Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Horrible News

Molly Ivins has died.

Neighbor Guy is Mowing

Neighbor Guy is mowing.

That’s not such an extraordinary act, but it’s January, even if it is January in Florida. It’s about 50 degrees outside – and that’s today’s high. For most people around here, mowing season ended sometime in September when the grass mostly went into a holding pattern.

But Neighbor Guy is mowing.

I’ve lived next door to Neighbor Guy for most of the last 31 years. For 3 years I was gone, when my then-husband joined the Navy. When I returned, the Neighbor Guy family itself was elsewhere, courtesy of the Navy. But, shortly, they came back.

And it’s been fun and games ever since.

I used to think Neighbor Guy had issues because his years in the Navy turned him into a control freak, but after my son joined the Marines and my daughter married a Navy guy and neither son nor son-in-law have developed control issues, I realized that no, it’s the other way around: Neighbor Guy probably joined the military because it fit his control freak worldview.

Look, he can be nice. But whenever I accept a pat on the head from the guy, I always expect a kick in the ribs later. So I maintain a friendly, but-keep-my-head-down-as-much-as-possible relationship with him. It doesn’t take much to offend his sensibilities.

For instance, a few years ago, I was struggling to keep my yard mowed. I had little time, next to no money, and an unreliable mower. When the grass reached a level that was bothering me – probably a month’s growth – I finally went out and rented a horror of a mower. Scissors would have been easier. While I was trying to mow, a police car cruised down our little cul-de-sac and stopped in front of the house across from Neighbor Guy. This was an everyday sight because Other Guy was the frequent target of Neighbor Guy’s calls to authorities. Neighbor Guy didn’t like the truck that didn’t run parked in Other Guy’s driveway. Neighbor Guy didn’t like the length of the grass in Other Guy’s yard. Neighbor Guy didn’t like Other Guy’s dog. Anyway, Other Guy was outside and he the police officer talked a while. When the officer drove away, Other Guy ambled over to talk to me.

“Guess what he wanted?” Other Guy asked.

“No idea,” I shrugged.

Somebody” said Other Guy, and yes, he spoke in italics, “reported an overgrown lawn to the authorities.”

“Is that so?” (We both well knew who Somebody was.)

“Yep,” said Other Guy, “and as I pointed out to him, my lawn was nicely mown as was every other lawn on the street, and you obviously are mowing yours, so I didn’t see where there was any problem. The officer agreed with me.”

Shortly after that, I entered into the agreement to have the kid across the street – Other Guy’s son – mow my lawn. That didn’t go so well, but all’s well now.

When I came home last night, I found a flyer tucked beside my doorknob. Neighbor Guy has revived the neighborhood association.

Our covenants don’t call for one, but ten or so years ago, Neighbor Guy was instrumental in establishing a voluntary association (it lasted about two years). That done, he bombarded us with monthly newsletters reminding us that trash should only go out the evening before pickup day! And empty cans should be pulled off the street promptly! Yards should be kept mowed! No dogs running around! No semis parked on the streets!

That last one was particularly nasty, I thought, because it targeted exactly one family. The main road running through the subdivision is extremely wide for a little old subdivision. And once a week or so a fella who lived on the road parked a semi there overnight. Obviously, driving a truck was his livelihood. Possibly he had nowhere else to put the truck. But apparently it’s technically not legal to do that. Yet he did nothing to block the flow of traffic. Nothing. There’s room for four lanes on that road. However, he did eventually quit parking there. I don’t know where he put the truck after that, but I do know the house was foreclosed upon a few months later. One thing probably had nothing to do with the other, but I say don’t get in the way of a guy trying to make an honest living.

So this newsletter – and I know Neighbor Guy’s behind it because he introduces himself on the letter – is concerned with hot button items such as zoning and “covenants and restrictions” enforcement, garbage, etc. (As a former real estate secretary, I’ve looked into it and I know that our covenants and restrictions expired a few years ago, so I’m not sure what that’s all about.) He’s calling for a meeting this weekend.

Just yesterday (before I found the newsletter) I made the decision to start putting my recycling out late on Monday. It’s not picked up until just before dawn on Wednesday. However, Tuesday is a school day and I am up early – sometimes out the door at 6 am – and home no sooner than 8:30 pm, tired, grumpy, and lately, cold. Recycling doesn’t fit on my Tuesday to-do list.

This might lead to confrontation.

But sometimes, like Neighbor Guy obviously believes, you just gotta take a stand.

JJ: In Memoriam (Wednesday Cat Blogging from the lost files of Bitty)

I found this, in draft form, in my archives tonight. I wrote it on March 11, 2006 and I'm not sure why I didn't publish it. I think I might have been looking for a certain picture...

Well, JJ deserves her due, ten and a half months late though it may be. Here's the post:

One evening more than twelve years ago, I went to the grocery store and, like many people, came home with more than I'd planned.

Snaking out of a neighboring subdivision, a few yards from a major highway, I saw in the darkness a glint that I knew very well: light reflected from a cat's eye. In the faint street light huddled the tiniest brown homeless cat. I pulled over and tried to lure the little one toward me. She (as I would later learn) would have none of it. I was terrified that she'd get run over, but she refused to be caught. So I continued on to the store, purchased one can of cat food, and returned to the scene. The little one was still cowering near the side of the road, and while she was still skeptical, she wasn't then -- or ever -- one to resist food.

I took her home to keep her safe, only until I could find her a good home.

Apparently, though, she found one on her own, because she never left us until two weeks ago today, when I had to have her put to sleep. Even now she's with us, buried in the back yard.

Back then, we'd already had major shakeups in our cat population. That Labor Day, our Semmi was murdered by a kid (we presume) with a BB gun. We found him lying dead in our backyard, headed toward home, obviously trying to get to us, whom he thought could help him. We found him too late. That reduced our cat rollcall to one, our alpha male Shadow, who literally took to his bed for two weeks, having (we've always presumed) witnessed Semmi's death. (Our cats no longer go outside.) In my grief, the next weekend I stopped in at a house displaying a Free Kittens sign and brought home my beauty queen Molly. Shadow took poorly to his new roommate, and to this date she steers wide of him. Only a few weeks later, then, I came home with this additional interloper.

The first few nights we kept the homeless one locked up in the bathroom, but ours was then a family of three kids and two other cats, and this became just plain impractical.

There's no way to know how long the little one lived on her wits, but when I took her to the vet, I was told that her teeth indicated she was much older than she looked. She looked like a ten-week old. She had a hole through her ear, as if she'd been in a fight with another cat, or maybe more likely due to its placement, a fool kid had pierced it. Her sides bulged as if she were pregnant, although she wasn't (she remained mishapen her whole life; strangers would always assume she was pregnant). She was the chalky brown color of a Hershey's bar that had been in the refrigerator. She'd been through some hardships, so integrating into the home of a grouchy alpha male was simply no big deal. In fact, the little one, whom we eventually named JJ when we gave up the pretense that we weren't keeping her, took an immediate liking to the big antagonistic black cat. She would repeatedly nudge against him as if to insist that they become friends. And they did.

In those first few weeks, thanks to decent nutrition, JJ's coat turned from brown to jet black. (Even at the time of her final illness, her fur was soft as a powder puff.) This made her look like Shadow's shadow, as if she was destined to be his new soul mate.

Part of my delay in getting this posted was, oddly, my problem finding appropriate pictures. In the olden days when we used film cameras and my children were at home, I'd develop rolls of film and find about 14 pictures I had taken of children, etc. --and ten cat pictures taken by the kids. Now they all seem to be...where?

Probably the funniest thing J ever did was try to catch the cats on TV. From time to time I'd borrow a video camera. When I filmed my frisky new kittens playing outside and played it back on the TV, J noticed (as she got older, she quit watching TV, though). I don't remember how she managed to reach the screen in the beginning, but after that, we would pull a chair up to the TV, turn on the video, and watch her go. (I look at this picture and see that old TV, that old VCR, that old stereo...)

Here's the best of the last of the pictures I took of J, the day after Christmas. She's on the left, trying to nap with Shadow (napping together is what they did with 50% of their time).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Don't Send Flowers

Twin Sister Number One called this morning.

Her father, my stepfather, is dying. Will die. Soon.

I'm feeling quite a peculiar mix of emotions, none of which is exactly sorrow. She says she feels nothing.

Imagine what hell for children might be. That was our childhood, except as far as I know, none of us was sexually abused.

The story has only one moral: alcoholism is a bad, bad thing for everyone involved.

Update: And later in the day he died, never having regained consciousness. Because the family was not allowed in ICU during certain hours, everyone had gone home to take a break.

And so he died alone.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Yes, It's Really Me

You're thinking something's different.

Hmm. Could it be you've lost weight, Bitty?

You've done something with the hair, yes?

No! You didn't go get the nose fixed, did you, Bitts?

A new dress?

I give up. But something definitely looks different about you today, Bitty. Something definitely looks different.

How to get out of Iraq

Barbara Ehrenreich posted 15 Steps Toward a Happier, Healthier America in 07, and while they're all priceless, the last line of her first step inspired an out-loud laugh from me. It's not all that often that I can muster up a laugh about Iraq:
Get the troops out of Iraq. Of course this is easier said then [sic] done, since conditions on the ground have become far too dangerous to allow for an orderly exit. Outward bound truck convoys, for example, would attract roadside bombs and other unfriendly send-offs. The best plan is to find out how thousands of Iraqis are managing to flee the country every day and take the same route.
This leaves me with the uneasy realization that Iraqis have a good deal more freedom than we do in terms of getting out of Iraq.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The H List

Kevin Federline's on the H list. The Halftime list, that is (or perhaps the (Nationwide) Has-Been list):
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., known for its "On Your Side" slogan, plans to run a national ad during the Super Bowl, and K-Fed has been tapped to star, the Columbus-based company announced Wednesday.

The 30-second spot, to air during the third quarter of the Feb. 4 game, will be the latest installment in Nationwide's "Life Comes at You Fast" ad campaign. Previous celebrity ads in the series have featured Fabio and M.C. Hammer.

In the new commercial, Federline, 28, goes from starring in a rap video surrounded by beauties and bling to working at a fast-food joint.

"No one has personified 'Life Comes at You Fast' in the media better than Federline," said Steven Schreibman, Nationwide vice president of advertising and brand management. "Our partnership with Kevin shows the world that he has a great sense of humor."

Or he's clueless.

In the meantime, his future ex-missus received a thanks-but-no-thanks to her own inquiry about starring in a Superbowl ad:
As for Spears, a Tuesday report in the New York Daily News said the league turned down the pop star's request to be featured in a Super Bowl commercial to promote the NFL Network.

The spot is supposed to be an all-star celebrity cast showing up for Chad Johnson's Super Bowl party and features the likes of L.L. Cool J and country band Rascal Flatts.


The paper's insider didn't spare Britney's feelings when giving the NFL's reasoning: "She's too much of a train wreck. Besides, we already have Paris Hilton."

When you're less marketable than K-Fed, you're officially in trouble.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A challenge I've been meaning to make

Alanna, when are you going to start blogging? It's high time. Want my help getting started??

F, when are you going to start blogging?


Saturday, January 13, 2007

My Cluttered, Cluttered Heart: Part One of an Endless Series

I recently joined AARP. Yeah, I'm getting old, but AARP started soliciting me when I was in my early 40s. Now that I'm 53, I decided that heck, it's only $12.50/year and this group lobbies for a lot of things someone like me, a boomer who is eligible for full social security benefits in less than 13 years, cares about.

So far I haven't done much with the membership, but I have received my first issue of AARP: The Magazine, which is a surprisingly hip publication. At least as hip as we old types can handle. In it appears the article "Conquering Clutter," which is (obviously) also available here online. As I read it, my brain went ping-ping-ping. You see, my bloggy friends, I am a clutterer.

I knew that, of course, but reading the article felt much like the first time I read a detailed description of my sun sign, Libra, egged on by my friend F. How could these strangers know so much about me?

From the AARP article, we find this link to The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. I am somewhat relieved to find myself exhibiting mostly Level I traits, with a sprinkling of traits from Level II. (Click on the "clutter hoarding scale" PDF icon to see what I'm talking about.) And I only have significant clutter in more than two rooms because (1) Tall Son has never cleaned out his former room and (2) my kitchen is cluttered with unhung cabinets. Again, waiting on Tall Son to hang them. Those two rooms aside, I only have one truly horrific room that I would not let anyone see even if it were on fire. But I sound rather defensive here, don't I?

The article mostly discusses the difficulty older people (older, it seems, even than me) have giving up their artifacts. I, too, have that problem, but I've had it my whole life. I had little of any value as a child, and since I've been poor or struggling most of my adult life, giving or throwing something away has often seemed like a sin.

I might need that thing some day, after all. And then I'd have to buy another.

Friend Alanna surely will find this as interesting as I did (bolds mine):

At Level I and Level II the sins of the chronically disorganized are detailed [in the document previously mentioned]: “slight narrowing of household pathways; unclear functions of living room, bedroom; one exit blocked.” It is these minor offenders—the “common clutterers”—that Terry Prince, a Sacramento professional organizer, tries to help. Prince teaches clutter-control classes and workshops for the chronically disorganized, and she’s made her own observations of the species during her career in the field.

“Clutterers are interesting,” she says. “They’re creative. They’re people with a lot of interests.” About one in three of her students, she points out, are teachers—notorious compilers of paper clutter—and many others have craft hobbies, along with an unrealistic number of projects in process and a large backlog of supplies and materials for which they claim, “I’ll get to that someday,” a familiar clutterer’s refrain. “If that’s what you’re hearing,” Prince says, “you’re in trouble.”

But I'm working on my trouble. It's not a New Year's Resolution; it's a Life Resolution. It's something I've been working on slowly for a while, and I'm trying to be more conscious about and focused on that work. When I'm busy with school, however, it's tough. In the quieter time between semesters, holiday trip notwithstanding, I've been working on it. Last week I took my old microwave cart and some kitchen castoffs to the local women's shelter thrift store. As I drove away and saw the cart in the rearview mirror, a cart I had painted to match my cabinets, and which had served me well for about 10 years, I felt an irrational pang of guilt for abandoning it. I felt the same way when I threw the old stove out in November. It still worked, after all. Never mind it was in dreadful condition.

What I do need to keep around, I'm working on organizing better. My insanely slow kitchen remodel is part of that plan. And today I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and purchased a set of "risers" for my pantry cans. I was skeptical that it would do the job -- the little steps looked too small -- but indeed it did, at least for the average and small cans. So perhaps I'll be out tomorrow after another set. And I'm working hard on getting rid of two things for every one thing I bring into the house. Let's see how I did today:

  • Brought in can "risers" for the pantry (see photo below); last week I threw away half a tall kitchen bag of expired foods, a job I obviously haven't done for over a year. So, far I'm on the good side of the equation. (And I got the risers in part so I could SEE what I have and use it.)
  • Brought in four little votive candles. I've been burning away on the big candles lately and am burning one of the new candles as we speak, so I consider this as a wash. This is a consumable that I actually do consume frequently.
  • Brought in a bath "brush" with netting. This may be a waste of money if the netting doesn't stay on the brush, but we'll see. Excuse me a minute. Ok. I threw away the old worn-out bath "pouf." And since when I went to BB&B I returned a drawer organizer that didn't work out, and I mailed my old digital camera to First Grandson today, I declare myself a good anti-clutterer, at least for the day.

Revised to take out old photo and add new photo of the two most organized shelves in the pantry with the second riser (the larger one on the right) now happily settled in.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tabula rasa

I am setting up my grade book.

It’s a crisp new grade book for a new semester and a new calendar year.

As I write each name, neatly, double-spaced, I look across the page to all the little boxes and lines. Each will be filled in with numbers and letters signifying…something. Most of these names I write are names of students I don’t know…yet.

By the time I fill in the final grades in May, the pages will be worn and a little dirty, a little food-stained. We will have a history, these 108 names and me. They will thrill me with their intelligence and/or frustrate me with their laziness and/or enrage me with their dishonesty. And, as they struggle with declaring a major contrary to their parents’ wishes, or they discover themselves pregnant, or they get arrested, or their parents die or divorce – or they do – some of them will break my heart.

But today the paper is crisp and clean and all of the bitter and the sweet lies ahead of us.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Post-surge speech observation

The best-kept secret on the planet is that Bush plans a speech tonight about adding a surge of new troops to Iraq as his "new" strategy.

I feel the need to bring up a slogan that's a favorite of many 12-step groups:

Definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's NOT the potatoes! It's the Firmicutes!

I've long wondered why I can eat the same amount of food as -- and sometimes less than -- the people around me but outweigh them by a factor of 10.

Sydney Speisel, writing in Slate, has finally provided me with the answer. It's not the chow. It's my bacteria supply:

...the germs inside of us may affect us every day—by helping to determine our weight.

New research: Two recent papers from the laboratory of Dr. Jeffrey Gordon at Washington University in St. Louis, one whose lead author is Peter Turnbaugh and the other whose lead author is Ruth Ley, are beginning to unravel this phenomenon. Many of the gut bacteria are representative of two large groups of germs: the Firmicutes (which roughly overlap with the Gram-positives of high school biology) and the Bacteroidetes (typically Gram-negative bacteria, which grow without oxygen and are usually sort of smelly). There are other germs in the bowel, as well, but Gordon's group has been particularly interested in the balance between these two large divisions of intestinal bacteria.

Findings: Studying mice that are genetically predisposed to obesity or leanness (but are otherwise similar), the researchers found that fat mice had an abundance of Firmicutes while their lean littermates had more Bacteroidetes. Here's one reason why: When the bowel in a mouse is inhabited by lots of Firmicutes bacteria, the animal harvests energy from its diet more efficiently. So the same amount of food that fattens the Firmicutes-carrying mice leaves the Bacteroidetes-carrying mice slim. More provocatively, when Gordon's team took germ-free, normal-weight mice and infected them with Firmicutes-predominant bacteria taken from obese mice, they fattened up—whereas similar littermates colonized with intestinal bacteria taken from lean mice did not. Something similar seems to occur in humans: The ecology of the bowel shifts toward the Firmicutes in heavy people and toward the Bacteriodetes in leaner people (including those who become thin as a result of dieting).

Conclusion: These findings, taken together, strongly suggest that intestinal bacteria may well play a significant role in how animals and humans absorb energy from the food we eat and turn it into body fat. How comforting: Germs, not gluttony, may be the cause of my weight gain.
Makes sense to me. Now how do I eliminate the little, er, buggers?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Happily Ever After

Our little cul-de-sac hosted a first this weekend: a backyard wedding. My neighbors’ only child, a 30-something daughter, married for the second time.

S moved back home with her daughter some time back, probably ten years ago. She had reason enough to be disillusioned with her first marriage. She had married a college student being put through school by his parents, and the BA was followed by an MA, but once the young man was finished with school, he proved to be downright allergic to employment. I get the impression that to this day he is seriously underemployed, subsidized by his wealthy parents. Anyway, S was frustrated with her husband’s unwillingness “to be a man” and provide for his family (although I saw it as an unwillingness to be an adult…). So the marriage ended. After a while, S took a job out of town and took a boyfriend with her but stayed gone less than two years. Then back home with mom & dad.

Over the years, S shared some of the details of her love life with me, reinforcing my notion that All By Myself is indeed the best plan for me. The relationship with the one-time live-in boyfriend continued, but he issued an ultimatum: S’s daughter or him. I shuddered from afar when, after she chose her daughter, he softened his hard line and she “took him back.” Several times. Eventually, not without a lot of counseling from my Tall Son, she was able to break her addiction to this scoundrel…who also seemed to have a work allergy, by the way. But then she was lonely.

Within weeks of dumping Mr. Ultimatum for the last time, she agreed to start dating a co-worker who’d apparently had a crush on her for some time, a co-worker about my age, and therefore more than 15 years older than she. She didn’t say directly that she was with him to assuage the loneliness, but I only had to listen to the melody between her lines to recognize that tune. When she became engaged to him after a very short time, I was alarmed. But time passed with no date set, and on Thanksgiving 2005 she sighed that B, who wasn’t at the dinner, was “boring.” A few weeks later she told me that the engagement to B was over and she was going to try celibacy (yes, she used that word) for a while.

My life got busy, and I really didn’t talk much to S or her parents during 2006. I hadn't noticed that she had moved out...or some other interesting developments. Imagine, then, my surprise just before Christmas to be invited to her January wedding…to be followed by a February baby.

The wedding was charming… simple but festive and romantic. As she sat beside me with her feet up to ease her swollen ankles, S told me that she finally felt “complete.”

Maybe it’s because I’m too old to be awash with hormones or illusions, but I’m a little worried about S, new hubby, and baby. The newlyweds have known each other only a year, and during half of that he was off with the military. But…while most people were doing other things, the couple danced in a corner, and as I watched them gazing into each other’s eyes, it was easy to believe for a few minutes that people live happily ever after. Maybe they will.

I just wish that more women could feel that happily ever after was also possible without a man.