Thursday, January 31, 2008

Insufficient Margin

Men can get kudos for this out of office message. I suspect women can not.

[I am not so coherent but Cloud's comment about parents in the workplace got me fired up to write about it, even in my extreme fatigue.]

We identified "Insufficient Margin" as a risk factor in a "tiger team" report* about a satellite program last year. It meant that the schedule was so tight that any small surprise can throw the whole project into chaos and behind schedule. That's life for the two-career family. (I don't know how single mothers do it. I can only surmise they are superheroes in disguise.)

Ask any mother who gets the dreaded phone call from school or daycare, "Your child is sick and must be picked up within an hour." (Don't ask why they always call the mother instead of the father, even when the contact sheet lists the office and cell phone numbers of both.)

Or maybe you stayed up all night with a sick child. You and your partner need to split shifts so one can stay home with the sick child at all times. But the amount of work that needs to be done at the paying jobs has not been reduced to fit the available hours. Moreover, all that work has to be done without any sleep.

Did you see the Ravelry group, Childfree By Choice (CFBC)? They call us breeders. Guilty as charged. (Though parents of adoptive children are every bit as guilty.)

Have you seen those out of office automatic email replies that apologize for staying home to take care of a sick child? This is my fantasy auto reply:
I am out of the office today with a sick future tax-payer; I will reply to your email as soon as I can. Rather than thank me when you collect Social Security and Medicare, please give me your help and understanding now.
Years ago, I read about a discussion in Japan's parliament about their demographic time bomb. One legislator railed against women who didn't breed and wanted to make women's pensions dependent upon how many children they raised. I thought this was horribly unfair. Why pick on women and not the entire society that makes raising children such a chump job? What about infertility?

On second thought, why did I take on a whole 'nother job that comes with no pay, compresses my salary and costs tons of money. (Have you priced quality childcare lately? Bring smelling salts.) When I get my Social Security Benefits statements each year, I see red. For doing two demanding jobs, I will not be rewarded in retirement. In fact, I will lose benefits relative to the CFBC because I have been given much lower raises ever since I dared to breed. My husband, another breeder, has enjoyed increased raises. For many of those years, our raises were determined by the same man. It just makes my blood boil.

Breeders shoulder responsibility for a sustainable society. It is not unreasonable to expect nonbreeders to understand that we are also performing a service FOR THEM.

* I've updated Why don't smart people have children? with advice given by a woman who has served on many more "tiger teams" than I have.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Anniversary Flower Scarf

I got startitis.

The first three flowers for Nicky Epstein's Anniversary Scarf, shown on the cover of the Fall 2007 Vogue Knitting magazine. I am using Golden Chai and Golden Siam 100% silk tussah (thick and thin) yarn from Artfibers. The colors will look familiar to those who saw this scarf.

I am also using the colors on the rolls above. Only 22 more flowers to go.

Two of them were knitted today on the way to attend an off-site satellite meeting. While I was sitting, I thought about the differences between Craft, Mass and Lean production as explained in The Machine That Changed the World : The Story of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos. According to the authors, satellites are the most complex craft product. As we sat around the table, determining what to do next, those words haunted me.

I am really too busy for new projects right now. But I am too scattered not to have a piece of relaxing knitting for a few moments of zen. In the last week, I rushed a proposal, two abstracts and another project out the door. I am also working on multiple satellite projects.

I sent one document off to a project manager last night at 20:30. He sent me back a 3 word reply, "Grace, stop working."

Satellites don't fall out of the sky because one person stopped working late to put their child to sleep. I hope. But you have to wonder when you read stories like this.

Did anyone hear the public radio show about careers last night? They talked about the importance of not coddling working parents in the workplace because it breeds resentment in the childless. Grr. I have a lot of thoughts about that, but it will have to wait until another night, when I am more coherent.

I saw a poster today about 5S. I thought, "5S for the satellite industry, that's great!" But they didn't mean Seiri Seiton Seiso Seiketsu Shitsuke. It said, "Sort Straighten Shine Standardize Sustain".

Monday, January 28, 2008

When is a moderate drought good news?

When the drought is downgraded from severe to moderate.

See more at the US Drought Monitor. Click on the 6 or 12 week animation link at the bottom of the page to see the widespread and extreme drought in the southwestern US recede to moderate.

Our rain gauge showed another 1.3" between Saturday and Monday. There might have been more rain, but the gauge tilted over slightly--either from wind or the neighbor's cat.

I wasted spent some today to collect rainfall statistics links, with an emphasis on LA rainfall statistics:
  • Or scroll nearly to the bottom of the page to Monthly Observed Precipitation - NWS Cooperative Observers.
  • See the data for the current rain year, Monthly Precipitation Summary Water Year 2008. It is not yet updated to reflect January.
  • It looks much better than Monthly Precipitation Summary Water Year 2007.
  • The Climate Precipitation Summary is updated daily and shows data for the past 2 years.
  • The LA County Department of Public Works has an excellent precipitation website.
  • Angelenos will be especially interested in the near real-time precipitation map. The java applet allows the user to select a time period to view (1-96 hours). Single stations are also clickable for a twice daily 30 day history.
  • has tons of useful information. You can generate maps for specific regions of interest (at the state level, not finer), times of interest and by variable (observed, normal, departure from normal or % of normal precipitation.
For instance, I am a big fan of desert wildflowers. See our Death Valley trip in 2005. And Death Valley in 2006.

First, I check Desert USA's Wildflower Reports.
I look at the individual area reports and refer back to the AHPS precipitation analysis of those areas. Desert flowers tend to follow the rains by a some weeks (time varies by temperature). Take your best guess at the most promising desert area and book your hotel or campsite early. When the bloom reports say the desert is a carpet of wildflowers, all the hotel rooms will be gone.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Horror Movie

Do kids like to be scared? Iris certainly likes the Goosebumps books.

Today, Iris told me that she would like to work on her Corn Snake report at my sewing table. I was so relieved that she actually consented to work on it at all, I agreed. When I wandered in an hour later to iron a scarf, this ensued.

"Oh my god, Iris! What have you done to my sewing room?"

"I don't see anything."

"I am going to blow up very soon. If I were you, I would not want to be anywhere near me when that happens. And take all your stuff with you."

Gathers up her papers and pencils and runs screaming from the room in mock horror movie fashion. Because we are really bad parents, Mark shows her R-rated movies. She knows how to scream and run in horror movie fashion.

Now I have to mail order another box of those long, ferrous round head pins for the magnetic pin cushion. Why can't she practice pin bending with the cheap pins? Or unraveling the cheap thread instead of the ones imported from Europe? I had to admit, making fake cobwebs by unraveling thread all over the sewing room gives it a real horror movie set atmosphere. She does not lack for imagination.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

No decline of reading in our household

Our family spent 4 hours at the west LA Border's today. Iris read 4 books and purchased one to take home as a keeper. (I sneaked across the street to Loehman's for part of the time. ) While sitting next to Iris, I perused a bunch of magazines and books. Did anyone read Ursula Le Guin's essay in the February 2008 Harper's Monthly, Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading?

Le Guin has an interesting premise. She does not dispute that book reading has declined in the last 50 years. But she does put the decline in a larger historical context. Reading didn't become a pop culture phenom until about 1850 and it appears to have declined after 1950. Though, we are coming down from a golden century of reading, reading is still more popular today than historical norms.

Additionally, she takes issue with the wording and methodology of the surveys. What is enjoyment of literature? Apparently, works of nonfiction do not count in some surveys. Neither do newspapers and magazine. Ditto the internet. Do read the whole article. She also has a short, thought-provoking blurb about blogging.

I scanned a sample page of the only "literature" that I have read in the last month or so. WARNING! It contains adult language and themes.

I loved everything about this book, even the design of the page. Notice the way the title is incorporated on every page of text? The title, A Long Way Down, is a double entendre; the true meaning is apparent only near the end. I don't want to give away too much here. But a book in which a homeless guy appears in a climactic scene, spouting Pauline Kael, is just side-splittingly funny. (Click the page to make it big and read JJ's section.)

In non-literary reading, I have recently enjoyed in the past month:
Going back one more month:I heartily recommend all the books above.

There were some other books started, but not finished. They are omitted from the list as are the books I read for work, all non-fiction. I have also read parts of several quilting, knitting and other craft books. If the AP pollster calls our house and asks me how many works of literature I read recently, I would come out as a pretty poor reader. Go figure.

LA looked pretty as a postcard this morning. The air was clear in a way that only happens after a storm. The snow-capped mountains ringed the city like a pearl necklace. Palm trees swaying in the breeze... On days like this, one truly understands why movies and dreams are made here.

Our child wanted to spend the day inside a bookstore.


The new (lunar) year is almost upon us.

Remember when Mark and I decided to realistically shoot for sending out our annual cards before the lunar new year? The holiday cards are sitting in a heap on my desk, not yet addressed.

Remember last year when I didn't manage to clean and declutter my house from top to bottom (an Asian tradition) before the start of the lunar new year? I rationalized missing the deadline away by stating that there are no miracle instant diets. That deadline is less than two weeks away and I may miss the deadline again. (Because it is always the woman's responsibility to clean the house; I don't know why. It sucks, though.)

I am looking around my house and wondering, "How successful was the stuff diet?" I'd like to say it was a resounding success and my house is clutter-free, but no one would believe me. I have worked really hard on the project throughout the year. The state of the house is better, but it is an on-going battle.

I live with a procrastinator and a 7 year old. The procrastinator has actually changed his behavior somewhat. The 7 year old tells me that I have to accept her the way she is. (More on that later.)

Kathleen posted a link to an article about losing stuff weight (and body weight in the process). I saw a little bit of myself in A Clutter Too Deep for Mere Bins and Shelves. I surprise myself with the frequency with which I buy clear plastic bins at Target. I keep a stack at the top of the stairs for sorting stuff that is heading out of the house or on its way to a more permanent and logical storage spot. On cleaning day, I make a sweep of Iris' stuff and put it in her room for her to deal with. When the stuff is put away or sent out of the house, the bins are put back in the stack for reuse. At least, that is the way it is supposed to work.

I was surprised recently to see we had run out of bins again. Where have all the bins gone? Look under the 7 year old's bed. She will not put anything away. If I try to work with her on putting stuff away or instituting a sorting system, she just storms out or opens a book instead.

I can't even stand to go in her room now. Going in there reminds me of failure. She is allergic to dust. On doctor's orders, we were to put everything behind doors or in sealed, dustproof containers. We installed doors on her bookshelves. I culled my clothes and took my overflow out of one half of her closet. Mark installed shelves inside the closet. Stuff was sorted and what little she was willing to part with went out of the house. The rest went inside the closet, the closed shelves or in lidded plastic bins under her bed.

We put plastic bed lifts to raise her bed to create more room. They were intended to also create a little hiding/play space for her, but she filled it up. Now she plays under our bed, amid all the yarn and DVDs. I would post a picture of her bedroom, but that would definitely be a Bad Mom thing to do.

I really believe the clutter has a negative impact upon her. Her nose is chronically stuffy, especially in the mornings. She won't sleep. We are not sure how late she stays up; we conk out before her (though she admitted she stayed up past 2 AM once). Any effort to get her to participate in cleaning her own mess causes a tantrum. Complete and utter failure.

The rest of the house is looking reasonably presentable. Just don't look in the garage.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rain Followup

Our rain gauge showed another 1.5" fell from 9 am 24 Jan to 9 am 25 Jan 2008.

I've been thinking about the impact of weather on traffic safety, especially after reading Unsafe trucks stream out of L.A.'s ports.
Miguel had more reason than usual to be anxious as he drove his aging big rig out of the Port of Los Angeles' bustling China Shipping Terminal.

By his own admission, his 24-year-old truck was dangerously overloaded. The suspension was shot, the tires nearly bald. Over his CB radio, other drivers barked warnings that the California Highway Patrol had set up several checkpoints nearby.

"If I get inspected, I could get put out of business," he said, easing into traffic while scanning for the CHP. "Something real bad could happen at any moment on the road. I'm doing the best I can. It's a vicious cycle."
Most of those trucks are traveling over mountain passes (with faulty brakes!) to inland distribution centers for big box retailers. What is the true cost of the lower prices? Is it any wonder Angelenos spend so much time in traffic, trapped behind truck "accidents"?

Even under the best of circumstances, we are hemmed in by the unending truck traffic. People who live near L.A.'s ports can see America's growing addiction to cheap imported goods.
Profit margins for the independent operators who serve the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports are thin -- so some, like Miguel, cut corners whenever possible.

For example, because a gauge showed that the weight of his load exceeded regulations -- and because he views his truck's brakes as untrustworthy -- Miguel used the trailer's brakes to stop the entire rig. The CHP considers that maneuver particularly dangerous -- and illegal.

Like many other independent haulers, he contracts with licensed motor carriers, or a trucking broker, linked to shipping companies and cargo owners, such as big-box retailers. Each morning, Miguel shows up at the broker's dispatch window to solicit jobs.

Like other drivers serving the ports, he's a "short-haul trucker," ferrying containers to distribution centers across Southern California.

He gets paid by the load -- the equivalent of about $8.90 an hour -- and works 65 hours a week.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Real Rain (and Hail, too!) in Los Angeles

The rain gauge at Chez Bad Mom this morning, 24 January 2008. It reads ~ 2.3". (It is clickable if you want to read it yourself.) Unfortunately, I forgot to empty it out before this week's storms hit; I am not sure if there was residual moisture in the gauge from the rain 2 weeks ago. Things slip when you are fighting jet lag.

[Aside 1: If you got here by searching on Los Angeles Rainfall or LA Rainfall, you will find all sorts of interesting links to relevant rainfall statistics websites by clicking on the Meteorology tag link.]

[Aside 2: No, I do not work at the company barely visible in the corner of the photo. I picked up the freebie rain gauge at their booth at an American Meteorology Annual Meeting. The 2008 meeting is currently going on in New Orleans, but I didn't attend this time. If you can look at the program you can see that my work is being presented.]

Right after I took the picture of the rain gauge and emptied it, I set out to work. The rain was awfully loud. I looked down and saw little white ball bearings hailstones. Here's the proof. I know these hailstones are puny by Midwestern standards, but it is an extraordinary occurrence in coastal Los Angeles.

We are in for a few more days of rain. See how the jet-stream is sitting over us, steering the storms right into southern California? (Jet stream analysis courtesy of the California Regional Weather Server. Thanks, again, Dave!)

Now look at the 72 hour forecast. Over southern California, the scenario looks awfully similar, huh? It will be a wet three days.

Note that, by Sunday night, the winds jet stream will be from a more southerly direction than now. Because the lower-level air will likely also travel from the south, over warmer ocean water, we will probably get more (and warmer moisture). That is not good news for skiers or the snowpack that we depend upon for summer water supplies.

[Aside 3: The plots show Universal Time or UTC and LA local time is UTC - 8 hours.]

Did I mention that the rain gauge held another 0.25 inches when I came home from work today?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Links

My Buddy Mimi started work at our company so I added her link to the coworker list. We met through our blogs and I get a small bonus for introducing her to her new manager. Thus, I will have unintentionally made money for blogging.

Mark, a sporadic poster at best, gets free DVDs for blogging about classic movies. I couldn't believe how many Criterion Collection DVDs awaited him when we got back from New Zealand.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Just a quick post linking to news stories about a couple of bubbles.

Peter Hong on How we cashed in before the housing crash. Los Angeles is one of the most over-priced (relative to wages) housing bubble markets and we appear to be heading towards a crash. All this talk about how this is a great place and people, especially wealthy foreigners, will always want to live here are wishful thinking IMHO.

If people who work here can't afford to live here, what happens? We choke in traffic and pollution, people fall asleep at work or on the freeways, snap at their children whom they barely see awake anyway. Ridiculously high real estate prices fray society.

[For reference, a beginning teacher in our region might make $40,000/year. An engineer might make $60,000/year. The cost of a single family home during the height of the bubble started at $1,000,000+ for 50 year old house with 2 bedrooms and 1 bath. A townhouse the size of ours was $800,000-$1,300,000 depending on condition and location. It was insane.]

Families adjust. They send a second another worker into the paid labor force so they can stretch into a house. If that isn't enough, then they work longer hours. What if that is still not enough? Mark once quipped (~10 years ago) that the housing run up in the 1980s was a one time thing as wives went to work. Unless the child labor laws were repealed, it wasn't going to happen again.

It did. How? Well, people are working longer hours but that is only part of the story. The main reason is the flood of financial instruments that allow people borrow more than before. The L.A. Land Blog is a good place to read more horror stories.

The main reason I wanted to point this article out was a paragraph at the end.
When I was a child, my mother moonlighted at department stores in December to earn extra money for Christmas gifts, and I remember parents of many of my friends doing the same. It never occurred to them to put everything on credit cards and worry about the consequences later.

The number of workers in the family used to be elastic. That is, they had workers in reserve. Now, they are stretched to the limit with each parent working 1 or more jobs. Sometimes, they even have young adults living with them and helping to make the mortgage.

Where can they get more income? They take in roommates, with more cars. But that is a whole another rant which I will delay for another day.

Read The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi.

In other news, The "it" bag is dead. Designers mourn. Oh, well. In Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas traces the creation of "luxury" handbags. Kathleen wrote a review. I have a few more thoughts to add to her review, but I have to get to work now. I don't get MLK day off.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Time Lapse

Rainy day at the Rotorua Museum.

Rest stop at the cafe.

See more latte art.

Hormones and Antibiotics

In the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle post, I didn't mention my little food experiment in New Zealand. Remember the What we eat post in which I learned that some of my nighttime skin rashes might be caused by tetracycline in livestock feed? I spoke to my immunologist about that and she recalled reading journal articles about people who are deathly allergic to penicillin coming down with hives after eating meat laced with penicillin. I am only moderately allergic to tetracycline and sulfa and okay with penicillin. Perhaps that is why my symptoms, while still unpleasant, are milder.

Penicillin, tetracycline and sulfa are common antibiotics fed to livestock, including farmed fish. If you are allergic to any common antibiotics, you should stay away from "conventionally-raised" livestock. (I wonder why anyone would want to eat antibiotics unnecessarily?)

Barbara Kingsolver wrote that the American food production system is unsustainable. If we were to stop force-feeding the livestock in the factory farms antibiotics, they would all die of disease in a matter of weeks. That fits the definition of unsustainable all right.

Back to the story. On the drive to Akaroa, we marveled at all the livestock we saw. One of our hosts, the one who studied agriculture and land management at university), told us that NZ raises all their farm animals on pasture. They do none of the factory farming you see in the states or in Europe. I asked if antibiotics are used. He replied rarely.

I decided to make the trip a culinary experiment. I ate lamb, beef, chicken and fish without fear. There was no night-time rash. If my skin itched, it was because of sandfly or mosquito bites. I ate a great deal more protein than I normally do at home. I did no exercise other than daily stretching and walking in the service of sightseeing. When I returned home to my scale, it showed that I gained less than a pound, but my body fat decreased by more than a percentage point. I think I will be visiting the hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat counter at Whole Foods more regularly.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Virginia and I discussed how both of us have been attracted to the turquoise and brown color combination. How do certain colors and color combinations hit the collective consciousness? Can Pantone take all the credit? I will leave it to her because she writes about that for a living.

I just thought that the apple/persimmon cake I baked last evening looked nice. Unfortunately, I ran out of cooking oil and substituted low fat yogurt to mixed results. It really could use more fat. I used the Swedish Apple Cake recipe posted in Recipe Meme and used a combination of 1 chopped apple plus enough Hachiya persimmon pulp to make up 3 cups.

By the time I added enough flour to make a stiff batter, there was a huge amount. I also baked 3 mini-loafs not pictured above. They were all given to families that help us keep Iris occupied (along with fruit from the flats we bought at Costco yesterday).

With the help of Google, I discovered another recipe for Persimmon Cake that reads very similar to my cake. The ingredients are largely the same, save for small variations in spices. I used only cinnamon; she added nutmeg and cloves. Rachel has gone to cooking school while I have a BS in Chemistry. Maybe her cake will taste better. ;-)

I was on a cooking roll yesterday, also cooking black beans. 2 pints were frozen for another dish, and the rest went into Best Black Bean Soup from Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham. I added 2 carrots to her recipe. Notice the cilantro garnish from our garden? The great part of being a messy gardener is all the "volunteers". Who wouldn't want fresh, young cilantro volunteers?

This was supposed to be a post about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the book I read for the Apartment Therapy Re-Nest Book Club. In the beginning, I didn't think I would want to read another book nagging me to eat locally and organic. As I wrote before, I thought I was too busy add more to my workload. I was even chastised by reader mmadden for saying that "Farmers' markets are great, but they are not convenient for a harried working mom." (Go read her criticism and my response.)

I can say that I changed my mind (about the book, not about farmers' markets). Barbara Kingsolver has made some valid points about our nation's messed up relationship with food. Even if I don't have her real estate, I can still grow more of my own food. I can also eat more seasonally and locally, even within the time constraints of shopping only before and after work and childcare duties.

I used to think it horribly unfair that I was so heavily penalized in footprint calculators for not eating more locally. After all, I eat very little meat and that takes a lot of energy and water! My lifestyle is really green! I drink filtered tap water! I recycle! I re-use! I am on a stuff diet! Look how little trash I generate relative to my neighbors! How can my footprint be marginally better than average?

I forgot about the poop.

In modern life, we don't pay attention to what goes in and out of our bodies. We pretty much assume that there will be some food to eat when we are hungry and that our bodily waste will disappear with a flush. It is not so simple. Anyone who has ever backpacked understands how much they eat and poop. Barbara Kingsolver reminded me that, for most people, our greatest consumption, measured by mass, is in the food we put in our bodies. The greater the mass, the greater the amount of energy it takes energy to move it around. It is time to eat more local.

Kingsolver moved across the country to a place where with more land and water. I need to live close to work, in one of the densest regions of the US with some of the priciest real estate and very little water. Even so, with a little creativity, there is room to improve.

Our hostess in Christchurch threw together a light supper the evening we arrived. Amongst other things, she served a salad made with lettuce from her garden. How did she do that in a townhouse with a garden the size of ours? The next morning, she showed me her vegetables, interspersed with her flowers and other ornamentals. She only had 1-2 heads of lettuce in two varieties, but it was enough if she picked a few leaves each day from each head.

I already grow rosemary, thyme, bay and several varieties of chives and mint. Our Meyer lemon tree is groaning under the weight of this winter's crop. I already sowed some lettuce and pea seeds before I left home so I should have plenty of salad greens for a couple of months.

I started eyeing the insipid baby's tears ground cover in the shady areas. Wouldn't that be a good habitat for spinach, lettuce or watercress? Can I tuck some more herbs in other areas?

In the book, Barbara Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating local foods, most of it in season and organic. The first early spring of their experiment was bleak. They hadn't preserved food yet. They shopped farmers' markets, but the pickings were slim. In a few months, though, their garden started to reward them. My mouth watered as she described the arrival of each new food that came into season. Morels. Asparagus. Berries. Stone fruit. Tomatoes.

She reminds us that food tastes best when it is in season and has been freshly picked. You can't get fresher than your own garden. Lacking that, a farmers' market where the food was picked a that day is a good alternative. Unfortunately, I still find it difficult to go to a farmers' market for reasons I elaborated elsewhere. I explored alternatives.

At the recently remodeled supermarket 300 feet from my house, I spoke with the produce manager. He appears to be sansei (3rd generation Japanese american) with longtime ties to the community. He has been trying to convince the regional produce buyer to allow him to buy more Asian and Hispanic produce. He says they didn't believe him when he said he could sell those "specialty" items in his mass-market supermarket. Slowly, he is convincing them otherwise. The variety is increasing but quantity is still a problem. To my frustration, he can't keep enough white turnips (lobo in Mandarin) in stock. You can get beaver tail cactus there along with advice on how to cook it. I need to support his efforts by buying his produce.

Because of my commute route, it is easier for me to go to Whole Foods on my way to the office instead of on the way home. I started bringing in an extra bag for all the things that need to stay cold. I pop them into the fridge at the office while at work and bring them home later. Whole Foods doesn't necessarily have to be expensive. The bulk bins are a relative bargain. All their meats are guaranteed not to have antibiotics or added hormones. They even have a case near the front of the produce section of "in season and local" foods.

I also shop Trader Joe's on the route home. When we buy fresh food at Costco (a warehouse store with that sells food in bulk), we share them with other families. That way, we can have a greater variety.

I am planning meals more and using the food we buy more efficiently. I cook in large batches, freeze some and share some. Yesterday, my next door neighbor came over to help herself to snips from my rosemary bush (there is no way we will ever run out). I brought her over some mangoes and oranges from Costco. She sent her daughter over with some rosemary focaccia bread and challah and I sent her home with some apple persimmon cake. Another day, I sent over some cream of mushroom soup and scored some home-made pasta sauce.

It is time to send over some of our Meyer lemons. I remember fondly a few months ago when the neighbor on the corner gave away his excess avocados.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Milford Sound Multimedia

We got stuck behind the tour bus that caught on fire on the road from Milford Sound. By the time we arrived, the passengers had all been evacuated and the bus driver had already walked up the hill to the emergency phone by the tunnel. The engine fire was still small enough that a volunteer in another camper van thought he might be able to put it out. We gave up our camper's kitchen fire extinguisher to the effort. But the fire quickly got out of hand. There was nothing to do but wait for the bus fire to exhaust itself. It was pretty dramatic when the gas tanks exploded, one by one. It was even more exciting when the emergency brake cables burned and the bus started rolling downhill, towards us. Fortunately, it went completely off the road and didn't hurt anyone.

After it was safe to pass, we drove back to Te Anau (which is surprisingly nice for a tourist town and worth a visit). Look at the lupine! Iris did a happy dance.

So tall.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Attitudes and Latitudes

First, a gratuitous picture of Iris on the drive between Christchurch and Akaroa.

Now let's talk about the difference in attitude towards energy between the US and NZ.

Look at this cool clothes dryer that came with our first host family's new "spec" home. The smaller portion ratchets up for a small amount of laundry. The lower portion ratchets up for a big wash day. This family doesn't even own an electric (or natural gas) clothes dryer. (If it rains for an extended period of time, the hostess uses a small clothes rack in the garage.)

What builder in the US would put a clothesline, much less a cool and space-saving one such as this, in a spec (speculative) home, built with no particular buyer identified yet? In the US, builders of spec homes put in tons of energy-wasting appliances, vaulted ceilings and install marble or granite (or some other labor-intensive to maintain) finishes throughout.

We stayed with two families and went to a party at a third. There was not a single vaulted ceiling in sight, even in the two newer homes. Hot air rises. With the ubiquitous American great-room with vaulted ceilings, you have to heat a lot of air to sustain a comfortable temperature at people level during the winter.

Homes were built for easy maintenance. New Zealand has a labor shortage. (An island nation, they don't have desperately poor neighbors who will do their dirty work for them for next to nothing.)

Everyone saved their kitchen scraps for composting. The hostess of the townhouse pictured above had a very compact compost system that originated in Japan. (If I could get it in the US, I could fit them in my side yard and still have room to walk by. I gotta figure out a way to get a pair of those.)

Many people grew vegetable gardens. Even in small yards, people would tuck some edible lettuces or a few tomato plants among the flowers. They used their home-made compost. They talked about the thin topsoil and high winds in New Zealand and the need to constantly amend and improve their soil. They talked about soil in terms of stewardship of a precious resource. We hose our soil down the storm drains in the city and I am going to leave ranting about American farm practices to others.

New Zealanders import every drop of oil that they use. You won't find many gas guzzling cars on NZ roads. (Though you will see many diesel-powered camper vans like the one we rented; they are surprisingly economical with fuel.) Lacking a domestic car industry, they had no problem recently banning the importation of large trucks and SUVs.

About 2/3 of their electricity comes from hydroelectric projects. Another fraction comes from geothermal sources. Electricity is enormously expensive to store, and impossible to store on a large scale. Thus, electricity costs vary greatly by time of day. Homeowners are highly incentivized to use electricity after peak demand hours. One host family heated water only after 9 pm. If they use up the 240 liters they heat up each night before the following night, too bad. They plan their daily activities so that they don't run out of hot water.

Imagine that. Planning your daily activities in advance. Prioritizing energy and water use. Doing your own dirty work.

Doesn't the first picture of Iris remind you of the ads that energy companies in the US run? She already lost her new glasses. They were adorable, as you can see.

Motherhood stories in the news

The Washington Post ran an article about the divergence of motherhood. Well-educated women typically give birth in their 30s while less educated women do so in their 20s. Bringing Up Babies, And Defying the Norm profiled several college-educated women who bucked the trend by reproducing in their mid to late 20s.

Ginsburg is Latest Justice to Reflect on Faith is an article supposedly about faith. But I found the most telling quote at the end.
As for her career, Ginsburg said, being a woman provided more obstacles than being a Jew. She graduated tied for first in her 1959 Columbia Law School class, she said, but did not receive a job offer from any New York law firm. That she was a woman hurt, she said, but that she was the mother of a young child was "the real killer."
Most appallingly, I don't think things have changed much in the intervening decades. Read Joan Williams' book examining the plight of women in the legal profession, Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It. Actually, the book discusses a great deal more than that and should be more widely read.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Knitting in New Zealand

I finished the Mini-Tulip Skirt during our trip. (Iris demanded mommy and me butt-skirts when she saw mine.) As you can see, it looks super-cute in 2/3 scale. Altering the pattern for a smaller size is not a problem. But, I rarely make the same pattern twice because it bores me. Hence, there are more mistakes in the second version than the first.

Iris wants you to see the front of the skirt, too.

She was so excited, she was inspired to put on a fashion/yarn show the last night of our stay in Auckland. There was an embarrassing amount of yarn at that show. I brought an overly optimistic selection of projects to knit during the trip, and I kept adding the the stash during our travels.

I bought 1.2 kilograms of 1o ply felted merino for a sweater for Mark and 150 grams of merino/cashmere for Iris and a shawl pin for myself at the Woolshed in Akaroa. (Prices are 25% cheaper at the store than on-line, but no airfare required.) I also bought some handpainted super-kid/merino 2 ply for a small shawl at Masco Wools in Auckland.

I showed great restraint at several other yarn shops. But then I found a store with a pile of Bamboo/Cotton and Corn yarns in Roturua at fantastic (by US standards) prices. Restraint went out the window. Mark looked at my bag and told me that I was responsible for packing the yarns for the flight home.

One of our hosts, Geoff, selected some cobalt blue merino/possum fur yarn near the beginning of our trip, in Akaroa. I knit a scarf-size Clapotis for him. Note that it matches his eyes.

Our second to last day, we visited downtown Auckland and his office. His job is to fund alternative transport projects to entice kiwis out of their cars. How cool is that?

He is also the enabler that showed me Masco wools.

Happy New Year

On 31 December 2007, we hiked through a lush rain forest to reach the toe of Fox Glacier. We even climbed a bit on the glacier.

Afterwards, we drove to Lake Wanaka. New Year's Eve in Wanaka is like spring break. It was a madhouse full of adolescent and young adult mating rituals. Luckily, the young people left after sleeping off their hangovers and we had a lovely New Year Day enjoying the lake.

Notice that my child has her back turned to the lovely scenery and her nose buried in a book.

I used to think that the cutest, most empathic and perceptive pharmacist in the world is Jeff at the Redondo Beach Target. However, John at the Aspiring Pharmacy at Wanaka comes pretty close. (Mt. Aspiring looms over Lake Wanaka and the town of Wanaka is the gateway to Mt. Aspiring National Park.)

I started out our trip sick and got sicker, despite the stash of drugs that my doctor and I had prepared for most common ailments that beset me. We all enjoyed our 20 days in New Zealand tremendously. Stay tuned for more photos of scenery and food.

7 hour layover in Fiji

We went to Fiji and all we got was a photo of Iris in front of the Hard Rock Cafe sign.

We also visited a supermarket, saw a sunset at Port Denaru and ate yummy Indian food before heading back to the airport. We would have preferred to have gone into the town of Nadi instead of the resort area, but it was past 6 pm on a Sunday night and everything in town was closed.