Saturday, April 30, 2005

A moment in the rain 

When I went out to pick up lunch yesterday, a gentle rain was falling. The warm, sunny days that we've had recently have encouraged strolling and basking; during yesterday's chilly showers people just wanted to get where they were going.

I'd picked up a sandwich at Macrina, and was headed back up 1st Avenue toward my office, lunch in one hand, umbrella in the other. He was coming down 1st Avenue, a tough looking young guy sporting a spiky haircut, a few facial piercings, and a dark expression. We were walking quickly, in the middle of the sidewalk, directly towards each other. Twenty-five feet separated us when we attempted evasive maneuvers. I feinted slightly to my right; he to his left. We made eye contact. We each shifted in the opposite direction; his mouth quirked up, and I grinned. A couple more of these mirrored changes in direction, eyes locked, and we were laughing. Neither of us slowed our pace, but at the last possible moment we shifted out of a collision course. I caught a whiff of wet leather as we passed, only inches apart.

I was still laughing when I turned the corner... and could hear his laughter coming from behind me.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Feline Friday: Sergei 

A study in black and white on red. He is an elegant fellow, our Sergei... except when he's shaking the stuffing out of a fur weasel. ("Weasel?" you might ask. "It looks like a mouse to me." You'll have to take that up with Paul, who calls Sergei's favorite toys weasels because they're larger than mice.)

All aboard the Friday Ark.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Letter to the PNWMPS membership 

This past Christmas, Paul and I gave several gifts of membership in the newly formed Pacific Northwest Monthly Preserves Society. We had high hopes for the PNWMPS; we believed the products to be delicious, and all those who had sampled the preserves had enjoyed them. We had thought that, were our family members happy with their gifts, we might give additional memberships as gifts next year.

Sadly, the PNWMPS has so far failed in its mission of providing Pacific Northwest Preserves on a regular basis to those not fortunate enough to live here. The Society has not lived up to its name, nor to the promises made to its members. We have recently acquired, from someone high-up in the PNWMPS, a copy of the letter that the society will mail to its membership tomorrow:

Dear [member's name here]:

The Pacific Northwest Monthly Preserves Society regrets to officially inform you of something of which we are sure you are already aware: We have been remiss.

When we welcomed you into Membership in the Society (indicating, as we then noted, that you are a person of discrimination and fine taste), we made you this promise: "As a Member, you may expect deliveries of preserves from the Pacific Northwest to arrive every two months, on average, during the coming year."

As you received your Initial Membership Package at the end of December, and you are (as are all of our Members) a person not only of discrimination and fine taste but also of exceptional mathematical and calendaring abilities, you might well have expected your next shipment of delectable Pacific Northwest Preserves to have arrived on your doorstep at the end of February.

When said expected shipment did not arrive, we are sure that you will have consulted the letter accompanying your Initial Membership Package. As you (as are all of our Members) are a person not only of discrimination and fine taste, and of exceptional mathematical and calendaring abilities, but also of the highest reading comprehension skills, you will perhaps have noticed the qualifier "on average" in the statement regarding future shipments. You might then have been slightly mollified, if anxious for the much-anticipated arrival of your preserves.

When the end of March arrived, and no fine Pacific Northwest Preserves had yet arrived on your doorstep, we would venture that you were, perhaps, somewhat disappointed. As you are a person not only of discrimination and fine taste (as are all of our Members), [yada yada blah blah blah blather fawn], but also of great emotional strength and compassion, we imagine that you might have decided, out of the goodness of your very good heart, to be generous in your interpretation of our promised shipping schedule.

It is now the end of April. It has been four months since you received your Initial Membership Package, and you have yet to receive your next shipment of our truly delectable Pacific Northwest Preserves. We can only imagine that, as you are a person of discrimination and fine taste, you are by now craving our fine preserves, are despairing of ever receiving any further shipment from the PNWMPS, and are therefore (justifiably, I might add) pissed.

Dear [member's name here], please accept our most sincere apologies for any distress caused by the unfortunate difficulties in our fulfillment department. You will receive, within the week, three jars of our fine product from the Pacific Northwest: Peach Preserves with Orange Liqueur, Seville Orange Marmalade and Cranberry Cherry Almond Conserve. We hope that these preserves will prove to have been worth the wait. We will endeavor to improve our scheduling and shipping procedures so that this lapse does not occur again.

Very sincerely,
The Pacific Northwest Monthly Quarterly Occasional Preserves Society

p.s. Although we recognize that this extended period without benefit of fine Pacific Northwest Preserves may have created in our esteemed members an understandably intense desire for our product, we again ask that you remain mindful of the PNWMPS Helpful Suggestion: Though upon opening you may be tempted to do so, please do not consume the entire contents at one sitting. Though exquisite, these preserves are best consumed across a decent interval, and shared with friends and family. New Members who have ignored this Helpful Suggestion have reported short periods of bliss, followed by longer periods of gastric distress. By offering this Helpful Suggestion, we hope to prevent such unfortunate occurrences. We thank you for your attention to this matter.

p.p.s. Due to the same inattention to organizational detail that resulted in the unfortunate lapse in our shipping schedule, the upgrading of our Seattle production facilities has not yet occurred. We are attempting to schedule this upgrade, taking into account the question of whether peak (summer) season production might occur offsite. You are always welcome to visit our facilities. If you choose to do so during peak season, you may be able to participate in not only the User Recipe Testing that has made our facilities tours a "must" for members visiting Our Fair City, but in the very production process itself. This is an opportunity that is made available to only a very select few. If you are interested, please contact us immediately to schedule a visit.

Yes, of course, the PNWMQOPS is really me and Paul. And it's a good thing I still have a day job.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


In a comment to this past week's Feline Friday, panthergirl of The Dog's Breakfast suggested that I submit a feline photo to Photo Friday, which this week has the theme Soft.

Lyra is soft.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Is My Blog Burning? #14: Orange you hungry? 

While lost somewhere in the blogosphere yesterday evening, I discovered that Is My Blog Burning? #14 was going on through today, with the theme of orange-colored food. I've thought for a while about joining in a food blogging meme, but hadn't before found the time. However, I had already planned a menu for brunch today featuring preserves that I'd made that are both orange in color and flavored with orange. It seemed like a sign. (Never mind that the preserves were only a small part of the meal.)

French Toast with Orange Brandied Peach Preserves

(Hmmm... a different placemat would've been better for the photo. The yellow in this one really brings out the yellow from the egg yolks in the French toast.)

Orange Brandied Peach Preserves

I made these peach preserves in August, as part of my annual summertime obsession with the glorious fruit of the Pacific Northwest. The peaches came from Pence Orchards, a farm near Union Gap, WA that has been operated by the Pence family since the late 1800's. I buy Pence peaches because I want to support family farming, and because they are luscious. The process that I use for making preserves, garnered from Well Preserved, takes three days. This recipe is adapted from the Brandied Peach Preserves in Well Preserved. It goes something like this:

Day 1: Peel and slice peaches. Perform random quality control on peach slices. Yum. Make sure that you have 8 cups sliced peaches left after QC. Layer peaches and 5 cups sugar in preserving pot. Place lid on pot; set aside until next day.

Day 2: Juice from peaches has dissolved most sugar. Boil peaches in resulting syrup for 15 minutes. Add 1/2 cup lemon juice. Pour mixture into shallow pans to allow for "plumping" of peaches with sugar and evaporation of liquid. Place pans in cat-proof location - oven is good - overnight.

Day 3: Return peach mixture to preserving pot. Bring to boil. Open kitchen window. Boil 15-20 minutes; syrup should now be thickened. Open back door; latch screen door so that cats do not escape. Continue boiling. Begin heating water in canner, and sterilize 6 8-ounce jars, lids and rings. Why has the syrup not thickened? Continue boiling. Decide syrup is thick enough. Remove preserves from heat. Add 1/2 cup orange brandy. Watch brandy boil on top of no-longer-boiling preserves; think about relative boiling points of liquids. Ladle preserves into jars, screw on lids, process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars from canner; remove self and cold diet Coke from kitchen. Allow to cool.

This preserve is delicious as a topping for vanilla ice cream, or on any sort of toast, including French toast.

French Toast

I learned to make French toast from my mother, who never used a recipe. It's probably my favorite breakfast food. I feel compelled to try the French toast at any restaurant that serves it... and I am often disappointed. The restaurant at the Morrison-Clark Inn in Washington, D.C. has perhaps the best French toast that I have ever tasted; inch-thick slabs of crustless brioche are soaked in an egg custard, then deep fried. The resulting 'toast' is very rich, with an ethereal texture. The French toast that I make is sturdier stuff; it can tolerate 15 minutes in a warm oven when I'm cooking for a crowd, and reheats nicely in a toaster. This recipe scales easily. We had a friend over for brunch this morning, so I made three servings.

For each serving:
2 1/2-inch-thick slices rustic white bread (I use Essential Baking Company's Fremont loaf, which is a mild sourdough)
1 large egg
1/3 cup milk (whole is best, 2% is fine, don't use skim)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (or to taste - I like a lot)
1 1/2 teaspoons butter

Slice bread the night before, so that the slices dry out slightly.

Beat together eggs, milk and vanilla in a glass baking dish. (A 9x13 baking dish works well for three servings.) Grate nutmeg across top of egg mixture. Place bread slices into egg mixture. Allow to stand, turning bread once, until all of egg mixture has been absorbed (10-15 minutes).

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add bread slices to skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side.

Add strong coffee and fresh strawberries, and you'll have yourself a lovely brunch.

More pepper, less salt 

I wish that I could tell you that, my life having been less stressful for the past few months, my hair had regained most of its original pigmentation all on its own. Sadly, it doesn't seem to work that way. I had my hair colored yesterday. I had been thinking about it since this photo was taken in August. When my husband told me a couple of months ago that the particular mix of salt and pepper in my hair was the same as in his mother's hair right before she died, I knew that it was time. Really, what wife wants to remind her husband of his mother?

My first white hairs appeared when I was in my late teens. Early graying is part of my genetic inheritance from my father, which also includes good teeth, great eyesight, strong spatial abilities and a sweet tooth. (I think that my tendency to be opinionated is nurture rather than nature, but it could be either one... and could easily have come from either side of my family). I am thankful that the 'X' chromosome my father also gave me saved me from male pattern balding.

I chose not to get rid of all of my gray because these silvery strands are part of who I am. I just didn't want them to be quite so much of who I am. My hair now is mostly dark, shot through with the silver strands that were left uncolored. In the places where my hair had the most gray, my stylist Ricardo left sections of hair uncolored, creating a couple of strong silver streaks. The streaks don't show up well in this photo (a fine example of the self-portrait, no?), but they are definitely there. Ricardo did such a fine job of making the effect look natural that two friends whom I've seen today did not notice until I mentioned it. My husband Paul, on the other hand, thinks the difference is noticeable, and likes it very much indeed... and so do I.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Wanted: a few good planets 

Today is the 35th anniversary of Earth Day. As part of your observance of this day, please consider taking the Ecological Footprint Quiz from the folks at the Earth Day Network and Redefining Progress. The quiz is intended to give you an idea about your impact on the earth's resources, by "estimat[ing] how much productive land and water you need to support what you use and what you discard."

Your results may disturb you; mine certainly did. According to the quiz, my ecological footprint is 21 global acres. "In comparison, the average ecological footprint in your country is 24 global acres per person. Worldwide, there exist 4.5 biologically productive acres per person. If everyone lived like you, we would need 4.7 planets." The results are broken down into four categories: food, mobility, shelter, and goods/services. Because only Paul and I live in our freestanding, single-family house (with running water and electricity), shelter is the area in which we rack up the acres.

There's more detailed information about the quiz here, here, and here. If you want really detailed information about your own household's consumption, you can download a spreadsheet to help you figure it out.

How many planets would we need if everyone lived like you?

Feline Friday: On the windowsill 

They are cats. You can't ask them to pose. Were you able to make them understand such a request, they would probably refuse. Posing cats is much like herding them, with the added requirement that they not only go to some particular spot, but that they then hold still... just for a moment... please.

Occasionally, however, they will surprise you. On a bright Spring afternoon, you will look up from reading to see them on a sunny windowsill. You will rush for your camera, hoping that they will pay no attention to your movement. It is, after all, not yet time for their dinner. When you return, camera in hand, they will have created a lovely tableau. You will snap the shot, laughing with delight at their beautifully matched silhouettes, at the difference in scale between their 8-lb and 12-lb bodies, at the play of sunlight and shadow across their fur.

They will turn then and see the camera still pressed to your face (a habit you have yet to break from your many pre-digital years). With a yawn and a meow, they will be on to the next thing. You can't ask them to pose. They are cats.

For more animals (not necessarily two by two), visit the Friday Ark. Carnival of the Cats will be hosted by The Oubliette this Sunday.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The grass has riz 

It is after 8:00 p.m. The sun is just now setting. I like Spring.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

When authors read 

One of the assignments for the memoir-writing class I'm taking is that each student attend an author reading, and report back to the class about it. After weeks of finding nothing on bookstore event schedules that interested me, in this week I found four authors whose readings I wanted to attend. I've been to two so far; the other two readings are this afternoon and tomorrow evening.

On Thursday evening, I went out to Third Place Books, where Ruth Reichl was reading from her new book, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of A Critic in Disguise. I thoroughly enjoyed the first of Ms. Reichl's memoirs, Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, in which she described the development of her appreciation for and understanding of food. In this new book, she writes about being the restaurant critic for the New York Times.

Yesterday, Pam Houston was at Queen Anne Books reading from her semi-autobiographical novel, Sight Hound. I fell in love with Pam Houston's writing several years ago, when my sister gave me a copy of her book of (also semi-autobiographical) short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness. The female narrators in Ms. Houston's short stories are tough, funny, and insecure; each of them loves, and inevitably loses, a man whose favorite song might well be Desperado. Her new book, her first novel, is the story of a woman and the dog that she loves and loses.

Both women wore black. (They are, after all, writers.) However, New York City black and California academician black are so different as to be almost unrecognizable as the same color. Ms. Reichl, in sleek black suit with crimson blouse, fully made-up, dark, wavy hair cascading artfully over her shoulders, looked ready for an evening out at an elegant restaurant. Ms. Houston could have been meeting a close friend at their neighborhood coffee house; her loose black pants and sweater over a printed t-shirt, funky red clogs, and clean-scrubbed face screamed West Coast intelligentsia, and fit right in with the QA Books crowd.

Ms. Reichl is a charming and engaging storyteller; her onstage persona is sparkling and witty. She read several passages from Garlic and Sapphires that described the disguises and associated alter-egos she created to avoid being recognized when dining at restaurants she intended to review. To put it bluntly, her writing is much better than her reading of it (at least on this occasion). When reading dialog, she takes on the voices of her characters. Speaking in a voice much different than one's own is a tricky thing, one that actors spend years practicing. Some in the audience were clearly amused by her breathy femme fatale reading of one of her characters; I found it overwrought and distracting. Ms. Reichl spent more time speaking extemporaneously about the stories in the book and answering audience questions than she did reading; this worked to her considerable strengths.

Ms. Houston's onstage persona is much like the voices of her characters: a little tough and matter of fact even when speaking of the most tender subjects, and peppered with subtle, often ironic, always intelligent humor. When she read from Sight Hound, she slipped into a different voice, a fluid, non-inflected, near monotone. I've heard other writers read in this sort of voice; it is, I'm guessing, an attempt to focus the listeners' attention on the words themselves, rather than on the person reading them. While it works for the first-person internal narrative that Ms. Houston read, it is deadly to dialog, the reading of which calls for the cadences of speech.

Why, you may wonder, am I dissecting the readings, rather than discussing the writing? I'm thinking about readings because the final project, as it were, for my memoir-writing class is to give a reading. The evening of May 31, the eighteen of us in the memoir class will be reading from our work at the University Bookstore in Seattle. We will each have about 5 minutes to read. This amount of time seems like a mere instant to some of us, and an eternity in hell to others. Having spent a lot of time on stage, I'm not particularly anxious. I am aware, however, that every type of performance is different, so I'm studying this particular form. I hate giving a bad performance.

And yes, I'll say a little something about the books, too. I think that Garlic and Sapphires will be a delightful read, especially for those who appreciate descriptions of meals so exquisite and nuanced that one can almost taste the food. This is a book for the head, and for the palate. I bought Sight Hound yesterday, and have begun reading it. Ms. Houston's use of several first-person narrators gives the reader close-up views of her dog's long battle with cancer, the vets who tried to save him, and the other people and animals who were part of their lives. This is a book for the heart. Be prepared to be very much aware of your own when you read it.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Unitarian Jihad: what's in a name? 

The Unitarian Jihad is growing. Get your own Jihad name today!

When I mentioned earlier this week that 'Sister Clusterbomb of Tranquility' perhaps wasn't really 'me,' I had no idea that there were others out there hard at work providing names for new jihadists. You now have several sources for your jihad name:

The Unitarian Jihad Name Generator has dubbed me Sister Pepper Spray of Sweet Reason.

The First Reformed Unitarian Jihad Name Generator has named me Sister Katana of Mindful Hope. For those who might not know, a katana is "a Japanese sword, with a curved, single-edged blade twenty-four to thirty-six inches long." (From the Weapons Glossary at You and Whose Army?, sent to me by the always informative Isabella.)

But wait! There's more! Rum and Monkey's Unitarian Jihad Name Generator has bestowed on me the title of Mother Mutual Assured Destruction of Appreciative Joy.

Why have only one? You never know when you're going to need another Jihad alias.

In closing, my esteemed husband, known alternately as Brother Plasma Rifle of Love and Venerable Smith & Wesson of Lovingkindness (hmmm... I sense a theme here), and our three cats, Sister Molotov Cocktail of Discussion, Brother Chakram of Courteous Understanding and Brother Atom Bomb of Serenity (in the same order as on the sidebar), wish to share with you further news from the jihad:

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.

The blessings of tolerance, reason, understanding and joy to you all on this day!

(Gracious thanks to Sister Peaceful Neutron Bomb of Moderate Joy for the reference to the name providers.)

Feline Friday: Eat, play, sleep 

Playing with Da Bird wears Sasha out.

Note: The beautiful Sasha is a boy cat. (Sasha is the Russian nickname for Alexander.)

For more cats (and all sorts of other animals), visit the Friday Ark.
Carnival of the Cats will be at Watermark on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Down to earth 

When most of us in the "developed" world think of "home," the building that comes to mind is one constructed of wood and brick, of steel and concrete. However, according to the Earth Architecture website, "One half of the world's population, approximately 3 billion people on six continents, lives or works in buildings constructed of earth." Earth building goes by many names: adobe, rammed earth, mud brick, compressed earth. Some types of earth building technologies use cement or other modern building materials for stabilization; others use only combinations of natural, completely biodegradable materials: earth, straw, cactus, manure.

In Presidio, Texas, a small border town in the Big Bend region, a non-profit organization called the Adobe Alliance is working to increase the population housed in earth buildings, using all-natural adobe. In the 1970's, Alliance founder Simone Swan apprenticed with Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy, and was "inspired by his use of earthen materials and his interest in reviving indigenous building techniques for owner-built cooperative housing." When Swan established the Alliance in the late 1990's, she located it in Presidio County in part because of its 37% unemployment rate. Teaching the local population to build homes for themselves and others is part of the Alliance's plan:

The purpose of the Adobe Alliance is to build low-cost energy efficient housing that is climatically and environmentally compatible and to fill widespread needs for sustainable, salubrious housing while enhancing the unique landscape of the Big Bend region of West Texas and other desert environments. Means to reach this goal include:

The use of local renewable, recycled resources and building materials to considerably reduce cost and environmental impact, avoiding the use of industrial materials;

Providing roofs in the configuration of adobe vaults and domes, a unique yet ancient design feature which eliminates the use of wood, an increasingly scarce natural resource;

Designs which harness natural energy for heating and cooling. Adobe walls retain heat in the winter and stay cool in the summer, eliminating the cost of mechanical heating and cooling systems;

A system to meet local housing needs using indigenous skills, thereby providing a source of employment and simultaneously incorporating, preserving and enhancing local architectural heritage.

An appropriate building technique for chemically sensitive individuals, using only materials that are totally non-toxic.

This article in the Desert-Mountain Times described a hands-on workshop held by the Alliance in February:

On a mesa a few miles east of this border town, a dozen men and women scooped up handfuls of mud and hurled them at the sides of a small adobe building. They stepped back, admired the sound and effect of mud hitting the wall, and reached for another helping. It bothered no one that the secret ingredients in the mud were prickly pear cactus and fresh horse manure that had been cold-brewed in a "tea" before being mixed with earth and straw.

One young man leapt as though making a game-winning lay-up and, plop, hit his target about 10 feet up the wall. His friends cheered.

The walls weren’t the only thing affected by their enthusiasm. Their hair and clothing were becoming spattered in the process. No one seemed to care. Indeed, they expected it. This was part of what the participants paid $250 to $300 each to do.

The mud-throwing men and women spent a long weekend last month at the seventh annual Adobe Alliance workshop three days of education on what to do and how to do it for an increasingly popular form of building. Some got their first taste of building with adobes; others honed their skills.

The rest of the article is here.

Reading the article, I immediately wanted to sign up for a workshop. Never mind that adobe is not a suitable building material for the Pacific Northwest. I've always loved playing in the mud. Imagine putting that childlike pleasure to such a very good use.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

My kind of extremist 

I've recently learned of an underground organization that might be right for me; it's the Unitarian Jihad. Here's the first paragraph of their manifesto:

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Now that's my kind of Jihad! It's clear that, in order to join this organization, I will need a nom de guerre? plume? pax?... whatever, I just need a nom. Sadly, 'Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace' and 'Sister Hand Grenade of Love' have already been taken. My dear husband has suggested 'Sister Clusterbomb of Tranquility', but I don't think that's really 'me'. Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The people that you meet each day 

There's a woman I know; let's call her Jane. Until recently, I knew Jane only in that way that you "know" people whom you see regularly, recognize, and with whom you exchange small talk. She is one of the crew of two or three who clean our building each night. They do a fine job of keeping our office clean and relatively dust-free despite all of the equipment, drawings, etc. around which they're working. She has been working in our building for about a year; she has been unfailingly polite and friendly every time I have encountered her.

One evening recently, I was working late, and was still in the office when Jane came in to clean. I looked up from my work, and we exchanged the usual sort of greetings: "Hi, how's it going?" "OK. You're working late again." "Yeah, I have a deadline coming up." I started to turn back to my computer, but she had more to say to me.

"I just figured out that I'm living in one of the apartments you designed," she told me. "When I was in here a couple of nights ago, I saw a picture of my building on the wall."

"Really? Which project is it?" The housing that we design is primarily affordable workforce housing, and I was not surprised that, in Seattle's tight housing market, an office cleaner might have an income low enough to qualify her to live in one of our clients' developments.

Jane told me the name of the apartment development, and which particular unit within that development was hers. And then she continued: "I've been trying to get into one of LIHI's apartments for several months. Last December, I moved out of my boyfriend's apartment. He'd been knocking me around for a while, and I had to get away, but I couldn't afford the security deposit for a place of my own, and I didn't have anywhere to go.

"I ended up living in my car for three months. I was always trying to find a safe place to park so that I could sleep. Sometimes people woke me up trying to break into my car. Other times the cops woke me up, telling me I had to move, or that it wasn't safe for me to be sleeping there. There are showers in the restrooms on the second floor (of our office building), and I was using them each night after I finished working.

"Finally, LIHI had this studio apartment available, and I could afford it. I don't have much of anything in it yet, but I don't have to worry about going to sleep. And the other people around are really friendly. It's a nice place to live, and I feel safe there."

I knew that this development has a number of transitional units (designated for people who have been homeless), and asked if hers is one of those. It is. "I'm really glad that you're out of your car, and in a safe place," I told Jane. (She nodded vigorously in agreement.) "Thanks for telling me that you're living there. I'll tell my coworkers, too; we're always thrilled to know people who live in the places that we design, and to hear that they're happy there."

Jane is one of the many people who, for one reason or another, have become homeless while holding down a full-time job. Unfortunately, she did not have friends or family nearby who were able to provide her with someplace to stay while she got back on her feet. There may be a Jane (or John) in your office building, the place where you eat lunch, your corner store. Someone like Jane could be one of the people you meet each day.

Funding for the apartment development where Jane now lives, and much of the affordable housing like it, comes in part from a variety of government programs. Yes, this is that bad old "Big Government" at work. However, if the current administration has its way with HUD programs (as discussed in this Washington Post article and this article in Metropolis Magazine), that funding may soon disappear completely. While this would have unfortunate consequences for the work that I do (as no funding for projects means no architectural design of such projects), the consequences for Jane and others like her would be much more severe, and much more unfortunate.

In case the links cease to function, I've included the full text of the articles mentioned above: click here.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Feline Friday: Open season 

At least once every couple of days (or more often if Sasha gets his way), it's open season in our house on the gatitos' favorite toy. This toy - which looks to me like an oversized fly-fishing lure for cats - sounds like fluttering wings as it whirls through the air. The cats go crazy, leaping, flipping, diving and chasing the thing. While Lyra is a "catch and release" girl, both of the boys are "you kill it, you eat it" types. Sergei, in particular, wants to take his feathered prey back to the cave to munch on its feathers. On the (increasingly rare) occasions when I have not returned the bird to its sanctuary after playtime, it has disappeared, save for its metal parts, and the bits of feathers scattered about the house. (Sadly, I have not yet managed to capture the boys' glorious hunting efforts photographically. Sometimes I miss using my film camera... but, for the most part, I have been sucked in by the instant gratification of digital photography.)

Carnival of the Cats is at Enrevanche this week. (There are a couple of big dogs there, but Mister Gato is still in charge... and Barry's serving really good coffee, too.)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Stating point of view 

Ronni at Time Goes By has a lovely post about her birthday today. If you have not yet "met" Ronni, well, you've been missing a great blog, and today would be a great day to remedy that. Ronni writes beautifully and very thoughtfully about growing older. This is a subject that, no matter how we may attempt to avoid it, many of us have to face... if we are lucky. Ronni does a lovely job of illuminating the path both for those who are at similar places in their life journeys, and for those of us who are following a few years behind.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Museum of Memory 

I've been struggling with how to write about the new Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, since it first opened a few weeks ago. I am reluctant to "review" a building that I have never experienced in person. While photos of buildings may be descriptive, even powerfully evocative, they are two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional spaces. And I know all too well, having done it myself, that an architectural photographer can highlight the best features of a building, while taking the focus off of - or even omitting - that building's weaker features. What I am seeing in an architectural photo is, to my mind, art - and the art is as much the photographer's as the architect's.

It's easier for me to understand from a distance a particular architectural concept, the idea from which an architect generates the form of a building. An early concept sketch, below left, and the finished site plan and section, below right, both show the main organizing element of the museum building: the triangular concrete prism running the length of the museum, around which the various exhibit spaces are clustered.

The concept behind Moshe Safdie's new building for the Holocaust History Museum is described thus:

Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the new Holocaust History Museum is a prism-like triangular structure that penetrates the mountain from one side to the other, with both ends dramatically cantilevering into the open air. The triangular form of the structure was chosen to support the pressure of the earth above the prism while bringing in daylight from above through a 200 meter-long glass skylight. The skylight allows gleams of daylight to contrast with darker areas required for multimedia presentations. Within the galleries, light enters through localized skylights varying from diffused to clear glass, depending on the requirements of each exhibit.

The entire structure of the museum—floors, wall, interior and exterior—are reinforced concrete. Throughout the prism, the triangular cross-section varies, becoming narrower at the center. The warped surface formed by this variation, amplified by a gently sloping floor, creates a changing sequence of spaces and gives the illusion of descending deep into the mountain. As the route nears its northern exit, the floor begins to ascend and the triangle opens up again, with the exit bursting forth from the mountain’s slope to a dramatic view of modern-day Jerusalem.

I find these photos, and others that I've seen of this museum, quite moving. I hope that someday I'll see, walk through, and really experience this building.

(Additional information about this new museum, and its design, may be found at: Remembrance: Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem by Moshe Safdie and Associates; A View to Memory: The New Holocaust History Museum and Facts and Feelings: Designing the new Holocaust History Museum.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Flying home 

The puffy cumulus clouds were high today, so most of the peaks that are usually visible on the flight between the Bay Area and Seattle were hidden. I looked up from my book to see Mt. Shasta directly below my airplane window; by the time I had the camera out, it was gone. Mt. Rainier projected above the cloud cover, but without its usual grandeur. If not for the greater reflectivity of its snowy peak, it would almost have blended in with the clouds, rather than towering above them. It was, however, a sign that I was almost home.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Blatant consumerism 

Paul and I rarely engage in orgies of consumer spending, but when we do... well, let's just say we're good at it.

If all had gone according to plan in 2004, we'd have spent last February and March in the hell that is living in one's house in the midst of a remodeling. By the end of 2003, I had finished the drawings for our badly needed kitchen remodel, and we had paid a deposit to the cabinetmaker, chosen most of the materials, lined up a contractor. We had even arranged to have a demolition party, with a number of friends set to arrive with sledgehammers and crowbars to take the old kitchen apart. (There's nothing that's quite as much fun as tearing out crappy old stuff, and our 1970's kitchen is a fine example of such.) Instead, we spent last Spring in an entirely different sort of hell.

Now that we've made our way out of the worst of medical hell (there's still some billing to be dealt with, but don't get me started...), remodeling seems like a piece of cake. We've reestablished contact with our cabinetmaker, and need to set up a new schedule for the project with our contractor. I've been thinking again about light fixtures, countertops and appliances. When Paul mentioned at the beginning of last month that our very nice neighborhood appliance store was holding its annual warehouse sale, I said sure, let's go see what they have.

On Saturday morning, 4 weeks ago, we struggled out of bed at an unusually early hour, over the objections of our cats, and drove to the appliance warehouse. We arrived half an hour after the sale began. The parking lot was packed. As we walked toward the warehouse, we saw portable propane heaters, of the sort that restaurants around here use on their decks, along the side of the building. These, along with a few stray coffee cups and newspapers, provided evidence that there had been a line of people waiting to get into the sale.

When we walked into the warehouse, I laughed. It was a madhouse. Rows and rows of stoves, dishwashers, refrigerators, wall ovens... and at least twice as many people as appliances (or so it seemed), all trying to make their way through the narrow aisles between the shiny objects of desire.

We already have the refrigerator for the new kitchen. (The previous refrigerator, which we bought used in 1999 when we knew that we'd be remodeling within a year, developed an annoying dripping leak which fascinated the cats, but did not amuse us. We replaced it last year.) The dishwasher we want is made by a company that has a tremendous to-the-trade discount, so no dishwasher shopping required. (To-the-trade is the term for the discounts given by makers of furniture, appliances and building components to architects, designers, contractors, etc. - is there a similar term in other industries?)

We were looking for a range. What we had in mind was not a "commercial" range, but just a nice moderately-priced gas range with a stainless steel finish. It seemed that everyone who had been waiting in line before we arrived wanted the same thing. All of those ranges had SOLD tags on them. So, we continued to wander, thinking we might at least find a reasonably-priced range hood. And we did, on the same aisle, where, for some unknown reason, no one had yet claimed this "commercial" style gas range, which was on sale for over 50% off, making it about the same price as the ranges we'd been considering. (Ooh, look how pretty and shiny!) We snatched the tag from the front of its box, revealing the SOLD tag below, happily made our way to the front of the warehouse... and then followed the line of people waiting to pay for their appliances out and around the back of the warehouse to its end. An hour later, and a nice chunk of frequent flyer miles on our credit card, we were on our way home, congratulating ourselves on our skillful shopping.

A couple days ago, two very large, heavy boxes were delivered to our house. For the next, um, couple of months? quarter?, they'll be in our garage, waiting until the new kitchen is ready for them. Guess I should get to work on that schedule.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Feline Friday: Packing 

I'm flying to California in the morning. As usual, Sasha wants to come along... or at least to send some of his fur along with me.
More photos of Sasha helping me pack ->