Monday, August 27, 2018

So, How Does that Garden Grow?

It is summer, and the garden grows, everything in it, higher, faster, each element with its own imperative, seeking to be unruled and unmanaged.  Because it's summer we get "faster," but because it's life, I'm reminded, everything else.

Just cutting the grass burns about two hours a week, at least the way I do it.  That time would include not just the mowing, but the edging along the sidewalks, driveway and streets, and sweeping.  There are set-up and take-down tasks as well.  It takes time, and it is very hot and humid.

I will use a grass catcher and will not skin the grass to the earth's scalp.  The grass catcher is to catch not just the grass clippings, but the weed tops.  By not dropping the blade closer to the ground (dropping and skinning would add several days to the interval between cutting, which is tempting but to be resisted), I encourage the St. Augustine to grow thick and healthy, thus crowding out the weeds.  So that's the "how" of how that element grows, the turf.  I attempt to grow my garden in a managed way, with  lots of close observation, time, and sweat.

As far as I can tell, none of my neighbors takes personal care of the family yard.  Businesses known as "lawn services" take care of their landscapes.  These services consist of two men, usually, but sometimes three.  They come in a pick-up truck towing a trailer, usually an enclosed trailer.  The trailer holds their equipment, the major piece being a riding mower.  Each side of the trailer is a sort of billboard, announcing the name the business, often the owner's name with "landscaping" following the name, and a telephone number.  These services appear to be single owner enterprises, the owner driving the riding mower.  His associate or associates tend to the edging, usually with a weed-eater and not with a blade-edger.  There are no grass catchers and there are no rakes or brooms much in evidence.  The services deal with the debris that falls on the sidewalks and drive-ways with blowers, blowing the debris out to the street, where the wind will, in a day or two, blow it all back, some back into the family's yard and the rest on everyone else's.

(The lawn services have an interesting ecological impact that the owner of a top-notch lawnmower shop told me about years ago.  The lawn services spread seeds from yard to yard, because they don't "catch" the clippings nor wash their equipment as they go.  Your weeds, then, become your neighbor's weeds and the weeds of your neighbor's neighbors, and so on.  Several years ago, a new homeowner to the west of us re-sodded and landscaped his yard.  He is a young man and vigorous.  Going against the tide, he mowed the lawn himself, and I recall he caught the clippings.  But then he gave it up to the lawn services (he bought a big boat), and now, as I walk by his yard, it is full of crabgrass and other weeds in great variety.  The lawn is kept very closely and regularly cut by his lawn service and, from a certain distance away, it looks neatly maintained.  But I know.  I know.)

As I drive to work each business day, early in the morning on the Palmetto expressway, I see dozens of lawn service rigs moving with me southbound: towing vehicle, sometimes a van, usually a pick-up truck, but sometimes an impressive small dump truck, which would allow that  service to haul away its lawn debris, and the trailer.  These businesses are predominantly Latin.  In Miami Springs, the going rate seems to be around $55 right now.  They seem to be able to do the basic job in about 40 minutes or less, given the size of the yards in our neighborhood.  It is a cash business.

We use a professional service to help us to manage our trees (a very large oak tree in the back, a black olive tree near our driveway at the front, a gorgeous sea grape tree on the west side of our house, and some smaller palms).  They also spray our lawn with herbicide and insecticide on a monthly basis.  These people have given up lawn maintenance, because of the cheap competition from the lawn services I describe.  But their managers have deep knowledge of Florida landscaping, and I have gotten to know one of these men over the years.  Each year (before hurricane season, preferably) we will walk the yard together as he assesses the tree-pruning needs, and the gentleman will talk to me about lawn-care science.  He calls the lawn services that work on the neighbors' lawns, "mow, blow, and go" services.  In other words, you get what you pay for.  Surprise.

Once upon a time, the families in Miami Springs did the yard work.  Dad, mom, and the kids. Especially the sons.  Often a neighbor, being an eyewitness to the competence of one of the boys, would ask the boy to mow the neighbor's yard.  It would provide the boy-becoming-a-young-man with a little income.  Now and then, the young man would turn that work into an after-school business.  By the time of his graduation from high school, he would have accumulated a significant amount of money, not to mention significant business expertise of all sorts.  But whatever the eventual outcome of the boy, the families handled the yard work.

Now they don't.  Across the street is a very attractive family with three boys, all now teenagers.  They use a lawn service.  Once when I was working in the yard in the summer's heat, the mother came over and expressed concern over the effort I seemed to be putting out, and gave me the number of her lawn service.  I confused her.  I could read her mind: Wasn't I a lawyer with better things to do? 

Here toward the end of the summer I find myself having worked my way almost completely around the house, edging, pulling weeds and grass, and mulching,  But as I complete that first circuit, I see that the St. Augustine has shot its forces into and among the mulch that I first laid down weeks ago.   There is plenty of metaphor fodder here.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hello to the Springs Gardener

Two years ago at our house, we had a professional landscaper renovate the lawn and shrubbery.  For maybe eleven years or so before then, our lawn, especially the turf (St. Augustine grass) gave a sorry look.   This mainly resulted from a renovation of our house at the start of that eleven year stretch.  We made the kitchen larger, more pleasant and functional - including the installation of a new window over the sink that offers a view of South Florida's gorgeous sunsets.  Off that new kitchen, we built a fourth bedroom with its own bathroom, and we put a roof over the back porch that had simply been "screened-in," as we say in Miami-Dade.  That little bathroom for the fourth bedroom, on the west side of our house, a bit toward the SW corner, required a trench for a service pipe, a trench that went north along the west side of the house, around its NW corner, and headed east until it met the main sewer line that came from Dove Avenue, the east-west street that our house faces.  What a mess all that digging made, not only digging for the trench but also for a foundation that needed to be laid for the  new bedroom and the back porch that adjoined it.  (Don't ask why that porch didn't have a foundation, but, as we discovered, was just a slab spread on the ground.) After the trench was filled in on the west and front sides of the house and the foundation dug and constructed on the south side, we completed the rest of the upgrade.  All that trench and foundation work tore up the lawn, and I did nothing much after we finished the project to make the rough places plain.  I even gave the yard up to a crew of grass cutters of the mow-blow-and-go variety.   I didn't realize how bad the outside looked until, two years ago, the professional landscaper, to whom I gave more or less carte blanche, did his good work, and I saw what a world of difference it made.

But all that good work created a much higher maintenance demand.  Either I had to improve my relationship with the lawn and shrubs (hereinafter referred to as "the garden") or I would see the look slide into mediocrity or worse.  And I was a Springs boy, having lived in this town from a tiny baby, taking absences only for college and law school, a year in New York City, and a year in a duplex east of the Gables, until we bought our first house back in the Springs.  A Springs boy takes care of his own lawn, and makes it at least better than average.  Furthermore, we had invested hard-earned cash with the landscaper, who pulled up all the grass and weeds, covered the ground with rich dirt, and then laid on top big squares of new St. Augustine, adding all sort of plants around the base of the house and along the back border of the lawn, lovingly surrounding those plants with a flatbed worth of 2 cubic feet bags of brown mulch he had trucked in.  This would take a lot of work to keep up, and what was I going to do?

One Biscayne Tower - Thanks a Lot, Joe!
I had learned, however, the secret of good landscaping maintenance from a friend, Joe.  Joe is a building engineer for a tall office building downtown, known as One Biscayne Tower.  It had great landscaping around its base, and I asked Joe if he would give me an insight into how he had arranged to keep it so beautiful.  He drew closer to me, and lowered his voice.  "Paul," he said, "the secret is a crew that shows up at 5AM several mornings a week to pull weeds, trim, transplant and replace the shrubs, cut the grass, water, fertilize, mulch, and pick up the trash.  That's the secret."

Thanks a lot, Joe.

So, this blog post is an introduction to my story of trans-planting Joe's secret to my new garden.  Personally. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Reading Knack Slipping Away. How to stop it.

I feel the reading knack slipping away.  I want to reclaim it.  What is the problem?  What is the solution?

My favorite spot at home is on the sofa in the den, stage-left.  It is very comfortable. A lamp on the end table provides good light.  I can see directly into the kitchen, where very often Carol is working, and she is an attention-drawing presence (and always has been), easy to look at.  Her mere presence draws my attention away from my book.  Divorce is probably not the answer.  In fact, every man should have my problem, whether he is a reader or not.

To my right, as I sit on the sofa, the TV is almost immediately adjacent.  Although it looks across my point of view, its screen is very easy to see.  And there are a set of controllers within my reach, giving access to a cornucopia of fast-food for the brain, largely junk.  Either throw a brick through the screen or find another comfortable place to read.  Maybe in the kitchen.

A very large number of books waits for me.  They are in several places in our house, where they wait, but especially on the shelves of a sort of home office.  When I am in that room with the bookshelves, I find myself,  like the jackass who died of hunger, as he stood between two stacks of hay, not being able to make up my mind about what to read.  What we need here is a list.

There must be a reading muscle.  Like any muscle.  My endurance flags when I pick up a book.  I'm not a tough enough reader.  I see a new idea or a new word as I read.  My mind slips away from the book as I think about that idea or go look up the word in the dictionary.  Within limits, that's probably a good thing.  But most of the time,  for crying out loud, make a note on a note pad and keep reading.  And then go back to those notes.

Read no more than, say, three books at a time.  Not ten.

Always have a book that you are reading that is very challenging.  Commit X number of minutes to it each day. For that matter, when you sit down with any book, easy or hard, decide how long you are going to read, and then hang in there.

Ride MetroRail to work, not the car.  Yes, it takes longer, but you can spend the time reading, unless some idiot sits next to you and starts jabbering on his cell phone.  (Do not take weapons on MetroRail if you are a reader.)

Start a blog, so you can tell people what you are reading and what you think of it.  Or maybe you don't suffer from "show and tell" disease.  That showed up in me in first grade.  Never left. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Long-Term Care Insurance

My partner, Juan, gave me a heads-up on this from NPR's "Planet Money."

The link gives a pod-cast button that is worth a listen.  The related text includes the following;

Last week, General Electric said it was taking a massive loss — $6.2 billion — related to an obscure corner of the company: long-term-care insurance.

Long-term-care insurance is this kind of insurance that anyone can buy. It covers things like nursing home care, or a home health aide.

But recently, GE came out and said it was having an "adverse claims experience" with these policies. 
Basically, the company got the math wrong, and lost billions as a result.

This isn't just about GE. MetLife got out of this business and so has just about everybody else. They all said the same thing: we underestimated how much this was going to cost.

Carol and I have a policy on myself, and two policies on Carol.  The premiums have gone up in the last few years.  When I bought one of the policies years ago from Northwestern Life, the agent warned me that the insurance company was only guessing at what the premium needed to be, and that I should expect that the premium would go up at some point as the company began to figure it all out.  The NPR podcast to which I refer above states that they haven’t figured it out yet.

One thing that I have noticed in my law-practice experience is this: The better care one receives as an elderly person, the longer one lives, generally speaking.  So, perhaps the long-term care insurance model works against itself.  What the model seems to require, at least in part, is some certainty about when the customers will die.  If the insurance company looks at the mortality tables, however, it is looking at a universe of people for whom the level of care varies substantially.  But their customers, who will receive better long-term care than most, will not die on time.

The question Carol and I have is whether the companies will figure it out before they go under.  In the meanwhile, we pay the higher premiums.  I’m not sure that’s the right choice.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Potiphar's Wife and Joseph's Alleged "Laughter"

Our pastor, Sam Miranda, preached this past Sunday morning on the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.  As is customary at our worship service, the bulletin provided the scripture, Genesis 39:1-23, using the English Standard Version (“ESV”).  As is also customary, Sam read the scripture, in its entirety, as we followed along, before he began preaching.  Here is that reading, as the ESV gives it. I have added italics in places pertinent to what I would like to discuss:

39 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”

19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.

            What caught my attention was the apparent difference between what Potiphar’s wife told the men of her household about Joseph’s purpose “in coming in to her” and what she told her husband about Joseph’s purpose.  As the scripture reads in the ESV, she told the household men that Joseph came in to “lie with me,” but to Potiphar that Joseph came in to “laugh at her.”   This account confuses me further because the passage states that Potiphar’s wife told Potiphar “the same story” about the incident.  I will concede that in speaking to the household men, Potiphar’s wife said that her husband brought among them a Hebrew “to laugh us,” but as far as Joseph’s alleged particular purpose as to her, she told them that Joseph’s intention was “to lie with me.”

            Here is how the NIV renders verses 14 – 18.  It translates “laugh” as “to make sport of,” but is otherwise about the same:
she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
I have the ESV Study Bible, and it has a note on Genesis 39:13-15 that includes the following statement:
“Laugh” recalls 21:9 and 26:8, where it has the connotations of “making fun of someone” and “caressing,” respectively.
            The reference to Gen. 21:9 is to the son of Hagar, Ishmael, whose “laughter” so offended Sarah that she demanded of Abraham that he cast out both Hagar and her son.  The reference to 26:8 is to the Philistine King Abimelech who, seeing Abraham and Rebekah “laughing” together, infers that there is something more intimate in their relationship than the brother-and-sister lie that Abraham had told him.

            In verse 14, the New English Translation translates the word for “laugh” (ESV) or “sport” (NIV) as “humiliate,” and has the following translation footnote (footnote 35) for that translation:
Heb. “to make fun of us.” The verb translated “to humiliate us” here means to hold something up for ridicule, or to toy with something harmfully.  Attempted rape would be such an activity, for it would hold the victim in contempt.
            My surmise is that the use of the word translated “to make fun of us” had a breadth of meaning that did not necessarily refer to “rape” or “having sex,” but, given the context, could be understood as meaning the lie that Potiphar’s wife wants her husband to believe.  But by using a sort of euphemism and not something explicit, it gives Potiphar himself a way out: He would throw Joseph in prison and not seek what was probably the ultimate penalty for attempted rape.  If word had gotten around that Potiphar had imprudently allowed a Hebrew slave sufficient access to make such an attempt, it would have damaged Potiphar’s reputation.  The lie of Potiphar’s wife maintains appearances for both of them, and Potiphar will not push the details.

            But my main point concerns the different translations of a given Hebrew word that we see from Bible version to Bible version.  I think the ESV choice is the least appropriate among all of the alternate translations.  In the Preface to the ESV, a body described as "The Translation Oversight Committee" states that the ESV is an "essentially literal translation.  If it is that approach that gets us "to laugh at," rather than "to humiliate," then I think they fall short here.

           Let me also observe that in each case where Potiphar's wife mentions Joseph, she never gives his name.  Instead her is "the Hebrew slave."  One commentary notes that Potiphar's wife is not merely descriptive, she evidences her racial bigotry.  If that is the case, then it would have been all the more "humiliating" to Potiphar that his wife would "lie with" such a creature, and it would have been a public disgrace.