Saturday, March 29, 2008

and how was your Friday?

Yesterday was my SDO ("scheduled day off"; my regular work schedule is set up so that I get every other Friday off.).

What I should have done is dived deep into the books and study for the PE exam (which is in thirteen days.)

What I did instead was go to Portland.

Things I learned about Portland:
1. Lots of bridges. Lots and lots of bridges.

2. The city seems to be divided into quadrants: NE, SE, NW, SW. However, the street that divides North from South seems to be Burnside St, and not Division St, which confused me quite a bit.

3. Powells bookstore is one of the gems on Earth. I already knew this, but it bears repeating.

4. Knit Purl is an awesome knitting shop, and I was able to find a lovely cashmere yarn to make a hat for Oscar, who seems to have an allergy to anything except luxury fibers.

5. Yarnia is a DYI shop where you can create your own yarns. The shop offers finely (in thickness as well as quality) machine spun yarns which you combine with other yarns to create a custom color. It is also inexpensive.

6. For an incredible chocolate treat, go to Cacao for a cup of their drinking chocolate.

A very fun day! Even if the weather sucked. Now back to the books.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


It's been a cold, wet week here in the Puget Sound area. I felt bad on Sunday for all the little kids hunting Easter eggs in the pouring rain. It lessened later and became mere driving rain for the remainder of the day and finally cleared around 7pm.

Right now it's snowing. And sticking. It looks lovely clinging to the pink cherry blossoms on the trees.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

in comparison, a $400 handmade bag doesn't seem so expensive...

Supercool, steampunk, Emperor Dragonfly Machine

A mere $15,000

Grad school finally paid off!

I was sent this email this morning:

Good morning Luneray. You hopefully will be hearing from the bosses about this deviation soon. But if you get it without a word of appreciation, then here's some Kudos from me. Your deviation was without a doubt the best I have ever seen, written, or reviewed. Great job! As far as I'm concerned, it should be used as a statewide example of the "right way" to write a deviation.

Here's what I liked about it:

1. You did a great job of setting up the existing, proposed, and future work in your Project Overview. I've never seen better. So well organized. Clean, to the point, but all was said that needed to be. Everything labeled and organized (Intro, the configurations, the funded and unfunded, etc). Well done.

2. You did the same in the existing conditions. It was well organized and said what was needed without clouding issues. The reader knew what the deviation condition was and what standards were being deviated. Enough said and move on.

3. Your Alternatives also were good, clean, and organized. Enough said and move on.

4. Your justifications are strong. They raise good compelling arguments supporting the deviation. It is totally clear that it is a time limited deviation that can be corrected with future funded work. And, you make it clear that you are aware of such future work although it is not funded yet. Luneray, you wouldn't believe how hard it is to have a deviation writer to come out and just say these things, so again well done.

5. Bottom line this is a true stand alone document that can hold up in court through the test of time and that is the product we are trying to have produced.

In closing, I realize that project engineers reviewed this and their comments were incorporated before my review. However, I'm sure that even they could not have made this silk purse from a sow's ear. I'm sure they had a good sound product to work with. Once more, well done, and you have a great day.

HQ Design Office

Let me repeat the important bits:

"...the best I have ever seen, written, or reviewed"

" should be used as a statewide example of the 'right way' to write a deviation."

Happy dance, happy dance!

Of course I forwarded it to my supervisor. Duh.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Knitting grannies clash with pro-war activists


I woke up this morning with a headache like I haven't had since I found out that cheese was the source of my migraines. The whole works...head felt like it was being squeezed in a vise, sparkly black spots in my vision, and nausea. Pain, I can deal with. vision? heh, I can handle it. But nausea? I'll convert to any religion whose god can make it go away. Now. Please.

This turned out to be a sinus headache instead of a migraine (as one gentle push on my sinuses confirmed) and I've been trying to figure out what could have triggered this. I've been feeling stuffy over the past few days but I figured I was just coming down with a cold. My sinus problems are food related, not pollen/mold related, and this is a good thing because I have quite a bit of control over what I can eat and less over what I breathe.

Then it hit me. Yogurt. I've been eating a lot of yogurt lately. Plain yogurt, mixed berries, and a wee bit of honey granola for some crunch. It's a lovely breakfast, which provides protein and a lot of fruit and will satisfy me until lunch (and sometimes beyond).

I saw a gasteroenterologist a few weeks ago to be tested for celiac disease. When I did the food challenge a few years ago, wheat was one of the foods I was sensitive too and while I followed the elimination diet to a T, I felt absolutely freaking great. But it seemed that if I had even a single molecule of wheat (ok, I exaggerate), then the symptoms returned...and it took a long time for them to subside.

All in all, the doctor's visit was a really unpleasant experience. I tested negative for celiac disease (which is a good thing) and while trying to explain my situation to the doctor, she essentially cut me off by saying "just do it." "You felt great while on that elimination diet; then just follow it. You find it difficult to get exercise? Join the gym and it will become a habit." I know that going to a doctor isn't meant to be a pleasant experience; they ideally tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. I guess I was hoping for some better feedback on how to overcome my reluctance to do what I know will work. I left the appointment in an irritated mood and feeling more than slightly humiliated. Next time I pay $200 to a professional woman to humiliate me, she'd better be wearing thigh-high leather boots.

Anyway, the only reason I bring this up is that she told me I should start eating yogurt because it's an inexpensive and healthy way to get that good, beneficial-to-the-gut bacteria. When I told her about my sensitivity to dairy, she responded by saying that people with dairy allergies tend to be able to eat yogurt. I told her that I don't have a dairy allergy but get stuffed up if I eat too much dairy. She repeated that the chemical transformation from milk to yogurt eliminates that.

I should have just listened to my own body. While I really like yogurt, I know I shouldn't eat too much of it. When I listened to myself and my own body, I was ok. When I listened to her, I get an incredibly painful sinus headache.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


In the spirit of St Patrick's Day...and because cabbage is only 39 cents a head at the local supermarket...I'm going to share this recipe with you.

If you are anything like me, cabbage is one of those vegetables that you eat because it's available, cheap, and not bad. No disgust, but no real excitement either.

This recipe turned me from a person who bought cabbage because a recipe called for it to a person who keeps asking Oscar the next time he's going to make it.

Fast, simple, cheap, and mouthwateringly good. Really, how can you ask for more than that?

Cabbage Salad with Mustard Seeds from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey.
6 well packed cups (1 lb or 0.5 kilo) shredded green cabbage
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 to 2 hot green chiles, cut into fine shreds*
1/5 tsp salt
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
0.25 tsp cayenne
2 tbsp peanut or canola (rapeseed) oil
1 tsp whole brown mustard seeds

Combine cabbage, carrot, chiles, salt, vinegar, and cayenne in a large bowl and toss well to mix. Put the oil into a small frying pan and set over medium high heat. When hot, add the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop (a matter of seconds), pour the oil and seeds over the salad. Toss well to mix. Set aside for one hour or longer, refrigerating if necessary.

*I don't think Oscar adds green chiles. You can probably up the cayenne if you want a spicier salad.

Trust me, this is astoundingly good.

Friday, March 14, 2008

my life is incomplete

Etsy is a dangerous place.

I mean, I never knew how empty my life was until I found these Katamari Sneakers.

Or an upcycled teapot with a ball of yarn on it?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

warning...bad pun ahead

Y'all know that I hate my vacuum cleaner, but I have since found out that the only way for it to suck worse than it did was for it not to suck at all.

How's that for irony...I finally get the desire to vacuum/dust, and the piece of crap decides to not work properly. Not that it ever worked great to begin with.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

escape from Chthulu's grasp

The course is finally over and I've spent the weekend trying to reshape the pieces of my shattered soul. If I were still living in Seattle, I would have gone to Dad Watson's Pub (the local McMenamin's; I love their beer); their beer is an excellent glue for the reassembly process. My favorite beer of all time is their Workingman's Red, which is a seasonal ale and should be going on tap anytime now. However, I won't drink and drive, and there is no reason to drive 30 miles and not get enough, ahem, glue.

I lamented this to Oscar when I picked him up at the transit station and he suggested going to Spar Cafe, the newest member of the McMenamin's pub family. Sure, why not? So we drove down to Olympia (also 30 miles, but to the south), found parking without any trouble (on street! free! within a block of our destination! on a Friday night!) Sadly, our luck in parking was offset by bad luck in the beer department because not only was Workingman's Red not yet available, so were most of their others. Newcastle Brown? Out. Porter? Out. Stout? Available, but badly poured. But it still served its function, and Oscar and I wandered around downtown Olympia for awhile. It seems a very pleasant place. Oscar really liked it and said that maybe we should move to Olympia.

There is one other known cure for soul reassembly, and that's a yarn crawl with a friend. Yesterday, Ms K and I went to Churchmouse Yarns and Tea on Bainbridge Island. I'd never been there, but Ms K had and was dying to go back. We took the bus to Seattle, and then the ferry over to the island and then walked to the shop. (You may think that we opted for mass transit and foot power because we are eco-freaks who really care about reducing our carbon footprint. That may be partially true but the real reason is that we both hate to drive.) The weather was pleasant (overcast but not raining); it was less than a 10-minute walk from the ferry to the heart of the village; just enough to warm us up for the beauty and spectacle that was Churchmouse.

It really is a wonderful yarn shop. While it's true that in this age of the internet, you can buy just about any yarn from anywhere you choose, an LYS (local yarn shop) is still very special. I have yet to see a monitor that can reproduce the depth of color and stunning beauty of Hand Maiden's yarns, or the softness of a merino yarn. But the best thing about this shop was its customer service. Everyone was helpful, knowledgeable, and very professional. (Yes, I have been in a LYS where some of the staff didn't even know how to knit or crochet.)

Poor Ms K was having an existential crisis, though. She had planned to do some serious stash acquisition, but nothing really called out to her. Oh no, she bemoaned. What is wrong with me? Am I losing my enthusiasm for knitting? I adopted my knitting sensei persona and did my best to counsel her. Do not worry, grasshopper, I told her. This is a phase through which all knitters pass. After the first flush of joy of learning the craft, the knitter goes through a stash acquisition phase, until she reaches a point where the stash is great enough for project ideas to take over. This is the phase you are entering now.

She did seem to relax after that, but perhaps it was due to the rapid consumption of delicious pastries and a wine tasting soon after.

By the time we got back to Seattle, the sun had come out, and we met up with her husband and walked over to So Much Yarn, where she found some yarn which sang to her (as did I), and then, thoroughly relaxed and with my soul restored, we headed home. It was an absolutely wonderful day.

Thank you, Ms K!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Life imitates art?

There's a very funny bit in the film LA Story where the main character where the main character (a TV weatherman in living in Los Angeles) decides to visit his best friend, and so walks out to the front of his house, gets in his car, and the house next door.

Yesterday, U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" came on the radio right as I was turning the corner onto my street (which does have a name, thank you), and I decided to hang out in the car and listen to it, since I like the song and hadn't heard it in a long time. During the first verse, I noticed our Street's Moral Caretaker* get into her truck and drive away. She waved to me and I waved to her (I can be civil), and then I noticed in my rear view mirror that she pulled over in front of a neighbor's house (two houses down), get out, and go inside. By the end of the song, she was still in the house.

Nobody walks in LA. Apparently, nobody walks in Tacoma either.

*aka She Who Gets on My Nerves

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

overall, it's improvement

Despite hitting a weight loss milestone this week (fitting into smaller jeans), I did end up gaining 0.6 lbs. Sigh.

I can think of a few reasons for this:
1. I didn't have a chance to use the toilet before my weigh in. (You think that's over-reacting? They weigh you to the 1/10th of a lb; that's approximately 40grams. You bet I'm going to pee before weigh in.)
2. I haven't had a chance to exercise as much this week. Because of the class, I've been sitting much more than I usually do during the day.
3. Girl Scout cookies.

The good thing about this class is that we get out between 4 and 4:30 and it only takes me 30 minutes to get home. Yes, I'm driving, which I don't like; but it's still light out when I get home, which I like a lot. The VE course is getting much more interesting, which is not too surprising because it could hardly get more boring. It's not that the VE process is dull (it's actually rather interesting, I think); it's because with every training course I've had led by a federal agency, the baseline assumption is that you aren't very smart and must be given LOTS and LOTS of time to grasp rather basic concepts.

(Thankfully, the instructor is feeling better and I'm no longer worried that he's going to drop dead during the class. He actually has lifelike color to his face and he's not making any weird comments anymore.)

We are now putting the theory into practice by doing a mini-VE study on a sample project. I got a compliment from one of the instructors, who told me that I did a good job of keeping the team on track during the brainstorming and evaluation sessions. I hadn't realized he was monitoring us during those periods, so that was a nice thing to hear. Later, one of the agency VE leaders asked me if I'd be interested in actually leading VE teams instead of just being a team member.

Monday, March 03, 2008

it's going to be a long week

This week I'm in a Value Engineering (VE) training course offered by the National Highway Institute. My boss chose me to be the region's VE coordinator, so it was thought to be a good idea all around to send me off for some training. VE (also known as Value Analysis) is a systematic process of evaluating a project to determine if things can be done more efficiently or cost-effectively. However, as I've discovered, my role as VE coordinator deals more with trying to find an available conference room without pissing off the various factions of administrative assistants that it does with any actual analysis of an engineering project.

All in all, VE can be interesting but I think I'm going to die of boredom this week because the instructor is quite possibly the dullest person on the planet. He's also quite old, and possibly senile. I'm not joking. He tells random, rambling stories which sometime have something to do with VE and sometimes not. He started telling a story about a Japanese team doing a VE study on the common yellow pencil (this already sounds apocryphal to me), and then said "they determined that the Americans never used a pencil shorter than 3 inches. I don't know where they got their numbers. Probably the same place that Hillary Clinton's campaign team does." He also looks quite unhealthy, and he did say several times that he wasn't feeling well today. His facial color was actually gray.

Not only that, but the damn training is held in Lacey, so I have to drive there. At least the traffic isn't bad going that direction. On the plus side, it's held at St Placid's Priory which is a Benedictine nunnery and the grounds are just lovely. Hopefully tomorrow it won't be raining so I can take a walk on the grounds without getting drenched.

And did I mention that the nuns sell their own handspun yarn from their own flocks? And raw honey from their own bees? I wonder if the instructor will notice if I knit during the lectures...

Sunday, March 02, 2008


So I managed to squeeze into my brand new, next-size-down jeans. (No, I didn't buy these jeans to "inspire" or "motivate" me to lose weight. I bought them BWW (before Weight Watchers) and realized they were too small and never bothered to return them.)

I had to lay down on the bed to zip them up, but at least I didn't need pliers. :) And I can still breathe. Just don't ask me to bend at the waist.

the right tool for the job

I hate my vacuum cleaner. Absolutely hate it.

I don't hate it simply because I dislike vacuuming/dusting. No, I hate it because it's a piece of crap that makes a much disliked chore even more onerous.

We got it right after we moved because we'd left our other one behind. The casing was broken and sadly, it would have cost more to fix it than to buy a new one. I wish now we hadn't gotten rid of it because even its semi-functional state, it still works better than the piece of *#$%@ that we have now.

I'd thought about getting a room air purifier when our tax refund check comes (there's a lot of dirt in the air around here), but now I may use that money and buy a good vacuum cleaner. Although, if I have a good air purifier, maybe I don't need to ever vacuum or dust at all?????

Saturday, March 01, 2008

It's all in the neighborhood...

Today I checked out Neighborhood Cafe (no web site yet) on the corner of E34th and McKinley that I'd read about in Exit133. *

It's not exactly in my neighborhood; it's about two miles away from my house but it's a pleasant walk (almost exactly 5000 steps, if you are curious). The cafe was converted from an old house and it's really cozy inside. I liked it a lot. It's also just a few blocks from the dog park and on drier days, I could walk the dogs over there, let them chase tennis balls for awhile and then refresh myself before walking back. Miguel, the cafe owner, is also the head of the volunteer group for the dog park, and he lives in the neighborhood himself. (He may actually own the cafe/house, because I overheard him talking about his challenges about converting a residential property to commercial.)

Any of my knittin' sistahs want to meet me there on a weekend to have coffee and knit? It's a nice place to hang out.

This weekend I'm dogsitting Abbie, my friend M.F.'s dog. We fostered Abbie from the Humane Shelter last year and after talking about the dog during knitting group, M.F. wanted to meet her. I brought the dog to M.F.'s house to meet her, but I think she had already decided to adopt the dog. Abbie settled right in, didn't bother the cat, liked M.F. and her friend who was visiting. Abbie is a gentle, mellow dog, but like most Rottweilers, she doesn't take any sh*t. Seamus, for all his good-natured goofiness, is a bit of a bully toward other dogs. Like all bullies, he's a total coward. When we were fostering Abbie, she had to put him in his place a few times, but he finally got the hint. And he remembered Abbie and is now insufferably whiny. Abbie wants to hang out with me, and so does Seamus, but he won't come near her if he can help it. I swear Abbie is deliberately torturing him by lying in the doorway. He wants to come in the room, but won't, so he just stands a few feet from Abbie and whines pitifully. What a baby! And Kate the Wonder Dog, the ultimate conflict avoider, just hangs out on the couch.

While walking home, I had the most extraordinary realization...Tacoma is starting to feel like home. I have friends now. There are small, indy places that are pleasant to go to. The Grand Cinema. Neighborhood Cafe. The Knitters group at Lamb's Ear Yarn. Hello Cupcake. Our favorite restaurant is Pho on 38th. Harmon's Brewery (except for Friday nights, when it's just a wee bit too loud for my taste.) And let's not forget that the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat--the best knitting (mostly) convention on the West Coast--is held in Tacoma.

*This is a very good blog about Tacoma, and named for the exit off I-5 that takes you to downtown.