Monday, September 28, 2009

Blue rock of death

A few weeks ago, V** arrived early enough that she overlapped with A before he left for campus. Or maybe he was late. That detail is fuzzy but this one is not--she wanted to ask him about the blue rock of death.

A few weeks before, she had been cruising a yard sale & found a shiny, turquoise-y, glassy-looking rock. The seller of the rock said it was for a a fish tank & V** said "I have a fish tank!" & she bought it. Because it was shiny. & turquoise. & looked like glass.

She went home & forgot it in the cab of the truck for a day or two. Then she brought it in, cleaned it off & put it in her freshwater tank. By morning all the fish were dead.

She was shocked, horrified & very upset. She was scooping the bodies when she saw a small, pitted, ugly thing at the bottom of the tank & asked herself "what the f*ck is that?" It was the blue rock of death, but its appearance had changed dramatically.

She dealt with the bodies, left the rock & went to work. When she got home, the plants were starting to look, well clear. Photosynthesis had clearly stopped & they were losing their green. She took the blue rock out, put it in a bag & I am sorry to say it is now sitting on my front step.

This is what we know: the bottom of the tank is certainly richer in nitrogen than any other part of the tank. Because it is sizable, she usually cleans it by pumping it out rather than transferring fish, scoping out water, etc. so it might be even higher than most other healthy fresh water tanks.

V** thought that the pitted surface might be something that had 'grown over' the rock, but A says not. he is pretty sure the change is to the surface itself.

We would know more but A keeps forgetting to borrow a Geiger counter (would you believe he has had reason to borrow one in the past? Well, he has).

So does anyone know what the blue rock of death might be? Does anyone have any questions about the blue rock of death? Does anyone want me to send them the blue rock so they can examine it more closely ? That would last one be ideal, actually.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ongoing oratory overwhelms observation or This is the time of year I tell my representatives what I think of them

I for one am tired tired tired of people screaming faux facts about healthcare at each other.

While it is true that he who talks loudest talks last, chances are good it is not because he is correct or will even remain uncorrected, but because everyone who wants to have a real conversation has decided to have it in another room.

When that happens, it is no use whining at the door that you want in. Deliberately drowning out other voices loses you that privilege.

I have previously said I believe we have had a form of socialized healthcare for a long time & it has left middle income individuals footing most of the bill. I have also said I actually think it would make small businesses able to compete with their larger counterparts. Now I have written all my representatives outlining my view on healthcare (I am for it: not just for the affluent, not just for the employed). & I am completely confident that they will ignore me; they always have.

Several years ago I wrote to my-then-representative for outlining why I supported the tightening of the Brady Bill. Same rep then went to a press conference to explain why she had voted against it: in all the letters she received from her constituents not one supported it. Huh. I might have given her the benefit of the doubt & said maybe my lone voice got lost in the mail except her office replied to my letter. With a form letter, but a reply of any kind does mean it got there.

This kind of 'perfect score' is no doubt supposed to persuade anyone on the fence what the majority already believes & the inert that the decision is already made. & it probably works to some degree. The catch is, not surprisingly, there is always at least one person who knows it is a lie. & that begs the question: why would a representative lie to the people she represents about what they told her they want? The answer is simple: so there will be no discussion.

I guess I should not give a damn, after all I have healthcare- pretty good, government sponsored healthcare. Not because I am over 65 & not because I am disabled & not because I am a veteran. I am none of those things (though I do hope to be over 65 some day). I have excellent government sponsored healthcare because my husband works for a state university. It turns out that a very large percentage of the work-a-day insured & their insured dependents are in similar health plans: between federal, state & local government entities, the government is already the largest healthcare agency in the country.

The funny thing about this government healthcare is a lot of people the people protesting it want it. I do not just mean those who expect to collect Medicare someday. I know & I know you do, too, at least one person who wanted a city/state/national job because "while the pay is not so good the benefits are great". & finally, in truly amusing news this most conservative state I live in has no problem with public healthcare that might suffer damage because it was built in flood plains or dredged wetlands or along the beaches. Its the people we do not want to take care of.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Clare of Assisi

While she does not get as much press as the other "of Assisi", Clare is no slouch. For starters, she has not one, not two, but four feast days on the calendar. Her 'broad spectrum' feast day is August 11th, but today is the feast of the finding of her body. Much like the American Physical Society has not-what-you-would-think to do with getting physical, the finding of Clare's body was not an erotic discovery.

The big cinematic version of Clare of Assisi's story is she was devoted to Francis of Assisi, refused to marry- much to the disappointment of her family, & followed his teachings the rest of her days. That is the church's version, too, although they still manage to be very, very different. Unlike so many saints, there is no doubt that she was one real person: she founded the order of the Poor Clares (so sinisterly mocked in White Oleander: good movie, better book) & is patroness of those with eye ailments as well as televisions, telephones, & telegraphs. That last one made me laugh: this means when you send money via Western Union, it is in the care of the woman who wrote on the privilege of poverty. I'm just saying...

How she came to be patroness of television is kind of fun actually. When she was bedridden & too ill & frail to attend services, she could see them on the wall of her cell. In 1958, Pope Pius Xii apparently went "ah-Ha!" & a declaration was made. I think the other two are retroactive, all that new fangled technology being lumped together.

Aside from White Oleander however, my first hearing of Clare was actually in connection with her other invocation: eye ailments. She is the patroness of embroiderers & other fine needleworkers & all aspects of laundry (once upon a time this was a needlewoman's chore, mending etc.). Also goldsmiths & gilders. Oh, & clairvoyants, although I think that is that seeing & hearing mass on the wall thing again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bashana haba'ah

I completely missed Rosh Hashannah this year. I might have not even known except so many people reminded me (too late) that it fell on Talk Like a Pirate Day. Ahoy Vey & Arrrrrrr Vey to you all.

I would be more embarrassed if we actually celebrated any christian holidays, but we seem to be falling out of the habit of them, too. Which is a shame because there is a lot food & music faling by the wayside on both sides.

I promise to (try &) do better in the coming year. I could not find any pirates singing this song, so you will just have to settle for Steve & Edyie. Besides, if you play six degrees: Steve & Edye = Vegas = mob = pirates. So I think I am within reasonable limits.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One less rooster

A number of people already know but we were less-than-pleased with this year's order from the hatchery we have used for years. Although I have been told that their business has ka-BOOMed over the past few years, between slow food & the economy, I am unhappy enough that I can say I will never do business with them again.

Among the many snafus we received several roosters when we should not have received any. Well, as of this morning we have one less.

I think I know how the ?possum?raccoon? got him out. That white piece is a flap in the bottom of the door although it is closed with a chain it does swing open enough that something with very small hands could pull something without the sense to keep his head in the pen out, stripping him of many of his feathers along the way.

We do still have one last rooster: a good natured, good sized ameraucana boy. If someone would like him to keep their ladies in chicks, let me know.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A knight, a miller & a reeve walk into a bar

So we have been working our way through The Canterbury Tales (that is not a royal 'we'; A***** is reading them, too) & I have been struck by the alignment with current events. Specifically Senator What's-his-face from South Carolina & the whole conversation about civility in public discourse. Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting we are not uncivil. My argument is we never were civil.

Let me start with Senator What's-his face. This is not actually the first time this particular jackass (or would he prefer the more Republican bull elephant?) has crossed my radar. After the interruption during the speech I asked myself "why is that name familiar?". So I looked up Senators from South Carolina & came up with that most civilized of Southern Gentleman Strom Thurmond. Right there in the archive was the story of how Senator What's-his-face was sure a black woman claiming to be Thurmond's daughter was 1) making it up & 2) smearing a good man's name. He ended up apologizing then, too. If you wish to look it up, save yourself some time: go directly to the NPR website as they seem to be the only news outlet that made the same connection.

There is a Canterbury Tales tie in, I promise. The Miller's Tale is a vivid account of one man's outrageous scheme to sleep with the wife of another man, her complicity & a third man's deliberate sodomizing of the schemer with a hot iron bar (because he was thwarted with same wife). But don't worry, everyone gets what they deserve in the end: the husband is viewed as insane, the wife & her lover get each other & the sodomizer gets no credit at all. It is all very uncivilized. The Reeve's Tale is not worse exactly: a miller steals grain from two customers who have sex with his wife & daughter for revenge.

Before these two is the Knight's Tale. It is a story of chivalry & order, where men lock each other up & throw away the key because they are battle field enemies, all the while acknowledging that former foes are now married to each other. Men fight to the death for love of a woman neither has ever met. & this woman is a shining example of white christian beauty, not something that would ordinarily have caught my attention as uncivilized if Emily were not the blonde blue-eyed sister of the Queen of the Amazons. All the other propaganda aside, inserting characters into other peoples religions/mythologies no matter how ancient, to emphasize how much more civilized your people are falls under the heading of uncivilized. I am certain the Knight failed to realize that & I think it is safe to say Chaucer wanted us to know he failed to realize that.

Being civil is not just not jumping up & down & shouting when you feel you are not being heard, although to do so is to be uncivil. Saying & doing disruptive, misleading & even untruthful or unethical things because you are sure the other guy cannot be right because of his skin color/religion/sexual orientation/car he drives/school he attends/food he eats & excusing it in the name of "I was sure he was wrong & this is what it took to show the world" is also not civil. In short, civilized people address their arguments to facts not characters. Most people do not know this because most people do not know any civilized people; they only know people who say they are civilized.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Musta been muscadine

A week ago Sunday it was cooler at 1ish than it had been in a long time & A suggested we go pick grapes. There are a slew of U-Pik-Em farms around here, but we went to Loftus Family Farms. It took about 15 minutes (less really) to pick 2 buckets worth (one for us & one for W*****; she mowed our big pasture again later that same day).

We pulled up, almost no other cars there, but the cows had been moved to the field in front of the shed they operate out of (it really is pink, you cannot miss it). The bugs were minimal, the vines easy to get to. Two other families were in there; we could here them talking but everything was pleasant.

Once we were done, we went to the very end & saw the elderly cow that had recently given birth to twin calves. She looked tired. Back at the pink shed, we paid for our grapes, made small talk & watched the goat-that-got-away, & was now staked at the back door, head-butt the fan.

They have buckets for you to use, one bucket is about $7 worth of grapes & even if you just lie around staring at the clouds it is worth the trip. I don't have any pictures because I was using both hands to cram all the grapes I could eat into my mou....bucket. I did pull this one from their on-line album & that really is how abundant they are. The farmer says they will be officially open until the end of the month & probably casually a few weeks after that.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It-can-wait chicken

There have been passing references to my go-to cooler-weather favorite casserole, it-can-wait chicken. First let me say I do not slaughter my own chickens. Second, I do buy chicken at the grocery store. & third, I know that makes me a hypocrite.

This is the basic it-can-wait chicken recipe. You will need carrots, potatoes & chicken. & a large casserole dish with a cover. & an oven, although accurate temperature settings are optional.

- wash the potatoes & then cut them into bite-sized pieces. Layer them unpeeled & uncooked in the bottom of the casserole dish, about 1/4 of the way up the side.

- wash the carrots & cut them into bite sized pieces. Layer them unpeeled & uncooked on top of the potatoes, about 1/2 way up the side of the casserole dish.

- remove the skin from the the chicken thighs, wash them in cold water & trim the fat. Spread them out across the top of the vegetable layers, covering as much of the carrots as you can.

- cover the casserole dish & put it in the oven at about 375F for not less than 45 minutes. If you are running late, turn it down to 350F & add another 20 minutes. If the chicken is done & you still are not ready to go to the table, turn the oven off & leave it alone. Turn the oven back on to 350 about 12-15 minutes before serving. The only hard&fast rule is do not uncover until you are ready to serve.

There are many ways to jazz up it-can-wait chicken. You can make as above & then pour red wine or white wine over the whole mess. You can saute onions or apples or apples & onions & layer them on top of the chicken before you cover it all. You can throw cloves of garlic into the potatoes. You can mix random herbs in a small tea cup with little olive oil & brush it on the chicken. You can do all sorts of things. What you cannot do is screw this up. It is unscrew-up-able.

Leftover it-can-wait chicken can go on to have a long & fruitful career. You can stuff it into pastry dough. You can mix it with eggs & bisquick & make a passable chicken pie. Add some stock, celery salt & rice & you have soup. The only rule is if you did not buy boneless chicken, please remove the bones before you send the chicken on to its next destination.

& that is it. Add your own favorite twists & it can become bachelor chicken, second-hand chicken, or whatever your name for it might be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This is not your living room

A has a story: he was driving in NYC, trying to find the ?Empire State Building?. The details escape me but this part does not: at one point he had become tangled & rerouted & lost track of the building. So he opened the door to step out & see if he could see & a bicyclist slammed into the door. & then the man said these immortal words: "Where do you think you are man, your living room?" & he was right. It is not OKay to get out of a car in the middle of traffic & start looking at the skyline.

You know what else is not your living room: the doctor's waiting area. I was at the dermatologist a couple weeks ago & a woman went in for her exam leaving her elementary-school-age children playing in the waiting room. The crowded, high traffic waiting room. One of the children decided to go look for her mother. No one had actually been paying them much attention, but we all know this because mom came out & had a near nervous breakdown when she could not find her daughter. She screamed at the receptionist & the other child alternately for not having "kept an eye on her". The daughter was escorted back around the same time having barged in on someone else's exam.

This past Saturday, I was in a large chain bookstore, the kind with the chairs sprinkled around for customers to...use the products without purchasing? I am not clear on that one actually. & while it is true they have tried to make it seem like your living room it is not; it is a public space. At this warehouse-of-a-bookstore was a group of kids having a ?Pokemon? card trade negotiation thing (a twice-a-month event posted on the store bulletin board) & they were not loud but not whispering. The old guy a few rows over trying to read his book got up every few minutes to shush them. & then argue with them. & then bring an employee over to throw them out. The employee 1) asked the kids to keep it down & 2) suggested old guy maybe move to another part of the store where it was quieter. The kids kept it down for maybe five minutes but it did not matter because old guy had already left in a huff. Empty handed. That's right, old guy was not reading a book he had bought or even was going to buy. He was treating the bookstore like his living room & got pissed at anyone else doing the exact same thing.

But the big not-your-living-room offender has got to be cell phone addicts. It is not OKay to take phone calls, no matter how important, in the movie theatre. What amazes me is that there are still enough people who do not accept this that I have not been to a movie in which at least one phone did not ring in I do not know how long. In Julie & Julia one person actually took TWO calls. Then the little old lady behind her rose up & started squawking so loud same woman had to leave the order to hear what was being said....on the phone! We all know this because she explained it, loudly, to the person on the line as she left.

While I am on the subject of how the movie theatre is not your living room, let me point out it is also not your nursery. I am SICK & TIRED of people bringing infants to the movies: infants start screaming & so person with infant takes baby to the aisle. Really? To walk up & down, trying to calm baby while still in the theatre? I always want to ask: can we have your home address because the rest of the theatre has a lot of noisy, smelly, unpleasant sh*t we need to do somewhere & well, you volunteered.

The grocery store is also not your living room (or bedroom). I got so fed up with a woman having soft-core phone sex while in the grocery store that I started to participate. I got out about two sentences of commentary before she put down her basket & left. I find this actually works quite well in other rude-phone situations & I have taken to lying about it, as in "see that woman with the blue dress on the phone by the Cap'n Crunch/paint roller/oak leaf hydrangea, I think she must be talking to someone she really hates because she keeps rolling her eyes & giving the phone the finger". I did once have one person tell me I was interrupting a 'private conversation'. My answer : "Hey I am just talking loud to my imaginary friend, too, what makes you think it is about you?".

& then there is the last place that is not your living room. That would be MY living room. I think that is actually the root of the problem. Between the computer & the television everyone is so accustomed to traffic thru their own private space that they are having trouble telling the difference between private & public. I guess the only thing for me to do now is stop typing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dear Geico Representative

If you read your own e-mail (which the auto-responses to my messages rather imply that you do not), you already know that our household of Geico customers is leaving your company after 20+ years because of Geico's continued support of the Philadelphia Eagles following their decision to sign Michale Vick.

The e-mail response I did receive stated clearly that the potential new customer is worth more to your organization than the existing customer. I find it hard to believe that anyone would stay in business for as long as Geico has if that were true so you should know: if it was a bluff hoping the anti-Michael Vick sentiments would fade away, it failed. Several of your competitors were delighted to scoop up our business & all gave us reasonable quotes & better customer service.

I hope whatever Geico staffer actually opens this letter takes a good look in the mirror. After the furor over this very poor marketing decision has died down, even if people like us represent only a fraction of Geico's overall customer base, the exodus of long-term, on-time bill paying, non-claim making (we have not had so much as a moving violation for more than ten years) customers means there will be less money in the pot for payroll. The job that gets cut will not be the suit that thought this would blow over; that person will be enjoying Philadelphia Eagles skybox service while you are waiting in the unemployment line.

Happy Labor Day.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

An old story about a (then) new donkey

I suppose that before I tell even an old story about the donkey, I should tell you more about the donkey. His name is Bert. It is short for someone else's last name. That last name is shared by a favorite late-night-show host. Together they are the triple crown of Assdom: the natural-born ass, the entertainment ass & the beloved former co-worker.

People told me that horses were smarter than donkeys. This is a crock. I have met the occasional clever horse but never even heard of one that could out-shine the average donkey. People think donkeys are stoopid because donkeys do not care what people think.

I was also told that donkeys are stubborn. This is absolutely correct. If you have never had to negotiate with a donkey you do not know what stubborn is. On the other hand, more than once when faced with a particularly belligerent/spoiled/obtuse individual I have had the realization that I have dealt with a much bigger ass already that morning. It is more empowering then EST. I should probably start a self-help program. Our slogan could be "your biggest ass is behind you". Maybe not.

Back to the donkey. What I was not prepared for was not just cleverness, not just stubbornness but actual intellect-driven behavior. & to show you what I mean, I will tell you an old story:

Long ago in the mists of time....our donkey yanked so hard on the chain that winds around the fence post & the gate that he broke the clip that fastened the two ends together (believe it or not dear reader, there is actually ANOTHER story about the same donkey that begins this exact same way, but I will save it for another time). It was a fluke almost that I even caught him before he had run out the opened gate; I heard way-too-much rattling & went to investigate. I pulled the two ends of the chain back together, looped them through each other & fastened them with an inferior clasp. Bert went to work on this 'new' closure immediately & I sat down to think. It was late at night & even if I had time to get to the hardware store (I did not) it would not be open. A was out of town & there was really no one I could call who could be there in time to help, even if I knew what form that help could take; I had maybe ten minutes tops & then the donkey would be out.

One interesting thing about this gate: although the gate itself was hung to open either inward or outward, the slope of the land is such that outward from the pasture is the ideal way. You can pull it inward, up the slope, but it takes some heaving-while-lifting & really only works if the grass is closely cropped.

While the donkey worked on the chain, the horses had moved in closer to see what he was up to. They did not yet know Bert's stunts often resulted in extra food, some adventure, but for them it was still something new to watch.

As the donkey unlooped the almost-last loop, I pulled my car up so the bumper pressed against just the what-would-swing-open end of the gate. My thinking was that once the donkey got it unlooped & tried to push it open, he would meet resistance he could do nothing about & go find some other mischief. I was wrong.

Bert did not need to try to push the gate open to know the car would keep it from opening; he stopped unwinding the chain immediately. & then I saw his first full-blown temper tantrum. He he-hawed, he kicked the air, he yanked on the gate itself making a fruitless rattle. In short, he stopped working & started complaining. He paced back & forth in front of the gate (still barely held closed by the chain) snorting & stomping & shaking his head. The horses were fascinated. Then Bert just stopped & stalked off.

The next morning, A came home from his trip or I called someone to go to the hardware store or whatever & I got a new chain with a new clasp. What I do remember is that when I backed the car up so I could remove the bent & broken chain, open the gate, & refasten with the new one all the horses came to watch. Bert grazed at the back of the pasture & I never even saw him turn to look.

//for the record I have never had EST training, nor do I have a complete understanding of what it entails. What I did have (circa 1984) was a very hazy idea that the guy I had been assigned to work with on a project was trying to manipulate me into doing the yucky bits by claiming he was better qualified to do the fun stuff. My response: "All the EST training in the world will not bend my brain into thinking you are even 1/2 the genius you already know you are not. Knock it off." It turns out I had 1) made the correct assessment & 2) hit upon the exact magic words designed to deflate a seminar-puffed bully.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dear Humane Society of the United States

I was sorry when I learned that HSUS had agreed to endorse Michael Vick's return to the NFL before any measure of his rehabilitation could be made. Now that Vick has made clear that he has no plans to attempt sobriety (to refresh your memory, his addictions were the excuse he gave for his actions), I hope that you are reconsidering your support of what was clearly a quick&dirty clean-up so that someone could make some money.

As of right now, any support (financial, volunteer, etc.) that I gave to HSUS has already stopped. I know enough people in the animal rescue world to know that I am one of thousands who have made this decision. I am also business savvy enough to understand that the donation the NFL made to get the support of the HSUS in this debacle must have been substantial. It may even be enough to offset the loss of revenue from small household donors such as myself.

There is no doubt that the decision to take what was offered & prop up Michael Vick for as long as HSUS has will be the decision that defines HSUS well into the future. What is still at stake is whether HSUS is an organization that can admit a mistake was made. Was HSUS a naive but well-intentioned organization that was temporarily distracted by dollar signs & has realized this error OR is HSUS just another corporate entity designed primarily to make money to feed its coffers? Or is it even worse: is the HSUS employee that brokered this deal & received a sizable bonus for his "fund raising" the same person who makes the decision on whether or not to "stay the course"?

When Michael Vick does finally crash&burn (& there is every reason to believe it will be sooner rather than later), the press will have a field day with if HSUS is still the organization that was more interested in rescuing animal abusers than helping the animals themselves.

It seems clear that HSUS is at a crossroads. Is it better to stay in bed with the symbol of everything the HSUS claims to be against because the money is good or get out with some shreds of credibility intact & hope that action generates some goodwill? At this point, these are the only choices left.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reconciling the disparate

Last weekend was swap day for the fourth FaceBook Quilt Block Swap Group; we swapped kids blocks. The directions were simple in the extreme: a 4" or larger center block (that may or may not be pieced) bordered up (with border(s) that may or may not be pieced) to 9"/9.5"unfinished. It was our largest block s far & the largest swap: the most participants & most participants sent more than one set of five.

& now what to do with the wildly disparate if roughly the same size, blocks. For me it is a no-brainer, my fall-back sashing: Reconciling the Disparate.

I begin with 2.5" strips of a more-or-less read-as-solid fabric. To calculate how much you need measure your block (9.5") times the number of blocks (9) plus the edge of the block with one side sashed (11.5") times the number of blocks. Or 85.5" plus 103.5" for a total of 189" of 2.5" strips. If you have ever calculated the amount a fabric needed to make a binding, this should already start to look familiar.

I estimate that any bolt has 40" of useful fabric so 189" dived by 40" means that it will take roughly five strips to go all the way around two sides of each block (yes, I rounded up). Then I add an extra strip for my own convenience; I really do not want to piece some of those sashes together. That means I want 6 times 2.5" of fabric Or 15" for the border. I would probably round up again to 1/2 yard.

The rest is easy: I border two dies of each block. In this case, I did not worry too much abut which two sides (if I have blocks of the same pattern I try to border the same sides). & then I put them together so that no seam needs to be matched.

The advantage of this pattern is that I can re-size the blocks if need to be AFTER the sashing has gone on without changing the dimension of the original block (without losing triangle points or having to add if the block was too small). In this case, I took the blocks down to 11" unfinished, trimming only from the sashing. & because there are no seams to match, it is almost impossible to see any difference in the sashing width from block to block.