Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Time to be cheerful

Terry and me chatting up S. Claus

Monday, December 14, 2009

Life's just a bowl of cherries

I hopped a plane to San Diego last week, and from the security area there is a long hall with people-movers down to the vast departure area that belongs to United. Along this hall United usually has exhibits such as dishes, hand-painted tiles, or typewriters. I'm always early enough to be able to walk through and look at the displays, and it is always a treat. Last week it was slot machines. Unfortunately they are in the plastic display cases United uses, so I could not run my hand along the steel cases, but I had seen all but two pass through the Victorian Casino Antiques Auctions we attend. Go here to check out a few of the machines shown at the exhibit: http://www.flysfo.com/web/page/about/news/pressres/exh-slots.html

I wish I had floor space for one of the triples. I have a Little Duke, unfortunately, the side vendor didn't make it to my dining room.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tools of the trade

I travel. On my last business trip, my suitcase handle stuck and I had to ask my boss to carry my suitcase. This is not a cool thing to do, so on Black Friday I chose the closest store that would have the least crowds with the biggest sale, and went to retrieve my Good Deal on a new Delsey overnighter. While standing in line, which was very long but moved along nicely, I rummaged through the shoes and socks on sale. Now when you have a home office, it is a standing joke to tell someone you are working in your jammies and bunny slippers, especially when it is early in the morning. One of my friends (you know who you are) told me last year how 'loved' by houseshoes looked. So there they were, bunny slippers, calling my name. They are soft and warm and will keep my ankles warm in my cold office this winter. They look like something I should have had when I was 13, but since they are in my grown-up size, they must have been meant for me. Suitcase and bunny slippers, for the new job.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The tale of 2 trees

We have 2 sweet-gum trees in the yard, which I believe to be called Liquid Amber. One is on the hill, always leafs out later and turns red sooner than the one that is on the flat part of the yard. They are just two reasons I have to be thankful I live here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

something to think about

I am an armchair environmentalist. My idea of conserving fuel is to run errands on the way home, and I conserve gray water by hauling it out in bucketfuls and dumping it on my plants. At the grocery store, I pay more attention to what's in it than where it came from. Now that I'm a Professional Foodie of a sort, I have started paying attention to where things do come from. No, I didn't ask the waiter where the fish came from last week, but it crossed my mind to do so.

And so I have finally read Barbara Kingsolver's book. It's about her year-long experiment about buying locally. I like her fiction; this is not like her other books. She unabashedly stands on her soap-box in-between short essays about her far. Did you know, each food item in a typical U.S. meal traveled 1500 miles to the table? That energy calories to produce and transport food far outweigh the energy calories we get from the food?
Just like with human pathogens and antibiotics, plant pathogens and weeds are growing more resistant to pesticides and herbicides. Crop losses were 7% in 1948 when 50 million pounds of pesticides were applied. In 2000, losses were 13% when 2 BILLION pounds of pesticides were used. No wonder half of our new food team works exclusively on pesticide analysis!

I have noticed at our store here there are signs in the produce area that say which items are purchased locally. I'm going to start paying more attention to them. I herein promise to make some better choices than asparagus in November. Really.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

compliments of the American Farm Bureau

looks like we have just a little something extra to be thankful for.

Friday, November 13, 2009

second week on the job

Like many new jobs, this one has been hurry-up-and-wait. I finally got into the lab with a collection of folks from 3 other groups doing something I won't be doing, but the workflow is close enough it is no-nevermind. It seems to me that an awful lot of molecular biology is pretty much the same - use pipettes to take teensy amounts of liquid out of an assortment of vials, each at its own time and temperature, with various incubations as prescribed. Later, you get a number, which means something-or-other. There, now that doesn't sound so hard, does it? But I did enjoy the wrap-up session, sitting around tables with other scientists and each of us brainstorming about how to improve what we did, as the set-up in its current configuration is prone to leaks. It's been too long since I have gotten to participate in an intellectual exercise of this sort, and I have missed it. Then I got to sit in a meeting all day and listen to development folks drone on and ON about new software, but it had the advantage that I met some folks on my new team and got a free lunch.

Friday, November 6, 2009

fallout from the new job

Sos I'm spending a few days reading food industry websites and gathering background for the new job while I'm waiting for my lab stuff to get set up and people to tell me what to do. Several weeks ago I ran into the Monterey Bay Aquarium's guide to Seafood Watch Seafood Recommendations, and saw that line-caught Alaskan Salmon was on the recommended list, but that farmed salmon was on the avoid list. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_recommendations.aspx
This surprised me as I had sort of assumed that farming was a good thing. Well, it is, for catfish and shellfish. But not for salmon. Today I found a short video clip that explains why. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eggrGn0V0fg

I promise not to turn this into a soapbox. But sometimes, there are just some things you need to know to make the right choices. And now you know, too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I ran out of stamps, so I walked down the hill to the post office. I was staring at the parking lot as I walked away, and as soon as I reached the sidewalk, there appeared dark splotches, a little more than an inch in diameter. In just a few squares of pavement, soon there were at least a half dozen per square. Past the next building, I reached the corner of the high school yard. The density of the black patches increased. Chewing gum! After I crossed the second crosswalk, they almost completely disappeared. None at all on the sidewalks on my street. So the kids must chew gum on the way to school, and throw it out as they arrive. Yuck! I'm going to walk on the other side of the street next time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

happy new year = happy Halloween

My company ends its fiscal year today. I have spent the past few days watching the sales numbers get posted. It is kind of like watching an election on TV. Oh! another 2%! I see this morning we still have not closed out the purchase orders, but I am close enough to quota that it is never no mind at this point. It's been a tough year, and I hustled as best as I knew to bring in the last bucks.

And the last bucks they will be. Monday I start the New Job which has been 3 impatient months in coming since I got the phone call out of the blue in July. Two years ago when my old job went poof! and I scrambled to find work within the company, I was glad enough to get the sales position. I got lots of lovely notes from customers when I sent out goodbyes yesterday; it was very gratifying to have made friends, andI will miss them. I've been bored, I felt like a square peg in a round hole, and then there was the PHBWT (if you read Dilbert). But before me I have a new beginning, an empty (almost) calendar, a cleaned-up and backed-up computer, a new notebook, a couple of exciting projects where I can use my 10 years of expertise at this company, and a fresh start with a different boss. This weekend I shall finish a new suit made with lovely green handwoven wool from my stash, and I shall wear it triumphantly Tuesday to meet with the old boss and the new replacement for the old position. After our meeting I shall go to my new, clean lab bench, unpack my pipettes and try to figure out what the new job really entails. But this weekend is all about optimism, my sewing room, and the world series. Enjoy. I shall.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Musings from reading Science

I went to have the car's oil changed today armed with several back issues. Seems like I spend less time reading the biochemistry articles and more time reading ones related to the environment. So here is the issue. Millions of years ago, plants fixed carbon with photosynthesis, just like they do now, but the plants were buried in swamps and under heat and pressure, turned that carbon into oil, where it remained underground and safely buried away from the atmosphere. A hundred years ago, we started pumping it back out of the ground and burning it, turning back into the CO2 the plants had used. Not only is all that CO2 causing problems by trapping the sun's energy on the surface of the earth, but we have passed the peak of oil production, and what's left is not nearly as easy to find, drill and extract.

There are two workarounds I want to comment about. One is that methods have been developed to extract CO2 from the air and pump it into those empty spaces from which the oil has been taken. This puts pressure on the remaining oil and helps to remove the rest of it. That's just one strategy for carbon capture and sequestration. There are some dozen power plant demonstration projects underway and it will be interesting to see how that goes.

The other workaround is biofuels to replace the petroleum as it grows unattainable. Since I had a couple of biofuel customers recently, I have been reading up. Congress has mandated a 5x increase in ethanol production, which will require 44% of the corn grown in 2007, by 2015. So as the population grows and the climate warms, the US water consumption required for biofuels production will increase by 2/3 - that's water that isn't there, particularly in the western US. In India, e.g., the water table is rapidly dropping due to population pressures and increased crop irrigation. This is seriously not adding up to a sustainable technology.

I'm looking into my crystal ball and sure see a lot more questions than answers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to feel old, fat, and grizzled in one easy session

I had my eyes checked and dilated yesterday afternoon. They put me on a chair to wait next to a People magazine, summer issue. All the chicks were young enough to be my granddaughters, size 2 or 4, and wore shoes that would put me in the hospital before I got out of the house. I don't normally mind getting older, but it did seem at least a century ago when I might have been seen in public with that much skin exposed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

About one of those new laws the Governator signed last weekend

A new law passed for California to develop standards for sustainable fishing. It will let the state's fisheries to put an ec0-label on seafood from the best-managed fisheries. When Marine Stewardship Council gets involved, the process can be long and drawn out. Maybe now that there have been assessments in the past, the process can be jump-started this time. We need the jobs fisheries provide in this state, but those jobs need to be in fisheries that practice sustainable fishing practices, and Californians need to be encouraged to buy products from those best fisheries. Let's hope this law will make this happen. http://seafoodsource.com/newsarticledetail.aspx?id=4294975768 (Photo of Panulirus interruptus, California Spiny Lobster, pulled from Wikipedia)

Friday, October 9, 2009

A day for remembering

It's another garage story, the kind made famous by HP here is Silicon Valley. When I was a kid in graduate school, Dr. Jennings of UC Davis founded J&W Scientific in his garage, which my company purchased some years later. He's 88 now, bent like a pretzel, and UC Davis had a colloquium yesterday to honor him. A bunch of us from work showed up, and a host of former students, to listen to the reminiscences and hear bits of science that came from his work. There are ever so many people doing science, and working for my company and another one founded with his start-up funds, all resulting from the work of Dr. Jennings. It really is tremendous, how one person can have such an impact.

So after lunch, we all trooped over to tour the Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. Lots of corporate moneys made this big new building possible. It's really nice, wood and art in the lobbies, and 3 floors for food, wine & beer, and engineering, with big open labs, glass and natural light. Maybe one of the kids I met will be the next Dr. J.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Catch a falling star

Part of my job is so incredibly cool. I get to meet people who do the damnedest stuff and are just so totally wrapped up in their work, then I get a peek into a corner of the universe I had not seen before. Today I visited a scientist with NASA who works in Exobiology. Yup, that really is the name of his department. I had to think about that one a bit, exobiology. Lotsa possibilities in that name, huh?

He grinds meteors into powder, extracts the organics with water and compares the structural isomers of the sugar acids. So there is a lot of formaldehyde, a 1-carbon building block, floating around in space. When formaldehydes react and form a 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6-membered carbon chain, and you get some water action thrown in, you get some very interesting left-hand vs right-hand structure stuff going on. Now since all of this meteoric carbon chains are formed by collisional chemistry, there ought to be as much left-handed compounds as right-handed ones, it just depends how things end up after the collision. This is very different than life on earth, where molecules made by organisms are overwhelmingly left-handed, because they are made by left-handed enzymes, not by random collisions. What this scientist is seeing, though, is the short chains ARE pretty much equally left- and right-handed. The 4 carbon chains are about 2:1, the 5 carbon chains are about 10:1 one way. By the time he gets to looking at the 6 carbon chains, they are all alike, no mirror images. Now THAT is unexpected, to say the least.

I get the "exo" part, but I would not have called collisional synthetic reactions "biology". Just reading the posters on the walls, I have to say there is some unique and strange chemistry being studied on that floor. Outta this world, I'm just sayin'.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm getting an education on fish

I never fail to be amazed how much information can be accessed on the Internet. I so remember going to the public library to look up stuff in the encyclopedia. So I have started doing a little reading for the new job. My first project will be "fish n chips" on how to identify fish that no longer has scales or fins or a head. There is a lot of stuff out there about fishing as a business and a sustainable enterprise. I think seafood farming may be a lot like making sausage - there is such a thing as too much information.

Some time back I found the Seafood watch put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Now that my store has labels on the fish, I think I will get a little more responsible about what I buy. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

Monday, September 14, 2009

what you don't know CAN hurt you

Ever use Pine-Sol to clean the kitchen? Bought one of those plastic cutting boards that are treated to be germ free? Have a plastic sponge that has some chemical attached so it won't grow germs? Well, me too. I have always been sanguine about these approaches to fighting the chicken crud, and been very smug about spraying Lysol all around and wiping it down. Huh.

Turns out there is pretty good evidence to show that exposure to these kinds of chemicals, benzylkonium chloride and hexachlorophene are ones you may recognize if you are a label-reader, promotes resistance to antibiotics. It's already a huge problem, antibiotic resistance, and there has not been a new class of antibiotics introduced in decades. Unregulated administration of antibiotics to treat non-bacterial diseases, not to mention the use of antibiotics to grow animals for food, has multiplied the number of pathogens that succumb to few, or even no, antibiotics. And that is not a good thing, Martha. So shucks, there, ma'am, I am part of the problem. Who knew? Well, back to bleach in a spray bottle for me. It's even cheaper.

weekend fauna

You know how cats are always looking for a new special place to sleep? Tootsie has found the best place in the house, on my handwoven wool suit under construction. Awww.
Have you ever seen anything sillier than a turkey on a birdbath? Particularly since they can just stand on the ground there and have a sip.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The color of things we love

Did you know that beetles and blue jays are not colored by pigments, like your hair is colored? It is the reflection of light from ordered surfaces that selectively reflects colored light. For blue jay feathers, it is the fine lines to the feathers that absorbs most light and reflects the lovely blue. Beetle exoskeleton has a hexagonal pattern, with pentagrams and heptagrams to help fit the curve of the shell. The light gets polarized just like going through your Ray-Bans, so you get the beautiful iridescent colors that make beetles one of god's favorite insects. Very cool that optics technologies are starting to study these complex biological structural designs for new ideas.

You know all those beautiful poinsettias that are so dense and bushy? Ever tried to keep growing one of those lush plants and it gets all leggy? Commercial poinsettias are infected by plant bacteria called phytoplasmas. It shortens the distance between branches by producing a specific protein that promotes dwarfism, branching, and general yellowing. Have you ever seen witches broom? There is a couple mile stretch in Death Valley festooned with witches broom, all curled and yellow. Unfortunately poinsettias are the only known commercially advantageous application (don't ask me why the leaves are not yellow), because it is very damaging to grapes, pears, apples, and so on. Another case of 'who knew?'

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The word of the day is geoengineering

Geoengineering: the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change.

This can be done two ways. If the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reduced, heat in the form of infra-red radiation can escape the earth's surface more easily. The other way is not to let the solar radiation be absorbed in the first place, by increasing the reflectivity of the Earth. Now, what would it look like if we painted all the horizontal surfaces (roofs, for example, and parking lots) white? If you find this intriguing, or if you find you have insomnia, here is a report to browse http://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=35094. The Summary is not so long-winded or obtuse for casual reading.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Now I can throw them thar pills away

About a year and a half ago, I got one of those freebie health screenings at work. I wanted the interim check on my cholesterol, which had been high for some months, to see how the statin was doing at lowering it. The nurse pulled me out into the hall and quietly told me my blood pressure was too high. Now my blood pressure had always been on the low side, and I was always smug about the complements I would get when I went to the doctors'. I stared at the piece of paper for an hour, and then went to our on-site nurse Deb and had it rechecked. Yup, high. I went to the doctors', bought the pills and a blood pressure monitor. The directions on the pill bottle is to take one when it's over 140.

I'm proud to report it is now down to normal. Not the exercise regime, which is a tad sporadic these days. Not that I lost those 10 pounds, because I haven't. Now, let me think about this. What has changed in the last few weeks? It wouldn't have any relation to trading the PHBWT in for a different boss, would it? Ya think??

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I always knew I was a Foodie

The announcement is out, I'm now official. I have accepted an inside position in the Food Business (what a great fit, huh!). November 1 I will be leaving my sales job, taken 2 years ago in a round of musical chairs when my old job went away. Get thee gone, catalog and part numbers, I am moving back to the lab bench. At least in the beginning I'll be working with a scientist in Labs with the most gorgeous blue eyes and a most impressive resume. We will be working out methods to bring mass spectroscopy instrumentation to the labs of microbiologists - yes, the folks smearing petri dishes to culture microorganisms - for much faster, more accurate identification of microbes and fish. I'll explain how that works in a future post. For now, it's all good and I am very pleased at having been asked (out of the blue) to take the position. Well, it's all good except the "inside" part means I lose my company car. Gotta run - still doing the old job for now.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Emporer Qin's Terra-Cotta Army

2200 years ago, Qin unified China, erected much of the great wall, standardized weights, measures and handwriting, and then began to construct his mausoleum, which he populated with some 8000 clay soldiers and horses. The artisans ground up semiprecious stones to make lacquers then decorated the figures with the pigments after the base lacquer dried. Farmers were digging for a well in 1974, and found the first of the army. Trouble is, once the statues are unearthed, the lacquer shrinks in the dry air, and flakes off within minutes. So, there are a bunch more figures waiting to be exhumed once scientists figure out how to preserve the finish. There are a couple of ways to try to keep the finish from flaking, but the magic bullet has yet to be developed. Save something for the next generation of archaeologists.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The rolling hills of Pacheco Pass

I drove to the central valley yesterday to visit customers. It is several hours each way. I drove south on 101, then cut through the foothills to reach the glacier-formed irrigated desert that forms the salad bowl for much of the US. Climbing the golden rolling hills in the morning, where the narrow winding 2-lane road has been a death trap for motorists for generations, the temperature dropped to the 50's and was blanketed with heavy fog. I passed the St. Luis reservoir, carpeted with green grass and sporting islands instead of being a uniform sea as in most years. I hear it will be an el Nino winter, and it will be a good thing if it is, as the reservoirs will be replenished only if we have heavy rains.

My day's journey was to visit several environmental firms who test drinking water to plant material to remediation sites for explosives. One family run company, in a building started in the 18th century with an art-deco foyer and maple floors that squeaked, was about to go under, losing clients and workers. Another company had just built a state-of-the-art suite of labs in a new office park, sporting art and long ventilation hoses dropping from the ceiling to vent dozens of instruments to the outside air. Three generations worked there, oozing enthusiasm, professionalism, and the marketing manager had a new infant at home. What a contrast! Then there was the long drive home. The car said it was 102 on the black asphalt road, the air conditioner could not keep me from sweating, and the radio could not find the channels as I wound back over the pass home.

Friday, July 31, 2009

it's already the thirty-last day of July

This has been a lost summer for me. Spending 3 1/2 weeks in St Louis has pretty much trashed the yard from neglect. We have TVs, desks in various stages of assembly/disassembly and just plain stuff all about the house, and the disorder is fraying my mind. My friend is painting, and I mentally go into her clean empty room and admire the prospect of having everything in order. I do not deal well with too much household entropy.

So I leave you with images of the vanished garden. It will be spring again soon enough.

Friday, July 24, 2009

happy birthday to meeee

Meet me after work. Dress nice he said, so I did. A silk suit. The night out turned out to be a Moody Blues concert at the Paul Masson winery, where they have a lovely venue with under 1000 seats. "Dress nice" was not quite specific enough, I said. However, it did not matter as all eyes were turned on the old grey heads in 60s or 70s gay clothes or Moody Blues shirts from previous tours. I could have done, I have saved my sun gold embroidered top, had only I known. As I said, it didn't matter.

I was deep into undergraduate science classes then and sort of missed most of the Moody Blues. Nights of White Satin is, of course, my all-time favorite slow-dance song, and so much else of the Moody Blues sounded like that it is familiar even if I didn't exactly remember it. There were the two lead singers and the original drummer, a new, really polished, great drummer, and a doo-wah girl to play the biggest flute we had ever seen and shimmy a bit. The lighting was primitive, the boys did a few steps, and the mixing needed tweaking for the different songs to balance the vocals. Did that matter? No, the crowd loved it all. It was a really, really fun concert, the weather was a perfect night for it, we had great seats and an excellent burger there at the winery bistro before the concert. A very good birthday all around. Thanks, sweetie.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

talking to Basel

Today was one of the interesting days at work. Five of us from A met with a customer flown over from Switzerland to give a presentation on the new instrument we recently introduced. We met at Gene*, a big local Biotech. My customer did some swell science with the demo columns I had provided, and she did the first presentation, followed by our marketing weenie, and then the gent from Basel. It was all WebEx-ed, so several sites, including the one in Switzerland, listened in. The fun part was after. I had seen the second floor research labs several times, but the guy from Basel wanted to see the production scale-up labs. This is where they have big vats, stirrers, pill pressers, microscopes, x-ray machines and other big, expensive, cool stuff that is not part of my usual world. Formulation of pills vs capsules is not usually on my mind. This is pretty dull to read, but trust me, it was an interesting day.

Monday, July 20, 2009

airport stuff

I scored a new airport Saturday on my way back to SJC. I flew Northwest back (cheapest) and went through Minneapolis. Gracious, what a big airport, concourses A-G, lined with more stores than most malls. Waiting rooms were large, corridors were spacious. But the fun part was an interactive commercial on 5 large screens in the corridor connecting to the F concourse. Go here and share the fun: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17vubzcqJ0E. It was a kick to watch the kids of all ages play with the displays.

When I got into SJC, there was a BIG parking garage where there used to be a paved surface lot just a few weeks ago. That was fast!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bamboo on Bamboo

I started the New Project Sunday. I promised myself I didn't need to knit another sweater. I promised myself I would never knit with variegated yarn again. But it wasn't in writing, so it didn't count, you think? New Projects are always filled with possibilities and contentment. This one involved yarn from the stash, and a mad scramble to find a suitable pattern when I realized the one I bought with the yarn would look truly AWFUL on me, since I am no longer (or maybe even ever) willowy like the model. But I did find a pattern, and assembled all the stuff and hauled it to my Mom's house for the duration.
So this is bamboo yarn. Never heard of such a thing? Neither had I, but I loved the colors, liked the texture, and the price, half-off since the store was closing, was also right. And I got another chance to use the new bamboo needles I got for Christmas. I made the swatch, the gauge was right, and this is the easiest pattern to memorize I have probably ever worked. I plowed onto the hem of the back section. But while using the new needles was a dream with the linen-mohair blend yarn of the last project, with the bamboo yarn, the bamboo needles feel like plastic rubbing on plastic when the yarn rubs against the needle. Huh. Not unpleasant, exactly. Just nothing is ever as wonderful as wool, is it?
Oh, about the variagated yarn. The pullover I made decades ago has a very pronounced repeat, and it is quite noticible when I changed yarn balls that the repeat is disrupted. I cannot tell yet if this has also a pronounced repeat. I don't know how to keep that from happening. I did, however, manage to find the match between two balls of yarn, so I am thinking to tie the yarn together so that I stay on the repeat. Anyone have a good suggestion, please advise.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I have been in St. Louis since Sunday. I spent Monday at the hospital, meeting, thanking, and watching Mom work. I went to Walgreen's, Wal-Mart, came home and washed clothes. I was tired this morning and hopped in the car early as I knew Mom would be bouncing with impatience until we got her home. Seven weeks it has been, by the way, 50 days, in three hospitals and two ambulances. So I headed east and drove. When I paid attention to where I was, I was on the wrong bridge. No prob, these days, turn on the Tom-Tom and chart an alternate route. So instead of driving to the Central West End of St. Louis past the Arch, ball parks and through Forest Park, I drove through Jennings. Not sure I have ever been through Jennings before, where the Dollar Store is the ritzy part of town. Take Out Bar-B-Q! Chicken Feet! Crispy Snoots! I crossed Barack Obama Drive, and was 2 blocks from Washington University, back on the other side of the tracks.

Mom was indeed waiting for me with stacks of stuff. It took a couple of hours to get her out of there, one last trip down the elevator dressed in the yellow disposable isolation gown, and then we drove through Forest Park, enjoying the sunny summer day and looking at the grass, trees, flowers and people. Sweet, just what one should do on a summer day.

She is unpacked, cats are petted, medications are untangled (3 separate lists, generic names and brand names, and no cross references - ugh, that coulda been, shoulda been done better), and pills for the week sorted into 4 medicine minders. I think is is about time for supper and the ball game on TV, don't you? It sure is nice to have Mom home again.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not a good thing

It's Friday and I have been gone all week. The apricots and the plums are fast ripening, so I need to get my domestic act together and do something with the fruit besides stand under the tree with juice on my chin. Last year Glen and I fenced in many of the fruit trees because the deer were ripping the peach branches and breaking the wood. While I was gone the fence got left open, and my two little apples are stripped of leaves and apples except for the top of the larger of the two. Too bad, that will stop the growth for the rest of the year, although the trees will live. It's always something, isn't it?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Just what every home needs

In the summer I spend a lot of time on my front porch. Even in the morning I have one chair that can be in the shade. Now the thing makes a good porch a friendly place than to have it safe. I mean, a turkey or a deer might get too close. Even that @#$#% feral gray cat that eats on the back deck while being stared at from the safety of the screened-in living room by 3 pairs of feline eyes might have the effrontery of invading the front door if it were not well guarded. One can't be too careful about these things.

Monday, June 15, 2009

If money were no object

This weekend G and I attended the Victorian Casino Auction here in Las Vegas. Hey, this is a legitimate business trip since I worked Friday AND Monday, and it is MY territory. We just happened to be here over the weekend, and just happened to be at the auction by 8:30 Saturday morning. What?? I won't say what we bought, just that Glen the amazing car packer managed to get all of it, and me too, in the car for the trip back.

So, while I was there, I got a few little things for my dear friends. Here they are, except for you, Claire, since antiques are not your schtick.

Jackie, we know you are working on your interior of the new condo. I picked out a lamp just for you, since we all know how tacky the existing dining room lamp is (sorry it is so blurry, it is the Budweiser Clydesdales if you can't tell) :

Then for Linda and Jim, the most expensive antique of the day, a $25,000 juke box of which there are only 5 - it's not even a stand-alone box, but a "remote" unit that sends selections to the main juke box to be played. Only the best for my music loving friends. Sweet, isn't it?

And for Elinora, who has a recently redone kitchen AND a coffee habit, a beautiful, restored, free-standing coffee grinder. a real beauty if I do say so myself

Then for G, the one that got away, a real steal, a signed Frank Polk original for only $9K. Look at that face!

So that Leilani has a place to store her yarn and hats, a set of 3 hatboxes:

And for my cousin's weekend entertainment, here you go.

The lane, and 3 slat-chairs and tables were also for auction, so heck we can throw those in as well.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Just another day at the office

Today I drove up to Napa to see a customer building out a new lab. He does wine R&D, not the usual wine testing for alcohol, acids, etc. that most of my enology customers do. Here's the front door to the Constellation Wines lab. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it (and no, couldn't go to the tasting bar, darn)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

almost finished

It was a long ride home. There was a tornado drill at Denver when we all went and stood in a restroom when a tornado was sighted. Everyone got back off the planes (gee, you would think they could do that for other delays - they CAN figure out a way to get you off the plane and back on) and got away from the windows and into a restroom. It was very weird to see the sole man that stood in the women's room and did not cross the hall to stand in the men's room.

I had taken knitting to St. Louis but did not knit more than a half row at a time, so I gave up. On the trip home, I decided I should knit, so I did, for 9 hours. Sunday I finished knitting, blocked the piece and wove in all the ends. It is a shrug pattern that promises to button up into a vest. I like to knit anything with yarnovers and cables. this is linen and mohair, and did block out softer than the knitted swatch.

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's good to be home

I had a drink with Lei in my ever-so-clean house, and went to bed early. We were all glad to be there.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


sorry this has not been so interesting. Nothing interesting happens when one is in the ICU 12 hours a day. It was pretty tough to watch mother lay there motionless. Not too sure, it may be harder to watch her lay there and kick her feet and grimace. At least she is not pulling at the tubing so she doesn't have to be restrained. The old girl has a lot of fight in her, and it is for sure good exercise after laying there motionless. I'm sorry she is so agitated, but we can't keep her sedated until she is ready to get out of bed. It's going to break my heart to tell her I have to leave - she has no idea how long this has been, of course.

I was trying to let the tech get by me (it's a cosy room with all this stuff in here) and I closed my laptop screen onto my pen. Ooopsie. Now I have a striped screen with smears in the display. sorry boss.

OK, I am going on another little field trip to check out another nursing home. I need to run a few errands, and then I will come back here and sit. And knit. Or not.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday, May 21

To reiterate, Agnes has her own blog now at http://gettingagneswell.blogspot.com/. This one is going back to being about me.

It is kind of a routine now, wake up with a start when the first photon slides through the drapes, make tea, feed the cats, get it together and try to watch the 30 mph speed limit as I drive through the residential streets to get here a little after 6. I hike up 2 stories of stairs and come to Mom's room, glancing at all the monitor readouts before I ever look at her sleeping in bed.

I arrange my stuff around my chair, fix the power cords so no one will trip, lock down the laptop and turn it on, go out and talk to the night nurse to find out if anything has changed. Time to rummage in the cabinet for teabags, see if any peanut butter has magically shown up, hike down 3 flights of stairs to the cafeteria in the basement to get a clean styro cup and straw, some milk and oatmeal. Today as I pay, the cashier asks me if I work here. No, I tell her, my mother is here, and she nods sadly. Back upstairs, wash my hands as I go back in her room, where I sit and chat with the day nurse, the respiratory therapist, the 4 docs and the cleaning lady as they pass through in turn. So here I sit, rummaging through e-mail and looking for applications to send to customers, leaving occasionally to hike the stairs for more hot water, washing my hands, and sitting.

I am hoping we can reduce the sedation after we get her ventilator fixed. I am anxious to do my real job here, patting and encouraging, opening cards and reading them to Mother, standing over her and smiling. This sitting stuff isn't much help.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Agnes has her own blog now

So that all the friends and family can keep up with Agnes we are going to post on her very own site. How 'bout that! if Agnes has ever heard the word blog, I'd be surprised, but she has one now! it is at http://gettingagneswell.blogspot.com/ Please bookmark and see you there.

Wednesday 20th

Still in a holding pattern. No change. I promise to make a round of phone calls when there is news. I don't expect anything to change before tomorrow. She is stable, her lab work and vital signs are good, her skin is holding up, and she is heavily sedated and as comfortable as we can keep her. Stay tuned and think positive.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

supportive medical care

Agnes' medical team and I made some decisions today that we hope will enhance her chances for a full recovery. Agnes had a medical crisis that resulted in very major surgery to clean up after the infected gall bladder, and now she is very weak. It will be some time before her muscles are strong enough to breathe on her own, so we have made the decision to connect the ventilator directly to her trachea to make it easier to breathe and to allow her to remain on the ventilator until she is strong enough to comfortably breathe for herself. This will be a much more comfortable arrangement for her than to have the apparatus in her mouth and throat.

She is not doing well on the tube feeding. She is also having a line inserted into her artery so that she can continue on total parental nutrition. You don't want too much information here, but that should also make her more comfortable.

We hope these changes will make it possible for us to reduce the amount of sedation. She is otherwise stable, and when we see how she is doing with these changes, we can move Agnes to a setting that will allow rehabilitation while she is weaned off the ventilator. It will be a long recovery, but barring unforeseen circumstances, we still expect that to happen.

Please folks, she needs all the prayers and good thoughts to keep comin' her way.

Monday, May 18, 2009

no good news yet

Discouraging, Agnes is not breathing any better yet. I had truly hoped she would be doing better by now. She is agitated and moving when she is not under the pain medication. I hope there is better news when I go back to the hospital this evening.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A smile is a beautiful thing

It’s Sunday. I know this because it is the day there is a big newspaper. There is a daily calendar on the wall across from the bed. I had assumed it was for the patient but now I understand it is for me. Agnes was too weak to breathe, so she is back on the ventilator again since last night. She seemed OK and sleeping comfortably when I left for the day, then the phone rang and the ventilator was required again. It will be some days before this changes. I am not sure why I sit here all day, as most of the time she doesn’t know me, but there you go. I don’t know why I didn’t think to pack my little radio – I could use some company.

Just before lunch she started thrashing around, meaning the morphine was wearing off and it was time for more. If you ask her if she is in pain, she slowly nods. That’s all. I told her I was going for the nurse, and while we waited for him to come, I pat and rub on some place that is not stuck, bruised or be-tubed, and tell her to hold on for a few minutes. Today, she opened her eyes and nodded. I told her what had been happening, that she was going to make a complete recovery, explained about the respirator and she nodded. It was the first time I had explained anything that I think she comprehended. Especially, I hope, the part about complete recovery. So while the morphine was kicking in, I told her who had visited, who had sent prayers. I told her I had her meal ticket and was going out to get lunch and would be back when she woke up. I told her I was going to eat her lunch because she was not going to get it. And around the breathing tube, past the tape over her mouth, she smiled. Beautiful.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Let there be light!

Saturday morning. Baby steps today. But we did get the ventilator tube out. After the machine left, I moved my chair from the dark corner to the window. Now I have enough light to read. That has made a surprising difference. Yay!

Agnes is now on oxygen, but breathing through her mouth. She becomes very agitated, but appears to be in pain, so she is still in la-la land but only on morphine now. I’m pretty handy at reading all the monitors and know when to get the nurse and what to tell him to do. The sedative they were using has the side effect of amnesia, so she should not remember any of the past days, which can only be a good thing. Her surgeon is a wonderful doctor, at least as far as bedside manner. He is very good at explaining the past, expressing optimism, letting me know what to expect, and outlining steps if developments are not as expected. Bless him, he has promised me daily phone updates when I have to leave on the big silver bird again. Her nurses have been wonderful, also. I have always been dubious that they used this hospital in preference to going to St. Louis, but I like her doctors, and her care appears appropriate. You can’t judge the hospital by the cafeteria, I’m just sayin’.

So finally, the proper combination of mild sedative, lidocaine patches, morphine and diuretics seem to be operative, and she is sleeping without distress. Let's hope tomorrow brings more progress.

Friday, May 15, 2009

happy banding day, 3 girls and a boy

That's good, it has become an annual treat, the banding of the falcon eyasses on the city hall tower through the lens of the blurry web-cam. Glad I didn't miss it.

It is so green here it makes the eyes hurt. You who live where it does not rain much understand this. A cardinal, an oriole, peonies make my heart sing. People are getting ready for summer here, painting lawn furniture and fat men are riding mowers on the impossibly green lawns.

48 hours post surgery, Agnes is still on the ventilator. I was crushed when they told me it would be another day. When the sedation starts to wear off she gets very agitated, and since I am not sedated, I am having a hard time dealing with that. After we got her quiet again, I left for some time, as she does not know if I am there or not. They tell me she is doing well, but not that well. I suspect there will be no more news for awhile. Sigh, more waiting.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


beep boop. All day. I got in very early so I would be able to talk to all the docs. She went from sick to way sicker than I ever hoped she would be in just hours. Maybe just as well I was not there Tuesday. It must have been a happenin' place and I only knew the half of it before today. It's pretty unusual for her to still need to be on the ventilator- certainly that surprised me. And it is bonus day; we made it up to 7 bags of stuff hanging on the tree.

Agnes began to come out of the sedation and began fretting about the ventilator tube and the restraints that kept her from pulling it out. Her oxygen was decreased so she would have to work harder to breathe, so they can take the tube out. She did know it was me, and her eyes opened wide when I told her sister Nora Jean had sent love and prayers - that clearly touched her. But she was fidgeting and squirming so much she started to have a lot of pain, so she is back in la-la land for the night. Maybe tomorrow.

It's a pretty small community of 6 rooms, so I have been watching family come and go and hear them hollering at their loved one to get a response. There is a young woman there on drug overdose who is totally unresponsive, and a few old people. I've never been around people this sick before, and literally everything stops for everyone (except the staff) until the situation is resolved. That's me, on hold, waiting.

We are temporairly suspending normal programming

We will take a break from our usual publication of random musings to keep tabs on my mother’s recovery. Agnes had an acute gall bladder attack Monday morning and a number of other complication ensued, so that she went from being uncomfortable to acutely ill within 36 hours. The medical staff intervened to prevent cardiac failure and stabilized her sufficiently for surgery Wednesday. Unfortunately she had to have the old-fashioned surgery, not the newfangled laparoscopy kind that would have gotten her out of here in a day or two. The good news is that the liver and pancreatic tests are back to nearly normal, so she is recovering. So for the next few days I will sit in this cold room with a warm laptop for company, listening to the bong bong bong beep-beep-beep whoosh whoosh hisssssssssss noises that surround me. Mom has been fighting the restraints, so she is pretty well sedated still. She recognized me last night, but today there are no lights on. The plan is to start to wean her off the respirator and try to get her out of bed in a few days. I’m guessing a skilled nursing home with some physical therapy will be required to get her back on her feet.

Meanwhile the technology in this place is pretty amazing. She has more tubes than I knew there were places, although amazingly enough, there are no drains in the incision. In addition to the machine that breathes for her, there are 4 bags of stuff dripping in to her neck, where there is a handy-dandy port for syringe injections, and blue leg warmers that squeeze her calves rhythmically to assist the circulation in the lower half of her body. I would never embarrass her by photographing her looking so terrible, but you have to be impressed by how much stuff they have hanging off the walls. .

However the technology that is totally unimpressive is the free WiFi. You get what you pay for, and occasionally my computer can find Yahoo, but no way can I get through the firewall. So I’m working off line and hooking up to the lan line in the computer room where mother lives.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Good News!

Ahhhh. That is one sigh of relief. Mother went to the "Sergent's" today, where they told her there was not a real difference between the last two mammograms. There will be a needle biopsy to be sure, but at this time there won't have to be general anaesthesia. No harm in being cautious, but I think this was pretty badly mishandled by whose ever office left her a voice mail and told her to schedule a biopsy. All's well that ends well.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Wardrobe Malfunction

G managed to get some cheap tix for the Celtic Woman show in the San Jose Civic Auditorium for Sunday night. We took advantage to go out for dinner at Il Fornaio, where G loves the risotto and I love everything else. We then walked down the block to the Auditorium, stood in long lines for will call tix and made it to our seats in the nosebleeds. Since many seats were still empty, I went to the ladies room. Now the steps in the balcony are concrete, steep, and have no hand rails. I bent over, crept down the steps by holding onto the backs of the empty seats on the other side of the aisle. I finally reached our row, crossed over to get to my seat and whoops! my silk charmeuse pants came untied and slithered down my legs. I QUICKLY sat on the step, started laughing, and began fumbling to fix my clothing. Glen was laughing, I was laughing, everyone was laughing. The poor lady right next to me kept saying 'I'm sorry" through her laughter, and I kept saying "It's funny!". Ah, no real harm done as my tunic was pretty long. Too bad I didn't think to take a bow after I stood back up! But maybe some elastic instead of a slithery drawstring, ya think?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Genus Nepeta

We have three varieties in my yard, and my guide today to the relative potency is Louie. Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is the least favored, although it seeds itself well and we now have several established locations. I also have two species of catmint, although I do not know for sure which species they are. One is larger and has quite lovely blue flowers. The cats' favorite, however, is the smallest plant. It nearly didn't make it through spring for being rolled on, so it is recovering under a pot holder.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Road trip of the week

Good morning from the Hyatt Place in Rancho Cordova, where the rooms were designed by an idiot. The big TV screen is cleverly placed so you can make it face the bed or the couch. No way can you see it from the desk. The bed faces the bathroom mirror, and the bathroom door opens out to the bed, and is also mirrored. Therefore the bed lamp reflects back into the pillows, as does the mirror on the door if you try to block the mirror on the wall with the door. Then the light in the living room reflects off the other door . . . I think it is back to the Courtyard for me, despite the free breakfast here. Although they do have Tazo teas.

These trips are always interesting. Yesterday for the first time in memory I locked myself out of my car. I was in the parking lot right in front of the big windows along the office, I had both doors open while digging in the back seat for literature, posters and catalogs, with my purse on the seat, when my host came out to greet me in the parking lot. We both moved a door out of the way to shake hands, and both doors latched. I always put my purse on the roof - what was I thinking? We have a roadside service (number in the glove box) so I called the company in Little Falls and the operator hooked me right up. These voice recognition programs are amazing, they asked questions all the way to were the keys on the seat, on the dash or in the trunk by automated attendant. When I got to give the address, a real person sent out a tow truck, and the nice tatoo'd man had a big folder of bent up wires, and click! the door popped open. No big deal, but a lot of embarrassment on my behalf for being dumb in front of a client. Well, I probably don't need to go back there. They buy some of our equipment but not much from me, and I will have a hard time being a credible force for change after that!

Lots of homework from yesterday's visits, so I need to get to it. I get to go to a couple of wine labs in the central valley today - always interesting (no, no tasting).

Monday, April 27, 2009

love at first sip

About a month ago we went to a chocolate tasting in the City. Amazing how soon you can get saturated with chocolate - if you ever do one, be sure to take water. It was fun, I was glad I went once and would likely not go again. There are indeed chocolates I did not care for, very perfumy ones that assault your nose before you can even get it to your mouth. But I digress.

One table was giving little sips of chocolate martini. We hit the liquor store last weekend and purchased a bottle of Vincent Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate flavored vodka. I have no use for vodka as a rule - why waste vodka when I can drink gin? But this, ah, this is nectar. Not a sugary liquor, it makes a sublime martini. So when it was time for a fancy drink before Sunday dinner, we whipped two up. I haven't been this in love with a drink since I first tasted Blue Sapphire gin, which remains my favorite. I'm not the only one who liked this, as there were 15 or 20 pages when we did a recipe search. Ummmmmm . . . Too bad Sunday is only once a week.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Almost spoke too soon

It has been five years to the month that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had the tumor removed, had radiation treatments, took a pill every day, and life went on. A week ago she got to stop taking the pills. We were both pleased at reaching this milestone.

Monday she had a followup mammogram and an ultrasound. Wednesday someone left a message on her answering machine and told her she needed to have a biopsy. So today when I called her, she told me. Why hadn't she called me sooner? Well, I can't be bothering you with every little thing, she said. Mother, this is not what I would classify as a little thing. So she has not called the office back to get this scheduled, but has promised to do so Monday.

Five years. That's supposed to be the magic number. Here we go again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

update on the garden path

It is still a work in progress. It was HOT Sunday, and so not so much progress. Four more bags of Step 1 Paver Base are stacked in the driveway. However, the new roses are beginning to bloom, so that is today's update. Here are, in order Knockout Radrazzi, Pristine with Fritz and Tootsie, and Tamora and Tootsie (I just plant them, not name them).

Friday, April 17, 2009

J David Gladstone Institute

Yesterday the Secretary of the Interior and I happened to visit UCSF Mission Bay campus together. I went merely for the parking lot, not the picketers standing on the streets with signs to be photographed by the TV trucks. I picked my way through the circus and crossed the street without much notice from the cops, probably because in my business attire I didn't look like I would be joining them. I walked into the lobby of the Gladstone institute and literally gasped with delight. It was one of the most beautiful lobbies I have ever seen, and I do a LOT of lobbies. The wall facing me was 3 stories of thin, very large onyx tile (wonder how many of those were broken during construction). The tiles were backlit, the golden stone glowed. There were names in big letters at about the 2nd story level - James Watson, all the other biochemists I studied when I was in graduate school, the ones who wrote the review articles that explained everything I needed to know. Oh, LOOK, there is Stan Cohen's name up there, the guy on my Ph.D. committee. Wow.

Gladstone, the real estate magnate who founded the research institute, must have earmarked special funds for archetect fees. This place is truly amazing. The labs were a little quirky, not big rectangular labs but all angles, but the building is truly special. Too bad I could only find this crummy little photo with 3 VIPs obstructing the view. If you ever go to see the SF Giants, it is worth a drive by to see the art on the outside of the building

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Signs of spring

So I stopped by the office after my customer non-event of the afternoon, bounced up the front walk and stopped dead in my tracks. What?? Swans?? We can't even keep green plants in the offices anymore and they bought a pair of swans to live in the pool along the front of the building?? Wait - they are plastic swans. Turns out they are there to dissuade the ducks from nesting in the pond, as the ducklings get caught in the water circulatory system. Sorry mallards, not a good year for romance on the corporate turf.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Somebody deserves to be shot

Hunting season opened Saturday. This is the meanest, most irresponsible thing I have seen in a long time. The shaft of the arrow comes out under the wing, buried to the feathers in the breast. Hunters are not supposed to let animals get away like this. Snort.

Butterfly migration

It is finally spring, getting hotter, no more rain. The first of the new roses are blooming, all the glorious shades of green are in my garden. Even the grass is green (this month, it won't last). And for the past few weeks the butterflys are migrating. Little whirly tans insects flying north, as fast as a human can run, fluttering about 10 feet off the ground, undulating up and over the wall and the trees, north. At any given time in the warm afternoon, I can see a dozen or two, fluttering north. They don't fly in the cool morning, or in the windy late afternoon, maybe about 6 hours a day, flying north, not landing, not sipping water, just flying. What are these? They are painted ladies, relatives of the monarch butterflies that also migrate.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thank you, Mr. President

Last week the president issued a Memorandum on Scientific Integrity and sent it to all executive deparments and agencies. Neither suppress nor alter scientiic and technological findings in the process of formulating policy, he said. Make sure that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda, he said. You will remember that a number of our founding fathers were gentlemen scientists. I hope they are resting in peace again that our government is returning to a course where political appointees cannot twist their private agenda into public policy. As the government deals with climate change, species extinction, and scientific research, we require qualified individuals to guide us and a lack of censorship to find our way. Yes, the economy is very scary and I am literally worth a fraction of what I was two years ago, but because of this, our future is brighter and I have hope.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Flags at half staff over Marysville IL

It was a breezy and sunny weekend. Daffodils are up and tulips are trying, red buds on many trees wave against the blue sky. But a lot of people in this community didn't see any of that, probably couldn't see anything of beauty through the tears in their eyes. It was a terrible thing for a pastor of a growing, thriving congregation to be slain in front of his church family. All of the community were aghast at the atrocity. Businesses posted their sympathy on the fluorescent venue signs, the papers and TV news and radio stations carried the funeral, every church took donations for the young widow and the family. This good man fell in the line of duty serving his god, and it was a tragedy. How does someone turn as crazy as that? Remember the church in Texas 10 years ago who lost many people with a lot of other injuries? They sent their pastor up here to console the flock with 3 sermons yesterday. Don't ask, there are no answers.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Greetings from Chicago

It is cold and sunny here, after a weekend of rain and delayed arrivals. I am working PittCon, (Pittsburg Conference for historical reasons). This is a huge meeting, and yesterday was booth training and old home week for the sales staff and product managers who work the booths displaying our latest and greatest. This year, some 200 of us are working the show, down from 300 last year. We had the usual hours of blah blah blahblah training followed by dinner and lots of motivational rah-rah by high managers. They did a good job of making our part of the company sounding not as bad off as it could be. At least one of our competitors pulled out of this show altogether, which is where companies come to introduce new equipment and historically, at least, customers come to make buying decisions. It is apparent that the stimulus package will include a big $$$ for instrumentation, and the east coast account managers are reporting a deluge of requests for quotes from scientists expecting funding added to existing grants to arrive the end of April. Even a one-time influx of $$ would be most welcome. So it's all about keeping the game face on, moving the tire-kickers along and sniffing for customers with budget, and keeping the feet in shape for the long hours on the show floor. At least women are no longer expected to wear heels!

This comment deserves a separate post, not a footnote, but I am short on time so i will just say, THE PRESIDENT STATES NOW SCIENTIFIC POLICY WILL BE DETERMINED BY SCIENCE FIRST NOT PARTY POLICY FIRST. Now anyone who believes there won't still be an agenda would be naive, but policy can't deal with problems that policy refuses to acknowledge exist. Lots of bad news out there, but this is a return to how things should be.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Last year as the food riots hit Mexico after the cost of corn skyrocketed, it had already occurred to me how crazy it was to grow corn for ethanol. I never did think you would get more ethanol out of it than it took to produce the fertilizer and plow and harvest the crop and separate the oil from the corn. I have been watching as scientists struggle to cope with the cellulose and ferment grasses, sugar cane leaves and so forth to produce alcohol. Today I went to a start-up and learned about growing algae in ponds to process for biofuels. There is a lot of biology to manage, and then you have to deal with all the non-fuel components. One way to make it economically feasible to use algae for fuel is to also be able to harvest some high-value product such as a pigment or a dye. My chemist got a free lunch, I got an education. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


This is cow town for those readers who don't know. It was in the middle of nowhere at the edge of the central valley before it built up. I drove there today and it was a lovely drive. The hills were green and verdant, the trees were pink, rosy, yellow or bare, and the fields of mustard were buttery. California, like any state, is beautiful in the spring. It's going to soak us this weekend, ensuring the green hills will last another few weeks

Friday, February 13, 2009

Travel is SO broadening

Greetings from the Richmond (which has 3 syllables, by the way) International Airport, where I am quaffing beer while waiting for Cuz to get off work and fetch me. I love it when I get to go to a new airport, and this one is quite nice, fairly new, and I have a lovely view of the runways. This is one of the flattest places I know.

I must say I like the people I work with. They are a lot of fun and even the pointy HBWT only skewered me once. We have one class clown who really could do stand up comedy so that is vastly entertaining. Everyone hugs and jokes and it is not too dull. Of course, I like to hug the people I like. I tried to hold out my hand the PHBWT when we parted, but she insisted on a hug. Whatever.

So I went to Philadelphia Airport today after my meeting finished. I tried three terminals before finding the right one, got checked in and dumped my bag, made it through security and went to check out the ladies' room. I found a stall big enough to get my computer bag and me into at the same time, arranged myself and found myself staring at a very substantial latch on the door with a label reading " Hiny Hidey". Yup, I'm not making it up.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

ahHA. There it is

By golly, I found that sweater at last. I knew it must be here somewhere, as I had found the bill of sale. In the outer pocket of a suitcase I seldom use, there it was, all new and a bit wrinkled, still with the tags on. I'm so glad I found it before it got too warm to wear it this winter. Pshew!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A work in progress

It seemed like a simple enough idea to lay some pavers next to my new rosebushes on the edge of the new veggie garden. And so it was until the resident engineer stepped up to suggest improvements. Bags of sand and gravel and a quantity of lumber needed to be purchased, and then of course the soil must be removed to put in a frame. So while I thought it was straight and level, it did not pass inspection. We are the proud owners of a used jackhammer from Home Depot rental store, and have purchased a shovel attachment for it. So Sunday it all came out of the garage, got assembled, and I got instruction and started to remove more earth. That thing is fast, it's heavy, and the shovel does not, thankfully, cut the extension cord, just dirt (don't ask). I can only use it as a digger, not an actual shovel due to the weight. I'm probably about half way there, and the path needs to be more level, but I can see it happening. Monday my hands hurt so badly I needed both naproxin AND aspercreme. Today is better, we are down to just naproxin. Can you see the rosebud on the new bush? It's going to be nice. But this may be the last walk I excavate.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I got the zipper

The green handwoven fabric is a bit too blue, and not at all olive, so it is hard to decide what thread to use for the buttonholes. Nothing at the store looked just right, so I didn't get anything yet. But they had a Rowenta iron for half price - so even though some reviews said it doesn't last long and spits, I bought one and we shall see how it works. I hope it is as steamy and dreamy as the good reviews! I'll let you know. And I'll get a photo just as soon as the buttonholes get done.

Monday, January 26, 2009

what a lovely weekend it was, except . . .

It rained much of the weekend, and we need RAIN! What a nice excuse to stay indoors and knit and sew and cook. I walked to our itty-bitty farmer's market and bought lovely flowers, beets etc. and a large hunk of salmon. My friends came over and I knitted about 4 inches on the rose shrug and we chatted and ate the most lovely artichoke hummus from the market. I then ate the WHOLE piece of salmon, finished off the open bottles of wine, and the cats and I piled up on the bed.

Sunday, I looked at the jacket that needed buttonholes, and decided I needed thread for them. No matter, I took out the skirt pattern and up-sized the skirt - hey, it was from 20 years ago or more - and cut out the lining. I shall stitch up the lining as a "muslin" to check the fit before I cut into the beautiful hand-loomed wool left from the jacket. Note to self to purchase zipper.

The hem had come un-glued again from the washable leather skirt, so I got out my damp press cloth and stitch witchery and ironed up the hem. DAMN! I scorched the leather, even with a press cloth. I know I have done this before. Well, @#$@#! I shall have to cut off the bottom and stitch it up shorter. I love this skirt, I really do, and it was a nice mid-calf length. So, I shall be the proud owner of a beat-up knee length skirt. Whatever. But I shall SEW the hem, not glue it as it was manufactured.

I had lovely veggie soup, with sweet tender beet greens and beans and a carrot from the garden, with a lovely glass or two of a great zin, more knitting, more TV, and I fell asleep before the movie on TV I planned to watch. Such a nice weekend.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What was your favorite line in the inaguration speech?

My company planned a large customer gathering for today. Guess the marketing wienies don't do politics. So I showed up at 7:30 and started getting the books laid out for a morning of seminars as I noshed on the fruit (where do they get such big blackberries this time of year)? I told T how much I had hated to get out of the car and turn off the radio. A quick word by her, and CNN was on the big screen. Upstairs, they had CNN on 3 big screens in the lunchroom, and the room was packed. Ninety customers came in and were riveted by the screen images. When we said we needed to start the seminar, I heard a few wistful sighs. When we announced we would stop for the swearing-in and speech, there were vigorous nods. So we did. When they started to swear Obama in, CNN magically appeared, and we all clapped. T and I hugged with tears. When Obama said, "Now is the time for the role of science to resume its rightful place" both T and I cheered, and everyone turned around to look at us. Past time! It will be hard times to come, but we all desperately needed a day of hope and celebration.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A truly gut-wrenching story

This is tragic, so you are excused from reading this if you wish. My parents moved to a small town in Central Illinois over 20 years ago, so of course my mother had to find a new hairdresser. Gail has an extension onto her house, and mother has been going to her all these years. I would go to her too, when I visited, small-town haircuts being cheaper than city ones. We watched the kids grow up, trooping in and out of the beauty shop, they rode with Dad in the main street parades, the boy began having babies and then they married a couple of years ago. The kid never finished much of anything, never held a steady job, got in some trouble. The young wife went to school and worked part time, and the kid watched the 3 children, none of them in first grade. A couple of days before New Year's eve, cops showed up at the door. Gail's son ran to a bedroom, closed the door, and shot himself. He leaves a young wife and 3 youngsters. The only redemption is that some of his organs could be harvested. My heart breaks for Gail. Send prayers and thoughts to her and the widow. Oh, my.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Yesterday at a trade show I ran into a guy who used to work for the competition, but with whom I struck up a friendship since I kept running into him. He now works at a biotech that makes botox for injection. I commented that he must have learned a lot of biology after he went to work for this company, and he said yes, since he spent the first two months reading while waiting for his security clearance to come through. The cultures and toxin purified from Clostridium botulinum is classified as a weapon for mass destruction, and anyone handling high concentrations has to have security clearance. The bacteria are grown in fermenters, but since it sporulates and can become airborne, workers in the room must wear respirators and shower and wash their hair when leaving the room (they had to add an extra shower so they could have staffing flexibility - in case of an accident, everyone would have to shower immediately). There are multiple layers of pass codes and in some cases key locks depending on the amounts of materials in the rooms. An injection uses about 1-10 nanograms and anything over about 10 ng requires the extra security. This is one great big mother of a protein, 150,000 daltons, and the biology is quite fascinating. Proteins this large are a class of chemistry unto themselves. Since it is so big, it doesn't really get absorbed into the blood when injected, it just stays in place and the protease activity inactivates the neurotransmissions of what ever nerves happen to be at the injection site. When ingested, of course, it is absorbed through the gut wall and inactivates any nerves it comes in contact with and you know the rest. I could go on and on, (he did, at some length) but you get the picture. A most interesting conversation!

Friday, January 9, 2009

the other shoe

Life is not fair. Mother told me life is not fair. And so she was right. What now? Termites, both kinds. I have to have the house tented AND soil treated. Take out all the food, all the medications, the birds and cats and us for three days. I have a freezer FULL of food. Turn all the wine upside down (which it should be anyway). Sigh. The shed against the house is damaged, but it is just a shed. The house, at least, has not been damaged. Oy. You think I can get all the poor spiders in the garage to move out for 3 days?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Knitting muses

We had the first knitting day at my house Sunday. There were three of us, and two of us had to take it all out and start over, but it was a very good thing, the first of many, we hope. I can't tend 84 stitches without markers. I can apparently only count to 6 without losing stitches. Meanwhile, there were Christmas presents and a sale to tend to . . . (I bought how much yarn???)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

family portrait on a cold January morning

From the top, Fritz the Russian Blue, Tootsie the chocolate point rescue cat, and Louis XIV, another rescue cat who was luckier than his namesake to still be alive. Awww.