If you’ve ever been around a cat you probably know the sound of it coughing up a hairball, a hacking thump, thump, thump and you immediately dash for the cat to throw it into the bathroom so it coughs up on tile rather than carpet, which is harder to clean.  Disconcerting to wake up to that.  But no, the cat is sleeping peacefully next to me.  It’s the dull thump, thump, thump of hammers on the construction project next door.

The garden

My cilantro is doing so well that I had to use a lot of it and chose an old tapas recipe of roasted eggplant with a cilantro sauce.  (I’ll be happy to add the recipe as a comment if you want.)  Ok, some of you don’t like cilantro because it tastes like soap.  The first time I had it was in Philadelphia over 40 years ago.  A good friend had me to dinner and served the Mexican food of her native New Mexico.   Yuck!  How could people like that?  Of course, now I love Mexican food, and even cilantro (although it still tastes like soap).

My arugula is also doing great.  Have a salad of it most nights.  My favorites have been combined with an orange, fennel and black olives (dressing of honey, lemon juice, olive oil) or combined with grape tomatoes, pine nuts, avocado, and parmesan (dressing of olive oil and rice vinegar).  Also good is arugula paired with pear and red bell pepper (dressing of OJ and olive oil).


Distressing when a 40-year-old appliance dies or underwear (only three years old!) shreds.  Makes you aware of your own mortality.  The University of Arizona College of Science has a Spring Lecture Series every year (free to the public), and this year’s topic is Living Beyond 100.  As you can imagine, most of the attendees are Seniors.  (The few youngsters there are probably getting extra credit for a class.)  Last week for Can We, and What If We Do? Centennial Hall was standing room only.  (We could run out of money.  I know I have to die by ninety – my retirement money will be used up by then.)  This week it’s going to be The Biology of Aging: Why Our Bodies Grow Old.  Last week Shane Burgess, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, gave us a glimpse into that by discussing telomeres:

A chromosome is a long strand of DNA. At the end of a chromosome is a telomere, which acts like a bookend. Telomeres keep chromosomes protected and prevent them from fusing into rings or binding with other DNA.  The telomeres get shorter each time a cell divides, like a pencil eraser gets shorter each time it’s used.  When the telomere becomes too short, essential parts of the DNA can be damaged in the replication process. Scientists have noticed that cells stop replicating when telomeres are shorter. In humans, a cell replicates about 50 times before the telomeres become too short. This limit is called the Hayflick limit (after the scientist who discovered it).

So we do have a shelf life, and many of us are already beyond it.


I like going to our Home Owner’s Association meetings because they have “free” food (which our dues pay for) and I get to hear all of the local gossip.  Unfortunately, this month’s was depressing.

The JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa – the earth-toned luxury hotel perched in the saguaro-strewn slopes of the Tucson Mountains – is facing foreclosure.  An auction on the property has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Feb. 2 on the eastern steps of the Pima County Courthouse, 110 W. Congress St.

In case any of you want to buy it.  Speculation was that the owners will buy it back on cents for the dollar.

Then a neighbor on the next street over told his tale of woe.  He and his wife are snowbirds.  They live back east during our six hot months and are here for our good weather.  (It’s 75° out right now.)  But they don’t have anyone checking their house here when they’re gone.  Last summer a plastic joint on the pipe going to their toilet broke and water started spewing.  It wasn’t until water started streaming from under the garage door that a neighbor called the water department.  The water bill was over $6000 (but the water company gave them a pass on that).  Six inches of water destroyed all of their furnishings, and as the drywall wicked the moisture up, all of the walls were soaked.  (Having worked in Mississippi for FEMA after Hurricane Katrina, I also remember the mold problems engendered.)  They had to rip out everything between the roof structure and the floor slab.  There was a dumpster in front of the house for months.  They are only now back in.  However, they did rave about their AARP Hartford homeowner’s insurance, which has paid for everything.

Our accountant gave his report from a wheelchair.  He used to cycle back and forth to work.  Last fall he had his head down as he was riding, as the weather was bad, and a bus stopped in front of him.  His spinal cord was severed (T2 for you who know the medical terms) and he is paralyzed from the chest down.  At least he’s living in the United States, where we mandate handicapped accessibility and have vans with lifts for wheelchairs and hand controls for paraplegics.  I remember dining at La Roca Restaurant in Nogales, Sonora many years ago.  It is above a furniture store, and has no elevator.  A family carried their grandfather up the stairs to have dinner with them.  And many of you have seen men missing legs on skateboards in third-world countries.  So he could be worse off, but still…

Birds, but I digress…

In the evening the flapping of birds in the trees, settling in for the night.  This morning a towhee having a ball in the birdbath – flinging water here and there, the cat watching from the end of my bed.  (Discovered the towhee’s need for a bath when I saw it scattering dead leaves and dirt from under the feathery cassia hedge into my driveway, looking for seeds and bugs.)  But the splatter of water made me think of having to squeegee the walls if it had been a child playing in the bathtub, splashing like crazy.  I guess I’m worrying too much about keeping my house spotless for prospective buyers.

Construction dust from my neighbor’s bedroom addition has wended its way into my house, coating every horizontal and vertical (!) surface.  Thursday mopped all of the travertine floors upstairs.  Friday washed all of the construction dust off the bookshelves, glass top table, slate hearth, (emptied the fireplace of the ashes from when the grandkids were over for a weekend- I only sit in front of a fire with them), and oiled the wood furniture.  Saturday sponged down the glass doors from the kitchen, polished the granite countertops in the kitchen.  (No cleaning on Monday or Wednesday as I am in classes from nine until six.)  But I digress.

Ten fat quail on the cool dry ground…  These single syllable words seemed to beat like the rhythm of “The Congo” poem, read by its author, Vachel Lindsay in New York, 1931.  Listen here: ( It’s in three parts.)    I had played a recording of this for my English students 40 years ago, but the rhythm of Lindsay reading his poem still resonates with me.  This from Wikipedia:

Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (1879 – 1931) was an American poet.   He is considered the father of modern singing poetry, as he referred to it, in which verses are meant to be sung or chanted. His extensive correspondence with the poet Yeats details his intentions to revive the musical qualities in poetry as had been practiced by the ancient Greeks.

The racist quality of the poem was assailed even when it was published in1914.  (I was surprised to learn that in the movie, Dead Poets Society, the boarding school boys, under the spell of their charismatic English teacher – Robin Williams in a non-funny roll – but this is a digression within a digression – perform “The Congo.”  I hadn’t remembered that.)

“The Congo” has been the most persistent focus of the criticisms of racial stereotyping in Lindsay’s work.  Subtitled “A Study of the Negro Race” and beginning with a section titled “Their Basic Savagery”, “The Congo” reflects the tensions within a relatively isolated and pastoral society suddenly confronted by the industrialized world. The poem was inspired by a sermon preached in October 1913 that detailed the drowning of a missionary in the Congo River; this event had drawn worldwide criticism, as had the colonial exploitation of the Congo under the government of Leopold II of Belgium.

However, (this all from

Most contemporaries acknowledged Lindsay’s intention to be an advocate for African-Americans.  This intention was particularly evident in the 1918 poem “The Jazz Birds”, praising the war efforts of African-Americans during World War I, an issue to which the vast majority of white America seemed blind. Additionally, W.E.B. Du Bois hailed Lindsay’s story “The Golden-Faced People” for its insights into racism. Lindsay saw himself as anti-racist not only in his own writing but in his encouragement of a writer; he credited himself with discovering Langston Hughes, who, while working as a busboy at a Washington, D.C. restaurant where Lindsay ate, gave Lindsay copies of his poems.

Back to The Congo, which Leopold ruled from 1885.  His Force Publique “took and tortured hostages, flogged, and raped Congolese people. They also burned recalcitrant villages, and above all, took human hands as trophies.”  This is mentioned in the poem,

Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost
Burning in hell for his hand-maimed host.

but the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide have continue into this century, not perpetrated by white overlords, but “ military or armed groups from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola, among others, who all fought during Congo’s wars at different times between 1996 and 2003.”  If you’re interested in the poem, it’s here: 

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4 Responses to “Hairball”

  1. Jim Says:

    Like many other spices, cilantro is a poisonous medicinal plant – to be used very sparingly. A large fraction of human have the innate ability to avoid poisonous plants by taste.
    I very gently brushed our cats – and they never suffered from hairballs. Cats and dogs, unlike their wild ancestors, need human care to survive – and show their appreciation when given tender lover care.
    Human nature invariably prevails over cultural nature, whenever the human is sufficiently stressed.
    Our arugula re-seeds itself – from seed given to us by our Iranian friends at the U of A. Here I need to protect it from the migratory goldcrown sparrows.
    A physicist friend on a bicycle tour in Thailand, slipped on gravel – broke his collar bone and a rib.
    Most humans, expire long before their shelf-life – because of improper diet and lack of exercise.

  2. robert williams Says:

    Lynne, you’ve got to consider more “up” topics to write about. I ended up weeping and became alarmed of my mood drop.

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