MAY 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
We just got back from seeing/hearing Tony Blair speak, and it was an almost completely good experience.* Without delving too far into politics (one of two topics, the other being religion, that I hesitate to discuss outside close, intimate, unwritten circles), I will say that his long view and broad view of world issues was both impressive and refreshing, and made me wish we had that kind of leader in this country. He was intelligent and thoughtful, he spoke well, and aside from his stance on Iraq, he had some excellent points. Plus, I like the accent.

Aside from that, it has been mostly quiet around here, what with the Memorial Day holiday and all, with the one exception of mom being in the hospital for a day or so with an as-yet undetermined ailment, and that hospital demonstrating astonishingly poor communication skills when it came to dealing with family members. I wrote a letter. We'll see what happens. My guess is nothing, because something happening would rely on the hospital having good (or even passable) communication skills. Which, as already noted, it does not.

* I say "almost" because of the guy sitting next to me. He either crapped his pants as soon as he sat down, or he has unforgivably poor taste in aftershave.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Well, our big dead elm tree is now down. Cut down, that is -- it didn't fall or anything. And its getting cut down was about the craziest thing I've ever seen. It was about 65 feet tall, so I figured the tree guys would use a cherrypicker crane type of set-up, but that's not what happened. What happened is a guy who's either long on cajones or short on braincells roped himself into the tree, climbed up to the top with a fucking chainsaw clipped to his belt, and cut it down piece by piece. (Imagine climbing to the top of a dead, dangerous tree with a chainsaw attached to you! Imagine the seemingly limitless things that could go wrong!) I later found out that this man (the climber, that is) is 66 years old and fluent in five languages. So maybe he's long on braincells and just plain nuts. Anyway, he did the roping and the cutting, and these two guys who are I think Ecuadorian and who are built like linebackers stood on the ground below and lowered the cut sections carefully, unroped them, and brought them to the chipper in the driveway. Meanwhile, the crazy language-gifted tree climber guy with the chainsaw clipped to his waist was swinging around the tree (which was very dead and brittle, in case I didn't mention that) and roping off the next section. It all looked very dangerous and mostly impossible, but by the end of the day yesterday, it was almost all gone. Now it is all gone, and there are just some large pieces of wood in the grass that need to be picked up and chipped up. I'm sure they would have chipped them today, but they filled up an entire truck with chips because the tree was so enormous.

So now there is a big hole in the sky in our backyard and a big pile of stump grindings in the grass in our backyard. There is also a stench. Who knew that rotting elm smells just like rotting cow dung? Not me, that's for sure. So yeah, it kind of smells like a diseased cattle farm in our back yard, but that should go away once they come back for the rest of the wood and stump chip hill. And then...I don't know. But at least we don't have to worry about that big dead tree falling and punching a hole in our roof the next time the wind blows.

Oh, and we did take some time-lapse photography, but since the job's not done, the time lapse isn't done. I'll post it when it's ready.

Sunday, May 18, 2008
The other night, Paul and I were at this dinner/award thing in the catering hall of the large state university down the road. We didn't really know the honoree too well, but Paul is a member of the hosting organization, and I used to be a member of that organization back when I did PR things and before I started teaching, and we usually go to this event, so we went. We didn't know very many people when we got there (the people we knew seemed to all arrive just before dinner, whereas we arrived on time for the quote-unquote "networking"), so we just picked a table and sat down. And then four other people who we didn't know asked if they could sit, and we said yes, mostly because we welcomed the company, but also because it's completely uncouth to say no. So they sat and introduced themselves and they were mostly very nice people.

Actually, they were all nice, though the man sitting next to me was astoundingly chatty. He was in his mid-60s and not retired, so I guess he had a lot to talk about. I don't remember much of what he said, as I just smiled and tried to be polite, but I do remember one thing: When one of the student waitstaff came around to our table to ask us if we'd like something to drink with dinner besides water, everyone at the table asked for something like an iced tea or a Coke or what-have-you, but this 60ish man next to me asked for a glass of milk. A glass of milk! And I had to stop myself from gagging.

I know I'm in the minority here, but I think drinking a glass of milk with dinner is no less disgusting than drinking a glass of my own blood. Again, lots of people do it (drink milk with dinner, that is), but I truly do not understand how anyone can sit down to a large, meat-laden meal and wash it down with viscous, tongue-coating, phlegm-inducing milk.

To give a little in the way of explanation, I should say that this practice of drinking milk with dinner was never done in my house. In fact, it was discouraged, as mixing milk and meat does not jive with kosher dietary laws. Which isn't to say that we were a kosher household when I was growing up. We didn't eat pork chops or ham sandwiches, but my mom occasionally made shellfish, and if you were to seat all of us at a table and put a plate of bacon down in the middle of that table, we would hurt each other trying to get that bacon. But we just didn't drink milk with dinner. We had water. Sometimes we had iced tea (from a mix, like glorified Kool-Aid), and if we were having pizza, we were allowed a glass of soda. But we never drank milk with dinner. And I should add that none of us particularly like milk. I especially don't like it (unless it's chocolate milk), so the thought of drinking it at any time (unless it's chocolate milk) is unappealing. But at dinner, it's especially gross.

But back to the events of the other night, I guess I just didn't expect this man in a tie and jacket who kept talking about his excellent career at this large state university to be the kind of person to drink milk with dinner in public. Most of the other men were drinking beer or red wine, or at least soda. I didn't see anyone else drinking milk. But he drank that whole glass, and I had to look away every time he picked it up. To reiterate, I know most people see nothing wrong with this business of milk with dinner, but just the thought of it is almost enough to make me lose my appetite.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
In the past week or so, Paul and I have been learning a lot about trees. Specifically, we have been learning a lot about a very large, very old, and very dead tree in our backyard. Here is what we have learned: it is a Siberian Elm, it died a slow death, and it must be removed because A, it is a liability, and B, it's dead and ugly. Actually, we already knew the last part (both A and B). But we learned the other stuff. We are also learning that it is both exceedingly dangerous and staggeringly expensive to remove a tree of this size and, umm, dead-ness.

During the past seven or so days, we've had tree guys out to look at it and give us estimates on what it would cost to cut it down, grind out the stump (a phrase that once sounded vaguely dirty but now, due to recent overuse, does not), take away all of the dead wood (same with that phrase), and return the yard to its pre-tree-removal state, minus, or course, the sixty foot tree that we want removed and ground and hauled away. Most of these guys have called it a "nasty tree." They called it that, I am guessing, for several reasons: because it is very tall, because it is very brittle (as dead trees are wont to be), because its placement in the yard makes it hard to reach, and because it means they can charge us more to remove it than they would charge us to remove a non-nasty tree. One guy called it a "widowmaker." One guy looked scared, told me that he maybe could do it if he had to, and reluctantly gave me an outrageously high quote, probably, I think, in the hopes that I wouldn't ask him to do the work.

We've also had a guy out from the city's forestry division to look at it and make sure these tree guys weren't trying to rip us off. We also wanted to know what killed the tree in the first place; we had been hearing a lot about Dutch Elm disease, but apparently that does not usually kill Siberian Elms, which are hardier than the American Elms that usually fall victim to the disease. He thought that the tree died because five or ten years ago someone Chem-lawned the yard over and over, which caused the tree to take in a lot of those chemicals; as it turns out, lawn chemicals are really bad for Siberian Elms. Who knew? I assured him that we use only compost and no chemicals whatsoever on our lawn. He said good -- maybe we could prevent the other Siberian Elm in the yard, which isn't doing so well either, from dying the same slow death that our dead one died.

We are hoping to get this thing out of the ground within the next week or so, and I think we know who we're going to hire. At this point, I just want it gone. We will have a big empty spot where a once beautiful tree was, not to mention a big empty spot in our bank account. I plan on doing some time-lapse photography of the whole ordeal, so at least that will look cool. But as for now, I know way too much about trees. And I just want this thing out of our yard and out of our lives before a big storm comes through and knocks it through our roof.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008
I have decided that my new favorite tv show is You Are What You Eat on BBC America. This is the best reality show by far, and I am learning so much about the subtle nuances of British culture! If you are not famliar with this program, here's how it works: an overweight person is shown in his or her underwear. The narrator talks about how this person is overweight and loves to snack and eat all kinds of unhealthy foods, and then strongly hints that continuing to eat said foods will lead the offender to an early grave. His or her weight is given in stone. Then, we are introduced to the star of the show, holistic nutritionist Gillian McKeith, a petite spitfire of a Scot who may or may not be a real doctor. (In the first season, she is referred to as Dr. McKeith, but in later seasons, they call her Ms. McKeith. So it's all very sketchy.) Gillian McKeith, the shock jock, or GMK, as she is often called on the show and will be called in this post from here on out, marches up to the home of the offender. The offender is often shocked to see GMK at his or her doorstep, but he or she knows what's about to happen to him or her. The narrator then indicates that the offender has kept a food diary for the past week and proceeds to describe everything the person has eaten. It's always a long list, and it's always filled with copious amounts of unhealthy (but undeniably tasty) foods.

Then, and this is the real thrust of the show, GMK assembles all of the food on the list onto a table and shows it to the offender, at which point the offender realizes his or her offenses, often cries, and always promises to start making some changes. It's a very dramatic moment, and it often has the desired effect: getting the offender to realize all the crap that he or she has been ingesting. It is always a disgusting spread. However, I will say that I eat fairly healthy foods, but if you put everything I eat in a week on a table in front of me, it'd look gross too. No matter how you cut it, a week's worth of food is a lot, even if it is all fruits and vegetables.

GMK then does a quick physical examination of the offender, squeezing the abdomen, looking at hands and feet, and looking in the eyeballs. She often tells the person that oh, you're lacking in B vitamins, or oh, you don't get enough calcium, or something like that. She then -- and this is where it gets kind of gross -- demands a sample of the offender's fecal matter. Their poo, she calls it. GMK then examines the poo. Always, she says, it stinks. This should not be a shock -- of course it stinks! It's poo! But apparently she can tell lots of things about diet from a close look at a person's poo. I do not believe I would want to have GMK's job. (Apparently, in England she is referred to as the awful poo lady.)

The next phase of the show consists of GMK laying out a week's worth of good food, as prescribed by her. This is often a drastic departure from the offender's usual diet, as GMK is big on leafy green vegetables (or, as she calls them, green leafies or veg -- so very British), whole fruits, aduki beans, thick pearly grains that take forever to cook, and minimal animal protein. GMK then offers the offender a taste of some of the dishes he or she is to prepare over the next eight weeks. Some of the dishes go over well, but some (like anything made with tofu) do not. Still, the offender has now signed on, so he or she must follow the program.

And it goes on from there. Some type of exercise is introduced, often involving a small trampoline or a mountain bike. The offender has setbacks. But ultimately, and very predictably, at the end of the show, the offender has now lost a respectable amount of weight, also given in stone. He or she looks better and is ever so very grateful to GMK for her help. He or she also promises to keep with the program and never be so unhealthy again.

I guess that all sounds fairly formulaic, but it really is a good show, and I think what makes it so good is that, my god, GMK is downright mean! And the narrator on the show is even meaner! British people are really mean! And sadly, it makes for great television.

I did say that I have learned some things about British culture from watching the show. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • One stone equals 14 pounds.
  • In England, eggplants are aubergines, and zucchinis are courgettes. According to my neighbor, who lived in London for several years and is also married to a Brit, those names come from the French names for those items.
  • More name differences: fries are chips, and chips are crisps. Crisps come in a packet. Chips come as takeaway. Cookies are biscuits, and biscuits (the American version) are nowhere to be found. I am still not sure what a krumpet is, but donuts seem to be donuts.
  • If a British person finds himself or herself surprised at enjoying something, he or she will say that it's "lovely." If he or she truly enjoys something, it is called "gorgeous." These words are never used to refer to people.
  • The sun never shines in England. Or maybe it does, but it never seems to shine when they're taping the show.
  • Chutney is as common there as ketchup is here. Chutney!
Anyway, I highly recommend this show. If you have BBC America on you cable or satellite, do check it out. It's lovely.

Monday, May 5, 2008
Hey, it's Cinco de Mayo. Which means...really nothing to me. I'm not Mexican. I've been mistaken for Mexican, but I'm not, so while I'm all for Mexican independence (and any independence, when you get right down to it) I don't really celebrate Mexican independence day. Maybe in college I convinced myself that I did, and maybe I would chug a few Coronas in honor of Mexican independence, but what I was doing was just looking for an excuse to drink. I wasn't celebrating anything. And I'm sure not celebrating now. It's Monday night!

We did have our big neighborhood garage sale on Saturday, which was the culmination of a week's worth of cleaning and sorting and rummaging through things. Our attic is now clean, and we made around $250 selling simple household items and clothes we no longer wear. I then took a trunkload of stuff that we didn't sell to Goodwill, and the house feels much cleaner now.

The other news? I'm playing with a band again! I missed playing drums, so it's good to now have a somewhat regular practice schedule and even a few gigs lined up. The people I've been playing with are a lot of fun, and they don't take it too seriously. Of course, all that drumming will more or less destroy any hopes I may have had about becoming a hand model, but it sure is fun.

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