Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rain: Lots More Rain (March 16-20)

The weather forecasters were right. Lots of rain this week. Yesterday and the night before, we got another 1.95 inches of rain, which brings our total for the 2010-2011 rainy season to 28.80 inches. The historical average for Santa Rosa on March 16 is 26.80 inches, so that puts us well ahead of normal. Some locations in Santa Rosa have already reported nearly 32 inches this season, which is above the historical annual average for Santa Rosa of 31.01 inches. More rain is forecast for the coming days. It looks like we won't have a droughty summer this year.

[Update: A big storm--the biggest we've had in several years--blew through last night, the night of the 19th, and dumped another 3.2 inches of rain on Santa Rosa. As of the morning of the 20th, our total stood at 32.00 inches--already more rain than the 31.01 inches of an average year here (the official rain season runs from July 1 to June 30 of the following year). By March 20, the average accumulated rainfall in Santa Rosa has been 27.24 inches historically, so we are now almost fives inches above normal, but one site I monitor in Santa rosa has reported almost 2.5 inches more than we've had. In any case, we've had a lot of rain in the past week (and it's still drizzling)--more than enough, if you ask me. It's getting a bit tiresome, but I'm willing to put up with it if it means not having to worry about the plants as much over the long, dry summer ahead.]

Wines I'm Making: Vines Pruned (2011)

Today I finally got around to pruning the grape vines. The buds have already begun to swell and the pruning wounds are weeping a fair amount, but that's pretty typical.

A row of freshly pruned vines is always a hopeful sight. This year, I hope the summer weather is less cold. I hope the grapes ripen more fully. I hope to make very good wine in 2011. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Miscellaneous: One Reason America's Health System Stinks

Last time I had to get a prescription for antibiotics, I had an infected cut on the middle finger of my left hand, the result of a mishap with an oyster and an oyster knife. I bought the prescription at a Kaiser Permanente pharmacy for around $31 only to find later that the same drug in generic form would have cost only $4.99 at Target.

Today a family member got a prescription for a different antibiotic, to treat an oral infection. The Kaiser pharmacy quoted a price of $28.70. Going on my previous experience, I tucked away that bit of information and smugly called Target, congratulating myself on what I expected to be a significantly lower price--but I was surprised to get a quote nearly four times higher than the Kaiser Permanente price, even asking for a generic equivalent.

I got curious. I called three other local pharmacies. The high price (at Dollar Drug) was $161.98 (nearly six times the Kaiser price), but Dollar Drug helpfully pointed out that it would be only $58 if I got the prescription in the form of 80 150mg capsules instead of 40 300mg capsules. (Oddly, Kaiser charges a few dollars more for the 150mg capsules.) Costco, however, was able to fill the prescription in generic form using 80 150mg capsules for only $21.76. The results of my inquiries are in the table below, which shows prices quoted for the prescription using 300mg and 150mg capsules where both were available.

Clindamycin HCL 

                      300mg x 40      150mg x 80

Dollar Drug     $161.98     or     $58.00
Walmart           $116.00     or     $83.00
Target              $100.99     or     $51.99
Kaiser              $28.70       or     $31.10
Costco                                          $21.76

Does this make sense? First, I wonder why Kaiser Permanente isn't offering me a lower price than Costco, considering that I send Kaiser hundreds of dollars every month in premium payments--far, far more than the annual dues I pay to get the benefits of a Costco membership (although it's worth noting that anyone can use a Costco pharmacy--Costco is required by law to fill prescriptions for members and non-membern alike). Second, I wonder why there should be a difference of greater than 300% between the least and most expensive ways to fill this prescription that don't involve being a member of Costco or paying premiums to Kaiser (the difference between $51.99 and $161.98). Most importantly, it seems to me, if Costco can fill this prescription at 13% of the highest price quoted, something is seriously wrong--but I don't suppose that's news to anyone. I don't mean to single out Dollar Drug here. I assume their prices are in line with prices at other private pharmacies--and it wouldn't surprise me if a few more phone calls turned up still-higher prices for this particular prescription. I just wonder how often insurance companies get paid for prescriptions at prices much higher than are necessary? Why can't we do something about this kind of wasted money? 

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Bosc Pear, Tulipa Bakeri, Isopogon Formosus

First blooms yesterday on some of the species tulips in the garden--the Tulipa bakeri in front of the house. These are the survivors of about 300 I planted about four years ago. One summer the squirrels discovered them and ate most of the bulbs. Those that remain are very pretty. Species tulips, unlike the familiar florist's tulips are not hybrids. It is from these species tulips that what most people think of as tulips today were developed. Tulips are native to places like Turkey and the countries of the Caucasus region. This is a variety called "Lilac Wonder." Tulipa bakeri bloomed in the garden on March 5 in 2009 and on Februray 24 in 2010, calculating years of 356 days and 383 days, which average to 369.5 days.

I count yesterday also as the first day of blooms on Isopogon formosus, a strange Australian flower that has done rather well here. I never know exactly when to judge it has bloomed. The petals are like filaments. The flowers open slowly and last a long time, both on the plant or cut. Isopogon formosus bloomed on March 26 in 2009 and on March 22 in 2010, calculating years of 361 days and 357 days, which average to 359 days.

The day before, March 13, the first flowers opened on the Bosc pear on the garage side of the house. It's raining again today. I wonder if the tree will set fruit? Last year we had none, presumably because of the strange, cold summer. We'll see. The Bosc pear bloomed on March 26 in 2009 and on March 22 in 2010, calculating years of 361 days and 356 days, which average to 358.5 days. All three of these plants have bloomed more irregularly than most.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rain: Yet More Rain (March 14, 2011)

Overnight we had yet more rain and even a little thunder and lightning, which is unusual in Santa Rosa (sometimes I miss the wall-shaking thunderstorms of the Midwest). We got 0.95 inches of rain, which brings our total for the 2010-2011 rainy season to 26.85 inches. The historical average for Santa Rosa on March 14 is 26.58 inches, so that puts us slightly ahead of normal, although some locations in Santa Rosa have already reported nearly 30 inches this season. The forecast for this entire week is...rain. Let us hope it doesn't become radioactive rain.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Music I'm listening to: Kurt Masur Conducting The San Francisco Symphony

I attended a concert by the San Francisco Symphony last night. Guest conductor Kurt Masur led the orchestra in an all-Mendelssohn program of Symphony No. 4 and the Complete Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Maestro Masur looked a bit frail going to and from the podium, but very much in charge while he was there, getting a very clean, precise, and persuasive performance from the players--hard really to imagine how it could have been better.

I was going to write more, but find myself much distracted by what's going on in Japan, and have to get taxes done by today...

Photo of conductor Kurt Masur courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.
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