Archive for March, 2011

assess this!

March 30, 2011

The end of March always seems to be about taxes for me.  Yuck.  If I’m not trying to do my once-a-year filing, then I’m trying to get away from child/ren/husband so I can do our taxes.

And so, for added excitement, the assessors dropped us a little note: the estimated tax assessment for the upcoming tax year.

The appraisal for the backyard went up over 100%!  How is that possible?  We have done literally nothing on that property since we bought it.  (Welcome to the magic that is property assessment.)

Here’s the background: we own two parcels of land – one small (where the house sits), and the other large (where the backyard is) – it just came that way.

For the record, I’m all for keeping current with the taxes that provide the services to which I’ve become accustomed (like public schools, say, or plowing/salting or picking up the really high number of dead deer carcasses that get wiped out on the streets around us).  I just don’t think a doubling of the value of the property is warranted in this case.

So, we’re marshaling the forces to make the argument – a good bit of the backyard is wet (wetland-like) and there’s nothing that can be done on it, there’s a funny clause in the deed reserving some rights to the property, and it’s very hilly and would be hard to build on.  A friend suggested we also take pictures of some of the decrepit old barns across the street – apparently that sort of stuff also brings down the value.  We’ll see.


just another sassy ethnic

March 29, 2011

There’s an Admin Assist here who I’m very friendly with.  We were talking about someone’s recent collaborator, who is Korean.

The AA is in charge of getting some arrangements together for the collaborator – and also was concerned about the level of English this person had.  The AA doesn’t speak anything but English and is worried that the arrangements won’t be right and that this person won’t be able to communicate that and live in darkness and be unable to feed themselves or something.  (I’m poking a little fun at the AA, she’s a good person, but she does worry a lot and the communication thing worries her tremendously – more than I think is necessary – but like I said, she worries a lot.  She’s a professional worrier, actually – she’s got 4 teenage children.)

Then she said, “They say [collaborator] has the best English out of the research group.   I don’t know – I don’t think [collaborator] sounds like you.”

I replied, “Nobody sounds like me. ”

She laughed, because I am an asshole fitting in neatly with the sassy ethnic thing I do sometimes.  But really, I do count as a native speaker of English, so to compare me to ESL speaker (even a Korean one) is just apples and oranges.  Or apples to those big Korean pears.  Some similarities, but different fruits altogether.

modern language fail

March 25, 2011

My parents have not lived in Korea for almost 35 years. And it shows.

All of the great advances that people talk about Korea having – the fast internet – the great entertainment – the speedy transport system – they have only really experienced as tourists when they visited a couple of years ago, or only very recently with their acquisition of Korean TV via satellite.  They are also not very technologically savvy, which I honestly don’t know whether is a function of their age, their language skills here, or their lack of interest or something else entirely.

And so, learning Korean right now leads me to fail when I speak with them, because their Korean has a lot of traces of 35 years ago – or, at least, not so much modern language Korean. E.g. – I was trying to have a conversation with my mom about my cell phone (which is literally handphone, pronounced “hand-uh-pone” according to my sources) and she looked at me in a most peculiar way. Then she was all, “You mean your cellular phone?”   And then she put her hand up to her ear in the universal signal for “phone.”  Like, “duh, daughter.  It’s called a cell phone here in America.”

You know Mom, really, I’m trying.  Even when it’s in Korean, it’s like we’re speaking 2 or 3 different languages.

the smell of contentment

March 25, 2011

This is going to be a stinky post.  No, for real.  Look away.

Good.  Now all of those people are gone.

There is something so awesome about having your own office and microwave and eating the odoriforous foods of your ethnic background at work – I can’t even begin to tell you.  For me, that food is kimchee, lots of garlic, and seafood.

And then, of course, there is the little burps that happen afterward that can also stink a bit.  Drinking a lot of carbonated beverages probably doesn’t help me in this regard.

My sister used to have a job that people would openly judge you based on your food (usually negatively) – so she was scared to death to bring anything, even a mild curry, that would set people off.

I either am very lucky this has never happened to me, or else I am purposefully oblivious.

W is mostly fine with kimchee in the house – but he is not a fan of it.  It doesn’t bother me.   I can cook with it, whatever.  If he doesn’t eat it, that’s his choice and he can find something else to eat.

It was funny, though, when he was in a conversation with the husband of a Korean friend of mine and they were talking about the distinctive characteristics of kimchee in the house.   They agreed, it is bad news when the kimchee juice leaks out because the container is over-full, and then the fridge smells.  But it isn’t very nice either when it is the kimchee’s time to be burped to prevent the over-full container.   Fellas, it’s one or the other.  Pick your stinky rock or your smelly hard place.   (C’mon now, you did both marry Korean, fully aware of what you were getting into. )

(Kimchee is actively fermenting cabbage and so the bottles get filled with CO2 as time goes on and so the bottles have to be opened or else they can leak because of the high pressure).

Mein Girl – or My Gur-ul?

March 24, 2011

I was thinking about how some people just have this gift of being able to sing reasonably in any language. The Wiggles, for example, Greg (the original yellow-shirt), can sing anything. This is best exemplified in their album “Wiggly Wiggly World” and you can tell that Greg is just able to sing both the Japanese  and the Torres Strait Island song and still sound reasonable in comparison with the native speaker/singer.   I don’t know either language, and he might not sound great to a native and I have no idea if he has any background in any of those languages or how much practice he’s gotten, but he still sounds okay.  This, as opposed to Murray, who still sounds like a doof in anything but Australian English.  (Sorry, Murray.  Love you!)  (I have young kids – this is what I listen to.)

Then thinking about the international forays various pop stars attempt, and how those fail/succeed.  I can see how the international markets are really alluring, and potentially great windfalls, but fraught with danger.  With Super Junior, I think the management has just separated out the ones who can learn a song phonetically and sound reasonable and those who can’t (you know, maybe like how the Mormons do it).  They’ve got a Mandarin version of the group, and they’ve released songs in Japanese (as have many other pop stars, including my fave, Younha).  I think it might be hard for them to break into the English-speaking market.  Beyond the difficulty of the cultural-image-management-legal stuff, there’s the hard accent thing to get over.  I just think that the way “girl” is pronounced (as “gur-ul”, and it is pronounced really often) , it’s not going to bring any skeptics over, no matter how cute the singer or how lovely the voice.  It’s just jarring if you have to think about a pop song lyric too much.

Maybe I’m wrong.  There are proponents for this stuff.  There was an NPR piece some time ago about Motown records in a variety of other languages.  And here’s another piece of someone who collects records of English-singing stars who sang in other languages.  Of course, people like this are probably already fans looking for novelty, as opposed to opening up new markets.

first day of spring

March 21, 2011

It’s snowing again this morning. Gah. In related news, I’ve learned that J has a really, really limited happy span in which she will tolerate being dressed. 1.5 layers, pretty much. So after the undershirt, it’s all over but the crying and the throwing of self onto the floor.

It had been a nice weekend, relatively. W even pulled out the grill. (He spent a few minutes covering it back up this morning.) The kids played outside a bit.   You could see the bare ground in lots of places.  We found a couple of toys lost in the snow.  I was planning my garden. The compost was revealed and seemed like it was revving up. Oh well.  (Wow, does it sound like my expectations are low.  Honey, you have no idea.)

Happy spring, you guys. May you have sunshine and gorgeous weather, even if I can’t.

reflections on mortality

March 19, 2011

I spent some time at my parents’ house while W was away.  This wasn’t a very happy visit, though.  I didn’t see them much, and my mother felt terribly guilty about it, but it’s not as if she could have helped it.

I arrived in the middle of somebody else’s tragedy.  A distant relative of my mother’s had a daughter who died in an accident while in New York City.  So this relative, whom my mother had never met, came for most of a week to deal with the paperwork and the effects.  The relative didn’t speak any English, had never been to the USA, no idea of what to do.  My mother hosted, even though it was a terribly sad situation and very awkward.   My parents drove all over the place; a combination of tourism and translation and unofficial expediters.

They went to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens,  shopping, the Korean embassy (whose computers were down for some large portion of this trip so they had to go back multiple times – which I don’t even understand how that works if you’re only open to the public for  a couple of hours a day, shouldn’t you make absolutely sure the computers work those 2 hours a day? – anyway, my parents ending up buying lunch for like 10 people, some of whom were embassy employees or something odd like that), the crematorium in Flushing (which is hella far from my parents house because of the terrible traffic), some place on Church St (police station?  some city agency? a church?  I don’t exactly know and my parents weren’t very forthcoming at the time), and the airport.  (Remember that my father hates to drive after noon and never in bad weather if he could help it – they were gone for up to 10 hours a day, running around the NYC metro area.)

If they had told me that someone was at the house, I wouldn’t have come – it made things more complicated and harder for them, I think.  Though in some ways, it was probably nice for my parents that I was there.  With my terrible Korean, I provided unintentional comic relief.  (I embarrassed my mother a lot on this trip – not polite enough, not enough vocab, as well as being my usual badly-socialized self.)  And the kids provided a buffer and a neutral topic of conversation – and it was probably nice to have to deal with them instead of dwelling on the daughter.  Also, comparisons between their children and the daughter must have come up – but my parents didn’t share that with me.

There was an awkward moment for me.  My mother told her relative that I work with computers for a living, and I could help with a problem on the daughter’s computer – something about breaking into the computer because the daughter had some files in there that might be necessary.

I might work with computers for a living – but I don’t do that!  But before I could look, the relative said it wouldn’t be a problem.  (Whew!)

This made me think about an article I had read a while back.

Basically, it deals with what happened to one guy’s online stuff after he died.

W and I talked about it a bit, and he really thinks its morbid.  But I think it is important to have a plan, even more so now.  So I will create a document to share with him that he can access with all my accounts and passwords and my general idea of what I want done with them, if possible.  I think it might really creep him out.   Sorry, W.  But this is really important.  (And if not you, who will do it?)

little things

March 18, 2011

W had gone to do some work in California recently.  While strolling around Stanford University, he made the following observations:

1.  Beautiful campus

2.  Incredibly nerdy-looking student body

3.  What’re adults doing out at 7 or even 9 pm, eating and drinking – by themselves?!

(For the record, he was with a couple of collaborators running some machines in a basement somewhere in 12-14 hr shifts, grabbing meals at the student union and staying at a no-frills (meaning, several bedrooms, one toilet – hostel-style) hotel.)

While he was gone, I had a bad parent moment.  I took the kids to buy shoes.  I found out that Henry needed a size bigger, which I sort of knew.  The sad thing was that J needed a 1.5 sizes bigger.  No wonder she was crying when I tried to put those old shoes on her!

So, W has returned, and I have returned to work (after a crazy couple of days with the folks, explanation post to follow).  I have no idea what to do without a child at my elbow anymore.  Weird.


March 18, 2011

Oh, Japan.  I’m sorry.  How terrible.

It sort of puts things into perspective – I was readying a post to bitch about the 30″ (30!) of snow we had last weekend after a really amazingly warm couple of days (and thereby setting me back seasonally and wanting to choke a groundhog to two).  But what is snow compared to a huge earthquake and a tsunami?  Poor people.

From a historical, geological perspective, I am really interested in the quake (there might not have been its equal in 1000 years), but it doesn’t seem right to be interested.  I’m also interested in the nuclear containment aspect, but admitting this in person feels cold and wrong.  The fire/rescue news is all full of management scenarios – but it is as though the interest in that is only appropriate for those actively involved.  But the intellectual tug of it is hard to resist, because I could spend the whole day watching the news – and how the technology is being used – from a mapping persepctive (have you seen the airphotos recently?  frickin’ unbelievable), the rescue/emergency management angle, the science (foreshocks, aftershocks, Pacific Tsunami warning system) of it is just mind-blowing.

I’m not a tragedy vulture – because I do want it to turn out all right and everybody to be safe.   I realize those are real people, and it is something terrible they are living through.  It’s just so sad.

roget’s, mon amour

March 11, 2011

I was thinking about Sylvia Plath recently (not the suicide – rant about copiers aside), and how she gave up being “Roget’s trollop” or  “Roget’s strumpet” and how my high school English teacher talked about how her writing became more about her and how great it was.

This gave me a bit of a complex about using writing aids, for years.  Then I stopped writing for a while and forgot that I had that rule.

I picked up a thesaurus recently to help me with the new bits of writing I was doing, and I love it.

In the flurry and brain-dump of a first draft, I do tend to use the same words over and over and over.   Upon revisiting,  I get sort of annoyed reading, “he said, this, she said that, he said, she said, said, said, said….”  I want to use other words for “said.”  I replace “said” with things like, “retorted” and “answered” and “commented.”  I like prose that’s dipped in lavender – I got no defense.

I am a little embarrassed by this – I am supposed to have a decent-sized vocabulary.  I do know the definitions already – but a little variety is helpful, especially since I don’t always have the time to sit and ponder the best word combinations -and then it makes me consider the connotation of word – and there’s lots of times when I dump the word entirely.  It’s just a tool, to use or abuse, whatever, nothing to take over my story or life.

So, in short, I’m all about whoring it up with Roget, and Webster, and Britannica, and whoever else you got on the reference shelf.  Bring ’em on.