Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In Suburbia

So far so good. The housecleaning appears to have eliminated the cat dander as long as I don't dig in the mess of extension cords behind the desk. Which was necessary to connect the wireless router to the internet, not the failure mechanism I was expecting. Fortunately my brother is less allergic to dust and more willing to track down cables than I am so here we are. Yep.

Everyone made it to town ok - me, my brother, and my grandma and pop. Good thing I resolved not to diet until after thanksgiving because this visit has been all about the food. My parents are getting crazier by the day but mom's nose and tastebuds have no equal. We ate the first night at The Blackbird Cafe. Maybe it's the bird in the name, but they know their way around a bird. I had the fabulous duck with wild rice topped with habanero cherry sauce. Grandma liked the London Broil (cooked to her medium raw taste). They had a reasonably priced riesling, and some sake beer so both I and my brother were happy with the drinks too.

Today, I spent the afternoon with my friend who spent a month backpacking around Europe with me back in the day. She's trying to raise her boy bilingually, so she speaks Norwegian and her husband speaks English when the talk to him. Some of her family also comes over to supplement and he seems to be doing well when my brother doesn't bang his head into the wall. Their dog is very tolerant of random bursts of chaos - so tolerant the he didn't move out of the way when my brother stepped on him... My brother was just supposed to drop me off, but wound up staying as well and aside from that one little incident we all had a good time.

Then we drove all over the back of beyond to hit up the buffet at the dry casino. We were fortunate in that pop and my mom are both using canes right now (pop is 89 and mom had surgery on her feet) and that got us into the handicapped line. Turns out that seafood night has all you can eat crab legs and half the asian population of minneapolis turns out to gorge themselves most wednesdays. (My brother partially developed his crab cracking superskills dining there with his Laotian ex-girlfriend's family who only liked the big meat parts. My brother found that wasteful and got really good at extracting meat from the smaller segments at lightning speed.) Myself I had three and a half knucklesful of crablegs, and I was out-eaten by about 8 dozen people who might weigh half of me after the meal. Unreal. They put out piles and piles of delicious crablegs. We all ate our fill of those, grandma tried the prime rib and found it to her taste too. Whew! (we asked, they go through 32 of them in a night!) So we were all happy and full. The tummies are all stretched out in prep for thanksgiving and my brother has fixed both the cable and the TV reciever.

I have not yet written the paper abstract I need to do for work. Nor have I gone through the small pile of crap my parents put out for me to dig through to see if I want to save any of it. I think I noticed some softball award that can't be for anything but participation unless my childhood is different from what I remember. The pile has doubled since I arrived - I need to get through it before it overwhelms the place.

One thing is clear, though. My parents have very odd priorities. I really don't think they think in terms of goals and priorities. Mom had two goals today: get the special whipped cream from the natural foods co-op and buy a couple extra turkey legs. It's possible she got the whipped cream around 4:40 or so as the co-op was closing. My brother and I picked up some turkey legs around 8pm after our early bird dinner when they were out of fresh and so we went with whatever pre-cooked ones were leftover. I'm sure mom'll mention something, but we had 2 days to get that stuff at least. We just didn't. I understand myself a lot better after coming home. And am feeling good that I'm leaving tomorrow night so I have 2 full days to go home and throw stuff out when I get home.

We're only expecting to have around 8 or so for dinner tomorrow, about half of the usual, but it's early yet. The upside to my parents weird prioritizing and oddball planning is that it doesn't phase them in the slightest when 10 extra people show for dinner at the last minute. And having a ton of crap in the basement and garage means there are either extra chairs or the makings of more benches and tables at the ready. I'd be up for that if I threw out more stuff... soon.

But first, the feasting. Happy Thanksgiving all!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Orange You Glad

I came home from Boston to a really overripe banana. I keep putting old bananas in the refrigerator thinking I'll use them for banana bread one day, and just watch them shrivel for 9 months at which point I throw them out. So this time, I resolved to make the banana bread right then. I had the time; I had the banana.

I checked a couple of bread books and found a likely candidate. The recipe I chose was based on a hawaiian recipe with macademia nuts and shredded coconut. (Claim Jumper makes apple muffins with coconut and I really like what coconut does to the texture and bite of the muffin.) I had purchased some unsweetened shredded (more flaked, really) coconut from the Bangluck Market a couple weeks back and decided to try it as is, even though I suspected the recipe was expecting me to use sweetened shredded coconut. I only had one banana, so I made half a recipe. Lastly, I don't have macademias and I'm not a huge almond fan, so I tried my luck with pine nuts.

The banana bread texture was really light and fluffy. It needed more sugar, but the taste and texture were otherwise really good. I'm not sure if it was the recipe, method, or shape but it was so light and fluffy, the pine nuts I'd put in just fell out when I cut the slices. Given the fact that I often think I'll make banana bread and often don't, I may have to try this again but vary the shape of the pan to see if I can figure out if it's the ingredients, my method of stirring it up (different from recipe), or the low rise of my loaf that made the texture so fabulous.

  • 3T sugar (may want 4T if using unsweetened coconut)
  • 3T butter
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
  • 3/4c flour
  • 1/2t baking soda, level
  • 1/4t baking powder, heaping
  • 1/4t salt
  • 1/4c shredded coconut
  • 1/2c nuts (macademia or almonds rec. I used pine nuts.)

Preheat oven to 350F, coat small pan with butter or Pam for Baking. Line pan with parchment if you can. I used an 8" round lined with a buttered coffee filter. Doubling the recipe calls for an 8"x4" bread pan.

Mash sugar and butter into paste with a fork. Mash banana into it. Whip in the egg and vanilla. [You could use a beater instead. I like stirring and mashing.]

Sift together the dry ingredients. Don't pack up the flour, if anything, go a little shy on it. [I usually sprinkle the flour into the measuring cup, tap it a couple times to get out big air pockets, and level it off. This time I scooped up the flour and leveled it off, so I only used 2.5 quarter-cupfuls (5/8c packed, 3/4c loose.) I sifted the stuff twice to make sure the leavening agents were well mixed in.]

When mixing the dry into the wet, conventional wisdom says don't overstir because the gluten in the flour starts to get activated and makes the bread tough. So I figured reducing the amount of flour getting a lot of stirring would help. The recipe said to add 2/3 then 1/3 of the flour, but I went even further.

Mix a third of the flour mix into the wet stuff. Stop stirring when all the flour is wet.
Sprinkle the coconut in, mix loosely until it's all distributed.
Mix half the remaining flour in until almost all incorporated.
Mix in rest of flour (and nuts if desired). Stir until just coated then stop stirring. Really, resist it. You can scrape down anything left on the edges, if you haven't already, and make sure the bottom of the bowl got scraped, but after that it's two swipes with the spoon or fork. Then stop. Really.

Pour into lubed pan, level the batter, and bake. It's done when it starts to smell really good and a toothpick comes out clean. For 2X the recipe and an 8"x4" pan, the recipe says to cook it for an hour. I used the amounts listed above, poured it into an 8" round (batter was maybe 3/4" deep to 1" deep) and it cooked in 25 minutes. Recipe says to rest the pan sideways for 10 min, but for my little pan, I just inverted it on a cooling rack and it came out clean with parchment on bottom so it didn't crack.

This smelled wonderful. It tasted good but needed more sugar. The coconut I used was finely shredded. I liked it though I'm sure tradtional American coarse shreds would work fine too. It was so light and fluffy the nuts just fell out. I'm not sure if pecans with all their crevices would work better, or tinier pieces wouldn't be so heavy, or if almond slices or slivers would work, but it is worth trying again for sure.

Let me know if you try it and have any luck. Try varying the loaf depth and the sugar amount, or just do the same thing I did, and see if you get this same thing. I'm so used to fruit and veg loaves being wet and dense that this has taken my completely by surprise. I hope it's not just dumb luck.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Busy Beaver

This week is crazy, but good. Have I ever been this organized before? Perhaps not. The blitz like nature of the trip is forcing me to organize, which is a good thing.
The Schedule:

Day, Time Activity
Monday Work
Monday PM Pack for Training class
Tuesday Noon Drop Car off at dealer for warranty service and non-warranty clutch replacement
Tuesday PM take shuttle to plane, fly to San Jose
Wednesday take excellent AVS class on Reactive Sputter Deposition
Wednesday PM take taxi to plane, fly to Burbank
Wednesday night sleep like a log
Thursday work & hammer out Boston schedule
Thursday PM pack for Boston
Friday work; print out paperwork for trip
Friday PM drive to LAX, catch red-eye to Boston
Saturday AM gracious friend picking me up from airport
Saturday noon wake up from nap, meet friend for historical walk
Saturday dinner Mmmm… Beer….Food…CBC
Saturday PM Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Sunday noon Brunch with friends. I love brunch.
Saturday afternoon Harry Potter at the Science Museum
Saturday PM Valet of the Dolls Drag Queen Theatre, and dinner
Monday noon Lunch with friends
Monday afternoon Tour east coast work facility
Monday evening Ride T back to airport with friend
Monday midnight Fly into LAX, drive home

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I've made it to the AVS conference. There was one lady still lingering at the registration desk when I squeaked in at 5:05 who was able to find my materials and get me sorted for my class tomorrow. I'm excited for the class. I agitated for it quite a bit and it paid off. Now to find out if I can learn anything useful!

Not sure yet if I should take the light rail or a taxi to the airport tomorrow. Class ends at 5, my flight is at 7. It took 35 minutes to take the bus to the train to my stop. I don't know how horrid wednesday evening security is at SJC, but by the cattle corral it looked prepared to house a small town at any given time. After my wait at the courthouse clerks office yesterday, I'm none to keen to stand in another line like that. But hey. There's one flight leaving later if I need it, and I'm not sure how many people will be grabbing taxis, or if the taxis will move any faster in rush hour. Ok, now that that worry is vomited out to the world, I can stop it festering.

It was kind of funny. I stopped at the info desk at the airport to ask how long it would take a taxi to get me to the Convention Center (not the Civic Center! - apparently I stop paying attention after "C") and she saw my back pack and bright orange courier bag and maybe thought I was a budget traveler. So I spent $2 and 35 minutes to get here (and yay, they have free email stations!), had a lovely chat with a now-student-former-airman on the train, and I feel less trapped by circumstances because I know how the public transit works.

I have a weird relationship with public transit. I've used it all over Europe, but I don't usually like taking it by myself for routine trips. I resented every moment I spent commuting on the T, so I didn't spend many moments commuting on the T. If I ride with someone, its GREAT! If it gets me somewhere novel once or twice, I'm in! But if it takes 3X as long as an easier option? I'm out. But I did realize today that I do like *knowing* how the system works. Don't know if that's because I like systems or if that's because I like options, but either way, I feel somehow more lighthearted, less trapped, and less dependent having taken the light rail option. So whichever way I use to make my escape tomorrow, I'm glad I tried it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Scratch That

EDITED: Nuts. For those who saw the original title, I'm a month and 1 day late. I'm a maroon. For some reason December-1 = 9 in my noggin, rather than 11. Either way 9NOV9 entertained me. But damn, I can't even count anymore. Basic math? Fuggedaboudit. Ahrenius equations, those I can do.

So sue me, I'm backdating this because I had a ton of running around to do yesterday. It was The Day of Bureaucracy here. I spent most of monday waiting for people to sign off on a document they'd approved last friday. I spent an hour and twenty minutes in line to turn in my traffic school paperwork. (Twenty minutes would have been reasonable, forty acceptable due to the lunch hour, but to have hundreds of people in line for an hour over that is not helping make the economy more productive. You've got 11 windows; open more than 4!) Then I printed out some documentation I need to revise and... bureaucracy.

Tuesday I'm flying to San Jose for a training class on wednesday. I'll be back in about 30 hours; such are the joys of business travel. The car will be getting a new clutch while I'm gone. The labor is covered under the warranty as is the cheapest clutch part (throwout bearing) so I just have to pay for the consumables and I won't have to worry about my clutch for a while. Then, the warranty is done with. I'm at 50K miles on my "new" car! So far so good. I still love it. I hope they can get it back together...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Good Stuff

New Shoes!!
Went shopping with a friend on Saturday, and on my own on Sunday. Managed to replace both my brown and black work shoes in short order. I got black Clark heels and black flats on sale, then used my Kohls cash to buy full price sketchers. The cool thing about the sketchers is that they're the exact same design as the shoes I totally wore out, but a darker brown, which was what I was searching for having decided a darker hue would match more of my stuff. Also at Kohls, using the "free money" I got during my shopping spree a couple weeks ago, I got 2 pairs of fun heels. One for me and one for a friend - total cost for both was $20 :) Funnily enough the ones for me are technically 2 sizes too small, but fit the bottom of my foot great.

Potential new friends:
On the way back from shopping, I took the northerly route and stopped for cheap vietnamese food and a cheap movie. The only flick I felt like seeing was Whip It (yes, again) so I dropped the $3 and went in. There was a while before it started and I was one the first two people there. So I got chatting with the other lady and then her friends. We seem to have similar taste in shows so I suggested they could email me if they didn't mind me tagging along to the next twilight movie or seeing Puppet Up. Here's hoping.

Traffic School
I'm done, I'm done! Well, technically I'll be done tomorrow when I turn in my paperwork, but jeez it has been a long time dealing with this. It's done before the busiest holidays at least.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quotidian Quotes

While doing everyday, average things, I ran across three quotes today that impressed or entertained me enough to write them down, which is not so usual.

"While making decisions, one must be both a citizen a consumer."
It was from NPR about choosing what fish to eat or not eat, but I think it speaks to a larger sentiment about why sometimes "market forces" aren't the best answer for solving problems. Because "the market" doesn't always, or even generally, reward citizen behavior in the short term. We find that treating people and our environment better improves things in the long term, but those EPA regs and code updates can be a PITA today. A 20 year homeowner has a different payout on the geothermal home heater than a house flipper does.

"He knows when to turn the lightsaber on"
David Plouffe on the Daily Show, responding to Jon Stewart's crack about Obama being a Jedi knight, as a response to Obama's conservative, measured (perceived slow) steps.

Nuts, there's another one, but it'll have to wait until I check my post-it board at work. (When at a loss, there's my perennial favorite of Beavis saying, "Yeah, I'm gonna get me some N-m-Ns and spank my monkey".) EDITED to add the quote in question:
"The old tunes, played more loudly, are all that's needed."
referencing the assumptions made to direct political strategy of right-wing Republicans. Unfortunately, IMHO, this strategy can work pretty effectively in the short and mid-terms. It's only when the response falls outside the "did not/did too" level of interaction that this starts not to be true, and that has been something most Democrats don't seem to grasp. So I liked the quote but the explanation is depressing. Back to thinking about, "I wish I was a baller/ I wish I was a little bit taller/ I wish I had a phone and a girl/ I could call her." which was the video B&B were critiquing that generated the N-m-Ns quote.

The Decider

good things today

Instead of waiting until the last minute, before lunch I prepared both my (very quick) power point slides for tomorow morning's presentation. This gave my boss an opportunity to give them the once over and tweak any awkward phrasing to be more politic, even though she was in meetings most of the day. And the documents that get signed off after the presentation? Also good to go and submitted before 5pm, so I'm not here late because I have to be, but because I'm surfing the web *just long enough* that I will make it to yoga at 7:30.

On another project that has annoying complexities, it's been a struggle to figure out how to route a particularly pesky procedure through our tracking system. Most of the options involve way too much work, so the project is lingering and is not something anyone wants to do. I sat down with some people today and hammered out a reasonable solution that will be both quick to implement and not too terrible to live with. We can always change it later, but I think it's the most gain for the least pain. Having a solution has already reduced my stress level. Yay! Decision made!

I'm feeling appreciably better today, even after deciing to go back for allergy shots yesterday. (I skipped twice in october due to flu shot and illness. Usually I don't skip.)

I'm on track for visiting friends in Boston! Through some fluke email search I ran across a listing I'd made about a year ago of all the people I miss pretty regularly. It hasn't changed much and brough tears to my eyes, so even though a weekend trip the week before a holiday might seem odd and rushed, it'll be good. I decided to go, bought the ticket, and now it's a done deal.

I really like my shirt combination today. I bought some heather-type-purple jobbie made of very thin knit at Anthropologie recently. It's got a floppy cowl neck and flared sleeves.
Like this only more purple. The sleeves and neck look great on me, but the belly region is a disaster. This is ok as I bought it to layer with. I totally love it.
I unconventionally paired it with brown slacks and a rust orange short sleeve Vera Wang number (from recent Kohls shopping extravaganza, though it must be last season's because I can't find a picture anywhere) and a simple silver herringbone necklace (gold would have been better but I don't have a gold necklace in that style) and my usual rings. I love this outfit. I'm not sure how it looks to anyone else, but to me the colors compliment rather than clash, and the flared sleeves are fun. Their length extends the wearable days of the smaller shirt. I think I'll keep it as an outfit.

Time for yoga!

Monday, November 2, 2009

You Say Potato

With the troop levels in Afghanistan partly dependent on a stable Afghan government, there was lots (and lots) of jabber on the news today about how the Karzai regime and Afghans in general need to "be free of corruption" in order for the government to work. Am I the only one who finds this to be utterly ridiculous as a near term goal?

Wikipedia, for one source, goes into the many, many paths of political corruption and reminds us "In some nations, corruption is so common that it has gained normative status." meaning that pretty much all transactions occurring between two (or three) parties are contingent upon bribery, nepostism, cronyism, graft, kickbacks and the like. Forgive me, and correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Afghanistan one of those places that literally functions on the extra cash being funneled under the table?

When we ask for them to remove "corruption" from their government, who is defining the corruption? If the transaction involves a "normative" level of extra-legal grease that is so routine that it occurs when one buys coffee or fixes a bicycle, why would someone think it was odd to also require it for drawing government forms or getting a job? Now don't think that my incredulity here is in some way condoning corruption as a way of life or governing. I think removing corruption is a fine goal and especially necessary if the repressed and minorities have any hope of living a decent life. But I think corruption is defined much like pornography and speeding: anything more than what you do is illicit and crazy; anything less is amateur if not obstructionist. Corruption is a moving target. One could discuss its removal day in, day out for years but unless specific rules are laid down (fishing licenses cost $35, no more, no less, yes for you too), investigated, enforced, and treated seriously, it'll be business as usual.

Add to that, changing a normative behavior generally takes a generation. In the case of countries where the average age of the populace is less than 15, there's a hope this could cycle faster than ours where the average age is over 30 and a large number of voters are over 65. But it's not going to happen this year, next year, or during our next political cycle. And making demands for reform to happen now, Now, NOW! just strikes me as being infantile and pandering. But I guess jabber about setting up incentives to strive for measurably reduced corruption years from now doesn't lead the infotainment headlines. And may not even be something we ever have any say in, if the government actually resumes autonomy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Goes Wriggling through the Grass

I'm not sure if I slept too much or if I needed to sleep too much but my weekend has been lousy with a lot of sleep. To counter the slugs, I went on my usual hike. (The hike which I skipped for most of the summer due to snakes - saw a teeny tiny rattler today who took his own sweet time getting off the trail.) I climbed for 15 minutes, including stopping to breathe and chat about snakes with fellow hikers, and reached my lowest elevation yet for that milestone but was still plenty ready to turn around and head back, being totally winded.

I was reading some stuff online and came across a really concise definition of buffers in the blood and cells, and how we alter the acid/base levels in either. The bit that interests me most is this: when the acid levels from lactic acid get too high, we breathe harder. It mentions breathing harder after climbing several flights of stairs, but even living in a 4th floor walkup, I was often feeling winded after one or two flights, even when in shape. My mom is that way too. We also tend to build muscle really easily. So I wonder if my heavy breathing is more from making more lactic acid than I ought to, or from being astoundingly out of shape. Or a combination of both. Anyway, it's something I'm ruminating on.

Also, it has occurred to me that it's been a while since posting my happy items. Here are some recent ones:
  • The local mechanic found something to fix while my car is still under warranty, and the look-see only cost about $20.

  • I have a job with sick days. My vacation might not be as advertised, but the job pays the bills and doesn't force me to work when sick.

  • I seem to have avoided the worst of the plague going around. I'm sick, and it appears to be lingering, but I can still breathe (mostly), and talk, unlike many of my colleagues who have gotten clobbered by this thing and have gone hoarse from a sore throat and/or coughing. Me, I'm mostly feeling stuffy (helped by sinus rinse) and sleepy (helped by sleeping), and thus that I'm not living up to my potential ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and goshdarnit, people like me" or "being sick is not vacation"), but it's clear I'm getting off easy.

  • It looks like I will be able to see friends AND family this november
  • One more- I don't think it can be overstated how much better life is with in-unit laundry.