The Suitcase Lady


July 10, 2018, 9:13 pm

Getting older and getting more forgetful go hand in hand. I do not intend to beat myself up over this fact. I know my brain is functioning: I didn’t vote for Trump and I manage a house, a job and a herd of cats.

But not remembering small things can be annoying. If you also experience these little memory glitches, such as the name of that book you just read, here is some consolation.

Michael Perry, Wisconsin’s own chicken-raising author, has written a new book, Montaigne in Barn Boots-An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy.  In it, he addresses the “treachery of memory”. Here is an excerpt:

In the category of driving off with things on my car roof, I count one wallet (circled back and found it in the Culver’s drive-through; celebrated my good fortune with a second order of curds), one iPhone (heard it thump the luggage rack, then watched in the rear view mirror as it pinwheeled down the highway), and an infinity of coffees of which I placed on the roof “just for a second” only to forget it in two.”

How wonderful! The coffee sailing off the car roof, the room we enter and promptly forget what we went there to get, the packed suitcase that got left behind…….we are not alone in being sidewacked by these memory tricks.

I was personally comforted by this passage….. “recently I wrote 482 words of a column eulogizing my old manual typewriter before nagging deja vu drove me to scroll up and down to discover I had already written that exact column three weeks previously”.

This is the 595th consecutive weekly blog I have written. Since I don’t want to bore you, dear reader, by repeating subject matter, I find myself frequently checking my own archives. Perhaps I can occasionally out-trick the memory trickster.

And here is one final thought on this topic. Younger people have these temporary memory lapses as well. A younger family member of ours once set her filled cup of take out coffee on her driver’s seat just for a second. You know what happened.

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July 3, 2018, 10:15 pm

In the city down the road from us is what purports to be “the tallest symbol of freedom in the world”. A wealthy insurance company flies a gigantic American flag from a pole that resembles a huge industrial smokestack.

I personally believe the flag and pole, outsized as they are, cannot live up to that claim. The French are as free as we are, are part of the world and have an iconic symbol, the Eiffel Tower, that checks in at 1,063 feet. The behemoth flagpole is only 400 feet tall.

I do, however, give the company credit for understanding a basic American cultural belief that biggest is always better. Ours is a country that puts its faith in size. Unfortunately, biggest and best are not interchangeable words.

The idea that more is always better is an unsustainable idea on a small, mostly blue planet with limited resources. Plus, it is an ideal that did not show up in our Constitution. Our wise founders had had enough of kings so they did not say that “All the tallest men with the biggest piles of stuff” are created equal. Patriotism is not about making everything; flags, houses, cars, food, televisions, bombs, jails, armies and campaign contributions, bigger and bigger all the time.

A huge number of Americans now think that patriotism and nationalism are the same thing. It is not hyperbole to say that at this moment in history, America is in a fight for its soul. If we must deal in superlatives, may we be among the most democratic, decent  and wise countries of the world. I can’t think of a better wish for the Fourth of July.

Note that we will be flying our flag tomorrow. We received that flag after my beloved Aunt Jane’s military funeral. She was an army nurse in World War II working with the wounded and dying in a tent hospital behind the front lines in the Pacific. Her flag, of course, is not the tallest symbol of freedom in the world. But it is among the best, and thousands and thousands of families like ours have them.

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June 26, 2018, 11:16 pm

My husband and I are working on a big project. It all came about because of a bad case of misidentification.

Our acre of land is three quarters meadow and one quarter little blue steam prairie. We worked hard for over fourteen years to get the prairie established. The meadow more or less takes care of itself…or so we thought.

Two years ago, we noticed some interesting tall grass popping up in the meadow. A neighbor identified it as Indian Grass, a desirable prairie plant. By the end of last summer, we realized that something was wrong.

The “Indian Grass” had spread wildly and densely taking over a thirty foot diameter area of our meadow. Somehow, we had a northern version of a kudzu problem in our midst. Action needed to be taken.

Research on the computer helped us identify the beautiful but invasive visitor as Chinese Silver Grass. It has thick, underground rhizomes, like spreading tentacles, from which spring the 4 foot blades of grass. It cannot be dug out by hand. So last fall we sprayed it and mowed it down.

This year, when the spring snows melted, we had a big dead-looking circle in our yard. My husband borrowed a rototiller and spent the better part of two days tilling the circle numerous times. We followed this up by spending hours pulling the chopped up rhizomes out of the soil. We did not want the “starfish effect” when you chop off its arm and the arm grows into a new starfish. By mid May we were looking at a patch devoid of all vegetation.

Several of our master gardener friends have told us that much of gardening is trial and error. We couldn’t agree more. After much discussion, we decided to turn the empty spot into more prairie. We made many mistakes developing the first prairie and hope we have learned a few things. Mostly we have learned this is a very, very big project.

Here’s a picture of what’s happened in the six weeks since we were staring at that giant circle of bare earth. Mother Nature took pity on us. Even though we still have a long way to go, hope is springing up.

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June 19, 2018, 8:58 pm

I was reading my New Yorker magazine the other morning after breakfast…….no, amend that to say, I was reading the cartoons in the New Yorker when I came across this gem.

I glanced up laughing and the first thing I saw was Sasha who strategically had placed herself in a patch of sunlight.

Our domestic cats, Felis sylvestris, are all descendants of small desert cats from Egypt and the Middle East. Like the Egyptians who domesticated them, they are sun worshipers.

With a normal body temperature of 101.5, they can tolerate temperatures up to 124 degrees. Cats do not sense heat the same way we do which explains why we have banned candles from our house and occasionally have to pull a cat back a bit from the fireplace.

Our lovely tortoiseshell cat, Sousa, has a unique way of heating herself. In winter our girl eschews the patch of sunlight in favor of a more direct warming method. She perfectly aligns her body over the furnace vent on the floor. With paws tucked and tail curled around her, she can sleep for hours while the rest of us notice a distinct drop in the room’s temperature. She’s a heat sink.

Last month we noticed that Sousa had abandoned her heat register in favor of a big rectangle of sunlight. She is a far superior predictor of up coming summer weather than any calendar date.

Happy Summer Solstice.

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June 12, 2018, 7:03 pm

A grocery store in the Netherlands just made news by introducing an aisle of diverse food items all of which are free of plastic packaging. This got me thinking about plastic. It also made me wish I could shop in that store.

Plastic has an interesting history. Elephants probably escaped extinction because of its invention. In the late 1800’s, billiards was all the rage and billiard balls as well as all piano keys were made from ivory. The invention of a plastic called cellulose at that time spared many elephant lives.

bakelite jewelry

In 1907, the first fully-synthetic, commercially successful plastic was invented by a Belgian-American named Leo Hendrik Baekeland. He named it Bakelite which is much easier to say than its chemical name polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride.

World War II was the catalyst that made plastic go viral. Rubber was scarce and a substitutes had to be used. Every GI got a plastic, formerly rubber, comb in his hygiene kit. Parts for military vehicles and planes, ropes, insulators and multiple other wartime uses of plastic caused its production to increase 300%.

After the war ended, the plastic factories turned to making plastics for the booming consumer goods sector. Tupperware was invented in 1946. A flood of plastic products and packaging soon took over every corner of the marketplace.

Now, in 2018, the world is literally being chocked with plastics almost all of which take 500 years to decompose in a landfill. Oceans, lakes and landfills have become plastic storage sites. Yet, technology exists to burn plastic to create electricity. European countries are doing this safely and successfully. New types of plastics are also being invented that decompose more rapidly. Unfortunately, an industry that generates trillions of dollars in sales will not change quickly.

Despite my best efforts, I still find myself drowning in plastic. Peanut butter doesn’t come in glass jars nor shampoo in glass bottles. Even major parts of my car are plastic.

The other day at the grocery store I bought three items. “Don’t give me a plastic bag,” I said to the check out person,”I’ll just put them in my purse.” He looked at me like I was crazy. Fortunately, I’m not. I’m just fond of my planet.

Consider this sobering fact from a 2017 study in the journal Science Advances. Of the roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics produced worldwide since the 1950s, about 6.3 billion have been thrown away.

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