March 24, 2009

Really excellent post: Becoming Indigenous (thanks, Ian, for the link!)

As the old system collapses under it's own weight, things inevitably become more local. Local food, local business, local entertainment. This is a good thing. It's important to be rooted - read this and find out why.

March 20, 2009

Caitlyn came upstairs this morning and announced to her sleep-fogged parents that she had dressed herself in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt because:

"It's spring! Now we can eat popsicles!"

I've been explaining for days that just because it's the first day of spring doesn't mean that it's suddenly going to be warm and flowery. I think school might be complicating matters. Caitlyn explained the other day that on Friday, "while we're sleeping, the Seasons Clock is going to go" - sharp hand motion going from left to right, made with a not-quite-thunking sound - "into spring. Then there will be daffodils everywhere."

Happy Spring, Northern Hemisphere!

March 19, 2009

We took the train to Portland last weekend, the first Amtrak train trip for both Caitlyn and myself (Ian's done most of the West Coast by train). I've taken trains in Europe, but this was the first non-light-rail train trip in the States for me. And I might just be a train convert. Significantly less stress than flying since there were no airport security tactics and more comfortable than driving. Caitlyn got to play with other kids on the trip down and entertain someone else's grandmother on the trip home - all while not being strapped into her car seat. I actually got to read a book. And it was fun to look out the window and not be watching traffic. The tracks periodically paralleled the highway, but we also got to zip through forests, a couple of tunnels, along the sound, and through the back edges of various towns.

I do have the sense that we were lucky and had fewer delays than is "typical"... but we also deliberately scheduled train times so that if we were delayed for a bit, it wouldn't hugely impact plans at our destination. Another good reason to travel with a cell phone; you don't have to worry about people waiting at some station for you, wondering how to speed up a delayed train.

I'm likely crazy, since I was never able to sleep well on European trains, (Somehow, the sound a train makes as it chugs through the night is similar - to my brain - to the sound an earthquake makes just before it starts shaking you. Add to that the rocking that a train does and a bunk that always managed to be about 2 inches too short and I simply could never fall asleep.) but I'm actually thinking that perhaps taking the train for longer family trips might be ok. Can you Amtrak to Yellowstone?

March 12, 2009

This has not been an easy couple of days. Our neighborhood homeowners' association is due to transition away from developer to homeowner control, something that people have been wanting for more than a year. But, in order to do this, we need to elect an all-homeowner board.

I've been very flattered that so many of my neighbors think I would make a good board member. I'm floored by the number of people who just randomly say, if you run, I'll vote for you. The last time I ran for anything, I was in junior high, and I lost the election to someone with better hair and a boyfriend. It's sort of colored how I look at my personal "electability"...

But as flattering as it all is, I don't think I want to be on the board, despite the number of association committee meetings, board meetings, and other meetings I've attended in the last three years, despite the fact that just about anyone in the community can ask me where someone lives, who's doing what, and why a certain corner was recently spread with topsoil before visibly dealing with the weeds that were growing there. I don't think it the time commitment, and it's not the other candidates, all of whom will make a wonderful board that I'd be honored to be a part of.

The board's job is to "protect, preserve and manage" the "real property" of the association. This is generally being interpreted as "protecting property values". Not that I'm against appreciation of property values, but that's not the main reason we bought our home. We moved here (a) because it was a home we could afford, (b) because it was built in a green manner that resonated with our principles (energy efficient, low VOCs, etc), and (c) because it was in a neighborhood that also resonated with our principles (pedestrian and transit oriented, mixed use, mixed income, etc).

I'd much rather see the board focus on fostering community and increasing livability for all community members. Focusing on property values seems to me to be a way of keeping things from looking "poor". If the association maintains everyone's front yards, then nothing will be unkempt, which looks "poor". In fact, lots of rules in the name of property values appear to be really about preventing things from looking poor, or about keeping the poor people poor. We're a mixed income neighborhood with a sizable population of folks in subsidized housing. Shouldn't we be encouraging them to do all they can to move out of poverty and out of subsidized housing, instead of enforcing rules that make it look like we're all happily upper middle class?

I think the association should maintain the parking strips, but stay out of homeowners' front yards. I think people should be allowed to install raised beds in their front yards if that's where the best vegetable growing sun exposure is. I think clotheslines should be encouraged. I think everything is a special case and that worrying about "precedent setting" is penny rich and pound poor. I think the association should support reserve funding and common exterior maintenance services (gutters, etc) for attached homes only - but only those services that would pose an immediate potential danger to the owners of units attached to that of a person who chooses not to take care their property (ie, someone opts to not clean the gutters of their unit, the gutters get clogged with leaves and can't drain, causing flooding on an adjacent property or get heavy and pull away from the entire group of buildings.)

I suppose this is an argument for me actually being on the board. I clearly have opinions on how things should be done and changes I'd like to see made. But sometimes things have to be done outside the system. When was the last time a rule-making body made a rule that charted out the territory ahead of where popular opinion was? Governing bodies are supposed to formalize the changes that the people want, that the people are already making. I'm feeling drawn to smaller scale projects right now, being the change and all that. I will likely be involved with the new Community Kitchen and sewing class initiatives. I think the neighborhood needs a bulk food buying club, and I think that if the City's P-Patch folks can't expand our p-patch this spring, interested parties should get out there with shovels and do it ourselves.

If I think of me on the board, I can see that I would represent a specific, unrepresented builder as well as people who've been part of the neighborhood the longest. I've been so involved in the association for so long, I'd be an element of continuity and a resource for the new board on their learning curve. I would likely be a minority voice, perhaps for a valuable perspective. But if I think of me on the board, my stomach gets all tangled up. My shoulders knot up. And I'm immediately exhausted. I think my gut might be trying to tell me something. Perhaps that it's time I took a break from association things.

So, I'm not going to run for the board. I hope I'm not letting too many people down.

March 10, 2009

We're signed up for Earth Hour: 60 minutes of lights out to save energy and try to nudge more leaders into taking climate change action. We did this last year and turned off the lights, the music, the entertainment center and most of the computers. I think Ian read by candlelight. I was probably trying to get something done (grr, deadlines) but ran the laptop off the battery. Our brother-in-law went for extremes and threw the main for his house; I've got too much stuff in the freezer for that, though.

They are looking for 1 billion folks to pledge to turn the lights out for an hour. Will you? It's another little something to keep the need for climate change action in everyone's awareness. And just think of all the "slow" things you could do if you turned off all the electronics: read, play a family game, actually have an uninterrupted conversation, go outside and look at the stars.

Oh, and if anyone finds any satellite photos of Earth Hour to compare with the "normal" night shots of Earth, let me know.

March 08, 2009

Caitlyn and I, before the end of February, planted a handful of spinach seeds and arugula seeds in one of our raised beds. After watering the seeds, we put a row cover over the bed and anchored it with rocks pilfered from the empty lot on the other side of the alley.

I believe it's snowed twice since then. But when I peeked under the row cover today, I found a small army of tiny arugula plants, all with their first two leaves. The spinach isn't as dense, but it's there too. Yipee! We can have new greens to eat, maybe in less than a month. And with any luck, this current bout of icy air will be our last and the peas will come up before April.

March 05, 2009

Happily, even though they've turned the site into a $3/space parking lot, we'll be getting our local farmers' market back at the end of April. And this year, I want to get our occasional chicken from the market, from a farmer I can talk to, maybe the guy who carries a three-ring binder with enlarged photos of his chickens getting pasture time. I definitely want to get more market eggs this year, which is probably going to mean two trips to the market, one for the eggs and one for the usual post-market picnic dinner.

But back to the chicken. Ian is a vegetarian, and while he will eat chicken broth, he doesn't do the meaty bits. I do better if I get some animal protein on a regular basis; we're raising Caitlyn to eat what's available, be that chicken, fish, cheese, beans, or noodles. What I have been doing is getting boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cutting them in half and freezing those. Half a breast cooks to enough meat for 2 chicken salad sandwiches, sometimes two and a half. Sometimes I'll put chicken on the plate for Caitlyn's and my dinner, while Ian gets extra starch and veggies.

I think I can get farmers' market chicken whole or cut up, and I might be able to get less than a whole chicken. But here's what I need to figure out (and this might not be possible until the end of April):
  • If I cook up all the meat at once, will portions freeze and then thaw into edible sandwich makings?
  • If I have to get a full chicken, how do I split it up so that I don't have to cook it all at once?
  • And what do I do with the bones post-cooking to get chicken broth out of them?

Input from more accomplished chicken cookers and eaters welcome!

March 04, 2009

I bought 6 potatoes, a leek and a parsnip this afternoon, all of which were grown in Washington. It's a moment of bittersweet pride. While I'm not absolutely positive, I believe these are the first non-animal (ie, dairy or meat), first non-treat (ie, Christmas oranges) produce items purchased since our local Farmers' Market closed at the end of last October. We've been merrily munching along all winter on produce acquired at said market: dried peppers and carrots, canned tomatoes, frozen zucchini, stored butternut squash. I didn't buy any potatoes at the end of the market since we had the ones from our garden. Next time, though, I think that if our potato crop isn't bigger, I'll supplement.

The leek, I'll admit, was an impulse buy. I was thinking potatoes and parsnip for a soup a la Variations on a Minestrone Theme, but there it was: something Washington-grown, and green. We'll have potato-leek soup instead, and save the minestrone for next week...

March 02, 2009

This list comes from
10 things you should know about Obama's budget plan (but probably don't)

The plan:
  1. Makes a $634 billion down payment on fixing health care that will go a long way toward paying for a more efficient, more affordable health care system that covers every single American.
  2. Reduces taxes for 95% of working Americans. And if your family makes less than $250,000, your taxes won't go up one dime.
  3. Invests more than $100 billion in clean energy technology, creating millions of green jobs that can never be outsourced.
  4. Brings our troops home from Iraq on a firm timetable, finally bringing the war to a close—and freeing up almost ten billion dollars a month for domestic priorities.
  5. Reverses growing income inequality. The plan lets the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire and focuses on strengthening the middle class.
  6. Closes multi-billion-dollar tax loopholes for big oil companies.
  7. Increases grants to help families pay for college — the largest increase ever.
  8. Halves the deficit by 2013. President Obama inherited a legacy of huge deficits and an economy in shambles, but his plan brings the deficit under control as soon as the economy begins to recover.
  9. Dramatically increases funding for the SEC and the CFTC - the agencies that police Wall Street.
  10. Tells it straight. For years, budgets have used accounting tricks to hide the real costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts, and too many other programs. Obama's budget gets rid of the smokescreens and lays out what America's priorities are, what they cost, and how we're going to pay for them.

We're all in this boat together, folks, and making sure that a small number of us are as wealthy as possible doesn't do anything for the long-term, big-picture survivability of the rest of us. If someone wants to enjoy the benefits of Life in America, then they need to help pay for them, not screw everyone else out of those benefits. Everyone - poor folks, rich folks, corporations - should pay their fair share of the burden of running the country. And it's in the long-term interest of all of us to be sure that all our parts (infrastructure, human capital) are in sound working order, hence the importance of funding education and health care.

Crunchy Chicken posted yesterday about an article which claims that the bulk of the Earth's surface will be uninhabitable as soon as 2050 due to a 4 degree C temperature rise. I haven't read the article yet as I'm already pretty convinced that Bad Things Are Coming. However, in light of this tidbit, it seems more important than ever that we Get Green and Work Together. Life as we know it is going to change; a progressive budget might help ensure that some of us survive that change.