Saturday, May 31, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Mom and I had a nice time going into the city for the audition. She wandered around while I was in the audition, and we had some lunch in the Times Square area afterward. We went into the giant Toys R Us (the one with the giant ferris wheel) and mom got W a book. It's called "Dog" and it's got pictures of real dogs in it and some of the pictures have movable parts (tail, ears, etc).
We are in the midst of tearing apart our kitchen so that we can redo it. We've got new countertops and new tile for the floor. We're going to paint the cabinets. It's going to be a big project, but I think a manageable one.
Mike had his checkup with the surgeon this past Tuesday. He's healing well, but isn't supposed to do much lifting for six weeks (no lifting W, actually). That's a bummer, but I'm in favor of whatever it takes to get him better and back to his old self.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Thanks to everyone who's called, emailed or dropped by to check in on us. You don't know how much we appreciate it and how much it means to us to have such dear friends. Thank you.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I was about to meet a walrus for the first time in my life, and I felt fabulous. After all, Ronald J. Schusterman of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied them for years, had assured me over the phone that to meet a walrus was to fall in love with walruses — the mammals were that smart, friendly and playful. “They’re pussycats!” he said.
Just as we were entering the walrus house at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., however, Dr. Schusterman tossed out a bit of advice. “The first thing the walruses will do when they come over is start pushing at you, pressing their heads right into your stomach,” he said. “Don’t let them get away with that. No matter how hard they push, you have to stand your ground.” Aggressive much?? Don't you know that "no" means "no"??
I stopped short, confused.
“If you don’t stand your ground, you’ll be knocked over or backed against a wall in no time,” Dr. Schusterman said.
But but ... I sputtered. How was I supposed to stand my ground against an animal the size of a Honda Civic? This sounded less like “friendly and playful” than “aggressive and possibly dangerous.” Smart woman.
“Just push back on the snout with the palm of your hand and blow in its face,” Dr. Schusterman instructed. “A walrus really likes to be blown in the face.” Excuse me? That sounds a little kinky...
But suddenly there I was in the pen (they're in a pen?? like chickens or sheep??), time expanding as I watched Sivuqaq, a 2,200-pound adult male, roll toward me like a gelatinous, mustachioed boulder (in other words, HANDSOME) and head straight for my solar plexus. Somehow, either out of professional pride or rigid terror, I managed to stay standing and stuck out my palm; when Sivuqaq nuzzled against it, all my fears fell away. I stroked his splendid vibrissae, the stiff, sensitive whiskers that a walrus uses to search for bivalves through the seabed’s dark murk, and that feel like slender tubes of bamboo. Then I blew in his face, and he half-closed his eyes, and I huffed and puffed harder and he leaned into my breath, all the while bleating and grunting and snorting for more. Aw baby, give me more!
In the public pantheon of marine mammaldom, dolphins are adored, whales revered, and seal pups make old Bond girls swoon. But walruses remain perversely, lumpishly obscure, known mostly for their sing-song linkage with a carpenter, an eggman and goo goo goo joob. (the Beatles linkage) To which Dr. Schusterman and his colleagues might well respond with a blast of a Bronx kazoo. Odobenus rosmarus is a magnificent creature, they say, behaviorally, anatomically, acoustically and taxonomically in a category all its own. The walrus belongs to the pinniped suborder, the group of blubbery, fin-footed carnivores that includes seals and sea lions.
But whereas there are 19 species in the family of so-called true seals, and 14 in the family of fur seals and sea lions, the walrus is the only living representative of the family Odobenidae, those that walk with their teeth. That's right. Their teeth. And though the walrus is an Arctic species and thus much harder to study in the wild than the elephant seals and sea lions that flop onto the beaches of Northern California, scientists are gathering evidence that Odobenus is the most cognitively and socially sophisticated of all pinnipeds. Well, there you go. The ol' "but he's really intelligent..." excuse.
“I’ve worked with marine mammals for a long time, and with many different species of pinniped, but I’ve never experienced anything like walruses,” said Colleen Reichmuth of the Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “They are fantastic.” Calm down, ma'am.
Yet she and her colleagues despair for the walrus’s future. Like the polar bear, which last week was granted protection under the Endangered Species Act, the walrus depends on the seasonal rhythms of the polar ice cap for every phase of its life, which means it is particularly vulnerable to the warming of the earth’s climate and the retreat of the ice. But I thought Global Warming was just a left-wing conspiracy theory??
The walrus might well be a match for any famously eggheaded animal of any nonhuman order: for Flipper, for Willy, for Alex the gray parrot, for Kanzi the bonobo chimpanzee. As researchers have lately determined, the walrus shares with other big-brained species an unusually extended childhood. Walrus calves remain with their mothers for several years, compared with several weeks or months for the young of other pinnipeds, and that sustained dependency “could very well provide an opportunity for learning,” said Dr. Reichmuth, particularly about walrus civics. Second use of word "civic" in article; different context.
Evidence suggests that the bonds between walruses are exceptionally strong: the animals share food, come to one another’s aid when under attack and nurse one another’s young, a particularly noteworthy behavior given the cost in energy of synthesizing a pinniped’s calorically rich, fatty milk.
“Walruses are very gregarious, and they like to be near other walruses,” said Chad Jay, who heads the walrus research program for the United States Geological Survey’s Alaska Science Center in Anchorage. “They like hanging out together, touching each other, socializing. Even when it’s hot and they have plenty of space, they prefer to clamber on top of each other and huddle together.” Sort of like... hm.... HUMANS?
Walruses want so much to be with other walruses that if there are no other walruses around, they will make do with the next available large object. That reminds me of those blow-up dolls the flag girls had to dance with at BHS back in '96...
Lee Cooper of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science recounted his 2004 expedition aboard a research vessel in the Bering Strait, when the crew came upon a number of calves that had somehow gotten separated from their mothers, and, oh, how excited the calves were to spot the ship and its staff, and how desperately they sought to climb aboard.
“They see this big red and white ship, they must assume it’s a big iceberg and the people moving around on it are something like walruses,” Dr. Cooper said. Unfortunately, the ship was far from shore and lacked the means to serve as a rescue vessel, Dr. Cooper said, and the staff had no choice but to leave the young walruses behind. That is very sad.
Calves might also need time to learn how to play — music, that is. It turns out that Odobenus is an acoustic genius, its body an all-in-one band. Kind of like Mr. Rofarto after a pot of chili! Males woo females with lengthy compositions that have been compared in the complexity of their structure and phrasing to the songs of nightingales and humpback whales, but that use a greater number of body parts. Sounds like something junior high boys would love to learn to do!
Walruses sing with their fleshy and muscular lips, tongues, muzzles and noses. They sing by striking their flippers against their chests to hit their pharyngeal pouches, balloon-like extensions of the trachea that are unique to Odobenus and that also serve as flotation devices.
In full breeding tilt, the bulls sound like a circus, a construction site, a Road Runner cartoon. They whistle, beep, rasp, strum, bark and knock. They make bell tones, jackhammer drills, train-track clatters and the rubber-band boing! of Wile E. Coyote getting bonked on the head. They mix and match their boings, bells and knocks, they speed up and slow down, they vocalize underwater, in the air, at the bubbly border between. They sing nonstop for days at a time, and their songs can be heard up to 10 miles away. They listen to one another, take tips from one another and change their tune as time and taste require. Damn. Mike brings flowers, does dishes and rubs my feet (occasionally)... he's going to have to kick it up a notch if he doesn't want me running off with one of these guys!
Nobody yet knows what a female listens for while she hears one or more suitors singing, but listen she apparently does, for she eventually dives from her icy perch and into the water to mate with a well-tempered male, and evidence suggests she will shun anyone who can’t carry a tune. She's read "The Rules", I see. And though females in the wild do not sing as the males do, they have the anatomical chops to make music and will happily perform the entire walrus Billboard chart if given the right incentive — like the promise of food or affection from Leah Coombs, one of the masterly trainers at Six Flags.
Reporting in the December issue of the journal Animal Cognition, Dr. Schusterman and Dr. Reichmuth described their efforts to explore the extent of the walrus’s vocal talents, its capacity to invent acoustical sequences when given the cue. "And next time on American Idol... Mating Walruses!"
Experienced trainers worked with two 12-year-old walruses, Sivuqaq the male and a female named Siku (both names are Inuit), reinforcing the mammals’ behaviors by dispensing or withholding food rewards and demanding that the walruses strive ever harder to generate innovative sounds and sound combinations.
The breadth of the walruses’ creativity exceeded all expectations, not only during training sessions but also during downtime. Dr. Reichmuth said one walrus figured out how to use a rubber toy in the pool as an instrument by pressing it against a window and blasting air through it until it sounded like a bugle. Soon two other walruses in the pool had learned to do the same thing.
“To use a tool to produce an innovative sound, and to learn about that behavior socially,” Dr. Reichmuth said, “now that is impressive.” This is true. I am definitely impressed.
As impressive as such musical talents may be, and as indispensable as they are to a male walrus’s reproductive prospects, the elaborate infrastructure behind them probably evolved for alimentary rather than artistic reasons. Pinnipeds are thought to be descendants of bear-like terrestrial ancestors that, around 30 million years ago, turned amphibious to better exploit marine prey. Very interesting theory. Makes sense. Must admit, I'd never considered it.
Walruses focused on a particular segment of the seafood market: bivalves like oysters and clams and other invertebrates that live in the benthic zone, the muddy floor below the shallow waters of the continental shelf.
They eat huge numbers of bivalves, maybe 7,000 a day. INCREDIBLE. They creep along the seabed, their whiskery vibrissae probing the surface to feel for the telltale tubes of buried mollusks. They dislodge their prey with a scoop of their flippers, or by sucking in water and blasting it back out in targeted jets. They are able to locate, excavate and extract the meat from an oyster in some six seconds, said Nette Levermann of the University of Copenhagen, “and all this without the help of hands and in total darkness.”
They have such incredible muscular control over their entire snout area, Dr. Reichmuth said, “that if you drop a little piece of fish on the whiskers away from the mouth, they can walk it along the whiskers, across the muzzle and into the mouth.” Very cool. That, I'd like to see. That precision feeding equipment eventually was recruited to do double duty singing walrus love songs and enabling walrus schmoozes. The walrus’s menu plan helps explain its Arctic range and its ice-based life. Benthic feeders fare best where waters are cold, said Jacqueline M. Grebmeier of the marine biogeochemistry and ecology group at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In cold waters, organic matter like algae tends to fall straight to the bottom to nourish the clams and worms below, rather than getting grazed off the top as it does in more tropical seas. The more trickle-down bounty for bivalves, the more bivalves for walruses.
Ice sheets above these happy hunting grounds in turn offer the walruses a handy platform on which to rest and rear young. The ice also serves as transportation, for as it retreats and advances with the seasons, the walruses above are conveniently delivered to fresh benthic fields. Like a moving sidewalk at the airport.
A walrus is beautifully suited for life on the rink. Its three-inch-thick hide of blubber and skin keeps it warm, while with its elongated pair of canine teeth, its hallmark tusks, the walrus can heave itself from water and onto slippery ice. Remember, they weigh a ton. Those are some strong choppers. Through the machinery of eating, then, Odobenus rises: talking the talk, and walking the walk.
Also in the world of diagnoses, Ted Kennedy. Brain cancer. Inoperable. That is really sad.
We had a fun weekend. We went to the Greek Festival at St. George's Greek Orthodox Church in Hamilton on Friday night. It was awesome. We had a delicious dinner and got some tasty desserts to bring home. They had a tag sale area where we made a huge score--a train set for W that we got for $4!! It's by Playskool but it works with BRIO and Thomas the Tank Engine sets. Awesome.
On Saturday night we went to a won't have his birthday until next week, so it was a really good "gotcha!" moment. It was a dress-up party, which was fun. They used to live in NYC so several of their friends from the city took the train out for the get-together. There was lots of good food (yum!), good beer (double yum!) and whiskey sours (not my cup of tea). A good time was had by all, for sure. And the kids all played well together!
Sunday was laid-back. W and I went to the grocery store while Mike was at work. Sort of dull, but it had to be done.
Yesterday was productive. W helped me get copies of a letter to the city planning board made at the corner store. The owner of a restaurant near our house wants to expand his bar from a 16-seater to a 30-seater AND sell liquor for off-premises consumption (i.e. have a liquor store). His current license won't allow this, so he has to go before the board. We don't want this to happen. We don't mind the way he currently runs his establishment, but we think his proposal isn't good for the community. Well, when we delivered the letter to the municipal building, the secretary advised me that the board wouldn't consider my letter as "testimony" unless someone in attendance presented it. So W and I schlepped back over there for the 7:30 meeting last night. The result? Nada. The hearing was postponed until June 16. Oh well.
Now for the biggest news... Mike has been having abdominal pains. He went to the doctor this afternoon and she told him she thought it might be appendicitis. So he's at the Princeton ER right now waiting to get a CAT scan. That's the only definitive way to tell if he needs an appendectomy. If he has to have one, I'll get the neighbor to come over to be with W and I'll go to the hospital to be with him. I hope he doesn't have to go through that, but I'm almost positive that's what it is, after comparing his symptoms with those listed on WebMD.
Updates to follow.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I pulled out the diary my dad kept for me of our trip to India. Here's some of what he said about our time in Jaipur:
Thursday, June 17, 2004--On to Jaipur--I am glad that I automatically woke up this morning, as we did not have electricity and the clock did not work. Having electricity is not a given in India. We took off to the airport to fly out to Jaipur. I learned a valuable lesson, though. My dog tags [which my dad wears as ID for when he's jogging alone] set off the security alarm and when I showed them to the guard he asked me if I was "American military." I quickly said no, as I felt that it put a target on me [Dad is NOT military]. The flight was once again perfect. You slept. We took a light lunch in Jaipur. Chips and beer and nuts. You went shopping with Umesh and Renu while I relaxed by the pool. Relaxed. Hah! I only stayed a half hour. I looked at my watch and it read 119.6 degrees. Too hot for your old man. Perhaps the hottest temperature that I have ever experienced. Y'all didn't enjoy shopping that much because your driver kept steering you to shops that he wanted to visit--he probably would have received commission on anything that you would have bought where you guys went. When you got back, I took you and the Sanjanwala kids to a little shop in the hotel where we were staying and we purchased a few small items, but its selection was not that great. We walked around the gardens a bit and visited the human-scaled chess set. But, alas, it was too hot to stay outside.
We stayed at the Jai Mahal Palace. That was one of the coolest things in India--staying at old palaces that had been converted into hotels.
Friday, June 18, 2004--The elephants, and more--I woke up with A Problem. After a night of restless sleep, I found myself with a touch of "Delhi Belly." Most uncomfortable. But, tour, we did. I am glad that I did go, in spite of my discomfort. We went out to the Amber Fort, a magnificent place up on a mountain. We took an elephant ride, the girls on one and the guys on the other. Raj was our guide and he was good. It was extremely hot. My elephant had a sinus problem and the trip up the hill made her wheeze, i.e., blow snot, soaking us all the way up. We came down from the fort in a Jeep, seeing pigs, the natural disposal system, all along the way down. As we went back to the car, we saw a snake charmer, but didn't hang around for a demonstration. Upon our return to the palace, we both napped for a couple of hours, after which you went off for a massage and pedicure. My, what a pampered young lady!
**Unfortunately I don't have my pics from India uploaded onto this computer. These are just some images I was fortunate to find on the 'net. I'll get around to pulling my pics off the CD-ROM one of these days...**
Monday, May 12, 2008
I've been sewing some on my new machine. To quote Mike, "It purrs like a kitten." It's wonderful. I finished the skirts for the daughters of some of our MS friends and need to get those to the PO this week. I am also nearly done with a little sheath A-line dress for my niece who lives in Tokyo. I ALSO finished an A-line skirt for myself. Oh, and I've started on a calf-length skirt with flared panels and a draw-string waist for myself that should be an easy-breezy summer wardrobe staple. I am using some beautiful batik fabric with a floral print that looks like it's done with watercolors. Did I mention that it's beautiful??
W is really into cars and trucks. He especially likes these little trucks made by Playskool/Tonka called Tonka Wheel Pals. He has the fire truck (pictured here) and a little orange SUV that actually looks a lot like our friends' Honda Element (which is also orange). He has figured out that it is fun to make the vehicles race, as well as crash into each other. His big "prize" right now is the little free car from the Cheerios box (the SpeedRacer car). I have to keep an eye on him with it since it's so small, but he adores it and has figured out how to pull it back to build up the tension in the wheels and let it go forward on its own. Fun times, if you're 22 months old. He is also getting into superheroes and action figures, thanks to the little boys who live near us. Each afternoon, they bring their Star Wars guys and other miscellaneous dudes out into the big common yard in front of our house. They are sweet enough to let W play with their "less-prized" guys. So that W would have his own "guys", as the little boys call them, I got him some specifically made for the under-3 bunch. They are made by Learning Curve and are part of the Play Town group. We already had a firetruck and firemen made by this company, so I knew their stuff was well-made and durable (they're made of a combination of wood and plastic). W has the Spiderman and Hulk. One of the little boys (who's 5) wants to know when W will get more (they also sell Wolverine and Captain America). I told him W might get them as a reward if he's a good tooth-brusher. That seemed to satisfy him.
We had a nice Mother's Day around here. Mike had to work, of course, but we were able to do some stuff together in the morning. To start, Mike chalked "happy mother's day!" greeting on the back patio. For breakfast, we got bagels at a yummy bagel shop that's close to our house, as well as right across the street from "our" church. Then we went to church (for the second week in a row!), and the service was really nice. Because they were doing communion, the service went a little long and Mike had to slip out, but when the service was over and I got W, we sat and had a slice of cake in the fellowship hall (they had cake to welcome some new members). It was delicious. That afternoon, W was sweet enough to accompany me to the fabric store, where I got the fabric I described above for my paneled skirt. To top things off, Mike surprised me when he got home with a bouquet of white tulips. I have a great husband.
Unfortunately, we had to stay inside today. The weatherman's adjective for today's weather was "raw" and boy, was he right. It got up to around 47 and it rained all day. It IS May, right? To break up the monotony, a couple of W's friends came over. I'm friends with their mommy, so we were all able to visit and forget about the yucky weather for a little while. Tomorrow should be an improvement, with a high of 70, but it'll be windy, so it'll probably feel a little cooler than that. But hey, I'll take any sort of increase in temperature after today!