August 2008


I’ve posted several times about furoshikis, the Japanese squares of fabric that can be transformed into carrying bags and wraps of all kinds. A little while back I noted that there was a book, and promised a follow-up if I could get my hands on it.

I found it. Gift Wrapping With Textiles by Chizuko Morita was, unbelievably, in the Bangor Borders. Now that I’ve had it for a few months, I feel qualified to comment.

The truth is, almost all the really useful wraps are demo’ed on YouTube or diagrammed on the Japanese Ministry of the Environment furoshiki. There are a few good additions in this book, notably a large folio carry (think framed art), the long tube wrap (think rolled posters), the kimono wine wrap (not as useful as the ordinary bottle wrap, but prettier), and the backpack (uses two furoshikis, and really only good in a pinch). Everything else is either a reapplication of a basic concept or cute/pretty but not useful as such (and here my New England pragmatism peeks through). The instructions are generally good, especially the section in the beginning about the different sorts of knots and how to tie them. there are a few places where the wording is a little tricky, but nothing insurmountable.

If you’re planning to convert your life to a furoshiki-only existence, get this book. If you want a lot of instructions about decorative wraps (the title is, after all, about gift wrapping) with flowers or rabbits or kittens worked into the tying, get this book. Otherwise, see if you can get it at the library.

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From one of the many email lists I follow:

What use is there in a blunt truth thrown like
a stone, which breaks the heart? There is
no virtue in truth which has no beauty.

– Hidayat Inayat-Khan, Sufi teacher

We honor the search for truth–both individual and collective. Alas, many of us still struggle with finding ways to express that truth without breaking hearts. How do you make truth graceful?

When I was growing up I was an avid reader. Intense. Obsessive, almost. Friday afternoon I’d go to the library and get a stack of books that reached from the ends of my extended fingers to my chin. When I got home I’d pile them by my bed, lie down, and dig in. Sunday morning I’d go to church, but by evening the stack was done. I rarely had overdue books (assuming I didn’t forget, lose one, or go on vacation) because I finished them and had to go back for more well before the three week deadline. I couldn’t imagine needing to check books out for that long.

I still love to read, so yesterday I went to a local library. It is a good library, well-supported by its community and well-stocked. I wandered around for half an hour, thumbed through a few volumes, found absolutely nothing I wanted to read. I wanted fiction, fiction with hope, fiction with triumph, fiction with happy endings. Instead I found what I have found since I stopped reading in the YA section and moved over to adulthood. Depressing books. Books in which people do bad things and learn nothing and are not redeemed. Books in which people lose their spirits, their souls, their gumption.

Or books with just plain bad writing. I realize that fiction takes talent and hard work to craft–I took a fiction writing class over the summer and found out just how out of practice I have become, writing sermons all the time–but as a reader reading books that have, in theory been vetted and edited by a publisher, I can’t believe some of the prose that’s out there…or maybe I just don’t have the right taste. Perhaps adults are supposed to like choppy sentences and depressing story lines, because real literature reflects real life which is hard and awful.

But that’s not how I think, and that’s not why I read. The closest thing I can find to what I want in a book is often genre fiction, disdained by the literary world and scorned by people who want to look educated. Mystery, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, the ones that come in garish covers, mass-market paperbacks that fit easily in pockets and purses offering entertainment and escape are not the unredeemable cousins of “real” books. They are real books. And far from being mindless fluff, they often address issues of social inequity, class, race, and cultural change in such an incredibly accessible way that they actually change people’s minds. The power of writing is in getting your words into peoples’ hands and your heart into their brains (or your brain into their hearts), which means

  1. getting read
  2. getting understood
  3. getting mulled over and discussed

It’s like language. Sure, you can use long words, and they’re beautiful and precise, but if you want to use words to communicate you have to find the balance between incomprehensible, beautiful precision and flat, boring, awkward, understandable ideas. The writer who gets the word out, wins.

Pass the pulp, please.




house model with possible addition

Originally uploaded by ellaris

There’s a lot that goes into sustainability, one of which is actual footprint–size of house, for example. Our house is 1080 square feet on three floors. It’s just about big enough for all the stuff we have, mostly. With a little weeding our stuff would fit. However, the common space is a little tight for anything resembling a crowd. The presence of summer guests has made that clearer.

So someday we could expand the house about 8 feet, which is a lot for a 20×22 footprint.

But my father and his three siblings grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai. Half the family slept in the living room. Do two adults and three pets need more space?

I don’t know.

In my ongoing explorations of the variations of plain dress and sustainable clothing, I ran across Plainly Pagan, the blog of a pagan growing into her Quakerness. It’s beautifully written, well thought-out, and important theology. Important because it transcends traditional boundaries, important because it is grounded in daily life, and important because it is clear-eyed in all her confusion. In one of her posts she specifically mentions UUs to say,

I realized this week that one of the reasons I could not feel at home in the Unitarian Universalist churches I have visited was in part because I was there only as a body in the seat. I cannot be a passive participant. I am a preacher’s kid and trained to that lifestyle. Religion was not something we did on Sundays. Religion was the essence of who we were. It was the breath in us. So I can’t just “go to church.” To sit there and listen to a sermon is nothing but a lukewarm version of the vibrant spark of my childhood religious experience.

And so I come to sit among Friends. I came because if I could not be the minister (and I cannot) I wanted to be one of them. I did not want to sit among people going through the motions. I wanted to feel energy crackle around me. I wanted to be surrounded by people whose spiritual voices were deep, resounding, vibrant, electric, devestating. I wanted the hard work. I need the hard work.

I think it’s a fair critique. While we cannot be all things to all people, should not our faith be a living, breathing thing in our lives and in our worship?

And so I ask: what can we do to develop spiritual voices that are deep, resounding, vibrant–how can we live our faith, and live it all the time, even–especially–in church?

Here’s a word problem for you green-minded types:

I live in Brooklin. I want to go to Kennebunk (actually Arundel, to Wildfire HPV, but I would use Kennebunk as my base since my partner is there for business) to test-drive recumbent trikes as a first step toward greening my transportation. I have a regular, non-hybrid car at my disposal. If I drive it will take me about 4 hours each way, and about 17 gallons of gas round trip.

I can catch a bus in Bangor, about an hour away in the wrong direction, but not in Ellsworth, which is more like 30 or 40 minutes away. I can also catch a bus in Belfast, an hour or more away in the right direction. Neither of these buses will stop in Kennebunk. They will only stop in Portland. Portland is 30 minutes from Kennebunk. My partner is in Kennebunk with a Prius. She can come get me and return with me to Kennbunk, adding one Prius-hour of driving to the total carbon footprint of this trip.

If I do this and take the bus, I can return with her to Brooklin in the Prius. However, we then must drive to Bangor to retrieve the other car, adding two Prius-hours of driving to the two regular hours of driving to the carbon footprint of the trip. Alternatively, if I take the bus from Belfast, the car pickup will be on the way home.

“Regular driving” is about 20 mi/gal and Prius driving is about 45 mi/gal.

What is the best way for me to get to Kennebunk?

Do I (a) Drive to Kennebunk (8 hours of driving for the round trip)
(b) Drive to Belfast and take the bus from there to Portland (3 hours of regular driving, plus on extra Prius-hour, plus the bus, which is $35 and 9 hours)
(c) Drive to Bangor and take the bus from there to Portland (2 hours of regular driving plus 3 Prius-hours, plus the bus, which is $25 and 2.5 hours)
(d) wait for her to get home with the Prius and then drive to Kennebunk as a separate trip (8 Prius-hours)

Bueller? Anyone?

I’m very, very excited. We now have a choice of velomobiles in the US. In addition to the allwelder from Velomobile USA in Texas, we now have a US dealer fro the Go-One3. Prices are still high-ish (base model at 10k, and then accessories for winter and assembly bring the cost to $17k) but I’m so glad velomobiles are making inroads into the US market. Unfortunately the “financing” available is a credit card at 24% APR. Yikes! We need to get banks educated so we can get auto-type loans for these.

PS: my favorite is still the Aerorider. Anyone importing them yet?

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