Category Archives: causes

Ten years ago

It was, as of a few weeks ago, ten years ago that my grandparents died in a car crash. Ten years ago, that my world ended but didn’t. Ten years ago that I stopped getting phone messages from my beloved grandmother even though we were technically not in the same area code and thus long-distance. I last heard her living voice right before the trip they went on, that ended badly. I went on and kept living, but some of the most important people in my life didn’t continue to be after some date approximately ten years ago. I managed to stay busy in the anniversary of this accident, and I was working and attending conferences in Newcastle and Singapore. And I didn’t let loose and feel the grief until tonight, when it suddenly hit me, without warning. So if I’ve ignored you when I should have been your friend, please forgive me. I’ve been dealing with my own pent-up grief. I can’t believe it’s been ten years, in some ways. And I can’t believe it’s only been ten years in others. I miss them so much. At the time, one of my aunts mentioned that I should keep track, that I would be unlikely to attend a double funeral again in my lifetime. I can be happy that this has not happened again, without wanting to ever be in a place where two people that you love are in coffins at the same time.

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The current temperature is…

When I was a child, I lived in a house that had a thermostat. You told it what temperature you wished to have in the house, and it obeyed. It was a round thing on the wall in the 3 BR-1 BA classic 1950s house that we occupied in the post-WWII inner suburbs of Minneapolis, MN. I was a tiny pipsqueak, of single-digit age, and I was a very proud girl because the thermostat said “Honeywell” on it and that’s where my dad worked. It looked something like this, only brass colored (not white).

When I was a teenager, we had a newer house in America, and it still had a Honeywell thermostat but this one was programmable. My father was no longer in the business, but we could set the thing to a temperature–different for day and night by about ten degrees F–and it would obey. It looked like this.

When I was a young married person, I had zone heating. Which means that I had a thermostat each in several different regions of the house, and I could control (program) the temperature independently in each. It was either three or four separate regions, I do not recall the exact details. But it was good, and it was energy-efficient because you did not need to heat the parts of the house in which you did not spend time.

In 2006, I moved to England. There is no thermostat. There are radiators.

(I have lived in two different flats with the same 1-BR layout and radiators, so I guess this is not a one-off.) The radiators have valves, they are on or off. In my current living room there are four, in the bedroom 2, in the bathroom 1. In order to control the temperature of the flat, I must decide how many radiator valves to open and how long to keep them open. Manually.

Being a science-y type, I have opted to enlist the help of my cooking probe thermometer:

to try and ascertain the current temperature in the flat, and how it might perchance be changed with the opening and closing of certain radiator valves.

The inertia in the system is such that I cannot change the day to night temperature the way I did in the US, I must aim for an average. The probe currently reads 67F which I guess is a pretty good moderate setting–too warm in the night and too cold in the day compared to the thermostat temperatures of my youth. I will try in the next day or so to bring the average down to 65, as that seems a reasonable compromise to me. But I am very much aware of the fact that such changes I make are but a small drop in the large bucket of the energy reforms that need to be made in the interests of the world.

Systems that input heat only when you need it: golden. Radiators that require cooking implements to incorporate: needs some work. I’d happily take a 1980s vintage thermostat and the ability to turn down the radiators at times, so as to save night-time energy if we could determine when the shut down should happen.

Living in a Nanny State, Literally!

The big news around Britain in the last 24 hours has been a crack-down by Ofsted, the government department that looks out for kids, on “reciprocal childcare agreements” or people trading off watching each others’ kids when two mothers both are working part-time. Better to quote the article to explain:

England’s Children’s Minister is reviewing the case of two police officers told they were breaking the law, caring for each other’s children.

Ofsted said the arrangement contravened the Childcare Act because it lasted for longer than two hours a day, and constituted receiving “a reward”.

It said the women would have to be registered as childminders.

Now this rankles for several reasons. It comes immediately on the heels of the furore over whether people would have to be registered in the “vetting and barring” scheme meant to prevent pedophiles from having access to children–the official policy came down that the rules applied to people like cub scout carpool drivers, thus causing most parents to have to be registered if they did anything other than ferry their own brood around town. Now we have a similar issue with trading off babysitting, where a person would be required to be registered as a “childminder” and have a criminal background check. More importantly, it defies logic by not allowing parents to choose what is best for their own children, but to leave this to the government.

All of these recent perhaps well-meaning but overzealous laws leave me mighty glad that I don’t have children, and tending towards a view of staying away from people who have them–the legal requirements associated with being in the same car or the same room are clearly becoming too stringent. But it does sort of refine my view of the phrase “nanny state” when the government starts trying to tell you that you cannot ask a friend to watch your kids or drive them around without government interference, and the risk that your friend is breaking a completely over-the-top interpretation of the law. Or perhaps we’ve got a set of lawmakers, and laws, who are determined to keep women in the home minding their own children and not out running the country. Just saying.

And yes, I said interpretation, the word this morning is that the government might be investigating the particular wording that caused Ofsted to “bust” these perps (ironically, both female COPS) for their shared childcare arrangement. There’s even a petition that you can sign online if you’re a Brit by birth or residence, the link is here in case you’re interested.

Update: further reading on the BBC identifies a tantalizing piece of information as concerns Ofsted’s motivations for policing this issue:

Registered childminders must pay an annual fee of £103 to Ofsted.

Got it. We now have a situation that perfectly parallels the heavy-handed enforcement of the TV license rules, except now it’s for your kids. Maybe that’s the next step, a required childbearing license?

I’ve missed my calling

Really, I blame authorblog. It was he who posted this story about a little old lady, past 100, and her use of facebook and twitter. Google around and it turns out this has been all over the recent British news. And I love, love, love it. I’ve followed her on Twitter, and had a great look around her care home’s website, which looks really cozy and like someplace I would love to hang around. Thus, my thinking I missed my calling, I’m spending all day every day with the wrong aged people. See, I adore “little old ladies” especially if they’re feisty, as this Ivy Bean appears to be. And my nonagenarian grandmother certainly is. I had at one point in my life entertained thoughts of being a doctor specializing in geriatric medicine; I suspect I made a better choice for me in that engineering is a bit less emotional, and I doubt I could have handled losing patients that I had grown attached to. But it’s certainly true that I look wistfully in the windows of my local care home when I walk to the gym, as I wonder if perhaps the little old ladies sitting there alone might like company. I’ve always been the girl who would rather hang out with the elderly and who is not so interested in the babies as in the stories about the 30s and 40s.

But hey, Britain has a cure for this: you can register as a volunteer on the “Help the Aged” charity site with the category “befriending”. That is totally the right type of volunteer work for lonely me, even better if I can make a “friend” who can teach me to knit! Fingers crossed that they do need a “befriender” in my area, as I really would love to hang around someone like the fabulous Ivy Bean. In the meantime, I’m trying to convince said nonagenarian grandmother to get on facebook, we could totally play long-distance scrabble (although I know she’ll always win).

A preemptive strike

O to be in England now that April’s (t)here… I had heard that poem for many years but only on this, my third April in the UK, do I see that it might just be the best month. The sun is out. The flowers are blooming and the gardens are fabulous. The days are long and light, and recently, mostly sunny. April really has been the loveliest month in each of the years I’ve lived here.

That said, there’s a dark side to the loveliness. You’ve got it, the windows are open and that means flying insects in my living room, and me missing American windows with bug screens. However, after my ode to a favorite American baked good went horribly awry in the last few days, I’m not feeling much like saying anything more that could result in my being on the end of comments that are really at times outside the spirit of community that one would hope to have in the world of expat blogs. So I thought maybe I should try to guess and say these things myself, rather than wait for the comments, thus acting in the manner of a preemptive strike. Here we go.

  • I’m a spoiled American prissy for expecting to live free of insects buzzing around my living room, and I should buck up and learn to live with nature.
  • I must have poor hygiene and/or live in a hovel, or there wouldn’t be flies in my flat.
  • I’m clearly not appreciating the historic British architecture and thus I don’t respect how the visual appeal of the listed buildings would be damaged by fly screens on the window.
  • [I should] Go home. (ed. That’s always my absolute favorite, really.)
  • How dare I be complaining about the flies in my comfortable Western flat when there are children in the third world with more serious problems.

Now here’s where we get serious. World malaria day was only a few days ago, and a net to put over a child’s bed is effective in preventing this deadly infection. So, enough about me and my whinges about flying insects and my dreams of fly screens, how about you all join me in doing something much more useful, and make a donation to Nothing But Nets. From their website:

In the poorest parts of the world, where effective window screens are lacking, insecticide-treated bed nets are arguably the most cost-effective way to prevent malaria transmission. One bed net costs just $10 to buy and deliver to individuals in need. One bed net can safely last a family for about four years, thanks to a long-lasting insecticide woven into the net fabric.

And don’t bother to make any derogatory comments about me and the flies. Believe me, I’ve heard it all already.

Life is short

Occasionally one stumbles on a touching story in the internet-world.  Today I happened on the story of an upcoming  indie singer-songwriter, Katie Reider, who recently died at 30 after battling a rare  (inflammatory myofibroblastic) tumor that took over her face, making her unable to speak or sing and also losing her vision.  I love singer-songwriter music, and her story really touched me.  I’m over 30, my sister is 30, and I would hate for either of us to have left the earth by now, especially in Katie’s case leaving behind two young kids.  If you go to her benefit website you can read her story but also you can download a 9-song CD for $1–I’m listening to the CD right now and it is fantastic!

Artwork on American consumerism

Regardless of how you feel about the politics of what’s being said about the US’s consumerist culture, the artwork shown here from Chris Jordan is really cool. I admit, I have always been Seurat-obsessed and this use of every day items to create the same effect is amazing. My favorites are the barbie dolls and the soda can Seurat, of course! Have a look.