THERE’S A WORD FOR THAT


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“Bird Of Paradise” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Did you ever stop to think how arbitrary the naming of things can be? For instance: has anyone ever really seen a bird of paradise? In the rich history of the English language a word has been invented for just about everything including things we have never seen.

Now and then words go missing when we need them and then unexpectedly pop up again in the night while in the middle of a good dream. Haven’t you wished you could think of a great word to apply to someone who does things which are particularly annoying or irritating–whether online, in person, outside your bedroom window or in tedious meetings at work?

It’s fascinating for instance, to learn there’s a word for people who use overly long pretentious-sounding words. There are several I’m sure, but we can avoid getting unnecessarily sesquipedalian. Do you see how useful it could be?

Girouettism is the practice of frequently altering personal opinion to follow popular trends. It comes from a girouette another name for a weather-cock. Just as a weather-cock changes its position according to the wind, so a figurative ‘girouette’ is a fair-weather sort who changes their metaphorical position according to what’s ‘in’ at the moment. The term dates from the 1820s.

Verbomania is abnormal talkativeness. There is, however, little more to say about this one–ironically.

Word-grubber was eighteenth-century slang for someone who used unnecessarily long and complicated words in conversation, unlike the words such a person is likely to use. Many years ago I was annoyed with my father and wrote him a long pedantic and complaining letter. He immediately dashed one off to me using words I never thought he knew. It is universal to believe that we are far more brilliant than our parent, until we are once again proven wrong.

A Buttinsky is a person who constantly interrupts or butts in; it was coined by George Ade in his 1902 novel The Girl Proposition. Ade, by the way was the one who provides us with the first recorded use of the word “bad” to mean “good”, in his 1897 book Pink Marsh. So you see, when someone says another person or musical group is “bad-ass” and means they’re good, it’s really “old-hat”.

Humdudgeon is an imaginary illness or pain, or a loud complaint about nothing. One of its root words is “humbug” or a hoax. You’re in high dudgeon about a humbug. So don’t complain too loudly or people may call you a “humdudgeon”.

One of the great words featured in Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth century Dictionary is bed-presser which Johnson defines as ‘a heavy lazy fellow’.

There must be other annoying words–or rather, perfectly nice words that describe things people do–or things which get your goat.

We borrow from other languages, invent new words, combine words, and still wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t understand us.

THE COURAGE OF SMALL THINGS


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Rwanda Landscape Wikipedia

Now and then we come across a story, simply told, about someone who opens a chain of thoughts in our own minds.

This is David Brooks’ inspiring story about his friend Clemantine Wamariya. She was born in Rwanda 27 years ago. When she was six the genocide began and her world started shrinking. The beautiful land she knew was changed forever.

To escape the mass murders, Clemantine and her older sister, Claire, were moved from house to house. One night they were told to crawl through a sweet potato field and then walk away—not toward anything, just away. Away from family, home and friends and not to look back. They left with only the clothes they wore and no food.

They crossed the Akanyaru River living off fruit. Clemantine spent the rest of her young girlhood in refugee camps in eight African nations.

Claire kept them on the move, in search of a normal life. Clemantine wrote her name in the dust at various stops, praying somehow a family member would see it. Their struggles in the camps, for water and much else, gave them a sense that life is arbitrary.

In 2000, Claire got them refugee status in the United States through the International Organization for Migration. Claire went to work as a hotel maid in Chicago. A few years later, Clemantine was one of 50 winners of Oprah Winfrey’s high school essay contest.

In the middle of the 20006 show celebrating the winners, Oprah brought Clemantine and Claire on stage. Oprah asked when was the last time the girls had seen their parents. It had been 12 years. Then Oprah gave them a surprise: “Your family is here!” Her parents, brother and sister had been found in Africa, and now walked onstage. They all fell into one another’s arms. Clemantine’s knees gave out, but her mother held her up.

Clemantine’s story, has a comforting arc: separation, perseverance, reunion and joy. It’s the kind of clean, inspiring story that many of us tell, in less dramatic form, about our own lives, with clearly marked moments of struggle and overcoming.

In David Brooks’ words, “Clemantine is now an amazing young woman. Her superb and artful essay reminded me that while the genocide was horrific, the constant mystery of life is how loved ones get along with one another.”

We work hard to cram our lives into legible narratives. But we live in the fog of reality. Whether you have survived a trauma or not, the psyche is still a dark forest of scars and tender spots. Each relationship is intricate, fertile ground for misunderstanding.

Clemantine displays the courage of small things: the courage to live with feelings wide open even after trauma: the maturity to accept unanswerable ambiguity; the ability to create tenacious bonds.

David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, NEW YORK TIMES
July 7, 2015

IN RETROSPECT


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Now and then we read something which touches a nerve and makes an impact. Several years ago while immersed in Virginia Woolf’s novel “To The Lighthouse” I saw an unpleasant image of myself and set the book aside for six months. What I saw had embarrassed and even shamed me.

The story revolves around the Ramsey family, their children and guests vacationing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Told in Woolf’s ‘stream of consciousness’ style I recognized some dodgy traits in Mrs. Ramsey, some of which were unfortunately my own.

One of those habits, common to most of us, is what I have begun calling “staying in our own moment”. A case in point in the Woolf novel involves a stroll through the garden with Mr. Ramsey who is relating his thoughts to his wife, who is happily entangled in her own thoughts, unaware and uninterested in what Mr. R seems to find important.

Our ideas seem to take precedence over others far too often. I realized that I am guilty of this as well as being impatient for someone else to finish their opinion so that I can offer my own far superior one.

Are we all only half-listening? Will others like us more when they hear what we have to say? Are we more important than they are?

The advent of the smart phone gave people the excuse to stay in the same room with other living organisms without actually having to talk or listen to them. Whole groups can sit in silence, heads bent over their own device while a single speaker regurgitates his thoughts.

It’s not a pretty picture, and I don’t know the answer, but I’m working on it.

SECOND HAND ROSE


Mrs. Lauderback (2)

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. What used to be called “second hand stores” now are euphemistically known as “thrift stores which sometimes peddle high-end goods to economically savvy shoppers. Not as snooty as antique stores, but a step up from a junk store. In other words, they attract smart people who watch their pennies. Barbra Streisand wailing “Second Hand Rose” gave us a taste of what you could buy second hand.

We ran across a good example a week or so ago in San Juan Baptista when we spotted a great-looking junk store along the road called “Fat Willie’s which carried every sort of miscellany anyone could ever want. Roaming through the town itself we were drawn into “Fat Willie’s Antiques”; a store which brooked no bargaining, but which carried your grandmother’s china and furniture made by fellows like Chippendale, Duncan Phyfe and Hans Wegner (my personal favorite). Between the two stores, Willie was covering all the bases.

As a child my grandmother dragged me along to antique stores while she looked for old china and crystal pieces. I still have a crystal sugar bowl with a broken handle she gave me when I was 14.

In 1942, after the Depression was over, but while the War was still on, my grandmother, mother and aunt showed up each wearing fur coats. It was the first I ever heard that you could buy something that someone else had already used. A real Second Hand Store with “hand-me-downs”. Now, in case you have ever wondered, that term was used by Jewish immigrant merchants who sometimes hung garments on high racks, and when someone asked to see a certain piece would tell his associate to “hand me down” that coat or whatever.

At the suggestion of a friend some years ago, I volunteered my services to the Ladies Home Society in Oakland, California, a charity for the benefit of elderly ladies of refinement. My job was in the small thrift shop sorting through all manner of goods, including clothes, furniture, linen, etc. donated by the members. As first responders, we had first choice in pricing and perhaps purchasing the good stuff. I bought so many clothes that my children laughingly told me they would have to give it all back to Grandma’s Attic when I died. I was so naive at the time I could not believe that some of the lovely embroideries, handmade lace and household goods would not be cherished by children of those who were donating their belongings. Older and wiser friends assured me that the style favored by the next generation doesn’t always include their parent’s residual possessions, but donated clothing, especially beautiful clothing, has great appeal.

Today’s Thrift Stores seem to come in two types: non-profit and those which can make a lot of money for their owners. We knew of someone whose family had three large thrift stores. We keep a box in the garage for things we no longer use and donate to Hope Services, a local non-profit store which gives to the mentally challenged, a group our daughter worked for after college where she had majored in the mentally challenged. We have a well-decked out friend who proudly shows off his “bargain” attire which he picked up at a thrift store after serious and judicious shopping.

When I was teaching pottery classes, I encouraged students to donate their “failures” to a thrift store. After all, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure”, and something handmade is infinitely better than a cheap import.

BAREFOOT HUMMINGBIRD


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She lived a life that would have been considered outrageous even by today’s standards, but Beatrice Woods began her life in 1893 as a daughter of a wealthy, socially conscious family in San Francisco. Ultimately, it was her exposure to the arts that ruined her mother’s hopes for her in 1912, when Beatrice rejected plans for a coming-out party and decided she wanted to become a painter.

Supervised by a chaperone, Beatrice went to Paris to study, but it was in Giverney, home of Monet, that rebellious Beatrice ditched the chaperone and moved into an attic with her painted canvases.

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Moving to Paris, she decided to become an actress, and while taking acting lessons, Beatrice became became part of a Bohemian group of artists, and where she was introduced to the artist Marcel Duchamp. “We immediately fell for each other,” Beatrice recalled. “He was an enchanting person.” Duchamp introduced her to Henri-Pierre Roche, a French diplomat, writer and art collector, who became her first lover. He was also the first man to break her heart. Beatrice had found herself surrounded by Bohemian men who thought little of bourgeois morality. During this time she became known as the “Mama of Dada”.

“Marcel shocked me because he said that sex and love are two different things,” Beatrice later recalled. Yet she fell into a relationship with both men, and remained life-long friends with Duchamp. In 1953 Roche wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called Jules et Jim, about a threesome, which some some erroneously suggested may have been inspired by the association of Woods, Duchamp and Roche.

In 1948, Beatrice moved to Ojai, California, to be close to the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti. She built a home in the small peaceful village of artists a little south of Santa Barbara and surrounded by lovely rolling hills. There she taught and pursued her art for the next sixty years. At age 90, at the urging of her friend Anais Nin, she became a writer. Her most famous book is “I Shock Myself”.
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I first became interested in Beatrice in 1985 while teaching a class in conceptual art and Marcel Duchamp, and when I learned that she was living in Ojai, I welcomed an opportunity to visit her.

If you want the local lowdown in Ojai, California, a resident says “People rarely ask what you do—they ask, ‘what brought you to Oja?’ I love that. Ojai is a beautiful sleepy small community of artists, farmers, and a few people who simply want to relax and enjoy life.

The prospect of seeing poppies drew us up into the green hills above the town. We had been graced with the sight of enormous 5 inch wide white flowers along highway 101, and Ojai thought enough of them to name a park Matilija—Ma-till-a-hah.

Matilija Poppies
Matilija Poppies, watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Winding up through the hills we came upon Beatrice’s little house where she lived, worked and had a small gallery of her work. The door was answered by a diminutive Indian man who introduced himself as “her humble servant.” Beatrice was momentarily engaged in another room but we saw her as she darted past the doorway like a barefoot hummingbird. Draped in colorful sari and Native American jewelry, she was an iconic figure, even better than I had thought

When she floated into the gallery and found my interest in art, her “humble servant” brought cups of tea and she described the art displayed in the room. She was quite open about her relationships with Duchamp and Roche, and introduced us to her German Shepherd dog,
Roche” who wandered into the room in search of a pat on the head.

Her sculptures were funky, funny and engaging and told a wry story of her life. One large piece was of a brothel on fire, with girls leaning out the front windows while a variety of men were pouring out the back doors. Beatrice explained that the men were “the mayor, the police chief, etc.” It was plain that her way to get even with the men who had hurt her throughout her life was to put them all in erratic or hazardous situations in her art.

To what did she attribute her longevity? Her stock answer was “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” Beatrice Woods died in Ojai at the age of 105 in 1998.

Her personal and artistic style intrigued me, and I developed a number of pieces as a dedication to Beatrice.

Out Of The Woods
“Out Of The Woods” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Beatrice Lives
“Beatrice Lives” clay sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

FATHER OF FITNESS


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Jack LaLanne was certainly a fitness superhero. Exercise guru, promoter, inventor, Jack could do it all, and kept doing it until he died at 96. Maybe that’s what it takes, find out what you’re good at and keep doing it.

Julia Child taught us to cook by way of the TV, and Jack LaLanne taught us to exercise to keep the excess weight in bounds also by watching TV. Each of them appeared on morning TV for a half hour, and we learned how to make an omelet, and how do do deep squats afterward.

Our kids didn’t bother too much with Julia, but Jack was a different story. He commanded you to stop whatever you were doing and flex those muscles. He frequently had his dog on the show, a nice white shepherd dog, which caught the attention of the little ones.

Where Julia spoke slowly, as if feeling her way along, Jack talked in machine gun mode, and you were forced to tear yourself away from the sight of Jack in his blue jumpsuits, to follow him in each exercise.

He did amazing stunts such as swimming across the Bay while towing 13 boats, long after he could have been quietly enjoying life. He lived in Morro Bay down the coast, and ate at the same restaurant each evening. The waiters knew he had the same table and a small glass of red wine.

When parking meters were first installed in Oakland, he and some cohorts showed off by bending them to the ground. No idea if the cops caught the boys.

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Julia occasionally dropped something on the floor and picked it up with a laugh, advising you not to tell your guests. She guided you through an entire dinner party with decorations on the table. You were always sure of a chuckle, because she was obviously having such a good time. Her many cookbook grace the shelves of kitchens worldwide.

Both Julia and Jack LaLanne were the innovators of good things, and both lived long lives, Julia passing at 91 and Jack at 96. Maybe we should take another look.

GOD’S SPECIAL CHILDREN


My cousin Kendall passed away this past year at the age of sixty-one years as we count chronologically, but he never grew up. Kendall was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and had Down Syndrome. His parents, my aunt and uncle, lived over seas for thirty years, and nothing much was being done at that time anywhere in early education for the mentally handicapped or the parents. Abnormalities in a birth always come as a surprise to parents happily looking forward to a life filled with so-called normal expectations, but to older parents living in a third world country, Kendie’s birth was heartbreaking and unexpected.

Their initial and common reaction was to take the blame. “what have I done?” “How could I have prevented this?”

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features, and mild to moderate intellectual disability.
The average IQ of a young adult with Down Syndrome is 50, or equivalent to the mental age of an 8- or 9- year old child, but this varies widely. Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life, ideally from birth on. In the past, the life expectancy was about 30 years, but now it is about 50 or 60. Down Syndrome is the most common chromosome abnormality in humans, occurring in about one per 1,000 babies born each year. It is a lifelong condition, but with care and support, children who have Down syndrome grow up to have healthy, happy, productive lives.

Fortunately so much has changed in public acceptance of the mentally challenged. A hundred years ago, these people were kept in a back bedroom, and lived out their brief lives alone and unseen. It was assumed that they were incapable of learning, and even their existence was kept a somewhat shameful secret.

Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life. My daughter earned her college degree in the study of the mentally challenged, some of whom had Down Syndrome. Specialized education is a wide open field and now some children with Down syndrome are educated in typical school classes. Some individuals with Down Syndrome graduate from high school and a few attend post-secondary education. In adulthood, about 20% in the U.S. do paid work in some capacity with many requiring a sheltered work environment.

Kendall’s life fell in the middle of an “enlightenment” period in that though he was ubable to participate in an early-childhood education in Saudi Arabia, he was later sent to a school in the U.S. where he lived throughout his life. He never grew beyond the size of a 9-10 year old, and he was always cheerful and happy as a small child, with a big smile lighting his face when he was pleased or when he recognized a friend. These people live at the very pinnacle of innocence. It is we who need the education to accept them for what they are, God’s Special Children

About 35 years ago, a friend with two young sons called early one morning to tell us of the birth of a fourth son. This family prided itself on building good health, strength and athletic ability. Each was proficient in sports. As Dr. Advice answered the phone, I caught a slight change of expression as he said “Maybe God thought you needed a cheerleader for your basketball team.” He had promptly diverted the conversation from one of mixed feelings into one of positive anticipation. Their fourth son had Down Syndrome.

At the time the University of Washington had a concentrated study of the condition, and the mother of this child went there from California and learned what was being done to educate babies from birth. Instead of waiting for several years before teaching basic skills, Blair began immediately being prepared to live in the mainstream of society. Before speech, he was taught sign language, which hastened his communication skills.

As soon as possible, Blair’s mother took him into school classes and introduced him, explaining to the students that he had Down Syndrome and what it was. When old enough, he was enrolled in school and treated just as any other student. He was never made to feel “different” or out of the loop. His mother organized a baseball club made up of mentally challenged children, which developed their concept of team play, and their natural joy in physical activity. She even went to members of the Oakland Athletics professional baseball team and appealed to them for pieces of athletic equipment, which they gladly donated, taking the little team under their wing.

To see Blair today, with his show of confidence and compare him to Kendall, a lot can be attributed to his early training.

Years ago, when Blair was about 5, I received this poem from one of his older brothers while he was a student at U.S.C.

My brother Blair, was born with Down Syndrome, a form of mental handicap. December 1990

BROTHER, by Sean Hogan

Brother so kind, how can it be?
Brother “What happened? How come he can’t see?
Brother I’m sorry; you will never be like me.
Brother your life will set me free.

Mother please, the blame will never be known.
Mother in this life, the harvest can not be resown.
Mother worry not so much for him.
Mother cry more for me and Tim.

Father others expectations may run too high.
Father friends will come, fear, and say goodbye.
Father they say patience and time can only tell.
Father without you, his life will surely be Hell.

Grandpa, has Peter now become your best Friend?
Grandpa, how come you never stayed till the end?

(As Peter denied the knowledge of knowing Christ, Grandpa tries to deny Blair’s existence and relationship to him.)

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Pineapple Pork Sweet and Sour


GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!!~ Happy Year of the Goatgoat

We went to our favorite local Chinese restaurant, only to find its doors locked and the restaurant idling away in sublime emptiness. The very nice gift card Dr. A had given me for Christmas sadly was now of use only to light the firecracker for Chinese New Year.

There are many good and some great Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and further north in Seattle and in Vancouver. One small restaurant in Vancouver had perfected Lemon Chicken to the extent that we often drove there from Seattle just to eat it. I have never been able to duplicate it, and possibly it now remains divine only in memory.

When growing up we made the mistake of believing that chop suey was an exotic Chinese dinner. Chinese cooking is not simple; but when the Chinese first came to this country they cooked peasant food–“chop-chop, eat it up.” Toss it around then became sweet and sour to give more flavor. Chinese restaurant cooking is quick, high heat cooking but not necessarily simple. Tiger shrimp braised in a clay pot, asparagus and taro, steamed Dover sole draped over cabbage, shreds of scallion and wisps of fried turnip or soft crumblings of pork, are the ingredients of fine Chinese cooking. Just to read the menu at a good Chinese restaurant makes one’s mouth water in anticipation.

My Tai Chi class used to meet each morning at Lake Elizabeth and I was the only Caucasian among people from both Taiwan and mainland China. Once a month we had a potluck luncheon under the trees where each of us brought a special dish. There I tasted chicken feet, many kinds of stuffed buns and jook, for which I inexplicably have the recipe someone kindly offered me. Tea was brought in huge containers with all the tea leaves floating in it. I usually took my famous chocolate cake back home with one piece missing—mine.

When we found our restaurant out of business, I came home and cooked an Anerican-Chinese style dinner. We drank cups of tea without leaves and wished each other Happy Chinese New Year.

Pineapple pork sweet and sour

PINEAPPLE PORK SWEET AND SOUR

1 pound raw lean pork cut into 3/4″ squares
1 egg, beaten
Coat pork by dipping in beaten egg.
In a pan or ziplock bag, place 1 cup flour. 1/2 tsp salt and the egg-coated pork. Toss it around.

In deep pan heat a couple cups of oil, not olive, to 350 degrees
Drop in pork a little at a time and fry 6-8 minutes or until browned and done.
Remove and keep warm.

Also have prepared 1 cup pineapple chunks, drained (reserve juice)
1 medium green pepper, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

In a wok or deep skillet place
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/c sugar
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup catsup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
Blend all the ingredients well and bring to a boil.
Make a paste of 2 Tbs corn starch and 2 Tbs water, add gradually until sauce thickens
Add Pork, green pepper and pineapple.
Turn and mix rapidly for abut 5 minutes or until very hot. Serve with steamed rice.

A nice dish of steamed stir-fried vegetables would make a good meal. Don’t serve chocolate cake for dessert!

ETERNAL RIVALRY


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Like beautiful, headstrong sisters in a potboiler novel–one a rosy-cheeked English aristocrat, the other a purring Gallic seductress–London and Paris have vied for centuries to be crowned queen of the European capitals. Each has soaring cathedrals and treasure filled museums, a great river, and an iconic tower, and enough shopping and dining to occupy fashionistas and foodies alike for months.

Real hissing matches occur occasionally, and the hairsplitting could go on for years. Think of “The Tale of Two Cities”. During all the years since Dickens wrote his masterpiece, nothing has been settled. The statistics are notoriously confusing especially in the hands of tour guides who extol their chosen city with their iconic attractions. Their main arguments seems to be over who has the most visitors. Personally I wouldn’t visit a city just because or in spite of its number of visitors.

These cities have absolutely distinct personalities. I may be wrong, but my take has always been that London is a man’s town, with its solid stability, its mighty Thames river flowing majestically as a grand avenue to the sea, along with the solemnity of Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the imposing fortress of the Tower of London with its history of incarceration and stash of royal jewels.

In Paris, the Seine River is more intimate, lined with waterside walkers and strolling lovers past the gargoyles of Notre Dame, it’s Eiffel Tower seemingly woven of gossamer, and sparkling at night like champagne bubbles, could not be more feminine. As Rick Steves observes, “The is something enduring about London and endearing about Paris.”

MOTHER LOVE


Mother Love
“Mother Love” stoneware sculpture 3ft.tall by kayti sweetland rasmussen

What stronger bond is there than the love of a mother for her children? During my life of art, I have been privileged to paint or sculpt people, and some of the most rewarding have been mothers with their children. Wherever I have gone, I am always touched by the enveloping warmth of a mother’s love for her children.

As a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, I can share this singular state of being. Children are our legacy to the world. It’s our responsibility to make it a good legacy.

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