Tuesday, May 29

Efficiency Has Whiskers

Waking 20 minutes before the alarm is set to go off is definitely an old person thing to do. That surreal 5 or 6 seconds melting from sleep into wakefulness is an oddly supernatural experience. I never know who I am, where I am or what is going on. It would be alarming except for the fact that everything is so fuzzy and numb. This is also about the time Ellie darts from her dog house to the side gate to bark dutifully at neighbors who are walking their dogs.

I don't know what a dog feels like when it is waking up. It is difficult to tell by observation alone if they wake in a momentary mental fog like I do...or if they are instantly in control of their advanced, primal senses - you know, 'fight or flight'.

Recently I read that a certain type of African rat is an expert land-mine detector. They weigh about 6 lbs. (which is creepy because that means cat-sized rat)- but this saves them from tripping the mine. It only takes around 10 minutes to train them to food stimuli, as long as the food reward is a bite of banana. Training them to respond to chemicals inherent to explosives takes a little longer, but is light-years faster than training a dog. They live about 8 or 9 years, so it's a good return on the investment. This was truly thought-provoking to me.

Years ago, Leiland had a pet rat James aptly named 'Cedrick'. I saw him wake up from a deep, happy rat sleep many times. He was obviously totally and wickedly alert in a flash. Leiland fashioned a maze that he could change the route in for a 5th grade science fair experiment. Cedrick performed swimmingly at first, nonplussed by any altered route - he succeeded in reaching the bait at the finish in blinding speed time after time. That is, until he got annoyed. Then he just shot vertically like a bat out of hell straight over the 14" maze wall and hid under the couch for a while.

I could easily visualize whatever this African rat must be like, with little collar and leash (presumably a very generous leash) out in front of his handler in the trademark staccato-snuffling peculiar to rodents. The article said they are 100% business-like in their search, quickly alerting to the deadly site by scratching furiously on the spot and then bolting back for a bite of banana. The rat quickly returns to his search without prodding and appears to have a 70 - 80% accuracy.

Is this not hugely ironic to anyone else? In a world of extreme complexities and magical technology, there really IS a "Mighty Mouse" to save the day! The same creature we associate with all kinds of negativity ~ oh, let's say the sweeping annihilation of black plague in the 1300's and characteristics like "dirty" and "conniving" is now possibly the fastest and most efficient method by which we can safely eradicate the great world tragedy that is abandoned land-mines.

If only applying a rat and a banana to other issues could also do the trick. Always waking up fully alert probably has its draw-backs, anyway.

Tuesday, May 22


The landlady hired a crew to tear-down our leaks-like-a-sieve-thoroughly-rotting -and-going-to-fall-on-your-head-and-crush-you-like-a-worm porch. Apparently part of her contract with the workers was that they would also chop down a dead grapefruit tree in the back yard.

The target corpse was obvious; one of what was probably 8 trees left around the original house when it was carved out of a citrus grove in 1944. It is literally nothing but a stump about 6 feet tall riddled with carpenter bee holes, it's bark sloughed-off exposing the dry, white dead wood.

We've been fairly involved with the process from the beginning since our landlady is Chinese and cannot communicate with the Spanish-speaking crew. I was happy to deliver one-liner Spanish phrases to serve cold drinks or in asking them to please be careful working around my hollyhock plant. David acted as the unofficial site manager and helped translate so the workers could present Mrs. Li with a bill of services. We will be pleased to test the new porch just in time for the summer monsoon season...after sweeping ankle-deep water off the back porch whenever it rains, sitting and observing the weather rather than participating in it will be kind of luxurious.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered the tree they removed was not the afore-mentioned stumpie, but the only half-dead specimen that shaded our bedroom window! It wasn't a mistake, Mrs. Li arrived on cue to make sure they got the one she indicated - but what about the eye-sore standing-firewood stump? I don't know what this means, exactly, except that our life-view of what significance a tree can have differs considerably from the owner's view.

Do you know what a Ju-Jubi tree is? It is on the U.S. import list as deadly contra-band, I am sure. Mr. Li smuggled them over from China and planted them years ago. They are obnoxiously aggressive at sending out vicious shooters many yards away from the mother witch and springing a whole forest of new ju-jubis virtually over-night. They have wicked, wicked little thorns everywhere, even on the leaves, the trunk and the roots! They are THE most objectionable tree I have ever seen. Our neighbors hate them for invading their yards and give us dirty looks. Mrs. Li harvests the ju-jubi fruit (that resembles a miniature pear, sort of, more like a giant jelly bean)that over-whelm the trees every August. She dries them in her yard and sells them at the Chinese market. Every year I worry we will find her dead at the bottom of one of her dilapidated ladders in our back yard.

I just read in the paper that there is a bacteria killing the oleanders in central Phoenix. That's a shock. Oleanders cannot be killed even when you try to destroy them. The ju-jubis are looking extremely vigorous while our faithful old citrus trees are giving up the ghost. Now if something as classic as oleanders are on their way out, too, this only creates more opportunity for the inter-lopers.

We are leafy proof we need better border control.

Friday, May 18


My whole life I have assumed other people knew a lot more than I did. I accepted my youth, inexperience and lack of a university degree as good reasons to defer to others who were older, wiser and more educated. More and more in recent years I have reason to feel smarter and smarter...

Take the Phoenix Suns 2 games ago when that Spurs dirty-player trashed our star franchise MVP Steve Nash into the media table. During the post-game re-hash between a moderator, Shaq & former Suns Charles Barkley, it was painfully obvious how even a utilitarian vocabulary would have saved Barkley from his doltish stumbling to simply express himself. We don't expect our professional athletes to be cerebral giants, we pay them to play - but it was embarrassing to watch a grown man frustrate himself searching desperately for words that never came. When he finally seized upon what he assumed to be appropriate logic, comparing the flagrant foul to murder - but not murder - homicide - (?!) yeah, well, it was just sad. I heard his book a couple years ago did well. He had a ghost-writer, though.

Some issues are more complicated than a championship basketball tournament, like immigration. A classmate in my Spanish class at Phoenix College last year was spitting passionate about the abuses of the United States against the hard-working Mexican immigrant. Her grandfather crossed the border illegally and the second generation had done very well, evidenced by her single parent status living at home, wearing designer duds, driving her own car, deftly texting on her camera phone with expensive salon fingernails and attending higher education. She bought only brand new, trendy baby accessories for her little boy that her mother mostly cared for. In every respect, including the fact that she was in a class to learn the language of her heritage - she was a pampered American girl.

As the day appointed for the September immigration march approached, she began a daily, angry posturing about the injustice and bigotry against her family here in America. The mother figure in class (the ONLY student over 19), I innocently asked her to explain. She meant her illiterate grandfather - not knowing the language and keeping a low profile in menial agricultural jobs - experienced difficult times in the foreign country and culture he had voluntarily determined to make his life-long home. She had no ability to recognize the success of his labors in giving her father the elevated status that she herself now profited from as a 2nd generation citizen.

When I pointed out to her that immigration of necessity referred to much more than Mexican interests, y'know, every country in the world has the right and the obligation to protect its borders especially in a post-911 world; not only to prevent hostile entry but also the spread of contagious disease like TB, polio & Diphtheria (all on the rise because of 3rd world country introductions) - I didn't have a chance to include human trafficking aka 'slavery' (especially from former Soviet Block countries, North Africa & Indonesia) because this once charming, cute little study companion who thought MY Spanish was expert had turned into an ugly, yelling puppet. She accused me of being a racist.

It was an all too convenient scenario. I reminded her my great grandfather was a "wet back" having stowed-away on a sailing ship from the Azore Island of Pico. He changed his last name to avoid 'La Migra' and spoke nothing but Portuguese until the day he died. All of us if we go back far enough in our family lines will find someone who came here from somewhere else ~ and we have adapted to the results; good and bad. We also have a history of the mistakes that were made in the process. While regrettable, they were not inconsistent with the times in which they took place. The issue was not about if Mexicans were nice people. She didn't have a clue about any logical border concerns or our government's responsibility to screen who and what is coming in. Loud immigrant "rights" protesters inexplicably ignore the modern world/global climate in which we live; which is considerably different than the day when we were still scooping up poop behind a horse and buggy...

I have Hispanic friends who are not 19 and should be more cognizant of life-experience at this point than they are when it comes to this issue, yet they voice the same level of ignorance and flash-like anger that my young classmate did. They do not attempt to acknowledge anything except the all-powerful entitlement of ALL Mexican immigrants. Congress struggles today with proposing a remedy that will both provide reasonable hope for citizenship and implement a workable standard that addresses necessary funding, security, work status, language competency and everything else. Good luck.

My growing sense of smarts is quickly nullified when I think about what my own children have witnessed first-hand while living in Southern Mexico. Robin was an employee of the Mexican government in a wonderfully conceived adult literacy program. However, finding willing students was impossible when the campesinos worked from sun up to sun down in the corn fields. Education was not a tradition nor a viable standard with which they could relate. Leiland especially (and most recently), being 'embedded' in the state of Chiapas for 90% of his 2 year mission there, and Chiapas being the poorest state in Mexico with the highest indigenous population, infant mortality, illiteracy, jungle protected drug cartels, etc., the situation is desperate. He saw entire villages where most of the adults were absent - for years if not forever, from the lives of their young, starving children they left behind to go "al norte", to the U. S. The system of family and decency is ruptured and bleeding to death.

When a major hurricane hit and the city he lived in on the Guatemalan border was flooded, he was horrified not only to see death all around him, but the cowardly spectacle of men hauling buckets of beer or a television to safety while their wives attempted to lead little children and babes in arms to higher ground. Many of them did not succeed, and some made the agonizing choice to abandon their little ones so they themselves could escape. The people in the aftermath of this catastrophe were left without help or services to the extent that would make Katrina and New Orleans seem like a debutante ball. The corruption in the Mexican government is more than a swashbuckling legend of Zorro, it's a cruel and bloody reality.

For all my feelings of smarterness, there are also far more things that appear to have no clear answer. I don't know how the Mexican government can wean herself from demanding the U.S. support her incompetency. I don't know what will motivate her to acquire the funding, to say nothing of assuring loyalty and integrity throughout it's various arms of influence, to really lift her own people out of the tragic circumstances that compel them to leave everything that is human nature to stay and protect and nourish. It's too big. It's just too big.

As an American in Mexico in a border state, Leiland was also detained a few times and witnessed many times how the Federales treat illegals from Guatemala and Central America. They were brutalized at the butt of a rifle or machine gun, robbed, kicked and tossed into army transport vehicles or trains back to the border. Women "immigrants" fared much worse, although thankfully he had to take that based on 2nd hand information and never witnessed it himself.

I don't know how to fix that, either. Apparently being a Federale is much like being a professional athlete. Thinking about what you're doing and finding the vocabulary to express it are probably not required.

Tuesday, May 15

Wings of Promise

Do you ever notice how when you come upon a dying bee on the sidewalk, you have to stop and examine it - or, is this just me? It strikes me as weird that out of all the places a retiring bee could drop from the sky - how do they happen to land out in the open like that? It's almost like an exhibit: Come and look at me! And, I guess I do.

They are beautiful. Their wings are so delicate and their little black faces seem kind of earnest and business-like. Perhaps this is because of all the positive associations mankind has given them like "hard-working", "industrious" and "busy as..." We admire their cooperative spirit, too, all that fanning the inside the hive to monitor the internal temperature, the division of duties - nurse, guard, drone, worker, queen - and the little communication dance when one of the group has discovered a ripe source of pollen. This is all PBS stuff, of course, I have never voluntarily approached a busy bee on purpose in my whole life. This appears to have been a fine strategy, too, since I have never been stung.

One time, I was in Durango, Colorado and visited a honey shop. There was a clear, plastic tube running from the outside of the building all through the store to a central acrylic case right in the middle of the place. It housed a bunch of wonderfully over-flowing honey combs tended faithfully by scads of very busy, buzzing bees who crawled in and out all day long in that tube. It was amazing!

Currently there is a strange plague, or series of them, that are threatening honeybee populations across the world. It's more than just pondering the random dead bee, keepers are discovering entire hives that have vanished in a day. The fact that they didn't even make it home before they disappeared is alarming...because left alone in the hive, is the queen. Expired, I presume, in company with the whole nursery of baby bees. This is something that could be disastrous to our nation's agriculture for starters, since the lowly bee is nature's pollinator.

Sadly, bees and bee doings are mostly unappreciated, I imagine. Parents are like bees. It's a good thing when there are 2 of them; they can take turns with the division of duties, but there really is not much room for the traditional queen role. I'm certainly in no mood to sit around 12 times my original size and lay eggs by the millions. However, being hand-fed once in a while might be appealing.

Bending over to get a better view of the poor, dying bee kind of makes me wonder; he's just one. He did his part, he accepted his lot and gave it everything he had. In the process, he gave life to his world in an incredibly expanding spiral of influence that goes way beyond the nodding blossoms in his wake.

I got a mother's day card from my Beedee (Robin). She had warned me it was coming late, but I forgot. Monday, the day after Mother's Day - I was happily surprised by her beautiful homemade greeting. Inside she had written partly, "...I'm grateful for all you taught me."

She is only ONE. So each are the other four, only one at a time ~ part of me, of US and our life here, out in the world, busy with their new lives, doing their part. Oh! And now there's also Jack! The grandbaby bee - the one & only! Now our parental sphere is expanded to a whole new level.

Maybe this is what it feels like to be a queen.

Tuesday, May 8


I have been feeling itchy ever since we saw the little kid on t.v. who had 2 spiders flushed out of his ear. This is probably a great statement of how media achieves an influence over the minds of the people. I don't care...I'm just really glad we have a lot of q-tips.

Another thing nagging at the back of my mind is something that happens every single time I do yard work. I like to mow the lawn. I like to dig, to clip, to rake, all of it. I like the sensation of being really hot and sweaty and asking the kids to bring me a cup of ice water before I pass-out - not that our yard is a garden showpiece or anything; it's not. The only thing I can't handle is the weed-whacker. It's too heavy and I feel like I'm going to slice a leg off.

Anyway, whilst I am enjoying my little ritual of hard, manly labor in the great outdoors, I think of my dad every single time. This bothers me, because I am still pretty angry with my dead father.

The second oldest of 4 and the only girl, I was NOT the little princess. I had to compete with 3 brothers and a neighborhood crawling with boys. I had no use for dolls or fancy dresses. It was the late 60's. It was more than a perk to be really good throwing a baseball or a dirt clod, or wielding an air bazooka - it was a necessity. It was also sweet justice to be the only girl who wasn't afraid to hold a ribbon snake (our babysitter dropped it when it's tongue flicked out and it died the next day); the boys thought that was mighty boss of me. But very few things about me seemed to impress my dad.

My older brother was expected to help with the yard work on Saturdays. And he did, for a while. But he would exit the scene way before we were finished, and I counted on Danny going a-wol because then I would have dad all to myself. I admired his Herculean strength and the way the sweat dripped off the edge of his nose. He said it did that because he was a "Portugee". It was a truly delicious effort, working furiously to keep pace with a big guy like that and hoping he would notice. He was more cheerful out in the yard than in any other setting.

So now, 40 years later (and almost 4 years that he's been gone), why should I automatically think of following him around our acre lot on Jellico Avenue - the panting, puppy-like invisible slave of Saturday chores? It's pathetic. It's not some kind of weird, spiritual communication, is it? I don't ever remember him saying, "Good job!" or "Thanks for helping me!"

But today, as I mowed the front lawn and trimmed the oleanders, I couldn't shake the image of his younger self bustling full gear around that extensive yard with it's 30+ trees, the rose garden, and hedges, the riding mower circling the lawn cranked all the way to "4" on the speed option. The sensation of me as a little girl following in his powerful shadow was sharp and insistent.

I think he was thinking I did do a good job, but had missed trimming the driveway.

Friday, May 4

My Carbon What - ?

So Queen Elizabeth is visiting the former colony of Jamestown today. To demonstrate her environmental acuity, she opted to compensate for her "carbon foot-print" ~ the energy usage/pollution represented by her trans-Atlantic flight yesterday ~ to the tune of $20,000.

Well, cheerio! I can just picture her sitting in Buckingham Palace surrounded by Louis XIV furniture and servants offering tea and crumpets whilst she studied the theoretical concerns of green house gases. Prince Phillip, I imagine, "fresh" from a morning romp on the polo field might have contributed to the discussion; at least as far as it related to pesky pony doody and the accompanying methane risk...

The $20,000 we are told, is going to "various agencies that deal with environmental issues" such as efforts to save the rain forest and the like. The wording in the news report was characteristically nebulous.

You'd think it would have been a much more productive P.R. move on 'Lizzie's part to present a homeless shelter or a children's aids clinic with her royal generosity once she arrived in the States after so many years of ignoring us. On the other hand, she might explain what she's doing with the treasury; is that really her money to feel environmentally guilty about? What in the heck are Brits thinking to be so incredibly indulgent of a defunct monarchy? I'll bet the "carbon foot print" for the pampered royal set is a whopper...seems like there should be genuine and vigorous outrage over that.

What about real issues that effect every day life - no theory, but fact: where's the public outrage for $3+ per gallon gas? Illiteracy? Five hour waits in filthy emergency rooms? Meth addiction and horrific birth-defects? Banishment of play-ground games because they might injure a child's self-esteem? Diamond-studded cat collars?

We have become a society of the ridiculous. Let's put a carbon price tag on STUPID; like our breathless anticipation for the latest celebrity sighting, inane political statement or celebrity 3rd world country adoption. For starters, something like $150,000 per each rehab exit photo, and maybe $250,000 for a shaved head. We could have a rotating duty on a volunteer people's committee allocate the resulting funds flooding in to real causes...

Now we're talkin' relevant carbon.