Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Navigating the treacherous

I can't recall a Christmas where weather has had such an effect on this region.

Ken and I took off from Seattle today at 10:30 am in our trusty Prius with borrowed chains in the trunk just in case. (Thanks Marcos!) There was some concern that the snow accumulation overnight might vex the progress of the recent warming trend and ruin our chances for a smooth journey. But little did we know what awaited....

We made it to Portland in record time. In 3 hours. We don't even make it down here that quickly in normal weather. There was light traffic and I-5 was just wet pavement. I was utterly amazed. One thing I did do was follow WDOT on Twitter and get updates on my phone of all the troubled spots. It's a good idea if you're traveling. Unfortunately Oregon isn't yet down with the Twittering but does have a comprehensive website.

One interesting thing is that Olympia has its own micro-climate and was colder than anywhere else. We got a little snow and the slightest bit of slush just south of Tumwater, but other than that--easy peezy. It rained a little then it was clear--but less eventful than our normal SEA-PTD drives.

Everything was easy until we neared the WA/OR border. The car's thermometer said outside temp on the WA side was 36, as soon as we hit the 205 bridge it was 32 and it stayed there as we drove. Mother has been house-bound for several days and requested that we go to the store and pick up some things once we hit Portland. I was razzing her a few days ago that she should get out and use the 4wd in her Subaru. I was thinking how bad can it be in Portland? I figured, the side streets are snowy here in Seattle but all main arterials are clear so it should be exactly the same in Portland. Well...we got off 205 and we immediately realized Portland has a little more thawing to do. Sandy Blvd which I assumed would be clear was slushy and the Safeway parking lot was ridiculously slippery. And getting down the 500 feet of mom's cul-de-sac in Portland was the most adventure we had the whole trip.

But my brother has a much more difficult route from Pullman to Portland. He's already traversed from Pullman to Tri-cities and will stay there overnight. But he's going to continue tomorrow which will take him through the Gorge--and from all indications that area is still sub-freezing during the day. He's got a back up plan and can stay overnight in any of the cities along the way but he wants to make it for Christmas. If any one can do it, it's him.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Insulation: overhead but not on your mind

Days like this....

(Ken in a Ballard park making snow boulders)

(Not our car but someone left a delightfully ironic message about the weather.)

make me glad we have insulation now. Everywhere we turned this past summer & fall, Puget Sound Energy or someone was encouraging homeowners to have good insulation for energy efficiency. We really had no idea how good or bad ours was. We were shocked and amazed to find out that prior to pumping a whole bunch of loose cellulose insulation into our attic that we only had an R-factor* of 8? You're supposed to have 38. Up until a few weeks ago, all that had been keeping our expensive oil-fired heat from floating off into space were 1930's newspapers and old rat droppings. Lovely.

Do you know how you can tell if someone has good or adequate insulation? I learned from an appraiser the other day if you look at roofs after it's snowed those with no snow or considerably less have poor insulation while the roofs with lots of snow signal good insulation. When you look around the neighborhood especially now in the PNW, you will know.

Now we notice that when we move from the back rooms to the front of the house, the air is the practically the same temperature. Before, it was noticeably colder in the front rooms (single pane windows don't help either). Yeah, windows are next year.

*R-Factor (Thermal Resistance Factor) - The National Commercial & Industrial Insulation Standards Manual defines R-Value as - a measure of the ability to retard heat flow rather than to transmit heat. The higher the "R", the higher (better) the insulating value. Source

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Put down the gloves and step away from the Wii-mote...

To celebrate the season and showcase how geek-o-rific things can get, Ken plays Santa is Coming to Town on the Wii Theremin. This is for a submission to NPR's National Caroling Party. If he makes it on, you can be assured it will be reported here. But for now, we have dismantled the Wii Theremin "studio" in the basement and hope to get back to less-geeky pursuits.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wii Theremin Revisited

You asked for it Internet and here is more of the magic: another installment of Ken's Wii Theremin antics...

This is the hot new "dance" cut of the Dr. Who theme.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How to Manage Gift Giving This Season

The current economy poses a unique challenge to holiday gift giving this year. On one hand you want to be generous to beloved friends and family but on the other, you want to be sensible. Here are some gift-giving tips and ideas to keep your time and spending under control while you enjoy a fabulous holiday season.

• Plan your gift giving so you can get more creative and tailor the gift to your recipient.

• Budget what you are going to spend overall or even per person. (And stick to it!)

• Use a spreadsheet to keep track of what you’re getting for who and how much

• Avoid the malls to avoid impulse buying

• Don’t go into debt for gifts.

• Purchase online or from catalogs. You can shop any time and compare prices easily. My Favorite catalogs for selection, uniqueness and prices: Solutions, Restoration Hardware Gifts, Crate & Barrel, Harry & David.

Some examples of meaningful gift ideas:
  • Photo gifts! Maybe this year you had a family vacation, birthdays, milestone events or just some great snaps in general—photo gifts are one-of-a-kind and endearing.,,, are just a few places that can turn a digital photo into gift-giving gold.
  • If you don’t want to break the bank and can’t find that perfect gift, give the gift of time. In our busy lives, a special outing or a pledge to do an extra chore can be better than any physical gift. Make a special coupon or ticket to be redeemed at the receiver’s convenience.
  • Handmade or homemade gifts can be refreshingly unique and supportive to small and/or local businesses. Your area Farmers Market or sites like are great places to look.

(This is a piece was originally written for but was not published.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Down to "The Wire"

Everyone, and there is no exception, has raved about the HBO series, The Wire. We received the first disk from Netflix last week and invited Sean & Shannon to come behold the first few episodes of what some people call "the best show on television ever." If you live in a cave without cable or Internet or other people and have never heard of this show, it's about the Baltimore police department and the drug pushing community it polices. It's noteworthy for its "grit" and "reality." I had some reservations before even sitting down with this show, wondering if the hype would live up to what was actually on the screen.

The opening scene's dialogue did not sound like the characters were saying things as much as actors were reciting a script. Not a strong start if you ask me. But indeed it did get better and more interesting.

Don't get me wrong by episode 3, I can recognize that this is a great show--great characters, great story, great visualization. But in my old age, I don't have the stomach for all the tussling and the corruption and the backstabbing--of the Baltimore Police Department. There's a definite aspect of brutality and everyone smokes and cops drink alcohol in their squad cars on the duty then drive--it's now a pattern established in the first 3 shows. The drug pusher's world is intensely "gritty" and even more dire. I'm sure if I wasn't so hung up on these things, I'd enjoy the show more. But as I told Ken, every moment I watch it, I'm just waiting for someone to pull out a gun and shoot someone else. And I can't take that kind of anxiety. It's why we stopped watching Lost half-way through the first season--it was just too stressful. Perhaps if real life weren't so grim, I'd find this concept more "entertaining." But as it is...I don't know, maybe I'm just a big ole whiner.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Difference of Opinion

This is what the back patio looks like after all the plumbing repairs...

This is what Ken thinks it looks like... (click to enlarge)

That's me with the flower pot saying, "Let's just put a flower pot in front of it. No one will know."

Blog to check out for Moms

For all you mom's out there, I've discovered a very cool blog that may delight and interest you. It's called It's really a video blog of some of the more famous "mommy bloggers" (including my favorite Dooce) talking about an issue for about 6 minutes or less. It's got a great format, high production value and the responses are entertaining, thoughtful and informative. They tackle topics like "Is TV bad for kids," "How do you tell kids about the economy," "Balancing work and motherhood." Good stuff.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Thanksgiving Roundup

Thanksgiving this year was a West Coast affair. (No rapping unfortunately.) We drove down to Portland and stayed with Mom & Cindy. This was the first Thanksgiving and first major holiday in their new house. Having a lot more room was great and the food was notably fabulous. Usually you have a sampling of dishes that are good and some that are ok but everything this year was delicious. Nothing strayed too far from traditional but that's fine with me. They did 2 turkeys: one on the BBQ and one in the oven. The BBQ turkey was moist and smokey in flavor. The oven turkey provided the drippings for the gravy and had more of an herbal (rosemary) infusion--but less moist for some reason. Austin's mashed potatoes were suburb as always ("the way America used to taste...") and the apple pie my mom & brother made from my great-aunt's recipe turned out heavenly. My contribution to the meal was to bring some hummus from our farmers' market, help figure out the seating and table arrangements, warm up the peas and shoot lots and lots of video that culminates in this little retrospective... Friday afternoon, my cousin Angela and brother Austin came over and we made the traditional Italian Christmas cookies called pizzelles. We tend to do this every year now as it's an expected treat to have on hand around the holidays. (Yes, Joyce some are on their way to you!) Here is a short video of some of the lighter moments: Friday night we accompanied my father to a festive game-night party that his staff throws on a quarterly basis. The mandate this time was to wear a tacky Christmas sweater and bring really bad food. What showed up was beans & franks, twinkies, spam, mac & cheese, freezer pizza, rice krispie treats, cream puffs, hostess cupcakes and so forth. Not a healthy nor organic thing to be found--aye. We all split up into little groups and played board games. I learned how to play backgammon also. But the best part was toward the end during a game Ken and Austin were playing. It required players to finish an old saying and then determine which answer was actually correct. Austin, being the clever one that he is, graced the world with these treasures, his answers in italic. Better to be the head of a lizard than...the punella of Gary Coleman. Caress your dog and he will...roll over for the Nazis. The biggest nuts are...getting the most lovin'. In the weekend, we spent a fun morning with the Grimsruds, riding the fairly new OHSU Tram and running around on the skybridge. It's a very space-age looking set up and quite a fun time. I never thought going to the hospital would be a fun adventure but when it's turned into a ride--oh yes. Megan and Gunnar seemed to have a blast and it's always great to get some time with Sue. Here's some pics: During our stay, we also visited Burgerville twice and saw the movie Australia which is notable for trying to pack four movies into one really long one while maximizing the screen time of an oiled and often shirtless Hugh Jackman. Ahem. A fun-filled holiday with family and friends!

Monday, December 01, 2008

UPDATE: Wii-mote Hacking--More fun than you know

Going Viral over the weekend! Since this has never happened to us before, I thought I'd put as many links as I could find today. Ken's Star Trek theme video has over 50,000 views since it's unveiling 10 days ago. A co-worker of mine found his way to one of the links with no prior knowledge of the project. This is really cool. I'm just glad Ken is going viral for something creative and geekishly cool. (Because we've seen so many things on the internet go viral that are regrettable.) Yah Ken! -------------------------------------------------------------------------- I eluded to it before, but it bears a little more explanation. My inventive and quite-handy-with-a-soldering-gun husband embarked on a personal journey to create something that the world was sorely missing. Something that would inspire and delight. Something that would capture the imagination of those who saw it. That something is a Wii Theremin. I think it's quite clever what's he's accomplished. He's designed an interface that works with the Wii-mote and created a musical instrument that you don't touch. You can see, read and watch more about his Wii-mote Theremin on his blog. But what also happened today is that 2 major innovator blogs picked up on what he was doing and featured his videos and linked to his blog too. That's what you call "viral" on the internet. Here's some behind the scenes pics of the video shoot. As you can see, we improvised.