Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tisha B'av

The highway was closed in two directions.
Sun glinted white on dashboards.
Later I heard about a wounded police officer.

The rest of the day I waited for you to call.
I left a message on your cell phone.
We were supposed to go swimming.

Along the firetrail near my house I saw smoke puffs
of thistle. Hemlock as tall as two people.
Only daisies bloomed. I did not pick those petals.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Networking and the Spiritual Search

I've finished reading "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm glad that the author placed "eat" first in the line-up. It's important to satisfy our material needs before we can evolve up the chakra. I'm not sure I want to see the movie with Julia Roberts although I can't think of any one who could better play the leading role, a free spirit who knows what she wants. Maybe I feel that the film version would trivialize the spiritual searching aspect and replace it with a love story. On second thought,  maybe the soul-mate kind of love is the result of a spiritual search, so why be put-offish?

These days I'm trying to be frugal.  I can always wait for the DVD.

But movies are not uppermost on my mind. I'm on my own spiritual quest. I want my job to find me.  I know that's easy to say and an excuse for sitting around the pool with one hand holding a good book and the other wrapped around the cell phone, but not really. Here's why.

Depending upon who we are I think we create a network according to our own fish ponds. Simply put, my network is different (and maybe bigger, smaller) than your network. But who cares? I may like lagoons. You may like waves off the coast of Maui.   

"Hi," I say to the meeting coordinator after the event as everyone else in the audience scrambles up to the podium to hob-nob with the high-profile guests. "I'm writing up this event for my blog and I'm wondering if you can give me the speakers list? I want to spell their names correctly." And so might ensue an exchange of paper, including business cards. And more often than night, I can send the speakers a link to my blog post and engage with them in a short dialog.

I try to keep the waves rippling outward. None of this was intentional.  Duck because here comes that word authentic which is bandied about in many job club meetings. The demands of looking for a job have burned away my detritus, otherwise known as bullshit. I don't have time for my own games. I've cut back to chasing myself.

On a weekly basis I reference lists like to see what's happening and plunk these meetings into my calendar, always scheduled around visits to the gym.  Actually it's been wonderful not being required to sit in front of a computer for seven straight hours a day. Maybe I won't be visited by carpal tunnel syndrome any time soon. I've made a mental note and want my new position to allow me to work more with people and sit in front of the computer less. In scheduling my calendar I pay attention to the kinds of meetings that interest me.  After all, this is the Bay Area and there's a virtual sea of meetings. What I choose is information about me.

What I'm saying is about "taking inventory," the kind of advice Richard Bolles, job-hunting guru, and his heirs insist upon.  The primary dictum is "know thyself,"  or as Shakespeare put it, "to thine ownself be true."

If I'm like anyone else, it's difficult for me to be my own mirror. But my interactions with the world can serve as that mirror. Like when I went to a women's networking session hosted by FoutainBlue in Palo Alto and experienced the great generosity and openness of women who were all trying to be helpful, not embarrassed but simply asking, "What are you looking for?"  Yes, I enjoy working with women managers.  I made another mental note.

Every week I bobble along in my hand-made boat. I'm hoping that after being at sea with the elements, I will arrive on the other shore tanned, fit, and with a sharper knowledge of myself.

For right now, it's time to address basic needs. I fold up my towel, rinse off the chlorine, and make a favorite dish.

Avocado Row-Boats
One avocado
One lemon (or lime)
Cheese or salsa, your choice
Corn chips

Here's a quick version of guacamole. Cut an avocado in half. Scoop out the wonderful green stuff by sliding a spoon around the outside of the shell. Save the shell.  Mash up the avocado. Think like you're making devilled eggs.  Now fill each skin with the mash.  Squeeze a half of fresh lemon (or lime) juice over each half.  Top with a dollop of cheese or salsa. Serve on a plate with enough chips for scoopers.  Serve with some lovely bubbling water.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What is a Passive House?

What exactly is a passive house ? A refuge for passive-aggressives? A space where the lights are out all the time and its inhabitants sit in quiet contemplation before a burning candle? Well, actually none of the above.

I was hoping to find out more about passive houses at a talk presented by Build It Green in Berkeley. Build It Green, a nonprofit membership organization that offers training and certifications in green building from Sacramento to Downey, California.

Amid a lovely dinner served with ample bottles of thirst-quenching waters and sparkling ciders at Truitt & White, a roomful of building types gathered to hear more about the building of the first Passive House in California on a land trust in West Marin County at 11560 California 1.

According to Build It Green, about 20,000 passive houses have been designed, built and retrofitted over the last 10 years in Europe, 12 in the United States, and one in California, which may offer another reason to drive to Pt. Reyes.  

Most simply put, a Passive House receives and captures energy. In doing so, it slashes heating and energy costs by 90 percent. Of course this is a loosey-goosey definition.

There are Passive House standards that a building must meet to be certified. The Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), is a software package constructed like the popular TurboTax income tax program, allowing builders to plug in numbers and to receive automatic calculations for projections of  heat load, loss, and energy usage with updated calculations for climates around the world.  It’s a package that continually improves with updated data.

Here’s a bit of history. The notion of the Passive House (“Passivhaus”) was first developed in Germany in the early 1990s by Professors Bo Adamson of Sweden and Wolfgang Feist of Germany. They put together solar design ideas from North America with “low energy” European building standards to create the notion of a house that could maintain a comfortable interior climate without conventional heating and cooling systems. A Passive House can be operated without the help of large “active” mechanical systems (i.e. furnaces and boilers), thus the “Passive” moniker.

In 2003, Katrin Klingenberg, a German designer, built the first Passive House in Urbana, Illinois. Klingenberg established the Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) in Urbana with builder Mike Kernagis. In January 2008, PHIUS was authorized by the Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt as the official certifier of Passive Houses in the U.S.

Got it? Now back to Berkeley where James Bill, Katy Hollbacher, and Terry Nordbye, architect,engineer, and builder who worked together on West Marin’s Blue2 House, discussed what it took to build California’s first certified Passive House that soon will be occupied by a family. All agreed that the Passive House model goes far beyond Energy Star standards, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy’s effort toward more cost effective environmental solutions. “In the past compliance, not energy usage, is what people looked at,” said Hollbacher.

Retrofitting an entire home to meet Passive House standards may not be cost effective for the average homeowner in the temperate Bay Area. However, the Build It Green presenters agreed that incorporating different aspects of the PHPP methodology may be the incremental best way to go.

In any case, it's going, going, going green. 

Lenore Weiss

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Public Good is Good Business

Everywhere I go these days seems to be lined with flower borders: white alyssum edging blue lobelia fronting on red begonias. From one condo to the next shopping mall to the museum in the city, there’s the same flower invitational. I’m not sure what to make of this. Either Home Depot was having a sale on sixteen packs for the last several weekends, or some one landscaping company has nailed down every contract within a 30-mile radius.  Flowers speak of beauty and formal order.  Outside of that ring, I find frustration.  Some is my own, but not all.

Why, for instance, did it take Wells Fargo Bank eight months to tell me that I do not qualify for the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) because I had in the past co-signed on a loan? I only received that bit of news after jumping through a tunnel of hoops that began with a Joe McCarthy litany: “What is the property address? Do you plan to continue to live at the residence? What is your telephone number? What are the last four digits of your social security number?” I wondered if I seemed like the type of person who moved around every two weeks.  I don’t think I could pack and unpack my boxes that quickly. 

For months, I spoke to any number of agents in the “Loss Mitigation” department who nearly caused me to lose my mind by the amount of misinformation that was ever dispensed through the handset of a telephone. Only after finally writing a letter to the Executive Complaint Department located in Des Moines, Iowa, did anyone call with helpful information.

Then there’s the thrill of having to deal with the unemployment office, otherwise known as the Employment Development Division who up until the month of May, was located in an easily accessible location with ample parking. But their offices have been moved downtown with only metered parking. Everyone knows that you can’t go in and out of EDD without spending copious amounts of time. I thought we supposed to be unemployed and were saving money?  

Sure, I’m whining, but I have a strong sense that our institutions are failing us. Somewhere there’s a bottom line that says that the public good is not good business.  I haven’t been to a civics class lately, but I believe that already has been disproved by the Founding Fathers and several Greek philosophers who created the basis for our democracy.

Okay. But what I really need to do is find a job. Then I wouldn’t have so much time on my hands to be bothered by this stuff. But this may be another part of the Marie Antoinette --"Let them pay parking" -- thing.  Keep people so tied up working one or two jobs and what happens? We don’t have time to write letters or to get our squeaky wheels out of the shop.

This morning as I edged my way to the computer I heard two phrases: “Focus” and “Go Deep.” You must know that I’ve been to a great number of career counselor motivational type speaker presentations.  Everyone, like Gypsy Rose Lee, has their own particular gimmick, advice to share with the job-seeking sisters and brothers, and like Wells Fargo, much of the information is contradictory. 

Some say to polish your resume until it shines like a diamond from Tiffany’s. Others advise not to bother, but to bet your money on networking (as though anyone can get beyond the word to understand what it means).  Some counselors think that we must brand ourselves like cattle from different box tops, offering a particular service that can be summarized in a sentence.  I could go on, but this morning as I sat in front of my laptop smelling a peculiar odor which I gathered had to be my cat relieving herself beneath my desk after sharing the apartment over the weekend with two little dogs, I realized that I needed to select what was useful from these offerings, all with their own shelf life. Here’s what I understood:

  • It was okay for me to be confused, mixed up and not knowing where to start because I had to begin someplace. 
  • Going to job connection meetings has not been a waste of time as I told myself every time I came home from a job connection meeting because if nothing else, I knew I was not alone.
  • There is no one “right way,” only useful tools and different approaches.
  • Know what you want. That’s the hard one.  So after reading the 200th job description, see which ones  start to look interesting, and try to understand why. 
  • Move in that direction.
To be continued. But right now I feel like treating myself.

Public Good Brownies
Who needs a recipe for brownies? Everyone has one.  But here’s mine that I’ve taken from the back of a chocolate chip bag with some added stuff .

2/3 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup of butter, softened

¼ cup peanut butter
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 cups total semi-sweet chocolate chips (divided into 1 cup each)
1 cup total of miniature marshmallows (divided into ½ cup each)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
powdered sugar, sprinkles from last year's Xmas cookies, or coconut (whatever you've got)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put 1 cup of chocolate in a glass bowl with ½ cup marshmallows. Microwave in two 1 minute sets (one minute at a time). Set aside to cool.
  3. In small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon and set aside.
  4. In large bowl, cream butters (including of the peanut variety), sugars, and until they are looking “fluffed out.”
  5. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat well.
  6. Stir in melted chocolate/marshmallow mixture.  Blend.
  7. Gradually add flour mixture to chocolate mixture.  Stir well.
  8. Stir in remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips into the batter.
  9. Spread half of the batter in a buttered 8” square baking pan.
  10. Sprinkle the rest of the marshmallows over the top.
  11. Cover with the remainder of the chocolate batter.
  12. Bake in preheated over for 30-35 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with some powdered sugar, sprinkles, and or coconut when done.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Van Jones is a Green Horn Looking to Create Investment

Listening to Van Jones speak at the Commonwealth Club last week, which is one of my new favorite hang-outs, gave me a glimpse of our green future.

Jones, a former Obama administration appointee as Special Advisor for Green Jobs who was smeared by Republicans last year as a radical and finally resigned his office so as not to distract from the discussion about health-care legislation, said that our green future is part of a movement for a “voter-owned rather than a corporate-owned democracy.”

With the vision and courage to speak his mind, it’s easy to understand why Jones would ruffle a few feathers. This was my first time hearing him in person although many Bay Area folk know him as the founder in 1996 of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a California non-governmental organization (NGO) that is now focused on a green jobs campaign in addition to reducing violence. While many of us only knew to associate Saint Patrick’s Day with the color—Jones has been a green activist for a long time, building organizations and advocacy groups toward that end.

He spoke for the need for a climate and energy bill to ensure that no one gets to pollute for free. Jones maintained that the oil companies are “baking the planet and have been able to do that since the Industrial Revolution.” He advocated for the government to serve as a midwife to create a “New Green Deal” both in the United States and other industrialized nations.  “If you want to solve problems,” he said, “you have to unleash market forces by bringing investment into green technology,” which is the only way he said that we are going to get out of the current recession.

Describing a moment for change that includes every “color, class, gender, and sexuality,” Jones said that going green is not about jobs versus the environment. “The government doesn’t count what counts,” he said. “Our metrics are off. There should be a movement like ‘Accountants for Transformative Change.’”

If you’d like to get more detail about the new economy, pick up a copy of his new book, or set your Kindle or iPad to “The Green Collar Economy” with a forward by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that ends, “Let the revolution begin.” While the sixties were about the struggle for political and social equality, perhaps a new chapter is opening up about the struggle for economic justice.

Lenore Weiss