Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.



Pramas has been known to refer to me as his "corn-fed Midwestern girl" (which I suppose is better than "girl from the depths of the fly-over") and it's true, I spent a good portion of my youth in corn country and bought many an ear of sweet corn that had been picked that day and was being bagged up at ten cents an ear from the back of a farmer's truck (parked down by the Muni). I, like many of my peers, had a summer gig detasseling corn before I was old enough to hold a more traditional job.

Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma does an admirable job of laying out exactly what's up with corn production in the United States, how it started, how it was shaped by government policy, where we are now. Pollan also has a few essays on his website that reveal a bit more about what's become the "industrial corn complex". The United States produces over 40% of the world's corn. Our domestic budget includes $9 Billion in corn subsidies and we institute a tariff of $.54 a gallon on foreign ethanol.

Why did High Fructose Corn Syrup replace other sweeteners? Surplus corn. What are livestock eating instead of grazing on grasses the way ruminants should? Surplus corn. Growing corn is so important to American agribusiness that corn was among the first genetically altered foods and big companies that I associate with chemicals (Dow? Dupont?) have patents on their particular corn's DNA. Multinational conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland benefit from massive subsidies and government incentives. Individual small farmers, not so much. Shoot, it's even being proposed that America's foreign aid to Malawi (a country that is awash in corn that it grows but can't sell) take the form of America's surplus corn.

In the same way that we're feeling the pinch where our cities have been designed around the premise of cheap gas and unrestricted automobile mobility, we're feeling the impact of agriculture and a food supply based on the premise of cheap, plentiful corn. Those same gas prices that are hurting folks directly at the gas pump are driving up the cost of corn, as producers struggle to produce more ethanol and other biofuel options. There are a bunch of people who are convinced that corn ethanol is a bad idea and are preparing for a replay of the 1980s farm crisis.

I don't know how America's corn crisis is going to play out. Congress has a chance to affect the direction of things with the 2007 Farm Bill. I do find that these sorts of questions, these large and troubling problems, continue to reinforce my focus on local, sustainable, environmentally responsible, ethically produced foods. I shopped the farmer's market yesterday and picked up the third of my weekly deliveries from our CSA today. I had a bunch of baby turnips for dinner tonight: delicious, local, fresh and nothing I would normally bother to eat. Those turnips (and their accompanying greens) helped me reach my food goals today in spectacular fashion! I hit my fiber goal, my calcium goal, and made it halfway to my iron intake goal (which, now that I'm coming closer to my fiber goal on a regular basis, is my biggest challenge area). Right now, I feel like that's about as much as I can focus on.

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Nancy Drew

Man, the next time I stupidly wonder aloud why I'm so tired someone should just slap me upside the head and say "Because you're SICK, stupid!" In full-blown sick mode at the moment (sneezing fits, congestion, aches, fatigue) and even having been chewing Zicam, drinking echinacea tea, and taking DayQuil (which usually works pretty well for me) I'm definitely feeling it. Limping along through the day...

So, anyway, Nancy Drew. From 1977 to 1979, I was a huge fan of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries television series. (I was oddly attracted to Shaun Cassidy for reasons I can't begin to fathom now. Parker Stevenson was far cuter to my adult eye... and I thought that maybe he was just too "adult" to be attractive to a seven year old, but my lifelong love of Harrison Ford's Han Solo flies in the face of that theory. Oh well, I was a child, what can I say?) My memories of the Nancy Drew series remain fond and they fueled many games of pretend where I was a spunky child detective solving "mysteries" of my own. By the time I was in third grade, I had checked out all of the Nancy Drew mysteries from our public library and had started on the Hardy Boys series (while I liked the Hardy Boys on tv just fine, I always enjoyed Nancy Drew books better).

I've written before that Kate and I have played several of the Nancy Drew computer games together. Kate is not the avid reader that I was at her age; she loves stories but reading comes harder to her and she still struggles enough that reading for "fun" isn't much fun after all. Still, we've listened to all the Nancy Drew stories that have been released in audiobook format. Kate follows in my footsteps to Nancy Drew fandom as I followed my own mother. I imagine the feeling to be something like what sports fan parents feel when their kids discover their own love of the Cubs or the Broncos.

There have been several attempts to "update" Nancy Drew to appeal to kids today. I think this is foolishness! Nancy doesn't need to be turned into a pre-teen (ala the "Baby Looney Toons" fad of a few years back where all the classic cartoon characters were recast as diaper-wearing toddler versions of themselves) or made into a boy-crazy would-be sorority girl to capture the attention of today's Bratz-loving grade schoolers. There is a new movie out this summer that neither Kate nor I am looking forward to (but will probably see despite our skepticism) because, well, Nancy Drew isn't a Valley Girl! There's also a modern series of books (Nancy Drew Girl Detective) which aimed at the 8-12 year old audience (which is firmly where I was when I was reading the originals) but in a dumbed down and modernized tone that's unrecognizable as the Nancy Drew of the previous 70 years.

I'd been thinking that maybe my expectations were unrealistic, that my memories of the Nancy Drew mysteries of my childhood were those typical overly rosy impressions of youth (like my crush on Shaun Cassidy). To my delight, I can say that's not the case! One of the things I picked up at Scarecrow Video the other night was a DVD of the collected Nancy Drew episodes from the tv show. Kate and I watched the pilot episode and one other together last night and that old show holds up! Pamela Sue Martin IS Nancy Drew. She's clever and accomplished without being a know-it-all, she's remarkably pretty and extremely fashionable without needing supporting characters to comment on her clothing choices. You just notice that she's put together. She's exuberant and genuinely appealing. Sure, there are some hilarious gaffes in the 70s show (like scenes that are clearly being filmed in broad daylight but which claim to be taking place in the middle of the night, or scenes of the California coast which are supposedly in New England) but for a television show of that era the quality is really there. Most importantly, Nancy is the Nancy we expect. Kate watched this with me and loved it (though she hates the doofus casting of Ned as an uptight geek/comedy relief character; that's a valid complaint).

The treatment of Nancy Drew today, which foolishly relies on inane superficialities instead of focusing on those timeless characteristics that make Nancy Drew so iconic, reminds me a bit of the constant search for "the girl game" in the game industry. That approach is never going to get the desired result. The 1977 series shows it's possible to do Nancy Drew for the screen and to do it right.

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Working Weekend

I don't know why working through the weekend made me so tired but it has. I tried to balance work with some time out for good food and just relaxing and shooting the shit with the guys but man, I'm beat. I can only imagine it's worse for Rob and Steve, as they have the time difference to adjust to and travel on top of that. Still, great stuff got settled this weekend and I'm feeling very enthusiastic about the subjects of our meetings.

Carmelita was excellent as ever. Meyer lemon risotto with asparagus and fava beans? Sign me up! I shouldn't have gone in for dessert but just couldn't say no to the vanilla bean panna cotta with blood orange sauce and candied rose petals as I was never going to have another chance to try that particular concoction. Wow, good choice! Delicious.

We started things later today and I made pumpkin pancakes (and a Guinness cake) for everyone during the day, with dinner at Judy Fu's for good measure. Operation "Feed the Staff" was generally a success, except for the abysmally long wait at Crave. On the way home I ran them by Scarecrow Video, because everyone should visit Scarecrow at least once. Scarecrow was surprisingly vacant! I guess the combination of it being the end of a long weekend and the start of the SIFF (so all the cinephiles are doing that instead of renting DVDs) combined and had people going elsewhere. We roamed around Scarecrow for a while, Kate and I picked up a couple of videos, and we came back to GRHQ to cap the weekend with a viewing of Bill Hicks' Sane Man.

All this getting out and mingling with people is bad for my health, though. I seem to have picked up a particularly annoying sore throat and now that I'm home and tucked in for the night I can feel a headache (not fully formed) coming on. My throat hurts from talking and laughing with my fellows. The last four days have been good but tiring and tomorrow it's back to work as usual, with the additional burdens of having to sort our broken washing machine and getting the remaining documents for Kate's passport process sorted out.

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New Photos

roasted garlic close-up
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I've uploaded a bunch of new photos, including:


Carmelita (starting with the garlic photo to the end of the set)


and some of the bounty that's been arriving in my CSA Box. I'm going to be updating this set every week throughout my subscription.

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Head above Water

Didn't mean to go several days without an update but I've been a tad busy. I had to ask what day it was today as this weekend has been packed. PACKED. Good stuff, though, work and play.

Friday I managed to get a new four-level bunny condo built before picking Steve up at the airport. A stop for lunch at Geraldine's Counter and then off to drop him at his hotel, back home to fine-tune the bunny habitat (and make sure there were no bunny escapes while I was out), picked Kate up, back to the airport to fetch Rob and off to join the Flying Lab folks at Pirates of the Caribbean 3. Nested our "corporate team building" event inside Flying Lab's corporate outing, ha! I knew I was in trouble when I was checking my watch barely half an hour into the movie. It was far better than PotC2 but I was still unengaged for most of the film. The fact that I was sitting directly behind a total asshole who deserved several punches in the back of the head didn't increase my enjoyment. I don't know what it was, why I wasn't immersed and enjoying it. Can't pick out one particular thing and all things individually were fine but somehow they didn't hold together into a fully enjoyable experience. I'm happy to put that series to bed, I think. After the film we walked over to Wild Ginger for some food and drink.

Yesterday we got a lot of great work done, I think. Nailed down a bunch of things, whittled away at some pressing problems. Very good work day, capped off by a visit to Ray's for grilled pizzas. Tim couldn't join us so Ray won the Pizza Throwdown by default. Jess and Shelby brought wine and cigars. While the guys were out on the porch with the cigars, I joined Kate and Shelby downstairs for a little Guitar Hero II. Evan and I teamed up for a little duet action before he had to head out. Quite a lot of fun, that game.

This morning I picked the fellows up and had the brilliant idea of taking them out for breakfast at Crave. I called beforehand to get an idea of whether I was flat out crazy to think that I could get 5 people in for breakfast there between 9 and 9:30 and was told they really had no idea but "things usually don't get hopping until around 10:00" and they don't take reservations, so I gave it a shot. We were there by 10 minutes after 9:00. By 9:15 we were told it would be half an hour wait. 45 minutes later we were finally seated, but then we didn't actually get any FOOD until another 40 minutes after that! In between us being seated and actually getting any food, another party of six that arrived half an hour after us were seated, ordered, finished their meal, and LEFT! Holy crap. It was a full two hours from when we arrived and when we left, and food was only on the table for about 15 minutes of that time. The food was okay. Some parts were very good (the overnight French toast was pretty good, the salmon from Chris's salmon and bagel was delicious) and some parts were fairly disappointing (my dutch baby was adequate, the bagel portion of Chris's breakfast was not so good, perhaps day old). We received plenty of coffee and our waitress was quite nice once we were finally acknowledged and seated, but I would not go out of my way to go to Crave again.

Another pretty solid day of work today, though we got a little punchy in the late afternoon and so broke off to do a little R&D and playtest some game submissions. Tonight dinner at Carmelita, which I'm very excited about. My previous trips to Carmelita have tended to be in the fall when seasonal ingredients tend to be in the squash/pumpkin/apple theme. I'm excited by the prospect of a Carmelita dinner that pulls from the spring palate.

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Fired up the little charcoal grills last night so we could have some grass-fed beef hamburgers from Skagit River Ranch on fresh sesame seed buns from the Columbia City Bakery (read Orangette's write-up from last fall here), with a side of grilled corn on the cob and some of my own pickles from last pickle-making. Tastes like summer!

My goal in June is to get the "patio" of paving tiles done so we can finally, finally take posession of the grill Ray and Christine have been kindly keeping for us. Also, to install the swing chair I bought. Let this be a summer of barbecuing!



Issues with Authority

The "office lady" was the bane of my childhood: it was in her disapproving hands that I had to put any notes from my mother, it was her disbelieving sniff I had to tolerate when I went to the office sick or in turmoil, she who frowned or sneered when I came in late or left early for a doctor's appointment.

My junior high office lady was complicit in lies and betrayal against me that I do not forgive her for to this day. (After being bullied in gym class, I fled the gym in tears. Instead of running straight to the nearest bathroom, where I knew they would just grab me and haul me back to class, I ran out the front door of the school, around the building to the back door, back up the hallway and into the bathroom...buying myself enough time to have a good cry, or so I thought. My evasive action so baffled them -- because, of course, they went looking for me in the bathroom right away but not three minutes later when I was actually there -- and they were so furious that I had evaded capture, they snatched me up when I did come out of the bathroom at the end of the period. The bathroom was right in front of the office and the office lady was livid that I'd somehow been under her nose the entire time. She and the Assistant Principle teamed up, called my mother, and while I was in the room listening completely LIED about having "found me" wandering around somewhere off school grounds! LIES. Complete fabrication. The Assistant Principle looked me right in the eyes while he told this lie; he knew exactly what he was doing and did it on purpose. It was the most petty and blatant abuse of power I'd ever experienced to that point in my life and it affected my default position on people in positions of such authority ever since.

Until last year Kate's school had one pretty decent office lady and one older and slightly more abrasive office lady who I got to know and get along with alright. This year there's been a new office lady and I find I don't much like her. She's called me a few times this year over various Kate issues and each time she manages to insult me in some way. Like when I spoke to her about Kate's lunch money account being overdrawn; I thanked her for calling and told her this was the first I'd heard of it but that I would send a check the following day. That should have been the end of it but she kept talking, insinuating that there was some other reason that Kate did not have lunch money or that Kate was lying about forgetting to tell me. Finally I said, "I assure you I can afford to pay for my daughter's lunches and I've already told you I'll send a check tomorrow. What more do you want?!" and only then did she shut up and apologize if she'd offended me. Or the day she called because Kate had been in the office with a headache for over an hour and "it was up to me, of course" whether I should come get her or not, but basically she was not going to let me off the phone unless I said I'd come pick her up. I despise that things are such at public schools that you can't just offer a kid with a headache a tylenol and send them back to class!

The day after the incident with Kate's pants being cut at school, I went to pick her up because I happened to be going to the post office that day at the time her classes let out. I arrived on the playground but there was no Kate. Her 3rd grade teacher was on playground duty and told me he'd sent her to do an errand for him ("I needed someone I could trust.") and she should be right back. He needed the megaphone they use to call kids to their bus lines but it was in the office, so he sent Katherine to fetch it. Because English is not his first language, he called it "the loud speaker" so that's what Kate went to the office to request. When she returned with it she told me that she'd gotten in trouble with the new office lady because she'd asked for "the loud speaker" and the office lady said "Loud speaker?" and Kate confirmed "Yeah, the loud speaker." Kate was then treated to "Don't you talk to me that way. Don't you talk to me like I'm one of your little friends!" When I heard this, I was angry. It pressed all my buttons and I marched into the office intending to ask the office lady where the hell she got off. I arrived not two minutes after this exchange took place and she was on the phone so I did not launch into things right away. Seeing me, she was immediately all sweetness and light, calling Katherine "Sweetie" and so forth. In the end, I merely picked up Kate's pants (which we'd turned over to them to prove she wasn't making it up and about which they did nothing) and left, but that episode told me all I needed to know to make up my mind. This woman treated kids one way when she thought she was the big boss and completely differently in the face of any parental scrutiny.

I had to deal with her yesterday when she called to tell me, with all the disdain and judgment she could muster, I had to come pick up my daughter because "her head is crawling with lice." That's what she said. "Her head is crawling with lice." I spent the day treating Kate for lice to be safe but after thoroughly going through every strand of her hair I can tell you that she was NOT, in fact, "crawling" with lice. Not only did I have all that unpleasantness but I had to deal with HER. I'm sending Kate back to school today and I'd better not hear from that office lady about it or we will have words and she will not like it.

I still have problems with authority figures.

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MSNBC is running a poll.

Do you believe President Bush's actions justify impeachment?

With over 471,000 people responding at the time of this blog post, I have to admit I'm surprised at the results.

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The Hunger Issue

I wrote last month about Oregon Governor Kulongoski's "food stamp challenge". Other elected officials are getting in on the act and trying it for themselves.

Among those publicly sharing their experiences are Ohio Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, whose efforts to live on $3 a day were thwarted when TSA confiscated the peanut butter and jelly he was traveling with (you can read his blog entry about it at the link), Rep. Jan Shakowsky of Illinois, and Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern and
the sole Republican willing to give it a go so far Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri (yay this thing is crossing party lines a bit!) who are co-chairs of the House Hunger Caucus.

Something that Rep. Ryan wrote in his blog shows me he gets it:

I know many people have written in saying that Food Stamps are meant to be a supplement to other income. Well, yeah that is how the program was intended, but it has been 11 years since we've added ANY value to food stamps, 10 years since we've raised the minimum wage and in that time inflation has risen, the price of milk has risen, the price of produce has risen. NOW we find ourselves in a position where with gas well over $3.00 a gallon in many places those who earn the least among us use their food stamp benefit not as a supplement, but as their sole source of income for food.

I've seen plenty of criticism that the people taking the "food stamp challenge" are doing so to score political points, as a "stunt". Perhaps they are just grubbing for publicity and trying to score points with voters when they start, but I can't believe that thinking, feeling human beings can go through the exercise without being moved to have even a little more compassion, a tiny improvement in their understanding of the issue. People are going hungry in the United States and it's not a class of nebulous "bad" people who somehow deserve to be hungry (!?) but working families, children, the elderly, the disabled.

Gas prices are only going to make this problem worse. The Seattle Times ran a story about how food banks were being hurt by gas prices last year! A quote from the article, "...when we start hearing from our loyal cadre of volunteers that some of them can't afford to pick up donated food or do deliveries, we know there is a big problem." How much worse now, when prices for gas in Seattle are between $3.50 and $3.70 a gallon for regular? A couple weeks ago the Seattle media reported that local food banks were completely out of baby food and formula. As summer approaches, kids who get at least one (sometimes two) meals a day at school need to get their food elsewhere. I'm glad, publicity stunts or not, that a least a few people in positions of power may find themselves sufficiently motivated to do something to make sure that America's hungry citizens can eat.

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TV Party

So I was listening to Black Flag's TV Party the other night and was overcome by the urge to have a TV party. For those unfamiliar with the song, I've linked to the lyrics but the thing that makes the song goofy and funny isn't reflected in the lyrics. After they swear they're dedicated to their favorite shows, the guys in the band yell out various popular tv shows like: That's Incredible!, Hill Street Blues, Dallas, Quincy ("Ladies and Gentlemen, you are about to enter the exciting world of forensic medicine..."), Dynasty.

Checking out Wikipedia's 1982 in Television entry, it seems like we could do a 1982 TV party (making it a nice flat 25th anniversary) and pull in a lot of other great awful shows. M*A*S*H* was still on in 1982, as was Happy Days, Little House on the Prairie, One Day at a Time, The Jeffersons, CHiPs, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Three's Company, Benson, Dukes of Hazzard, The Facts of Life, Trapper John, M.D., Magnum P.I., Gimme a Break!, Knight Rider, and The Fall Guy. 1982 was the last year for WKRP in Cincinnati, Fridays, Barney Miller, Mork and Mindy, and Bosom Buddies. 1982 was the Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo/Robin Duke era of Saturday Night Live. So much awful tv to draw from!

I presented the idea to my dinner companions on Friday and received a pretty enthusiastic response. I'm thinking it'll take some time to put something like this together but the more I think about it, the more I think it's something that just has to be done! Make it an all-day affair, like Toren's Cartoon Party, where people can come and go as they feel like it. If it's too hard to get a hold of the TV shows, we could always branch out into films from 1982, though that does stretch the "TV" part of TV Party. Still, 48 Hours? E.T. the Extra-Terristrial? First Blood (aka "Rambo")? Mazes and Monsters? Nightshift? Poltergeist? Oh yeah.

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Seattle Saturday

Mark came down and took Kate out for a few hours so Chris and I grabbed the change to go wander the Seattle Cheese Festival down at the Pike Place Market. I'd been to the first such festival a couple of years ago with Christine and it was crowded and disappointing but I was willing to give it a try again this year. After fighting our way to 2/3 of the stands we did try some decent cheeses but only once was it not so obscenely crowded that we even felt we had a chance to learn anything about the cheeses or (gasp) buy some. Usually I felt like a jerk for merely trying to squeeze in between people to spear a single cheese cube sample (or lingering overly long where vendors were serving up single samples from the more expensive cheeses). We'd started out by lining up with what appeared to be an orderly line of people waiting their turns only to have a guy from the festival chide us for doing so. He said flat out "there is no line," and that we were just wasting our time standing there, we should just "go up to" stands that interested us. I said to Chris, "They really want us to just muscle our way through the crowd? I want to do it in an orderly manner!" As we were leaving the "line" we heard another group falling into "line" behind us, saying "Let's approach this in an orderly manner..." I stopped to tell them what the festival worker had told us.

I think I'm going to stick to cheese shopping at cheese shops and the farmer's markets in the future. This "festival" is anything but festive.

We took a break, grabbed a couple falafel sandwiches from Falafel King (verdict: way, WAY too much garlic; they're no Zaina, whose 3rd Ave location we continue to mourn. I should have walked to Cherry St. for my falafel fix, though...). We carried out our sandwiches and ate at tables down by the water, keeping an eye on a gaggle of agitated junkies over one shoulder. We thought about trying to see a Kate-unfriendly movie but nothing playing at Pacific Place really called out to be seen so we got a SIFF schedule (SIFF starts next week!) and browsed it over coffee instead. A brief stop at the hell that is Old Navy later, and back towards the market so I could pick up some Copper River Salmon with is IN NOW! Ah, spring in Seattle. I love it.

Made the salmon in a soy-maple glaze, with asparagus and mashed purple potatoes from my CSA box. Good Saturday!

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Joined John, Jenny, and Jim for dinner last night at Betty, a new Queen Anne restaurant. I left my camera at home (to my companions' amazement) so no photos of this visit. Kate and I were half an hour late because the directions we got from Metro's trip planner had us taking a bus that stopped running for the night before our bus arrived to make the connection and my phone was dead so I couldn't call Chris (or anyone) for options on alternate routes... or even find and reserve a nearby Flexcar instead. The bus schedule was very confusing and the lovely weather had turned suddenly very cold and rainy. We finally caught another bus that meandered all over creation before dropping us about six blocks from the restaurant. I arrived at dinner cold, damp, wind-blown and very hungry.

The company was great as usual. I ordered up a cocktail to take the chill off and after what seemed a particularly long time (especially considering the restaurant wasn't yet full) I did finally get it. After I joined the table it took our waitress a VERY long time to come back and take our order. This was particularly frustrating for me, starved and chilled and somewhat cranky, especially since Betty has a very limited menu. The menu takes up half a strip of paper, with three or four choices for appetizer/soup or salad/entree. It certainly should not take any human more than 5 minutes of reading the menu to pick from those choices, and definitely not the half an hour we continued to wait. It's also worth noting that there was little but bread and soup that Kate would eat (so that is exactly what she ended up having).

Now, when the food did come it was glorious. Helped, I'm sure, by my intense hunger and general chill, I sunk into a plate of artichoke pappardelle that was one of the best pasta meals I've had in recent memory. It was so good I sopped up the remaining broth with Kate's bread and could have licked the plate to boot. Perfect for me and my tastes! Kate's minestrone was suspect for her (floating bits of vegetables, eek!) but was made with a rich, rich chicken and pork broth. I'm not usually a minestrone fan as it too often has some mushy pasta and a weak tomato broth but this is one I would have eaten up. Small, firm white beans, fresh zucchini pieces, green beans, and oh, the broth! Kate, full of bread and soda begged off of eating most of it but it was not for lack of quality. Chris said his steak frites was also good, though to look at the frites I think Cremant would still get my top vote.

Chris and I were virtuous and skipped dessert, though I think Chris may have had a bite of John and Jenny's cake. I was content with coffee, though the coffee wasn't very hot (luckily I drink fast). I promised the waitress that I would mention in my review that they will not split the bill for you, though they will divide the total among several cards. Business diners will just have to knife fight for the receipt, I guess. Bottom line: high marks for food and meh service.

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Wish I was going

Dinosaur Jr. at the Showbox tonight

Yeah, Dinosaur Jr. is one of those things that takes me back to my first marriage, one of the bands (along with Sonic Youth and Fugazi) that my ex-husband introduced me to. It always reminds me of the time when our relationship was new, when he was still in college and I'd go to see his band. When we still liked each other and the world seemed full of youthful possibilities.

Sometimes I don't thrill you
Sometimes I think I'll kill you
Just don't let me fuck up will you
cause when I need a friend its still you.

God, I still love that song...



New Holly in the news

The Seattle Times ran an article on my neighborhood last weekend.

My neighborhood is part of what amounts to a giant social experiment, spearheaded and overseen by the Seattle Housing Authority. On one hand we knew what we were getting into when we bought our home in New Holly. I knew a little of the reputation of the area, it was clear that we were going to lack amenities for a while while development caught up to the new population. Everyone was clear up front that this was going to be a "blended community" and that didn't scare me. There are some yuppie homeowners in our HOA who are very prissy about the state of the rental units or the attitudes of this ethnic group versus that ethnic group but I've lived in plenty of rental properties in my lifetime. My mom scraped her way up to working class and I know that economic disadvantage does not mean "bad people" even where it does signal challenges. I had high hopes for our neighborhood when I bought in and I still feel that hope, though I would really like to see someone open a frickin' coffee shop or nice restaurant. "Maybe when the Light Rail construction is finished," I keep telling myself.

I do have some issues with the SHA. SHA remains the biggest owner in the development, owning houses that are rental units to replace the public housing that was torn down to build these new homes; I assume it was the SHA that drafted the New Holly Homeowner's Association by-laws and the community rules which we live under (such as the "no window air conditioning units" clause or the "you can't paint your steps anything but grey" rule) as they were the only homeowners before the houses were sold to people like me. When I bought my house the HOA rules and codes were in place and I was forced to sign on to them as they were as a condition of getting my mortgage. I'm not a fan of the state the SHA-controlled HOA board left things, including the issue with faulty water-billing and the lack of proper reserve funds, or the overly-cozy relationship certain SHA board members exhibited toward the utterly incompetent and offensively poor management company the SHA-controlled board hired to "manage" our community. That is not to say that I don't appreciate certain individuals from the SHA who have tried to make this thing work well and who have represented community interests to the HOA board or the larger SHA; I'm just not willing to give the whole Seattle Housing Authority a pass for things I consider bad policy (like their admitted policy of knowingly setting initial HOA dues unsustainably low to bait people into buying in, knowing that substantial increases would be necessary but not disclosing that plan to home buyers).

Now that I've had that little rant, I think the article does a fair job of presenting some of the issues in the community while not overselling its successes or underselling its potential. I agree that language is the biggest barrier, as we saw when I was trying to get fair hearing for my Chinese-speaking neighbors. Without a common language it's very, very difficult to find anything else in common or have meaningful interactions beyond friendly smiles and waves, which is pretty much my entire relationship with my immediate neighbors. Even so, it wasn't until this last year that I met or interacted much with any of my neighbors, English-speaking or not. We barely squeaked into this neighborhood when we bought our house and while we're categorized among the white, English-speaking (let's be frank) yuppies who've bought homes here, we're really not part of that "class" either. We're not doctors, lawyers, or Microsofties. I'm fairly uncomfortable with the idea that I'm supposed to be a "role model" for my less fortunate neighbors or "help them out of poverty" as the article proposes.

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Joy Palace

Chris was up excruciatingly early yesterday (and I'd stayed up particularly late after game night with Ray again) so we didn't get to go out for a walk together in the morning as we have been. Instead, we walked down the hill to Joy Palace to both get in a walk and so I didn't have to think up something to cook in my worn out state. Kate's never thrilled about going there because she "doesn't like" (read "won't try") most things on the menu, even things I know she likes if they come out of a package (like pot stickers).

We don't go to Joy Palace that often but it's become our go-to place for Chinese. They also do dim sum but we've never been able to break away from Sun Ya for our dim sum needs and haven't tried their dim sum yet. Often when we go there the place is empty or nearly so. Every time we've been in we've been the only white folks in the restaurant.

Last night was not much different, though there were two women just finishing their dinners as we were looking over the menu. Their bill came and one of the women started loudly complaining that her sweet and sour chicken had cost $7.95 (rice extra), complaining about "highway robbery" and asserting that "every other restaurant" brought rice for free. I couldn't believe it. Joy Palace portions are HUGE and you're getting quite a deal for a gigantic plate of whatever you've ordered for $7.95! Anyway, the two women eventually paid up and left.

We ordered a plate of pot stickers, one order of fried rice, one order of orange beef, and I really wanted a "side" of Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce so we got some of that, too. The waitress double-checked that I meant to order the Chinese broccoli, and asked if we would like forks (a kind but unnecessary touch). We had a huge amount of food, platters mounded with food. We ate until we were stuffed and took home three large containers of leftovers, and it was a steal, an absolute steal. We were happy, we were polite, we said please and thank you. As our check was being tallied, a waiter brought out complementary bowls of warm coconut milk with diced taro and tapioca for each of us.

That's what you get when you're not a jerk: warm coconut tapioca dessert! Yum. Chris and I have decided to start going to Joy Palace a little more often. Wouldn't hurt to get to be known regulars at a place like that. Highly recommended (unless you're the sort of person who objects to paying $7.95 for a huge plate mounded with food, I guess).

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Dr. Lucky

Ray was over for game night last night so he poked around on my computer for a while and returning to a previous installation from months ago I'm at least up and able add/remove programs and Firefox is running without crashing. Small steps. I'm still not exactly confident about this machine in the long term (which blows because it's not that old!) but for now I seem to be back on stable ground.

Tim and Evan were both out last night so we broke out the board games and eventually settled on trying the new Titanic Games edition of the Cheapass Games hit Kill Doctor Lucky. The Titanic edition is very pretty, though we were a bit frustrated by the wispy font choice on the board (more than once unfamiliar players said "What's that room?" or mistook 14 for 11 and so on) but I guess we're just old and curmudgeonly. I feel like I'm constantly crying out for readable fonts in the face of more artistic choices (Unlike some, I'm not a Comic Sans hater because I can read it! which is the most important thing to me... but that's a rant for a different day.) The components are fine, the addition of the "spite tokens" speeds up the game considerably and adds a layer of strategy for those players who find themselves thinking things like "She's got plenty of spite tokens to stop this murder attempt, so I'm not going to play anything." Kate was the silent little mistress of strategy, twice busting out with murder attempts in rooms where she got the bonus for using the right weapon. Unfortunately, because of my unwillingness to part with my spite tokens, Chris was able to make a surprise (successful) murder attempt despite her good strategy and excellent poker face.

The game is as solid as ever and the components of this super-deluxe version are fine. The board is gorgeous. We found the cards to be a little "sticky" when we first opened them up to shuffle them (they didn't want to slide smoothly against each other, not that they were tacky or physically damaged or defective or anything) and I'm hoping with more use they'll loosen up a little. There are lots of clever details in the components that I have to admit I didn't notice during game play: each room card has a color picture of the room on it, the failure cards all supply humorous text and illustrations, the movement cards have one person pictured for "move one" and two people pictured for "move two" and so on.

I know James has wanted to do up a deluxe version of Doctor Lucky for the better part of a decade, so I'm really pleased for him. Titanic's edition of the game is quite nice. I hope they have lots of success with it.



Is my computer Fuxxored?

Ok, so technology hates me. We're all clear on that. PDAs, hard drives, laptops, printers, routers, light bulbs for pete sake, they all tend to fritz out (from going just a little wonky to outright self-immolation) when I'm around.

Right now my installation of Firefox is driving me insane. Keeps crashing, randomly, multiple times a day. Sometimes I can use it for hours, other times it just goes all to hell and crashes, crashes, crashes. Fine. Ok. I'll reinstall. Try that, no change.

Ok, so I'll completely uninstall it and try that, I think.

I'm on a PC, using XP. I know how to do this much, or so I think. Go to control panel, go to "Add or Remove Programs" and get the message "Currently installed programs: please wait while the list is being populated..." FOREVER. Seriously. It never lists the programs, ANY programs, that I have installed! I left it "populating" for half an hour and gave up.

I can't even begin to imagine what else is completely screwed up on my machine if I can't get basic control panel stuff to function. I swear, I'm not bad to my computers! I love my electronics, they just don't love me back. Any tech-heads out there have any ideas on where to start figuring out and fixing what's wrong?

Luckily I've got all my important crap backed up: bookmarks are backed up online, contacts are in my Palm and I've been using Plaxo, my e-mail is cc:'d to a gmail account that I keep specifically for backups, my important documents (like our Quickbooks files and contracts) are regularly backed up to a thumb drive and occasionally bulked to a CD. Although it's not unheard of for me to lose multiple electronic aids at once (like the Palm blowing up and the next day the hard drive blowing up, as happened to me last summer)...



Again in Africa

I've written about my friend Catherine's efforts in Africa before, in 2003 (the direct link to that entry is broken, scroll down to "Letter from a friend in Africa")
and again in 2005.

...in the poorer community that I have spent time in, Olkoroi, there are still quite a lot of girls being married off at a young age. In one of my favourite families (bright, beautiful kids) the mum just intervened to stop the dad marrying off his grade 6 girl...

So 1.5 years ago, I sat down with the mothers to ask them- what can we do to support your girls (seemed the most obvious thing to do- if you want to strengthen the girls, you strengthen the mums). When I talked to them they spoke of the challenges of polygamy, poverty and powerlessness- they were very eloquent.

So I asked them- what do you want? I mean I have no special knowledge on how to fix things, and I feel that you can't really impose outside ideas on traditional communities- if it doesn't happen from within it NEVER works. The women suggested that they form small business groups and try to raise money together.

A dear friend had given me some money to use at my discretion, and so I took $400 and distributed it within these groups. There were 20 groups each with 5 women. So each group got $20.

So on my most recent visit, I sat down with the women again...[t]hey told me that each group had purchased a goat (goats run about $20). THEN, they persuaded their husbands to give them a goat each (I suspect that having my backing helped them in this endeavor). So now...each
group has 6 goats!!!!

Then one woman- single mother (smart as anything) three kids- says that she took her group's $20 to the market, bought unga (a ground corn powder), sold it in the village and doubled their money. They buy their goat, AND they still have their capital.

Another group approaches me and says "Our group has a name!". I smile and ask them what it is. It is, of course, a Masai word (kimelok) and it translates as "We're so sweet". I ask them why they are so pleased with themselves. They have persuaded their husbands to give them young cows!!!! So they have 6 goats AND 5 cows.

These women were SO pleased with themselves, and it struck me so strongly that poverty and powerlessness desperately undermines human capital. These women are not stupid, they are not incapable. They simply have no power or resources. Given a little lift and support, you see their potential unleashed potential.

Catherine is thrilled at what they've accomplished and isn't stopping there. She's looking into setting up a real microcredit program, personally funding another group, looking to raise funds for a school she's adopted, and more. The women she funded are full of hope and new ideas: open a kiosk selling veterinary medicine so that the community wouldn't have to go to the market (2-3 hours away) or into town (3-4 hours away by direct vehicle, which virtually no one has, otherwise overnight trip); setting up a drinks kiosk; selling fabric; buying seeds, clothes, and building better huts for their kids.
As Catherine says, "All of these things not only help the women, but also help the community because it means the community can access more resources without trekking to the weekly market 3 hours away.

In the same vein, there was a Mother's Day human interest story in the news yesterday about a University of Washington student (who lost his parents and six of his 10 brothers and sisters to illness by the time he was 13) who went to medical school to keep that from happening to others. There's a part in that news story where they talk about women having to walk 17 miles with a sick child looking for help that they may or may not be able to afford, that may or may not even work... That would be like me walking from my house to Microsoft HQ, carrying Kate on my back (in the 100 degree heat, no less, it is Africa after all). Holy crap.

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Orca Plant Sale

Yesterday was the Orca school plant sale. All year students at Orca participate in the Orca garden, helping to plant seeds, nurture seedlings, and contribute in whatever way they can (artistic cement stepping stones, painted bird houses, driftwood mobiles, you name it) to projects that culminate with the annual plant sale. This is a huge fund-raiser for the school, which helps support the programs Orca families value so much. I've been waiting for the plant sale to see what I could get there before starting on my re-beautification project in my yard.

The plant sale seemed to have a great turnout. The weather was good (sunny if just a little cool) and in addition to the plant and garden offerings, there was a band, a stand run by the Nutrition committee selling foods (to benefit Orca's before- and after-school care program), a stand selling Orca t-shirts and someone selling jewelry (presumably for another fund-raising program, though I don't do dangly earrings so I didn't stop to look).

I bought a gorgeous painted wooden planter box filled with colorful flowers, several types of tomatoes, a "pasta bag" which was parsley, basil, some onion seeds, tomatoes in a reusable shopping bag from PCC Market, some cucumbers, some purple basil, a few other random seedlings, a sweet little birdhouse painted by an Orca student, and a large birdhouse mounted on a pole (that I hope will be attractive to the birds who keep trying to nest in my laundry room vent).

For my Mother's Day present to myself (last year it was to replace my microwave) I decided to sign us up for a CSA. This is something I've considered several times over the years but this year I really feel we're in a good position to really make proper use of such a subscription. I have no serious travel scheduled between now and August, so I signed us up for 10 weeks of whatever bounty is abundant. If it works out as I hope it does, I'll extend us through July and take a hiatus during August (when the crazy travel begins again).

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The "pimp" stand

I was walking near the park the other day with Kate when she asked me if it was true that you had to have a license to have do a car wash, because she and her friends had been talking about ways to make money and having offering a car washes was one idea. I told her I didn't know. "I've heard in some places you have to have a license for a lemonade stand," I said, thinking of those cases in Florida that made the news. Kate was disappointed to hear it.

"I wanted to have a car wash stand but Flo wants to have a Pimp Stand," Kate says.

"Uhhhhh...." I say. "I'm not sure that's a good idea... what would you have at your 'pimp stand'?"

"I dunno, Flo wants to pimp their cars and charge them like $100."

"Uhhhh...." I offer feebly. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure you couldn't do that without a license."

I'm trying to imagine what kind of attention three 11-year-old girls (and one boy, if their friend Alex got in on it) would attract if they put up a sign for a "Pimp stand" with $100 prices. ::shudder:: Thankfully Kate is innocent and completely oblivious to the potentially ugly outcomes of that one.

Thanks a lot, Pimp My Ride for getting kids using the word pimp as a synonym for "fix up" or "extravagantly decorate". I know I'm showing my age here, but WTF!

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Risotto close-up

Risotto close-up
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Yesterday's farmer's market resulted in the following for dinner:

Lemon Asparagus Risotto
3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups (1-inch) diagonally cut asparagus (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Bring broth to a simmer in a large saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add rice and rind; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, and cook 3 minutes or until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.

Add 3 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes). Stir in asparagus. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in cheese and juice. Sprinkle with thyme.


Fiddlehead and Morel Salad

Miner's Lettuce Salad with Fiddleheads and Morels. I didn't have 100 year old Balsamic vinegar, but I successfully improvised the rest. I was determined to have a few things that I'd never picked up from the farmer's market before. Fiddlehead ferns and miner's lettuce were it. I prepared them according to the recipe from San Francisco’s Fifth Floor Restaurant that MSNBC put up. I've linked to their version rather than type up my own, since my contribution was to make the salad with the miner's lettuce.

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Spring, please stay!

I'm so ready for the weather to stay nice! I don't have a sense of whether this spring is "average" for cloudy days/rainfall/cool weather but it has felt exceedingly long to me this year. I'm ready, SO ready for sunshine and warmth.

Yesterday was just nice enough. I spent a couple of hours wearing a sundress because I could. I arranged to meet Pramas for lunch in the market, where we blew a wad at Place Pigalle and dined on their famous mussels, delicious soups and where I had a sublime slice of buttery king salmon in a roasted tomatillo sauce, washed down with some of their excellent minty iced tea. I also made some progress on Kate's passport situation, digging up old documents to prove my places of residence prior to her birth and getting a certified copy of my divorce decree and the parenting plan we submitted to the court. I have a request in for a copy of my now-nullified marriage certificate as well, though why it should matter to Kate's citizenship whether her two American born and raised parents were married or not is a mystery to me. Maybe, maybe we'll get this thing sorted out in time for her to go to her Dad's for the summer as scheduled. Also attended a meeting for incoming sixth grade families for Kate's school; I'm pretty excited about the focus of things and the 6-8 program that's shaping up. Thankfully last night Tim offered to bring and bake his perfected deep dish pizza recipe for "game night" so I didn't have to also cook; wine, pizzas, and strawberry rhubarb pie were consumed. I stayed up too late talking with Ray after everyone else left.

Today I had use of a Flexcar Honda Element and I did not waste it! Before breakfast I had the thing loaded up with electronics for recycling. We cleared out seven desktop computers, five monitors, two laptops, two printers, a fax machine and 179 pounds of miscellaneous peripherals (keyboards! I got rid of seven or eight keyboards). Then it was back for a second load, this time filling the vehicle to the brim with styrofoam and other non-recyclable packing materials. Then, up to Chez Sass to deliver leftover pizza where I got to hold Keegan for a good long time. A trip to the post office, a stop at the farmer's market and now, finally, home for the night.

I picked up a bunch of great stuff for dinner tonight (and since I was running hither and yon today had a filet o'fish meal and that's it, I'm starved!) including some morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, and miner's lettuce. Also some fresh asparagus, two kinds of stinky cheese from a new cheese vendor, and a fresh seeded baguette from the fine folks at the Columbia CIty Bakery. Man, I've got to stop writing about my food and go eat it!

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My friend JD has a sidebar on his blog for what he calls "Miscellaneous Flotch". I don't have a sidebar for flotch but I've decided to post a list of a few Happenings that have caught my attention recently.

First woman allowed to swim in public in Saudi Arabia. Women may get the vote in 2009. (Iraq granted women the right to vote in 1948.)

Recycled poetry, dangerous because of who last held the box "My body exists politically in a way I can not prevent."

Baghdad Burning's anonymous blogger is leaving. "It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain." 2 million Iraqis (about 10 percent of the pre-war population) have fled the country already.

The first ever plant/human hybrid is to be approved for commercial scale cultivation. The plant is rice spliced with human DNA that will make it grow a protein found in human breast milk.

There is no Secret. JD reviews The Secret and smacks fuzzy-headed dreamers with a dose of reality: "Visualizing checks in the mail will not make them magically appear."

"Chocolate" of the future. Apparently it's cheaper to substitute some yummy hydrogenated oils for cocoa butter in "chocolate" confections, so big chocolate companies are looking for permission to call these new non-cocoa-butter-containing concoctions "chocolate". Tell the FDA what you think.



05/06/07 it is!

Welcome, Baby Keegan!
Originally uploaded by FrogTaco.


Recipe Pages Updated


Art Appreciation

Proving that 11-year-olds are the same now as when I was a kid...

Kate's class had a field trip to Meany Hall at the University of Washington to see the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company doing their interpretive dance program of Jacob Lawrence's paintings.

Kate's assessment? "Just as boring in motion as they are still." and "They were crawling around on the floor and jerking around. No one understood what was going on." She also noted, "All the women were really buff. You could see their muscles and stuff." This was not said in an admiring way...

Ah, interpretive dance. Ah, fifth grade.

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Baby Watch

Our friends at Frog Taco are expecting young master Keegan to arrive any time now, so I whipped up a couple of containers of freezable dinners for them (one pan of lasagna rolls and one pan of chicken enchiladas verdes, which I just realized are somehow missing from my recipe pages: this must be rectified this weekend!), grabbed the advanced copy of Evan's card game (Walk the Plank, coming soon!) that I brought home from the GAMA Trade Show a week ago, and added to the car another giant box of books that Kate had outgrown and been "saving for Zoey" for years now. Kate and I swung up to Queen Anne to pick up Pramas and from there out to Evan's place for the delivery of the goods.

Zoey was quite the little chatterbox! There was a time when there was some concern that she might have a speech delay or something but those days are long gone. Chris had barely stepped into the house when she unleashed such a string of pent-up excitement it was hard not to laugh out loud. In fact, I didn't even try to stop myself. I was talking to Evan and missed the first part of the tirade but it ended with something about "big sister" and "be here soon" and "his name is Keegan" which was just frickin' adorable. Of course Pramas (who barely spoke "three year old" when Kate was three, and it's been a long 8 years since those days) didn't understand a word and his baffled response just added to my delight.

Kate was a sweetie and read a couple of the new stories to Zoey so we adults could chat a little. Rona offered us some quite excellent brownies right off the bat, which made me all the more greedy to win the baby pool this time around (winner gets a basket of goodies!). Friends and family had all bought into the propaganda/wishful thinking that Keegan was set to come early and my original guess has long passed but so has everyone else's too, so we all just guessed again. Grandpa Robert and Grandpa Lou both picked tomorrow (Rona's birthday) and Grandpa Al and I are on record for Sunday. 05/06/07, what a cool numbered birthday! Do it, Keegan!

Since I'd cooked up two dinners already, I was not in the mood to cook up a third so Kate and Chris and I stopped at Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon for dinner on the way back to our end of Seattle. I was sorely tempted to get my usual (pan fried home-made noodles and whatever they call Lover's Eggplant over there) but opted for something a little different instead and got the Dragon's Delight (I think that's it) which was soft tofu and spinach in a peanut sauce that was very much like the Fettucine and Tofu with Peanut Sauce I make...without the fettucine. Just what I wanted.

Tomorrow I'll get the recipe pages updated. I'm falling behind!

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Katherine's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Kate's pants 1
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.

Kate's pants 1
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Yesterday I opened the door to find a tear-stained Kate on the front porch. That hasn't happened in a really long time and Kate doesn't tend to get too bent out of shape over the little stuff anymore so I was immediately worried.

"What happened?" I asked, concerned.

Then started the real flood of tears: she'd woken up late for school and had to rush around, she got herself a frozen waffle to eat on the way to the bus but forgot it on the table in the rush, the lunch lady had made her pay for her lunch out of her own allowance because she forgot to ask me for lunch money (and had been threatened with not being allowed to eat if she didn't pay up), her umbrella turned inside out in the wind and broke, she fell in a puddle at school, some boys had been teasing her on the bus and had crumpled up the poster she'd drawn and was so carefully trying to get home in one piece and someone cut a hole in her pants!

"WHA?!" I said.

Sure enough, there's a big hole cut in the leg of her pants. At first I had images of her being held down by force while someone cut her pants, but no, she doesn't know how it happened. Just that she left art class and noticed her leg felt cold, then looked down to see a hole in her pants! She swears she didn't catch her pants on anything and looking at the straight lines of the hole, it does really look like it was cut.

I got on the phone right away and let the office know that I was mad about this. I tried to make clear that I knew the woman on the phone with me probably didn't know anything about it but I expected someone to look into it and provide an explanation. Of course, these were brand new pants, one of Kate's only good-fitting pairs after the latest growth spurt.

I wrote the girl a check for lunches today, too, and enclosed with it a note making clear that if I heard about Kate being threatened with not being fed, or if they shook her down for her allowance or otherwise harassed her about her lunch money without FIRST CONTACTING A PARENT we would be having words because I consider that behavior unacceptable. I included my phone number: Katherine is 11 and if they have a problem with unpaid lunch bills they need to contact ME. Period.

I'm also going to be meeting the kids at the bus this afternoon so I can give the little hoodlums on her route a talking to. I haven't had to go out and threaten the little jerks for a few years now (not since the great Toumsa Episode of '03, which I'd link to if my archives from that time weren't broken). Probably a new batch of kids by now. Guess it's time to dust off my Crazy Neighbor Lady credentials. Last time threatening to walk the boys home every day after school until they could learn to behave was enough.


Food by Four

Food is a loaded subject for me. It's obvious to anyone who wanders by my blog any given week that I spend a lot of my life considering food. I participate on message boards about food, I read food- and recipe-related websites, cooking blogs, and traditional books and magazines. I considered more than once making the move to a career in food. I like to buy it, cook it, photograph it and eat it. Many of my fondest memories involve meals I've shared with friends and family.

One of my most humiliating experiences was the Christmas kids from my school arrived at our door with a care package of food. It was one of the first things I wrote about when I started my blog.

Last week, while I was in Las Vegas for the GAMA Trade show (spending an outrageous amount of money for even a simple cup of coffee and at least once a day enjoying a some pretty high-class fare) the governor of Oregon was observing Oregon Hunger Awareness Week. The governor issued a challenge: live off of the average food stamp budget of $21 per person per week. $21 dollars a week. $3 a DAY. I blew two DAYS budget on a single over-priced latte at a Bally's coffee stand!

Coincidentally, while I was in Las Vegas I was also about a month into a program of keeping track of what I eat, not just in a hedonistic orgy of enjoyment but with an eye toward nutrition and good health. Every day I've been trying to keep my calorie intake below 2000, to eat foods in a healthy ratio: 30-66 grams of fat, 150-275 grams of carbohydrates (with an emphasis on whole grains and complex carbs), 35-150 grams of protein, and 25-35 grams of fiber. After a month of trying to hit these goals, I've made my fiber goal exactly twice. It's not easy. This is not my typical relationship to food but I've been trying to treat food in a more responsible, more mature manner. Food and I have had a pretty passionate fling all these years and I'm feeling ready to settle down.

While I was jotting down the nutritional analysis of my $6 Las Vegas latte, the governor of Oregon was shopping for his week on a food stamp budget. The reaction to his effort was predictably mixed. Some people ridiculed him for his "publicity stunt" while others chided him for not making "more nutritious choices" for buying ramen instead of whole grains in bulk. I, when I returned home and read the stories, sat down and wrote him a heart-felt letter of thanks.

You see, for a short time in the early 80s, my family qualified for food stamps. I've eaten government cheese. I've stood before a wall of bread and had to count out how many slices of bread we needed to get through a week of sandwiches for the family, and had to eat the two for $.79 loaves of processed "enriched" bread because my family couldn't afford the $3.29 per loaf whole wheat stuff (even that being made with high-fructose corn syrup). Even when my mom worked her way to a better job and we became secure enough that we didn't need food stamps anymore, I still lived in a world where vegetables came from cans (so they wouldn't spoil between pay days), where milk was only for putting on vitamin-fortified cereal (so it would last), where juice came from concentrate and most of the time we just drank Kool-aid (made with 2/3 the recommended amount of sugar). Where a snack was margarine (packed with hydrogenated oil) on generic saltines or a piece of cinnamon toast. That's the kind of food you get when you have $3 a DAY (try that, Rachel Ray!).

My reading for the Las Vegas trip was Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking which focuses on all sorts of glorious "alternative" food options for people concerned with nutrition, sustainability, and eating locally, seasonally, and responsibly. (It's a gorgeous book and I can't wait to try the recipes!) Heidi writes passionately about choosing whole foods, about using uncommon ingredients like amaranth, teff, quinoa. She warns us to view some foods with suspicion. (Peanuts, for example, are apparently a common crop to rotate into cotton fields... since cotton is not a food, the land can be sprayed with different pesticides than would be acceptable for use on food when the cotton is growing there. Those chemicals most certainly don't just disappear from the soil when the peanut crops are rotated in, even if they're not sprayed directly during the peanut's growing cycle.) This reading, combined with my own personal food-awareness project and Oregon's Hunger Awareness week are all bubbling around in my brain at the moment.

All of these thoughts collided with the news that the Chinese have been routinely adding Melamine to pet food (suspected in dozens of pet recent pet deaths) and that it has likely made it into the human food chain as well. HorsesAss.org has a lengthy rant about that.

I have an incredibly complex relationship with food and it's not getting any easier.

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Swamped and Scattered

I'm completely swamped and scattered in the wake of GTS. Today is May 1st. That makes it:

International Workers' Day




Loyalty Day (so proclaims George W. Bush).

Tomorrow is the first Columbia City Farmer's Market of the season. It's also the Young Author's Festival at Kate's school. I desperately need to get Kate's passport situation taken care of so she can go visit her dad again. Next week is the meeting for families of incoming Orca 6th graders, Kate's class photo, the Orca plant sale, the Chief Sealth Trail Grand Opening Celebration and we're scheduled for a fry party with James and Carol. I want to be part of all of these things.

I returned home from Las Vegas desperate to cook and have been doing just that. When I have a chance, I will be updating my recipe pages with reports on Peach-Spiced Lamb Chops, Wasabi Salmon Burgers with Edamame-Cilantro Pesto (Kate at a whole salmon burger! Unheard of!), Lemon and Pine Nut Orzo, Tomato and Avocado Salad with Preserved Lemons, Tuscan Tuna Sandwiches and Gingerbread Waffles.