Thursday, February 28, 2008

Somethings never change in Ballard

OK, maybe I got a little carried away about Ballard turning into a post-Yuppie enclave ("Flee Ballard").

Because this afternoon I saw something on NW 80th St. that I'd have a hard time imagining in any other Seattle neighborhood.

Our first clue was the crows.

Three of them were pecking at six salmon scattered across a lawn. At first I thought the fishes might be some kind of yard art, but on closer inspection, it was clear they were real salmon, frozen, and still covered with ice crystals. As Rae and I drew closer, the crows retreated. Then the front door of the house opened and a woman emerged.

"There are frozen fishes on your lawn," I said.

"Oh yeah," she responded. "I put them there. The birds will eat them."

She walked to her car, got in, and drove off, leaving Rae and me to wonder.

"Do you suppose she bought the fish to feed the birds, or do you think she had them in her freezer and they were too old to use so she's giving them to the birds instead of just throwing them away?" Rae asked.

I had no idea. But I was relieved to find out this wasn't one of those strange phenomena you read about in which fishes rain from the sky. It was just...Ballard.

Kit Kat (1992? - 2008)

Kit Kat was our next door neighbors' cat but found it convenient to visit with us on a regular basis. Sometimes she just came in through the basement cat door for a bite to eat, or to watch TV with Zorg. If her family was traveling, she moved in for the duration, making her home in Smokey's old cat bed in the laundry room.

No one knew how old Kit Kat was. Her family acquired her 10 years ago in the Green Lake neighborhood. Kit Kat had belonged to their next door neighbor, a reclusive man, and she got in the habit of visiting back and forth between the two houses. One day Kit Kat insisted on moving in, and they discovered a few days later that her original owner had died.

Kit Kat's family moved in next door to us in Ballard five years ago. At first, Kit Kat and our aggressive deaf white cat Sheba had disagreements. But over the years, they learned to get along. Kit Kat liked to visit all over the neighborhood, greeting residents and guests with her squawking meow. If you picked her up and talked to her, she talked back, echoing your voice.

This summer Kit Kat developed health problems they thought were attributable to a thyroid condition. But after a few months, it seemed as though something else were going on, and eventually she was diagnosed with an untreatable cancer. Because I'm home during the day, and because her family had to travel out of state quite a bit, Kit Kat was spending more and more time at our house. We began sharing responsibility for her care, and taking her to the vet.

This past week it was clear she was failing rapidly. But even as late as last night, she insisted on keeping up her schedule of visits back and forth. She slowly dragged herself to their house when it was time for her owner to come home from work, and late last night, she yowled until her owner carried her to our basement door, where she crawled in through the cat door for the last time.

This morning we all took her to the vet.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Ballard slogan

Not so long ago, our staid Scandinavian neighborhood inspired the ironic bumpersticker "Free Ballard."

But the invasion of condos, condo denizens, cocktail bars and cryptically named boutiques, coupled with the disappearance of most of the street parking, has inspired a slight modification of the slogan.

Spotted today on a Subaru outside Cash and Carry:

Monday, February 25, 2008

Good news, bad news, then vacation

Good news first: Aaron, our artist/contractor friend, has done a spectacular job on our little front patio. He removed the "bark your shins" wall of the raised bed, moved it back three feet, and poured a little concrete patio with enough room for two chairs and little table.

The dull red concrete of the new patio blends extraordinarily well with the existing weathered brick, and the new section of the concrete wall for the raised bed is colored with a bit of lamp black so it blends beautifully. Aaron put a compass rose pattern in the patio, using a contrasting mortar. (Now no one will get lost trekking through our front yard!) The cats added some nice paw prints, as well. It was delightful having Aaron around—he helped me with a few other remodel projects, as well.

Now, the bad news: The neighbors' elderly cat, which moved in with us when their little girl became severely allergic to it, is dying. We worked with the vet on Saturday to get Kit Kat a few more days, but things aren't looking good. Zorg spent much of the evening with the cat, the neighbor came over to visit, and now I'm about to take pillows and blankets down to the TV room where the cat is on a little heated cat bed, and keep her company. If she's still with us in the morning, the neighbor and I will take her to the vet, and most likely she will be put down. One of our cats, Sheba, is clearly unnerved by seeing the other cat in so much pain. She has been yowling piteously all day.

A week from today I'll be heading to Florida to visit my mom in Naples for a week. I think by that time I'll really need a vacation.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Food news from Belltown

A little after 4 p.m. today, I trudged into The Grindhouse at 318 Blanchard in Belltown and looked blearily at the pastry case.

I'd had five hours of sleep, an early-morning battle with Microsoft Word, a long morning at a seemingly endless exhibit of Roman antiquities from the Louvre, and followed it all up with two hours of interviews with previously homeless people for an article I'm writing about a new public housing development in Belltown.

"Try a Lamington," the barista suggested.

A what? OK.

A Lamington turned out to be one of the most delicious pastries I've ever tasted — as good as any of the afternoon treats I've had in Paris, Florence, or even Vienna.

The Lamington hails from Queensland, Australia (well, the local version is from the Australian Pie Company in Burien). Named after a Baron Lamington, the a past governor of Queensland, it's a cube of light-as-air moist yellow cake, dipped in the thinnest layer of chocolate, and coated in finely grated coconut.

Oh my god. You've got to try one.

(Here's a recipe for Lamingtons — but I wouldn't advise using pound cake. It's the light fluffiness that's so amazing.)

Our hearts "heart" cats

This evening we took over care of the neighbors' terminally ill elderly cat. She's been such a wonderful friendly kitty that we are happy to be her hospice. (The neighbors' daughter is very ill — with asthma, possibly exacerbated by the poor cat — and it's logistically very difficult for them to give the sick cat the attention she needs.)

So Zorg and I are getting back into the caring-for-a-cat-with-cancer mode again: pillows on the floor, heating pads, all types of tempting cat foods at all hours, and compounded medications so as not to torture the poor cat with pills.

But there is some good news. A research paper presented at the International Stroke Conference this week reveals that cat owners are far less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than people who miss out on the cat-owning experience. (Surprisingly, the study found no similar beneficial effect to dog ownership.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

In defense of carbs

Ten years ago, fat was the bane of dieters. Today, it's carbs.

But there are carbs, and there are carbs.

One one hand, you have Minute Rice, Ritz crackers, instant oatmeal, and white bread. And on the other hand, you have brown rice, Rye Krisps, steel-cut oats, and breads like Ezekiel Bread and Dave's Killer Bread.

The difference is whole grains and fiber. The high-fiber carbs are very filling and nutritious. Eaten with a little cheese or peanut butter, they're a whole meal.

Somewhat to my amazement, I've come to love brown rice. I cook a big pot of it every Monday morning, and live off it for the rest of the week. (See the brown rice recipe, below.)

Brown rice heated up with a little cinnamon and brown sugar and chopped apples makes a quick breakfast. Leftover baked chicken or leftover vegetables (or curry) can be mixed with brown rice for lunch. And brown rice pudding with currents makes a very good dessert or evening snack.

My favorite brown rice dish is brown rice pancakes. I mix cooked brown rice with lots of browned onions, eggs, a little potato flour (or regular flour) and a pinch of baking soda. Then I drop the batter by 1/4 measures into a frying pan with oil to make something very similar to potato pancakes.

It turns out there are many types of brown rice. I've been using the plain, large-grain brown rice. Here's the basic recipe:

• 2-1/3 cups of rice to 4 cups of water
• or 3 -1/2 cups of rice to 6 cups of water

Rinse the uncooked rice three times and drain well. Put the water on to boil in a separate saucepan. While waiting for the water to come to a boil, put two tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a heavy, tight-lidded sauce pan, then sauté the well-drained rice in the oil while you wait for the water to boil. Do this over fairly high heat. It has to be stirred constantly, otherwise it will scorch. This process coats the rice with the oil and evaporates the water from rinsing. The rice will begin to smell very nutty after a minute or two.

When the water in the other pan has come to a vigorous boil, pour it over the rice in the sauce pan. It is very important at this point not to stir the rice anymore, not even once. Let it come back up to a vigorous boil, put the lid on, turn it down as low as you can and cook for 45 minutes. During this time,
do not lift the lid or do anything else to it. When 45 minutes is up, turn off the heat and let the rice sit undisturbed for at least 15-20 minutes before serving.

(cross-posted on Food, Fitness, Fashion)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Where did the weekend go?

Yes, I know for some of you the weekend is still here (Presidents Day Monday). For me, Monday is a work day but with many of my clients and teammates taking the day off.

Three of my web content writing projects are winding up at the end of February, and I'll be starting a new project that is solely blogging. That's exciting because not only do I love blogging but the company has a full-time, professional editor to review the writers' work. I haven't had the luxury of working with one of those in eight years.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Those Dems know how to delegate — not

It's a hack, it's a party insider, it's Superdelegate!

Holy vote count, Batman — Zorg explains it all.

Cat in the box

Our big tabby, Zoe, loves to get inside cardboard file boxes. She has a way of slithering under the lid and letting it settle back on top so you don't realize there's a cat inside. Quite a few times I've lifted a lid off an apparently empty box and been surprised to find her curled up inside. Zoe's much smaller sister, Kaylee, likes to sit on top of file boxes and amuse herself by clawing at the edge of the lids.

Tonight I was vaguely aware of Kaylee clawing away atop a pile of boxes behind me in my office. After about 20 minutes of the clawing sounds, I turned around and saw her just sitting there on top of the boxes, looking as innocent as possible: "Who, me?"

I went over and picked her up, and was startled to hear the clawing noises again, even though I was holding on to her. That's when I realized the clawing was Zoe, who'd been stuck inside the box for 20 minutes because Kaylee had been sitting on the lid, preventing her from getting out!

What's truly scary is that Kaylee had obviously been doing this on purpose.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Are we too lazy to choose Hillary?

One of the strongest and most frequent arguments I've heard from the Obama supporters about why he should be the Democrats' choice is that poll after poll shows he's most likely to defeat McCain.

It's true.

But, sadly, one of the reasons it's true is because we Democrats are out-of-shape and lazy about campaigning. I read reports of the Washington caucuses, and noted how many of the participants complained — whined, really — about the caucus system. Oh my God, people had to wait in line for a half hour to get into the caucuses. The rooms were crowded. And there were people — arguing! Eewww, gross.

One blogger got in a terrible huff about getting the wrong information about his caucus location. I'd certainly agree with him that the local Democrats had a feeble information system. My friend Rae called the caucus information hotline, only to find that the voice mailbox was full. I got emails telling me to look at the previous email by someone else to see my caucus location, but I wasn't on the mailing list for the previous email, so had never gotten it. The website for finding your caucus location for my district looked like some web design instructor's example for how not to design navigation.

Now, I'm about to unload a shocking revelation here, so hold onto your delegate hats: The Democratic party that organized the caucuses is made up of volunteers. Volunteers being people like you and me, only with more energy and commitment.

If we'd gotten involved a few months ago, the voicemails would have been answered, the website might have been comprehensible, the emails would have been get the idea. The organizers I saw were working their butts off to make the caucus a good experience for the political dilettantes who thought it might be fun to show up and go rah-rah for Barack or Hillary, then go home and watch "Lost" until the November elections appear on their radar and they sashay over to the mail table to sign and stamp their ballots.

I listened to some of the Obama people shrug off arguments that Clinton has the better skill set and experience needed to get the legislature in line and govern the country, and then keep talking about how electable Obama is, and I realized we're at the point where we think politics is like the Oscars or the Grammys. We like to watch, we might like to vote, but we don't like get involved in producing any of the options we can later vote on.

Sure, some of this is the fault of the stultifying and complacently corrupt two-party system. But a lot of it is just us, and our preference for the "low effort" choice.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

On time

This is a weird little quiz, but, yes, 10 a.m. is about when I get into gear:

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cupcake update

Cupcake Royale has posted a webpage about the Cupcake Caucus. Looks like Hillary is all chocolate and Obama is vanilla frosting on chocolate. And, silly me, of course there are no Republicans in the caucus.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Caucus by cupcake

Has someone over at the Ballard Community blog had too much sugar?

They're reporting that Cupcake Royale is baking special cupcakes for each of the primary candidates on Saturday. Customers will "vote" by purchasing the cupcake of the candidate of their choice.

There isn't anything about this on the Cupcake Royale website yet, so take it with a grain of decorator's sugar.

How do you suppose they will match up the candidates with the cakes and frostings? Obviously, the Romney cupcake will not have mocha frosting. But will Hillary be in pink? And Obama...? Yikes. The possibilities for mis-steps are...delicious.

I may need to purchase the entire ballot.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Buying a microwave oven

Our five-year-old microwave oven was slowly losing heating power so we decided to replace it. (This post is about replacing it, not fixing it, so if you are sanctimoniously sniffing about how we really should have disassembled, troubleshot, and hunted down parts for it, please read this online repair guide, all 44,995 words of it, and let me know when to send over the old oven.)

Where was I? Oh, yes.

About 20 years ago I bought a small Sharp Carousel microwave oven and liked it so well that our subsequent three microwaves have been Sharp Carousels. The Carousels have gotten a little bigger over the years — they now can accommodate a large dinner plate — and that's always seemed to be the perfect size for us. I do three things with the microwave: melt cheese in tortillas; heat up leftovers; and defrost meat. Zorg sometimes makes popcorn.

Each time I've bought a new Sharp Carousel, I've consulted Consumer Reports, which recommends some other brand instead. This time they recommended two Kenmores and a Panasonic, so I checked those out on and at Sears' site.

It turns out that in "real world" testing, they're lemons. People wrote the kind of reviews that take full advantage of the shift key and the upper rows of the keyboard. It seems that, in spite of having all the wonderful features favored by Consumer Reports, these microwave ovens have one problem that Consumer Reports didn't test for: they break down after just a few months. Reviews for the Sharp Carousel, while not raves, generally concluded that the Sharp is a basic workhorse.

On this round of microwave shopping, I had one big surprise. Or was it a small surprise? It turns out that Consumer Reports doesn't even rate microwave ovens as small as the Sharp Carousel. It rates a much larger Sharp in the "mid-size" category (apparently for people who roast turkeys in their microwaves) and no Sharps at all in the extensive "full-size" category, which has ovens that would probably have suited the needs of the witch in the Hansel & Gretel fairy tale.

To even locate a Sharp Carousel online I had to resort to the Sharp website, getting model numbers from there that eventually made it possible to track it down on Turns out it now goes by the name of the Sharp Compact. The Sharp arrived today. It's just a tiny bit larger than its predecessor but with (bless their souls) the exact same glass turntable, so now we have an extra for when one needs to go in the dishwasher.

Thank you, Sharp, for rescuing me from unnecessary "progress." Now if Adobe would only come up with a version of PageMaker for Mac OS X...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why is there a pine tree in the living room?

How have I made it this far without hearing about comedian Jim Gaffigan? In this video he takes on holidays...I love what he does to Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


"Is that a tat?" probably stands as the weirdest question anyone has ever asked me.

They were doing body painting last night at the Fremont Arts Council benefit, a Mardi Gras party called Carnivale Voodoo, and I got painted with a hibiscus. I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to have that as a tattoo (even as a "temporary airbrush tattoo", or, as I discovered they're called, a "tat").

It was a fabulous party, and not nearly as crowded as I'd thought it would be. Captain Leroy and the Zydeco Locals played, and most of the dancers either knew how to Zydeco or knew how to do something else that worked. I ran into some Zydeco friends I hadn't danced with in years.

It being the Fremont Arts Council crowd, the costumes were stunning -- flashy and festive. I didn't stay for the midnight parade, but my vote for the best costume goes to the fellow I collided with over by the bar. Short and slight, he was wearing a Beatles-type brown moppy wig, big black-frame glasses, a red velvet Edwardian suit, and a white cravat. "Are you feeling randy?" he purred, happily invading my personal space. Fortunately, I recognized his character and shot back "Oh, behave!" and "Austin Powers" disco-danced off into the crowd.

Friday, February 01, 2008

This and that

I haven't been Mysterious Traveler much this week because I've been so busy being myself elsewhere.

After five very slow months at work, I now have as much contract work as I can handle for the month of February. Wow. And it's a nice variety of work, no "dreaded" projects.

Monday I paid my annual visit to the dermatologist and came away with little burn marks on one side of my face. Nothing like the year I left looking like I'd been attacked by a vampire.

Tuesday morning I had coffee with Laura and her mom at Fiore on Leary. There's something very comforting about hanging out with other people's parents! Tuesday night I worked out with the CompFit group on Capitol Hill. I'm still not thrilled about the rush-hour drive from Ballard to Capitol Hill and tried a different route; I somehow ended up by the Philly Cheese Steak place on 23rd. The workout was great, but I wasn't very happy to hear there was a fatal shooting at the Cheese Steak place the following night!

Wednesday the folks from Northwest Modular delivered the second-hand lateral file for Zorg's office. It's a sturdy, office-quality piece with just couple of small scratches, and the price was half of what a new lateral file would cost. I'd been impressed with how nice they were when I called and ordered over the phone, and I was even more impressed with the fellow who delivered the cabinet. He had me come out to the truck to make sure the cabinet met my expectations before he loaded it onto the dolly, and once it was in the office he helped me adjust it so that it sat evenly on our slightly tilted floor. Then he made some quick adjustments to the Ethos cubicle in my office. If you need any second-hand office furniture, these are the people to call!

Wednesday night a blogging colleague and I spoke about blogging for a class of students in the PR certificate program at UW. I'd spoken a few years ago at a community college class and it hadn't been a good experience. But either I've improved or this was a very engaged bunch of students. There were tons of good, tough questions.

Thursday was "dining out" day. I had lunch with Nicole, who I met through...hmmm....blogging? Twitter? Flickr? Can't remember. Anyway, the two of us do all that stuff, and have tech-related small businesses. We had a delightful lunch at the Hi-Life in Ballard.

In the evening I went out with Carrie from my original yoga group. Her son is a chef, and she wanted to try the new restaurant he's working at, Quinn's on Capitol Hill. (This put me on Capitol Hill for the fourth time in seven days. I can even find parking now.) Quinn's looks like a pub for 30-somethings but it turns out to be a Euro-inspired restaurant. I had the "duck! duck! mousse" appetizer and the a pear salad, plus some of the fabulous braised lamb on polenta Carrie ordered. Unfortunately, I was driving so couldn't indulge in one of the amazing house signature cocktails. I will be back!

Today was the 10th anniversary of the Fremont networking group I belong to and we met for lunch at a new venue that is managed by the fellow who owned the original venue the group started at. Great party. From there I headed down to Pioneer Square for a client meeting, and finally managed to pick up the replacement light fixtures Zorg and I needed for our offices at the Seattle Lighting Outlet down by the port. The fellows who filled the order were...hilarious. While the main store is fairly sedate, the outlet has a popcorn cart and a rather amazing assortment of deeply discounted fixtures. There's a pottery outlet just across the street on South Hanford; I think I need to get back down there some afternoon.

My mom called from Florida to report that my aunt (her late brother's widow) had died after a short illness. Now all my aunts and uncles are gone, and my mom, who's 89, is the last one of her generation in the family. My mom, who is very healthy, is still having difficulty with the idea that perhaps she won't live forever. It's understandable...she has more energy than most people half her age.