Monday, July 30, 2007

Lovely evening from the Great White North

Sometimes words simply won't do.

Nope, not at all.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The garden before vacation

I'm just now getting around to catching up on things that I had to set aside in order to get the family packed up and out of town for a couple of weeks. Since I'm going to YearlyKos, the kids are going to stay with their grandparents; we're spending quality time together here in the Great White North before I go to the convention, and I'll decompress with them here after the convention and before we head back home.

But that means the garden has been left untended, or left in the care of my husband who will be traveling quite a bit during these two weeks. The kids took these snaps just before we left town; we are very curious about the changes we will see when we arrive back home. Besides an avalanche of zucchini and tomatoes, what else do you think will happen?

This is the first zucchini, now much larger than a nine-year-old's hand, ready for picking. But the kids forgot it; hubby says he picked them and tossed them because he didn't know what to do with them. [sigh] The kids are NOT happy about this.

You can almost see the first cucumber in the shade of the cucumber leaves, a little larger than a thirteen-year-old's thumb. (I think a lesson on photographic lighting and flash might be in order, but this is a good first attempt.)

Looks like I will be making a lot of tomato sauce when I return; the Roma plants are beginning to put out a lot of fruits. Some plants, like the Brandywines, are getting a few yellowed and speckled leaves at the bottom; it may be time to give them some magnesium in the form of a little epsom salts mixed in water.

And this shot worries me. Not only do we have a cartload of Thai hot peppers coming in, looking rather like monstrous hands with long, green, plentiful fingers rising from the bed, but my daughter was too close to her brother at the time this photo was taken. I don't know how the camera didn't get wet while my son was watering the bed. (Perhaps a lesson in camera care is also warranted...)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Finally -- toes in the sand

Been too busy for the last week, couldn't think straight. So busy that it even interrupted my sleep; I'd wake up, realizing that I'd been thinking about my "To Do" list in my dreams, adding items and scratching off others. At least twice I had to write things down in the middle of the night after waking up thinking about them.

But now the travel is behind me, most of my "To Do" list has been done (save for a few niggling chores that followed me).

And I've actually had my toes in the sand.

Hope wherever you are, that you are also able to park yourself in a reclining position with a beverage of your choice and unwind for the weekend. I think we could all use one right about now.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Birth of an activist: So you want to be a grassroots activist...

Yeah, me too, I wanted to become something more than an angry American, nauseated every day by what I read and saw at work in government. I'd recently started blogging, but it wasn't enough. I needed results, something more than yelling into the void every day over a hot keyboard. As days went by I felt more and more isolated, alone, freakish, and horribly frustrated by the perception my country was sliding rapidly down a slippery, ugly slope towards something I couldn't label.

I'd read about a campaign that intrigued me, some guy out east that had a straightforward and pragmatic way of looking at matters and addressing them, a guy who actually had some chops at doing what needed to be done. He'd balanced a budget for more than a decade, while providing healthcare to all senior citizens and children in his state – and he did not believe we had solid intelligence to go to war in Iraq. Damn, I thought, I want some of THAT. Where do I sign up?

Mind you, I'd never been politically active in my life. The internet made it easier to express opinions, but it wasn't the same as actually hitting the pavement or pressing the flesh; it was still remote from making things really happen. I needed something more than sending emails that never seemed to get answered. After hearing about this groovy new tool called, I decided I'd poke around and see if I could not only find some progressive folks in my area, but look for that particular campaign.

And voilà, there it was: Dean for America, on Scary...there were people signed up from the town in which I lived. What would happen if I went? Would they bite? What happened at these shindigs – did they roast babies? Would I be asked to do something unnatural to join? Would I be able to retain some anonymity? But seriously, all sorts of goofy thoughts ran through my mind. Not only had I not been politically active, but I'd never been a joiner outside of the corporate world. Never belonged to a civic organization. What should I expect?? Wow, was this uncomfortably different...

I sucked it up and I reserved for the next Meetup. They met in a common area in the local mall; that seemed safe enough, in case I ended up with a bunch of loony stark-raving leftists (don't ask me why I had it in my head I should expect foaming-at-the-mouth dirty f*cking hippies; too many years exposed to and mistreated by Kool-Aid drinkers, I guess). When I got to the mall, I actually walked by them, missed the group entirely. There were a couple handfuls of very ordinary people sitting in an informal cluster, introducing themselves. A couple of retirees, a teenager with her mother, some working folks...all very innocuous, very, well, normal.

It dawned on me that I was looking in the mirror; they were people just like me, Americans who chose to do something, and in most cases for the first time in their lives they were taking action to change the status quo, just like me. What a relief...I was hooked, immediately. It felt so damned good, freaky good, to be able to talk out loud with people who felt the same way I did, to not be ridiculed or pooh-poohed for thinking the country was going to the dogs, for thinking that we could do better, had to do better.

And the rest was history. Because of taking that simple step, taking a personal risk by stepping outside of my comfort zone, I have made many new friends that I absolutely adore and for whom I would walk through fire (and I may have to do that next year, but that's another story). I think of the folks I now know personally who've become role models, leaders by example and not by rhetoric. Two persons in particular stand out in my mind; they drove more than an hour each way to make our Meetups, so determined they were to make real change happen. What commitment they showed, what passion; I still think of Frank and Susie every month when we have Meetups, even though they no longer have to drive all this way to join us and can stay closer to home. I found I was rewarded many times over for whatever I did, which was a completely unexpected gift. Who knew that becoming a grassroots activist would be so good for me directly?

The other unexpected gift I found was a new social network; I have resources now that I never had in the past, simply because I became engaged in real process. Need a lawyer? Boy, can I tap some now. Need a local public official to talk with? No problem, they may be at the next Meetup or meeting. The distance between things and people completely collapsed.

One conversation stands out, talking with Frank after a campaign event in early 2004 called The Perfect Storm; Frank filled me in on what happened, how fun it was, what Iowa was like, the whole nine yards in that run-up to the last Iowa caucus. He mentioned to me that he met a really cool activist that I should meet some time, a Deaniac like the two of us were, somebody extremely smart, very funny and equally passionate about the cause. “I'll have to introduce you to Marcy the next chance we get,” he said, and he did at the state party convention. Frank was absolutely right; she's all that and a bag of chips, isn't she, Jane?

The points between us all are that narrow when you become active. Who knows but you might meet me in person at the next event – assuming you're going to be there.

Will you? If you have never been involved before in grassroots activism but would like to, what steps will you take this week and this month to get engaged? Do you need help getting started? And is there anybody here who might be willing to help others get going?

Do tell – I'm all ears.

[Picture credit: the fascinating folks at Wicked Sunshine]

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Garden update: Zukelear threat

The garden is damp this morning; I won't have to water it today with the rain we are getting. But I'm not certain if it's a good thing. Look at how full everything has gotten over the last couple of weeks, tomatoes ready to burst out of the bed and beans looking in the garage window.

The next batch of radishes -- two separate plantings -- are already up and beginning to fill in the place where the previous crop had been pulled.

Oops, crabgrass in the bed...I guess I'd better weed again when the rain stops.

A sign of things to come: Hungarian peppers are already coming in, these about 6 inches long and nearly ready to pick. There are about a dozen of them in the pepper bed. My daughter is pleading to pick a lilac pepper, but I won't let her; it still has green shoulders.

And oops again, more crabgrass. More weeding.

But look here, the zukelear threat. The first tiny zucchini with its blossom attached, about an inch and a half long. There are more coming along, this one being the first salvo in the coming zucchini war.

I think I detect chocolate zucchini bread in the near future...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nobody warned me about this

I wish I'd taken pictures throughout the day of the electronic detritus spread across my kitchen table and family room floor, bits and pieces of a PlayStation 2 spread between multiple cell phones in various states of operation, more phone handsets and a desktop and laptop in operation.

What an irradiating, irritating mess. Nobody warned me about this when I became a mom.

My son's little buddy who came and stayed overnight last night managed to trip on the PS2 remote cable, pulling the PS2 onto the floor. My son and his buddy didn't fess up right away, telling me only that the buddy's game DVD was stuck in the PS2. I figured it was not a big deal, that we'd handle it when I got around to it.

Unfortunately, the PS2 is community property, a joint present from "Santa" to both my son and his older sister. And the older sister was PISSED OFF. She showed me the damage after the friend left this morning, explained that the machine might be shot because it landed face forward on the disk drive...and then proceeded to take it apart. When she got frustrated from time to time, I encouraged her to look on the internet for sites where others discussed similar accidents with PS2 equipment, and found her other tools when her dad's tools proved to be too large.

There were a few bumps in the road; I had to step in and do some coaching and consolation at a few points in the dissection process when she got too aggravated by the challenge. I was in the middle of nursing a few phone calls and trying to deal with annoying customer service reps about a couple of failed cell phones at the same time, juggling SIM cards and handsets. Good thing we weren't hormonally challenged today or a few pieces of equipment would have been jettisoned off the deck between us.

We ran into problems with two screws that we couldn't get back into the system; they weren't mission critical since the system powered up on test without them (we'd been worried they may not have completed a circuit per se, but might have been required for other components to make contact). On last pass before the last screws were replaced, everything seemed to run fine -- the problematic disk tray popped out smoothly and returned to its position. My daughter took it to the television to hook it up and test its playability.

It wouldn't power up; something changed or broke in the space and time between the last power up test on the kitchen table and the twelve-foot distance to the television. She tried every possible arrangement to rule out the power cord, the outlet, the television. She was close to tears.

We took it apart again, me unscrewing everything we just screwed back together while she combed the internet for someone else's experience with systems that wouldn't power up.

Did you know that there are FIFTEEN "fuses" on the motherboard? That's far more information than we bargained for, and far more frustration than we were willing to entertain. Some sage on the internet suggested taking the PS2 to RadioShack for this kind of repair, which seemed puzzling since I didn't they actually did repairs in their retail facility. Another veteran of PS2 repairs more helpfully said that the fuses could be bought at RadioShack, which made more sense. However, some of the fuses were extremely small -- and I drew the line at what might be required to test and unseat and reseat fuses on a board.

She began to shop eBay for another older PS2 like this one now torn asunder, at my request; there was no point in bothering with trying to replace systematically 15 fuses at an expense that would surely exceed 50 dollars, if we could simply buy a previously owned system for that much or less.

We'd now spent 5 hours working on this electronic debris field, with only a tantalizing tease to show for it, and were beginning to consider the terms of our defeat.

My daughter was still stewing, extremely angry about the loss of her PS2 to damage caused by careless younger boys, and now angrier for the investment of time and effort for naught. It drove her; while waiting for several of the earmarked eBay auctions to end in order to determine the likely price we would have to pay for a replacement, she went and reconsidered the gutted PS2 for the likely cause of this newest failure.

It was right there, the most likely suspect: a rather tender bit of ribbon cable that looked like it was unplugged from its seat. Even though we had no idea whether we could reseat it, we had nothing to lose by stripping the system down even further than before to plug in the cable. She held the upper and lower portions of the casing in place while I picked apart the innards, tugging gently on this or that until I found and unscrewed the last screws holding the controller ports in place and the DVD player to the inner frame. There it was, the ribbon cable loose, and then pushed into place with a tiny slot-head screw driver that I use on my sewing machines. It appeared to be reseated; we partially reassembled the system, now old hands after stripping it down four times during the course of our investigation and repair. Like a transplant surgeon, my daughter applied the power cord as if paddles on a new heart; she stood back and held her breath as the heart of the system powered up again.

Ah, success!

We carefully and hastily put the last of the carcass back into place, rescrewed everything yet again. She carried it tenderly back to the television to give it another go, hoping for much better results than last time. And it worked, even a game DVD responded properly this time.

She owns it, it's now completely hers, this bit of electronics. My daughter no longer feels intimidated at all by its once forbidding black enclosure; she said afterwards that she should invent a new and better gaming system, now that she'd seen how the entire guts of the PS2 worked or didn't work. And her brother now thinks she's a rock star-heroine.

Before she angrily broke down the PS2 today, I wouldn't have bothered with it; my own kid re-taught me to use anger righteously directed to achieve an end. And I pushed the envelope a little further because of it, knowing that if she'd come this far she should have encouragement to go a bit further even if I had no clue what I was doing. We wouldn't have been defeated by this box of parts even if it didn't start again.

What would it cost us, anyhow, I said to her; we already had a dead PS2, it wouldn't get any deader if we took it apart one last time to plug in the ribbon cable. We'd only learn more and that certainly couldn't hurt us if we were going to buy a replacement. And it paid off.

Nobody told me that being a mother would require electronics repair courses. I guess I should have read the manual more closely. But on-the-job training has additional perks; know anybody who needs their PS2 fixed? I bet we can do it -- or find a nice replacement machine for them if we can't.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The long goodbye

My mother-in-law is slipping away from us. We spent time visiting with her in a nursing home this weekend; she was discharged from the hospital the weekend before last but could not go home because her needs for care exceeded anything my father-in-law could provide.

It's a Parkinson's-like condition with continuing deterioration, although the rate of decline exceeds what might be expected in most Parkinson's patients. In the course of a year she has gone from being able to provide most of her own care to being immobile from time to time, from speaking small sentences to virtually not at all, from recognizing everyone and being able to participate in small ways in conversations to being withdrawn, disinterested and unable to recognize even her own children.

It's very hard to watch, and it's caused a few heated discussions between my spouse and me. And between my parents, too; having shared some of the details with them, they've discussed the situation and found themselves arguing over how life should end, just as my spouse has been arguing with me.

We've been saying goodbye for at least five years, slowly escalating the departure, and yet we still cannot do so without argument.

My parents are adamantly against intubation of any kind; if they cannot be assured of return to a condition they possessed before they needed the tube, they don't want it. This is what their Do Not Resuscitate orders reflect. But my in-laws are already over that line, with my mother-in-law now on oxygen and quite possibly on a feeding tube very soon. My folks would rather have none of it, would rather be doped up on pain meds and allowed to slip away altogether.

My father thinks I'm misunderstanding what DNR means; my mom doesn't think so, and they butt heads over this. But it's not about me, nor about my parents. It's between my spouse and his parents, and this is what they've chosen, a very long goodbye. All I can do is try to ask questions if I think it sheds more light on decision-making, and prepare my kids for the departure ahead.

The most difficult part of this situation is that from time to time, my mother-in-law seems better. My sister-in-law caught her at one of those points yesterday, and doesn't believe what I saw the day before. My mother-in-law couldn't sit up, couldn't lift her arms up, couldn't adjust her oxygen tube, could only lay in bed. She couldn't say any of our names. She slipped in and out of sleep even though late in the morning. But she could recite names to my sistern-in-law, even told her she wanted to go home during a visit later in the day.

I wish I could believe this; I don't think at all that my sister-in-law saw something other than what she reported, but I don't believe she saw something that is long-lasting.

It might only have been a short respite to allow her to say goodbye.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

First harvest this week: radishes

(Bloody Blogger won't let me put in a title, sorry, will have to come back and fix this later.) [Fixed!] Quality of seeds show here in produce; this was a cheap pack, and the fruits are all over the map in size and color. We've planted a new batch this week with a higher quality seed and a new variety. Just wait until you see them!

The Brandywine tomatoes are blooming like crazy; I love that the blossoms telegraph the fruit to come with the complexity of their doubled blooms.

And look, little tiny blossoms beginning to form on the zucchini plants. Fair warning to the neighbors, it won't be long before you find zukes on your stoops.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Another passage

I never would have thought I'd feel this way; I thought I'd be glad to be shet of it, especially since I've been in this new house for two years last month.

But I'm mourning the sale of my old house; I left it only minutes before I had to go sign off the title.

It was the first real estate my spouse and I bought together; we moved in the day after our wedding. Both my babies came home from the hospital to this house. I've scrubbed and painted every inch of this place. I've canned vegetables from its garden, run through the sprinkler with my kids over its lawn, sat in the dark shade of its trees at night listening to crickets, laughed at the squirrels that scampered in its trees, lain in bed listening to blizzard winds whipping snow over the roof and chimney deep in winter.

But I think that is the reason it's so hard to say goodbye. I'm thoroughly enmeshed and entwined in this place, every plant put there by my will or left by my choice, the carpet my colors, the paint my colors even if chosen for neutrality.

This was supposed to be a "five year house"; we were only supposed to be here 5 years and then move on to a bigger home. We were here just shy of 17 years, all but two lived here. Time had its way with us, as did this house. I suppose we learned to go with the flow here in this house, rather than try to force it. We learned to live with its ebb of its own cycle.

Perhaps the problem isn't this house, though; perhaps the problem is that there will be a void that will be filled by something else now that I no longer have to think or worry about this house. What will that something be? Will it be something I can shape and mold as much as I did this house? Or will that something shape me?

Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pondering our so-called independence today

From Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation:

An anecdote that Benjamin rush, the Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, liked to tell in his old age makes the point memorably. On July 4, 1776, just after the Continental Congress had finished making its revisions of the Declaration and sent it off to the printer for publication, Rush overheard a conversation between Benjamin Harrison of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts: "I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry," said Harrison, "when we are alll hung for what we are doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead." Rush recalled the comment "procured a transient smile, but it was soon succeeded by the solemnity with which the whole business was conducted."

On this day we celebrate truly great Americans who with a stroke of their quill pens signed their own death warrants in order to secure real democratic freedoms. We cannot but compare the occupants of the White House today and wonder why we have settled for so little when the founding brothers were willing to sacrifice so much.

[Image: Wikipedia, United States Declaration of Independence]

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The table is set, Madame Speaker

The table is set -- and impeachment is very much on it. We are ready and waiting.

Your turn to serve, please.

Thank you,


Monday, July 02, 2007

Bush: Disrespecting the law and our American social contract

Quite simply, this is what happened today:

Bush displayed his contempt for the law by throwing over a jury's verdict.

In the face of these facts:

-- A jury of peers found Scooter Libby guilty;
-- A Republican judge issued Libby a sentence within the guidelines range;
-- Three more judges affirmed that sentence;

President Bush decided to toss it all and commute Libby's sentence.

I hope there's more outrage about this than about Paris Hilton's excursion home for cupcakes after a couple days in jail before she returned to complete her sentence.

I hope the American public sees the injustice in Hilton serving more time than a man who lied under oath and made false statements to both a grand jury and FBI agents multiple times.

And I hope the American people realize the commutation of Libby's sentence was likely a crime in itself, further obstructing justice that Libby already obstructed mightily himself; I hope they realize that the criminal launch of the Iraq War lies beneath this obstruction.

(Thanks to looseheadprop in comments at FireDogLake for making this so easy to understand.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A smaller garden = just as much fun

I used to have a 40 foot by 20 foot garden plot at my old house. There was never a time that I lacked for room, could grow almost anything I wanted. But the lot at our newer home is configured in such a way that it would be difficult to have a garden that size. I elected instead to have a smaller kitchen garden in an area that is not only convenient to the kitchen, but using a narrow strip of land only 20 feet long by 6 feet wide. The soil is almost all clay, too, like rock as soon as it dries; I had to think of a way to amend the soil at reasonable cost and reduce the need for rototilling since the plot is so small and next to the house.

So raised beds it was, three of them measuring 4 foot wide by 6 foot deep. It made the overall amount of planted area smaller, but far easier to maintain. the only real work was putting in the beds, which going forward can be tilled by hand. I wish I'd done a better job of photographing the progress; you are missing what a weed patch this was, or the hassle of rototilling in a small space using a Troybilt, or the fun of getting a half yard of top soil and trying to get it in the beds before a torrential downpour, or the muddy, sloppy mess afterwards.

And then the hassle of running back and forth to multiple greenhouses...I have vowed never to go to one of them ever again, as the flowers for which I spent $30 promptly died the next day. (No return policy, either.) Around here it was already late by a couple of weeks for getting plants, so choice was slim at some of the greenhouses. Hungarian peppers, for example, typically found at all the greenhouses that sell vegetables, were only found at the last greenhouse I visited (it figures). I did have to restrain myself on tomatoes, though; I would have liked one more pack of another heirloom variety.

Two weeks after putting in the beds, there are pole beans sprouted along with radishes. It's hot and dry, which the tomatoes and peppers enjoy as long as they are watered heavily.

Weeding is relatively easy with these raised beds; I only need to spend about 15 minutes picking out the tiny crabgrass and ragweed sprouts after watering each day. But it is still hot and dry; I am watering twice a day at this point. The bush cucumbers and zucchini appear to be struggling, taking 30% longer than expected to sprout and produce first leaves. I have given them a dose of organic fertilizer early this week as well.

A heavy rain and cooler weather has a dramatic impact on the garden, although it may not be quite as evident in this picture. The tomatoes have all put on many new blossoms, the radishes are now coming in, and the beans decided to throw up their first climbing tendrils. My daughter worries the beans won't go where they are supposed to; I tell her not to worry, they always figure it out on their own and only occasionally need a little poke to stay on their own tuteur.

This week we have planted a new row of radish seeds since we will harvest most of the first batch this week. I am thinking about adding a row of onions next to the leeks. And I think I need to put in a few more new pole bean seeds since something has eaten a few plants. Another dose of fertilizer is warranted now, too. What will next week bring?

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