Sunday, May 31, 2009

War on Thistles-Part II

Move over 'War on Terror'... we need to expand the war on Thistles. They have taken over the world again, just like last summer.
Or this might just prove to be the solution to the energy crisis. Instead of acres of silicon faces turned sunwards, imagine the deserts filled with the 6 feet tall stalks of giant thistles, shimmering and waving gently in the winds like the seas of golden corn in the prairie.
All we need now is a method to convert the harvested thistles into a thick oozy black liquid that can quench the thirst of our revving engines. Inventors and biochemists, don't wait a nanosecond longer. Off to your drawing boards and on with your 'thinking' caps!
I spent a good hour today in the balmy weather, gloves being my only protection, as our once-trusty Weedhound refused to cooperate after its Winter of Discontent in the unheated garage.
I had a black sackfull of thistles, weighing in at about 30 pounds.
The garden looks clean for now, and my vegetable patch is finally ready for some plantings.
Or perhaps, I shall not bother this year. A few weeks away on vacation, and my precious kitchen garden will look like the final battle of Terminator Thistlenation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Backseat Driving

While on our recent vacation in Disney World, my friend and I decided to go with the kids ( two teens and two 8 year-olds) to the Boardwalk near the hotel. As we sauntered down in the blazing sun, the kids caught sight of the Surrey bike rental place and were all clamoring for a ride.
"Drivers must be at least 18 to steer and control the brakes", said the rental guy.
"Good thing that I'm 19, I can definitely be a driver", averred S loudly, as my friend A filled in all our correct ages in the rental form. It was all I could do to not grin at his chagrin as his bluff was called.
I took the controlling seat, with the all important brake, being the only adult with shoes adequate to the task- A had her sandals on, not having anticipated the bike ride.
We started pedalling our way around the backwater, while I watched carefully, ready to brake at the least sign of a pedestrian strolling casually ahead.
Soon enough, an elderly couple came into sight as we moved along at a dizzying pace. I braked.
"You're so slow, Amma. We're driving like elderly people", yelled S. His friend concurred, loudly indignant: "What's the point of having all of us pedal if we are going to go so slow?"
"Did you know that teens are better drivers than 80 year-olds?", chimed in S again, attempting to impress us with their credentials. We harrumphed at the idea: "Teens have zero judgment. Elderly drivers, zero reflexes. We're neither."
"OK, guys, here's the time to show off your pedal-power, we've got an upslope to conquer", said A.
The bike came to a total halt, as the two rebels behind decided to reverse pedal and cause the front pedals to lock up.
After another round of altercations, we finally made it up the slope with much huffing and puffing, passed easily by another more harmonious team of bikers, all adults and evidently not arguing among themselves.
"When we get our driver's licenses, we won't drive like you. Cars are meant to be driven fast", this while attempting to get our speed up high enough to crash into the family in the swimsuits about 10 yards away from us.
"That's not going to happen anytime soon, if you behave like this. At this rate, we won't let you get your student driver's licenses until you reach the age of 30."
Only a threat to stop after one round elicited some grumbly cooperation and peace from the incessant backseat driving tips. I was never so relieved to set my feet down on firm ground as when our half-hour rental was up!
Some day, I'm sure S is going to be scolding me for driving too fast, but I'll be a 'little old lady' by the time he catches me at it, and he a nagging 40-something.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Of Concerts and Congressmen

We had been to the local upscale shopping mall, the kind that draws more restaurant-goers than shoppers. M and S were performing at the annual piano recital that their teacher holds. Things went swimmingly well. M didn't freeze up while playing, while S managed to fudge his way through his big piece, nailing at least all his glissandos without missing a note. All the pieces played by the 20 odd students sounded quite charmingly well-crafted and precisely enunciated, varying in genre from modern to jazz and swing and classical.
As we left the store and headed down the escalator, S pointed out a booth at the center of the acres of gleaming tile, sporting a banner with the name of our local congressman. "Do you think that's him?" I peered at the tall man bending over a sheaf of papers as he talked to a lady in pantsuit. "I'm not sure...Yes, it's him." My husband promptly walked over and introduced himself to the congressman, and insisted on introducing us as well. A few pleasantries later, he asked S what his dreams were, and S mentioned "Making movies."
"Bollywood style?", asked Mr.M.
"More along the line of action and effects, like ILM," I pointed out.
Wondering if I had said too much, I then stood aloof, feeling faintly uneasy as they went on talking. This was not who I had voted for in the last election, though my husband had voted for him.
After getting handed a couple of mini-copies of the Constitution and a booklet about The Flag, we walked away and back to our car, before we realized that lunchtime was slipping away and we hadn't had lunch.
So it was back to the mall for a short eat-in. Just as we were finishing up, Ben N. kept stopping by, industriously asking if I needed extra croutons on my soup, and offering to clear away our plates, even though we would have done it ourselves. It felt faintly weird to be the honored recipient of too much customer service training. Or maybe it was just my dangly earrings that Ben wanted to check out, like a mesmerized toddler.
As we went back to the car, M and S decided that they wanted to go 'bug the congressman' again, just for bragging rights with their friends. So off they went with their father, while I stayed in the van.
This time they chatted with him for another 15 minutes, quizzing him about what he did and why he didn't make more public appearances. He said that he had been out all morning, milking a cow at a local farm, and had to change from his boots because of the cow manure that spattered them. Clearly, an eyebrow-raising fundraiser of sorts "Get your Congressperson to Milk a Cow" or some such.
(I can't put my finger on it precisely, but there is something similar in the effusive attention from the eager employee at the eatery and the (busy?) congressman milking cows and schmoozing with the public. Strange times indeed, when people who normally wouldn't bat an eyelid at your approach, start treating you like long-lost friends.)
"What do you like to do in your spare time?", asked S, the ever-professional interviewer (He's had practice interviewing a teacher who was a veteran soldier, and watches too much Colbert who also likes to interview congressmen and put them on the spot).
"Jogging, playing the guitar", answered the congressman.
"And now, let me guess your favorite activities. You like to vacuum your room and your brother's", he suggested to M, who squealed in mock indignation.
S said, "I play the piano and violin. We just had our piano recital a little while ago. And, I have a concert with my orchestra this evening, too."
S named the pieces they were playing, on inquiry by Mr.M. "Oh, the Firebird Suite, that's one of my favorites."
" it really, or are you just acting like a politician?", S jabbed a finger at him.
"No, I really like that piece", and he hummed a few bars. Touche.
My husband detailed all the events after he got back to the van, and we had a good guffaw at M and S's attempts to 'bug the congressman'. They had been bugged by their intended victim, instead. It's hard to get past a congressman who is also a trained psychologist!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Almost a Kindle-kinder

My husband bought the new Kindle about a month ago. It was to be primarily for his use, but I got my chance to try it out while sitting in a hospital waiting room. Inspite of the extra features, like being able to surf webpages (horribly slow, and the pages formatted for PC screens look messed up on the 6 inch screen.), it shone primarily as an e-book reader. When I searched for tried and tested classics of literature, I could find them really cheap ( about 50 cents to a dollar) on the Book search feature. But it still left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied- couldn't they be easily accessible from free sites like Project Gutenberg?

A week later, both of us had a new competitor for Kindle-time. M showed every sign of turning into a serious Kindle addict. She insisted that we purchase a couple of her favorite authors' books on the Kindle (and at $10 a pop, we ended up on the lookout for older children's literature, like the complete set of Wizard of Oz books or the Wind in the Willows, which were definitely much less expensive.).

She sat with it every night at bed time, reading to herself, or trying out the 'Read aloud' electronic voice, which had her in fits of giggles at its attempts to pronounce even some simple words. (Apparently, it can't pronounce President Obama's name correctly, either.)

My husband did some more research and unlocked the goldmine of free e-books. The MOBI format on Project Gutenberg was all that we needed. We could download what we wished in that format, email it to our Kindle account and presto! We had access to lots of free classics of our choice at the press of a button (or two).

For now, the signs of M turning into a Kindle-kinder are on the wane. She's discarded it in favor of the library's used book sale Nancy Drew hard covers, and her other favorites which are either unavailable or too expensive on the Kindle.

Though I believe that someday when she is ready for them, Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, Anne of Green Gables, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer will be waiting for her button-press to bring them to life again, probably on a trip when space for books is limited.

I wish that all of S's textbooks could be available on a Kindle. It would save him from having to carry 40 pounds of books in an increasingly tattered bookbag, and the bad posture induced by bending double to carry them. The newer Kindle is even headed that way, and at least for college textbooks, it could be a lucrative market for students who have to have the latest editions of their textbooks and not much use for those once they graduate and enter the workplace.


I'm using the suffix 'kinder' in the sense of
"German : Kinder, genitive pl. of Kind, child (from Middle High German kint, from Old High German kind; see gen- in Indo-European roots) + Garten, garden (from Middle High German garte, from Old High German garto; see gher-1 in Indo-European roots).]


Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Trying Period

Snuggled cosy under her covers, M asked me last night, "Amma, what is a period? Not the kind that comes at the end of a sentence, but the kind that happens to girls?"
I launch into partial OB-GYNE mode, trying to explain with enough but not too explicit detail to prevent more inquisition. I was still unprepared for what came next.
"Do cows have periods?"
"Let's check on Google tomorrow. I don't know the answer to that one. Though I suppose that they might have something similar."
"Is that what the udders are for?"
"No, the udders are there to provide milk for calves, like breasts in humans."
And she went to sleep shortly later.
The next morning, as I sat at the computer, "Amma, can we check now whether cows have periods?"
Google to the rescue.
They sometimes have a discharge which is called a period, but for many animals, the endometrium is reabsorbed by the body, rather than being shed as it is in humans. Cows don't have real periods, period.
And that is how not to have a cow when your 8 year old asks you the 'big questions'.