31 December 2007

Same procedure as last year ...

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because, like most of the other 400 or so resolutions I make throughout the year, I rarely keep them. It doesn’t help to swear I’ll lose 50 pounds starting Jan. 1, 2008 or have Abs of Steel by Jan. 1, 2009. Maybe I’ll lose those pounds and build those muscles this year, and maybe I won’t. Either way, it won’t be for lack of trying. Since June, I’ve managed to lose 25 and gained five back, mostly since Thanksgiving. I’ve walked miles and miles, and I don’t have Anything of Steel, yet. Okay, my calves are like cardboard. It’s a start.

I’m just going to keep on keeping on and see what happens. Forget the guilt that comes with broken resolutions. I don’t need more guilt. I’ve got enough; my cup overfloweth. Instead, I’m going to do like my dearest friend does and refuse to be negative. I’m gonna keep my eye on the prize, my head in the clouds, and build castles in the air. And smile. I'm going to smile.

This is not a New Year’s resolution. I know I won’t manage to achieve positive thoughts, weight loss and steely abs every day. In fact, I know myself pretty well, so I figure if I can achieve any of them every two or three days, I’m doing great. I’m reaching for what I can reach – when I stand on the tips of my tiptoes.

I’m feeling pensive about the coming New Year. Maybe even a little apprehensive. George W. Bush still has another year and 20 days to make, directly, evil decisions and cause terrible suffering in the world. He still has plenty of time to make other, more covert decisions that will affect us and our children’s children for many years to come, decisions that will change our country and our culture and which will take years to undo, if we can undo them. The housing bubble has burst. Our feel-good-just-charge-it economy is deflating – but those of us who aren’t rich have noticed that particular slow leak for a long time anyway. Now it’s just leaking faster. I worry about that. I worry about my daughter and her fiancĂ©e, and what it will mean for their future. I worry, and I can’t do anything about it.

So on this New Year’s Eve I find myself thinking about New Year’s Eves I enjoyed in the past. In Bremerhaven, Germany, we got together with German and British friends and spent the evening drinking champagne, laughing, talking, and watching “Dinner for One,” an odd German tradition that, I’m convinced, only gets better with each glass of champers. And then there was more talk, more jokes were told, more bubbly consumed until, finally, midnight approached and we all piled out onto the flat’s tiny balcony, where the temperature hovered, in fog, at roughly 18 degrees. The anticipation grew with each passing moment and we all picked up the pots and big spoons strategically placed there earlier in the evening by our hostess. Midnight – and all the ships sitting in the Port of Bremerhaven sounded their horns. The harbor foghorn joined the wild lowing bass notes, then trucks and buses and cars all over the city added their baritones and high tenor voices to the mix. And then on top of it all, came the sound of people, screaming and laughing and yelling and banging pots and pans and exploding crackers and kissing each other and the joyous, hopeful cacophony went on for at least five minutes or so, until everyone came near to freezing and had to go back inside.

OK, now I've gone and made myself smile. So as a special treat for you, my blogosphere friends, look what I found:

Happy New Year, everyone.

Ruh-roh, as that great thinker Scooby said more than once. Ruh-roh.

I need your help. My five-year-old Dell Inspiron is on its last legs. I recently switched from dial-up to super-fast, broadband cable Internet and set up my own wi-fi (I was so proud of myself!). When my five-year-old version of Microsoft Word (which I use every day without fail) started acting flaky, I got the new 2007 version, bundled within Microsoft’s Office Home and Student, and installed it.

But the new version, to my dismay, has been even flakier. And at the same time, I noticed my Dell running slower and slower. Windows often show up white before eventually filling in. I called my computer geek guy, since I know nothing of the innards of my sweet Dell, and he’s the doc. He came out. He looked. He gave me the news. “Wren, you must get a new computer. This one is too old now to keep up. It doesn’t have enough virtual memory, and no, it won’t really work to add more. I’m sorry. Your old friend is ... dying.”

Well, I went into deep denial. I couldn’t wrap my head around expensive equipment like this pooping out after merely five years.

But now I’ve had the dreaded blue screen appear twice. Both times, I was able to shut off at the switch, turn the power back on, and then reboot properly once everything was running. But I fear for a third time. It can happen at any moment. I don’t know how to prevent it. The first time, I was just using the Firefox browser. The second, yesterday, I was saving a Word document. I lost quite a bit in the chaos.

I’m not rich, so I can’t afford a high-end laptop. What I need is one that lets me browse using Firefox, watch the occasional video clip, use Word extensively, and a few other largish programs, like Photoshop. I enjoy using ICQ, too, to talk to a few good friends. I download photos using Picasa.

Anybody out there know something about 'puters and have some good suggestions? I’ve checked the Dell site (I’m not wedded to Dell, just familiar with the company and until now, I’ve been very happy with my Inspiron), and frankly, all the bells and whistles listed for the various models are mostly gobbledygook to me.


29 December 2007

Christmas is over in Fallujah and everywhere else, but this song, written by Billy Joel and sung by Cass Dillon, is still perfectly, and sadly, appropriate.

H/t to Greg Mitchell at Pressing Issues.

28 December 2007

Let it snow

... and snow. My inner Finn (see below), outer Finn and psychodog are all cozy.

Working the inner Finn

As happy as my inner Finn was to see the snow, my inner house-mouse did not want to deal with the work of staying warm in it. However, in a house heated only with a woodstove, one has to face the fact that one will have to cart in wood. Fortunately, last season Mr. Wren and I found this actual woodcart for the wood carting. It holds a lot of wood. I appreciate not having to carry all that wood into the house in the sling carrier, like I used to.
Bringing in the wood on snowy days starts with shoveling a path from the door to the woodpile through the snow. Since we cleverly hid the snow shovel when there was no longer any chance of snow last spring, and I had no idea where, I used a broom to sweep a path through this first snowfall of the season. Fortunately, there was only about an inch-and-a-half. Then I sprinkled de-icer granules so I wouldn't slip and break my arm. Or my stupid head.
I filled the woodcart up with nice dry, seasoned almond and cherry wood and rolled it around the corner...
... and across the patio to the slider, then into the house.
By this time I was warm enough that I was wondering why I felt it nessary to bring more wood in at all. Who needs heat? Just sweep snow and fill woodcarts! But I did my duty, emptying the cart into the woodring by the stove, then going out for another load and bringing it in, too. Now the house will stay nice and warm through the next storm, which I hear is on its way tonight. Snow? Or just rain? Who knows. Either way, I'm covered.

To the utter delight of my inner Finn, the first snow of the season fell overnight. Isn't it pretty?

27 December 2007

Back to Earth

I've been floating on my own little pink cloud of joy the last several days. With the holidays, and then the good news about my daughter's engagement, I was determined not to let anything burst my little bubble.

Well, that couple of days were nice, but they're over now.

The first news of the world I heard this morning upon waking was that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated in Pakistan. The news was both breathtaking and ... after an instant's thought, not surprising.

The next news item that made a big impression today was that 3,900 U.S. soldiers have now died in Iraq, victims of George W. Bush's War That Did Not Have to Be. Three-thousand, nine-hundred men and women, many of them killed in unspeakable violence, for ... what? Bush has never answered Cindy Sheehan's simple question: Exactly what "noble cause" did her son Casey die for? Indeed, what "noble cause" have the other 3,899 soldiers died for?

We'll likely never really know, since the answer is so despicable. My guess? All these soldiers died for oil, for wildly lucrative business deals, for George's vanity, for the opportunity to destroy the America we once knew in order to benefit a few, very rich individuals. Maybe I'm wrong. There are sure a lot of people out there who'd tell me so in an instant.

But could they answer the question? Would they? What is the "noble cause" we're sending our loved ones to be slaughtered for?

I've heard news of Benazir Bhutto since I was quite young. She was learning about life at about the same time I was -- she was just three years older than I. She learned more than I did, though, attending Princeton and Oxford, and eventually becoming the prime minister of her country. Think about that. Although the elegant and opinionated Bhutto was not allowed much time in the position, the very fact that she rose to it through the will of her people is deeply significant. A woman was prime minister of a Muslim country. She was ... extraordinary, whatever her faults. And now she's gone, shot dead by an assassin who moments later blew himself and at least 20 other innocent people to bits.

The coward. May he be reincarnated as a dung beetle.

I'm not terribly surprised that Bhutto was assassinated. She represented a huge threat to President Pervez Musharraf's dictatorial control of Pakistan. Did he have something to do with her assassination?

I doubt we'll ever know. But today Pakistan, one of our greatest "allies" in the war on terror is tottering badly after having squandered billions of U.S. taxpayer money. All our efforts to secure Afghanistan and rebuild that country as a democracy may end up being for naught after all. Musharraf is weak and getting weaker. Bhutto's death will only cause more trouble -- perhaps more than he, or we, can handle. And then Pakistan falls to the mullahs.

Welcome back to Earth.

Note: I noticed that Paul Krugman, one of my favorite progressive columnists, feels that the word "cowardly" in reference to a suicide bomber is the wrong word to use. I disagree, mainly because the bomber, however brave in taking his own life for his cause, is still too cowardly to face life as a living, breathing, struggling human being with the rest of us. He also has no honor, taking the lives of others as if he has a right to them. And finally, the people who put him up to this terrible act of violence against himself and against the random innocents who happen to be near when he detonates -- they're cowards, too, because they won't fight for their cause in the clear and in the open.

26 December 2007


My daughter – I can no longer call her “the fledgling” as she has flown the nest and has wonderful, elegant, strong wings of her own – arrived with her boyfriend yesterday to share Christmas lunch with us. She was bursting with good news.

She came into the house beaming. We hugged. She said, “Guess what?”

I said, “What?” and gently nudged her out of the doorway so The Boy, as she refers to her very, very tall and large boyfriend, could get in out of the cold, too.

Still beaming – this smile lit the room, gang – she held out her left hand. And there, on the third finger, was a delicate gold ring with three small, sparkling diamonds. The boy had popped the question just that morning. To his huge delight and relief, she said “yes.”

My little baby girl, my wee elf, my grumpy fledgling, oh, my beautiful daughter, will marry soon.

Over our holiday lunch of soup and salad (they were off to The Boy’s family for the later afternoon and evening, and more feasting), she told Mr. Wren, me and my mother that she and The Boy won’t tie the knot until late next year or early 2009, because she’s working hard on getting her bachelor’s degree right now and really needs to keep her concentration on it, not wedding dresses and bouquet colors. But after she graduates in November 2008 there will be a wedding. And then she plans to start working on her Master’s degree.

I liked The Boy from the moment she told me about how he’d brought her a rose on their first date. And another on their second. More roses, both physical and figurative, appeared frequently after that. He’s an incurable romantic and a gentle soul, one of those sweet, rare men. Now I love him for loving my daughter so deeply and helplessly. And to my own delight, I will soon have a son. My little family is growing.

I’ve never been a terribly romantic person. I’m more the pragmatic type. Romance appeals, of course, but then real life intrudes. This is not to say that this particular romance between my daughter and her lover doesn’t move me. It does – a lot more than I thought it would. That she’d marry someday was something I never doubted. She’s a free spirit, an independent thinker and a beautiful, smart young woman. Who could resist her? But I never thought I’d spend the hours following the announcement of her engagement alternately weeping and grinning like a fool.

I am so pleased. I am so happy for her. And I’m sad, too. Another transition is occurring in our lives. This time, for me the transition is bittersweet. It’s another small slide down the slope toward old age. But to my daughter, it’s a bright light shining, beckoning her into the most varied and glorious years of her adulthood.

I’m not making much sense and now I’m all teary again. Can you blame me? My daughter’s getting married! What a warm and lovely present for the dawning new year.

24 December 2007

Ho ho ho ...

And on that note, happy holidays! I might be back before New Year, I might not. Depends on how merciful the pigeons are ...

21 December 2007

Winter solstice

I look out, and snow is falling
with a moon still in the sky.

A new day begins.
And of the dream called yesterday,
no trace.


This old pagan wishes everyone a peaceful and joyous holiday.

17 December 2007

Off to the Nether Lands ...

Sweet singer Dan Fogelberg left us yesterday.

I remember listening to this song on a cassette tape way back in the olden days. It always touched me and left me just a little misty-eyed. The bright lights among us who can achieve that momentary wrench out of the normal are such miraculous people. Rest in peace, Dan. You'll be missed, but your star twinkles still.

Nether Lands

High on this mountain
The clouds down below
I'm feeling so strong and alive
From this rocky perch
I'll continue to search
For the wind
And the snow
And the sky
I want a lover
I want some friends
And I want to live in the sun
And I want to do all the things that I
never have done.

Sunny bright mornings
And pale moonlit nights
Keep me from feeling alone
Now, I'm learning to fly
And this freedom is like
Nothing that I've ever known
I've seen the bottom
And I've been on top
But mostly I've lived in between
And where do you go
When you get to the end of
your dream?

Off in the nether lands
I heard a sound
Like the beating of heavenly wings
And deep in my brain
I can hear a refrain
Of my soul as she rises and sings
Anthems to glory and
Anthems to love and
Hymns filled with earthly delight
Like the songs that the darkness
Composes to worship the light.

Once in a vision
I came on some woods
And stood at a fork in the road
My choices were clear
Yet I froze with the fear
Of not knowing which way to go
One road was simple
Acceptance of life
The other road offered sweet peace
When I made my decision
My vision became my release.

Mom's Overture by Anita Renfroe

Thanks to Connie at Planet of the Blind, I nearly passed a full cup of coffee through my nose. You have been warned.

14 December 2007

A few degrees off plumb

Things did not start out well today. I knew you’d be burning to hear all about it, so I live-blogged the crisis:

7: 33 a.m.: A couple minutes ago I decided to have a soft-boiled egg for breakfast. Yes, a nice, soft-boiled egg, piping hot and wisping tendrils of steam into the frigid morning air. It’s cold in the house because the fire went out overnight and if I want a new fire I’m going to have to clean the ash out of the firebox, but the airtight ash bucket is full to the top with dead ash and the trash can into which it could be dumped is up at the verrrrry top of the driveway, also full, because the damned garbage pick-up company changed our pick-up day without letting us know. So the trash can will remain at the top of the driveway (where I dragged it, huffing and puffing because it weighed about 200 pounds and the driveway is on an 80-degree slope, on Wednesday evening) until Tuesday, the new trash day.

Got that? So it’s fricking cold in here and there is no fire, but the cat, who chowed down on his breakfast kibbles immediately upon rising, has draped himself over my left arm as I type in a valiant attempt to share his body heat with me. I realize that he’s probably only thinking of himself – I am, by far, the warmest spot in the house right now – but it’s comforting to delude myself that he’s trying to body-meld with me because he loves me so much.

7:40 a.m.: Anyway, back to the egg. I get the egg-cooker off the shelf. I’m sleepy from having awakened so many times during the night (see previous posts) so I can’t be blamed if, upon looking at the egg-cooker, I think, “ooh, it’s gotten a little dusty! Better clean that up!” I wipe the domed plastic cover off with a damp cloth. There, that’s better, I think drowsily, visions of hot soft-boiled egg dancing through my head. Really, I should just put the cover into the dishwasher next time I run it. That way, it will come out squeaky clean and clear, not just just wiped off haphazardly, which doesn’t go very far toward actual cleanliness. I am so undomesticated.

Just so you’re aware: I love my egg-cooker. Using an appliance specifically to cook eggs is a habit I first started in Germany, when I happened across one of the inexpensive gadgets a local store. I’d never seen an egg-cooker before and let me tell you, I was completely charmed because I really, really love soft-boiled eggs, but it’s hard to get them just right. Now, it was early on in my stay in Germany when I found the egg-cooker, but one of the neat little things I already loved about the country was the breakfast they served at the hotels, large and small. Called “fruhstuck,” it consisted of sliced, dense, heavy breads or, if you preferred, a couple of heavenly “brotchen,” which were fist-sized, freshly-baked, still-warm buns baked crisp and golden on the outside but incredibly white, soft and tasty inside. (I know these foreign words are not punctuated correctly but I haven’t got the patience right now to find the right keystrokes in Word for umlauts, OK??)

Brotchen were perfect for slathering on butter and cream cheese and a little jam. Fruhstuck also included thinly sliced cold meats, sliced or spreadable cheeses, and big bowls of musli with pitchers of milk. All was served with individual pots that held two cups or so of strong, wicked-hot German coffee, with clotted, unsweetened cream and cubes of sugar on the side. Oh, yum.

And then there were the eggs, of course.

These were delicious, soft-boiled eggs, served in cute little egg-cups. I’d seen this darling egg-eating custom in a movie once (I think it was “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” which in my memory was both delightful and hilarious and made me yearn to visit Europe years before I actually got to) and of course, I was anxious to give it a try. It took some practice, but eventually I could do that little tapping thing around the top of the egg with my knife that allows you to just lift the top off like a cap, then eat the egg with a tiny spoon right out of the shell, which remains intact. I can hardly describe how absolutely delicious an egg is, served this way, but believe me when I say that there is nothing better than dipping a bit of toast into the perfectly hot, thickened but still liquid yolk... but I digress, again. Dang it’s cold in here.

7:42: So I get out my egg cooker, which took me five years of searching for in the Ami stores after leaving my German one behind because it worked only on European current and had the wrong plug for the U.S. My new (heheh – it’s about 10 years old now) egg-cooker is an “Egg Head,” which is cute and round, and has seven holes for eggs and two small, rounded, triangular cups for poached eggs, if you want them. You pour a specific amount of water into the cooker, put the cover on and flip the switch, and the cooker boils the water which, as it converts to steam, cooks the eggs.

To determine the specific amount of water necessary to cook soft eggs or hard eggs the Egg Head comes with a special measuring cup. This cup is narrow, sort of like a tall test tube, and there are gradations of egg-cooked-ness embossed on the side. The bottom of the measuring tube thingy is concave and has, right in the very middle, a tiny nail which you use to poke a tiny hole through the shell at the end of the egg so steam can escape from inside it as it cooks. This prevents a very messy, eggy explosion.

This water-measuring thingy with the nail in the bottom fits right into the Egg Head for storage. It lays sideways on top of the poaching cups in the center of the device, at the highest part of the dome-like cover. Handy. When you’re done cooking your egg, you just dry everything off, put the little measuring thingy back in and put the whole appliance away. The cord hangs around being aggravating, but really, it’s all very simple.

So I get out my Egg Head. I put it on the counter. I wipe off the cover in a fit of sleepy sanitary fussiness. I lift it off.

There is no measuring thingy inside.

I stand there for a moment while my universe shifts a tad. This is impossible. Then I remember on Thanksgiving morning, really really early in the morning, I made a soft boiled egg. And in the busy confusion and nose-to-the-grindstone cooking marathon that ensued right after I consumed that little egg, I put the Egg Head away without putting the measuring thingy inside it.

So for several days, the measuring thingy stood all alone on the back of the rolling kitchen cart, the one where I keep fresh veggies and apples and cooking utensils and even tiny red peppers from Mr. Wren’s garden. They’ve naturally dried through disuse (which is how the original humans discovered dried foods). I keep them in a wee glass bowl, ready for the day I’ve actually remembered to buy and don rubber gloves and goggles in preparation for slicing the itsy peppers open to remove the miniscule but Fiery Seeds of Doom so I can add whatever’s left after that to something we’re brave enough to eat. It’s one of those Someday Projects. I figure those peppers will keep forever and ever.

So. I left the measuring thingy on the kitchen cart. Back in late November. Right. I look on the kitchen cart. The measuring thingy for my egg-cooker is not there anywhere. Not even behind the wooden spoons or the folk-metal baker Santa Claus that rocks.


OK. Now, I know this isn’t a big deal. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. But in an entire decade, I have never misplaced the measuring thingy for my Egg Head egg-cooker. Not even once. It has always been right where I expected it to be, balanced precariously atop the poaching cups beneath the clear plastic dome cover. And here’s the problem – without the measuring thingy, you cannot cook the eggs to their perfect, proper doneness.

I’m doomed.

Disbelieving, I once again study the top of the kitchen cart, because I know I saw the thingy there. I even ... vaguely ... recall thinking, “I’ll lose this if I don’t put it away” because I’ve had a lifetime of practice in losing small things and forgetting important things. I had A.D.D. before it was stylish. Before it was in. Before it was called a disorder. We called it being “absent-minded” or “careless” back then. Some people I know who are my age are now blaming this sort of behavior on “senior moments.” But I’m not admitting that, not yet.

7:50: The measuring thingy is not in the egg-cooker and not on the kitchen cart. I start going through the cupboards, thinking, “OK, so I did put it away, I remember now, but I didn’t take the time to put it back with the egg-cooker, I put it somewhere I’d remember where it was.

The Dreaded, Famous Last Words: “I’ll put it here, where I’ll remember it.” Heh.

8:10: That measuring thingy is noplace in my kitchen. I’ve now looked everywhere. I looked in the cupboards above the counter, I looked in the ones below the counter. I looked in all the drawers, even the junk drawer. I looked where I keep the dishes, and the glasses, and the coffee cups. In the spice cabinet. In the drawer under the oven. I looked in the bread basket on top of the refrigerator and even inside the refrigerator itself. Then I looked in all those places two more times.

I haven’t checked my sock drawer yet, but I have a terrible feeling that if I do, I just might find the egg-cooker measuring thingy there.

Blogging this crisis has gone pretty well, but I still haven’t had anything to eat. I want my soft boiled egg. Yes, I know. I could put water in a pan, put an egg in it and boil the water. The thing is, I can never get the egg just right that way. It’s either too runny – ewwwww! – or cooked too hard. Ick. Those are good for Easter or for deviled eggs or even egg salad, but not for my breakfast.

Sigh. Well, I have to hit the shower. And then it will be time to go get my short hair highlighted so Mr. Wren doesn’t think I’ve gone butch on him. By the time I get home, he’ll be up and, if I’m lucky, there will be a fire going and it will be much warmer in here. And when I look again, I’ll find that egg-cooker measuring thingy right there on the counter.

The universe will tip back neatly to plumb, and all will be well.

07 December 2007

Chicken little ...

Keith Olbermann has outdone himself again. You don't want to miss this.

04 December 2007

Rooster brains

As some of you know if you’ve been reading my blog, Mr. Wren and I keep chickens. We have five, and all of them are chubby Rhode Island Red hens. Each of The Girls produces a big, delicious brown egg with a startled cackle once a day during the laying season. They give us far more eggs than we could ever hope to eat by ourselves, so our family, friends and neighbors share in the largess. Smiles abound.

While we don’t have a rooster now, we used to. It wasn’t intentional. Mr. Wren brought six adorable, fuzzy, yellow bantam chicks home one day from the feed store, where he’d gone to buy dog food. Hey, when you live in the country, you don’t buy your dog food at the supermarket, silly. You get it from the feed store like all the other local yokels. It’s fun parkin’ next to all those pickups with the gun racks and watchin' guys in plaid flannel shirts hawk globs of ... whatever ... on the dirty plank floor as they hitch up their drawers.

Anyway, Mr. Wren was assured by the bored feed store cashier that the chicks he was buying would all grow up to be hens. He didn’t plan to raise chickens but only to feed and nurture these six little cuties, give them a nice, long, comfy life and in return, enjoy their smallish eggs for breakfast.

They were supposed to be exotic Polish Something-or-Other Chickens, which Mr. Wren chose in a fit of snickering because of the silly-looking top-knots that would grow like mops on their heads when they were mature. Also, they supposedly laid green, pink and yellow pastel-colored eggs. Every day would be like Easter except no messy dye! What a kick in the pants!

Since they were Polish, he gave them Polish-like names. He named one of the little hens, who had a malformed schnozz, “Zbeaksky.”

As time passed we discovered that these chickens weren’t the Polish ones at all, but some of the names stuck.

We also discovered that one of the Not-Polish hens was actually a rooster, after his feathers grew in and he sprouted a magnificent tail and a deep red comb and wattles. With a perfectly straight face, Mr. Wren christened him “Zcocksky.”

It would be nice if that was the end of the differences between the male and female chicken-people, but noooo. This story drags on. Like men, roosters are from Mars. While hens cluck and chatter softly to one another as they scratch around for tasty bugs, roosters crow like maniacs. For those of you who’re barnyard-challenged, understand that this ear-splitting cockadoodle-doooooing does not only take place at dawn, but throughout the daylight hours and even, if the rooster is an insomniac, after dark. Roosters crow, in fact, whenever they damn-well decide to give voice, which is frequently.

Fortunately, living out in the country as we do, having a rooster with an amazingly overdeveloped set of pipes wasn’t the liability you might expect. After a while, we hardly noticed the racket, and if we did, it was a natural racket, at least. We’d just mutter “stupid rooster” and move on. The neighbors never said a word. Really, Zcocksky was much less disturbing than, say, a police helicopter with a spotlight hovering over your neighborhood at 3 a.m., like what happens down in the ‘burbs all the time. I’ll take the crowing rooster, thanks.

And their pipes aren’t the only aspect of roosters that tend to overdevelop. The other things which set them apart from their milder-mannered sisters are their spurs and their tendency toward truly bad manners. Before he grew spurs on his legs, Zcocksky was OK to be around. I could even say his name without bursting into laughter. He’d run up and try to peck my ankles now and then when I was out working in the sunny garden, but he wasn’t very serious and it was pretty funny.

Then he grew spurs and everything changed.

Since none of the chickens except Zcocksky and Zbeaksky were actually bantams, either, but regular-sized hens of a variety of types (the chicken-man in the John Deere cap saw Mr. Wren coming), poor Zcocksky was sorta size-challenged when it came to doing his roosterly duties. But what he couldn’t do in the sack he made up for in sheer, nasty, bad-tempered aggression. He pestered the hens and chased them around, running at them with his head low and his tail up. They’d flutter and cluck and trot off, then go back to ignoring him. So he started taking his irritation out on me.

Whenever I’d go out to the garden, he’d wait in ambush around the corner of the house. As soon as I passed, he’d come tearing out from his hiding place, his chicken feet going thump-thump-thump-thump-thump on the earth behind me. Then there’d be a terrible silence as he launched himself, spurs first, at my calves.

Now, understand that rooster spurs are wicked sharp, like spikes. I’m sure Zcocksky, nursing his small-rooster rage, honed his weapons to a razor’s edge every night while we slept. The idea of having him slash and mangle my legs with those things never much appealed to me, so the second I heard that ominous thumping I’d wheel around, shout and kick him before he could score. Thank goodness for all that kick-ball practice in grade school!

Sometimes my screech and turn was enough to stop his launch in mid-air, but often his momentum was too great and no matter how madly he flapped those silly short wings, he couldn’t abort the attack. In which case he’d encounter my foot, rising rapidly off the ground to meet him.

And then off he’d soar, squawking and flapping, lofted 15 feet down the garden path like a feathery soccer ball. While he was still in the air, I’d grab a rake or a hoe or anything else that could be used as a weapon and crouch, waiting, because as soon as he touched down, Zcocksky would be up again, shaking himself and running at me in his next attack. Sometimes it took three or four Soccer-Ball-Flights before he’d give up for a while to reassess his tactics.

All this time, of course, Mr. Wren was rolling around in the foxtails, laughing his ass off. Zcocksky sometimes took it into his pin-sized head to attempt an attack on him, but Mr. Wren is huge and could have easily drop-kicked him into the next county. Hell, one of his feet was bigger than the entire rooster. So mostly, Zcocksky left him alone, even though all his hens followed Mr. Wren around like rockstar groupies, cooing with excitement.

I’m sure that just steamed that poor rooster, whose ego was already battered. So Zcocksky saved his fury up for me. Once he caught his breath and regathered his few scattered marbles, he’d set up new ambushes. I’d be wandering around the garden, relaxed finally, plucking tomatoes off the vines and relieving the zucchini plants of their baseball-bat sized squashes. As any vegetable gardener can tell you, zucchini squashes grow from neat, tender, edible hand-length tasties to baseball-bat-sized, tough and inedible nearly overnight. If you don’t get them when they’re small, they’re really only good for rooster-bashing.

So imagine: There I am, innocently cutting a huge, prickly zucchini loose when I hear the dreaded thumping behind me that indicates Zcocksky making another kamikaze charge at the back of my knees. I have mere seconds to react. Using a move I learned from Bruce Willis in Die Hard XXIII, I wrench the massive zuke loose, spin and swing – and send that idiot Zcocksky flying backwards through the sky.

There’s a sort of beauty to this.

Now, you animal lovers out there are probably gasping and shaking your heads in disgust at my obvious disregard and hatred for this small chicken. Why, he could have been hurt!

Indeed. So could I have needed stitches in my ankles, so there. We could have kept Zcocksky locked in the pen, but we felt bad confining him and depriving him of all those nice, tasty bugs that were all over the garden. Plus, catching him wasn’t an easy thing to do, as you might imagine. So it was just war. He could have stopped trying to kill me anytime. I’d have easily called a truce. I might even have given him the best tomato worms when I found them, instead of to the closest hen. I might have changed his name!

Instead, I just took to wearing jeans and boots to protect my legs and ankles, even in the hot weather, and carrying a broken broom handle whenever I went to the garden, the better to bat Zcocksky with. It was just safer all around.

Zcocksky finally met his end when he somehow – and for reasons we’ll never know – got into the dog pen while we were at work. When they were out in the garden with us, the dogs never tried to hurt the chickens. They knew the birds were off limits. The psychodog, being a herding-type, would occasionally attempt to herd the hens into a squawking, agitated group and run them back and forth across the garden (we discouraged this, as he tended to get overexcited and the hens exhausted), but Zcocksky never deigned to take part in the herding game. Anyway, I’m pretty sure the last decision he ever made was to attack the psychodog inside his pen.

And that was that.

Anyway, all this was really meant only as an analogy for how George Bush and some of the Republican presidential hopefuls are a lot like bantam roosters, fluffing themselves up, making outrageous threats, and stupidly attacking targets without thinking out the consequences first. Funny how the mind works, isn’t it.

01 December 2007

Witchy woman

Another post about the cat. Bear with me, now – I know wherewith I’m headed.

Remember in that last post I said my healthy living was improving the symptoms of my impending cronehood?

Heh. Well, I was lying.

Okay, not exactly lying. Call it positive thinking in print, published for the world to see. A harmless fib, meant to buck myself up.

In reality, I steam up my own glasses.

Achieving full steamage doesn’t require the presence of a male person or even an imaginary male person, such as Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Hell, Russ could dance through the kitchen in his little leather skirt, flexing his oiled muscles manfully, and I’d just stand there blinking.

See, all fogging my own glasses requires is that I mind my own business – say, innocently unloading the dishwasher -- and a general air temperature of 65 or below.

Here’s how it works: I’m putting away plates and saucepans, grumbling to myself because once again, it’s me doing this chore, even though I tried to ignore it for 36 hours after the dishwasher finished its cycle hoping that magic would happen and it would empty itself. But in the end, I have to concede that I want to eat off an actual clean plate with an actual clean fork more than Mr. Wren does, so I’m doing it.

But that’s another post. I’m putting away plates when suddenly, for no good reason, my ears get hot.

I haven’t visually observed this phenomenon, so I’m guessing that they also turn bright scarlet. The feeling of intense, humid heat, generated from the inside of my skull, spreads along my temples and then slowly across my cheeks, brow, nose, mouth and chin. My eyes heat up. My scalp prickles and starts sweating. The outrageous, weird heat continues flushing down my torso, but by now I’m gasping and fanning myself with my hands, the dishes forgotten as my glasses fog up. I rip them off. I yank a wad of paper towel off the holder and blot my skin. Sweat tickles down the back of my neck. My shirt clings to my suddenly swampy skin. Given ten minutes, I could heat the whole room all on my own. It’s like a nuclear incident and it all takes place above my waist. My brains should be boiling.

And then it’s over that fast – and I’m standing next to the dishwasher shivering because, you know, it’s November, it’s 58 degrees in the kitchen and I’m not in Biloxi in June after all.

For the most part, I’m spared these hot flashes (or “power surges”, as some snarky and wishful woman named them) during the daytime. They happen only three or four times between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. The swamp fever hits, perversely, with the most frequency after I’ve gone to bed for the night.

The power surges mean I need to have a window wide open and a fan blowing directly on me all night long. To this end, I’ve taken to bedding down in the guest room to spare Mr. Wren the discomfort of trying to sleep in a room kept colder than a windy meat locker. He shivered faithfully through most of the last winter with me, but eventually it got too cold for him and he begged me to shut the window and turn off the fan. I was unmovable. I couldn’t do it. I’d have drowned in my own juices after cooking in them. Mr. Wren was understanding, but the cold wasn’t doing his osteoarthritis any good. So I finally took pity on him and banished myself.

You were wondering where the cat fit into this story, weren’t you. Well, let me assure you that Catboy PiB is delighted. The Psychodog, who long ago made it his serious job to guard the door to the Mawster’s Chambers every night, would never allow the damned cat to pass, and PiB was smart enough not to attempt to brave the Jaws of Doom. But since the Dog can’t guard two doors at the same time, PiB sneaks in with me each night.

And baby, it’s cold in my little room. The window is wide open. A fan sits in front of it, blowing fresh, late-Autumn-chilled air directly across the bed. I curl up beneath layers of coverings – a sheet, a blanket, a thin quilt and a thick, warm comforter that I brought home from Germany with me. I’m as cozy as a mouse in a matchbox. Once I’m settled, PiB likes to assume the meatloaf position on top of the covers, balanced on my hip or, if he’s feeling lazy, in the crook of my legs.

And thus do we fall asleep, both of us snoring gently. All I need is a little flannel kerchief and the picture of comfort and coziness would be complete.

But within two hours, tops, I’m suddenly and completely awake, clawing off the covers, twisting and snarling, a lump of sweating dynamite about to blow. At first, this sudden wild activity would send PiB leaping to safety, but he’s learned to cope. Now when I fight my way out from beneath all those covers, sputtering with fury and radiating nuclear fallout, he simply rides the waves, neatly stepping over rumpling blankets, ducking from beneath tossed comforters and walking my rolling body the way a lumberjack rolls a floating log with his feet while keeping his balance and remaining upright. It’s actually sort of amazing. He never leaves the bed.

I come within seconds of detonation and lay exposed and gasping in the wind of the fan, sucking the fresh air like draughts of icy water. Then my inner thermostat switches off and I’m flipping the appropriate heat-level of covers back over myself, damp, shivering and desperate to get back to that warm, cozy-mouse spot where I can sleep, deep and dreamlessly, until morning. After a few minutes of kneading, purring and walking all over me, PiB resumes his perch somewhere on my prone form and all is quiet until the next session.

This happens over and over again, all night long.

It’s been getting a lot colder overnight lately, dipping down into the 30s just before dawn. PiB has taken to perching himself on the few parts of me that aren’t covered in six inches of blanket, like my neck. Or my face. Or both.

I think he does this because those spots are where he can take advantage of my radiating 98.6 body temperature most efficiently. Smart cat. But he doesn’t realize that flopping his entire 12-pound weight on, say, my throat, might just make it hard for me to breathe. So a small battle of wills ensues. I wake up boiling over. Covers fly. PiB log-rolls. I huff and cool down after a while, get cold, and pull the blankets back up. Mumbling curses, I snuggle back down and try to find sleep again. PiB, in the meantime, starts kneading my collarbone, careful not to use his claws. He moves on to my throat. Then my jaw. He purrs sweet nothings into my ear. Then flumph, he’s meatloafed, his butt stuck into the space between my neck and my shoulder, his chin on my heart. Twelve pounds turns to twenty. As long as I can still breathe, we’re both good to go. If I can’t, I shove him off and he has to start over. He’s very persistent.

The cat-on-face maneuver is annoying but endearing. He could abandon me – after all, there’s a nice warm fire blazing in the stove in the living room all night, and he could certainly curl up on the sofa nearby and be quite comfortable. Instead, he stays with me, enduring the cold, my tossing and turning, and trying to get as close to me as he can. He shares his warmth with me when I need it, and just rolls with the punches when I don't. I’m charmed by his loyalty.

And so we wake up together each morning, PiB and me, a little bleary-eyed the both of us but more or less ready to take on the day, involuntary, instantaneous tropical moments notwithstanding.

For the record: The healthy regimen really did seem to be helping with the menopausal symptoms for a while. I wasn’t suffering hot flashes nearly as often in the daytime or at night. But it seems they’re cyclical, so there’s nothing much I can do but keep on keeping on and looking forward to the day when they end.

I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately. I'm truly glad I've been blessed with such a goofy, furry, patient little partner in this inexorable, shifting phase of life. Menopause is a process that, for most of my life, women didn't talk about much. That's changing some now, and I think it's a good thing, particularly if we can talk about it with both reverence and humor. The Change is staggering in its finality: it's the last mountain to climb and summit before descending into feminine old age. Male people experience nothing like it, however, and frankly, I don't think even tough ol' Russell Gladiator could take it.

And now I know why people once thought older women were witches and their cats “familiars.” I can be downright witchy these days -- it actually feels good after years of keeping my mouth shut on my irritation with people. PiB is my faithful little friend, guiding me calmly through the undergrowth and making me laugh when I'm at my lowest. There we are at 3:30 a.m., lost in the dark, stuck on the cusp between simmer and flash-freeze, chortling, cussing, and purring.

25 November 2007

Thanksgiving meme, a little late

My friend Max has tagged me with a Thanksgiving meme. I like Max. Max makes me smile. Max makes me think. So I’m taking up Max’s challenge.

It just so happens that I wrote about twenty “things to be thankful for” for publication in the November issue of a slick local fluff magazine, so I’m well prepared for this. For that article, which focused on things to be thankful for in this part of the Sierra foothills, I mentioned long walks, hot soup, glorious coffee, apple pie and rain on the roof (along with where to walk and what local establishments to visit in order to find the soup, the coffee, and the apple pie).

We’re still waiting for the rain. Today there’s a dense, low, unbroken layer of gravid gray clouds, but there’s no rain forecast. I hope as the clouds move eastward, some lucky folks on the other side of the Sierras might just hear rain drumming on their rooftops before too long. With so much of the nation either facing or enduring serious drought, I’m thankful for rain wherever it falls.

And for today, I’m thankful for the gray. I know that sounds funny to sun-worshippers, but I’m not one of you. It’s sunny and warm (or hot) here almost all year ‘round. When the clouds come in and cut the glare, I’m thankful.

Okay, that’s two thankful things, Max. I’ll just count it as one, though, since the clouds, gray skies and rain are a theme by themselves.

Here’s another thing I’m thankful for: my friend PiB, which is short for Puss in Boots. Twelve years ago he turned up at our little hovel in the oak woodlands just outside Placerville, a skinny, pitiful, mostly feral black-and-white Sylvester kitten with a pink nose, golden eyes and four white feet. I like cats but prefer dogs, so he’d have remained feral if it had been up to me. Mr. Wren, however, was enamored of him and started coaxing him closer with promises of kitten food and gentle strokes. Within a week, PiB had his name and a permanent home. He rewarded us with the peculiar loyalty and affection of the Standoffish Feline Kind for many years, preferring to stay outside and rule his territory as a small, neutered but mighty tom, all scrappy claws and teeth. He always had scabs on his head and frequently brought us freshly-killed birds and lizards, laid with pride on the mat in front of the door. Once he snatched a low-flying little brown bat right out of the air, right before our eyes. We yelled at PiB, he dropped the bat, and it flew away while he licked a paw in nonchalant disgust. Incredible.

And then three years ago, on Christmas Day, he crept inside, subdued and looking unwell. We found a terrible, swollen and leaking abscess on his belly, caused by a puncture wound he’d received while mixing it up with another critter – cat, dog, coyote, raccoon, we never knew. It was dicey for a while, but PiB lived through the injury, saved by about $1000 to the local veterinarian and three weeks worth of daily medication pushed gingerly down his throat and a twice-daily wound-flushing, carried out by yours truly and the Fledgling while holding the furious but resigned PiB, shaved pink belly up, over the kitchen sink.

Amazingly, we lost only a little skin during the ordeal. He seemed to understand that while the flushing was grossly undignified and very painful, it was beneficial. He ‘d hide for hours afterwards, but each time, when he finally stuck his nose out again, we were forgiven. What a cat.

For his own good (and that of my bank account) PiB was forced to become an Indoor Cat after that. The first two years he was constantly trying to sneak out the door whenever it opened, but he’s used to the cushy life now. He rarely makes a break for it. And to my delight, he’s turned into a lap cat and one of the best furry friends I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He’s always near and he seems to like being held as much as I like holding him. Mr. Wren may be the one who first enticed him to stick around, but it’s me PiB sticks close to now. I'm charmed.

I’m thankful for good health. I always thought that was an “old fart” thing to say, and I guess it is, but I understand and appreciate why they say it now that it’s clear I am not immortal like I thought I was when I was younger. My personal stage of “old fartdom” has arrived. To hold further deterioration at bay, I continue to walk – I’m averaging about 15 miles a week with a goal of more as I build up endurance and speed – and I’ve managed to stay off the cigarettes (seven months!) and stick to a very healthy diet. I feel good. Although I have rheumatoid arthritis, with the exception of an occasional twinge here or there, it remains quiet and doesn’t trouble me. And I think the exercise, the healing lungs and the good food have combined to make the symptoms of menopause, which I’ve been struggling to deal with without resorting to medication, much less annoying.

Two more. I’m thankful for family – Mr. Wren, my daughter and her boyfriend, my mother and sister, my aunt, her son and his wife, their new baby, and my other cousins and half-cousins, with whom I reunited recently over the passing of another aunt and uncle. We’re both a smaller family than we were a couple of years ago and a larger one in new ways. We’re stronger, sadder, maybe a little wiser, flung out further away in distance but not in spirit. It’s been a revelation, rediscovering the tough but gossamer threads that link us.

Finally, I’m thankful for the comforts of home – and for all these other things: For the roof over my head, for plenty to eat, for the soft bed in which I sleep, and for the time I’ve been given for contemplation and decision-making. I’m thankful for time to write, for time to sweep the walks, and for the gentle life I lead, knowing that it could all change tomorrow. I’m thankful that I’m aware and mindful, at least as much as I’m able to be, and most of all, I’m thankful to be alive, right here and right now.

23 November 2007

Happy Day After Turkey Day! Recovery is ongoing.

The celebration of family, good food and good friends was here at the Wren's Nest for the first time this year. I roasted and mixed and cuisinarted all morning, then uncorked a bottle of wine at noon and managed -- three generous glasses of cold white plonk later -- to get everything on the table piping hot.

I had help. Three generations of females -- family and friends -- crowded into my wee kitchen and chopped apples, sliced cheese and salami, and tossed salads. In the end, the feast itself was the only organized part of the day, but we all had a lot fun.

Mr. Wren contributed sprays of maple leaves for vases, bringing Autumn indoors for us. The woodstove blazed and soon had us opening all the windows and fanning ourselves. DVDs of "The Matrix" made up the background noise. We had lots of people here, lots of laughter and lots of love. What more can you ask from life than this?

Well, OK. Now that it's over, a foot massage?

13 November 2007

Essay on November

There is at times a small fire
In the brain, partita for violin,
Brier, black stem,
All burning in the quarter notes.
And the hedgerow
Beyond the barn
Calls its starlings in.
Then frost, sere leaves,
A swollen half-moon
Like a drowsy fingertip
Above the apple trees.

--Steven Kuusisto
"Only Bread, Only Light"

Another love bites the dust ...

They're putting teevees in Borders.

Yeah, that Borders. The giant chain bookstore. I go there occasionally because I love bookstores. The smell of all that paper and ink just does it for me. I love the variety of books in the stacks, and it delights me, all that soaring (and occasionally thudding) human thought gathered into one place, printed and presented so that anyone can read it. I love the idea that I can open a book and step into a new world, and that each time I read a book I forever change my perception of the world and how I react to it.

Since Borders and Amazon.com ate up all the little local booksellers, Borders is the only brick-and-mortar bookstore I go to these days. I sometimes spend more than I ought to there, but I don't love Borders and I don't go often.

The news that Borders is putting big, wide-screen TVs in their stores forever kills my love of bookstores. They've made sure that I'll never walk through their doors again. The very thought of a television blaring in a bookstore gives me a headache. I don't like TV. I stopped sitting in front of the tube, eyes glassy and mouth hanging open, years ago. I can't stand watching it.

And now it will be in bookstores, one of the last sacred places. As I peruse fiction stacks, the blathering talking heads will be yammering on. As I skim through pricey magazines, debating whether $12 is too much to spend on something that's mostly fashion ads, TV commercials frantically selling me cars and designer drugs ("ask your doctor about how Snake Oil can help you!") will form my auditory background.

You know, I don't go to the bookstore for lattes. I don't go to buy music. I'm not particularly interested in overpriced book lights that go through batteries like kids through their Halloween candy, and my "boughten" bookmarks last for decades. The fact is, I go to the bookstore for the books. I go to have my imagination awakened. I go out of curiosity, out of a longing for discovery and adventure.

I don't want a television blaring at me while I look for a good book to read by the fire while it rains outside.

I don't get the same satisfaction from buying my books online as I do from buying them from a bookseller. I like holding the book in my hands, reading snippets to find out if I like the writer's style, or how good (or bad) the writing is. I like being able to put the book back on the shelf and look for one that appeals more if it doesn't meet my personal standards. I like feeling the book's heft in my hands, and savoring the quality of the printing and the paper before I open my wallet.

But I'll just have to adjust. With the installation of televisions, my love affair with bookstores has ended once and for all. It's like finding out after the wedding that your Prince Charming farts at the dinner table and neglected to mention his under-the-bed mushroom farm.

Lance said it best, I think: "When I want to be forced to watch television, I'll go to the grocery store."

12 November 2007

08 November 2007

Echoing light ...

When I was beginning to read I imagined
that bridges had something to do with birds
and with what seemed to be cages but I knew
that they were not cages it must have been autumn
with the dusty light flashing from the streetcar wires
and those orange places on fire in the pictures
and now indeed it is autumn the clear
days not far from the sea with a small wind nosing
over dry grass that yesterday was green
the empty corn standing trembling and a down
of ghost flowers veiling the ignored fields
and everywhere the colors I cannot take
my eyes from all of them red even the wide streams
red it is the season of migrants
flying at night feeling the turning earth
beneath them and I woke in the city hearing
the call notes of the plover then again and
again before I slept and here far downriver
flocking together echoing close to the shore
the longest bridges have opened their slender wings

-W.S. Merwin

05 November 2007

You want change? Vote.

I was surprised that 20 million women haven't exercised their right to vote. Twenty million. Ladies, we need to change that.
Register. Inform yourself. Vote. Make change happen.

03 November 2007

The trouble with torture

Oh, do take a few minutes to see this:

Animator vs. Animation by *alanbecker on deviantART

and then, this:

Animator vs. Animation II by *alanbecker on deviantART

Art is always relevant. Art makes the point. Animator Alan Becker gets it.

21 October 2007

Gun-barrel democracy

U.S. forces were about to conduct an early-morning raid today in Sadr City, a poor part of Baghdad, when they found themselves under attack by automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades. They naturally called in air support.

When men are shooting at you from the tops of buildings, alleys and cubbyholes in the neighborhood, it’s hard to know where to shoot back. They can move around easily. You can’t.

Because the Americans were originally in the area to look for a man who might be a “Special Groups” member behind numerous kidnappings in the city, the official U.S. press release following the resulting carnage stated that “49 criminals were killed ...”

Looking to capture one criminal, the three separate air strikes killed at least 49 of them. No mention of the wounded, or the destruction of property. Iraqi officials say women, children and old men are among the dead.

"Criminals?" Women. Children. Doddering old men.

The Americans say, straight-faced, that they weren’t aware of civilians in the area. This beggars belief.

OK. In the twisted, up-is-down funhouse that the once-beautiful city of Baghdad has become over the last four-and-a-half years of war, American forces are calling down air strikes in an impoverished neighborhood where a criminal might be hiding. I’ve no argument that kidnapping isn’t a crime, or that catching someone who plans and executes such crimes should be caught, tried and punished.

And I’ve no argument, either, that in war it isn’t only soldiers who die. In a war such as America is waging on Iraq, the soldiers on one side aren’t fighting uniformed and disciplined enemy soldiers on the other. Instead, they’re fighting local guerrillas who don’t play by the rules, who don’t wear uniforms and who melt into the populace when they’ve achieved their goal or run out of bullets. And shit happens.

This type of war cannot be won by either side. And it’s the civilians who end up bearing the worst if it. Women, children, and elders. Lives are lost or ruined, homes destroyed, livelihoods taken away.

The disingenuous response by America’s military PR hacks that "Ground forces reported they were unaware of any innocent civilians being killed as a result of this operation," is horrifying.

They call in early-morning air strikes where many poor people are living, blow the hell out of the place and claim they “weren’t aware of civilians being killed”? Yet 49 "criminals" died.

"Most of those killed and wounded were women, children and elderly men which shows the indiscriminate monstrosity of the attacks on this crowded area," said Abdul-Mehdi al-Muteyri, an official loyal to Moqtada Sadr. The attack, he said, was “simply barbaric.”

Well, the rhetoric is a little over the top, right? We don’t like Moqtada Sadr. He’s a “radical Shia cleric” and the alleged leader of an army of shadowy guerrillas who have been giving us headaches for years now.

Still, when soldiers are reduced to bombing areas in which they know there are innocent civilians, it’s time to reassess the mission. This type of “battle” has been going on for far too long in Iraq. Saddam is dead. There were no “weapons of mass destruction.” America’s shaky public objectives have been accomplished, whatever that means. But because of us, Iraq is now fighting a civil war, a religious and power-grabbing war. America’s troops are being forced to do the work of policemen – raiding homes in the dark hours before dawn, looking for criminals. Yet when they’re attacked by guerrillas, they behave like the soldiers they are and call in air support to bomb everything. It’s like tossing a hand-grenade into a sweets shop to kill a few annoying wasps.

Really, it has to end before our idiotic gun-barrel democracy wins more hearts and minds.

Note: The photo was taken in March, 2003.

17 October 2007

Still time to share



According to this little test, I've got a few years left before I move on to the next level. I'm at 61 percent of my total lifespan (I guessed pretty well in the previous post when I said I'm a bit over halfway through) and it pleased me to know that (according to these Harvard experts, at least) I'll live six years longer than the average female lifespan. I wonder what 2040 will be like?

Thanks to MichaelBains at Silly Humans for the smile.

Scenting the wind

Stuck in a dark frame of mind, I kept thinking about the changes coming for me and other Americans in the years ahead after writing the previous post. So far, how I’ll deal with those changes has been amorphous in my thinking. No one wants to contemplate hard times when the present is already so shaky, and I’m no different. Yet ... yet, am I really being dark, or just pragmatic? It’s time to start thinking about them seriously. It’s time to start getting ready.

As an American, I’ve lived an unbelievably privileged life for almost 51 years. During my childhood and growing up years with my parents, I was never hungry. I never lacked for anything. I went to good schools and had the opportunity to go to college. As an adult, I’ve never been rich, and I’ve lived most of my adult years just barely ahead of the official poverty level. The last ten years were better, as Mr. Wren and I were able to combine our incomes. Still, even when it was the toughest I was able to keep a house over my own and my family’s head, keep us clothed, maintain a car, and keep us well-fed. We never, ever went hungry, as is evidenced by my current fight to shed the too many pounds I carry on my short frame.

At the moment, we’re still OK. We’re making our house payment, and the electricity, propane and water bills get paid each month. We’ve already got our wood for the winter woodstove. The garbage and recycling are picked up at the curb, and we have far more recycling than actual garbage in the bins. We’re still eating well – probably better than we ever have, since we eat very little processed food now. My grocery bills, though, remain about as expensive as ever, even buying mostly fresh vegetables and meat, dried beans and rice. The price of food in general has gone up a lot, so I need to look at what I’m buying even more closely. I can’t imagine anymore stocking my shelves with junk food and Hamburger Helper. I can’t afford it. We rarely eat out.

And yet we still live far better and with far more comfort than most people in the world, and than many people in America.

I can still buy a tank of gas for my car, though it makes me wince every time I do. I’m glad I no longer have that 50-mile commute each day to work and back again. Increasingly it becomes clear that when I do finally find a job, it won’t be down in the city, but much closer to home. It will have to be. That means I won’t make the same salary as I did before, which is disturbing, as it wasn’t much even then.

So we’ll have to learn to make better use of what we have. I mentioned our cottage garden in the previous post. This summer we didn’t get much produce from it. I didn’t work out there among the plants at all, and Mr. Wren wasn’t able to do very much himself, even though he loves it. Next season, I’ll have to, which means I need to get out there and start preparing the gardens for a new “crop” now. We’ll have to be smart about what we plant, and even smarter about what we do with the harvest next fall. I’ll need to learn some new skills, like canning and dehydrating, and be serious about using them. I’ll have to pay attention to my neighbors, several of whom are quite elderly, or who are young and have growing children. They may need some help.

We have five chickens, all hens. They produce many more big, delicious, brown-shelled eggs than the two of us can eat, so the extra dozen or two they lay each week through the spring and summer we’ve given away to friends and family. The Girls will still produce eggs, even this winter, though only few during the darkest months. Our hens are three years old now, and won’t be producing at this level forever. So I think we may need to consider getting a rooster and allowing a few of the eggs to hatch, so we’ll have more hens. We’ll have to give them more space for laying and for raising chicks. We may need the eggs, and the meat, before long. And I’ll have to grow a spine when it comes to facing down that cantankerous, shin-pecking rooster.

I need to learn to bake bread, and how to make stock out of chicken bones and vegetables rather than opening a convenient can of broth. It’s possible that my daughter and her partner will need to live with us again so we can all pool our meager resources. We’ll need to give up some luxuries. Some of those I can hardly bear to lose – my Internet connection, for one, and Mr. Wren’s cable TV for another. We’ll have to conserve even more than we do now, tighten our belts a few more notches and narrow our world a lot.

My current quest for physical fitness and weight loss has more behind it than mere vanity. Looking good is nice – who wouldn’t like to have a slim, strong body – but there’s more to my thinking than that. I’m going to need to be as fit and strong as I can be as I go into my 51st year. I need to gird my loins. My daily life is going to be more strenuous. And my personal health will have to be as good as I can manage, since the chances of finding a local job that can provide me with co-paid health insurance is just about nil. I have no hope that our government will change that anytime soon.

We’ll probably have to try to sell a lot of “things” we don’t need. We’ll need to trim our lives, cut out the fat. We’ll have to find cheap ways to entertain ourselves. Fortunately, Mr. Wren has always loved cards and board games, and we have a closetful. And I have shelves and shelves of books, old and new, many of which I haven’t read yet. We’ve plenty of ways to have fun once the TV is gone.

And finally, though this may need to come sooner than later, we’ll need to become an active part of our community. In the years before now, we both worked a long commute from home, so we’ve never gotten to know most of our neighbors beyond the nodding point. But I think our community, our little town, is going to have to pull together if we’re all to survive the looming hard times. In the old days, people knew each other; they helped each other. It wasn’t necessarily because they liked each other, but it was necessary for survival. These are relatively new skills for me, and I suspect for most Americans who’ve spent their lives living in suburbia. We haven’t need to know our neighbors well. We had our jobs, our TVs, and our TV dinners, and it seemed like enough.

In many ways these changes aren’t all bad. Americans can use a little more community and a little more compassion for their neighbors. We can stand to drop our selfishness, and open our kitchens to friends who need a hot bowl of soup and kindness. We can share more. We’ll be better people for it. But we’d better not wait long to get started. Change is on the wind, coming whether we’re prepared or not.

Past dreams, future nightmares

It pops into my mind occasionally – even frequently, these days – to wonder what the world will be like 20 years from now. Perhaps it’s my age. I’m solidly in the middle of my life now, perhaps a bit past the center point. And the last 20 years have gone unbelievably fast. But I don’t recall wondering very often what they’d be like when I was 31. I was still young enough to feel immortal, I guess. I was also inexperienced enough to think that my world would remain a pleasant and safe place, world without end, amen. That’s a conceit of the young.

Back then, my daughter was still a tiny sprite, just starting first grade. I was on an adventure, the first of six exciting, endlessly interesting years in Germany behind me. I had a putty-colored, rotary dial European telephone that gave three short, brassy rings when someone called my five-digit telephone number (you have no idea how that delighted me. Go figure). An hour-long phone call home cost about DM100, so we only called once a month. I didn’t have a computer at home, and no-one but some egghead engineer-types working on something strange and futuristic called the Internet had anything even resembling e-mail. Letters took two weeks or more to move between my third-floor flat on Ekleinjartenstrasse and my parents’ ranch-style home in northern California. The Cold War was still cold, but there were changes taking place in faraway Moscow. Terrorism of the European sort was still a threat. The Army guards at the post I worked on used mirrors on sticks to check the undercarriages of every car allowed through the gates. And we still seriously worried about bombers – giant Russian Tupolevs, not the human variety --carrying nukes from Russia to drop on major European cities. Cable TV had been around for less than a decade back in the states, and we didn’t have it in Germany. I watched CNN on Armed Forces Network, which was sprinkled with public service announcements, or German channels, which was a challenge. I was desperately trying to learn German, taking a total immersion course through the local Volkshochschule, struggling along with people from Ghana, Turkey, Italy, and other countries all over the world. We sounded like the UN delegates during potty breaks. I was having a ball.

Those six short years flew by. As you might have noticed, they remain bright and shining in my memory, intensely personal and treasured, memories to back up to like a hearthfire where I can warm myself when I’m feeling chilled by the present.

Like today. I read in the morning headlines Bush has appointed a woman who’s against both abortion and contraception to take charge of the part of the Dept. of Health and Human Services that deals with birth-control. Before working for HHS, Susan Orr was senior director for marriage and family at the Family Research Council, a conservative group created in part by James Dobson that favors abstinence-only education and opposes federal money for contraception. This bodes ill.

I get the feeling that Bush and his nutty right-wing cronies are working as fast as they can to create a theocratic government that will be incredibly hard to change once Bush is out of office. That scares hell out of me. My daughter and my stepdaughter are both of childbearing age, and neither of them are ready or even want to have children of their own just yet. They should have that choice, just like I did. I fear that in a few years, they may not.

They should also have the choice of whether or not to be religious, and the choice of which religion they wish to follow. They should have the right to choose, as I have, not be religious at all. Bush and the fundamentalist right-wing would take away that choice, take away their right to choose whether to bear children, and take away their opportunities for intellectual growth and even personal freedom. What a horror these people are. What a terrible threat they pose to all of us.

The five-year anniversary of the day Congress gave Bush the go-ahead to wage war against Iraq just passed. Our soldiers are still there, caught up in a massive fuck-up of a war that didn’t have to happen, and there is no end in sight. Nearly 4,000 American soldiers have died; many thousands more have come home maimed and broken for life. Tens – even hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens have died or have been ruined for life as well. And there’s no stopping the carnage, it seems. Bush is determined to leave his vanity war for the next president to clean up, if he or she can. There aren’t enough American soldiers there to do the job. They’re still poorly equipped. We’re relying on mercenaries to do the things we haven’t enough soldiers in our volunteer military to do, and the mercenaries are behaving as mercenaries have always behaved in wars, time out of mind, killing indiscriminately and without consequences. In the meantime, America has become a country that tortures people and holds them captive without a fair trial or hope of release. We’ve spent some $460 billion of our national treasure on this war and will have to spend billions more – and a great deal of that money is going to corrupt corporations and individuals rather than for what it was intended to. The Iraqi people lack fresh water, electricity is still intermittent, and they’re starting another harsh winter without adequate food and many, without adequate shelter. This is our fault. Our shame.

Here at home, our government listens to our telephone conversations and looks at our e-mail. Our economy is beginning to suffer as the housing bubble that kept things copacetic for so long deflates. People are losing their jobs, their homes, their chance at a decent life while the rich among us cash in. Many thousands of people have no health insurance for themselves or their children, and Bush is determined not to allow the government to at least provide adequate health care for kids. Our Congress, in spite of last November’s election that put (we hoped) sane adults in charge, hasn’t come through. They’ve been a monstrous disappointment. The war continues. The erosion of our civil rights continues. The destruction of the Constitution and of America herself, continues. And the people who’d like to end the separation of church and state, and turn America into a theocracy, continue to be supported by an administration that is terribly, tragically out of control. We’re not doing a damned thing about it.

Yesterday, the price of oil broke another record high, ending at an almost unbelievable $87 bbl. We’re facing the end of the Oil Era and we haven’t prepared. It hasn’t ended yet, but the cost of energy may soon be beyond the means of the average American citizen. When that happens ... well. It’s hard for me even to imagine, as dependent as we are on our cars to take us 20 miles or 50 miles or more to work each day. The cost of food will rise along with it, as will the cost of electricity. How will people pay their mortgages, their rent, their utilities and for other necessary things without jobs? Where will they go when they lose their homes? What will they do when they can’t work in their own communities because there are no jobs for them? What will they do when they can’t buy food?

People who can’t work can’t pay taxes. How will the government continue to run without funds?

Mr. Wren and I have a little spot of land, enough for a cottage garden. Properly cared for, carefully nurtured, we might produce enough for ourselves and one other family. More, if we extend it. We have a few chickens for the luxury of fresh laid eggs. We have a conventional mortgage, thank goodness. I was wary of ARMs and said no when the broker offered us that wonderful deal – it seemed to me that while interest rates were low at the time we purchased our house (1997), they could always go up, like they always do eventually. I didn’t want to get stuck with a house payment that suddenly shot skyward because I was conned into magical thinking. I’m glad I did my homework, particularly since Mr. Wren has since become disabled and is unable to work. But I’m still unemployed too, right now. While we’re managing each month, that has to change soon. What happens if I can’t find work and my meager nest egg is gone? How do I help my kids, who will be facing problems just as serious as my own?

I’m not sure what the future holds. What I am sure of is that it won’t be like the last 20 years have been. And that makes me sad for the young people who have just reached their most productive years as adults, a time when they’re still full of energy, hope for their futures and that heady sense of immortality. And their children. Oh, my, the children.

I have hope, still. I hope that a level-headed, sane adult wins the next presidential election. Whoever that person is won’t be able to fix things quickly, though. We have many years – perhaps 20 more, or 40 more, or 50 – ahead during which life will be much different, and much harder, for most Americans thanks to Bush and his minions. Some of the changes put in place by the Bush administration may remain in place. If there’s another Republican president, we can be assured those changes will be permanent and that our lives will continue to get even worse.

So I wonder what my life will be like 20 years from now, assuming I live that long. I wonder how it will be for my daughters, and their children, if they have them. I hope things get better, but experience shows me that they just might not. We’ll see.