December 30, 2007

Sometimes Caitlyn likes to read (she turns the pages and makes up a story which may or may not have anything to do with the pictures she's looking at) to me at bedtime, instead of the other way around. Last night, it was The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching, complete with special appearances by Pooh, Cinderella, Christopher Robin, and several cats. Tonight, she opted just to sing along with her lullaby:
"Rock-a-bye-baby cradle of leaves
Sing me lullaby of dweams
Tuck clouds under my chin
Blow that moon out - pfoo - please."
She's not in tune or on rythmn, but she is singing.

After the craziness of Solstice and Christmas, things have settled down around here. Naps are back, bedtimes are (mostly) reasonable, meals consist of more than dessert. And many of Caitlyn's animals are sad.

"Ollie is wrapped in his blanket; he's sad."

"Why is Ollie sad?"

"From all the people at Christmas."

"Oh. Were there too many people here at Christmas time for Ollie?"

"Yes. He's sad."

"I'm sorry you're sad, Ollie. All the people are gone now."

"But he's sad. He misses the people."

I'm roughly translating this as "Ollie (and therefore Caitlyn) thought Christmas was crazy and overwhelming, but it was fun and he (she) misses it now that things are normal and routine again." In other words, I think our Christmas Season has been a success.

December 29, 2007

We hosted the Christmas festivities this year, something we've never done before. Here's what I learned:
  • three pies is excessive for eight people
  • calculate serving portions based on the weight of the chicken breasts, not on the number of chicken breasts
  • if serving a large breakfast to the assembled masses, reduce the scale of dinner - don't overstuff everyone twice
  • hot spiced cider may have been more popular than wine at 4pm
  • when menu planning, figure out not only how much of what ingredients to have, but also plan baking times so that you don't end up with a completed side dish that sits on the stove ignored for hours while the main dish cooks
  • remember that you only have one oven
  • it might be a bit much to expect complete attendance for a Christmas Eve event, a Christmas Morning event and a Christmas Dinner event
  • a primary reason everyone wants to attend all the events, regardless of the wisdom of that choice, is to watch the two-and-one-half-year-old experience the first Christmas she's old enough to get that something special is happening - everyone probably would have been happy with less food and more time with Caitlyn opening presents
  • minimize leftovers, especially if I'm the one who's supposed to finish off three whole chicken breasts
Happy New Year!

December 18, 2007

From Papua New Guinea to the United States at the climate talks in Bali:
"We ask for your leadership. We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you're not willing to lead. Leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way."
No kidding. Apparently the whole world wants to go one way and the US has to plunk itself down in the middle of the road and say no. Fortunately, there was a sufficient quantity of booing and hissing to get the US delegate to back down and for there to actually be an agreement on doing something about climate change, but, OMG, that it's come to this. Our government's policies make this country look more and more like a schoolyard bully.

And the sad thing is that it doesn't have to be this way. Despite all the posturing to the contrary, the only reason we look the way we do on to the rest of the world is because the executive branch is power-grabbing and the other branches are letting it get away with it. Hey, Congress, Do Your Job Already. Say no. Actually investigate. Deny funds. Enforce accountability. Impeach. This is America. We're supposed to be a democracy, not a monarchy or an oligarchy, no matter how much Bush and Cheney and Rove might wish otherwise.

I'm watching the primaries and counting down to the election, hoping, hoping, hoping, that this we'll get clear, incontestable results that puts a level-headed, open-minded, living-in-a-global-society-in-the-twenty-first-century person in the executive office. I'm hoping that whoever gets there can make swift, real progress at balancing this country. But we don't have to wait for that. There are two other branches of our government who can act now to put the brakes on our current slide away from democracy. If only they'd do their jobs.

December 05, 2007

While waiting for a light to change, I noticed an Allstate Insurance billboard. Over a (rather weathered) picture of highway traffic, in large, un-missable letters: "MISTEAKS HAPPEN." I spent the entire cycle of the light wondering if I was misremembering how to spell or if the designer of the billboard was being "subtly clever".

Not to go on some long rant about the collapse of decent society as we know it or anything, but does anyone else want to carry around a large red pen and fix all the various linguistic mistakes out there? Does no one know how to use a comma correctly anymore? Or know when a statement is really a question and thus merits a question mark? Somehow I can forgive all sorts of grammatical gaffes in correspondence or even in (most) books but signage is another matter altogether.

Compulsive proof-readers unite!

November 20, 2007

Finally! Someone has made a social networking site that I can get excited about! I've poked around at some of the social networking sites before, and I have a couple of profiles out there. I usually forget about them until one of the sites sends me an update email, "We've added wacky new features!"

But, this one I'll probably be on a lot. It's the social networking site for obsessive readers (ie, me!): GoodReads. Find the books you've read, rate them, comment on them, find other people who like the same books you like, organize your books into any categories you like. I especially like that I now have a place to keep track of the books that I want to read someday, but which aren't a good fit for the library's hold list (the wait is too long and I'll fall off the list before the book arrives or the library doesn't have it or I own the book already but it's no longer in the pile of to-reads by my desk).

So, in all shamelessness, come to GoodReads and
be my friend!

November 16, 2007

Caitlyn: What are you doing?

REI Salesperson: I'm writing. What are you doing?

Caitlyn: Oh, trying to pick my nose.

November 15, 2007

Caitlyn, on her own, named one of her stuffed animals today, the little mouse with a cookie that Grandma gave her with a copy of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The mouse is now Jilly Boo, or occasionally Billy Joe.

"Mama, say hello to Jilly Boo's feet."

"Hi, Jilly Boo's feet."

"Jilly Boo goes down the chimney (a hole in the top of a footstool). Mama, Jilly Boo went down the chimney."

"And what did Jilly Boo find down the chimney?"

"An ocean." (The floor.)


"Her mama's going to rescue her. Mama, say hello to Jilly Boo's mama." Caitlyn is standing next to me, with Tinker, a stuffed cat.

"Hello, Jilly Boo's mama. Did you rescue your... Caitlyn, is Jilly Boo a boy or a girl?"

"A girl."

"Did you rescue your daughter?"

"Jilly Boo's mama went in the ocean and rescued Jilly Boo. Now he's resting."

"I see. I thought Jilly Boo was a girl?"


"Oh, so he's a boy?"

"No, she's a mouse."

I'm quiet. I can't figure out how to respond to this logic.

"Mama, say hello to Jilly Boo's feet."

Apparently, I've missed my window of opportunity.

November 08, 2007

English is a fun language, being the hodge-podge that it is. We have so many different words that mean more or less the same thing. But there are still some things we have to use lots of words to say. And, wouldn't you know it, there are other languages that have nice, concise ways of getting the idea out there without taking all week to say it. Here are my favorites, but the full list is worth checking out.
  • Kaelling (Danish): a woman who stands on her doorstep yelling obscenities at her kids.
  • Pesamenteiro (Portuguese): one who joins groups of mourners at the home of a dead person, apparently to offer condolences but in reality is just there for the refreshments.
  • Kanjus Makkhicus (Hindi): a person so miserly that if a fly falls into his cup of tea, he'll fish it out and suck it dry before throwing it away.
  • Hanyauku (Rukwangali, Namibia): walking on tiptoes across warm sand.
  • Tartle (Scottish): to hesitate when you are introducing someone whose name you can't quite remember.
  • Prozvonit (Czech and Slovak): to call someone's mobile from your own to leave your number in their memory without them picking it up.
  • Shnourkovat Sya (Russian): when drivers change lanes frequently and unreasonably.
  • Pisan Zapra (Malay): the time needed to eat a banana.
  • Layogenic (Tagalog, Philippines): a person who is only goodlooking from a distance.
  • Rhwe (South Africa): to sleep on the floor without a mat while drunk and naked.
  • Gattara (Italian): a woman, often old and lonely, who devotes herself to stray cats.
  • Creerse La Ultima Coca-Cola en el Desierto (Central American Spanish): to have a very high opinion of oneself, literally to "think one is the last Coca-Cola in the desert".
  • Bablat (Hebrew): baloney, but is an acronym of "beelbool beytseem le-lo takhleet" which means "bothering someone's testicles for no reason".
  • Rombhoru (Bengali): a woman having thighs as shapely as banana trees.
  • Snyavshi Shtany, Po Volosam ne Gladyat (Russian): once you've taken off your pants it's too late to look at your hair.

November 01, 2007

Two days before Halloween, Caitlyn discovered the dress-up box in her closet and started playing with the scarves, purses, and robes there - including getting tangled up in the pocket-sleeves of an authentic kimono. Today, the day after Halloween, she is right now napping while wearing her Halloween bunny tail (Thanks, Jeannie!).

It took awhile last night, but eventually, she was running to the door when the bell rang. Once someone parental had opened it for her, she would carefully hand out candy to the kids outside. Most kids in our neighborhood don't dress up, probably either religious issues or financial ones, so there was only one moment when Caitlyn seemed a little nervous about the costumes. The teenage girl outside said, "Am I scaring you, baby?" and took off her mask. When the kids would leave and we'd close the door, Caitlyn would say, "More! I want to give more candy to kids in costumes!" Then she'd run around, "I'm a bunny costume! I'm a bunny costume!"

Caitlyn has also reinvented Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?... As we walked to the last farmer's market of the year yesterday, I overheard her:
White car, white car, what do you see?
I see a red car looking at me.
Red car, red car, what do you see?
I see another red car looking at me.
Red car, red car, what do you see?
I see a green truck looking at me...

September 28, 2007

Shopping rant:

It's fall, a time of year I seem to always start to think about my wardrobe and my general trend of apathy about Fashion and how maybe I should at least make an effort to do something about it. It's generally a bad time of year for me to start thinking about Fashion because I can't wear any of the olives and oranges that make up the Fall Fashion Palette. I had my "colors" done, once, a million years ago; the person doing them told me I was a "true luminant summer" but I find myself gravitating to the dark blues and reds of the "winter" palette. Whatever.

After five plus years, and this past spring and summer spent installing and developing the garden, my trusty Docs are getting a little, well, worn. I suppose after 5 years of daily tromping, I might be entitled to a new pair of shoes. And I thought maybe I'd attempt to branch out. Try some alternative shoe that might be a little less... utilitarian... than my Docs.

Macy's downtown was having a Shoe Diva event, which I mostly stumbled upon by accident. Appetizers, mock-tails, a dj spinning old Cyndi Lauper and Madonna tunes, and a "Buy $100 worth of regular priced shoes and get $25 off!" An absurd number of shoes, filling about half of the first floor, most of which had very high heels. I found one pair that (a) they had in my size, (b) did not have a spindly heel, (c) could have worked equally well with my jeans or with my "better" pants, and (d) had enough of a gripping sole that I wouldn't need to worry about falling when walking down Seattle's hills during the winter. What was it? A pair of Doc Martens.

Oh well. I tried.

September 20, 2007

Caitlyn was jumping down the stairs this morning, one at a time, saying, "And jumped and jumped and jumped and jumped," as she went. Being the bookish person I am, I thought perhaps she was referencing Are You My Mother? ("The egg jumped and jumped and jumped.") So, I asked her if she had a baby bird inside her.

"No. A bunny."

At the time, it seemed delightfully silly and a brilliant joke. I laughed. She laughed. And now, I can't seem to remember why... Some jokes are like that, I guess.

September 17, 2007

Evolution of language (or at least of the pronunciation of the language):

Caitlyn used to say "fan-gees" for "sandwich". Today I discovered that her word for "sandwich" had the initial "s" sound, which made me realize that she's been saying "fandawich" instead of "fan-gees" for a while now.

For lunch, we had grilled cheese "fandawich", some with "potatoes" (Caitlyn's word for "tomatoes" - yes, it's confusing), which made our fingers messy, so we needed a "napkawin".

September 14, 2007

The garden is winding down. I dug out the last of the potatoes today and wished, again, that I'd been keeping track of how many pounds we grew. I gave today's collection of green beans to the neighbors, since I've decided that 5 quarts in the freezer is enough. There are more than 2 pints of sun-dried tomatoes in the fridge, and bowls of tomatoes on the counter waiting to be converted into pasta sauce. Ian is responsible for eating the paprika and mariachi peppers - they've both turned out to be too hot for me. Tomorrow, I'll check on the two apples on the apple tree and see if they are ripe.

Caitlyn and I went to the zoo yesterday for what is likely going to be our last visit until spring. The zoo is open in the winter, it's just not a whole lot of fun to be wandering around out there in 40 degree weather. And our animal-viewing luck was really, really good. We saw the brown bears getting lunch (when a bear eats a cantaloupe, it somehow manages to scrape all the yummy fleshy parts out and leave the rind - not something I'd expect from bear jaws), the grey wolves (for the first time), the giraffes when it was time to cross the path back to the giraffe barn for dinner (so they walked by about 10 feet away from us), and several of the smaller monkeys who were actually up and out and doing stuff. We even managed to catch penguin feeding time.

The highlight for me (not really sure what Caitlyn thought - she has a thing for giraffes, elephants and penguins), though, was the tiger cub. Although perhaps "cub" is just a technicality now as she's about 10 months old and recognizable as a cub only if you have some idea of how large the adult tigers at the zoo are. This was the first time I've seen a tiger chase it's tail... she's still a kitten. Large and fast and deadly but a beautiful, playful kitten.
I don't suppose it came as a surprise to anyone that the President has declared his troop surge a success. He is, after all, apparently incapable of admitting fallibility. And I suppose it was a success, if the goals were to continue racking up Iraqi and US casualties, further distress tensions with Iran, and generally destroy whatever remained of any good feelings toward the US from the rest of the world.

Since it's too much to hope that the current administration might ever see or admit to their mistakes, it falls to Congress to deny funding for continuing this bungled endeavor. Congress should develop some spine and actually stand up to the President instead of merely talking about standing up. Congress should make an official, formal apology to Iraqis, the UN, and the rest of the world for permitting and continuing this sad affair. Congress should immediately begin the long and expensive process of sensibly withdrawing from Iraq while simultaneously making available the support and assistance Iraqis might request for rebuilding their infrastructure. The US made this mess and we should have some role in cleaning it up. The difference is that we would engage in no combat activities except guard duty and be actively restoring electricity and other services to the Iraqi population.

Yes, there will still be violence. The Shia and the Sunnis will not stop trying to kill each other just because the US is withdrawing. But we can, and should, remove American aggression as an excuse for those attacks and as a justification for terrorist recruitment.

August 30, 2007

Jann Arden, one of my most very favorite musicians came to town, and I took Caitlyn to see her in-store performance at our downtown Borders. Caitlyn loved the parts where everyone clapped.

After the performance, I stood in line with a CD to get it autographed. I've never done this before. I'm, oddly, hesitant to actually go and meet these various (and variously) famous people, authors and musicians and even the occasional actor who are somehow important to me. I want to believe that the famousness doesn't matter, that they are just regular people with the good fortune to do something really well. And the next thought is always, why would any of them want to meet me?

So, I got to the front of the line and introduced myself. Caitlyn is in a shy phase when it comes to meeting new people, and she buried her face in my shoulder, occasionally peeking out at Jann. I apologized for not having anything significant to say; Jann told me that it was all about getting out and meeting fans and how "heavy" it was to meet someone who had one of her (Jann's) lyrics tattooed on her arm (not me, someone else ahead of me in line). She signed my CD, complemented me on Caitlyn, and recommended that I not start her on "my depressing music" until she was older. We both told the other to have a great afternoon, then Caitlyn and I headed down the stairs.

Driving home tonight, new CD in the stereo, it came to me, what I could (should?) have said (is it still the Spirit of the Staircase if it visits in some other location?). I've been listening to and resonating with Jann's music ever since Insensitive was on the radio (some eleven or twelve years, now, I think). If her songs reflect her personality, then Jann and I have been dear, close friends for all that time, the kind who never call and never write but who somehow just seem to know when you need an impromptu visit and a cup of tea.

August 16, 2007

It's a lovely summer day... complete with the sounds of nail-guns and saws across the street where they are framing the two new houses that will be diagonal from us. I'll be very glad when the framing and roofing and siding are done and the bulk of the noise moves inside... which will probably be sometime in October.

I've started harvesting tomatoes. Caitlyn especially likes the orange cherry tomatoes and will eat them non-stop if I let her. Strangers are so impressed that she "willingly eats tomatoes!" She also eats carrots pulled right out of the ground and green beans off the vines. Cook any of this and she's less likely to enjoy it so visibly.

Yesterday was warm enough to run the solar oven... so we now have tiny sun-dried tomatoes. I just put perhaps a half-quart of beans in the freezer. We are still eating our little alpine strawberries, maybe a cup a week. I once explained to someone that there appears to be a fixed number of strawberry seeds per berry; alpine strawberries just don't have the same surface area of the strawberries you get celo-packed from Watsonville. They are super-sweet, though. There are two actual pumpkins growing, and a plethora of pumpkin flowers. I picked our first pepper today, a petite red thing that the eating of will be Ian's responsibility. And I really should remember where the bathroom scale is stored and weigh the box of potatoes in the pantry (it's a little more than half what I expect the total harvest to be).

Perhaps it's time to take the "wannabe gardener" off my About page...

August 03, 2007

There was a bit on NPR this morning about a power company in Massachusetts that is trying to get customers to conserve energy by providing immediate feedback on how much energy they are using. Use your toaster, get a readout on a little devise that says how much electricity your toast is using. Same for your clothes dryer. (I missed the name of the devise they are using - sleep fog and all).

And then it occurred to me: why not have these kinds of meters for everything? A display in your shower that tells you how many gallons you've used and how much energy has gone into the hot water. Readouts on the oven: timer, temperature, cost of the gas. A widget for the computer that keeps track of how much power the computer needs, even in sleep mode.

Sure, there are the little comparison charts on the utility bills. I get a little thrill out of looking at those and seeing if we are using less power/gas/water than we did for the corresponding billing period last year. But more data would be nice. Was the average temperature a year ago more or less than the average temperature this year? How about rainfall? But none of this is as immediate as feedback at the time and place of use. If I get excited about a small decrease in the amount of power/gas/water from a billing statement, imagine the fun of watching how many gallons are right now going into my shower? Why should Prius drivers have all the optimizing fun?

August 02, 2007

Caitlyn appears to have grasped the concept of holding hands when crossing streets or parking lots... she likes to hold her own hands, leaving me hunched over at all awkward angles to grip her elbow. Even if I'm carrying her, she'll hold her own hands, fingers interlaced, and lecture me about the importance of holding hands.

All together now: "Awwwwww...."

July 10, 2007

Caitlyn is exploring doing things herself. The other day, this happened during a game of Flop. (To play Flop, first be sure you have lots of throw pillows piled just at the end of your mattress on the floor. Stand near the head of your bed and say, "Mama push me," then wait for your parent to gently push you forward into the pile of pillows. Shriek with laughter.) After picking herself up, pushing the pillows back together, she'd come to the head of her bed and instead of asking to be pushed, she'd say, "Caitlyn push me." Then she'd put her hand behind her back, pause, then throw herself forward. This version was just possibly funnier than the usual, Mama-enabled version.

July 05, 2007

While this year marked Caitlyn's second Fourth of July, this was the first year we actually attempted to notice the holiday. We spent yesterday afternoon by Lake Washington, where Caitlyn occasionally put her toes in the water when she could be pried away from the sand. She jumped in the sand, she ran in the sand, she fell down in the sand, she shoveled the sand, she carried the sand. She also asked whatever family member was handy, "I need more water, PEAS!" I'm feeling particularly pleased with myself for being aggressive about the sunscreen, even remembering to reapply it after a couple of hours. She's only the slightest bit pink on the shoulders today.

Fireworks in the summer in Seattle are a rather late affair. The big displays don't get started until after 10pm, since that's the earliest it's dark enough to appreciate them. We joined friends in West Seattle and perched on a hilltop to watch the shows over Alki Beach and the Seattle Center, as well as whatever else was visible. Caitlyn spent the minutes before things got started saying, "I wanna see fireworks. Where are fireworks?" over and over again. Once things got going, she ran around in circles, flopped on people, shrieked and giggled, and screamed, "I see fireworks!" She would look at the fireworks if you pointed them out, but they weren't as attention-grabbing as I expected them to be.

But her best reactions were after the big shows finished. Someone just below our lookout had a handful of rather large fireworks. These went up much closer to us than the shows we'd been watching (at least one of which was on the other side of the bay). Caitlyn seemed to appreciate the first one. But by the time the third one went up, we realized that she was squeezing her eyes shut. The rest of the mini-show was spent trying to convince her that opening her eyes would be good, but covering her ears might help her be more comfortable. For the last one, she had her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around her head, duck and cover style, but left her ears completely uncovered.

June 25, 2007

We have 2+ quarts of homegrown peas in the freezer. I think maybe I'll get another quart from the plants before they call it quits. Time to start thinking of what goes in the pea-space in the garden...

Caitlyn really likes the ABC song, although she has her own version of it. "Little Tiny ABCs" goes something like: "A B C D E F G, um, uh, um, Next time won't you sing at me." If Ian or I sing it with her, she dips in and out of it, dropping out around M N O P and coming back strong for W X Y Z.

June 14, 2007

I can't decide if it's funny or sad. I mean, it's seriously cool that King County Metro, Seattle City Light, and Seattle Parks and Recreation have started renting goats to clean up overgrown hillsides. It almost makes me wish we had some overgrown space around here so the goats would come to visit - Caitlyn would love it.

But, it's not like goats are a new technology. They've been eating aggressive plants, and winning, for, well, for as long as there have been goats. It's us silly humans that gave up on goats in favor of machinery and chemicals. Never mind that goats are cleaner, faster, cheaper, more successful and produce a useful by-product. No, we had to say "Never mind!" to something that was working and go with something else, all because it was New! Mechanized! Scientific! Innovative!

Not that I'm against those things. It just seems to me that the best solution to a problem ought to be the one that gets used. So, yay, goats. It's nice to come full circle. It's too bad we ever had to go around. (Although perhaps we had to go around to see the value of what we had... Nothing like experience, I suppose.)

June 12, 2007

As one of the neighbor kids said, "Caitlyn talks a lot."
  • "liddy" (for little)
  • "apricoter" (for helicopter)
  • "wa-koff" (for washcloth)
  • "cee-ning" (for ceiling)
  • "bono-ateet" (for bon appetit)
  • "mines" (logical, since "yours" ends in an "s")
She's also discovered the first person pronoun, although she's not terribly consistent with it. "I'm ready to be awake," is just as common as "Caitlyn get a book."

And we have begun trying to differentiate between "want" and "need":
"Need more Mama cereal."
"You don't need it, you want it."
"I want more Mama cereal."
"How do you ask?"
"More Mama cereal, peas."

June 07, 2007

Caitlyn sings her version of "Rock-a-bye Baby":
"Rocka my baby
Inna treetop.
Whena wind blows
The baby will FAAAALLLLL!"
(The last line is accompanied by hurling whatever stuffed animal is handy at the floor. )

June 04, 2007

Caitlyn's favorite things:
  • going outside
  • doggies and elephants (pronounced "elFant!")
  • noodles
  • tractors
  • stories
  • rocks, especially shiny rocks
  • swinging ("More finging! More finging!")
  • water

May 31, 2007

A conversation:

Ian: Looks like Mama's making yummy stir fry.

Caitlyn: Stir fry?

Ian: (pointing at wok) Stir fry. (pointing at Caitlyn) Small fry.

Caitlyn: (pause, then pointing at Ian) Big fry.

May 29, 2007

I dreamt aliens came to Earth and needed humans to return with them. They anticipated no problem finding volunteers as they were offering excellent child care and complete health benefits...

Caitlyn has, without my really noticing it (bad Mama! bad Mama!), started speaking in sentences. "Look at me!" "Don't touch, just look at it." "Go see more amin-als!" "I'm tired. Time for stories." "I'm cold." "Mama's name is Christina. Papa's name is Papa. 'Kit-tin's' name is 'Cait-Lyn'." Her sentences frequently wander off in the middle, sometimes hitting a skip like an old record, leaving her repeating something over and over while she tries to figure out what word she wants next. And there's still lots of gibberish, although most of it seems to be acknowledged as gibberish and just said because it sounds neat.

May 24, 2007

I have (more or less) officially finished the planned planting for the backyard. Caitlyn and I planted pepper plants and three kinds of squash seeds (zucchini, pumpkin, and butternut) this morning. Caitlyn seems to enjoy planting seeds. I put the holes in the dirt and she puts in the seeds. Putting the mulch back over them is fun, but the best part is getting to wave her hands in the water from the watering can. When we're done, she says, "Plant more seeds!" This may be about the seeds or the opportunity to play with the water.

So, the veggie beds are full. The peas are taking over. We're eating the first lettuce. The strawberries are getting ripe. The neighborhood seems to be astounded by the potato plants, which are getting rather large, mostly because it seems that no one has ever seen a potato plant before. I'll post another picture in a month or so, when the beans are up and the tomatoes have filled out a little.

May 23, 2007

So, gas prices are going up, again. I'm getting emails from MoveOn with "$4.00 per gallon?!" in the subject line. They are collecting signatures for a petition to Congress saying "Gasoline price gouging should be made a federal crime before the summer price increases hurt more American families."

And, then, like a dose of reason, this Canadian blog post shows up on the radar.
Does it not seem strange that gasoline is as cheap as it is? Most people would say it's not cheap, as they're currently flying off the handle with rising prices. They're even organizing gas boycotts to stick it to the man. Of course, these boycotts are absolutely ineffective and fucking lame, as the boycotters are likely to fill their tanks before or after the date of the boycott.

But really, gas is dirt cheap. People manage to piss and moan about the price of a litre of gas, while they have no problem paying more for a litre of bottled water.
The writer then goes on to cite a Canadian Broadcasting Corp article about most expensive liquids. Gas is significantly less expensive than maple syrup, slightly less expensive than a Coke, and just slightly more expensive than liquid nitrogen.

Yes, it's a bit alarming to fill up the car and pay almost $50 for it. But it's made me a somewhat more aggressive about consolidating the errands and taking the bus for outings that don't involve groceries. And it's good to remember that what we're paying at the pump doesn't reflect the complete cost of unrestricted gas-guzzling. While I'm sure that Big Oil is doing everything in their power to rake in as much money as possible before the oil in the ground runs out, I'm also pretty sure they are being subsidized in some way. They aren't being asked to pay for the environmental damage they are facilitating. Perhaps, instead of making price gouging a federal offense, we should be petitioning that Big Oil be fined or otherwise presented with a bill for greenhouse gas clean up.

April 30, 2007

This morning, Caitlyn paused in her attempts to "play" with Wasabi to stand in front of the oven and study her reflection in the oven door. She placed her feet wide apart and started doing baby lunges side to side, sometimes looking vaguely like she was also trying to do sideways bends. "Exercising," she said to her reflection. "Exercising."

I have no idea where she learned this. Certainly not from me, as focussed exercising appears to be out of the range of possibility for me these days. I've tried doing yoga with Caitlyn in the room with me; she thinks that it's just so much fun to keep me from any peaceful, focussed breathing and then, when I'm in the downward facing dog pose, to sit underneath me. "Caitlyn, you need to move. Mama needs to get down and she can't until you move. Caitlyn, please move. Mama's going to fall down soon. Caitlyn. Please. Move." She thinks this is funny and tries to duplicate my pose while still being underneath me. I've not tried yoga with Caitlyn since.

April 13, 2007

Back at the beginning of the year, Ian's "Quote of the Day" list sent this out:
"This is a marine biological station with her history of over sixty years ... Take care of this place and protect the possibility for the continuation of our peaceful research. You can destroy the weapons and the war instruments, but save the civil equipments for Japanese students. When you are through with your job here, notify to the University and let us come back to our scientific home.

"The last one to go"

- Katsuma Dan, marine biologist, from a handwritten notice he left at the Misaki Marine Biological Station for U.S. forces occupying Japanese installations at the end of World War II. The station survived the war.
I've held on to the quote since then, thinking I should "do" something with it. I've not quite figured out what, exactly, but it seems important somehow.

Recently, the thought that keeps coming into my head when I look at that quote is more about the future. I've been feeling pessimistic lately, despite the various baby steps about ending the war in Iraq and the general sense that we're finally going to take climate change seriously. I'm not sure why, but there it is. Maybe it's the feeling that no matter how distressed the little people are, the powerful won't permit the changes we want. Maybe it's the vague sense that the change that may be in the air is too little, too late. Maybe it's easier to just assume we're all doomed.

So I've found myself wondering if anyone will leave a note like the one above. What would it say? Who would it be left for? Rather than "Please don't wantonly destroy our research equipment - we'd like to come back someday" will it say "Please don't hate us too much - we meant well"? If Americans found such a note in Iraq, would we respect it? If the note was left in the ravages of climate change, who would "the last one to leave" be? And where would that one be going?

Or maybe I should see the existence of the original note as a spark of hope to counter my pessimistic funk: In a time of war, with all the tensions and mistrust that goes with war, one person had enough faith in the decency of the enemy to request respect for the peaceful intellectual pursuits he had to abandon. Just as hopeful: the enemy honored that note and request.

April 09, 2007

Ian's Thoughtsam has made the local news! I'm not really that envious of all that creative energy going into something somewhat tangible, I'm not.

In completely unrelated news, there are now flowers in the front yard:
my front yard

And we now share the house with a cat named Wasabi:

March 27, 2007

More things Caitlyn says:
  • "mok" (for milk)
  • "fok" (for fork - dining at other people's houses can be so much fun... "Fok! Fok! Fok!")
  • "plow-wo" (for pillow)
  • "inch-ada" (for enchilada)
  • "wha-wha-gigs" (for whirlygigs)
  • "finging" (for swinging, a favorite activity)
  • "nik-el" (for nipple)
  • "upsie down" and "upsie up" (for upside down and right side up)
  • "see water" (for sea otter)
  • "Mama drive now" (upon being buckled into her carseat)
  • "basketball" (for the action of throwing an object in an upwards direction, used as in "Basketball Caitlyn!", loosely translated as "Throw me in the air and catch me!")

March 20, 2007

So, the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war came and went with a flurry of emails urging me to join this vigil, that march, to make more calls, write more letters. Maybe I'm feeling pessimistic, but what's the point? Does it really matter to the cabal in charge that I don't like the war? That there were so many candlelight vigils, so many marchers?

I don't think so. It didn't matter to them that people thought it was a bad idea to begin with. As long as whatever world-domination need they have is getting scratched, and the coffers of their multinational corporations are getting fatter (nothing like having your friends destroy the infrastructure of a country and then give you the no-bid contracts to put it back together again), I think they are probably utterly non-plussed that people are against the war.

Over the weekend, a friend mentioned the pointlessness of marching. It doesn't really get anyone's attention, and it doesn't have any visceral impact. So, you marched. So what? Instead, he suggested, what might have happened when the buildup to the war began, if instead of marching, everyone who opposed the war stopped shopping? What if all the angry consumers simply stopped consuming? Would it have been enough to damage the (almighty) economy? Would it have captured and held the attention of those setting up this runaway train?

It's an interesting proposition, one I'm not sure how to put into action. They say it's important to vote with your dollars, and I'm inclined to believe it. Corporations and the government that loves them don't seem to pay attention to anything else. I'm just not sure what to stop buying, where the lack of my money would make the maximum impact...

March 15, 2007

Apparently, I'm suffering from "Daylight Saving Time Jet Lag", as Ian put it this morning. The clock may say it's time to wake up, but my circadian rhythms want that hour back.

I don't like DST. According to my mother, I never have. And this year, I like it even less. By extending DST for one month, starting on the second Sunday in March and running to the first Sunday in November, "Daylight Saving Time" now lasts for 34 weeks. That's 65% of the year. Which means that "Standard Time" is only 18 weeks (35% of the year). If "standard" still means what we commonly accept it to mean, then DST is the new Standard Time. Perhaps it's silly, but the mislabeling really bothers me.

I'm also bothered by the increased disjointedness between humans and natural rhythms. The clock and our methods of measuring time are completely arbitrary, but they do make sense when there is some relationship between the clock and the sun. By moving the hands on the clock, though, we are attempting to compensate for the fact that we can't control the sun. And, frankly, I think humans should be accepting and even grateful of that fact.

So, please, can we leave the clocks alone? If moving an hour of daylight to the evenings really results in astounding savings in barrels of oil, let's adjust something that's within our scope. As far as I know, it's not inscribed anywhere that business hours must be 8am to 5pm. In the summer, open businesses at 7am. In the winter, open at 8 or 9am. Use all the daylight the season has to offer, whenever it happens to be.

I'm not convinced that the total energy savings is really worth getting all worked up about, anyway. Moving the clocks forward moves darkness to the morning, when we are all waking up. We heat our houses earlier, turn on more lights, and get into more traffic accidents as a result. School age kids, especially teenagers, do worse in school. So there's more light in the afternoons and we turn on lights and TVs at home later. But we're also out driving our cars and "growing the economy" more, which consumes energy, probably more all told than what we'd use if we all were at home.

Last week, I woke up with the sun shining on the bedroom windows. I woke up feeling refreshed, invigorated, ready to face the day (more or less, I'm still not a morning person). This week, it's darker outside when the alarm goes off, and I have to fight my way out of a dense sleep fog and drag myself into the day all because Someone Somewhere thought messing with the clock would save a barrel of oil. I'd wake up earlier and take advantage of the naturally increased amount of daylight all on my own in a month or so, and I wouldn't have this foggy feeling in my head.

And if that Someone thinks maybe we should save a few barrels of oil, maybe Someone should stop focusing on the small change, holding two pennies tightly in each hand while the silver dollars tumble through the holes in the pockets. Increase fuel efficiency? More solar panels? Alternative energy? Mass transit and incentives for telecommuting? Anyone? Anyone?

March 09, 2007

Sing with me: "It's a small world, after all..." Ian's mother and uncle took high school chemistry and physics from the same teacher, at the same school, I did, though about 20 years before me. And well, P. Q. Boomer is still at it, according to this article, which Ian's father forwarded to me.

Boomer is a performer. Too bad he didn't start his own circus or something. As a teacher, I'd say, not so much. It's always amusing to read these profile articles full of fond memories, but I'd really like a slightly more balanced approach. Not all the (former) students who don't like him didn't do well in his class. I did just fine. But, he definitely plays favorites to (a) popular students and (b) students whose parents he taught. His textbooks, in the early 1990s, dated from the late 1970s (so there is no mention of anything recent in chemistry or physics). When the text book wasn't clear enough and he was confronted with a student question, his response was always "Go read the book." And, as best as I could tell, he never reviewed the homework that was turned in; as long as your responses looked like they were long enough to be right, you got your points. It's entirely possible that I would remember much more chemistry and physics today had Boomer actually taught, instead of relying on old books, recycled lectures and showy demonstrations.

That said, he's quite the character, and the greater SLV area is more colorful with him, Boomeria, his castle (complete with secret passages!), his guillotine, his (homemade) pipe organ, his portcullis ("Slowly! Heads are softer than Iron!"), his catacombs, his water wars (which were a thing of the past when I was a student at SLV nearly 15 years ago - drought and all), and his trusty attack geese.

He will likely keep teaching until they do have to haul his cold body off his lab table. I think the school board should have made him an honorary teacher ages ago, so he could keep doing his explosions and keep luring folks to Boomeria for his annual Christmas Carol Organ-a-thon, while also bringing on a new science teacher to "complement" his class with up-to-date science and explanations for those confused by textbooks or who simply want to know more. Boomer may have inspired some students to "lucrative careers in Silicon Valley and Hollywood", but I'd bet they are all of the generation preceding mine. The gentleman whose quote closes the article is likely the father of one of my peers; he's 50 and I recognize the last name.

March 08, 2007

"Four" doesn't exist. Caitlyn counts the corners on the breakfast table: "One corner. Two corner. Three corners. Five corners." Same thing when she's counting pancakes on the griddle: "One pancake. Two pancake. Three pancakes. Five pancakes." This afternoon, she was counting books: "One two three five six seven eight nine, seven eight nine."

Just to be sure, I asked her to say "four": "Caitlyn, can you say 'four'?" She looks at me, tucks her chin, and says, "Five".

March 06, 2007

"So, have you written anything lately?"

One would think I had, given how much I've been working in the backyard. Gardening is supposed to be good for the writer's soul, if all those Romantic Poets knew what they were talking about. But, I have no words to show for my labor, just some boxes and a lot of imported dirt.

In a month or so, there will be more green back here. And maybe with the arrival of the green, the words will follow. Or maybe the words come later, after the garden is well established. Or maybe I should get used to my shortage of words. Caitlyn may have stolen them all.

March 05, 2007

March. 59 wonderful degrees. Birds (ok, crows). Actual shadows. And little tiny new leaves on some of the trees in the neighborhood's central park. Little tiny new leaves on the shrubs that have been sticks for months ("Caitlyn, don't step on the plants, they're sleeping." "Sleepy plants." And then she drops her ball on them.). There's even a crocus in bloom in the neighbor's yard...

After a long, dark, freezing winter, let's hear it for Spring!

February 21, 2007

The Stranger has an excellent write-up on the Viaduct advisory vote here in Seattle next month. Key points:
  • A new viaduct would be "on average, 71 percent larger than the current viaduct, not 50 percent—in large part because modern safety standards require wider lanes."
  • Any views currently enjoyed from the Viaduct would be blocked by "a solid 32-inch-high wall and a 10-inch open rail—another casualty of modern safety standards."
  • "The lengthy construction means the new viaduct wouldn't be ready for use until as late as 2020."
  • A new Viaduct comes with a $3 billion sticker price, but "factor in financing, inflation, and the inevitable cost overruns, and it will likely be much more. (The firm designing the new elevated freeway, Parsons Brinckerhoff, is the same firm that said Boston's Big Dig could be built for $2.6 billion—and that project is currently at $14.6 billion and climbing.)"
  • "No one knows exactly how much the four-lane tunnel would cost; (the mayor) claims it will be no more than $3.4 billion. But ... both the Washington State Department of Transportation and the state's expert review panel have expressed a lack of confidence in the city's cost estimate, saying they have not had enough time to determine whether the $3.4 billion figure is reasonable."
  • The tunnel plan is actually only a tunnel for 13 blocks, converting into an elevated structure at Pike Place Market for the run to the Battery Street Tunnel.
  • "And who would feel safe driving through a tunnel with 11-foot lanes and no shoulders for cars to pull over in case of accident or emergency?"

Instead of spending our limited transportation tax dollars on more concrete for cars, we should ... tear the viaduct down, implement all the surface-street improvements we're going to be doing anyway during the 9 to 12 years the viaduct will be closed for construction, and see if we can get by without it permanently.

King County Executive Ron Sims has already come up with a plan to improve access to downtown during and after viaduct demolition. It's a variation on the "thousand little things" (City Council member) Steinbrueck and others have proposed implementing immediately, before construction on any alternative begins. The proposal, which focuses on downtown and Aurora Avenue—the viaduct's northern extension, which is at surface level, complete with stoplights and crosswalks—would create all-day transit lanes, remove on-street parking, turn one-way streets into two-way streets to improve traffic flow, make several streets transit-only, and expand bus service to neighborhoods that currently rely on the viaduct.

And there's a downloadable PDF with lovely renderings of what we have and what we should have.

Tear down the Viaduct. Forget the Tunnel. Give us regional light rail before 2027. Give us reliable and improved bus service that everyone feels comfortable riding. Give us ways of getting where we need to go without driving. That will make us a "world-class" city.
The Seattle Zoo has a tiger cub! She's off public viewing, but the video that the zoo posts is oh-so-adorable. It's just possible to catch yourself thinking, So cuddleable! ...and then remember that she's going to grow up to be 8 feet long, 200+ pounds, and have a meal preference of 85 pounds of raw meat. That's just too much cat for this house. Not to mention too much meat. No, I think we'd better stick to felis domesticus.

In other news, Caitlyn has her first set of Duplo Legos. She calls them "new Legos" and is particularly enchanted with the "peoples". They are often "sit downing" in "truck" except for when they are "sleepy". Then, they are "lay downing" and need "blankies", frequently all the blankets on Caitlyn's bed, so they can "ny-night". This morning, the panther and the penguins were the favorites, although they were abandoned at the top of the stairs in favor of "mog on cer-real, pease".

February 16, 2007

In the category of Strange Things I Didn't Know 10 Minutes Ago:

Apparently, there's something special about the note of B flat. Play it to a male alligator and he'll bellow back at you. No one knows why, he just does it. Only for B flat. And, just to increase the strange factor, there's a black hole out there that is more or less humming to a nearby gas cloud, humming in the frequency of B flat.

Sort of makes one want to go around with a B flat and see what else out there sings back...

February 12, 2007

It'd be great if this gets off the ground: a plan to connect Seattle's parks to each other with pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly paths and boulevards. More green! And, even better, making it possible to get to the green without getting in the car.

February 10, 2007

I am pleased to announce that I have finally completed our Germany Journal. While I doubt that anyone was still holding their breath waiting for the conclusion, it does feel nice to have be able to say that it's all finished.

Now that's checked off the to-do list, whatever will I do with myself? Oh, yes, there it is: "Write best-selling novel".

February 04, 2007

Things Caitlyn says:
  • "Coffee-bake" (for coffeecake)
  • "Trampa-boing" (for trampoline)
  • "Oh goomis" (for oh, my goodness)
  • "Won awound" (when moving at high speeds in a roughly circular pattern)
  • "Fan-gees" (for sandwiches)
  • "Gargawoyal" (for gargoyle)
  • and of course, "Mama help" and "Kitlyn do it"

January 30, 2007

Bumper sticker of the day:
I live in my own world. They know me there.
Caitlyn and I went down to Southcenter today, mostly for something to do. I never thought I'd be so appreciative of free balloons.

The mall is doing this major upgrade, and the food court is completely shut down. There are snacks available, and lots of chocolate, but no sandwiches or pizza that I could find. So we had our peanut butter and jelly sandwich squares in the car.

And that gave me lots of time to think about parking lots.

It's probably not in the upgrade plan, and there's probably some equation for the number of parking spaces "required" per shopping opportunity, but I think the parking lot at Southcenter (and probably everywhere else) should have more trees. Perhaps one tree for every six parking spaces. Imagine how pleasant that would be: lots of shady parking spaces in the summer, landmarks to help you remember where you left your car, improvement in aesthetics, plant life to balance out all the automotive emissions. Sure, there'd be fewer parking spaces, but (a) more people could use with the exercise of parking at the far end of the lot and walking and (b) if a decrease in parking spaces coincided with the arrival of, say, a light rail stop or convenient bus service, then it wouldn't really matter.

I suppose it's a bit much to ask for fruiting trees and reclaim some of the lost acreage for local food production, since the fruit could drop on cars and make a mess of someone's new wax job. That's ok. If we have to sacrifice acreage to pavement and parking lots, at least the addition of trees would make all that blacktop less of an eyesore.

January 29, 2007

Ian and Caitlyn were playing with our smaller camera (it fits in Ian's pocket, as opposed to the big camera, which needs a backpack) the other day. Caitlyn loves the cameras. Recently, though, she's stopped mugging for them and wants to push the buttons. One of these days, I should post one of her pictures... sometimes they come out as something recognizable (even if it's just the ceiling), sometimes they are very "modern art". Anyway, Ian was explaining why one shouldn't put one's fingers on the lens; it's the camera's eye. Caitlyn got that.

Later Ian turned the camera off, and he and Caitlyn talked about how the camera's eye was closed because the camera was sleepy. She took it upstairs to her room, laid it in her bed, and put a blanket on it.

Tonight, after her second bedtime story, Caitlyn said, "More book. Nap soon." I told her, "One more book. Bed time soon." She came back with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, nearly whacking me in the head as she got back into bed with it. When we were done reading it, she stood up to get another book. I turned out her light and told her it was bed time. She laid back down, interrupted her lullaby to tell me that she wanted her "big blankie" and her "little blankie", and when her song was finished, told me, "Goo night. 'Eet dreams."

Tomorrow, she will likely play a vigorous game of Flop on the grown-ups' bed. At some point, after flopping, she'll pause to announce, "Caitlyn lay down. Night. 'Eet dreams." She'll repeat it until I tell her, "Sweet dreams," then she'll giggle, stand up and say, "Caitlyn flop," before hurling herself back onto the bed.

January 25, 2007

Proof that sometimes things actually get done:

Ian's team at LiveLabs has just released a Firefox plugin for Photosynth.

I've recently finished the first phase of a client's project and launched Windows to Vietnam, a site about a soon-to-be-published book of photographs and poetry about modern Vietnam.

And because everything really does revolve around Caitlyn no matter what I may sometimes think to the contrary, new photos are up at Caitlyn's site.

January 19, 2007

Today's quote of the day:
"They stopped waiting for the government to fix things."
I heard it in a story about getting heath care in Uganda, but I think it's worth pondering by people who are not Ugandans.

Take a moment to imagine what could be done, what could be fixed or improved, if we all stopped sitting around, complaining and waiting for Someone Else to "fix things."

January 18, 2007

Apparently, there's this viaduct thing downtown. It's big, it's ugly, it's noisy, and it's structurally unsafe. Should there be a moderately significant earthquake, we are told, the whole thing is likely to come down. But, apparently, no one can really agree on what we should do about it. Certain parties (Seattle's mayor included) want to tear it down and replace it with a 6 lane tunnel, a project that has a price take to the tune of several billion dollars. Other parties balk at that sum and insist the viaduct can be repaired or replaced for significantly less money. Now, Washington's governor has gotten into the act (I guess it's something about the viaduct actually being a state highway) and has said that if there isn't a vote on the tunnel vs. rebuild by the end of February, we get a rebuild by default or the state money goes to fix the 520 floating bridge, something also in danger of collapse.

So there's the highly-abbreviated, surely-missing-something-crucial synopsis. And I'm just going to take the moment to go on record as supporting the little-discussed third option: surface streets. I'll also confess that (a) I don't live in West Seattle, (b) I almost never drive on the Viaduct, (c) I don't work or live downtown, and (d) I don't know what I'm talking about. But, regardless if it's a tunnel or a rebuild, they are going to have to shut the viaduct down to do the work, and all the traffic that currently uses it is going to have to go somewhere else. So, I say, tear the dangerous hulking monstrosity down and don't replace it with anything. Use the money currently available for fixing the viaduct to radically improve public transportation and get a functioning lightrail going before 2027. The space formerly occupied by the viaduct can be split in some way between those who want to use that space for "unifying downtown and the waterfront", whatever that means, and those who want more green space.

We folks in Seattle talk the green talk really well. But actually give up our cars? You're kidding, right? I say, it's time to walk the talk. The best way to get people to stop driving is to provide regular, thorough transportation alternatives and simultaneously make driving really, really unpleasant. Oh, and if at the same time, if the area's the major employers would develop significant in-house support for telecommuting, that would be even better.

January 11, 2007

It's not like I'm a Seattle native or anything, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but I don't think snow is generally all that common for Seattle. Something about being so close to the great atmospheric equalizer that is the Puget Sound. But we had our third or fourth snowfall of the winter last night, and today has been white and fluffy, clear and cold.

Caitlyn and I went out, of course. Going out in fresh snow is always a challenge for me just because it looks so pretty when I'm still inside. It's a big, white, fluffy blanket draped over everything, and adding footprints rather ruins the illusion. But then, they've closed all the schools, and the neighborhood kids are all going to come out and ruin my illusions, so I best get out there and ruin them first, right? Besides, Caitlyn needs to be exposed to snow.

So for Caitlyn: tights, socks, sweatpants, shirt, sweatshirt, snow pants, shoes, jacket, hat, hood with scarf, and mittens. Her nose and eyelashes were about the only parts left "exposed." She waddled into the front yard and around to the back, helping me dust the snow off the evergreen plants (well, I dusted snow from the evergreen plants, she dusted snow from the leafless blueberry sticks.). She lost her balance, ended up on her knees, and needed a lift getting back to her feet (over-bundled, perhaps?). The occasional snowball, mislaid missiles from the snow fights among the teenagers last night, she called "'No-ball." We've not had a clear day in weeks; she'd say, "Bright light," and turn away from the sun before saying, "Down, up, peese." In the park, we watched the bigger kids attempt to slide down a short hill (into a gully full of rocks - oh, to be 12 and fearless!). One boy rolled down the hill instead, then laid there laughing, covered in snow. Caitlyn looked at me and said, "Uh-oh. Lay down."

For anyone curious, the official precipitation count as of midnight last night was .36 inches more than "normal" for January. I figure we had about 2 inches of accumulated snow this morning. As the afternoon fades, most of it is still here.

January 09, 2007

I've, more or less recently, gotten interested in paying attention to the seasons. Not just in a "Gee it's really stormy this afternoon" kind of way, but in a "Circle of Life" kind of way (with apologies for the Lion King reference). And part of paying attention to the seasons, for me, seems to be eating local, seasonal food.

There are lots of reasons to eat locally and seasonally, not least of which is minimizing how far the food has to travel before it ends up in my kitchen. Yes, it's possible to get strawberries in January, but they didn't grow anywhere around here. How far did they travel? How much fuel was used to get them here? And keep them happy, not too hot and not too cold, on the trip? And how green were they when they were harvested so that they would be perfectly red on the market shelf and not overripe and smashed?

But here's the trouble I've run into: I haven't the slightest idea what to do with some local, seasonal foods. Kale? No idea. Cauliflower? Nope. Any winter squash other than a butternut? Uh-uh. For that matter, I'm pretty clueless once I've looked beyond the potatoes and the broccoli. Sure, I can look up a recipe and follow directions, but it's hard to find the motivation to do that when I'm not sure what the final result will really be.

So, here's my solution: a cookbook with good pictures and easy-to-follow steps with local, seasonal, no-fail recipes. There should be some background info on each vegetable including how to pick a good one at the store, a rough idea of what it tastes like, what goes well with it, and the basics of preparation (to remove the ribs in kale or not to remove). The recipes should be flavorful, straightforward to prepare, and designed to help people get over their fear of the "unknown scary vegetable". We could call it No-Fail Recipes for Scary Vegetables.

Because, even though it's yummy, there's something really depressing about eating Roasted Squash Risotto all winter long.

January 04, 2007

It's becoming a bit of a tradition for me to mark the changing of the calendar year by reviewing the BBC's annual list of 100 things we didn't know last year.

The highlights of 2006:
In the "Language is weird" category:
  • Panspermia is the idea that life on Earth originated on another planet.
  • The medical name for the part of the brain associated with teenage sulking is "superior temporal sulcus".
  • The clitoris derives its name from the ancient Greek word kleitoris, meaning "little hill".
  • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs is the term for people who fear the number 666.

In the "Faith in My Government" category:
  • US Secret Service sniffer dogs are put up in five-star hotels during overseas presidential visits.
  • In the 1960s, the CIA used to watch Mission Impossible to get ideas about spying.
  • George W. Bush's personal highlight of his presidency is catching a 7.5lb (3.4kg) perch.

In the "Useless Trivia" category:
  • The lion costume in the film Wizard of Oz was made from real lions.
  • Sex workers in Roman times charged the equivalent price of eight glasses of red wine.
  • Cows can have regional accents, says a professor of phonetics, after studying cattle in Somerset.
  • The Himalayas cover one-tenth of the Earth's surface.

And finally:
  • In Bhutan, government policy is based on Gross National Happiness; thus most street advertising is banned, as are tobacco and plastic bags.

January 03, 2007

I heard an NPR segment this morning (I was listening to the Shuffle in the kitchen, so the segment is likely no where near recent) about some scientists who are seriously looking into ways to create a man-made universe. Something about creating a mini black hole and then introducing something to that black hole which triggers the repulsive aspect of gravity. Yes, we normally think of gravity as The Great Attractor, but apparently it can also be The Great Repulser. Given the "equal and opposite force" thing I remember from sixth grade and the more or less dual nature of just about everything, I can't say I'm all that surprised. Here's hoping the trigger for gravity's more repulsive aspect isn't all that common... I may not be fond of falling, but I'd rather not be uncontrollably driven further and further into space.

Anyway, there are some scientists thinking about man-made universes. Which, as a thought, is kind of interesting. And the NPR segment did cover why they are thinking about it: curiosity, mostly. What wasn't discussed was what might happen to this universe when a second universe suddenly starts expanding in the middle of it. I've always thought of additional universes in parallel with this one, an endless row marching toward the horizon, each one more or less oblivious to the next.

But if a new universe starts expanding in the middle of this universe, what happens? Is the new one constricted by the boundaries of the old one? And if so, are the boundaries of the new one permeable? Or does the new universe smash everything in the old universe while filling all the space contained by the old one? Do the universes intersect somehow? What happens at that intersection? (Is the portal between universes in the lab where the new universe was created? That should do interesting things for both lab traffic and reputations.) Is it a calm intersection, and life everywhere goes on as usual? Or is it a swirling vortex of quantum physic madness, sucking in and reshaping everything it can?

January 02, 2007

A Frenchman is making "green walls". Which are exactly what they sound like. Rather than a wall being made of wood or concrete, he's making them out of living plants. Well, the wood and concrete are still there, you just can't see them any more because the wall is entirely covered with plants. Think dense jungle on the side of your office building. Or in the lobby. Check out his site, Vertical Garden, because the pictures are cool and the final products are currently stumping my powers of description.

These walls are probably too "designer" for practical, wide-spread application. Watering and fertilizing are done automatically, and some walls need artificial light. Heaven help you if the power goes out. I'd like to see someone take the green wall concept and modify it so that it has more structural support and requires less coddling. While they are still rare, green roofs are starting to show up on more and more buildings; how cool would it be if some of those buildings also had green walls?

Maybe I'm crazy, but what I'd like to see someday is green cities. The city would still be home to lots of people, and there'd still be roads and transit. But the "green spaces" wouldn't just be sidewalk trees and parks. The roofs would be green, the walls would be green. People would share habitat with more wild creatures then you currently see in a city. We could have both our high-tech world and our natural world, side by side. And with all that green, maybe we could do something positive for our planet instead of just stripping it barren.