Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Out of the Frying Pan....

I saw no backlinks in the System Restore post..... but my McAfee Security Center is now telling me all kinds of things are unprotected. I'll run Scan and Update from McAfee and pray for the best.

I HATE this computer. I HATE this Operating System. I was browsing in the Apple Store on Sunday afternoon with G'ma. I can hardly wait to get my Mac........ being my own tech support is quite trying.

And anxiety provoking.

And nerve wracking.

And stomach ache making.

And ridiculous, because it's only a machine.

As I've said before, I wouldn't put up with this behavior from my toaster.


I'm Trying

I have taken the opportunity to remove the monetizing backlinks by using system restore.

I have embedded the words which created the unauthorized backlinks and will now post this blog and see if my first attempt at repairing the problem has been successful.

I'm nervous!

double warning

It seems that Blogspot is now linking MONEYMAKING in my warning post.


Looks like I'll be looking for a new site for theBurrow if I can't get rid of these intrusions.

Stay tuned and stay away from their insertions ---- I refuse to be a lackey to the man.


In the following post, Attics and Basements, blogspot has added its own link to a moneymaking venture.

Why, I do not know.

How, I do not know.

Removing it seems to be impossible.

It cannot be edited out.

So, until I can figure it out and return the post to its pristine condition - DO NOT CLICK ON THE DOUBLE HIGHLIGHTED WORD OPPORTUNITY. I didn't link it to anything.

The evil empire has invaded my blog. I'd better get my survival plan ready.

Attics and Basements

Houses with steps are lots more fun than houses without steps. This was pointed out to me by the Big Cuter as we were moving from a multi-level home where his window opened out onto one of the rooftops. How, exactly, did I propose to provide him with a similar opportunity in our new digs? Granted, the chance to scare your parents half to death while you know you are perfectly safe is one of the true pleasures of childhood. Still, I can't say I was all that sad to remove the temptation.

Houses with steps can have closets hidden underneath the staircases. Not front-hall closets or linen closets or clothes closets, but closets that hold treasures. Nannie and Grandpaw's was stuffed with carefully folded wrapping paper from celebrations held before the Cuters were born. But in and around those stacks of paper were board games we'd never seen before in boxes which had been repaired with glue and tape and string by Nannie's mother. There was a bag of marbles. The pick-up stix were made of polished wood and had a lovely heft within their slenderness. The smell of the musty toys and the wooden shelves was an instant smile.

Sometimes, houses with steps have attics and basements, too. Those staircases are often steeper and narrower than the others in the house. The stairwell is tighter, and there is always a railing. You might have to be careful walking up or down; these steps seem to accumulate things that need to be put away or brought up/downstairs. Laundry's tossed down the basement steps in a way nothing else is tossed anywhere else in the house. The attic might not have a full floor, and you'd have to be aware of where your feet were going or you'd end up like G'ma's friend, who, in 1960-something, took a misstep in the attic and fell through the insulation into the garage and onto the roof of her Cadillac. (It's ok to laugh - she was fine.)

A "finished basement" was a really big deal when I was growing up. One Sunday, while G'ma was out of the house, Daddooooo led a kids' painting party so that we could have one too. G'ma returned to a pastiche of colors. I learned about wainscoting that afternoon; that was Daddoooo's description of the fact that some of the painters couldn't reach higher than 2' from the floor. She tried, but she couldn't be very mad for very long. It was the basement, after all.

The attic held mysteries beyond comprehension. Portraits of scary old people in dusty oval frames leaned against army cots and old ice skates. There were stacks of Playbill 's and 78rpm vinyl records and clothes I'd seen in pictures of G'ma and Daddooooo but never in real life. The attic was a window into the past. And soon my past was ensconced there, too. A trunk held my costumes . The can can girl with the real ostrich feather, Robin Hood's green shirt and hat, my toga - they were all there, wrapped neatly but not so perfectly that we couldn't open them up and put them on. Or just look at them and remember.

I once asked an LA born and educated friend living in Marin what she did with the artifacts from her past. She showed me the shoebox which contained all her treasures. All of them. In one shoebox. OK, it was a pretty big shoebox, but it was still a shoebox. This, I learned, is what comes of living without attics and basements. You save nothing.

I'm glad I had both.

And I miss them.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chores (pt. 4)

I cleaned the garage today. Yes, it is summer in Tucson. Yes, it was hovering in the low triple digits. But I was sweaty from the gym with Amster and it really needed to be done.

Garages are interesting in terms of cleaning. It's a matter of perspective. TBG looks at it as a shrine to the automotive gods. I look at it as a place that keeps my car marginally cooler during the day.

The recycling cart (thank you, Daddooooooo, for this homemade gem), the garbage can and a spare refrigerator (one of my all-time favorite Chanukah presents) must share the space with the vehicles. On this we agree. 12-packs of Diet Coke and flats of bottled water (I am the Recycling Queen..... judge me not!) are welcome to their patch on the floor by the 'fridge, too. Beyond this, Houston, we have a problem.

The fact that our garage has lots of wall space makes it a perfect spot for the overflow -boxes of "please don't throw it out but I have no place for it at this time in my life" stuff, the twin mattress and its collapsible frame, the ceiling light bulb changer (with attachments), the outdoor vacuum, the ladders, the plastic 3-drawer chests filled with batteries and maps and wrapping ribbons and picnic supplies, and enough packing material to send gifts to everyone I know every day for a year. If I had a basement or an attic I might be sympathetic to a complaint or two. But, I don't.

The downside of that equation is that TBG feels encroached upon and I gradually add to the contents with bags of donations, books to take to the used book store , all the frames from G'ma's house (pictures now in albums), the glass recycling which isn't allowed in the curbside pickup and must be driven to a collection point, and an assortment of detritus from my car that has to go someplace but not right now. I admit it. I'm incorrigible.

Home from the gym before noon, with plans for dinner with G'ma at 4, I parked The Schnozz in the driveway under the Palo Verde and started. All the tools were at hand - crucial for spur of the moment decisions like this one. If I'd had to look for the mops or the brooms or the vac's attachments I'd have gotten distracted and never begun the project. Trust me, this is a character trait and not one I can lay at the feet of my aging brain (a weird image, no?). Like right now I was almost on a tangent about the immutability of the character......

The bags, books and glass went into The Schnozz to be delivered to their respective resting places. The coir Christmas door mat went into the storage closet, the random plastic bottles went in their bin and it was time to sanitize. 2 brooms, a wet Swiffer handle and many drippy sheets, a string mop, 2 buckets, 7th Generation cleaner, a hose with a spray nozzle, 3 old bath sheets and that outdoor vac with its attachments later it was gorgeous. TBG had come home and gone right back out to bring me sustenance and by the time he drove back he could drive in and park inside his shrine.

Never mind that his tires brought marks onto my newly cleaned floor. His smile said it all.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Why Not?

So Phil only wants to coach home games. The screaming heads are screaming, predictably. "Who does he think he is?" (Uh, PHIL JACKSON ???) "No one has ever done that." "It can't be done." "What about continuity?" Phil, being Phil, didn't rise to the bait. It's being considered, talked about, looked at. Yawn.

I mean, really. What's the worst that could happen? He wants it, the Lakers refuse, and he retires with 10 championship rings and his angioplasties, hip replacements and gout. He'd be happy to do it, but walking away wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

I feel his pain.

After 3 phone calls, 5 email threads, and an in-person plea, I agreed to create the monthly newsletter for The Happy Ladies Club (actual name disguised to protect the guilty). Though open to everyone, the membership roster skews towards an older, technologically challenged demographic. One-third of the newsletters are printed and snail-mailed to members who don't do email. Finding someone with the requisite computer skills to guide the newsletter from submissions to publication was no mean feat in this age cohort. Reluctantly, I said I would take it on, and "Please, send me the job description."

I should've asked to see it before I said "Yes". It seems that newsletter editor is the one and only job of the VP of Communications. And VP's attend Board Meetings. Monthly board meetings. Lengthy monthly board meetings with no time limits on agenda items. It's my worst nightmare come true.

G'ma always laughed at my inability to sit through a meeting. From elementary school and Brownies, Girl Scouts and Leader Corps to adulthood and NCL, patient conferences, soccer leagues and PTA's the vanity exercises that called themselves meetings drove me crazy. 45 minutes on how to put the volley-ball nets into the gym closet (Leader Corps). Taking attendance when there were 5 of us and everyone could see who was there and who was not (Girl Scouts). Reading aloud every gain in Range of Motion and Strength - all of which was already charted and known to the other therapists (hospitals). I attended every local School Board Meeting while we lived in Marin, but I had to bring my knitting with me to stay sane. I could go on, but my pulse is racing.

Just get to the point. Say something original. Solve a problem or raise a problem but don't talk for the sake of hearing your own voice. I have other things to do with my life. And I have a hard time covering my impatience. I'll ask the question no one else wants to ask, just to move things along. I'll solve the problem and offer my suggestion just to be finished. I know there's a process involved. I'm just not very good with the patience piece required to be a good board member.

So, after reading the job description and noting that Board Meetings were mandatory, I called my Happy Ladies Club recruiter and said that I'd still do the newsletter but that I wouldn't be attending Board Meetings. Said that I'd promised myself when we moved to Arizona that I would never attend another Board Meeting again. I'd do the grunt work, eg create the newsletter, but I wouldn't go to a meeting and talk about it. Everything I needed to do the job was sent on-line and manipulated on-line, and personal contact wasn't necessary. Told her that if this was a problem, I totally understood and I'd withdraw my name from consideration as newsletter editor with no hard feelings. I was happy to be the lackey of a"real" board-meeting-attending VP of Communications, if they knew someone who wanted a Board position. But, I insisted, there was no way that I was going to be a regular attendee at Board Meetings.

No, it wasn't that I physically couldn't attend. No, I didn't have full-time employment or a disabled family member requiring 24/7 care. My reason was simple - I don't like board meetings. I'm not good at them. And I really don't like them.

Her silence was deafening (is that like jumbo shrimp?). I responded in kind. She finally said she'd work on it and hung up. The back and forth that went on between Nominating Committee members, Board Members and friends of them both went on for nearly a month. I received emails and phone calls from people I didn't know who tried to convince me that I had to/needed to/was expected to/wanted to attend these meetings. I listened politely, repeated that I thought the job could be done quite well my way, that I knew it was unusual but it was the only way I would do the newsletter, and that I wouldn't be insulted if they found someone else to do the job. Really. No worries.

But if you want me, these are my terms. Like Phil, what's the worst that could happen? I don't have the responsibility of putting out 12 monthly newsletters. I would survive, I'm sure.

Unable to find another member willing to edit the newsletter (or unwilling to begin the search again... I don't really know why....) the powers-that-be agreed to my terms and, so far, my lack of attendance hasn't hampered my ability to publish.

What's been interesting has been the responses of the members who are aware of the situation (a far greater number than I would have guessed, but that's women's organizations for you). They fall squarely into two camps. Half are absolutely furious with my wanton disregard for the policies and procedures of the organization and think I'm a spoiled brat who has to have everything her own way and "who does she think she is?????" The other half want to know where I found the inner strength to say no and to stick to my guns under pressure.

I'm sure this says something profound about women and rigidity and acquiescence and pleasing behaviors and the greater good. I just go back to the advice I was given on my 50th birthday on Mt. Tamalpais - No one can make you do something you don't want to do - you're old enough to say "No".

Thursday, June 25, 2009


He's right. San Francisco is officially insane.

Didn't want to read the link? OK, in a nutshell, you can be fined if you don't compost your waste.

Compost? Urban dwellers composting? Exactly how much of my "waste"? What is compost, anyway? And how will they know? Princess Myrtle tells me that there are fewer and fewer journalism jobs available these days; perhaps those investigative reporters' garbage picking skills can be put to use once more.

Political and philosophical rants aside, the notion that apartment-types will suddenly begin to keep kitchen scraps under their sinks strikes me as ridiculous. For example: banana peels begin to smell while they're still on the overripe bananas. Saving them for compost isn't going to make them any more fragrant than unpeeling one before you leave for a week's vacation and coming back to a garbage can that announces its presence with authority. There are lots of trendy containers for storing scraps, but only gadget freaks (like me) will spend money to have one. Plastic bags? They are toxic for our environment in so many many ways; do we need to figure out one more use for them?

And who will do the extracting of the material from those bags? Recycling plants can be clean and interesting places (the one in Marin was a 5th grade field trip) but creating compost requires some gooey stuff, too. But not all kinds of gooey stuff. Meat products are unacceptable, and their inclusion could ruin an entire compost pile. Separating the green from the brown is just one part of the process. And it has to be done right.

Don't get me wrong for an instant. Compost is beautiful. I'm serious. I once compared TBG's flourless chocolate cake to the compost piles I'd seen the day before in Petaluma and he's still not over the shock. My Marin Master Gardener friends, though, totally got it. The stuff was pretty. It was textured and vibrant and smelled like growing things. The rows stretched out forever (are they turning some Golden Gate Park fields into compost sites?) and each one was different. Only in Marin (ok, Sonoma) - designer compost.

And compost is great for the soil. Vermiculture (worm castings) (ok, worm poop) makes a wonderful soil additive, but there's the little matter of dealing with the worms. It's fun to make compost, and you can do it on your patio with a home turner. Its a nice idea, really it is. It's good for the environment. It can't hurt you and doing it won't make you sick (though if you don't cover your scraps you may attract interest from other members of the animal kingdom). You were never going to do anything else with those used coffee grounds, were you?

But somehow I have a feeling that people who chose to live in The City are less likely to be composting than they are to be buying a riding mower.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chores (Pt. 3)

Counter tops are likely to be wiped, if not wet washed or Windex-ed, unless they are buried under dirty dishes and pizza boxes. It's hard to throw your mail down on a sticky surface - although so few things come by USPS these days that it probably doesn't matter all that much. But the occasional wedding invitation or postcard from someone who's having waaaay more fun than you are deserve more than lying in last night's splashes from dinner. So, for most of us, sticky kitchen surfaces aren't an issue.

Dusting, however, is a different story entirely. Dust is one of those things your Dad's mother noticed when she was visiting your house. It's what lets you know that you really don't need to keep saving those video cassettes since you haven't touched them in 2" of light grey flakes. Changing a light bulb reveals how infrequently you get up on the ladder to wipe down the shade. TBG was driven crazy by the fact that the cleaning people did not dust the top of the refrigerator. He got over that once I made him bend down and see the world from my level and realize that neither I nor the similarly sized cleaning ladies could see the top of the fridge, nor the dust thereon.

To dust effectively, one must move the objects resting on the surface to be treated. That's ok for a coffee table (might as well go through those magazines and discard the ones from 2008) or a night stand (getting those water bottles back to the recycling bin is never a bad idea) or a desk (touching those items labeled "don't forget about this" is probably a good thing, too). But bookshelves and display shelves are more of a challenge. You can push the books back a little and dust from their new spot forward, but eventually they hit the back of the bookcase and you have to start again. Items out for display require gentle handling and usually have little pieces that are easily knocked askew when coming face to face with a dust rag. Yet, maybe the reason you sneeze every time you sit down at your desk is because those little pieces are cradling oodles of dust designed to annoy your nasal passages.

I like the idea I came up with in the Big Cuter's room, where his miniatures were on shelves surrounding his computer and the series of office chairs he killed over the years. Moving the pieces was not an option. They were arranged "just so" and the fact that I couldn't tell an Eldar from an Orc presented issues when I tried to put them back. But they were played with infrequently (though passionately) and I was rarely alerted before they were replaced on those dusty shelves. A real Mom's Dilemma. My needs vs His needs. My eyes strayed to the can of compressed air next to the keyboard, and, with a quick zetz the problem was solved. And it was fun to do.

Which is why Swiffers are so great. Remember the commercial with the woman who was Swiffering her friend's house instead of sitting at the table drinking coffee? That's me. I love the satisfaction of picking up dust and seeing it stick to the folds in the duster. The extension wand lets me clean the tops of my ceiling fans, and my contacts thank me for removing the motes which would otherwise drift into my eyeballs as the fan began to whirr. There's nothing to spray, nothing to wash or put away safely til next time - you pop it on the handle, use it and toss it. Even I, the Recycling Queen, cannot object to that bit of one-use wonderfulness.

Too bad I can't Swiffer my laundry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chores (pt. 2)

Mopping the floor is an entirely different challenge than laundry. Laundry is not optional, as we proved in our last post (I adopt the 3rd person narrator to try to bring a level of gravitas to this otherwise less than intellectually challenging essay.) Floors have a way of getting ignored.

Think back to the first time you lived on your own (after your freshman dorm room). A studio, a room in a big house, the 2nd floor of a 3-flat or a condo you rented from a friend's mother's cousin's aunt. Moving in was wild and weird and full of angst and anticipation. You finally got the boxes unpacked (or stacked in a corner until you dragged them to your next place where you would, once again, not unpack them). Your refrigerator had the essentials (butter, milk, eggs, veggies or frozen pizzas, beer and sodas). Your bed was made, your electronics hooked up and your car parked securely nearby. You'd done your "major shopping" for soap and toilet paper and laundry detergent. Did you buy a mop? A broom? A vacuum cleaner? A swiffer? A bucket? Mr. Clean? Murphy's Oil Soap for Floors? Probably not.

Well, maybe a vacuum cleaner (or a carpet sweeper, if you're as old as I am). Vacuuming is a chore you were likely to be assigned while you were growing up. And if the apartment had a carpet, you'd have visions of chips ground into it and annoying your barefeet so you might have thought about sucking them up with a monster machine.

But hardwood or linoleum or tile or slate..... that requires a broom and a receptacle and then something wet. If you tried to use a plate or a paper towel to collect the broom's treasures you'd probably never try to clean your floors again. If you had remembered to buy a dustpan you might think that your work there was done. After all, the major hunks were gone. What's a little stickiness among friends, anyhow?

Am I right? The thought of imitating Cinderella on your knees just never crossed your mind, did it?

And how old were you when you mopped your first floor without being asked to do so?

That's when you can say you were a grown-up.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The thing about laundry is that the clothes just get dirty again. No matter what you do. No matter how careful you are. Eventually, the jeans have to go in the wash. You've run out of not only the "I want to wear them" but the "I can wear them" and even the "what would my mother say" underwear.

You can keep a kitchen clean by never cooking. Paper plates and plastic wear, eating right from the delivery carton, baggies instead of Tupperware, drinks from cans or recycle-able bottles (and yes, I recycle every one I touch - to the amusement and bemusement of my family) - you could never use your kitchen sink and life would go on.

Sheets have been known to last an entire semester without being changed. Sweeping the floor; vacuuming; disinfecting the bathroom -- all optional, if you choose to live that way. And I've loved some people who do. Not forever and not without some embarrassment, but lived that way none-the-less. Most of them grow out of it, but even the most inveterate slob launders his garments.

Only to find that they just get dirty again. And again.

Gotta go - laundry's buzzing at me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Moving Day(s)

The Little Cuter's got a new apartment. The Big Cuter does, too. And G'ma's on the list to move as well.

The Little Cuter and our Son-In-Rent (SIR from now on) have taken the plunge - can we share a bathroom without murdering each other? With help from a Playgroup Mom turned realtor they found a rentable condo which had fallen victim to the real estate bubble and were able to strike a sweet deal for a great space. The fact that the building is next door to the Cuter's elementary school is weirding me out more than the fact that they're sharing a lease. She had friends whose parents owned in that building; did she go on a playdate in the apartment she's now sharing with a man? If only the old phone lists I've carted around for decades listed apartment numbers as well as street addresses.

But he's a great guy with a kind heart and she's got a big smile on her face, so what's a small confluence of events in the grand scheme of things?

The Big Cuter's off on a new academic adventure on The Left Coast this fall. Finally facing up to the fact that homelessness, while fairly acceptable in his new home town, would not be the preferred environment for studying 24/7, he made his way to his leasing office and, in one painless conversation, switched his lease seamlessly to a building 2 blocks from his new campus. Expensive, small, convenient and DONE.

And I get to help him move in and set it up - "You can help me get what I need. You always seem to think that I need more than I knew I did, anyway. You can get it for me if you're there."

G'ma needs company and reminders but not someone staring at her all day, every day. She can do what needs to be done, if she remembers what it is. "How was lunch?" "Did I have lunch? (pause) I'm not hungry. I must've eaten." She's safe and happy and not really lonely for conversation, but she's better when her brain is working on more than "I think I'll take a nap". Finding the right combination of care - programmatic and personal - is much more complicated than I'd imagined it would be. It's not a problem which can be solved numerically (let's not outlive our money) or emotionally (can I sleep at night if she's alone?) or, it seems, with the elder care options available. So, I've been struggling and feeling stuck.

And I think about the fact that my kids are moving on their own, and my mother needs me to make her plans. Life is strange.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


A classmate at CAU has a sister who lives at G'ma's Old Folks Home. An idle conversation brought that fact to light, names were exchanged, and last night the sister called G'ma. It was a lovely call, and they made plans to meet in the dining room tonight at 6pm.

This was the original intent of moving her into the Old Folks Home. She'd been doing fine living all alone in a one bedroom apartment, but days went by without her seeing anyone but the doorman when she went down to check her mail. It seemed logical that living with 300 other people in similar straits would inevitably lead to friendships.

Silly me. I forgot that she was G'ma and not Daddoooooo. He could talk to anyone, and he did. At great length. About everything and nothing. G'ma, on the other hand, always seemed surprised when someone spoke to her, and I can't remember her ever bringing a friend around for a cup of coffee in the afternoon. She likes her own company, and is annoyed by chattering. Since her memory has gone AWOL, she's even more reluctant to engage with strangers. She doesn't have the answers to the usual questions (where did you.... how many..... since when... ) people ask when you meet. She can carry on a conversation, but she's not much good with facts. She still gives advice, and follows Law and Order and Bonanza on tv, but tonight's encounter is going to be a strange one, indeed.

Two people who don't know each other, one of whom cannot explain her history. It's really a shame, because they're college educated women who came of age during a time when that was a designation to be noticed. They must have similar stories, experiences that ring true 60 years and 1000's of miles later. But old age has hidden most of G'ma's memories, and even with the most patient prompting most of them are irretrievable now.

Too bad. And too sad.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

2 Movies in 2 Days

We used to go to 3 or 4 movies a week. We'd walk to The Biograph and see Bringing Up Baby or Sea Hawk or drive downtown to the big theatres or, our favorite, ride up to The Granada, as much for the theatre itself as for the movie.

But the movies were usually worth watching.

Last night, G'ma and I paid $3 extra for the special projection system and, with our fancy shmancy 3-D glasses watched Up. I cried. I admit it. There wasn't much dialogue in the first 20 minutes or so, but the storytelling was delicate, personal, thoughtful and sweet. And I cried. The "little mailman" is one of my new favorite celluloid characters, and his efforts "to assist the elderly" gave both G'ma and me the giggles. The bad guy was just nuanced enough to be interesting, the maguffin was beautiful, and the floating house is steered by the same mechanism with which Daddoooooo equipped the Testarossa he made for the Big Cuter in 1988. There was mayhem and a moral and it was a lovely way to while away the evening.

Even if it did cost us $28 just to walk in the door. Before $9 worth of popcorn and a big bottle of water.

This afternoon, TBG and I drove back to that theatre and saw Star Trek. The Big Cuter had told us it was worth watching. Hmmmmm....... not so much. The back stories to the narrative that propelled the tv show were interesting enough. The music was loud and the photography was crisp but the story was MIA. Playing footloose and fancy free with the space/time continuum makes my head ache, and there was some of that, too. The Enterprise never looked lovelier, and the bridge had components which didn't remind you of packing crates and shirt-cardboard, but I could never muster up any enthusiasm for what little plot there was. Watching Sylar play Spock was disorienting, and if someone can tell me why Leonard Nimoy doesn't get himself a set of dentures which fit I'd love to hear about it.

We shoud've waited til $5 Thursdays.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Middle East Ramblings

Does the situation in the Middle East seem to get stranger and stranger with every passing day?

Elections look like they'll be won by "the good guys" and then suddenly that candidate is under house arrest and the in's are still in. "Poor people in the countryside" apparently tipped the election away from the more educated city-dwellers making such a splash on Western televisions. All those green scarves and young faces were not enough to change the political climate. Haven't heard much from the Grand Ayatollah, though. Since he's the man who's ultimately in charge, it seems fair to say that Iran's political landscape has changed its haircut but not by much. Instead of a perm and a new color, Iran got a shampoo and a blow-dry.

Netanyahu says he's all in favor of a two state resolution to the Palestinian/Israel conflict, so long as the two states don't undermine his political influence at the moment. The Palestinians who are desperate for their own homeland are so poorly served by their leaders that the ultimate question, "Who speaks for the Palestinians", is nearly unanswerable. Certainly they were ill-served in 1948 by those leaders who rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state at the same time that the Zionists were accepting the sliver of land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Waiting for everything they wanted led them to cutting off their noses to spite their faces - which could be the theme for all things Arab/Jew in that region. And now, when the fate of the settlements and Jerusalem and Hamas/Hezbollah/Fatah are all on the table for discussion (between anyone and everyone who wants a piece of the conversation), entrenched interests are, once again, making it nearly impossible for anyone to move in any direction without trampling on someone else's toes. President Obama's plea for the commonalities to outweigh the distinctions was beautful rhetoric that hit the ground like a pancake. A little syrup is running over the sides (Hariri's successor winning in Lebanon was certainly sweet) but for the most part the situation is sticky, stuck to the plate, and just a bit rancid.

A list of pro-US states in the region given at our CAU seminar did not include Qatar. Yet Cornell has a vibrant medical program in the country, which includes training in the US for pre-med students. The Saudi Arabian government is our ally, yet the 9/11 bombers were Saudi's. We're releasing Uighurs from Guantanamo to Palau (what a loooong, strange trip that'll be) because our list of friends with benefits (in this case, take our detritus, please) is becoming embarrassingly short. The world looks to us for solutions because, since Lend/Lease, we've become the "go-to guy" for just about everything. With the barriers fluid and the the prospects for peace dim, only an optimistic nation like ours would do more than run screaming from the show. But mucking around in a neighborhood whose boundaries were drawn by straight-edges on parchment maps is inevitably going to bring the practical face to face with the intractable.

And so, I end this post the same way I end every answer to "How was your trip? How was your class" : Fascinating and Depressing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Random Musings

Lots of celebrity kids have been in the news lately.

David Letterman made an ass of himself not only because he was rude and insensitive but also because he missed the underlying fact that it wasn't Bristol but Willow, all 14 years old of her, who was in NY at the ball game. Not that smacking Bristol is ok - the poor child is the victim of abstinence only parenting by grown-ups who are frequently away from home - but going for the cheap laugh on what turns out to be a mistake anyway, well, that's just embarrassing.

Kobe's little girls were all over the NBA Championship Trophy celebration. In his arms, scratching his beard, gently touching the MVP (or whatever it's called these days) trophy with the tips of their teeny tiny fingers, these kids were as sparkly as their outfits.

Shia LeBoeuf was the cover article in Parade Magazine. No, he doesn't have kids. He's the kid. Fending for himself since he was 10 years old. His parents certainly seemed to have enjoyed their lives without giving much thought to the quality of his. The Little Cuter reminded me last week that some people just get stuck at a certain age for the rest of their lives; read the article and weep.

Stretching this kid thing a little thin...... but..... To Have and Have Not is on TMC right now. It's the movie where Bogie, age 45, met Bacall, age 20. They are timeless together, but 25 years is still 25 years. Think Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones (25 yrs apart) or Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart (23 years). I don't know what I want you to think about it, if anything. I'm just pointing it out.

Friday, June 12, 2009


In elementary school and junior high and even into high school, I was known as "The Walking Dictionary." It was humiliating, in an intellectually superior sort of way. Luckily, I was able to recognize the jealousy underlying the title. I figured that I knew and they didn't so they got to make fun of me even while asking me what the word meant. It never really bothered me.

I came by the talent naturally. Daddooooooooooo and G'ma were college educated and not ashamed to talk like it. Just like President Obama, they never talked down to their audience. Instead, they assumed that we would make the effort to follow the conversation, and that we would ask if we didn't understand something. I still have the Merriam Webster Collegiate (!) Dictionary I received as I started 6th grade. Did I ever like that title. No extra-large print, no concessions to childhood, this book was Collegiate.

And this book was used. The colored tabs on the N and the A and the P fell off before the book ever made it to Cornell. We'd be sitting around the table and Daddooooooo would start in on a long, pointless story. Peppered throughout his peroration* were words no other living being had ever used in normal conversation. Sometimes he'd explain, and sometimes he'd just look at me. One of those times, I must've looked back with a pout because he said, for the 1000th time, "Oh, don't be so lugubrious." I stormed away from the table, got the Collegiate Dictionary from the shelf and read "Lugubrious: Mournful, often ridiculous or feigned". From then on, whether it was the 1001st or the 20,010th time he accused us of being lugubrious, one or the other would chime in "Mournful, often ridiculous or feigned". Kinda took the sting out of the jab. We always smiled.

So, today, TBG and I were out to lunch at our favorite out to lunch place. We waited for longer than my thirsty self was happy about and then the server showed up. He needed a haircut, though I'm sure he thought he was fine. Other than that, he was perky..... smiley ...... happy to help .... glad we were there ...... OK already, I yelled to myself, let's move on. You couldn't possibly be that thrilled to be taking our order. And if you are that over the top about it, then you'd better learn to curb your enthusiasm. I can only imagine what you'll do if we leave a nice tip.

And then it hit me. I knew exactly what he was. I was hungry and at the table and he was irritating me with his goofy fake grin. He was the opposite of lugubrious. He was salgubrious. It wasn't from the Latin lugere (to mourn). His behavior was "Cheerful, often ridiculous or feigned". Not salubrious**, from the Latin salu (health). That annoying, over-friendly, cloying, leave-me-alone-inducing behavior is certainly not salubrious. It's salgubrious. You know it when you see it, and now it has a name all its own.

Feel free to join me in introducing this word into the English language.

It's the least you can do for The Walking Dictionary............
(That would be deemed a lugubrious statement by Daddoooooooo. Welcome to my world.)

* to speak at great length, often in a grandiloquent manner; to declaim
**conducive or favorable to health or well-being

Thursday, June 11, 2009

School is Wasted on the Young

Did you notice that the March 14th Alliance (formerly the March 16th Alliance but that's another story) was triumphant in Lebanon's elections this week? Their defeat of the Hezbollah/Iranian-funded-Shi'ia/(non-Maronite) Christian opposition party was a lovely coda to President Obama's Middle East visit.

TBG and I read about it in the Wall Street Journal and followed it on CNN and MSNBC and bored the Amster to tears discussing it. Two weeks ago we might have noticed it, but wouldn't have given it a second thought. Now, though, I'm thinking that a Hezbollah defeat in Lebanon might have repercussions in the West Bank, from whence Hezbollah wages war* against Israel. And that's a consideration I couldn't have made before CAU.

I did all the (excruciating) reading before we arrived on campus, and I read all the articles in the packet we received upon checking in. Every last word of every last page. Not all of it was fascinating but I read it and thought about it, and read some parts aloud to TBG and found myself asking penetrating questions of the cable news praters who managed to say nothing, although at great length. With just a little bit of knowledge I was armed for bear. I had done the reading.

I often remind people that even we perfect adults have checkered pasts. Academically, my claim to shame is the fact that, had we not closed school early in 1970 in response to the killings at Kent State, I would have been faced with the annoying little fact that I was 5000 pages behind in my reading for Anthropology 102. It just wasn't that interesting. Inuits, potshards, Margaret Mead...... there were frisbees to be thrown and wars to protest and the reading just didn't call to me.

This spring, though, I finished a novel which made its point in the first 15 pages and I plowed through essays written to justify one side of an argument I didn't know existed. There weren't going to be any repercussions if I didn't do the work. No tests, no papers, no pop quizzes - oral or otherwise. It was just the fact that the professor had gone to the trouble of assembling what he thought I ought to know and it seemed silly not to read it.

Obviously, the same argument could have/should have been made when I was 19. And, it probably was. I just wasn't in a place to hear it. I did most of the reading for most of my classes, and I never felt unprepared in any class where I might be called on, but I don't remember being as engaged with unfamiliar subject matter as I was last week. I wanted to understand the differences between the Sunni and the Shi'ia and the history of the regional conflicts over the generations, even if it meant that I really had to pay attention and take notes to remind myself of the pieces I couldn't hang onto otherwise. I've re-read those notes once or twice since we've been home, and we've stored the folders in a convenient spot on the bookshelves instead of filing them away in the CAU box on the top shelf in the closet, because we know that we'll be looking to them for answers again and again.

Perhaps the difference is that I've lived long enough so that what is history today was my life as I lived it. Current patterns are growing out of events which I remember first hand. At 19, I knew that I had everything to learn and that I had all the time in the world to learn it. Now, in older-adulthood, I know some things and can see by looking around me that my time on this earth is limited. So I am prodded to be frugal with new experiences - to get every last bit out of each and every one of them. In an age filled with chatter, the chance to dig deeply into a complex subject is a rare opportunity.

I'm glad I'm old enough to appreciate it.

*Yes, I am biased. But, it's my blog, so deal with it! It's one of the joys of unmediated media and I'm reveling in it right now.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Jeff van Gundy wondered why his brother was referred to as Mr. van Gundy in the Wall Street Journal today. "Why are they so formal? And the NYTimes, too. He's not Mr. Anybody, he's just Stan!"

And this is another nail in the coffin of mediated media. He's not "just Stan" for crying out loud. He's coaching (albeit not that successfully) in the premier event of his sport. He's all that's on television and if the freakin' Wall Street Journal is writing about his double knit pullovers and off the rack slacks then he certainly is Mr. Somebody.

Do you detect a note of hysteria here, perhaps? As the walls of my fortress are attacked, I must strike back. I ask you: What is wrong with showing respect?

I have never been able to call my parents' friends by their first names. Not after I was Sadie Sadie Married Lady nor Mother to G'ma and Daddooooo's first grandchild nor after funerals and illnesses or anything else that life might present. I knew where I stood in the pecking order, and I liked it just fine. Using the honorific was, indeed, an honoring of them. And they'd earned it.

Why would someone reject Mr. as a title? Does it imply something, perhaps? Does it indicate that you are a person of substance, and as such you command respect by behaving respectfully? Does its use force you to examine your behavior under a different set of lenses? And is the view less flattering than you might like?

Of course, if you're "just Stan" none of that matters at all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Phone

Lost my cell phone. Never done that before, though I've washed it a few times. Went to the AT&T store to buy a new one. Just wanted to make phone calls and text the Cuters from time to time (sometimes more than others.... can you spell March Madness??). Had seen the ads on tv and thought I might even get one for free.

And, in fact, there was a free phone. Absolutely free. Of course, that's free before the required for the rebate purchases/commitments/taxes on purchase price before said rebates etc etc etc. By the time Jesus was finished explaining it all to me I was willing to sign anything just to get out of there. At least I could keep my same phone number.

So, free wasn't exactly free after the purchases/commitments etc etc were factored in, but the phones which came in at $29.95 were pretty interesting. The camera came as a standard feature. Why was I dismissing a VGA camera when I had absolutely no idea what it meant except that it was on the chintzy-est phone? Suddenly, I'm an expert on video cameras smaller than my wallet. This from a woman who still has the Sony video camera which weighs about 15 pounds and makes tapes playable on no devices extant. I was trying to be a good consumer, but the information overload was threatening.

I found a phone with a volume button I could understand and fairly intuitive text messaging on a qwerty keyboard and it came in green so I bought it. Signed papers, extended my contract for 2 years which is really 21 months but don't lose the phone before then unless you buy insurance for a monthly fee in addition to the data package which makes the (extremely cool) GPS lady speak to me.

Now that's an option I just may keep.

Came home from a lovely afternoon with G'ma and my new phone and called the Little Cuter. Talked as the sun set and the breeze blew and the bats flew (ok, I'll stop now) and only disconnected her once.

Of course, there was the little matter of figuring out how to hang up. And then I realized that this device is a telegraph office/1 hour photo lab first, and a means of exchanging verbal communications a distant 3rd.

I'm feeling old. Think I'll go look at my totally cool green phone for a while.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Old Friends (pt. 1)

Like your favorite pair of slippers, which make an accommodation for every bent toe and sore heel and feel perfect as soon as you think about them, seeing old friends again has a very special texture.

You know what needs massaging and what needs attention and can take a deep breath and know that it will be understood immediately. A look, a raised eyebrow, a glance is all it takes.

You agree about the past and it doesn't seem that far away, even if 30-some years have gone by. Just sitting on a ledge behind the fraternity house brings the sound of Ruler typing his last paper - after the graduation ceremony - from his room overlooking the deck. TBG's big brother in a black fishnet V-neck top, blue jeans shorts, black socks and wing tips - Joe College, he thought - is coming up the steps just as he did years ago to celebrate with classmates now far-flung, dead, divorced but with us in that moment.

The years slipped away. We were 20 again, and the world was our oyster. No aneurysms nor aging parents. Just the sounds of laughter and loud music and friendship.

The school is changing, of course. Cranes are everywhere, views are obstructed by new, misplaced buildings, and yet it is exactly the same. The red steel framed Uris Hall is still as awful as it was when it was dedicated and no, it has not become more beautiful as it ages and rusts, despite the architect's promise at graduation that we would love it at our 20th reunion. The brain collection has moved from Stimson Hall, and it really doesn't include Einstein's brain, despite 30 years of rumors promising that it was there. College Town has chain restaurants, Martha Van is half-way deconstructed, the old power plant has fallen into the gorge and yet everything feels just like it did when we arrived on campus in another century.

The grass, to our desert dried starved eyes, is the greenest green and the smell screams SPRING. Of course, this being Ithaca, the temperatures are slowly dropping from a balmy 56 when we awoke to a low of 34 the first night - with a frost warning to boot. Not exactly what I had in mind while packing for a hot and humid summer week far above Cayuga's waters, but not that surprising, either. The Suspension Bridge still shakes when you cross it, and the walk up Libe Slope has certainly not gotten any easier. Downtown Ithaca is still a disappointment, and the townies still sneer at the students, but Hal's Deli still exists and Cornell Dairy still serves the world's best ice cream.

It may be centrally isolated and directions may include go nowhere, then turn left but it's still our favorite place on the planet.

(More on the experience as the week goes on.)