Sunday, July 25, 2010

Starving cats in China

I just reflexively said to the cat, who looked at me plaintively from her perch next to an uneaten bowl of chicken flakes in gravy, "If you you don't like what you are having for dinner you can make yourself peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

I'd pay to see my cat making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.


Are you one of those Facebook quiz junkies? I am. My Facebook profile is littered with the "answers" to questions like: "Who were you in a past life?" "What 80's television show are you," "What color are you," and "In what soap opera would your relationship star?" I also know my Myers Brigg type and my enneagram type, just to be on the safe side. I know my sun sign, moon sign and ascendant sign.

I am relentless in my pursuit of silly, unimportant, self-knowledge.

This fascination with all things quizzes has been aided and abetted by Facebook, but certainly didn't start there. I'm not a Cosmo girl, but I DID take the Cosmo quizzes. Does anyone else remember the game played by little girls wherein you draw a square and pick four types of houses and write them on one side of the square, four numbers that are written on another side of the square, four boys' names, and four cities? Add a spiral drawn in the middle and a complex counting system and voila! Future predicted? Yeah, I played that game. A lot.

Which is why, when my friend Alicia Staley posted a Facebook link to the "I Write Like" writing style analytic website, I sat down, cut and pasted a blog entry into the machine, and was compared to Margaret Atwood with one keystroke. In two more keystrokes I had revealed yet another nuance of my personality on Twitter and Facebook.

I KNOW human beings like you and me, bored at home, are making up Facebook quizzes. I know that I fall nearly in the middle of nearly every personality test I've ever taken, and I'm cynical that one analytic of one blog post can definitively say my writing style is like that of any other author, poet or journalist.

It is this cynicism about self-reflective analytic tools that led me to create a new compound word today - cynalytic. It is an adjective meaning cynical about the pursuit of personal understanding and improvement through the use of quizzes on Facebook, in Cosmopolitan magazine, or other places in print and on the Internet. Pronounced 'sin-a-lit-ick' you might use it like this, "I'm a little cynalytic about my results in the latest New Yorker magazine quiz. Did you take it, the one that allegedly determines the perfect New York home for you? My results show my ideal Manhattan home would be in Ossining."

I've made up lots of words before, only to find someone else has invented them before me. This new one, cynalytic, is nowhere to be found on the Internet. While it may not ever make the top ten list of made up words, I think it is going to catch on.

Compromise at home (or, What would you do differently if your sweetie were away on a trip?)

BMG started a two-week assignment in New Orleans yesterday. I spent most of the day at home, reveling in my temporary bachelorette-dom. Reflecting on my Saturday, while waking up on Sunday morning, I realized there are a host of small things I would do differently if I lived alone. These include:
  • Turning the air conditioners to "fan" at night; turning the air conditioners to "fan" when I'm not home for long stretches (I'm not psyched to see our electric bill for the last month.)

  • Making the the bed immediately after getting up (My motto? "Working hard to keep cat hair and litter out of the sheets.")

  • Turning off the bathroom light, unless I'm in there.

  • Lighting candles at night, and leaving them lit until I go to bed.

  • Forgetting to shut the fridge door and the dishwasher for longish periods of time (Okay, maybe I do this when BMG is here, but with no one around facetiously and lovingly calling me "The Closer" I have to notice it now.)

  • Preparing fewer meals with meat and carbs

  • Throwing more food away that I think may trigger a mini binge ("Olive oil chips, you were delicious in Canada, now you are being thrown away.")

  • Doing situps and stretches in the middle of the living room at totally random times.
Looking out over the living room in The Tiny Bungalow I'm also aware that I apparently leave abandoned shoes and mail all over the place (I guess I'm a little obsessed with tidiness when there are two of us in the 925 square foot house. One person's clutter is okay. Two people's clutter is too much.)

We all compromise at home. If you didn't have to - if your sweetheart and/or your kids were away on a two-week trip - what do you do differently - consciously or unconsciously? And for those of you single folks who don't live with a partner, what do you think you'd have a hard time compromising in the event you do move in with someone?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Great Pumpkin Part 5: Gay pumpkins and droughts

My giant pumpkins were all gay (not that there is anything wrong with that). And a drought has killed them all. While I grew better, stronger pumpkins than I did the previous year, I now have only three yellowed plants with anemic squash flowers on them to show for my Giant Pumpkin Experiment.

It was obvious to me on Independence Day that there would be no giant pumpkins at The Tiny Bungalow when I had no fruit starting to mature on the vine. The book said that I should have one fruit that I was starting to bet on by this time. Scurrying, I did some background reading on hand pollination and realized, to my dismay, that I had no female flowers on any of the six plants stretched out across the backyard. The male flowers were crawling with bugs, confirming that the lack of a tiny giant pumpkin on any of the vines was not a problem of insect inactivity. So I began checking obsessively and daily at dawn and dusk - when the shy female flowers are more likely to be open - in the hopes that a female flower would emerge that the bugs would fertilize once, and I would follow up with the double fertilization by hand.

But nothing. I began to think that my pumpkins were gay.

Then our swank suburb by the ocean entered into a state of water emergency, restricting to the use of hand operated sprinklers (or hoses in everyday parlance) every other day. Irrationally I began to worry that the reason the pumpkins were producing no female flowers was because they didn't have enough water and this was going to cement the fact that I'd be carving watermelons at Halloween instead of a carriage sized pumpkin. In my mind I had made my pumpkins gay by withholding water from them.

Now, home from vacation, three weeks after the initial realization that there would be no giant pumpkins this year, I have given up hope for the three shriveled up plant mounds. My pumpkins, in defiance of the word of God, have literally not been fruitful, nor have they multiplied. They have remained a joyful handful of male flowers on increasingly yellowed pumpkin vines.

I am now putting all of my pumpkin eggs into the watermelon basket. This morning I fertilized the watermelon vines, which proudly boast at least eight of the tiniest and most perfect miniature melons I have ever seen. I hope to have watermelon to give away to my family and friends by the end of August. And one I will keep to carve as a jack-o-lantern for Halloween.

Over the winter I'll read more about giant pumpkins and try to figure out how to make year #3 even better than years #2 and #1. I will not give up until I have a giant pumpkin to call my own.


In other garden news, I've discovered, in this year of gardening at The Tiny Bungalow, that one side of the garden gets TONS of sun. The plants growing there are going bananas - I have cherry tomatoes entwined with zucchini which have locked leaves with peppers, cucumbers and cauliflower. I am practically drowning in zucchini, and the cherry tomatoes will need to be picked daily to keep up with their gorgeous, jewel like selves. On another side of the garden the zucchini plants from the same six-pack are tiny and have yet to produce one dark green, squashy bat.

In the spirit of learning I know (a)where to put tomatoes versus brussel sprouts and cauliflower, (b) I need to find better strategies for fencing off the garden from rabbits but NOT from me, and (c) my charge for the Winter is to find organic ways to keep the invisible bugs from eating all of my cabbage-like plants. I also need to make more space for the sun loving veggies and to give each plant wide enough berth to do their enormous veggie-making thang.

I'll be solo for the next two weeks, while BMG is in New Orleans on assignment. This means lots of vegetables will be cooked and enjoyed for lunch and dinner. Give a holler if you want to visit for a garden fresh meal.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

So this is what an anxiety dream looks like in my 40s

I had an anxiety dream last night in which I was literally running to make it to my advanced colonoscopy procedure on time. What made me late? Stopping to pick up meat - pork ribs and sausage, taking a detour through the pet shop to look at the snakes and turtles for sale, getting lost in a medical office building, misunderstanding subway routes, and arguing with a cab driver. Realizing I wasn't going to get to the hospital (a) on time, or (b) using public or other transportation, I started to run. The city blocks were huge and unfamiliar, and the more I ran the more I realized I was much farther away from where I wanted to be than I thought I was. My anxiety in the dream increased exponentially with every block I ran and every roadblock I encountered. This was exacerbated by my own dream knowledge that I hadn't read the pre-op instructions that told me what time to show up, what I was - or wasn't - supposed to eat in the 24 hours before the procedure, and how long I was going to be in the hospital. In my dream I don't remember how or when I finally arrived, but do remember the doctor looking at my test results and telling me everything was beautiful.


Climbing up or down something is the usual tell-tale indicator of an anxiety dream for me - I need to go up a rickety ladder to reach a decrepit solarium roof, I'm scaling down the side of a wet lighthouse to get to my boat to sail away from danger, etc. I'm amused at the idea that my first anxiety dream in my 40s involves a colonoscopy. I guess Dr. Freud would say it was a dream about handling my own shit, ja?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Patriotic Thaw

Create your own country? Who thinks they can create their own country? I don't have the kind of hubris or creativity that would let me consider seriously the idea of throwing in the towel in my native land and just starting my own republic.

This Independence Day I've been thinking much more gratefully about the events that led the European settlers to travel across an ocean to begin the process of starting the nation that is, for better or worse, my home country.

Like a good progressive Democrat, with a dash of hippie thrown in, I've spent much of my adulthood feeling more ashamed than proud of being an American. What contributes to this shame? The perception that we're the bullies on the international playground, we consume more than our share of the world's resources, we are xenophobes who don't respect differences among people, and we hoard more wealth than people of other nationalities. This ethos of shame has only been cemented by experiences like the time, during the presidency of the second Mr. Bush, a cranky European yelled at me for being a loud American while I was traveling on a French train.

I've been surprised, in the lead up to this Independence Day weekend, by feelings of patriotism popping up at unexpected times. Observing homeless vets begging for spare change from passers-by in downtown Boston, cruising past Adams National Park in nearby Quincy, MA on my to and from work, looking at the rather unimpressive Plymouth Rock on a weekend excursion, watching fireworks while mindlessly humming the lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner," and stopping to watch local firemen hang a large American flag across an intersection the night before the big parade. In these and other activities what I'm feeling is a sense of timeless and single-minded hopefulness, expansive possibility, and chutzpah. The strength of character or depth of pain one needs to feel to travel by ship across an ocean, or by wagon across a prairie, to settle a new land inspires me. I yearn for the intellectual excitement and repartee of writing a brand new national constitution, one that could become the model for many young republics follow. I want to create something brand new that makes a positive difference in my life, and the lives of the people who come after me.

I am certain this patriotism is partly inspired by the work of President Barack Obama. I'm not a Pollyanna however, I work for a local government and I know firsthand our system of government has flaws. That's because our nation, like all nations, is run by human beings. I'm sure the Iroquois chieftains fought amongst themselves, and Mayan peoples engaged in nation building and underhanded political acts for their personal benefit. (Europeans wiped out many native peoples as the Americas were colonized, which is crappy. But said native peoples weren't any better than we are.)

What I do know, this July 4, 2010, is that the values and experiences - the hope, the possibility, the hardship - that have shaped this nation have different meaning to me today. When I look at our flag, with its 50 stars and 13 red and white stripes, I feel an appreciation for the chutzpah it takes to declare independence from a nation or set of ideals, and for the on-going struggle to sustain and adapt these new ideals in an evolving culture. With my eyes wide open to the realities of our nation's flaws and strengths, today I feel proud to be an American.