Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our cancer year -- goodbye Harvey

I was moving some books, yesterday, when I came across my copy of Harvey Pekar's Our cancer year. Pekar, who died earlier this month, is mostly known for his offbeat American Splendor, comic book series, which was adapted into a 2003 movie of the same name. But he also wrote one of the most gripping, and raw, accounts of what it is like to have cancer and, especially, to endure the torture of chemotherapy. His autobiographical Our cancer year does not just chronicle his experience as the patient, but also the experience of his wife Joyce as the caregiver, struggling to both take care of herself and also be a support for Harvey, a man who suffered from depression and despair in the best of circumstances, not to mention when poison was being poured into his veins.

Thanks, Harvey, for being willing to share your struggles with us!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

X-Bike, Y-Bag -- mixed kinds on a cargo bike

That's a Yuba bikes "Go-Getter" bag on the left of my Xtracycle above. I was so excited when it finally arrived, today -- I love my Xtracycle, but the standard cargo slings (see the black one still on the right of the bike) have always left a lot to be desired in my view. I wanted something that is more like a standard pannier -- a bag with a closable top -- but just larger. That's what the Go-Getter -- meant for Yuba's Mundo bike, a direct competitor to Xtracycle's products -- promises to be.

I had some trouble figuring out how to mount it, but finally decided it should sit on a Wide-Loader platform, which means I might have to keep the Wide-Loader on there permanently. That's going to make me a little wider on the left; I'm not sure if I'm going to like that -- but I am going to try it for now.

For a test ride, I packed the bag full of books and bottles and such -- a nice, heavy load. Minna followed me for a short jaunt down to the local creek and back -- it was fun! The bike felt great.

I'm looking forward to lots of use for this new bag (more pics here -- including one of how I keep the bag from hitting the wheel)!

You are with me -- #23

The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem (one of my many alma maters) has been publishing an online commentary to the greatest of the biblical books for spiritual care -- the Book of Psalms. Today, they released their commentary for the ultimate of the psalms of comfort, Psalm 23, that so-very brief work that opens with lines famously translated as "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want." Benjamin J. Segal, the author of the commentary, labels this great psalm simply as "With Me," reflecting his claim that the psalm revolves around these words from the middle of its fourth verse. But, while Segal says that the simple concept that "God is with me sits at the core of the psalm, he also claims that the psalm treats the concept in a very complex way, with a progression that could reflect one that many of us go through in our journeys in life and in faith. At the beginning, the psalm expresses a simple faith in the presence of God -- God as a source of physical sustenance and protection. But, as the psalm progresses, this faith changes -- into a faith in God as a source of spiritual sustenance, a sustenance that can support us even in the darkest of times. Even in the dark shadows cast by evil, injustice, or even death.

This kind of spiritual sustenance is what can not only comfort us, but also inspire us to do things that would have seemed not only impossible, but even miraculous. I am reminded of how Nelson Mandela was able to find this kind of sustenance in another very short work, the Victorian poem Invictus -- something that helped him find not only the courage to survive decades of bitter imprisonment, but to be able to emerge from it unbroken: still able to love other human beings and unbelievably still able to move past anger to profound forgiveness and reconciliation. (Minna and I this week watched the brilliant Clint Eastwood movie of the same name, which documents one small part of what Mandela did after his imprisonment.)

Jews everywhere have been reclaiming the Book of Psalms as our own in recent years and finding comfort and wisdom within its ancient words, traditionally credited to King David. I am so grateful for this free contribution Schechter is making to this movement of reclaiming!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lunchtime harvest

Minna picked some cukes and tomatoes for our lunch, today. It was the biggest single-day's harvest of cucumbers we've gotten, yet (we try not to let them get as big as the one monster below, but we've discovered that if you peel and seed them, that they're still yummy).

Bees, like this little bumble below, are part of what makes it all happen -- the wonders of pollination!

Our tomato plants (as have our cukes) have grown into quite a jungle (see, below). I feel proud of its teemingness (I looked it up -- that's really a word), but I'm starting to understand why some people like to prune their tomatoes into orderly single stems.

This one has so outgrown its little tomato cage that I found some scrap poles (actually an old cane and a mop handle) that a neighbor had thrown out to prop it up a bit.

From Lunchtime harvest

More pics can be found here.

I'm so grateful to be able to have a garden this year!
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cargo -- and kid -- biking in NYC

I got pretty excited after Shabbat went out tonight when I watched the video in this New York Times story about "glamour moms" carrying their kids around NYC on cargo bikes. It was especially exciting that the opening shots are in my "old neighborhood" -- right by Astor Place and one of the NYU buildings where my classes met just a few months ago.

I was a _little_ disappointed that the most widespread of the cargo bikes here in the States -- the Xtracycle, like the one I own -- was not mentioned in the article. I have seen a couple of them around Greenwich Village, including one that is set up to carry two young children.

Cargo biking does seem to be on the rise. I only recently became aware of a competitor to Xtracycle -- Yuba -- that is putting out a very similar product that is purpose-built with an extra-long bicycle frame (n
ot surprisingly, Yuba was founded by a former member of Xtracycle). I'm not ready to buy one, but I did order one of their bags (see photo on the right, which another Xtracycle owner posted on his Flickr page). I hope it lives up to its claim to be usable on the Xtracycle because it has some features -- like rain protection -- that I've really missed on the standard Xtracycle cargo bags/slings.

Almost all of my cycling this summer has been just very short trips on the Xtracycle to work or to go grocery shopping. No day-long rides like in summers past. And this will be the first summer in five years or so where I have not done any bike touring like the Hazon Israel ride we did last year from Tel Aviv to Eilat. I miss the riding for sure, but I've been enjoying the things that have replaced it -- the little house we've moved into and all the little tasks of getting set up and all the time with Minna. . . . . And I still ride at least a little bit every day. :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The lone pine

Privileged to (finally) be living in the same town and to have reasonably sane schedules (for the summer, at least), Minna and I have been trying to spend as much time outside together in the evenings -- which has taken us once or twice a week to the nearby Nolde Forest state park and its hiking trails amid an ancient-seeming forest. So, I was surprised, yesterday, to read that the hills of Nolde had not always been forested, and that there was only the "lone pine" in this picture when a textile magnate bought the land for his private estate in the early 1900s. It was a reminder that even things that seem like they have always been there -- and are so-called natural creations -- were, in fact, created by somebody. Were created by the dreams that come out of the human heart and mind.

This summer has in many ways been the realization of many long-deferred dreams for me. After years of living in dorm rooms and small apartments, I have moved into a house. In its small yard, I have been able to grow my first vegetable garden in some 20 years. Being able to pick a piece of produce off the vine and eat it, fresh, right away is part of a dream I had since college of living a little more right with the Earth, of being a little less of a petroleum-gorging machine trapped in the rat race of a technological civilization. A dream of living close to the things and places we interact with daily. This summer, I walk or bicycle to work every day and only actually get in a car a couple of times a week. I feel free from the hunger to acquire more material things. I feel a great peace.

The hospital only a few hundred yards away where I am working this summer, however -- with all its incredible technology for extending life (and all the pain and loss its inhabitants experience amid injury and illness) -- is a constant reminder that I am not leaving the material, or technological civilization, behind in any complete or permanent way. One day I, too, may need all those machines. One day I, too, may be struggling in a hospital dead. And one day I will die.

"Life is a narrow bridge," Rebbe Nachman of Bratlav taught us. "The most important thing is not to be afraid."

This summer I have been less afraid. I have been sustained by the realization of past dreams -- both my own and of others. But I am also sustained by my dreams of the future, by my own hopes to build a "forest" -- a forest that looks like it has always been there. My dreams there have to do with the education of rabbis as spiritual caregivers. It's a field that in some ways is very ancient, and in other, important ways, is only in its infancy. Come the fall, God willing, I will return to my doctoral studies and NYU and to my focus on pursuing future dreams. May it be the will of the Holy Blessed One that those dreams will yield rich fruit -- many pines where only one once stood. And may it be the Holy One's will that I will be able to find balance on that journey -- to be able to continue to enjoy the fruit of past dreams as I pursue the new ones.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Men who hate women

That’s the original title of the first of Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster, world-wide top-selling novels and the subsequent film, both retitled The girl with the dragon tattoo for the English translation. The film came out on DVD yesterday, so we were able to watch it online on Netflix last night.

It struck me that this film treats violence against women -- including two scenes depicting brutal rapes of the title character by a man appointed to protect her -- in a very different way than is typical of Hollywood films. In Hollywood, violence against women tends to be depicted in a sensationalist, almost fetishistic, way that seems to communicate a very troubling underlying message -- that women a) need to be careful, and b) they must stay in the protection of men (ie, they are not capable of protecting themselves).

It was refreshing to watch a film with such a different approach -- an approach that felt so much more true to life. In life, it is a terrible truth that many, maybe even most, women are victims of sexual violence in their lifetimes. This violence is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated by any decent society. It has to be stopped, and it is women themselves who are capable of taking the lead to stop it (a lead that men surely need to follow). And, so, in this film, we are offered the character of a strong, exceptionally talented woman who is capable of her own defense. She, tragically, like so many women, is victimized. We watch the rape scenes with only revulsion -- with no titillation. It hurts to watch them. We want to stop them.

We have to stop them.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Phoenix

A week ago, I had cut this then-bushy basil plant back to next to nothing -- now it's starting to come back with these little new leaves!

Here's a pic of the whole plant:

And here's a pic of our Wapsipinicon peach, which yielded our very first tomato of the season, a few days ago. It's growing at a fantastic pace now, with lots of tomatoes all over it. A couple more had ripened over Shabbat, so after Shabbat was over, Minna (by flashlight!) harvested two. They were really delicious, much better than the first one had been, so I'm really looking forward to the rest of these ripening!

Happy 4th of July!


Did you notice the new upgrade on Google Docs, by the way? They seem to have added a whole host of new features to make it more like a traditional word processor like Microsoft Word (including things like a ruler at the top of the page).

That seems to hold the promise of being able to control the printed appearance of documents in a way that was not possible before. But to get all those new features, they seem to have taken away a number of ones that were my favorite things about Google Docs. You don't seem to be able to post directly to your blog, anymore. And there's no more "hide controls" (which freed up a lot of screen space) or "edit html." I hope, at least, that soon they will add a "view draft" feature or something to allow you to get some of that screen real estate back.

Google does address some of these concerns here. This is some of what they say:

What else is different?

You'll probably notice that some features from the older version of Google documents aren't available yet. Don't worry: we'll be adding a lot of them soon.

These features from the previous version of Google documents, however, won't be available in the new version:

  • Offline document access via Google Gears
  • Edit HTML
  • Edit CSS

Keyboard shortcuts have also changed. Check the list of new keyboard shortcuts.

You can continue to create documents in the older version, for now, by opting out of the new version. Simply go to your Google Docs Settings page, click the Editing tab, and deselect the option labeled "Create new text documents using the latest version of the document editor."

Want to continue creating docs in the old version of Google documents? Let us know why in the Google Docs help forum.