Finding the Art in Everything

30 November, 2010

What have we here?

A Levenger catalog came in the mail today, and it featured THIS interesting thing.
Why didn't we think of it sooner?

25 November, 2010

Thank You For This World

Whenever I tuck her in, or when it is her turn at dinner, Faith prays. I love to hear Faith pray because she hits all the important things every time.

"Thank you for Mommy, Daddy, Kaeyln, Tyler, Zack and (recently) Jess. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for my grandparents and friends. Thank you for this world. Please heal the sick people. Please take care of Kafui. Please bless us. Amen."

I am always struck by "Thank you for this world." I think the rest of us, especially Christians, spend a lot of time discouraged by this world. In this world, there is violence and poverty and sickness. We watch the news and ponder the kind of world that creates and contains those circumstances. We tend to despair.
Faith is six years old. To her the world is not only what is on the news. To her, the world affords trees to climb, friends on the block, and her dog Harley. It is full of wonder and mystery and excitement.

It would be easy to dismiss Faith's gratitude as naiveté because of how little she is. But look at the rest of Faith's prayer: "Please heal the sick people. Please take care of Kafui." She's aware of suffering and sickness. Kafui is the child their Sunday school sponsors from Africa. She know's he's hungry and dependent on them. This is not the prayer of a little girl who doesn't know any better.

It's Thanksgiving today. Faith's prayer reminds us to be thankful for more today than that we (or most of us) are carnivores. We are thankful for the food, family, and friends, sure. We are thankful for God's abundant provision this year.

But as Faith points out, we can be thankful for this world. We are thankful for this world for a couple of reasons. First, Psalm 24 says

"The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,

the world, and all who live in it;

2for he founded it upon the seas

and established it upon the waters."

Everything that is God's is good. We can be thankful for the world because it is God's and He made it.

It is true that there are things in the world that God didn't make and that do indeed break His heart. We can also be thankful for the otherwise discouraging parts of this world because they turn our eyes heavenward. They keep us from thinking this world is our home, and permit us to rejoice in the ongoing redemption taking place around us. We have hope in the brokenness because God loves the World and has a plan to redeem it.

Ultimately, on Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for this World. Let us be thankful God loved it, and that He is and has been constantly working on its redemption.

16 November, 2010

Christmas List

For those who asked and those who didn't:

28 October, 2010

Statement of Mission

I am here to reach the lost and build an organization capable collectively of doing so. In building the organization, I must equip the saints with good communication, required supplies, and sufficient space in which to work.

26 October, 2010

Here and There

I was delighted by a friend's list of unrelated items. It did what good blogs do for me. It made me think "Me, too! I can do that!"

1. With the help of a wise new friend, I figured out where the time in my day is going: to people. I feel like I used to be able to accomplish more in a day than I do now (which may be inaccurate). It's not that I have less to do, necessarily, I just do less. I blame three of my life's recent additions for this: driving and traffic, an inconsistent work schedule, and living with people. Two were obvious to me, but the third was surprising. I have lived alone for a long time, so I didn't realize the time consumed by the daily minutiae of maintaining relationships.

2. A Marin native illuminated some of this county's peculiarities for me--things I'd noticed but didn't know how to name. People here are "slightly apathetic", "casually sophisticated" and "quirky" to the point of making an art of it.

3. I have become more obsessive about my paper-crafting. It's sort of a cut-and-paste self-medication driven by a hunger to share my experience and creative inspiration around every corner. In other news, I found a store near my coffee shop interesting in carrying my notebooks.

4. I am so disturbed by men over thirty who use "Booyah" and "It's go time." Even as a punchline.

5. I went to Coffee School in the City for my new job. Unfortunately, the curriculum content ran a distant second to a research paper I wrote in sixth grade, titled "Where in the World is Juan Valdez."

6. A customer in my coffee shop talked today about growing up in North Beach where real Italians make coffee for other real Italians. He overheard a customer order a drink with specifications nearing 50 words, and shook his head. "What happened to the days where a drink was a drink? Everything was a cappuccino and it was perfect. Coffee? Yes or no. Let the barista make the damn drink." His small capp was on the house.

7. I miss teaching, my classroom, and my students every day. I feel like the Autumn started without me. One of my regulars at the coffee shop is a teacher who retired after 35 years. She misses it, too. After describing my move to Marin, she smiled knowingly and said, "My dear, you are plant who has been re-potted. You've just left behind a few roots." Here's to hoping they'll regrow.

23 October, 2010

H is for Happy Birthday

It is the fourth anniversary of my blog, and my 29th birthday. Or at least it was when I started this post.

A friend said that after today, I'm rolling toward 30 like a snowball headed for Hell. It's a colorful analogy, but I'm hoping its loaded with hyperbole.

I had a really lovely birthday. I got a badass leather jacket in the mail from my mom, as well as trip to Nordstroms in a little silver box. My sister-friend mailed me new Stila red lipstick, the Stila Paris palette, and some Chocolate shortbread made from pure crushed cacao. I had to work, but I got to go with Shannon for some life-changing pumpkin cheesecake at the Cheesecake factory.

I was so delighted by the sweets and the bits of glamour, but it was the Coleman kids who gave me a great birthday. Faith and Zach, who are 6 and 8 respectively, stormed my room at 7am to wake me with a big "Happy Birthday!". Zach had arranged all my presents by "my seat" on the couch. Kaelyn had scribbled a giant "Happy Birthday" all over the mirrors that I use. There would be NO missing her salutations. And then, when I got my coffee and curled up on the couch, there was the big reveal of the Coleman birthday tradition: The Birthday Turtle. Here he is:

The birthday turtle sings "Happy Birthday" and marches around. Faith informed me that everyone in our family gets to have the Birthday Turtle sing to them. And there it was. Everyone in our family. On my birthday, the Coleman kids did all the things that mark the special days of family members.

When I lived in Florida, I loved my birthday because of the fuss my students made and the chance to throw a party. Even though we were too busy to spend time together often, birthday parties were not missed. Once a year, I could be surrounded by my favorite people. This is a really important occasion for a single person who lived alone. There was one day when the warmth and celebration was more powerful than the sense of solitude and loneliness.

This year, I didn't have to manufacture the occasion. When the warmth and celebration found me, I noticed the loneliness and solitude were gone for the first time in years. This year I got the birthday turtle because I'm part of something to celebrate--full time. Every day.

22 September, 2010

Birthday List

I can't seem to help myself. I don't need anything else. I know I don't. The thing is, I have been posting a birthday list for three years. Although it is a bit later than usual and I live really far away, I thought I'd maintain the tradition.

10 September, 2010

Desert Island Books

"If you were stranded on a desert island, what is the one (fill in the blank) you'd want to have with you?"

It's annoying when people say "The
Bible", because we never know if they mean it.

When getting ready to move, this question doesn't exactly count as packing strategy. But the process of selection and rejection is an interesting one. People wouldn't ask about desert islands if what is brought or left wasn't somehow telling.

I don't have to answer "The Bible", because I am moving in with a Pastor. Chances are, there is a bible or two around that house.

I did however take my two beautiful bookshelves and consolidate the travel ones to a single milk crate. If it didn't fit in the crate, it didn't go. Forecasting what I'd need and what I wouldn't was tough. I mostly got it write, with a few exceptions.

The top-five books I'm glad I brought:

1. Discovering Marin, A Historical Tour of Cities and Towns, by Louise Teather.

Every time I go to a place in Marin County, I look up the history of where I went. The book had a 1973 copyright, so it's good for original history, but that's a pretty big gap and a lot has changed in Marin since the 1970's. A friend bought it for me at a book fair. I love the historical information more than I care that this is one of the most boring books I have ever read.

2. Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias. The more I read this, the more I see it as a manual to presenting the Gospel to the heart and mind of Marin County.

3. Holy the Firm, by Annie Dillard. One of my favorite books of all time, re-reading it comforts me. It is very atmospheric as I'm on the rugged, North-Pacific Coast. It talks about both God and Christian community as she finds them revealed in nature-- and God, Church, and Natural Beauty are intense parts of my experience here.

4. Lonely Planet's San Francisco City Guide. I have been a Lonely Planet fan for a while, but between this book and my GPS, I am fearless. I carry it around with me. A few times I have been in The City with some extra time, so I look in the book to see what else is in my neighborhood, plug it into the GPS, and off I go! Neither device, however, prepares me for the parking nightmare I'll find when I arrive. (On Parking: It seems the City of San Francisco got special help with it. They first employed petulant Olympian deities to grant or revoke them from drivers in an arbitrary way, then they reached out to the Italian mafia to fix the extortionist rates and enforce the meters.)

5. The Moon and Sixpence, by Somerset Maugham. Also, on a whim, I threw the Penguin Classics Letters of Vincent Van Gogh in the crate. The Moon and Sixpence is Maugham's fictional, literary tribute to Paul Gauguin. As I'm reading it, I'm finding the veil of fiction to be a pretty transparent one. This turned out to be my most precise set of predictions. While the Musee D'Orsay in Paris closes down for 9 months, my city is hosting some of it's masterpieces. San Francisco is the only one to get the works, and the exhibit is called

Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay

I have seen these pieces before, but now I have the books to read and prepare so I can actually appreciate what I see when I do!

The milk crate wasn't a total victory, however. There are a few things I am sorely missing.

The top-five books I wish I'd brought:

1. Orthodoxy: The Annotated Edition - Paperback (Aug. 1, 2002) by G. K. Chesterton and Craig M. Kibler

3. Spirit Rebellious, by Kahlil Gibran--a vintage volume about the strife in Lebanon, on revolution and Society.

4. Everyman's Poems by William Cowper. I had a vintage copy from the 1930's that was the best collection of his work I have seen, especially with some rarely-printed favorites. I found myself trying to recall some of his lines the other day with no way to look them up.

5. The Maytrees: A Novel by Annie Dillard. I have time to read and I left my unread copy of this back in Florida. I keep seeing it featured everywhere here.

For the brief time I lived in that apartment, I sure did love having all of my books around me.

09 September, 2010

Arizona Top Fives

Arizona was a special state that deserves it's own post. It was the best state we visited for these five reasons:

1. Listening to On the Road by Jack Kerouac with Megan. I can't believe she actually liked it!
We would pause it to discuss what the author was saying, cultural history, and who was who, and she would have me write down lines for her. It was such a pleasure to share such a wacky thing with her, and when we got to San Fran, she felt right at home and was quoting Kerouac. I could only think my dad was going to kill me for sending home a beat-poet-listening, California-lover.

2. Flagstaff Coffee Company:

This was truly the best espresso I ever had, and I got it for free because I gave the counter girl an art history lesson about expectations and perception in surrealist art. Her name was Jessica and she made a mean iced coffee, too. She was so charming and energetic, I was the happiest I had been for the whole trip after stopping there. Of course, that could have also had something to do with the immense amount of caffeine she supplied.

3. Meeting my new niece, Gabriella. My sister is such a good mom, and my brother-in-law loves his little girl so much. It was a pleasure to see their home and my little niece, who was three weeks old and such a sweet baby!

4. Seeing family I haven't seen in 12-20 years. I hadn't seen my grandparents since the week of my 16th birthday. I haven't seen my aunt and uncle since I was 7 or 8 when we went back to Arizona for a wedding. Our visit coincided with both my grandparents birthdays, too. It was such a wonderful celebration and homecoming, I can't wait to go back to Arizona. I'm just going to try not to go again in August. It was very poor planning to choose this month to visit the desert.

5. The Grand Canyon - Truly, everyone should see this before they die. I had never been there before, but I am so glad I did. It was such grand majesty and splendor, I didn't think it was real. And we got to see it just the way I liked it: Great beauty with very little hiking and out-doorsyness required.

08 September, 2010

Top-Five Road Trip Highlights

It's been a big month full of change and adventure! I have lots of catching up to do, and though I posted the photos on Facebook, here's some running commentary:

Top-Five Roadtrip Highlights:

1. Jackson Square and Cafe Du Monde, New Orleans.
After dinner at Maspero's, Meg and I wandered the Old French Quarter and listened to a Jazz band while eating beignets and drinking Chickory coffee.

2. Fort-Worth, TX home stay. We were blessed to rest at the Keeler residence in Argyle Texas, where we found great food, comfortable beds, cheerful encouragement. Meg wanted to stay in Texas and become a Texan. I barely got her out of and we can't wait to go back.

3. Driving through New Mexico's plateaus and Canyons. Between Albuquerque and Phoenix, the rose-colored canyons and plateaus were stunning. I was quite proud of us that we didn't stop to buy any silver and turquoise "Indian" trinkets.

4. Los Angeles Celebrity Morning. We didn't really see any celebrities, but we sure felt like them! We stayed at my uncle's house in Hollywood, and we could see those white letters
from his doorstep. We toured the CNN Los Angeles building with my aunt who is a producer there. We got to watch part of a segment taping and take pictures at Larry King's desk. (I promised on my life and my aunt's job that I wouldn't post them anywhere). It was fascinating to see how stories are produced and how many people contribute to the production. I wish I'd had that kind of insight when teaching my government students about the media. Then we had breakfast at a cafe/coffee roaster in Larchmont, where I met Sal their roaster. He talked me through the precision of the roasting process, and I saw the completion of a French Roast.

5. The 101 California drive up the Pacific Coast. We were so happy to have the Pacific on our left for the first time instead of in front of us. The drive took us through Santa Barbara, Salinas, rolling hills, vineyards (Welch's) and produce fields. We really felt like we got to know California by driving this way.

And here is the view of our arrival in my new city:

Allen met us in The City as we got close at the Starbucks on 19th. He led us on his Harley the rest of the way "home".

20 August, 2010

T is for Truth

I know. I skipped a few letters. I was having trouble with H. Even Jadepark, who inspired my list, had trouble with the Letter H. I am working on something, but there is too much going on to wrestle with that letter anymore. I have a list and I'll complete the 26 letters, but the sing-song order no longer feels like an imperative. So I forsake it.

And T is for truth.

Today, in the span of 30 seconds, I drove past a First Baptist church and a sign advertising a lecture event with Deepak Chopra. (The lecture was not at the church.) I moved to a place that has, what they call, a very inclusive definition of truth. It upholds a disorienting syncretism, attempting to bind together different, even opposing beliefs. A cosmic embrace of all religions is common here.

But as Ravi Zacharais identifies, truth in its nature is exclusive. Briefly explained, denying the exclusive nature of truth is, in itself, a truth claim that excludes its opposite.

This local breakdown in logic, I think, actually betrays an eagerness to answer the defining questions of Origin, Meaning, Morality, and Destiny. But mere "answers" to these questions are not enough.

is needed--truth on a grand scale with the power to eclipse all of the tiny, single, relativistic excuses for it that trap my post-modern neighbors in darkness.

But how does a person find truth when there are so many claims to it?

  1. Be Humble. The truth is more important than anything else, especially your pride. Often, pride masquerades as your pre-conceived notions of the truth. If what you already have is really the truth, it will stay without you having to hold on to it.

  2. Test EVERYTHING. It is important to fully explore for yourself everything that people offer to you as truth, with sincerity and humility. (see #1) Only when you have tested everything and retained what's good in it can you be confident in what you have.

  3. Look closely. Truth has two hallmarks: coherence, consistency.

    Coherence is what you seek when you work to thoroughly understand something. Does the idea or claim fully make sense within itself, or are there paralyzing contradictions? Does the truth answer thoroughly all the questions it, itself, poses? If it does not have these things, it will not be a truth you can live with. And I know you. You are not just looking for truth. You are looking for a truth you can live with..

    Consistency is your other measuring tool. Does the truth presented to you make "sense" fully to your mind? To your heart? To your life experience? If something is true, it flows with all three things.

    It is an idea if it only makes sense in your mind. It is a dangerous deceit if it makes sense in your mind, plumbs the depths of your heart, but does not match any part of your reality.

    It is passion if it only rings with your heart and not your mind, and foolishness if it rings with your heart and experience but not your mind.

    It is pride if it only matches your personal experience, and cynicism if it only matches your mind and experience but saddens your heart.

  4. Be Patient. Truth requires time to find. Does the thing maintain its consistency and coherence over time? Is what matches this moment what matches next season? Next year? Next phase in life? next era? Truth--the truth-- withstands time. Truth may not immediately match mind, heart, and experience without time for full revelation.
Only what walks instep with mind, heart, and experience over time is the truth.

28 July, 2010

On My Way
On My Way

05 July, 2010

G is for Getting Started

Nothing feels more impossible to me, most of the time, than getting started. Some people will start 100 things and never finish them. I much more often finish what I start, but perhaps it’s because I start less.

It doesn’t matter what I’m starting, whether it’s for pleasure or obligation, immediate necessity or prudent preparation. I often just can’t seem to do the things that would greatly improve my quality of life.

I just don’t know where to start. Or how to start.

Annie Dillard describes the dilemma well, especially when it comes to writing: “[One] must be sufficiently excited to rouse himself to the task at hand, and not so excited he cannot sit down to it…[But] how to set yourself spinning? Where is an edge—a dangerous edge—and where is the trail to the edge and the strength to climb it?”

I’m a master at what Madeleine L’Engle describes as “putting off the moment of plunging in”.

But it’s the “plunge” that’s the problem. The whole image of leaping from a high place into an ice-cold pool is horrifying to me. I marvel at people who embrace that trauma for trauma’s sake. No. I much prefer to wade in, taking the next step after I’ve adjusted to the last.

I went to this leadership camp in high school and several of the training challenges were physically demanding. I have always been literally the worst in any group at these, so I’m very shy when presented with them. I look for any way out. The trainer must have sensed that in me, because he insisted I go first. I didn’t fully understand the challenge and I had never seen anything like it before. So he put a safety harness on me (precautionary, I told myself, it is the YMCA after all) and told me to “start climbing that ladder.” It was a set of pegs leading to a platform at the top of a telephone pole. Everyone in the group was watching—all of the student leaders from my high school. Fine. How hard can this be? I didn’t know enough to protest. Another trainer was at the top to give me more instructions. I’m not scared of heights, so the next part didn’t sound so bad. The trainer attached another rope to my harness and told me I was going to “swing” to the next platform on the next telephone pole, and the rope would carry me. How bad can that be? There were ropes everywhere and I seemed to be attached to all of them.

I took a step off the platform with no concept of what came next: A forty- foot plummet. It turns out the ropes securing me were really, really, long. If I had seen anyone do this before me, there is no way in hell I would have made it to the top of the platform. The adrenaline was so powerful, I started bawling. I was never intended to make it to the second tower at all. I was just suspended in the air, swinging back and forth until I slowed enough to be lowered to the ground. (I never decided that was fun in the end, and I never felt accomplished for what I had done. The Y-camp lessons of risk and reward were lost on me there.) Step by step, wading in, I had fallen into the kind of trauma that drives my procrastination.

It’s the threat of trauma or sacrifice that often holds me back—a pathological resistance to discomfort.

But there’s no room for this resistance in the fullness of life.

We must ask: How can our comfort be more important than the task at hand? How can the tiny, temporary comfort be more important than achievement or victory?

This year, I’ve found a few practical things to mitigate my resistance:

1. I do a tiny bit each day. If I want a cleaner house, I have to clean one thing each day—clear one surface, wash one load, do one chore. Otherwise I’ll never do the big weekend clean.

2. I make a methodical approach. If I know I should go running (but even after nine months, I still hate it), I get dressed. I put my shoes on. I fill my water bottle. I find my headphones. I put the leash on George. (which is the point of no return, because once he sees the leash we’re going somewhere, whether I like it or not). I get out the door. I walk, then I pick up the pace, then I figure I can do that for 2 more minutes. Then another two minutes… and so it goes until I’ve finished my workout without realizing it.

3. I start without the conditions being perfect. In theory, I can start writing even if I don’t have the right pen or the right notebook. (This is the hardest for me to do.) Just because I am not cooking for myself with perfectly measured and consciously chosen ingredients, doesn’t mean I can’t make deliberate, healthy food choices. Just because I don’t have time for a shower after a workout, doesn’t mean I can’t do some strength-training to meet my goal of exercising every day.

4. I keep a daily momentum. If I don’t STOP doing something, then I don’t have to worry about starting—or worse, starting over again. (though daily-ness is also a weakness for me)

And if none of this seems to work, I follow Annie Dillard’s example:

“To crank myself up…I drank coffee in titrated doses. It was a tricky business, requiring the finely tuned judgment of an anesthesiologist. There was a tiny range in which coffee was effective. Short of which it was useless, and beyond which, fatal.”

They say “A thing begun is half done,” and I’m sure Dillard is on to something with what fuels her beginning.

04 July, 2010

F is for Fireworks

I've wanted to work in pyrotechnics since high school. My dad blames my high school chem teacher, Mr. Griffiths.

Griff was truly great. I had him only one or two years before he retired. Instead of languishing in the classroom, boring students and biding his time, he chose to blow things up. When I met him, he had no eyebrows because he had blown the windows out of the lab trying to make rocket fuel.

It's hard not to love a teacher whose demonstrations were too epic for even the fume hood. In the dead of Minnesota winter, Griff took us outside for "the important" demonstrations.

I can't even remember the principles he was illustrating with some of his biggest explosions. I think it's only the teacher in me now that extends him benefit of the doubt and assumes he even had some. But I do remember the lab that is the chemical rite of passage--the unknown element with the flame tests. We had copper--that most identifiable of elements that burns a bluish green.

After that, I was hooked. How could my calling be anything other than that of artistic explosions?? Put to music? Every year, on the Fourth of July, I'm inspired. I become convinced I've missed my calling.

Dad has never shared my convictions. When I went to far as to change my major to chemistry and seek an pyrotechnics internship, he threatened to end his support of my academic career. I have all of my fingers and toes to show for his wisdom.

As you watch the displays tonight, enjoy the greatest of flame tests. Say thanks to your chemistry teacher for inspiring and training the pyrotechnicians, and say thanks to all the dads who kept the rest of us from practicing.

And for your chemistry fun, here is a table of elements and colors, courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chemistry Department:

Also, you can check out the PBS Nova site on the anatomy of fireworks.

Color Compound Wavelength (nm)

strontium salts, lithium salts
lithium carbonate, Li2CO3 = red
strontium carbonate, SrCO3 = bright red



calcium salts
calcium chloride, CaCl2



sodium salts
sodium chloride, NaCl



barium compounds + chlorine producer
barium chloride, BaCl2



copper compounds + chlorine producer
copper(I) chloride, CuCl


mixture of strontium (red) and
copper (blue) compounds

silver burning aluminum, titanium, or magnesium

03 July, 2010

Media Gluttony

During the school year, not unlike my students, I'm consumed by academic material. Teaching 2-3 AP classes and 2-3 classes outside my field (whatever that is) will do that, I guess.

But summer is the season to remedy that. All my media consumption feels like dessert to hearty, nutritious year.

First up: the abandoned magazines. I have several months of Vanity Fair, InStyle, Real Simple, and Relevant to read.

With this cover shoot by Annie Liebowitz on the World Cup, it should be no mystery what made it to the top of the queue:

Ok. A little shallow, but it's a real queue! I swear!

Here's what else I'm working on:

Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life
Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message by Ravi Zacharias
Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader
The book of Acts
The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham
The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World

And what I'm listening to:

High Violet by The National
Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons
Transference by Spoon
Infinite Arms by Band of Horses
Go by Jonsi
To Hell Or Barbados by Damien Dempsey
Seize the Day by Damien Dempsey
I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers
Radical Face: Ghost by Radical Face