Thursday, December 25, 2008

The current financial crisis, and the comming financial crisis

I was asked today what I thought about the current recession: are we at the bottom, or is there still farther to fall. I speculated that there is still farther to fall. That said, I just don't know. If I really believed there was farther to fall I would not keep buying stocks and mutual funds, yet I do. I just don't know.

However, the current recession isn't what bothers me, its the crazy inflationary period we are heading to.

"Wait!" you say, everyone is talking about deflation, why are we worried about inflation. Well, the Fed is fixing the deflation problem. In fact, that fix is going to cause the inflation problem that is coming. Here is the scenerio: The financial pipes of capitol flow are clogged. People have been saying this for a long time. Whats going on is people are not spending their money, lots of people have it, no one is spending. Because so much of our economy depends on consumer spending, and corprate investment, everyone is suffering. Think of this analogy, we all live along a nice river eating fish and growing vegtables by the side. The river got plugged up. Things are pretty dry right now, all the fish are gone and our gardens are drying up. However, there is still alot of water, its all damed up at the source of the river. The Fed has a solution, pump more water into the river. To some extent this helps. High pressure watter will help dislodge the jam, but when it all clears up, we are all about to be flooded.

When capitol starts to flow agin, there is going to be a suplus of money out there, thanks to the FEDs huge push to increase liquidity. When this flood of liquidity unleashes its going to damage our economy, its going to drive serious inflation. The fed will have to put the breaks on things. The breaks means the Fed will work as hard as possible to suck up access liquidity, like a big spunge.

Here is the problem, when the flood starts it won't be easy to tell, people will be very happy and everyone will start consuming. When the Fed finally gets around to applying the breaks, they are going to have to slam them on. And that will drop us back into a recession... Which will be bad, much like this recession.

So, here is the problem, the medicin the Fed is giving us now is just going to prolong our suffering. (We will suffer no matter what).

To answer my original question, are we at the bottom of the current recession? Well, again, I don't know, but I am quite sure we are going to enter a period of macroeconomic instability which will last for quite some time (maybe 10 years). The instability will bring us periods of great prosparity and great pain: great swings, and that isn't good.

Enjoy the ride.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Post scripts

A few quick notes:
1) We are driving in tomorrow afternoon because New York State is supposed to get freezing rain on Wednesday.

2) The car wasn't even transported to the body shop until Thursday night, and then Friday was a no-work day because of the storm. Suffice it to say that they haven't even started the body work on the car and it won't be ready in time. So we're renting a car. We ended up with a Civic.

3) I'm glad I was able to get that photo of the rug because this morning, Zeus puked on it. :) The joys of pets. I guess she just wanted to make it hers.

4) I need a vacation. I'm glad it's starting tomorrow. I hope it really will be a vacation.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nutcracker, Christmas, etc.

This evening we braved the snow and ice and drove into Boston to see the Nutcracker. It was at the Opera House, a renovated theater that was built in 1928 (? maybe?). (For those of you from Buffalo, think Shea's Buffalo). Going to see the Nutcracker is our Christmas tradition - one of the few we have here in Boston. We enjoyed it. Afterward, we got some dinner at Pho Pasteur and then headed home.

The baby really liked the Nutcracker. :) During Act 2, which is when they have the dances to represent the different types of sweets, she was kicking up a storm. :) I think she was dancing in there.

Jim got me this rug for Christmas:


Isn't it beautiful? This will be the baby's room, so it's nice to have a cozy rug. I love it with the yellow walls. It looks great. Zeus has been enjoying it too. Just now, I was sitting on it, talking on the phone, and she batted at me as if I was in her exclusive territory! Ha.

Outside, the snow has stopped but it was raining for a while. Now that the temperature is back under freezing, all the snow is icy. I am terrified of falling because of the baby so I've been moving around outside like an old person with a hip replacement.

All in all, it's been a very seasonal weekend. We're finally looking forward to Christmas.

Snow!

Boston has gotten its first real snow of the season. In fact, with one small exception, we had not gotten any snow up until Friday. It has not stopped snowing since.

When the city was canceling school and closing offices and things on Thursday night, I was certain that we weren't going to get any snow. That's usually what happens. Everyone stays home from work and school, and then we just get rain. I just remember growing up, we NEVER had a snow day unless there was at least 2 feet of snow on the ground and it was still coming down at 6am when the principal had to decide whether to call a snow day. We prayed for snow days. I think in my whole school career in Buffalo, we had just a handful of days off because of snow. So it just strikes me as sort of wimpy (if not prudent, given the traffic nightmares of Boston) to cancel everything before the snow even shows up.

But the snow did show up this time. JK^2 and I went to work (the roads were empty), and around 2pm, it started snowing pretty hard. I was in the middle of my office's holiday party. Usually, they close the office after the holiday party anyway, so people went home after that. I stayed for a little while and then went home around 4pm. JK^2 did too. I took the T home and it was a pretty uneventful commute.

So it snowed, and snowed. Friday night we sat in and put together Christmas cards for all my clients. Saturday morning, we were awoken at 6:50 by the neighbor turning on his snowblower under our window. JK^2 snowblowed our driveway (and most of the neighbors' driveways too), then we sat in most of the day. We drove into the city in the evening for Christmas parties. Cambridge and Somerville had gotten a lot of snow too, but it wasn't still snowing. We had to dig out a parking spot next to Jen's house.

This morning, it is much warmer (32 degrees) but it is still snowing. JK^2 is snowblowing again. Here is the scene outside:

From our front door, looking across the street:


From the backdoor:


There is some talk that it might turn to rain, so JK^2 is trying to clear the driveway before that happens, so it doesn't all turn to ice.

The big question for us is how we're going to get to Buffalo on Wednesday. There is supposed to be another storm then, and it is questionable whether we will have our car in time. We'll know more about the car tomorrow. As discussed in my prior post, the car has been in the shop for a week and we haven't heard from the glass shop in a few days. We're starting to think of other options, but there aren't many. We might have to drive in on Tuesday instead, but we may not have the car. The train to Buffalo on Tuesday is sold out, and air fare is unaffordable. The rental car that we currently have is a crappy Hyundai with a broken radio that is about the size of a clown car, and about as reliable. So I guess the worst case scenario is we rent a more reliable car and use it for our trip to Buffalo.

So I guess you'll all have to stay tuned on that front.

Our plans for today involve going to see the Nutcracker in Boston at 5:30, with dinner beforehand. But we'll take the T for that. All the towns are having snow emergencies, which means that parking is not allowed on a lot of streets. The T will be OK though.

I guess we're having a white Christmas after all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas

It didn't really feel like the Christmas season til Sunday. That's when we actually got our tree, finished our Christmas shopping (for the most part) and wrote out the Christmas cards. Life suddenly feels in control again, now that we accomplished those things. Isn't our culture odd? That we need to cut down a tree and display it in our living room in order to feel normal? And then some people go one step further and don't cut down the tree, but rather buy something that looks like a real tree but really is made out of plastic? I wonder who thought up all these traditions.

It seems like we still have some miles to go before Christmas is actually here. For one, we have to get our car back from the repair shop. Our windshield was leaking. Turns out that it wasn't sealed properly and the metal holding up the windshield was all rusted out. So now the glass place has to tow the car (sans windshield) to a body shop for repair. The good news is that it's all covered by warranty. Yippy. But we need the car to get to Buffalo. So I hope they can get to it soon.

On Friday evening, I'm going to a baby shower. I believe that everyone else invited already has babies. So I'm not sure what I'll say to them. But it'll be fun.

Saturday evening, we are getting together with a friend for dinner, followed by a drop-in at her brother's Christmas party.

In the way of Christmas preparations, the house is basically not decorated, save for the tree. But I think it'll probably stay that way this year. As I say, it hasn't even felt like Christmas up to this point. We have to wrap the gifts. And of course, we still need to decide when we're coming back to Boston after Christmas. It's all up in the air.

But I trust that things will be resolved, if not consciously, then by default. The funny thing is you make all these preparations, and then Christmas is gone in about the blink of an eye.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

We need a bailout

I was going to remove the comment suggesting that "We need a bailout." It seems like its non-responsive. That said, I thought better of it. I feel like I have heard something similar to that a alot: Why spend all that money on car companies, banks, or whatever; How about spending it on me.

Well, what does that mean? I presume people want a check. Or, do they want Uncle Sam to pay their credit card debt and mortgage? What do you want? I don't have credit card debt, and I have a very affordable mortgage. I would be OK with the government paying it off, except I know that I will need to still pay the same amount in taxes or inflation (another form of a Tax)... So why bother.

The Airport

I arrived at the Airport today, to protect the stupid I will leave the name of the city out, to see a sign flashing above the baggage claim. "If you see unattended baggage please call 911". Under the sign was about 200 unattended bags.

I thought about calling but figured this can't be worth the hassle, so I left.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cookbook

One more thing - I have to put in a plug for the best Lebanese cookbook of all time (and perhaps, after Joy of Cooking, the best cookbook of all time). We used it extensively for our Thanksgiving feast yesterday.

It is Lebanese Cookbook, by Dawn, Elaine and Selwa Anthony. Very authentic recipes and beautiful food photos too.

Thanksgiving

While JK^2 talks about current events, like the bailout, I'm going to tell you about our personal current events! That means Thanksgiving.

We had a really nice holiday. In fact, probably one of the best in a long time.

Our Menu:
Shish Kabobs (cooked on our grill)
Tabouleh
M'judra
Regular salad
Hummus
Pita Bread
Apple Pie

Jim did pretty much all the cooking. The key was that he cooked a couple of dishes each night for a couple of days leading up to the dinner. That made things much less stressful.

On our table, we had my grandparents' 1938 china, and silverware that is probably older than that (from my great-grandparents, the Rechs). Here are photos of our table:



Our Guest List:
Besides us, we had my mom, our friends Mark and Lauren, who also live in Quincy, and Lauren's brother Matt, visiting from Norman, Oklahoma.




The day of Thanksgiving started at around 1:15am. My mom's flight was 7 hours late: supposed to arrive at 7:30pm; actually arrived around 2:30am. A little disappointing for Jet Blue. We went to bed at the normal time and got up at 1:15 to drive to the airport. Poor Mom. She had been awake since 4am that day, between bringing Buddy to the kennel and having to go into work.

Then we went to bed and slept late. After lunch, we went to the storage unit to get the china, and then came back and got ready for dinner. Mark, Lauren and Matt came over around 5pm and we ate. After dinner, we sat around and talked for a while. Lauren had made a really tasty fruit salad, made with oranges, plums and mint with a lime juice dressing.

It was a nice day, because it was so low-key and we got to spend it with family, friends, and cats in our own house.

Today the weather has been funny. Right now, it's hailing! It was raining before. We are going to go candlepin bowling.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bail out Citigroup; What about GM?

OK, this article is not about Citigroup and the bailout announced today. I don't have an opinion on that. Well, I do, but not a strong one: I think the government should bail them out in return for full control, then split it up and sell off the parts. That's what the government should have done with AIG and that's what the government should probably do with Fredi and Fanny.

Currently, from what I read the bail out isn't a good idea. The government puts a huge amount of cash into an organization which is horribly managed and in returns gets grants to buy shares at 10 dollars, where the current share price is 3 dollars.

The real point I would like to make is for the people who ask "If the government bails out AIG, and Citigroup, and Whoever, why don't they bail out GM?".

The answer is, I think, fairly strait forward. If the government took any of the companies it is bailing out, it could divide and sell them. Most of the segments would make money. If the government took Ford, GM, or Chrysler and divided them (with the exception of GMAC) nothing would be worth a penny.

Lets get this strait: Chrysler was GIVEN to Cerberus Capitol by Daimler. Actually, Daimler paid Cerberus Capitol to TAKE Chrysler off their hands. So, next time a company pays money to give another company a segment of there business you know things aren't going well.

Ford just sold its last remaining valuable asset (30% of Mazda). GM, GM doesn't have anything except Hummer. They have been trying to give that away, no takers; no wonder.

Infact, the only way GM has been making money over the last few years is as a bank (essentially) via GMAC.

On the other hand, AIG, Citi, and even Lehman Bros were fairly profitable companies in areas where there was demand. Their problem(s) stem from a collapse of confidence, and bad loans. Some of their problems are bad loans, some is bad confidence. Take away the confidence and the bad loans might hurt these companies by about 20% of their market value. (plus other macroeconomic factors which are at play now). Government acquisition would just remove the confidence problem, breaking them up and selling them (maybe in a year or two) would probably be very profitable for the government.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Automaker Bailout

It is a ridiculous idea to bail out "Detroit." Bailing out GM, Ford, or Chrysler is a horrendous idea. The fact that the government is bailing out someone doesn't mean that they should bail out everyone.

In the case of the three companies above, each one of them is insolvent, not because of the financial crisis, a crisis which is quickly passing (Banks are lending again), but because their business is rotten to the core. There are several fundamental reasons to not bail them out:

1) The government will never recover its money
2) The money will be squandered
3) It will not help employees
4) It will not help the rust belt economy
5) There are better ways to do all of the above
6) The automobile industry in the US will not collapse, nor will the parts market

First, we all understand that GM and Ford leadership are beyond hope. It appears Chrysler not so much (They got paid to "buy" Chrysler back from Dimeler). Giving money to any of these companies will put a good deal of the money into more products that Americans don't want to buy. It will also put money into share holders (who are just speculators at this point) and executives who will quickly leave to go somewhere else. These companies will go broke eventually, and when they do no one will want the parts.

Secondly, though there will be a large sort term shock to the economy, the demand for cars (while down) will not go away and will fully recover. Other automoile manufactures will pick up demand and they will produce the cars in the US. Toyta, Honda, Mazda all do, they do it because its cheaper and better to produce it here than ship them here. Theywill pick up the demand by producing more cars here, and buying more parts. No way around that. We won't go back to riding horses. American's laid off will get jobs back, though probably not in Michigan where the unions have ruined the state.

Finally, and most importantly, if the government wants to spend its money, it can put the money in a short term unemployement fund. As the "big" three go out of buisness the money can be given to the laidoff directly, and bypass the shareholders and executives (who clearly don't deserve it). This will be a short term solution, but so is giving the exectives and share holders the money to squander.

Plus letting the companies go under will finally clear the way for more efficient buisnesses to form and hire people. Its better to work for a proffitable company than a zombe. Trust me, it is.

Let the market work and take these ridiculus companies away. We will survive, and have nice cars to show for it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New York, New York

We just got back from a 2-day trip to New York, NY. It was really fun. We took Amtrak in on Saturday afternoon, and came back to Boston yesterday evening. During our trip we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge:


And saw the great view:


And then we spent some time at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, which is all about the New York City subway and bus lines. It was quite interesting and Jim was in heaven because he loves all things having to do with trains.

During our trip, we also got to see our friends Jessica and Dameion, who live in Queens. We ate at a tiny Turkish restaurant near Times Square called Turkish Cuisine. Not too original on the name, but the food was quite delicious.

We got back yesterday evening and I had today off for Veteran's Day. I made lemon bread. I think it came out pretty well. I used the 3 lemons I got off my lemon tree from this summer. It was nice because the recipe called for both the juice and the lemon rind. So I got to use up most of the whole lemon. I used a recipe from James Beard. I really like his zucchini bread recipe, and I'll bet this one is pretty good too.

I was going to blog about the morning sickness issue, maternity clothes, and pregnancy in general, but honestly? Why should I put that all in a public blog? I really need to go talk to my friends who have been through this, as I think it'll be more useful.

So I guess that's it for now.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Zack left Manchuria and went to Mauritania

I still don't know who he is.

Zack in Manchuria

Random thought:
I have no idea who Zack is.

Paper Part 2

Another good paper topic:

Durring the recent financial crisis several world currencies became very strong: The US Dollar and the Japanese Yen. The Pound and the Euro crashed. The reasion for the strengthening of the first two is obvious, a flight to saftey: people dumped currency of developing nations and bought "safe" currencies. Why didn't the same thing happen for the EUR and the GBP? Surely the UK is no closer to defaulting that Japan and the US? And surely the Euro will remain solvent, so why abandon the EURO? Some argument may be made for why people rushed to the dollar over the EUR: The US is an economic powerhouse of inginuity, we always come back strong.... but what about Japan? No track record...

A final paper topic:
As everyone fled the developing world and all their currencies crumbed, I bet there was one country (at least) that didn't see a complete pannic. Like maybe one country in a contanent, like Uraguay or something, that saw an appreciation of its currency. If I could find such a country, I would have a great paper.

Anyhow, off to NYC.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Some news

I think all 3 of you who read this blog already know this, but here's the news anyway:

We are expecting. A baby, that is. We are also expecting Obama to win, but that's a whole different topic. The baby, who we are calling Young Jebadiaeh for now, is due May 15. That won't be his/her real name. It's an alias. We will figure out his/her real name someday, but you probably won't hear about that until s/he is already born and named.

I will do next part interview-style, since these are the most common questions:

Are you going to find out the gender?
Probably. But I haven't decided if it will become public knowledge, mostly because I do not like gender stereotypes, and though they are unavoidable, the child does not need to have them before s/he is even born. Of course, I'm only avoiding it for a few months. (this is JK^2's argument to the contrary).

Where will the baby sleep?
Probably in the room that we are currently using for an office. This is because it has the least furniture, mostly. It allows us to continue to have a guest room for a while longer.

What color will you paint the room?
The room is currently a very nice yellow, and I think it'll stay that way.

Where are you having the baby?
Massachusetts General Hospital. So far, they have been fabulous. Let's hope the baby doesn't decide to be born during rush hour.

You didn't have the horrible morning sickness, did you?
I wish I could speak about it in the past tense, but unfortunately, it's still going strong. And we're going on 7 weeks of it now.

Will you move back to Buffalo now that you have a kid?
No.

Will you go back to work?
Yes, but I'm still figuring out how we'll work that.

[I'll avoid the questions about "how could you go back to work?", etc. because I don't want to go off on a rant tonight about equal parenting, mental health, gender stereotypes, etc.]

How is your job taking it?
They are fabulously supportive, as they are for all family-based issues (this sounds sarcastic, but it's really not. They really are great. It's a big reason I've stuck with this job)

So I can't think of any other questions to answer except, of course, the most important question: how do you feel about it?
Excited, happy, scared, amazed, super sad that our dads didn't make it to meet our kid, optimistic ...

I have been quite happy. Really, the only thing that makes me sad is knowing that our child will never know what it's like to know my dad. And I think Jim feels the same way about his dad. We will tell him/her all about them, but how do you describe what it was like to laugh at one of my dad's corny jokes? And have him laugh with you? Or the comfort of coming home after a long drive from Boston and knowing he'd be in the back room waiting to hear about our trip? You can describe what a person was like, but there's no way of feeling how they were like. I miss my dad all the time and am really sad that our kids will never know him.

A question to leave you with for the night, since I'm not sure how to answer it yet:

Should we take a trip? A lot of people take a trip at around 5 months (I guess I'll be feeling better then). And if so, should it be a big exotic trip, ie., involving an international destination? I have mixed feelings. First, there's the money issue. This is on various levels. We lost some money in the stock market, and we're going to have a lot of expenses once the kid is here, and we need to keep paying for Jim's economics program. There's also the health issue. I need to avoid food poisoning, etc. We seem to always get a case of Montezuma's revenge (aka Pharaoh's revenge) every time we travel, with a few exceptions. Even when we were in Iceland, perhaps the cleanest place in the world, JK^2 ate something that did not agree with him. I am worried about this. But on the other hand, it may be a long time before we can go off on a trip like this again.

Of course, if the answer to the "let's take a trip" question is yes (and it would be nice to go), the next question is WHERE?

I will leave that thought with you tonight.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Paper Time

I have to write a paper, I hate writing papers. I need a topic in International Finance. Here is one, but its harder than it may seem.

Everyone talks about the heavy debt burden the US has. Until recently most of the debt was held by Americans. That has recently changed, and now most (or at least half) of our debt is held internationally. So, now that there is a higher percentage of debt held by foreigners, does the probability of a sovereign default rise? In other words, is the US more likely to default on its debt now that the default will hurt foreigners more than it will *directly* hurt Americans?

Think of it this way, if you borrow from yourself, your debt situation isn't so bad. But if you borrow from someone else, you have much more to gain by defaulting.

Well, no worries, the US is no where near defaulting, but there is some probability, very low, and I wonder if it went up.

I am not going to study this much more. This is almost an impossible research topic. For one, the US risk of default is about zero, if not *actually* zero. Whats more, is there is nothing to compare the US to. Its the million pound elephant in a room of mice.

So I may look at much smaller countries. South America is the right place to look, SA keeps seeing sovereign defaults. Argentina has had about 5 since 1800 or so. Its still a hard topic, you need to tease out the %risk increase from Foreign debt vs the % risk increase from just more debt. I mean, countries may turn to foreign markets when domestic markets dry up. If thats true, the meer fact that the country aquired any foreign debt at all is a bad sign.

I think I need a new topic. I need to write a short paper in the next month (30 pages or so). There must be something easier... doubt it will be more interesting.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy Halloween!

We had a fun Halloween this year. We picked out our pumpkins last weekend at the usual field in Cohasset that we've been going to for a number of years:

It was a beautiful, warm day. They had a lot of pumpkins, as usual.

We were going to carve up the pumpkins the night before Halloween, so they would be ready on the night of Halloween. But Jim had a midterm that night and we were both pretty tired from work. But that was OK because we both left work a little early yesterday, got home, and got those pumpkins carved before it got too dark:


By the time we lit them, it was dusk. It was a little windy but not as bad as some years. The candles stayed lit. One trick that we've learned over the years is that the best kind of candle to use are those "tea lights" that come in the disposable wrapping. So you just put it in, it burns down, and you don't have to worry about fishing the candle out later.

Strangely, there weren't that many kids this year, and no older kids. We don't know why. We usually go through several bags of candy, but this year we have a lot left over. More for us, I guess. :) (not necessarily a good thing ... maybe I'll bring it into work after all).

Today we went to the 3rd birthday party for the little boy next door, Tom. All the neighbors were invited and it was a lot of fun. They had a pirate theme. It's also interesting to look at other houses on your block and see how similar or different they are to your house. This house, for example, has the same exact banister as we do, and much of the same woodwork.

Tonight we're going bowling at Olindy's and out to dinner somewhere in Quincy. (We have to figure out where to go ... maybe somewhere new). The weather is supposed to be relatively warm, in the 50's, and sunny. A nice fall weekend.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Productive Weekend


It finally feels like fall here. Temperatures in the 40's, the heat going on in the house, the plants going to sleep for the winter. I normally get a little sad in fall, because we are heading towards winter, such a dead time of the year. But there is an element of coziness in being able to come inside and be warm, or curl up under a quilt and take a nap. (See above photos of our adorable kitty cats - they curled up together in our piano cover, their current favorite spot for napping. If you look closely, Solomon is hugging Zeusy - so cute!).

Yesterday was errands and yard work day. First thing after getting up, we went to Cape Cod Lumber to order a replacement window to finish off our living room. For those who know our house, you'll remember that we had a window in our living room that was covered over with dry wall for probably 40-50 years. The story (according to the neighbors) was that the prior owners got into a feud with the neighbors over something stupid. This window looked out over the neighbors' house, and the story is that they put the dry wall up so they wouldn't have to look at the neighbors any more. Ha.

(As a side note, these prior owners believed that if they couldn't see something, it didn't need attention. That is why they only painted and roofed two sides of our garage).

We discovered this window only after moving into the house. JK^2 had removed the old, dusty Venetian blinds from all the other windows in the living room. One day, he was out cutting the grass, and he saw a window that still had blinds in it. And he started thinking, "How could I have missed taking the blinds down from one of the windows?" Then he realized that we had a hidden window. About the same time, our neighbor was standing on his porch, laughing at us. He had witnessed the whole revelation.

Anyway, when we did our "home improvement project of the year" this spring, we took down the dry wall in our living room (along with the messy horsehair plaster underneath the plaster and on the other walls) and opened up the window. It really makes a big difference in our living room.

In classic fashion, the prior owners (I am leaving them anonymous because they really should be ashamed of the things they did to our house) decided that instead of taking out the window, they would just close the skanky Venetian blinds and cover it up with the dry wall. So we got rid of the blinds, and somewhere along the way, one of the panes of glass got cracked. So it is time to replace this 90-year-old, single-paned window.

We haven't ordered replacement windows in a while. I think it could be close to 2 years, actually. Of course, the price has gone up quite a bit, and they now charge for delivery. Since we don't have a large car or truck, we had to have the window delivered. It should be ready in 4-5 weeks. I'm looking forward to the extra insulation value.

We got drapes for our windows. Or rather, JK^2's mom made them for us. They are blue and cream striped. She also made us sheers, which are a cream color with a design. I'm still getting used to them, but they're nice.

After ordering the window, getting some groceries, and having lunch at Baja Fresh (I love it), we came back home and did some gardening. We are trying to transplant our hydrangea. It is my favorite plant at our house, but it is very overgrown for the spot where we had planted it. JK^2 thought that if we pulled it out about 3-4 feet from the house, it wouldn't look so crowded. Plus, we really, really need to redo the landscaping in front of the house in general. So JK^2 worked on that, and I worked on pulling the tomato plants out from behind the garage. Pulling these plants out has never been easier, since I haven't had a taste for tomatoes in 5 weeks. There were a few tomatoes left, and we're going to bring them over to our friends' house tonight. It's much easier to pull things out when you're not so attached.

JK^2 managed to pull the hydrangea out with a good part of its roots, and replant it. We're very hopeful that it'll survive the winter. If it doesn't, then we'll just plant another (and I'll be sad). We also planted all the bulbs that A.Fuss gave me for my birthday (except for the paper whites, of course). Hopefully that will guarantee us some cheerful flowers in the spring. She gave me a bag of crocuses (I love them) and something called "Giant Snow Drops," which I've never grown before. I put the snow drops in under the lilac bush and next to some irises. The crocuses went in next to our front stairs.

Today is homework day for JK^2. He's gotten a lot of it this semester. We did get to go out to lunch again, though. We went to Webster's, which is this little diner-like place in Quincy that has some pretty good Mediterranean food. We like going out to lunch on the weekends. :)

Tonight we get together with friends for dinner, and then we'd probably watch the Red Sox game, if they were broadcasting it on normal television. Unfortunately, only TBS is broadcasting it and we don't get a cable. Oh well. Let's hope they kick some butt. It would be cool if they made it to the World Series again, especially if they're playing the Dodgers (where they traded Manny Ramirez to this summer).

Monday, September 29, 2008

Boy Band Reunion Tours

Lately, there have been many things that have made me want to vomit. But let's add one more to the pile:
The New Kids on the Block Reunion tour.

When I first heard the news that this was happening, I thought it was a joke. I mean, why would these five guys who had become successful doing their own things - acting, real estate, singing solo, etc. - feel the need to go on a new tour and sing silly songs from 15 years ago? They didn't even write those songs! They were a completely invented "boy-band," created strictly for a record company to make oodles of money.

Unfortunately, it was not a joke. Apparently, they just played a "reunion" concert in Boston, part of a national tour. And from the looks of the photos, it was complete with their old songs, stupid costumes (really - white scarves?), and an appearance by Paul Pierce of the Celtics. Ugh.

Are the New Kids on the Block out of money? But it seems like most of them have other careers. Do they just miss the adoration of pre-teen girls? But they've all got to be in their late 30's now. It just seems like that it would be easy to get tired to screaming girls. And it's even more pitiful now, since their audience now consists of screaming 30-year-olds who never got over their pre-teens, and those women's daughters. Yuck.

If anything, it seems like the reunion tour will make certain members of the group lose credibility. Take Donnie Wahlberg. He has actually had a pretty successful acting career. Can he really be taken seriously in that venue when he's practicing around in an all-white outfit with a matching scarf, singing "Hangin' Tough"? I don't think so.

In the end, it must be that they stand to make a boat load of money with this tour, and it must be more than they are making at their other careers.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Curtain Problems

JK^2 and I need professional help. Although we do a pretty good job of picking out paint colors for the rooms in our house, we are absolutely horrible at picking out curtains or in home decoration in general. As JK2 put it, on the scale of goodness at home decorating, where 1 is bad and 10 is fabulous, he gets a 1 and I get a 0.5. He's right.

Sometimes we get lucky and have some help. For example, my Aunt Ellen made us this beautiful stained glass window, which we installed this weekend:


It happens that the blue in the window matches perfectly with the paint colors we used (deep blue in the living room and very light khaki color in the hallway). It is perfect. Do you think we planned it that way? I know I didn't. I just like the color blue. :)

So now we have our living room. It really, really, really needs curtains because we live in an urban neighborhood and the houses are relatively close together. We need some privacy.

We love the colors in our living room - deep blue (walls), white (trim) and khaki (sofas). But today we went to try to find curtains and had NO luck! I liked this certain striped curtain at Linens 'N' Things, but Jim didn't think it would match. Jim liked other curtains, particularly dark brown ones, but I'm not a big fan of anything dark brown in the house. We went to LNT and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We left both places empty-handed.

Part of the problem is that it's a relatively big investment. We have 4 windows in our living room, and with drapes and sheers, that's 3-4 panels per window. Thus, although we fell in love with some silk drapes that we saw at Restoration Hardware about a year ago, that is just not going to happen at $200+ per panel.

I should add that we redid our bedroom about 1 1/2 years ago and still have no curtains hanging in there, even though we have curtain rods. We put up blinds until we could figure out which curtains to get, but now nearly two years have gone by.

So following is a photo of our living room. What should we do?? Drapes? What color? What style?


We are seriously thinking of trying to find an interior decorator. We are so bad at this.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pistachio Cake

JK^2's birthday was on Monday. As usual, he was on his annual business trip to the conference in Orlando, so we did not get to celebrate. He's coming back tomorrow morning (Yea!) so I made him a cake ...

A pistachio cake.

What, pray tell, is a pistachio cake? Well, for those of you who grew up with JK^2 (ahem - you know who you are), you know that pistachio cake became JK^2's favorite cake. There is some dispute over that, but I will let that be for now.

Here is the cake:


You'll notice that it's green. But it really tastes good. :)

For adventurous cake-bakers out there, here is the recipe, courtesy of JK^2's mom.

1 Pkg. Pistachio Instant Pudding
1 Pkg. yellow cake mix (Betty Crocker)
1/4 cup creme de menthe
1/3 cup oil
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs (she uses 4, but I think it comes out better with just 3)
chocolate chips to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Mix pudding and cake mixes while dry. Stir in sour cream, oil, and creme de menthe. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Batter will be thick. Add chocolate chips.

Grease a tube pan and pour in batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. Optional: sprinkle powdered sugar on cake once it cools.

Try it. Maybe it'll become your favorite (or your son's favorite) cake too! :)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Gardening Journal

As everyone reading this blog knows, I really like to garden and have had a vegetable garden every year since we bought our house (8 years). Each year, it gets a little better. The first couple of years were really, really bad! Mostly because everything got overrun with weeds.

This year, I've decided to start keep a journal of the year's garden so I will have a record of things I tried, things that worked, things that didn't, etc. Hopefully I'll be disciplined enough to write every year! :)

So, dear readers, I give you my garden journal 2008.

Early Spring plantings:

Radish: "French Breakfast" variety. Had a real problem with slugs this year. Also, was on vacation when they were ready to pull, and they ended up too tough by the time I pulled them. Should've been more diligent about thinning out the seedlings.

Greens: "Asian Vegetable." These were spicy greens and they were really delicious and made for interesting salads. A lot of mustard greens and Chinese cabbage. Germinated slowly, and went to seed quickly. OK to still eat when they go to seed; they just get spicier! Might work better if planted along with a regular lettuce for mixing.

Parsley: This had over-wintered from 2007. Got enough for 2 full recipes of tabohleh before it went to seed in early July.

Summer Plantings:

Cucumber: "Sugar Crunch." Started from seed. Got only about 6 cucumbers from 6 plants because the cucumber beetle killed all the plants in July. Everyone in the neighborhood had the same problem.

Herbs: (Lemon basil, lime basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley). All did well. Cut basil back drastically on a routine basis. Did not kill plant; in fact, it made it stronger. It would be a good idea to plant a regular basis with the citrus basils to avoid pesto that is to acidic. Also, need to plant more than one parsley plant, because not enough for tabohleh until the fall.

Zucchini: "Sweet Gourmet Hybrid." A Lebanese variety, which we call "Coussa." I have planted the same kind three years in a row, and it is always a reliable producer. I am still getting much zucchini and there are still flowers on the plants. Excellent for stuffing and for zucchini bread.

Peppers: 1 sweet banana variety ("Bounty Hybrid") and one bell pepper variety (don't remember the name). I have never had any luck with peppers, but this year, both varieties have been fabulous. This may be attributed to the fact that we have gotten a lot of rain this year, the fact that I fertilized a little more than last year, or the fact that I've somewhat maintained control of the weeds this year. I think the key to happy pepper gardening is to plant a minimum of 6-8 plants. This gives you enough peppers for a good salad every night.

Tomatoes. In keeping with my interest in trying a lot of odd heirloom-variety tomatoes in the interest of getting tomatoes that you would never find in the stores, my mom and I started 5 varieties from seed.
Sprite: A slightly elongated cherry variety. Very prolific, very tasty. Were the first to ripen of all the tomatoes.
Mule driver: Medium-sized, red tomato. Bland taste. First non-cherry tomato to ripen.
Dwarf: A brandywine-type tomato (pinkish color, large size). Plants are very compact and manageable.
Black Krim: A mahogany or "black" tomato. Not as tasty as past years, and the plants were very weak.
Aunt Ruby's German Green: Not nearly as hardy or as nice as "Green Zebra," the kind I tried last year. Plants died midway through the summer; hard to tell when the fruit was ripe.

Late-Summer/Fall Plantings:

Broccoli: "Flash Hybrid." I'm not sure I'd say that these plants germinated in a "flash" or produced in a "flash," but I planted in July and am starting to get broccoli heads now. More later on taste, etc.

Radish: "French Breakfast." Much better crop this fall than in the spring. Quick germination and growth; no problem with slugs.

Lettuce: "Looseleaf Blend." Typical "mesclun" lettuce mix, with some Black-Seeded Simpson, oak leaf, red lettuce, etc. Very nice, but a little boring after the spicy Asian greens of the spring. Would be nice to mix these with the spicy greens. And 2 rows have not been enough to cover my salad cravings. :)

Saturday

Yesterday was a pretty interesting day. It started out by me waking up, as I usually do, at about 6:00am. Of course, I couldn't go back to sleep. In fact, the more I laid in bed, the more agitated I was getting with all my thoughts about work (last week was very stressful), things to do, and life in general. As this usually goes, I started tossing and turning. I didn't want to wake up JK^2, so I got up. (He always makes fun of me, because usually by about 10 I'm tired again. I can't explain why I function like this, but I do. It's worth hours of teasing by JK^2).

JK^2 had made plans with our friend Nate to go boating that morning at 10. But it looked like it was going to rain any minute, and it felt damp in the house. JK^2 ended up getting up about a half hour later, and we ran some errands. As we were out, the weather kept getting better. Nate and his girlfriend showed up around 10:30 and we went boating.

Boating was beautiful. The sky was pretty clear, but no one was out on the water because it had looked like rain up until about 30 minutes before. We rode out to the Boston Light, which is always cool to look at. Then we drove into the Harbor to stop at the Barking Crab for lunch. This was the location of our latest boat break-down, so we were a little apprehensive about stopping again. But it was all good.

On our way back to Quincy, we rode by a boat whose driver had the top of his motor pulled up and seemed to be having engine trouble. We stopped. It turned out he had the exact same boat as us, except in red instead of blue. Crazy. Apparently he couldn't get the boat started. It sounded like a battery problem. So we ended up towing him back to his launch site. Interesting! We used a ski-tow rope and it worked out great. Pretty interesting.

After that, Nate and Jess really had to get going, so we drove back to our dock and they left.

Not long after they left, we left to meet them and some other friends at the Davis Mega Maze, which is a very fancy corn maze that is in central Mass., about an hour from our house. We had done this last year, and it was pretty fun. This year, it was a "moon-lit" maze (in other words, in the dark). It was not quite as much fun. The moon did made an appearance, but it was mostly dark, and because it had rained the day before, it was very muddy. In fact, JK^2 fell into the mud at one point, and was basically covered in mud for the rest of the event! We got finished with that around 8 and headed home.

Quite a busy day. Today JK^2 left for his business trip and I have to go grocery shopping (exciting). I'm thinking of making a "Tomato Basil Pie," a recipe that my Aunt Ellen just sent me. It looks good and, more importantly, easy. And I have about a ton of tomatoes, so it's a good way to use them up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Optimal Lane Merging - Part 1

I spend a lot of time thinking about traffic; I spend a lot of time driving. Frequently, on multi-lane highway the following situation occurs. There are three driving lanes and the left lane is closed ahead. Cars in the left lane stay in the left lane until the last minue, then attempt to merge right. A driver in the middle lane then uses their horn, and may flip off the car in the left lane.

Why is the middle lane driver upset? They expect the left lane traffic to merge behind them. Often when you talk to a middle lane driver they say something like "Left lane people knew the road was closed up here, they should have merged "back there". Where "back there" is inevitably anyplace *behind* the middle lane driver. There is no specific place in mind (one mile back? 1/2 a mile back?), no just behind me.

Unfortunatly, when this happens, the optomal merger is infact right where the left lane ends, and the question should be, why didn't everyone stay in their lane until one lane ended? If they did the traffic would flow as smooth as possible. This is the optomal merger point.

In this blog I would like to try to prove that.

First, lets define some things:

An optimal merge occurs when all cars make it through the choke point in their minimal time. Obviously, if everyone in the left lane just parked their cars, the people in the middle lane could just go at normal highway speeds and they would be happy. The people in the left lane would be disadvantaged. That's not optimal. In an optimal merge the delay is evenly distributed to every vehicle. Evenly is the key, some vehicles can't get 2 units of delay while some get 1 or 0 units of delay.

To start, we need to define what decides how fast cars go on a highway. This is key.

Average Speed on a highway can be defined like this:

V = min{ Ds, L } where
  • V = Average Speed of cars on highway. This is the actual average speed of cars on the highway.
  • L = Law imposed speed. This is the speed a car would go if there were no other cars in its way. Its a function of the speed limit, weather, and other social conditions (how likely people are to get a ticket etc...) Typicaly, lets say its 75 for a 65mph zone.
  • Ds = Density imposed speed.

Lets also make some assumptions:
  1. Traffic is evenly distributed.
  2. These formulas are really geared towards a two lane highway, as opposed to a three, but with more math they apply to three as well.
  3. V[Left Lane] = V[Right lane] = V[all lanes]


Ds is important to understand. Ds is a function of the density [Ds(density) ] of the vehicles on the road.

So, lets think about the Average Speed formula above. When there is just one car on the road, it goes L, Traffic will continue to move at L speed until cars feel they need to slow down because they might hit someone in front of them. Then Ds takes over the equation.

Given this understanding of average speed, if Ds is higher than L, and more formally Ds(2 * lane_density) > L then there is no optimal place to merge lanes. Cars from the left lane can enter the middle lane and not effect road speed.

However, once Ds(2 * lane_density) < L, the optimal merger occurs at the end of the left lane.

This still needs some explanation, but from now on we will assume we are in the state where Ds(2 * lane_density) < L. I should also say I am assuming at some point before the merge all lanes have the same density, called lane_density.

So, the optimal merge occures when each left lane car merges between a right lane car. Such that through the choke point your procession of cars goes L M L M L M. Where L means a car formerly from the left lane, and M means a car formerly from the middle lane. Understand that any other ordering is not optimal.

For example, L M L M L L M L makes the last cars velocity through the system slightly greater than the seconds. Therefore we violate our rule for optomal velocity from above.

Simmilary, L M L M M L M violates our rule for optomal velocity. However, note that L L M M L L M M etc does not. If the cars through the choak point are evenly mixed then Optimal flow is acheived. There are several more complex ways to acheive an optimal mix, but I will leave that for your imagination.

Now, to get that mix you either need a traffic cop, or you need everyone to behave in a predictable way. Note that its only possible to behave in a predictable way if everyone can see what everyone else is doing. That only occures at the end of the lane. While it could occure before the end of the lane, all vehicles involved would need to agree that it must occure at exactly one point. Of course, that one point would then behave as the end of the lane. There would be no cars beyond that point, the lane would be de-facto closed, but unused by highway crews. Though the traffic flow would be optimal, the actual choice of the point would be ephemeral and may travel. Why not make it a little bit further back, how about 2 miles, how about 10? The only reasonable point is right when the lane ends.

This is where the argument becomes complex, and this is what I will finish later...


To Be continued.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Weekend

Yesterday I took part in making a Lebanese feast! We were going to a friend's house for dinner, and she asked me to make m'judra - the lentil, rice and onion dish. I hadn't made it in a while. I also made a tossed salad and made a lemon juice dressing that is in our "famous" Lebanese cookbook. Everything came out really well. To be honest, I really hate lentils, but I can tolerate them in this dish, since the salad is served on top of the m'judra. To make things even better, our friends got hummus, pita bread, and a really nice feta cheese. I felt like I was eating at Grandma's house! I should add that many of the vegetables from the salad were either from my garden or my mom's garden.

(We had watermelon and chocolate pudding for dessert. Not Lebanese, but still delicious. :) )

As we ate, the "tropical storm" was raging outside. Really, it was just some heavy rain, and it seems to be gone this morning. Most of my sunflowers even made it. We were pretty sure they were going to be blown over.

We thought it was going to rain all today, but it looks like maybe not. The Weather Channel just changed its prediction from "rain all day" to "mostly sunny." Perhaps it is a boating day after all. It is quite sunny at the moment.

In other news, we took Zeus to the vet yesterday and found out she was crawling with fleas. Yuck. That means that Solomon has them too, since Zeus is an indoor cat (unless she picked them up at our other vet's office, which is unlikely but possible). The vet prescribed a pill to kill all the current fleas, and a gel to put on her skin to kill the flea eggs. No problem giving Zeus the medicine, but Solomon is an escape artist (he is also good at escaping from the house to the outdoors when he wants to go outside. We have been calling him "prison break" for this reason). Jim volunteered to take him on, not knowing how wily Solly really is. He held the pill in his mouth and then spit it out as he escaped up the stairs. But we finally got him.

Jim freaked out about the fleas and now we are washing just about everything in the house. The funny thing is that growing up, fleas were part of having a cat, so I'm not quite as nervous. My mom kept the house pretty clean (Umm... I guess the correct word would be EXTREMELY clean), but it wasn't "freak-out time" when the vet announced that the cat needed to be treated for fleas. Then again, I remember we had our house "flea-bombed" at least once, and that wasn't fun. Oh well, hopefully we can eradicate the fleas with the medicine and washing everything.

And you know, I take back that part about it being a sunny day. It looks like it's clouding in again now. So maybe we are in for more rain.

Happy Sunday!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Things I'll Miss About Summer

Summer is slowly receding. Here are some things I'll miss:

1) Flowers, especially hydrangea, sunflowers, heliotrope, lily-of-the-valley
2) Frozen Freddie's
3) Not having to worry that a snow storm will hit on the day that we plan on driving to Buffalo.
4) Picnics
5) The smell of fresh-picked tomatoes
6) Picking all my salad veggies and herbs right from the garden
7) Wearing shorts! Not having to bundle up with 3 layers of clothes!
8) Green trees, green lawn
9) Having lots of options of things to do outside.

But at least we get fall before winter comes. I'm looking forward to apple picking and doing a corn maze. :)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Asylum decisions

In the last two weeks, I lost two cases at the First Circuit. Click HERE and HERE to read them. The decisions aren't too surprising, although the impact on the actual asylum applicants is substantial. It's really hard calling up the client and telling them that their cases are over and it's time to return to their home country, where they may very well face danger. I don't think the judges sitting on a court of appeals really understand (or have any interest in understanding) the human impact of their decisions.

(As an interesting side note, when I went to find links to these cases, I noticed that there are actually people out there blogging about these decisions. Check out this for example).

But, perhaps, it's not the job of the court of appeals to consider the human impact of a given case. Is it possible to decide a case based purely on the law? And should judges do it? Of course, when the law is on my side, I'd like the judges to stick to the law. And when the law is not on my side (and it usually isn't when it comes to immigration), then I'd like them to look at the facts. :)

That's the problem with immigration cases. The facts are often very compelling (just read the two cases above and I think you'll agree with me). But Congress didn't much like immigrants when it wrote the law; particularly, Congress didn't want immigration decisions to be subject to much judicial review. And this is truly unfortunate when you have a Department of Justice like we have now, who downsizes an incredibly overworked immigration appellate board; invents "streamlining" procedures so that there is less administrative review of decisions; and then appoints immigration judges not on the basis of their qualifications but solely on their political affiliation. A great system: incompetent judging, followed by little to no administrative review, and severe restrictions on judicial review! I really don't know what should be fixed first: a heightened standard of judicial review, an overhaul of the Board of Immigration Appeals, or a recall of some of the judges hired during the Monica Goodling era. The sad part is that none of that will happen.

In the meantime, we'll keep seeing decisions like those cited above.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Update

Well, I haven't been on here for a while! It's hard to think of things to post on here that I'm OK with the whole world reading (even though I think there are only like 2 people who actually read this).

This weekend, we're heading to Buffalo again to visit the fam. It should be fun. We're considering staying til Tuesday so we can actually see everyone, but that will depend on my work schedule. I have to check it out tomorrow.

My garden has been gorgeous, except for those cucumber plants that keep dying (my last two are on their way out - very sad). Damn cucumber beetles. But I've gotten lots of zucchinis and tomatoes, and a fair amount of banana peppers. Oh, and lots of basil. We made pesto. I don't know what to do with all of it.

We cleaned out our pantry this weekend. Wow. What a mess. We threw out a lot of the dried food, because we estimated that much of it had been there since 2002 or so. It's amazing how neat and tidy it is now. It looks better than our kitchen for once! There is something really satisfying about taking control of one of the rooms of your house. :)

It's hard to believe that it's really the last week of August. Part of this is because the weather has been beautifully June-like. I'm not going to complain about that. But I really want summer to last. The winter cold comes too quickly. Then again, I have much to be hopeful about this fall and winter, so maybe it'll all be good this year.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Anniversary


It's our 9-year anniversary today! It was a pretty uneventful day. We left work a little early, went to dinner at Legal Seafoods, and then sat out on our front porch and talked. It is cool today (in the 60's) and comfortable. Feels like fall, even though it's not. It was a nice day.

Some reflections: We were looking at one of our photo albums from the wedding. I was struck by the fact that a) it didn't seem that long ago, but it was; and b) several of the people in our photos are now gone. That made me feel old. You know, like looking at your parents', or even grandparents', wedding photos and they tell you about all the people in the photos that you never met because they died before you were born. Except that I knew all those people, some of them very well, and now they're gone too. It made me sad.

9 years ago right now, I think everyone was smoking cigars. Laurie was paying homage to the porcelain god, my mom was discovering that the caterer forgot to put out some Italian pastries that we had ordered. We had a nice wedding. I loved all of it. It was funny looking at the photos, because I noticed in a couple of the later photos that my mom was holding on to a large layer of a cake. And seriously, I didn't think any cake was left over. Jim and I hardly got a piece (except for the piece that Jim shoved up my nose - ha!). I wonder who ate the rest of the cake.

We always take a photograph of ourselves together every year on our anniversary, and then I put each photo in a special book. It's fun to flip through it. Here's the photo from this year:

Ha! Actually that's the silly photo. Here's one where you can see Jim's face better:

I don't know which I will put in the photobook yet. :) Not great resolution on these photos. My digital camera became a "stowaway" in my mother's backpack when she went back to Buffalo from her trip to Boston. So I have to pick it up next time I'm in town. In the meantime, we're using the little camera on my cell phone.

Not much else to report tonight.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Presidential Election

I've become pretty unhappy with both of our selections for president this year. It makes me wonder if it's possible to have a presidential candidate that inspires you. Has that ever happened?

Here are the problems:

John McCain. I hate his stance on Guantanamo and on the war. While I think it would be irresponsible to pull out of Iraq all at once, he seems to want to stay there forever. He likes tax cuts, while I believe that the government has to tax in order to provide services, especially services to people in need. While he used to be champion for sorely-needed bipartisan immigration reform, he seems to only be talking about immigration enforcement now. It seems like he is pandering to the far right.

Barack Obama: He has very little experience. He basically started running for president as soon as he became a U.S. Senator. When he gave that inspiring speech at the '04 Democratic National Convention, he hadn't even been elected yet. So I think it's unfair when he attacks other people for their stand on certain issues, when he wasn't even in Congress to take a stand on most issues. Reports show that while in Congress, he has always toted the party line, and has never had an opinion about an issue that was different from the Democratic Party establishment's. He keeps talking about "change" but does not give specifics and does not have a history of making change. It is unclear where he stands on most issues, and his stands on some issues don't make any sense. For example, Jim heard an interview with him on NPR regarding the issue of instituting a "windfall tax" against the gas companies. The interviewer told him that basically every economist has said that a windfall tax was a very bad idea. He agreed that it was a bad idea, but said that it wasn't fair that the gas companies were making all that money and that's why he supported the tax. WTF?

He appears to be telling people that they should vote for him because he doesn't look like the guy on the 5 dollar bill. It seems to me that the ONLY reason he should get my vote is if he convinces me HOW he is going to change the current situation in the U.S. I need to know what he is going to do about Afghanistan, which now has more deaths than Iraq. How is he going to close Guantanamo? What does he propose doing with the prisoners, especially when their countries won't take them back? Does he agree that the Geneva Conventions should apply to all prisoners of war, regardless of whether they represent a particular country or a guerrilla group? What does he think of "The War on Terror"? Can we have an indefinite war on an idea? What will he do to gain credibility back for the U.S. in Europe and beyond? What is his stance on immigration? How will he work with Congress to get it done for once?

I don't like John McCain's answers on these issues, but I don't feel like I'm getting any answers from Barack Obama. I worry that people like him mostly because he's an amazing public speaker (which he is) who seems young and vibrant and idealistic where McCain looks old and jaded. The problem is, I think McCain is qualified for the job. I don't think Obama is.

People liked what they saw with George W. Bush too. A plain speaker. Someone like them. The problem was that he also was not qualified to be president. He picked sycophants for his cabinet instead of people who challenged him or gave him different points of view. The people who did challenge him (ie: Colin Powell) were forced out. I worry that Obama is sounding more and more like that, and that worries me a lot. At least McCain is able to think for himself and do what he thinks is right, based on reasoning and listening to advisors. He has a proven record of doing that. Obama has no record or history of that.

Will I vote for McCain? I don't think so. But I don't know that I can vote for Obama either. I guess we'll have to see how the debates go.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Various and sundry topics

Nothing too exciting going on over here. Or at least that I can put in a blog post. Here are some highlights of the last couple of weeks:

1) My cucumber plants are infested with cucumber beetles, which make them die unexpectedly. I've had to pull out 3 of my plants, which of course were full of beautiful yellow flowers and baby cucumbers. This made me so upset that I had a dream about cucumbers and bugs last night.

2) My mom came to visit. We went to Houghton's Pond for the first time ever and went swimming! Also we went to the MFA, which was disappointing because most of the Impressionist wing was in storage because of renovations to the building.

3) The contractor finally finished the spindles on our stairs. So our big home improvement project for the year is completed ... well, except that we have to give the walls one more good coat of paint. For some reason, the paint already chipped in one spot. It's kind of odd. Anyway, it looks great.

4) And speaking of home improvement, I have officially filled up our first scrapbook of home improvement photos, receipts, etc. 8 years of stuff. We are so glad we are keeping a book because it actually makes us feel like we're making progress.

5) We have new neighbors across the street in the house that was on the market for a long time (Rita and Ray's old house, for those of you who know our street). There are lots of young couples with kids on our street now. It's really nice. I sort of hope that our street will be similar to my street when I was growing up. There were lots of kids in the neighborhood and we almost always had someone to play with.

We're looking forward to the weekend ... no plans! Yippy.

By the way, for those of you familiar with the Shaw Festival, is there anything good playing up there this year? We might go over Labor Day weekend.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mountain climbing and reunions


This weekend I climbed two Adirondack mountains and attended JK^2's 10-year college reunion. It was a lot of fun! We went with our friends Nate and Jess.

We left Boston Thursday afternoon and got to Keene Valley before dinner. We were staying at a very restful, red cottage with an old upright piano. I played a little Scott Joplin and then we headed to dinner at the Noon Mark Diner. This is a little restaurant that sells fabulous pie. Also, when I first moved to Boston and JK^2 was still in college, I used to drive up after work and meet him in the parking lot at the Noon Mark Diner. We would then continue the drive up to Clarkson. So it has sentimental meaning. The food there isn't fabulous, but their pie is. I had strawberry rhubarb and Jim had raspberry rhubarb.

We then went back to the cottage and played a game called San Juan. It was fun. After that, it was time for bed.

The next day, we got a few groceries at a little store, and then started our hike up Cascade Mountain, one of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. JK^2 and Nate are trying to climb all 46 of them, and they have done 16 so far. They already hiked Cascade once, but it's an easy hike and good for beginners (like me). It is about 2.5 miles each way. The hike was pretty hard and I'm not in fabulous shape, but I got into a groove after a while and it was OK. The weather was cool and cloudy.

We got to the top of Cascade around 12:30. Here's me at the summit:


Here are Nate, JK^2, and Jess:



You'll note that we're all wearing rain gear. It started raining just as we were getting to the top, and it completely clouded over. We couldn't see a THING from the top. Ugh. It was really disappointing!

After that, we hiked down to a place where we wouldn't get wet and ate our lunch - bread, cheese and trail mix. There was another High Peak nearby, called Porter. It was just another 20 minutes to that peak, so JK^2 talked me into doing that one too. :) I was feeling OK and thought that since I had already hiked up there, I might as well do the other peak. Jim said it would take us another 4 hours, because we would hike down the other side of Porter, but I didn't quite believe him, I think. He also said that it wouldn't be as hard because it was downhill and not so steep. Nate and Jess decided to not continue on (smart move). They went back to the car, and agreed to meet us at the other side of Porter with the car.

Then JK^2 and I did Porter and the view was better, because by then it had stopped raining.



Then we started the 4 mile hike back to the "Garden" which is some old lady's garden that she donated to the Adirondack Mountain Club and is now a parking lot at the end of several of the High Peak trails. Well that hike was crazy. First, it seemed like no one had been on our trail in quite some time. It was a bushwhack for about 2 miles. Parts of the trail were covered in water-logged ferns, which made our pants look like we had just taken a shower with our clothes on. There were rocks we couldn't see until after we had tripped over them. It was nuts. We got to Little Porter, which is sort of a look-out point on Porter with a view. We stopped there for a little while to take a break, and then hiked on. The rest of the trail was much better.

On the way, we saw what I think are trillium and orchids:


At the end of the trail was a bridge over Johns Brook, and then we were done. We were both in a lot of pain!! I'm still sore now. Plus, a bug seemed to take a liking to the back of my neck. I had a whole slew of bites back there.

Nate and Jess picked us up from the parking lot and took us back to the cottage for showers. We went to Lake Placid for dinner, and went to the Noon Mark Diner again for pie. (I had raspberry-peach-cheese pie). Then we played another game, Citadel, that night at the cottage before bed. We didn't like Citadel as much as we liked San Juan.

The next morning, we got up (miraculously) and drove to Clarkson for the reunion. We stayed in the dorms on Saturday night, which was interesting. How did we sleep on those beds for 4 years? I could feel the springs in my back! I must be getting old or something. Some highlights from the reunion:

Going to a "Chemistry Magic Show" in which one of the exhibits was Dr. Jim Peplowski (JK^2's freshman chemistry teacher) with a nerf gun, shooting fire out of it:


Going to the WCKN dinner, followed by a viewing of "Casual News 1998," produced by Nate. Jim and Nate had to clean the head of the VTR machine before playing it:


Then we watched the excruciating hour of Casual News. We didn't realize how bad it really was. :) The only redeeming part of it was Dave's "I'm just an old woman" sketch, which was just as goofy as it was in 1998.

Today, we had breakfast at Cheel (the student union) and then hit the road. We took the ferry from Plattsburg, NY to South Hero, VT:


Then we met Dave and Sandra for lunch in Burlington. Their new house is really coming along! And Burlington is a really neat city, especially when it doesn't have as much snow as the last time we saw it. We got home around 6:30pm. New Hampshire always seems bigger than it looks on the map.

A fun weekend! Although I felt old going to a 10-year college reunion, it was a nice excuse to get away for the weekend. We got to be outside, we got a lot of exercise, and we got to hang out with Nate and Jess. Wish we could do it more often.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Some random thoughts

Tomorrow we leave for Buffalo for the weekend. I think we're going to leave Boston around 1pm, which will hopefully get us out of town before the rush-hour traffic and Cape traffic clogs up all the roads. We're driving my mom's van this time, since we have to drop it back off with my mom. Then we fly out of Buffalo on Sunday evening.

Our trips to Buffalo are always such whirlwind events. It's this bizarre thing where you get to see everyone, but don't actually get to visit with anyone or get caught up. Most of the time we're worried about whether we're spending equal time with each family, and it never seems to even out quite right. People always say that we're lucky that we have both families in the same place, and they're right, we are lucky ... in a way. But it seems like people who have families in different cities at least get substantial visiting time with that part of the family when they do go into town, even if it's less frequent.

We've had some amazing thunderstorms over the past couple of weeks. They usually happen while I'm at work. I'll glance out the window, and suddenly it's as dark as night and the trees in the little square across from my office are swaying in the wind. Then you hear the crack of thunder, and suddenly, the rain is pouring from the sky. There is an old building across the square with an old, green copper roof. You can just see the water pouring off of it, like a water fall. It's quite amazing. I don't remember ever really getting this kind of weather here in Boston.

I'm always happy that I'm inside - it is not fun to be caught outside in this kind of storm. That happened to me about a week ago. Horizontal rain as you're walking to the T is not much fun. It looked like someone had poured a bucket of water over my head. The other people in the T, who had been underground for the last 10 minutes, were giving me funny looks because they didn't realize that it was raining outside!

I'm looking forward to the weekend. Wish we could leave now and start it sooner.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gratuitous Flower Photos

Today was a perfect day for planting, since it was cool, overcast, with a chance of rain later. JK^2 and I have been planning to redo our front flowerbeds for a while, so today was the day to get a start on it. We pulled out a sickly azalea to the left of our front stairs, and replaced it with a lace cap hydrangea, a variety called "Blue Bird." Here's how it looks:

And if you click on this link, you'll see what it will look like when it blooms. It should be great. Our goal was to give it a lot of space to spread out. We didn't do that with our other hydrangea, and now it has outgrown its space:

(And this is after I cut it back all the way to the ground a year ago). We are going to dig it up and move it out next spring. With the new hydrangea, we have a lot of excess space, so we planted impatiens and marigolds, and then put a good layer of mulch over the top.

And while I'm at it, I thought I would throw in a couple of other photos of my beautiful flowers. Here is a close up of the blooms on my other hydrangea bush:


And here is a closeup of a gerbera daisy I have growing in a pot on our front stairs.

And my tomato plants have flowers. So everything is right in the world. :)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera

We saw the movie, Love in the Time of Cholera, last night on DVD. I had read the book and was curious to see the movie. The movie was just as tedious as the book, unfortunately.

It's basically about a man and a woman, Florentino and Fermina, who fall in love when they are teenagers through letters (they only meet a couple of times). Fermina's father doesn't like Florentino because he's not upper class, and Fermina eventually loses interest in him. Florentino never loses interest in Fermina, for over fifty years. Fermina marries pompous Dr. Urbino instead, and when he dies, years later, Florentino comes to her after the wake. They are now both in their 70's. He tells her that he's never forgotten her, wants to be with her even now, etc. etc. I won't spoil the ending.

While the book started out well, and I was impressed with the quality of the writing, I lost interest in it when I began to dislike the characters. Florentino seems to be nothing more than a stalker. He also turns into a womanizer who sleeps with his fourteen-year-old ward (He was entrusted to be her guardian, but instead, he picked her up from school breaks to seduce her - yuck!). Fermina is just boring. I just didn't care what happened to them, so the book grew very tedious for me.

The book began with an intriguing story about Dr. Urbino, whose friend, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, is found dead. It turns out that it's a suicide, and that Saint-Amour had made a pact with himself that he would kill himself when he turned 60 because he did not want to grow old. He leaves a long letter for Dr. Urbino, which explains about various scandals in his life, including the existence of a scandalous love affair.

I was intrigued by the letter and the story behind Saint-Amour. I figured that the author would come back to this story and connect it with the rest of the book. But it never happened, and I still don't understand the point of starting the story this way. We never hear about Saint-Amour again.

The movie had some serious problems. One big problem was how it dealt with age progression. Giovanna Mezzogiorno, the actress who played Fermina, could not play an old woman. They slapped on some makeup, and she still looked like she was 25. Javier Bardem, who played Florentino, was not much better. They tried to shuffle around, like they thought old people would do, and it just didn't work. Mezzogiorno was not very convincing as a 17-year-old either.

Another annoying part of the movie was the fact that they all spoke with Spanish accents, since the movie took place in Colombia. (And actually, Mezzogiorno had an Italian accent). I hate movies that do this. Either do the movie in Spanish with subtitles, or have the people speak English fluently and natively. They would've spoken Spanish fluently and natively, without a foreign accent. I suppose you could argue that they did the accents to emphasize that the movie took place in a foreign country. But that's stupid. There was no question that the movie happened in Colombia, because it was such an important component of the story. And for Mezzogiorno, she needs to either speak with a Spanish accent, or no accent at all.

And while I won't spoil the ending, I will say that I thought it was dumb. Before we got to the ending, JK2 asked me if it was a happy ending or a sad ending. I said that that depends on whether you like the characters. :)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the author of the book, has gotten rave reviews from everyone, especially in Latin America. I understand that he's a hero in Colombia, but I'm not convinced about him yet. I want to read 100 Years of Solitude before I make my judgment.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Toastmasters and thunderstorms

Tonight JK2 and I decided to try out a Toastmasters meeting. It was pretty interesting. I was envisioning going to a meeting full of very self-confident orators who gave great, inspiring, Kennedy-esque speeches ("Ask not what your country can do for you ..."). Instead, there were just a few people there. They were normal people who were getting over their fear of public speaking. They gave normal speeches about normal life. JK2 would like to join because he wants to become a better public speaker. It wouldn't do me any harm either, especially since public speaking is an important part of my job. :) We'll see. It seems like most of the Toastmaster clubs close up shop for the summer.

Tonight we're having a thunderstorm! We don't get very many of them here, compared to Buffalo, so it's nice when they come. Here is what Zeusy does during thunderstorms:

She hides! :) In my closet. And her pupils get really big. She hates thunderstorms. But I generally like them, unless they wake me up in the middle of the night. Then I'm scared too, just like Zeus. There was a huge, spooky thunderstorm in the night before my dad died. I'll never forget that. Anyway, I'm mostly happy about my garden getting some rain tonight. I guess it rained this weekend, but a little more won't hurt and it means I won't have to water for a day or more.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

We made it back home after a busy weekend. We made it in less than 8 hours, which is pretty good considering the trailer. The traffic was great until we got beyond Boston and were heading south to Quincy. The highway was backed up and 2 out of 4 lanes were closed for repaving. Lovely. We knew we were back home at that point.

Today is Father's Day so I would like to take a moment to reflect on my dad. We always had a good time on Father's Day because we'd usually go boating and then have steaks out on the grill. One year, Dad got a ticket on Father's Day because we had taken a short-cut through a parking lot, and the police stopped him. He was pretty mad about that, especially the fact that the police officer had pulled him over on Father's Day.

Father's Day seems a little cruel to people who don't have their dads in their life. I'm glad it's a holiday because I have a lot of happy memories of my dad, but it would've been nice to have had it postponed this year. I suppose that eventually I will think of my dad and not feel so sad, but that day hasn't come yet.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Buffalo News

We're back in Buffalo for the weekend. We flew in last night and go back tomorrow. I'm exhausted. It's been a really full day. We had to run a lot of errands and get a lot of things accomplished.

Tonight we had dinner at a little Italian restaurant in Black Rock that is in a 3-story Victorian house that is 3-toned: red, white and green for the Italian flag. :) We've gone there before and it's the sort of place that we haven't found in Boston yet. A place for locals, good food, good price, no frills. I don't know why we haven't found a place like it in Boston yet, except that I think Buffalo is more blue-collar than Boston is getting to be. Either that, or we really qualify as "locals" in Buffalo, because our families have lived here for generations and know all the cheap spaghetti joints, while we still have a short history in Boston.

I was shocked to see that Tim Russert died yesterday. He was a big Buffalo ex-pat. JK2's high school was his high school too, and they made a big deal of him. He even has his own page at the high school's website. I've read his books, and he seemed like a nice guy. It's sad and shocking when someone dies so quickly, even someone that I don't know, although I felt like I knew him through his books. There are so many things that he had in life and the world that will be forever unfinished or accomplished. This, as well as my reflections on my dad's life as Father's Day nears, makes me think about how much time each of us has left - are we spending it in a way that creates happiness and beauty? Is it too much of a goal to try to change the world, or should we just focus on enjoying life? Is it possible to do both?