Saturday, April 08, 2006

sounds like a hamlet on the Thames

If you read my other blog, I've already mentioned this word, sorry.
We're beginning to re-do our original 1952* kitchen next week. It's a total overhaul. We're going down to the subfloor, baby. IKEA will be furnishing us with our new cabinetry, among other sundries. I have learned during the past month that if there is one key part to any cabinet it is its:

plinth (plnth)

1. A block or slab on which a pedestal, column, or statue is placed.
2. The base block at the intersection of the baseboard and the vertical trim around an opening.
3. A continuous course of stones supporting a wall. Also called plinth course.
4. A square base, as for a vase.

Moreso I've learned that it doesn't matter one weasel's whisker what the plinth's made out of, all that matters are the doors.

*I love the 50's more than most people, but this was not a hip 50's house. This kitchen was a "that'll do" kind of design.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Accosting a Stranger

My husband and I have just finished a dinner out and are paying the check when we decide not to call it a night quite yet. "Afterall," he says as he stands up, "The babysitter hasn't called." We've never had a babysitter call yet.

And then he looks at his cellphone and sees the glowing display. Missed Call. I lean over his shoulder and try to stay calm as he flips opens the phone and hits the button for See Missed Calls.

7:57 pm
April 2, 2006

My husband's face fills with confusion. My stomach fills with dread. Oh, no. My babies. Something has happened to one of my babies. Fun time is over. Why didn't the phone ring? No time to think of that or anything else. I have to concentrate on the situation at hand.

Wait. I think it's later than April 2nd. Isn't it? I pivot around suddenly and, in a stern tone, demand of the woman at the table behind us, "What day is today?" She stares at me blankly. "Number day!" I quiz. I can see her mind racing. I try again, all business, all boss-lady. "What number is today?" I am all impatience as the waitress arrives and says, "It's the fifth. Today's April 5th."

Whew. It's an old, never-retrieved call from me to my husband. My husband, who is now fighting back the laughter of relief and mortification, as he propels me out of the restaurant before I can fiercely interrogate any other unwary diners.

push the panic button
Also press the panic button.
Overreact to a situation. This term originated during World War II, when certain bombers had a bell-warning system so that the crew could bail out if the plane was severely hit. Occasionally a pilot would push the button in error, when there was only minor damage, causing the crew to bail out unnecessarily. By 1950 the expression had been transferred to other kinds of overreaction.
"push the panic button." The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992. 07 Apr. 2006.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

First step on the energy ladder

It’s so common that it’s hidden in plain sight. Despite statistics that you may read about India’s energy mix (and the ongoing nuclear debate that fills the papers here), the overwhelming majority of villagers across the country cook and heat their homes with dung cakes. They are ubiquitous up-country—I think that I took this picture somewhere outside of Jaipur, but it really could’ve been anywhere. Wood is in short supply nationwide and there are strict, if ill-enforced, laws against logging. Dung is abundant and relatively cheap. Few people are on the formal electricity grid (mostly coal-powered) or can afford kerosene or gas.

Rural ladies and children immediately collect the droppings of both buffalo and cattle and carry them in baskets on their heads them to a common area. They mix in straw or other agricultural scrap (by hand), press it into flat, plate-sized patties, and lay them out to sun-dry. After a couple of days, they stack them into any of a myriad of imaginative designs to serve as a storehouse throughout the year. Often (particularly with the monsoon coming in a few months), people will cover the entire dung cake structure with an outer coating/wall of dung to prevent the dried cakes inside from being damaged by rain. Excess cakes are packed up neatly on trucks for overland shipping, often to the massive slum areas and major streets around urban centers (like Delhi or Mumbai), as customers there have less access to dung pies or wood.

So, a plentiful fuel that everyone benefits from, right? Unfortunately, dung has extremely low caloric heat value and has the double negative of usually being burned in inefficient, low combustion-efficiency cookstoves in peoples’ huts. With incomplete combustion, people (read women and little kids spending time indoors) are exposed to very high levels of suspended particulates and a nasty cocktail of gas byproducts. All of which contributes to the facts that India has among the world’s highest asthma and tuberculosis disease burdens.

Material, especially barnyard or stable dung, often with discarded animal bedding, used to fertilize soil.
tr.v., -nured, -nur•ing, -nures.
To fertilize (soil) by applying material such as barnyard dung.
[From Middle English manuren, to cultivate land, from Anglo-Norman mainouverer, from Vulgar Latin *manūoperāre, to work with the hands : Latin manū, ablative of manus, hand + Latin operārī, to work.]

The word manure came from Middle English "manuren" meaning "to cultivate land," and initially from French "main-oeuvre" = "hand work" alluding to the work which involved manuring land.

A slow start

I had high hopes for my fantasy baseball team, which includes Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Bobby Abreu and a few other studs. I felt confident that my healthy mix of young talent and established veterans would put up strong numbers. As a life-long Cubs fan, I've learned to avoid the temptation to "talk smack" about a team before it has proven itself. Still, I went into this first week with a silent smugness that I would show my opponent who was boss.

Alas, I'm losing by 74 points. Zambrano and Santana earned a measly two total points in their first outings. Abreu, a paltry five. I'm feeling slightly

1. Dispirited and depressed; dejected.

Dictionary definition of crestfallen
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. More from Dictionary


The box on my calendar for today reads Vac! This is short for vacation; it's the spring holiday at the boys' schools. The box for next Tuesday reads Salsa: vacc, which is my personal shorthand for vaccination, Salsa the dog being due for one. Other boxes for the month contain

Mom bday, RIP = mother's birthday, rest in peace
WSW game = Winston-Salem Warthogs game (local baseball)
Saw start = Sawtooth Center class starts
OFF = husband has day off
ON = husband works this day
LifeSci = Museum of Life and Sciences (in Durham)
IRS = Internal Revenue Service, personal taxes being due the 15th of April
To Acct = drop papers off to accountant re: the above
barn = riding, driving, or horsemanship class for oldest that day
hema/lab = short check-in hematology appointment for the youngest

I have other notations as well that would never make any sense to anyone other than myself. Letters standing solo, sometimes with question marks. Phone numbers floating. I am forced by the small size of the daily box to

1. To make shorter.
2. To reduce (a word or phrase) to a shorter form intended to represent the full form.
[Middle English abbreviaten, from Late Latin abbreviāre, abbreviāt- : ad-, ad- + breviāre, to shorten (from brevis, short).]
"abbreviate." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 05 Apr. 2006.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Who's/whose game?

I have fond boyhood memories of playing “Parcheesi” with my mom. I liked rattling the dice in the hard cups and spilling them on the cheap cardboard playing surface, moving the small wooden circles painted red, blue (especially blue!), yellow, and green around the board.

And some months ago, I was delighted to find that one my students’ favorite games is “Ludo,” aka “Pachisi.” So you can imagine my surprise to find, during a recent visit to Fatehpur Sikri, that the Mughal emperor Akbar played this same game using young girls in red, blue, yellow, and green dresses as pieces. If you look at this photo closely, you can just make out the board on which they played. (The man on the bench is in the middle of the board.) Such was the life of the idle royals.


1. Marked by a lack of action or activity: inactive, inert, inoperative. See action/inaction.
2. Resistant to exertion and activity: fainéant, indolent, lazy, shiftless, slothful, sluggard, sluggish. Informal do-nothing. Idioms: bone lazy. See action/inaction, industrious/lazy.