Archive for April, 2007

It takes a village

April 30, 2007

I was going to finally post about trees tonight, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I drove to town today and among the things I picked up was the Sunday NY Times. What kind of pathetic person spends $5 for a Sunday paper just because the puzzles are really interesting? The answer of course is me. I’m addicted to good puzzles. I love the NY Times Sunday crossword, but I can get that only a week or two late in the Oregonian. But they always have a bonus puzzle as well, and I can’t get those anywhere else.

But that’s truly a digression from the topic of this post.

There were two articles that I couldn’t help seeing as an interesting juxtaposition. The first, in the opinion section if I’m not mistaken, was about the walls various governments have built over the centuries–the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the walls our armies are now building in Iraq and the Israelis are building around Palestinians, and so on. It’s hard to see these and not make the leap to gated communities in this country, to those who would wall themselves off from the hoi-polloi.

The second article was in the “Style” section. It was about new condominium buildings that featured common areas designed to maximize the interaction of residents, to create, if you will, a “village” of the condo owners. And these New Yorkers were talking about the wonder of actually getting to know other residents in their own buildings. Of course, these communities were somewhat self-selecting, since the condos atart at something approaching a million dollars each.

A couple of postings or so ago, I responded to Barbara in a comment about something I’d read on the impact of cities. I found the piece again today. It’s in a magazine called “The American Interest.” I have no idea where this magazine came from. I don’t remember ordering it. It arrived in my mailbox one day, but it’s interesting enough that I probably will subscribe.

The point of the article in question, however, was that for the first time ever, more of the world’s population lives in cities than live in rural settings. And cities have never been able to sustain themselves. When people move to cities, they stop having babies, at least in the quantity in which they’ve previously had them.

There was a lot more in the article than that, obviously, but this stuff has all started jiggling around in my brain and I need to think about the various ramifications for awhile.

I’ve read other stuff lately about the loss of the support system that a village provided. So I find it interesting that urban, standoffish New Yorkers (I’m not being rude, this is how they characterize themselves) are finding it necessary to recreate the culture of a village.

Lots of change, and I’m not quite sure what to think about it, but it’s fascinating.

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A bad year for the neocons. . .

April 29, 2007

A couple of years ago an acquaintance of mine whose political leanings are far, far to the left of mine (I don’t discriminate against people for their political beliefs–I have so few it seems silly) pointed me at a Web site for the “Project for a New American Century.”

When I got over the arrogance of it (what are these people smoking, anyway?), I frankly just sort of blew it off. It seemed like total idiocy to be spouting a “new American century” in a world becoming “globalized” at lightning speed. There is no longer any place for jingoism. We can only hope that humanism (people for people, regardless) gets a fair hearing.

If you look at the folks who signed the statement of principles on this Web site, you’ll find the names Scooter Libby (although he’s identified as I. Lewis Libby, apparently to give the weight of seriousness to his participation), Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Dick Cheney. “You can fool some of the people some of the time. . .”

I actually feel a little sorry for George W. Bush. He is a dumb little banty rooster of a boy who is so far out of his league that it is laughable. And he picked the wrong companions, a circumstance that has done in others a lot smarter than he is.

A big load of B*S*

April 28, 2007

I’ll bet you think this is going to be another pseudo-political post (“pseudo” because I do my best to ignore politics, as impossible as that is). But you’re wrong. It really is a post about a big load of bulls***, or probably more accurately, cows*** or steer manure.

I took a bunch of pictures of growing things today, and this will help put them in context.

Ben came home last night with the “exciting” news that Sterling, a neighbor up river, had a big pile of manure he needed to get rid of. “A gardener’s dream,” Ben called it, “aged for several years, nicely composted, ready to go in the garden without burning it up.”

I pointed out that we really didn’t need additives in most of our garden. I had just bought a small bag of sterile steer manure for the brassicas, and I thought it might be enough to feed the corn as well. But Ben was not to be deterred, asked me to call Sterling with my sweetest gardener’s voice and ask him what he’d charge to deliver it. “There’s about two pickup loads there, it’s perfect,” Ben said.

So with some trepidation about this whole thing, I called and arranged delivery.

Today Sterling showed up with about 20 cubic yards of aged manure in his rock truck, about three-four times as much as we can use. But this is Ben’s project, not mine. I was just the negotiator. He’s been moving manure the rest of the afternoon, and he’s arranged to give some of it to our neighbors.

Here’s what our garden looks like:

Garden

It’s about 40’x80′. It started out to be 40’x60′, but we added some at the end to put in a mini-orchard. You can see the raspberry patch and a red cherry plum in the foreground. It’s had its first rough till, and by Sunday it will have had the final till and gardening will begin in earnest. And it will have a whole bunch of manure tilled into it.

You can see there’s a substantial fence (8′ tall) around it. This is necessary if we are to enjoy any of it rather than feeding the deer. The vehicle in the middle is the little RTV with a dump bed, parked there so I can load the back with crabgrass and blackberry roots I dug out of the rose bed at the far end. Just behind the RTV is the blueberry patch:

Blueberry bushes

I have six varieties, two early, two mid-season, two late. But they all seem to come on faster than I’m ready for them. Here’s what this year’s crop looks like so far:

Blueberry blossoms

The early berries are the ones that get as big as quarters, and they are my very favorites. This year for sure I’m making blueberry scones.

That’s it for today’s garden report.  I took some tree pictures as well, but this post is so huge they’re going to have to wait for the next one.

Unboxing, global warming, and environmental damage

April 27, 2007

This may seem like a weird collection, but it’s what’s on my mind at the moment.

Several posts ago, I wrote about my new toy, a Toshiba SD-1900 DVD player (it plays a bunch of other things, too, but who cares). Here’s what came out of the box when I opened it:

dvd.jpg

In addition to the player itself, I found a lithium battery pack (top right), an assortment of manuals in English and French (including the necessary legal statements for both the U.S. and Canada),  a sexy little remote control (pale gray) with its battery packed separately (just below it), A/V cables, and both AC and DC power adapters. The one disappointment so far: a note in the the documentation saying that I shouldn’t recharge the battery pack using the DC adapater (I had planned to recharge it when I drove to town, etc., etc.).

Here’s what the packaging looked like:

dvdbox1.jpg

Everything on the right side of the picture was packed around the battery pack–a static shield, a box, and a spacer box to make the pack fit tightly in the big box. The little brown box just below the outside container had a bunch of stuff–the adapters and A/C cables, the remote. Each had its own little plastic envelope.

The big puffy piece (more about that in a minute) held the DVD player itself. The envelopes below it had the manuals and, in its separate little piece of plastic, the battery for the remote.

This is obscene.

The most interesting piece of packaging I hadn’t seen before. I’m sure I just don’t buy enough stuff. But here’s a closeup of the puffy piece:

dvdpadding.jpg

I see I forgot to mention the special little styrofoamish sort of wrapper that was around the DVD player before it was inserted into the puffy thing. When you have to protect what you’re shipping from what you’re shipping it in, red flags should be going up somewhere.

This piece of bubble packing was so stiff it was hard to get the player out of it. I’m sure it was effective, and I have to admit that my player was intact with all parts working. But what is the cost?

For the moment, I’ve saved all of the packaging in the original box. The four pages of warnings scared me, and if it sets fire to my house (or my lap), I want to ship it back to Toshiba with everything intact. But some day I will send them all to recycling (the cardboard) or to a landfill somewhere. (Aside: The most interesting warning was one that appeared at least twice, and if I’m not mistaken, three times–don’t set a container with liquid “such as a vase” on the player/battery pack. Clearly this product has been purchased by some real ditzes who don’t want vase marks on their furniture.)

But this is where our landfill problem originates. For the most part (although there are, thank God, some exceptions if I’m willing to drive three hours), you can’t go into a hardware store and buy three bolts and the nuts that go with them. You have to go to a Freddie’s or a WalMart (not this gal) and buy four or five that are nicely packed in indestructible plastic and held by an unopenable cardboard label. This phenomenon is why there are pairs of industrial strength shears in darned near every room of my house.

Then you use the three you need, put the remainder in one of those “everything spare” drawers or a nut and bolt storage unit. The next time you need three, you have only one or two left, so you go buy another package and the requisite wrappings. Craziness. And garbage galore.

I may have written elsewhere about being concerned that I had permanently offended someone whom I really care about. My former brother-in-law is one of the smartest guys I know, and he is currently on an education campaign about global warming. But it seems to me that the problem is this: Most of our discussion around global warming focuses on how to do things the way we have become used to doing them but with less environmental cost to the generation of power.

To me this is like the garbage problem. The solution lies, at least in part, by not creating it in the first place.

Look around your house. Do you really need an electric can opener? An electric knife sharpener? An instant-on TV that consumes power 24 hours a day whether you’re watching it or not? I don’t.

We live most of the day here without power, and I get along just fine. The only thing I miss (and I really do miss it) is my cordless phone, the really good one with the headset jack (I’ve got a conference call scheduled in a couple of weeks and I’m going to have to sit and hold the phone to my shoulder–bummer).

But all power has an environmental cost. Just as the trick to reducing landfill requirements is not generating materials for a landfill in the first place, part of the trick to solving the global warming dilemma is looking at how we use power. I love Josh B. dearly, but the photo he posted on his blog of his office at night with the dozens of little lights charging his gadgets gave me nightmares for a week. ;^}

Some people are their own worst enemies. . .

April 25, 2007

. . .and I am starting to think I’m one of them

I went to town today for a regular writing engagement with a friend. My first poetry workshop leader, Jim Grabill, always made time during the workshop for us to just write from prompts. He said that he thought there was something wonderful that happened when people sat down in the same room writing, that some sort of cosmic energy descended from somewhere and everyone wrote better and wrote things they wouldn’t normally write. I think he’s correct, and Carla and I made a date to write each Tuesday afternoon for an hour or two together. We take turns generating prompts from other people’s poems and prose as a place to start. Lately I’ve been getting some rather good things from this, and I’m anxious to continue. I’d missed a couple of weeks because of all the chaos, but today, even though we ended up doing more talking than writing, I got a really good draft poem.

But that’s not where the “own worst enemy” stuff comes in. I got to town a little early and realized I had just time to run by Freddie’s and pick up a bag of sterile steer manure. I’ve still got those brassicas to plant, and they are heavy feeders, so they like the fertilizer boost. The steer manure was on sale for $2.99.

But of course, it’s April, so the plants were also on sale, and I bought three more rose bushes (they have to go in the fenced garden or they become a deer delicatessen) and some New Guinea impatiens for a shady area I’d been wanting something colorful for. Now I just have more planting to be done, and I haven’t even planted the day lilies, astilbes, and hostas that I bought on my way home Sunday. In fairness, we’ve had a lot of rain in the last few days, but I think tomorrow I’m going to just have to bite the bullet and do it, no matter what the weather. I once planted strawberries in a snow and hail storm because I was leaving town for a week and I was afraid they wouldn’t survive (my first and last experiment with mail order plants), and it can’t possibly be that bad. But it will undoubtedly wreck my body up again. At least I have a refrigerator full of leftovers so I could possibly escape the curse of cooking dinner when I can hardly walk.

The redbud trees are blooming, and they are very beautiful. Jenny, I haven’t forgotten about your request for pictures. If I could just have a few minutes of sun to really show them off. . .

Rabbit took me a bit to task for slacking off on my postings, and I’m going to attempt to do a little better. But I’ve got three manuscripts to prepare in the next couple of weeks, two for a juried workshop I’d really like to attend this summer and the big one for a book competition. So I need to be writing poems and editing prose, but I’ll do the best I can.

New toys, poetry for profit, and the whole Marianne

April 24, 2007

The generator is on early tonight because I have batteries charging everywhere there’s a plug-in.

Ben and I both got new toys this week. Do you know the old saw about “the difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys”? Well, that’s sort of the difference between Ben’s toys and mine as well.

Here is Ben’s new toy:

cabtractor.jpg

This new toy cost about $20K. The main difference between it and his other two tractors is the cab, which includes a super-efficient heater and air conditioning. In fairness, he sold one of the other two tractors after he bought this one.

Here is my new toy:

2001dvd.jpg

Cost about $170 retail at Best Buy.

I wanted a portable DVD player so I could watch some Teaching Company courses that require video without running the generator. So far, I’m really pleased. This Toshiba player allows me to bookmark my place in a video, and the battery life is extraordinary. The remote control won’t make my coffee, but it does just about everything else. I tested it with one of my four favorite all time movies.

This is a very cool player with a 9 in. diagonal screen. It’s one of the things being charged up right now, but I tested it today, and I think I made a good choice.

Yesterday the Silverton Poetry Association paid me to come to Silverton and read some poems I wrote. This is a very cool thing. The opportunities to get paid for writing poetry are few and far between. The opportunities to get paid for reading it are even fewer.

I won’t get rich reading poetry, but the stipend probably paid for my gas to get there and back, and I would have done it for free. And I sold several chapbooks, all but one to people I didn’t know who bought a book after hearing me read, stroking my ego big time. And I had so-o-o-o much fun.

The truth be told, I have no desire to get rich, although I’d really like it if Intel stock would go up a few more dollars before I have to exercise my options. It’s not the money (she said, shrugging) it’s the principle of the thing. But I’m comfortable for the foreseeable future, and I think I know enough to live if the world falls apart, an assertion I hope won’t get tested.

I have chicken and cheese enchiladas cooking in the oven right now. In a few minutes, I’ll go down and create a salad of lettuce, tomoatoes, and olives to put over the top, to be dressed with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream, creating what one of my friends calls “the whole Marianne.” It’s a great dinner, and I’m starving. So I guess that’s enough for now.

How to control the weather

April 18, 2007

I may have an answer to global warming. I’ve discovered what seems to be an absolutely infallible way to control the weather, at least where I live.

If I want it to rain, I just plan on working outside. If I want it to be sunny, all I need to do is make plans that will keep me away from home during daylight. Simple, what?

Yesterday I went on an absolute shopping binge–hit Bi-Mart, several nurseries, and my favorite kitchen store. Came home with the truck loaded up with seeds, plants, and kitchen stuff that I have no place to store. I have a huge kitched with mega-cupboards. But since I’ve already condensed two full kitchens into one, they’re pretty well full.

The plan for today was to get a bunch of stuff in the ground. As a result, we’ve had nearly an inch of rain today. This puts us farther from the goal of being able to till the garden one more time. But I’m going to be away all day tomorrow, so maybe it will get dry enough I can at least work some small sections with a hoe on Friday. Cross your fingers for me.

I satisfied the gardening urge by starting some more stuff in pots. This summer I want to grow enough pickling cucumbers and dill to make my own organic dill pickles (a personal favorite; as a kid I could eat a whole jar in one sitting and only get moderately ill). I made some a couple of years ago with store cucumbers, and they were delicious.

So if the garden ever dries out a little, I need to get the cucumbers planted, dill and cilantro in a corner where I hope I can control the seeds a bit, radishes and more lettuce in the ground (butter and romaine are my favorites), and probably a few peas. It’s still too cold to plant the warm weather stuff like beans and corn and carrots, but I’m ready for them when the garden is.

But I also bought an andromeda (very nice species called “Mountain Fire” that has amazing brilliant red new growth), several violets and ferns for my violet bed, some winter savory for my herb planter, an Oriental poppy (my grandfather’s favorite, although I confess I went for the rose with black center type instead of his beloved orange), a pink ruffled fragrant peony (the deer should love that), and a bunch of brassicas (cauliflower and several varieties of cabbage that can go in the garden as soon as I can walk in the garden without hearing a sucking sound every time I take a step).

I also need to get the summer savory planted somewhere. It will make all of those summer squash taste absolutely divine.

I’ve been late with my cabbage the last few years, and I want it in early this year so my sauerkraut will actually be ready in September for an Ocktoberfest celebration. I found a simple chemical free sauerkraut recipe that’s really delicious. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to the acidy tasting stuff you get in cans at the market. But it takes about 8 weeks to cure, so there’s no time to waste.

Now that I have given up all thoughts of gardening today, the sun is out. This only proves the western Oregon motto–“If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutesw and it will change.”

Keeping the devil at bay

April 17, 2007

I’ve always had a green thumb. There are few things I enjoy more than making things grow, and today it feels especially important. I’m surrounded by this ju-ju of death, and I need to see things coming to life.

I started my day very early talking with my brother’s doctor in Mass. Not good news. But some treatments are scheduled here, and we’ll just have to see.

So today, I transplanted 41 columbine starts from their cramped up little seedling homes into individual slots. This is a major victory. I’ve never had any success starting them before. They were far too small to move, but I was very gentle, and tonight they look like they’re all going to make it. I was afraid to leave them any longer because they were in the wrong kind of “pot” (egg cartons). I think I was so sure they wouldn’t sprout that I handicapped them. But Ben managed to keep them damp while I was gone, and tonight they look great.

I also planted cukes, four kinds of squash, and cantaloupe (hope springs eternal here with our short heat season). It seems dumb when you can buy bedding plants for so little money, but I can never find the varieties that I really want.

It’s still too wet to till. It rained all day. So I’m working up little areas at the edges by hand to get in some of the salad and cold weather stuff early. Tomorrow I may run in to one or two nurseries and see what they’ve got. I need some distraction right now.

There’s a big black cloud on the horizon, so I’m keeping very busy. I’m reminded of a Naomi Shihab Nye poem titled “The Rider.” She is out on her bicycle when she meets a boy on skates who tells her that if he skates fast enough, he can leave loneliness behind. She wonders if it works on a bicycle.

A day in the country life

April 15, 2007

All my running around caught up with me big time today. I bounced out of bed just before 6 (I think my body is still on east coast time), but by 10, I just crashed and burned for about an hour. Nonetheless, I got some stuff done–some weeding, lettuce and broccoli starts planted, that kind of stuff. I even planted two pretty-good-sized tomato plants. As I told Ben, if we get our usual 5-6 weeks rain for May and June, they’ll probably just drown and be stunted, and I’ll be out about $5. But if we have one of those early spring years, then we’ll have early tomatoes.

My raspberries are budded, my strawberries and blueberries are blooming, the roses and artichokes are growing like the dickens. Tomorrow I’ll probably go plant a few radishes. We still haven’t done the final tilling that needs to be done (still too wet), so I’m just planting around the edges. We also have to finish the blueberry seraglio.

I have the only blueberries in the valley that live in a harem. Ben built me a little blueberry tent of bird netting. The hummers and bees can get in to pollinate them, but most of the obnoxious birds that steal the berries can’t, so we actually get to eat some of them. I only have six bushes, but they are prolific producers, and there is a month or so in the late spring when I’m afraid everyone here is going to develop a blue tint to their skins from blueberry pancakes, crepes, muffins, cobbler, and so on. But they are so-o-o-o good! The early ones are frequently as large as a quarter coin, and so sweet from the sun. I think if you can’t pick a berry and eat it while it’s still warm from the sun (any kind of berry), you’ve probably never tasted one.

Still have a few trees to plant. By tomorrow, I should know what the next few weeks of my life looks like, and I can plan a little better. Now I’m just putzing around, trying not to get into anything too involved.

I have a gopher. I usually try to ignore the pests, but this one is going to have to go. He’s eating the lupine plants I’ve nurtured so carefully from those little hard seeds for two years, so I’m declaring war.

That’s all for now. I just got an SOS from the meadow where the guys are working. They need a couple of cocktails, so I’m going to go play bar maid. Cheers to all.

Planes, trains, and automobiles, redux

April 14, 2007

It took about 24 hours to get us back to Oregon from Boston, something that seems almost unfathomable in today’s world. At some point we began to joke about living out the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” but after awhile it wasn’t very funny. Here’s the story.

The hospital asked Tom to stay over an extra day for treatment preparation and planning. That treatment is now perhaps off the table for the moment, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

I called United AL to try to change our tickets (heavily discounted fare). They wanted a modest $1,500 to rebook the two of us one day later. This was about three times the total original fare, and I’m afraid I went ballistic. The poor customer service rep, who I know was doing his best and only following his scripted policy, closed the call with “We certainly hope you’ll consider United for your future travel arrangements.” I’m afraid I just started laughing, but all I could respond was “I’ll bet you do.”

Let me just say that I have a new code for future travel–ABU: “anything but United.”

But then the adventure began in earnest.

A relative had offered us guest passes on Alaska, my favorite airline. The two tickets cost about $50 each. As of Tuesday there were ten seats available on the Thursday flight we wanted, so we took them. What we didn’t know was that on Wednesday weather had created havoc at O’Hare, and between Tuesday and Thursday United and American had snapped up all available seats out of Boston that didn’t go through Chicago, trying to get their affected passengers out. Had we taken the United change, we would have been out $1500 and been part of the affected group with no recourse.

That morning we took a cab out to Logan Airport. When we arrived Thursday morning at Logan to check in for our standby tickets, the passenger service rep for Alaska just looked at us in horror. She told us the first available seats were currently for the following Wednesday. We bought the tickets anyway and went to the gate.

The same agent came down to check in passengers, saw us waiting there, and started burning up her terminal. She said she really thought there was zero probability at that point of getting us out before the following Tuesday. We were both out of our prescription medications, having brought enough for two extra days only.

But then she offered a suggestion. There was a flight with lots of available seats leaving the Newark airport that evening. Then she gave us a whole transportation plan, complete with departure times and estimated fares on all of the elements required. Here’s what we did.

We left the terminal and boarded the T’s (Boston central transit authority) Silver Line ($2 each). It took us directly to South Station. We walked several hundred yards and bought tickets (total cost $188) on Amtrak to the Newark airport. At the airport stop, we took a monorail into the terminal and checked in as standby. Then we waited.

The flight was delayed from 6:10 to 8:30 p.m. Congestion at the Newark airport had caused air traffic control to hold our plane in Seattle for 2.5 hours. The gate agent advised us that we would be arriving in Seattle about two hours after the last flight to Portland that night. We went anyway, just wanting to be back on the left coast.

I briefly flirted with the idea of renting a car in Seattle to drive to Portland, but figured (rightfully) that after being up for 24 hours I probably would not be in condition for three hours of freeway-speed driving at night. Besides, John Candy set fire to his rented car. . .

So we waited from about midnight to 5 a.m., got on standby on the 6 a.m. shuttle, and just squeaked on, making it to Portland about 7 a.m. Tom’s wonderful wife came and picked us up at the airport. We drove an hour to their home, I got in my car, and made it back home (including stopping for groceries) at around noon. Then I collapsed like I had been pole-axed.

We both got home for less than $300 total. It required a cab, a bus, a train, a monorail, a lot of walking (although we never resorted to hitchhiking), and a private car pickup. But we made it.

After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling almost recovered. One more night should do it. The trip was very hard on Tom, and he caught a cold or something that’s got him a little laid up today. This is the first air trip I can remember that I didn’t get a sinus infection, so adrenalin and exhaustion must be good immune boosters.

I am so glad to be home.

One thing I forgot to mention. Because we were flying one-way, and standby, we got selected for super security screening each time we went through a gate, a fact that just added to the idiocy of the whole experience. It seems to me that people flying on airline employee guest passes would logically be the least suspicious, but what do I know?

Just one thing–I am so glad to be home. Our security system here, a lock on the gate, is just right.