Deceptive Averages

Well, maybe not intentionally, but I recently read two articles where averages were used in such a way that the real, underlying issue was completely obscured.  In short, I feel like I wasted my time, and am feeling a little bitter about it.

So, first off, it’s been rainy and wet in these parts the past week or so.  Really, really wet and rainy, with flood watches (for my immediate area) and warnings (for parts a little farther north) almost every day, to include coastal flood watches pretty much nonstop.  So, yep, it’s been wet.  Now, this is actually welcome because we had a fairly dry winter–I just wish it hadn’t come all at once.  I believe it was on the edge of drought conditions based on the low precipitation (not that it’s ever dry here like the West gets when they have a drought).  Still, this rain has definitely taken care of it.  Still, I was reading a weather forecast where one of the commenters noted that we were still very much in a rain deficit from September 2016.  Yes, 2017 was comparatively dry, but…sorry, rain deficits don’t really matter once you go through a growing season.  Plants only care what’s fallen since this spring, not what happened two years ago.  The longer perspective is interesting, but, if you’re a farmer or rely on rain for any reason, not terribly useful.  The other problem with this approach is that an average evens out those annual fluctuations, so to try and calculate a rain deficit over two years against the 30-year average is…highly suspect, at best.

The other article that made dubious use of averages involved the cost of owning a home in each state.  OK, I should really know better by now, but I got sucked in because I thought it would be a discussion about the mix of jobs in each state, what those pay on average, and how that translates into being able to afford a home.  Even this would require many levels of extrapolation and waiving away regional economic differences within a state, but it could be an interesting study.  Instead, it was a comparison of the median salary for each state to the average cost of a home.  I don’t even think the article specified what kind of home was under consideration (one bedroom?  Two?  Single family or condo?), and there certainly wasn’t any effort to explore how urban and rural areas within a state might be different and to what extent this would throw the average home cost or median salary.  At least they used the median salary, rather than an average.  I still don’t know what their methodology was or what sources they used for salary data.  So, again, not actually a useful article, especially since for most states the median salary was actually well below what they said you would need to pay the “average” home cost.  At least they had some pretty pictures for each state.

Of course, it should go without saying, but any time someone uses an average to support his or her argument, there’s likely to be some deception going on, whether or not it is intended–you just need to be able to ask the questions to get at what those averages represent in truth, rather than what they are purpored to present.


Jesus Ascended so We Would Follow

Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension (on its proper day, 40 days after Easter, 10 before Pentecost) with high mass in the extraordinary form (we also celebrated it today, on Sunday, as an “external solemnity”, since, as our parish priest said, we’d rather celebrate it twice than not at all).  The key theme of the homily was that Jesus ascended into Heaven so that we would want to follow Him there.

The first line of argument is that Jesus had to return to Heaven because if He had stayed here, it would be rather disappointing to be in Heaven without Him.  I’m not sure it would qualify as Heaven, because our joy would be incomplete.  In some ways, this line of argument reminds me of what happened with Peter at the Transfiguration.  Peter, James, and John see Jesus transfigured, and talking to Moses and Elijah.  Peter doesn’t want the moment to end, so he suggests that they make tents for the three, and the Apostles can hang out and absorb spiritual enrichment from the discussion.  Of course, it doesn’t work out that way.  The Transfiguration was an event to strengthen the Apostles for what would come in the Crucifixion.  Likewise, the 40 days after the Resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the Apostles and His disciples, were to prepare them for the great commission, not to get them used to having Jesus around on Earth.

The second line the priest developed was an analogy with toddlers learning to walk.  This made me laugh a bit since Thumbkin is really starting to walk places now (much to the chagrin of the cats).  When a child learns to walk, the parents let go and back up a bit so the child follows.  The child follows because he or she loves mom or dad, and wants to go to them.  Our priest went on to say that sometimes, which he’s greeting little children on their way out of mass, they do not want to come to him because they do not know him.  Likewise, the time after the Resurrection was for us to get to know Jesus so that we would want to go wherever He is, to include through the Passion and death and into Heaven.  We wouldn’t want to go to Heaven if we didn’t have the chance to know Him and love Him now.

So, there you have it, we’re children learning to walk, so Jesus ascends into Heaven to make sure we want to follow Him there, even if it means taking up our own cross each day.

Milk Manipulation

Or, how to make yogurt and buttermilk at home.

We’ve made our own yogurt for several years now now.  It’s cheap and easy, especially when you don’t rely on commercial starter culture, but rather yogurt from the store as a starter.  My current batch has been going for over a year now, almost two.  In Liberia, we had a culture going for a solid two years without any problems.

I’ve used a couple of different methods, but the key is to control the temperature of both the milk and the environment for the culture to work.

In Liberia, we used whole cream powdered milk (which is nearly impossible to find at a reasonable price here).  I would reconstitute it at about one and a half strength, using water at about 115 degrees.  The goal is to have the milk between 110 and 115 degrees when the yogurt culture goes in.  I then put this container in a cooler with a damp dishtowel that I had warmed in the microwave, and leave it over night.  After a couple of hours in the fridge, the yogurt had set quite nicely.

Lavash helping check the temperature. The cats love when I make yogurt.

Currently, I use whole milk from the store.  Even though I don’t need to pasteurize it (in Ashgabat, since we bought milk in the market in 1-liter bottles pasteurization was a necessary first step), I find I get the best set by taking the milk up to 180 degrees.  I suspect that this does two things: 1) takes care of any stray bacteria that might interfere with the yogurt culture and 2) denatures and concentrates the milk proteins so that it’s easier for the yogurt bacteria to do its thing.  After the milk hits 180, I cool it to 115, and pour it into a container for a water bath yogurt warmer.  The heating element keeps the water at just the right temperature to gently warm the cultured milk.  In about four hours, the yogurt is done, and just needs to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours to be fully set.

I recently started culturing buttermilk  It started because I wanted to do buttermilk biscuits with breakfast on Sunday during Lent (rather than coffee cake).  I’ve kept some around for pancakes and other baking use, and, since it’s so easy to do, well worth it.  Again, starting from store-bought, it’s a ratio of about 1:3, that is, fill your container one quarter of the way with buttermilk, then the rest of the way with whole milk [it might work with 2% or skim, but I haven’t tried it] and leave it at room temperature, loosely covered, for at least eight, or up to 12 hours.  What you’re looking for is the milk to get thick and start to smell slightly tangy like buttermilk.  I’ve heard some people leave it for a full day, but I start to get separation after much more than 8 hours, especially when it’s warm.

Nice, thick buttermilk after an 8-hour culture time and a couple of hours in the fridge.

I also tested whether the warming the milk to 90 degrees before culturing made a difference (which I had read on a couple of sites), but I found that the straight-from-the fridge milk cultured just as fast as the 90 degree milk.

Cheesemaking is also enjoyable, but for now, the return on investment for the time and effort is much better for just the yogurt and buttermilk.  If we’re ever in a place again where all we can get is raw, unpasteurized milk from questionable sources, we’ll probably take up cheesemaking again, and add it to our regular repertoire of milk manipulation.

Bicycling Etiquette

The spring weather has brought out more than just plants, flowers, and weeds.  Hordes of bicyclers (and joggers, and walkers, and the like) are now out and about on the paths, roads, and trails.  With so many people out and about, some basic etiquette is in order so that we can all enjoy the outdoors (or at least get where we’re going).

First, the principle of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” certainly applies.  Too often, I see bikers and joggers out who think they’re the only ones on the path and pay no regard to the others they are either cutting off, running over, or impeding.  So, think about your actions.

Second, signal your movements.  If you’re turning, use a hand signal.  If you’re slowing down, make it clear (also with a hand signal).  Make eye contact with the affected biker, walker, or driver as appropriate so you know they know what you’re going to do.

One custom around here is to signal your lane changes (especially left) by pointing sort of down at the ground at about a 45 degree angle.  This lets anyone behind you know that you’re going to pass another biker, so they should just bide their time a bit before they try to overtake you.  This goes well with:

Third, call out your passing.  An audible signal that you’re passing is really essential.  Either a bell or just saying “Passing!” should suffice.  If using a spoken signal, I recommend calling “Passing!” rather than “On your left!” because the P is a stronger sound than the short O and carries farther.

Fourth, if you are riding on a sidewalk (or multi-use path with a lot of walkers and joggers), recognize that you are bigger and need to watch out for pedestrians, even if they are going painfully slowly.  It is sort of like the situation between a car and a bicycle–you need to share the road, and understand that one of the parties is much bigger and can do more damage.  Around here, depending on how the commute goes, I’m often wading through tourists for at least the first part of my commute.  Yes, it slows me down considerably to weave in and around the tour groups gazing in awe at the Lincoln Memorial, but it would take even longer to sort out what would happen if I ever collided with a tourist (and make me feel bad).  So, look out for the little guy.

Not that I’ve ever seen a list like the above, but it does seem like this is the unwritten code of etiquette that nearly all cyclists around here follow.  Not too burdensome, and it actually makes sense from the standpoint of trying to keep people safe and able to enjoy the outdoors without putting a number of laws and regulations on what should be a liberating activity.


1.4 Rosary Decades per Mile

I ran a 10-mile road race this morning at about a 7.13 minute mile.  I got through 14 decades of the rosary, so that means my pace was about 1.4 decades/mile.  I finished the last decade while cooling down and wandering over to the bag claim area.

The race course is quite beautiful (along the Potomac), but I find I need to keep my brain occupied while I’m pounding the pavement.  The rosary isn’t such a bad option, I find, especially when the sorroful mysteries come at the end of a long race.

Spring has Sproinged


Sproinnnnggg! was the sound practically all the plants made this past Friday and Saturday when we had a couple of days of 70+ (really 80+) degree weather after weeks hovering in the 50s, with an occasional brush with 60 and the rare 65.  Up until now, it was as if all the usual springtime flowers had been holding their collective breath and cautiously putting out a flower or two.  The daffodils were out, but they seemed tentative and surprisingly long-lasting due to the preserving qualities of the cold.  The hardier plants (like my lawn of violets) sent up their leaves and a good number of blooms, but not nearly as prolific as if we had been closer to normal temperatures.

All that changed Friday when we got well into the 70s.  You could sense the plants soaking in the sunshine and warmth, getting ready to explode in their usual springtime array of colors.  Saturday, the explosion happened.  The tulip pictured above was a tightly-closed bud Thursday, but in its full glory on Saturday by midday.  Our dogwood had been holding its buds closed until Saturday when they all opened out simultaneously and started to take on color.  A double-flowered cherry tree in a park nearby went from pink buds Friday to a cloud of whipped cream today.

I took advantage of the warm temperatures Saturday to do some work on our front yard, which is a work in progress that I hope to transform from vine-infested and weed choked to a clover lawn with violets and other wild flowers on the edges.  I had to dig out the daylilies that didn’t really bloom because of a lack of sun, but just sent their leaves to hang over the path to the front door.  They were also choking out the iris I put in, so out they had to come.  I also put in a couple of witch hazel plants to serve as a demarcation for the front (after taking out the falling-down fence last fall) as well as a native bleeding heart.  The weather was perfect for working the ground, and today’s nearly constant rain is a bonus for the plants I put in.

Even though the temperatures are predicted to get rather chilly again, the danger of frost seems to have passed, and all the plants know it.  Spring truly has sproinged this year.

Easter Dresses

DSC06980I didn’t promise the twins that I would finish these dresses in time for Easter, so I was careful to call them springtime dresses before they were done.  Turns out, I finished them prior to Easter Vigil, so the twins did, in fact, get Easter dresses.  Not too bad for sewing what was essentially four tops and two skirts in about three weeks (working after kids had gone to bed and a little on weekends).

The outer fabric is a very thin cotton jersey knit that needed a lining.  Since the skirt is so ruffled, it didn’t need lined, but the top certainly did.  To make it easy, I drafted a raglan sleeve pattern based on their measurements, and checked against a t-shirt to figure out where to put the arm seams.  The part that took me the longest was figuring out how to get the sleeves sewn together so that the seam was hidden.  Here’s how I did it (but I’m sure there’s an easier way).

The other techinque I finally got to work was running a gathering stitch.  Usually, I use thousands of pins and sub-divide repeatedly.  Since the skirts are the full width of the fabric, this would have taken hours and not really have looked that great.  This time, by setting my tension at almost zero, I was able to pull the thread easily and get some pretty decent gathers.

Easter dresses for the twins that should get a lot of use this spring and summer given how comfy they are and how easy it is to put them on.  Since it was such a quick and easy project (once I figured out the sleeves…), I may have to work with Yakum to sew her a similar dress.


Holy Week Begins

Today was Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (or, more simply, Palm Sunday (in the Extraordinary Form, last week was Passion Sunday, this week is Palm Sunday, but in the Ordinary form, this week gets called Passion Sunday because the Passion is read)).  We remember Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, where the people all shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

And yet, come Good Friday, those shouts of joy have turned to derision where the crowd asks for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified.  It’s a little bit of an emotional roller coaster, you could say.  It’s also our last chance to make good on our Lenten promises, and a chance to enter deeply into the mysteries of Jesus’ passion and death so that we can join in the glorious resurrection on Easter.  As our parish priest said this morning, this is the high point of our year; without this week, we wouldn’t be [in mass].

Wishing you all a truly holy Holy Week, and may you be open to the graces that come from joining yourself to the passion.

Signs of Spring


It is noticeably springtime here in the DC area, below average daily temperatures aside.  Here are a few signs I’ve noticed (some unique to here, others a bit more universal):

  1. Crocus and daffodils are in bloom.  There’s a beautiful stretch on the Mt. Vernon trail by Arlington National Cemetery that always makes me think of “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” this time of year.  Now, given the warm February, crocus have been blooming for an extended period of time already, but slowed down once the chillier March hit.
  2. The day is noticeably longer.  Just after daylight saving time, I had to use my lights in the morning for about a week, and now they’re not really needed unless it’s cloudy when I leave for work.  This also means I have a couple of very tricky spots on the commute that put the sun right in my eyes.  Or at least I do for about another week or so, after which the sun will be high enough that it won’t be too bad.
  3. The squirrels are out in force, to include the suicide sqad ones.  Closer to home, they’ve established a squirrel superhighway across our back deck as they scurry about looking for food (to include digging up bulbs).  Of course, this greatly annoys the cats, who watch the squirrels go back and forth, but can’t get them because of the window.
  4. A marked increase in tourists.  Judging by the matching outerwear (usually windbreakers, sometimes sweatshirts or baseball caps), the spring break field trip to DC crowd has hit.
  5. And, finally, the wind.  I don’t actually mind the cold we’ve had (about 10 degrees below normal for March is what I’ve read) because the days do start to warm up, and at least the angle of the sun makes it feel warmer.  I am, however, done with the wind.  We’ve had several days in a row with wind around 20 mph, which makes biking difficult.  The gusts have been pretty bad, too–30 mph and up.  Friday I was certain I was going to get blown off the bridge when crossing the Potomac.  Rationally I know that wasn’t going to happen, but a gust caught me just the wrong way and had me holding on pretty tight.

Happy Springtime!