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So this past weekend was productive but frustrating…I need to focus on the productive part.

I had two appointments planned this past weekend: one for the duct cleaning people to come out and clean the ducts for my heating/cooling system and my dryer. Duct cleaning people…..now I’m imagining a chimney sweep team from the movie Mary Poppins and everybody dancing on the roofs of south Philly. Nowadays that would need to be more hip-hop, I imagine.

Anyhoo, no complaints about that because it was on time and very thorough. First time having it done and it went quickly and alleviated my concerns for how bad the dryer vent hose might have been – in my house it’s quite long and hidden through lots of woodwork so it’s quite the fire hazard.

The second appointment was supposed to be the last one of a project that has lasted about a month. The basic story is the removal of a bathroom (unwanted and unneeded) from my kitchen. The first contractor had to back out after I had already booked him, making me scramble at the last minute to get another contractor for the same time. I had been given approval for working from home that week which is a rare occurence that I couldn’t just reschedule, so I really needed to take advantage of the time.

Of course, when the second contractor was able to help me out the first half of that week I was very happy. And when they couldn’t commit themselves the second half or any time since, I feel as if I can’t complain because I dropped it on them last second.

That aside, one of the main workers in this group is super nice and happy to assist, and probably is to everybody everywhere, such that it’s not possible to help that many people and this is why he tells me that he’ll be at my house at a certain time and not get there for another four hours, or at all.

I’m a forgiving person but I’m tired of this and just want to get the project done….which is very close but not quite.

Some of this project was to replace the floor tile in the space where this bathroom was in my kitchen, and of course it no longer matches the rest of the kitchen and NOW it bothers me. So, I was thinking of what I could do to make myself happy about it. One thought was to have my nieces & nephew come over and paint that part of the floor. That would make me feel better about it, at least.

Or I could get all artistic and see about getting the whole kitchen floor retiled. Since I have no idea how much this costs, I get to imagine marble in a famous library or something like that.

I’ll know in a few weeks whether or not there will be marble on my kitchen floor or my nieces and nephews will be coming over to write their names and draw pictures instead.

In other news, I received all of the art that I ordered and everything is framed with the exception of one that is still being custom framed. Note to self, always order everything 24×36 or smaller to avoid this. At least the custom frame will be really nice. I can’t wait to put these up on the walls.

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In my last post (Artful Surroundings), I was about halfway through my quest to find art for my home.

I had collected a number of web sites for me to browse through which took time. After I had finished, I had to make a decision on where I was willing to commit the most money because art can be costly. Many of the sites were looking for bids, which wasn’t for me. I am comfortable with the decision to pay for art (of any medium) if there is some personal contact to be made with the artist. All of this is bound by finances, of course. There were a number of artists whose art I would have loved to buy but they were just too expensive, including some that I’d been admiring for some time.

There was one photographer whose work I’d seen before in an article on the BBC several years ago. At the time, I’d noted down his name (David Derueda) thinking that one day I’d be in a situation to get some of his prints. I had some correspondence with him via email and I ended up choosing 2 prints to be framed and sent to me (from Europe).

After this, the rest of my purchasing was of a more generic variety, as I needed to bring the cost down. During my search, I concentrated the most on what would influence my own creativity and/or reflect something about me or just what I like. I found this reflection changing the more art I browsed, at one point wondering if maybe the art was just a reflection of where I wanted to visit in the world (duly noted, need to plan a trip next year). I also found out something about my tastes, after viewing hundreds of prints.

As of now, the majority of the art is at my house and in frames. I’m still waiting on a few more frames/prints to arrive, and I also have one print being custom framed. After all this, there will be the process of finding where the best location in my house is for everything. I think overall, the hunt for the art (including that which I cannot have) was the most fulfilling part of the whole process.

One project that I had been looking to start since I bought my house was that of finding new art to put on my walls. The stars and planets align favorably for this project (my budget is good right now) so I have begun. I’ve been telling a friend of mine for several years that I would buy her photos when I got a house and now the time has come to do that.

These particular photos are of animals at the Philadelphia Zoo, and it just so happens that some of these animals figure largely in the novel I am still developing. I don’t know the future of this novel manuscript; my advice varies from splitting it into two novels to downgrading the age of the main characters (overhaul). Regardless of what I do, seeing the animals on my wall will always have an influence on me. They will remind me of what I thought the characters saw once upon a time when they were wide-eyed and imaginative, and then later after they saw and experienced.

It’s not the first time I’ve regarded the path of the characters with that of my own as a writer, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

The rest of my art finding will take some time as I am still learning where the best places are to buy art online and which artists/galleries/sites sell high quality images or the frames themselves, etc. I think any selection needs to influence my own creativity, add something I like to look at on my walls, and maybe even inspire someone else’s imagination.

Lastly, these artful surroundings are a reflection of me. When people come to my house and see the art I have on my walls it may spur conversation about it. Some of those conversations are bound to yield fruitful art observations. 🙂

Someone recently commented on life going so fast that their feet weren’t feeling the ground. I instantly replied that it was a sign that they needed to move to a situation where they were swishing dirt or sand through their toes – basically my telling them to ground themselves.

There’s a book I bought a few months back about grounding that I think is a really interesting concept. Put simply, our bodies have enough electricity happening that we need to ground ourselves on a regular basis. Similar to nutrition, our bodies can go without wonderful attention for quite a long while, but the idea is that if we happened to give our bodies that better attention we could improve things for ourselves.

The book concentrated on inflammation as one of the primary effects that would be alleviated if we only grounded ourselves on a routine basis. Granted, inflammation is the body’s reaction to something, so I’d rather fix the original problem than fix “inflammation”. But I think the implication is that grounding will do that.

By grounding, you have to have some connection between your body and the earth itself. Sneakers or shoes on concrete doesn’t count. I didn’t finish reading the book because the content was on repeat every other chapter, but I like the idea.

This subject ties in to one of my current house projects, which is to extend a raised garden bed in my backyard. The ground in my backyard is all concrete except for under the existing raised garden bed in the middle of one wall. My idea was to extend it to the end of that wall and down another wall in an L shape.

After getting all the stone blocks, bags of cement, bags of compost and top soil into my backyard, I built the wall and connected the existing garden bed. Before I could dump the compost and top soil into the rest of the garden bed, I needed to do something about the ground so there could be drainage. For whatever reason I’ve avoided buying a specific type of drill the past few years despite several occasions where I needed one, and finally I got it and drilled holes into the ground so there would be drainage.

The only reason I mentioned the buying of the drill is to note that this wasn’t an overnight process. Getting the stones and everything else into my backyard took time and beat me up a bit. My backyard is only accessible through my house and while I’m good to carry a load, I’m still a lightweight and my exertions have a cost. During all this, the question of what to do about the drainage was on my mind, and it wasn’t until this past weekend that I was at the point of solving it. A hammer and a chisel did nothing, so I went out and bought a rotary hammer drill with a good masonry bit. I made the holes necessary so drainage will be available for this side of the garden. I need more dirt and compost and then I can plant this weekend which is a little late to plant but better late than never.

The comment I made to someone who needed to ground themselves was because they felt like life was going too fast and would enjoy going to the beach and twiggling their toes in the sand. But I was thinking of grounding in a different context while writing it. The expression people use about “keeping one’s feet on the ground” is used for mental attitude to not live above your means. I think it needs to be expanded to include this concept of electrical grounding which may be as much spiritual as anything else.

I worried my future plants wouldn’t have a chance to have drainage, which is just another way to say ground themselves. Electricity goes both ways – grounding dumps the charge into the earth.

I live in a very unnatural world, and my feet are never outside of shoes or sneakers. I work in a high rise office building working with computers. I do lots and lots of walking every day, but while my heart and cardiovascular system gets a good workout, my knees and lower back take their beating as they always do.

Maybe my next project should be to drill some more holes in my backyard so maybe my body gets a chance to ground itself with my tomato plants. And then I can contemplate the notion of whether or not we’re getting something back coming in the other direction from the earth. What a concept that is.

I’ve just heard of the second relocation of a wild animal from an urban setting in the last fifteen hours, and today is my thirty-first anniversary of my high school graduation.

Of course they connect as all things do, and I asked one of the two relocators about the rationale of the damage they endured before action had to be taken. Here I was just curious; I wasn’t initially wondering about the perspective of a destructive groundhog though it may prove important later.

Discussions with the first relocator began very late last night before bed. My mother saw evidence of a racoon’s damage to her house earlier in the day, arranged for a trap to be set and now the racoon was in the trap cursing at her in Sicilian, no doubt. I spoke with her on the phone and remember telling her two things that were suddenly important to me. I inquired about the state of the roof damage because I wondered if there were racoon children still inside the roof while their mother was in the trap, and secondly I insisted that she let the roofer decide how to best take down the trap after he showed certainty of his capability of not falling off the roof because of insurance liability.

Conversations ensued during the day with comic effect. I kept calling the racoon “Ricky” because of a favorite stuffed animal I had as a child. The rest of my family called the racoon “Rocky” for the popular Beatles song. We are a family that revivifies, or personifies, depending on your perspective.

The second relocator had perennials that were damaged by a groundhog, and this was on my mind while I pondered a post about graduating high school so long ago.

I rarely have acknowledged it, I suppose because of a complete lack of a desire to acknowledge my own aging. But I must say that if I do look back, it’s with fondness. I had an intensely vivid imagination that could and would out-muscle my focus on life with very little effort. I enjoyed it then and even during the years where my grip on the sane part of life’s interactions were most strenous. I enjoy it now and my grip is better.

I could look at this in so many ways, many of them negative, but I refuse in much the same way I will float to the top if underwater. To say that there are times my thinking is the exact opposite would be an understatement. And as these mental wonderings are cyclical as the perennials the groundhog wanted to affect, so too are my reactions to them.

A groundhog affects perennials in a negative way and is relocated. For someone else the perennials were affected in a positive way and maybe the groundhog was given more. I hope I have the mental clarity to continue to view my mental wonderings as so many perennials with a possible groundhog or racoon, whose reason is mine to ponder.

I didn’t originally decide to write something about mantra word substitutes; I just wanted a mantra word for the title of this blog piece. Now I have to think about what I thought about just then while I was thinking of a title.

David Lynch talks about ideas and how they appear like fish in the sea. The deeper you meditate the deeper is the ocean in which the ideas swim.

I’m not in meditation right now but I feel very strongly that I shouldn’t ever talk about something that I don’t want to define. If we say/talk about/describe it, it stops, and now there’s a formula to get at it, etc. I don’t know why I feel this is correct – for me – I just do.

So let’s just say I was meditating even if I somehow think I wasn’t. I was in touch with it. I wasn’t swimming deep but I stuck my feet in. If I know that the ocean is deep enough to devour mountains, then why should I feel like my feet can only behold a depth of say, twenty meters?

I understand the idea that one can’t possibly be open to the benefits of meditation in a second – one has to commit to it. I’m just asserting that it is more than probable that one can keep their mind swimming in the background as long as you check on it from time to time. It’s the rest of the world that’s distracting us from going swimming, is it not?

So there’s no good to come of my saying that I wasn’t just meditating just now. I was in the water, that’s all you need to know. And in that water was something that made me think of mantras, which are as variable in definition as any animal, so mantras are now things that swim. Manta Ray = mantra. Those words got friendly pretty quick, didn’t they?

So if mantras are Manta Rays, then they’re swimming in the ocean. Are mantras ideas, or are they entities looking for ideas? Perhaps they need a mantra, or the sound/word/thing to emit in order to bring about the swimming, though it seems to me that the mantra doesn’t need to do that – it just does it. That’s why we need them.

Okay, so I was originally thinking that the concept of each person needing a special word given to them by some teacher/guru in order for them to go swimming in this ocean of consciousness is very, very unnecessary. There may be no doubt of a person needing a mantra (word/sound/thing/emittance), but it seems to me that this thing is alive in its own right, and there are many of them in the sea. The person who wants to go swimming with it just needs *that* one, not the same one every time.

And if I’m wrong, then the mantra I need just described itself to me. And it thinks of itself as morphing all the time. Or at least its view to me is that it’s morphing all the time.

So my mantra is a changing sound/chord/word/emittance to fit some occasion, the source of which may be under the water I’m aiming to swim in, so I may be interested in finding that out but need to be content with it being completely inconsequential to my interests unless I specifically hear otherwise and need to know more about it.

So mantra word substitutes is now a redundant expression. It’s just mantras now, since they are what I said they were.

The original fish that had my attention when I started this is gone. I wonder if it was the mantra to guide me here.mantaray1

I just saw an article about manta rays being the first fish to be self aware. They know what they’re seeing when they see themselves in the mirror. This blog is practically writing itself right now – I’m just trying to keep up with it.

It reminds me of a quote I read once: “we can’t tell you the words of the song; we just dance to it.” Don’t look up the name of the Mantra; just swim with it.

It was nice to see Philadelphia mentioned several times for forward-thinking use of technology. I wish we did more of what’s in this article.

Tomorrow’s cities – the lamp-posts watching every move

By Jane WakefieldTechnology

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28159732

It’s not like the sensors are going to diminish. What seems like it might be an invasion of our privacy will be looked at differently. Regardless of whether or not it’s looked at positively or negatively, it must be looked at MORE.

Because somebody will be looking at it.

Here’s a related piece I saw today regarding the future of shopping.

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28461134 

A street full of sensors: facial recognition, payment from your phone, expanded information on expanded bar codes, kiosks for ordering from anywhere so your package is at your home when you get home, or delivered to you while you wait by a copter-drone. The 3D printer will be the biggest innovation since the internet began if it progresses to the level of a future printing shop for all to visit.

It makes me think that retail shops better get used to the idea of sharing space with one another if they want to be able to keep their shops.

Food and coffee shops will always be in need. Unless we can find a way to 3D print them, too.

friday afternoon

Here were the steps around three o’clock on Friday afternoon…

I went to get a soda from the vending machine…it got stuck.

I looked all over the vending machine twelve times until I’m absolutely sure there’s no number to call.

I ask three people, who all tell me there’s a number to call on the vending machine.

I find another vending machine that has nothing to do with this, and call the number I find on there.  They promise to tell a supervisor, then tell me to visit a receptionist on another floor that will give me my money back. 

I decide to print this info out before going to that floor to get my money back, so I type it up and hit print.  I go to the printer and see that it wants toner.  I look around and see no toner nearby, then find that there’s a hundred jobs to print in front of mine.

I ask several people near the printer and they say you have to call the help desk.

I delete my print job, and go back to my desk.  There’s another printer I can use, in the same room that has the bad vending machine.  I go to add the printer to my machine, but it won’t let me because it can’t find the drivers on the network. 

I go back and forth twice, until I’ve downloaded and installed the drivers to the printer in several different versions to no avail.

I just wanted a soda.  Nobody fixes these things because of getting lost in the very abyss that I’m in now where everything is broken and disconnected and the answer is always somewhere else.

No, I will resolve this, or I will bite somebody.

I call the help desk, which asks me a bunch of questions that don’t seem related to the problem at hand.  What’s my employee id, because my name isn’t good enough.  I give them the number on my picture id card.  Not good enough.  What kind of toner is needed?  They tell me to go back to the printer and look on the screen.

I do, but the error on that screen is now complaining about something else.  I play with it for about a half a minute and can’t understand what its problem is now, and I can’t get back to the original toner error.  I start feeling the stirrings of a world where screaming and biting are the norm.  This is why nobody called the help desk.

I get back to my desk and tell the help desk person that I don’t know what’s wrong but to just come here and fix the god-damned printer and add the driver to this other printer while they’re here.  Can’t do that, it’s a completely different job ticket.  They saved me from biting my own hand by not making me call again. 

I just want my soda.  I crudely write what to do for vending problems on a piece of paper that I stick to the vending machine. I briefly consider adding an anatomically impossible suggestion.

I had to fill out another report for the receptionist that gave me my money back.  She told me to drink more water because it’s better for me.

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Philly & TianJin

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/city/20121206_Nutter_in_China__recruiting_investment_for_the_city.html 

Okay, not good enough.  The whole text of the article follows my next paragraph:

I have images of our Chinatown expanding, as it already is.  I like it.  I have images of Drexel, Temple, or U.of Penn.’s Universities (the baseball caps that Mayor Nutter wore while in TianJin) expanding.  I see TianJin residents wearing Eagles, Phillies, Flyers & Sixers apparel.  I see a whole lotta good for both of us.  I wish I knew how Philly can answer TianJin’s needs, and how to be a part of it.  Just working with TianJin can answer ours.  If only the futuristic super-rocket-train existed here and through the oceans.  Say, Philly to LA, LA to Shanghai, Shanghai to TianJin.  I’d be having dinner in TianJin late tonight. 

Nutter in China, recruiting investment for the city

December 06, 2012|By Jennifer Lin, Inquirer Staff Writer

· clip_image002

At a Beijing school, Mayor Nutter helps with a Sesame Workshop effort to raise environmental… (JENNIFER LIN / Staff )

BEIJING – For a trip that started with an unplanned encounter with a man dressed as Santa Claus doing a Rocky run up the Great Wall, it was only fitting that Mayor Nutter should wrap up his five days here with a photo-op next to Big Bird in a schoolyard.

The mayor’s trip had many surreal moments, but there was serious business as well.

Nutter was invited to China as a speaker for a conference hosted by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, whose think tank in Chicago is tackling the critical issue of making China’s megacities more livable and sustainable. Nutter, like Big Bird, was recruited to get the message out.

During his stay, Nutter – "Na Te," his name in Chinese – stepped into many roles, swinging adroitly from one to another.

There was Nutter as statesman and Nutter as pitchman. One moment he was signing a memorandum on future city-to-city cooperation with Tianjin’s mayor, the next he was meeting in the offices of Air China to argue for nonstop service to Philadelphia International Airport.

There was Nutter as wonk and Nutter as student – now explaining to Chinese policymakers his pledge to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the United States, then listening as Tianjin officials described the breakneck economic reinvention of China’s fourth-largest city.

But what about Nutter as mayor?

As sure as Eagles fans like to take potshots at Andy Reid, someone is certain to snipe that Nutter has more important matters to tend to at home.

Nutter argues that this type of trip is just what he should be doing.

The trip was paid for primarily by Select Greater Philadelphia, an economic-development marketing organization, with some contribution from the International Visitors Council of Philadelphia.

"From time to time, I will have to get out of City Hall," Nutter said in an interview at the end of his trip, "and I’m doing my job, which is to try to get more jobs and investment in Philadelphia."

Baseball cap diplomacy

Not since the legendary visit of the Philadelphia Orchestra here in 1973 have the Chinese heard the name Philadelphia mentioned so much – from a Beijing conference on cities attended by Chinese policymakers and officials, to television and newspaper coverage of his visit.

Even the mayor’s daily choice of a baseball cap has been a rotating plug for Temple or Drexel Universities, or the University of Pennsylvania.

Nutter’s first order of business was a two-day visit to Tianjin, 70 miles east of Beijing.

Thirty-two years ago, Philadelphia became a sister city of Tianjin. It seemed like a logical match. Both were ports that had seen better days and suffered in the shadow of more prominent neighbors; Tianjin is to Beijing as Philadelphia is to New York.

But Tianjin’s fortunes have gotten a major boost from the country’s central planners, with an infusion of investment that can only be viewed as spectacular. Just as Shenzhen and Shanghai’s Pudong district have been anointed as national economic hubs, so has Tianjin. Its economy is growing at a rate of 20 percent a year.

The central government wants to develop Tianjin as a national magnet for attracting and developing China’s clean-energy economy.

"Clean energy is the government’s current priority for a 21st-century industry," said Merritt T. Cooke, a former diplomat in the U.S. commercial service and founder of the China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia.

His nonprofit is trying to foster collaboration on projects between regional businesses and institutions and Tianjin counterparts. Cooke was part of Nutter’s delegation, which also included representatives from Drexel, Fox Chase Cancer Center, the White & Williams law firm, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., and the orchestra.

The mayor’s appearance, Cooke said, will get people’s attention here. "The Chinese will not take any institution’s engagement seriously without there being a strong validation at the government level," he said.

The main event in Tianjin was a meeting Tuesday between Nutter and his counterpart, Huang Xingguo, an unelected Communist Party official who administers the megacity of 13 million.

This was no meet-and-greet with a box lunch.

Nutter, the first Philadelphia mayor to visit Tianjin, was welcomed at the city’s government guesthouse, built within a moat and designed to radiate power. A police escort with lights flashing delivered Nutter in a black Mercedes-Benz to the front door. His entrance was the cue for a pianist to begin playing a grand piano.

Heels clicking on the marble, Nutter was escorted into a cavernous reception hall and seated in a red armchair next to Huang in front of a giant mural of the Great Wall.

More than 50 Chinese officials sat on Huang’s side of the room, eyes fixed on Nutter. "I was a little nervous," Nutter admitted later.

In a separate signing room, Nutter and Huang penned a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on many levels, including making their cities more sustainable – a pet issue for Nutter.

Each of the other Philadelphia emissaries also signed agreements with Tianjin counterparts, before everyone convened for a banquet and toasts around a table the size of Logan Circle.

Whether the pomp translates into tangible results is up to Nutter.

He has already invited Huang to visit Philadelphia next year.

"I don’t think either of us," Nutter said, "has any interest in this just being a ceremonial signing."

Shuttle recruiting

For two days in Beijing, Nutter shuttled between the Paulson Institute’s conference at the China World hotel in central Beijing to private business meetings around town.

On Tuesday, Nutter joined Mark Gale, chief executive of the airport, at the headquarters of Air China. On Wednesday, he met with Ambassador Gary Locke for a forum on investment with China-based U.S. executives.

Having the mayor join him, Gale said, "sends a very, very clear message that the city and region are very serious about our desire for new air service."

At the Paulson conference, attended by about 200 Chinese policymakers, scholars, and officials, Nutter the policy wonk was in his element.

Nutter, who is also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, shared a panel with Beijing’s acting mayor, Wang Anshun. Beijing’s biggest problem: a population growing by one million people a year.

Philadelphia’s has grown by 11,000 people since 2010. Even so, Nutter told the audience, mayors everywhere have to make sure that the air people breathe is clean and the water fresh, and that cities remain inviting places to live.

Through a translator, Nutter enthused about solar-panel trash compactors, storm-water management, and the increase in recycling, as well as the uptick in college students and empty-nesters who want to stay in Philadelphia.

A Chinese journalist afterward declared his presentation "fantastic."

Unscripted moment

During his trip, Nutter carried around with him a thick blue binder filled with schedules and talking points.

In a rare unscripted moment, after the pomp and ceremony with the Tianjin mayor, Nutter ditched his black Mercedes and jumped into a bus carrying the rest of the Philadelphia delegation.

Nutter was pumped. It was a postgame pep talk.

"As Philadelphians, we often downplay what we have to offer, that we’re not good enough," he told the others. "I’m trying to break that."

He reminded them that Tianjin is just one of seven sister cities of Philadelphia. "It’s time for us to open ourselves up," the mayor said. "We can’t be a secret anymore."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20536090

Let alone making a model of it, I very personally think the Millenium Falcon is the second perfect place to live. I mean, seriously, my apartment would be comparable in size….maybe a little bigger, still it could be done. And my commute would be better; I’d just fly to work.

But my first choice would still be some of the castles I’ve seen in various vampire movies, populated by as many of the “Hammer Horror” actresses as I’ve seen over the years as would be legally safe. Commute would be a showstopper, though.

Now, the perfect world would be if I had the Falcon parked in the castle’s courtyard or something…