Friday, April 30, 2010

Gulf of Mexico, Trademark BP

Since I was on the subject of governors the other day, my own governor, Florida's Charlie Crist, declared a state of emergency in Florida for that, you know, HUMONGOUS OIL SPILL that's destroying the Gulf of Mexico and threatening to be more damaging than Exxon Valdez (I originally typed "Juan Valdez," the Colombian coffee cartoon. Which probably means that if *I'm* too young to remember the details of Exxon Valdez's spill at 27 years old, then a lot of you probably need to review your history on this disaster too). Although it looks like the majority of the damage will occur to the Louisiana coastline (which, thank God, has never ever had anything horrible at all happen to it, especially in September 2005), other states will be affected.

I live on the Gulf of Mexico. I love my gulf, the warm water, the animals.

Most of you are sick of seeing the CNN reports or constant updates and are probably becoming aggravated by the spill, so some writer from the South like me doesn't need to inundate you with any more information. Instead here's a video I took of dolphins at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City during a boat ride among the 10,000 islands. These are real, wild dolphins from that Gulf of Mexico you see on your TV with the big black oil spill graphic.

I can't help but look at them and wonder where God is in all of this and why we need this oil. Obama was in Arcadia months ago praising them for their effective use of green energy. Now we can't think of the word "hybrid" without thinking of "sticky gas pedal." We don't need any natural disasters in this country. We seem to be doing a great job destroying things ourselves.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am

Now that I live in a swing state, I'm much more cognizant of the political climate than I was as a New Yorker. When you're in the largely Democratic Northeast, if you are a Democrat, everything seems to be coming up roses, and you live your life like that guy with the golf club in the KGB commercial with his head up his butt.

My friend Natalie M. posted a link on her facebook with Alabama's Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James's new commercial promising that if he is elected, driver's license exams will only be available in English. Think Tim James is some Jim Bob-come-lately? Think again. His father, Fob James, was Alabama's 48th governor. And, adhering to Tim's driving theme, I affectionately and erroneously refer to him as "Key Fob." Watch KFJ's son's campaign video as he follows his father's legacy from patriotism to noticeably limp hair.

How far we have "driven" past Father Fob's terms as governor; Fob James who promised Alabamanians "a New Beginning free from racism and discrimination."

So imagine this. Mr. Pedro Mexicano rides his bike 45 miles through Alabama to get to his English classes so that he can learn the language and get a driver's license. Until he gets a car he can't get a job. He can't get a car because he can't get a license. He can't get a license because he can't afford the classes because he can't get a job. But that's okay, he's perfectly content with mowing your lawn for another couple of years. It's a good thing he didn't get that driver's license and take away your job as Associate Marketing Consultant.

I'll let it be known that my philosophy on learning or not learning English is that, if you live in the United States and hope to be successful, you must. You deprive yourself of opportunities unavailable to a non-English speaking American. Something positive arises from lack of knowledge of the English language and that is that my fiance's sister makes more money as a bilingual nurse.

Since I went to school in Scotland, have Scottish friends and a Scottish last name, I rarely discuss the other half of my heritage, which is Eastern European. My mother's side of the family originated in the northern Polish region sometimes referred to as Kashubia, with Gdansk its capital. My great-grandmother was sixteen in 1912, when she left Poland and hung around England with a third-class ticket in her hand to board this boat called the Titanic, but once she got to England, she spent too much time goofing off with her friend, probably flirting with scrawny, limey-skinned British men. My great-grandmother instead got a ticket for the next boat with no more fanfare than a woman who missed the 9:52 bus being forced to take the 11:05. Clearly, Anna Piontek did not possess psychic powers. Neither did her father, my great-great grandfather, who was living in New York City and sending money for the children to arrive (Anna, the oldest, was first). He read the newspaper and Anna wasn't on the survivor's list. He cursed America as bad luck and left New York just as his very much alive eldest daughter was arriving unaware of the fact that had she boarded that ship, as a third-class passenger knowing no English, she would be dead. Anna arrived in New York City after schlepping around western Europe for a while, and her father was already gone.

My great-grandmother decided to stay in the Big Apple and eventually after learning of the Titanic she wrote to her family and said, "Surprise, I'm alive! I've been here a while so I'm going to let this America thing pan out. Don't worry about me. Send pierogis." (I take liberties with this letter. Sorry Babcia.) She was young and unmarried and knew no English and obviously, there was no way in hell she could pay for a tutor or classes.

My great-grandmother died on February 20, 1992, the day after my ninth birthday (and while I was, ironically, on vacation in Florida where I now live). She was ninety-three years old and buried at St. Bridget's cemetery with her husband John and son Stanley, both of whom died in their fifties. The town closed its post office. Anna lived seventy-seven more years than she might have if the pendulum had swung in a contradictory direction.

Have you ever wondered where everyone got that stereotype that Polish people are stupid? It was because the Polish language, above almost all other European languages, is radically different from English and as such, it took many Polish immigrants a much longer time to speak English with fluidity than their Italian, German and French counterparts. More Polish people have won the Nobel Prize than any other nationality, the first being awarded to Marie Curie, whose maiden name was Sklodowska!

I am, however, diverting from the purpose of relaying the story of my great-grandmother's life which I am using in this context as an example of a practically orphaned, poor, sixteen-year-old Polish girl learning English without the aid of the Internet, television or the "for Dummies" series, so, arguably, so could anyone. I'm not saying that I could, simply because I have never been in a situation in which I must. When I spoke, my French professor in Scotland laughed at me in my face. I got an 80-something on the Spanish 3 Regents exam twelve years ago but can't form a blessed phrase of Spanish unless I've seen it on a sign recently. As for Polish, I can say, "Dzien dobry," which means hello, which means I'd do fantastically in Poland if I limited myself to animals and those with laryngitis. Respond to my "hello," and you and I are both screwed. Kiss your ass "goodbye." Babcia took night courses with my mother's cousin Chris's 3rd grade teacher, and dedicated herself to speaking English and only English to her family. My mother knows perhaps five phrases in Polish; I know less. I want to learn Polish so I can speak the language of my relatives - after all, Scottish is English, despite the Glaswegian accent's attempts to make you believe the contrary.

But while Europe is filled with languages that are not only helpful to know but often necessary and in all countries required, as most students in the European Union study two or more languages concurrently with their own from a very young age, our children are lucky to have a Spanish class and unless their work directly involves conversing and speaking in a language other than Spanish (i.e., French, Italian or German classes for an opera singer), the ability to read, speak and comprehend is lost almost automatically. Have Americans forgotten how hard it is to learn another language as a result of generations of living in our monolingual bubble? If we had to study Spanish, French, Russian and Latin in our schools would we recall the vulnerability of being completely clueless in the exercise of communication, the fundamental method of human interaction?

Ironically, the state slogan of Alabama is, "Where America finds its voice." The article which accompanied Tim James's campaign video states, "Exams are currently given in Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese, according to AOL News." According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alabama has approximately 4,708,000 residents in a 2009 estimate. "Foreign born persons" encompassed 2.0% of Alabama's citizens in 2000, with 3.9% of citizens speaking a language other than English at home. Sound like a lot? Well, let's take our much-beloved northern swing state, Pennsylvania, and observe those percentages: of a population of approximately 12,605,000 (2009 estimate), 4.1% were born in a country other than the United States and 8.4% speak a language other than English at home. (

I don't think I'd offend that many people by saying that if I were emigrating to the United States, my first stop would not be Alabama. The census seems to agree (although, to Tim James's chagrin, I can access the U.S. Census information in English and Spanish). Unlike Arizona with its new "if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be an illegal immigrant" law, Alabama does not border Mexico. Nor do Georgia or Florida on its right, nor Mississippi or Louisiana on its left. You cross three states to reach the Rio Grande, and in this case it seems the only thing close to Mexico in Alabama's line of sight is the Gulf of Mexico itself. Aside from a Latino population unable to read enough English to pass a driver's test, the aforementioned languages in the proposed ban are laughably archaic. When is the last time you saw a wave of Chinese, Russians and Greeks moving to Alabama? Perhaps some Louisiana Cajuns would request the test in French, but you'd have to cross that pesky thing called the state of Mississippi first. And for that, you'd need a driver's license.

Since we're romanticizing Southern values, let's turn to that precious Civil War epic, Gone with the Wind. Rhett Butler told Scarlett O'Hara, "What most people don't seem to realize is that there is just as much money to be made out of the wreckage of a civilization as from the upbuilding of one." Candidate James says that cutting down the languages available on the Alabama driver's license exam to one "saves money, and it makes sense. Does it to you?" There's a pregnant pause and, confused over whether I am watching Saturday Night Live, a political campaign, or taking an exam, I make like I'm on Dora the Explorer and vamanos.

Anna M. Piontek Lesniak

Saturday, March 6, 2010

comfortable: no need to bend down

Finally, a solution for those of us who despise the simple act of removing our shoes, and want to waste more plastic than we already do, there is the GaloMat, a shoe cover dispenser so that you can lose all of your friends by your total disregard for their comfort. Why cover just your couch in plastic when you can shrink-wrap the human body?

Too busy to watch the instructional video? Here's an eight-second, uncomfortably to-the-point clip of the Step-O-Matic.

I wonder if it works for dogs.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Crazy Cavies Pignic!

On Saturday February 27th we attended the Crazy Cavies' 2nd Annual South Florida Pignic, held in Coconut Creek, FL, in Broward County, about an hour and 45 minutes from Naples. After waiting in a long line of cars there for a rugby game (why play rugby when you can play with piggies? I'll never understand sports) we found the Elfin Shelter, where a good amount of guinea pigs (also known as "cavies") and cavy slaves (also known as "humans") met to meet other owners, play with guinea pigs, and most importantly, support the Crazy Cavies Guinea Pig Rescue, a non-profit, no-kill guinea pig rescue run by Jeremy and Tracy Henle. This is the first time I've met other guinea pig owners "in the flesh," after being on some of the online forums, and the first time my guinea pigs, Toffee and Tribble, have met other guinea pigs since we got them in September. It was pretty cool to meet other people who are as much in love with cavies as I am, to ask questions, to meet other pigs, and to see mine interact with them. We arrived around 1 p.m. with our piggies, a towel, and the hope that Toffee and Tribble would enjoy finding out that they weren't the only 2 guinea pigs in the world, as they originally thought!
After Tracy made sure Toffee and Tribble were in fact female (since there was a pen for females and neutered males, and a pen for males, as one Toffee and Tribble is enough for us!) and were okay, we placed them in the pen you see here, pink for girls, of course. Our piggies got to eat real grass for the first time ever, since I've been nervous about letting them out to eat River Reach's probably pesticide-treated grass. Not to mention, uh, lizards. After Toffee and Tribble sat in the corner glued to one another for about five minutes, they slowly moved out to meet the other piggies. Strangely enough, Tribble (who is Abyssinian - or, to those who don't know cavy-speak, basically means "crazy, poufy hair") hung around other long-haired guinea pigs, and Toffee stayed with the short-haired guinea pigs. I think they were in shock that other piggies looked like them! "She has short hair like me!" "I thought I was the only one with rosettes!"

Above, you'll see Toffee (on the right) happily chomping on grass with her new short-haired friend.

And Tribble meeting some fellow Abbys. Tribble is the one on the left looking right at me as if to say, "Hey, my Mom's taking a photo! Hi Mom!"

After an hour or so, the guinea pig conversations turned to current events. Toffee (3rd from left) grabs the microphone as the Guinea Pig Panel addresses the Toyota company about their Hybrid recalls. "We want answers! And then we want hay!"

But the girls weren't the only ones having fun. This is the boys' pen, if you can't tell from the blue grids. I was able to grab a few photos of the boys as the day was ending and Toffee and Tribble were the only girls left in the Female pen. As I told Tracy, "These are mine, so I don't think I have to worry about them getting along!"

What made me very happy was that every guinea pig there was obviously very loved and very well taken care of, since our society has become so inundated with movies like G-Force and shows like Wonder Pets where a guinea pig in a cage too small for a hamster hangs out with a duck and a turtle. There were a lot of kids there with moms and dads who were more knowledgeable about guinea pigs than they were when it's usually, sadly, the other way around.

Once it neared 4 p.m., Ed looked up at the sky and Jeremy agreed that it was time to take the pens and tents down as it was about to pour. I joked with Ed (who was born in Ireland) that you can always trust an Irishman to know when rain is coming! Little did we know that the winds were about to blow almost everything off of this table, as we all floundered to put things away before they went flying.

Some of the raffle prizes which, had it not been for the remaining attendees, would have gone flying like a rugby ball in the wind! I tried to help, but mostly panicked saying "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod" over and over again.

Toffee, Tribble, Ed, and I had a wonderful day at the Crazy Cavies pignic and we wished we came earlier! We met some fabulous people who I'm looking forward to keeping in touch with through facebook.

Now, it doesn't matter if you're in Florida or France, this guinea pig rescue is wonderful and deserves all of the publicity it can get, because what Tracy and Jeremy are doing is amazing and many of the guinea pigs they rescue would be long-dead without their selfless love and dedication. But what many people who don't have guinea pigs don't realize is how expensive it is to keep them: bedding, hay, pellets, veggies, medication, and time: it all adds up. Please donate to the Crazy Cavies Rescue by clicking here. Even something as small as $5 can make a difference and help keep this rescue running. If you live in Florida, and have been thinking of adopting a guinea pig, please do it through Crazy Cavies and not through a pet store! Although mine came through a pet store there is no question in my mind now that I'm more educated on guinea pigs than I was when we got them that if I could do it again, I'd go rescue all the way. But you live and you learn. These are healthy, happy pigs fostered in a loving environment, and they deserve it!

Thank you to rescue runners Tracy and Jeremy for a fabulous day and thanks to those like Jeff, Jessica, Anna, and other attendees whose names I'm forgetting (but it goes to show what a good turnout they had!). You were all fabulous and I hope to see you at next year's Pignic! Wheek wheek!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

If You Ain't Got No Money, Get Your Broke Ass Home

Here is an article from Naples News about George W. Bush and our former governor, Jeb, speaking at my city's Town Hall the other day. Tickets started at $200 but if you wanted to get a super-posh seat where you could actually see their heads, it was $550. Which is a shame, cause I've had this wad of $1,100 in cash burning a hole in my pocket lately so I guess I'll just have to put it toward that new purse.

I still can't believe that R. L. Stine was there. I'll refrain from making a "Night of the Living Dummy" joke.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cookies Fall Apart

William Butler Yeats, whom I am obligated to approve of because he is Irish, wrote,

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

Now that those of us with significant others are having a post-dinner breakdown, and those of us without are crying into a bowl of Count Chocula, let me introduce you to wittlemanderz87's rant on Valentine's Day, echoing the sentiments of jilted lovers, panda aficionados, and Chinua Achebe fans alike.

"I bought the cookies cause I like cookies.
Cookies fall apart.
But they taste good with milk."

"I made him hold my other thing of cookies.
Cause actually watch...
If he's not holding something,
his head just falls.
He's kind of fat."

If your Valentine's Day has sucked, do not go gentle into that good night!
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Love ain't just a domestic flight.

Happy Valentine's Day from your most cynical friend,

Friday, February 12, 2010

Beautiful Garbage

In late December of last year, my French-Canadian friend Marie-France hopped a plane from Montreal and landed in Naples. After laughing at my cold-weather friends for having to deal with frigid weather while I dipped freshly-pedicured toes into the pool, of course I'd look like a maniac as we bundled up in scarves and winter jackets during one of the most frigid weeks in the history of South Florida. Oranges were dying, the homeless were screwed, and Marie's fingertips were turning into colors you could only find on etsy. Alas, everything to do in South Florida is outside, unless you want to see a movie or go to church, but we tried to make the most of it. After browsing through Weird Florida at the Barnes & Noble, with my trusty G.P.S. as our guide, we found a town that merited visiting: Lake Placid, Florida, the mural and caladium capital of the world. What awaited us in Lake Placid was much more than caladium, however: clowns, religious signs ("Jesus is the Reason for the Season!") and beautiful garbage cans decorated the sparse town like a virus. And it was a virus we documented as we hopped into my Chevy with my fiance Ed and carted our asses to Lake Placid.

Lake Placid's Chamber of Commerce site insists, "Large mouth bass are plentiful in the lakes, with six to eight pounders caught regularly. Bluegills, shell crackers and crappies are plentiful as well and provide excellent eating." Until I ate fried alligator tail a few weeks later, I would have said that "crappies" sounded like the most delicious thing on earth. But while you're busy looking for crappies, where do you throw away all of your crap?

Why, in one of Lake Placid's garbage cans, of course.

Alas, while Toby's Clown School was closed that Saturday, we at least got to get a few great pictures with random, frightening clowns on our trip. Here I am on a bench next to the Visitor's Center, which was closed. It was mighty frightening to read later that although Lake Placid has less than 2,000 residents, there were about fifteen police cars parked outside.

Below is Marie-France riding the Crazy Train to South Central Florida.

And lastly, how could I describe the "Town of Murals" without at least posting some?

Are you "looking for some fun and excitement?" Watch a video on Lake Placid's wonderful tourist industry! Just make sure you don't notice the Burger King looming under the American flag.

And visit Marie-France's kickass flickr here where you can view more photos of Lake Placid as well as a lot of really amazing photography that she does.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lookit My Pets.

Here are my guinea pigs, Toffee (self-explanatory - the one that is dark brown, light brown, and white), and Tribble (the one with the crazy hair). They are singing for celery; this is the guinea pig "wheeking" that piggies do when they hear food on its way. They love celery and "sing" whenever they hear the cutting board. This has already gotten 99 hits on youtube after 13 hours which I consider a resounding success. So, why don't you watch my guinea pigs flipping out over hearing my fiance chopping up celery for them? You know you want to.

*edit* After posting this vid online I got some helpful advice from a fellow cavy-owner about the pellets I was using. They used to eat Ecotrition (which is in the video) but now they eat Kleenmama's pellets, which along with Oxbow is one of the best pellets around. I've also removed celery from their diet momentarily to add some more variation, such as kale and bell peppers. I'm a new owner and I'm still learning! :)