Saturday, September 15, 2007

Off to Maine

New territory for us. We've never been to Maine and looking forward to some camping and leaf-peeping in cooler weather. Haven't flown for a bit (since we got our little 'Fun-Finder' trailer on ebay, it's been our favorite way to go anywhere) and we're hoping for the best in making our connections and not getting stranded on the runway.

Wish us luck!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another Thousand Years of Darkness?

Properly examined, history can tell us what we need to know about human behavior to avoid mistakes of the past. It's relevant and fascinating - so why do our textbooks and teachers make it seem so dry and boring? Are they afraid we'll learn too much?

If you were lucky, you had at least one history teacher who taught you to examine history in the context of our lives today - instead of just teaching you a boring succession of dates and names to memorize as you marched through time, class after class.

THE RISE AND FALL OF ALEXANDRIA, Birthplace of the Modern Mind by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid is an excellent example of the importance of understanding history - and their work breathes life into this ancient story.

Excerpt from jacket cover -

Most of us assume that two cities - Athens and Rome - dominated the classical world and set Western culture on its present course. But there was a third city that, at its height, dwarfed both of these in scientific and artistic achievement: Alexandria of Egypt. While Athens and Rome spread their influence through trade and war, Alexandria sought to conquer the mind.

This lively, accessible saga explores the birth, death, and legacy of this miraculous city. It was here that humankind first:
· Realized that the earth was not flat
· Invented geometry
· Built the steam engine
· Invented latitude and longitude, drawing the first accurate maps of the world

And when the city was destroyed in the seventh century AD, Western civilization regressed a thousand years.

. . .Here the true foundations of the modern world were laid – not in stone, but in ideas.

Yet it is a terrible irony that here too the seeds of religious extremism were sown, seeds that emerged in the form of early Christian and Muslim militant fanaticism, both of which eventually destroyed first the intellectual then the physical fabric of the city itself.

The Rise and Fall of Alexandria, Birthplace of the Modern Mind by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid

Famed astronomer Carl Sagan understood it.

When speaking of this miraculous city and its great Library he laments, "Imagine how different the world would be if those discoveries had been explained and used for the benefit of everyone". Instead, these discoveries were the guarded possessions of a few powerful men.

Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen. People of all nations came there to live, to trade, to learn. On any given day, its harbors were thronged with merchants, scholars, and tourists. This was a city where Greeks, Egyptians, Arabs, Syrians, Hebrews, Persians, Nubians, Phoenicians, Italians, Gauls and Iberians exchanged merchandise and ideas. It is probably here that the word cosmopolitan realized its true meaning--citizen, not just of a nation, but of the Cosmos. To be a citizen of the Cosmos...

Here clearly were the seeds of the modern world. What prevented them from taking root and flourishing? Why instead did the West slumber through a thousand years of darkness until Columbus and Copernicus and their contemporaries rediscovered the work done in Alexandria? I cannot give you a simple answer. But I do know this: there is no record, in the entire history of the Library, that any of its illustrious scientists and scholars ever seriously challenged the political, economic and religious assumptions of their society. The permanence of the stars was questioned; the justice of slavery was not. Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explained or popularized. The research benefited them little. Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. The scientists never grasped the potential of machines to free people. The great intellectual achievements of antiquity had few immediate practical implications. Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. There was no counterbalance to stagnation, to pessimism, to the most abject surrenders to mysticism. When, at long last, the mob came to burn the Library down, there was nobody to stop them.

From Carl Sagan’s COSMOS
See Alex Petrov's The Rise and Fall of Alexandria

The population was ignorant of discoveries taking place in the Library-
intellectuals at the great Library were unconcerned with the general population -
and rulers guarded knowledge to advance their own wealth and power-
a perfect atmosphere for religious fanaticism to destroy it all.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Who, What, When, Where and Why

Dazed and confused by too much "Breaking News" that isn’t, the daily onslaught of up-to-the minute disaster coverage and opposing view opinion pieces? All-news all-the-time is designed to keep you coming back for more, but too much of what passes as journalism today is about TV personalities and corporate profits, creating an illusion that we are up-to-the-minute well informed - but telling us very little of the ‘who, what, when, where and why’ of the story.

We must demand good journalism from our news sources. For my buck, I choose National Public Radio. NPR provides in-depth analysis of important local, national and international stories. It’s balanced, informative and relaxing - without blaring commercials. Another favorite news source of mine is the internet. I can find the story there and research it online for myself - but I realize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. And I’m a huge fan of PBS, where 'The News Hour with Jim Lehrer' provides informed, balanced reporting – again, without blaring commercials. Plus, many local newspapers still do a great job of keeping us informed. Real journalism.

It's up to us, as individuals, to choose how much or how little real news we need on a daily basis and it's crucial to protect the variety of independent news sources providing unbiased, investigative reporting. Without it, we’ll get only pictures and opinions, packaged to maximize profits and benefit corporations - not individuals. Quality journalism is critical to our freedom.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Redefining Progress

I love our home in Gulf Shores. It’s an old beach cottage surrounded by native sand oak and palmetto, overlooking a small creek and wetland that support an incredible amount of wildlife. The variety of birds is amazing and there are always a few surprises during spring and fall migrations. Sunrises and sunsets provide daily occasions for reflection and I can even see the Gulf of Mexico - though we seldom go to the beach. This picture was taken at the edge of the creek in our front yard, but this small view belies the reality around it.

Monstrously huge condominiums are going up everywhere and the city considers this creek little more than a drainage ditch. Parking lot lights three blocks away illuminate our yard at night and block out the stars. Sirens, car alarms and jet skis are a constant intrusion and traffic often backs up for miles. The Chamber of Commerce calls it progress, but I call it death. This incredible, natural world is suffocating - as I am in it. I can’t save it and it's becoming too painful to live here, but I’m having a hard time letting it go.

The same people destroying it use scenes like this in their ads to draw people here, but visitors will soon be hard pressed to find any natural beauty when they arrive.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Right Brain Exercise

The vines are everywhere! The land that's been in my husband's family for generations is full of wisteria, kudzu, honeysuckle and muscadine vines. Last year we began clearing a small area by hand to create a 'get away' camp that will also be a place we can evacuate to when hurricanes threaten. The plan is to leave it natural and disturb the area as little as possible. Our long-term goal is restoring it to it's original state - before being logged and farmed.

Growing up in Alabama, the wisteria, kudzu, honeysuckle and muscadine were like southern treasures to me. Later on I learned kudzu was invasive and harmful, but I didn't realize for a long time that honeysuckle and most of the wisteria was, too. As we talked about getting rid of the invasive vines, it felt too wasteful not to make use of them somehow and I thought of baskets. I'd never made a basket in my life, but I began reading about it and discovered these vines were perfect for making the random-weave baskets I'd always been drawn to.

This is my first basket filled with cones from the long-leaf pines and I couldn't be happier about it! My husband and I cut the vines and I made it in an afternoon. I filled it full of plants and gave it to my mom for Mother's Day. It felt a lot like being back in elementary school - "here mom, I made this for you!" I can't wait to get back up there to make more.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


A particular moment I hold dear was in the Piazza San Marco during a trip to Italy with three of my favorite people - my husband, mother and stepfather. We passed an outside cafe where I was so overcome by the sweetest violin music that I could not stop crying. I believe it was the purest moment of joy I have ever experienced. We left without asking the name of the song, but I can still 'feel' it whenever I think of it. I will be forever thankful for the joy of being there at that moment in time. It was as alive as I've ever felt.

John Prine's 'Hello in There' makes me sad and thankful all at the same time. Emmylou's 'Pancho & Lefty', 'Wayfaring Stranger' and 'Green Pastures' also stop me in my tracks. There are many more, but these make my point. There's the music we like and listen to casually - and then there's the music that just rolls over us, demanding all our attention. And I love when it happens unexpectedly - where I just have to stop whatever else I'm doing to pay homage.

Now, thanks to "Britain's Got Talent" I can add Paul Potts to the list. His voice touches something inside me that brings tears to my eyes each time I hear it. And it seems without "Britain's Got Talent" we might never have heard him at all. . . . . so - and I can't believe I'm saying this - thanks, Simon!

If you've somehow missed hearing Paul - here's your chance!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Impeachment Is Always On The Table

Bush and Cheney have asserted their unchecked power long enough and it's time - past time - for Congress to show it's collective nerve and begin formal hearings on the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Nancy Pelosi is wrong. Impeachment is always on the table - impeachment is the duty of Congress. Impeachment is a tool given to us by our founding fathers to keep the Executive Branch in check - to remind them they are not kings. Bush and Cheney have established an Executive Branch that doesn't respect the rule of law and if they are not impeached, they will have established a precedent to allow every future administration to operate outside the law - and Congress will have allowed it to happen.

The following excerpt is from a recent edition of Bill Moyers Journal (July 13, 2007), the topic of discussion was IMPEACHMENT and his guests were Bruce Fein and John Nichols.

JOHN NICHOLS: . . . .On January 20th, 2009, if George Bush and Dick Cheney are not appropriately held to account this administration will hand off a toolbox with more powers than any president has ever had, more powers than the founders could have imagined. And that box may be handed to Hillary Clinton or it may be handed to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or someone else. But whoever gets it, one of the things we know about power is that people don't give away the tools. They don't give them up. The only way we take tools out of that box is if we sanction George Bush and Dick Cheney now and say the next president cannot govern as these men have.

You can find the full text of the show here:

You can watch the show here:

You can read a history of impeachment here:

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What's in a (pen) name?

A bit of anonymity felt right just starting out - and I liked the idea of a pen name. I thought it would make me feel freer to speak my mind and I've been going through a bit of a metamorphosis anyway lately - so, why not?

I got the idea when I googled my name. Among the hits I found a stuntwoman, a competitive motorcyclist, the victim of a brutal murder, a woman that had murdered her husband, an author of Christian women's books, a flip-flop designer and a wedding photographer. . . .just to name a few.

What I didn't find was me! Maybe I was there if I'd looked back far enough, but by then I'd already started playing with the letters in my name and met Dena Braves. She sort of grew on me and, best of all, she was unknown to Google before I made her up! I haven't gotten much work done this week, but I'm having a great time!

Have you googled your name? Who did you find?