Good vibes

Someone found my blog while searching for “little five points hippie store.” I had no idea what that was, so just for fun, I Googled it. Lo and behold, I found out about an intriguing area of Atlanta called “Little Five Points,” which is just exactly the kind of place where one could reasonably expect to find a “hippie store.”

This article about Little Five Points reminded me of some places I love to visit. A lot of people are working on efforts to revitalize the Route 66 corridor through Red Fork right now, so I Googled five of my favorite haunts — Nob Hill (Albuquerque, N.M.); Austin, Texas; the University City Loop (St. Louis); the Washington Avenue Loft District (St. Louis); and the Makanda Boardwalk (Makanda, Ill.) — and sent the links to the girl who runs our neighborhood association.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I found a spiritual lesson in my research.

In thinking about these vibrant, eclectic communities, I noticed they shared a few important qualities:

1. Acceptance. The folks I’ve met in Austin, U. City, Washington Avenue, Nob Hill, and Makanda were all very friendly, very respectful of others’ backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures, and very indulgent (and even appreciative!) of others’ quirks. That outlook creates a fertile breeding ground for expressions of …

2. Creativity. Artists, musicians, and writers of all stripes are encouraged to express themselves in these communities. For instance, the revitalization of Washington Avenue began with artist/real estate investor Bob Cassilly’s amazing City Museum, which is essentially a seven-story assemblage of mosaic, sculpture, architecture, and everything in between.

3. Generosity. Just about every business in these districts will have a flier or ten in the window, advertising some good cause, whether it’s a photo of the humane society’s pet of the week or an invitation to a Habitat for Humanity project. Volunteerism is valued and encouraged. Looking around, you get the feeling that you’re surrounded by Good Guys … and you really want to be one of them.

You could argue that those qualities are just good business sense — after all, any business owner knows that in order to make money, you have to make your customers feel welcome and appreciated, give them the sense that they are experiencing something unique that they can’t find anywhere else, and present a community-minded image that makes them feel good about giving you their hard-earned money. But I think there’s something even bigger at work here.

Acceptance, creativity, and generosity are all spiritual qualities — expressions of God’s goodness. Those expressions make us happy. They give off what some of us hippie types like to refer to as “good vibes.”

The good vibes that fill a really cool business district are nothing less than the presence of the Christ, finding expression in thousands of tiny actions that radiate through the area and bless all those who are touched by them. Such neighborhoods are full of “reflection(s) in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love,” as Mary Baker Eddy says. No wonder we enjoy them so much!

I’m excited about the effort to revitalize this part of town.

I want people to recognize Red Fork for what it is: a fascinating area full of interesting, talented people. I want to see our historic buildings restored and used as engines of economic development.

But most of all, I want people to come to Red Fork to feel the good vibes that are found in places where expressions of goodness are valued, cherished, and cultivated, and where Love is encouraged to thrive.

It’s a time-honored formula for success: Seek ye first the good vibes, and all these things shall be added unto you. 😉


Respect the classics, man!

Somebody found this site while searching for “cuppycake song.”

I suddenly remembered my aunt sending me the cuppycake song about 10 years ago. I thought it was ridiculously cute. I decided to Google it myself and see if it was still lying around somewhere — which, of course, it was.

The cuppycake song made me think of some of the other ridiculous things that have made the rounds on the Internet. Most of them are sterling examples of what happens when people have waaaaaaaay too much time on their hands, but they make me smile. Hope they make you smile, too — especially if you’re snowed in this weekend with nothing better to do than play online:

The Hamster Dance
The Cuppycake Song
The Dancing Baby, which was the funniest thing on the Internet … until the invasion of …
The Viking Kittens, which were also the weirdest thing on the Internet … until the creation of …
The Doo-Wop Horses, which were also the most annoying thing on the Internet … until the creation of … (sorry, Candy) …
The Jim Morrison Simulatron.

There. That ought to keep you busy for a while. Just be forewarned: All of these are noisy, and some of them start making noise as soon as you click on them, so they may not be the best sites to visit if you’re trying to look busy.


Winter storms

We had sleet last weekend, and Dan is calling for a 100 percent chance of snow — to the tune of five to seven inches — in Tulsa this weekend.

I don’t like being stuck inside so much, but there are advantages to a good, deep snow over the weekend. One is that my commitments get canceled, leaving me free to spend the weekend cooking, tending the woodstove, studying, and hanging out with my dogs. I got a lot done last weekend, but I’ve got a lot on my list for this weekend, too. Another advantage is that snow is pretty, and if I get out ahead of the snowplows tomorrow, I might be able to get some nice shots of the snow before it gets dirty and slushy and icky-looking around the curbs.

I’m just going to spend this evening cooking … and cooking … and cooking … and cooking. My plan is to make two casseroles, a batch of chicken, and a batch of pasta and just pack them up in storage containers and freeze them for lunches next week. I’ve gotten rather spoiled to eating food that didn’t come in a paper wrapper.

If this stuff turns out like I hope, I’ll post recipes later.


UPDATE: It all worked! I didn’t make the chicken yet, but here’s the rest:

Cornbread stuffing casserole

1/2 c. chopped onion
2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
3 c. stuffing mix
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream-style corn
1/4 c. water
1/4 stick butter, cut in thin slices

Saute onions in butter or olive oil. Stir together stuffing mix, soup, corn, water, and onions. Spread mixture into an oiled casserole dish. Top with slices of butter and bake at 350 degrees F until the butter melts. Add breadcrumbs, cover, and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes or so.

Spinach casserole

This recipe is modified slightly from one I found in the Threadgill’s cookbook. Threadgill’s is a wonderful restaurant in Austin. They’re known for chicken-fried steak, but the vegetable platter is worth a trip all by itself.

1 c. yellow onion, diced
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
2 tbsp. butter
1 lb. frozen spinach
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 lb. Swiss cheese, diced
Juice of one lemon
1/2 c. breadcrumbs

Cook bacon. When it is almost done, add butter and onion and saute until onion is clear. Mix with remaining ingredients (except breadcrumbs) and place in an oiled casserole dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, cover, and bake about an hour.

Ron absolutely loves spinach casserole. Personally, I can take it or leave it, but he likes it so much, and it’s such a simple recipe, I think it’s well worth the effort.

Pasta with Asparagus

This is my rendition of something Ron’s mom made for us, except I’m too lazy to follow her recipe, which involves a lot more steps than this one.

1/2 lb. fettuccine, linguine, or capellini
1 pkg. frozen asparagus
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
1/2 stick butter
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms
1 c. grated Parmesan, Romano, or mizithra cheese

Cook bacon. Saute onion in bacon grease. Microwave asparagus for 1 minute to thaw. Cut asparagus into bite-sized pieces. Cook pasta until it is al dente. Drain pasta and add butter. Heat until butter melts and just starts to brown. Stir in asparagus, bacon, cream, onion, mushrooms, and cheese. Bake at 350 until asparagus is heated through and serve.

Shades of gray

A bit of a metaphysical lesson came to me last night as I was scanning a picture.

When you scan an image, you have several options. You can scan it as a color photograph, which gives you a near-exact replica of the material you scanned. You can scan it as grayscale, which gives you something that looks like a black-and-white photograph of the material you scanned. Or you can scan it as line art, which gives you nothing but black and white — pure black anywhere the scanner sees a shadow, a dark object, or a bit of color, and pure white on the extremely light areas of the image.

Getting the right setting is very important, as it has a huge impact on how the finished product will look.

I wasn’t paying attention, and I accidentally selected “line art” when I meant to select “grayscale.” I didn’t notice my mistake until the computer put an image on my screen that looked something like this:

black and white

Can you make out what that is supposed to be? (No, it isn’t a Rohrschach test.)

Now, when I scan the image again, using the correct setting …


… it all becomes a little clearer, doesn’t it?

I was thinking about that in the context of morality. A lot of people want to reduce the world to line art — everything is completely black or completely white for them. And that works well for simple situations in which everything really is completely black and white.

The thing is, in the human experience, there are a lot of situations that don’t fit squarely into one category or another, and when you try to make them fit, you end up with something like that first picture: a largely indiscernible mess.

That’s because when you scan a grayscale situation as line art, you lose a lot of important information. You miss out on seeing the whole picture. Sometimes that can lead you to the wrong conclusion.

In the example above, the line-art version of the picture gives you the impression that I am standing in a dark room, holding an eyeless animal. Bring in the shades of gray, and it becomes obvious that I am standing in a well-lit room, in front of a rather large plant, holding a wide-eyed rat terrier.

A friend of mine talks a lot about the importance of balancing justice with affection.

Justice (which includes qualities like honesty, morality, and respect for the law) is kind of the line art version of things: Black or white, good or evil, my way or the highway. Affection — love — is the spiritual quality that allows us to see things in grayscale. It lets us pick up on the nuances, so we can bring an element of humanity and compassion to a situation, even when we find ourselves in the position of demanding justice.

In some situations, it’s easy to be just and affectionate at the same time. But in some situations, the demands of justice and affection seem to conflict. Even Jesus ran across his share of grayscale moments — Matt. 8:3-11 (the “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” story) and Luke 13:10-14 (the ruler of the synagogue getting his knickers in a knot because Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath) come to mind. Those situations caused a lot of stress for the Pharisees, who were really into line art but lacked the necessary affection to see the shades of gray involved.

There’s nothing wrong with justice. It’s absolutely essential to keep order in society and to give people a framework for their affections. But you have to be careful not to get so obsessed with justice that you ignore affection altogether and end up practicing the spiritual equivalent of scanning Ansel Adams prints as line art, y’know?


P.S.: Ron’s friend Ken Seeber shot that portrait of Scout and me several years ago. I just love the inquisitive look on Scout’s face.

Is anybody running?

I have consistently fallen behind on posting the training schedules for anyone interested in running either the OKC Memorial Marathon or Route 66 Marathon this year.

I’ve yet to hear anyone ask where it is, even when I am several days behind in posting.

If anyone has any intention of running either race this year, you have until midnight today (Wednesday, Jan. 17) to let me know. If I don’t hear from anybody by that point, I am going to take down the “Triple Dog Dare” page and exchange running for other pursuits that I feel are more important to my personal progress at this time.

Again: If you want to run and would like my help, let me know, and I will make the time to help you at all costs. If I do not hear from you immediately, I am going to kick off my running shoes for the moment and allow the current of my life to carry me to the new challenges that seem to be surfacing just ahead of me.


Dreaming of spring


The diagram above gives you a rough idea of the sort of dementia concretia I am planning this spring. The path at the top of the diagram will lead to the garden gate. The brown area at the center of the large cavern-design meander labyrinth will be a planting area surrounded by bricks, with a large semicircular stone at the bottom, etched with the word “UNLESS” — a reference to the place where “the Lorax once stood, just as long as it could, until somebody lifted the Lorax away.” In the center of this planting area will be either a birdbath, a sculpture of the Lorax (if I can figure out how to construct such a thing), or a smoke tree, crape myrtle, or other suitably Truffulaesque plant.

The smaller spiral will lead into a lawn ornament, stepping stone, sculpture, or decorative planting of some description (perhaps a birdfeeder or butterfly pool) and then back out to the pond. The two paths at the bottom of the image lead to the clothesline (to be purchased and installed when the weather breaks) and to the deck.

The path appears to be black and green in this diagram. The green represents some type of planting along the edges — probably oregano or another mint that tastes good and will tolerate partial shade and total neglect — and the black just indicates where the path will be. The path itself will be constructed of Sackrete and will have bits of broken dishes, mirror shards, colored glass fragments, interesting marbles, broken figurines, and various and sundry other castoffs embedded in it. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, look at this amazing house in France. Amazing work. My little labyrinthine garden path won’t come close to this level of artistry, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

As soon as the weather improves, I’m going to start making regular visits to Goodwill, thrift stores, yard sale outlets, and junk shops to acquire materials for the mosaic. I intend to build the path a little at a time, as my schedule allows, and let the work be very freewheeling and expressive of my joy at being outside, creating something pretty.

I think this will be a good project. I have no idea how long it will take, but it should be a lot of fun, and when it’s done, I should have something unique and very striking.

To give you a sense of the dimensions, the “UNLESS” circle is four feet in diameter. It will be built first, followed by the main spiral path. I’ll make the path to the clothesline after the main spiral is done and install the path to the pond, with its secondary spiral, last.

This picture doesn’t come close to what’s in my mind, but it should give you a rough idea of what I’m talking about.

Not pictured is the Green Man sculpture that I plan to build over to the left of the path leading to the garden. The rest of the yard as pictured will belong to the dogs, of course.

Feeding the multitudes

Today, in communities across the United States, we took time to remember and honor the life and work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Anyone who hasn’t been under a rock for the past 50 years is familiar with King’s leadership in the civil rights movement that brought about desegregation and made racial equality a matter of public policy.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King said:

… [W]e refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Intolerance in all forms — be it on the basis of race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, weight, height, appearance, or perceived ability or intelligence — comes from an ignorant belief that God’s ability or willingness to provide for all his children is somehow limited.

Fear of insufficiency leads humans to make foolish mistakes and commit egregious acts of intolerance, hatred and even violence against one another. We operate under the mistaken belief that there is not enough to go around.

Not enough of what? Food? Water? Fortune? Fame? Success? Happiness? Love? All of the above?

More than 43 years after Dr. King gave his famous speech in Washington, D.C., Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota — the first Muslim elected to Congress — invoked the idea of sufficiency in a written response to critics who questioned his decision to place his hand on a Koran rather than a Bible in a private swearing-in ceremony.

In his essay, which can be read in its entirety here, Ellison invokes the story of the loaves and fishes as he cautions us against using faith as an excuse for intolerance, exclusion, and the “stinginess of spirit” that come from a selfish, material view of the world:

In America today, we are encouraged to believe in the myth of scarcity — that there just isn’t enough — of anything. But in the story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus, who the Muslims call Isa, found himself preaching to 5000 (not including the women by the way) at dinner time, and there didn’t appear to be enough food. The disciples said that there were only five barley loaves and two fish. We just have to send them away hungry. We simply don’t have enough. But Jesus took the loaves and the fish and started sharing food. There was enough for everyone. There was more than enough. What was perceived as scarcity was illusory as long as there was sharing, and not hoarding.

The idea here is not that there is a boundless supply of everything. Such an idea leads to waste and dispensability of everything. But the idea is that there is enough.

If scarcity is a myth, then poverty is not necessary. America need not have 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. It is a choice. Hunger is a choice. Exclusion of the stranger, the immigrant, or the darker other is a choice. … We can choose generosity.

Ellison’s point is well-taken. When we share, we cannot lack. We only get into trouble when we hoard the resources with which we have been entrusted.

More than 100 years ago, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, another deep spiritual thinker, Mary Baker Eddy, put it like this:

Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us.

Mrs. Eddy also wrote:

Let us reassure ourselves with the law of Love. God never punishes man for doing right, for honest labor, or for deeds of kindness, though they expose him to fatigue, cold, heat, contagion.

In other words: You can’t lose by giving, and you can’t be hurt by helping. If we give of ourselves, we are blessed. We can’t help it — it is, as Mrs. Eddy puts it, “the law of Love.”

I can’t begin to recall all the opportunities I’ve had to prove this for myself in the past couple of years. I have never found myself lacking what I needed to accomplish a good work. More than once, I’ve faced situations in which money, time, energy, or all of the above seemed to be in short supply, yet I’ve never run out. Every time I’ve taken a step motivated by love, I’ve been supported, and my needs have been met.

All we have to do is reach out in love, without regard to race, creed, color, or any of the dozen other hangups that try to dissuade us from loving our neighbor, and we find that loaves and fishes are as plentiful here and now as they were on that long-ago evening in the desert. When we allow fear and intolerance to hamper our work, we miss out on the opportunity to live the kind of life in which a “miracle” is just another day at the office.

Go seize the opportunity to make some sparks in the dark.


The Bells



This is what my rain bells looked like yesterday morning when I peeked out the front door to see what was going on.

The good thing about the ice storm is that it kept me inside all weekend, so I had time to do a little cooking, a lot of cleaning, and a big project: I did about 90 percent of the work necessary to update Route 66 for Kids. I still have some phone calls to make to confirm hours and admission prices for places that don’t have Web sites, and I have to track down information about a few additions people have suggested, but the lion’s share of the work is done.

Next up: Finish a book proposal I’m supposed to have done before the end of the month and redesign

I made something good today. I didn’t have any tomatoes, so I couldn’t make chili, but I did the next best thing: a Mexican-inspired bean soup. Here’s the recipe, if you want to try it. Ron really liked it.

Anasazi bean soup

1 lb. dried Anasazi beans
Packet of dry yeast
1 large Anaheim chile
1/2 c. chopped onion
Several cloves of chopped garlic
Bacon, ham, pulled pork, or whatever you have handy
Chili powder

Soak the Anasazi beans overnight in water to which you have added the packet of yeast. (The yeast helps break down the sugars in the beans, making them easier to digest.) Drain beans, rinse, and boil them for an hour or so in a covered stockpot. Add onion, garlic, chile pepper, meat, and spices. Simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, adding water as necessary to keep the soup from sticking or burning. Adjust spices to taste and serve with salt and hot sauce. Makes enough to feed an army.

Hope you had a warm and productive weekend.


Iced over

I don’t know whether hell has frozen over yet, but Red Fork certainly has. Most of the state of Oklahoma is covered in ice this weekend, and just about anything worth doing has been canceled — including church.

I normally loathe ice, but for the moment, I am just grateful for the opportunity to catch up some work that’s been sitting untouched on my plate for a long time.

I certainly had a productive day today: I made some quiche/frittata/souffle/whatever thingies for breakfast (recipe will follow), unloaded the dishwasher, scrubbed my cast-iron Dutch oven, scrubbed down the shower and tub with Comet cleanser, washed the shower curtain liner, scrubbed the kitchen sink, cleared the kitchen counters, scrubbed the stovetop, decluttered the kitchen table, decluttered the living room, spot-vacuumed the living room, dusted the living room and hallway, cleaned the inside of the microwave, decluttered part of my office, moved a desk, set up a CD rack, scrubbed down the furnace air intake grill, baked a batch of oatmeal cookies, loaded the dishwasher, and updated the Illinois section of my Route 66 guidebook.

This ice storm has turned out to be a real blessing, because I was seriously beginning to wonder how I was going to complete all the projects that I need to finish this month.

As it stands, I should be able to knock out one of them before the broadcast of the Sunday service at the Mother Church goes online at noon, and then I can finish another pressing project in the afternoon while Ron watches football.

At least two of my friends used the cold weather as an excuse to make chili. I’d follow their example, except I’m out of tomatoes (I normally can enough to feed the entire National Guard all winter, but the drought just decimated our 2006 crop), so I’ll have to settle for slow-cooking a pot of Anasazi beans over the woodstove instead. Yeah, I know … waaaaah, right? We are insanely spoiled around here.

Now, for my yummy breakfast recipe:

10 large eggs
Chopped fresh mushrooms
Diced potatoes
Chopped onions
Bacon, chopped into smallish pieces
Swiss or cheddar cheese, shredded or cut into small pieces
Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 350. Fry the bacon and set aside. Use the bacon grease to fry the potatoes and onions until the potatoes are browned and the onions are clear. (Vegetarians can skip the bacon and fry the potatoes and onions in canola or peanut oil.) Spray two small or one large muffin tin with cooking spray and then put a spoonful each of the mushrooms, potatoes, onions, bacon, and cheese in each cup. Crack the eggs into a large measuring cup, add about a quarter-cup of water, and beat until the yolks and whites are completely indistinguishable from each other. Fill each cup with the egg mixture. Bake at 350 until a knife inserted into the middle of each little quiche/souffle thingy comes out clean (about 30 minutes).

These reheat really well in the microwave.

Hope you’re having a good weekend, wherever you are.


Ask the Hippie, Vol. 2, Issue 1

OK, so technically, nobody asked the hippie this question, but if you own a dog, you will probably thank me for this sooner or later:

Q. How do I remove dog vomit (or other pet-related stains) from carpet?

A. This is a truly disgusting question. But dogs will, on occasion, do truly disgusting things, and some of the things they do are things a proper British lady like Barbara Woodhouse simply isn’t going to mention when she’s dispensing advice on caring for canine housemates.

One disgusting thing my dogs like to do — and this is something they generally do only when the weather gets really cold, although I’ve yet to figure out why — is to eat each other’s … erm … byproducts.

Another thing they like to do is come inside and throw up afterwards.

I think that if you are a dog, this is considered performance art.

If so, Scout is the canine equivalent of Yoko Ono. And this is her signature performance — kind of a rat terrier’s answer to “Cut Piece.”

This is not the first time Scout has pulled this stunt. This is not even the umpteenth time she has pulled this stunt. But this is the first time she has pulled this stunt on carpet. Up until today, she has confined her efforts to private, invitation-only performances in her crate. But this evening, she apparently felt it was time to unveil her special talent in a more public setting: the living room.

I don’t know why she picked tonight to do it. Was it a political statement? A bit of scandalous, yet thought-provoking, commentary on the war in Iraq, perhaps? A protest against the injustice of dogs being sent outdoors in the sleet to relieve themselves? A strange canine religious ritual designed to bring the ascetic terrier into closer communion with the One True Dog while elevating her sympathies for those pooches who lack the comforts of home and hearth? Who knows? And who am I to criticize the creative pursuits of another species, when my fellow humans include such notables as Gunther von Hagens and Andres Serrano?

Whatever the motivation for Scout’s performance, the aftermath was pretty nasty — and certainly not anything I wanted to find in my living room upon awakening from a nap. But in spite of her occasional attempts to explore the limits of human patience, I love Scout way too much to let Ron kill her — which he would almost certainly do if he came home and found a mess like that — so I set about restoring the carpet to its original appearance, texture, and aroma.

Here are the practical instructions if you find yourself cohabiting with a four-legged Neo-Dadaist:

1. Use two pieces of cardboard (a cereal box cut in half will work) to scoop up the solids or semisolids.
2. Blot up the liquids with paper towels.
3. Soak the entire area with Windex. (This neutralizes the HCl in the vomit.)
4. Blot.
5. Soak the entire area with cider vinegar. (This disinfects the area and prepares it for the next step.)
6. Sprinkle baking soda over the vinegar. The resulting chemical reaction will create a fizzy effect that will help draw any particulate matter to the surface. Keep sprinkling baking soda on the area until it stops fizzing.
7. Blot.
8. Sprinkle a thick layer of borax over the entire area and let it sit for a while to draw out the stain.
9. Scrape up the excess borax and run the vacuum to finish the job.

Now … all Hints from Heloise and cheap shots at Yoko aside, I found an underlying spiritual lesson in my housekeeping adventures this evening.

Some people would consider a disgusting performance like Scout’s to be grounds for getting rid of the dog. I won’t judge them for that. But my dogs are my children, and I can’t abandon my children when they make mistakes — even messy, stinky mistakes that soak into the carpet and take a lot of effort to clean up.

How could I? My heavenly Father never abandons me, and God knows the human experience is full of big, nasty messes that I wander into out of ignorance, stubbornness, or misguided self-interest. Sometimes I have sense enough to tuck my tail between my legs and cower when the consequences of my actions catch up to me. Sometimes fear or foolishness will drive me to turn around and growl at my Master, as if it’s somehow his fault I made a stupid mistake. And sometimes I just sit there with a blank look on my face, utterly clueless as to what just happened and why I’m in trouble.

But every time — regardless of the size of the mess I make or the way I react when it finally dawns on me that I’ve got a problem — the Father gently moves me out of the way, cleans up the mess, pulls me close, and reassures me that he still loves me in spite of my headstrong, impetuous ways.

How could I do less for these beautiful creatures he’s sent into my life to teach me about love?