Sunday, August 31, 2008

Favs from Art in the Pearl

Yesterday I saw some spectacular artwork downtown. Kimmy and I walked slowly, almost to the point of falling over, for about an hour and a half, looking at all the stunning pieces of creativity. My favorite painter, if I had to choose one from our brief walk past them, would probably be Marla Baggetta. Her landscapes are where I want to spend my days. I also really liked Wendy Dunder's sculpted lamps. Here are a few of the pieces I saw, which I retrieved from linking to their websites via the Art in the Pearl website:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Garden update

It's been neat to watch my first veggie garden grow. Neat, but not without its frustrations. The tomato plants have all outgrown their cages...and although the plants themselves look very healthy, none of the tomatoes are turning red. At the farmer's market today, I overheard a few ladies saying they had the same problem this year w/ their tomatoes. And while at Powell's this afternoon, the checker lady said the same thing was happening with her plants - lots of green tomatoes and no red ones. I assume it is weather-related...but it's disappointing nonetheless. If I lived in a warmer, sunnier climate they may change, but I'm doubtful in Portland. I've learned a few other things too: fennel is better to grow from seed. Basil doesn't really expand much from starts - it's almost worth it to just buy bunches of it at the store or market and not bother w/ planting it in the yard. Next year I will plant cherry tomatoes - I've heard those do better here and have a much better chance of ripening than the big ones. The pepper is growing, but not developing into fruit yet...we'll see if that does well here in the next month or two. The seeds I planted about a month ago for winter veggies are starting to come up - but they are still TINY little things. I don't know if I sowed them too early or too late, but those will probably not develop into mature plants before the frost hits...we'll see. If we're lucky we'll get a few carrots, some little lettuce and kale leaves, and perhaps a few little radishes. I'm happy to see the acorn squash doing so well - and those I didn't plant - the seeds were simply left over from Nancy and Andy, as well as the pretty nasturtiums. The oregano, sage, and flat-leaf parsley are doing wonderfully - as expected. Nearby we have rosemary, peppermint, lemon balm, and dahlias. It's a happy little place, even with dandelions popping up every day, Bermuda grass growing out of control in some areas, and an eyesore of a lawn that's gone a whole summer with no water. Last weekend I planted a bunch of things on the two parking strip areas on both sides of the driveway. Tomorrow I plan on picking up some mulch and laying newspaper down to discourage weeds, especially the grass, from competing with the newly establishing plants, as well as weeding the south and west embankments. Always something to do!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

What this election means to me

Last night as I watched Barack Obama's speech, I felt moved to tears several times. For the first time in a long, long time, I was truly proud to be a citizen of this country. Not because we are better than any other country. Not because God has 'blessed' us any more than any other country, or because we are entitled to anything. But because I've been proud of the values guiding this movement, and I am inspired as I see people, young and old, of all backgrounds, mobilized, taking a stand, to be a part of making this country better. It has been inspiring and humbling to watch.

Throughout these past few months, as Barack got closer and closer to winning candidacy of the Democratic Party, I have found in myself something I'm not really sure what to do with. Part of me is sort of embarrassed by how much hope and inspiration I have drawn from this election - from Barack himself. I am embarrassed because I hear the 'naysayers' criticize him for being a 'celebrity' and not offering any specifics as to how he plans on fleshing out in hard terms the theme of his campaign: CHANGE across this nation. As a person of faith, I could never put all of my hope in any one human being - knowing that in God alone, through the resurrected Christ, is there any hope for a future whose foundation is love, reconciliation, healing and wholeness. I remember stories in Scripture where the Israelites simply wanted a political figure to save them - to bring about peace and prosperity in their time, in their day, in real, hard terms. Thru this process, it seems, they put their faith in those leaders, rather than in the God of history - who embodies justice, mercy, grace, love, kindness. And thru this process, eventually, they came to see that their leaders could not live up to their expectations. It seems it is thru this lens that people of faith, many for the first time, are engaging in this country's political process this year.

Before now, I would have argued that my generation feels hardened by the political process - hardened because for about as long as we've been able to vote, George Bush has been in office and people like him have been running our country. Many of us are apathetic toward the process, too, because we are not aware of or are not experiencing directly the negative impact of the Bush Administration's poor policy decisions. Many who've been hit hardest by Bush's policies are the people without a voice in the current system - because they have no money.

Barack's campaign has addressed nearly all of these concerns and more. His entire platform is based not on him bringing us out of this mess we're in, but in us doing it together. He has stated repeatedly that this is not about him, but about us, collectively - the American people. He realizes that his political support has come about primarily through an incredible mobilization of ordinary people - and not primarily through 'big money'. He has empowered people to speak up and tell their stories, and fight for the world as it could be. This of course is nothing new - Jesus told his followers to pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." As one who yearns for the Kingdom of God to be here on earth as it is in heaven - a.k.a. for peace, justice, environmental restoration, etc... what could be more inspiring than a political leader saying, "Yeah, I want those things too, will you help us get there?"

My friend Norene, a 76-year old woman who I see a few times each week in the church office, talked to me today about her feelings throughout this election. She told me that she's been voting faithfully for as long as she's been able to - which is a long time. She said she has never been this emotionally involved in a presidential campaign. She was moved to tears, as well, as she heard Barack speak last night, and she's been following the DNC from the beginning. She is hoping with all her heart that my generation will listen to our hearts and our minds - and get involved in the political process - in the very least by voting...because if we do - we will see a change in Washington and in this country. It will not be over-night and it will be baby step by baby step - but it will happen.

I'm considering volunteering for Barack's campaign here in Portland (not that he necessarily needs my help here...) I'm realizing what a monumental moment in history we are in - and that we cannot go back in time and wish we'd done more. I don't want another four years in this country with a President who gives in to interests guided by money, greed and military power. Our people, our oceans, our air, our land - cannot afford it.

I, like Norene, am very emotionally involved in this campaign - almost to an embarrassing level. I've hidden it pretty well, though, up until this point. But what does that say about me if I care more about appearing calm and collected, politically neutral and safe - or - critical, showing no allegiance to any candidate - and focusing on the areas where a certain candidate does not measure up - than about doing whatever I possibly can to bringing about positive change in this world? This election has humbled me. No, Barack is not perfect. Neither am I. But he's the best I've seen in a long, long time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Autumn in the City of Roses

I've discovered a new favorite website: You specify what dates you are interested in, and it lists all of the wonderful events taking place here, from Art Festivals to Moon Viewing at the Chinese Garden and everything in between. This weekend, I am looking forward to "Art in the Pearl" - where over 125 regional art vendors come to the North Park Blocks to sell their art. My buddy Kimmy and I may meander on over sometime during Labor Day weekend :)

Another cool thing happening around here is the late summer FREE DAY at the Portland Japanese Garden. This takes place September 2nd, and I plan on going there after work. Wanna come?

I'm looking for a friend who wants to go to the Portland Corn MAiZE sometime during the month of October. The maze is on Sauvie Island, Portland's version of Spokane's Greenbluff (and probably a bit larger) where Beth and I picked berries a few months ago. From the picture, it looks like quite the challenge maneuvering thru it! The fall is spectacular here - I love EVERYTHING about it- the warm colors blanketing all the deciduous trees, the smell of fresh, cool, rainy air, cozy sweaters, making hearty, soothing batches of soup, making and drinking creamy chai, the feeling of newness - as the season is always associated w/ new beginnings, the smell of apples and pears cooking w/ brown sugar and oats in the oven, visiting any one of the Northwest's farming communities - who welcome the public into their storefronts, porches, and pasture land to share in reaping the harvest they've worked so hard for all year...and doing all of the above with close friends nearby. Strange that a season marked by dying and freezing can muster up such feelings of warmth, excitement, newness, and joy. It is the glimmer of wonder before the craziness of a consumer-driven holiday season falls upon us. I am happy to be living in this corner of our amazing planet this year, and especially, this glorious season.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Rhizome Collective

Ben bought me a book while we were in Seattle called "Sustainable City Living - A Do-It-Ourselves Guide". As I began reading it yesterday, I learned that the book was written by two people who are part of a group in Austin, TX, called 'The Rhizome Collective'. My revelation gardening last week (when I thought of the metaphor of the Bermuda grass rhizome being like grassroots organizing and social change) was apparently not as original as I'd thought! These people have been practicing radical sustainability for over 8 years together, using the metaphor of the rhizome to describe their work. On their website they define Rhizome as: "An expanding underground root system, sending up above ground shoots to form a vast network. Difficult to uproot." Just what I was thinking!!!
The book breaks down into subjects of Food, Energy and Water production, as well as dealing with waste and bioremediation. I'm excited.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The things we do with our lives

There are days I like my job - days where the people I cross paths with bring me joy. And then there are days like today. Days like today are the bane of my existence. I spend countless hours standing in front of a folding machine. The work itself doesn't actually bother me that much. Monotonous labor is a wonderful opportunity for deep, rich thinking. Rarely, however, do I pull my brain in that direction while folding the church newsletter. I feel like I relate more to Karl Marx' assessment of the human condition during the Industrial Revolution - that I am becoming one with the machine and alienated from my humanity. Ok, so that's a slight exaggeration.

I am considering full-time school again. I am considering quitting my job so that I can spend time going after the things I actually want . The practical side of me says, "No, Richelle, you can't quit your job! You need that money to pay for rent, food and other necessities! You might as well be making money while you're still figuring out what you want to do with your life" And the dreamer in me says, "Just quit. It will all work out. You have to be willing to take risks in this life. Do it now or never!!!"

Reality is somewhere in between. I have absolutely ZERO desire to move back in with either one of my parents in order to save money or to move back to Spokane - and I LOVE Portland. It is, I think, one of the most exciting, wonderful, beautiful, and quirky places in the world. It is a fantastic place to be at this point in my life.

What do I want to do? So far these are the options I've considered:

1. Go to grad school for Landscape Architecture in order to be either an a) licensed landscape architect, b) urban/green space planner. This would mean I would eventually join a landscape architecture firm, work for a public agency, or start my own business.
2. Work in a nursery
3. Go through the landscape technology program at PCC (approx. 1/10 the cost of graduate school), become a licensed landscape contractor and then move in the direction of doing more design work and less construction installation - and focus on smaller-scale, residential landscape design

What do I still need to figure out?
1. What kind of landscape architecture do I want to do? (i.e. small or large scale/residential or commercial/industrial/public projects)
2. Do I really want to be a landscape architect, or do I want to be a landscape designer?
3. Do I want to work closely with plants or with drawing utensils and construction documents?
4. If I go to grad school, what do I want to focus on/specialize in? (Healing/Therapeutic gardens, designing for the aging population, historic preservation, environmental remediation?)
5. Do I want to work primarily alone, or as part of a team (if so, what kind of team?)
6. Do I want to be part of a high-stress, exciting, entrepreneurial team or a governmental bureaucratic system? (it seems we end up in one or another)

7. Do I want to be in the position of selling my services? (And is there an way to avoid this in any profession?)

Where can I go from here?
1. Start taking more classes at night at PCC, and say goodbye to my social life. Figure out more as I take more classes.
2. Start putting together graduate school applications for UC Berkeley, U of Ore., U of NM, Harvard
3. Volunteer at a nursery on the weekends
4. Try to get a job at a nursery
5. Try to get an admin. job at a landscape construction/architecture company
6. Do all of the above while still working at the church
7. Quit my job and go full force in seeking the above on a full-time basis

Ideas from friends:
1. Don't get stuck in the administrative assistant trap - i.e. work at an administrative job just because you need the money - don't let that delay you in making steps toward what you really want to do
2. Talk to grad school professors/advisors and ask them about their programs - ask them about where graduates are working, what kind of jobs they are finding, etc.
3. Talk to PCC instructors
4. Try volunteering on the weekends at a nursery or garden shop

This is not the end. I am excited about things to come. Help me, Lord, in being faithful wherever I am, whatever I am doing. To remember that it really is about the journey.
(Photo credit: and


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

Friday, August 15, 2008

Dorothy Day

A few days ago I watched a movie called Entertaining Angels, about Dorothy Day. I don't know what else to say other than it is worth watching. I remember learning about Dorothy Day and the movement she founded - the Catholic Worker Movement - in high school - but only very briefly - and I remember wanting to learn more about her in college.

The movie caused me to examine myself and the world in which I live - and caused me to reflect, again, on what it is Jesus wants for our world and for us. Not all are called to be Dorothy Day's or Mother Teresa's. But we are called to be faithful. Lord, help me, and help our world, in being faithful to who and where you've called us to be. Amen.
(The photo above is of Moira Kelly, the actress who played Dorothy Day in the movie. Photo credit:

Monday, August 11, 2008

The meaning behind mustard

My last post was written w/ a pretty poor memory and no references. Not wanting to get caught in my own BS, I became curious as to what Jesus' parable about the mustard seed might actually mean - and to see if my comparison to Bermuda grass is at all relevant. The relevance of my reflections on social change being compared to these two 'weeds' depends on one's view of what Jesus was talking about when he used the phrase "Kingdom of Heaven." For some this is all about life after death, and for others this is very much about the here and now. And for the rest, it is a complex mixture of both. Here are some things I came across that may help stir up more useful questions re: the mustard seed and the possible weed-like nature of the Kingdom of God: The first is from a chapter in a book written by Fr. Thomas Keating, titled "The Kingdom of God is Like...". I found it here. It is well written and very thought-provoking. He talks about what the Jewish people may have been thinking when they heard Jesus choose the mustard seed to illustrate his point about the Kingdom of God. I am tempted to paraphrase his article for brevity's sake, but I'm afraid I would ruin the context of what he is saying. It is definitely worth looking at if you are at all interested in the topic. Near the end of the article he writes,

"If we are looking for a great expansion of our particular religion, nation, ethnic group, social movement, or whatever, into some great visible organization that fills the earth, we are on the wrong track. This is not God's idea of success. Where are the mightiest works of the kingdom accomplished? in our attitudes and hence in secret. Where there is charity, there is God. Opportunities to work for the homeless, the starving, the aging, are all readily available. No one may notice our good deeds, including ourselves. The kingdom of God manifests itself in the modest changes in our attitudes and in the little improvements in our behavior that no one may notice, including ourselves. These are the mighty works of God, not great external accomplishments." (boldness added).

I agree w/ Keating on many levels - but I wonder how to practice this sort of mustard-seed revolution - if we are not actually pouring into the social movements of our day. I understand the value of small-scale actions and believe they are very true to what Jesus taught us to do. I also realize that not one social movement will solve all the world's problems. I realize that individually they represent a fraction of the big picture. But does that mean they are not worth us pouring our time and energies into? A perfect example would be campaigning for Barack Obama. If there is any ounce of us that believes one candidate over another will bring more blessing and peace to our world, why would we hesitate in doing whatever we are able to help elect that candidate? And we do this knowing that they are imperfect people like the rest of us, and that they need us to hold them accountable, just like any of us would if we were in their shoes.

Another interesting anecdote re: the history of mustard I found here. This article talks about the understanding held throughout history that mustard represents something that is potent. This has very little (if any) connection with the previous article - but I still thought it added some interesting things to think about re: Jesus' choice of plant in talking about the Kingdom of God.

The pictures I've seen of the mustard plant are not necessarily unsightly or unruly, as I previously thought. But they are also not stately or glorious. I suppose it is very much a matter of perspective, similar to the way dandelions are regarded as a source of great nutrition and even beauty (picture a child blowing on a seemingly magical, fluffy seed puff) - and to others (like myself), who are battling the proliferation of them in my yard, regard them as little more than an annoying, uncontrollable weed. As Keating's article explains, the mustard plant was regarded as an unclean thing to be kept away from the vegetable garden in Jewish law, because of its weed-like tendencies to take over and rob nutrients and space from the other plants. It does not resemble anything like a
tree, but rather, depending on the variety, a modest bush.
Once again this brings up more questions than answers. Jesus used parables to teach the people a concept that they could understand, right? He used stories w/ images and objects they were familiar with. Why then, does it seem so difficult to understand what he really meant by these stories? Perhaps I am over-analyzing. Perhaps it is just all about love. Isn't that the easy Christian answer? Love God, love people, and love God's world. If only that satisfied me...
(photo credit:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gleaning more from the word 'Grassroots'

This afternoon I spent about an hour and a half pulling grass out of about a three-foot square corner of our already small veggie garden. It was no small task. After a visit to the Portland Nursery yesterday w/ sprigs of grass in my hand, I learned that there are basically two types of grass: the kind that have short root systems (which are most common on residential yards) and the kind that have long, extensive roots systems and that are spread via rhizomes. There is a particular variety of the latter type called 'Bermuda Grass' that I believe is making headway in our yard. It is a nasty weed that is virtually impossible to get rid of w/o an herbicide of some kind. And it is popping up all over our otherwise dead, yellow turf - and showing up all over the perimeter areas, inside the veggie garden as I mentioned, and also down in the rock/dry beds/parking strips. I HATE it. I'm sure this is a very useful kind of grass in the prairie where some type of animal could eat it for sustenance and therefore keep it under control...but it is a weed in a residential yard like ours. Did I mention that I hate it? Because I do. God only knows if I actually succeeded in removing the grass for that area - there were millions of tiny roots down there, and I have no idea if they were offshoots of the larger grass roots, or if they were roots of some other plant. I will probably find out in a few weeks.
Anyway, I thought I would update my readers (so, like, maybe three people) w/ the progress of our veggie garden. So far one of our tomato plants is beginning ot bear fruit. Also, the squash is doing well (and that one I didn't even plant!). The bare corner of the veggie garden is where I dug up all the grass - I planted what I hope will become some winter veggies - lettuce, kale, carrots and radishes.

I have no idea what I am doing. Most of the time if I think about what I am doing I get overwhelmed w/ possiblities and further questions of what to do next, how to do it, what would be best, etc. But then I start doing whatever it is that I'm thinking about and after many hours I feel better.
Once again I thought of an analogy while outside today pulling the grass. It reminded me of what I heard about the mustard plant while listening to Shane Claiborne's Another World Is Possible: Creation CD. The word 'grassroots' has had mostly positive connotations throughout my lifetime - for me the word stirs up images of brave people in our history who have fought the status quo and banded together to bring about positive change. Economic justice. Racial and sexual equality. Freedom of thought, speech and religion. Worker rights. Environmental protection. Nearly all progressive social change comes about throughout grassroots activism - it usually does not come about through a person in a powerful position deciding to make the change - usually because they themselves believe they are benefitting from keeping things the way they are. The mustard plant, if I remember correctly, is a burly, unsightly thing. Although it comes from a tiny, tiny seed, it produces a hefty plant that eventually nobody really wants to mess with. I think Bermuda grass is similiar. With each tear in the root system, it produces a stronger, larger strain of the grass. It multiplies underground and you have to dig deep and wide to pull out the entire strand. Meanwhile there are little roots underground that are happy you made room for them. As one dies, several more grow in its place.
Now, you may be wondering what the hell I'm talking about. Well, I suppose what I am trying to say here is that social change can be, and often is, unsightly and, quite frankly, annoying to deal with for the rest of us who aren't necessarily on the front lines of any particular social or environmental cause today. I'm sure that I'm not alone in feeling a bit frustrated over the overwhelming influx of emails and mail correspondence from dozens of organizations who are working tirelessly for the one issue they want so badly to change. Our generation, being so connected through the internet and generally in-the-know about what is going on in the world, have an unprecedented amount of pressure to do something about all of the suffering, unrest, and environmental degradation our world is currently facing. We have an unprecedented amount of pressure because, to our knowledge, we have inherited a world w/ an unprecedented amount of problems that will only worsen if we do not step up and do something about it.
I hope my generation and the one that follows are more like mustard seeds and Bermuda grass rhizomes - I hope and pray that we are so unsightly and annoying that positive social and environmental change actually comes into fruition. Jesus had a much more eloquent way of saying this - the parable of the seed. Perhaps being sown on good soil is more important than being an unrelenting plant. But what does that mean? Ok, I'm done for today. Time to go make dinner!