Tuesday, September 30, 2008

So scary, yet I can't stop looking

I'm sure everyone's seen Tina Fey's wickedly good impersonation of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric, but...It took me a while to realize that for the scariest part - the answer about the bailout - Fey was simply quoting Palin, nearly verbatim.

The skit:

Ok, so she did add the part about the dollar value meals. Which was pretty funny. Here's the text of the original interview:

"But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the -- oh, it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track.

"So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, um, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is part of that."*

*From the Seattle PI.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More on our first direct blow from the economy's collapse

Apparently the FDIC took over the bank, and literally auctioned it off to the highest bidder. The newspaper this morning has some helpful updates on what our that means to us - regular, everyday depositors, mortgage-holders, and shareholders. I paraphrase...

Depositor: Your new bank is JPMorgan Chase. Your money is safe. Please do not panic.

Borrower: Your new lender is JPMorgan Chase. Please continue to make payments as usual.

Stockholder: JPMorgan Chase bought WaMu from the FDIC, not from its shareholders. You will receive nothing.

So that pretty much sums it up for us.

They also have a few words for the employees:

Employee: Your new employer is JPMorgan Chase, who sent you an email last night asking you to please come to work this morning. Branch employees are probably pretty safe, because there is so little overlap between the banks' branches. Headquarters employees (about 3,500 people) are probably screwed, eventually.

And, a new twist on the real estate slide: WaMu is also downtown Seattle's largest tenant, with about 1.6 million square feet of office space. Fire sale on office space!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Where's George Bailey when you need him?

In other news, my bank collapsed today.

"The largest bank seizure in American history!" It's so exciting to be a part of history, isn't it?

Of course, I've been working on getting our money out of there. I have new bank accounts all ready to go, and we're going the credit union route this time - I'm done with greedy, adrenaline-junky executives who take crazy risks with your money and then pocket a bagillion dollars on the way out.

I initiated fund transfers on Monday, but they haven't gone through, yet. I guess they've been a little overwhelmed, what with me and my fellow WaMu customers withdrawing $17 billion, or 9 percent of the bank's assets, in the last ten days. So I guess I'll just have to have faith in the good old FDIC. And, it appears, JPMorgan, who just bought my checking and savings accounts at bargain-basement prices. I have no idea who owns my mortgage.

We're also shareholders in our bank - which used to be a fine, venerable institution, and a solid investment - and that's a TOTAL loss. But we've known that for a long time.

Strange times, indeed.

Vote Obama. Please, for the love of whatever deity you worship. Stop the madness.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Locavorism update

One of the things I was doing while not blogging of late, in addition to taking vacations and re-starting the book, was the continued pursued of locavorism. Many aspects of this way of life have now become habit - the farmer's market, bread-baking, using honey instead of sugar. The juice and the milk that we buy has the added benefit of coming in returnable glass bottles (the old deposit system), which adds the satisfaction of reducing our waste. I know, glass is recyclable, but the world can only absorb so much recycled glass.

One thing that didn't go so smoothly was my quest for canning tomatoes. Because we had The Summer That Wasn't here in the Northwest, the tomato crop was rather sad, and in particular, there was a near-complete absence of canning varieties. That would be the meaty ones, the Romas and San Marzanos and such.

I had in my head that I would attempt to put up some of the foods that would not otherwise be available in winter, rather than import them from California or Mexico. I canned 12 pints of cherries and four quarts of peaches. I roasted and froze five pounds of peppers, blanched and froze a couple pound of green beans. I purchased, and have stored in neat glass storage jars, two quarts each of dry kidney, red, black and garbanzo beans.

But the tomatoes proved elusive. Week after week I would ask around at the farmer's market, even visiting other markets. People had a few canners here and there, but not enough to make it worth the effort. Twice I received an absolute promise that they'd be there the next week, at another market...only to be disappointed.

Finally I saw a box of decent-sized Romas at one stand in the U District. I bought their whole stock - 20 pounds, at a 10 percent discount. I brought them home and cleaned them, skinned them (after a quick dip in boiling water), and then hot-packed and canned them in quart jars.

How many quarts do you get from 20 pounds of raw tomatoes? Ten. I might have canned more the next weekend if I could've found them, but alas. Nothing but slicers and cherries to be had. And yellow tomatoes, which aren't acidic enough to can safely.

One interesting thing about the locavore experiment is thinking about what really is better for the environment. So: growing summer produce year-round using greenhouses and irrigation, and then trucking it all over the country, uses an unsustainable amount of energy and water. Fine. What was required to produce my ten quarts of canned tomatoes?

I bought them from a local organic farmer. Good. They cost me $55 - that's $5.50 per quart, just to start. Then there's the cost of the jars, which I'm not really counting because they're reusable, though the flat part of the two-piece lid can't be re-used for canning purposes. So add a few cents for that. Then there was the lemon juice needed to ensure a safe level of acidity (tomatoes being right on the PH bubble, in terms of being inhospitable to botulism). And then lots of boiling water: the initial boil to loosen the skin, the boiling water to fill up the jars, and enough to fill a 20-quart canning kettle. Lastly, there's the electricity to run the stove, bringing the kettle to boil and keeping it there through two 45-minute rounds of canning. Theoretically you could throw in the value of my time, about four hours total for the canning process, but we'll ignore that since I don't have a billable rate for canning.

Conservatively, we're talking $6 to $7 per quart of tomatoes.

That's not totally outrageous, but it's not cheap either. It probably still produced fewer carbon emissions than the fresh tomatoes shipped up from Mexico in the middle of winter. (Though to some extent that turns on the electricity that powers my stove, which happens to come from greener wind and hydro sources in this neck of the woods...still more complexity.) So, I'm doing better eating these than eating fresh this winter. But how do my canners compare to other canned tomatoes I might buy, industrially canned and shipped in bulk from ... somewhere?

Well, I don't know where exactly the store-bought canned tomatoes come from. If it were Oregon or California, that might still be a better deal than home-canning, carbon-wise, but maybe not Florida.

I have ten empty quart jars left, and would consider doing some more canning before the season ends but I'm not sure I have the time. I'm out of town the next two weekends. And I'm only really committed to it for things that I legitimately can't get fresh and local in winter. The best fruit for canning right now is pears, and we'll be able to get Washington-grown pears that are cold-stored all winter.

If anybody out there has 20 more pounds of San Marzano tomatoes, though, let me know.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Updates and possible adventures

Wow, nearly a month since I last blogged.

I like to think that I've stopped blogging because (in addition to taking lots of great vacations this summer) I finally started writing the long-awaited Saga of the Canadian North. The one that Moxie and I have outlined, researched, even travelled to three different far-flung Canadian cities to research, courtesy of various archives and distant relatives. But now I've actually started writing. And I like to think that I am using up my writing energy there, rather than procrastinating it away on blogging.

The book is painful. At every, single, sentence, I am confronted with questions. It's 1859 in what will eventually become Winnipeg, Manitoba. My protagonist is 10 years old. What does she eat for breakfast? How does she address her mother? What does she buy at the store? How high is the river running?

At the same time, our story is following real facts wherever we have them, which just goes to show that truth really is stranger than fiction. Even as I struggle with a dearth of knowledge about the details of everyday life, I am paralyzed by an embarrassment of historical riches. Floods. Political intrigue. The first steamboat. An honest-to-gosh plague of locusts, for heaven's sake. I could not possibly make that up.

I know the exact plot of land that my ancestors lived on in 1859. I can see it on a map. I can find out how high the floodwaters of 1826 and 1852 rose on that exact plot of land. I know the names of their neighbors, their clergy, their teachers. I know how many oxen and horses they reported to the census-takers. I know the location of the general store, the post office, and the saloon.

So my goal is to crank this story out, and take a couple more research trips next year, ideally one to Winnipeg in February or March (god help me), and one to the Northwest Territories next summer.

Enrico really wants to go along to the far north. He is proposing a month-long driving trip, with the dogs. To a place 1,500 miles due north of here. A place with 35,000 people spread over an area two-thirds the size of Mexico. Where you have to carry your next tank of gas with you. Where the only animal hospital - should our geriatric dogs require one - is in Yellowknife, a good 250 miles away from the places I really need to visit. Where the town has only two restaurants, but six air charter companies. Where the largest surviving herd of wild bison in North America roams. And bears - lots of bears.

In other words, it would take some planning.

But we're considering it. What the heck, you only live once, and if Enrico wants to see the Great Slave Lake and the mighty Mackenzie River - see it he shall!