Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Saga of the Pool Cover

I finally got the cover on the pool a few weeks ago.  The weather had been working against me for some time.  Either it would be rainy (and I didn't want to wrestle the cover in the rain) or it would be windy (and I didn't want to wrestle the cover in the wind).  Then the trees would dump a bunch of leaves into the pool and I'd have to spend the rare nice weather day frantically cleaning out the leaves in hopes of having sufficient time to get the cover on.  Finally I got ahead of the leaves and got the cover out.  I dragged it still rolled up across the lawn and commenced unfolding it.

That's when I noticed the holes.  It became apparent that some time in the past six months a rodent family had taken up residence in the cover and did so by chewing its way through several layers of pool cover eggroll. I even found a nest of dried grasses and chewed up pool cover bits, which I tossed onto the lawn.

I fairly quickly got the pool cover unfolded into a half-moon shape and started dragging the fold up the side of the pool.  Once the mid-way fold is onto the pool, I essentially float the cover most of the way on, then unfold the top half the rest of the way.  The whole process is not unlike putting the top crust onto a pie.  I got the cover installed and that's when I noticed things weren't quite right.

Apparently the rodent family was still in residence.  Mommy Mouse has three babies in tow (securely latched onto nipples).  In her search to find a way off the cover, she ditched one of the babies.  I managed to scoop him off the cover with the leaf skimmer.  He was young enough his eyes weren't even open.  By this point, Mommy Mouse was on the edge of the pool, trying to climb down the outside of the cover.  This is a great idea, but the cover ends about 2 feet above the ground.  I was able to sort of catch her on the way down with the leaf skimmer, but then the other two babies fell off.  I tried to use the leaf skimmer to re-direct Mommy Mouse back to the babies, but she was far too panicky for that to work.  I ended up gathering up the babies in the spot where the dropped the last two, tucked them under the nesting material and hoped for the best.

The next morning, when I went out to remove the siphon hose from the pool, the babies were gone, but the nest hadn't been disturbed, so perhaps Mommy Mouse came back for them after all.  I took the nest and put it back into a corner of the garden shed (where the pool cover had been stored).  With any luck, Mommy Mouse and her babies found themselves a new safe nesting location.

Speaking of critters....it would appear that the Rose of Sharon seed pods are a great place to hang out if you're a bug.


Fall Colors
The leaves are spectacular this year.  Although the sun brings out the fire in the leaves, I think the rain brings out the intensity and depth of color.





Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What to Do, What to Do....

I've decided to spend the evening "goofing off" (as opposed to cleaning off my desk or scrubbing baseboards) since I didn't sleep very well last night.  Now I'm torn trying to figure out what to do with my time.  I've been making good progress on the 2009 Fall Mystery Shawl from Goddess Knits.  I could easily finish the first clue this evening and then I'd only be two clues behind.  However, I'm reading a really entertaining book at the moment (Forget Me Knot by Sue Margolis).  I'd read and knit at the same time, but the lace is sufficiently complex that I think knitting while reading or reading while knitting would be an unmitigated disaster for the knitting.

(Update: I did both. Sequentially.  Finished the book more quickly than expected, then finished Clue #1. Now I have no excuse to not clean the house tomorrow evening.)


End of Year Yard Work
I finally got the expanded flowerbed by the deck dug out and boy my hamstrings are tight today!!!  I hauled some of the excess dirt to the big low spot in the backyard. I'll haul some more to the front flowerbed that I expanded a few weeks ago, since it's a bit low on dirt as well.  The weeding is mostly caught up though I could use a load of mulch.  I got the last of the pears picked and will make more pear butter this weekend.  The last big jobs are tilling under the garden and burning the brush pile.  Maybe by the middle of November things will dry out enough to get it finished.  By that point I'll have myself convinced that I need to make an even larger garden next year, rather than a smaller garden that might actually be manageable. Not that I've done that before....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Risk

With the ongoing 2009 novel H1N1 influenza virus outbreak and the recent availability of vaccine for said virus, there has been much discussion on various websites and blogs about both the disease and the vaccine.  As always with medical things, misinformation, rumor and fearmongering abounds.  There are persons convinced that this outbreak is nothing to worry about at all, so neither they nor their children will be vaccinated.  There are persons convinced that the vaccine is completely experimental and/or that the vaccination plan is mostly a government ploy to poison us all. There are persons convinced that the disease is a serious threat to their health and they're upset they cannot get access to the vaccine faster.

I find it amusing that some persons who get the seasonal influenza vaccine each year are refusing the H1N1 vaccine because they believe it to be untested.  This is amusing to me because the H1N1 vaccine was tested (largely for immunogenicity).  The seasonal influenza vaccine produced each year is NOT tested each year for either safety or immunogenicity.  It was approved by FDA years ago, but each year's version does not undergo further testing.

When vaccine development first began, there was considerable discussion as to whether or not the vaccine would contain an adjuvant (a compound which stimulates the immune response). The advantage of an adjuvant is that a smaller amount of antigen can be used to produce the same strength immune response as a larger dose of un-adjuvanted antigen.  The reason adjuvant was considered was that half the amount of antigen currently used in the vaccine could be used, yet still produce a good immune response.  In other words, what is now expected to be 20 million doses of vaccine by November could have been 40 million doses of vaccine.  More vaccine doses in the same amount of production time.  In the U.S., the only approved adjuvant is alum (an aluminum salt) and the influenza vaccines (seasonal or H1N1) in the U.S. do NOT contain any adjuvant. The package inserts for the vaccines (with ingredients lists) are available for perusal at the Food and Drug Administration website.

If you don't want the version of the vaccine with a thimerosol preservative, then request the injectable vaccine which is packaged in pre-filled syringes or choose the nasal spray version.  If you are convinced that the ingredients lists are nothing but lies, you might consider giving up all food, drink and medication as all of those products have ingredients lists that could also be lies. If there's going to be a big conspiracy to kill/drug us all, why would the government and/or big corporations just limit it to vaccines?

The Part About Risk
The biggest argument I have seen against vaccinations (whether for influenza or other things) is the concern about the risk of adverse reactions/side effects.  Yes, there is a non-zero risk of problems with vaccines.  There is a non-zero risk to everything, including the peanut butter sammich I am presently eating for lunch, the pseudoephedrine I took this morning and the contact lenses I am wearing. What concerns me about the vaccine decision making tree is that people only seem to consider the risk of vaccination.  They don't seem to consider the risk of non-vaccination (i.e. the risks associated with acquiring the disease the vaccine would protect against).


Risk evaluation is a complex business.  I can reduce some of my risks by changing my behavior (exercise more, quit smoking, eat more fresh produce), but each of those behavior changes may increase other risks.  Exercising more may help strengthen my cardiovacular system, build muscle, prevent bone loss and help control my weight.  That same bit of exercising may also increase my risk of injury (pulled muscles, twisted ankles, etc.).  So is exercise really good for me if it increases my risk of adverse outcomes? It all comes down to whether or not you think the benefits of an action outweigh the risks. I make that risk evaluation based not only on the magnitude of the risk or benefit but also on the population-based probability of that risk or benefit occurring. (No, I cannot calculate or predict my personal probability of having an event occur. It's impossible.)  

To apply this to vaccination, consider the following: Thirty percent of all measles cases have some sort of complication due to the disease. Pneumonia occurs in about 6% of measles cases and causes about 60% of measles deaths.  The risk of encephalitis (and usually permanent neurologic damage) due to measles disease is approximately 1 in 1000.  The rate of any side effect at all due to measles vaccine is approximately 20% with the majority of those being simple fever or rash. Temporary, transient thrombocytopenia occurs in 1 person for every 30,000 to 40,000 persons vaccinated.  Encephalitis occurs  at a rate of 1 in a million.  So, do you choose a 1 in a million risk of encephalitis or a 1 in 1000 risk of encephalitis?  I know which one I would pick. Certainly I may have the misfortune of being the one in a million who gets encephalitis due to vaccine, but I like those odds a whole lot more than I like 1 in 1000.

Personally, I think it's prudent to do what I can (within reason) to minimize those risks that I can minimize.  I don't actually structure my whole life around risk reduction.  I reduce what I can within reason.  I do use peer-reviewed research to guide these decisions and often track down the original research, not just the interpretations of the research published in the media or on various websites seeking to sell the healthy cure of the week.  To that end I exercise regularly, eat lots of vegetables and fruits, avoid foods which are highly processed or high in fat, engage in relaxing activities regularly and get a reasonable amount of sleep every night. Will it make any difference in the long run? I'll never know.  I'm only a single "test subject". There is no control in this experiment called life.  I cannot know what might happen if I ate nothing but pizza, fries and cheeseburgers every day.  I might still live to be 111 and be fully active until the day I die.  Then again, even with the healthy behaviors listed earlier, I might still burst an aneurysm at any time or get killed in a car crash, making all my actions irrelevant and ineffective. I still choose to do my best to maximize my chances of a long, functional life.  Oddly enough, I don't miss the cheeseburgers and fries at all.  I thoroughly enjoy the boosts in energy and cheerful attitude that I've experienced since becoming vegetarian a couple years ago, since starting a regular gym-based workout a year ago and since dramatically changing my eating habits eight months ago.  I may or may not end up living longer, but I sure am having more fun and enjoying life more now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pity Party Over. Time to Paint.

Ok. After spending most of last night and part of today feeling sorry for myself, I'm attempting to kick that to the curb.  I did have a bit of a frustrating conversation with one of my bosses, but at least I've been reassured that I'm not going to get into trouble for not having anything to do with the vaccination program. I've stated several times that I don't know what jobs/tasks need to be done, but that I would like to fill my day with work.  Every time I ask what else I can do to keep busy I am asked what I'd like to do.  The answer is that I'd like to do something *useful* to the department. Ideally I'd like it to involve some data analysis, but there doesn't seem to be much interest in the results of analysis and I'm not really keen on doing a bunch of work if nobody is going to bother to use it. (To me that would be work which is *not* useful to anyone.)

So, I've decided to paint my kitchen.  I went ahead and bought paint to do the bedrooms too.  I held off on buying paint for the trim because I couldn't decide if the current trim paint is semi-gloss or high gloss.  I've since decided that it's high gloss and I'll go get more paint next week.  I won't be painting the trim/baseboards until the walls are done anyway.  Now if the weather would only cooperate, I might actually get my deck and fence stained.

Gratitude
And now, to complete the re-balancing of my attitude/self, I present a short list of things for which I am grateful:
  • warm socks on a cold, dreary, rainy day
  • a healthy strong body
  • random text message hugs
  • splendid sunsets with rich golden light highlighting the autumn leaves against a backdrop of dark clouds

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lack of Purpose Strikes Again

I found out today that my assumption that I would have a role in the upcoming H1N1 influenza vaccination campaign was completely wrong.  I assumed that since I have been answering questions about influenza and vaccination and everything else people called to ask about that I might continue that role.  I was wrong. It turns out that I don't actually have any role at all.

What frustrates me about this is that I have been told repeatedly since I was hired that my assistance/expertise is really not needed until there is an outbreak and even then only if there is a big outbreak.  Now we're in the middle of a big outbreak and I'm benched again.  From conversations with coworkers, just about everybody in the communicable disease section and the emergency preparedness sections will be pressed into service. Except me.  Despite the fact that I'm theoretically part of both of those two programs (and my salary is paid out of emergency preparedness money).  I have begun to despair that I really am never going to get the opportunity to do the job I was supposedly hired to do.

I'm going off to my corner to cry now.  I'm tired of having to remind people I exist and having to ask for things to do, especially since this seems to just annoy people.  I'm tired of trying to convince people that I have something positive to contribute.  I'm tired of being told that I once again have no purpose at my workplace. I'm tired of trying to convince people that I actually have a brain and that I'd like to use it.  I wish I could find an employer that actually wants to utilize ALL its employees to their fullest.  I wish I could find an employer who welcomes queries about what else I could be doing and helps me find more to do.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weekend Eating

During the week, I eat mostly good, healthy stuff--soups, salads, veggies. Weeknight evenings I eat a lot of refried bean soft tacos (beans, salsa and jalapeno slices on corn tortilla), hummus "wraps" (homemade hummus with baby lettuces on a corn tortilla) and oatmeal.  On weekends, things aren't quite so healthy.  Lately I've been doing some baking, so that means eating cookie dough.  Sometimes I forget to eat breakfast.  Other times I forget to eat dinner.  Occasionally I'll eat up the last of the lunch leftovers, but I rarely have what I would call a real or good meal.  Few vegetables or fruits. A whole batch of baking powder biscuits (over two days). An occasional whole frozen pizza.  Lots of fat and sugar.

I wonder how much better I would feel at the end of a weekend if I ate consistently well all seven days of the week.  My meal planning seems to skip the weekends.  The odd thing is that I actually do my cooking for the week during the weekends. I just don't tend to eat the "good stuff" at that time.  Next week I'll include weekend meals in my menu planning and I'll work more on stopping for lunch and dinner at reasonable times instead of just waiting until I'm long past needing to eat and feeling awful.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Soup Weather!

I'm not very fond of cold, damp weather, but it is quite conducive for the cooking of soup.  It's not bad for baking either.  Last weekend I baked bread. Today I made a pot of black bean soup and a batch of snickerdoodle cookies.  If I had thought of it earlier, I'd have made a pan of cornbread to go with the soup. Perhaps I'll do that first thing in the morning.  I think this fall/winter I may focus on trying new soup and bread recipes.  I've got a couple of great soup and bread cookbooks that would be excellent project material.

It's a shame the ground is so wet.  It would have been a great day to get out and weed things or mulch.  Perhaps by the middle of the week things will have dried out enough.  I don't like it when the ground squelches when I walk across it.  It's just wrong somehow that it does that.

This week will probably be the last week that I'll leave my houseplants outside.  Before long it'll be cool enough at night that it'll kill them.  Not sure where I'll put them again, but I'll figure something out.  Isn't it funny how it seems like plants multiply when they're outside for the summer, even if you don't add any to the collection?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Labor Day Trip Report (with photos too!)

Hey, it's only a month late, but I finally got the photo selection narrowed down to something manageable on this blog. Blogger may give me lots of room, but 800+ photos would still put me over quota. :-)

First, I had an excellent long weekend visiting Twitchh in eastern Washington. Travel out and back was uneventful (well, except for the announcement by the pilot that there was a warning to not take off so we did a loop around the taxiway after they made the warning light go away. I hope they didn't "fix" it by banging on the dashboard, but the plane took off and landed just fine so I'm happy regardless.)  I chatted with my two seatmates on the flights out. One was completely amazed that I could knit while reading. The other thought it was really cool that I knit socks and completely understood the concept of paying $20 for long-lasting, custom-fit socks instead of going to WalMart for cheaper socks that wear out in a year.

Once out in Washington, I found myself wide awake at 5:30am on the first day, so I started cleaning up Twitchh's kitchen (He'd already told me that I was welcome to tear it all apart and re-arrange things so as to facilitate his newfound interest in cooking.)  I didn't really mean to do as much as I did, but once I got started, it was easy to keep going.  We had already started to organize the canned goods in the cabinets and pantry the night before.  I ruthlessly threw out food that was more than a year out of date.  The in-date food that Twittch decided he didn't like got stacked up to for the food bank. Other kitchen stuff he said he didn't want or need was stacked up for the GoodWill store.  While cleaning out/re-arranging the cabinet under the kitchen sink, I noticed some dark stuff (perhaps old, dried spaghetti sauce) splashed onto the front of the cabinet door and the baseboards.  I worked my way around the kitchen, sitting on the floor, cleaning the goo off the cabinets and baseboards.  At the fridge, I removed all the food, scrubbed the shelves and put it all back. Fortunately by this time Twitchh was up and in the shower because it's IMPOSSIBLE to get crisper drawers in/out of a refrigerator without making fairly loud banging noises.  For me, this procedure is rarely accomplished without actually dropping at least one of them.  When Twitchh came out of his room, he found me sitting on the kitchen floor in my pajamas. I gave him the most apologetic/contrite expression I could muster and said, a la lolcatz, "I maeded a clean."  He laughed and told me to go take a shower.

Later that day we found the first of two yarn stores, the library, the food bank and we picked up a bunch of new kitchen gear at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  That afternoon he showed me where he worked (security issues require visits to be done after regular working hours) and we had dinner with some of his co-workers.  I got to meet Twitchh's "girlfriend" Violet too.  Violet is the 2-3 year old daughter of one of his co-workers who occasionally refuses to go to bed until she talks to Twitchh.  She was quite shy until her parents explained that I'm a friend of Twitchh's and slowly she warmed up to me.  By the end of the evening she was making faces with me and snagging bean sprouts off my plate.


Saturday we headed to Walla Walla to visit their farmer's market and the Fort Walla Walla museum.  By utter coincidence, it happened to also be Frontier Days, so we got to see a parade too.  We purchased some peaches which were the size of softballs(!!), blueberries, apples, green beans and tomatoes.  The museum was quite interesting and primarily featured historical agricultural implements and a re-created village.  The signs/text that went with the displays was interesting though and we both learned quite a bit about the the early days of the area.  Saturday night we cooked dinner (meatless loaf, mashed potatoes/gravy and green beans) and hung out watching TV.



Sunday morning we took a boat ride up the Columbia River.

The guide was great!! Ray has lived in the area most of his life and had plenty of information to share about the geography, geology and history of the area.  We saw all of the Hanford reactor sites from the river, lots of wildlife, and also a small landslide.


Ray is friends with several of the fishermen/women on the river so we saw some pretty amazing catches being held up for view, including a teenaged girl's 31 pound first salmon. 

(Her dad didn't want to be outdone so he caught a 35 pounder!!)

 
The weather was a bit chilly, but the whole trip was fun. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant, briefly stopped at the 2nd yarn store in town, then headed back to the apartment to just hang out and relax. We were both pretty tired by that point and it felt really good to just sit.

Monday morning we had breakfast and did a quick driving tour of Kennewick before having lunch and heading off to the airport.  The trip back was even less eventful than the trip out though I got less knitting done on the planes.  I kept taking pictures out the window on the last leg.  The setting sun really highlighted the terrain of Utah and Colorado. The drive to my house from the airport was brightly lit by a nearly full moon.  I even managed to get into bed at a fairly reasonable hour so was well-rested by the time I got up for work the next morning.

Twitchh and I did figure out during this trip that we really want to live in the same town again. We just have too much fun hanging out together.  One or both of us will end up moving, but we're ok with that and we figure we can accomplish co-location within the next two years.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hmmmm.....

Well, today isn't turning out quite how I expected/intended.  For starters I've got a killer headache that I think is largely due to bad sinus congestion. (Here's hoping some ibuprofen, pseudoephedrine and caffeine will fix that shortly.)  I had intended to do some work on the house/yard today, but in addition to the headache there's also a bit of rain.  That rather puts the kibosh on checking the gutters for leaf build-up, on cleaning the fence in preparation for painting, on spraying the weeds in the lawn, on burning off the garden and burn pile and on weeding/re-doing flowerbeds.

For indoor activities, I could bake bread (which would also warm up and smell up the house nicely), write a couple of letters, clean off my desk, re-size the photos from my trip to visit Boy so I can post them to this blog, read from the pile of magazines waiting for me, vacuum, finish laundry and declutter a box or two.  At the moment, with my headache, I don't feel much like doing anything at all.  I might knit something but only if it involves not having to read a pattern.  I might start some Oatmeal Toasting Bread anyway.  Most of the work for it is done by the mixer with lots of breaks in between.  I really want some nice warm bread. (Update: just poured the boiling water over the oatmeal to start the bread and took the lump of old dough out of the freezer.  I look forward to having fresh bread by dinner time.)  I think I'll spend most of the day curled up in my favorite chair with a tasty beverage, watching TV (hopefully something will be on that's worth watching) and perhaps knitting.


Speaking of Baking....
It's the time of year when I start thinking about holiday baking gifts.  Last winter I picked up a new cookie magazine (The Best of Fine Cooking--Cookies), but I didn't have a chance to bake anything from it. I'll need to figure out the 2009 baking list soon, then stock up on ingredients. 

Since I've started making more healthy food choices for myself in the past year, I have considered switching to more healthy ingredients when baking too.  I could, for example, use whole wheat and other whole grain flours, rather than white flour.  For some recipes, this wouldn't make much of a difference, but for others it would be a definite change.  I'm not sure I want to bother with egg replacers.  I'm rather fond of simple, cheap eggs and I know exactly how they'll behave when I cook with them.  The same can't be said for the various egg replacers options available.  Of course, it also seems a bit silly to me to try and turn all possible food items into something healthy.  I'm an advocate of all things in moderation and in following that moderation guide, I figure that a full-fat, full-sugar baked good or three on occasion isn't a bad thing.  Now, if I could only manage to NOT eat an entire bowl of cookie dough in a week.  It would probably help if I'd stop using it as a main course for dinner some nights....

Hope you're all warm and dry wherever you are!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Banned Book Week!

September 26-October 3, 2009 is Banned Book Week, according to the American Library Association. The Banned Book List always amuses me.  As a sophomore in high school, I was in an honors English class.  The instructor, Mrs. Lindbloom, gave us a list of books and asked us what we'd like to read.  When she mentioned which books on the list had, at some point been "banned" (she never said by whom), we, as a class, chose to read those very books.  What I recall of the explanation about these books was that she couldn't make us read the "banned" ones, but we could decide to read them as a class.  So we did.  I'm not entirely certain it wasn't just a brilliant bit of reverse psychology.  After all, what high school student isn't interested in bucking the system and doing what they're not supposed to do?

As I recall, we chose The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  We also read Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.  I don't think we read Lord of the Flies then, but we might have.  I know I read it in freshman English in a different school (along with A Separate Peace).

Every time I see a Banned Book List, I feel an overwhelming urge to go read them all just to see what the bitching is about.  From what I recall, that's why we decided to read the books in class.  We wanted to see what the fuss was about, to discuss it with  Mrs. Lindbloom and to decide whether or not the fuss was, in our opinions, justified.  As I recall, there was nothing in the books that we found shocking or upsetting or controversial.  At least not any more controversial than what was on prime-time television at the time (the mid-1980s).  We figured if we could see the stuff in the books on TV or at PG-rated movies, it probably wasn't really as bad as the book banners made it out to be.

So, since this is Banned Books week and I am currently without a bedtime reading book, I shall choose one of the Banned Books that I own, but have not yet read.  I pick Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence.  I think An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser shall be after that.  Of the 42 titles on the ALA list, I have read only 16 of them.  I think I might have to fix that.  :-)

Back from Nashville
Just spent two days at a meeting in Nashville.  It was an excellent meeting.  My two presentations went well.  Several people talked to me afterward about them and said they were good.  Next up: catching up on the stuff piled up on my desk.  I had a peek at what was waiting for me in my mailbox.  It's not bad, but it'll take more than just tomorrow to get it whacked down to where I'm not behind again.  On a good note, it was rather rejuvenating to talk to folks from other parts of the state.

And I got another invitation to interview for a job in Nashville.  This would would be more computer-oriented and would involve doing some training for people. Same office, different boss.  I know who is doing the hiring and they are very much interested in having me fill the position.  While at the meeting I chatted a bit with the team hiring for position #1. They should have a decision made "soon".  I've been advised that I'm "really popular" at the Central Office and that people would be very happy to have me join them.  Now it's just a matter of seeing how things fall together.  There are other people in the running for these positions.  While I'd like to think I'm the best person for both jobs, that may not, strictly speaking, be true.  Frankly, I'd rather that they picked the best person for the jobs, even if it ends up not being me.