Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Helpful for Houston, crummy for Corpus

Hurricane Alex began throwing strong east winds at us yesterday, knocking over my potted plants and generally turning over the atmosphere.  We spent over an hour outside walking and jogging and enjoying ourselves in the uncharacteristic coolness. 

Today we start our rain deluges (and we need rain) - the eye may be coming ashore three hundred miles south of us, but this is a BIG hurricane, and we are on the "dirty" side of it.  In the photo, Houston is the first big notch in the coast to the west of the Louisiana border.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fire in the sky

How would the ancients possibly have dealt mentally with a scene like this?!  Thunderhead about 17 miles north of us, performing maniacally in an otherwise-speckless blue twilight. 

I couldn't find my tripod (we're still not fully organized from the move)
so these were all taken with the camera balanced on our back fence.

Cayley frowned and said,
"[The pics] just don't capture the magnificence of it."

She's right.

Green scene

On a site inspection just east of Houston this morning, I saw some familiar plants, and some I had never seen before.  Here's a sampling of my favorite pics.

There MUST be black-eyed Susans
(who WAS Susan, anyway?).

And close-ups:
Is this SUPPOSED to look like this??
From early-morning rain:
Freakish in a spiral sort of way:

Some people would take this as proof of the existence of a Supreme Being -
something parasitic on poison ivy.  Yay to the thing that destroys poison ivy!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where's the (natural) beef?!

This post is dedicated to our beautiful daughter who went to bed crying tonight after watching just ten minutes of the Academy-Award-nominated documentary Food, Inc. (video embedded below) which, by the way, is a darned solid production that artfully ties many established agri-business facets togther in a cohesive and resonant whole. 

My post-film question to Cayley was, "NOW do you understand why I drive 60 miles and spend hundreds of dollars per trip at Whole Foods?" but she was really too upset at that point to discuss it. 

So what I thought I'd do instead is make a list of all the things we do to (a) buy food from producers that treat animals fairly and the environment responsibly, and (b) the flip-side of that coin, which is to minimize the amount of our money that gets into Monsanto's hands which, in my personal opinion (the one that I'm entitled to express by virtue of it being free speech and all that), is the devil incarnate.


- 95% of our ground beef comes ONLY from Whole Foods.  In a pinch, we'll buy Laura's Lean Beef and if a better product appears in the market, I'll switch.  I will NOT buy conventional ground beef. 

- 95% of the chicken we buy comes from a local Halal producer.  I haven't done the research but I suspect that those chickens are fed with Monsanto corn and if I could find a reasonable source of organic or near-organic, I would substitute it. 

- 95% of all bread comes from Whole Foods and most of its components are organic.  We didn't customize a special slot in this house for that 20-cubic-food freezer for nothing.  Whole Foods' bread frozen is better than any store-bought bread unfrozen, IMHO.

- 90% of sausage and bacon products come from one of Whole Foods' responsible producers.  I'm still looking for a responsible Canadian bacon producer. 

- 100% of our milk is organic. 

- 100% of our spaghetti sauces are organic.

-100% of our rice is Organic Texmati grown in Alvin Texas (about 15 miles from here).

- 95% of our snack chips are non-GMO organic (I admit a weakness for Flamin' Hot Cheetos but I only spend about ten bucks a year on them)

- As many canned goods as possible are organic.  I sure wish the Bush company would produce organic beans, because they are a staple we haven't seen fit to give up.

- The only syrup we use is 100% maple syrup.

- 100% of the juices I buy have no added sugars (we'll forgive Lawrence his Gatorade but even that has no corn syrup - we buy the zero-calorie stuff).

- 90% of breakfast cereals are organic.

- 100% of mac 'n' cheese and several other instant products are Amy's organic


- I go out of my way to buy every possible organic product at Walmart, just to do my small part to stimulate them into supporting responsible agriculture, because if The Giant doesn't get on board, nothing will change.  Small part?  It's probably several thousand dollars per year I spend, so it's not nothing.  And Walmart has significantly changed its buying habits in the past several years, so I must not be alone - their buying decisions are driven entirely by consumer demand.

- Of course there are no junk-food chain restaurants that we patronize, ever (Subway doesn't count... yeah, I know, probably not the best, but one has to eat away from home when the situ calls for it).

- We minimize the amount that we spend eating out, and we often eat the best products we can from restaurants that demonstrate some connection to the community, when we DO go out.

Anyway, I hope at some point that our little Chinnamma will read this and realize that, despite the grotesque imperfections in our world, we are doing something, literally putting our money where our mouths are, to oppose the types of conditions that led to the disturbing images she saw in the documentary, of which here's a snippet:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chicken Little be damned!

Question: What do the free range movement and the oiled Gulf of Mexico have in common?

Answer: They both provide good examples of HOW BAD alarmist-minded people are at evaluating risk.

- One child out of 1,000,000 gets snatched by a stranger, and people become downright reclusive for fear of this happening to them.

- One oil well out of 3,600 blows out, and the federal government wants to shut down an entire section of the nation so that we can be forced into industrial reclusion to go with the personal reclusion that the anti-free-rangers wish we'd just shut up and observe (nothing like broad consistency, eh?).

Fortunately in the case of the Gulf, a guy named Martin Feldman has seen through it (bold emphasis mine): "A federal judge struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, saying the government rashly concluded that because one rig failed, the others are in immediate danger, too."

Regardless of how one feels about how the Gulf situation is being managed, this is an excellent social, legal, and philosophical precedent. It means that people and institutions who simply seize upon demonstrably-rare events as a platform for shouting "THE SKY IS FALLING!" are NOT granted automatic standing.

Monday, June 21, 2010


At high noon on summer solstice, a shaft of sunlight penetrates our long-tube skylight, reflects off the polished granite countertop, and hits the exact center of the main structural member between the kitchen and living / dining rooms. 

 At first I wondered if perhaps this were a little unadvertized granola-head architectural special, given that the designers of this house are a couple of "skinny boys" from UT Austin and would probably have had it in them to spatialize sunlight effects at about 30 degrees north latitude. 

But then I thought no, likely not.  This house was designed in 2002 but then retrofit in 2010 in order to conform to the 2006 hurricane code recently adopted by our city.  The skylight was one of those features that underwent significant design alteration.  So this is just a random thing.   But here for reference is a snippet on the REAL event:

Friday, June 18, 2010

The "A" list

My name starts with "A" and, because I'm a consultant, *hundreds* of people have it programmed into their mobile phones.  And what that means is that I'm at the very top of everyone's list for BUTT-DIALING. 

  •  I've had people call me from their international vacations, and all I can hear is the surf in the background.
  • I've picked up the phone in the middle of clients' confidential internal management conferences when they were actually discussing (gulp) me!!! (and mostly I heard good things!!)
  • I've had people call me during sex, probably when their pants hit the floor while their phones were still in their pockets.  Thump - OOPS!- there goes that speed dial!!!
  • Here's a really common one: restaurants.  Men often keep their wallets in the same pocket as their phone.  Reach for the wallet, bump the phone, and it calls me.  One time recently, I recited a client's entire lunch order back to him the next time he called me for real.  He was just a little freaked out. 
  • A couple of weeks ago, it was a teacher in a classroom giving her young charges a stern lecture about the dangers of bringing peanut butter into a  classroom that includes a kid with allergies.  She probably reached into her purse for an sterilizing cloth or something, and bumped her phone, which then saw fit to dial me so that I could overhear the whole peanut butter crisis blow by blow (or wipe by wipe).
  • Just now, 11 o'clock on a Friday night, I was SURE I was going to pick up the call and hear a frantic client telling me that he'd had a spill at his manufacturing plant, because he was calling from the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as central Louisiana).  What did I hear instead?  Coon ass rock 'n' roll.  I didn't recognize the group, but they weren't bad! 

 I don't know what to do about this regular onslaught of fly-on-your-wall experiences, but I suppose I'll keep thinking about it.   Meanwhile, I invite you to enjoy the original butt-dialing classic - the T-Mobile BBerry Pearl commercial:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poor, huddled, and longing to be free, but never tired

Sydney to Halifax to Boston to Dallas to Houston.  Believe it or not, that used to be the best way to get here from there (these days we get to Halifax via one stop in Newark).  And twenty-four years ago today, I did it for the first time, as one of thirteen students chosen world-wide for the Lunar and Planetary Institute Summer Intern Program.

 My first impression of America was made ten minutes after stepping foot onto her soil, and it remains my overriding summation to this day.  Nervous and disoriented, I had stumbled into a restroom in an old section of Logan International Airport.  I was amazed to see REAL MARBLE surrounding the sinks.  I had never seen anything so expensive in a public john before.  Yet at the same time, the place was filthy and reeked of urine.  How could these conditions exist simultaneously?!  Such wealth yet such squalor??  "My God," I said to myself.  "America is the land of extremes."

Speaking of extremes, this next part may sound extremely flakey coming from someone who was once considered to be among the cream of the up-and-coming rocket science crop, but here it is:  the instant that Hobby Airport's double doors slid open to reveal the world that is Houston, I physically recognized it, and a years-long mystery was solved with one breath.  Nova Scotia would sometimes become very still and atypically warm in the month of August, and the air would carry a scent that resonated with me, even though I knew it wasn't originating locally.  I remember long intervals sitting on the beach staring at bizarre pink sunsets (not the usual orange ones), and wondering why this scent seemed as familiar to me as the inside of my own head.  When the doors opened at Hobby, I knew instantly that I'd found both the source and my second home.  I later came to understand how this happens:  sometimes the late-summer jet stream will develop a mid-continent paunch and the coastal rebound sends air from the Gulf of Mexico directly up the eastern seaboard. 

I really WAS smelling Houston during those contemplative times in Nova Scotia.  Why I became entangled with it before I'd ever experienced it in context will remain a mystery, but I've never found life to be quite as linear as simplistic mechanical models suggest that it should be.

Every year on this date, on which I journeyed through the biggest life-trajectory shift I ever had, I mentally retrace my entire coming-to-America story step by step.  It doesn't feel like 24 years.  It all feels like right now.