PRATIE PLACE

Friday, August 29, 2008

A friend registers new voters in Los Angeles

This came from the Yale Listserv...

Hey everybody, if you want to do instead of talk, I have a suggestion:

Yesterday I decided to join a group of Obama volunteers voter-registering brand new U.S. citizens down at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was the best political experience of my life. If you are considering political engagement, I urge you to find out where new citizens are being sworn in near you, and go help register them to vote!

To give you an idea of the scale of this event, one whole hall of the L.A. convention center filled three times during the course of the day (this happens monthly here) to accommodate all the new citizens being sworn in, plus their families. Several thousand individuals were naturalized yesterday. They came from Korea, India, England, Mexico, Liberia, El Salvador, Cuba, Brazil, Sweden, the Philippines, and on and on and on. Their families greeted them with flowers. The children dressed in their finest. American flags abounded, and when the new citizens emerged they proudly held their new green leather binders with their U.S. citizenship diploma like a degree from the finest university.

Plenty of us were on hand competing to help them register. And as the daughter of a Shanghai-born father of Chinese and English descent who was naturalized the year I was born in America, I was in good company. The volunteers at our huge Obama table included an American astrospace engineer of Indian descent who was naturalized here at the convention center 15 years ago; an all-American actor from New York whose credits include Aaron Sorkin productions; a grandmother and two veteran Democratic activists who have worked too many elections to count; a young Filipina-American former American Airlines flight attendant; and a dozen other volunteers I never met because we were too swamped with new voters. Ours was by far the largest table out on the patio, but we kept company with a smaller group of Filipino volunteers, another from a local get-out-the-vote nonprofit, and red-shirt floaters who were paid per registration by some unnamed agency. Plus, of course, the small McCain table in the corner of the terrace.

Let me tell you, 98% of those emerging new citizens flocked to our table. "Obama!" they chanted, standing three-deep as they filled out the registration forms. Their kids cleaned us out of stickers and bumper stickers by 2pm. One little boy came by around 5 and asked if we had stickers, and when we said no, he held out a John McCain bumper sticker. "You can have it. They gave it to me over there." He gestured toward the RNC table. "But I don't want McCain, I only want Obama."

I registered an English-American who said he'd been in this country for 17 years, but with this election looming he could wait no longer to become a U.S. citizen. A family of Scandinavian-Americans reached for our forms. Grandchildren helped elderly Mexican-Americans with the instructions.

The portraits of America's families at this event made it clear why Obama's time has come. One young Salvadoran-American woman with a heart-meltingly gorgeous little boy waited with us for her newly American husband, born in Nigeria. A San Fernando blond man and his Hapa daughter waited for his now Filipina-American wife. Japanese- and Sudanese-born couples. Swedish- and Nicaraguan-born. African-American and Korean-born. You name it. There is no black America OR white America; there is black AND white America, and everything around and in between. At least in Los Angeles, America is marrying into an ever more perfect and expanding union.

Not surprisingly for LA, the majority of the new citizens we registered were of Hispanic descent. If there was any question whether the Hispanic vote would go for Obama, yesterday dismissed it in my mind. They can hardly wait."OBAMA!" the families chanted in unison. "Si se puede!"

The capper was our encounter with the Republican who had manned the McCain table all day. She was of Asian descent, elegant in a gold silk suit and heels. She stopped by our table as she was leaving and asked if we had any stickers. A bit ruefully, she said, "My daughter is for Obama. This is her second election as a voter - democratic both times. I'd have liked to bring her an OBAMA sticker."

I hope this woman and her daughter, and the hundreds of new citizens we registered yesterday, got home through the traffic last night in time to hear the triumphal speech of the man we are helping to make history. It was a day to make us ALL proud Americans.

Aimee


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

[Hannah]: From my reading today

"In Massachusetts the magnitude of the illegal trade in French Caribbean sugar products, which flooded the North American markets, is suggested by the fact that in 1754-55 only 384 hogsheads of molasses were officially entered in the port of Boston while 40,000 hogsheads per year were needed to keep the province's sixty-three distilleries open, none of which ceased operation."

-Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History

Oh, you godly Puritans, you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Three mystery men at camp.

I have as much boorish curiosity as the next person, but I was too shy to truly snoop out answers to my questions, which are all most aptly phrased: "????????"
  • The Japanese lecturer who dances alone. He converted to Judaism, left Japan and moved, alone as far as I know, to Israel, where he is a linguistics professor at Bar-Ilan University.

    He gave us a lecture (originally published in Hebrew) entitled "Printsipn funem eynhaytlekhn oysleyg fun hebreyishe verter oyf yidish" [Principles of the Standardized Orthography of Hebrew Words in Yiddish].

    He drinks a bottle of wine each day for his health.

    I peeked in the door at the dance class. Holding hands, four people shuffled around a very small circle in indifferent fashion, and then there was Tsvi - who looks like an acrobatic weight-lifter - dancing among them with extreme and graceful movements of feet, legs, torso, neck, arms and hands.

    At dinner on the last night of camp Tsvi turned on his I-Pod, put the ear-buds in his ears, took out his handkerchief, and danced alone, very beautifully, for about half an hour, all around the dining hall.

    I-Pods have made it much easier for people to dance to the beat of a different drummer.

    He is NOT connected, he says, to the Japan Yiddish Club in Tokyo, well known at camp because for several years its founder Jack Halpern, who is a kanji lexicographer and a unicyclist, brought six or eight of his ethnically Japanese students/followers with him to camp from their home-town, Tokyo. The club publishes Der Yapanisher Yid, "the only Yiddish publication in the Far East."

  • The man who attends nothing and talks to nobody. The first room in our long cabin was occupied by a very orthodox couple. The wife was fairly young. She dressed in long skirts, long sleeves, and a wig or a scarf covering every hair on her head. The father was rotund, quite a bit older, oysgeput in full chasidic regalia.

    They have a young child. When I made the mistake of saying, "What a pretty little girl" the father said huffily (without looking at me in case he might be tempted into sin by gazing upon a 54-year-old woman): "No, it's a boy." I had forgotten that the orthodox do not cut their sons' hair for three years. The son had a rubber band in a cute little pony tail on the top of his head.

    The mother was often seen reading the book, "Fit for Life." The father rarely spoke to anyone. They ate alone, at their room - the kosher dining hall was not kosher enough for them. She prefers to eat only raw food.

    Halfway through the week the mother and child started appearing at some events; she would allow him to run through the dining hall and be near other children, although he was not allowed to eat anything.

    On the Sabbath the father sat alone all day at a card table covered with clear vinyl. He read and sang to himself. His wife and child were alone elsewhere.

    The mystery: why had they come?

    This mystery was somewhat cleared up by a teacher who told me the father is a Bobover (on Shabbos he wore the large, cylindrical, hairy hat you see at that Wikipedia site, with white stockings and knee britches). The wife began to study Yiddish a decade ago, was from a secular family but became frum (very religious). In this sect, parents sign an agreement that they will speak only Yiddish to children in the home, and that the children will not spend time with any relative outside the sect. However, the mother told her professor "They cut me and my family some slack because I'm a baal teshuvah (someone who 'comes back' to very religious practice)." She is also allowed to drive, while other women do not. "Our men treat our women like queens. A woman should be taken care of. In a car she might be seen by a man." The teacher thought a woman walking down the street can also be seen, but whatever, at any rate, this young PhD student is not eager to give up her car keys. Her husband drives a taxi but only within his religious community. He came to camp in order to make sure his wife didn't do anything untoward.

  • A vegetarian modern orthodox Jew from India. A tall man from India became interested in Hebrew and Yiddish and traveled halfway around the world to attend this camp. He met and fell in love with the camp founder, a Yiddish poet and the daughter of a pre-eminent Yiddish scholar. He left India and converted; he wears a kippah and tsitsis; he and the camp founder married and have three smart and beautiful almost-grown children who look like gypsies and who speak English, Yiddish and Tamil fluently.

    One of the days we were at camp this man drove back to the city, ran 26 miles in the Transcendental Marathon, and drove back to camp afterwards, tired but happy.

    How did all this come to be?

What did I buy this week? #2.

Zed is home this fall and has signed up for an online writing class at UNC. These two textbooks cost about $140 new and about $100 used. Each is the seventh edition. Has writing really changed so much since last year?


At Yidish-Vokh I met Hy Wolfe, an actor/musician who works in Yiddish theater among other venues, and I traded him a copy of my songbook for this cd. I think that still counts as a purchase.

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[Hannah]: Crows know you

New York Times:
Crows and their relatives — among them ravens, magpies and jays — are renowned for their intelligence and for their ability to flourish in human-dominated landscapes. That ability may have to do with cross-species social skills. In the Seattle area, where rapid suburban growth has attracted a thriving crow population, researchers have found that the birds can recognize individual human faces.

John M. Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington, has studied crows and ravens for more than 20 years and has long wondered if the birds could identify individual researchers. Previously trapped birds seemed more wary of particular scientists, and often were harder to catch. “I thought, ‘Well, it’s an annoyance, but it’s not really hampering our work,’ ” Dr. Marzluff said. “But then I thought we should test it directly.”

To test the birds’ recognition of faces separately from that of clothing, gait and other individual human characteristics, Dr. Marzluff and two students wore rubber masks. He designated a caveman mask as “dangerous” and, in a deliberate gesture of civic generosity, a Dick Cheney mask as “neutral.” Researchers in the dangerous mask then trapped and banded seven crows on the university’s campus in Seattle.

In the months that followed, the researchers and volunteers donned the masks on campus, this time walking prescribed routes and not bothering crows.

The crows had not forgotten. They scolded people in the dangerous mask significantly more than they did before they were trapped, even when the mask was disguised with a hat or worn upside down. The neutral mask provoked little reaction. The effect has not only persisted, but also multiplied over the past two years. Wearing the dangerous mask on one recent walk through campus, Dr. Marzluff said, he was scolded by 47 of the 53 crows he encountered, many more than had experienced or witnessed the initial trapping. The researchers hypothesize that crows learn to recognize threatening humans from both parents and others in their flock.

Bob builds the pushcart!

Assuaging my misery from the chicken slaughter, Bob began the pushcart while I was gone. He took these wheels, which were handmade for me by Witmer Coach Shop...


And the leftover hickory from the pieces of wood we bought for Jethro's collar and this stool...


And this picture for a model ...


And Bob built the pushcart...


And gave it hickory handles!


.

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[Hannah]: Cooking at home

Here's the thing about cooking at home. You get to a certain level, where you know you can make a pretty fine dinner. Whatever you make, it smells good, it tastes good, it's reasonably healthy. But you have this gradual realization that the underlying flavor in all of your pretty fine dinners is 1) soy sauce, 2) lemon/vinegar, 3) black pepper, or 4) tomato sauce. If you cook like me, everything also has garlic in it.

Here was my attempt to go beyond these flavors, based vaguely on Mark Bittman's "Spicy Shredded Beef" and also on all the dying stuff we have in the fridge. I am not calling it Thai as Mark does, because, well, if someone really cared they might be offended.


Thai-Inspired Refrigerator Stir Fry For Two:

saute in oil:
a couple cloves minced garlic
a teaspoon minced ginger
basil left over from some other cooking project
1 diced jalapeno.

Add a minute later:
a couple celery sticks, sliced into small pieces crosswise.
mushrooms left over from some other cooking project
soy sauce
lime juice
ground black pepper

cook this until the celery is bright green and softened.

Don't rub your eyes because remember you just diced a jalapeno.

Add 1/2 pound chicken breast, cut into thin shreds. (for some reason Mark tells us to toss the chicken breast shreds in an egg white first. I did this, and it was fine, but I have no idea whether it was important, because Mark didn't explain).

Cook until chicken is cooked. Serve immediately, with rice, noodles, or packaged peanut butter thai noodles if you need even MORE flavors in stuff.


Okay, so it still has soy sauce and garlic. but it's a start!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yidish-Vokh 2008

I've been at "Yiddish Week." For six days there are various programs and classes you can go to, but the only strict rule is 'me redt nor Yidish' everywhere: at meals, in the swimming pool, on walks, by the campfire, everywhere. Often I thought of the mythical book Michael Chabon cited - "Yiddish for Travelers" - and wished it existed. (Actually, it does, but it's called "Say it in Yiddish" and I just ordered a copy from Barnes & Noble.)

It's held at the Berkshire Hills Emanuel Adult Vacation Center in Copake New York.

I was nervous about going because I'm tongue-tied in foreign languages and I was afraid folks would be snobbish. A few were but most weren't. I figure I was in the bottom 10% of fluency (bottom 15% if you count the babies too) but at least not in the bottom 5%.


It's a big bunch of cabins, some with singles, with a lake house, a theater, a big meeting pavilion, a dining hall, an arts-and-crafts center, a swimming pool, a big lake and boats and lots of grass. In a nearby stream I saw a huge heron fishing one morning and you don't have to go far to see cows. No donkeys, though.


On the left is Yudis, she's 21 years old and ran the camp with grace and friendly efficiency.


There is an entire spectrum of opinions on religion among the campers, from complete atheists and secular folks who like the language and culture to those who are modern or traditional orthodox Jews.

Here you see 2/3 of the string crew; their job was to run a string around the whole camp on Friday (it's called an eruv) so it would constitute, technically, one building. Orthodox folks could carry stuff around without violating Shabbos.


Here's a camper using the arts and crafts room. There was mask-making, paper-cutting, block-printing, water-colors, and costuming going on here all week.


Here is the other camper who was using the arts and crafts room at this particular time. He was making groggers (noisemakers) out of chickpeas and plastic cups for "Purim in August," a skit about Haman's inferiority complex.


























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My favorite flower (mayn balibte blum)

I took this picture on the way out of camp this morning as we headed for the airport after Yiddish Week. Chicory may be a weed but the blue of it delights me.

Chicory is chikoria (or was it tchikorye?) in Yiddish, I was informed by someone who told me that long after she moved from Poland to America his mother longed for hot brewed chicory - it was used over there instead of coffee because it was cheaper "but a lot of people preferred its flavor."

We got caught in the FAA computer outage today and so I feel lucky to be home, but it's been a long day. Jethro enjoyed the kosher peanut-butter sandwich I brought him. The chickens are all dead - but that's another story.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

[Hannah]: After the apocalypse, you will want me to be your interior decorator, and other musings on home improvement projects

There's a difference between house projects that use things like fabric and paper, and projects that revolve around materials like like metal and hardware. Fabric can be negotiated with. Something doesn't fit? rip it, tie it, stretch it. I am much better at these projects than projects like Attach a Rack to your Bicycle. It's not that I can't do it, it's that I have a hard time accepting that in hardware projects, there's no stretching or negotiating to be done. If something doesn't fit, it's metal, what are you going to do, take your soldering iron to it? (Those of you who own soldering irons can just keep quiet right about now). If you didn't happen to have brought one of those from your manhattan apartment, if something doesn't fit, you just have to take it back to the hardware store. I do like going to the hardware store as much as the next guy but I hate going BACK to the hardware store. It means you have been defeated.

Anyway, the CA and I now live in a two room cottage with lots of windows. Very cool, except at night it's a little bit like living in a jack'o'lantern. We have lots of neighbors, including some middle schoolers who like to hang out in the evenings at their middle school across the street from us (and use the most frightful bad language, by the way! did i know those words when I was 11?) Plus, we're creeped out from years of living in NY - it's bad enough that there are no bars on first floor windows here. (Seriously... when did we start feeling like living in a prison was a good idea??) We moved in and needed curtains stat. A dear friend spending the summer in India offered to get us custom curtains made there on the cheap. But what were we going to do in the mean time?

Solution: Two $7 sheet sets from Target, apply scissors and push pins. (This is my favorite kind of project in the whole world):



Hmm, that looked a little sloppy. But with a bit of tailoring, better. (I eventually trimmed the bottom of this one too):


So this is great. During the day time, I can hang the loops I tied to the side of each curtain on the pushpins that are holding the curtains up. First I tried it this way.

Then I decided that wasn't very elegant so I did them this way. You can see here also the cat. She is dismayed because, though she has way more windows here than she did in the old apartment, the windows have no sills. So before we had furniture for her to crouch on she spent a lot of time in this posture. She's very long and stretchy.


I have lots more fun pictures but blogger is being bad so they will have to wait for another time. I am so good at this kind of thing. I wish there was a reality show that asked you to construct practical curtains using only scissors and a sheet set. i would win.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

[Hannah]: Three Smoothies for Two

The one thing I bought just for fun when we moved was a blender.

These recipes make one gigantic smoothie or two smoothies of moderate size.

"Health Shake," a.k.a. the "We miss Georgio's"
4 ice cubes
2 bananas
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons wheat germ

Watermelon Lime Shake
4 ice cubes
a lot of watermelon
juice of one lime

Peanut Butter Shake
4 ice cubes
2 bananas
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey

In which I take Menticia and Itxa to the beach.

Last week, when we were walking around killing time while my flat tire got fixed, I'd asked Menticia: "What did you want to do this summer that you didn't get to do?" She'd instantly answered: "Go to the beach."

My heart sank a little because for months when I'd ask, "is your family doing something fun this summer?" she'd say, "Well, we're going to go to the beach." Whether because of the long, long hours her parents work, or the $60-80 in gas the trip requires, it never happened.

So I suggested that this week, her last week before school starts, we could go to Wrightsville Beach and she could take a friend or two. She chose her sister Ixta.

She wanted to leave at 7 am but I said I couldn't make it that early, so we rolled out at 8 and made it to the beach before 11:00, and we parked in one of my favorite parking lots in the world: The one that's right at the end of I-40 if you make one left turn. The road becomes local, crosses a lovely bridge over the sound past a bunch of boats, and then ends because if you go any further you'll be on the sand and then in the ocean.

My kids and I once stayed at the "Silver Gull," a sort of run-down cinder-block hotel, in a room on the second floor with a balcony overlooking this parking lot. We'd sit out on the balcony and watch tous le monde in action: changing into (and out of) bathing suits with various degrees of finesse and modesty, sorting fishing equipment, drinking beer, having arguments and passionate scenes of all kinds. There are happy kids and screaming sobbing kids and there's excitement and exasperation galore and it's just so much fun. So I like parking in this lot and being part of the scene.

The girls had packed methodically and they unpacked the car at a measured pace which quite surprised me. We set up camp under Johnny Mercer's pier and when they were done, it looked like home away from home. (My kids and I were much more slap-dash than this!)

[By the way, I'm furious at Johnny Mercer for CHARGING CASH MONEY to let people walk on the pier. Cheap @#$#%@#%!!! Well, at least he didn't charge us for the use of the sand UNDER his pier.]

We had chairs, and tons of food and drinks and a cooler, and towels and clothes and stuff, and it doesn't sound like much, but it was a fine bivouac.

And then they slathered themselves with sunscreen and refused to leave the shade under the pier for 20 minutes. I thought that was odd because their chances of getting sunburn were minimal, but sadly, they were deathly afraid of getting "darker."

Menticia told me solemnly that when she gets darker in the sun, she never gets lighter again, that she has been getting darker and darker since she was born.

They spent hours swimming and then more hours searching for shells. Itxa tried to get Menticia to go fetch her one of our zip-lock bags - and Menticia was about to go fetch it (and as you can see we were a long way from the pier) - but subversively I said: "You don't have to go, why doesn't she go for herself?" And I joked with Itxa: "You know, I was an older sister, I know this trick." In the end, we all went.


Under the pier near us were seven or eight Japanese guys. They were there all day, just like us. They were girl-watching very intently, all their heads aligned in parallel reminding me of the gulls that stand in a row facing into the wind, except with the laser-like focus Jethro the donkey shows when I appear with his dinner. These guys and their devoted ogling made Menticia and Ixta fall into endless, helpless fits of giggles.

At one point one of the guys clutched his heart and fell into the sand with a theatrical scream. At another point I started laughing cause one of them was taking pictures of some hotties in bikinis and he saw me laughing at him. Busted! Well, we were both busted! He laughed too and said, "THEY [his buddies] made me do it." They buried one of their members all the way to his head in sand and asked me to take a group picture. I wish I'd taken one with my own camera, too.

Though they squabble a bit, the girls are so close. They look so deeply into each others' eyes, it's telepathic communication. It made me wish I'd had a sister. My life would have been different.


Before we left, Menticia said "I want to take a picture of the ocean." Itxa didn't understand why she'd want a picture of just the water, with no people in it.

Then she carefully filled a zip-lock bag with sand to take home.


The girls were intent on finding perfect shells, but I told them I like broken ones better because you can see inside them, and because they have so much character and reflect time passing. (I didn't say, I like them better because they remind me of me, but that's what I was thinking.) So Menticia found me this one and it's going "straight to the pool room."


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[Hannah]: Baking

Today I made one of the best breads of my life. Of course, this was also the day that I couldn't find the measuring spoons so I had no idea what I did.

1/2 t (maybe?) rapid yeast
1 c (maybe?) water
1 t (maybe?) honey
2 T (maybe?) wheat germ
1/2 cup (maybe?) plain unbleached flour.

mix and let sit in warm spot for 5 hours.

add flour until soft dough can be formed into a ball. Knead, but not too much.

Let sit 1 hr. Punch down.

Let sit 45 min. form into boule and sit it on floury pastry cloth for 45 more min.

preheat oven to 425 with pizza stone and flower pot inside.

spritz dough with water. Place on pizza stone and invert flower pot over dough. quickly return to oven.

bake 40 min or until you say "oh, yikes, the bread is still in the oven." i have never managed to overbake a loaf of bread. they just get crustier and better.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Detach."

"PARENT AND CHILD GO TO SEPARATE CORNERS"

Thanks to Jaster Johns, Joel Shapiro, Claes Oldenburg, and Legos.

Mark Christopher Chandler
2008


I apologize for the highlights on this picture. It was too big to put on my scanner so I had to photograph it - and it's very shiny! I am off to the beach with Menticia in ten minutes and no time to fix it. - Melinama


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Sunday, August 17, 2008

[Hannah]: Best pic of the week

We spent a whole week without internet when we moved. This, of course, was a national tragedy, particularly as there was no poachable wireless nearby. Well, worse - there were a *couple* of wireless networks that didn't even give us one bar, but they sometimes worked. Sometimes. We quickly developed routines, like the superstitious pigeons, trying to figure out what would get us a strong enough whiff of these weak wireless signals to check our email. Here is the CA out in the front yard at about 11 PM, leaning his laptop against a metal pole that he believed improved his signal.



Later in the week we discovered that a particular wall in our house seemed to be taking the signal in, and if we leaned our laptops up against the wall, we'd get a little signal. We are lame.

Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Detach"

I was looking for my suitcase in the attic and came across this boar's head left over from the "Solstice Extravaganza" productions of the late 80s and early 90s. There actually used to be two of them but I gave one away. I made them out of plaster rolls.

Realizing it was appropriate for this week's topic, I brought it downstairs, dusted it off, repainted it, photographed it, photoshopped it, and here it is: a boar's head detached from the body...

If you want to hear the song, "The Boar's Head Carol," for which I made these props, I posted a free mp3 in 2005.

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What did I buy this week? #1.

I've been sort of following a blog called Obsessive Consumption for some time now. The proprietress draws pictures of the things she buys.

I thought I might enjoy doing this too, but only now have gotten around to trying it. She posts every day, but I'll gang them up and, if I can keep it up, I'll post them once a week.

I needed skinny socks to go under my sneakers at Yidish-Vokh, because I'm packing light. There were on sale at K-mart.


AAA batteries, for my remote controls which have been failing for weeks, and for the motion sensor lights below.

I got two of these battery-operated motion sensor lights, for the carport and the studio, because the ones the electrician installed all those years ago never worked right.


A new CD player so I can walk and obsess over the mixes on the new cd.


I ordered these wheels from Witmer Coach many weeks ago, they finally came.

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Witmer Coach shop built my pushcart wheels

They arrived yesterday: handmade. Aren't they beautiful? This is an Amish shop, they have a lady who answers the phone but they don't have a website. Earl at Witmer was willing to give me exactly what I wanted, and he built the wheels himself. Fabulous work.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

[Hannah]: What to eat after you move

We have moved, and there's nothing to eat. A good recipe, from the Monday-to-Friday cookbook, for an evening when you don't want to cook much and you are sick of spending money because of moving:

Basil Chickpea Salad for two:

Blend 1/8 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup (or more) basil in a food processor. Put in a bowl and add 1/8 cup lemon juice. Add 1 can of drained tuna. Add 1 can rinsed chick peas. Add 2 smallish tomatoes cut into chunks. Salt and pepper. Let sit in fridge for a while.

Serve on top of mixed greens w/vinaigrette (balsamic, olive oil, garlic).

"Just because you can doesn't mean you should" - Photoshop gone wild.

At breakfast I used to indignantly point out to the kids how fake the milk looked on the cereal boxes, how huge and surreally red and perfect the strawberries were and how improbably they rested on the surface of the supposed liquid that was carefully lapping up around huge, perfect, individual flakes ... I explained to them about Photoshop and formulated one of my most beloved mantras:


JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD.

The New York Times, in an article about people learning how to erase any unwanted spouses from photos, pointed us this morning to Photoshop Disasters, you'll be enchanted. A few samples:




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Friday, August 15, 2008

[Hannah]: Bike Thieves

There are some seriously ninja bike thieves in my new town. Everyone uses bikes to get around, there are all kinds of people coming in and out all the time, it's a college town... prime bike stealing territory. Some stories I heard within my first week here:

1) My friend Tasha, who lived in a studio apartment in a row of apartments set well back from the street, with everyone using the same entrance, had her bike stolen off her balcony. she was on the second floor and had locked a wheel of her bike to the balcony. The thieves vaulted up to the balcony, stole the bike, and left the wheel attached to her railing.

2) A guy in the bike store, with a rueful expression, said he'd taken his nice bike on the bus. He'd left the bike in the designated bike racks at the front of the bus and sat down in the middle of the bus. A guy getting off the front of the bus just took his bike on the way out. THe bus driver had called out half-heartedly, "is that your bike?" but by that time it was already too late.

The local bike store hands out a two-page instruction sheet on how to not get your bike stolen. To summarize:

1) If you have a nice bike, it will get stolen.

2) If you have a lousy bike, and go to a lot of trouble, your bike will probably not get stolen. Better get a lousy bike. If you have a nice bike, try to make it look lousy. Better yet - get a bike so lousy you secretly HOPE it will get stolen.

3) Don't get a chain lock. Bike thieves can saw through them - and will, in broad daylight, do so.

4) Don't lock just your frame to the stand. Thieves will saw through the frame and take the bike.

5) Don't just lock the front wheel. Thieves will take the whole bike and leave the front wheel.

6) Don't just lock the front wheel and the frame. Thieves can either saw through the frame or take your back wheel in a matter of seconds. While you are in class, or in the few seconds you are in a store not looking at it.

7) What CAN you do? You should always remove the front wheel, and lock the front wheel and the back wheel THROUGH the frame, around the post. Bike thieves, of course, CAN saw through both wheels if they are determined, but this would be more trouble for them than just stealing the bike of the naive freshman from the suburbs, who only locked up his frame. Plus, your bike looks lousy, so why would they bother.

Lockup strategy 7) is what I"m working with right now. It's a bit tiresome. At the beginning of the week it took me about 15 minutes to do it, now it takes me only about 3. (Commuters of any kind understand that keeping track of this exact number of minutes is of prime importance). But I still have to concentrate to get it right. I'm convinced that one of these days, I'm going to lock the wheels to the rack and forget to put them through the frame, thus leaving my frame entirely available to be walked away with. But in any case, all of us greenhorns are in such a state of paranoia that we're basically convinced a bike thief could take our bikes while we're straddling them at a stop sign. In which case, it's recommended that you shout after the bike thief "It's a good thing you took that bike! I really hated it!"

Unsolicited testimonial for a fine business: "PamOr Fine Print"

The original for my album cover is too big, and too stiff, to get scanned at Kinko's - or, as it turns out, at about twenty other businesses within forty miles of here.

Many businesses explained to me why they couldn't do this - they want originals that can be mounted on a drum, and they felt compelled to tell me that nobody else could do it either. "Nobody has a large-scale flatbed scanner in North Carolina."

Nonsense! Never say never!

I tried copy centers, printing houses, newspapers, UNC press... I did find a guy who said he could do it, but he was an hour away and wanted $75.

There used to be a Dutch guy - actually South African, maybe - around here who could have done it, but I searched for him high and low: his website has vanished and his phone number is disconnected.

This was starting to remind me of a nearly futile search I made decades ago, in Kingston Ontario, trying to find somebody who would repair my glasses. The first ten guys all said, "can't be done," but the eleventh guy said, "sure!" and went in the back room and five minutes later my glasses were fixed, permanently.

So I persisted and after an hour and a half of looking, I found a guy who said "Sure." His name is Bill Griggs, and he is proprietor of PamOr Fine Print: "Large Format Digital Printing, Scanning, Photo Restoration, Digital Photo Printing, Fine Art Giclee Printing, Graphic Design, and Signs. His phone number is 919-559-2846 and his email is pamorprint@nc.rr.com. His price was very reasonable and his dog is cute.

His website isn't exactly up yet, so just call him.

Anyway, I don't usually do this but I put this here in case somebody else around here is searching the way I was, looking for the eleventh person, who will say "sure!" when everybody else said "can't be done."

Click the picture for a bigger view of the low-resolution version he did.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Illustrating for Menticia that "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley."

I picked up Menticia this afternoon. We planned to go on a "nature walk" as she calls it, since it was the first nice day in ages, but first I had a small errand to do: I'd made a test cd for Bob of the cuts from our new cd, and I wanted to drop it off at his house.

On the way, I made her listen to our songs of murder and mayhem for "We Did It! Songs of People Behaving Badly." I kept asking: "Do you understand?" She laughed at the jokes and showed horror in the right places, so that was good.

We got to Bob's house and he was home! We popped the cd into his crummy boombox (the theory being that, since most people listen to music on crummy machines, that's how it should be mixed) and took sketchy notes on changes to be made.

Then, to reward her for her patience, a walk to Locopops. I egged her on: "Don't you want to try tamarind pomegranate? Or maybe cucumber basil?" She calmly ignored me and ordered chocolate brownie and we walked back to the car.

The car had a completely flat tire.

I hauled out my tire pump and pumped it up and we drove to a tire place. They were very busy -- we had an hour and a half to kill.

So much for the nature walk - but Menticia pointed out we could walk anyway. We were in town so we headed towards Ninth Street and I started yammering about "best-laid plans" often not working out, as witness this afternoon.

The subject is timely: lately Menticia's been worried she may not have the fortitude for her first-choice profession of nursing, and has been wondering whether going to veterinary school might be best. "You have lots of time to decide, and change your mind many times - everybody's plans change. Look at us, now, for instance!"

(As her mentor, I felt obliged to point out that both nursing and veterinary science will require that she hang in there with science and math - especially with fractions, her bete noire.)

So we walked, and we toured a Third-World bead-and-bangles shop and a craft gallery, and we poked our heads in all the restaurants, and she passed up Mediterranean (shawarma and baba ghanoush) in favor of the Vietnamese restaurant, Banh's cuisine, where the same lady has been on duty every single time I've been there for the last quarter century.

Having now googled Robert Burns' famous line, which I quoted incorrectly to Menticia, I see Burns thinks a wrecked scheme is a bad thing - the mouse's house was destroyed, and Burns feels very sorry for himself - but in real life Plan B is often just fine, in fact often better than Plan A would have been.

So then we walked back to the tire place and watched the young employee behind the desk trying to come up with the Spanish equivalent of "lug nut" as she talked to a non-English-speaking customer.

When it was our turn, she asked us: "Do you speak Spanish?" Jeimy didn't say anything, because she likes to hold her cards close to her chest. I told the young woman I thought her Spanish was good, had she learned it on the job?

"No, I learned it when I was in music school. I'm a French horn player and thought I would tour Latin America with a symphony orchestra, so Spanish would be handy. But that didn't turn out so well, it's hard to get a job in classical music... Now I'm thinking of going into the medical profession."

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Monday, August 11, 2008

[Hannah]: at the California DMV, we learned not to hit schoolchildren or blind pedestrians

I'm changing my dateline - I'm now a graduate student in Berkeley, CA. Don't have much time here, so this isn't very polished, but I wanted to provide an update. The CA (thanks to those who asked!) is living with me, a graduate student at Stanford. Many amusing things to report here, but we don't get internet until the end of the week, so it's going to have to be catch as catch can. This morning, we went to the DMV and emerged after a mere 75 minutes VICTORIOUS with temporary drivers' licenses and real ones that are theoretically going in the mail to come to us soon. I didn't even have to surrender my adorable NC drivers' license, which has a picture that accurately reflects what it feels like to wait in line for an hour and a half in 95 degree weather. In California, things worked smoothly. The agents were even in a good mood! The CA and I both passed our written exams on the first try, not really because we know much about California driving laws, but mainly because we are good test takers. For example, if the test asks you what the penalty is for doing something boneheaded (drinking and driving, ignoring the directions of a school crossing guard) you can pretty much assume the answer is whichever of a) b) or c) is the stiffest penalty. And also you have to do everything you can to protect little children. For example, if the question is:

"If you are driving along and an evil witch offers you the choice between driving off a cliff and running over some little children who are walking to school"

the correct response is always C) "Sacrifice self, drive over cliff. " Do not attempt to A) run over the witch, and by all means, do not (B) drive over the children or you will go to jail for a minimum of one year."

As I was falling asleep last night, reading the 92 page PDF Driving in California manual, though it is rather dry, I noticed one somewhat poetic moment. This moment has to do with the behavior of blind pedestrians, who we are told will be carrying a white cane with or without a red tip on the end.

You have to drive up close to the crosswalk before you stop for blind pedestrians, because they hvae to hear your car stopping. This is especially a problem up here with all the hybrid vehicles - they are very sneaky and quiet! (also this is a serious hazard for cyclists I am told - you can't hear those damn hybrids coming).

Then you watch the blind pedestrian. Will he/she cross? The DMV manual says "If the person takes a step back and pulls in his or her cane, that's a definite sign that you should go."

Falling asleep, I wondered about the motivations of the blind pedestrian. Why isn't he crossing the road? Does he still not feel safe? Does he wish he didn't live in California where he has to be shlepping across roads all the time? Why did he turn back? Is he discouraged?

I told the DMV test-issuer about how this had caught my attention. She said, "Oh yeah, it's for real. In San Francisco, it seems like they hit a couple of them every month." I said, "Good thing we don't live there, it sounds dangerous."

Mark does Illustration Friday: "Sail."

"SAIL TO MAGIC MOUNTAINS AND FIND REST."

Acrylic on canvas

Mark



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Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Sail."

I took this picture of a friend on his catamaran this Wednesday and thought it would be fun to paint.


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Friday, August 08, 2008

Feeling like flotsam, I go sailing, make biofuel, and have unexpected blissful moments.

I have a friend who was a veterinarian in his native country of Belgium, specializing in animal acupuncture. He moved to North Carolina long ago and makes his living now as a translator; he's "gone native," at least in the sense that he does not yearn for European haute cuisine because he in fact loves Krispy Kreme donuts and fried fish with tartar sauce.

I used to think he was slumming but now I realize he considers his metamorphosis to be an elegantly subversive act.

I met him in the last millennium, but we lost touch until recently. He's been very busy in the mean time - he's become an expert tanguero, bought a few houses, learned how to make biodiesel fuel for his Volkswagon, he takes yoga classes three times a week, he even got married and divorced!

One of his greatest loves is a 23' catamaran sailboat; he invited me to go sailing with him on Wednesday. I found a donkey-sitter and off we went, to an undisclosed location on the Pamlico sound where he has a 'house' a block from the water.

The house, it turned out after he bought it for $20,000, had been sitting in a puddle of water for about 50 years and is almost entirely rotted out, except for the staircase and attic, which are very nice. This came to light, as it were, when he was inspecting the foundation to see if the house could be jacked up and put on stilts. Too late, I'd say.



Here's a picture of the room where I slept (in his daughter's tent, with moaning mosquitoes scratching to get in, very comfortable on her Sponge Bob Squarepants pillow).



My friend has been running his Volkswagon exclusively on home-made biofuel for many months now, and I've been very eager to watch him make the fuel. Here's his staging area.




We had stopped on the way, at an undisclosed restaurant specializing in local (i.e. fried) cuisine, to pick up four huge jars of used oil.

He pours the oil through a filter into his big drum, which he got for free from the very oil company he is depriving of profit.


This is the "magic ingredient," Diesel Secret Energy, which he bought on Craig's List. He also adds a little bit of kerosene and a little bit of "real" gasoline. Then he stirs it and it's ready for a final filtering.


Here's a close-up of the $30 pump which sends the filtered oil through another filter which extracts water. So then this project was completed.


Here's his boat, moored.


At one point he asked me to steer so he could take a nap.


After we'd been sailing a while, he said, "let's go to Bath, it's ten miles away, it'll only take a couple hours." We had just $6 but figured we could split a sandwich there.

As we headed towards Bath, the wind was strong; even though it was against us we were going as much as 11.6 miles an hour, as he repeatedly and gleefully showed me on his yellow GPS device. The GPS gizmo even showed us our path down the sound, tacks and all.

However, once we were within hailing distance of Bath, the wind died. His customary ebullience dimmed very slightly and he suggested we turn back.

I was so mellowed out, and also dazed by the sun, I had no opinion and anything was fine with me.


Along the way we saw this crane being pulled by a tugboat.


Since we were going nowhere fast, my friend suggested I jump overboard and enjoy the water. This was perhaps the most peaceful moment of 2008.


This one was equally good.


I took this picture of him from underneath the boat. He was holding the jib out, hopefully, as if this would cause it to fill with wind. Soon afterwards he asked me to come on up and we paddled for a while. Talk about a futile activity!


However, we saw wonderful things we would have missed if we'd been going more than .002 miles per hour. The sun set. The birds called. It was perfectly quiet all around.





After this picture was taken, it was too dark for any more. We saw the moon come up and the frogs were deafening. We were, eventually, within sight of the landing lights on the dock, but the wind, perversely, picked up against us; my friend had to tack, tack, tack when we were only yards from shore.

It was completely black. Suddenly I heard him cooing soft, adoring words in French. His dog Gina, who had been waiting patiently all day for him to return, had heard our approach. She had leapt into the water and swum silently out to us. He hauled her into the boat. "She is my shadow," he explained happily.



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