller, A Natural History Of The Senses by Diane Ackerman gloriously explores how 'sense-luscious the world is,'  and a joyous book to have for everyday inspiration.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

For all of my Design-obsessed Peeps -- Day 1/UNCONVENTIONAL GARDENS (Roof-top Garden)



Last week we experienced the hottest days of the summer so far; even zinnias and straw-flowers, two of the sturdiest heat-tolerant annuals and proven summer stalwarts, showed signs of duress. I confess to having a tentative relationship with annuals of which I find some to be a tad riotous; at times the Carmen Miranda color hues are sometimes difficult to integrate into the soft palette offered by pink phlox, white roses, Wintergreen boxwood, lace-cap hydrangeas, and the softly rounded mounds of spirea--all much favored by my employer.  Although nothing can quite compare to the intensity of color offered by French marigolds, petunias, geraniums, rex begonias, and coleus, especially when the continuous heat has driven the remainder of the garden into shutdown-mode.

Duncan at Merrifield Gardens wisely notes: it is not the plant, it's the placement, so give it a second look; over the years I have become more relaxed and skillful at container gardening where the afore-mentioned annuals, as well as bacopa, nemesia, verbena, angelonia, as well as caladiums and elephant-ears tucked into colorful glazed Vietnamese, Chinese and Italian pots, or vintage cement planters, provide interest at strategic spots such as entry-ways, balconies, foyers, along pathways, or on pedestals. Combined with Swedish ivy, hostas, hellebores, ferns, ornamental grasses, and herbs, container gardening offers big bang for the buck, as well as greater ease in watering, feeding, and maintenance. Gorgeous glazed container-pots (deeply discounted) can now be found at Merrifield Garden, Meadow-Farms Nurseries, HomeGoods; and for the discerning aesthetes in our group, the high priestess of garden antiques, Barbara Israel (at offers the finest in statuary, pots, and antique furniture.

It is predicted that we will continue to experience 'climate change' and regretfully, this means that temperatures will rise. Any fantasies I may have had of growing lush beds filled with lupines and hollyhocks, like my friends in Connecticut, have been replaced by the pressing need to just keep the recently transplanted viburnum, witch-hazel, baptisia, Siberian irises, and rainbow leucothe adequately watered during the remainder of this summer's anticipated inferno. My peep Lowell and I are seriously considering the installation of a ' green-roof ' to his suburban town-house. His tiny front garden is doing beautifully and is fairly maintenance free as a result of using lots of native and drought-tolerant plants. We are both quite interested in cutting down on the cost of cooling his place in the summer; helping to decrease rain runoff and urban heat island effect; providing a habitat for wildlife such as birds, bees, and butterflies; transforming an ugly, flat cement roof into something beautiful with grasses, perennials, vegetables and herbs; and being able to relax outdoors in a private and idyllic setting. A recent National Geographic TV special about the roof-top garden installed at Chicago's City Hall was amazing. Photographs showed a green oasis amidst concrete/glass/steel towers, and hopefully this heralds a new beginning in smart, green energy. I pray that other cities follow Chicago's example as climatic temperatures rise, the price of transportation costs increase, and population density per square mile doubles in most metropolitan areas. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) posits that green-roofs insulate buildings, extend the life of the roof membrane, increase property values, and vastly improve urban aesthetics.  I would love to see some of the federal buildings in the nation's capitol integrate green-roofs, which undeniably are more beneficial to the American people than the sharp divisions of red and blue.

Enjoy this week's peep-show devoted to unconventional gardens, and stay cool.

PS:  New York's High Line ( is certainly a great step in the right direction.  So is being the 6th state to recognize same-sex marriage thereby permitting over 800 same-sex couples to say I DO!!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For all of my Design-Obsessed Peeps -- Day 5/TEXT + IMAGE (Reetika Vazarani)



I would not sing you to sleep. 

I would press my lips to your ear 

and hope the terror in my heart stirs you. 


This week's peep-show is dedicated to the memory of Reetika Vazarani.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

For all of my Design-Obsessed Peeps -- Day 4/TEXT + IMAGE (Gore Vidal)

  • Gorille/WaltonFord


Day 4 of our peep-show dedicated to TEXT + IMAGE continues with the master essayist of our age, the premier man of letters, and without hesitation, my all-time favorite --Gore Vidal, who wrote:
     Obviously, there is a great deal wrong with our educational system, as President Reagan recently, and rather gratuitously, noted.  After all, an educated electorate would not have elected him president.  It is generally agreed that things started to go wrong with schools after the First World War.  The past was taught less and less, and Latin and Greek ceased to be compulsory.  Languages were either not taught or taught so badly that they might just as well not have been taught at all, while American history books grew more and more mendacious, as
Frances FitzGerald so nicely described (America Revised, 1979), and even basic geography is now a nonsubject.  Yet the average "educated" American has been made to believe that, somehow, the United States must lead the world even though hardly anyone has any information at all about those countries we are meant to lead.  Worse, we have very little information about our own country and its past . . . 
                                                                                                The New York Review of Books (Oct 27, 1983)

Ignorant of our past, and unwilling to accept the reality of an uncertain future, millions of us divert our energies in pursuit of vacation homes and designer bags, reality shows and computer games, divisive attacks against the poor and powerless such as the desperate immigrants who pick our crops, clean our homes, and tenderly care for our young.  Nature too suffers as a result of our blind ignorance and an irrational race for supremacy.  Mountain-tops and valleys disappear in the quest for energy, precarious species become extinct save for caged specimens, and the rich declare themselves poor to the consternation of the starving masses who number approximately 31% of the world's population.  I believe that the overwhelming poverty that renders the hungry incapable of feeding themselves, is similar to the poverty of spirit that propels us (as well as other industrialized nations) into continuing the game of them versus us, ours versus theirs. Sadly, the border fences get built higher and wider, from shore to shore; the toll of the Iraqi war rises daily and is now at 33105 dead and the wounded estimated at over 100,000 persons; the cougar (puma concolor) is quickly becoming only a myth as destruction of habitat in Florida threatens its very existence.  

Somber facts indeed, and very little time is left for us to remain disengaged from our almost certain demise.  Make a difference and join any of the groups dedicated to social change, and by this I mean 'real' social change, not a new dress for church on Sunday, coupled with a striking sun-bonnet.  The Sierra Club, Mexicanos Sin Fronteras, PFLAG, Doctors Without Borders, your local Lions or Rotary club are all eager to have you participate and contribute to a better future for all of us.


PS:  On Monday I saw a hummingbird in our back-yard, darting in and out of the water from the sprinkler.  I have to admit that it gave me a feeling of hope, and a glimpse at fleeting beauty.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

For all of my Design-Obsessed Peeps -- Day 3/TEXT + IMAGE (Jeanette Winterson)



It's day three of the peep-show devoted to TEXT + IMAGE, and today we feature narrative from The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, one of the most important young writers in world literature. Edmund White notes that this historical novel "Recalls Garcia Marquez . . . magical touches dance like highlights over the brilliance of this fairy tale about passion, gambling, madness, and androgynous ecstasy."  I could not agree more, and the author and her entire oeuvre remain high on my list of all-time pleasurable reads.  

Winterson writes, ' I was happy but happy is an adult word.  You don't have to ask a child about happy, you see it.  They are or they are not.  Adults talk about being happy because largely they are not.  Talking about it is as the same as trying to catch the wind.  Much easier to let it blow all over you. This is where I disagree with the philosophers.  They talk about passionate things but there is no passion in them.  Never talk happiness with a philosopher.
     But I'm not a child any more and often the Kingdom of Heaven eludes me too.  Now, words and ideas will always slip themselves in between me and the feeling.  Even our birthright feeling, which is to be happy.'

Beautifully written and a passage certainly worthy of reflection.  Hope you are finding your inner source of happiness and beauty. Thanks for being a design-obsessed peep, and visiting our cool/relevant/groovy blog during yet another steamy summer day.  Shout-out goes to the night-owls who drop in to the blog-site during the sultry summer nights.  I can feel the love!!


Monday, July 18, 2011

For all of my Design-Obsessed Peeps -- Day 2/TEXT + IMAGE (Reinaldo Arenas)



Today, the peep-show dedicated to text + image continues with a painting entitled Exiled by Luiz Cruz Azaceta paired with Cuban writer extraordinaire Reinaldo Arenas, who wrote:

One of the first things that I ever did in life was to eat dirt.  My first crib was a hole in the dirt, dug by my grandmother.  In that hole, which was waist-deep, I learned to stand up.  My grandmother had used the same technique with all her children; stuck in that hole, I would crawl around on the dirt floor.  Later I would throw dirt against the wall, and one of my solitary diversions was to build mud castles.  I would mix dirt with water that I had fetched from the distant well.  A favorite game for me and my cousins was to throw dirt at one another.  To dig out the earth was to discover unusual treasures like pieces of colored glass, snail shells, and shards of pottery.  To water the earth and see how it absorbs the water we provide is also a unique experience.  To  walk on the earth after a rainstorm is to be in touch with absolute fulfillment; the earth, satisfied, floods us with its well being, while its many aromas saturate the air and fill us with life-creating impulses.

Before Night Falls (a memoir)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

For all of my Design-Obsessed Peeps -- Day 1/TEXT + IMAGE (Jacques Barzun)


I believe that the dog days of summer are upon us.  Both Lady Emblom and I agreed today that so much watering must be done in order to ensure the slightest degree of lushness, and the petunia borders in her garden absorb water faster than papyrus or reeds.  This week promises to be blistering hot on quite a number of days; I intend to stay shuttered in my basement lair, only emerging at dusk to witness the playful dance of fireflies in the long narrow passage between the towering laurel bushes and the neighbor's privacy fence, which I humorously call Fern Walk due to a profusion of ferns, bergenias, and variegated euonymous.   

I frequently encounter the phrase 'a good picture is worth a thousand words.  Wikipedia states 
the adage " A picture is worth a thousand words" refers to the idea that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. It also aptly characterizes one of the main goals of visualization, namely making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly. It is believed that the modern use of the phrase stems from an article by Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers' Ink, promoting the use of images in advertisements that appeared on the sides of streetcars.[1]The December 8, 1921 issue carries an ad entitled, "One Look is Worth A Thousand Words."  I have always wondered-- if a picture is worth a thousand words, is there a limit to the images elicited by a good word?  How about a phrase or an enlightening passage; are the results conjured here by the magic of language endless; are the possibilities simply limitless?  During this week's peepshow, I thought I would share some of my favorite literary passages paired with beautiful images that support, enhance or illuminate its content, and on occasion I will expand upon the context of the selected text. 

Jacques Barzun writes, ' {An} Inquisition as such, that is, apart from methods and severity of results, have remained a live institution.  The many dictatorships of the 20th century have relied on it and in free countries it thrives ad hoc -- hunting down German sympathizers during the First World War, interning Japanese Americans during the second, and pursuing Communist fellow-travelers during the Cold War. 
In the United States at the present time the workings of "political correctness" in universities, and the speech police that punishes persons and corporations for words
on certain topics 
quaintly called 'sensitive,' are manifestations 
of the permanent spirit of inquisition. '

Beautiful mythical creatures, they. The mermaids. Quite different from any of us, and certainly 
a species apart from Mankind.  Thread cautiously, or in this case, swim cautiously, for in these times anything other than what is pliable, accepted, sanctioned, verified, or the familiar, is subject to scrutiny, investigations, isolation, and possible elimination.  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday's Visual Treat - Day 5/ Everyday Objects of Extraordinary Design (the clothes-pin)

This week's peep-show ends today with the clothespin; if you do not recognize this object, it may be for a variety of reasons.  Chances are that you have never shopped at an old-fashioned hardware store(s) (like Cherrydale Hardware in Arlington, VA or Brown's Hardware in Falls Church, or a variety of others where the mom-and-pop business model is real/nurtures community spirit/provides individualized service unmatched by the big-box stores where help is generally non-existent, and the few good employees who show up after the training period is completed, usually crumble from over-exhaustion and excessive responsibility so that at the first chance they leave for greener pastures; yes, in spite of the so-called benefits and retirement plan.  Only a 501 or 601K could have kept them coming back week after week).

Another reason for not recognizing the humble clothespin may be that you are not truly a design-addict like some fashion and interior-designers/architects/DJ's/playwrights/actors and other arty, creative types who haunt yard sales, thrift shops, used book-stores and hardware stores in search of the familiar/unfamiliar/novel/kitsch/playful/archaic/elegaic/nostalgic/inspiration/odd or just plain old tried-and-true bits of industrial design which can be cleverly integrated into one's environment without purchasing one more piece of schlock through a catalog or overpriced 'design-mecca.'  If you are concerned with the green principles of conservation and conservation you probably spotted it from fifty feet and went right for them. Yes, some of us still think, as well as undertake activities which bring back memories and contribute to our ideas of green and simplicity; such as line-dry clothes, sweeping garden paths, and foregoing plastic as well as paper bags for the multi-purpose, multi-generational grocery tote-bag.

You may not have recognized this strange yet smartly designed object because since birth someone else has been doing your laundry and your visits to the laundry-room have been limited to a quick toss on top of the machine or on the floor of your favorite t-shirt/shorts/cami or sock bag.  If you are a peep-reader of the Baby-Boomer generation cohort #1 (born from circa 1946 to 1955) or of Baby Boomer cohort #2 generation (born from circa 1956-1964), Mom, Gran or Bessie (the twice-a-week maid) did the household chores, and you were left free to attend school, work part-time in the evenings and/or weekends and thus you were spared the drudgery of laundry.  You would have been asked to help with mowing the lawn, or taking out the thrash-cans, or helping with any younger siblings; but it is rare that someone of this generation would have been tied to the endless cycle of wash/dry/fold or press, and then all over again.  You would probably have not recognized the useful clothespin if you were middle-class or, living in any of the industrialized nations where electric washers and dryers quickly became a staple of households and a significant production factor in respective GDP's.  It is recorded that by 1940, 60% of the 25,000,000 wired homes in the US had an electric washing machine.  By 1940, 60% of the 25,000,000 wired homes in the United States had an electric washing machine. During World War II domestic washer production was suspended, although R + D continued.  In 1947 the Bendix Deluxe model (retail price of $249.50) was introduced, as well as the first top load automatic model by General Electric.  Innovations continued with the stacking model, dryer and washer in one unit model; as well as efficiency markers leading to faster wash and dry times and smaller bowls for less usage of water.

Funny isn't it, that no matter how much the advertising companies try to convince us about the speed/efficiency/benefits or any suggestion of satisfaction from doing laundry, as soon as we can afford to do so, we hire someone to come in and do our laundry--wash/dry/fold or iron, and if we can  swing it, have someone get it up to our rooms and put it away.  Sure, sure, young mothers enjoy the washing of Baby's first garments in preparation for his arrival.  Yet even this grows old fast;  Pampers and Huggies rule because it frees us from even more domestic tyranny.  Hiram reminded me that many tired nannies have been sorely tempted to throw out the baby with the bath-water; as well as the plastic duckie!! 

Enjoy the weekend.


PS:  Please visit the website of the GUATEMALA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION (GHRC) for updates and to see how each of you can play a part in helping to bring justice, accountability, and stability as part of our stated respect for all human rights.  You can help by calling your senator or a senator on the Foreign Relations Committee and telling them that RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS MUST BE THE MAIN OBJECTIVE OF THE UNITED STATES' POLICY IN GUATEMALA.  On July 20 President Obama's appointee Arnold Chacon is up for confirmation; with Mr Chacon as our Ambassador, human rights will remain a strong priority of the US vis-a-vis our relations with Guatemala.  Please call and make a difference.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thursday's Visual Treat - Day 4/ Everyday Objects of Extraordinary Design (the spoon)



The theme of this week's visual treat is 'Everyday Objects of Extraordinary Design,' and the spoon is our featured object today.  It seems that yesterday's posting which was devoted to the mirror (or looking glass) surprised many new visitors to our blog, as well as some veteran peeps who may have been wondered at the quite liberal creative license I took in composing the narrative.  I sincerely believe that acknowledgment and inclusion of our differences ultimately shapes the manner in which one's image in the mirror is initially perceived and then embraced.
In addition to being creatures of habit, we communicate and construct our world through our senses, of which vision/sight is critically essential (or we learn to depend on the other senses which for our continued survival must be honed to a finer degree of sensitivity for receiving and transmitting information to the brain).  If we see someone like us, that makes us more comfortable, and if we see more of us happily integrated in the world, it stands to reason that we perceive the world as being accepting and nurturing of our individuality, our talents, our hopes and dreams, and the other little quirks that make us so special to our friends, family, and co-workers.  Well, when this process is interrupted, incomplete, or unsatisfactory we all know what happens!  Kudos again to the It Gets Better Project and Dan Savage.

My favorite email received in response to yesterday's posting reads as follows:

   JUst read your literary accomplishment for the day (haven't seen the picture as yet).  It is very tender and compassionate and, oh, so true -- fortunately and unfortunately.

Fortunately the story of the spoon reads easier and with less issues to swallow.  Excavations of Egyptian burial sites reveal many preserved examples of ivory/flint/slate/wooden spoons in various shapes. The Greeks and Romans were quite fond of spoons made of bronze and silver and especially loved decorative handles.  Spoons dating from the Medieval times tended to be made of horn (cow and deer), brass or pewter.  Once this instrument was inducted into the courts of the early English kings in the 13th century, it quickly became quite popular, second only to the knife.  The spoon has remained a constant in flat-ware or eating utensils since, with few minor changes to its basic design of a handle attached to a shallow bowl and shaped/sized to the mouth. 
Over the years, the spoon has become quite stylized as well as specialized by purpose, and any able hostess/host/protocol officer/FOH manager can adeptly set a properly laid table integrating any of the following (spoons): bouillon/caviar/demitasse/egg/ice-cream fork(spoon)/marrow/salt/saucier/teaspoon/grapefruit/ice-tea/measuring/soup/table/tea/dessert/

 Not to be forgotten are two expressions which come emotionally charged:  Lucky bastard, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Or,  Afterwards, we spooned like lovers do, and slept the night away.

Enjoy today's visual treat.


PS:  Jeff Judy at Federal City Caterers can answer any questions regarding the etiquette of table-ware or flat-ware.  He sets a mean table!!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wednesday's Visual Treat - Day 3/ Everyday Objects of Extraordinary Design (the mirror)


Today's visual treat, of a boy examining his reflection in the mirror, says so much .  For some at 11 or 12, maybe 13 or 14, the person staring back at you from the mirror is not the person you had expected to see, or wanted to be.  The body starts stretching itself, as well as adding bulk to a frame which will gradually evolve into the man or woman whose chances of being smart, pretty/handsome, successful, passionate, disciplined, talented, and so forth are a combination of genes, environment, and pure luck.  Equally possible are the chances of being a slouch/sloth/slut/spud/spade/sod and so forth; however to mitigate and prevent this unwanted personal development which adds very little to the quality of one's life, most concerned parents usually step in and do the wonderful and sometimes thankless job called parenting which they vowed to undertake somewhere between conception and your birth.  Yet some kids regardless of the love and support which ideally has been provided to them since childhood, experience other emotions which make them feel different from their peers.  In the time between examining one's self in the mirror, and the mental highs and lows easily and quickly experienced within minutes by a teenage boy or girl who is daily bombarded with messages, images, expectations, directives, assumptions from friends, family, school, and the media, some will realize that what makes them most different is that what they are experiencing are feelings incongruous with mainstream society's emphatically stated norms of:  boy is attracted to girl, or girl is attracted to boy, they date and fall in love; and with few exceptions this sequence has historically become the fairly-tale that is 'sold' to Eddie, Scottie, Tod, Vicky, Sue, and Zoe and others who, if of the heterosexual orientation, happily swallow the myth and arm-in-arm, giggling proceed to a dewy place of romantic bliss and continued happiness.  The problem starts when Eddie realizes that he is attracted to Scottie (or Vicky 'falls' for Zoe) and there does not seem to exist some sort of story-line which allows these two young persons to explore their emotional and sexual longings; kids who may or may not be Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender when unable or unwilling to communicate or share this dilemma with a peer, family friend, trusted teacher, or clergy-person becomes increasingly isolated and prone to periods of anxiety or depression.  Why would they shut down, you may ask, when there are so many people around who can help; well, unless it is explicitly stated as being other than heterosexual or a component of the 'straight' world which they quickly discern even in its subtlest form, these particular kids in the already vulnerable period of adolescence assume that any discussion which deviates from this norm will probably not be welcomed or facilitated.  And so they remain silent/withdrawn/anxious/unhappy and unable to imagine a future where love, respect, and happiness could be attained.  Sadly, other kids find themselves in hostile neighborhoods or schools where bullying, verbal and physical violence against G/L/B/T persons are condoned without any oversight from the administration or authorities. They frequently become victims of discrimination and targeted violence and in some extreme cases, are killed.  Equally troubling are the suicides where young people look around them and cannot see any other options for themselves, and so choose to end their lives.  While shock, horror and inertia gripped many following a number of GLBT teen suicides in 2010, one person decided to do something, and the IT GETS BETTER Project was created.

' In September 2010, syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner Terry to inspire hope for young people facing harassment. In response to a number of students taking their own lives after being bullied in school, they wanted to create a personal way for supporters everywhere to tell LGBT youth that, yes, it does indeed get better.

Two months later, the It Gets Better Project (TM) has turned into a worldwide movement, inspiring over 10,000 user-created videos viewed over 35 million times. To date, the project has received submissions from celebrities, organizations, activists, politicians and media personalities, including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Lambert, Anne Hathaway, Colin Farrell, Matthew Morrison of "Glee", Joe Jonas, Joel Madden, Ke$ha, Sarah Silverman, Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres, Suze Orman, the staffs of The Gap, Google, Facebook, Pixar, the Broadway community, and many more. For us, every video changes a life. It doesn’t matter who makes it.
The website is a place where young people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans can see how love and happiness can be a reality in their future.  It’s a place where our straight allies can visit and support their friends and family members.  It’s a place where people can share their stories, take the It Gets Better Project pledge, watch videos of love and support, and seek help through the Trevor Project and GLSEN. '
Hope you enjoyed today's visual treat and the pleasure of knowing that by forwarding or sharing this posting in its entirety with someone, you may have the opportunity to change the shape of their life.  Makes it easier for everyone to look in their respective looking-glass mirror when self-love and respect dwells within.  Also peace and compassion.
PS:   It did get better--infinitely so!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tuesday's Visual Treat - Day 2/ Everyday Objects of Extraordinary Design (the brown-paper bag)


Last week's visual treats devoted to Haute Couture inspired by flora elicited many responses from readers.  This one was particularly moving: We had a tiny old lady seamstress that would make clothes for us in Lebanon, it gave me a chance to be my own dress designer for lots less than off the rack. Sadly, Rosa was hit by a shell during the 20 yrs. war & died. She was such a cute little old lady, & made her living with her ancient talented hands!

Today's visual treat is the brown paper-bag, an everyday object of extraordinary design, and hopefully an object which will be utilized in even greater numbers as we question our actions  and values, more closely examine our decisions, and become more socially and environmentally conscious.  Can we ask more of ourselves, our systems of commerce, transportation and production, as well as task our elected and appointed systems of governance and representation with providing ethical transparency and accountability.  What is it that we dare to dream of accomplishing through all this, you ask; well my dear, with the number of landfills rapidly outpaced by the amount of waste that is transported to their respective sites, and thus must be exported to poorer countries willing to accept our toxic waste, even at the risk of the loss of human lives and environmental degradation; and the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch (a swirling sea of plastic bags, abandoned fishing nets, plastic toys, bottles, tiny pellets of non-biodegradable plastics and other waste which is estimated to be larger than France and slightly smaller than the state of Texas) continues to swell and contributes to the death of sea-turtles, birds, seals, fish and other animals; the pollution of rivers through the dumping of industrial waste into the waters of steams and estuaries, as well as environmental disasters such as the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico where 'accidents' occur to the chagrin of industry insiders and the horror of the watching world, it seems to me that about anything and everything that can be implemented sure beats watching the ecological catastrophe continue.

How does the brown paper-bag help in preventing the continued rape of our planet, you ask. It decomposes much more quickly than it closest rival, the plastic bag, and with the advent of new technology and a renewed emphasis on recycling, post-consumer recycled waste can be used in the production of paper bags, paper products such as toilet paper, typing paper, envelopes and stationery products, greeting cards, cardboard boxes, shipping and packing materials, as well as for the purposes of insulation--this a new development in 'green' building construction.  Plus, the paper bag also can be used as an art medium for drawing and masks for the kids at Halloween time; useful in the kitchen for storing fruits and vegetable, baking, popping popcorn, lining drawers and cabinets; and for an activity I once dreaded at the start of every school year--covering new school books with protective covers made from brown paper bags on which we would carefully draw two red lines on which my twin brother and I would write in cursive style our names and the name of the class for which that particular book was intended.  Ever trying covering your school books with a plastic bag??

Seriously, recycle, reuse, re-purpose and refuse to continue the madness called consumerism.  Hit the thrift shops and farmer's markets, join a CSA and experience farm-fresh produce, carry a tote-bag and visit your local libraries where you'll always be welcomed.  Get up from the couch, turn off the TV, walk outside and breathe deeply in the magnificence of what we now have.  If you are so inclined, chant; otherwise plant a tree.

PS:  Sadly, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that refused to ratify the 19-year-old Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to regulate the export of hazardous waste to developing nations. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Monday's Visual Treat - Day 1/ Everyday Objects of Extraordinary Design (the lead pencil)


The humble lead pencil can be used in many ways other than to which it was originally intended, such as: chopstick(s), garden stake, sundial, a measuring device, instrument of torture/hypnosis/pleasure/hygiene, a door stop, etc etc, but most importantly it is the primary writing instrument or art medium in the world, and its surprisingly simple construction is a narrow, solid pigment (usually graphite or charcoal or crayon) core inside  a protective casing (usually wood).  Invented sometime around 1550 in Cumbria, England.  The design of the lead pencil (called lead, however it is graphite) has remained virtually unchanged, other than the addition of a eraser at the end in 1858 by Hymen Lipman.  

As children, we all learned our alphabet by copying, memorizing, recognizing the sounds that corresponded to symbols that when compounded in a string of two, three, or four clumsily drawn markings meant objects that we had already encountered in our limited, cosseted existence; quickly we realized that d-o-g meant the gentle animal named Rex who greeted us at home with licks and wagged his tail in anticipation of treats, and c-a-k-e tasted good, more could be had by being good, and d-a-d liked it too.  The sweet pleasure of reading and writing cannot be overstated, and indeed the ability to express ourselves, our thoughts and desires, our dreams and fears, is integral to the process of individualization, and central to the relation of the individual vis-a-vis society.  Children, and later as adults, who have been denied the opportunity to learn to read and (w)rite sadly live in the half-shadows, ghosts as such, who cannot partake in the abundance of experiences normally available to the literate. In The Reader, actress Kate Winslet brilliantly portrays the bleak existence of Hanna Schmidt, whose great secret and shame is her illiteracy.  Tragically, her choices are limited, her decisions perhaps questionable, yet her written farewell is entirely her own.  

If one were to pause--exceedingly rare for quite a few of us in today's technology-driven world where the ANDROID, TEVO, GPS, IPAD, FACEBOOK, KINDLE, and a myriad of other devices help to regulate our very existence to the satisfaction of multinational shareholders, branding agencies and crooning portfolio managers, one could surely point out certain items that have resisted modernization, and for this the inherent clarity and simplicity of their design must yet again be lauded.  Apparently in these times there is return on the part of a small groups of weary as well as wary individuals to the tried, true, and an older technology more sympathetic to the shape of human needs, and desires. Ashlea Halpern recently wrote of The Analog Underground in NY Mag (7.7.11) where, 'A new generation of digital apostates rejects zeroes and ones in favor of celluloid, vinyl, ink, paper, and the click-clack-ding-slide of a typewriter.  It can be argued that for the purposes of convenience/efficiency/time-management/personal gain/whatever, the rapid click of text keys and its almost instant delivery reigns supreme, yet the poetic motions of characters drawn on a textile surface is matched only by the murmurs of my beating heart upon receiving a love letter proclaiming undying devotion though eternity.


PS:  Today's visual treat is offered on behalf of all educators who heroically, selflessly, and tirelessly teach each generation, and also to Ms Ebanks of the kindergarden school on Gaborel Lane in Belize CIty who instilled in me an enthusiasm of reading and writing for which I am forever indebted.