Thursday, August 30, 2012

Making God Laugh

There’s a saying that goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” My plans were modest enough, I thought. I wanted to fly to Denver for a friend’s wedding. I knew this friend through an e-mail list for women weight lifters. This particular list is down to five people, two of whom I have met in real life, the bride and another woman who lives in Colorado.

We have been together long enough to have heard all the details of the bride’s courtship, engagement, and wedding worries, and the other four of us all planned to be there. I was looking forward to meeting the two women I had not yet met. 

Whenever my husband and I fly anywhere, we tend to fly from New Orleans, because flights from Baton Rouge can be complicated. To go to Denver on United, we would have to fly Baton Rouge to Charlotte, NC to Chicago to Denver. To fly from New Orleans to Denver on United, we would take one plane, from New Orleans to Denver. It was even cheaper. So I made us reservations on the 8:27 AM flight out of New Orleans on Thursday, August 30th.

On Monday I got an email saying my flight could not be confirmed and to call the travel agency. The flight had been cancelled due to the storm, but we had been booked on a later flight, leaving at 3:07. By then Isaac should have blown out of town, leaving us good to go.

It would have worked, too, if it weren’t for the high pressure system to the north that held Isaac in place so it could drop almost 8 inches of rain on New Orleans on Wednesday alone, flooding out I-10 at LaPlace and causing problems with Louis Armstrong International Airport:

KENNER, La. - New Orleans International Airport and its 250 flights a day remain shut down and without power Thursday, even as the effects of Hurricane Isaac subside.
Airport Director Iftikhar Ahmad said the terminal sustained roof damage, with leaks "all over the place.”
Entergy-Louisiana is working to get power back, said Entergy’s Charles Rice. He said they have to fix downed power poles on Airline Highway, then fix damaged equipment at the airport and then work their way back into the surrounding city of Kenner.
But even if the power is restored quickly, the airport still has problems because the airport approach lights, which rise 7-10 feet in the air along the runways, are under 3 feet of water, Ahmad said. The inundated portion of the approach lights contain key electrical equipment that may be damaged, Ahmad said.

We had to cancel our trip. Even if we could have changed our trip to leave out of Baton Rouge, the earliest we could have left would have been Friday, for the Saturday wedding, and it would have meant all day traveling from city to city to city.

The bride has been very gracious about it.

I don’t know why God needs a good laugh so much that he has to mess with my modest travel plans. Can’t he just watch the Colbert Show or even Everybody Loves Raymond reruns like the rest of us?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A New Wrinkle

Isaac has now strengthened into a hurricane and instead of moving inland, weakening back to a tropical storm, and moving out of my life has decided to linger on the coast.

The problem is a high pressure system running through Oklahoma that has Isaac pinned in place. Thanks, Oklahoma, that sort of behavior is why you have droughts, you know that? Seriously, though, what looked liked a manageable tropical storm is becoming a serious problem for the Louisiana coastal communities, because the longer it hangs around, the more rain it drops. Rain on top of the storm surge means flooding. 

Hurricane Isaac has also finally developed an eye wall, which means that when it finally does pass us to our west, we will be on the dreaded northeast side for hours. I am not looking forward to this.

At least our power is still on, although we’ve been getting some ominous flickers, so that might not last too much longer. The laundry is done, I got a hot shower this morning, and made extra coffee and tea to heat up on our gas stove when the power goes out. I washed the dishes by hand since we might not be able to use the dishwasher for a while. First world problems.

I’d better post this while there is still time. If you read this today, send good wishes, and I’m hoping whatever storms you face in your own life pass quickly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait

People who live in the-parts-of-Louisiana-that-are-not-New-Orleans are used to being overlooked. I suppose it’s possible that the reality TV show Swamp People has led to the realization that the Cajun population of Louisiana does not live on Bourbon Street, but I would hate to have to swear to it in a court of law. Most of the time I find popular misconceptions about Louisiana amusing (and a reminder that I no doubt have my own misconceptions about other states).

During hurricane season, however, it is frustrating to listen to weather reporting that divides Louisiana-bound storms into two categories: those that will hit New Orleans and those that won’t. Once it has been established that a storm won’t hit New Orleans, it might as well have evaporated into thin air. It would actually be nice if those non-New Orleans bound storms did, in fact, evaporate into thin air, but no, they wreak their damage on those other parts of Louisiana, the ones that are not-New-Orleans.

Hurricane Gustav was one such storm. Gustav was the second worst hurricane of 2008, although much of the damage it caused was out in the Caribbean. It appeared to be heading right to New Orleans, still reeling from Katrina in 2005. The state and city government did a remarkable job of evacuating New Orleans ahead of the storm.

Then Gustav bypassed New Orleans and came through Baton Rouge. Here is how Wikipedia describes the storm:
In Baton Rouge, wind damage from Gustav was the worst of any storm in memory. The damage was severe enough to effectively shut the city down for over a week. While most residents chose not to evacuate further inland due to the miniscule threat of major flooding, large numbers of people fled the city after the storm due to the crippled power system in the city. Because most storms dissipate to below tropical-storm levels by the time they reach Baton Rouge, many trees that survived weaker storms in the past fell onto homes, cars, and power lines. In many of the more heavily wooded sections of Baton Rouge, large trees and fallen power lines blocked streets, causing relief to come slowly to those living in residential areas. Nearly all businesses remained closed through September 5, five days after landfall. Power lines along Baton Rouge's tree-lined streets were easily brought down as thousands of trees were uprooted and snapped in half by Gustav's fierce winds. Entire sections of the city were cut off by the mountains of debris. Few homes escaped roof damage as the storm passed over the capital city. Most schools were closed for at least one week, and many for two or three while power was restored to the area around the school. Many signs were blown down, including a large portion of the Interstate 10 Highland Road/Nicholson Drive exit sign, which blew off of the Bridge and into the Mississippi River. It would be three weeks before power was restored to all residents. Debris cleanup was still ongoing at the end of 2008, four months after the storm had passed. 

After the storm had passed and we had phone usage again, I called my family to assure them I was all right. “Why wouldn’t you be?” my sister asked. 
“Hurricane Gustav, you may have heard of it?”
“But that was in New Orleans. You said you don’t live that close to New Orleans,” my still puzzled sister responded. I had to explain that the center of the hurricane that missed New Orleans had hit us. When the power was finally turned back on and I had access to news again, I realized why my sister had been so clueless. The fact that the worst storm in its memory had hit the capital of the state of Louisiana was not the big news that the same storm sparing New Orleans had been.

I only bring that up because I am trying to figure out, from the maps on The Weather Channel and the National Hurricane Center website how badly we are going to be affected by the storm. The NHC 5 Day Forecast map is too small to give much detail.  TWC is busily promising that Isaac is going to turn into a hurricane any minute now to mention Baton Rouge. Local forecasters are dependent on the same models the big boys are.

As close as Isaac has come to shallow waters without becoming a hurricane, it looks like we won’t get anything worse than a tropical storm here. One map I saw showed Isaac coming up the west side of the Mississippi, putting both NO and Baton Rouge on the east side of the storm. Normally, that is not where you want to be, but Isaac has been funny in that regard, having a hard time forming an eye wall. I have taken to thinking of it as Isaac, the ADHD storm, due to its difficulty concentrating.

Meanwhile, we are taking precautions, watching what news we can get, and waiting.

ETA: As of 11:20 Am, Isaac has been upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane.

Tree next to the neighbor's house, uprooted during Hurricane Gustav

Our fence after Hurricane Gustav
Around the corner from our house, a tree from one yard fell on a neighboring house.
At Target, the day after the storm, there were no fresh or frozen foods.
They all had to be thrown out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Storm Is Brewing

I now have something to take my mind off of the weighty issue of whether my cups and glassware are stored correctly. There’s a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that is heading my way.

You would never know it from the weather outside right now. It is hot and sunny with barely a breeze. By tomorrow we may have squalls and by Wednesday either hurricane or tropical storm force winds, depending on how quickly the storm breaks up over land. Since Isaac isn’t even a hurricane yet, it’s not likely to get as bad as Gustav, but you never know. We’ve had hurricanes strengthen, weaken, or veer off in a completely new direction before. 

If I lived closer to the Gulf, I’d probably be heading to the hills right now, but there are some problems with evacuating. One of them is finding a place to take you in. Motels and hotels fill up quickly, which means staying at an emergency shelter. Another problem is traffic, which in an evacuation typically inches along at a crawl. If you wait until you know the storm is heading your way, you might be on the road stuck in traffic when a tornado formed by outlying storm bands hits.

The biggest problem, to me, is that storms change directions. Many years ago, during Hurricane Andrew, my husband drove to New Orleans to get his mother so she could stay with us during the storm. It then moved to the west, bypassed New Orleans and hit us, as a tropical storm, instead. So she sat in the dark with us when she could have been cozy at home. Years later, in Florida, several counties evacuated before a hurricane, only to have the storm switch course, cross the peninsula, and hit the area to which they had gone to seek shelter.

I’d rather run those risks than shelter in place in the low lying areas along the coast or in New Orleans, but Baton Rouge is higher and less vulnerable. My house is also situated near a hospital and we have almost always had our power back within hours of storms passing. The one time I had to wait 36 hours (after Gustav) I felt aggrieved. Meanwhile my friends in rural areas were waiting weeks. If I lived in a rural area, I would own a generator for sure.

So we are preparing: the cars are filled with gas, phones are charging, yard is being cleared of debris, we have canned goods that we can cook on the burner of the propane grill. 

And while I’m stuck in the house by candlelight waiting for the storm to pass, it might be the perfect time to rearrange all my cups and glassware.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake

It occurs to me that all my blog posts have been even more frivolous than usual this week, despite weighty things happening around us. So I am rounding out the week with the recipe for Grandma L’s Italian Cheese Cake:

Italian Cheese Cake

13 eggs (keep 2 whites for frosting)
1 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
juice 1 lemon
2 oz anisette
pinch salt
1 large container ricotta

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together first 6 ingredients. Add ricotta and beat well with electric mixer. Pour into greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove when brown. When cake cools, beat remaining egg whites and spread on cake. Sprinkle with colored candy (multi-color nonpareils). Return to oven and bake until egg whites are light brown.

You can use anise extract in place of the anisette, or substitute almond extract or Amoretta if you don’t like the licorice flavor of anise. If you want a big, fluffy meringue, you can use more egg whites.

I was also going to include the recipe for Anett’s Hungarian Yoghurt Cake, but when I looked for the recipe, all I found was a list of ingredients, with no amounts or procedure. If I can get the recipe from her, I’ll edit the post to include it. In the meantime, I’ll link to another favorite cheesecake recipe, John Folse’s Pumpkin and Praline Cheese Cake.

ETA: I have the yoghurt cake recipe from Anett. It uses European measurements:

Start with a cake layer. You can use a basic gateau recipe or yellow cake baked in a spring form pan.

When it cools, top with fruit of your choice, berries work well.

Add topping:

  • Ingredients:
  • - 1 packet gelatine
  • - 2 dl cream (butterfat)
  • - 0,5 dl milk
  • - 450g natural yoghurt
  • - 4 tablespoon sugar

  • dissolve the gelatin in 0,5 dl milk and heat them together. Whisk the cream and blend the sugar, the gelatine, and the yoghurt  together. Pour over the cake and fruit layers in the spring form pan and chill for 3-4 hours.
You can top the cake with multi-color nonpareils.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's a Plot

I like watching home decorating shows, as I know I have said before, but like other reality shows, they strike me as being heavily scripted.

Let’s take Property Brothers, for instance. The premise of the show is that a young couple wanting to buy a new house will have such an extensive wish list that they cannot buy a move in ready house and will be forced to buy a fixer. 

First our unsuspecting couple (who apparently have never watched an episode of the show) are taken to see a luxury house that has all the items on their wish list, and it turns out that the house is well over their budget. They wanted a large living room? This one is the size of a basketball court with 14 foot ceilings. 14 foot ceilings were not on the wish list, but never mind. They wanted a large eat-in kitchen with all new appliances and granite counters. Did they actually specify it had to have a Viking 6 burner range and Sub-Zero refrigerator? No, but this house has them. They wanted four bedrooms, but never said each one had to be the size of a tennis court. So surprise, surprise, they can’t afford this house, which in Property Brothers land means they can’t afford any house with a largish living room and nice new appliances of a more modest sort.

Next our disappointed couple is told that anything they really want in that house can be put into an older home in need of fixing up. Note that the key word is “anything”, not “everything”. Once the couple selects a house, only two or maybe three rooms are remodeled. They aren’t really getting a house like the bait and switch house for a much lower price; they are getting a house with some but not all of their wish list. 

Then we go on the hunt for a potential fixer upper. In each house, Drew and Scott tell the couple what can be done to make it look like their dream home. Scott confidently assures them that he can tear down or move walls, patch cracks, and refinish flooring, all before doing a thorough home inspection to see if the walls are load bearing, the cracks aren’t due to foundation problems, and the floors haven’t been refinished previously.

Two potential houses are selected and given cute names, like the Bug Infested Bungalow and the Cat Lady Condo. Scott reveals his remodeling plans for each house, again, apparently before a thorough inspection has been done. The remodel covers maybe a third of each house, which means the rest of the worn out carpet, undersized bedrooms, mildewed bathrooms and moribund yard will be left as is. For each house, Drew tells the couple what he thinks he can buy it for, Scott tells them what he can remodel it for, and the couple never think to ask what if the owners won’t come down that much on the price or what if that wall Scott is planning to move has all the duct work in it.

The next segment shows the couple waiting eagerly in a coffee shop or restaurant while Drew negotiates for the house of their choice. Despite the fact that they didn’t like the house to begin with, the couple is invariably on pins and needles. Suspense builds as the owners make counter offers or it turns out that there is another bid. Oddly enough, at this point the couple never says, “Well, if this doesn’t work out, there is always the Polka Dot Palace to fall back on.” No, you would think this was their move-in ready dream home instead of a money pit in the making.

The real tip-off that this show is scripted, however, occurs when Scott begins his renovations and something unforeseen happens. The wall that was supposed to come down holds all the ductwork for the HVAC, or the roof is leaking, or there is a crack in the basement wall. This happens every single week, which is probably a clue as to why Drew and Scott are supporting themselves via a TV show rather than a real job. Couldn’t they get Mike Holmes to do an inspection first before making promises to the unsuspecting home owners? I say “unsuspecting”, but the show has been on for a few seasons. By now you’d think buyers would know to beware, unless, of course, all of these problems are known before the remodeling plans are presented and they are all just pretending it’s a big surprise.

Interestingly enough, Income Property and Love It or List It have the exact same dramatic moment when unforeseen complications are discovered. They all use the same inspector, the one with the guide dog.

To add to the fun, the homeowners pick this point to request extras in the remodeling. I can’t really blame them, though, because they apparently are only given five minutes or so to look over the plans and pick one, instead of being able to discuss them over a period of days like normal people working with a contractor. So, yeah, there are bound to be a few forgotten items.

Finally, there is the big reveal. As on all decorator shows, the home owners use the same words and phrases: “This is not my house” (Well then I guess you are homeless. That’s not good.) “It exceeds my expectations.” (Of course. Anyone who purchases The Bug Infested Bungalow has low expectations.) Something is always said to “pop”, and if we are lucky it’s not something in the electrical system. Something else is said to “flow”. It sounds like the intro to Cell Block Tango.

If I ever have reason to go house hunting with The Property Brothers, this is what I will do. I will point out all the ways the first, move in ready house has expensive features I don’t need, to help them understand my wish list better. I will insist on hiring my own inspector to look at the houses under consideration before we make a bid or draw up remodeling plans. I’ll have Drew ask the home owners if they have a copy of the original plans, especially the as-built plans, although I won’t be surprised if they are not available. I will insist that the remodeling plans not include furnishings, since I have my own furniture and anyway, it will be easier to furnish the house a bit at a time than to replace flooring and redo bathrooms a bit at a time. All the remodeling money will be put toward removing walls, redoing bathrooms and the kitchen, and replacing or refinishing  flooring. Painting I can do on my own time. It’s true that won’t make the big reveal as impressive, but it will save time later on.

Of course, they are in Canada and I’m in Louisiana, so we will never meet. It’s just as well.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Oh, Good, Something New to Worry About

I wandered over to the O-T lounge this morning, and found this thread: Do You Put Your Cups/Glasses Away Facing Up Or Down?

Tiger Droppings is a primarily sports oriented message board for LSU fans and opponents. It has several sports forums but it also has non-sports oriented forums. In addition to the O-T Lounge, there are forums for politics, money, food, entertainment, gaming, a ticket exchange and something called the Fark Board. 

So you might expect that the demographic of the message board is largely young to middle aged males, and not expect a discussion of how you store your glassware to attract many responses, but this is Louisiana, where men can cook, bake, garden, and worry about their stemware and as long as they are toting a Smith and Wesson, it’s all good.

I was surprised that most of the people who responded store their cups down, to keep the dust out. On the other hand, those who do store their cups/glasses up point out that the cabinet doors keep the dust out but the shelves can get dirty and the rims will be germy if you store them down. 

I keep my glasses and cups upright but I never really thought about why. I’m pretty sure it’s because Mom did it that way. Dust would never dare settle in her cabinets. I do have an open Welsh cupboard in the dining room and the crystal there gets dusty, but it would look funny face down and anyway, the outside would get dusty. I wash the crystal before I use it, which is once or twice a year.

Maybe I should store some of my glasses up and some down and see which works better.

On the other hand, maybe I should just go dust.

Monday, August 20, 2012

It's a Thing

There are a few words and phrases I know of that name the category of which they are a member.

“Noun”, for instance - the word “noun” is a noun. 

Then of course, the phrase “figure of speech” is itself a figure of speech. Others may disagree, but I also think the phrase “dog whistle” is itself a dog whistle.

Lately it has come to my attention that there are some new phrases using the word “thing” like “I didn’t even know that is a thing” or “Is that even a thing?” “Thing” in this context as best I can tell means “phenomenon” (which comes from the Greek meaning “thing” or actually, “thing appearing to view”). So using “thing” to replace “phenomenon” is now a thing, I guess.

I’m on the lookout for more examples. In the meantime, I wonder if there is a name for the phenomenon of category names that are themselves members of that category, since, you know, it seems to be a thing.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sinking In

The big news around here recently has been a 400 foot deep sinkhole in nearby Assumption Parish. Residents of the parish had been concerned about natural gas bubbling up from below the surface of Bayou Corne since June. Then, in July, a sinkhole opened up. An evacuation was ordered on August 3. For a while there were concerns about radioactivity, although word now is that the radiation is not above background levels. 

The sinkhole is near a salt cavern owned by the Texas Brine company, who are supposed to go in and investigate whether the cavern has been breached. A similar breach was caused by faulty drilling on Jefferson Island in the 1970’s. The breach wiped out the Diamond Crystal Salt Factory and changed the salinity and ecosystem of Lake Peigneur.

Texas Brine says their salt cavern was plugged and abandoned in 2011 but they will investigate and see if there is a problem. It is going to take around 40 days to drill to the cavern.

Yesterday, two cleanup workers went into the area by boat. They tied the boat to a cypress tree. Suddenly, the area around the tree dropped 40 feet, taking the boat with it. The workers were able to get the attention of others in the area and were rescued by airboat.

Salt caverns are often used for storage. 940,000 gallons of butane are being stored in a cavern only 2000 feet from the sinkhole. If the sinkhole expands far enough to breach the cavern, it could cause a massive explosion.

Did I mention all this is happening less than 50 miles from my house?

I say that’s the big news around here, but actually two other stories have captured even more interest. One is the murder of two sheriff’s deputies further downriver in LaPlace.

But this being Baton Rouge and this being August, the biggest news is that one of LSU’s best football players, a former Heisman Trophy finalist nicknamed the Honey Badger, has been thrown off the team. He had been suspended for a few games last year after testing positive for use of synthetic marijuana. It transpired he had not learned his lesson and had failed a few other drug tests.

Rumors flew. The young man was definitely going to transfer to McNeese University, a small college that plays in a lower division, meaning he wouldn’t have to sit out a year. How fair that was to the presumably behaving students already enrolled was a subject of hot debate. Then it was no, not McNeese, but Nichols State.

For the last two days, the news was that Honey Badger was prepared to stay at LSU as a student if he could be given a chance to try out for the team again next year. The coach was not in agreement. It may have been sinking in that time spent trying to keep one player out of trouble was time not available for other aspects of coaching.

I kind of feel for student athletes who get into trouble through stupid decision making. For most students, college is a time of experimentation. Some students can use drugs, flunk classes, get pregnant, drop out, drop in, and still have time to straighten up and make something of their lives and then pretend to their children that they were paragons of virtue. For students in competitive programs like pre-law and pre-med, this is less likely to be true. For student athletes, who have a set period of eligibility and who are competing for an even smaller number of professional jobs, it is even harder to overcome bad decisions. 

On the other hand, I understand why it is not advisable to cut these students even more slack. College athletics are big time business, and the temptation to cheat is overwhelming. Any kind of flexibility can be exploited and will be. I don’t blame the coach for taking a hard line. If anything, he maybe should have taken it sooner.

Last night, a new story made the rounds. Honey Badger is not going to Nichols or McNeese. He’s not even staying on at LSU in the fall. He is in a drug rehab program in Houston, hoping to return to LSU as a student in the spring. He has garnered a lot of respect for taking this step.

It’s hard to know which young persons can experiment with drugs and then move on and which ones will fall into the sinkhole of addiction. Like the news out of Assumption Parish, this is a developing situation.

I hope this young man tied his boat to the right tree. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Sting

My husband has two different sized ears.  This is not a normal condition with him; but two days ago he got stung by a yellow jacket while weeding the garden. He told me what had happened and complained about how his ear itched, while icing it intermittently and rubbing on the hydrocortisone cream I had leftover from an ant attack. 

Later at dinner I looked up at him and noticed that his left ear, the one that had been stung, was twice the size of the right. The ear lobe was also a bright red.

It is getting better. Today the left is down to one and a half times the size of the right, and a paler pink.

John is fond of saying that you think you own your property, but when the sun goes down, you realize it belongs to the insects. Apparently they are now taking over during the daytime, too. The insects are not the only ones who share property ownership with us. Even though we live on a suburban lot that is maybe one-third of an acre in size, we share it with mockingbirds, cardinals, the occasional raccoon, a possum, robins briefly when they fly through in the spring heading north, hummingbirds, lizards, a frog or two (or maybe toads, I can’t tell the difference), a lot of spiders, and every so often a grass snake. There are also squirrels. We have given up trying to grow any sort of vegetable because of the squirrels. 

I have also written before of the egrets and hawks that live in our neighborhood, but there has only been one hawk in my yard, a juvenile perched briefly on my fence next to a squirrel until I drove up and scared him off.

Lately there has been much made of a study that shows that house cats are predators (people did not know this?), thirty percent of them killing two or more wild animals a week. So what are the other seventy percent doing, marching up and down with signs saying, “Go Green, Go Vegan”?

This has led to renewed pleas to deprive small domesticated animals of their own turf and keep them indoors. I wonder if in the next ten thousands years or so raccoons, squirrels, and crows are going to co-evolve with humans to the point that our descendants will be enjoined to keep their raccoons on a leash or indoors and spay or neuter their squirrels. Catch, spay and release programs for possums? Rescue families sought for crows?

Crows are smart, though. Only their lack of hands keep me from worrying that some day they might be catching, spaying, and releasing us.

Hope Springs

Now that the Olympics are over, John is again looking for movies for us to see weekly. This week’s movie was Hope Springs, with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as the older married couple who have fallen into a rut. They sleep in separate bedrooms since he hurt his back, but worse (to me, anyway) is that they don’t seem to connect on any level. Arnold is obsessed with his job and golf, not necessarily in that order, and Kay has a job at a clothing store but seems mostly to identify with her roles as wife and mother, and is taken for granted in the first and at a loss in the second now that the kids are grown. 

When an attempt to initiate sex with her husband fails, Kay decides to take action and signs them both up for intensive couples counseling in Greater Hope Springs, Maine. Arnold is highly resistant, refusing to go at first, showing up at the airport only when Kay leaves without him, and sabotaging several of the exercises the therapist assigns for them. When he finally realizes what he has to lose and plans a romantic evening for Kay, what began well ends badly. They return home with Kay feeling frustrated and Arnold asking “It hasn’t been all bad, has it?”

I know I am supposed to identify with Kay, but I felt bad for Arnold. Both characters are stereotypes who only emerge as real people because they are being played by excellent actors. But Arnold in particular seems like the stereotype of the emotionally distant husband who thinks coming home at night and bringing home a paycheck are all that he needs to do to be a good husband. The movie pokes fun at him and Kay finally voices her disappointment at him for using gift giving occasions to buy things for the house (a hot water heater, a cable subscription), but I see these “presents” as Arnold’s way of being her protector. 

I’m reminded of a older couple I knew when I was much younger, living in a small town in New Jersey. They owned a small grocery store in the heart of town. One day, the husband told us proudly, “She never had to eat margarine. Even during the war (World War II), she always had butter.” I thought that was the most romantic thing I had ever heard anyone say.

Of course, I don’t know how his wife felt about it. She might have preferred less butter and more flowers, or diamonds, for all I know. But I suspect she knew he really wasn’t just talking about butter.

Arnold, however, is not even at that point. Kay is important to him, but he has his own disappointments, and seems to think that if he never complained, she shouldn’t either. His biggest fear seems to be that if they admit their disappointments with each other, their marriage will fall apart. It’s easier for him to understand that his house needs maintenance than that his marriage does.

The movie does have a happy ending, as unlikely as it sometime seemed that it would ever get there and despite the painful moments along the way. Don’t go expecting the merry, slapstick comedy the previews seem to promise. But go, is what I’d advise. Bring tissues.

Monday, August 13, 2012

This Was Supposed to Be a Different Post

Sunday I was going to go to St. Anonymous to hear what should have been the next in the Relationship Training series of sermons, What Women Wish Men Knew. I figured since I had deconstructed (fancy word for “made fun of”) the week before’s sermon about men, it was only fair I do this one as well.

However, as I was in the shower, my husband popped his head in and told me the men’s Olympic basketball final was being shown live on television. That was the end of church for the morning. The game was close until well into the fourth quarter. By the time it ended, the late service had been going on for five minutes, and while I could have hopped into my car (shorts and all) and made it to church in time for the sermon, I wanted to see the awards ceremony. No matter how many times I see teary eyed athletes singing along to the national anthem, it never gets old.

I shared with my husband the irony of Dr. J choosing the morning of the  Olympic basketball final to preach a sermon on What Women Wish Men Knew. I wonder how many men showed up to listen?

My reaction to What Women Wish Men Knew lists is mixed at best. There are what, about 3 and a quarter billion women in the world, so how likely is it that we all have identical lists of things we want the men in our lives to know? There are some things that bother other women that don’t bother me. Not that I’m one of those chill girls who thinks if something doesn’t bother me, it shouldn’t bother you either, I’m just saying we’re all different. There are some things that don’t bother other women that do bother me. There are some things that are context dependent. Yes, I like it if a man holds a door open for me (and I’ll say thank you), but I don’t like it if I get the frowny face for holding a door open for him if I happen to get there first and don’t want to slam it in his face. I also don’t want to have to slow my pace so he can get there first and hold the door for me.

Also, I think birthdays and anniversaries should be celebrated with flowers and cake (or candy) and dinner out and a present (like my dad always did for my mom), but hubby finds that a bit excessive. So is that something he “should” know? He never forgets special occasions and he does give me a present and dinner out, so I have learned to adjust my expectations accordingly. I’m not going to enjoy making him do more than he feels comfortable with.

 I think if I had to make a list of What Women Wish Men Knew, it would consist of two things:

1) We each have our own individual list 
2) We’ll tell you what it is if you make it safe for us to do so.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the same list covered what men wished women knew.

Well, maybe plus one more. The worst time to give a sermon on What Women Wish Men Knew is when the gold medal round of men’s Olympic basketball is going on.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Relationship Training

“Relationship Training” is what Dr. J has decided to call her sermon series on relationships. This past Sunday’s sermon was on What Men Wish Women Knew. This information was supposed to come from the relationship surveys that Dr. J had handed out the month before, but she admitted she supplemented the responses she got from the 16 men who turned in their surveys with information she got from other sources. Most of the bits of wisdom she revealed I recognized as having been floating around on the internet for a while, and to which I give as much credence as I do other bits of wisdom floating around the internet. 

For instance, item number one is “We aren’t mind readers”. Actually, I have no trouble believing that. My husband, for instance, can’t even read his own mind. Ask him where he wants to go for his birthday dinner? “I don’t know”. Ask him what he is planning to do with the five wooden Siamese cat sculptures he is purchasing from a vendor in the Bangkok Sunday market? “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

That doesn’t stop him from trying to read my mind when he thinks it is to his advantage. My real reason for wanting to recover the dining room chairs, in his mind, had nothing to do with my stated reason, that the cats had scratched holes in the chairs and stuffing was poking out. No, my own personal member of the we-can’t-read-minds brigade was sure he knew the real reason for my wanting to recover the chairs, and it was that I am never happy with what I have. 

Guys? If you want to contend that you aren’t a mind reader when it suits your purposes not to be a mind reader, do not ever begin a sentence directed at your wife with “The real reason you want . . .” We do notice logical contradictions. 

Then there is the item that goes “We only see 16 colors. Peach is not a color, it’s a fruit.” That, of course, is the reason the CEO’s of all paint companies are women. Sherwin Williams is a woman who was given the name “Sherwin” because it’s her grandma’s maiden name. And that dude who painted the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel was really a cross dressing female. Trufax.

Honestly guys. It’s okay for you be bad at something like color perception. You can be bad at it as an individual, is what I’m saying. It doesn’t need to be a group effort. I mean, I’m a woman, and I have a hard time telling peach (the color) from apricot (the color). I think  it’s only in the past ten years I’ve been able to tell the fruit apart, and now the world has sprung pluots on me.Is that fair? Next thing you know, that Sherwin Williams character is going to start hawking pluot paint and we can both be confused about it.

But my favorite, favorite one was “Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That's what we do.”  Uhm, no, that’s what you don’t do, except for those values of “help” that mean “give orders”. Here’s how it works around my house. It’s 5:00 Friday night and a bill arrives in the mail. It’s the same bill I have paid six months ago, and have spent the past six months trying to convince the payee (using   a copy of the cancelled check) that I have already paid.  I know this means another call to the billing department, but as I just said, it’s 5:00 Friday night and I can’t call  until the billing department opens at 9 :00 on Monday morning. So I am grouchy and frustrated and I say so. Several times.

No, telling me “I guess you’ll have to call them again” is not helping me solve the problem. It’s just telling me that my problem, which is that my weekend has been ruined by the unfortunate timing of the bill, is not a real problem (which is a weird thing to do if you want me to believe you can’t read minds) and only the problem that you think you have a solution for is. You don’t get cookies for that. 

To be fair to hubby, he often does offer real solutions to my problems. Just yesterday, I thought the light switch in the living room was broken because nothing happened when I pressed it. Hubby figured out that both light bulbs were out, and stopped what he was doing to go out into the garage, get the ten foot ladder, and change the bulbs, which is something I can’t do because of balance problems. Did I then complain that he didn’t let me talk about my feelings about the broken light bulb? Of course not. I thanked him profusely. He offered a real solution to the real problem. An offer of real help with solving a problem doesn’t start with “Why don’t you . . .?” It starts with “How about if I . . .”

I don’t even think the “offering useless advice instead of help or at least sympathy” behavior is exclusively male. I know I have been guilty of it. When my husband used to come home and vent endlessly about his boss, I would offer useless advice, like using “I” statements with his boss. I suggested he say something like, “When I am told to stop work on what you told me was our number one project to work on something else that is our number one project, I feel confused.” 

For some reason that advice never went over well.

No, really, guys, we are perfectly capable of noticing that when you are the one venting about your boss, or your idiot brother-in-law, or the car mechanic who broke your car, you aren’t asking us for help in solving a problem either. You just want our assurances that you are right and the other guy is wrong. Even when we honestly think you are wrong and the other guy is right.

I do understand, having been there myself, what it is like to deal with a partner who whines endlessly and doesn’t seem to try to fix the problem. And sometimes a nudge toward action is what is needed. In my billing department situation, if it had been 9 AM Monday and I had still been whining instead of calling, “Quit complaining and go call them” would have been a reasonable thing to say. 

So what is the right thing to say when your beloved is complaining about a problem you can’t really solve? YMMV, but “Damn, that sucks. How about if I take you out for dinner?” works great for me.

How hard is that?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So One Afternoon

The recent back and forth over Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy donating heavily to anti-LGBT groups has led me think I may be the only person in the country who doesn’t like CfA’s chicken sandwiches. Actually, I don’t dislike them, I just don’t find them irresistible. So far as I know, I have only eaten there once, about 6 months ago when we got a coupon for the franchise nearest us. I honestly don’t even remember what the sandwich tasted like, other than, of course, it tasted like chicken. So boycotting CfA is not exactly a political act on my part, it’s my default mode, if anyone can be said to be boycotting a business she doesn’t frequent because she doesn’t need the product.

I know they also have waffle fries, but so does Back Yard Burgers, which is practically in my backyard, seeing as how it’s across the main street to my subdivision. Back Yard Burgers also has sweet potato fries, which I like much better.

For chicken, though, my husband and I prefer Popeye’s, which is also practically in my backyard, being two blocks from Back Yard Burgers. It's his favorite, but my favorite is Raising Cane’s.

That leads me to the actual point of this post, which is to tell a terrific story about Cane’s (as we call it around here).  

The children’s rehabilitation center where I worked before I retired does a lot of therapy groups in the summer, including what we called Functional Life Skills groups. The physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists would plan our therapy around group activities in which children learned how to use a calendar, or make change, or cook meals, or other functional life skills. One year we had a group of children, many of whom used augmentative communication devices, who were working toward going out for a meal at a local restaurant. That meant that group activities involved selecting a place to go (taking turns, taking a vote, accepting majority rule), reading a menu and calculating how much the meal would cost, learning about currency (how many pennies make a nickel, how many nickels make a dime, etc) practicing how to order.  (In later years we had a group assemble and sell trail mix to raise money for their food.) We had vocabulary activities, gross motor games, fine motor games (a money lotto game for instance), and then finally, the big visit to Cane’s.

We went in the mid-afternoon. This being summer, most of the workers were late high school and early college age students. They were, in an overworked word, awesome. So were our kids, but we had been preparing them all summer for the big event. The Cane’s workers, on the other hand, probably didn’t have groups of largely non-verbal children with walkers and wheelchairs dropping in every day and ordering with posters and electronic devices*. Nonetheless, they were perfect. The Cane’s staff knew to talk to the children as they ordered, not the adults standing next to them, and they were friendly but not patronizing. They checked with us several times to make sure everything was all right, (of course, it was mid-afternoon and we were practically the only people there) and there again, they talked to the kids who were their customers, not just the adults in attendance.

Naturally we sent a glowing letter of thanks and praise the next day.

So even if Raising Cane’s did not have Cane’s sauce and the best lemonade and sweet tea anywhere, I would be a big Cane’s fan just because one summer afternoon,  they treated a marginalized group of people who were used to being ignored and patronized like the regular people they are.

And that’s what everyone really wants.

*OTOH, a lot of high schools in the area have community service requirements for their students, so maybe they did have some experience with special needs kids.

Monday, August 6, 2012

In Short

This is what passes for witty conversation around our house. This morning I told my husband I wanted to stay up and follow Curiosity’s landing on Mars, but “I crashed”.

Hubby replied, “It didn’t.”

Video can be found here for other sleepyheads:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Kittehlympics

Like most of the rest of the world, John and I have been watching a lot of the Olympic Games on television this past week. Spurred on by the noise and rapid movements coming from the TV, our cats decided to hold their own Kittehlympics one night.

Events consisted of full contact martial arts, the down-the-hall sprint, the around-the-kitchen-and-den race, the high dive (getting up on the back of the sofa and leaping upward before landing on the opponent cat), hurdles (jumping over every piece of furniture in the room), and cat toy soccer. I’m not sure who won, but it wasn’t the furniture.

During the 2010 Winter Olympics, Truffle was a mere spectator.

Watching the Olympics this year, I notice that the USA is not the only melting pot nation, if it ever was. There is a Dutch gymnast named Marcel Nguyen. Emili Sandé, the singer who sang Abide with Me during a choreographed memorial segment of the opening ceremonies, is Zambian-British. There are others, those are the two whose names I remember off-hand. 

This morning I read an article on Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee who is running for South Africa in the Olympics. There are still people arguing that his artificial legs give him an advantage in competition. I suspect if you could analyze the genetics and body mechanics of all the athletes participating in the games, you’d find they all had some kind of advantage over us mere mortals. (Michael Phelps, the swimmer, for example has long arms.) After all, isn’t that the reason you have a competition to begin with, to find out who can do the best with what they’ve got?  Whatever bio-mechanical advantage Pistorius might have over people who were merely born with naturally long legs and short torsos, he still needs to train and practice. He still needs to learn race strategy. He still needs to show up.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

On the Hunt

Since my retirement I have made more use of the local library, checking out mostly murder mysteries but also the occasional non-fiction book from the New Releases shelf. No matter how interesting the non-fiction books appear at first, though, I’ve had a hard time making my way through them, not because the books themselves are bad, but because they tax my aging attention span. As I have mentioned before, there are books I want to have read, more than I want to actually read them.

Nonetheless, I checked out Peter L. Bergen’s Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11/ to Abbottabad. This book I actually finished.

This is not a book rushed into print to take advantage of public interest in a news topic. Bergen is the author of a previous books on Bin Laden,  including Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden, the manuscript of which he had turned in to his publisher the week before 9/11. The book has a ten page bibliography and 80 some odd pages of notes. Bergen has interviewed sources named and unnamed in the intelligence community and was able to see Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound before it was razed. There is a lot of detail in this book.

Some of the things I learned were, first, how invested President Bush was in trying to find Bin Laden himself. His seeming indifference in public Bergen’s sources attribute to Bush’s reluctance to remind the world that Bin Laden had attacked the US and evaded capture. 

Also, I was not aware of how unsure the intelligence community was that the tall figure they saw walking in the garden of the compound truly was Osama Bin Laden. It made sense given all they knew, but there was a good deal of uncertainty still when the mission to go after him was approved. In the end it was decided that there was unlikely to be any better information forthcoming if the mission was postponed, and more chances of leaks.

There was planning during the final Clinton years to try to extract Bin Laden from Tora Bora using a similar scheme, but concern for losing any members of the mission led to proposed plans that involved over a hundred military personnel, which did not seem practical.

Bin Laden’s motivation for the attacks was to get the US out of the Middle East. Instead, of course, they brought our military there in force.

What stays in my mind, however, is not the detail so much as the ethical and philosophical implications that the book raises. 

First of all, Bergen describes many of the “interrogation techniques” used on captives. It is sobering to think that these are the actions of my government, my country. Then there are the drone strikes, not all of which hit their intended targets.  Bergen relates how the US used a faked vaccination project to try to obtain DNA from the children in the compound to confirm that the Bin Laden family lived there. Awareness of the faked vaccination program has led to distrust of real ones going on today.  It is hard to read the book and not feel complicit.

The philosophical implications have been in my mind a long time, since the 9/11 attacks. I remember President Clinton’s ordering an attack on Bin Laden’s stronghold in Tora Bora while impeachment hearings were going on. There was a lot of criticism of the attack as being staged purely to divert attention from the impeachment hearings, and comparisons to the movie Wag the Dog

What if the attack had succeeded? It is possible that the 9/11 attacks would still have occurred, in which case, no doubt a lot of blame would have fallen on Clinton for provoking them by assassinating Bin Laden. No one would have been aware that the attacks were in the works anyway.

On the other hand, perhaps with Bin Laden dead the plan would not have been implemented, 3,000 people would not have died, and the two towers would be standing today. There again, no one would have been aware that the plans would have been in the works, or that the nation owed President Clinton a huge debt of gratitude. Even if captured Al Qaeda operatives had confessed to plans to blow up the world trade center by flying planes into it, would anyone have believed such a plan could work?

So now my mind goes back to those “interrogation techniques” that make me think, not my country! Even if they did not produce any usable information, maybe there is way they could have somehow interrupted the chain of events that would have led to another horrifying event in some alternate universe.

There is a reason that “hypothesis contrary to fact” is considered a logical fallacy. It is just too easy to prove what you want to prove with hypotheticals. We have no way of knowing what would have happened in the alternate universes our minds can devise. We have only the task of living a just life in the world we do have.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


The foot that I injured back in the spring has been slower at healing than I had hoped. The joint has healed, but I strained a ligament and managed to keep re-injuring it, including during the last week of physical therapy. In my natural, non-injured state, I walk fast, and what would happen is that as soon as my foot would feel better, I’d start walking faster until recurring pain stopped me, for a while. 

I finally recognized the pattern and made an effort to walk slower (“like a geisha”, my foot doctor recommended). I began to have several pain free days in a row. I found a new pair of shoes to replace the old comfy shoes that were much the worse for a year’s worth of daily wear.

In the past week or so, I have noticed a new milestone. I have hours at a time when I don’t even think about my feet.

If you have never had long-term pain or intermittent chronic pain, that last sentence probably doesn’t make any sense. After all, you have days, let along hours, when you don’t really think about your feet. Once the shoes and socks are on and if nobody steps on them, what is there to think about?

The thing about long-term pain, though, is even when it is gone from the affected body part, it’s not gone from your mind. For one thing, it doesn’t go away all at once, like somebody turning off a switch. You have pain free hours followed by the pain coming back. It may be gone during normal activity, but not during more strenuous activity. It may recur when you are tired. In my case, for a while I was perfectly fine walking on the carpet in my house but not on the hard surface floors. So even when the pain is gone, you expect it to come back. After all, it has before.

Even once you are pretty sure it’s gone, you need to be careful not to re-injure the just healed part. So you motor plan consciously and carefully, instead of unconsciously and on the fly. If you had a sore back, you don’t turn your upper body and stretch to reach for heavy objects*, you walk yourself in front of them and turn to face them, and then “lift with your legs, not your back.” If you had a sore knee, you are careful about squatting and running. If you had a sore foot like mine, you walk like a geisha. So, yeah, even though the pain is gone, the injury affects your thinking. 

That’s why it is so wonderful to realize that you have spent the last five or six hours thinking about what on earth the Medicare statement you just got means and how fine you need to chop the onions for dinner and what setting to put the dryer on for your jeans, but not  about how your foot feels and if it is any better or worse than yesterday. 

Life is good.

*and the definition of “heavy” in this context could be as little as five pounds