Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a simple and cozy Merry Christmas. We will be taking time to enjoy friends and family, and just relaxing at or near home.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Honeyville Grain Blog Button!

From time to time I will add buttons for businesses that I use. Today's addition is on the upper left of this blog. I've added it for two reasons.

First, on their blog, they are having a great give-away for three different assortments of their long-term food storage items (#10 cans of freeze dried fruit, vegies, potatoes). Not that I want the competition, but you may want to check it out. I'm a great believer in their products -- I use their grain to make bread (see my previous blogs about grinding grain to make bread). I've used some of their other products as well and find them to be a really good value. I expect their blog to continue to offer the same quality as their products -- and they give good stuff away!

The second reason I've added their blog button is related to the Honeyville Grain PRODUCTS. They are always high quality. There is NO weight minimum on bulk grain. Their shipping is always $4.49 per order. For those who regularly buy grain that must be shipped to you, you may say "Website X has lower prices for their grain" and you'd be right. I ran the numbers on websites X AND Y and found Honeyville to be the best for my needs. Website X sold grain for half the cost, but by the time you included their SHIPPING cost the grain was TWICE the Honeyville cost pound for pound. Website Y was a little less expensive and their shipping was almost as reasonable as Honeyville -- BUT they had a 250 pound minimum for grain that is packed for long term storage. Not sure about you, but I just don't have the extra money and space to buy 250 lbs when I only need 50 pounds for current use.

I suggest you check them out, bookmark their site and, when thinking about your daily and long term food strage needs, order from them. They ship fed-ex to me, so the goods arrive within a few days (less than a week)and even the 50 lb boxes (with a big bag of wheat inside) arrive in perfect condition. As you can tell, I'm a fan!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Morning with a Mission

Both literally and figuratively!

A friend and I drove up to the San Xavier mission, south of Tucson. The weather was stunning and topped off at around 70 degrees. There were few people there when we arrived.

The mission was founded in the early 1600's, burned down in the early 1700's and was rebuilt. The second mission still stands. The restorations have been ongoing for years, both inside and out. Here is one of my favorite views inside -- bright vibrant colors to brighten your prayers!

The dome above the nave is partially restored, and reflects the roses of Our Lady of Guadelupe.

From there, we bid farewell to the Mission and headed toward the Mission School.

We had some business there. Our service organization, which has purpose that includes education and historic preservation, donated reading books, dictionaries and a small amount of cash to the school.

It is a beautiful little school, with probably 150 students. In giving out the dictionaries, we encouraged students to learn the right words to learn and pass along their tribal culture and legends, as well as prepare themselves for their future.

I detoured for a moment to take care of personal business, and found a wonderful place to learn.

We ended our visit with a stop at the brush arbor for a fried bread sandwich. My friend had cheese, I had bean and cheese. Wish I'd skipped the beans, but it was a delicious ending to a lovely morning with a mission.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Art of the Porch

We are blessed to live in a place with three comfortable seasons and very few nuisance insects, in part due to the low humidity. Our garden, which incorporates integrated pest management practices also helps on the bad-bug reduction. We are in a part of the country where porches never really went out of style. I remember my mother referring to the 'sleeping porch' in her childhood home. On hot evenings, they would break out the cots and enjoy the cool night air while the adobe walls gave back the day's heat. By 3 am the house would have cooled down, but they were fast asleep on the porch by then.

Our porch is about 10 feet wide and 30 feet long. It provides three seasons of entertaining and resting space. It offers a small 'summer kitchen' for making preserves without heating up the entire, unairconditioned house. We have no dining room inside, so winter meals are on a collapsable table if it is too cold to use the porch.

The porch is a window on our world. We see when the crowd at the cafe has let up, so we can grab a salad or talk to the neighbors. We can see my sister's house and whether the lights are on, signifying that she made it back from town. We can break bread with neighbors or rest in its shade between chores. Most of the houses in our town have porches, and we tend to sit a spell on each a few time each year.

I have come to believe that porches are the ultimate sign of a civil community. They tell people that you are part of the community, that you value the concept of community as more than a geographic space on a map, but as the communion of neighbors with common purpose. They invite the borrowing of a cup of sugar or a conversation about how little Jimmy is doing in school. They may not be the glue that holds a community together, but they sure provide the opportunity to start making the glue. Or at least that's my opinion.

Lazy Woman's Garden

For years I have watched people who buy and plant annuals (plants that germinate, bloom, set seed and die in one growing season) and scratched my head. I'm not talking about the annuals like larkspur, where you cast the seed on the ground and they become self-seeding for many years after. This is the act of buying, preparing soil, digging with trowel and planting petunias, marigolds, heck -- I don't even know the names of most because they don't interest me. Why go to all that trouble, just to do it again next year? Some do it each season, for multiple iterations per 3-season cycle. Maybe I'm stupid, but I don't get it. Do they not have other things to do, like bake bread or make beds?

Here's my idea of gardening: select the perennials you want, plant them, put them on the drip system, prune them occasionally and let them fend for themselves. We have a polinator garden 'room' full of native blooming plants to attract beneficial bugs , a medicinal and herb garden of only perennial herbs, a cutting area with peonies and daiseys, fruit and nut trees, currants and berries, asparagus, rhubarb and soon jerusalem artichokes. It's survival of the fittest.

It has paid off fairly well in the last few years, although this year my dear husband convinced me to put bone meal on some of the fruit to get better yeild, which we did. We have had apples all but one year (late frost), a bumper crop of currants and raspberries (enough to can a few quarts of preserves) and will probably harvest enough asparagus next spring to have a meal (it's only been in the ground for 2 years).

More and more my thoughts go to not spending the time or water on something that doesn't 'contribute' to the system. I have a few of those, but most of my plants have a specific purpose in addition to just bringing a smile, though that's not a bad purpose for any living thing!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Ultimate Bedache

I hate clutter. You wouldn't know by seeing the interior of my home, as a liberal collection of it is visible at almost any time. Part of this is from the lack of meaningful storage in American houses. As a result, I look for furniture that takes advantage of the space it uses by providing storage. As an example, my living room coffee table is actually a chest that is also my horizontal filing cabinet.

Several years ago I saw an advertisement for The Ultimate Bed. WOW!! It showed what is essentially two 6-drawer chests of drawers with a platform bed on top. Talk about hitting multiple hot-buttons with me!!! In addition to hating clutter, I hate box springs, so this product was calling my name. The fact that it is made in the USA set the hook firmly in my jaw. All that remained was to reel in this fish. Of course, the downside is that it was not inexpensive and other things were higher on the list, like paying off the house.

Fast forward to 2010. Money saved up, bed selected and careful delivery plans were flawlessly executed by the manufacturer and Federal Express. Kudos all around.

The day after Thanksgiving we disassembled the old bed and made room to set up the new. When I read that the bed came in several cartons, my vision was that the chests of drawers were each in their own carton, the headboard in another, the platform in several pieces, etc.. Oh contraire! The cartons were small and flat. This gave me pause. No sweat. We were two mechanically-inclined adults with Makita power tools. We could easily wrestle this bed into submission.

By the end of day 1, I could barely walk -- my back was shot. My husband was whipped. The two dressers and drawers came together after only about 6 hours AND we only had minor issues that required dis- and re- assembly. My husband estimated that we had installed at least 200 screws by day's end. We slept on the fold-out in the living room that night.

Day two was equally full and saw the manifestation of the platform and headboard. Of course, I wanted the mission-style. Surprise!! Each slat of the design (there are 29 slats) required placement on their specific spot and installation of two screws. The good news is that the top and bottom rails have spacing tape already on them to make the slat placement easier -- no need to measure and mark off the spacing yourself. However, it would have been nice if the directions stated to put the slats on the BLACK lines. We counted slats and counted black spaces and decided they were meant to go on the WHITE lines. Oops, we miscounted and had one slat left over. So, unscrew, reposition on black, and reattach.

By dinnertime, approximately 15 hours elapsed time after opening the first carton and reading the directions, we were able to replace the mattress on the new bed and start filling the drawers. My dear husband's back was on fire -- a rare occurrence. The projects I had planned for the long weekend had not been touched -- other than the bed.

The good news is that the bed is very nice. The drawers are a bit smaller than I had expected -- about half the size of my old dresser drawers. That part is OK, as the excess clothing will go to a good cause. We moved two dressers from the bedroom, leaving our nightstands and a comfy chair. The headboard has reading lamps so we now have less clutter on our nightstands as well.

The bad news is that it is Tuesday morning and despite pain meds, my back is only starting to return to normal. I ended up taking today off from work to recover. I know that a year from now I will have forgotten the discomfort -- like forgetting the pain of childbirth by the baby's first birthday. I love my new bed, but I am still recovering from my Ultimate Bedache!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Old Year's Resolution

Twice in two days I have been really irritated by the concept of waiting in a long line to give a merchant my money. I work hard for my pay and the concept that the merchant does not want to add one more $7.50 per hour checker to handle the crowd makes me crazy. Yesterday, I resolved not to put up with this form of tyranny. Oh, before then I might occasionally abandon a cart-o-stuff if the management was not paying attention to the queues, but now it is a crusade.

Yesterday, I was polite about it when I found 7 people in line and 1 checker out of 9 aisles. I mentioned nicely that I'd like to leave my money in their store (Hastings Books), but if they didn't open a register soon, I'd just leave without their merchandise. It worked, and by the time we got to the cashier, there were 3 aisles open and people still standing in lines 3 deep.

Queuing theory is not lost on me. Yes, lines wax and wane throughout the day, blah, blah, blah. A sharp manager will know when to open a line so that people don't leave their stuff. That was the story today -- not the sharp manager part. I left my cart of selected stuff and walked out.

Sure, I spent 30 minutes picking it out, but I wasn't about to waste 30 minutes waiting for a chance to pay for it. Either a merchant wants my business, or they don't. Making me wait more than 5 minutes to leave my money is unacceptable to me. Why 5 minutes? Because that's about how long it will take for me to find the same things and pay for them on line. When I buy on line I do not need to wait in line -- on-line, not in-line -- catchy, eh?

News Flash for Mr or Ms Store Manager: not opening the other cashier is false economy. When I leave my cart-o-stuff, it actually costs you MORE than having the checker open. Someone will need to handle, think about where it goes and reshelve every item. A cashier could have checked me out in 3 minutes. Reshelving will take 8 to 10 minutes, because my stuff was from all over the store -- and you won't have the $50 I would have spent, so that's a net loss to you, Ross dress-for-less!

WHEW. I feel better now. Perhaps good enough to go back for the same stuff tomorrow and use my Senior discount. Now that's adding insult to injury for the store's bottom line!

So anyone else have a shopping pet peeve?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Preparing for two holidays at once

I'm starting to confuse myself! Which is the Thanksgiving list and which is the Christmas list?? This year we are trying to shop frugally and thoughtfully for Christmas. I won't have time to make everyone's gift, and my talents aren't that strong so buying enters the picture.

One gift I've given before that is really easy to make are nice bread boards. Most of the ones for sale are made of strips of scrap wood from China glued together. They tend to split into kindling in my kitchen. In years past, I went to Home Depot and bought a 5/8th inch thick, maple or oak board, 6 to 8 inches wide. My husband was kind enough to cut them to 10 inch lengths on the table saw. A couple of pieces of sand paper and a bottle of mineral oil, combines with a few hours of sitting in the evening and POOF, you have sturdy breadboards. I really abuse mine and only one has split, probably because it was a foot square, which is too wide for a board that gets wet and dried often.

My brother is easy. He loves a type of German Chocolate that he can't get in Boise, so that's his 'big present'. Everyone gets a bottle of dried rosemary from my garden. My sister usually has a list and assigns us a gift. No surprises, but at least you know she won't be returning it. Two lucky winners will get breadboards with nice but small breadknives I found on sale. Maybe only one, if I can't stand to part with the other one...

People at work get this year's wonderful Penzey's spice collection (Total bargain: 4 bottles of either baking or BBQ spices for $8) and a locally made tree ornament. My boss will get a coveted bottle of black currant preserves from my garden, not because I want to impress him, but because he is a good Christian man who works hard for the good of his organization AND he loves black currant jam.

That leaves about 6 people and I'm clueless about them. Three are over 80 and in moderately good health. I'm thinking edibles, but low cal. The others are in their 30's and I'm lost. If anyone out there has a suggestion about this age group, not too expensive, I'd love to hear some ideas. I usually keep gifts under $25 for a lot of reasons, and the recipients are relative conservative people (if that helps). Thanks for any ideas you may send my way!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dog People

My husband and I are dog people. We like having a companion who is smart, but not surly like cats are. Why have a pet if they are not here for your companionship and vice versa? We have had several dogs in the years we have been together. The first, Dusty, was a terrier mix who looked like a fox terrier had mixed itup with a basenji. Nice enough dog who came into my life when she was 9 or 10 years old, but was raised by cats so had some interesting traits. Once she figured out that if she calmed down she could be a house dog, all went well.

Our next dog was THE dog of my life. She was the result of a dog-sitting accident between a golden retriever and an english cocker spaniel. From the first day, she was cute beyond belief. She looked like stuffed bear, so we named her Teddy, of course. We bonded while she was a puppy and she was our little girl for many years. When she was about 6 weeks old, she sat inthe middleof the kitchen floor, threw back her head and let our a little puppy howl "ROOoooooo!" It was one of her many vocalizations and we loved it. She learned to hunt birds from Dusty -- the dog raised by cats. One day I watched her and she was like clockwork -- flush the birds to the east, switch back, wait and catch them when they turned to avoid the north fenceline after avoiding the east fenceline. Dang, she was doing some serious planning and the bird went right into her mouth -- never saw it coming.

She was also a fierce watchdog. She went from cute to protective in nothing flat. It always startled and amazed me, but it was her job and she took it very seriously.

A few weeks after she was in heat, she started nesting. She had several favorite babies and moved them religiously around the house as she went about her daily routine. She would have been a good mom, but had bad hips, so it was not to be. It was still incredibly cute to see her nurture her little squeeky toys for a few days before getting back to being herself.

The tough part about being dog people is the bargain. For all the joy and love, our companions,
their lives are too short. It has been a year since she went on to puppy heaven and I miss her. I hope some day to go to puppy heaven too so I can hang out with her again. She was a good one.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Have a beautiful autumn week!

What color is Autumn? How do we know it is here? A date? A cool breeze?

Here in the warm southwest, the clues are more subtle for the observant to note, long before the first frost.

What is your favorite sign of Fall falling?

How you can make FABULOUS Sourdough Bread

My husband grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, and I lived there for a decade. We both enjoy sourdough (SD for short) bread, but are VERY picky about what we would call sourdough. There are a lot of SD wanna-be's out there. There are also a lot of folks that would be happy to sell you the definitive SD starter for only $19.99, $29.99 or more. Do not be fooled!!

Having been in search of great SD in the decade since I left San Fran, there are a few things I can pass along. First, your SD starter, unless you live in San Francisco or Seattle will never taste like the stuff from the Boudin Bakery (my FAVORITE) at Fisherman's Wharf. The reason is simple: you do not have a daily dose of thick fog that keeps the variety of microbes in the SF Starter happy. You can approximate that flavor, and I will share that tip with you a few paragraphs from now.

Second, the two best starters I have ever used are FREE. OK, close to free. For one, a couple of postage stamps are involved. For the other, you will need a pound of red grapes. Crazy, isn't it!?

If you have never kept a sourdough starter, there are three basic rules: 1. Do not use anything metal to store or proof your SD starter. 2. This is alive, like having a pet. If you can't commit to the starter and feed it weekly once it is going, don't start it. 3. Be consistent with your flour and water for the best product. If you must use tap water, let it stand for at least 12 hours before you add it to the starter.

Once you commit, you need about 10 pounds of flour for the process during the first month or two. Do not use finely milled flour. I have used gold medal all-purpose and King Arthur unbleached bread flour successfully. WalMart Hungarian flour, which I love and use for other things, does not work well for starter. It is too fine.

Now, let's start with the grape method. Get access to a copy of either the first COOKING WITH MASTER CHEFS by Julia Child, or BREADS FROM LA BREA BAKERY by Nancy Silverton. You can probably find them without buying. Basic concept is to use the natural yeast on the grapes as they team up with the natural ones in your flour.

Basic process is to start with 1 to 2 pounds of grapes stems and all, unwashed, wrap in cheese cloth, tie in string so you have a bundle, smack it a few times with a rolling pin to rough up most of the grapes and release the grape juice and sugars onto the cheesecloth. Drop your battered bundle into a large glass bowl, add 3 cups of water and a cup or so of flour - enough to cover the bundle. Put a plate over the top and leave it on the counter over night. Feed it the next day, but this time, about 1.5 cups of water and 1 cup of flour. Mush the bundle with a wooden or plastic spoon a few times to circulate the goods inside the cheesecloth. Two days later, 1 cup of each and mush the bundle. There should be good bubbles by now, and it should smell a bit like wine. Two more days, 1 cup of each and mush. Two days later, remove the grape bundle (Mush the goods out with clean hands as you remove) and pour the starter in the glass jar. Feed it with equal parts flour and water and put it in the fridge. Use whatever doesn't fit in the jar to make bread or pancakes. To keep my starter in the fridge, I use a 2 quart glass jar with a rubber ring and top. Not sure what you call these, but they have the metal fittings to keep jar and top attached. I buy wonderful Italian ones from Ross, where they are very inexpensive.

Now that you are familiar with the hard way to make your own, here is the EASY method. Go to the Friends of Carl website ( ) and follow the directions to send them a self-addressed stamped envelope. They will send you a dried version of a wonderful heirloom starter that has been passed around and preserved since 1847! When you get the dried starter, follow the directions to revive it. Put the left over dried starter in a cool place, or the freezer, in case you need it later. It is the best!! Once you have a good quart or two grown on your counter, you are ready to make some SD bread and pancakes and store the remainder in the fridge! Now, go forth. May your wild yeasts be fruitful and multiply!

If you want to give your bread more of the San Fran taste, you need to replicate the other organisms that are present in the SF starters. My best result to do this is to add 2 to 4 ounces of Dannon non-fat plain yogurt to a cup or two of the starter when I begin to bake. DO NOT ADD to your jar of starter!! I also add about half a teaspoon of commercial yeast to the loaf. Again, not to your jar of starter. Either of these live commercial organisms (from the yogurt and yeast) will out-compete your delicate wild starter yeasts and you will lose the delicious flavor it brings if you add them to your 'mother' starter in the big jar in the fridge. That process does not happen fast enough to kill the flavor of one batch of bread, so you are OK there. I also use only starter as the liquid for my bread so that I do not need to let it grow overnight to leaven the bread. Throwing in an extra tablespoon of sugar to give the yeast some PEP is also helpful.

If you use a bread machine, do not use the short or quick cycle or your wild yeasts will not have a chance to do their thing. By hand, lengthen your rise time to get a full rise. Your ovenspring will also be somewhat less than with commercial yeast.

As for care and feeding: I bake weekly, but only use the SD every two weeks. I feed it weekly with a cup each of water and flour. I keep it in the refrigerator to slow the growth so that it does not eat me out of house and home, or become weak from hunger.

If you decide you love SD, treat yourself to Nancy Silverton's book. It is fabulous and shows how you could spend your life becoming a SD gourmet!

If you have a favorite sourdough starter or bread recipe, please share by using the comments process below!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

National Preparedness Month - Just one more thing

By now, if you have followed these posts for the month, you should have identified the potential hazards or emergencies in your region, assembled some items for your emergency kit, set aside a small stash of food and water, and started on a path to reduce your debt and increase some savings. These actions have prepared you to do what is called 'shelter in place.' You need to prepare for one more contingency -- not sheltering in place. If you must leave your home, which may need to be done in a hurry, you need to be prepared.

The classic preparation for fast departure is a pre-packed duffel bag or backpack, which is called by many names: BOB (bug-out bag), GOOD (get-out-of-Dodge) bag or a GO! (not an acronym, just GO!) bag. What these all have in common is that they meet these criteria: they are tailored to the individual, the potential emergency and the ability of the individual to carry it on their back in a quick exit.

The key to a well-stocked GO! bag is to have some basic plan for where you will go if you need to GO! Minimum items should be a change of shirt, 2 changes of underclothes, basic sanitation and dental care supplies, some high calorie stable food items, bottle(s) for water and some method for ensuring that the water is clean, a source of light, small first aid and sewing kits, and some cash --whatever you can afford to have sit in a bag near your bed. I suggest at least $50, but more is better. Think what it would cost for the first night or two with meals in a modest hotel.

Depending on your location and your plan, you may want other things: a compass, something to start a fire, a fishing line and hook, a small sleep sack and bug netting, sunglasses, comfort items. The purpose is to keep you and your family from being alone in the dark in your pajamas with nothing but a teary face to get you through the next few days until you can return home or find a more secure place to stay.

One way to make this concept work is to keep miniature or travel sized items in the bag -- it is for temporary use. Also look for lightweight alternatives for some items and don't pack non-essentials, like video games and photo albums. The point is to tailor it but keep it light so that if you end up walking instead of driving (think flood, windstorm that knocks down the trees, etc.) you DO NOT end up leaving a trail of important items behind as you become tired.

Once you and each of your family members have your own GO! bags, you must all fight the urge to raid or pilfer from them. You are also ready to start the next phase of GO! preparations, which could include a common but larger bag with additional clothing, more advanced first-aid or that book you know you'll have time to read. The larger bag or bags would be what gets loaded in the car if you have an hour or two notice that you will need to evacuate AND can take your car.

You may also want an empty box and a list for this contingency. This is where you get to load the 3 photo albums, more canned food from the pantry, the family silver, or whatever items you don't want to lose. Again, this is IF AND ONLY IF you have time to load more than your personal GO! bags. Remember: never put your lives at risk for STUFF. It's just not worth it. There will always be more STUFF, but there will never be another you!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

National Preparedness Month - now the hard part!

If you have been following my posts since the end of August ( or want to go back and work them) then you have:

1. Identified the potential emergency situations in your area
2. Also considered other potential hardships for which you need to be prepared
3. Have identified the items that would be most helpful to you in these circumstances
4. Have identified which of these you have on hand
5. Have gathered them into two places: one for food items and one for non-food items.

If you have done these things, CONGRATULATIONS!! You have taken some positive steps toward being more prepared!!

So why does this blog title reference a 'hard part?' Because you are never truly prepared if you are in debt. Huh? Debt? Yep. If you owe more than you can pay off with your cash-on-hand, and one of the things in 1. or 2. above happen, your life will be beyond miserable.

By debt I mean everything from a recently past-due light bill to credit cards to a car to a second mortgage. The only debt you should have is your mortgage and you should be working hard to pay that off-- IF you can really afford a house at all.

Why be debt-free? If you lose your job or are geographically displaced due to one of your geographic vulnerabilities, then you will either default on some of these and ruin your credit score when you need it most, or have something you need during your ordeal foreclosed or repossessed while you are trying to get your life back together.

Imagine that you were prepared enough to evacuate in your new van before the hurricane hit. Your home did not survive the blow. You, your spouse and two children are temporarily comfortably living in that nice van, when the repo man finds you and takes the van. You were even prepared enough to send your payment checks. Unfortunately the bank you use was destroyed in the hurricane and those checks bounced without your knowledge. Repo man doesn't really care about the hurricane or your lost job or the checks you say you sent. He just cares about the van. If he's a really nice repo man, your stuff will be on the street. Thanks, pal. Oh, wait, you brought it on yourself by using something you did not own! That's right!! If it's not paid off, you don't own it!!

There are a lot of people on the internet, radio and TV who make claims about how they can help you. The ones who seem to be most genuine to me are Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, but their programs do...cost money. (Suze does have some free tools on her website that are very helpful) What a dilemma! But there's hope!

You can also go to a Debtors Anonymous meeting, even if you have the normal garden variety debts, and learn a lot about how to manage your money, spend less, pay off your debts and build your prudent reserve. You can get most of what you need for a donation of a buck or two now and then, but you should go to meetings regularly to learn some of the management tools that work for others.

If you are going to work toward true preparedness, you'll get your spending and debt under control, liquidating/paying off as much debt as possible. Once that happens (if you are not already there), you will be in a position to purchase a few other items you need to improve your readiness for the unexpected.

If you need to work on this aspect of being prepared, consider going to one of the websites for the people and program I mentioned.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Guided Reflection on Your World

Everyone lives in their own world. It is part of being human. Some of us have very small 'personal worlds', not much larger than our home. Others globe-trot and manage large businesses or other interests. These people have 'personal worlds' that are vast and expansive. Take a moment to reflect on what constitutes your 'personal world'.

To borrow from the title of past sci-fi tales, personal worlds constantly collide. That's what makes the future so interesting. It is why predicting the ups and downs of the stock market tends to be more art than science. It is why we must also be prepared -- mentally, physically and spiritually -- to direct our lives as we wish, but remain adaptive to the external influences that collide with our personal worlds. Take a moment to reflect on how this dynamic has played out in your life. What if you had not been accepted to Medical School/college/whatever? What if you had not been pulled from the icy waters during that ice skating accident? What if you had been working in New York nine years ago....

Today is the ninth anniversary of a well-planned coordinated attack on this country. The 'personal worlds' of 19 people collided with ours. Yes, it changed all our worlds and lives, but especially those who lost friends and family, fathers, children, mothers, brothers and sisters. I ask you to pray for those who suffered these unimaginable losses in an instant. If you lost no one on that day, take a moment to reflect on the wonderful moments you have spent with your loved ones over the last 9 years, and imagine how your life might be if all those moments had been denied to you.

Echoes of the other types of damage are all around us today. I ask you to reflect on these things:

How has your personal world changed?

Do you feel less safe?

Have you recovered spiritually? Economically?

Have you resolved to become stronger and strengthen your part of the world?

Are you prepared to flourish regardless the external influences on your life?

These are appropriate reflections for this day and to set the stage for the remainder of National Preparedness month.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

National Preparedness Month -- taking action (#3)

You should be aware of your potential emergencies now, based on geography and demographics. You've also noticed some of the basic things on the appropriate list for your area from FEMA or another website that you reviewed. Find a box and a spot on a shelf. Start moving the things you already have that would be essential in an emergency to the box. Exclude food items at this time.

Ensure that the box is somewhere that you can get to it safely if the power is out and the lighting is minimal. Make sure that if you have only one flashlight, it is located in a place that is easy to find in the dark.

Once you have put what you have in the box, it's time to start thinking about food. Many of the websites advise 3 days of food. I think more makes sense. What if you live alone or are the single head of household and get a bad case of the flu? You may not be able to walk to the bathroom for 3 days, much less get to the grocery store!

My suggestion is at least 1 week of reasonable food availability. That includes a few cans of fruit packed in juice not syrup, some canned tuna or chicken, baked beans that have some seasoning --like Bush's or B+M-- why not a couple of cans of the B+M brown bread to go with the beans? Things like this are ready to eat right from the can, are nutritious and not overly salty. The one exception is chicken noodle soup, if your emergency really is that case of the flu you should have several cans. I found it at Target a week ago for 50 cents a can, so it isn't unreasonable to have a couple or three if you can get it at the summer price! BUT we're not at the point that you should be buying anything for your preparedness, just collecting what you have.

Find a shelf where you can put your 'emergency food.' If you have many people in your household, put a little sign on the shelf "OFF-LIMITS, EMERGENCY ONLY." Start with the can of fruit and tuna that you can spare, or at least wait a week or two before you need to use.

Do not store salty snacks for your emergency kit unless you anticipate hiking in the heat. Salty things will make you waste water. Speaking of which, know what your water storage is and have a little extra. If you have a hot water heater dedicated to your home, check how many gallons it holds. This could be your main storage. For planning purposes, you should have 3 gallons per person per day. If you have more liquid food items, you may be able to get away with 2 gallons per person -- 1 to drink and cook, 1 for personal sanitation. Look around to see what you have to store water that you drain out of the water heater. If you don't have a water heater, start saving those 2-liter soda pop bottles to fill with water after they are empty and rinsed.

That's all for now. Just locate your two places, start to assemble a few of the things you already have, and check out your water heater. See? Getting prepared isn't so hard, is it?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

National Preparedness Month #2

OK, you've had a day to think about what you may need to be prepared for in your part of the world. Now add a few things to that, like protracted illness for you or a loved one, an accident that requires time off from work, or even worse, loss of your livelihood.

Hopefully by now you have some general concept of what you need to have on hand to make it through a few days where you live. So what does it take to start getting organized in your mind to actually be physically prepared?

You can go to websites and look up lists of stuff that people have developed as guides to what you should have on hand in a kit for use in emergencies. FEMA has one or two, other sites do as well. Google something like 'preparedness lists.' You are in the phase of starting to identify your baseline, or the specific point from which you will depart in your preparedness month journey.

Unless you are in Hurricane Earl's path, don't go hog-wild right now. Just start looking around your home to see what you have on hand already. If you have an unused storage container, like a medium-sized sterlite or rubbermaid one, remind yourself where it is and what's in it now. This is the time when you are starting to see where you are and where you need to be, so it requires a bit of thought.

I know you already have a lot on your plate, so for now just think about the 'what-if's' and look around to see what you have that would be useful if 'what-if' happens. Start getting accustomed to the fact that it could happen to you and yours. Remember the old phrase 'it always happens to the other guy'? It is sobering to reflect that to 5 billion people, you ARE the other guy.

National Preparedness Month

Yup, September is it. So why do we have a month set aside to reflect on being prepared, and for what? What does it mean to be prepared? Why all these questions? A whole month?!?! That's a long time, right?

Being prepared is both a state of mind and a level of physical preparation. Let's start with the state of mind and how to get one. Do I know what the potential emergencies are in my part of the world? Can I take care of myself and my family before, during and in the aftermath of the most likely emergencies? Where do I/we go if my home is no longer safe? Those are some of the questions that a prepared household member can answer.

We just observed the fifth anniversary of hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. We await Earl's arrival on the east coast of the US. Californians are always moments away from 'the big one," earthquake, of course. Yup, there's stuff to be prepared for, and usually when it's bearing down upon you, it may be a smidge late to begin the thought process in any way that will bring meaningful results.

So this first post is just about getting you to think about what the reasonable and slightly less reasonable potential emergencies are that could affect you and your family based on where you live and work. (Exclude asteroid strikes that cause mass extinction for now.)

That's all. Just think about that question for a day or two. If you are really energized by this exciting post, you can go ahead and think about whether you have a conceptual plan for how you'd deal with 'it,' whatever emergency 'it' is for you, if it happens right...NOW. Just think about it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

New Buttons!!

You may notice the new buttons on my page. I use these websites and thought I'd share them with others. So what are they about? These are websites to help you with your home and family preparedness -- I'm getting the jump on September, which is National Preparedness month.

"Prepared for what?" you may ask. Well, that depends on where you are and what's happening there. It could be for getting through hurricane season, a tornado or other weather-related disaster. For others, it could be that their industry is being hit hard by the recession and they want to be prepared in the event of losing a paycheck or two. For me, it's living in a relatively remote area, and having the potential to lose power at any time for an unknown length of time.

So what is the "Food Storage Analyzer" all about? It's like the old saying "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." If you don't know what makes for balanced, healthy food provisions, who knows whether you can stay healthy if you need them! By using the food storage analyzer, even for your regular groceries in your pantry, you can feel confident that what you store will provide a good balanced diet with the essential nutrients, like calcium, vitamins A and C, and iron -- along with a good balance of carbs, fiber, fat and protein.

It is really easy to use, the templates walk you through how many calories each person in your household needs, then to categories of food items. You can select common pantry items or add you own. The calculator provides you with nutritional information AND how long your clan can live on what you have stored. If you register, you can save the info and return to it. I'm very private with my personal information (which you might guess if you read my profile!!), and the registration asks for a bare minimum -- essentially enough to allow you to recover your user ID and password if you forget.

When I first used it, I discovered that I did not have much vitamin A in my pantry, and was very low on fats and oils. I added a couple cans of olive oil and carrots. Now I know that we can count on the basics. If the highway between here and the interstate is closed for weather or emergency I have all we need to get us through.

It is incredibly easy to use, and you can add your own pantry items with the info on the food labels. Give it a try! Get a head start on September!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Being Green

No, this entry is not about any ecological movement or frogs -- well there may be mention of frogs, but only in passing. It is about the beauty and bounty of RAIN. We’ve had a lot of it since the monsoon started last month. So much that we are seeing things I have not seen in years. Plants thought long dead have come back to life – dormant but not dead before. A pomegranate tree I thought was ornamental is bearing fruit. I put up a couple of quarts of black currant preserves from a bush that previously had offered a few shriveled blebs to the birds.

What is even more amazing is that some places that I have never seen green up are verdant. Usually cattle in this part of the world have a hard time scrounging enough to eat. Lately, they are actually so full of sweet green grass that they are lying down to ruminate.

There are puddles! Frogs are calling and tarantulas are out hunting for mates, which means that the ground is soft and moist enough for them to come out of hibernation.

Being in a place where rain is a blessing, not an inconvenience, reminds me that our world is a bucketful of miracles. We're having a miraculous summer!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Snapware Giveaway Contest!

Head on over to Happily Domestic at to enter her contest for a Snapware giveaway! I have a ton of the product and love it. In fact, if you read my post below, there's snapware in the picture under the Back to basics grain mill.

What’s for Breakfast?

With new camera in tow, I made my usual breakfast bread. We slice and freeze this loaf, pulling and toasting a piece to eat each morning en route to work. Usually peanut butter or someof my home-made jam is involved. Most recent jam involved black currants, but that’s a different story.

The loaf starts with the dry ingredients. I love spices, so breakfast bread is a creative outlet. A normal loaf has cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, orange peel and cardamom. Not many bakers use cardamom, but a smidge in your baking makes things taste as good as they smell. I hate it when a baked item smells yummy but tastes flat. Not so with cardamom. I use Penzey’s spices and extracts. They are high quality and you can buy in bulk. There is no middle man, so prices are great. For the cost of a small bottle of cinnamon in the grocery store, you can get a 4 ounce bag of very high quality cinnamon from Penzey’s. Who doesn’t have old spice jars to reuse? OK, if you are the ONE person who does not, you can buy it the first time ina jar, then refill it from the larger bulk bags. I use about 1.5 t of cinnamon and 1/4 t of everything else. If I can get TRADER JOE’S Pumpkin Pie Spice blend, I throw in 1.5 t of that as well. It is a wonderful blend for most baking, but seems to be available only around the holidays.

To the spices, I add 1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt (Morton’s), 2 Tablespoons of dry milk, 1 tablespoon of Bob’s Red Mill vital wheat gluten for each cup of fresh-ground flour I will add and 1.5 cups of ‘store-bought’ flour, usually a bread flour like King Arthur or Gold Medal. Note: for bread-baking purposes, a cup is by weight, not volume, so one ‘cup’ at my altitude and humidity is about 3/4 of a normal measuring cup.

To this mix I add 3.5 cups of fresh ground flour. I usually mix at least 2 grains for more balanced proteins. Today it was rye and hard white wheat. If I have KAMUT on hand, I will throw some of that in the mix. I experimented with grinding popcorn the other day, so had a quarter of a cup to throw in. Occasionally I ‘ll throw in some buckwheat also, as it also has some differences that improve the nutrition of the loaf, which is the point in doing all this.

I’m currently using a small BACK to BASICS mill, which makes good flour. If you are feeding two, it’s fine. I’ve been looking at a larger mill from Lehmann’s. I had to return the one I bought as there was some odd problem. It could have been operator error, which would embarrass me a lot.

When I have other good dry additives on hand, I will throw some in before I leave the dry bin. My favorites include oat bran, wheat bran or almond meal. Today, it was almond meal, chopped dry ginger and some pecan pieces.
The wet stuff goes right into the zojirushi bread pan. 2 eggs, 3 T olive oil (if I have virgin coconut oil I will substitute 1T of this for 1 of the olive oil), 3T honey, 1.5 t of almond extract, and about 1.25 cups of warm water. I usually put the Pyrex measuring cup of water into the microwave for 30 seconds. This allows me to use the ‘quick’ cycle of the bread machine. That way if I make bread in the evening, I don’t have to wait up for it to come in before I go to bed!
After giving this all a little stir, I add the dry mix on top and add about 2t of RED STAR yeast.
I close the lid, set on quick wheat bread (2 hours and 8 minutes) and let it ROCK AND ROLL. I will check it often in the first 15 minutes. Between the altitude and the low humidity, adjustments are needed to almost every loaf. Sometimes it’s a tablespoon or two of water, other times it is flour. Once it has ‘cleared to floor’ of the bread machine, I leave it alone. By ‘clear the floor’ I mean that the beater bars are not surrounded by a soft dough and the mix has a soft but not too mushy texture.

Before I walk away, I chop some dried fruit. Today I used about half a cup of golden raisins, chopped dried pineapple and dried apricots for a total of a loose cup of fruit. When the zo beeped for additives, I dumped in the fruit and started doing other chores.
The scent of baking bread begins to permeate the house. Is there anything more wonderful? Yes! Enjoying the fruits of your labor!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Daily Mini-vacations

I work in a truly beautiful place. Some days are more beautiful than others. Today was one of those. Luckily I had my camera. I took a mini-vacation on the porch of the historic building that holds my office. Thought I'd share. A wonderful monsoon storm was moving in, the breeze was picking up and the blue sky was running for cover. Here is the view:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monsoon Season Comes to the High Desert

It’s here!! The glorious rainy season, the MONSOON has truly arrived. The official date (15 June) came and went. The traditional kick-off date (July 4 – independence from the heat!) came and went. The three consecutive days of dew point above 55 degrees F came and went. We had a few sprinkles, but no MONSOON until Saturday. In a good 2 month monsoon season we will receive 65% of our annual rain. In a poor one, the year will be dismal, as we will be dry again until December.

So what makes it the real McCoy? It is the end of heat that makes you run from shadow to shadow, to pant with the jackrabbits. It is the cool stiff breeze that rolls in ahead of the massive deep gray sky. It is the bright orange sunset seen through the building clouds. It is the rain so brief yet so hard that the streets and streambeds run like little rivers and my 200 gallon rainbarrel fills in half an hour. It is the brilliant lightning with thunder so loud and so fast you wonder if you’re dead and don’t know it yet.

It is also the handsome, majestic tarantulas creeping up from their long hibernation to mate. Other strange creatures and unusual flowers make their brief annual but flamboyant appearances. You can feel a release of the tension that builds day after scorching day during June. Suddenly, it is another spring. A luxurious, wet green glorious spring in July. The earth is renewed. We are renewed.

Some good storms will drop an inch of rain in an hour. Occasionally the winds take down a power line or pole. Who needs power when you have rain and cool breezes?

The sunset looked like a forest fire in our mountains through the deep gray brewing sky tonight. A cool wind is blowing and there’s a whopper heading our way. No problem. We are prepared. My candles and matches are strategically placed around the house and my filtered water jug is full. Let it rip. IT’S THE MONSOON !!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Living with Fibromyalgia (part 2)

How time flies! So here is part two on managing fibromyalgia – at least how I do it. Several aspects of daily life play a huge roll in managing pain levels. Having a routine and trying to generally keep to it is important. I’m not sure why, perhaps because it helps keep from running out of energy, but it works for me. My ideal routine would be sleep until 7 and then slowly ease my way into the day. By 9 or 10 a.m. I’d be starting a couple hours of gentle exercise for the day. What qualifies as gentle exercise for us may be different than for normal people. Doing two loads of laundry (I use All free and clear) and folding it is a good workout. Making beds and vacuuming the floors is another. A couple hours of gardening is a good stretch-and-tone work out. To most people, this does not seem like exercise, but to a sufferer, these chores stretch muscles and allow some good movement without triggering a flare-up. I’d follow this with a nice walk and then some time on the computer, baking bread, or running errands. Finish up the day with a light dinner and some reading or television and turn in around 11 pm.

So what is a flare-up? Everyone has their definition. For me, its any level of pain above that controlled by VOLTAREN GEL and ADVIL LIQUI-GELS. The Advil liqui-gels are a wonderdrug!! I can pop two of these and experience a significant pain decrease in about 20 minutes. In contrast, I experience NO relief from regular ibuprofen, tylenol or aspirin. I use the voltaren gel on my lower back, due to pain from degenerative disk disease. Not sure whether that relates to the fibro or not, but it can add to the discomfort and this topical gel has replaced oral meds that I’d prefer not to take.

Unfortunately, my job doesn’t allow me to keep to my ideal routine, except on weekends. So getting to work is a different routine that I know I need to follow to be functional. Alarm rings at 6 a.m., grab a cup of hot chocolate with a splash of instant coffee, and dive into a very warm shower. I use the combination of warm water and some great lavender bath gel to substitute for two hours of stretching and warming up. Toss on makeup, dry hair, throw on clothes and am out the door by 7:30. Keeping hair short is helpful. Having a good makeup system is also essential. For me, the Trish McEvoy system is indispensable. Her product line has great selection and lets me have what I want in one container. I usually duplicate everything in another pallette, in case I need to take it to work or on travel. I solved the ‘clothes that don’t hurt’ dilemma by using a lot of Chico’s travelers tops and jackets. Coupling these with a basic black pallette (skirts, trousers, shoes, stockings) helps me look some what professional without my clothing being physically painful, which it can be. I avoid anything with a snug waistband or other pressure points. For shoes, I wear a lot of MUNRO AMERICAN, a brand made in the US, which are high quality and have a lot of padding in the sole. Whatever pantyhose I use, I buy at least one size larger than recommended for my height and weight, again to avoid the pressure- point pain.

Next time – traveling with Fibro. How to avoid spending your trip in bed with a flare-up!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Living with Fibromyalgia (Part 1)

Today’s topic is somewhat serious. Most people know someone who has been diagnosed with ‘fibromyalgia,’ including me. The diagnosis is applied to an odd array of symptoms that include chronic, constant muscle pain, insomnia, irritable bowel, and a cornucopia of other symptoms that on any given day range from annoying to debilitating. I occasionally reflect on the methodology used for the diagnosis and get really annoyed. Fibro is a ‘rule-out’ diagnosis, and some things don’t get ruled out, or did not in my case. I suffered for several years at a level that was completely unnecessary because of it. Physicians have differing reactions to both the symptoms and the diagnosis. Some do not believe it exists, others use it as a garbage can term for things that aren’t easily diagnosed and don’t seem to be life-threatening. Once diagnosed, everything gets attributed to the fibro unless you are really ill, which gets frustrating and can threaten your health.

For the uninitiated, the ‘rule-out’ process entails tests for the big-hitters of the primary symptoms of fatigue, wide-spread muscular pain and a loss of mental acuity. It usually comes on rather suddenly and after a week, one begins to notice that the ’bug’ remains. In my case I went to the MD after about 8 weeks of it. Diagnosis took a month. The good news was that it was not lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Epstein-Barr/mono, hidden infection, hemachromatosis, or multiple sclerosis. Whew! Nice not to have any of those, but that seemed to lead to “Congrats, you have fibro. Here are some pills to deal with the pain and some ritalin for your brain. Have a nice life.”

In the decade since my diagnosis, I have discovered some odd things that were not ruled out were the simple causes of some of the symptoms. This has helped either me or other sufferers I know. The first was help I inadvertently gave a fellow sufferer, whom I’ll call Sherri. She is a wonderful, vibrant person who is a whiz with native desert plants, which was how I met her. She had to quit her life’s work in the native plant nursery business due to her worsening fibromyalgia. She later worked for me in a part-time position that was near her passion, but not quite. I was struggling with a specific fibro treatment that provided some relief, but was onerous in practice. Part of the treatment was to avoid any substances that introduce a class of chemicals called ‘salicylates’ into your body. That’s incredibly challenging. Today, virtually every plant makes them and most soaps, shampoos, lotions, etc. have the extracts in them. Fruit is OK, but leaves, stems and roots or the extracts from them must be avoided. Sherri and I discussed the treatment and she had an idea: she was very allergic to aspirin, the salicylate ‘salicylic acid’. Could she be so allergic that her contact with her beloved plants and botanical body products were the culprit? Her experiment at avoiding the offending class of chemicals was a huge success. She transformed in a few weeks. She still had some lingering health problems, but was pretty sure she did not have fibromyalgia – whatever that is.

I, too have had some ah-ha’s that have significantly reduced the pain I experience on a daily basis. Most recently was an experience akin to Sherri’s. I had long known I am allergic to chili peppers. One rally good enchilada and I am rewarded with 8 hours of excruciating gastrointestinal distress and 3 days of flu-like symptoms. I have mentioned this to every MD I have seen for the last 20 years. Not one of them every reacted in any way other than to write it down on my record jacket. About 8 weeks ago, I looked up ‘chili allergy’ on Google and started surfing. There is no such thing, BUT there are people who are missing the enzyme to process ‘solanine’ a somewhat poisonous alkaloid (chemical) that occurs naturally in members of the nightshade family. You think that is somewhat obscure? Nightshades make up about 25% of the American diet: tomatoes, potatoes, all forms of peppers (red, black, yellow, chili, etc.), eggplant and tomatillos being the most frequently encountered. So I stopped eating any of them. Within 5 days my need for pain medication diminished by about 30%. What is with the medical establishment that something this simple was so elusive?

Another step-function decrease in my fibro pain resulted after reading a book about the anti-inflammation zone by Dr Barry Sears. I’ve long since given it away, but the bottom line is that the oils we use in our foods are not created equal. In some people, some of them actually create chemicals in our bodies that cause high levels of inflammation, which can lead to widespread pain. To reduce the inflammation, many types of oil need to be gone from our lives. No more corn oil, crisco, etc. Strict adherence to olive and canola oils with an occasional pinch of peanut oil or butter will make a huge difference. When in combination with a healthy daily dose of pharmaceutical grade omega 3 fish oil, there went another 20% of the pain meds. If you are somewhat serious about looking into this, you need to read his book to do it right.

Remember reading about RICKETS way back in school? It's also known a vitamin D deficiency. Well, apparently it is more common these days -- not full blown, but subtle borderline deficiency in office workers and others who only see the sun on weekends. If you are having odd pain in your limbs, get your vitamin D level checked. Mine was extremely low. I now take one 50,000 unit vitamin D a month and there went another 5% of my pain meds!

More next time on how I survive the pain of travel, and gentle was of getting sleep despite the insomnia that comes with fibro.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Simply Perfect Saturday Morning

This morning was just right! I slept a little later than usual. My husband let the big, goofy golden retriever out and made coffee while I dozed. I loved not being awakened by a cold, wet nose in my face, regardless the associated affection! We drank yummy coffee out of my favorite mugs – from the old Sante Fe railroad Mimbreno pattern, a reminder of the days of luxurious dining on exotic rail travels to the mysterious and spiritual southwestern US. (How I love eBay – I can find things that no shop within 500 miles carries without leaving home!) The morning was unusually cool for June in the high desert. We opened the doors and let the cool air envelop us, making the warm coffee even better!

I puttered for a while, mostly reading the paper and folding laundry. Then I tackled the task of the morning: a loaf of bread. I make two types: breakfast bread and regular bread. Breakfast bread has ingredients that constitute the best array of amino acids and beneficial fats and carbs possible without adding meat or engineered chemicals. Today was regular bread, which we consume on occasions other than running off to the office with a hunk of peanut-butter-slathered breakfast bread in tow.

After prepping the zojirushi, I started grinding the grain. I use a small ‘back to basics’ grain mill. It makes adequate flour for bread and doesn’t take up my entire kitchen counter. I buy bulk rye grain locally and 25 lb bags of wheat from, primarily because their shipping costs are low enough that it brings the cost of white wheat within reason. Grinding a cup of each give about 3 cups of flour and a moderate workout for your biceps and triceps. I toss in a cup of King Arthur unbleached bread flour for texture and break out the Bob’s Red Mill items. A tablespoon of vital wheat gluten per cup of home-ground flour adds protein and helps keep the bread elastic – neither of us are gluten sensitive. Then some oat bran for health. Other dry ingredients include salt and dry milk. The dry milk in the right proportion interacts with the yeast, salt and gluten to keep the yeast’s carbon dioxide bubbles small and uniform.

In the interim, I warm the water and add olive oil (usually Colavita because it is locally available and has a fresh flavor), cold pressed coconut oil ( and Harry’s Hillsboro Honey, a New Mexico organic product that is just delicious and shines through despite being a small part of the process.

All goes into the machine in the prescribed order and I top it with Red Star yeast – not the rapid stuff, but I do add a pinch more to make up for using the quick bread setting on the machine. I set it on ROCK AND ROLL and head off to write this blog entry. Today is cool and dry, so in checking the bread during kneading, it needed another couple of tablespoons of water to make up for the ingredients being unusually dry. Should anyone read this and want the recipes, add a comment requesting them and I'll happily post.

I can already smell the toasty goodness as I head off to shower before visiting friends in the hospital.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

It’s the simple things

Lately I ve been trying to slow my life down and appreciate what I have. I’ve never been a wild and wacky chick, but something about the increasing uncertainty of the oil spill, the economy, getting older, whatever, has sent me moving toward the basics. In addition to making my own bread and, more recently, grinding my own grain, I’ve taken an interest in the fiber arts. I tried knitting years ago, but I have a very tight hand, so by the time I was 10 rows into a piece, the loops were so tight on my needle that I couldn’t pry them open to make row 11. I have found that crocheting does not pose the same problem.

Armed with a website, a hook and yarn from WALMART and some semi-interesting TV shows, I made a warm but hideously ugly hat late this winter. I love it because I made it by myself. No pattern, either – mostly because I can’t read them yet. I find crocheting highly versatile and ninny-proof, which I require. I used the Red-heart yarn, which was also very forgiving and another plus from my buds at Walmart. So why drone on?

Of course, following my previous pattern (see blog below on bread), making the garment isn’t enough. Again, researching the web, I found sites on spinning your own yarn. How did anyone ever figure this stuff out? There are a zillion steps to get from sheep to needle! Happenstance sent me to a local farmers market during a fiber arts celebration. Several people had spinning wheels -- but that takes some talent and investment, for neither of which was I prepared. I did find a wonderful lady with drop spindles and wool that had been cleaned and carded. That was up my alley – drop spindles can be used to develop some of the hand-eye coordination required to graduate to a spinning wheel.

I digress – I almost bought a fleece so that I could start this process from the immediate post-sheep phase. After seeing and doing the spinning part, I believe I will postpone that part of my skill-building. I am not yet that patient, and the skirting, washing and carding seem to require even more of that precious substance than the spinning. They also require enough attention that mind-numbing television does not enter the equation.

Within a few tries in the privacy of my own home, I was making YARN from the wool and drop spindle I purchased!! How cool is that? I have not yet tried to use the yarn with my beautiful metallic pink WALMART crochet hook. I am confident when the time comes, I can make myself an even lovelier hat with my own yarn. Maybe someday my hats will be as delicious as my bread!

Four Seasons of the High Desert (part 2)

IT’S OFFICIAL!! It is now Hell-hot!! The official temp was over 100 F yesterday, hailing the beginning of season. Fortunately, it is the shortest of the desert seasons here – usually lasting between a month and six weeks. During this time, we have the benefits of drying vegetation, thirsty birds and animals, and our favorite– full-on fire season! We’ve had a few small fires in the area lately. A few ranges away there is one that has been going for 10 days or so and may not be ‘out’ until the summer rains start. That’s the Monsoon Season for the uninitiated. The monsoons, climatically a correct nomenclature, are what end the Hell-hot season. The monsoons in the southwestern US are not as voluminous as those on the Indian subcontinent. They may have been in the distant past, but that pesky Central American land bridge reduced the dynamics that lead us to today’s piker of a monsoon, comparatively. Those of us who benefit from these mini- monsoons are unlikely to look this gift horse in the choppers.

The monsoons are like nothing I had experienced before moving here, and I’ve lived in most of the major sub-sections of the US. Other than the incredible beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, the monsoonal southwestern US is the most spectacularly wonderful place to be in the states. First, we get rain – and a fair amount. More than 50% of our 10 to 30 inches of rain, elevation dependant, is delivered by the monsoons. Second, then temps are moderated to an amazing degree – gone are the triple digit numbers, banished until the following May or June if the season goes per ‘normal.’ Third, the environment comes ALIVE. Flowers bloom, fawns are born, grass grows green, brooks babble – some yell, hence the local stupid motorist laws (more on that below).

The lead-up to the monsoons ( sometimes called ‘dry monsoon’) is not only HOT, but the humidity rises each day, starting at single to low double digits in late May to a dew point of 55 degrees. Nothing quite as pleasant as really hot AND humid -- that's why I left the southeast US! When the dewpoint has been above 55 degrees for 3 consecutive days, the WET Monsoon has begun. WHEW!!

A couple of years ago, there was a move to make the monsoons more ‘out-lander friendly’ and dates, rather than climatic conditions, became the ‘season.’ Can you believed that the ‘powers-that-be’ even dumbed-down the monsoon?? Despite the actual conditions usually hailing the season around the 4th of July, the ‘official’ season is 15 June to 15 September. Got that, Mother Nature???

OK -- Stupid motorists, you ask? Yes, there were enough stupid people who drove their cars into furiously rushing water occupying normally dry creek beds that the cost of extricating them (if still alive) became a burden on the state. Hence if you enter a flash-flooded creek and do not become a brief entry in the annual Darwin Awards, you pay a steep fine if emergency services personnel must rescue your stupid self. I love both the concept and the common name – call stupid motorists what they are: STUPID!

This is actually a serious subject. Many roads in the southwestern US (SWUS) cross normally dry creeks, called ‘dry washes’ or ‘arroyos’ depending on the region. Despite signs warning people not to enter when flooded, lots of people, usually new to the SWUS , know better and try to cross them. It only takes about 6" of swift water for your tires to lose traction, especially if the road is paved. After that, you and your car are officially FLOTSAM. If you are fortunate, you survive. Many people every year actually DIE doing this, which is especially stupid when you consider that if they wait ONE HOUR, the water will probably be gone. Now who has to be somewhere so badly that it is worth the risk of DEATH to wait an hour? NOW you understand the stupid motorist law!

So, get your tires checked, put a couple of gallons of water and some snacks in the car, and get ready for the heat and the rain!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Volcanoes 101

With the latest interest in volcanism triggered by the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano and the continuing eruptions in Hawaii, I thought I would write about the subject. Well who the heck am I to write about these? I do have some credentials based on my education as a geochemist specializing in volcanic terrains. My interests were more specifically in the resulting metallic ore deposits, but to understand the ores you really need to understand the creative mechanisms, so I spent a lot of time on volcanoes. Here’s the short version of everything you need to know about volcanoes:

1. The earth is made of thin plates of rock floating on a molten core. If you scale the earth down to the size of a basket ball, its consistency would be more like jello than like what we consider rock. There are a bunch of different layers, but the main point is that the surface we live on, called the crust, is sort of like the scum on top of the tomato soup if you let it boil without stirring. Oh, and the crust can move around like the scum, too.

2. There are two types of crust: continental which is lighter and oceanic which is heavier. This all has to do with composition, density, etc.. Think of it as oil and water, with the oil floating above the water. Continental crust will ‘float’ on top of the oceanic crust –or try hard to--if the two are in the same place at the same time.

3. Plate tectonics, also called ‘continental drift’ by some, has been proven to be true or at least the evidence is pretty overwhelming. The plates are in motion, crashing into each other at lightning speeds from a millimeter a century to several centimeters a decade.

4. Just like differential speed being the cause of may accidents on the highway, differential plate movement causes crustal collisions that have devastating consequences played out slowly over millions of years. These consequences include volcanoes and their eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, etc. There are also some very good consequences (unlike most car accidents) such as new land, new soil, metal deposits – in geologic time, of course.

5. There are three basic type of plate collisions: ocean-ocean (example is indonesian island chain), continent-ocean (west coast of South America) and continent-continent(India + Asia= Himmalayas). The first two virtually always result in different types of volcanism, but it eventually gets explosive like Mount Saint Helen's or worse. Think/google Krakatoa or the Yellowstone super volcano.

6. There are also places where the ocean crust is being made new as the crust spreads APART instead of crashing together. These are usually calls rifts or spreading zones. There is also a wildcard, called a HOT SPOT, which is just a weird place where hot molten stuff rises and escapes to the surface.

7. Basic volcanism, easy ones first: where you have spreading zones and hot spots with no continental crust involved, the molten earth (magma) comes to the surface which can be in air(subaerial) or underwater (submarine) as very hot, runny lava. Magma becomes lava simply by coming to the surface by definition. Hawaiian and, in general, Icelandic lavas would be in these categories.

8. Where you have continental crust involved, like the Cascades, the western coast of South America, etc, you have cooler thicker lava coming to the surface. It has longer to travel and picks up more thickening agent (mostly silica). Lava is essentially reallllly hot molten glass. Think a couple thousand degrees centigrade.

9. Volcanoes have a life span. It’s complicated, but most have their lavas become cooler and thicker, relatively speaking, over time.

10. Here’s the rub: ALL lava is full of really hot gasses. When the lava is magma, deep in the earth, the gas is dissolved, kinda like a bottle of soda pop in the fridge– the pressure keeps the gas stable in the liquid. Just like soda, several things can make the gas go nuts and try to escape. When these happen -- things like opening the bottle (which reduces the pressure FAST and then shaking it (which adds energy to the stuff inside) -- a lot of tiny bubbles form fast and will burst. Unlike soap bubbles, the lava gas bubbles form in hot glass -- So hot it glows in the dark. When the bubbles burst, it makes ASH. Ash is actually the shattered fragments of bubble wall of the gas bubbles coming from the lava. If you look at it under the microscope, it is nasty, sharp jagged bits of glass. It is very abrasive and coated with the stuff that was in the lava gas. If it then comes in contact with water or the moisture in your lungs, it makes cool stuff like sulfuric or hydrochloric acid.

Current situation re: Iceland. Iceland is actually on a spreading zone. The lava has built up an island or two there. If left to its own devices, Icelandic lava does not usually make huge amounts of ash. Two major exceptions: when the lava encounters water, like a new island forming just under the surface of the ocean, or (DRUM ROLL) when an eruption is under or surrounded by a glacier or lake. When that happens, all hell breaks loose. The lava gets cooled really fast and the gas is fighting to escape. The hot bubbles hit the cold water and explode with a lot of force. What may have been one medium-sized bubble that may not have burst (may have gently opened as part of the lava flowing on the surface) now becomes thousands of tiny seed bubbles, all of which fracture and shed tons of bubble-wall fragments into the atmosphere.

These are small enough to be carried by the winds and may or may not be harmful to people and stuff. That depends on the density of the ash and what it encounters. Fresh ash in moderate quantites is not good for living things and mechanical stuff. It is abrasive and still carries chemicals on suface area, which abounds. When an eruption cloud is really forceful, it can inject the ash and chemicals into the stratosphere. The stuff will end up throughout the atmosphere, world wide, IF an eruption continues to inject particulate and gas long enough --say 6 months or more. At that point don’t worry about whether the planes can fly; worry about whether it will be warm enough to grow crops for the next few years.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Four Seasons of the High Desert

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that this place is nice but they miss THE four seasons. This is especially true of those who are here because their job moved them here. They just aren’t paying attention. We have fours seasons. Northern elitism prevents them from seeing and embracing the four seasons of the southwestern high desert.

So what are these non-stereotypical seasons, you ask. Westerners in general tend to be of the ‘don’t tell me what to do or think’ mind set, so this disclaimer applies: these are what I see as our four seasons. They are neither generally known nor pondered. Most of us have better things to do than worry about this kind of stuff. I’m only thinking about it because this year two seasons have overlapped by a significant margin, which struck me with awe. Let me explain....

My take on the four seasons of the southwestern high desert are (in order): Wind, Hell-hot, Wet, and Beautiful. We are currently in Wind season, which normally occurs in some form between the beginning of March and the middle of May. It’s a time when the jet stream is making its annual trek across the western U.S.. Living above 5000' altitude and between low and high-pressure air masses engaged in a heroic annual struggle above you, you get wind – lots of wind. Some years it can blow for weeks. When this happens, especially when you are in week 5 or 6 of constant wind, people get really cranky. Snap-your-neck-off cranky. We tread lightly this time of year. The rattlesnakes come out of hibernation to the wind – cranky and hungry – makes this season even less attractive! Sure flowers bloom and birds sing, but the afternoon after a bud breaks it looks like it has been through a shredder. The birds don’t flit about – they hold on for dear life and only let go when they need to go in the same direction as the wind, with no hope of returning. Do not get spring fever during Wind season, even though there is a rough coincidence with official SPRING. Planting small unsuspecting living things in the ground when they cannot escape is harmful to their health. If they survive Wind season, then the next season will finish them off for sure.

Wind season is actually a good thing because it makes you embrace and welcome Hell-hot. The winds finally die down as the jet stream stabilizes and the heat cranks up. We are fortunate because our heat is not the heat of Phoenix, AZ, a lower desert enclave. We tend to be at least 20 degrees (F) cooler, which makes a huge difference. Sure, 105 degrees still feels really hot during the day, but at night the 20 degrees difference between 70 and 90 can really cool off for a pleasant night. Despite that creature comfort, there is usually no rain and things dry up. Another name for Hell-hot is "fire season". Depending on a number of factors, fire season can be ugly. Last year, we had a lovely mild fire season. In 1994, we lost 4,000 acres of forest in our valley. In 2001, we lost 38,000 acres of grassland. Most of these fires are – you guessed it – HUMAN CAUSED. Despite this knowledge, idiots still throw lit cigarettes from their car windows, as documented by the black expanses along road sides throughout the southwest. Hell-hot usually begins in early to mid-May and extends until July. Many of us think of this as the time we hold our collective breath and count the days until the next season which is heralded by start of the summer rains.

Next time: Monsoons and the rest of the year!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Irony of The Blog

I had a topic picked out for today, but it will have to wait. This is my first blogging experience, which is likely painfully obvious to anyone who happens to fall accidentally onto my page. In the course of exploring the pre-fab magic of my host, I clicked on the heading “MONETIZE.” Well, how cool is this!?! I thought. If I let the host, who really owns the space anyway, add some advertizing on space they already own, and someone selects it, I get some cash. Excellent concept in line with my belief in the free market economy. SOLD! So I signed up for it.

There is one catch. You must agree not to click on the advertising links yourself. What a wise proviso, lest a host of bloggers spend their days clicking on their own links to pay themselves. The concept of the self-licking ice cream cone is not lost on me. I do work in a bureaucratic job in a business that has a higher headquarters. Their logo is an ice cream cone trying to lick itself – OK, it SHOULD be that logo.... Back to the blog – I of course agreed to that wise rule.

Not sure what I was thinking, but it wasn’t quite what I ended up with. Was I perhaps expecting some sites related to products so useful that I mentioned them in my blog? Yes I was. Why not plaster a 2-day old blog with Target and Merck ads? Seemed rational to me, but I am on a 4-drug cocktail that makes me very happy and there could be some flaws in my logic.

Upon return to the site, there were ads relating to my first post with all manner of remedies and clinics for Shingles. I am in week 2 of what will probably be a 4-week recovery from the dread disease. In my desperate searches for understanding, help or relief from this condition, I did not encounter any of these sites. The urge to open some of them has been overwhelming. However, I am a woman of principle, so I have not broken my agreement with my mysterious host. But I am marveling at the irony of it all.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Building a better loaf

We eat a lot of bread in this house. When the price of a loaf of 'good' bread shot to $5 in late 2008, I'd had enough of being held hostage. Paying a high price for mystery ingredients had turned me into a crazy woman. OK, maybe I was already there, but this certainly did not help toward any recovery.

I did some research, asked around and consulted consumer reports. I decided on a Zojirushi BBCC-X20, which makes a large horizontal loaf. It does have the wierd paddle holes in the bottom, but you can get accustomed to that if the bread is good enough.

Next problem was actually buying one. Luckily it was near Christmas so they were abundant. Thank goodness for the internet. I did some comparison shopping and found that the price varied wildly for a new one. High was around $250 PLUS shipping down to a low around $200 including shipping. I did the math, even if ingredients and electricity cost me $2.50 a loaf, the machine would pay for itself in 40 weeks. Not bad. I went for it. I found a great deal on eBay from a seller that also has a brick-and-mortar store and 100% satisfaction, so that's where I ordered.

Bread, even if you are not doing the kneading, is still fascinating stuff. How did man ever figure it out? Powdering grain and mixing it with just the right stuff, especially the yeast, to get a light network of nutty goodness -- I couldn't have done it in a lifetime, yet we have inherited the secrets and take them for granted!

We live at 5000+ feet, so even with the bread machine there are subtlties that I NEVER imagined before. I can't dump the stuff in, turn it on and walk away. The humidity here is so low, and varies so much from day to day that you must actually adjust the recipes for the RH. There may be as much difference as a quarter of a cup of water to keep the 'loaf' from becoming a load of small, round, hard dog treats. My big, dumb golden retriever takes great interest in the process, knowing that if I goof, she gets the good stuff!

In making bread, some balance must be learned. The zen of bread making was previously unknown to me, but there is definitely a bread zone to enter! A few times I have put in too much of something I love -- like chopped dried fruit. I quickly learned how fruitcake was discovered when I retrieved a heavy, wet loaf of it from my machine. Another lesson: a cup of flour is not a cup of flour! At my altitude and humidity, a cup of flour, which is about 4.5 ounces, actually measures at 3/4 of a cup. That explained a lot of dog treats! I have come to appreciate what amazing stuff BREAD is and how we take it for granted because it has become such a small part of our bounty in this day and age.

The GOOD stuff is another reason I make my own bread now. Oh, we've jumped in with both feet. Not just buying the good King Arthur flour, which has gone up $2 a bag since the end of 2008, by the way. Same cost-benefit analysis led us to buy a small hand grinder for grain. We now grind our wheat, rye, brown rice -- you get the idea. We use local honey and have graduated to virgin olive and coconut oils rather than just butter or shortening.

We're down to two basic loaves a week, with an occasional third of sourdough just for variety. We also use the sourdough for pizza dough -- yes, Domino's misses us! I'm surprised they haven't sent a 'missing you' card! The first loaf replaces the morning bagels I bought for my husband. I feel really bad about that because the local bagel joint went out of business about 6 months after we bought the bread machine. I did not imagine my bread machine as a business murderer, but I guess it shares the guilt with me and others.

Our daily bread is now high protein, high fiber and really good. I know what is in it and rarely feel guilty eating it, because it is wholesome and healing. We do not scrimp on quality but are not 'breaking the bank' because the price of grain is still less than the price of white flour. Above all else, I am starting to feel the contentment of providing for my family in a different, much more visceral way. Some day soon I will probably stop using the bread machine and just do it all myself, but until then, Zo and I will continue to crank out the good stuff!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Getting through Shingles

Strange title for a first posting on a blog. Funny how unrelenting pain and a dearth of practical information available on line can serve as an inspiration! At some point I will provide a little bio about me, but that can wait. This blog is not planned to be a font of medical expertise, I am not a healthcare professional. As a discliamer, I am not recommending anything I have found to work for me. If you decide to try it and it works for you, cool.

First off, if you have ever had the chicken pox, you are a candidate for shingles. Until I got them I thought the CP vaccine was a bunch of hooey. So what-- chicken pox is no big deal. Guess I was wrong there. It is the encore that kicks your heiny. The vaccine for shingles is available but recommended for those over 60. News flash: If you have a high stress job or lifestyle, your body will not wait for your birthday so get it NOW. I wish I had gotten it!! I have a high-stress job. In the last few months it has gotten higher-stress -- some of that is actually good, but there is still the constant stream of stuff due and training-up the new people.

'Shingles' is a viral infection of your nerves by the same herpes virus that brought you the chicken pox, only this time it is back to show you how it can kick your booty. The rash is only one of a host of symptoms. Do not underestimate this syndrome. You need rest and drugs to get through it without lasting pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia. You do not want this, so taking care of yourself can help reduce the chances of ending up with it.

If anyone out there is experiencing shingles, they probably don't care if I am a Martian, as long as my 'tips' can help. Here are a few that I've learned in the last 2 weeks of semi-drug-induced haze.

First: If you hurt and have a rash GO TO THE DOCTOR. Everyone is familiar with the rash part, but you hurt like hell for 5 days before that even starts. I thought I had some kind of horrible cancer it hurt so bad. I went to the MD before the rash and they missed it. You may need to mention: COULD THIS BE SHINGLES? When I finally broke out in the rash and figured out it was shingles, I was actually RELIEVED that it wasn't something worse. I am still thankful that it isn't something worse, but it is still a process to recover.

Once you broach the shingles thing, GET ANTI-VIRAL DRUGS from urgent care. DO NOT WAIT until your regular MD can see you, unless it is two hours from when you call to ask for an appointment. This stuff progresses rapidly and every hour you wait can mean days more of recovering time. I used acyclovir at first, went back to my MD and got VALTREX -- it worked better. Unfortunately, I had a huge swath of rash by then, but it cut out the icky blistery and oozy part of the disease and will reduce my recovery by about a week.

You must also get pain meds. Strong ones. Some nerve-calming drugs may also be in order. I will list some suggestions later. Do not try to 'tough it out.' It hurts. Everything hurts if it is near the rash -- oh, you can also have sensitive areas that are not near the rash. Your need to do this right the first time to avoid the post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Being a well-endowed female, I prefer wearing a bra. AT this point, it feels like the band is made of coarse sandpaper. I wore pantyhose a couple of days this week. Can't tell you what a bad idea that was, but duty called. Today I bought thigh-highs in anticipation of returning to work on Monday.

My rash and inflammation are on the right side of my torso (mercifully, shingles usually happens only on one side at a time), about bra-line to bottom of pantyline. If you have similar coverage, here is what has helped me:

1. SOLARCAINE for surface anesthetic and antiseptic before the scabs fall (sorry to be gross, but shingles is a gross condition). NO ONE will suggest this. It does help.

2. Loose clothing. GO TO TARGET and buy some moo-moos or other loose dresses if you are female. Not sure what to tell guys -- maybe a night shirt or some plus-size ladies' moo-moos. If you absolutely must go into the office, try loose dresses from the maternity department. Don't forget the thigh-high stockings -- you will probably need a little exfoliation with a washcloth to keep them up). Panty-hose will feel like an iron-maiden, even with the solarcaine.

3. COOLER showers. Do this quickly, as one half of your body will be freezing and the rash-affected area will feel like it is on fire. Use a gentle liquid shower soap -- unscented if possible. I used a moisturing Aveeno product for sensitive skin. It helped and most of all, did not hurt. I did spill a little of my normal rosemary and eucalyptus gel on the rash. Bad idea. Do not use a strong herbal shower gel.

4. STAY HOME. I went back to work too early. It was torture. If there is anyone at your workplace who did not have chicken pox, they can get it from you during about the first week of the rash. Do not gamble withtheir health either.

5. Take drugs. Pain will make the experience MORE STRESSFUL and that's what got you into this mess. Here's what I took, in addition to the VALTREX: Lyrica or neurontin to help calm or strengthen the nerves. Try to get samples of this, it's expensive. Percocet-- half of a 5 mg every 8 hours made a huge difference in my quality of life. I skip one every two days to see if I still need it and to give my body a rest in case I'm getting constipated. Don't forget your vitamins, like B-12 and C with bioflavinoids.

6. If you get muscle spasms, another exciting symptom, try Skelaxin. It did not add to my drowsiness when I took 800 mg, 3 times a day.

7. Schedule another follow-up appointment with your MD for about 10 days after the rash appears. At this appointment, if the rash is cleared enough, they can prescribe lidoderm patches for the really painful places. These are more powerful than the solarcaine but you can't put them on the open rashes. Another thing that may help prevent the PHN is a 7-day course of prednisone. I went for it. Again, anything that can help prevent PHN is worth a try.

8. Take care of yourself NOW and don't fall back into the habits that got you to the point of shingles. Remember: you can get them on the other side of your body, head, face, etc. even if you've already had them once.

9. Try not to be an idiot. If you are under 70 years old, that's probably what got you to the point of shingles. This will be the hardest part for me!