Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review - Three Cups of Tea

I read a really interesting book a couple months back (hey, cut me some slack here, I'm trying to catch up on my book reviews) called Three Cups of Tea. It was simultaneously recommended by three of my good friends who are all big readers, Allie, Caitlin, and Elise. Elise loaned me her copy of the book.

It is a really fascinating account of an American climber's crusade to bring schools to girls in the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is simultaneously a fascinating book about the author's personal life but also provides a lot of insight into both Afghani and Pakistani culture in the remote areas where he works. Although the first couple of chapters were a bit of a slog, it was ultimately a really interesting book that was uplifting and well worth the read.

The book is also a compelling vision for a better way to convince the world that America is not an evil cultural juggernaut trying to destroy the world with our evil consumerist ways. Greg Mortensen's work is a better strategy for reducing terrorism than all of our bombing and war-making.

For more about the book, look here

List 2.3 A Shout Out to My Dad

O.k. So first off, I should have a cooler picture of my dad. This is a good one but he has his "I am a groovy academic guy" face on and I have cooler photos of him doing neat things with the family but I am working on the laptop sans access to our digital photos right now so you will have to make do with this photo from my dad's academic webpage.
My groovy dad is going through a bit of a crap time right now. I don't really want to tell the universe about his private business but I feel compelled to mention that he is having radiation therapy so that is really not fun at all. I keep telling him to get drunk on good wine on a regular basis, eat a lot of chocolate, and go on good vacations with his lovely new wife Sue but I think the day to day reality of having a billion radiation treatments in a row is bringing him down. So I wanted to give him a shout out by mentioning a small sampling of the neat things about my dad. So here is a list of some of them.
17. My dad has shaved his head for a long time and he looks very debonair that way (see above).
16. When I was around 9 or 10, my dad made me my very own toolbox full of real tools. He painted the box green and all of my tools had a green painted handle. I had a saw and a hammer and a t-square and nails. I used to go down into the basement and hammer wood together. He was the original sexual equality guy.
15. My dad coached my soccer team for a long time. He always brought the orange cones for drills and good snacks for half-time.

14. My dad does really cool research about how to help people manipulate their own behavior to have less unprotected sex, less drunk driving, and less chance of transmitting AIDS. He also taught college athletes how to study and be successful outside of the sporting arena.

13. He is a funny guy. He doesn't really tell jokes but he does make these funny observations about life. When I was little and crabby, he would always joke me out of it.

12. He is an AWESOME cook. At one point I think he vaguely considered being a gourmet chef. He makes wonderful bread, great souffles, and lots of other delicious meat dishes that I no longer eat. He also makes great homemade french fries.

11. He is a pretty calm, centered guy. I'm all for calm people.

10. My dad has good taste in music from blues to classical to zydeco. He also introduced me to the Beatles and the J. Geils Band. Rock on.

9. He reads both trashy mysteries and the New York Times. I like the breadth of intellect there.

8. Once when I was little I thought I might be depressed. So I asked my dad, "hey, dad, do you think I am depressed?" And he said, "well, are crappy things happening in your life right now?" And I said, "yes." And he said, "well, it sounds like you have some good reasons to be sad. Let me know if you don't feel better in a few weeks but right now I would say that you don't need drugs." I thought that was a pretty well considered response.

7. Although now he is a hotel kind of guy, my dad did introduce me to camping and fishing.

6. He has good fashion-sense. He always has groovy shoes and good sweaters. Never underestimate the power of good shoes and nice sweaters.

5. He is a good conversationalist and likes to talk to people about politics, art, books, and current issues in society.

4. My dad split the household chores evenly with my mom. Not only did this provide me with an excellent role model but it reflects very well on his own striving for equality in all things personal and political. You go Dad!

3. He composts and recycles.

2. He has a great green thumb and prunes his own fruit trees. I love his Johnny Appleseed side.

1. He is a great grandpa. He loves Lucy and Josie and visits them regularly, taking lots of photos and showering them with love and gifts.

I have a great Dad. And I am sure that the juggernaut of reality will stop bludgeoning him any week now and will give the poor guy a break. Hang in there Dad.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Father Knows Best

While out jogging very slowly with the double jogger this morning Lucy's constant comments included the following after some sort of tank truck drove by:

"Mom, what kind of truck was that?" - Lucy
"I don't know."--Me
"Mom, Dad knows a lot of things. You don't know a lot of things. Dad knows what kind of trucks there are."--Lucy
"I know a lot of things. I know what kind of trucks there are!"--Me
"Oh. You do?"--Lucy
"Why aren't there any fire trucks here?" --Lucy
"Because there aren't any fires."--me
"I wish there were fires."--Lucy
"No, fires are bad."--
"Because they hurt people."--me
"Because they are hot."--me
"Yeah, but they won't hurt you if you wear sunscreen."--Lucy
"No, they are too hot even for sunscreen."--me

See, I do know something, like that even sunscreen won't save you from a fire. See, I'm a genius.

Where Did Our Blog Go?

The title of this post is supposed to be a witty reference to some pop song, unfortunately I can't remember how the actual song goes so I can't tell you what the song is. It probably isn't very funny anyway. I can't remember a lot of things these days (like how does the mulberry bush - weasel song go? Round and round the mulberry bush, the blank chased the weasel - what is chasing the weasel?). Anyway, this is just an update since I have been out of the blog loop for a while.

First, a note to Tiffany. I am still alive. We are not in the hospital with Josie or anyone else. I have been gone to a conference center for a week without internet access or cell phone coverage. I wrote a couple of posts in word that I posted when I got back to the modern (or post-modern) world. By the way, I hate the term post-modern.

A couple of things. Those f$%%%ing bugs are still eating my garden. I keep buying bigger plants in the desperate hope that they will be big enough to withstand the onslaught. I still don't know who is doing the damage. This weekend I think I will buy some sort of organic kill all bugs stuff. I'm not a fan of killing things but I won't have any carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, basil or basically anything except tomatoes if I don't take drastic action.

Other than the garden, things here a whipping right along. This post is getting too long so I think I will mention the only two other things of note in a separate post. Keep on keeping on my friends.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Believe it or not, this was the theme of my graduating class at The Evergreen State College. For the greeners of 1994 the idea behind this somewhat buddhist slogan was that one shouldn’t worry too much about what journey you were on, you should just be on the journey. It was a very Evergreen sort of sentiment, sort of a “hey dude, don’t worry about your career. Just get out there and EXPERIENCE life.” Personally, I’ve always been something of a worrier and one of the many things that I like to worry about is the future. I play all sorts of scenarios out in my head regarding most aspects of the future. Where will we live, what will I do for a career, when will I ever be able to climb 5.11 (never, it turns out), etc. etc.

Anyway, I am digressing here because this post is supposed to be about a new spin on the wherever you go phrase. For this post, this phrase should read, “Wherever you go, there YOU are.” For this week has been a lesson for me in the inescapableness of our own nature. This week I am up at the lovely Marconi Center for a conference of natural resources folks in the National Park Service from the Pacific West Region. It is a great group of people as one of the wonderful things that the NPS has going for it, besides the most beautiful places to work in the world, are the people who actually work in the parks. The NPS staff are a very dedicated, enthusiastic, and friendly lot for the most part. So I am very much enjoying getting to meet many of my colleagues, listening to interesting talks, and eating good food here at the Marconi Center.

In order to attend this conference, I had to agree to give a talk. By and large I enjoy giving talks. All of my experience giving numerous talks and lectures while in graduate school has greatly reduced my public speaking anxiety and I enjoy the performance aspect of public speaking. The only downside, for me, of giving talks is that it is always me giving the talk.

Let me explain. Like many people, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with myself. At times I think I am the cat’s meow- I feel like I am an o.k. person, a decent listener, someone who is capable of understanding most things and is interested in most things, an engaged individual. That’s how I feel when I am in the love myself phase. On the other hand, I am a pretty gregarious person and I have an outgoing and somewhat crazy streak. What this means when I give talks is that my presentations are founded in factual information (graphs, charts, actual data and statistical analysis), because I am, after all, a scientist. But because I am also still me, a fan of the overstatement, somewhat performance artist-type personality, this factual information tends to peppered with opinionated overstatements, humorous comments, and statements of truths that many people may believe but few would say in a public setting. I can’t give you a good example of this from my recent talk because my outrageous statements are very park-y and would take too long to explain. Instead let me illustrate with a classic example from my graduate school days. Once, during a particularly obtuse lecture on population growth modeling, after yet another graph had been drawn on the board with no label for either the x or y axis, I exclaimed, out of shear exasperation, “What the hell Ted????” Thankfully our lecturer took this all in stride and actually stopped to explain the figure.

While I have tried to limit my public swearing since joining government service my speech is still peppered with moderately socially acceptable words, crap being one of my current favorites. So my talk today contained a few craps and a bit of bandying about of the word moron in different contexts.

Anyway, the point of all this is that after my talk was over and the audience had stopped laughing, I thought, “well, there goes any hope I ever had of being a park superintendent in the Pacific West Region.” Because while I think people were both entertained and informed by my talk, I don’t think many superintendents say crap in a public setting. Now Mitch would say, “if you want to, you can always change.” But I feel like I may have changed too much already. I’ve already given up the f-word. I try to no longer exclaim what the hell in meetings. And the bottom line is that at heart, in my core, I am the kind of person who calls ‘em like I see ‘em, regardless of the political climate or advisability of voicing such opinions. And sometimes, like today, I think, “wow, I wish I could be someone else. Someone calm and considered who gives a talk that is informative, and amusing, and well-organized but doesn’t contain the word crap or bold statements about the futility of weed mapping or the infernal loop of some restoration projects.” In short, sometimes I wish I was superintendent material. But then again, I do enjoy the laughter.

In the end, wherever you go, there you are – so I guess one had better enjoy one’s own company. I’ll keep working on that.

Beyond Food and Water

Have you ever heard of the hierarchy of needs? This is the idea that before you can make fine art or sing songs, you have to have food and shelter. I guess the theory is that cold and hungry people make bad art. Anyway, you get the idea. Well a few years ago I heard an expansion of this idea on NPR. The story was about a writer who I think was a social scientist. This guy had done a bunch of research on what makes a person feel happy and content with their life (or maybe he was some sort of new-age philosopher who just asserted what is to follow without any scientific evidence. To be quite honest I can’t remember the context at all….). And he had this really cool list of five crucial elements in life that you needed to have to feel satisfied with your existence. At the time that I heard the story I remember thinking that his five crucial elements made a lot of sense and that this would be a good framework for thinking about one’s life. Unfortunately, now, of course, I can’t remember a darn thing about the story – not who the guy was or what the five things were!

I do actually remember two of them and this weekend I had a wonderful fulfillment of one of his elements. The two that I remember are meaningful work – work that you feel makes a contribution to the world. He said this didn’t have to be your paying job, it could be volunteer work or whatever. And the second one that I remember was being part of a community. It was this community aspect that I really missed after leaving graduate school. In graduate school I had a great community of friends and mentors and colleagues. But in southern California while I really enjoy my co-workers, everyone lives scattered all over southern California so I never see them outside of work. And apart from Seth and Elise, we have very few friends in our new hometown of Ventura.

But now, thanks to Lucy and Josie, that has all changed. I did not anticipate that one of the fringe benefits of having kids would be getting to know loads of new people in our community. Through daily visits to our neighborhood park and our participation in our community’s First Five program, we have gotten to know dozens of great families. While many of these people may differ from me in politics or religion or eating preferences or hair style, or fashion, we have our kids in common. And they are all so nice. Nice counts for a lot in my book. Niceness is seriously under-rated.

On Sunday, as I was driving home from the grocery store, I saw two different families that I know from the park, and I waved as I passed them. And this simple act of seeing people that I know, walking around my neighborhood, made me like Ventura is my home and that if I dropped off the face of the earth someone other than Mitch might actually notice (I know my far away friends would notice but it might take a while considering what a crap correspondent I am). I know there are lots of other ways to meet people and make a community other than having kids (volunteering, joining clubs, etc.). But for me, Josie and Lucy have helped fill out another piece of my missing world. Waving at my neighbors is a simple thing, a simple thing that definitely adds to my happiness at being a human in this place at this time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Swell Birthday

Rob gives Megan, Ava, and Lucy surfing lessons.
Forty years gone by already. It is hard to believe that I am married to someone so old. Seriously, forty seems like nothing, like a flash in the pan, a blink of an eye, and every other cliche you can think of to indicate that not much time has passed. We had a fantastic time celebrating Mitch's 40th year. Thanks so much to all of our friends and family who were able to come and visit for the weekend. For those of you that couldn't come, we missed you and we hope to see you soon. If you want to see a BUNCH of wonderful pictures of the weekend look at Scott's album on fotki.

The beach house ended up being IDEAL. It was a beautiful house and the beach right outside the house was perfect for little people and surfers. At low tide the beach was a wonderful sprawl of shallow water and interesting rocks for poking around in. There was also a small surf break a short ways out from the house. So there was plenty of sand and surf for everyone. Too many good things happened all weekend long for me to detail them all in the ten minutes I have before I fall asleep or Josie starts crying or Lucy gets out of bed and throws something (anything) into the toilet. So here, instead, is a top ten list for the weekend.

List 1.2 Top Twelve Happenings of the 40th Birthday Weekend

12. Kites - Stuart's beautiful ones and Little Jimmy's Kite of Death.
11. Recycling a-go-go. Tiffany brought her plastic recycling on the plane from Mississippi so she could recycle it in California.
10. Surf's up dude. The boys and girls caught some waves.
9. The people make the party. Our people came from near and far. We ate food, we yucked it up, we hung out like it was going out of style.
8. Sandy sandersons. The kids went crazy on and off the beach, eating sand, getting in the washtub, sharing and not sharing toys, stubbing their toes, making us all laugh.
7. Dolphin glee. The dolphins came, more than once!
6. Better than a seashell. The sound of the ocean.
5. The cake. It was so hideous that it went beyond hideous into the sublime.
4. What calories? The cheesecake, it really was sublime.
3. No June Gloom here. The weather was warm and bright.
2. Night surfing.
1. Our peeps. Did I mention that our friends and family came? Well they did, and they made the weekend the best ever. (we really did miss those of you who weren't there. we love you too).

Here are just a few of Scott's pictures from the weekend. Got to go, Josie woke up.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

You are the Dog's Bollocks, or was that La Mama de Tarzan?

So my friend Rob thinks he overuses the phrase the bee's knees. So today he looked up some synonyms on google. He sent me the list via e-mail and I must admit that they were so good that I thought that he had made some of them up (sorry to doubt you Rob, I also briefly thought you were yanking my chain about today being your birthday). So in honor of Rob's birthday, and the genius of his list, I present here, courtesy of Rob, The Bee's Knees. I truly think all of my friends, and even my relatives, are, the mutt's nuts.

List #30.7 - The Bee's Knees

The Cat's Meow
The Cat's Whiskers
The Cat's Pajamas (or Pyjamas)
The Dog's Bollocks
The Mutt's Nuts
The Eel's Ankle
The Elephant's Instep
The Snake's Hip
La Mama de Tarzan (spanish translation)
The Clam's Garter
The Elephant's Wrist
The Sardine's Whiskers
The Gnat's Elbow
The Bullfrog's Beard
The Cuckoo's Chin

May these inspired phrases inspire you to invent your own bee's knees phrase. I offer the octopus' osteolith (even though I don't think octopuses really have osteoliths) and the monkey's mandibles.

March Madness Mayhem

They may look like spies out on a mission to fight evil doers but they are actually this year's bracketology bum kickers, Rob and Becca (plus Ava riding shotgun).

So let's just start with the brutal truth, my bracket sucked this year, as it does most years due to my almost complete, woeful, lack of knowledge concerning college basketball. Other than the fact that my dad yells at referees and they actually occasionally call traveling in college basketball as opposed to the NBA, I don't know much about college ball despite attending dozens of games in my childhood.

Rob was the King of the Brackets this year, although there is some controversy concerning this point. Every year a few people do not get their brackets together before the games actually start and every year there is debate as to whether these people a) totally suck and b) whether their brackets count in any way shape or form. This year that basketball pariah was Becca, whose bracket also turned out quite well I hear but it doesn't count so no matter.

My bracket was barely saved from the bottom of the barrel by my pick of KU as the overall winner. This wasn't a super bold pick this year as Kansas had a kick butt year and everyone knows that the Jayhawks are a very powerful mascot. Apparently the really good way to pick your bracket is by using higher math. Either way, whatever random noise of the universe directed my bracketology this year was weak. Better luck next year.

Despite the annoying fact that all of the number one seeds ended up in the final 4 (apparently a feat never before accomplished), there were two semi-blowouts in the final four and the final game was a total nail-biter. I almost couldn't watch it as I was torn between worrying about how bummed out Mitch would be if KU lost (nothing like how upset Seth gets over sports losses but still not a happy camper) and worrying about how upset Tiffany might be if Memphis lost, and finally, feeling sorry for the poor suckers who lost, whoever they were. All of the college players seem so earnest and young and desperate to win that I feel bad for whoever loses. You can see why I'm not a huge sports fan and don't watch too many games. It's all a bit of an emotional minefield as far as I am concerned.

In the end it all turned out alright as KU won in a stunning comeback victory, thus propelling my bracket to not last, but second to last, despite an appalling number of incorrect picks (I don't even know how many games I actually got wrong, but it was a lot).

So there it was, March Madness, over for another year.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

List #101.6 - Unexpected Things About My Life So Far

My wonderful mother-in-law, Barbara Jo, once told me that the way to evaluate a person is not on what they plan to do with their lives but instead, on how they dealt with what actually happened to them in their lives (often quite different than our best laid plans). Wallace Stegner once wrote an amazing book about this topic (among other things like friendship, love, loss, and the passing of time). I was recently thinking about some of the things in my life so far that have been unexpected and I compiled the following list. I have detailed little explanations for each one but I think I will save them for another time and just let the list stand on its own.

List #101.6: The Top Seven Unexpected Things About My Life So Far

7. That I actually live, voluntarily, in southern California
6. I have a job, where on occasion, I wear a badge.
5. I commute 22 miles each way to work - in a car.
4. I work for the federal government.
3. The satisfaction of simple domestic things.
2. My mom is no longer living.
1. The persistence of friendship.

Daughters Kick Butt - Follow-up

My best blog buddy, Scott (the only one who ever posts comments and who, by the way, recently started his own blog, which I am sure, due to his technological prowess and obsessive-compulsive personality, will soon outstrip all blogs everywhere in complexity and cool doo-dads), recently made me aware of a great review of the recent Horton Hears a Who movie (he made me aware of said review by linking to it in a comment to my previous post-let this be a lesson to everyone everywhere, comments rock). The review is by Peter Sagal (of Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me fame) and it is a wonderful testament to why anyone who ever considered not valuing their daughters, or even crazier, actually instituting some unnatural selection of their own and getting rid of a daughter, should seriously reconsider. Perhaps I should state this even more strongly than seriously reconsider, how about, should have their freaking head examined??? Or give up on reproduction period.

Because I loved it so, I am posting a link to this wonderful review here. In case you are wondering, and can't be bothered to read the review, Horton Hears a Who has some serious gender issues. And no, I won't be taking my daughters to see this crappy hollywood imagining of a book that we can all imagine perfectly well (I might even argue, BETTER) in our own minds. God forbid that any of us should actually have to read a book, rather than have it spelled out for us on a giant screen with bonus crappy, gender-biased side plots.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

W.T.F. Dude, Do you really care THAT much about the sex of your baby?- Rant

Five or six years ago I heard a piece on the radio about couples that were paying tens of thousands of dollars to have their sperm centrifuged so that they could increase their chances of having either a male or female child. The X chromosome is slightly larger than the Y chromosome so male and female sperm separate out pretty well in a centrifuge. You can then choose the heavier or lighter fraction to use in artificial insemination. During the story they interviewed a family that really wanted a girl because the dad wanted to brush her hair and dress her up in pink. I can understand having a slight preference towards having a baby of one sex or the other but as far as I am concerned that is as far as it should go. Can't we just be thankful that we are able to have kids at all, that they tend to be healthy and happy despite all our screw-ups as parents and our failings as human beings???

In a disturbing follow-up to that story, yesterday on NPR I heard about research recently published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that found that Asian families (from China, India, and Korea) that had immigrated to the U.S. and had more than 2 kids showed a highly skewed sex ratio for their third child. Their research found that instead of a 1.00 females to 1.05 males (the ratio of male to females in babies if you let probability, genetics, and all that decide), that these families had 1.54 males to 1.0 females. They didn't have any data on what the cause of this skewed ratio might be but the researchers suggested that the most likely explanation was that families were having an early ultrasound to find out the sex of their baby and then were selectively aborting girls.

If this really is the explanation, all I can say is what the hell is wrong with people?? Do you really think having a boy is so much better than having a girl? This is the United States. Women kick ass here (they kick ass everywhere but here we have lots of opportunities and do lots of things that maybe we don't do other places). Can I just point out that every single one of the pediatricians that Josie had in the hospital was an extremely good looking Asian women?? Can I just point out that many successful bankers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, etc., etc., are women?

And for those crazy rich people who are sorting sperm to have girls instead of boys, dude, what is your problem? Can't we just be a little humble and celebrate what life gives us? Must we control everything? To these people I say, I wish upon you the happiest, sportiest, shortest hair wearing, ball playing, jock of a lesbian daughter that there ever was.

Take your gender stereotypes and shove them. Get out of natures way and be happy with the fact that babies of all shapes, sizes, sexes, colors, and various states of hairiness exist.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Garden Update

The bugs are still eating things, like the sunflowers and the basil, but they seem to be eating them more slowly. I haven't caught any earwigs in my earwig traps so I'm done with those silly things. Hopefully the plants will grow large enough soon so that they can tolerate some browsing without keeling over. Lucy enjoys the watering and in a few months I know she will love picking carrots, strawberries, and tomatoes.

P.S. when I asked Lucy whether she wanted to go out with me to water the garden, she said she did but she had to gather a few things first. Below is a picture of what Lucy the hoarder brought for a ten minute trip to the garden...(Lion, sister bear, baby, and a basket full of plastic eggs)


Mitch with Lucy at five months and Josie at five months

O.B.'d Again...

Although I am a practicing fishetarian, I have a weakness for bacon. When I first stopped eating meat almost 20 years ago, I missed several meat categories. I used to miss eating turkey, ham steaks, and bacon. Then I tried these longed for foods many years ago after several years of not eating meat and found them gross. There is something about the texture of meat that is really strange if you don't eat it for a long time. The only meat that lingers on in my affections is bacon. Something about the salty, fatty, crunchiness of bacon keeps me coming back for more.

I have a deal with myself where I get to eat bacon once a year. I know, it is a pretty random decision (why once??) but it is a compromise that I can live with. For the past several years I have broken my arbitrary rule and had bacon twice or three times within a year. Last year we were staying at a dude ranch in Texas with my Stu, Barbara, and Jim (and all of our kids) and they had a breakfast buffet that included bacon. I ate bacon two mornings in a row and by the second morning I was sick of it. I call this condition, "over baconed". I have been over-baconed once or twice in the past.

If you only eat bacon once a year there is something of a strategy to timing it right. You don't want to eat your bacon on New Year's day because then you have a whole 364 days to go without bacon. This year I made it to the first day of April before having my celebratory bacon. I was out to lunch at a restaurant with a new park intern and they had BLTs on the menu. I haven't had a BLT with real bacon in 20 years (I make BLTs at home with fake bacon every once and a while. They aren't bad). So I had a BLT. There was so much bacon on that sucker - by the end of the meal I was over-baconed. That's it for my bacon consumption for 2008. It was delicious.