Category Archives: daily life

another reason to pay attention in your statistics classes

Media Oversimplifies New Study Linking Alcohol and Breast Cancer.  Cabernet may be the smoking gun, but it may not. Is there anything the media doesn’t over-simplify?  Isn’t that what we pay them to do?

Can the human body’s reactions to what it ingests and what it’s exposed to over its lifetime be linked to its responses with any certainty?  You could spend a bunch of time looking up diseases that you or your neighbor might possibly one day contract, or you could rely on statistics to tell you what’s more likely.  Know what I love about this graphic from the National Safety Council?  That “Total, Any Cause” is still 1 in 1.  Hah, I knew it!  Pass the cabernet.

Like my friend Phil always quotes, “If the brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t. ”  Emerson Pugh.

roaming children, roaming cats

The LA Times hosted a health chat with Richard Louv last week, known for describing “nature deficit disorder.”  I’m a big fan of his ideas.  It’s an ongoing challenge to keep nature, in all its forms, an active part of the lives of our teenagers.  We’re in the midst of one success story: the 13- and 14-yr-old are hiking for a week with their grandparents, at the Grand Canyon and in southern Utah (Zion NP, and elsewhere).  We didn’t force them to leave their phones here, and my daughter stays remarkably aware of wi-fi zones in the hotels where they stay. But I know that at least their days are spent hiking and phone-free, and this journey with John and Wendy will certainly be a life-long memory for them.  If they just survive the 24-hrs/day they’re spending with each other right now…

And look, even cats know the fun of roaming outdoors.

Stop reading this blog. Go outside and walk around the block, or if you’re lucky, up in the woods.

Thanks, Janet, for the hat tip on Louv’s interview.

stop life for a minute and catch your breath

I’m finding my life a bit overwhelming lately, with way too much happening and too many unanticipated things to manage.  Yet somehow I’ll get through it all, and I’ll survive, literally, and these days too will seem like a blur.

Then what’s left at the end of the day (week, year, life) is fragmented memories that you piece together.  I’ve been watching this video clip on life’s moments that my friend Theresa shared with me.  And listening non-stop to the new album Rome by Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi.   And loving them both.

Mapping and Classifying Your Every Move: Quotidian Habits

The location-enabled form of navel-gazing.  Wear a GPS  for 200 days and then categorize all of your activities.  Someone has a lot of time on their hands…  But from an anthropological perspective, I appreciate the curiosity of it –

Argentina 2, come and gone

Sorry to have left you hanging. We spent our last days in City Bell with extended goodbyes, parties at the children’s school (they were selected as the ones to lower the flag in the end-of-the-day ceremony), marveling at the amount of stuff that we’d accumulated in just 12 weeks, packing it up to give to Mari or return with us, walking around town to see things one last time, and all the while shivering because it had just turned frigid.
Eventually we did indeed make it home to California, all in one piece (or many pieces, of luggage). I have never loved living in Redlands as much as I did last Sunday afternoon, with some friends meeting us at the airport and others waiting for us at home with a lunch to share. It was warm and sunny in every meaning of the words. My most common response to the “How was Argentina?” question is, “Wonderful, with a current of inconveniences running throughout.”
Meanwhile, I can’t believe how quickly our calendars have been filling and how much mail we accumulated. Each day we must try and remember how nice it was to have simplified things for a while. For three months there we managed to go without a car. While we were away, gasoline prices here have soared to $4.35/gallon and they’re pennies higher EVERY DAY. We will change our habits. We must change our habits.
One highlight of the week has been the short phrases and sentences in Spanish that the children have been using. Even the kid who was most resistant to being there from Day 1!
Thanks for reading. This blog is likely to be re-purposed for topics more related to mapping, but I’ll be sure to let you know when the next extended trip will occur. However probably not Argentina 3…

Argentina 2, Day 68 – Handfuls of Homespun Haiku

Barking dog chorus
One escape triggers the rest
There will be no peace

Eight invitations
Parade of birthday parties
Almost every week

Ants dig towards the light
Build a little mound of dirt
On the bathroom grate

Frutería man
Sings his favorite songs each day
From the hit show Grease

School bus late again
Flat tires leaking windows
Sixteen kids in van


Things to be happy about, in no particular order:

>Conversations with Mari


Talking with Mari is a highlight of my weekday afternoons. I’d like to tell you her last name, but I don’t know it. I do know that she’s been working (cleaning, cooking, childcare) for our friends Barbara and Daniel for 8 years. I know her husband is named Nestor and they have three children (two teenage sons and a daughter who’s about Emily’s age, 13). She’s Argentine and hasn’t traveled more than 100 or so miles away from this town in her whole life. I expect she’s a couple years younger than me, though her decades of physical work have hardened her.

When we arrived in March I immediately began to ask around for domestic help. During Argentina One, Elvi lived with us and I was eager to replicate that experience, to whatever extent possible. (Interesting post recently on this topic of hiring domestic help from a blog that I enjoy reading). Barbara’s suggestion of Mari has been a short-term solution to a short-term situation. Barbara knows she’s recommended someone trustworthy, Mari makes some (always needed) extra money, and we get some help. Though it would mean LONG days for her, we all agreed to try. She starts working for us around 5 pm, after she’s been working at Barbara’s since 8 am. Our house is small (about 1100 sq ft), and some types of things she’d normally do (laundry, for example) are already out-sourced. Plus I’ve usually washed the breakfast dishes by 5 pm, on most days.

From the beginning it was clear that cooking is Mari’s first love. Before she worked for Barbara, one of her jobs was to prepare pastries at a small restaurant in La Plata, but the hours were too long and unreliable. One day when I was downtown I saw a flyer for a cooking school and I brought it home to her. She carefully read every word out loud and wondered whether you would need “secundario” (high school) to enroll. Because she doesn’t have secundario.

She’s often talks about how difficult it has been for her to leave her own kids alone while she spends her hours caring for other people’s children. About seven years ago, all three of her kids came down with hepatitis (A, probably) and required many weeks of bedrest and medical care. Throughout those months she didn’t dare tell Barbara about the hepatitis at all, afraid of losing her job. Instead she sanitized her life with boiling water and bleach. I’d call it a no-win situation.

Our conversations focus on our common ground instead of our vast differences. We’re two woman, within a few years’ ago of each other, both wives and mothers to three children. We commiserate over our teenagers, the curious behavior of our siblings, and our aging parents. We swap recipes for desserts we like making. As I type this, Chris is dictating to her his recipe for corn bread (she’d never had it before last week, when Chris had made it, and she intends to prepare it for her family tonight).

Once in a while she tells stories of working for Barbara, Daniel, and their daughters. It’s more venting frustrations than gossiping, and she feels safe telling me things that she knows I won’t turn and tell Barbara. Unless Barbara becomes one of the handful of people who reads this blog… Admittedly awkward to hear stories about one’s friends’ personal habits (but oh so tantalizing from a soap opera, human-interest perspective). I usually do the equivalent of covering my ears with hands and saying “la-la-la-la-la.” Oh well, all’s fair in life. She doesn’t tell these stories often, and our lives may be just as interesting for Barbara to hear about.


A somewhat frustrating week of dealing with the asynchronous orbits of life. Parenting, partnering, household managing, writing as a geographer, preparing data for classes I’ll teach in September. Meanwhile every time some natural disaster occurs, like earthquakes that bury children or cyclones that swamp them, I wonder again why I’m not using my mapping skills for humanitarian work (instead of a life teaching privileged students in higher education). You might say that I’m teaching them so that they can go out and do good deeds themselves, but sometimes I don’t want to be once-removed from a real and pressing need.

Yesterday at Colegio Patris the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders hosted an all-day sports tournament with three of the other local private schools. It’s part of Patris’s celebration of their 10th anniversary. So for hours Eric played rounds of soccer and Julia played rounds of field hockey. By the time I arrived in mid-afternoon I’d missed all of Julia’s games, but others told me she played extremely well. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that she towers over her diminutive, younger peers. She now wants to play field hockey when she returns to the States, something that would be a matter of course in New England, but not so easy in Southern California. Eric’s 5th grade team also made it to the championship round but they lost in the last few moments. I got to hear the girls in his class chanting his name, which sounds like “Aihr-Reek.”

Two weeks and counting …

Living with Less – Guest Post by Chris Sinton

As a faculty member of an environmental studies program, I really need to “practicar lo que sermonear.” Our stay in City Bell has given us a chance or, more accurately, has forced us to live with a lower environmental impact. As I ask my students “what is the minimum amount of material and energy we can use and still live a safe, healthy, and happy life?” Ok, it is hard to measure the happiness part but we are relatively safe and certainly well-fed. A note on feeding: the children like to point out that I am growing at least one more chin. Maybe I will grow back my beard and hide my new collection.

In the US we have: two cars, many bikes, washer/dryer, fancy stove/oven, dishwasher, microwave, large refrigerator, assorted mixers and blenders, electric knife sharpener, central air/heat, and lots of other goodies. Here, we have a TV, an ancient fridge, a dinky stove/oven, a fraction of the pots and pans, and a quarter of the clothes we own. [We do have our computers]. It is like being in a camping cabin for three months.

How can we survive? Life without a car works because we can easily walk to get groceries, ice cream, soccer balls, etc. To get to work, I either pick up a bus near the house or, more often, walk twenty minutes to catch a bus on the main road (Camino Centenario). Total bus trip is 10-20 minutes. Eric and Julia take an overcrowded minibus to and from school. If we need to get somewhere with Emily, we take a taxi. To transport the entire family, we need two taxis (hassle but workable).

While we have reduced our transportation impact, I am not so sure about the house. The house is uninsulated and the fridge runs most of the time. A rolled up towel keeps out the draft from the gap under the front door.

On the stuff side, we get by with what we have. We do miss some of our appliances and certainly a car, but that is mostly when we need to get Emily somewhere. Most of our food seems to come locally, although bananas still come from Ecuador and other fruits from the western side of the country.

OK, lesson learned. We can get by with less. Can we go home now and fire up the big gas grill?