Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Ain't It Awful Saturdays": Chapter 23 or so

Some blogs specialize in their area of authority — me, I just spout opinions. To paraphrase one of Thomas Merton’s poems, yes, thank you, I have an opinion for everything/Even though the nights are never dangerous. Heavens, I have opinions to burn. A blog I particularly like — and recommend, even if you have no children in school — is The Education Wonks.

I first met TEW when I joined The Watcher of Weasels Council last year. Their posts were usually short, succinct, and full of information I never saw anywhere else. Of course they don’t usually deal in jihadist issues, so I had no call to link to them on Gates, except when they won. But sometimes, win or lose, I’d comment anyway on a particularly hopeful or a shamefully egregious report the EW brought to our attention.

For example, back in June they did a brief expose of the shenanigans of the Las Vegas school administration. Those people work in splendor of a Las Vegas castle:

The fourth floor of the Clark County School District's new $14.5 million administrative building has features any executive would desire.

It has large offices, a dining room, [six] tiled showers, upscale furniture and decorations, and even remote-controlled curtains in one lounge area.

Superintendent Carlos Garcia allowed the news media to look inside the building for the first time Tuesday, and even he admitted the fourth floor of the four-story building was a potential public relations problem. But Garcia said it's an anomaly and that the purchase is justified.

"The fourth floor [with five showers] is a little bit controversial. It was designed for executive suites. I wish we didn't have the fourth floor, but it's here," Garcia said in the foyer of the 66,645-square-foot-building on Sahara Avenue between Edmond Street and Decatur Boulevard.
Of course, they took care of the children and teachers first, didn’t they? Those kids probably go to schools with marble halls and golden water fountains, right?

Dream on.
…many of Las Vegas's children attend classes in what some refer to as "portable" classrooms, and what others call "trailers."

Even though portables were designed for temporary use, in reality, they often become permanent fixtures at school sites around the country. At many campuses, (including the one where I teach) they have been in use for 20 years or more. Maintenance is often minimal, and many slowly deteriorate over the years. Most portables are small, and a visit to your local school will readily confirm that overcrowding is a serious problem.

Educrats like Garcia and countless others would do well to remember that they work for the parents, students, and taxpayers of their respective communities.

Garcia and his minions are ensconced in the lap of luxury while many of the community's children continue to be relegated (some might say condemned) to portable classrooms.

I think that a better administrative model would be for the administrators to work in portables, and for the students and teachers to be in the permanent buildings.
I’ve complained about ourschool system here, but never again. Our administrators are fiscally responsible and the children are well-housed in our schools. Not too long ago, the high school underwent major renovations and looks quite grand. The administration building is a modest affair across the street from the high school.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

But that’s not the only offense I’ve seen at Education Wonks. The one this past week took me by surprise. Do you know why you never hear the Martin Luther King speech all the way through — just a sentence here and there?

In "The Need to Share the Dream," the Wonks have a link to the WaPo story on the silence of Dr King on MLK Day — or any other day, for that matter:
All of King's speeches and papers are owned by his family, which has gone to court several times since the 1990s to protect its copyright; King obtained rights to his most famous speech a month after he gave it. Now, those who want to hear or use the speech in its entirety must buy a copy sanctioned by the King family, which receives the proceeds.
Some are of the opinion that the family was not left with much money and thus use this speech as a way to raise funds. I don’t find that angle credible at all, at least not now. Dr. King’s children are grown and one supposes they are making a living on their own. Meanwhile, the children most in need of hearing his speech are the least likely to do so:
Critics of the King family's decision not to put the speech in the public domain say the poorest children are the most deprived.

"The more elite the institution, the easier it is to pay the mandatory fee," said David J. Garrow, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and now a history professor at Cambridge University.

"So, to use a King phrase, 'the least of these,' I'll say that the least of these among schools and students are those who cannot afford the least access to his teachings," he said.
The decision to charge for a tape of this speech may have been a good one way back when. To continue to do so is just plain tacky. Sounds like they want it both ways: to have Dr. King in the American pantheon and to be paid for their efforts to place him there.

Beyond his human foibles, Dr. King had vision and he seized the opportunity to move things forward. Charging for his speech is just plain wrong.

The Education Wonks are one of the most interesting blogs around. Full of education and culture issues. Some of the features are heart-warming and positive, but for “Ain’t It Awful” Saturdays, they have enough material for years.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Organizing Lady Comes to Visit

Our house is a disaster.

For a long time, I couldn’t figure it out. The more I tried, the worse it got. So I grew a shell, like a turtle, and pulled myself inside. It made walking by the same magazine on the floor for a week — no longer having the motivation to bend and pick it up — something I could do with ease. It got so I didn’t even see things anymore. Clutter was where we lived.

Who knows how many “tried-and-true” (or “tired-and-false”) housecleaning books I read. Everything from House and Gardens to Feng Shui. Nothing worked for very long.

Someone introduced to the Flylady and while I agreed with her philosophy, I couldn’t put it into practice. Except for keeping the sink clean — I did manage that one. And getting up every morning to dress, do my hair and put on make-up before I started anything else. Usually, I dressed, put on my make-up, etc., and then went back to bed. Hey, you do what you can, right?

And then one day, a few months ago, while perusing Amazon, I ran across a book on cleaning. Sorry, I ran across yet another book on cleaning. I have a small library of them, as though if I collect enough books on the subject, it will all come together. Fat chance. They simply totter on the shelves, or fall sideways and lie there gathering dust.

But this book seemed different. I was skeptical and decided I’d look at it and return it if it were just another routine about routines. It wasn’t. It’s a book about how we get stuck with things and how it gets beyond us. Life happens, things change, and we find it hard to change with it.

So there’s the pile of Shelagh’s stuff…that’s one obstacle. And there’s the “Music Room” which is no longer a repository for music since the Boy went off to school and the piano went to the next generation for lessons, and the guitars went with the Boy. A sad and lonely hymn book remained behind until…it became the room to put things “for awhile until I figure out what to do with them.”

Thus, a clue to your problem is labeling rooms by names that no longer function. It’s a junk room, not a music room. It needs to be a media center, and Wally Ballou has even gotten the sound equipment to go with the wide screen I have yet to get because first I have to move all the junk out (WHERE???), pull up and replace the rug, paint the walls, and then make it a Media Room.

So after reading the book, I looked on line for a person who was trained in this meta-organizing. Sure enough, in Li’l’ Kumquat, there were four. I picked the one who seemed to have been doing it the longest, and she came today.

Peggy, the Baron and I talked for two or three hours and she walked around and looked at things and asked questions and discussed styles of organization and how we use space, etc. It was exciting and exhausting.

But now we have taken our first step. And I have three steps to do before I decide what to do next. The first one is to remove every single book from my bedroom that there is not room for. A good beginning. When that is finished (put them in boxes until the shelves are built), I get to reward myself with flowers…

A wonderful, hopeful beginning…I laugh and wince when I remember that I used to do this for a living myself. Cleaning people’s closets, I mean. And now you barely open mine. The Baron used to say that I didn’t just clean, I went on search-and-destroy missions…but that was then. Now?

Now I watch the glisten of January's afternoon sun as it shines through a particularly large and intricate spider web in the corner of the “Music” Room.

Ah, how the mighty have fallen. Ah, how the mighty are struggling to arise.
Hey! Look me over!
Hey, lend an ear,
Fresh out of clover
and mortgaged up to here…
But don't pass the plate folks,
Don't pass the buck,
I figure whenever you're down and out,
the only way is up!
And as soon as I can find the book in the midst of all my clutter, I'll let you know the title.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo....

When I was first learning to cook, I had a friend whose family came from Ville Platte. It was from them I learned to love Cajun food, which is about as far from Irish cooking as you can get and not leave the galaxy.

One feature of Cajun that is true of many country dishes is that it tends to be cooked in one pot and it features local food. So for Cajuns, that means fish, pork, fowl, and lots of vegetables. Rice, of course, since Louisiana has all those rice paddies.

Warning: most Cajun recipes begin with “first you make a roux.” This means brown roux, which in reality is pretty near the color of chocolate. I’ve heard tell you can buy ready-made roux, but I never have. It’s just not something I think of when I go to the grocery store.

Here’s how to make roux. It takes about forty five minutes altogether (having a book to read while you stand/sit on a stool stirring the pan will alleviate the tedium some. Or you could think good thoughts).

First thing, you need a cast iron frying pan. Nothing else can distribute the heat the way it does. Second thing you need is some fat. I use (heaven forefend!) lard or clarified butter. Bacon grease was often used in traditional brown roux. Even oil works, but you can’t darken it as much and I think the flavor is shallow.

1 cup lard
1 cup flour
1 cast iron pan

Heat pan on medium to low and add fat. Let it melt completely and then stir in the flour. Stir the mixture constantly (I use a wire whip since it seems to keep things moving more efficiently).

The lower setting takes longer for the roux to brown, but it avoids making black spots, which turns the roux bitter and inedible.

The roux will darken slowly, and then darken some more, and then a little darker. The first time you’ll be a bit nervous, thinking you’re going to leave it on too long. You probably won’t because it’s so damn tedious.

Just before you think it’s dark enough --as it's moving past a caramel color--take the pan off the burner and continue stirring for a few minutes longer. That cast iron really holds heat and if you just let the mixture sit, you’ll get burned bits, so keep stirring for awhile.

When the pan is cool, scrape the roux into a jar. It will keep for ages in the refrigerator.
That’s the hard part. Now comes the rest of the story, which is my recipe for gumbo. Lots of ingredients, but easy to prepare. This probably serves ten or twelve people, depending on size of diner and size of appetite. It freezes well and it tastes better if you make it a day ahead.

DYMPHNA’S GUMBO (filé powder expunged)

Red and green peppers, sliced or diced
Several onions, same way
Chopped celery, a cup or more
Enough oil or spray to sauté them on low for awhile in a big pot. Let the vegetables brown lightly, but not much. And do it slowly on low.

While they’re cooking, use the cast iron pan you made the roux in to sauté:

1 pound sausages, cut into pieces,
1 chicken, or 4 chicken breasts
1 pound ham, uncooked, cut in chunks.
Brown the meat lightly and leave aside.

To the large pot of veggies, add

8 diced tomatoes or two large cans of diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
2 or 3 tablespoons brown roux (real Cajuns use half a cup, but you don’t need that much)
some thyme — be generous
celery seed, if you have it
Creole seasoning (make your own or buy it. The commercial kind has salt, so be careful)
1 jar clam juice

Let that cook slowly for about ten minutes and then add the meats from the frying pan. Cook until the meats are done, about half an hour to forty five minutes.

Now add either fresh or frozen okra — about a pound or so. It’s not crucial. In fact, some people don’t like it so they leave it out. If you do that, we’ll have to talk about filé powder.

Let the okra cook for about ten minutes. By the way, if you use whole okra, then people who don't like it can pick it out. Then add

1 lb shelled, raw shrimp. Size doesn’t matter, but stir and watch carefully that you don’t overcook the shrimp. They don’t take to it and get all mushy.

That’s it, except for cooked rice. Some people put the rice in the pot when the vegetables are cooking. Some put cooked rice in the bottom of the bowl (pasta bowls are good) and put the gumbo on that. Those who don’t eat starches can skip the rice.
NOTE: filé powder is made from dried sassafras leaves. There are some ersatz-science claims that sassafras leaves are carcinogenic but it’s one of those things where you’d have to eat more than you’ll ever put in a gumbo. The thing is, you can only use it when the gumbo is hot, sprinkled on separate servings. If you boil it, ugghhh — you have ropes instead of thickening. Okra’s better.

And, of course, here's the accompanying music:

Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie, File Gumbo....
Goodbye Joe, he gotta go, me oh my oh
He gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou.
His Yvonne sweetest one me oh my oh
Son of a gun we'll have big fun on the bayou.

Thibadeaux Fountaineaux the place is buzzin'
Kin folk come to see Yvonne by the dozen
Dressed in style they go hogwild me oh my oh
Son of a gun we'll have big fun on the bayou.

Jambalaya crawfish pie file gumbo
For tonight I'm gonna see ma cher-o me oh
Pick guitar fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun we'll have big fun on the bayou.

Settle down far from home get him a pirogue
And he'll catch all the fish on the bayou
Swap his mon to buy Yvonne what she need-o
Son of a gun we'll have big fun on the bayou

Repeat. Or, as they say down there, "allez encore..."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

January 18th, always

In my experience, on January 18th it’s usually raining. Everything is grey and damp and seems eternally so.

This year is an exception. Today we have sun and a few clouds whipping by in the high wind. A large branch came down in the driveway, forcing me to get out of the car and drag it into the woods. I noticed a smallish, dead pine had broken off, but the tree fell vertically coming to rest against the stump.

It was one I had marked to be cut down during the last driveway cleanup, but Herbert said, “Naw, that one ain’t comin’ down any time soon.” So there was the small, momentary triumph of being right…of course three others are similarly marked and they are all quite upright and hanging on so I’ve only gotten one out of four. On the other hand, it’s a long way till we’re past March so my batting average could improve.

January 18th is the anniversary of the first time I experienced death. Yeah, I’d already had many separations from my family, but no one I’d ever known or cared about had up and died on me.

That is, until Father Doyle did. He died of a heart attack in his sleep during the night. The nuns told us that morning at Mass — explaining that the altar was draped in black in his memory. My first reaction was a sense of unreality. My second reaction was to cry. And cry, and cry, and cry. Maybe “incessant wailing” is a closer description. For once, admonishments by the nuns to “behave” or “be quiet” or “settle down” had absolutely no effect. I was past caring what they could do. What was the worst thing that could happen now? Could they forbid any more visits to the rectory with Father Doyle? No more birthday cards? No more waldorf salad in the kitchen of the rectory, sitting with the housekeeper?

I adored Father Doyle. He was tall, balding and bespectacled. Quiet, but with a twinkle in his eye. He used to count my freckles, though never past a hundred. The nuns were not happy he’d singled me out for “attention.” Just another thing to make me think I was special. Of course, they could object about his spoiling me, and did, but in that hierarchy he could ignore their objections with impunity. And did.

It was probably because my mother was from Dublin that Father Doyle singled me out for affection. It wasn’t often, and only when he saw us in the playground that he’d come and spend a few moments just being nice to me. I think it was because I was Irish and he was homesick for Dublin. I was as close as he was ever going to get to home.

Like any kid, I had an intuitive understanding of the politics of the situation. Father Doyle could be nice to me and the nuns couldn’t stop him. Other than that, I didn’t think about it much, except that he made me feel accepted, acceptable. Worthy, even. The other girls didn’t mind — we shared what we got, and Lord knows it wasn’t much. If anyone harbored bad feelings, they never said so. I guarantee you they would have if that had been the case. But kids don’t think like that. Grown-ups do stuff and that’s just how it is.

And, no, this isn’t one of those pedophile stories — no scandal here. Father Doyle was just a lonely middle-aged priest sent to our parish to “dry out” from his alcoholism. Later I learned that he’d succeeded and had he lived would have gone back to running his own parish. But that knowledge came when I was older and gone from St. Mary's. When he was alive, and when I knew him, I was just a little Irish girl who reminded him of home and he was someone who made me feel special. Two lonely souls who happened across one another. See? Sometimes the fates smiled, however briefly.

I can remember the funeral clearly. I remember not wanting to leave the casket. I remember being pulled away. I remember the following days and weeks quite clearly — or as clearly as one can remember a shadow world.

Did I recover? Of course. I’m telling you the story, am I not? Did I forget? Never.

I am here to honor Father Doyle every January 18th. He was forty-seven years old when he left me. Gabriel Marcel says that love means “for me, you shall never die.”

And so it does. Requiescat in pace, dear man. I'm glad I knew you, and even gladder that you knew me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tuesday's Book: "Too Scared To Cry"

This book is out in paperback now with a 1992 copyright. The first time I laid eyes on it, my daughter was holding it in her hand. We were in my kitchen.

Shelagh thrust the book at me and said, "here, take this for me. I just found it at the dump, but I don't think I can read it yet." So I shoved it in the bookcase, made her a cup of coffee and we talked about ordinary things, including what a wonderful dump her town had, with places where people could drop off useable things for others to pick over.

Too Scared to CryThe original book had a kind of grey cover as I recall. It certainly didn't have the garish picture they're using now. At least, that's how I remember it: hardbound with hard words on the cover. The title made me shiver. As it would anyone who's ever been told -- or heard another told to --"shut up that crying or I'll give you something to cry about." There may be a more banally evil expression than that, but I can't think of it. When you are simply too terrified for tears, you're in basic survival mode. Tears only come with a safe haven. And then it seems they'll never stop. I remember reading a book once about a man who decided he would cry until there were no tears left. He cried for months...don't know if it ever healed him or not.

Dr. Terr is a child psychiatrist in California. Hers is not a book for scholars or researchers. She's trying to explain a phenomenon to the rest of us, in flesh and blood terms we can grasp. She doesn't talk down to you, and she doesn't gloss over the emotionally difficult parts, but she does show you how fragile children are.

Part of the book is a longitudinal study of sorts about the children in Chowchilla, California who were kidnapped off their bus one afternoon in the 1970’s and buried for twenty four hours in an abandoned rock quarry. Shortly after their rescue, Dr. Terr began a series of interviews with them and followed them into adolescence. They didn't do well. It was here I learned that children of terror cease to have a future, even if you give it back to them. You know those kids Bill Cosby talks about who make bad decisions? They're part of that club, too. Children left alone too long, neglected too much, ignored too often. People think abuse is the worst, but it's not. Abuse is connection. Neglect is abandonment and disconnection. It can kill.

One part of the book that Stephen King fans may enjoy is her attempt to analyze what childhood trauma he must have endured to keep repeating the same themes in his books and films. You'll be surprised at what she manages to uncover.

If you have some idea of the high incidence of abuse and neglect in families today, this book will interest you.

It is my contention that the roots of global terrorism lie partially in the family system of fundamentalist Islamic cultures. Our fundamentalist Christians, bound as they are with brimstone and bigotry, are similar except for one important fact: they don't want to kill all the infidel non-Christians and so far none of them are exhibiting any signs of donning bomb belts and setting out for godless New York City. There can be no moral equations there.

Lenore Terr writes well and makes important connections you wouldn't see otherwise, including the cognitive losses that terror produces, and why people like horror movies (I loathe them).

I finally read Too Scared to Cry but Shelagh never did. She wanted to, but she never felt safe enough. After she died, I gave it away.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Monday's Word(s): Soulless Susurration

I have this thing about The New York Times -- part of my 'thing' is that I never, ever link to it. If the Old Grey Doxy were the only outlet carrying the story of Judgment Day, I'd talk about something else.

Anyway, we don't usually do links in this neighborhood. It's not that kind of place, unless perhaps it's Tuesday and books are being bandied about. Otherwise, it's not the done thing here in Chaos, next door to H-m..

But recently -- and this has a connection, as you'll see -- Neo neocon had a post on Moby Dick. The first of two, as it turns out. The premise of this initial post is obsession:
...So, what does the whale symbolize, anyway? I've called it a "protean" symbol, meaning "readily taking on various shapes, forms, or meanings." So one thing we can agree on is that the text offers a lot of room for us to see any number of things in it. Evil, for starters. Or unbridled nature, with Ahab representing the hubris of fighting the way the world is set up, thinking he can subdue the chaos.
Hmm, I've been there...been there, done that, and will no doubt return to the scene of the crime many more times before I snuffle off.

Neo offers several obsessions, or "Moby Dicks" for our consideration:
Whatever your preferred Moby Dick metaphor, it can be extended to some present day situations. Here are my current offerings:

(1) To Hitler, the Jews were Moby Dick.

(2) To the Arab world, the Israelis are Moby Dick.

(3) To quite a few Europe on the left, "Zionists" (read: "Jews") are still Moby Dick.

(4) To those suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, Bush is Moby Dick.

(5) To many who detest Bush, Iraq is Bush's Moby Dick.
Most obviously, when I am Ahab, the Old Grey Whore is Moby Dick: elusive, cunning, always out there somewhere. And I want to harpoon her and drag her carcass back to shore.

Turns out I'm not the only one harboring this animus. Gerard Van der Leun has his own disquietude about her. Here is his meditation on the subject:

The Soulless Susurration of the Times' Editorials

After many years of reading the editorials of the New York Times with interest and attention, both my interest and attention began to drop below absolute zero after several months of sour grapes following the 2000 elections. Soon after that my interest and attention in the paper itself went even lower until, after nearly three decades as a daily reader of the Times, I decided that the money spent on the paper could be put to better use buying lap dances for indigent friends. At least they'd get a little pleasure from the money.

Since early in 2002 I've not spent a penny on the paper, but I do read it online from time to time just to assure myself that its death spiral continues unabated.
The rest of his essay is here and it's every bit as entertaining as this opening riff.

Mr. Van der Leun is one of those people who have led "interesting lives." That he can also bring forth "soulless susurration" from the depths allows me to surrender my envy of his myriad experiences in the face of astoundingly great alliteration.

Now I am free simply to admire his scope. And rejoice in discovering a kindred soul who would do better things with his money than spend it on that Hussy.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sunday's Gratitude Got Mugged

In the Neighborhood of God, Chaos can be a pest -- always in and out, asking for a cup of sugar or leaving the yard strewn with leaves I just raked. Some neighbors are simply obnoxious.

So it was Sunday and I was driving home, pondering my gratitude post, since Sundays are for gratitude. I already had the picture ready -- one the Baron had taken. And I was going to talk about being grateful for friends because we'd gone to our friends' house the night before to have dinner (yum, gumbo) and watch "Serenity."

These were my thoughts as I came to the driveway. But I stopped in the road because blocking the entrance was a dark sedan. There were big doings at the Baptist church just down the road and I thought perhaps this person was just overflow parking. But then I noticed he was motioning me to go around him. I motioned to him to move out onto the road so I could drive in without having to go on the verge (and possibly into the ditch), but he wasn't budging, except to move over three inches to my left.

So I squeezed in and before I could ask why he was there, this man informed me that I was on his property and he was closing the driveway to our use...??!!

We live in the country -- as my three readers know. Here in the woods, commonly shared driveways are...well, common. As in frequently found and not unusual. Our driveway property is mostly owned by a family who doesn't live there, but along comes Mr. Brown, down from the big city, with big plans for "his" share of the property. Which, given there are a dozen children and their offspring, can't be much. However, he says, he has a "vision" about what he's going to do with these woods and my driving on the road past them is definitely not part of his vision.

To put it mildly, I got upset. Intellectually, I knew he was wrong, but this grandiose flabber jab had me convinced we'd have to find another way into that third of a mile to our house. I told him he was cruel. He told me maybe we could make some kind of other words, that big city so-and-so was going to charge me rent for the privilege of using the driveway! And, by the way, I'd better move my mailbox because it belonged down by the church not near his property...

...The Baron was waiting to use my car to drive the Boy back to school when I came in crying. When I told him what'd happened he did the guy thing: got out the deed which showed that we had express use of the driveway, and called the sheriff (in that order). Then he drove down and parked behind the sedan, still sitting on the driveway. He showed Mr. Big the deed, but Mr. Big was on "Transmit Only" so the Baron just waited for the law. Fortunately, they showed up in two colors: the black officer talked to the crazy man, and the white officer told the Baron to call our attorney at home and make plans to have a letter delivered in lawyerese explaining to our visionary why he couldn't extort money for the use of a common driveway.

So now we have the expense of having an attorney explain to someone who cannot hear his neighbors that he can't deprive us of access to a commonly shared driveway. And is he gonna be mad! Turns out his grandma used to do this periodically to the old lady who lived in our house previously and the old lady didn't know the law so she would be frantic because she had to walk through the woods to get out until she could get back in Grandma's good graces and be permitted to use the driveway again. Mr. Big thought he'd come "home" (he left here in 1970) and repeat Grandma's evil ways.

Guess he thought we were hicks.

Now in case you think this is about race, it's not. Mr. Big is black, and we are white. Mr. Big's black grandmother used to pull this trick on the owner of our house, who was also black. It was not about race, you see, it was about being mean. Grandson wanted to carry on that fine family tradition.

Funny thing is, his Grandma made the black woman who owned our house so bitter that when it came time to sell, she wouldn't sell to any black folks. I didn't find that out until twenty years later, but I couldn't figure out why she'd do such a thing, be so trifling with her own people.

Now I know why. Too bad Miz Johnson's not still alive. I'd go visit her and talk about how the mills of God grind slowly, but grind they do. And they're gonna grind that mean man into an expensive lawsuit if he keeps up with his Grandma's mean ways. Oh, pardon me, her "vision."

Yeah. So Happy Martin Luther King Day, y'all.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cast Adrift By Judge Cashman

The Anchoress calls him a judge Steven Spielberg could love:
In his “prayer for peace” Steven Spielberg’s film Munich reportedly draws a moral equivalence between Palestinian terrorists and Israel’s response…and he cautions that “fighting back” doesn’t work - it only leads to more violence.
The Associated Press claims that this story was “whipped into a frenzy via Internet blogs” — a snarky aside, showing the growing fear the MSM harbors about the ability of distributive information to change outcomes.

Michelle Malkin weighed in on the reason for last week’s fury:
There was outrage Wednesday when a Vermont judge handed out a 60-day jail sentence to a man who raped a little girl many, many times over a four-year span starting when she was seven.

Prosecutors argued that confessed child-rapist Mark Hulett, 34, of Williston deserved at least eight years behind bars for repeatedly raping a littler girl countless times starting when she was seven.

But Judge Edward Cashman disagreed explaining that he no longer believes that punishment works.

“The one message I want to get through is that anger doesn’t solve anything. It just corrodes your soul,” said Judge Edward Cashman speaking to a packed Burlington courtroom. Most of the on-lookers were related to a young girl who was repeatedly raped by Mark Hulett who was in court to be sentenced.
Before we analyze what this judge did, it is important to know who he is. According to that same editorialized story by the Associated Press, Judge Cashman is a Catholic conservative and a former Vietnam veteran. He is known as a tough judge and has handed down some harsh sentences.

On the other hand, he also been a volunteer for many years at a halfway house for prisoners who have been released and are attempting to start over.

He has won his state legislature’s confidence over the years and the Governor speaks highly of him.

So why were neither of these aspects of his persona — the tough judge, the fellow who understands the need for community — why were they not in operation in this case of the pedophile who was given sixty days for his four years’ of sexual abuse of a child?

Ignorance. That’s all it was. Judge Cashman has bought into the conventional wisdom that such men are “sick” and need treatment, not jail time. The judge is merely a man of his time, our time, a moment in history when perpetrators of crimes are seen as needing our help and not our censure.

Judge Cashman has probably never worked as a volunteer with the victims of crime, especially the child victims of sexual abuse. Had he done so, he would have put this man away for as long as possible. He would have put him on the same basis as John W. Hinckley, who is still in St. Elizabeth’s despite efforts to have him released. But then Hinckley didn’t rape a little girl over and over again. The permanent damage to a child simply doesn’t tip the scales of Justice when compared to an attempt on President Reagan’s life — even though it is more heinous and probably even less curable than Hinckley’s obsessions, Jody Foster notwithstanding. These two men chose different victims but their criminal obsessions are the same.

The Judge ought least to have read some of the studies which have been done on child victims of sexual assault. It changes the trajectory of a child's life; it is never gotten over; and the damage does not go away with time. What they’re beginning to understand is that trauma to children, but especially sexual trauma, actually changes the brain. The amygdala of such children is smaller than those of children who have not been victimized.

In a very long website article, Bruce Perry, M.D, notes that “states become traits” — i.e., the animal fear and loathing that arises during abuse becomes a permanent way of being in the world:
… Similar altered brainstem catecholamine and neuroendocrine functioning was suggested by a pilot study in sexual abused girls. Following abuse girls exhibited greater total catecholamine synthesis as measured by the sum of the urinary concentration of epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine when compared with matched controls… In our laboratory, altered platelet alpha-2 adrenergic receptor number and cardiovascular functioning was demonstrated in children exposed to traumatic violence, suggesting chronic and abnormal activation of the sympathetic nervous system . In our clinic populations, evidence of brain-mediated alterations of cardiovascular functioning have been demonstrated in various ways… In both the acute and chronic post-traumatic period, resting heart rate is different from comparison populations. In other studies, clonidine, an alpha2 adrenergic receptor partial agonist has been demonstrated to be an effective pharmacotherapeutic agent… further suggesting altered LC functioning in children exposed to violence.
And what does this translate to in every day life? These girls (and boys) live in a persistent fear state and their cognitive, social and emotional functioning are ruled by fear. Try to imagine life lived in that state, try to understand what it does to your ability to think, to make responsible decisions, or even to maintain yourself in present time.

Severely abused children do not plan for the future. The future has been wiped as a potential space. Thus, they often function well below what would have been their potential. Underneath it all is the shame and humiliation which drive a desire for surcease from the emotional blankness or pain. Suicide rates are higher, but more importantly, such children feel they do not deserve a future so they don’t make plans for one. They simply drift.

That’s what sexual abuse of the order of magnitude this child suffered at the hands of Judge Cashman’s prisoner has left in its wake: she is now a child set adrift on an empty sea.

Will she ever “recover”? No.

Will she ever find a way to live with her suffering? Perhaps. It depends on what kind of help she gets and for how long. It depends on the environment which takes her in. It partly depends on how resilient she was before this happened…

And there, but for the grace of God, go you.

Meanwhile, this piece of human garbage, Mark Hulett, will be given the opportunity to do this again and again, setting more little girls adrift on a sea of pain and self-loathing.

What is wrong with us?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Living In a Neighborhood Where Chaos Mucks With My Schedules

Well, I “try”… which means E for Effort.

For Neighborhood of God, I adopted James Lileks' idea of having a schedule of subjects for each day of the week. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to transplant his anal retentive tendencies along with this great idea, so I carom off the hours and the days, bruising body parts along my erratic path and dropping the days’ categories all over the place.

Here’s the putative schedule:

    Monday: Etymology. I’d prefer this to be words I come across while reading or in conversation but it doesn’t always work out that way. I suppose if I read William Buckley more often I wouldn’t have a problem.

    Tuesday: Books. It started out as Science because I was reading The Agile Gene at the time, but what I know about science you could put in thimble and have enough room left for Bill Clinton’s integrity.

    So now it’s whatever I’m reading or have read recently. This can run the gamut from fiction to philosophy, depending on my mood. And sometimes on what the Baron brings home from the library or the Boy brings home from college. Sometimes he borrows wonderful things from Wally Ballou, who has contributed greatly to the Boy’s education. Once he was reading a “borry” from WB — either Thurber or Benchley?— and came across a mention of Billy Rose’s trial. The day before I’d been telling the Boy about the fact that my grandfather had been Billy Rose’s attorney. Don’t know if that goes under family (Friday) or books (Tuesday). And then there are family books, including some good ones, even.

    Wednesday: The Garden. Or Matters Rural. This can be anything from Hazel’s wedding —which if I haven’t written about, I will — to the zen of raking, raking, raking to Missouri. Or plant diseases and pests, like the horrid Japanese beetle.

    Thursday: Food, Glorious Food. I’ve been cooking dinner since I was ten. Doing the grocery shopping since I was twelve. There is little about food I don’t know but I won’t burden you with it. Perhaps though, I will tell about the time Mother brought home a string of dead quail and tried to put them in the trash. I rescued them and learned quickly how to clean them, strip the feathers, and singe the remaining pin feathers from the skin. Best fowl I’ve ever had. The story of how Mother came to have a string of dead quail in her possession will have to wait.

    Friday: Family and Friends. This, too, will be a mishmash. Our family agrees we’re pretty much a mishmash. When I married the Baron, Mother commented that it would be good to widen the genetic pool beyond our Celtic walls. No kidding. Maybe I will write about my cousin, Buster, who lost the mayor’s race in Tallahassee by 37 votes. Or maybe Mark Humphrys, a cousin I met because I found my grandmother’s wedding picture on his site. He lives in Dublin and teaches IT. An Irishman who’s a libertarian. A fierce libertarian…are there any other kinds?

    Saturday: Ain’t It Awful. This one is fluid, since I don’t seem to have managed a Saturday post as yet. Usually Saturday is hanging out with the Baron and dribbling the day away. We’re lazy bums except when we’re too busy to be so. Anyway, this category is tentative, as is Wednesday. I think I could quickly run out of things that annoy me, but perhaps not. When Norm Geras interviewed me I sure did rattle them off.

    Sunday: The Latitudes of Gratitude…the antidote to Saturday…As in “there is a wideness in God’s mercy.” Wish I could get the Baron’s boy to learn to play that hymn. Of course I could just buy a CD, but I’d rather hear the music drifting down the stairs when he’s home. Carrot? Stick? Guilt? Hmm…

    Anyway, since Shelagh died, gratitude comes hard. My spirit starts to expand and I find myself wanting to tell her about it and then I remember…she’s not here. A lot of parents tell me that somehow they manage to find a sign from their dead child. Sometimes I think of that…but nothing has appeared so far…though there was a small incident with her granddaughter, Kiki, the other week.

    The people who lived in the house where my daughter died have moved from there because they see her drifting up the stairs as though she’s just come out of the bath, a towel wrapped around her hair. I wish she’d move here.

    Well, there I went from gratitude to grief in two small steps. That seems to keep happening. Perhaps it is a process to be gotten through and eventually one arrives at a more spacious place. Writing poetry helps sometimes. A psychiatrist friend, a writer in NYC, says poems are “pellets of time.” He’s right…they provide enough aesthetic distance to allow me to move on a bit.
Lileks was right. It’s a good idea to have a schedule. Now if I could just get him to help me organize my papers. Wonder if he works by the hour?

It may look as though I wrote this so my reader(s) might know what to expect on any given day. Truth to tell, I wrote it because I keep losing the damn list. Now it exists here in the ether where it can only get lost if the web gremlins or the blogger bugs interfere with my karma.

Fortunately, my webmaster is duly diligent about backing things up.

Tomorrow: the dreadful Judge Cashman. I have things to say about that soft-headed man, but not entirely what you think. It may even be a nuanced characater assault instead of merely a rant.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Yorkshire Pudding, The Day After

We had a standing rib roast recently — two of them, actually, since my family can’t seem to co-ordinate Christmas dinner. One was on Christmas and one was two days past Epiphany, which is officially beyond the Twelve Days of Christmas, but any excuse for rib roast is fine with me.

Rib roast calls for Yorkshire pudding. The Baron, having spent his high school years in Yorkshire, loves pud. As do those who were fortunate enough to taste the ones his mother made. My Irish mother made Yorkshire pudding on occasion. She was a spectacularly bad cook, but the YP was in her blood so she made a decent one when we could afford the roast to go with it.

This last time, as we were cleaning up from dinner, the Baron happened to mention a dish he’d had in Yorkshire when he went back to visit a few years ago. He described it as a small, individual pudding which was topped with beef stew.

“Say no more,” I told him. “That’s what we’ll do with the rest of the rib roast.” My recipes for both follow:

Beef Stew (made from left-over cooked rib roast)

Preheat oven to 400 or so.

Put enough carrots for whomever you’re feeding into a roasting pan lined with tinfoil.
Add a few chopped up onions,
a leek if you have it (white only),
some unpeeled garlic cloves,
celery hunks, perhaps.

Spray with oil, sprinkle lightly with flour, and put in oven. Stir occasionally as they roast. Spray a little more oil if they look dry. If you like parsnips, turnips, etc., you can use those, too.

At the same time place ½ cup or so of flour into another pan and put in oven. Stir this occasionally until it browns a bit (you’ll use this to make gravy).

Scrub enough potatoes (I used three) to go with the rest of the ingredients.
Bring to a boil enough water to cover the potatoes, add salt and then cube the potatoes into the water.
Turn down to medium when it returns to the boil. Cover and simmer for ten minutes (if you want to avoid having the potatoes boil over when your back is turned, put a little oil or butter around the rim of the saucepan — about an inch into the pan— before you start. If you forget, do it with a pastry brush while they’re cooking)
Cook for about 10 minutes and drain in colander. Set aside.

Now cube the beef. Scrape whatever juices remain on the plate and ribs and set aside with the cubed meat.

If you’ve saved the roasting pan with its fat and juices, now is the time to haul it out of the fridge where it was taking up too much room anyway.

Crack up the solid fat and discard, being careful to scrape off any congealed juices clinging to it. Use what remains ( two tablespoons or so of fat — just eyeball it) to make the gravy for the stew.
Heat roasting pan on low and add enough of the browned flour to make a thin gravy.
If you have left-over red wine, now’s the time to add it, before you pour in water or beef broth. Or both.
Use a whisk to smooth out the gravy. Put in a few dashes of Lea and Perrins. Set aside.

Heat a large stew pan over medium heat for a few minutes before putting in a bit of spray or some rendered beef fat on the bottom and sides of the pan.
Add the cubed beef and cook very briefly, perhaps five minutes, stirring a few times.

Pour the gravy over the meat.
Remove the roasted veggies from the oven and add to stew pot, mixing well.
At this point, use pepper grinder generously over stew.
Add a tablespoon of tomato paste
and one of pistou, if you have it (this is easily made by blender, using only basil, nuts, oil, and garlic. Don’t add cheese. Freeze it in small hunks and bag it when frozen).
If you don’t have pistou, use a small bit of anchovy paste and a basil leaf. Cover stew and turn fairly low so it’s just simmering.

Spread the cubed, parboiled potatoes in the just-vacated veggie pan. Spray lightly with oil, sprinkle with salt and crushed pepper and put in oven. Stir them around every few minutes so they brown slightly, very slightly. Roast about ten minutes.

For the puddings:

Using heavy 8 inch cake pans, line the outside with foil (this just provides an extra layer to keep the bottoms from overheating).
Put in a square of the solid rendered beef fat from the roasting pan (about a tablespoon) into the cake pans. Set aside.

Measure out a cup of flour (use metal cups, not the graduated glass kind for liquids).
Warm two eggs under running water.
Heat a cup of milk (use the glass pyrex cup for this) in microwave just until it reaches room temperature.
Beat eggs well (use a whisk briefly) and add milk.
Sift the flour/salt into the milk/egg mixture and whisk briefly to distribute. Don’t beat it much, leave a lump or two. Set aside.

At the finish line...

Remove potatoes from oven. Turn oven up to 450.

Put potatoes into stew.
At this point, add a cup of frozen peas also, and chopped fresh parsley if you have it.
Stir, taste for salt, and cover again.

Put cake pans into oven to preheat. Leave them in for 3 minutes or so.
Stir the pudding mixture,
remove the pans, swirl the melted fat around the pan
and quickly pour in the batter.
Return to oven and don’t open the door. Here is where an oven light helps because you can watch their progress. Lacking that, figure on 20 - 22 minutes for them to rise and cook through.

Remove pans, open puddings up (use a fork or sharp knife) and spoon in a generous serving of stew.

Place pans on dinner plates and serve. People can use their napkin to hold the pan initially but it will cool enough to touch quite quickly.

That looks like a lot of work but it's not if you do it in steps. Roast the veggies one day and make gravy at the same time. Blend them and refrigerate. Then the next day you can make the pudding and finish the stew with the meat.

Besides, you're likely to have stew for yet another meal. If you serve the potatoes separately you can freeze it. Potatoes don't freeze well, but turnips do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Shoot. I Thought It Was Tuesday.

But it’s not. Wednesday is here already, which means I missed doing my weekly book review. Wednesday is the garden, the country, and matters rural. That covers a lot of territory, considering it’s about forty miles to the nearest latte — in Lil’ Kumquat*, that blue, blue town near us. It has the nearest Barnes and Noble, too, but since we have a somewhat shaky internet connection and email, Amazon is better…can’t go into Barnes and Noble in my pajamas. On the other hand, Amazon doesn’t serve coffee. And on the third hand, while browsing Amazon I won’t be meeting any red-faced liberals demanding to know why I’m browsing through David Horowitz and “polarizing the country.” That was a fun moment. Have you ever noticed that liberals seem to have an atrophied sense of fun?

In the winter around here — here being Eden, our estate — the garden tasks amount to raking. Lots and lots of raking. Fortunately, since it’s also my winter exercise, I don’t mind raking a large area only to find it covered with leaves a few days later. There is a wonderful Zen experience to be had with raking for its own sake. Rake, step, rake, step, rake, step. And then down goes the tarp. Rake, step — repeat several hundred times and then haul the tarp to the woods and dump it wherever it feels right.

At the moment I am using the spot where sits an old, dilapidated picnic table. Hexagonal, I think. Anyway, it tilts south and I’ve been busy covering it with leaves. It’s not treated wood so it responds to my treatment by gradually growing holier.

As I am also doing, by applying a modest dose of raking every day. It is good — a good — to do something useful which you will simply have to repeat eternally until you die and someone comes behind you to pick up the rake and continue the task.

But who knows? Maybe the next person will come along and knock down the house and build a bigger one. A few years ago, I got one of my recurring yens for a dining room. I asked a contractor friend to come over and see if he could somehow manage to attach a room to our house so I could have a separate place to eat dinner, away from the kitchen. He had built an addition here once before, when my mother, disabled with Parkinson’s, came to live with us. After walking around, and pondering, and walking around and discussing, he thought it might be a good idea to knock down the house and start over.

Thanks a lot. That desecration will be someone else’s task, not mine. This house was built room by room as previous owners had the money. No one family could do much since they were all so poor — obviously none of them could build square either. Gradually, electricity was added. Then water. Then the kitchen was expanded. That wife must have been so happy to have a sink, not to mention a bath tub.

I love that kitchen sink. You can’t find enamel ones with two sinks and two drain boards anymore. It fits in its little nook so well. When we had the kitchen cabinets put in (before there were just rough shelves) I tried to save the sink by having it resurfaced. But that was a failure. The “enamel” just peeled away. So now I’ll have to find another sink. Darn it….

…soon a professional organizer is coming to help me rename the rooms and reshuffle my life. It’s a sign you need a pro when you’re still calling it the “music room” three years after the pianos and the guitars have gone elsewhere. Leave a room to its own devices and it fills up with “storage”…also a sign you need professional help. My organizer says every time you hit an obstacle, things get more chaotic. Well, I guess so! She is coming with cardboard boxes and lots of energy and we are going to be busy at Goodwill. In fact, it’ll be Goodwill hunting, since that’s what I’ll be doing — hunting for things to give away so there will be room to think.

Meanwhile, I can always rake. Step, rake, step rake. Lay out tarp. Step, rake, step, rake. Pull tarp to picnic bench and dump. Lay out tarp…step, rake. Quit when it stops being fun.

*You know how they call New York City "The Big Apple"? A friend of mine from Westchester said one day that she had to drive into the city for horse feed. When I looked at her blankly she laughed and told me she forgot she wasn't in New York anymore. That's when we came up with the name of our town: "Lil' Kumquat" is sweet on the outside, sour and seedy in the middle.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ask Emily Dickinson

On The Conglomerate, there was a brief, desultory discussion of why fewer women than men blog. Having said previously that having a blog is rather like herding a child, I’d be inclined to agree with whomever said, “why would women (who have had children) want to blog, anyway. It’d be a case of been-there-ain’t-going-back.

But no one brought up my similarity between blog and child. They talked about socialization, about men being more inclined to think whatever issues from their own mouth is inherently more interesting, etc.

One commenter did say something a bit off the beaten horse:

…I think we have to agree on what "success" is for a blog. For a commercial enterprise to be successful, it has to bring in more money than it costs to keep the doors open. But most blogs are not a commercial enterprise. So, you seem to be saying that you would not consider your blog a success if no one linked to you and no one read to you, but I'm not sure that your definition forecloses others. Nothing would force someone to close a blog just because no one read it. Although to you, running such a blog would be pointless, I'm not sure others agree. Many college students, high school students, etc. have blogs that about 3 people read, for example.
Yeah. Who cares if people read it? The process of writing is the point. Just ask Emily Dickinson.

Maybe having two blogs — one to develop and one to neglect — makes this a non-issue for me. So what if more men blog than women? Who on God’s green earth cares??? Aside from some ghettoized feminist who seeks parity in everything — one of those people responsible for the awful effects of Title IX on men’s intramural college sports — who gives a fig leaf?

It's not fair. Yawn....

Monday's Word: Tachyphylaxis

This is not going to be of much interest to those who don't have to use psychotropic drugs, and those who do are unfortunately all-too-familiar with the phenomenon.

Basically, tachyphylaxis is the process by which your brain gets enough of a particular helping hand and proceeds to roll over and play dead. Wikipedia describes it thusly:

Tachyphylaxis is the diminution of a pharmacological response during the continued or repeated administration of an activating substance. Tachyphylaxis or receptor desensitization appears counterintuitive because the addition of more of an activating ligand lessens the elicited response.

See also desensitization or physiological tolerance.
I don't get the "counterintuitive" part. The whole thing makes perfect sense to me. Eat chocolate every day and one's taste buds are not nearly so sensitive to the experience. Yeah, it still tastes good, but the familiarity numbs the novelty.

So anyway, taking psychotropic meds is a hit-and-miss affair (or a hit-and-mess situation, depending on your reaction to the drug).

SSRIs and SSNIs trigger migraines for me, so they're out.
tricyclics -- mainly amitryptiline -- are helpful, at least for awhile.
benzodiazepines -- are here to stay. Thank God for small mercies.
light box in winter -- let those lumens hit your retina.

And then, there's exercise. Moderate exercise. Enough to make you breathe hard for a bit but nothing extreme.

Tachyphylaxis --thank you, Shrinkwrapped, for the correct term -- is what my psychopharmacologist calls "trying to hit a moving target." Neuroscience is in its infancy right now. May my great-great grandchildren, who will no doubt inherit all these Celtic quirks in their neurotransmitters -- get to meet the adolescent version of psychotropic drug development.

Meanwhile, we take what we can get...with gratitude when they last for awhile and a Gallic shrug before we move on to something else.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Good Enough Mother

The tsunami in December, 2005 caused many deaths, many upheavals, untold sorrow. Because the organisms of Earth are adaptable, we began once more to put pieces back together, to fashion new pieces for the missing ones -- the ones who vanished in the wave and would never return.

In the midst of the chaos, death, and subsequent corruption that followed one of the world’s horrible tragedies, a few redeeming stories emerged. For me, last year, it was a love story. A genuine willingness to make the best of things and to connect with another in a way that brought satisfaction to both.

The story never fails to move those who read it. Last February, I happened upon the article in an Asian newspaper and marveled at the ability to transcend loss and separation. The child’s resilience was truly awe-inspiring. So much so, that I made a Valentine card out of the picture and the few details I could gather then.

The outside of the card read: “A Love Story” and was accompanied by the picture of mother and child. The inside of the card simply related the news story:

A baby hippo rescued after floods in Kenya last week has befriended a 100-year-old tortoise in Kenya.

The one-year-old hippo calf christened Owen was found alone and dehydrated by wildlife rangers near the Indian Ocean.

He was placed in an enclosure at a wildlife sanctuary in the coastal city of Mombasa and befriended a male tortoise of a similar colour. According to a park official, "they sleep together, eat together and have become inseparable."

The hippo follows the tortoise around and licks his face.

The tortoise is named Mzee, which is Swahili for old man.
Owen and MzeeOwen did more than merely “befriend” Mzee. He adopted Mzee as his mother. The tortoise was less than delighted with the idea of motherhood at his state in life — confirmed bachelorhood — but Owen, that resilient baby hippopotamus, persisted in his attentions to Mzee.

First, however, Owen himself had some adjustments to make, some grieving to do. Here’s what the caretaker says in early January:

We have had Owen for five days now and just when I thought he was recovering something even more worrying happened. Today I noticed that he has started walking around in circles. Sabine told me that these are the symptoms of a very serious disease and we called Dr. Kashmiri to come and check him out. Dr. Kahsmiri arrived in the late morning, Owen was still doing his circles. According to the vet however, this is not a disease but perhaps an indication that Owen is still traumatized and feeling lost and alone. I wish we could do more to quickly settle Owen down.
The next day, Owen began his adjustment:

Today I noticed that Mzee began is beginning to show some interest in Owen, and Owen has stopped his turning just as suddenly as he started it. Everyday I put the food out in the same place and Mzee knows and appreciates it. Today I noticed that he does not seem to mind Owen following him. In the heat of the day Owen was sleeping beside him, some part of his body always touches Mzee, just like a human child reaching out for some security.

Owen has started following Mzee to the pond to swim, and then back out again to the food, and the most extraordinary thing happened today. I noticed Owen copying Mzee in eating dairy cubes (concentrated food that we give the other hippos) and drinking water. I wonder if my eyes are deceiving me, but Owen seemed to be copying Mzee.
By mid-January, Owen had regained his healthy pink color and was growing. The caretakers were worrying about the future of this strange mother and child:

Everyone is interested in Owen and Mzee. My friends want to know how long this relationship can last. I often wonder about this myself. Owen will outgrow Mzee before long and I think he would be much better off with another hippo. Sabine and I are preparing a new much better long term place for Owen which will be large enough for him and Cleo. We will not be able to move them for some time, and since Cleo is an adult, we don't know how quickly she will respond to Owen. We have never done this before so it will be a big learning experience for us. I don't even know how we will move Cleo - she must be several tons in weight!
In March, Owen was becoming more independent, though still attached to Mom Mzee.

Owen still spends time with Mzee, but they are not as in-separable as they were in the beginning. He seeks the proximity of Mzee specially when he feels threatened or disturbed.

But when they do stay together, Owen’s attachment to Mzee still seems strong. Owen still seems to take Mzee as a fellow hippo, a friend and protector – at times nudging him to accompany him to the water, or just lying next and snuggling up to him. We have observed Owen licking Mzee’s face and neck, what Mzee seemed to enjoy a lot, as he then stretched his neck as if to encourage more (like the giant tortoises do when you scratch their neck – they stand up and stretch their neck.
By April, the two have an established relationship, one in which communication manages to take place, even across the chasm of species-difference:

Sometimes I think that Owen and Mzee are communicating, they often look as if they are deep in conversation. When they move Mzee sometimes waits for Owen to get up before he moves on. Owen always looks for Mzee before he goes exploring. At one point Owen looked as if he was helping Mzee to climb over a fallen log by nudging the back of his shell when he seemed stuck with all four legs off the ground! When Mzee goes on walks he marches and Owen keeps up with no effort at all. I noticed just how much Owen has grown, he is almost the size of Mzee now.

The bond between them is stronger than ever. Owen can sometimes be seen licking Mzee’s wrinkled face and neck as the old tortoise stretches his neck out, or nudging Mzee's shell with his fat foot when he wants to go for a walk. He still sleeps with his head nestled comfortably on Mzee's enormous scaly arm. Mzee reciprocates and has been filmed putting his head trustingly into Owens mouth during a yawn.

When they fell asleep Mzee looked as if he was watching over Owen and only put his head down after Owen had closed his eyes.
Behind the scenes, in October, the Caretakers are trying to figure out how to move Owen into a habitat with Cleo, another lone hippo who lives in a separate enclosure. They hope that Mzee will be tolerated by Cleo, though they seem to think that Mzee is the one who must sacrifice. If Cleo doesn’t like Mzee, then Momma has to go:

Owen has recently gained a lot of confidence and courage. Unlike in the past when he would run into hiding behind Mzee or water, he is now behaving boldly. Hippos yawn to display their irritation or excitement. Owen occasionally yawns at visitors and today he actually threatened to charge at me! This sort of boldness shows that he seems to be quite at home now.

Although he is courageous towards people, he is not when it comes to Mzee. Everything he does and everywhere he goes depends on what pleases Mzee. Mzee is also quite bossy. When Mzee is on land eating and Owen decides to go into water, Mzee would follow him there and push him trying to get him out of the water. Owen can be stubborn and doesn’t just oblige that easily. So it takes Mzee a lot of nudging before he finally succeeds in making Owen do what he wants.
By December, the Caretakers have figured out the boxes they must use to move Owen over to Cleo’s enclosure. Owen has developed a new habit, and they aren’t sure what it means:

Although Owen and Mzee still spend most of their time together, Owen is becoming more aggressive with Mzee. Owen has taken to biting and shoving Mzee whenever he is hungry and wants to eat but Mzee is not moving. The food is spread round their enclosure as much as possible so that Owen and Mzee are always close to food somewhere. However it has not deterred Owen from biting Mzee. Could it be that he is teething and it is uncomfortable for him?
Fortunately, I don’t think a young, teething hippo can damage a tortoise’s shell right now. But this is an ongoing relationship so who knows what the future holds? Last year, who could have predicted this relationship at all? Owen, miraculously rescued when his mother and the rest of their herd were swept away, must have looked at Mzee and, heart thumping, said to himself “’twill do, ’twill serve.”

The world is full of mystery and magic, and the greatest magic of all is mysterious love.

There's a downloadable free pdf. story here. The Caretaker's Diary is a month-by-month account of this love story.