Monday, January 28, 2008

Happy 50th, LEGO

When I was a kid (read well into college), I had a 12 by 12' LEGO city. A good 1/4 of the town came one Christmas morning when, upon my mother closing her toy store, she had saved some two dozen sets for my sister and I--that is one of my fondest Christmas memories as we tore into package after package of LEGO sets.

Sometime in early college my dad got a pool table, and I came home to dismantle most of the town, but still tried to have one along a 1' strip around the basement walls (double decker roads and all). It got stepped on frequently, so it eventually came down. Every set is labeled, baggied with instructions, and in one of five large plastic tubs in my basement now. Some day, the city shall rise again.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

And the Lord Sayeth (Surely He Sayeth)...

Get thee outside, blessed be the 52 degrees, and the full sun which shineth on thy pasty brow, and the light south wind to temper your warm work taking down Christmas lights and filling the bird feeder. And the Lord looketh down upon Benjamin and saw that it was good.

And the Lord sayeth ruminate upon thy garden from thy deck chair, rejoice in the $100 gift certificate to White Flower Farm, rejoice in the $150 gift certificate to Heronswood, prepare for the sowing so thy might spiritually reap the flowers and the birds and the foliage and the butterflies, and He saw that this, too, was good.

And prepareth thyself a bounty of blessed travel, go to a great fellowship at the largest AWP writers conference this century in New York City later this week. Partake of the multitude of skilled writers and editors (whom you shouldst stalk / hobnob with excessively, but not egregiously), the Statue of Liberty, MOMA, The Guggenheim, The Met, forgeteth thou that the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier museum is being refurbished and its sleek jet fighters too, for these are excessive pleasures and sootheth not the soul as thine sculpture, painting, and winterized botanical gardens, and taxis, and dangerous jaywalking, and ice skating at Rockefeller.

And this too, is good, that Benjamin receiveth no rejection letters lately, his cat pukith slightly less this week, and that he has again begun researching his memoir. Surely goodness and mercy follows wherever he goes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

More Green Funerals

I'm not morbid, that's my wife. I'm just interested in this for a few days. The UK seems to have many more websites on this topic than the U.S., like, where you can get newspaper and cardboard coffins (have we been trained to think these types of coffins imply people hated the person inside, or otherwise looked down on them?).

A few months ago I picked up a book by Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies From the Dismal Trade. Now, like many books I buy, I haven't made my way to it yet, but I hear it's very enlightening, good easy prose, and funny / charming. Anyone read it?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Die Green--Eco Funerals

There's this free pub in UNL's student union I pick up once in a while, Prairie Fire. In December's issue is an article on green funerals. I'd never heard of this. Isn't death inherently green? What IS a green funeral? In sum:

--It's very personal and private. Often, the body is displayed in the person's home for a very intimate and familiar send off.

--No embalming. A green funeral thus costs roughly $1,000-2,000 or less, while a typical full service funeral is around $10,000.

--The casket is often a basket (it rhymes!), or simply wood like bamboo, or any other cheap or renewable materials (seagrass, willow, pine--all certified by the Fair Trade Organization so you know pandas don't depend on the bamboo, the forests are managed right, and kids aren't working as slave labor). Basically, the coffin and the body will degrade naturally in the ground and help to push up more daisies.

--There are 6 operating green cemetaries in the country: wooded graveyards that ban chemicals and not-easily-decomposed coffins.

Let's say it's winter and you live in Duluth, MN. How do you keep mom from not stinking up the family room? One person who had a green funeral propped a door open to lower the room temperature, while another used ice. Burial can often be achieved by heating the ground with portable space heaters, which many cemetaries use, though many more keep bodies "on ice" until spring.

If you're Jewish, you've apparently been green for a long time; you use wooden caskets and don't embalm.

So, is cremation green? Not really. Burning the body can realease mercury into the air, which comes from amalgam in dental fillings. Besides, Maine alone releases 20lbs of mercury into the air each year.

The funeral industry believes this is a fad. People want their loved ones preserved, to last longer, a tradition of sorts the Egyptians started (I'm paraphrasing the article here). In addition, embalming can can help protect against the spread of disease and bacteria.

Obviously, a green funeral is cheaper, perhaps more intimate and controlled, and would help fertilize the soil. I'd like to know just how much fossil fuel and pollution not using a traditional coffin would save, as this seems kind of relevant if we preach and practice something "green."

Still, it's odd to think that death is now--suddenly perhaps, but not without being obvious--not so green as we thought, not so sacred and "dust to dust," and so we have to make it TRULY green.

Our legacy, what we choose to leave and how we lead our lives, echoes in how we die and what we become after death. I find this disturbing. I find this eco posturing invasive during a time of intense grief and introspection. I find the funeral industry, in general, appalling.

There is nothing sacred or natural about the body in our modern world--and so as I garden and the dirt clings to my skin, perhaps that transience is the closest I will ever get to being part of the earth, part of something much more honorable in its brutal and graceful nonchalance about living and death.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Labdien, Latvia!

Everyone, welcome Latvia to my blog, courtesy of sitemeter.

The search phrase? Anyone? Even a tiny guess??

Atom lioness sucks.

Couldn't agree more, Latvia! Exactly how I feel about double decker coneflowers. (Could it be any more obvious how awful plant engineering has become? 90% of the newer coneflowers, for example, are monstrosities.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It's January, Finally

-6 this morning. Two days ago, when we got 2-3" of snow, I went around and piled 6-10" on some of my plants I'm pushing the zone with, especially those I planted in September / October. Maybe a bit alarmist, but I need to do SOMETHING outside. The tree althea (rose of sharon on a steeeeek, uh, standard) got some snow, because at the last place I always piled it on thick and it seemed to do quite well, but here it's a bit more exposed. The bloodgood acer p. also got some snow, as it's mounded up above the clay (soil I partly ammended and will continue to treat). I'm baby-ing it too much this first year, I think. Next year all it gets is a windscreen.

Plus, being anti my father, I like to place small piles of snow in shady places so it'll last longer. I enjoy my seasons, and they might as well linger (as I do on summer evenings in the garden). I like being the last one on the street to have a speck of white come April.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Ice Worm Cometh

There are worms that live in both glacial ice (one species) and that live in frozen methane under the ocean floor (another species). How cool is that?

The ice worms up in Alaska only appear on the surface at dawn and dusk, crawling their way to snow to feed on algae before the sun hits them: at temperatures above 32 degrees they begin to liquify.

The first species was discovered in 1887 in Alaska's Muir Glacier, where there are thought to be billions of them.

It's not known for sure how they move through the ice--some think they simply crawl through very small cracks, while others believe they secrete some sort of antifreeze. I guess they're sorta hard to study.

And why not make this into an EVENT. Every February since 1961, Cordova, Alaska has held the Iceworm Festival in an attempt to shake the winter blues. How does one DO this though? You guessed it--a survival suit race into the water. And...

--Miss Iceworm Coronation (put THAT on the college application and the ole dating resume)

--Shaving Permits "Buy your shaving permits at local businesses to avoid being jailed! Iceworm trivia: When famed bush pilot Mudhole Smith failed to buy his shaving permit, he was sentenced to shout at the top of his lungs “Fly Frontier Air” ten times on Main Street!" I guess Alaska Air is the only way to go, and if you true Alaskans don't use it, you get tarred, er, wormed and feathered.

--Blessing of the Fleet

--And the local hotel runs a special on rooms for all you out of towners: just stop in at The Reluctant Fisherman Inn (now, is he reluctant because he didn't get his boat blessed, so busy was he worming it up the night before?)

And don't forget to read Robert Service's poem "Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail"
I wonder what glacial ice worm tea looks like... clear? Could you use it in your garden?

What I Found on ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback

Alongside bits on the NFL playoffs, attractive cheerleaders, Godzilla, Miley Cyrus, China's imperialism, Cary Grant, and The Simpsons, we have a solution to the global energy crisis

"Physicists at a recent Washington meeting estimated that solar collectors in orbit, using lasers to transmit power to converters in the North African desert, could supply all of Europe's energy at a price competitive with current power generation and without carbon emissions. A world of space-based energy would not need coal-fired or nuclear power plants, and there would be sufficient electricity available so that hydrogen could be made from seawater to power our cars and airplanes. Homo sapiens could kiss the greenhouse gas issue goodbye.

Needless to say, building orbital solar power collectors would be hugely expensive -- although once the collectors were completed, operating costs would be relatively low because no fuel is required and no waste is made. Nations would need to cooperate on positioning the orbital systems and the ground receptors. There's some chance that zapping powerful lasers or microwave beams through the atmosphere would affect the weather. And extremely expensive power towers floating in space would, sadly, provide tempting military targets.

Already, the Pentagon's National Security Space Office has quietly told lawmakers it would like to build a smallish orbiting proof-of-concept solar power station that would be used to beam energy down to deployed U.S. armed forces units. The Army and Marines have countless diesel-electric generators set up in Iraq and Afghanistan; if deployed forces could draw their electric power from a beam from space, this would be preferable. But if the first space solar generator is built to support the U.S. military, this could get the whole idea off on the wrong foot, making space solar power towers feel like valid military targets.

Anyway, TMQ finds it reassuring that there are potential energy solutions that involve vast amounts of power without any greenhouse gas emissions, fissile materials that might be stolen, or atomic byproducts that must be buried. Plus, return to those sun statistics. Our star generates 12 quadrillion terawatts of energy per year, radiating in all directions, so that an estimated 100,000 terawatts per year will fall on Earth -- warming our world, causing plant growth and making life possible. Some 100,000 terawatts end up here -- the rest streams off into the void. Thus 99.999999 percent of the energy generated by the sun is wasted, except perhaps for offering career opportunities for alien astronomers and their postdocs in other parts of the galaxy."

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Miss the 80s

Specifically, the music. I'm taking the day off after furious lesson planning this weekend and teaching early tomorrow (and writing a book by May), and am uploading songs to my new ipod nano (a beautiful piece of technology). Anywho, I miss music that mattered and whose lyrics meant something. Take this Genesis song, a band that had countless hits and some great videos:

Then I think about bands like The Smiths, The Police, Peter Gabriel, even Depeche Mode and lots and lots of others. Shoot, one could go back to the 60s and 70s and find some pretty sweet music there, too. I don't even listen to much pop radio anymore, preferring classical and NPR talk. Is that me getting older, disenfranchised, or both? If I were 18, would I think 80s music was the oldies but goodies station? Something my dad listened too?

All I got to say is I'd rather listen to music with meaningful lyrics AND good / original rhythm than songs that employ these lyrics I just made up:

I want to brush against you baby
feel the lumps the humps the bumps
ohhhh you know you like it skanky lady
when I give you permission to #$@%

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mexico Part 1 -- Pictures

We spent much of our time in our room, or on the beach just steps below us from the cliffs we were perched on. I got sick over the weekend, but we still had a few very good days just relaxing in the Pacific or our very own 12x6' pool. So, following are pics, with some description. Later, after I'm done lesson planning and making syllabi and handouts for my class (school starts Monday), I will RANT RANT RANT about the 15.5 hour trip back home, the Mexican molesting of our baggage, and the false sense of security the ridiculous U.S. customs in Houston provides. But, good first.

There will be many pictures of the bay in Zihuatanejo, MX (no, we did not see Andy or Red--stop asking). Our views were just KILLER. We stayed in one of two private villas next door to our main hotel, Casa Que Canta. No one from the hotel is allowed to visit our villa, but we can visit and use the hotel. Four rooms in our villa, all attended to by a private butler/waiter, chef, and concierge, plus lots of women sweeping day and night and men scrapping rust off of the chain link fence down by Playa la Ropa (the beach's name). Below is a look back toward the more architectural villa next to ours (our patio umbrella is to the left of the left sail's tip--get that?). Then there are some views of our room, in and out.

This is a view of the main hotel from down by the rocky shore. Here, I had arranged a special private dinner on a private patio just feet above the waves crashing into the rocks, and just at sunset. Did I mention I was able to cheaply upgrade us to first class for the 4.5 hour flight to Zihua from Minneapolis? Everything was tres bien until Saturday when I experienced, well, la la la....
Every night the turn down staff left a flower / greenery display on our bed. The night of our dinner (celebrating our one year engagement), we got the largest and most elaborate one.

An interesting tree / shrub off our patio.

Expand this view by clicking on it. You can see white flowers, pink ones, and the mini orange tree (not a small tree, I mean small oranges).

Two cruise ships anchored in the bay; this one was the bigger sucker, and stayed most of Saturday as people were ferried back and forth to shore to buy ceramic dolphins and crappy sunglasses that break after wearing them once (I bought two pair to find this out). The vendors in the "artisan's market" (read souvenirs) pushed you hard to buy anything. If you picked up something just to finger it, they'd sweep in, polish it with a cloth, and say you liked it. If you said no, they'd pick up one of a different color, polish it, and tell you that you liked that one. No, you'd insist. Then they picked up another one and shoved it in your hands and told you to buy it. After a while, you get used to this, though, and brush it off like the 5 rejection letters you recieved in the mail this week. Obviously, though, the vendors are relatively poor, and the town as a whole was run down and dirty, but I think that's expected in Mexico. The irony of the four star hotels and white American's with disposable income near the shore vs downtown is somewhat striking. That's all the social commentary you get from me, because that's not what the trip was about. (And as an American I have the inherent right to ignore other people and embrace them if and when I so choose, and in what manner best suits me at that moment--damn, did I just give more commentary? Stop it.)
This is our villa's main pool, and where we had lunch and dinner several times. Most often, though, we had an elegant room service for all three meals, preferring to dress down and be lazy (there was a dinner dress code, but nothing we don't wear fairly often anyway. I preferred wearing just shorts, so, room service.).

Another view of the villa next door, followed by us, and a pretty darn good sunset photo.