Archive for February, 2010

Flower Power

February 24, 2010

A while back I posted about one of my favorite Christmas presents, an Aero Garden. Well, it’s been planted for just over a month now and I have much progress to report.
“Wait, what’s an Aero Garden?” asks the puzzled listener in the balcony.
The Aero Garden grows specially designed “seed pods” for flowers, herbs or vegetables, and it grows them in aerated water to which you add special nutrient pellets every time the little light goes on to remind you. There’s a set of growing lights over the top, and there’s space for six plants. It’s really pretty amazing. Imagine, being able to grow tomatoes indoors, in any season!
The seed pods I got for Christmas were billed as “Incredible Edibles,” which I assumed meant vegetables or herbs. Only when I opened the package to “plant” the pods did I learn that they are edible flowers. I have two marigolds, a dianthus, a lavender viola, a yellow snapdragon and a calendula. According to what I’ve read, all thoatese flowers can be used as garnishes. Calendulas are also used in skin creams for cuts and bruises.
Ghostess, Ghostess, quite the mostest, how does your Aero Garden grow?
Very nicely, thank you. All the plants are up, and down in the bubbling water roots are readily apparent. The marigolds are the most hardy, not to say aggressive, ones. One marigold in particular has really taken off. It was the first one up and is now the largest of all the plants. The poor lavender viola right next to it was last to sprout and is hardly more than a wisp of green. IT kept stupidly trying to push up under the edge of its little opening, where it couldn’t get much light. It had to be adjusted several times. And now the Mammoth marigold from the Flower Shoppe Primeval is looming over it, shading the frail sprout with its own lush foliage. If plants were like people, that marigold would be the big overgrown kid who always dominates all the playground games and plays them so well and so competitively that the other, more normal-sized kids, give up and hang out by the jungle gym.
And I like to think my viola is like the meek, spindly kid who plods along, always in last place, always the one to trip and fall, always getting picked last for the team, but who eventually turns out to be twice as smart as his classmates, most of whom find themselves working for him.
You hang in there, viola. Don’t let that marigold steal your thunder.

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The Ambassador’s Blighted Betrothal

February 12, 2010

Yes, I know that title smacks of the cheesy bodice-rippers I’ve sometimes made fun of on this very blog. I did that on purpose. Read on.
One of the nicest things about email is that your friends can send you all sorts of interesting news stories that you might not otherwise get to see. Of course they sometimes send you uninteresting things too; I’m thinking here of the ones who send me ridiculous (and old!) urban legends about cockroach eggs in postage-stamp glue, or who forward “inspirational” stories or poems that begin with a long list of every single person who has ever received the piece and end with the admonition that if I don’t “send this to twenty other gullible souls,” I will be personally responsible for the death of a Third World child. These people are not true friends.
No, I’m talking about true friends who send me things like this little gem:

Arab ambassador discovers bride is bearded and cross-eyed behind veil

An Arab ambassador has called off his wedding after discovering his wife-to-be who wears a face-covering veil is bearded and cross-eyed.

The envoy had only met the woman a few times, during which she had hidden her face behind a niqab, the
Gulf News
reported.

After the marriage contract was signed, the ambassador attempted to kiss his bride-to-be. It was only then that he discovered her facial hair and eyes.

The ambassador told an Islamic Sharia court in the United Arab Emirates he was tricked into the marriage as the woman’s mother had shown his own mother
pictures of her sister instead of his bride-to-be.

He sued for the contract to be annulled and also demanded the woman pay him 500,000 dirhams (£85,000) for clothes, jewelry and other gifts he had bought
for her.

The court annulled the contract but rejected the ambassador’s demand for compensation.
The report did not identify the ambassador.

This story has everything: romance, riches, an exotic locale, a tragic secret, deception and heartbreak. I also think it has a decidedly comic aspect to it, though of course it’s easy for me to say. I’m not the Bearded Lady who got left at the altar.
Seriously, I am sorry for the jilted bride. It’s not bad enough that she’s cross-eyed and has enough facial hair to be classified as a beard, but to have a very good and profitable marriage arrangement be ended over the hair-and-eyes issue is a shame. Doubly so because if she had trouble finding a husband before, her chances are slim to nothing now. Way to go, Mom, trying to pass off a sister’s picture as the real deal.
I do have to wonder: why didn’t she get some Nair and take off the beard? Quite likely the gentleman could have handled the eyes, and could even have paid to have them corrected, but a beard? Honestly, that’s something you can take care of discreetly at home.
Anyway, now that that little engagement is off, surely there’s some non-cross-eyed, non-hirsute female who would make a good wife for the Ambassador. Evidently he’s very generous even before the wedding.
Hey, Mister from Araby, I’m single, of good character and family, and what’s more, I have no sisters with which to trick you. Look me up!

The Great Storm

February 9, 2010

By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard way more than we ever wanted to about the “Superbowl Blizzard” recently experienced by the East Coast. Oh, it goes by other names: The Groundhog Blizzard, Snowpocalypse, even Snowmageddon. Trust a newswriter to feel the need to hype up an already big event by giving it a catchy nickname.
Yes, the storm was bad, the worst winter storm in years. And it isn’t over yet: a nor’easter is expected to blow through today and tomorrow, possibly dumping another foot of snow on us.
But from a historical perspective, we got off easy. Take the famous Blizzard of 1888. This legendary storm (actually a combination of two powerful weather systems) struck the US from the mid-Atlantic up into New England March 11-14 and took scores of lives.
In 1888, there was very little in the way of advance warning for severe weather. The Army Signal Corps, then in charge of collecting and analyzing weather data, was surprised by the storm’s intensity, and the fact that, after it appeared to have moved on, it abruptly made a turn and struck the same area once again. 21 inches of snow fell in New York City. This is well below the thirty-plus inches reported in some areas near Washington, D.C. during our recent storm, but coupled with hurricane-force winds and rapidly falling temperatures, it was far more dangerous.
In 1885, a law had been passed in NYC requiring that all telephone, telegraph and electrical lines be placed underground. But by 1888, not one company had complied with that law. The winds snapped poles like twigs and live wires came tumbling into the streets, and the danger of electrocution became all too real for man and horse alike.
One of the amazing things about the Great Blizzard is the sheer numbers of people who braved the furious winds, thick-falling snow and bitter cold to attempt to go to work or school. Their actions, reckless by today’s standards, are more understandable when we remember that back then, workers had very little protection if they missed work, and could be fired for not showing up, no matter how good their reason was. And 1888 was a difficult year economically, so people lucky enough to have a job had every intention of keeping it, come what may.
Anyway, even if the phone and telegraph wires hadn’t been brought down, few ordinary citizens had access to that technology, so there was no way for an employer or school to notify anyone not to come in to work or school.
There are countless stories of tragedy to come from the Great Blizzard. Sara Wilson, 17, was taking a train from Buffalo to NYC when the train struck a wall of snow on the track and became stuck fast. The train managed to stay upright, but the small stoves used to heat the passenger cars overturned and started a fire. The passengers disembarked and began walking along the tracks toward Albany a short distance away. Sara tried hard to keep up with her fellow passengers and was even carried part of the way by some of the men. But gradually she grew weaker and fell farther behind the others, eventually freezing to death and being covered by the falling snow.
Several boats blew wildly about the harbor at Lewes, Delaware, taking out a 200-foot section of the pier. Nine pilot boats were wrecked, their crews lost forever.
Sam Randall, a vigorous man in his early seventies, doggedly set out to see to the needs of the livestock on his Long Island farm. His barn was not far from his house, but the strain of plowing through the deep snowdrifts and fighting the wind overcame him, and he collapsed and died before he was halfway to the barn.
But there were also stories of great courage and survival. May Morrow, an 18-year-old secretary, was the only person (besides her boss) who showed up at her workplace. Her boss urged her to stay the night in the office rather than try to take the long walk back to her boarding-house. May did consider staying overnight at work, but was made nervous and lonely by the dark and silence of the empty building and resolved to go home. It took her hours, stopping frequently to cling to light-poles and anything else still standing, picking her way around the downed wires, and scrambling over drifts and mounds of debris taller than herself. Her ears nearly froze. But she did make it home, and two days later was back at work, right on time.
James Marshall, 17, and two friends worked at the Singer Sewing Machine factory in New York. They commuted to and from their homes in New Jersey via a small rowboat they jointly owned. The boys made it to work without incident, though the water was rough and the wind and snow chilled them through. But they ran into trouble on their return journey. The boat almost capsized and everyone’s clothes were soaked and frozen. The boat was blown off course and landed about two miles from its usual landing spot. James Marshall helped his two semi-conscious friends from the boat and into a field, where he found a haystack and pushed them inside, covering them with hay. James himself stayed in the open, running, walking and finally crawling around and around the haystack to stay alive. He was found after nearly two days, still crawling around the haystack in which his two friends had perished. James Marshall would survive, though his hands and feet had to be amputated.
The Blizzard of 1888 was a turning point in American history, and because of it, changes were instituted that remain with us to this day. For one thing, the previously-ignored law about underground wires was now accepted to be a valid safety measure. The nation’s capital was first to put its lines underground, since during the storm President Cleveland had been completely cut off from the rest of the nation, and the lack of communication posed a serious security risk.
Up to that time, cities had no plans in place to deal with weather or other emergencies, and they made no provisions for snow removal and cleanup. But after the Great Blizzard, even small towns implemented disaster plans, and today, every major US city (except Detroit; why is that?) takes responsibility for clearing snow and debris from its streets.
Weather forecasting has obviously improved by leaps and bounds over the last 122 years. We can now monitor the weather anywhere in the world 24/7, and we are informed well in advance if severe weather is approaching, thus giving us time to prepare.
But Mark Twain’s remark that “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it” is as true today as it was when it was first uttered. For all our advance warning, we still cannot control the weather. We can only control how prepared we are when it arrives. Mother Nature will not be tamed.