Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Poop On Gardening

"Urban garden sharing" is the latest trend. It's a terrific idea: one urban dweller might have some land but no time, Urb Two might have time but no money, and a third Urb has money but no land. Ideally, they all get together and everyone gets a tomato.

My gardening hat is off to all those gentle souls able to make a go of garden sharing, and I'll try it too, just as soon as I finish shaking up this box of cats. In my experience, no two gardeners are likely to agree on a plan, and there will have to be a lot of compromising. I'm the only gardener at this house. If the flower garden were up to Dave, we'd have an expertly installed platform of concrete, stained green in the spirit of compromise. So I get the whole flower garden to my self.

Sort of. The bird population is also keen on planting, and they don't have the same vision I do. I would like to see a rolling, undulating celebration of color and texture, with each wave of perennial beauty giving way to the next, azaleas to peonies to penstemons to agastaches, spiced with bulbs and punched up here and there with the vivid spark of annuals. The bird population has in mind something more along the lines of a holly forest with a galloping understory of blackberry.

Our methods differ also. My method is to dig nice big holes, juice them up with homemade compost and maybe a shot of pumice, lay in healthy small plants, firm up the soil around their roots, water, and fertilize. This totally freaks them out and half of them die outright a few weeks later, and then I pull them out. I get compliments with this method. "You must know so much about plants! Everything looks so healthy!" is a typical comment. That's because I've pulled up everything that crapped out. Sometimes, if I'm pressed for time, I bring things home from the nursery and pitch them straight into the compost pile.

The bird population takes more of a blitzkrieg approach to planting. I sow, they strafe. I invest time, money and effort in a horticultural Marshall Plan. For the birds, it's Holly Seeds Over London. Their method is wildly successful. And a two-inch holly tree has a hell of a grip on life.

In my more philosophical moments, I realize I can learn from my fellow gardeners. They're not given to angst or self-doubt. Or second-guessing. Or constipation.

The neighborhood cats have been planting stuff too. I have also learned from them. I wear gloves all the time now.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Wattle, Me Worry?

Time was, I knew the exact location of everything on my body. It was easy. Everything was just about where I'd left it. And if I directed the left bicep to tighten up, that's just what it'd do.

But time marches on, and in some cases all over you with jackboots, and you lose track. It's a natural progression. If you have very small children, you keep an eye on them at all times. As they grow and develop more responsibility, you give them a little slack. If all goes as planned, you should be able to let them go and live their own lives and still be able to sleep through the night.

Similarly, some of the stuff I was born with, and some of the stuff that showed up later, has struck out on its own. Sometimes if I turn suddenly and stop, parts of me keep going and then jangle back and forth. I have a number of wattles under development and they're not even all on my neck. Everything's flapping around and it's hard to get all my skin on the same page and pointing in the same direction.

No part is unchanged. Even the backs of my hands have gotten unruly. I can push the skin on them into little ridges and valleys and they'll stay put. We used to make little topographical representations of Virginia out of flour paste and oatmeal when we were in grade school, and it's a lot like that. You can pull the Blue Ridge up over on the thumb side and flatten out the Piedmont region and dent the Chesapeake Bay into the pinkie area, and it will all stay put until you make a fist. Then you can start in on Maryland. It's a fun way to occupy yourself at a coffee house where it has the added bonus of totally freaking out the young people at the next table.

It used to be that if I turned, everything turned with me, tight as schooled herring. Now, even if I'm just lying in bed, it's hard to keep the crew in line. "Okay, gang," I say, addressing my body parts, "we're going to roll over," and my breasts whine "all of us?" They've already slid off the sides and are heading for the hinterlands, and it's hell to pay to haul everything back and tuck it in so the rest of me can get some sleep. But somehow I manage to get everything moving and roll over on my side. Sadly, this position gives me a good view of my belly thundering across the mattress like high tide in a shallow cove, swamping tiny imaginary beachcombers on the far side of the bed. It's horrifying, at first, but you get used to it; you look at it wistfully but not without fondness, as you might your own, familiar child who is dabbling in Libertarianism and shacking up with a blogger, but who you know will come home for Christmas. It belongs to you; you can only be disappointed for so long.

Besides, I am a fortunate woman with friends whose affection is not contingent on my maintaining a superficial, youthful beauty, and I stumble towards self-acceptance, secure in the knowledge that nothing on me could be lifted without hydraulics anyway. There is a peace in this. And in the soul's twilight just before the dark of sleep, as the last of my muscles loosen their grip and relax, I feel my upper lip sagging against the pillow.

It's pleating up. Dammit, there's a limit.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

4 Bdrm, 2 Bath, Ark Parking

Our friends Scott and Kevin have a new animal again. It's been one after another since we met them, almost thirty years ago, and most of them--not to say all--have never been served to us for dinner. At first, when they lived in the city, they maintained a modest cat collection and a German Shepherd. Then they brought home a box of quail chicks and the fun began.

The only rule, see, at Scott and Kevin's house is that all the critters have to get along. Kevin believes that all creatures should live in harmony, although her cat Squeeker, before being re-educated, thought that maybe one of the chicks could live in Squeeker. Then they got a horse, and it was clearly time to get out of town. Scott and Kevin moved to the country and began pouring a slab for the Ark.

Not really. It was already there. You could see the direction they were heading when the sellers of the house they bought actually left their own dog behind. Three more showed up eventually. Cats materialized in the yard like puffballs after a rain. Goats happened. Pigs occurred. Most of the animals that lucked onto the farm were castoffs with a sob story of some sort, although the chickens were hired help. The rooster that came with the chickens fell out of favor the day he objected to Kevin bending over to collect eggs. He was well-spurred, bad-tempered and delicious paired with a nice pinot gris.

Other than the rooster, everyone seemed to get with the getting-along program. But Dave and I are city folk and tend to be a little leery. Take Einstein the sheep, for instance; he looked fine on the front end, but harbored enough maggots in the damper regions to send veterinary students peeling out of the school parking lot and home to Mommy. The goats were mannerly, as were the pigs most of the time, but Dave is unlikely ever again to sign up for pig-catching when it's vaccination time. Looking back, we should have been tipped off when Scott provided us with ear protection. Myself, I was amazed at just how far a two-hundred pound man can slide on his belly, and how high a wake of pig poop he can kick up. The whole vision continues to be a day-brightener.

The emus were something else again. They had heads just big enough to mount eyes and a very pointy beak on, with no room left over for a brain. Dave engaged them in a stare-down, until they decided to get a quick look--a very, very, very, really amazingly quick look--at his crotch. To this day, Dave maintains a personal space just a bit longer than an emu's neck.

So now there's Chester. Chester is an alpaca, and Scott and Kevin came by Chester in the same general way they got all the others. They were told that if Chester did not come to live with them, he would become tiger food. I could poke any number of holes in this story, but I'm here to tell you that if someone came up leading a crocodile on a rope and claimed he was rescued from speed-bump duty at the Wal-Mart, the sturgeons in the lower pond would be getting instructions in getting along.

Late-Breaking Bulletin. Three new alpacas. Stand by.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

You Can't Keep A Good Man Down

A few days ago, Tassos Papadopoulos, the former president of Cyprus, was lowered into his grave after succumbing to lung cancer. The actual succumbing occurred fourteen months ago, followed shortly by his burial. A year almost to the day after he was originally laid to rest, he turned up missing. The marble slab covering his grave had been moved and the ground disturbed. Authorities were perplexed. Ordinarily, people lose a lot of their value upon their death, just like a new car leaving the sales lot, and it only keeps going down as time goes on. Even Mr. Papadopoulos' adherents could not be expected to miss him so gravely as to dig him up.

This has not always been the case. In prior centuries, body-snatching was quite the thing. Medical schools and scientists had a need for cadavers for dissection purposes, and the so-called Resurrection Men did a good business exhuming bodies to sell. Although this was illegal, it was not considered that heinous a crime to steal bodies once their previous occupants were done with them. Even then, though, the bodies lost value quickly, and efforts were made to retrieve only the freshest, leading some of the more ambitious entrepreneurs to introduce efficiencies by dabbling in murder, which was frowned on, especially when the victims were nice and white.

So in Cyprus, when the year-old corpse was dug up, no one knew what to make of it. Other than the marble slab, there had been no particular effort to protect the grave. It's a far cry from the ancient Egyptian standard, wherein the bodies of kings were elaborately sheltered from harm, both from the living and in the afterlife. Pyramids covered labyrinthine tombs; the bodies themselves were embalmed and carefully enveloped in linen. Early on, Greek culture demanded similar measures for the more exalted personages, who were entombed after being lovingly wrapped in grape leaves, but the practice was largely abandoned in modern times when people found the yogurt dip off-putting. Mr. Papadopoulos was clearly left vulnerable.

But what was the nature of this crime? It was just another puzzlement, much like the local burglary ring that targeted nunneries, or the Post-It graffiti gang. Perhaps the body was being held for ransom, but it is unclear whether the family had been approached. A local government office was rumored to have received a small package with a severed, decomposed ear and a note made up of letters cut from magazines, but the message was Greek to them and no one in the mailroom could figure out why someone would send them an old mushroom, so it had been discarded.

Acting on a tip, authorities recently found the body in a new, freshly dug grave on the edge of town, and after positive identification, it was reburied in the original grave, attended by family and supporters who shouted "Immortal! Immortal!" during the ceremony. This struck many as being an odd observation to make about a person who is being buried for the third time, but people have different perspectives on this sort of thing.

Three men were ultimately fingered for the dastardly deed, including one who allegedly directed the operation from his jail cell. He was serving time for the rape and murder of two women, and had previously escaped for over a month before being recaptured. After the new accusation was leveled, he is reported to have threatened a hunger strike, but thought better of it after jail officials seemed insufficiently upset about it. He is now mulling his options, which include Sitting Stone-Faced With Arms Folded During Skit Night, and Cutting Down On Sweets.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How To Live Forever

It has recently come to my attention that, at 56-1/2, I may be more than halfway done with life. I'm not taking that to the bank yet, but it's a good reminder to start taking care of myself. At a certain age, we should all have a plan for health. I've got mine.

Women my age must, for instance, guard against osteoporosis. Old people, and women in particular, are subject to a dangerous thinning of the bones. These can deteriorate to the point that they will turn to powder at the slightest exertion--for instance, throwing the Belvedere into reverse or pounding the armchair during The Price Is Right. It's not something you want.

But a recent medical study showed that beer drinking is conducive to the building of strong bones. This is thought to be due to the prevalence of the element silicon in hops. Imperial Pale Ales, which, gosh, happen to be my favorite, top the list of beers most likely to fight osteoporosis at 41.5 mg silicon/liter. None of this surprises me. I have yet to feel at all fragile
even at my age, and I fall down all the time. I've always kept up a healthy rate of IPA infusion, and if I bump that up a little more, I should have a skeleton that will outlast my coffin. Later I'll look into why I fall down so often.

According to the Healthy Beer study, light lagers, at 17.2 mg silicon/liter, bring up the rear in osteoporosis protection. And since we have brought up the rear: carting around a massive one also happens to fight osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise builds strong bones, and your own personal weight counts. There is no need to run around carrying weights if you can grow your own. With this in mind, I plan to further increase my beer intake until my rear has reached planetary mass and density. It's a win-win.

According to my plan, I shall have developed a skeleton of steel in a few short months. And this should give me a framework sturdy enough to hoist my own enlarging liver (win-win-win). I don't worry much about the liver, because worrying causes heart disease. Besides, the liver is the only organ in the body capable of regenerating itself, which is a little tidbit I have been counting on. You do want a reasonably healthy liver; it keeps a lot of your other important parts from sliding down too far. It also produces bile, but with right-wing radio
picking up a lot of the slack there, we do not need to count on it so much from the liver. The liver is also the largest organ of the body, and rests just below the diaphragm, which explains why I was never able to locate mine when I lost it back in the seventies.

So the only thing you really need to be careful of, with the liver, is that you can blow the whole thing in no time with the right mushrooms. But really, you can blow a lot of things with the right mushrooms.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

South Dakota Legislature To The Rescue

A round of applause goes out to the South Dakota State Legislature for finally doing something about the threat of global warming science, taking direct aim and thwacking it with the arrow of nincompoopery. Not since their foremorons nearly eradicated the bison in the 19th century has such decisive action been taken on behalf of the common peabrain, a demographic unfairly underrepresented in the educated elites. It's about time.

The legislature passed a resolution seeking to protect children from the menace of a scientific education. It's a sound document, fortified by five "whereases" and a pack of "be it resolveds," and as such it demands serious examination. Let's take a look.

Whereas: Erik the Red settled Greenland where they farmed and raised dairy cattle, and [now] Greenland is covered by massive ice sheets...more than two miles thick. That sheet of ice, of course, was there when Erik was farming at its edge, although we do not blame him for it, since it predated him by over 100,000 years. In fact, it is the longest record of atmospheric data extant. You couldn't even slice former Alaska senator Ted Stevens' thigh open and examine the rings and get more information than you can out of that ice sheet--that's how old it is. We have no information as to whether Erik the Red's dairy cattle emissions contributed to a warming trend, although we do note that it wasn't until around the twentieth century that everyone on the planet was issued an internal-combustion vehicle and the Lord said, "Gentlemen, start your engines--" thus spewing an unprecedented volume of carbon into the air that happens to track precisely with global temperature spikes. Or am I being too facty?

There is a danger in displaying the fruits of one's education, since we do not want to scare off people like the two commenters on the recent Discovery blog post on the subject. One regrets that we know so little about the past because, as he notes, "what if the ancient Egyptians simply thought 'wow this is a hot year...or cold' and didn't bother to write it down." Or, I might add, what if they did write it down, but not in English? Where would we be? I would gently direct him to the Greenland ice sheet data (above), or even Ted Stevens' thigh.

The other commenter was incensed that a carbon tax might be levied, and wrote: "I'm not that concerned with global warming as I am with global pollution. If anything should be done it should be a way to curb pollution from burning fossil fuels and other industries." In cases like this, we're best off being grateful we ended up on the same page, even if we're reading different books.

Whereas: carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for plant life on Earth. Quite true. That's one thing it has in common with water, although, sadly, the legislature did not think to convene at the bottom of a lake. The legislature will not meet again until later this month, when the rise in real estate prices in the absence of real value will be put forward as evidence against the "theory" of gravity, and a proposal will be floated pointing out the cooling effects on the climate due to the accumulation of fairy dust in the atmosphere.

All right, let's wrap it up.

Be it resolved: that there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can effect [sic] world weather phenomena...

Well, we know "thermological" refers to the infrared imaging of the human body, so that is undoubtedly relevant, as anyone who has noticed the temperature rise in a crowded room can attest. As for the rest, it is an established fact that Mars is going direct after being in a long retrograde, Venus just moved into Aries and there's a new moon in Pisces on the Ides of March (did they leave out numerological?), all of which points to transformation. So, bingo, right on the money.

...and that the significance and interrelativity [sic] of these factors is largely speculative.

Undeniable. And when one is dealing with the future, one would not want to speculate. We're better off waiting for the future to arrive, at which point we can really nail it down.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Tater the cat skeetered her favorite bug under the oven and now it's gone. The bug is a robotic HexBug from Radioshack. It looks like a humming toothbrush head and seems to be able to extricate itself from most any situation, but not this one. We poked under there with sticks and flashlights but the bug has fallen into a pit and we can't reach it. "Well, I guess we'll just have to listen to it until the battery runs out," Dave said, giving up. Oh no.

We're not good at listening to things die. We endow most objects with souls even while we give short shrift to our own. I once drove 15 miles to fetch Pootie's little buddy Hajerle, a motorcycle fan (and, like Pootie, technically a stuffed animal), so he wouldn't miss the Harley parade coming through town. I was inconsolable for weeks after the Sojourner rover landed on Mars and lost communication with the mother planet. I'd well up every time I thought about the little dude putzing around in the red dust, emitting unanswered eeps of fear and abandonment. Probably I invest too much emotion in things like that because I cannot bear to contemplate the suffering of sentient beings. I fire off checks to Haiti and save my tears for tiny toothbrush heads suffering under my oven.

Dave's a big strong fellow but he's the same way. He freely admits he would be a vegetarian if he was responsible for dispatching his meat himself. He has tried numerous times over the years to cut short the suffering of various wounded animals--rodents, opossums--often without success, reducing the animal to hamburger and himself to a weeping, sodden mass of misery. On the other hand, he loves meat. Every kind of meat, and every part. If it rooted or mud-wallowed or basked in the sun or gamboled in the grass, or just digested things or excreted urine or cleaned toxins out of the bloodstream or performed any number of other revolting functions, he'll salt it up and give it a go. And he has declared himself willing to try anything. "If I went to the store and found a package of meat labeled 'Robert,' sitting on the little Kotex on the Styrofoam tray and neatly wrapped in plastic, heck, I'd try it," he has said. Whereupon people tend to get real quiet. Certainly, it sheds a different light on the random friendly ass-squeeze.

So when we hauled in a massive sturgeon from our friend Scott's pond, and pulled it up on shore, there could have been trouble. Sturgeons are actually prehistoric, and you'd have to beat one straight into the Cretaceous just to get its attention. But when Scott supplied Dave with a .22 pistol for the coup de grace, he was transformed. In an instant the sturgeon was dinner-worthy with a tidy hole in his head.

I told Dave he would have overcome his sensitivities just fine if he had been born in a different era. He considered the possibility for a few moments while I indulged in a reverie of him in a coonskin cap and leather pants, then chaps, then feathers and a loincloth. "Nope," he said, snapping me back, "I'd be the first vegetarian pioneer."

I started to disagree and he cut me short and pointed me towards Exhibit A, a line-up that grows from year to year. "I can't even eat my chocolate Easter bunny," he said. Point taken.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Banging Abacuses

When I was considering buying a Mac, I heard from everybody, and they all said the same two or three things. "You'll love it," they chorused. "It's so intuitive." The script never changed; it was almost creepy.

So when I got my big shiny iMac, I set it up (pull out of box: plug in) and sat in front of it, and waited for it to demonstrate some of its vaunted intuition. We stared at each other for a while. We were both very quiet. Sometimes it would snap a picture of me. I thought a truly intuitive machine would size me up and then rumble, "You look like a person who'd like to type a blog post. Let me show you around," but it didn't. It didn't really know the first thing about me, which is that I do not like my picture taken.

At some point I recognized that the machine itself, contrary to popular wisdom, is not intuitive, but that I personally will find it easy to operate, because it would work just the way I think it should. My friends, in assuming I will have sound ideas, give me far more credit for clarity than I deserve. In fact, I have a very convoluted method of thinking that only works for me because I don't much care if I get the right answer.

A while back, Dave watched in disbelief as I tried to put together one of those spatial-puzzle toys, something that was supposed to be a wooden cube when solved. I was at it for at least five minutes and making no headway at all. Finally he seized it from me and snapped it into place in three or four quick movements. "What were you doing,"--he was incredulous--"just banging it together until it came around?" Well, yeah. That was the plan.

It's worse when I'm under some kind of stress, such as, for instance, when I'm running, an activity I used to loathe four times a week. I would run up the path on Terwilliger Boulevard, with its distance-markers every .2 mile, and try to distract myself from my wretchedness by calculating my miles per hour.

I'd pass by the marker that said "1.4 miles," glance at my watch and attempt to come up with elapsed time, summon up the latitude and angle of the sun, and then, once I'd assembled a quorum of data, I would begin to calculate. I would wonder if this gazinta that, or if that gazinta this, and what goes on top and what goes on the bottom, and whether it was really kilometers after all, which would make me instantly over twice as fast, or maybe it's half. If you listened carefully, you could hear me banging abacuses together in my brain. Ultimately I would conclude, as I finished the loop and bent over, huffing miserably, that I was running at a pace of 42.6 miles per hour, which I thought was pretty dang good. It would not occur to me for hours, if at all, that I may have introduced a flaw.

So this is the sort of logic that my new computer is expected to understand. The machines are, indeed, different in their approaches. Take the little issue of putting a document to bed. With my old PCs, I would ask if it could put my file away.

"This file here?" it would query. Yes.

"You want to put it away?" Yes.

"Hum. Hum. Hum. What do you want to call it?" Gosh, I don't care. What do you suggest?

"We could take the first sentence and whack it down the middle and call it that. That would be a nice name. I just need something to sew in its underwear so it doesn't get lost. Okay with you?" Sure, sure, whatever.

"So where do you want it?" I don't know. Where do you suggest?

"We could put it here, here, here, or way over here where you don't have anything at all. It's all the same to me. I have a lovely little location in a cul-de-sac over here where it will be really, really safe. You'll probably never find it again. Ha! Ha! Whaddya say?" Sure. As long as it's safe.

"All righty then. Click click. Thump thump. Braaaaa-aaaaap. Gone!" Bring it back. I just thought of something.

"Okay. Where'd we put it?" Shit, I don't know. You just had it.

"I've got a cute little search puppy. We could send him after it."

The new Mac, on the other hand, has a different approach. You just take the document, pick it up by the scruff of the neck, and haul it over to where you want it to go. I will admit this is much simpler. But it is not intuitive. How was I expected to figure that out?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

It Takes Stones To Wear Curling Pants

This year the Winter Olympics happened in our time zone. This means we don't get to watch anything live. At eight p.m. the television begins to emit a steady stream of stale events, from which we can pick and choose. Figure skating is always a treat: will American favorite Lurleen Neewack be able to land the elusive quadruple-splatchnatz with the triple putz combination, or will it be revealed, upon reviewing the tape, that she came down .275 degrees past a quarter-turn on her landing skate and thus 2.3 seconds before she actually lifted off, a disqualification? Who cares? The spectator is there to see the efforts of the costumer, fresh off a stint fashioning bridesmaids' outfits for parrots. He is facing stiff competition from the Russian team designer, who, with sequins, feathers, and several yards of baggy flesh-tone material, was able to rock the Australian Aboriginal Shar-Pei theme. From home, it looked like a toss-up.

Outfits are a perfectly reasonable way to decide what to watch when dipping into Winter Olympics coverage. And that is what has drawn so many of us to that fine sport for which Curling Pants were created. We don't even want to know what Curling Pants do; we'd rather speculate. However some understanding of the rules of Curling helps to better appreciate the sport.

Curling was invented in Scotland shortly after the discovery of heavy drinking. Each curling team consists of four members: the thrower, the skip, and two tidiers. The thrower releases a jelly doughnut made of granite with a handle on it (a "stone"), and it travels across the ice, coming to rest as close to the center of a target at the end of the sheet as possible. In order to influence the speed and trajectory of the stone, two team members aggressively tidy the ice in front of it. Stones may ricochet off other stones, displacing them, and points are awarded according to the number of stones ultimately closest to the target. It is essential for the thrower to release the stone before it passes over the "hog line," a determination that used to be made on the honor system, but in competitive curling a special stone is used that electronically detects if the thrower's hand is still on the stone. An electric field at the hog line will detect any infraction and cause the stone to light up like a UFO. This was designed to eliminate the need for an official, avert controversy, and perchance reduce hooliganism among the spectators. Sadly, the 2010 Olympic Curling Event was still not hooligan-free, so plans are underway for the 2014 event to create a special stone that will cause the thrower to burst into flame upon violation. At the other end of the sheet, the skip's job is to hop up and down and scream at the other members of the team, and occasionally to finish tidying. Each team throws eight stones.

All the rest of the events can be reliably ranked by how closely they resemble curling. Bobsledding, for instance, also features teams of four, and requires a lot of stones. The first man in the bobsled is the "driver," and the second through fourth are the "meat."

Even closer to the ideal of curling is the Women's Giant Slalom, in which racers are sent down the mountain every fifteen seconds or so, allowing later racers to carom off the previously crumpled or deceased entrants, and the team with the most members arriving right-side-up at the bottom of the hill wins the gold.

But our heart remains with the curling competitors, especially Canadian home-town hero Cyril "Syrup" Parfait, of Vancouver, B.C., whose parents, having seen his early promise, quit their jobs as neurophysicist and Prime Minister in order to accompany their son to the best Jamaican training facility, where they eked out the money for his coaching by taking jobs licking gym floors. It appeared that M. and Mme. Parfait would not be able to afford to attend the Olympics to cheer their son on, but thanks to the generosity of the good folks at Winnipeg Whack-A-Moose, someone was able to swing by in a Dodge Caravan and pick them up.