Tuesday, October 11, 2005

You're Worth It (Don't Sue Me, Clairol)

I've recently had the pleasure of testing one of those fancy ergonomic chairs for a few weeks, when my back and neck were torturing me. My chair of choice was the Liberty chair from Humanscale, the version with the headrest.

I immediately noticed a difference between that and the chair I had been using--the Liberty's seat and back cushioning was thicker, and much firmer, than most business seat chair cushioning.This firmness the Liberty chair seems to have in common with other ergonomic seating.

The ability to occasionally recline is there, and is welcome. (Another standard of ergonomic seating, in allowing you to comfortably sit in multiple positions during the course of the day.) You can adjust the chair in a variety of ways, in terms of height, especially. However, the adjustment that I really like is the ability to change the height of the arms; often, they are a bit too high and rigid (which can cause you to tense your shoulder and neck muscles), and don't allow you to type in a number of position, such as typing with your keyboard on your lap--particularly important if your desk doesn't have a keyboard tray (and is handy even if you do have that amenity).

The only real problem with the chair, other than price, is the headrest (although you can opt for the Liberty chair without the headrest). For some reason, it slopes forward (huh?), which made my neck muscles tense when I did a back stretch, or simply decided to lean all the way back in the chair. However, my back and neck pain in general seems to have greatly diminished after just a few days of sitting in Liberty.

I've also tried (for briefer periods of time, regrettably) a few of the chairs and other seating from Herman Miller. [Disclaimer: I may have a financial relationship with Herman Miller in the future.] I tried the Aeron, the Mirra, and the Cella chairs (the "lower-end" Cella is more comfortable than it appears). All these chairs are highly adjustable; you can even adjust the amount of pressure that's applied to your back, as well as chair and arm height. (Yay!) You can also adjust the "springiness" of the chair (how quickly the chair snaps back after you recover from a reclining position). These chairs are lighter than the Liberty (and the Mirra is available in a couple of different coverings) and easier to scoot across the floor, as many Herman Miller chairs are (even the non-ergonomic ones, such as the various stackables). Also, they have the good balance of firmness that most business chairs lack. (Even Herman Miller's Goetz sofa is firm and comfortable, and easy to get up from, unlike many sofas.)

Now, I realize that to improve and maintain back health, your work chair is only one component of the equation--you need exercise (and perhaps even the occasional massage) and to get away from your desk during the day, periodically. However, as many people spend long periods of time at work in front of a computer, the chair on which you are parked can play a major in improving and maintaining your health, and can help you become motivated to move more, if only because you may be in less pain when you do move!

I know that lessening of pain is an issue for me, and for anyone who has returned to work after an injury, and using an "ergonomic" chair can mean a noticeable improvement with regard to pain.

Regarding price (which is where the real pain crops up), scour the Internet for price comparisons; they run a few hundred dollars, but are built to last. A good ergonomic chair is a true investment in your well-being.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Second Battle of New Orleans

Some months ago, I watched some special on the 'History' channel, I believe, about the War of 1812; the special indicated that the war truly signified the beginning of the existence of the U.S. as a nation.

A crucial event, which occurred after the war, was the Battle of New Orleans, led by the future president Andrew Jackson, was notable in another regard. According to A. Wilson Greene, former manager of Chalmette National Historical Park:

"Never has a more polyglot army fought under the Stars and Stripes than did Jackson's force at the Battle of New Orleans. In addition to his regular U.S. Army units, Jackson counted on dandy New Orleans militia, a sizeable contingent of black former Haitian slaves fighting as free men of color, Kentucky and Tennessee frontiersman armed with deadly long rifles and a colorful band of outlaws led by Jean Lafitte, whose men Jackson once disdained as "hellish banditti." This hodgepodge of 4,000 soldiers, crammed behind narrow fortifications, faced more than twice their number."

And how did "Ol' Hickory" view the contributions of his 'colored' soldiers? In a letter Jackson issued through his aid de camp, Col. Butler, on December 18, 1814, he effusively praised the efforts of these men:

"SOLDIERS! When on the banks of the Mobile, I called you to take up arms inviting you to partake the perils and glory of your white fellow citizens, I expected much from you; for I was not ignorant that you possessed qualities most formidable to an invading army.

I knew with what fortitude you could endure hunger and thirst, and all the fatigues of a campaign. I knew well how you love your native country, and that you, as well as ourselves, had to defend what man holds dear: his parents, wife, children, and prosperity. You have done more than I expected. In addition to the previous qualities I before knew you to possess, I found among you noble enthusiasm, which leads to the performance of great things."

The strategic and economic importance of the New Orleans area and the Gulf Coast region, as well as its historical and cultural importance, are realities that Hurricane Katrina re-taught our nation (hopefully, we're re-learning in time to do some good).

* * * * * * *

The people of the Gulf Coast, who have been, and are being helped back on their feet by our fellow Americans, will need our continued, long-term assistance in a variety of ways, in order to reach economic sufficiency again. Unfortunately, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, charities helping in relief efforts are already noticing a slackening off of donations.

You may ask why is money needed? After all, organizations have received massive goods donations from all over, so why is money needed as well? A quick answer is simply that money offers flexibility, with which organizations can purchase things which are not easy to transport, or anything which folks might not have thought to provide, but which are still needed. Examples of such things would be fuel for trucks and vans to transport supplies, communications equipment, you name it. Although the Red Cross and Salvation Army are two of the most well-known organizations providing relief services (and the Red Cross could always use blood donations), you might consider donating to other organizations, as well.

The NAACP has launched a relief drive, the United Way has a drive to purchase school supplies for displaced students, and Save the Children provides children spaces to gather, play, and learn, while awaiting settlement and faciliting searches for their parents. People can volunteer housing, or seek temporary housing, through hurricanehousing.org, which has a large number of listed spots in the southeastern U.S. (Via alternet.org) You can also donate money to a Louisiana chapter of the United Way through the web site of the Tabasco company, a site which also has cool gift ideas, recipes, screen savers, and wallpaper. (Yes, it's operating once more.) [Tabasco's chipotle hot sauce is a marvel; I now understand why it's only sold in the larger bottles--once you taste it, you can't leave it alone, you must use it in just about everything.]

Solid general pointers and guidelines on how you can effectively get involved in relief efforts, either as a direct volunteer or by donating, can be found at the Points of Light Foundation (who knew?), as well as NVOAD (which helpfully lists many of the smaller organizations involved in relief efforts, through which you may wish to lend a hand).

The Katrina catastrophe starkly illustrates that, truly, no man is an island.

* * * * * * *

The destruction wrought by Katrina has certainly brought home the message of September as being Emergency Preparedness Month for those of us not immediately in harm's way. Also, we've found out that if you're waiting for help, you may have to wait two or three weeks for someone to rescue you! Merely the electricity being out for a number of days would leave you unaware of what's going on, or for how long. What would be some basic, easy steps to prepare for that possibility?

Recent events have shown the truth of the aphorism, "Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink," as the availability (or lack thereof) of safe drinking water was an immediate concern for hurricane survivors. The Washington Post's Sally Squires has an informative article on the types, and amount, of food and drink you may want to keep on hand, just in case. A recent New York Times [free regi. req'd] article warns, "If you take nothing else away from this article, at least heed this advice: stock up on water." (Actually, that article has quite a few other useful pieces of advice, so read up. Interestingly, the advice offered at the very end of that article, that the best security was neighbors you can trust, was echoed in, of all things, a survivalist web site article!)

Decent information on safety and emergency preparation can be found in such places as the parent safety tips section of PEPCO's web site, and even (don't laugh too hard) site for the various state FEMA offices, such as Maryland's (known as MEMA).

* * * * * * *

A major deficiency in this hurricane emegency was lack of communication, which caused all kinds of rumors to swirl as rapidly as the flood waters. It might be a good idea to consider buying inexpensive items that don't even need batteries, for even if you stock up on batteries, you neve know if they will work when you need them, especially if they've been stored a while. In one sense, you may want to go back to the future, technologically speaking. Radio Shack offers a line of Grundig radios which are not very expensive, at least one of which an be operated by hand crank! The Solardyne company has been running specials on some of its smaller products, which might prove handy in emergency circumstances. There is currently an adorable 'solar mini radio' on sale, as well as three (count 'em!) solar flashlights on sale, including a combo flashlight/radio/siren! There are also, would you believe, hand crank cell phone chargers.

* * * * * * *

Gas prices got you down? The local Toyota dealer all out of Priuses, and there's a waiting list for them a mile long? Canadian Driver recently did a challenge of 10 non-hybrid compact cars commonly available in North America, and drove them through southern Quebec and eastern Ontario until their tanks ran dry, to see which car(s) lasted longest on a tank of gas. After 14 hours of driving, the two cars that were still running were the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, respectively. (Disclaimer: I have a 2003 Corolla.)

The drivers in this challenge had this to say about the cars they drove:

"And you don't have to endure tiny vehicles with no creature comforts to achieve these results. All the vehicles in this class came with air conditioning, a CD player (except one) and remote keyless entry. Many had power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, side impact airbags, anti-lock brakes and automatic transmissions. All were comfortable, peppy and felt solid on the road. All were pleasant to drive.

Our conclusions? If you're concerned about fuel economy, and you use a car regularly, the compact class is the way to go. If you need a really big vehicle or an SUV, maybe you also need a compact for general duty. It could almost pay for itself in fuel savings!"

I can attest to the general comfort of the Corolla (the seating is quite roomy [I'm not a short person], and the trunk is surprisingly large).

* * * * * * *

Maybe you're not in the market for another vehicle of any kind, but would still like to make your gas go further. (Who doesn't, these days?) Which gas saving tips really work, and which are a bunch of hokum? The folks at Edmunds.com tested four common fuel economy tips and attempted to see which of the four yielded a measurable difference in fuel economy. The tip that made the most difference (drum roll, please!), with "major savings potential," was feather-foot driving (as opposed to lead-foot driving). Of course, being a feather foot might also yield other savings (such as less wear and tear on your vehicle, not to mention yourself and your passengers). And frankly, haven't most folks had more than enough unnecessary wear and tear recently?

Friday, August 26, 2005


A term that perfectly describes some of the people who run Metro. Which is, unfortunately, not surprising, as most of the Metro board members abstain from riding either the subway or the bus. Thus, just when you thought transit conditions couldn't get worse, you're proved wrong. Recently, I used Dupont Circle station's Q Street exit to reach the FarmFresh Market to get one of my favorite items, good and cheap, as well as some flowers (the accidental purchase).

As I had to leave the subway to enter the market, this is where the odyssey begins. Ordinarily, I might take an escalator upstairs, but I felt unsure about being able to keep my balance on one of them, as many of the escalators on the Red Line stations are extraordinarily steep, and I'm still recovering from surgery, so I decided to take the elevator, the general direction of which was politely pointed out by a station manager.

What the --- ? First of all, the entire walkway leading to the elevator was sopping wet. Oh yeah, someone had put a big fan in that corridor (yes, an entire corridor) to attempt to dry the floor, to no apparent avail. In this long, curved walkway, there was a long handrail on each side, thankfully, as I gingerly made my way to the elevator. (I don't know if there are any surveillance cameras in that corridor, as I was preoccupied with trying to keep from slipping to look up!) Did someone really fall if no one can see or hear her?

Finally, the elevator. What a mess. I immediately noticed that some of the space surrounding the bottom of the frame of the elevator was plugged (hastily) with synthetic material. This is presumably the source of the wet floor. Whatever happened to maintenance? Perhaps now that Metro's GM, Richard White, has finally begun riding the subway on a regular basis (after eight years as Metro's chief), more attention might be paid to these matters, which concern us mere mortals. (I'm not holding my breath, though.) Now is a good time, however, to discuss the transit issues bothering other users at Metroriders.org.

* * * * * * * *

On a slightly different vein, if you spot an immediate problem on Metro, such as someone woh appears "suspicious" but you don't see an employee nearby or in your part of the train, give the transit police a ring at (202) 962-2121. Here's to a better system.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Funny Money

Momma always told me to watch those scanners at the grocery store (or to check my receipt afterwards). I recently caught a whopper of a mistake (the store's "mistake") by doing this. I had happily caught some sale items, including Corinth grapes, commonly known as 'champagne grapes'. They, and all the other grape varieties, were .99/lb. earlier in the week, so I grabbed a couple of one-pound clamshells of grapes, and made it to the checkout line.

Now, even when you use one of the store "discount" cards, it's impossible to know if the item's price is properly entered in the store's system, as it shows up as the "regular" price on the screen as the item is being rung up. You only know by looking at the receipt afterwards if the appropriate amount was taken off to provide the "discount." Thus, only after I peered down at the receipt afterwards did I realize that I was charged $1.49 each for the .99 grapes. I wuz robbed! I was also too tired to go back that same evening, so I decided to return the next day.

I'm glad I decided to wait. I don't think I would have had the energy to deal with the clerks' obfuscation and condescension the previous day. First, they tried to tell me that the sale price was only for a pound of grapes, which I knew. I told them that the grapes only came in one-pound packages. For some reason they chose to think that I didn't know what a pound was, and one of them went to the grape display to weigh some grapes. Sure enough, the grapes were all in one pound packages. Puh-leeze!

The (apparent) head customer service clerk then decided that the champagne grapes weren't included as one of the grape types on sale. I said not only that they were, but that they were printed on the in-store signs displayed nearby, and went with her to point them out. I then asked (for the third time) if I could have another package of grapes to make up for being overcharged for two, to which she finally agreed.

The grapes scanned at the wrong (regular) price multiple times, even when the customer service clerk scanned them, which makes me wonder if this was a pricing strategy on the part of the store, to overcharge while claiming a sale price, and not a mere mistake.

Is this kind of behavior what typically happens when a respected regional grocery chain is bought by an international corporation, one whose name, unfortunately, rhymes (in part) with a common unmentionable word?

Friday, August 05, 2005

To Market, to Market....

Made my weekly foraging trip to the farmers market during my break out, er, lunch break. The threatened rain has not yet materialized, thankfully, so it was another typically muggy summer Washington afternoon. Of course, the farmers took it in stride, and so did I, after I was fortified with my provisions of cherries, apricots, and nectarines from Terrapin Station Herb Farm (its delectable tiny plums are gone for the season, and this was the final week for the cherries), and red onion and basil from Wheatland Vegetable Farms. Wheatland's high-quality basil lasts a bit longer than many others I've tried, and is extremely fragrant and healthy. I'll probably employ the basil in a vaguely Thai style dish sometime this weekend. Cooking with that stuff is better aromatherapy than lighting a candle any day!

I'm glad I frequent a real farmers market, on which is producer only (meaning, no vendors selling products that they did not grow nor make), because, unfortunately, not all outdoor markets which call themselves 'farmers markets' are producer only. (Horrors!)

To see if a farmers market passes the sniff test--is a true, producer-only market--look for the following clues as you meander about the stalls:

* There should be signs and/or banners around the stand, with the name of the farm clearly stated.

* Literature about the farm (just a flyer will do), with its name and location, in addition to other information.

* A seller should be able to answer general questions about how the food was produced, as well as inquiries as to which foods to anticipate in the upcoming weeks. After all, shouldn't a producer know her own product?

* As a true farmers market's fresh products are seasonal, you should not see, say, grapes in the middle of the summer, if you shop at a farmers market in one of the mid-Atlantic states.

Well, I've made myself hungry, so I'd better rip into a few cherries, or else...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

All Together Now...

Last night, my community was one of many that participated in National Night Out, which is held annually, on the first Tuesday in August. It was a success, as the turnout was good, particularly as it was a humid, sticky evening. The coordinator was pleasantly surprised, as folks hadn't e-mailed him to notify him whether they were coming. (Oops!) The important thing was to get together to have a good time and demonstrate community solidarity en masse, which we did. All's well that ends well.

Across town, the city of Langley Park also had a successful National Night Out event. Perhaps too successful, as it's been reported that members of the MS 13 gang said that they were keeping an eye on that event. Hmm...

* * * * * * * *

For the first time, I saw one of the Guardian Angels on the subway. She almost appeared to have come from another car in the train; maybe there's some special cooperation agreement with Metro, as passengers are not allowed to walk between train cars, for safety reasons. She seemed quiet, and not overbearing. I hope this experiment works out.

* * * * * * * *

Speaking of community development, some state legislatures are fighting back against the recent Supreme Court decision (Kelo vs. New London) that allows state and local governments to seize homes for private development. [Finally, some politicians have developed a spinal column.] Alabama and Delaware are the first sates to limit the use of eminent domain, and other states have such plans in the works (Pennsylvania, Texas, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and Oregon).

* * * * * * * * *

A fun way of preserving and improving communities includes the easy suggestion in today's Washington Post: Buy Fruit, Save A Farm. The article explains how the growth in farmers' markets has enabled farmers to keep their land as farmland, make improvements to their property, put children through college, etc. What the article didn't mention, explicitly, was how the markets also benefit the urban and suburban communities where they are held on a regular basis--humanizing the landscape, easing the city-country divide, etc.

Like the farmers, I do have to get out in the sun today (but unlike them, for only an hour or so). Keep cool.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Being a Good Neighbor?

Dan Edelen has a gripe he wants to get off his chest--specifically, folks who drive out to the country to drop off kittens which resulted from failing to spay or neuter. He says, bluntly, that by carrying out such a drive-by drop-off, you're dooming Fluffy to a dismal fate, and that he's tired of seeing feline corpses litter his property and community. I'm surprised that people would go to such lengths to be so unthinking and inconsiderate, particularly as there are animal shelters in most communities, and many of them sponsor low-cost spay and neuter clinics.

Conversely, as we've seen from recent cases of animal hoarding, you're not doing any favors by taking in lots of strays, especially when you won't have them neutered or spayed--you're just leaving (and ignoring) a mess to aggravate your neighbors and upset the police.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As gasoline prices remain stratospheric, there are useful driving strategies that help save gas (and wear and tear on your car). Some of these tips boil down to driving sanely and cautiously. Imagine that. (Not that you were saving much time anyway by imitating NASCAR drivers.) Perhaps by driving more cautiously, other drivers (and pedestrians) won't need to be afraid of you, because, unfortunately, people feel more unsafe driving today than they did five years ago. It's certainly impossible to take a nice, aimless "Sunday drive" anymore because of all the recklessness on the road.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington has a few pointers on How to Have a Cell Phone and still remain a Christian. (Hint: Blabbing on a cell phone oblivious to others while driving is NOT demonstrating any of the Christian virtues.)

OK, that was the last of my rants for now. Now's the time to put into practice being neighborly.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Enough Already...

More explosions in London, pushing and shoving in high places, Newt and Hillary getting along; what's going on here?

Of course, it is a relief that the most recent bombings were small in nature, and that London police have shot a would-be suicide bomber, but a shoot-out at a busy exchange in broad daylight is still unnerving. (Of course, explosions are always unnerving, whether caused by a bomber or by a bug bomb.)

Diplomatically speaking, or not, the jostling of diplomatic personnel and press in Sudan is not only rude, but betrays a prickliness, a touchy defensiveness about--can it be--the situation in the Darfur region?

On another note (yet still a weird one), there's talk that Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton actually agree on some health care issues, which can only mean one thing: that the health insurance situation in this country has reached dire straits, indeed.

One more instance of a political about-face: the UN actually showing some backbone, criticizing Zimbabwe's wide-scale razing of "slum" areas. I wonder if that august organization actually meant to criticize "urban renewal" (oops!), although it's doubtful that Mugabe wants to renew anything.

Finally, columnist John Kelly has some advice for tourists, which many year-round residents could benefit from, as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

How Low Can You Go?

I've witnessed a new low in civility on this hot, uncomfortable day. An outburst, directed at the ladies walking behind me as we were crossing the street at mid-day, made me take a double (and triple) take.

As I started across the street when the light turned green, I noticed a car to my left that looked like it was going to turn; it then stopped briefly, then proceeded to go straight across the intersection, floating across a red light.

I guess one of the ladies behind me must have stretched out her hand to gesture to the driver to stop (they had the green light), because the driver then decided to roll down her window (letting out all her air conditioning, a bad sign right there) and yell, repeatedly, "Did I hit you?" "What 'cha worried about?" To their credit, the pedestrians continued to stroll across the street; understandably, one of them decided to get in on the fun and trade a few barbs with the driver, who eventually, thankfully, drove away.

Unfortunately, this is not the first driver/pedestrian verbal fracas I've seen recently on downtown D.C. streets, where pedestrians are not exactly rare.

A few weeks ago, a few blocks away, I was about to cross the street (or attempted to, at least), when I made the blunder of gently gesturing a driver to back up, as she was blocking the pedestrian walkway. I was greeted with a merry, "Walk around my car!" to which I just had to answer, "Get out of the pedestrian zone!" This merely caused the driver (a different irate woman from today's screamer) to keep ranting as she drove off. What can get you so wound up in the middle of the day? I'd hate to run into one of these women after quittin' time! Perhaps I should be grateful that neither screecher was talking on a cell phone while driving, or there might have been two actual, rather than verbal, collisions.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Little Panda Cheer

We Washingtonians get overly excited when there's any news about our furry black-and-white celebrities, so you can imagine the talk about the new panda cub. This fascination stems from more than the animals' legendary cuteness--I think we're fascinated by their placid lifestyles, which they demonstrate both in zoos and in their native environment.

Moreover, the pandas are a light-hearted distraction from our problems, equivalent to the chatter in the celebrity gossip rags. ("Did they or didn't they?" "Baby on the way" "It's a boy,", etc.) Those of us under the age of 40 practically grew up with pandas at the zoo, so the critters have been a backdrop on our lives. Go figure.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Across the Pond...and Nervous

Here we go again. Another large-scale terrorist attack in a major city's subway system, in London. Appropriately, perhaps, going to work on Washington's metro yesterday morning was a study in silence. If the other passengers felt as I did, they were too stunned to speak. But we had no choice but to go on, as people the world over must.

Now that London police have discovered that the terrorists used small devices that were easy to slip into backpacks, it makes one think: as horrifying as the carnage is, it could have been significantly worse. I wonder if the terrorists were afraid that carrying larger (even more deadly) explosive devices would have looked conspicuous to London's ubiquitious surveillance cameras, as well as to other passengers.

Who knows the motives of these terrorists, these misguided people? Such folk, who at least have organizational and mechanical skills, in order to synchronize explosions in a major city, certainly have the potential to contribute constructively to society. What a waste.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

American Mosaic

Today I ambled over to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival during lunch break, because its themes seemed particularly intriguing, especially the 'Food Culture USA' exhibitions, although some of the other ones, such as the focus on the country of Oman, were also fascinating.

Oddly enough, there was not much of a crowd around the ornately decorated Pakistani truck. (And with a nod to local sights, with its painted panels of the Washington Monument, the Capitol, etc.) Just as oddly, there was a healthy crowd surrounding the camels (presumably from Oman) and plenty of questions from the audience about the beasts, who were chilling on the grass (and on their knees) in the middle of the National Mall. The speaker felt a need to debunk myths about the critters' legendary moodiness, saying that they weren't as ornery as people make them out to be, considering that they carry heavy loads, in the baking sun.

The Qurayat Ensemble's performance at the Mangan Stage was a hit, with an enthusiastic crowd with many children. As good as the drumming and its music sounded, I was impressed, and nervous, to see that jiggling sword moving not too far from some of its audience members!

Over to the side, craftsmen from Oman were building a boat with intense, graceful concentration. Nearby, women from that country were demonstrating how they made baskets, with some on display. I was impressed with some of the smaller baskets, which were positively tiny. (And made me wonder what they are used for.)

I wandered over to a tent where local chef Roberto Donna was speaking about how he sources his products, and on how much easier it is to find good-quality foods, particularly herbs, in this country these days, as opposed to twenty years ago. He was in good spirits, considering the heat, but then again he's used to working in a hot environment. When Emeril Lagasse spoke later, there was too large a crowd around the tent to see him, so I left.

The food exhibition tents were fascinating, but I only had time to see a few, such as the woman who was speaking, and showing, the various cooking salts used by chefs. (But the pink-looking one whose other mineral is sulphuric acid looks suspicious to me...) The nice people over at the Honest Tea stand had a few gorgeous potted tea shrubs (camellia sinensis) growing (as well as complimentary bags of tea), and some dried teas on display. I'm now tempted to buy some of that company's chai, as its blend seems to have a higher amount of the (admittedly pricey) herb cardamom than most other chai blends. (Once you smell cardamom wafting through the air, you will understand the attraction.) I saw a tent for the Slow Food movement, but, ironically, I didn't have time to stop there. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to take in the sights, smells, and sounds at the other exhibits, which featured foods from Latin America and southeast Asia. Moreover, it was getting hot (in) there, and taking off my clothes was not an option, so I headed back to work.

As multicultural as the crowds are that attend the festival, I was struck by the apparently high percentage of folk of African descent who live in Oman (if the exhibitioners who appear at the festival are representative of their country). I probably would not have particularly noticed, had there not been some flap over racial attitudes in another country, Mexico, whose government has recently issued stamps which feature racist caricatures from the 1940s. It makes me wonder if the people of Oman have to put up with similar foolishness back home.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Little Guy Gets Hit, Yet Again...

For most people, Supreme Court decisions are a yawn, a minor blip in the day, if that. Yesterday's decision in Kelo v. City of New London was different in that, potentially, every homeowner who is not wealthy and politically well-connected could be faced with losing his or her home if developers with an economic development scheme manage to convince local officials to back their plans. The citizens of the town of New London who refused to give up their homes have lost this round, as they have refused "just compensation" for their homes. (I have a sinking feeling that the proposed compensation was not in the ballpark of fair market value, but I quibble.)

Attorney Andrew Cohen of CBS News said that the ruling "practically invited citizens who don't want to see this land-grab happen again to change their laws in order to prevent"(it). Hmm...

D.C.city officials are rejoicing at the ruling [free regi. req'd], as it will facilitate its plans for a new baseball stadium, which currently require that some homes and businesses in part of SE be destroyed to make way, all for a "public purpose," not merely a pesky "public use" that you were taught in civics class was necessary for government to seize homeowner land, that inconvenient concept of eminent domain.

Scott G. Bullock, an attorney for the organization that represented the New London homeowners, the Institute of Justice, said that the fight against eminent domain abuse would continue in the state supreme courts, as the decision does confirm that states can decide, and restrict, just what constitutes a "public purpose."

This ruling suddenly made me wonder how the development at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill would be affected, if at all. Could some Prince George's homeowners in that area be "asked" to leave in the name of economic development?

* * * * * *
It's that season. Yes, good old summertime is also prime crime time [free regi. req'd]. Be careful out there, and look out for your neighbors as well.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Summer Pleasure...

The farmer's market is one of summer's great pleasures. OK, that's a slight exaggeration, 'cause it's great to shop at one even during the fall. Yet, there's something special about going at this time of year, when it's hot, and there are lots of people milling about, but you don't mind the crowd, even though it's sweltering. I mean, how many times in the summer can you, say, not be near a swimming pool or the beach (or, even in the shade), and there still be lots of people peacefully hanging out?

Anyhow, I did leave the market with fruit in hand, some nice strawberries. Reid's Orchards has the best fruit, and I am anticipating luscious apricots from these folks in three weeks or so. (For some reason, the fruit from this farm is particularly tasty compared to other local farms--maybe it's the terroir.)

Also, the herb guy was there, and he even had what I wanted--lemon balm plants. He told me that they were almost impossible to overwater (yay!), but would need some fertilizer in a few weeks. If I don't forget that fact, maybe the plants stand a chance at survival.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Remember the Day...

This unofficial start of summer, is a time for remembrance (commencements, and the Memorial Day holiday), to stop and reflect, on the future and the past.

Today is, surprisingly, the first day that a Memorial Day parade has taken place in Washington, D.C. itself, since World War II--today is the day of the first National Memorial Day parade! After World War II ended, folks allowed an official celebration to lapse. Fitting perhaps, now that there is also a World War II Memorial, a place for people to gather to commemorate that military victory, that the celebration has gotten back on track.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Safety is as Safety Does...

Today's Washington Post [free reg. req'd] is full of articles and information about keeping your vehicle from being stolen. Although the series focuses on Prince George's County (Maryland), the same principles apply anywhere, as car theft is a nationwide problem (and an expensive one to boot). Consider joining a Watch Your Car program in your area, if practical. (Enrolling in such a program permits the police to stop your car, if it's seen on the road between the hours of 1 and 5 am [if you're not normally out during those times], when most auto thefts take place.)

Hope this helps keep your ride close to you.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Name Game

Renaming places that have perfectly serviceable names is the costly new sport. The name of the gentleman who wishes to rename everything after Ronald Reagan escapes me (I suppose the renaming of National Airport was the beginning of that odyssey); this guy apparently misses the irony of spending vast public sums for projects to be renamed after a person who wanted government to spend as little as possible.

Other local entities affected by this fever include Metro, which in recent years has lengthened the names of some of its stations to the point of absurdity, confusing no small number of passengers. (By the way, Woodley Park and Adams Morgan are a bit further apart than the station name might lead one to believe, but I realize that I'm just being picky.)

The most recent outbreak of this affliction is the renaming of BWI Airport. Actually, it's another extension. (Uh oh.) As of October 1 of this year, it will officially be the "BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport" if the change is approved by Maryland's Board of Public Works. I might be happy about something being named after Marshall--after all, he is an American hero--if the airport had just been built and was originally named after him, because then we'd be referring to it as "Marshall Airport." Significant legislative energy and expenditures were, unfortunately, wasted on this gesture, as no one will refer to it as "Marshall Airport," as we've been calling the place BWI Airport all these years. According to the Washington Post (5/11/05, page B5), changes to the airport's signs will be about $2.1 million. Moreover, there was no logical reason to name an airport after him, as we don't particularly associate Marshall with the field of aviation. This situation is unlike the naming of the law library at the University of Maryland; naming its law library after Marshall could be considered a stroke of poetic justice, as he had been rejected by the university's law school decades earlier.

The renaming of BWI Airport, sadly, won't accomplish what was intended--honoring the life of that great man, Thurgood Marshall.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Planning (or Lack Thereof)

Like most of you, I'm peeved by products and environments designed and planned by people who apparently have not tested them using some of the people who might actually use them.

A prime example would be two of the subway stations in Washington's Metro system. The sprawling L'Enfant Plaza station has only one inner elevator for use by disabled passengers, although there are three train platforms. If you exit a train on a side away from the elevator, there's no way to reach the elevator except to take the escalator to the platform on the other side! As many disabled people cannot, or should not, use an escalator, you would either be stuck or stranded.

And all this is not counting the wonder that is the Smithsonian subway station. Honestly, whose bright idea was it to place the handicapped elevator across the street (a busy one at that) from one of its exits, rather than on the same block? To add insult to injury (pun intended), when entering the elevator, you're confronted with a lone turnstile that requires you to use a farecard, but provides no farecard machine from which you could purchase a farecard! If you had to purchase a farecard (which would be true for many of our city's visitors), you'd have to take the elevator back to the street level, dodge the traffic with your cane, crutches, or wheelchair, and take the elevator down (if that's even possible for you) in order to buy a farecard in order to use the handicapped elevator to get on the train--across the street. (At this point, if you were able to use the escalator, you could simply get on the train from here, which means your trip across the street to use the handicapped elevator in the first place was a waste of time.)

Wait, it's worse than that. While you cannot buy a farecard when (attempting to) enter the subway platform from that Smithsonian handicapped elevator, if you were leaving the train near that elevator, you'd be able to add to your farecard before you went through the turnstile, if necessary.

Unlike local residents, who might have the option of using the MetroAccess service if they qualify, disabled local visitors who use public transportation must deal with this nonsense.

Convoluted, huh?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Arbor Day--Here's to Keeping It Green

You remember when you were in school and when Arbor Day rolled around, you and your classmates planted trees around the schoolyard or in a local park? Those of you still so inclined might want to browse the site for the Arbor Day Foundation, where you can receive great trees for a small donation. Another great arboreal project to support might be to help revive the fortunes of the once-mighty American chestnut, most of them having been felled by disease decades ago, and find out why they were know as the redwood of the East.

My way of observing the day will be to save some trees, by saving paper. To get started recycling paper, you might consult one of the following practical guides: Xerox's Business Guide to Waste Reduction and Recycling, or the Office Paper Recycling Guide. Naturally, you want to complete the cycle by purchasing and using recycled paper, when you do use paper. I like the Xerox 100% Recycled Multipurpose Paper (20 lb.), which is widely available from Staples. I'm able to afford this slightly pricey paper because I've cut way down on both my use of paper and (expensive!) printer ink, saving money as well as natural resources when printing, especially when printing from the Internet.

Paper/Ink/Space/Money-Saving Internet Printing Tips
  • The first tip might be not to print from the Internet at all, especially from a site you're not sure you'll visit again. Instead, use an online bookmark manager service such as Furl or Spurl (both are free; you simply need to register and create a username and password). In addition to storing particular web pages, these services archive them (allowing you to create your own Wayback Machine, in effect), eliminating the problem of extinct links. Moreover, you can use them with most browsers, and on more than one computer--like portable bookmarks. (Thus, if your own PC is unavailable, you can sign onto the service on another computer and access your bookmarks from there. [Using Furl, you don't even need to download the software onto another computer--simply go to Furl.net and sign in]).
  • One of the most frugal printing habits, if you still decide to print, is to always use the Print Preview, before (and after, when possible) hitting the "printer" or "printer-friendly" type button. It shows the entire number of pages in the file--and lets you know which pages are worth printing. Look at the first and last pages of the preview, so that you can find any mystery blank pages, or extraneous stuff on the first or last page that's not worth printing. That way, you can then specify which pages you wish to print, and leave any pages you don't want to print out of the print range. You can also check margins while in this mode and see if they need adjusting (especially if you notice that the endings of words are cut off near the right margin). If possible, place a Print Preview button on the toolbar of your browser for quick access.
  • Even if you're about to print from a PDF version of a document, peruse the first and last pages of the document before printing--they may be blank, or have information that is not relevant for your purposes; you can then also decide to specify a print range, and print from there.
  • Please get into the habit of using Ctrl-P, instead of using the Print icon on IE. This will allow you to choose the thrifty-printing options before printing. Often, clicking on a Print button immediately prints your file, with all the wasteful defaults. (One exception is the Netscape 7.xx Print icon, which always allows you to choose options first, and also contains the Print Preview feature for convenience). Another good practice might be to print from within the 'Print Preview' mode (which also allows you to select the frugal printing options).
  • Print using black ink when printing text. It's cheaper, prints faster than color, and you don't have to worry about running out of a particular color. My HP printer requires that there be both a color and black cartridge in the printer when printing, but I keep the color one empty and only use (and replace) the black one.
  • Unless you're printing the final copy of a resume, choose the 'draft', 'fast', or similar print quality print, for you probably won't notice much difference between that and the more thirsty print quality options. Plus, the file prints much faster using the draft mode, and uses much less ink.
  • Choose a double-sided printing option when printing more than one page. (HP refers to it as "book" printing). This option massively cuts the amount of paper printed for most files, by half for a file with an even number of pages! You access it from the Print menu's Properties button.
  • If printing a single page that you don't want to waste ink on giant mastheads or ads, after choosing the print-friendly icon (if available), highlight the text you wish to print, then Ctrl-P, click in the Selection button, choose the print quality, and click OK. Selecting text to print is also useful when you have a document that is, say, barely two pages long; by lopping off the masthead and ads, you can often make it a one-page file (putting less wear and tear on your printer). Selecting text is also useful if you wish to print from a site that does not have a "print-friendly" icon. Highlight the desired text, choose the double-sided, draft, and black ink options, and see how the page prints. Often, the site will print the pages just as you wanted. (This is where that middle scroll bar on your mouse comes in handy.)
  • Some final frugal moves for anyone familiar with bookmarklets might be to use one of the following: Hide Images, whenever the "printer-friendly" button still allows ads through, and Restore Selecting, if highlighting text on a site does not work at first.
Hope this helps ease your paper jam.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Denial is Not a River in Egypt...

What a relief--the police have finally a suspect in the serial arson cases! The thought of that prowler creeping around setting fires to folks' home while they were asleep gave me a few shudders and sleepless nights. Who knew where he would strike next?

Predictably, some of Sweatt's acquaintances and neighbors can't imagine that the man whose "demons told him" to set fires, did just that. In today's Washington Post [free reg. req'd.], an acquaintance is quoted as saying, "Don't they have to prove it? I don't think it was him." Well, police arrested the guy because they found evidence, and Sweatt then confessed to setting at least one of the fires. What sane person can fathom that anyone could commit such crimes until they happen--they're almost unimaginable by nature. More denial of depravity occurred recently, after the alleged killers of a stripper were arrested. Not only did they kill the woman, but police found a pipe bomb (or two) in their home. Nevertheless, camera crews managed to find someone to vouch for her dangerous neighbors' "niceness." Why not simply keep quiet when so confronted, or at least admit that you didn't know the person as well as you thought?

The frightening and frustrating reality is that many criminals are "nice, nonthreatening" types, at least some of the time. (Prove this yourself by perusing your jurisdiction's sex offenders' web site, and note how many of the offenders appear normal and nonthreatening, even in those relatively unflattering mug shots.)

People still are often not what they seem to be.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Happy Passover...

Passover, that great commemoration of a people's liberation, incorporates various messages:

  • That God uses the most unlikely people to create change. Moses had murdered a man, which was why he had been exiled, but God used him to lead his people. (Exodus 3:10)
  • That God brings us through apparently impossible situations, even while the world around us seems to be falling apart.
  • That God uses all kinds of people and situations to bring us closer. Not only were Moses and Aaron imploring the pharoah to let the people go, but even some of the pharoah's officials "feared the word of the Lord" (Exodus 9:20) and did as Moses proclaimed!
  • That we do not know what is in other people's hearts, that people often don't know what they themselves are feeling. Pharoah flip flopped regarding whether to let the Hebrews go, numerous times, before finally doing so. He then regretted doing that, and sent his army after the people. (Exodus 14:5-6)
  • That God wants freedom from oppression for peple from all nations. The Hebrews were not the only ones who left in the Exodus--they were joined by others, who were presumably also sick of being enslaved. (Exodus 12:37-38)

Just a few stray thoughts for Passover.

Friday, April 22, 2005

(All Aboard for) Earth Day

So far, 2005 has been a banner year for increased awareness of pressing environmental problems, with the growing instability of oil prices (and concurrent talk that the world's oil production may have peaked, or soon will), additional signs of global warming, (such as glaciers melting much faster than expected), and even, increased media coverage of Christian concern for the environment.

It is worrisome, though, that much of the discussion is about the supply of, and our dependence on, oil, when in fact, the real problem is our overreliance on petroleum (nitpicking!) in general, not just on oil used as fuel. Everything synthetic is currently manufactured from petroleum--fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, as well as plastic in all its incarnations. This undue reliance is so unnecessary as, ironically, two of the men most responsible for the modern dependency on automobiles were also promoters of non-petroleum fuels and materials, with hopes of empowering farmers and small industries.

Rudolf Diesel
's engines originally used peanut and other vegetable oils as fuel. Interestingly, the new diesel-powered cars from Europe run on clean, reduced-sulfur diesel fuel, and can even run unmodified with a biodiesel blend (a blend of petroleum diesel and diesel from vegetable and animal sources, such as soybean oil). Some enterprising folk have (and do) operating their diesels with the leftover frying oil from fast food outlets! (How's that for recycling?)

Even more shocking was Henry Ford's promotion of plant-based petroleum alternatives in the early and mid-20th century. There's a famous photo of Ford taking a hammer to one of his vehicles in 1941 (at the 15th Annual Dearborn Michigan Homecoming Day celebration); this car's body was made of soybean-based plastic, and he was demonstrating its toughness (the hammer bounced off the car's body). In fact, Ford invited the press to see that and other products made from soybeans at that exhibition, as he had previously, at the 1934 World's Fair. Ford believed, as did Diesel, that utilizing the soybean and other plants more fully would help both farmers and small industries. (So, contrary to popular misconception, Henry's great-grandson Bill Ford is not the first environmentalist in the Ford family.)

What, you might ask, thwarted the widespread industrial use of soybeans and other agricultural materials in industry? You guessed it, the price of petroleum dropping in the mid-20th century after the largest Saudi oilfields went into production, making petroleum cheaper to produce than these worthy alternatives.

In reality, our reliance on petroleum is so ingrained that it is used for even relatively insignificant products, which, when widely used, continue the petrol dependency. One small step in breaking the non-fuel aspect of petroleum dependence might be to a well-stocked local health food store, as its repertoire of petroleum alternatives consists of more than the organic produce. For instance, the body care and cosmetic product lines carried by such a store rarely, if ever, contain petroleum products (there's even a product called Unpetroleum Jelly, which works as well as its petrol counterpart), and even the ink used to print the weekly store specials is often a soy-based one!

Will we be ready for a change?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Safe Keeping...

As so much recent crime news stories seem to involve abductions, the article How to NOT Be Abducted seems relevant. Many of the tips mentioned involve what not to do in a parking lot, but a few are general safety tips, and are also extremely helpful.

Passover, or, a Celebration of Liberation

Passover, to be celebrated this weekend, celebrates liberation, for a people, and, ultimately, for humanity in general.

Regarding the theme of liberation more fully, those celebrating Passover might consider having a vegetarian Passover seder. (After all, it was Moses' gentleness tending sheep that caused God to give him leadership over a human 'flock.')

Recipes appropriate for a vegetarian seder are available over the Internet, including a site with recipes for a Sephardic seder, as well as a site with articles on vegetarianism and Judaism in addition to recipes. As kosher regulations involve meat and other animal products, vegan dishes are inherently kosher--they only require the blessing of a rabbi. Shalom!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A New, Old Tradition

Earlier today was a great day for a parade, and a parade there was in Washington. Today, the first official Emancipation Day celebration in D.C. was the first time the occasion had been celebrated in many years. It got its start when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862, freeing Washington's slaves some time before the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in other areas. Emancipation Day was celebrated as a holiday for years before it fell out of favor.

What's old is new again.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Take Me out to the Ballgame...

I'm of two minds regarding the debut of the Washington Nationals at RFK. It was thrilling to see baseball, that unofficial harbinger of spring, being played professionally in Washington after an absence of decades, and people of all ages actually getting exciting about something other than, say, a tax refund. (Not that I wasn't excited when I received mine!)

On the other hand, I hope that the goodwill of the fans and of the city is not trampled upon by the team owners, as it almost was in the process of getting the team to town by their rigidity. (With all that tough talk the owners threw at the city--the take-it-or-leave-it attitude [or, more accurately, the take-it-or-we'll-leave state of mind]--shouldn't a television deal have been negotiated by now? Or do the team owners demonstrate a tough stance only with politicians, who were supposed to ensure that the deal didn't take city residents to the proverbial cleaners?)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

For Us the Living...

In mourning the passing of John Paul II, one beautiful way to uphold his memory would be to contribute to a cause close to his heart, aiding the poor. Organizations that have done so over the long haul include Bread for the World, which lobbies to end hunger in the U.S. and abroad, as well as educates the public on causes of hunger, and ways to end it.

Another, Save the Children, helps in a variety of ways, such as increasing economic opportunities via micro-enterprise programs, to help women start small businesses, and in building strong local micro-finance institutions to continue economic growth in their communities.

Of course, you can help closer to home. Local food banks welcome donations of both food and funds; unfortunately, an increasing number of the people who receive services from food banks are working people, so the impact of a gift to such an institution would be immediate.

Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14: 12-14)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Spring Forward, to ... (Yawn?)

I barely remembered to perform my pre-daylight savings time ritual, to turn the clocks and watches forward before going to bed--it's just too traumatic, and disappointing to do it after you wake up in the morning; when I wait to turn them, I feel like I've truly wasted time.

Supposedly, there's an upside to this seasonal madness. David Prerau, writing recently in the New York Times, claims that it would be advantageous if daylight savings time began even earlier in the year, and, also ended later in the year. (See the March 31st editorial, "Spring Forward Faster" [free registration req'd].

I'm yet to be convinced, however, as people already don't get enough sleep. A book I read a few years (one which, ironically, contributed to a couple of sleepless nights itself), Stanley Coren's Sleep Thieves, was a frightening, ahem, wake-up call for our need for sufficient sleep, and the consequences of extended periods of sleep deprivation. In addition to information and profiles of people in other professions who often lack sufficient sleep, the author conducted an informal experiment, to determine how much sleep he actually needed to function well. It wasn't pretty.

In that spirit, I submit a few good links, with information on how to get good sleep, and another with information sleep disorders (and plenty of other sleep resources), links which I do not think are directly supported by manufacturers of sleeping pills. One is the article, "How to Sleep for a Better Tomorrow," a brief but useful compilation of good sleeping tips. Another is from sleep research pioneer William C. Dement, full of resources and information. A final sleep link, which contains 101 questions about sleep.

Now, hit the sheets!

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Last Words? About Terri Schiavo

Apparently lost in the hubbub over the late Terri Schiavo and the need for a living will and the naming of a patient advocate, is the fact that courts consider using a feeding tube to be equivalent to using a respirator, that they are both considered life support measures. Thus, if you do not agree that they are the same and want to obtain a living will, you should specify which measures you consider to be life supporting, or too extreme, and also speak with your advocate about such measures.

A unique perspective on the feeding tube issue was recently featured on msnbc.com.
David Schuster's blog ran much of the content of an editorial letter written by Steve Eidelman, the leader of the disability advocacy group, The Arc of the United States.

Here's hoping that inflamed, unfettered ignorance on these right-to-life and right-to-die issues is laid to rest, as Terri Schiavo rests in peace.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Springing into Palm Sunday

(Anticipation of) Restoration and liberation mark the beginning of spring, the aptly named season, when the blossoms, blades of grass, and other wonders spring forth from the ground, the trees, and bushes.

Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, anticipates, celebrates the coming of God to man (Emanuel, "with-us-God") as man, with encounters that were (at the beginning of the week) a joy for all involved. Jesus' triumphant journey to Jerusalem, en route to commemorate the Passover [one type of liberation celebration], and, ironically, his death and resurrection began another (see Luke 9:30-31, "Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem.").

Keep up the celebration with family and friends. In this vein, consider new angles on traditional Easter brunch and dinner favorites. If, say, vegetarian ham is unavailable from the nearest Chinese grocery,
vegecyber.com and vegieworld.com have it, and vegan Easter candy is available from veganstore.com (aka Pangea, a Rockville, MD business whose retail store is open weekends only) and veganessentials.com. In the meantime, have a wonderful Palm Sunday.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy St. Patrick's Day...

On this day, a traditional harbinger of spring, the courageous McCartney sisters are in town, being welcomed by President Bush and others, taking a stand against the violence of the IRA in Northern Ireland. May others have that same courage, to take a stand against violence in neighborhoods, schools, streets, highways, and all manner of places.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Coming of the Green...

In less than a week, it will officially be spring. (Yeah!) Naturally, there is a preview, a getting in gear for the season, and for many, that preview is St. Patrick's Day, just a few days hence.

Just as there are multiple ways to celebrate the breaking out of the green (and more than one kind of green), for those of you who want to celebrate in a family-oriented, environmentally friendly way, here are links that have vegan/vegetarian recipes and suggestions for St. Patrick's. One organization is so bold as to announce a
St. Patrick's Challenge, while wishing a Happy Vegan St. Patrick's Day. Not to be outdone is the magazine Vegetarian Times, which published greener versions of traditional Irish delights a few years ago. Lastly, cookbook author Bryanna Clark Grogan often publishes vegan versions of holiday treats, so be sure to give her web site a look.

Hope this helps you get an early leg up on your St. Patrick's Day...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Love Thy Neighbor (and everyone's your neighbor)

Having been injured recently means I've had to (and still must) rely on the kindness of family, friends, and strangers, more than in the past. You find out who are truly your friends, and who are mere talkers. Moreover, such help can be the difference between being able to get back up, physically and financially, and falling further. One of the Proverbs says that a close neighbor is better than a distant brother; fortunately, both siblings and friends are relatively close by.

A recent Washington Post column by John Kelly,
"Stepping Up for Those Who Fall Down," [free registration required] told of the interaction between a man who fell down, an indifferent security guard, and a caring stranger--just a reminder that you never know who may be a source of aid.

Another way to be of help to your neighbors is a small organization,
Village Harvest, that uses a great (ancient, in fact) idea, of gleaning to provide food for others. The basic idea is that people who have fruit trees that supply more fruit that their families can use donate the surplus. The concept is a win-win situation: excess fruit is not left to rot in the garden, and needy families receive fresh fruit. What a great way to be a neighbor! (Blurb about Village Harvest comes via Rebecca Blood's blog, rebeccablood.net).

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Yesterday being the first day of meteorological spring (whatever that means) means that spring is not far behind, and good eats and good times are on the heels.

I previously opined that it is not difficult to eat well. This can be true even if you are on a budget. Just because you may watch the dollars and cents closely doesn't mean that you can only do food shopping at Walmart, Costco, or Sam's. The fact is, bargains can be found in many food stores, in certain categories, if you know how to look.

Take independent health food stores, for instance. If nothing else, you can head for the bulk section, where you can find both culinary and medicinal herbs. Huge savings potential, for herbs and spices, much of the cost for these items is in the packaging. Once you start scouring this section, there is no good reason not to save money by spicing up your cooking. If these stores have produce sections, peek at them, for you may find bargains on in-season produce.

The other potential giant savings in this area is that you can buy medicinal herbs in bulk, buy the [often vegetarian] capsules in bulk, and make your own herbal supplements! I often do this with turmeric, making my own capsules, and saving tremendously over buying, say, a bottle of turmeric supplements (as turmeric is believed to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties).

This same type of savings applies if you happen to stop in a higher-priced food store. Whole Foods has an extensive bulk food section, and watch to see which produce items are on sale (it is a health food store that has a sales flyer, as do some other health food stores, which may not have the money to widely advertise their specials). Would I shock you to say that you can find bargains even at Dean & Deluca? Yes, it's true. The bargains are in (you guessed it) the herb and spice section, where the items are carried in relatively large metal containers, for reasonable prices (more reasonable than McCormicks, and of comparable quality). Rodman's, the two-store original discount gourmet merchant of the Washington area, has better deals than the newcomer Trader Joe's (as well as a weekly special ad in the Washington Post). Finding good food bargains is often a matter of keeping your eyes open and your preconceptions at bay.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Now You See It...

Ignore that snow that's belatedly falling down (it was supposed to begin, variously, at between 1 am and 4am, and it hadn't started until 9:30am), spring is on the way. Here's one sign: strawberries [from Florida] were on sale this week at Giant, for $1.97/lb (instead of being expensively imported from abroad or California).

In addition, not only are these beauties large, but they're pretty tasty, surprisingly. I thought it was too early in the season for any spring fruit to have any flavor. I simply had three of them,cut up, and ate them at breakfast. Splendid. Who says that good eating is difficult?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Idle time...

With my thoughts ricocheting between winter and spring, I'm still thinking of an indoor gardening "failure" which I can somehow take advantage of. That those arugula pipe up so quickly after planting (virtually overnight, to which its popular nickname 'rocket' attests) can be useful; I popped one of these seedlings in my mouth, and recognized that sprightly young arugula flavor instantly. This makes me think, arugula sprouts would be a good 'crop' to grow in the winter, as these sprouts are tasty as well as nutritious, at a time when good-quality fresh vegetables are hard to find. Also, just to see something growing does something positive for one's wellbeing, somehow.

I bought the (organic!) arugula seeds from a Lowe's, I think. Oddly, though the sprouts have that great nutty arugula taste, the seeds themselves smell like celery seeds.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Just Tease Me, Won't You?

Now, what is this I see? The sun feebly attempting to emerge, while a flurries begin to fall. And talk of perhaps more snow next week (which I don't quite believe, if the highs are to be in the 40s).

Naturally, such weather makes me daydream about the little orange tree I nurtured a few years back, in my bedroom. A couple of weeks after it arrived, fragrant blossoms emerged, and stuck around for a couple more weeks. Shortly after, you could see tiny green fruits, which grew a bit larger and turned orange. I planned to use the rind, but somehow never got around to that. Perhaps I didn't water it enough, didn't provide drainage, don't know what caused that beauty to fade. Someday, I might try again with another type of citrus tree from the same company,
Gardener's Eden. The folks there offer a dwarf lime as well as a Meyer lemon tree, which you can buy individually, or as part of a series. Uh oh...

RANT: I get tired of folks (originally) from other parts complaining that Washington people are weather weenies, such as a lady from Minnesota I saw on the news last night. In case she (and others) hadn't noticed, Washington is not Minnesota, Vermont, Wyoming, etc. It seems that such people complaining about Washingtonian behavior in the winter come from places where the weather is far more predictable--from places where it's always cold, and when the forecasters say it's going to snow, they reliably predict the amount. Such locales are so cold throughout the entire winter that there is almost never the possibility of sleet, freezing rain, or ordinary rain, possibilities that always exist in these here Mid-Atlantic states, where the temperature can change on a dime, the winds can shift, ay, the storm itself can change course. So please, quit nagging Washingtonians, as we're dealing with a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the weather in these parts.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Winter's Still Here

Winter's--er, snow's falling again. The forecasters are predicting some three to six inches of the fluffy stuff to land today. Of course, this means continued cabin fever for me. This close to March, especially after I heard some tv personality announce that the date has been set for the Cherry Blossom festivities dates, somehow the snow seems a bit misplaced.

The other day, someone mentioned a tempting topic for me--starting a community garden. Now, this could be a frustrating experience. Thankfully, some of the other people interested in the venture have more gardening experience than I do. The chance to introduce kids to growing some of their own food is exciting, as I have read that youngsters that refuse to eat vegetables in general will eat those that they grow. (What's next, cooking from the garden with the young'uns?)

My experience at food gardening has been less successful than a couple of long-time attempts to grow and maintain flowers. To me, morning glory was extremely easy to grow from seed, but not a good plant for a lazy teenager to grow in the summer, as I usually did not get out of bed early enough to enjoy those colorful trumpets. Another easy (nonweed) flower was the balsam, with its little bell-like flowers.

The tomatoes, on the other hand, were a different story. They just never grew past the green, tiny novelty size stage.

I've always had an envy of many people in the Washington area, who seem to go to a rural area of North Carolina or some other state in the summer in a yearly pilgrimage. Thus, to some degree, I've romanticized farming and gardening. Perhaps. Then again, maybe I'm just stubborn. I mean, people have gardened and farmed for millennia--I should be able to grow some food on a tiny parcel of land--even if that parcel is only a pot.

For the most part with my more recent attempts at container gardening, I've tried shortcuts--buying an herb plant, then transferring it to a container. Now, this generally works for a while, but then something goes awry. Not enough water, not enough drainage, hmm... The most recent victims have been thyme, mint, and lemon verbena. However, all is not completely lost if you lose a woody plant, for you can still use the dried leaves that remain, while you try to determine what went wrong.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Sleeping Grounds

On a typically bleak winter's day, nestled among the dormant plant life in the gardens near the Simthsonian museums were various evergreens, such as imposing hollies, standing at attention on the grounds of the Smithson castle.

However, there were surprising specimens nearby, in the smaller gardens. The Ripley Garden has an old, woody rosemary plant, looking for all the world like an unpotted bonsai, its branches tumbling, its plentiful, verdant needles as supple and fragrant as any to be found.

Another grizzled veteran of a rosmarinus officinalis was spotted in another nearby garden, a space which also contains a good-sized lambs' ear, as well as a busy thyme. It was refreshing to see these Mediterranean transplants thrive in the hothouse atmosphere of Washington, as well as in its chilly backside.

Now, this foray was not the first time I've seen apparently inappropriate horticultural displays in official Washington. Some years ago, I first saw a runaway rosemary in a garden across from the Botanical Garden, a bushy, three-foot tall patch conveniently located near a bench in the garden there. Of course, I was shocked (I say, shocked!) to see this plant thriving in a humid Washington summer, this refugee from a more arid clime. And not just a bit of rosemary, either, but a decently sized patch, in a stamp of a garden, containing a fountain and statue sculpted by the artist that created Lady Liberty, near a tiny (?office) building that looks incongruously like a tiny Provencal cottage. This, at the bottom of Capitol Hill and across the street from a faceless, fortress-like government building.

This winter quasi-hibernation that we inhabit at this time of year causes us to dream of spring, and planting, which can be a dangerous thing, particularly for someone like me, who, let's say, has a very dark green thumb, but tries year after year to produce something living, and keep it going, no matter that you have no natural talent in this area.