Goodbye, Tree.

Mimosas are not only drinks.

Mimosas are trees with delicate fern-like leaves and fluffy pink flowers. My elementary school had a huge mimosa in front, with a low trunk that encouraged climbing, at least after hours when there was no staff looking. During the time that my family was  undergoing the worst period that I can remember (the very worst times having been when my sister died, when I was two), I would go to the elementary school and climb the mimosa and feel safe. I was in middle school by that time, but the gate to the elementary school wasn’t locked until nightfall.

That mimosa was my friend and my protector.

I had a lot of other trees in my childhood — the jacaranda down the street, the huge norfolk pine in my front lawn that had been a “live Christmas tree” that my sister had bought when it was three feet tall, the Australian pines down near the beach with the little cones that hurt more than Legos if you stepped on them with bare feet, and the omnipresent palm trees of various species — but I remember mimosas, along with crepe myrtle and live oak, with fondness. Crepe myrtles may be prettier when they bloom, and live oaks have more interesting bark, but mimosas are just … special.

When the Rocket Scientist and I bought our house many years ago, one of the things that I loved was the large mimosa standing sentinel at the top of the driveway, just at the entrance to the walkway.  It provided shade in the summer, and a feeling of emotional safety always.

The mimosa has died. It was looking peaked last season, and I made a mental note to get it professionally pruned, but I didn’t. It was looking worse this spring, so in late July we called in an arborist who told us the awful news that due to some damage below the soil line that had happened when we had foundation work done fifteen years ago, as well as a hole in the top of the tree that was invisible from human eye-level, water had gotten inside the trunk and rotted it out. It was only a matter of time. We planned to have it out at the end of August.

Well, we are having it out at the very end of August. Last week the tree started leaning more and more until it was clearly a danger to the house and the cars. So today a crew is coming to our house and taking my mimosa down. I don’t know what we’ll plant in its stead; it feels a little premature talking about that, like we had lost a pet and were talking about a replacement right after burying it. We could, but it seems kind of callous. On the other hand, it would be good to get something in the ground before the rainy season so it can take advantage of all that water.

I feel very sad right now; I’ll miss my mimosa.

Posted in My life and times | Tagged , | 1 Comment

My cat needs a playlist.

We live close by our vet, and it doesn’t take long to drive there, so I had never really noticed this phenomenon until now.

I was taking the lovely Penwiper (Connie Willis fans may recognize the name) to the vet to get her stitches removed. In spite of our efforts, she manages to be an outdoor cat. She even took to guile to be able to escape; she would stand pressed against the wall in the foyer so she was not visible, and when we responded to her meowing and opened the door to let her in, she would bolt out. She knows when I am coming up the walk, and knows I am slower getting in than other people, so she can dash between my legs. I invariably yell “Stupid Cat!” after her, but in reality she is a very smart cat.

For a very long time she was queen of the neighborhood. Once out, she would head off on her rounds — across the street and half a block down to the park and the school, which she owned. We assumed that she was able to stay out by eating rodents (lots of fruit trees in the area, and she was a fierce killer of vermin*), but we found out that she had been mooching off other families, who thought she was a stray (although she was chipped, we could never keep a collar on her). She loves us (she always comes back in a few hours), but she loves her freedom, too.

This changed a few months ago, when a large gray tom started strutting through our yard. Oscar, as we call him, is so annoying that the normally placid Pandora** clawed her way through a window screen to try and get at him. Penwiper, who had been the victor in several cat fights in our backyard (at least she was the victor, she didn’t seem any worse for wear afterwards***), has met her match.

In the past few months, on two occasions Penwiper has come home with scratches on her side that required stitches. (On the good side, she stays in a lot more now; on the bad side, she seems kind of depressed.) The most recent case was three weeks ago, and today I took her to the vet to get her stitches out.

We have a new soft cat carrier that allows you to put your hand in soothe your cat, which I was doing. (Our hard cat carrier is hated by both cats, and they let us know it.) Instead of meowing piteously the entire drive to and from the vet’s, she was only meowing some of the time. During “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something she sounded as pathetic as could be. As soon as “At This Moment” by Billy Vera and the Beaters came on, she stopped. When that turned into “Goodbye, Earl” by the Dixie Chicks, she started vocalizing again, sounding almost angry. One verse in, I forwarded to “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran, and she almost started purring.

Okay, so Deep Blue Something and Dixie Chicks out, Billy Vera and Ed Sheeran in. Got it.

I need to figure what other songs are on my cat’s greatest hits.

*She has left rats, mice, and half a snake on our doorstep. I’d say she loves us, and I know she does, but she may also be boasting. Once while outside, she came up to the screen door with a mouse. She waited until she had Pandora’s attention, and then ostentatiously killed and ate the poor thing.

**Pandora has her own quirks: she ignores everyone until Railfan comes through the door from work or school, at which point she throws herself at him, meowing as though she had been left stranded in the wilderness and he was her rescuer. She keeps this up until he picks her up, at which point she lets him stroke her a couple of times before trying to scratch him. It’s a weird relationship those two have.

***Lest you think that we are negligent for not stopping these fights, they usually take place around 2 a.m., and are exceedingly brief. Penwiper may undoubtedly be getting into fights elsewhere, but from the little bits we’ve seen, she holds her own, and then some. Pandora tried to jump her from behind once, and Penwiper turned around and smacked Pandora in the face. (Usually the cats get along well, mostly by ignoring each other.)

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F*** you, too, Brownie.

[Warning: as can be guessed by the title, this post contains strong language.]

Ten years ago, I was telling my friends that people in the Gulf Coast were using “the C-word”: Camille. Growing up in Florida, the refrain you always heard was “That was some hurricane, all right, but it wasn’t like Camille.” For the first time I could remember, people were looking at a storm and wondering if maybe, just maybe, this one would be “like Camille.”

Now, of course, people say “yeah, that was a storm, but it was nowhere near to Katrina.” But Katrina, by the time it hit, was only a strong Category 3 — not a 4 like Andrew, let alone a 5 like Camille. Katrina was a man-made disaster as much, or more, than a natural one.

The entire story of the political and policy missteps which culminated in a clusterfuck of monumental proportions goes back decades before Katrina started to form over the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. But the Bush Administration’s abject failure to behave with competency or compassion in the wake of the storm resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and the destruction of the lives of many thousands more.

The man at the center of the fiasco, FEMA director, Michael Brown, has a piece in Politico Magazine, explaining his side of the story. According to him, he was the victim of a vicious press and idiotic superiors, and the only mistakes he made were matters of media relations and spin control. He does have some valid points: FEMA needs to be independent of the sort of political meddling Brown claims resulted in support being pulled from New Orleans and sent to Mississippi because Trent Lott threw a temper tantrum. And yes, a lot of blame rests very squarely with New Orleans municipal and Louisiana state governments. But even in his defense of himself comes across as whiny and obtuse.

Brown sprinkles sad images (e.g.young mothers in the Superdome in squalid conditions) merely to say how these things had nothing to do with him. Nowhere in the entire piece does Brown in any significant way express any dismay at the toll that all of that incompetence by the government took; there is a detached “mistakes were made (and not by me)” air about the entire piece. And then there is this…

The American public needs to learn not to rely on the government to save them when a crisis hits. The larger the disaster, the less likely the government will be capable of helping any given individual. We simply do not have the manpower to help everyone. Firefighters and rescue workers would all agree the true first responders are individual citizens who take care of themselves.

This astounding viewpoint  is…

…a fuck you to every poor person living within 100 miles of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean.

…a fuck you to every poor person living in Tornado Alley.

…a fuck you to every poor person living in the flood plains of the Mississippi, Missouri, or Ohio rivers.

…a fuck you to every poor person who lives in any part of the country subject to horrific blizzards or ice storms.

This statement is a huge upraised middle finger to every person in America who lacks the means to get themselves out of the way of disaster, and insurance to help themselves recover from it.

“Individual citizens who can take care of themselves” would not include people who  have no transportation to evacuate when no other means of evacuation have been made available, or who have no place that they can evacuate to.  “Individual citizens who can take care of themselves” would not cover people with disabilities that lack resources to help themselves keep safe. “Individual citizens who can take care of themselves” would not be poor people left homeless by a hurricane or tornado or flood.

Stating, as Brown does, that the federal government should step in only “in those disasters that are beyond the capacity of state and local governments to handle” neatly begs the question of why the Bush Administration in general and he in particular did such a horrible job in dealing with a hurricane.  And Brown’s statement  “the federal government must not become a first responder” since “the more state and local governments become dependent upon federal dollars, the weaker and more dependent upon the federal government they will become” only makes sense if you belong to a party who, in Grover Nordquist’s words, wants to shrink federal government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub. It totally ignores the issue of what the federal government should do in cases where the local or state governments are too corrupt or incompetent to take care of all of their citizens fairly and adequately. You only have to look at how school resources are divvied up in some places in America to get some idea about how disaster resources might be.

But I suppose if you belong to a party who believes government is a bad thing, or have the wealth or connections that mean you can take care of yourself even if  left all on your lonesome, then I guess you can make statements like “the American public needs to learn not to rely on them to save them when a crisis hits” in all sincerity, even if it does make you look like a bastard. Either that, or a fool. Or both.

The rest of us understand that the government cannot save all of us, but we damn well expect them to try.

Posted in Justice, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

To my foremothers

The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, adopted August 26, 1920.

You beautiful, strong women: Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul, the brave women who suffered torture in the Occaquan workhouse, Carrie Chapman Catt, Emily Blackwell and Alice Stone Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Burns…

Belva Lockwood.

Victoria Woodhull.

Sojourner Truth.

This daughter recognizes how much I owe you. I want you to know that I do what I can not only to vote, but to persuade, cajole, and when necessary, yell * to get people to understand how much exercising that right that you women fought so valiantly for really matters.

I become exasperated with all those who refuse to vote, but I recoil from women who deliberately do so; it feels as though they are spitting on your graves.

Once again, with all my heart, thank you.

*I only yell at my family, generally.
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Look what I made!

I am what I like to call a “process knitter.” My inability to keep track of intricate patterns means that I end up knitting things that are straight and pretty boring. In addition, I have not knitted anything since The Not-So-Little Drummer boy was a sophomore in high school, which was eight years ago.

So, for some unfathomable reason, I started knitting about ten days ago. And here is what I made:

Scarf (1)

Yes, it’s a relatively obnoxious sea green. I have no idea why I had this yarn in my stash. It is long enough (about 4.5 feet) to be a real scarf.


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We’ll miss you, “Comrade.”

As writers from Chaucer to Shakespeare to George Orwell and beyond can attest, words change meaning with sad regularity. Usually they change gradually over the years, but sometimes the new meaning explodes out of nowhere. And sometimes those changes come about because a word is hijacked by a political or social movement.

Before being coopted by the Communists, specifically the Soviets, “comrade” was a very useful concept. It held the middle ground between “friend” and “acquaintance,” or more importantly between “friend” and “coworkers.”

I work on political campaigns, which are by their nature time-limited and intense; you get to know your coworkers over time, especially those with whom you have worked several campaigns. Maybe not their histories, but their personalities, their tics, the way they respond to pressure (or not, although people who can’t stand the heat usually rapidly leave the kitchen).

For the most part, I like my coworkers. (There are very rare exceptions, I will admit.) But  I don’t count all of them as my friends. We may rub each other the wrong way, or just be too different. I still respect them, and because of the nature of the work, really consider them more than simply coworkers.

They are my comrades. We fight the good fight together, and do often under-appreciated work that can make a difference between a candidate’s success and failure. But I could never call them that, because Communists appropriated the word to refer party members. (This is especially true because I work for an organization that has a progressive bent.)

It’s a shame.  “Comrade” is such a great word. It’s too bad it’s been lost.

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Oh, well.

I saw John Scalzi in conversation with Tad Williams tonight.

Scalzi was funny, and charming, and gave one of the better explanations of the Puppies phenomenon I’ve heard or read (namely, jealously, but it’s a lot more than that) and ended the formal part of the evening by playing “Creep” on a ukulele. Good times, as the Not-So-Little-Drummer Boy would say.

I could not go to the signing table, since I did not buy a copy of Scalzi’s latest book, The End of All Things. The Rocket Scientist has the e-book, and we are honestly trying to avoid duplication of media, since we are absolutely out of book space.*

Before the event, Scalzi was standing next to my friend Angela, who was working the event. I walked right by, made eye contact… and froze.

Remember the scene in A Christmas Story where Santa asks what Ralphie wants, and Ralph is so intimidated he agrees to Santa’s suggestion that he wants a football? And then Ralphie claws his way back up the slide and says “No! No! No! I want an OfficialRed RyderCarbine-ActionTwo-Hundred-ShotRangeModelAirRifle!”

Yeah. Like that.

I might have clawed my way back (or, in this case, walked a few feet) and said what I was thinking:

“Mr. Scalzi I have been reading your blog, like, forever and I made my younger kids read both “Being Poor” and “Lowest Possible Setting” and I think your piece about the day after 9/11 maybe the most eloquent thing on the subject except for Jon Stewart’s and my friend Angela made me read Redshirts and now it’s my favorite science fiction novel except for some books by Connie Willis because, you know, Connie Willis and I can’t come see you at the signing table because we already have the e-book of End Of All Things (my husband says he’s almost finished and it’s really good but it’s hard to sign an e-book) and no book space whatsoever and so is there anyway in the world that you can sign my copy of Redshirts and maybe can I get a picture with you please please please?????

Instead I gave a glassy-eyed smile and a high-pitched “Hi!” to both Scalzi and my friend, and then slouched off to my seat and began to knit furiously.**


Sometimes, being terribly shy really sucks.***

*This is 100% true, yet did not prevent me buying a copy of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. I also wanted to buy the third part of Hilary Mantel ‘s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, but she hasn’t finished writing it yet. Rats.

**Something very similar happened years ago when I met Steve Jobs, when the only thing I could think to say was to ask about his assistant, who I had been corresponding with. I don’t do well around famous people.

***Yes, I am incredibly  shy. I don’t feel shy online, and sometimes in person I can put on my “I am lawyer, hear me roar!” persona and become absolutely fearless, but mostly I’m just shy.

Posted in Culture (popular and otherwise), Feminism, Who I am | Tagged , | 1 Comment