Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bite me!

Summer is not my favorite season--there, I've admitted it. Deep down, I am really a cold weather person. And this summer has been particularly tough to handle--excessive heat with many more days than usual over 90. On top of that, we have had an outbreak of biting insects in our part of the world.

Central PA is known for our infamous black flies--some people call them gnats, but they are really small black flies. They are ubiquitous, and they bite. For years, our state ran a black fly spraying control program, using BT (so no chemical toxins). But with funding cutbacks, gradually the spraying program has been scaled back and then eliminated. And now the gnats flourish. And bite. Specifically me. They. . .bite. . .me!

This summer, every time I go outdoors, I come back inside with at least 2 to 4 bites. These bites itch like crazy--I grit my teeth and steel myself to NOT scratch, at least for 30 minutes. The histamine reaction that kicks up sets the itch control central on hyper-drive for about that long. If I can resist, I avoid spreading around the insect's poison, and thereby limit the histamine swollen area.

Now, we are experiencing an upsurge of mosquitoes (oh, great!) and there are more reasons for me to get bit.

I cannot fathom it--I get bit, and my husband does not, usually. I do try to carry along a handy Off clip-on fan. It has a little switch, a battery and a fan that blows Off in a cone of protection around me. OK--not really a cone. But anything helps.

So, I will soldier on through this summer, sweating in the heat, and itching from several bites every day.

If any of you gentle readers has a near-foolproof method to keep from being gnat and mosquito-bitten, please do tell.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thoughts on Freedom of Speech

(or this could be sub-titled The Right of the People to Assemble)

This evening, my husband and I headed in two different directions. No, dear reader, no familial split; just a dual scheduling that sent one of us one way, and the other another.

I have been taking our new dog Ziva to obedience lessons. Let's just say that tonight she was . . .not good. Too much energy. Too much distraction. After listening to me for two or three commands, she became very distracted (what with shoppers wandering through the pet store where the lessons are held) and just would not cooperate. I only hope she can graduate next week!

While I was having fun, my husband went to our local township's zoning board that was holding a hearing. Hence the right to free speech title (and the right of the people to assemble sub-title).

The genesis of this hearing was a request from one of our neighbor's to have a variance from a local ordinance. But, let me go back a bit in the story.

We make multiple walks around the neighborhood every day (because of the dog), and along these walks we encounter and chat with neighbors. This is how we came to learn that Jeff, owner of a lovely standard poodle who is great friends with Ziva, was concerned about birds--specifically pigeons--flying over his patio and dropping aerial "bombs." Turns out, his next door neighbor, Sergei, keeps "homing" pigeons. And he was "training" them to visit Jeff's place to eat the bird seed Jeff puts out.

I am not sure exactly how the ordinance limitation came to be known, but I am guessing Jeff called the township office to complain--or at least to inquire. That's how he likely learned of the ordinance that says you can keep birds, such as homing pigeons, only if you live on an acre or more of land.

When he was informed of the limitation, Sergei applied for a variance. So the township zoning board scheduled a hearing. They posted signs around the neighborhood and set the hearing for August 26. So my husband went, in support of Jeff. My husband's point--if you have a zoning requirement, then only a compelling reason would be sufficient for it to be set aside. What was the compelling reason for Sergei to keep pigeons?

When he got to the hearing, my husband found that he was one of ten people who were neighbors attending the hearing. Only Sergei wanted a variance. All the other neighbors, some living next door to, wanted the pigeons gone.

Well, folks, the pigeons must go. Sergei presented no compelling reason. In fact, he said these were not homing pigeons; they were injured pigeons that he had rescued. (?) One neighbor stood up and said--pigeons are nothing more than rats with wings. (As a parenthetic note, I know someone who used to eat her lunch in Trafalgar Square in London who thought the same thing.)

The zoning board voted, 5-0, in favor of the no-pigeon rule.

Oh, it wasn't a great victory. But it was nice to see freedom of speech and freedom to assemble both victorious. Freedom to own pigeons took a hit, however. But then, it's not part of the Bill of Rights, so I guess that's OK.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Thoughts on Religious Freedom

The controversy over building an Islamic cultural center at 51 Park Avenue in lower Manhattan rages. How different that description sounds than the much-ballyhooed appellation of "a mosque at Ground Zero." Or, should I say (as does Fox News) MOSQUE AT GROUND ZERO! I confess that I am appalled at the attention this issue is garnering.

I had not formulated what it was that so bothers me about this "debate"--that is, until I read Frank Rich's excellent editorial in the Sunday New York Times. To get the full effect of his logic, you have to read the whole piece, but in brief what he argues is that by whipping up an atmosphere of "Islamophobia" the opponents of the proposed building have sapped what little support may have remained for the protracted war in Afghanistan.

What incredible irony. George W. Bush, as president, committed this country to a war in Afghanistan for the presumed purpose of helping a beleaguered country free itself from the Taliban tyranny. You would think that, if anything, the people who think the Taliban should be defeated would support the building of a center that promotes a peaceful more moderate view of Islam. That irony is what is captured in the title of the Frank Rich piece: How Fox Betrayed Petraeus.

Rich also points out that the New York Times ran a substantial piece back in December, 2009, and no one screamed "MOSQUE AT GROUND ZERO."

It is extremely troubling that one of our great freedoms--freedom of speech--became the vehicle for the story that threatens another of our great freedoms--freedom of religion.

Slate did a wonderful piece that traces the timeline for how this controversy was generated--one might even say manufactured. What a sad commentary this article is on how one or two people have manipulated and exaggerated information, and in the process have whipped a great many people in the United States into full-throated war cries to undo a bedrock foundation of our nation.

So, on September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States. Their intent was to bring down this country. And what is our response? To do to ourselves what the terrorists could not do.

We have met the enemy. . .and he is us.

Image is one of the Four Freedoms series Norman Rockwell painted--Freedom of Speech; Freedom to Worship; Freedom from Want; Freedom from Fear. The background story one the paintings and the "freedoms" is here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Yesterday, I took my dad along on a day trip. Our destination? My nephew's graduation; he was getting his PhD in mathematics from Penn State University. For the curious among you, here's an example of a paper he has written on "Multifractal formalism derived from thermodynamics," and here's another on "Bowen's Equation in the Non-Uniform Setting."

Yeah, I thought so too.

Anyway, the occasion gave me pause to think about passages. We sat in the Bryce Jordan arena, families arranged in clusters peering down on the floor below, where rows and rows of chairs were arranged. The masters' students were all arrayed on one side, sitting in small clusters; as it soon became clear, they were seated by their majors. Masters' students had dressed themselves and some had not mastered (tee hee) the fine art of arranging their hoods. Some did not have the velvet sides properly displayed: colors on the velvet denote the major, the inside of the hoods denotes school colors.

Then the procession began, led by the marshal with the official mace. Behind the marshal came rows and rows of faculty resplendent in academic regalia. Most robes were black, dotted with the occasional dark blue. And then there were the splashes of red, green or dusty orange gowns. I even spotted one pale blue.

Finally, in marched the doctoral candidates in their robes, with their faculty advisors interspersed. The doctoral students did not have their hoods on; instead they were draped over their arms.

When the degrees were awarded, first all the masters' students rose and were pronounced as having their degrees. I confess--I relaxed a bit, no individual names, I thought. But, wait. . . The voice on the loud speaker intoned, "We know the family members here are proud and have supported their sons, daughters, husbands, wives and loved ones, but please HOLD your applause until the end, and no yelling out so we can hear the names as they are called."

OH. Individual names. Indeed--called one by one, marched up to the stage, handed the degree, and then the newly minted grads walked down the line of dignitaries' shaking hands.

Then the doctoral students--first, they were all called to rise. Then advisors hooded them, and they were pronounced all doctors. And then the calling of names. By then, the well-behaved families and friends had forgotten the intoned announcement. As some names were called, there were loud cheers--"Go, ___" or "WOOOOOO". Well, I can understand the feeling.

Finally, our doctoral candidates name was called (and properly pronounced). I confess squelching the urge to stand up and go "WOOOOO" myself.

Passages are important. My father had expressed an interest in attending this graduation. I think he has attended the various graduations of all his grandchildren, who chose to participate in their graduation ceremonies. I likely would not have attended my nephew's graduation otherwise. But, it was a rewarding event to have attended.
Here's a link that has a photo album with a Penn State Graduate School ceremony: it is not my nephew's but shows what the scenes are like.

Photo above of my nephew--contemplating Niagara Falls, from the photo album on my brother's Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The End of the Story

I have been greatly preoccupied of late (just ask my husband) with a writing project. I was commissioned to write a biography of my parents for a small church historical journal and the submission deadline is September 1. So I have been hard at work.

Yesterday, I hit a bit of a writing wall (all you writers out there will know exactly what I am talking about). The reason? I was at the point in my parents' lives when I had to write about my mother's death. This is one end of the story I would rather not to have to write. But write it I did. Having written about her death on this blog before helped.

As I am writing about my parents' lives, I am also doing a lot of thinking about my own. Have no fear--these are not deep dark thoughts. More like gentle rumination on the living I have done thus far.

I confess--I am consumed with curiosity about the future. Oh, not so much what will happen to me in the remainder of my life. More like--what will happen to EVERYTHING as time keeps on marching.

I am known in my family as one of those readers who turns to the last page of a novel just "to see how things turn out." I think that is part of the frustration I have when I contemplate my own life span being limited. I don't really want to live forever. But I do want to know where the story goes. . .

Do humans wake up and take real steps to protect their planet? Do humans learn to live with other animals? Do nations find ways to live peaceably with other nations? What happens? What happens?

Oh, maybe I really don't want to know all that--maybe the knowledge would be overwhelmingly crushing. True, I can't flip to the end of this story of human history or even earth's history. But that doesn't stop me from being curious about the end of the story.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

In or Out

A little episode today had my heart racing for a while and my adrenaline level cranked way up.

My husband is an early riser, and part of his morning routine, at least in the summer, is to check our swimming pool. Now that we have "new dog" Ziva, he takes her along out. She loves to race back and forth in the fenced in pool area.

This morning, just before he went out, our one cat Allie jumped up on the window ledge looking out into the pool area, and "asked" if she could go out. So, he let her out. She found her way to a great hiding place, under some myrtle growing along the pool edge. Then he went out the side door, taking Ziva along into the pool area.

Ziva was checking things out, unaware that one of the cats was out there. Then, suddenly she spied (or more likely sniffed) Allie. And Ziva offered to play. Honest. That's all she wanted to do. Allie, however, took it as a threat, and that deep seated fight or flight choice kicked in. Allie chose flight. She bounded out of the myrtle, Ziva in the chase, and jumped onto a picnic table, and then over the fence which is surrounded with arbor vitae into the great unknown.

I awakened to hearing the excited barking of Ziva. Soon, my husband appeared in the bedroom, and I said--is everything OK? No, he said, Allie ran away.

I quickly got dressed and spent the next two hours walking all over our neighborhood. looking in nooks and crannies, under bushes and plaintively calling ALLIE, ALLIE. Or rather Allie, Allie. Trying to be quiet so as not to awaken neighbors. And also trying not to make anyone think I was trying to break in to their house.

When we couldn't find her, we decided she would have to find her own way home. She is NOT an outside cat; she does not roam around the neighborhood. So we really weren't sure where she might go, or if she would find her way home. I tried to think like a cat, and figure out where she might go. No success.

We left the gate to the pool slightly ajar (something we NEVER do for obvious reasons). After three hours, my husband looked out the window overlooking the pool, and there was Allie "asking" to be let back in.

So, the in or out question? We know people whose cats are roamers. And, yes, the cats do kill birds--that bothers me.
When we first got a cat, many years ago (and were ignorant of the issue of in vs. out), we started out leaving her roam outside. That is, until one escapade. She did not come back. I went out, looking, shaking her cat food box and calling her name. After a bit, I heard the faintest "meow". And there she was--our first cat, Missy--WAY UP in the neighbor's tree. Unable to come down. So my husband dutifully climb the tree, and coaxed her to jump on to him.

That was the end of any of our cats ever going outside. The exception are these brief outings in the fenced in yard, while we are outside. Our cats have NEVER caught a bird. The most any of our cats ever did was capture a chipmunk, that the one cat then BROUGHT in the house. The poor chipmunk was scared almost to death, running around squeaking while three cats watched, puzzled.

So, on the IN OR OUT debate, we are decidedly IN people. And that is even more reinforced after today's little episode. I suspect it will be awhile before Allie "asks" to go out again.