This is cool

April 26, 2015

I’m typing on the site.

Think Spring

April 2, 2015

Spring is returning to Maine.

The snow piles are at long-last melting, uncovering dead lawns and last fall’s leaves and lots of sand (which frugal Mainers are collecting in buckets for reuse next year). Birds and small animals have been missing most of the winter, but they are making a return — where did they go and how did they survive February?

I have a friend who usually has deer on the perimeter of her property. It’s hard to feel sorry for deer, but in the middle of the winter she discovered them right up next to the house, taking turns suckling on the bird feeder. Those are really hungry deer! And no surprise — the snow had buried all their usual shrubbery.

A few weeks ago I was in the home office and heard a squeaking/rustling sound that sounded exactly as if a herd of guinea pigs were under the house. Since the home office is on a pad with no basement there were clearly no guinea pigs and I was just as clearly confused — I’m guessing that what I actually heard was a flock of turkeys behind the house. They nest in trees — but again, I hadn’t seen or heard them all winter.

My owl has returned as well. He/she has been unusually silent (absent) this winter, but s/he is now whoo-whooing away in the early morning, and once again, s/he likes it — or at least participates in it — when I whoo-whoo in return. I don’t know what we are saying to one another, but we certainly come forth with some powerful duets.

It may be Holy Week, but snow flurries are predicted tonight for northern Maine. Here in the southern half of the state we are much more sanguine about the near future.

Spring is at long last returning to Maine.

There’s Nothing to Eat in the Fridge

February 20, 2015

2015-02-20 11.11.32Frank woke me up at 4:00 in the morning.  “Marty,” he said.  “Come here. We have a problem.”

In case you haven’t heard, New England is suffering from one of the snowiest Februarys ever.  it’s so cold that Niagara Falls is turning to ice.  So when my husband woke me up with the news we had a problem, I followed him out to the kitchen convinced that the roof was caving in under the weight of the snow.  At minimum

Imagine my joy to discover that the problem was “only” that the refrigerator was emitting heat rather than cold.

The inside dohicky at the back of the fridge that is supposed to cool the fridge was hot to the touch; so were the milk containers.  The butter had melted into a puddle and the eggs were warm.  The thermometer read 86 degrees

We removed everything from the fridge.  Even the Rose’s lime juice and the maraschino cherries, neither of which have been touched in years.  Frank moved everything out to the garage fridge.  We really didn’t want to deal with the freezer —  that thermometer read 17, which is higher than it should be but no cause for alarm — yet. Plus, the garage freezer was already full. Of course, we could always just put the food on the porch — it’s certainly cold enough — but we had had enough activity for one night.

While Frank was carrying food to the garage I went to the web to do a bit of research, and learned that GE side-by-sides are known for this problem, and the solution is a new motherboard.  That sounded expensive.

Back to bed (but not to sleep) and in the morning I checked — the fridge had magically healed itself; coolant was coming out from where coolant is supposed to come out, and the inside temperature was down to 65.  The freezer temp was inching south as well.  Even so …

I called our appliance guy, who will make a house call on Tuesday. As we need things, we are retrieving them from the garage fridge, but we’re not restocking.  Not until we know what the problem is and how to find a permanent solution.

And Niagara Falls in continuing to freeze.

Say “Cheese!”

February 2, 2015

IMG_6267Remember when phones were used to make phone calls and cameras were worthless without film?

Back then, there was a cost associated with every click of the shutter.  Film had to be purchased, and exposures had to be processed.  Back then, I budgeted one 24-roll of film for every day I was on vacation.  I might well take 350 photos on an exotic  two-week trips, and since few of the photos were dupes — maybe only if it was a group shot or very, very important — I’d throw out the bad ones and voila! That would be my photo collection.  And as serendipity would have it, 50 sheets in an album (100 pages) with three photos per page meant that I could keep around 300 photos in the album.

I purchased my first digital camera in 2005, just before our first trip to Guatemala.  At first, like everyone else, I took pix similarly to the way I had with a film camera.  Then slowly, the realization that snapping the shutter was “free” changed my habits:  Photos could be reshot, two, three, four times to get just the right expression or as many times as needed until no one had stepped into the frame.  Even so, I typically deleted the extra photos from the memory card.  After all — shutter-snapping might be free, but it still cost to process the results.

And as a result,  I pretty much kept to my previous, two-dozen-photos a day limit. When I planned to spend a month in the Philippines, I thought about the limits of my memory card, then about 1100 photos.  No problem! I thought,  30 days times 24 or so photos a day is well within my limit.  Besides, I could still only get approximately 300 photos in an album, so why overdue it?

Then in 2013, I began making my albums on Shutterfly.

Now, I’m certainly not here to promote a commercial website. But Shutterfly provides the freedom to get rid of that static, 4×6 size frame for every photo. I find creating albums on the site both more satisfying and the results more creative than the old photo albums.  Meanwhile, memory cards have greatly expanded; my current one can hold a basically unlimited number of still shots.

As a result, I want it all.  I find myself completely unfettered from the old 24-photo budget.  There’s no cost to take photos, there’s no storage limit; the world is in my shutter! Take the pix, take it again with Frank, take it again as a vertical instead of a horizontal.  And why delete the extras? After all, it might be better to wait to edit the results on the computer screen instead of relying on the camera’s small finder. Plus, with Shutterfly, you never know,  Best to take a picture of a design or mosaic  or a shadow — might be a good background photo to use in the album.  And so it goes.

The result is that on our recent two-week trip to Southeast Asia, I snapped the shutter about 1500 times (an average of over 100 photos per day, or four times what I was taking just a few years ago) and brought home more than 900 pix on the memory stick.

But one thing has remained static:  The number of photos I can put in an album.  Interestingly, the largest Shutterfly albums have 110 pages, and I have counted:  I still get just around 300 photos per album.  True, I can now run a single photo across the spread, but invariably, I will also create pages with numerous small photos. Based on the past six or so photo albums I have created on the site, 300 seems to be my upper limit.

Now, all this suggests that the photos in photo albums should be getting better.  With more opportunity to retake and retake and edit out the bad photos, overall results should improve.   We should be drastically purging — but based on too many online albums, I think we are not.

So here’s the deal:  The next time you plan to put six photos on FB, select the best three instead.  The next time you share your album, cut your photos by about one-half before you hit the “send” key. Yes, it will hurt to leave out the photo with that special expression on Aunt Matilda’s face, but you know what?  your online friends don’t know Aunt Matilda, so it won’t make any difference to them whatsoever.  And the more ruthlessly you edit, the more people will complement you on the quality of the photos that remain.

War and Peace

January 24, 2015

I write this from Bangkok’s airport, which is HUGE. It’s like all of JFK, only in one terminal. And there’s no such thing as moving walkways anymore, because that would make it possible to avoid the shops. When we picked up our boarding passes, we were given a little map to help us find the business-class lounge. I realized after we had walked for about 10 minutes that the map included distances – just one part of our walk to the lounge is listed as 400 meters. As Frank points out, that’s four football fields. One-third of a mile. And on we go.

But back to yesterday. The only person in our hotel in Laos with any English was a young man from Vietnam. We got into conversation with Nick – he is from the far north of the country, on the border with China. His grandfather was an interpreter for the French; it was unclear to me what the grandfather did during the war. Probably best not to ask.

Nick asked us what we thought about the Vietnam war. As though that can be answered in a sentence or two – let alone dealing with someone speaking in a second or third tongue and who grew up in an entirely different system. I tried to answer by putting the question in context – that America had needed to intervene in WWII to stop what can only be described as evil, and maybe that helped explain why, in the post-war period, Americans saw evil elsewhere, first in Korea and then in Vietnam, and felt that it was our duty to stop it. But that of course our intervention had not stopped evil and had created some of its own.

Frank mentioned that we had traveled in the then-USSR in 1990, and that we had crossed Siberia and seen countless villages without so much as a tractor or telephone line. That this empire was putting all its resources into military and space exploration, but its people didn’t have basic sanitation or mobility. I said that Americans had been brought up in the post-war period to fear the Soviets, and that it took seeing third-world conditions in the Siberia to realize how silly and shortsighted that really was.

Nick asked if we thought war was ever good. We replied that war is the failure of every other kind of intervention. Interestingly, I’ve been thinking of this topic since our visit to Chula way back almost two weeks ago. You see: Traditionally, international conflict has been about extending territory. If someone is trying to extend their territory into yours, you stop them with bullets. If you want to extend your own territory, you go out there with bullets of your own to take it. But today, international conflict is more about extending ideology. About ensuring that you think and act the way I want you to think and act. It’s axiomatic that stopping the extension of ideology  requires a different kind of weapon; the problem is, we are still using bullets. In other words, we are using yesterday’s weapon to fight tomorrow’s battles, and it’s a losing proposition. The North Koreans have already shown us that there are other kinds of weapons out there, and I think it’s clear that the next major conflict will be fought in cyberspace.

Nick was very interested in the difference between working for the government and working for a private business. Which is better? He kept asking. We tried to explain that it wasn’t better or worse, and in many respects wasn’t even much different. He was surprised that Frank is, as Nick said, a “private lawyer.” He said all lawyers in Vietnam work for the government. He also expressed surprise that Frank was still working – we said that Frank worked because he wanted to, even though the government safety net kicked in and he could have retired long ago. Nick said that retirement is mandatory in Vietnam at age 70.

We asked Nick why he left Vietnam to work in Laos, and his answer was that he had been a tour guide in Hanoi but had been forced to lie to the tourists – to tell them something was open when he knew it was closed, just to get their money. He said the government was terribly corrupt, and asked if it was the same in the United States.

I glossed over Watergate and a few other issues, and replied that our political system and free journalism is such that wrongdoing is quickly discovered and even more quickly made public, and that corrupt officials don’t last for long. I said that the governor of Virginia was the latest in a long line of politicians who had discovered this the hard way.

So here we are, on the first first leg of a long flight home.  As so often happens when we open ourselves to the possibilities, this trip turned out to be so much more than anticipated.  And hopefully, we have started the work to change lives in the process.

Where the Mekong Meets the Nam Khan

January 24, 2015

IMG_6269Yesterday we took care of all the “must dos” of Luang Prabang, which left today free to poke around and explore, which is the best part of any trip.  We did have a few errands to run — Frank needed to get to an ATM because I’ve been spending money faster than he has been budgeting for it …and we needed to get to the Post Office; Frank had written a letter to Jim Perkins and we needed to get it mailed.

Remember letters?  Remember stamps?  At one time my overseas travel revolved around visiting post offices, but those days are long gone, and I guess I’m not the only one:  The Post Office was deserted except for us and one clerk.

IMG_6275We walked back along the main shopping street and read signs — I learned that there are only a few thousand elephants left in Laos, and that they are almost all domesticated and working in the lumber industry.  Unfortunately, the lumber industry is disappearing, and so is the need for elephants.  Unwanted elephants can’t be repatriated to the forest because they no longer have survival instincts; apparently if they and their mahout don’t end up in a refuge such as we visited in Thailand, their future is very bleak.  All this put that refuge in much starker detail.

Luang Prabang was built at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, and I wanted to see where the two streams met.  This turned out to be quite an adventure:  It was lunchtime, and we found a restaurant with a million dollar view of the confluence, where the green Nam Khan meets the brown Mekong, and once i got past my “The Man Who Would Be King” jitters, we went across.  It turns out to be a toll bridge — a family has set up shop on one end and sells round trip (that seemed a good omen) tickets for 7000 kip, or about 90 cents pp.

I’m here to tell you the bridge is as rickety as it looks.  But we made it.  There is a small temple on the other side, and we saw a group of young monks, stripped to their trousers, playing soccer on the sandbank.  Hey, they’re just kids, after all.  And I assume they were playing soccer meditatively…

A Day in Luang Prabang

January 23, 2015

IMG_6104Luang Prabang is a World Heritage Site because it is Laos’ ancient capital, with dozens of temples and the king’s palace to gawk at.  It’s also got all the old French colonial architecture and, as previously mentioned, everything a tourist might need!

Tha amount of gold leaf on the temples is extraordinary, and somewhat numbing.  For a guy who preached abstinence and simplicity, I suspect the Buddha would be aghast at what has been done in his name … somewhat like Jesus. Luang Prabang is small, so it’s easy to get lost in temple after temple, and that’s exactly what I did.

IMG_6137The Royal Palace/now National Museum is different.  The front ceremonial rooms are remarkably expensive, and the back family rooms are remarkably austere,  The Palace was built in the early 20th century, and seems “just yesterday.”  Even the royal cars — mostly Lincoln Continental  and gifts of the US government — are visible, along with photos of the Royal Chauffeurs.  All this came to a crashing halt in 1975.  We forget that the turmoil caused by the “American War,” as it is known in Southeast Asia, negatively affected Cambodia as well as Laos. Cambodia’s killing fields are better known; in Laos’ case, the royal family was “disappeared,” and communism replaced royalty.

IMG_6172We stopped for iced tea, and after a long wait, the waitress brought what turned out to be iced coffee.  We asked for iced tea, only to learn that they don’t serve it. (I don’t get it,.  Just take hot tea and add ice cubes … oh, never mind.) The waitress brought menus, and we ordered lemon juice which, you guessed it, turned out to be lemon ade.  Yum.

Then it was time to climb Phu Si Hill.  There”s various temples on the way up, but the real attraction is watching the sunset from the top.  We climbed the back of the hill, which is longer but more gradual, and only discovered the hoards of tourists when we were right at the top.  Everyone in town was there, all sitting around waiting for the sun to set. Which it did.  Right on schedule,.

IMG_6190Then we walked back down the hill to the bottom, which had miraculously been turned into a night market.  Just in time for all the tourists who were coming down after the sunset.  I used up all our kip ($1 = 8080 kip; getting into real numbers is as easy as it is confusing) and got all our shopping done.,

t’s been quite a  day:  We started with the monks and the alms ceremony this morning, and ended with the sunset from the top of Phu Si.  I call that a success. .


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