Beeting the Heat

Greetings from the San Francisco Bay Area, where the temperature is no longer into three digits.

Yeah, we had the hottest Labor Day weekend on record this year–several cities around the Bay had all-time highs, more had high-for-the-date days. The gods were punishing the Bay Area for something I did.

Well, maybe I’m overly self-centered. It might have been something Maggie did. “But how,” I hear you ask, “do you know it was your fault?”

Simple: Our air conditioner broke. We’re not sure exactly when, but it was either Friday evening or Saturday, when the heat was at its worst. Big thanks to our HVAC company for having somebody working Monday and for keeping their holiday service surcharge to a reasonable level. Of course, by Monday, temperatures were back down to normal levels–but we still had to run the AC for a couple of ours to get the temperature indoors down to normal.

Of course, the problem with this sort of punishment–smiting everyone in the area over the sin of one person–is that the gods never drop you an email to tell you what it was you did wrong. Which means you’re doomed to make the same mistake over and over again. So if you hear that the state of California has finally fallen into the Pacific Ocean, you’ll know whose fault it is.

So it wasn’t quite a restful a holiday as we might have hoped, but it wasn’t an entirely unmixed curse. Rufus, no fool he, spent most of the weekend in the master bathroom, one of the few rooms in the house with an uncarpeted floor. Not only is that new territory for him, it meant he had to interact with the other cats more than usual. As a result, this morning has been unusually free of feline drama.

Meanwhile, the Oakland As were so happy to not be playing in the heat here, that they kindly lost all three of their games in Seattle. Of course, once they left Seattle, Houston moved in. And it seems that floods don’t induce the same sort of friendly attitude. Can’t have it all, I guess.

And, on a more personal note, I discovered a new taste treat.

Yeah, I know. About four-fifths of you are making gagging noises. I’m well aware that beets aren’t a popular food item. I’m fairly sure they remain in salad bars almost entirely through inertia–and vendors not wanting to spend the money to retool their production lines.

But for those of us who appreciate a good beet, Trader Joe’s offering is rather compelling.

The beet flavor is present, but not so strong as to be overwhelming. The texture is similar to a thick-cut potato chip, crunchy on the outside and a little chewy in the center.

And check that ingredient list! How can I resist a single-ingredient food? No salt, no preservatives, just pure beety goodness. Yeah, there’s some natural sodium, and a lot of potassium–though that may be a good thing for some–but they’re low fat and cholesterol-free. Even better, unlike most prepared foods, the stated portion size is generous. Trader Joe considers these to be single-serving containers, but I got two quite adequate snacks out of the package. And they’re clearly somewhat dubious about their own recommendation, as they included a zipper seal on the package.

Two tasty snacks for three bucks? That’s a darn sight cheaper and healthier than the vending machine. Even if you’re not normally a beet fancier, you ought to give these a try. You might just be converted.

Life’s Little Lessons

A couple of life’s little lessons.

Trader Joe’s recently introduced “Organic Triple Ginger Instant Oatmeal”. They also have Triple Ginger Snaps, Triple Ginger Brew (though that’s been temporarily pulled from the shelves while they look for a way to keep the bottles from exploding on the shelves), and quite a variety of less-than-triple ginger goodies.

At least at TJ’s, ginger is replacing pumpkin as the go-to flavor for Winter. I regard this as a good thing, and I hope the idea spreads. Note that I’ve got nothing against the combination of flavors known as “pumpkin spice”. IMNSHO, it only goes downhill when pumpkin is added to the spices. But I digress.

The oatmeal is tasty stuff, even mixed 50/50 with plain oatmeal, as I tend to do. (I’m mostly trying to cut down on the sugar; as is the case with most flavored oatmeal, sugar is a significant chunk of the flavoring. Making each box last twice as long is a bonus.)

What’s the lesson? Patience. I’m getting there.

Yesterday I tried an experiment. Could triple ginger oatmeal be further improved by the addition of blueberries? You probably won’t be surprised to hear the answer: yes. Blueberries, even out of season ones, as these were, make many breakfast foods better.


If you’re adding blueberries to your oatmeal–ginger or otherwise–do not put the berries in the bowl until after it comes out of the microwave. No, let me amend that rule. If you want your oatmeal to look like a prop from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, by all means, go ahead and add the berries before nuking.

Microwaved blueberries, you see, explode, filling your oatmeal with red juice, almost exactly the color of fresh blood. Disturbing. Also, difficult to wash off the bowl. At least it turns purple as it dries.

Lesson learned.

Moving on.

On December 17, after months–years, even–of declaring the eastern span of the Bay Bridge perfectly safe and capable of meeting its intended 150-year lifespan, the oversight panel voted to consider installing a corrosion protection system on at least some of the most vulnerable parts of the bridge. Yes, the very same system they voted against back in October.
The reason for their change of heart? It’s not, as one might hope, because they sincerely believe it’s necessary. Will Kempton–former head of Caltrans–said “…it’s a matter of public confidence.” In other words, it’ll make the general public feel safer. Sounds a lot like what the panel said last month, about the media’s “misleading” coverage of the bridge and the Bolt Botch, doesn’t it? Kudos to Mr. Kempton for consistency, at least.

The other reason for the panel’s apparent change of heart is less reassuring. The plan adopted in October was to monitor corrosion and take action as part of the bridge’s ongoing, regular maintenance. However, Brian Maroney–Caltrans’ chief engineer for the eastern span project–pointed out that Caltrans sucks at monitoring their bridges. (Yes, that’s a paraphrase.) More specifically, he said that only one of the nine bridges with a monitoring system is checked on an annual basis, because there isn’t enough money. And it’s not just corrosion monitoring that doesn’t happen because Caltrans can’t afford it. Mr. Maroney said that “lots” of earthquake motion sensors are turned off when the economy is down.

Imagine that. Caltrans pays millions of dollars for safety equipment, and then doesn’t have enough money to use it. Shocking.

The article in the Chron quotes a nationally-known corrosion expert, Jack Tinnea, as saying that corrosion inspections are federally mandated. To this non-lawyer, that suggests Mr. Kempton, as a former head of Caltrans, might be liable for some of those inspections that haven’t happened. He doesn’t seem to be worried about the possibility, so maybe I’m wrong.

Yes, there is a lesson here.

Getting what you want for the wrong reason isn’t very satisfying.

I’m glad to see Caltrans and the Bay Bridge’s oversight board opening up to outside advice. Even this tiny bit is good–one has to start somewhere, after all. But knowing it’s the board’s way of patting the general public on the head and saying “There, there. Everything’s going to be OK,” doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that we’ll get any answers to our vexing questions.

Pass the oatmeal, please.