Photo of Jackie’s fabric

I did a photo-shoot for Jackie this morning, taking some pictures of her new fabric fresh off the loom.

I rather liked this picture, which I think captures the texture of the fabric rather nicely. (Click the photo for a larger image.)

As I type this, she’s preparing to wind a warp for another piece of fabric to go with this one.

As I understand it, she’s making three difference pieces of fabric with three different weave structures, but all three made out of the same cotton yarn. Then she’s planning to use the fabric to make a blouse.

I expect Jackie will be posting on her new fabric shortly, with additional photos. So if you’re interested, keep an eye on her blog.

Lunch boxes

Various containers for carrying lunches
Photo of lunch boxes originally taken for Wise Bread.

I took this photo specifically to illustrate my latest Wise Bread post, which uses lunch boxes as an example in a discussion about how to choose between buying disposable versus buying to last. The editor ended up going with a different image, but I kind of liked this one, so I figured I’d use it here.

Turns out I have a lot of containers for carrying lunch.

The right-most one is Jackie’s tiffin carrier. Some places in India, wives produce fresh hot lunches for their husbands in the late morning and use a delivery system to have the lunches delivered at lunch time in carriers like this. We sometimes bring it to restaurants so we don’t need to ask for a box when we want to bring leftovers home.

Next to that is a brown paper bag, which I contend is a perfectly reasonable choice for brown-bag lunches: paper is cheap, made from renewable resources without requiring large amounts of energy, and is bio-degradable.

The blue container next to that is the lunch container I actually used to bring my lunch to the office for years. It’s insulated, so food from the fridge would stay cold enough to remain fresh, and then I’d heat it up in the office microwave.

Behind that is a metal lunch box printed with a Hindu pantheon. (The other side has a rather terrifying picture of Kali.) As best I can recall, we’ve never used it to carry a lunch. I think Jackie stores some sort of textile-related tools in it.

At the far left is an awesome thermos-brand lunch carrier that’s basically a big thermos bottle. I won it in a raffle at  Motorola company picnic. (It’s got a Motorola logo printed on it, although it was made by Nissan which I gather bought Thermos some years ago.) It’s a very clever contraption. Clearly someone put a lot of thought into it. There are four stackable containers inside. The bottom one is made for soup, and has gasketed lid to keep liquids in together with a little valve that lets pressure equalize as the soup cools. The next one up is a big container for the main dish—rice, pasta, whatever. The lid of that container is insulated. The next container up is supposed to be used for salad (kept from getting hot by the insulated lid below it), and the top container is for desert. I don’t think I ever used it as intended, to carry both hot and cold dishes, but it worked great as an alternative to my blue insulated carrier to carry cold dishes that I could heat up in the microwave. (And I might yet use it as intended, if I ever want to carry a hot lunch someplace that doesn’t have a microwave.)

As I was setting up for the photo shoot, I kept thinking of more lunch containers that we own. We actually have at least two that didn’t make it into the picture.

Some years ago, my dad gave us a picnic backpack. It’s for rather higher-class affairs than lunch at the office. It came with a tablecloth and place settings for two, together with a cutting board for serving bread and cheese, and a corkscrew. There’s a sleeve suitable for a carrying a bottle of wine. The pack has two compartments, one for the implements and then another insulated compartment for the food.  (I think it’s this one: Picnic Backpack at REI.) I never brought that into work for lunch, but Jackie a couple of times packed up food for two and came to join me at the office for lunch.

The last is my “rack trunk” for my bicycle. It’s sized to fit on top of the bicycle’s rear rack, and is basically a big plastic tub lined with insulation, and then covered with nylon. It’s just the right size to hold a six-pack of soda (turned sideways), with enough room left over to hold a sandwich, along with a couple of granola bars, Reese’s peanut butter cups, or what have you. Jackie packed my lunch in that pretty often as well, during summer bicycling season. (If you don’t try to fit in a six-pack, there’s plenty of room for a proper meal.) They don’t make this sort of rack trunk any more. The new ones lack the rigid plastic tub, and just get their shape from the structure of the fabric—they’re not nearly as nice as mine.

I’d had no idea I had so many lunch boxes, until I started gathering them up for that photo shoot.

The birds think it’s spring

Jackie and I went for our first bike ride of the year. We followed our traditional first-ride route, around Kaufman Lake, past the Olympic Monument, around Parkland College, and then back. This year we went 6.27 miles.

I’d been hearing cardinals for several days, but out on this ride we got definitive expressions of bird spring. The robins are back, as are the red-winged blackbirds. I saw a crow fly up out of Copper Slough with a huge wad of nesting material in its beak.

The ride itself went fine as well. No mechanical problems. No problems with Jackie’s wrist. There had been a couple of previous days when it would have been warm enough to ride, but those days were very windy. It was nice to just wait for today and not have to deal with the headwinds.

I think we’re all set now, to be able to ride whenever we want. In particular, if there’s a day when it’s nice enough to ride first thing in the morning, we could ride to the Fitness Center and then to taiji. (That’s a bit long and complex of a ride to try to combine it with our first “shakedown” ride of the year.)

Decorative Brassicas

Spotted these decorative brassicas by the front walk of a house near campus, and liked them—a seasonally appropriate floral alternative for December.

Not the best picture ever—my phone had a pretty good camera for its day, but the lens has been riding around in my pocket for 5 years now.

I was near campus to meet some former co-workers for lunch, and took the opportunity to walk over to a Chinese grocery store near University and 5th, where I’d gotten a box of Ceylon tea last summer. That box of tea is just about empty, and I thought I’d look and see if they still carried it—which they do. (I’d checked on the internet, and found that Amazon was selling the same tea for $17 a box. The Chinese grocery store had it for $3.)

Creative Commons License
Decorative Brassicas by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.philipbrewer.net.

Bought new boots

I don’t hate shopping. I sometimes say I do, but it’s an inaccurate shorthand. What I hate are a cluster of things inextricably intertwined with shopping. I hate driving from store to store. I hate the mall. I hate agonizing about the tradeoffs between choice A and choice B, especially under time pressure, and especially under conditions of imperfect information.

I’m a lot happier buying stuff on-line. But not boots. I never buy shoes or boots without trying them on.

I also dislike spending money, especially spending largish sums of money, such as the $168 (including tax) that I just spent for a pair of boots.

I think I like the boots. I wanted a pair of waterproof, lightly insulated, hiking boots. This pair is all those things, plus they fit well and feel good on my feet. I’d had in my mind that I’d get GoreTex waterproofing and that the degree of insulation I wanted would probably be 200 gm Thinsulate, and I didn’t end up getting either of those. These are just “waterproof,” which probably means that the leather was treated with some sort of sealant—probably adequate for my purposes. And they’re insulated with 200 gm Primaloft, which is also probably at least as good as Thinsulate.

I decided that I needed these boots, because last year I found myself staying indoors too much during the winter, because I didn’t have adequate footwear for cold and wet. (We get a lot of cold and wet in Central Illinois—slush, snow, rain changing to snow, melting snow, cold rain falling on snow or ice, freezing rain, freezing mist. If you can think of weather that’s cold and wet, we have it here.)

With the right boots, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get myself out to walk, even in inclement conditions. Plus, there’s the slight extra boost that comes from the novelty factor of new boots.

And, with that in mind, I’m heading out now to walk a mile or two, to start breaking them in.

I am the 99%, and I am lucky

The crowd in West Side Park at the Occupy CU rally

I came out of college almost debt-free, because my parents paid for my education.

I got a job writing software. It was exactly what I wanted to do—the only thing I wanted to do as much as writing prose. I remember being glad that my manager didn’t know that I’d have worked for free, just to get access to the computers. (In 1981, computers were still expensive.)

I started my career right at the moment when software started to became important everywhere. Even though my degree was in economics, I had no trouble finding software jobs.

I got raises, because software went on becoming more important. Even when the companies I worked for fell on bad times, I found a new job without difficulty.

I saw things changing. After about 1990, jobs went away a lot quicker, and when they went away, they didn’t come back.

I was still okay, because software was still important.

I realized that software wasn’t going to remain special. I realized that millions of people around the world could write software just as well as I could. I realized that the ones in China and India could live a middle-class life on one-tenth the money I was earning. I realized that I couldn’t compete with them on price.

I figured I was safe for a while, but only because there were so many managers who were sure that an employee he couldn’t see working probably wasn’t working. But that wouldn’t last. Managers would adapt. And managers who couldn’t adapt would lose their jobs.

I started saving money. I could see that I wasn’t saving it fast enough, so I started living more frugally. That was a double win: Spending less left more money to save, and it also provided me with an existence proof that I could live on less.

I lost my job when Motorola closed its Champaign facility in August of 2007. By then, I had saved and invested a lot of money. Not enough to retire in any ordinary sense, but enough that I figured I could get by without a regular job.

I am a writer now. It’s exactly what I want to do.

I am very lucky. That’s not unusual; there are a lot of lucky people. What’s a little unusual is that I know just how lucky I’ve been.

I am the 99%.

The Meadowbrook Jazz Walk

One of the unique events in Champaign-Urbana is the Jazz Walk. Bands (duos and small combos) are scattered across the sculpture garden at Meadowbrook Park, and you walk from one to the next. The result is a series of surprisingly intimate performances. You have each group almost to yourself, sharing one or two or three songs with a shifting mix of perhaps a dozen or so other pedestrians.

You can linger longer if you like, but the event only goes on for two hours, so if you spend too much time with one band it begins to eat into your time to spend with the others.

As a bonus, you get to enjoy the sculpture as well.

I liked all the music, even the groups that didn’t play exactly my sort of jazz had the sort of energy that makes a live performance worth attending.

It was a cool, cloudy evening, and was already getting a little dark for photography, but I thought my camera did pretty well—I got an adequate shot of each group, and a few pretty good ones.

Bluesnik performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Bluesnik
Mark Smart and Mark Ginsberg performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Mark Smart and Mark Ginsberg
Almost Anything performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Almost Anything
The Jazz Cycle performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
The Jazz Cycle
Johnathan Beckett and Young Kim performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Johnathan Beckett and Young Kim
New Orleans Jazz Machine performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
New Orleans Jazz Machine
Katy Flynn and Will Yanez performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Katy Flynn and Will Yanez
Peter and the Wolves performing at the 2011 Meadowbrook Jazz Walk
Peter and the Wolves

2011 Harvest

Our 2011 harvest of peppers
Washing our pepper harvest

After Jackie broke her wrist, we quit going to the garden. She couldn’t do that sort of work at all, and I was so busy trying to do the bare minimum of my work plus the necessary fraction of the work she couldn’t do any more, anything extra had to be dropped. The garden was one thing we dropped.

Jackie’s nearly all better now. The splint has been off for several weeks. The hand therapist said she was doing well enough on her own and didn’t need formal physical therapy. (He gave her a bunch of exercises to do.) But we still didn’t go to the garden. It just seemed like it would be too depressing to see the remnants and imagine what our garden might have been.

And yet, we figured there’d probably be some stuff to harvest. We’d had a hot, dry summer, so we didn’t expect the tomatoes to have survived. And without us there to do the weeding, we figured the greens would have been overshadowed terribly by weeds. But the sage should have survived, and perhaps the peppers as well.

As it turns out, it wasn’t even quite that bad. Two of our cherry tomato plants did very well. And, as you see, the peppers produced in great profusion. We also got some sage, some swiss chard, and a some sunflowers.

Now I’m feeling a little silly that we didn’t get to the garden earlier. We’d certainly have gotten a lot more sunflowers—we could have had flowers steadily for all these weeks. We’d also have been able to eat the peppers steadily as they ripened, instead of getting a whole bunch at once that we’re going to have to preserve. But not very silly. We did about the best we could under the circumstances. To have gotten this much of a harvest despite doing no work since early July is kind of a bonus.

Jackie broke her wrist

Jackie with book and tea, keeping her broken wrist elevated.

Dismounting her bike as we were arriving at taiji class on Thursday, Jackie got tangled up with the bike, fell, and broke her wrist. (“Are you okay?” I asked. “Evidently not,” Jackie replied, holding up her hand which was visibly displaced from where it was supposed to be.)

Our classmates sprang into action. One ran into the Savoy Rec Center and got an ice pack. Another gave us a ride the emergency room. (Several helped her into the car.)

After getting x-rays and a temporary cast, we saw the trauma surgeon. Because Jackie was not in severe distress, he suggested that we have her scheduled for surgery with the hand and wrist surgeon the following day.

Early Friday morning, the surgeon opened her wrist, attached a plate to her radius, shifted the hand back to where it was supposed to be, and attached the bottom of her hand to the plate as well. Then he put on a smaller cast to support the wrist while it begins to heal. In 10 to 14 days she’s supposed to get that cast off, the stitches removed, some wrist exercises, and a plastic wrist brace to wear for several more weeks (but that can be removed for bathing).

All things considered, Jackie has done really well. She’s not in much pain. (She’s already off the hydrocodone—modest doses of ibuprofen seem to control the pain adequately). The new shorter cast seems quite manageable. (The temporary splint came past her elbow. It was much more inconvenient.) She’s permitted to use her hand, except that she’s not supposed to “push, pull, or lift anything heavier than a coffee cup.”

She’s still coming up with an exercise plan. No bicycling for a while. She won’t be able to lift weights with that arm for a while, although she should still be able to lift with her other limbs. Taiji moves may need to be circumscribed for a while as well. We’ll swap in walking for the bicycling and carry on with the other exercises in modified form.

It’s always a little odd, dealing with health care providers. Except for having a broken wrist, Jackie is in great shape—and that’s unusual these days. They took a medical history from Jackie several times (part of making sure anything that might be an issue for surgery is known in advance). Responding to a long list of potential health problems by saying that she doesn’t have any of them let Jackie feel pretty healthy in spite of her broken wrist.

No accounting for taste

Refrigerator InteriorA former coworker, Brian Marick, complained about a lack of creative commons licensed photos of refrigerators. (He wanted an image to illustrate the concept of “code smell.”)

I happened to have a free moment, so I grabbed this quick snap of our refrigerator, and posted it it to flickr under an attribution license.

Now, first of all, it turns out that Brian was wrong. Apparently there’s a whole genre of refrigerator interior photos (see the pool “fridge fetish“) and mine is not the only one with a creative commons license.

But what’s struck me is that people seem drawn to the image. It’s already picked up 2 favorites.

It just goes to show that one is a poor judge of one’s own work. I have other photos that I spent a lot more time on—photos where I was trying to make a point or capture the beauty in a scene or document a moment in time—and how well I think I succeeded doesn’t really predict whether other people seem to find the image interesting or not.

It’s a lesson that I need to apply more to my writing. Just because I’m not sure a story is my best work is no reason to stick it in a drawer. That’s not to excuse slipshod work, but once I’ve done the best I can I need to be a little more willing to get the story out to editors. Maybe they’ll be drawn to it.