Thursday, June 27, 2002

Big day

The last day of work for me with one of my colleagues. She got a job with another department in a different location. We all are really going to miss her; in many ways she is the spirit of our group. With her departure there is a lot of uncertainty how the department is going to reshape itself or, more likely, be reshaped from above.

My big project for the past few weeks has been putting together a department policies and procedures manual. So while I don't do all the tasks I've been writing about, because I've been involved trying to document in a systematic, coherent way what everybody does, I feel like I've been responsible for the tasks, at some level. I also realize what a hard worker my colleague is and how much of the department she carries. It's sad she's leaving. The only consolation is that her new job is a well-deserved step up.

Work definitely has been front of mind, winning out over school. And then I have to pick up the commentary project with the professor again soon. The days keep falling off the calendar....

Monday, June 24, 2002

Calathea ornata

This weekend I went to my favorite nursery and got a plant I'd seen there before, a Calathea ornata. I am intrigued by its striking leaves: dark glossy green with bright pink stripes. The first late afternoon I had it, I thought I had mortally offended it because it drew up its leaves into a vertical position, almost as though it was hugging itself, but the next morning the leaves had opened out again. Well, in looking for a picture of it on Google this morning, I found out that leaf behavior is typical.

Here is a picture of a leaf, from the site of Raphael Carter:

He also gives some hypotheses of why the leaves fold up at night, along with a time lapse photo of the plant. (I'm not sure if my computer downloaded the photo correctly, but it only shows the leaves rising partially. The leaves on my plant end up completely vertical as though they were stuck together. [Edit: Raphael Carter pointed out that the plant in the time lapse photo is a Maranta, not a Calathea.])

Thursday, June 20, 2002


I just finished a very tasty lunch: homemade lentil soup; homemade bread; cheese; carrots; and a tomato picked off my tomato plant just before I got into my car this morning. Then I spent my lunch hour going to different websites on worm composting. I am getting a new batch of worms on Saturday from a vendor at the farmer's market, and this time I promise not to let them get too hot or dry! It would be nice to buy one of the fancy layered worm bins, but they're around $90. I did find instructions for a homemade system that encourages the worms to migrate to a clean bin when the worm castings need to be harvested. I think I'll try it; it's a pain dumping the worms out with the leftover bedding and worm castings and then trying to separate the worms from the castings.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

It is hereby resolved that...

I will work on my paper everyday for at least 15 minutes. My resolution has held for three days now! Even last night when I got home from work, dead tired. A fellow student and I have made an agreement with each other to spend at least 15 minutes everyday on our papers, based on the book Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker. Although we're not quite at the dissertation stage yet, the principles still apply. (Not that a person can write only for 15 minutes a day and get much done, but the point is to keep the dissertation/paper front of mind.) I like the author's emphasis on positive rewards for acheiving goals, rather than negative consequences for missing a deadline. (Another book I have suggests sending money to an organization whose mission you disagree with if you don't do what you said you would.) I may amend the resolution slightly to omit Sundays.

Part of my re-motivation to get going, again, is that I attended the dissertation defense of a student who is/was a year ahead of me. It was fascinating to listen in on his interrogation (and even ask a couple questions), although his dissertation was so brilliant that the defense was a mere formality.

Saturday, June 15, 2002


In Zambia "home economics" was called "domestic science." Now the subject is called "family and consumer sciences" here. I really don't like the word "consumer," but it seems to be used everywhere these days to refer to the user/purchaser of goods and services. We're no longer patients, clients, customers, or students but consumers.

All that to introduce my latest venture in domesticity. I recently purchased a breadmaker. (OK, OK, call me a consumer.) I went through much agonizing before going ahead and buying the machine. Here is my pro and con list re: the purchase.
  • It's an electric appliance, and I'm trying minimize the number of electric appliances I use because a) they're dependent on electricity and can't be used if the electricity goes out, and b) I don't want to use a lot of electricity.
  • It's quite expensive (even with a 20% off coupon), and I'm a student with a part-time job.
  • I don't have a lot of counter space.

  • I'm frustrated with buying bread. The inexpensive bread is made with bleached flour and high fructose corn syrup; the healthy bread is expensive.
  • I could make bread by hand, but the kneading and rising process is time-intensive and thus requires making a lot of loaves to make it worth the time and effort.
  • Since I'm just one person, making one loaf at a time in the breadmachine is quite adequate.
  • I can control the ingredients that go into my bread.
  • Although the entire process still takes time, it's the machine's time, not mine. I can throw in the ingredients in a few minutes and not have to think about it until I shake out a beautifully baked loaf onto the cooling rack.
  • There's not much clean-up!
I have been very happy with my breadmaking results so far. I've made a zucchini-rosemary whole wheat loaf and a yogurt whole wheat loaf, plus a few batches of pizza dough. As for counter space, if I keep my dishes washed and not stacked on the counter, dirty, there's room!

For the record, I have a Breadman Ultimate, and use breadmachine flour when the recipes call for bread flour.

Thursday, June 13, 2002


The long-anticipated changes at work are beginning to come to pass. This signals the need to start thinking creatively about options....And, of course, my inner critic immediately pipes up that I've squandered the stability of the past few years by not moving faster on my degree. But I know that the time has not necessarily been wasted and that change is not necessarily bad.

And then there's the phantom voice from the road not taken (or rather, from the road abandoned): Look at the person who continued on that road in your place; look at where she is now. Might that have been you if you'd not veered off? I know, I know. There were/are very valid, soulful reasons I chose to do what I did (not to mention her very different personality and capabilities), but, for a brief moment, the six-figure salary and fancy title were alluring.

At the same time there is a possible job prospect when I finish my degree. The gap is between now and then; the challenge is to focus on what I need to DO TODAY to get where I want to be tomorrow.

Speaking of roads not taken, I liked this quote from one of the book notes by Susan Salter Reynolds in Sunday's LA Times:
I have come to believe that these memoirs, well and honestly written like Stone's, are extremely important; for some of us, a map of the road not taken.
Do other people's weblogs and blogs also provide such a map?

Tuesday, June 11, 2002


In an LA Times article about the president of Fuller Seminary, the reporter recounts this story:
[Richard J. Mouw pulled] into a parking space at a Vons supermarket in La Cañada, only to have another driver jam on her horn and make an obscene gesture.

Mouw was sure he hadn't done anything to earn her ire. The spot was open; he had not seen anyone going for it. Still, in deference to her fury, the 62-year-old philosopher walked over and said he was sorry to have upset her.

"You don't know what kind of day I've had," Mouw says she told him, and then she started to cry. For Mouw, an ethicist and scholar steeped in the teachings of Reformation theologian John Calvin, the encounter was a metaphor for the times: Under the weight of life's pressures, some people are falling apart in public. And civility, which Mouw describes as "public politeness," has become a rare commodity.
Mouw gives a suggestion for cultivating civility:
Civility may be in short supply in 21st century Los Angeles, where motorists get honked at for obeying the speed limit. But Mouw believes that civility, like art appreciation, can be cultivated. "The family meal is the primary workshop in civility," he says, "where [sometimes] you sit with people you're angry with, and you hang in there for 45 minutes because you can't leave the table."

Today, many Americans "graze" rather than eat at the table at a designated time because family members are busy pursuing their own interests and schedules, he observes. To Mouw, this requires people to make a point of finding ways to ask, "Is this the real story we want to be writing about our lives?" Churches, he thinks, could play a vital role by acting as "families" for people without families, by opening their doors for weekly suppers, reminiscent of simpler times.
The question that struck me was, "Is this the real story [I] want to be writing about [my life]?" right now—a question I can ask about many aspects of life.

Monday, June 10, 2002

Castle Green

I don't know exactly why I was so tired, but I didn't wake up until 9:00 this morning. Last week was pretty intense and the weekend quite full, too.

Yesterday I went with a friend to tour the Castle Green. We had tried to get tickets in advance, but when my friend went to Castle Green on Friday, nobody was there who knew about the tickets. As we stood in line to buy the tickets at the door, the two people behind us said they had extra tickets for friends who couldn't make it, and we could just have them. We offered to pay for them, but they said just to pass the favor along to someone else sometime.

Castle Green used to be a grand old hotel, which has been converted into condos. Many of the architectural details have been preserved. There is an abundance of Port Orford cedar wood moldings and grand fireplaces in the ground level common rooms, and the elevator is one of the oldest in the west. Quite a few of the condos were open for tours. There are strict rules about the types of renovations that can be done in the individual units, although within those restrictions the units have been redone in a variety of styles from craftsman to artsy to modern. Most of the kitchens and bathrooms are tiny, and most of the units have a balcony of some sort. Some of the common areas and individual units are pictured on the filming and shooting location page. The type of people who live there includes older folks with lots of money who've lived there a long time, artist-types (e.g., animators for Hollywood studios), and others who appreciate the uniqueness of the building and its location in hip old town Pasadena.

It would be fun to live there, but would require a lot of money either to rent or buy. Also you'd have to find a garden plot somewhere else if you wanted to do more than container gardening.

Saturday, June 08, 2002

You never know

Back in February I planted four flame lily bulbs. None of them came up (except when creatures of some sort dug them up a few times). Instead, two tomato plants and two squash plants grew from seeds that must have been in the compost I used. But I just noticed this morning a glossy green shoot that I think is from one of the bulbs, three and a half, almost four months later! So, I need to transplant the tomtatoes and squash (which have already bloomed) and see if I can coax along the flame lily. [Edit: I just checked my Blogger archives, and I bought the bulbs on February 7.]

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Searching for a vocation

I was struck by this reflection on vocation by Doug Thorpe in the alumni magazine of a university where I used to work.
For what else is vocation but a calling — through our desires, our passions, our wounds, our hungers — to serve? We listen to that still small voice and we follow as well as we can, one step at a time, making mistakes but also learning from them until the mistakes themselves become part of what we offer to others. Such is the way that the way is laid out; such is the way of faith.

Monday, June 03, 2002

In nutrition news

First, the bad news. In yesterday's LA Times Opinion section, this piece by Greg Critser on the use of high fructose corn syrup in snacks, soft drinks, and many other prepared/manufactured foods. Some excerpts:
Coca-Cola and Pepsi were among the first to see the future. In the 1980s, the companies, wanting out from under long-standing import tariffs that kept the price of sugar high, reformulated their drinks, shifting them from 25% HFCS and 75% cane sugar to 100% HFCS. The cost savings were immediate and enormous--more than 20%--causing Coke's president of the period, Roberto Goizueta, to claim the reformulation as one of his principal executive victories.

The inexpensive sweetener had another effect on the soft-drink industry as well: bigger servings. As soda became cheaper to manufacture, its purveyors didn't charge us less: They simply gave us more. With HFCS, the Big Gulp was both possible and profitable.
On the use of HFCS in snack foods:
The number and variety of high-calorie snack foods have consequently soared. Where all through the 1960s and 1970s the number of new candy and snack products each year remained stable--at about 250--it jumped to about 1,000 by the mid-1980s and to about 2,000 by the late 1980s. The rate of new, high-calorie bakery foods also jumped substantially. A revealing graphic of this trend, charted against the rise in obesity rates, was published by a group of nutrition scholars from Tufts University in 1999; the two lines rise in remarkable tandem.
Some potential health problems from HFCS:
Since the mid-1970s, use of the sweetener has soared; it now accounts for about 9% of the average American's daily caloric intake, with about one out of 10 Americans--many of them children--getting up to 20% of their daily calories from it.

A big part of the problem, of course, is that sweet things tend to be filled with empty calories that provide little nutrition. But scientists are also concerned about properties unique to HFCS. Unlike sugar, which undergoes an intermediary absorption process in the small intestine, the fructose in HFCS proceeds directly to the bloodstream and to the liver, where, an increasing body of evidence suggests, it may cause potentially harmful metabolic changes. Some studies have suggested it may increase cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and increase the risk of coronary artery disease.
A collegue had read about HFCS a while back, and since then I've checked ingredients' lists for HFCS. It's scary where you can find it--what is it doing in vegetable stock??

Now for the good news. From the June issue of Vegetarian Times, "Eleven Healing Foods." Unfortunately the article is not online with the details of why the selected foods are considered to have healing qualities and what for. But here's the list:
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Chickpeas/Garbanzo beans
  • Flaxseeds
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Oats
  • Soy
  • Tomatoes
Finally, I'm not sure whether it's good news or bad news, but the WSJ has a front-page article (paid subscription required) on the positive correlation between calorie-restricted diets and longevity. I'd seen a PBS program a while back interviewing some of the people who are following the low-calorie diet in order to live longer. Here's a website cited by the WSJ article. I think I'd rather live a normal lifespan than extend it by cutting back on calories so severely.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

List of things to write about

  • Thoughts on differences between writing for a weblog/blog and keeping a private journal; also difference between posting to a weblog (general audience) and writing a letter (specific person).
  • Link to and comment on Opinion piece in today's LA Times about the pervasiveness of HFCS in manufactured foods and drinks.
  • List 11 healthy foods in article in June Vegetarian Times.
  • Breadmaker.
  • Link to SPU article on vocation once it's online.
  • Mull over and comment on book I'm reading about Rwanda.

Saturday, June 01, 2002

Queen's jubilee

Right now I'm listening to and watching the concert at Buckingham Palace celebrating the Queen's 50th Jubilee. Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks just finished playing.