Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Cress Seeds Grew Beside my Wifi Router

This is a close-up photo of my cress sprouts in the basement.

This is a close-up photo of my cress sprouts beside the wifi router in my study. If anything, these look healthier than the basement sprouts, and certainly had a higher sprouting rate.

In most science classes, teachers give a definition of truth that would cause philosophers to cringe: Truth is repeatable data.

When I read about 5 ninth grade girls in Denmark who reported that their cress seeds did not grow when placed near a wifi router, I had to try the experiment my self.

“Take 400 cress seeds and divide them into 12 trays. Then place the trays in two rooms at the same temperature, six in each room. Give the trays the same amount of water and sunlight over 12 days, but expose six of the trays to mobile phone radiation.”

“Six trays of seeds were placed in a room with no radiation, while six were placed in another room alongside two routers emitting roughly the same type of radiation as an ordinary mobile phone.”

“Then the girls just had to wait 12 days, observe, measure, weigh and take photos. The results spoke for themselves: the cress seeds alongside the routers did not grow at all, and some even mutated or died.”

The final sentence “did not grow at all, and some even mutated or died” does not make sense. A plant can’t mutate or die if it didn’t grow.  And a close look at the photo of the “sick” seeds does show some green that could be leaves.  In fact, that tray looks much like my sprouts do in the morning when I’d forgotten to water them.  Within 2 hours of watering, my sprouts usually perk up again.

But I don’t usually sprout cress on a towel.  I sprout fenugreek, or broccoli, or radishes.

So, I decided to duplicate the Denmark high school girls’ experiment.

I wasn’t able to exactly duplicate their environment.  I placed one tray of cress seeds on a damp towel beside my router, which is in my study right next to a heat vent.  Because it’s winter, and on the 2nd floor of my house, my study is one of the warmest rooms in the house.   In order to place the other tray far away from the wifi router, I put it in the basement where I usually grow my sprouts.  The basement is cooler and it has a grow lamp on a 12 hours on / 12 hours off timer cycle.  If anything, the basement sprouts had several advantages over the study sprouts.

The seeds in both locations took 5 days to sprout.  The seeds in my study sprouted a few hours before the seeds in the basement.  By day 8, both sets of seeds had healthy green leaves.

The morning of the 9th day, I noticed that I’d forgotten to water the seed in my study.  They looked nearly dead, like the ones in the girls’ photo.  But I watered them.  Within 2 hours, they were standing up again and looked healthy as ever.  Just like any other sprout I’ve ever grown.
I note here that the seeds in my study, beside the router, next to the heat vent,  did need more water than the seeds in the basement under the grow lamp.  But the main point here is that both trays of seeds grew nicely.  The proximity to the wifi router had no effect.

I don’t know how to reach these girls, but I suggest that they try their experiment again.  Since there were 5 of them, each girl could do the experiment in her own home. I do not think they can duplicate their results.  I certainly couldn’t. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bus Driver Giving Me Dirty Looks

I was waiting at the bus stop at Market and 10th.  The bus (my bus) did not slow down.  I stepped up to the curb. I waved.  The bus driver sped right on by.

I’m not supposed to run with my replacement hip.  But I have an exemption – I am allowed to run to catch a bus.  The light was red at the next bus stop, so I ran.  The bus stopped.  It let passengers on.  I arrived just as the driver was closing the door.  It’s 15 minutes until the next bus.  The temperature was below freezing.  I stood in front of the closed bus door and willed the driver to open it.  Somebody on the bus yelled.  The door opened.  

I showed my senior pass to the driver.  He glared at me.  As if anybody in good enough shape to run in the cold didn’t deserve a senior pass.

At the next stop a woman lugging a heavy suitcase got on.  She also showed her senior pass.  Somehow this is my fault?  I wish I could take credit.  Seniors in good shape are something to be proud of. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Palpitations  – the doctor term for increased heart rate – terrify me.  The first time they happened, I waited a couple hours, and when my heart didn’t slow down,  I went to the emergency room.  There, numerous staffers asked me if I’d been drinking alcohol, if I’d been taking drugs, either prescribed or street. If I’d just come there for a free meal. When I explained that I don’t take drugs, prescription or street, that I’d had dinner, and I don’t drink alcohol, they accused me of lying and took 6 tubes of blood to look for proof. They also ran an EKG, to rule out a heart attack. And had me breathe radioactive air to rule out a blood clot in my lungs.

Soon, they stopped sending in people to interrogate me and hooked me up to a gadget that kept track of my heart rate, which was in the 130's.  They never apologized when they got back the report of 0 blood alcohol and no systemic drugs.  They didn’t even officially tell me. I had to ask one of the nurses.

They kept me there for 14 hours and gave me nothing to eat, and nothing to treat my elevated heart rate,  which was gradually coming down on its own. All they did was tell me to make an appointment with a cardiologist.  I did that, and they still wouldn’t sign me out, so I signed an Against Medical Advice form, and left.

One of the nurses said it was a good thing I’d come in because women’s heart attacks can take many forms.

The cardiologist sent me for a stress test.  The stress test doctor told me the name Palpitations. Finally – something I could look up on the web and in my herb books.  

The heart doctor prescribed beta blockers.  I took 1/4 of one pill and it slowed my heart to 50 beats per minute, and kept it there for a day.  The next day it was 60 beats per minute. I managed to drag myself to the gym and elevate it briefly on the elliptical.  The gym is turning out to be one of my major health treatments.  I emailed the heart doctor about what happened and told him I wasn’t going to take any more. He never got back with me.

The key thing I discovered during my web search is that foods can set off an increased heart rate.
I started paying attention to even minor increases in heart rate. Bread with sesame seeds on the crust raised my heart rate. Stir-fry made with toasted sesame oil raised my heart rate.  Tahini really raised my heart rate.  After that, I quit eating anything with sesame seeds.

I went two years without any palpitations. I knew what to avoid. I stopped paying careful attention.  I read a review of Mary’s Gone Crackers, which talked about how delicious they are and how nutritious they are.  I bought a box. I liked them. They didn’t have sesame seeds on top like many crackers.  It never occurred to me that they had sesame seeds ground up in them. I ate a bowlful.  And then it started.  Major heart rate increase, like with tahini.

My first thought was – what’s wrong now? It can’t be sesame seeds.  I didn’t even think to read the label on the crackers for over 10 hours.

To make matters worse, my husband decided to read to me, which I love, but he came to a scary part in the story, and my heart rate got even faster.  I had to ask him to stop reading. He was disappointed.  I told him he could finish the story on his own.  He put in a bookmark, and said he’d wait until I felt better.

I decided to go to the gym and do what normally makes my heart rate increase – I got on the rowing machine and rowed full-out for 15 minutes.  That felt great briefly, but then my body did not go into relaxation mode, like it usually does.  It maintained the high heart rate.

I put on my meditation tape and meditated for an hour, while doing deep breathing.  No improvement.  Terrifying as palpitations are, the web articles say they’re not dangerous.  It seems to take about 14 hours for sesame seeds to get out of my system.

No more eating anything without reading labels. And I’m avoiding all foods that could possibly contain hidden sesame seeds at parties and restaurants.

I was never into diets. I’ve never had a weight problem.  I’ve never had to watch what I ate.I thought I was one of the lucky ones. (This is turning into a stale refrain, with the hip replacement (from being hit by a car while riding my bike) and the cancer (just because I’m human.)) So now I have to watch for foods that trigger arthritis and foods that trigger palpitations.  I guess I’m lucky it’s a short list of foods I need to avoid.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Rowing Machine Challenge at my Gym

It’s that time of year again. The rowing machine company has promised to donate to a selection of charities (International Rescue Committee, Challenged Athletes Association, and others)  on behalf of people at the gym who row. But this year, they want rowers to complete 100,000 meters in 26 days  before they will make a donation.  If you are a challenged athlete, 50,000 qualifies.

I asked at the desk, they said my artificial hip qualifies me as challenged.  I felt like a wimp asking, but while I want a challenge, I don’t want to do that much rowing.

I usually row for 8 minutes, in which time, the machine says I’ve rowed about 1300 meters. I set up my schedule to row for 15 minutes for the next 25 days.  Today I rowed about 2500 meters in 15 minutes.

I forgot to get up 15 minutes early, so I had the same amount of time at the gym.  Wednesday is usually treadmill day. I’ll have to do treadmill tomorrow. Today I did chin-ups and hip flexors, which don’t take as much time as the treadmill.

When I sat down at a rowing machine, the one next to me was already occupied.  The man rowed over 4000 meters in 21 minutes.  He’s in better shape than I am.

One of the most valuable things I’m learning at the gym is that you can’t tell who works out by just looking at them. Plenty of men and women who are soft-looking and / or overweight are able to work out longer and harder than I can. They can lift heavier weights, move more quickly, stretch more deeply, do more repetitions.  I find it odd to look fit and yet I’m unable to do what these folks can do.

Meanwhile, the gym caters to both ends of the spectrum. They placed a sign on the data screen of the rowing machine.  If you row 1000 meters a week for 4 weeks, they’ll give you a ribbon. I’d way rather get a donation to charity.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Laughing Bubble Baby - Zoomer

Laughing Bubble Baby - Zoomer

Because I'm the Grandma Now

I remember a sticky-sweet television ad for a snack food. In it, the 20-something mom talks about how when she was a little girl and her mother gave a party her mother would serve this snack food. And NOW, she can serve it at her parties because SHE’s the MOM.

I tried that snack food.  I didn’t care for it.  Notice: I’m not naming the product.

But when I visited my grandmother, she served me schnecken.  That’s German for snail. This delight is called a snail because the dough is rolled and looks much like a snail shell.  She taught me that if something you bake turns out dry, you can put it in the freezer over night and it will be moist when you heat it in the morning.  She always kept schnecken in her freezer.

My 12-year-old grandtwins are coming over tomorrow, and I want to serve them schnecken.

The catch with my grandmother’s recipe is that it calls for brown sugar.  If I eat sucrose, my hands hurt.  No way am I going to all the work of making schnecken if I can’t enjoy them.

So, I’ve spent months adapting the recipe.  It’s not enough to substitute honey for brown sugar. Brown sugar contains molasses.  Regular molasses is high in sucrose.  But blackstrap molasses is very low in sucrose.

Honey is enough in the dough part of the schnecken.  But honey with blackstrap molasses is key to both painting the dough and putting in the muffin wells.  

Basically, the dough of a schnecken is any bread dough with a little extra honey so it is slightly sweet.  

3/4 cup warm milk or almond milk
1 TBSP yeast
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp salt
3 cups whole wheat flour (possibly more, depending on the weather)

(No, my grandmother did not use whole wheat flour. She used white flour and was proud of it.)

Let the yeast soften and come to life in the milk.  Add everything else.  The dough should still be a bit wet.  If it is goopy-wet, add more flour.  Let the dough rise for at least 30 minutes. Longer if the house is cold.

Shake flour on a pastry rolling cloth or silicone sheet. Plop the dough onto it. Turn the dough over several times so it is coated with flour. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a rectangle about 16" x 7". 

In a sauce pan, melt: 

1 stick of butter
1/3 cup honey
3 TBSP blackstrap molasses

Use this mixture to paint the rolled out dough.

Shake cinnamon over the painted dough
Put raisins on the dough, so there is about 1 raison every half inch in all directions.
Shake ground walnuts or pecans on the dough.

Roll up the dough across the long dimension, so the roll is still about 16 inches long.  Squeeze the roll tightly, along its length.  It will grow to about 18" long.

Pour the rest of the melted butter/ honey /molasses mix sort-of equally into the bottoms of 12 muffin cups.  Put a pretty nut-half in the center of each one.

Slice the roll into 12 pieces.  I do this by cutting in half, then each half is cut in half, and the remaining quarters are cut into thirds.

Put a flat cut edge of each schnecken into each muffin cup.

Allow to rise an hour, or longer if the house is cold.  The dough should look puffy.

Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit for 20 to 30 minutes.  Or longer if you put the dough in before the oven is hot.  The dough will look slightly browned when it is done cooking.

Invert the muffin pan(s) (I use 2 6-cup muffin pans) onto a cookie sheet or big plates. The butter/ honey/molasses mix will drizzle down the sides.  Allow the schnecken to cool.

You can eat them now, but they’ll be much more amazing if you put them in a baggie in the freezer over night and then heat them the next the morning.  Microwave or oven.  It doesn’t matter.  You can wrap them in aluminum foil if you prefer that to plastic baggies.  Either way, take them out of the wrapper before you heat them.  It is safe to put aluminum wrapped schnecken in an oven.  But any other combo makes a mess.  No aluminum in a microwave. No plastic baggie in either an oven or a microwave.

These are delish, as my grandmother used to say.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I'll Give You Something to Cry About! - Zoomer

I'll Give You Something to Cry About! - Zoomer

Across the Atlantic

Many years ago – possibly in the last century – a poet-translator sent me a poem about Merlin that he had translated from Breton into English.  It was perfect for the Loch Ness Monster website I was building at the time, and he was happy to give it to me so long as his name was on it.

Since then we have been corresponding about a wide range of topics.  He has translated his brother’s fascinating poetry into English.  He is currently translating more Breton historical poetry into English. As usual, I go over his English to make it fit with colloquial and common usage. Sometimes I challenge his word choices because they seem illogical. And he often admits that he was taking liberties with the original for the sake of a rhyme.

We also discuss culture and politics.

We have both become grandparents via our daughters. We send each other books intended to corrupt our respective grand children with our own cultures. In particular I send science activity books, and he sends Tintin. He even sent a recording of his grandson saying “Tintin” so we could pronounce it correctly.

We both have sons-in-laws who disapprove of us. My politics are more liberal than my correspondent’s, but that never before led to any major disagreements.  I do not expect that my friends will agree with me about anything. It’s just nice when they do – especially if we are working on something together.

Today, for the first time, I find myself in a major disagreement with my French correspondent.  His son-in-law quit his job, and is now a stay-at-home dad.  Apparently this is unheard of in France.  My correspondent is concerned that his grandchildren will be teased because their father has no job, other than cooking, cleaning, and transporting the children.  His daughter makes enough money to support the family.  Women had that role in the US until the economy became so bad that both parents had to work to support a family.

If they can pay their bills on one salary, I see no problems. But my correspondent is shocked, outraged, angry, that his son-in-law is not normal. In his world view, men have jobs.  It’s as if his son-in-law is no longer a man because he quit his job.

Yet, my correspondent is retired.  That seems to be okay. Retired isn’t the same thing as quit, apparently.  But the fact remains that neither of them go to work. And they are both men.  He has agreed, at my request, to keep his opinion to himself and not harangue his daughter or his son-in-law.  But he is upset in a way that blasphemy used to upset people. His repulsion to job quitting is similar to that against an act of treason during a war.  

There is nothing in his correspondence to indicate that his son-in-law never intends to work again. He simply hated his job, and he quit.  I’ve done that. Many Americans of both genders have done that. But apparently it is rare in France, and for a man to do it is unheard of.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Overheard at the Dentist's Office

I went back to the dentist who pulled my wisdom tooth for a check-up. I had asked for the earliest appointment of the day.  When I arrived at the waiting room, two other people were there ahead of me.

One was a young man of about 20.  He was chatting with the 50ish woman in the other chair. “I had a dream last night that I was an elephant and poachers were taking my tusks.”

The other woman assured him. “You’ve come to the right place. She’s so gentle.”

I wouldn’t describe getting a tooth pulled as gentle.  This dentist knows how to numb people. And she knows how to be quick and efficient.  She made it as untraumatic as possible.  But gentle?

There was no point in arguing. The goal here was to calm the young man down.

Even though both these other people arrived first, apparently I did have the earliest appointment.  My healing gums passed inspection.  I hope I never have to go back there.

I got home, ate, brushed my teeth, and brushed a filling out.  So, I had to call my regular dentist. He had room for me in a few hours.

When I walked into the office, the receptionist said, “Weren’t you just here last week?”  Yes, I was.

My dentist is an honorable man.  When he saw that it was a filling he’d put in only 2 years ago, he said there would be no charge.

While we waited for the novocaine to start working, he told me about visiting his uncle, who was also a dentist.  His uncle was one of the first dentists to use anesthetic on children.

And when I left, we both expressed the wish that I won’t have to go back for at least 6 months.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Walking With Ghosts -- The Witches of Rochester Street - Zoomer

Walking With Ghosts -- The Witches of Rochester Street - Zoomer

Interval Training, How Old is Grandma?

In my latest screenplay, I had a 60 year old woman climb down a ladder into a manhole.  A 20-something reader wrote me that he didn’t think a woman that age could handle it.  I’ve got my social security card. I’ve got an artificial hip.  And I wouldn’t hesitate to go down that ladder to rescue one of my grandchildren (like the woman in the story.)

But, I contacted my friend Jean, who is 8 years older than I am.  No, she wouldn’t go down that ladder. And no, she doesn’t think she could have when she was 60, either.  So, the boy who needs to be rescued in my screenplay is only 6.  Grandma just lost 10 years.  She’s now 50.  Jean thinks she could have climbed that ladder when she was 50.

This raises an interesting question – why can I do what other women my age cannot?

I think it all started back in elementary school.  I was the kid nobody wanted on their team.  I was the only kid who had to do P.E. for homework.  I always had the sense that exercise was easier for everybody else than it was for me. I never did get good enough that anybody wanted me on their team.  But, I’m competitive.  So, I did my homework. And it became a habit. 

The kids to whom running and jumping and climbing came easily just took it for granted. For me these activities were and are hard-won prizes.

I got my hip replaced after being hit by a car while riding my bicycle, because I could no longer get on my bicycle. And I couldn’t walk without a cane.  But after I got my hip replaced, I still couldn’t get on my bicycle and I still couldn’t walk without a cane.  I asked my surgeon to write me a prescription for physical therapy.  My PT said I was one of very few of his clients who actually did the homework exercises.  I didn’t tell him – I’ve spent my life doing PE for homework.

The more I asked him to help me do, the more homework I got.  Elliptical, treadmill, floor exercises, ball exercises, stair exercises, stationery bike exercises.  This was okay for 2 or 3 months while I was officially recovering from surgery – but not for the rest of my life.  I like exercise, but I want to get out of the gym in half an hour, or maybe 45 minutes. I want to get back to my life, ride by bicycle to work.

So, I asked Google how to maximize my exercise time.  And Google delivered “interval training.”  The claim is that 12 minutes of interval training is as good for my body as 30 minutes of regular exercise.  Interval training is short spurts of hard exercise (intervals) with longer periods of comfortable exercise in between.

For example, on the elliptical, go at a comfortable pace for 2 minutes, then speed up for 30 seconds, repeat.  Do 3 to 5 cycles.

I checked with my PT.  He said to do it “no hands” to improve my balance.  And do the same thing with the Helix.  The Helix is like a standing bicycle on which the pedals go sideways.

I even added intervals to the treadmill (but I keep my hands on the bar when the speed is over 2 miles per hour.)  I’m not supposed to run on my new hip (so it will last).  I was having a jealousy attack when I watched other exercisers run during their treadmill time.  But then I found  Which shows how much real exercise I’m doing based on the slope and speed of the treadmill. When I’m doing 3 miles per hour on a 6.5 degree slope, that’s 6 METs (metabolic equivalents).  When the person next to me is running at 6.5 miles per hour on no slope, that’s also 6 METs. Since I’ve been doing this for several years, at least once a week, I can now do 5 mph on a 15 degree slope, which is 15 METs, Okay, I only do it for the 1 minute interval, and then I slow it down to 2 mph on a15 degrees for the comfortable pace.  But since 15 METs is the recommended fitness level for climbing Mt. Everest, I’m pleased that I can do it at all.

I haven’t figured out how to do intervals going sideways or backwards, but I do those no hands at a much slower speed.

Bottom line: The gym has lots of equipment.  I rotate what pieces I use on different days and I do interval training on them. I go before breakfast.  I’m out of there in 30 to 45 minutes. And I could go down a manhole ladder if I need to.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


My friend Pat Wagner, who with her husband Leif Smith, runs, sent me a delightful quote from Stephen Jay Gould.  “ Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one.  Thus, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoticed and invisible as the “ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.” 

My husband usually stuffs a $10 bill into his pocket, so he’ll have money during the day if he wants or needs it. That’s enough to get a flat tire on a bike fixed, or buy a bottle of aspirin, or a nappa cabbage if he should find himself in ChinaTown.  And not enough that he’d be upset if he got his pocket picked.

The money fell out of his pocket at the gym.  Diane, who works at the gym, saw it on the floor and gave it back to him.  This type of kindness is common.  It deserves comment.  We are surrounded by kind people and a few crazies.  The crazies get the newspaper headlines.  The kindnesses are what I prefer to think about and talk about at the dinner table.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Kicked Out of a Writers Workshop

Months ago, I signed up for a 3-week online writers workshop.  It was being led by a man whose  one-day critique session I’ve attended before.  At the critique session, I got ideas that improved my script. Now I had another script that needed help.

At the critique session, this workshop leader quickly put a lid on any rudeness.  At the online workshop, he didn’t monitor the emails, and some of the participants were downright mean in what they said about the other members’ work.

Still, these inexperienced writers found problems with my story that more experienced writers had missed.

I’m an experienced writer and an experienced human.  I can get good ideas even when they are couched in insulting language. After the first week, I had enough ideas to do a major overhaul to my troubled script.  Since about half of the workshop members hadn’t read my original version, and the leader hadn’t read anything, I spent all my spare time during the following week rewriting the entire screenplay. 

I cleared this with the leader before beginning. The morning before I posted it, I cleared it with him again.  I actually thought I had 2 more days, but the leader said I had to get it in today!  I knew there were a few typos and clunky sentences but the new version of the story was ready for critical eyes.

I posted the new version to the group.  One of the meaner members of the group immediately announced that I was cheating and that the leader should not read my new version and neither should anybody else.

Huh?  I thought we all joined this workshop in order to improve our scripts.  And it was a 3 week workshop.  Isn’t rewriting what people do in workshops?  

Within hours, the leader emailed me that he was not going to read my new version. He said that I had an unfair advantage by doing a rewrite.  No, he hadn’t read anything yet, but he was not going to critique my new version.  I told him that critiquing the old version would be of no use to me. And in fact, I thought everybody would benefit by doing rewrites and getting his feedback on their new versions.  He told me I was being disrespectful. 

He then made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He’d send my money back and I would never do business with him again. 

Three members of the group, who had hated my first version read the new one – two of them loved it. One person who hadn’t read the old version read the new one. He loved it. And he had some good questions for my next go-round.

So, I got what I went for – ideas to improve my script. And I’m not out-of-pocket.  I’d say that’s win-win – except for the other members of the workshop who could have benefitted by doing rewrites.  Seriously – since when is doing a rewrite in a writers workshop the same as cheating?

Watch – my best guess is that next year, this same leader will offer rewrite as a feature of his workshops.  And he won’t give me credit for the idea.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking – who needs a leader?  What we need are spontaneous writers’ workshops, in which writers of all experience levels can critique each others’ work. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Getting Vicious in my Old Age

I live 4 doors down from a bar.  These are row houses. In other words, I live about 70 feet from a bar.  When I moved in here, it was a quiet old-man bar.  Now it is a noisy bar that appeals to younger patrons.  They’re old enough to drink, but put-politely – they drink more than they should.  And quite a few of them drive to the bar.  It’s noisier than many other bars not far from my home, and they like it that way.

I do not like the noise.  

When the bar lets out, I am often wakened by noisy drunks fighting under my windows.  But they eventually go on their way, and I get back to sleep.

Sometimes, they take their drunken anger out on the plants in my window boxes and tear them to shreds.

The last time this happened I came up with a plan to stop them.  I looked up frost-proof cactus on the web.  The mere sight of those thorns should prevent them from attacking.  I have a porch light and I keep it on.  There will be no excuses that they didn’t see those sharp defenses.  And if they attack anyway – maybe the pain will teach them not to go killing innocent plants. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Telephone Scam: Woop! Woop!

Wednesday, a man called and asked to talk to my husband.  We screen calls for each other to weed out telemarketers, charities, and people we don’t want to talk to.

So, I asked if I could take a message.  The caller proceeded to tell me that he really needed to talk to my husband because there was an infection in his computer.  And he wanted to know who I was.  

I’ve had this type of call before.  I’ve played the games:

If you know so much about my computer, do you know what its name is?  (They don’t know what I’m talking about – but when you set up a computer you give it a name by which it is known if you have a home or work network.)

I run anti-virus software. If I have a problem, I’ll contact my vendor.  (This fellow answered that he wasn’t talking about a virus – he was talking about an infection. I asked what the difference is. He told me it was complicated to explain unless I was a technician.  Since I am a technician, I asked him to go ahead and use whatever technical terms he felt he needed.)

The above is a total waste of time, but I was trying to keep him from calling more vulnerable people, so I was keeping busy.  I had no pressing deadlines.

This time, I did have a deadline, so I just said, “You have reached technical support. This is the IT division.”  The man apologized for bothering me and hung up.

But the next day, somebody else called about the infection in my husband’s computer.   I’m still on deadline and at this point I’m getting irritated.  So, I said, “I’m not interested. Please don’t call here again.”

The caller on the other end started saying, “Woop! Woop! Woop!”

I said, “Do you understand. Please place my number on your do not call list?”  All the time I was talking, the man kept saying, “Woop! Woop! Woop!” in a high pitched voice, as if imitating an alarm program.

I hung up on him.

Since then two of my clients have reported calls from somebody about an infection in their computers.  I assured them it’s a scam.  When your computer has a virus, it slows down, it blocks you from anti-virus websites. Sometimes it blocks you from the internet entirely. Sometimes messages pop up on the monitor telling you that you have a virus and offering to get rid of it for $100 or some similar fee.   But if everything is normal, then your computer is fine.  I send them to  So they can check their webspeed and compare it to what their internet provider promised.
If they are still concerned, I send them to 
to download housecall, which is a free program that will scan their computer for viruses, spy-ware, and other problem programs.  I warn them – do not take the Titanium product, which isn’t really free. And I have them check in their Computer Operating System Properties to be sure they get the correct version: either 32 bit or 64 bit.  Some clients are difficult to reassure.  But at least they were suspicious enough to call me, rather than just buy something over the phone from a scam artist.

If these crooks call again, I think they just gave me the best thing to say to them.  Woop! Woop!
And then hang up.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Classroom of Chaos

I’m watching my neighbor go through an experience I had over 20 years ago.  She’s a teacher. And she has the Class of Chaos.   I don’t know why the universe puts these kids together. And I have no idea how to cope with them.

This was my first year teaching and I decided I just wasn’t cut out for it. I’m not a disciplinarian. I’m a chemistry teacher.  You can see how I teach if you search for Imagenie on youtube.
Undisciplined children can’t cope with my teaching methods, and I can’t cope with undisciplined 

My neighbor is trained in special education.  She’s good with undisciplined children. She’s been doing this for about 14 years.  The school where she was happy closed, so this year she is at a new school.  It’s walking distance from her home. She was supposed to have only 6 emotionally disturbed students, most of whom have personal aides.

Instead she has eleven students who are not only emotionally disturbed, but who have learning difficulties, and who do not have personal aides.  Most of these students are from low income families who rely on the school food program.  The school food program has been economizing and the children are still hungry after they’ve eaten their allotment.

My neighbor knows she can teach the children who have the types of problems she was trained for.  She was not trained for this.  She just bought a house.  She was confident in her career.  Now she’s been injured trying to break up fights.  She comes home crying because no learning is going on in her classroom. And she’s thinking about quitting.

I have a two income household.  I have a 2nd skill.  This is her career. She’s 6 years away from retirement.  And she can’t do this.  She’s not eating. She’s not sleeping. She’s not teaching.

I have no answers for her – but I know she’s not the only one in this situation.  She became a teacher in order to make a difference.  Until now, she has.  It would be a shame for children of the future to lose her talents just because of this Classroom of Chaos.  But she has to survive.   

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Dog said "Out"

I was taking an advanced grammar class when we got Dante, the beagle-mutt. To be honest, Dante was a noisy dog.  It was hard to tell when he was playing or yapping or wanted to go out.

My grammar teacher used phrases from foreign languages to teach us to recognize patterns and word meanings based on situational repetitions.  I thought Dante might be doing the same thing – only instead of Russian or Portuguese, Dante spoke dog.

In class, I could usually guess what the teacher’s examples meant.  But I was flunking dog.

He’d be standing by the door, barking.  I’d ask, “Do you want OUT?” as I opened the door.  But, he’d continue to stand there, barking.

I’d sit on the bean bag pillow, and pat my lap.  “Do you want UP?”  But he’d continue to stand by the door, barking.

Eventually, I’d go back to whatever I was doing – often homework for my grammar class.  Why could I figure out when the foreign language speaker wanted fire or food, but not what my dog 

Dante was cute. Dante was cuddly. Dante played happily with my children. He also had needs –food, toilet breaks, play-with-people time.

We were living in Florida, where the average home has 20,000 roaches. I didn’t want to put out his food when he wasn’t hungry, and give the roaches a free meal.

I was only home for two walks a day, so if he wanted out between walks, I wanted to be sure he was out when he needed to be out.

Not only was I unable to interpret when he wanted OUT, he was unable to hold it.  I’d step in a puddle and know I was flunking Dog.

On the occasions when I guessed right, and he went OUT, I started making up songs about it. You went Out! Out! Out! Out!  I like to shout! You went OUT!

My neighbors were the indulgent sort, so they just smiled as if I were a child learning to toddle.

Dante would run over to them for extra petting and maybe some reassurance – Look, I’m teaching my human.  She’s a slow learner, so we have to be patient with her. 

One day, I was sure Dante was asking for OUT. I opened the front door. Rain poured down.  Dante looked at me as if I had betrayed him.  He didn’t budge.  I resigned myself to finding another puddle.

A few minutes later, Dante was at the back door.  He distinctly said, “Out!”  There was no other way to interpret what he had said. It was “Out” in English.  Expecting another rebuff, I opened the back door.  Sun was shining.  He dashed out and did his business.  

I checked the front door.  It was still raining.  I always knew that rain clouds had an edge where the rain stopped.  This time it was right over my house.

In my grammar class, the teacher asked us if we thought animals had language, comparable to what we had been studying.  I told him my dog could say, “Out, ” when he wanted to go out.  The other students looked at me as if I was imagining things, but I think my teacher believed me.

After that, Dante said “Out” when he wanted to go out.  And when it rained, he always checked the other door.  But we were never under the edge of a cloud again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

This Week in Computing

Fixing computers is much more about calming down the owners than repairing the machinery. Last night, a client called up because her computer kept trying to get her to buy an upgrade to her word processing program, rather than loading the one she has.

I have a program that I give clients who tend to get this sort of problem. It lets me run their computers from my computer so I can stay home at 10 PM, and fix their problems most of the time.

My first look at her desktop showed me that the icons for her documents had changed.  They used to be blue. Now they were orange.

So, my client told me about her terrible day while I re-associated her documents with her word processing program.

And I learned that she has 3rd grade boys who tell each other “suck my dick.” 

I live in a world where 3rd grade boys have never heard anyone say anything so crude.

And my teachers made us look up any words that we used as insults.

I remembered what would have happened if one of my classmates had said that.

Teacher: Is that what you really want?
Student: Huh?
Teacher: Do you know the meanings of the words you are using?

Just as children repeat what their parents say when they are in school, they repeat what the teacher says when they are at home.  And I can picture the child asking his father, “Is that what you really want?”

Eventually, I’m sure the teacher got the phone call from the boy’s father: “What are you teaching my son? I am not a faggot!”

By the time I was done with my fantasy (which I kept to myself), my client’s computer wasn’t letting her type.  So, I asked her to reboot.

Upon reboot, everything worked as it should.  My client asked me why the computer was so cooperative for me.  I told her, “Your computer knows I have screwdrivers and I know how to use them.  It doesn’t want me to come over there.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

Trying to Give Stuff Away

I got rid of my landline.  I was tired of getting sales pitches during dinner.  I had 6 phones in various parts of the house, so one is always within easy reach.  It’s too much bother to unplug them all at every meal.  So, I had my landline phone number transferred to a cell phone.  That’s easy to turn off when ever I want to turn off the world.

Then, I listed my 6 phones and my answering machine as freebies on Craigslist.  Within seconds I had a taker.  Before I could delete the listing, I had four more wannabe takers.  

Taker #1 said he’d be here at 9 AM this morning.  9:05 I had to go to work.  I sent him a text message telling him the phones are in a box on the stoop.  I came by briefly at 10:30.  The phones were still there.  I texted him again – do you still want them?

He texted back – he had a flat tire – he’d be by before 3 PM.  I left the box of phones on the stoop.   I came back and checked on them again about 1:30 PM.  The 2 cordless phones were gone (and one of the manuals).  All the hard-wired phones and the answering machine were still there.  There was no text from my erstwhile Taker #1 – not even a thank you.

I debated writing him a note telling him that if he only wanted the cordless phones he should have said so in the first place so I could have offered the others to other people last night – but why bother?

So, I wrote Taker #2, and explained the situation.   So far I haven’t heard back.  If she doesn’t respond by dinner time, I’ll go on to Taker #3.   

And I thought this was going to be easy.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Yay! I Didn't Break Anything

Ever since being hit by a car while biking, and having my collar bone repaired and my hip replaced, I’ve been terrified of falling.  My doctors know I continue to bike.  Collar Bone Repair doc just asks that I remember him for my next repair.  Hip doc seems more confident in the sturdiness of his work.  But I have dreaded falling.  I do balance exercises. I do yoga.  And in my regular life, I don’t fall.

But it was raining and there were puddles and I’m guessing I hit a piece of trolley track in one of those puddles. There are many on that street, no longer in use, twisted at unpredictable angles.   All I know is that one second I was biking along and the next – splat.  A car swerved around me.  People came from the sidewalks to surround me and protect me from traffic.

I got up. I lifted my bike.  I walked to the curb and up onto the sidewalk.  People asked if I was okay.  I did a body check.  Before that accident, I’d have said, “I’m ouchy, but nothing serious.”
This time I paused before answering.  The truth was – I was ouchy, but nothing serious.  I thanked the people who had protected me.  I reassured them. I was scraped and bruised like a normal person.  I was thrilled.  I fell and I got up.  My body is back to normal.


Monday, August 26, 2013

More on the Gigantic Flag Mural

I’ve been thinking about why that monster flag mural has me obsessed.

I think I’ve got it: The US has the same problem India has.  A caste system.  We have a warrior caste.  Each generation makes sure there is a war for the next generation, so the warrior caste can continue.  They believe that being a warrior is a good profession, deserving a place of honor in our society.  They believe that if they are worthy they will come home alive, to help train the next generation.  But if it falls their lot to die on the field of battle, they will be honored.

I am not from the warrior caste.  My grandfather, father and brother were not soldiers.  My husband and his father and grandfather were not soldiers.  I have no sons and my daughters have no interest in being soldiers.

When I look at that flag, I see the Vietnam war protests all over again.  The US had no quarrel with Vietnam.  There was no reason for that war – except perpetuation of the warrior caste.  Our current wars are the same.  The US has no quarrel with Iraq or Afghanistan.  The suicide bombers were from Saudi Arabia.  The warrior caste seems to be shrinking.  Fewer soldiers are called to battle in this generation than in my generation.

I can accept that there is a warrior caste.  But that flag means something more.  The veterans’ park near my home (all 16 feet by 35 feet of it) has one mock tombstone for Private Ward.  The mural of the gigantic flag honors his death – not his life.  By honoring his death, it sends a message to future warriors that their deaths will be honored.  Not their lives.

I would prefer a triptych of Private Ward’s life. Perhaps a childhood scene, then a picture of him playing a sport, or going to his prom, and finally him in his camo uniform in Vietnam where he died.  I’m aware that showing his life, cut short, is an anti-war statement.  And I’m aware that the current overpowering flag painted above his mock tombstone is a pro-war statement.

Private Ward’s sister loved him.  She has memories of him growing up with her.  That is the person I believe deserves honor.  Not the abstract dead soldier with a tombstone bearing his name.  But this is a cultural divide.  The warrior caste calling to its own vs the rest of us, hoping to prevent wars and the pain they cause.

That flag mural claims territory on my block, just as congress claims territory in my taxes for wars I do not want.  I do not know if I have the right to tell a whole caste that I do not value their role.  In the Hindu religion, when Arjuna said, “I do not want to go to war. I do not want to kill my cousins,” Krishna said “You were born a warrior. Is there something wrong with that profession?”

A huge part of me wants to say, “Yes, there is something wrong with bringing up your children to be soldiers. There is something wrong with putting our country through wars every generation, so your caste can go to battle.”  But when I put it that way, I’m not sure I have the right to say that.  Members of other castes don’t like education, and I am a member of the educated caste.  They don’t like paying for the schools that create people like me.

So, when I look at that horrific flag and think about the cult of death that it represents, I see a quandary, and I have no answers.

Friday, August 23, 2013

More on the Giant Flag Mural

A friend suggested I just paint something nice over that monster flag on the corner.  I have to admit I’m tempted.  But it’s not worth going to jail for.

Mural Arts gets to put up the flag without going through the neighborhood approval process  because they are in league with the city government and if the government does it, then it can’t be a crime, by some sort of city definition.  But if I do it, then I’m defacing private property.

So, I asked myself, what could I do with that flag that would both honor the flag and honor my beliefs.  There has to be a way to make something good out of this gigantic piece of clip art.  This park is 16 feet wide and about 35 feet long.  The flag is painted on the house at the back of the park.  The flag is about 30 feet long, and nearly the full height of the 3 story house.

But there is space under the flag.  Right now it is painted light blue.  On the right side are some plaques honoring local veterans.  On the front right side of the park is a mock tombstone for a neighbor who died in Vietnam.  The left side of the wall below the flag is blank.

My thought is that the flag represents the Constitution.  And the Constitution defends freedom of speech and the right to redress grievances.  I have asked the Mural Arts folks to put up a bulletin board so neighbors can put up banners and posters about things they care about, without damaging the paint.

I want to post one that says Free Chelsea Manning.  

So far, I have no response from Mural Arts.   

Yes, I am aware that the small group of men who commandeered that flag project will be angry if it becomes a free speech zone.   Patriotism doesn’t mean Constitution to them.  I’m not sure what it means to them.  But whatever it means, it results in wars every generation so that men can do some sort of male-bonding about war.

They are free to make posters and banners, too.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hey, Lady

Hey, lady.
I didn’t know that was an insult.
Because I didn’t know, I messed up not only the conversation, but any chance of having my opinion taken seriously.

Mural Arts is supposed to have neighborhood meetings where people have discussions and agree about murals that will be painted on local walls.  In my neighborhood, a flyer went out.  We’re going to have a flag.  A clip art flag. Nothing else. Nothing to say anything about the neighborhood or the veterans who have served and died from our neighborhood.  

The park is named for Private Ward who died in Vietnam.  Nothing about him or his life. Just a flag.  I tried to explain that a mural can be so much more.

One of the WWII veterans who actually sits at the park sometimes, interrupted me.  “Hey, lady. I wanna flag!”  Frank knows my name. When Frank ran a store, we ran a trash can across the street to collect trash from his customers. I tried to explain that the park already has several large flags. A mural can tell a story.  Nobody cared.

Afterwards, Paul explained to me that I had addressed the wrong part of Frank’s comment. The proper answer was, “I don’t deserve that insult. You don’t “hey lady” me. I’ve been here 21 years and I pick up your trash every morning.”

The flag was so badly painted, that I called Mural Arts.  I emailed them a photo. They said I was the only one complaining.  But they did assign a different artist to finish the painting, and at least the colors no longer run down the wall.  Later, the woman I spoke with admitted they didn’t follow procedure. But they don’t have the money to do it over.  So, in 5 or 10 years when this mural needs to be repainted, she’ll try to have a neighborhood meeting.

I’m no lady.   She’ll have that meeting. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thoughts on Gone With the Wind

I’m reading Gone With the Wind, and my most salient thought is that the US should have let the South secede.

That war was expensive in terms of lives and dollars, and proved nothing.

The war was not fought to end slavery. It was fought to keep cotton affordable for Northern clothing factories.  If those factory owners had looked at the cost of the war and compared it to the cost of cotton, they’d have happily paid more for the cotton.

It’s the same story today.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost a fortune in lives and dollars, and they’ve done nothing to keep oil affordable.

The South would have learned the economic failure of slavery soon enough. And without the war, they could not have resented the North for destroying their lifestyle and their land.

Plus we would not have the Tea Party / pseudo-Republicans now trying to push pre civil-war Southern philosophies on a country that has new and complex problems that cannot be solved by going back to a world run by a few wealthy plantation owners, who currently call themselves “job creators.”  These Tea Party folks even want to go back to the pre civil-war problems of no birth control and no unions.  If plantations and slavery had been allowed to self-destruct, nobody would be idealizing that lifestyle today.

I know – there are no time machines – and GWTW does play with facts in order to make a better story. For example, Governor Bulloch was white, not black. But I get the sense that the basic philosophies and attitudes are presented fairly. This war killed more Americans than any other war. We’re still fighting it.  

The Tea Party may as well be called The Confederates. War doesn’t prove who is right – just which side has the more successful army. I hope it’s not too late to resolve the issues of that war without fighting another one. The problems of that era and that war are not gone with the wind.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What does a Bicyclist Say to a Person Exiting a Parked Car?

Hey, person in the car. I cannot see what you are doing with your hands.  I cannot read your mind. And with your dark tinted windows, I can’t even see you in there.  So, how am I supposed to guess when you are about to swing your car door open right in my path?

I’m a geezer.  I tend to think that young people aren’t as smart as they think they are.  I remember the mindset. But I would never have sassed a geezer the way that young man just sassed me.

Here I was, biking carefully in the bike lane, which happens to be between the traffic lane and the car parking lane. If a driver in a parked car decides to exit, his or her car door opens into the bike lane.  A young man in a car swung wide his door with a dark tinted window. I squeezed my brakes.  I didn’t hit him. He nonchalantly stepped into the street.  Using my most polite voice, I said, “Please look for bikes before you open your car door. I almost hit you.”  He looked at me as if I hadn’t spoken English.  I repeated myself.  He scowled and then said, “You could look for people opening their car doors.”  Then he huffed off.

What am I supposed to look for?  And even if he is right – even if avoiding the accident is my responsibility – does he want to be right as he lies in the hospital. I tried to give him advice that might save his life. I can’t talk to young people any more than I can talk to Republicans.  What good have my years of experience done me? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tomatoes and Habits

Yesterday morning, I went to the back yard and picked a ripe tomato.  If it had been the afternoon, I’d have bitten into it right there in the sunshine.  But I was fixing breakfast.  I brought it into the house, put it down on the cutting board, and did what I’ve been doing with store tomatoes.  I turned it over to look for the sticker.

Habits can be time wasters.  But in this case, my habit helped me appreciate what I have – a home grown tomato.

It doesn’t have a sticker. It has not been grown to withstand machinery. I don’t care if it is easily bruised, or if it has a long shelf life. I pick it today and I eat it today.  It tastes fresher and yummier than a store tomato.  

I put it into a flower pot to take its photograph.  I picked a pepper to put with it.  I’d never noticed before that my peppers have little thorns in a ring around the top.

This is what “being in the now” is about – not some impossible spiritual practice. It’s enjoying my garden.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I get it. Somebody is in charge of details every where I turn.
And that somebody doesn’t answer to me.

I finally talked with somebody at Mural Arts which painted that messy clip-art flag on a building near me without a neighborhood meeting to discuss what (if any) mural we in the neighborhood want.  The woman admitted that she goofed. But she doesn’t have the budget to fix it.  

There is no way I’m going to ask people to donate to this organization on the off chance they might use the money to fix their mistake.  I tried a compromise.  Suppose that scenes from the neighborhood get painted around the flag.  There’s not much room, but something could be done to help the mural say something..  The woman agreed to send an artist from the bureaucracy out to look at the wall and see if that’s possible.  She says she’ll get back with me in two weeks.  

Then silly me – I suggested that a client buy a refurb computer.  So many new-out-of-the-box computers have problems I thought the odds of a refurb arriving in working order would make the purchase worthwhile.  Lower price, repaired, and inspected.  Looks like win-win-win. Plus I suggested she pay $70 for the 3-year-warranty.

The wifi on the refurb computer doesn’t work.  And the retailer says the warranty doesn’t start until the computer is 3 months old.  We have to contact the manufacturer, who did the refurbishing.  So, I called the manufacturer.  They took the serial number and informed me that this is not a refurbished computer. It has been sitting on the shelf at the retailer’s since 2010. And it did have a 3 year warranty, but that has expired, while the computer sat on the shelf.  

If I disagreed with this, I should talk to the warranty division.  The warranty division said that if I could send a copy of the sales receipt showing a recent purchase they’d reconsider. I sent the receipt. They said I’d sent it too soon and I needed to wait an hour until they were ready for it and send it again.  I set up the email with the attachment and my client agreed to push the Send button.  I await their verdict.

Meanwhile, since I now knew that the store had misrepresented the computer, I called them.  They agreed to take it back and credit my client’s credit card with a refund.  All this will take weeks.  I’d rather swap for a working computer.  But meanwhile, I asked the store to send us a postage paid mailing label by email.   At least she’s not going to be stuck with this bad machine.

Since these things tend to come in threes, I didn’t have to wait long for another bureaucratic mess. We discovered tht the power inverter (the box that converts the DC current from our new solar panels into AC power that we can use) doesn’t work during a brownout.  So,  just when the power company most needs the power that my panels can generate, they sit idle.  I called the power company. They said we need to set up a meeting. But the person at the power company who talks on the phone can’t do that.  I have to go online and find a form with which to formally request a meeting.  And the solar panel company wants to be involved, so they want it to be a 3-party phone meeting.

The name of the game is hurry up and wait.  All I can do is request that other people do things that will cost them money to do.  If nothing happens in two weeks, my next step is to look for supervisors and higher up bureaucrats at higher up agencies, who can convince these bureaucrats to help.   

Friday, July 12, 2013

The New Thirty???

This is a guest post by Jean Lorrah

Last February, a news release appeared all over the media, claiming that 72 is the New Thirty. I noted it in particular because I am 72, and suddenly things are happening to me that should have happened when I was 30.

I'm a writer of science fiction and fantasy. When I really was 30 I had not managed to get even one book published yet, though I have published more than twenty since. I started out as what used to be called a midlist author, not a best-seller, but someone whose books had a following and sold a respectable number of copies. For years I didn't have to worry whether my next book would be published--it would be. Of course I longed to be a Big Name, but I had security as a writer.

In the 1990's all that changed. Big publishers were gobbled up by bigger publishers who were gobbled up by huge conglomerates, and publishing became a business like any other as the marketing departments took over making all decisions. Their biggest decision as far as writers were concerned was to kill the midlist, not because it was not profitable, but because it was not profitable ENOUGH. They could make more money by selling more copies of each of a much smaller list of books, so that is what they did. Everyone whose last book did not make the best-seller list was told to go away and not come back.

If I had been born one generation--thirty years--earlier than I was, I would have died a failure, pushed out of publishing and forgotten. Instead, thanks to modern medicine and lifestyle, I have survived two different kinds of cancer and then just last December was able to have my afib corrected through a procedure called an ablation (so it won't kill me with a stroke as it did my father, his brother, and their mother).

Staying alive gave me time to look around for a different outlet for my creativity. Watching first cable/satellite and then the internet develop a voracious need for programming, I studied screenwriting during the years when the promise of the ebook didn't happen and didn't happen and didn't happen. Eventually my writing partner Lois Wickstrom and I got good enough that our script, Coal for Christmas, won a Gold Remi in the family category at WorldFest in 2012, and now our film is in preproduction. Movies should have been made from my works when I was 30--but I'm not going to turn it down at 72!

And I was still alive when Amazon finally made the ebook revolution happen. All my books came back into print with requests for new ones. After twenty years of no one but frustrated fans wanting new work from me, I was writing again--and COULD because I had outlived the drought period for writers, and am around to take advantage of the renaissance of publishing.

To top it off, Jacqueline Lichtenberg (my partner in Sime~Gen) and I were approached a year ago by a game designer--something else that should have happened when we were 30. But it's happening now:

Am I going to complain? Certainly not! Oh, I could wish that some of this bounty had happened when I was younger and had more energy to do the work and enjoy the fun. But mine is just one of millions of stories that now can happen as people live longer: we have new opportunities to weather the ups and downs of life, and enjoy a life of not just second chances, but thirds, and even fourths.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Progress on the Misbegotten Mural

I’m mad that the new mural in my neighborhood is going to be a US Flag. Not a real mural. A flag in a context. Just a clip art flag, slightly rippled as if blowing in a gentle breeze.

They’re putting it up with a computer program that paints square of about a meter (excuse me yard – these are Americans) on a side.  The computer program is messing up. The stars don’t have points – instead they are blurry smudges.  The stripes smudge into each other, and the paint drips red at the bottom right corner.

I remember the motto “these colors don’t run.”  On this mural, these colors DO run.

So, yes, in a sad way, this mural does tell a story.  About bureaucracy gone wrong, about a few WWII veterans in a hurry to have a flag on the wall because the sister of a dead veteran suggested it (probably as a free way to get the wall painted) – I think they wanted it by July 4, but on July 4, the park was unusable – completely roped off and the painting machine blocked the sidewalk. And about the sad state of patriotism in America today.  The NSA is reading all my email. The USPS is photographing all my mail. The phone company is recording all my calls. All without a warrant. Clear violation of the 4th amendment to the Constitution. All violations of my freedom.

One woman told me that she thinks the flag means Safety.  Nobody waves a flag and says “Let’s go to war!  For Safety!”  I thought that the flag means Freedom.  But if we had freedom, we’d have had a neighborhood meeting about what sort of mural we who live in this neighborhood want.  Safety must mean “we get our way and you don’t.”

I have no idea how long this mess will take to clean up – but nobody has learned anything. When they’re done it will still be a flag, standing alone by some old men who will soon be dead without having told their stories about why they went to war.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Marriage Isn't what it Seems

After 47 years, I’d have said my favorite parts of the day are the morning when I wake up and find my husband in bed with me, and in the evening when he comes home and we make dinner together.  My life has its rhythm because I enjoy him.

A few weeks ago, he got a call asking if he’d consider an interview with a head-hunter in Singapore.  I freaked.  

 I was willing to leave the US to go to Canada if his draft board went after him. I would be willing to leave the US now, if we had to. Or even if Romney had been elected, and was as bad a President as he looked like he’d be.

But to leave for a job?  We both have jobs.  We like our jobs.  Why leave?  He has a talent for languages.  I do not.  He would have a job there. I would not.  And since I fix people’s computers in their homes and businesses, I could not create such a job where I don’t speak the language. Even the computers there speak a foreign language.

I told him I wasn’t interested.  He wanted the job interview.  He spent over an hour on the phone and said this was just the head-hunter.  The next level would be talking with people at the institute that wanted to hire him.  

I said something I never thought I’d say to him.  “If you go, you go alone.”

This stunned me.  Had anybody asked me – what do you value most in life? I’d have answered “my husband’s company.  I love be-withing him.”  I had no idea there was anything I value more.
That I value being independent – able to talk to people around me – earn money – understand directions, and get help in words I understand – I never even thought about how much I value that.

I am not aging well. I cannot imagine trying to explain my health issues in Chinese, Malay or Tamil.  I get lost frequently, when I bike more than 3 or 4 miles from my home. Would I be able to use a smartphone and get google maps in English if I was in Singapore? I eat weird foods. Could I even get chocolate sweetened with stevia? Or seaweed dried seaweed for making sushi. Do they even sell brown rice there?

My mind was going crazy – what do I really value?  Who am I? Would I really become a prisoner of the English language?  I can master the Pimsleur basics for travel – but that’s not the same thing as real communication.  I know there’s an ex-pat community there from England – but I don’t want to be a member of a culture that lives in an enclave.

It shocked me that I would throw away my marriage, which I enjoy, rather than move to another country. Discovering new facets of my personality can be a shock.

Fortunately I won’t have to deal with it – at least this time.  My husband decided he liked being wanted, but he doesn’t want that job.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Freedom of Speech is Dead

When my girls were in elementary school, I attended PTA meetings.  At one meeting, a member suggested that we spend PTA money to buy a Christmas tree for the school.  I objected because there are plenty of other religions and if we honor one, we should honor others, too.

The woman who wanted to buy the tree insisted that the PTA had to buy the tree because otherwise poor children might never see one. I said if the parents want their children to see a Christmas tree, they can take them to a department store or a church. It is not the job of the PTA to push one religion.  You’d think I’d declared war on religion.

I was expelled from the PTA.  I haven’t attended a PTA meeting since, and now my grandchildren are about the age my children were then.

So much for freedom of speech.

Yesterday I tried to exercise my rights again.  A few days ago, I received a flyer about a neighborhood meeting to put a mural on the wall beside the veteran’s park, which is mainly a few chairs and benches on a vacant lot, and a couple of flag poles, and a memorial stone for a neighborhood man who died while in the service.  On national holidays, the veterans run a huge flag up the wall on the adjoining row house.  Now, they wanted a flag painted on that wall.

Philadelphia is a city of murals.  Over 3000 walls have murals.  As the story goes, neighborhoods meet and decide what they want on their walls.  I thought about it.  People don’t go to war for a flag.  They go to war for their communities, their families, their friends.  These are WWII veterans.  I thought they knew that.

I thought about what might say Veteran on a mural.  A 4th of July barbeque with portraits of the veterans, both alive and dead (from photos), and some of their loved ones seemed appropriate.  And I wanted to paint in the two trees with huge stuffed animals perched in the branches that used to be on the lot. The painting could show the flag poles, and people at the barbeque could hold flags on sticks. I’m not being anti-flag.  I’m just saying there could be a much better mural than a painting of a big flag like they already hang there.  Yes, the wall needs painting. Yes, it’s work to pull the ropes to display the flag. That’s no reason to have a boring mural.

Almost nobody attended the “meeting.”  It was during working hours.  The notice was short, and most of the surrounding blocks of residents were not notified.  A few of the veterans, a few neighbors, and a former neighbor who is a veteran, but who never sits in the park. And a city councilman.  Not even a dozen people.  When I stated what I wanted, you’d have thought I declared war on the United States.  The veterans thought I wanted to really host barbeques in their park all year long. They were angry that people have picnics on Memorial Day, and thought my mural idea had something to do with that.  They want a painted flag and they want it before they die.  They are in their 90's.  They did not want a discussion. They had obtained 5 signatures from nearby neighbors okaying the flag painting and they want it painted this week. No delays.

A woman from Mural Arts said that any delays would cost money and put the project over budget.  She wanted the flag.  The city councilman said he thought a flag at a veterans’ park was a no-brainer and he didn’t even see why a discussion was necessary.  The machinery for lifting the painter up the wall was already on the site.

Freedom of Speech is dead.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Botanic Cleansing

When I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, it was bad enough that the girls had to deal with an alcoholic father, but when they finally got a tree – it was a stinkweed!

I have been on a war against stink weeds for most of my life.  My husband, the alien, calls my crusade: Botanic Cleansing.  I’ve pulled as many as a hundred on a single walk around the neighborhood. 

My husband uses his trash-picker to collect potato bags and beer bottles (not all of which are empty, or even open).  I pull up stink weeds.

I was clearly propagandized by this song and story:

I like to get them while they are young and easy to uproot.  I don’t wait until they’re lifting up sidewalks and destroying front steps.  They are all guilty of future evil. And, if they are allowed to live, they’ll make seeds, and the seeds will grow into even more giant stinkweeds.  They may look like cute green trees – but I know better.

Touch them and your hands will stink  – a stink that mere soap will not wash off.  Buildings downtown have needed major repair because a stinkweed rooted itself between stones, or in a crevice beside a window.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Zagar's Gardens

“Every tile is the right tile. Every place is the right place.”

Isaiah Zagar has created murals from tiles, mirrors, pottery, bottles, bicycle wheels, and other bought, made, and found items on over 100 walls in Philadelphia. He also built a mini-labyrinth in a former vacant lot, which he calls “Magic Garden.”

His work is controversial. The mayor gave him a citation for creating one of Philadelphia’s most loved artworks.   Angry neighbors come up to tour groups and tell them they’re wasting their time looking at junk.  Some are on homes where people have asked Zagar to design murals for specific themes.  Others seem more to show inspiration of the moment.

Some are playful. Others reverent. Still others seem to be designed from personal images.

Zagar only works near his home on South Street. His students work all over town. 

Most of the works have messages worked into the designs.

This is the front door of his home.

This is a nearby door stoop.

Below are some murals.