Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two positives to offset two negatives

Today I splurged on two things. First, I bought a bouquet of flowers at the supermarket. This is something I very rarely do -- maybe two or three times a year -- even though I love flowers, love having fresh flowers to look at in my home. But I don't call myself a Starving Librarian for nothing: a bouquet of flowers really does fit into the luxury category for me. But there was a large bouquet of roses, all different colors, all looking healthy -- in other words, like they'd last more than a couple of days, which is sometimes a problem with roses -- and they were only $12.99, which really is unusually low, especially for roses. Who knows, maybe it's like meat that has been reduced because the sell-by date is tomorrow...maybe they won't last more than a couple of days... but it all added up to a sale. I brought them home, snipped off the ends, plunged them into a vase half-full of cool water that had been saturated with plant food, and now there they are on my little improvised coffee table (a tray atop a bamboo foot-stool), giving me pleasure every time I look at them. I noticed when I was lying on the couch watching the news that I could even smell them!

My other splurge purchase was a not-quite-one-pint ("14 fluid ounces") of Haagen Dazs pineapple-coconut ice cream. This is an unbelievably delicious concoction I stumbled upon recently when I was wanting something besides my usual Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia/Karamel Sutra/Vanilla Caramel Fudge choices. I couldn't believe how good it was, when I took the first bite. I could easily have appeared in one of those commercials in which some skeptical person's face lights up and s/he goes all dreamy-eyed, while visions of waterfalls/butterflies/rainbows fill the screen, as the result of said skeptical person having taken a bite of something or other. Yes, it is somewhat like a frozen pina colada only -- based on my memory of my last pina colada -- better.

So there you go, Melody doing not just something nice for herself today, like "they" (i.e., commercials, self-help books, friends) are always telling us to do, but two somethings nice.

Which may have been my attempt at recompense for two mini-disasters of the recent past. I spent more than I ever have in my life on a pair of shoes -- $147 -- so that I would have some attractive shoes that would pass muster at my goddaughter's graduation from law school, which I attended at the end of May and may get around to writing about one of these days, as well as shoes that I could do some walking in, as I was going to be in Washington D.C. for this graduation, and naturally wanted to get in a little sightseeing as well. So I spent a lot of time deciding on these shoes, a lot of money (for a S.L.) purchasing them...walked and walked and walked in them, in D.C., winding up all but crippled as the result, and just yesterday learned from the foot doctor that they are probably the primary culprit behind by my developing tarsal tunnel syndrome, the ankle-equivalent of carpal tunnel syndrome. He told me I shouldn't wear these shoes anymore...which I can, of course, no longer return. To just, in effect, throw $147 out the window is very hard on the mental health, not to mention the pocketbook, of a S.L.

But the final blow was realizing that I will probably also not be able to wear another brand new pair of shoes, the moccasins I ordered online, had to send back once because I needed a larger size, finally received, and loved (moccasins are what I've worn around the house for many years, because my feet hate shoes; my old pair had finally given up the ghost)...only to realize over the course of a couple of weeks, that they make my ankle hurt whenever I wear them. Turns out the top edge hits in exactly the wrong place. That's another $52 (including the cost of returning the pair that were too small) out the window, or down the drain, or wherever wasted money goes.

My goodness, no wonder I needed the instant gratification of some beautiful flowers, and some of the world's most delicious ice cream.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A little touch of South America

Sunday was Open Farm Day here in Maine, and as we did last year, my friend Barb and I picked one of the farms listed in the newspaper's special supplement, and went to visit it.

Last year we visited the Kennebec Cheesery at Koons Farm in Sidney (see Note of Oct. 14 2011) where we gawked at goats. This year it was alpaca, at The Dream-on-a-Stream Alpaca Ranch, located deep in the woods of rural Maine, officially in the town of Mt. Vernon, but nowhere near the little village of Mt. Vernon. Barb did a powerful lot of driving along back country roads, getting us there and back. But we agreed the trip was worth it. Alpaca are ever so much more charming than goats!

Lois and Jack (called Bear) Brace started raising alpaca not quite three years ago. They are very enthusiastic about the business, though they have yet to start making money. When somebody asked how much an alpaca cost and Lois said, "Well, theoretically it's about $15,000," everybody's mouth dropped open. Then she hastened to say that "in reality," for $15,000 you could generally get a pregnant female and a companion animal, since alpaca are herd animals and must have alpaca or llama companionship (alpaca and llamas being closely related). But this is obviously not a business for a poor person to try to go into.

It's also obvious that the Braces, as well as their two young hired girls (whom Barb and I initially took to be their daughters) are very fond of their herd of 23 animals. They've given them all names, and can describe their distinctive personalities. There were several babies, who were properly adorable, but all of the alpaca were cute as they could be. They come right up to you, fearless and non-threatening; they're very curious animals. They were especially taken with my skirt, which had a brightly colored flower pattern. One of them would suddenly make a sauntering beeline for me, but with head lowered (on its long neck) -- they knew flowers when they saw them! Then when it got close enough to detect that these flowers did not smell, or behave the way flowers should, it would pause, then raise its head to eye level, giving me a look that suggested, "What's with the fake flowers?"

Their faces made me think of camels, as did their basic bodily shape (without the hump), but camels are famous for their ornery dispositions, and alpaca are just sweethearts!

At one point one of them started running to the other side of the small pasture where they are kept -- and where we visitors were mingling with them -- and at once all of them were running. "Just like sheep," I announced, amused. But then they all stopped in the same spot, and they all started defecating or urinating! Another woman and I said at the same moment, "Are they potty trained?!" It turns out that no one trains them to do this; by nature they pick one spot for their waste, and only "dump" there. How cool is that? So you're not having to pick your way carefully across a dung-littered field to visit with them.

The annual shearing had just taken place, in June, so their coats were not as thick as they would normally be. I'm sure they were actually grateful for that, since it was very warm. We petted one whose coat was fairly substantial, and the fleece (right word?) was so soft! Much softer than when you pet a sheep (if you can manage to do that, skittish things that they are). The coat of a sheep, or even a lamb, looks soft, but is actually very coarse to the touch. And that never really changes, as the coat goes from being fleece to, say, a sweater, or a pair of socks. The Braces had some socks on display for comparison purposes, and the wool ones felt very rough, the alpaca ones just as thick, but silkier to the touch (and no doubt twice as expensive).

The "ranch" (it seems rather silly to call anyplace in Maine a ranch) also has bunny rabbits, including some for sale. One of the young women brought out a perfectly enormous white Angora rabbit which, cradled in her arms, looked like nothing so much as a fat bundle of soft white hair, with pink eyes. I actually preferred a smaller gray one that we petted a while later -- hair unbelievably soft, such a cute little thing. Barb said I should get one for a pet -- people are always trying to convince me that what I need is a pet -- but I protested that rabbits shit all over the place. "Yes, but it's just little pellets," she said. Yes, well...

Friday, July 20, 2012

While looking at "The Collections of the British Museum"

One of the interesting things about humankind is that we are interested in our past. We build large, imposing buildings in which we collect, store and display items from the past. There are people whose jobs are to, sometimes quite literally, unearth, these items that have survived the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and bring them back to the imposing buildings for display. There are other people who do research on them, give little talks on them, write up the informational signs that go with the displays, so that people can read the known or presumed facts about the things they're looking at.

Amazing. Other animals certainly don't do this. Why do we do this? Why are we interested in how our ancestors lived, decades, centuries, millennia in the past? Of course, many people aren't, in the least, but there are enough people who are, to support all those imposing buildings. I suppose a big part of it is just the natural human curiosity about the unknown, the same curiosity that made some people explore our world, and now makes others want to explore space. But I think some of it may also be a desire to see connections to those who came before us. I've said elsewhere that seeing relics of the past helps make the past more real to me, the people of the past more real. And this is especially true when there are unexpected similarities. For example, when visiting the little museum in the Agora, in Athens, I remember being especially delighted by such mundane articles as a child's potty chair, and some pottery shards which had been used to write quick notes ("Bring the saw that is under the bench"), others that were part of a child's practice session on his ABCs. Ha! Those people were just like us! They set their toddlers on little toilets and tried to induce them to do their business in the proper way, they scribbled notes to one another, children pains-takingly tried to master the art of writing.

Why should such connections give us a sense of satisfaction? It shows that the past isn't just words in a history book that we were forced to read in school; it was real people like us, even if, given the times and the culture, they were also, in many ways, very different from us. But still, I don't seem to have answered my own question: why would feeling a connection to the people of the past give a sense of satisfaction?

Perhaps it is the same thing that makes genealogists spend hours on the computer doing research, sends them on trips to small towns in distant states where there ancestors came from, to pour over hard-to-read probate and land records: we want to know where we came from! Who the people were, what they were like, who led to us.

The ancient Egyptians with their pyramids and mummies and hieroglyphics didn't really lead to me, personally, but they were a part of the whole human story, that has ultimately led to me, to my world. How cool. How fascinating. People who aren't interested in history, who never visit those imposing buildings, don't know what they're missing.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On listening to those campaign speeches

I am certainly not an economist, and often don't understand the discussions on the financial sector that I hear on the various news programs I listen to. But this is something I do know: nothing grows forever. This is a fundamental law. Something is "born" -- whether it be a planet, a biological species, an individual tree, or animal...or a nation, a national policy. It grows, sometimes slowly (like over eons), sometimes quite quickly, it matures, and eventually growth slows, eventually what begins to take place is the opposite of growth: signs of aging, illness, erosion, deterioration of one sort or another, depending on what the thing is. And, eventually, there's death, the end of the whatever. If it's not a complete death -- as in the case of most nations in the world -- it's the death of whatever is the current culture within that nation, so that what then begins to grow is a different version of that nation.

And this is what happens to absolutely everything. And yet, everybody is yelling: we need more growth, we've got to come up with ways to get the economy growing again. Building and buying more cars, more houses, more clothes, more electronic gadgets...an economy based on more and more (in other words, growth) of absolutely everything simply cannot continue forever. The planet, staggering under the weight of billions of people, more and more of whom are insisting on the same kind of economic growth that the industrialized countries have long taken for granted and insist must continue unfettered for them...well, the planet will simply buckle.

And yes, I do realize that plenty of other people have pointed this out before, beginning with 1972's The Limits to Growth, by Donella H. Meadows et al, continuing through the same group's updates of their original work, published in 1992 and 2004. A 2010 study entitled "A Comparison of the Limits of Growth with Thirty Years of Reality" concluded: "The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features… [of the Limits to Growth's] ‘standard run’ scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century."* So they've said it, these environmental and social scientists, based on their computer simulations and mathematical calculations, and I'm saying it, based on observation and common sense. But is anybody listening?

I honestly think President Obama, in his early pushing of alternative forms of energy, was acknowledging the limits to the growth of oil consumption as the backbone of our energy policy. But now he's singing the same song as everyone else, because that's what people want to hear, and this is an election year: we gotta grow, grow, grow...and quickly!  No time for research and development, no time to gradually get new kinds of industries, that would be aimed at more sustanable forms of energy, up and running.

And yes, I also know that this is what much of the "green" movement is all about, that there is a "sustainable growth" movement, both here and in Europe. But it's painfully small and lacking in power, compared with the hysterical push for unfettered growth.

So what do you supposed a collapse of the global system will look like?

*Turner, Graham. A Comparison of the Limits of Growth with Thirty Years of Reality. CSIRO Working Paper Series, (2010). Available at: http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Well, no sooner do I brag to my friend Carolyn (with whom I stayed overnight when I went to Boston recently for my friend David's birthday party) that I had been very lucky in not having problems with bugs in my rented bungalow, in the four years I have lived there...except, I said, for the very occasional spider in the bathtub...than I find myself invaded by spiders-in-the-bathtub. At least one a day for the past few days -- yesterday it was two, a mama spider and a baby. Where are they coming from?! There are no obvious cracks or holes. Carolyn had said she thought they might come down through the pipes. But if they were hiding out in the pipes, seems like they'd occasionally get washed out into the tub while I was showering, or rather, during that period of time when the water is rushing out of the regular tap, while I'm playing with the hot and cold nozzles, getting the temperature just right before switching to shower mode. This has not thus far happened.

I know all about spiders being "good" bugs, because they consume other bugs, but I have a rule: you can do your thing, but stay out of my sight! Crawling around in the bathtub is definitely breaking the rule, and death is the punishment. Spiders I've caught in there in the past I've usually finished off with a shoe, but these lately have been big guys (or gals); no way I was going to squash them with a shoe, then have to clean out the squashed remains. So I've resorted to canned ant-and-roach spray, which I've had forever (when I lived in my wonderful cabin-on-the-lake, one unwonderful thing about it were the ants that hung out in the kitchen), and which seems to work o.k. on spiders. They just curl up in a ball to die, making their removal -- with a paper towel -- a mess-free operation.

I'm sorry, but I can't be "green" -- or Buddhist -- about bugs. And being greeted by another one in the tub is one of those times -- like putting in/taking out air conditioners, or trying to set up a Christmas tree, or investigating scary sounds at night -- when I sure do miss having a man around the house.