Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Little Shake and a Little Roll

We had a small earthquake here today.

Though, as I look at that earthquake map from the USGS website and see the relative sizes of our other recent quakes, I'm thinking maybe it wasn't so small after all.

It registered 4.3 and was centered just south of San Jose, CA. I was at work in Berkeley, about 60 miles away, and I felt it while sitting at my desk. Just a little roll and sway, enough to make me feel just a tad off balance. Given the number of trains that shake our building daily, the fact it immediately registered as a quake made it noteworthy.

And wouldn't you know it, instead of working from home, Scoob was using a vacation day to take his car in for smog check and run some errands... in San Jose! When I called to make sure he was alright, and mostly to ask that he avoid taking any bridges on his way home, he said he hadn't felt a thing. He'd been in a mall and they sway so much anyhow as a part of their construction, he'd had no idea anything had happened.

The excitement at the office was over in about 5 minutes and we were all back to business as usual, which amazes me when I stop to think about it. I mean terra firma just became a little less firma! It's not like we have a quake every day, or even every month that we should be blasé about it—but we are.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


So I've voted, reported for jury duty, registered my vehicle, and now, I have filed my taxes (depressing). I'd like to think that my responsibilities as a citizen are now fulfilled—at least until next year. But they're not. Only the ones that could land me in jail (or with a steep fine). Which reminds me—I need to step outside (sunshine) and put the new tags on my car.

Anyhow, I just wanted to share that bit of news. And this article I read this morning about the end of an era of excess in America and how that's probably a good thing (because yes, I did waste copious amounts of time surfing online before I finally caved and did the deed). It's a fairly long piece, so visit the bathroom and settle in with a drink before you start.

I like that the author addresses the cyclical political shifts in America and ties those shifts to historical events. I've always thought that these shifts from left to right and back again would somehow allows us to find a middle ground as each political shift corrected for the other, not unlike correcting for oversteering a car—sure, you'll fishtail a bit, but (hopefully) you eventually straighten it out (unless you're driving on black ice, which is an experience I shudder at every time I recall it and thank whoever is in charge again for the fact that I'm still alive).

But lately it seems like the folks that are entrenched on the left and the right (our Olbermans and our O'Reillys), elected or otherwise, have been pushing so fast toward one direction or the other that we're in danger of overcorrecting (funny, spell check wants that to be overreacting—same difference, really) and careening off the road altogether. There seems to be so little patience to see if a method is having an affect before we pull an about-face and try something else.

Our problems didn't happen overnight; and neither will the solutions. And getting to safer ground will require a lot of hard work and compromise. With that in mind, it was encouraging to see that Rep. Fattah (D-PA) had the time and energy to join in the current NASA/Colbert scuffle over NASA's naming of a room in the International Space Station.

This is what we pay our congressfolks (how's that for gender-neutral writing?) to do. Come on people! Priorities!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday? Already?

How did it get to be Thursday already? This week has simply flown by and frankly, I don't remember much of it. The sun has been shining, birds singing, and flowers blooming all week and it seems the only time I get to enjoy it is when I'm walking from the house to the car (20 or so steps), from the car to the office (maybe a half block), and back again. I shouldn't complain, my co-workers in Boulder got a snow-day today because of some blizzard or something.

I saw this article a while back in the New York Times about gender pay differences. According to this, as an editor I apparently make 17% less than my male counterparts. Problem is, I would never know this. Other than my immediate supervisor, all my fellow editors at work are also women. Maybe that's how our company plans to weather the recession?

Speaking of compensation, I did find time this week to read DeSantis' letter of resignation to AIG's CEO Liddy. I found it compelling and well-written and I understand what he's saying. And on the one hand, I agree with him. On the other hand, taxpayer money is the only thing keeping his company afloat and that money needs to be administered responsibly.

Then there's my personal reality check. DeSantis' bonus, HIS BONUS, is more than 15 times my annual salary. My bonus, the last time I got one, was about $300—maybe just enough to pay for a month's worth of gas after taxes.

On to other things.

I've noticed over the past month or so, my use of Facebook has really dropped off. Much more so since the new redesign. At least before I could tell it what information I did and didn't want in my status feed. Now all I seem to see is that SO-and-So took umpteen quizzes. Oh, and apparently someone who reads this, had a field day updating her Virtual Bookshelf application the other day.

That second part was kind of cool actually, I like seeing what books my friends are interested in. I end up finding several things I'd like to read myself, but I'd much rather have that information kept within the application or served through email instead of sucking up every available pixel. So what do you think of the Facebook redesign?

Apparently a lot of people don't like it and after Zuckerberg essentially said, We're not listening to our customers, they're now listening to their customers and hopefully we'll see some improvements.

In other Facebook news, they've added a new class of private groups intended for family use. Sort of like setting up a family website, but in this case, your family can only see it if they have a Facebook profile and have been invited to the group. On the one hand, I can see how this would be a good thing. I could quit bugging my sister each year to remind me who drew whose name for the Christmas gift exchange and keep up on birthdays, graduations, and what not.

On the other hand, you just know someone is going to get their drawers in a bunch over something said by someone else and your typically family dramas, instead of being between 2 to 10 people, will be acted out on the internets for the entire family to see.

Then there's the whole issue of crowd control. So, say you're in a mixed family—parents divorced and remarried. Does the child of the original couple have the ability to invite anyone he or she wants? What prevents said child from adding both birth-parents and married-in parents to the same group.

I'm not thinking of myself here. I've had two moms for nearly 35 years—I know better. But, say, if I were 12 or 13... you know, when actual child-rearing is still happening, that would be a whole world of drama no one really ever wants to deal with.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Productive Procrastination Is Still Procrastination

So, have you done your taxes yet? I haven't; but I'm getting so many other things done that somehow it seems okay.

I actually thought about my doing my taxes today. I even looked at the folder holding everything I need. Then I went into the kitchen and made lunch and scrubbed (not wiped) every counter surface in the kitchen. After that I just became a whirlwind of productivity.

Scrubbed the toilets. Washed the mirrors. Trimmed the cats's claws. Did 3 loads of laundry--not just washed and dried, but folded and put away too. And spent about 3 hours going through the filing cabinet.

After the beginning of each year I typically go through the filing cabinet and discard and shred any documents we don't need to hang on to. I didn't do this in 2008, so I actually had 2 years worth of paper to sort through. 2007 and the first few months of 2008 were all nicely filed in the cabinet. The rest of 2008 and whatever we've received in 2009 were all piled into a cardboard box that somehow came to serve as the "to file" folder.

My to file box is now empty. Everything we need to keep is now filed, though I did stop short of making sure everything was chronologically filed. And we have a 4 inch stack of paper to shred. Good thing we have a relatively new paper shredder, the old one sounded like a keening banshee just trying to get through a single sheet. I should probably lube up the gears on this one before we try to plow this stack.

But that still leaves me with the fact that my taxes are not done, and they're not going to do themselves.

Friday, March 20, 2009

In which I try to recreate the post that mysteriously disappeared

So, apparently we're having technical difficulties with the whole blog platform thing. I posted last night, and actually saw it live on screen, but when I went to correct a spelling error, the post had mysteriously disappeared *poof*

This is the third time it's happened in a week or so, but I was just too tired to try and recreate it last night. Anyhow, I was posting about the book I'm currently reading (and probably will be for a while).

Weighing in at a hefty 4.75 pounds and 1,376 pages, Hunger's Brides: A Novel of the Baroque.

And in this corner, at a much more manageable 2.2 pounds and 750 pounds, Sor Juana or the Breath of Heaven: The Essential Story from the Epic, Hunger's Brides (no really, that's the title).

I was working for the publisher when Hunger's Brides first published in the U.S. in 2005 (it was originally published in Canada) and brought home a copy to read. Mostly as a challenge. Most reviews of the book were focused on it's size. The New York Times, while acknowledging that the book is well-written, equated it with a 6-pack of beer (4.75 pounds), 3 hardcover copies of The Da Vinci Code (5.25 pounds), and a chihuahua (4 pounds).

The story is historical fiction. And it's not. The author, Paul Anderson, writes as different characters at different moments in time. There's the historical story of Sor Juana and the imagined bits or her life to go with it, and there's a current day story of Gregory and Beulah—of which I can't tell you anything because I became bored with it and started skipping those sections.

I was about a third of the way through when my boss asked how I was liking it. When I told her I was skipping entire sections, she advised me to wait for the paperback. Apparently, the manuscript was being reedited to exclude the current day storyline. The paperback has been sitting on my shelf for nearly 3 years. It sits no longer.

I started rereading it the other night and the story of Sor Juana is just as enthralling as it was the first time. The story begins at her deathbed but then immediately picks up in her youth. Juana Inés Ramírez de Santillana is an extremely precocious child, learning to read far earlier than her peers, reading Herodotus, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Thucydides.

She simply hungers for knowledge and is always examining, questioning and challenging. But her story takes place in New Spain in the mid-1600s, when women weren't expected to have more than a rudimentary education. Real learning for women was frowned upon and questioning authority was particularly blasphemous, especially when questioning the church.

It is also time of immense cultural shifting. The conquest is over, but the hacienda and caste systems are deeply entrenched. Juana (and her 2 sisters) is the illegitimate daughter of a Basque father and Castillian (possibly Mestizo) mother. Her mother is a non-conformist and works the hacienda with the Mexica men. Her mother leaves the child rearing to the Mexica house servant, Xochitl, whose daughter, Amanda, was born the same day as Juana. The two become fast friends and Juana learns about the world from the Mexica point of view as well.

There's no way I can sum up such a huge book (that I haven't completely read yet!)—there's the historical part of the story, the gender aspect, and the cultural aspect. And it's is extremely well-written. Oh, and there's some of Sor Juana's poetry as well. I like how how Spanish and Nahuatl are sprinkled through the text and I like the subtle changes in Juana's voice as time passes.

Anyhow, I know how I can be when I really like a book. Nothing else matters—not work, or sleep, or food, or sex. So I've placed the book on my elliptical machine (a pedestal of sorts) and have decided I can only read while I'm working out.

So how's that working out for me? I've decided that my workouts are far too short. I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hold the Guac

Oh, dudes, the produce is starting to look seriously good at the supermarket. Spring and produce heaven must really, really, be really on the way. We had artichokes a week or so ago (they were gone too quickly for pictures, I'll try to do better next time) and they were wonderful—tender with a nice nutty flavor. Not the tough cardboard instruments of pain they will soon be in a month or so.

Seriously. Have you ever picked one of those bad boys up when you weren't giving the task your undivided attention? The buggers can draw blood I tell you. Who needs a gun when you've got a past its prime artichoke at hand?

Oh, and the fujis. I picked up fuji apples on sale last grocery trip. Crisp and sweet and delicious! But the kicker, the pièce de résistance, was this guy:

Velvety. Creamy. And just oh so good. Tell me that doesn't look divine. Well, if you don't like avocados at all, you don't really need to tell me, but I'll listen anyway. When aguacates are this good I can't even imagine wasting them on guacamole. Just hand me a spoon.

PS: So, rereading this I notice that I've given all these yummy veggies a male gender. Is it just me, or is there something Freudian going on there. (Thankfully, none of them are particularly phallic.)

PPS: Scoob just read the post and suggested I reexamine the composition of the photo… O.M.G. Apparently I need a cold shower.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who's a Pretty Bird?

Safeway had whole chickens on sale this week for $0.79 a pound, so you can bet your rumpus that we're having us some chicken. (And probably will be for several days.)

My biggest problem with roasting chicken is that I never really know how long or at what temperature to roast it. I usually consult several recipes trying to figure it out, but they all say somewhere between 350° and 425° for somewhere between 1 hour to 2 hours. Not a whole lot of help. And it doesn't seem to matter what temperature I roast it at, it always takes longer than the given time and it always sets off the smoke alarm.

Thanks to our Home Owners' Association rules, all hood fans in our complex vent back into the kitchen rather than to the outside. Something about preserving the integrity of the building by limiting the number of holes to the outside. Whatever. All I know is that we need to open the sliding glass door and turn on the fan, aiming it at the smoke detector any time we roast or grill. I used to look forward to using the oven in the winter as a passive way to warm the house while I'm cooking. Not anymore. You can bet I'll be checking the hood fan in our next home before we buy.

Anyhow, I cooked our bird last night. Scoob will do somersaults for roasted chicken, so he's a happy camper. Scoob found this video a while back on how to roast a chicken. We hated cleaning our huge turkey roasting pan which we used to use for roasting chicken as well. Now I use coiled aluminum foil in a smaller pan as suggested in the video. Clean up has been so much easier. I also took the video's note about not needing to rinse the chicken to heart. It doesn't really change the end result, it just speeds up the prep.

Roasted Chicken

Cooking time: 1½ - 2 hours

    1 whole chicken, nasty bits removed
    Ground thyme
    Ground coriander
    kosher salt (way less sodium than table salt)
    ground pepper
    extra virgin olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 400° and prep your roasting pan.
  2. Unwrap your bird and pat it dry, tucking the wingtips under the back.
  3. Smear the olive oil all over the outside.
  4. Sprinkle the outside of the bird with the thyme, coriander, salt and pepper, and rub the inside with same adding the sage.
  5. Cook for 1½ - 2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches a minimum of 165°.

And after the commercial break in which an hour and a half has miraculously passed…
Due to my issues with cooking times and the smoke alarm, I no longer put stuffing or other things (like onion) in the cavity. I also very rarely truss the legs. Eliminating these things has seemed to help the chicken cook faster and reduces the amount of time I need to have the door open and the fan on.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Headache, No Ice Cream Involved

The past week has been sunny and spring-like warm here, and while I enjoy the change, I've had this nagging headache all week. It's not a migraine class headache, but it's there. I'm in danger of becoming an Advil junkie at any moment; three in the morning (because two just isn't cutting it anymore) and three in the afternoon, which should get me through until bedtime. By afternoon I'm just so tired (and cranky).

Staring at html code on a computer screen all day at work doesn't help (and the book I started work on yesterday just makes my eyes or brain, or both, want to bleed, which only exacerbates things). I actually thought the sunny weather was the culprit. There's a skylight near my desk and all the sunny-ness has made my workstation just way too damned bright. I thought maybe the extra light was contributing to eye strain which was then triggering the headaches. I need a cave.

I read this article yesterday that links changes in the weather and temperature to headaches, especially for people with a history of migraines. Well isn't that just swell. If that's what's going on here I'd like summer to hurry the heck up so we can get through the headaches and on with life.

This morning I read this article on how people can think themselves sick. Not flu-like sick, more like that after-flu sickishness that seems to linger forever. I thought the doctor being interviewed had an interesting comment about irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia.

Sick or not, this three-headed, rainbow-vomiting panda is enough to make anyone's head spin.

So get this, a study in Sweden has linked high IQs to a reduced risk of death. Apparently folks with higher IQs tend to make better decisions (really?) for their long term health while people with lower IQs are more likely to have accidents, smoke or drink heavily, and have unhealthful diets. Well—DUH. I shouldn't make light, the article did have some good observations about education and the need to target public service announcements.

With that, I'm off to pop my pills and then check out Christopher Walken on Twitter, one of my favorite actors. I like his wry and often dark sense of humor. His most recent post:

I don't remember saying that the geese had eaten all of the kittens in Central Park. No matter. She's upset and the geese are very confused.

I've been finding more and more interesting things to read on Twitter that I may actually need to open an account and figure out how it works.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What's for Dinner

So we kind of have this week night dinnertime game at our house, well, I try to look at it as a game. While I'm at the office during the day, Scoob will generally take some kind of meat from the freezer to thaw for dinner. Sometimes he has a plan, but just as often he doesn't.

I typically call Scoob when I'm on my way home from work so he has some idea when I'll get home. It usually goes something like this:

Me: Did you take something out for dinner?

Scoob: Yeah. I took out some ______, but I don't know what to do with it.

So for the rest of my commute I'm running through mental recipes using whatever type of meat he took from the freezer and trying to remember what's on hand in the pantry. Other times I end up using whatever is on hand to create an altogether new recipe.

Like the other night when ground beef happened to be the centerpiece.


Cooking time: 15 minutes
Servings: 2 - 3

    ½ lb ground beef (since there's only the two of us I tend to freeze things in smaller portions)
    1 Tbsp capers
    1 egg
    5 marinated artichoke heart pieces, chopped
    1 tsp garlic powder
    1 ½ tsp oregano
    ¼ cup crumbled feta
    ½ cup breadcrumbs
    2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    Italian dressing

  1. In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients except dressing until combined—like a meatloaf.
  2. Form the mixture into patties and grill until done.

It seemed a little dry when I was cooking it, so I brushed the patties with Italian dressing to keep them moist and prevent crumbling.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spicy Mexican Rub

I came across this recipe in a Raley's grocery ad a few years ago. It's spicy without being too hot and it has been my go to solution for several Mexican dishes, not just a rub. It's inexpensive, super quick to assemble, and it works well with beef or chicken.

Spicy Mexican Rub

    1 Tbsp chili powder
    1 tsp garlic powder
    1 tsp ground cumin
    ½ tsp ground oregano
    ¼ tsp pepper
    juice from one lime
    ½ cup salsa

  1. Combine dry ingredients.
  2. Rub combination on both sides of meat.
  3. Grill over medium to medium-high heat until done.
  4. Squeeze lime juice over meat and brush both sides with salsa.
  5. Cook 1 minute longer on each side.

This is one of my more flexible recipes. I've served the meat along with rice and beans, sliced in tortillas as burrito, taco, or fajita, and cooled and sliced over salad.

I also use this spice combination any time a recipe calls for taco seasoning. I like this better than store-bought seasoning both for the taste, and because I control exactly what's going in there. We do a lot of low-sodium cooking because of Scoob's blood pressure, and you know those store-bought packs are loaded with sodium.

To make with ground beef or turkey as taco meat, in addition to the ingredients above, you'll need:

    1 15oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    ¼ c water
    (You won't need the lime juice unless you want it; maybe as a garnish after cooking.)

  1. Brown 1 lb. ground meat and drain off fat.
  2. Add kidney beans, seasoning mixture, salsa, and water. Simmer until liquid is reduced.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Shh, I'm Hunting

In the ongoing hunt for curtains to cover the closet opening, today, we went to IKEA. Some people love shopping at IKEA. I'll do it if I have to, but it's not something I look forward too.

Actually, I did go to IKEA this one time, after work, on a week night, and it really wasn't all that bad. Truthfully, it was borderline enjoyable. But the weekends are murder.

Well, I didn't find what I was hoping for at IKEA. The color scheme of our bedroom is kind of Mediterranean and I was hoping to go with that in the curtains, but IKEA leans more toward primary colors and complete neutrals. So the hunt is still on.

But our trip wasn't a complete bust. We did pick up a desk lamp and a waste basket for the office. I grabbed a new pillow for sleeping. And I picked up some really inexpensive pine picture frames for a project Mom is working on. Now I just need to mail them.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I May Have a Problem

We tried playing the lottery last week. A $212 million jackpot is nothing to sneeze at. We didn't win, but I particularly liked the public service annoucement about Problem Gambling Awareness Week printed on our ticket.

"Here's your ticket, but you may have a problem."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How a Fresh Idea becomes Frozen

I stumbled on this graphic representation of the Top 100 foods to improve productivity. Oddly enough, I like most of these foods. So why am I not more productive?

After some poking around the FoodProof site, it looks like it's a hub for food blogs. It might be a good resource down the road, but as of now, I don't know how you would ever purposefully find something you were looking for. I did spot this image while I was browsing, though, and thought it was funny.

On the subject of food, I've had the distinct pleasure of dining at Alice Waters's Chez Panisse once. My previous boss took Scoob and me there as a thank you and farewell dinner after our company merger, she and I were both being laid off.

I listen to locals grumble when guides and experts recommend Chez Panisse as a top California cuisine restaurant time and again, "Geez, tell me something I don't know. Can't they at least look a little. There have to be other worthy restaurants." While Chez Panisse gets a lot of praise and attention, and it's what people think of when they think California haute cuisine. There's a reason for it. The praise in not undeserved.

Anyhow, this recent interview with Alice Waters caught my eye. It's interesting. I imagine most people would agree with her definition of what constitutes real food, and yet the majority of us continue to feed our bodies the other stuff. She talks about foraging a lot in this interview. I don't imagine a lot of us have the time, or the energy at the end of the day or week, to forage for food. It's nice when you can eat like that, but for most of us it's just not a reality.

Let's see, maybe if I ate more of those energy boosting foods I'd have the energy to go out and forage, but of course I'd need to forage those items first. So I guess we'll stick with the Macaroni Grill Chicken Marsala in a box for tonight.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Your Conscience Doesn't Belong in My Health Care

I was pretty excited to read the news Saturday that Obama has decided to void the health workers' conscience rule enacted by Bush. Of course the people who want to keep this rule in place have framed the decision as a pro-abortion move, and unfortunately the people who support removing the rule have engaged them at this level. This rule is really about so much more than abortion.

It's not enough that we need to research our primary care doctors and try to find one whose medical approach most closely matches how we would like our health care managed. But under this rule, we also need to research and seek out and equally appropriate pharmacy.

If my doctor decides to prescribe marinol, a synthetic marijuana derivative, as part of a pain management plan or as an anti-nausea drug, but my pharmacist doesn't believe in prescribing marijuana, where does this leave me, the patient? (This is not a hypothetical question, it has happened—though I wasn't the patient; I was the caregiver and had the lovely task of dealing with the pharmacy.)

Either I need to go back to the doctor (schedule another appointment, take more time off from work to go to the appointment, and add another $20 office visit co-pay) and get a different prescription, despite the fact that my doctor has already considered the options and felt that marinol was the best option, or I need to seek out a pharmacy that will fill the existing prescription.

In a metropolitan area, the second option (while still a hassle) is doable. That is, of course, assuming the pharmacist will give the prescription slip back to you. But in a rural area, a person may only have one or two options available.

The doctor is my health care provider, not the pharmacist. The pharmacist is a service provider and should not be able to dictate the direction of my health care based on his or her beliefs.

If the pharmacist has a moral objection to dispensing medications as prescribed by a doctor, then the pharmacist clearly chose the wrong career—because that is exactly what a pharmacist is supposed to do.

Aside from refusing to fill a prescription due to dangerous drug interactions, unfortunately common when different doctors are prescribing for the same patient, the pharmacist should fill any and all prescriptions.

Aside from the marinol example, which admittedly only a relative few people would encounter, there's also the birth control issue. I have actually been in a Safeway pharmacy in San Jose, CA that refused to stock or sell all forms of birth control, including condoms.

Granted, you don't need a prescription for condoms, not even they cherry flavored kind—but come on, they're condoms! If I were a randy teenager, do you really think the fact that you won't sell me a condom is going to stop me from doing whatever it is I wanted the condom for?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Some Things Just Make You Feel Good

I read in the news this morning that radio personality Paul Harvey passed away last night and it just made me sad. I used to list to Mr. Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" segments during my morning commute until the station changed their format. I loved listening to these stories behind the stories, and Mr. Harvey's distinctive voice and delivery.

I flagged this article last week from the Boston Globe because it made me feel good, and now seems like a good time to share it. Just goes to show that small gestures by perfect strangers can make a difference.

News from the publishing world on the reception of Samuel Wurzelbacher's, a.k.a. Joe-the-Plumber of campaign fame, new book Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream, made me feel good too, though not in the same way. Apparently crickets could be heard in the downtown D.C. Borders. He'll probably have a warmer welcome at appearances in the mid-west.

As for me, I understood the concerns he voiced during the campaign about Obama's plans but what I didn't understand was how he so quickly discounted Obama's plans because his take home pay would decrease despite the fact that the plan could help his neighbors, community, and by extension, himself.

As we're seeing in the Wayward house, our pay is being cut (not just take home pay) and our neighbors and community won't realize any benefit from it. If we were going to have to give up income, I would gladly opt for curtain number 1.