Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gift from the Past: Apple Crumble Pudding

It's been 6 years since my Mom passed away. For years before that she kept telling us to copy her recipes so we'd have them when she was gone. I only half listened. Dumb, as she was a fabulous cook, with many of her recipes ones that she spend a long time developing and perfecting. No looking them up in the Joy of Cooking. Mom was right, of course.
The deer left us enough apples that I needed a recipe. We just couldn't handle another apple pie, especially because I really don't have the 'good pie' gene. I looked through my recipe box and found one, sort of. Apple Crumble Puddling was one of Mom's special occasion recipes. That meant the company got the first shot and we kids got the left overs -- if there were any!
What I had written down, or she wrote down, was pretty cryptic: four ingredients with the measures and an oven temperature. Good thing I had some memory of how she made it or it would have been lost. So here's the real reconstructed Apple Crumble Pudding recipe:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Generously butter a glass baking dish of your desired size.
In a medium sized bowl, dissolve 2 to 4 Tablespoons of sugar in a cup of water and add 2 T lemon juiice (reconstituted is OK). The mixture will retard the 'turning brown' process and help make up for spongy or less ripe apples -- so this is a good recipe for the less fortunate fruit! If you are using really sour apples, like thinners, increase the sugar by another tablespoon or two.
Take some apples and, if red or thick skinned, peel and core them. Thin-skinned yellow apples can just be washed and cored. Cut in half from blossom to stem end. Swish around in the bowl of lemon water for now until you have a few. When you have a few in the bowl, start slicing them, very thin -- like and eighth to 3/16 ths thick (they cook better that way) and put the slices back in the lemon water. When done slicing that load, remove from the lemon water and arrange in the baking dish. I usually repeat this process until I have about 2 inches of apple slices in the dish.
Now for the part on the recipe card!
Mix 1/2 cup each of butter (cold or soft, not melted) and flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar ( I prefer dark brown) and 1/4 cup rolled oats (not the 1 minute kind) until well mixed. I often up the oats to 1/3 cup and add a little cinnamon ( half teaspoon max) and a pinch of cardamom -- not enough to really taste, just to enhance the buttery flavor of the topping. You can make up to a 9" X 13" pan with this recipe amount.
Sprinkle about a third of the mixture into the sliced apples and mix a bit, them smooth the slices back down. Sprinkle another third on top. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes until the apples soften but are not mushy.
Turn the heat up to 375. Sprinkle the last third of the topping on the top of the dish. Bake another 15 minutes.
You can either cut the slightly cooled dessert our with a spatula or spoon it out. Either way, keep the topping up or it will get soggy. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.
You will be surprised how these simple ingredients turn into something wonderful!
Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Surprise! Life will find a way

Now and then a quote really gets stuck in my head. This snippet from Jurassic Park is one of them. It is so true.

(sorry, the blogger just won't let me delete this space)

Take this scene:
What's to see? Parking lot, ball field, light post. Boring!

More closely, Jersey barrier, painted curb, weeds. Wow.
Not where one would expect some rare, amazing wildlife, but it's there. Look a little closer.
Those little rascals are pipevine swallowtail caterpillars on a rare occurrence of pipevine (at least in this part of the desert southwest), their larval food source. To see what they will become, look here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ick! and apologies

When I started this blog, I selected the MONETIZE option to allow random ads to be placed in the margins of the blog. Most of the ads have been predictable and harmless.

I just opened the blog today and found a full-length photo of a girl, probably 16, posed in a skimpy T-shirt and her unzipped low-cut jeans. She was right next to, and color-coordinated with, the blog post photo of the American flag.

I immediately de-selected MONETIZE and removed the ads.

My apologies if you were as offended as I was by the ad.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

National Anthem Jeopardy

Jeopardy is one of my favorite shows. It is a short daily mental workout, in which we hear the answer and must guess the question. Today, we should strive to live an ANSWER as we proclaim the question.


When was the last time you READ the words to our national anthem? Do you remember how it ends -- at least the first stanza -- which is usually all we sing?

It ends with a QUESTION. It is one I reflect upon whenever I sing it. Written during a pivotal time in our Nation's history -- the War of 1812 -- it was a real question written by a real American. Francis Scott Key, while being held prisoner on an English ship near Baltimore during the battle of Fort McHenry, wanted to know if he still had a COUNTRY. He struggled for a glimpse of the flag, praying it had not been replaced by the Union Jack, which would have happened if the English lowered the Star-Spangled Banner in victory.

I believe the QUESTION is one we must ask ourselves often, and especially each year during the second week of September. Sure, the flag is on the poles, we take that part of the QUESTION for granted. But are we doing our part?

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'r the land of the FREE and the home of the BRAVE?

To remain Free, we must become and remain the Brave. Each of us, in our own generation, must live the answer to the question every day. It was modeled for us 10 years ago. Let us honor so many brave Americans who gave all, by following their example.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Harvesting Apples

The galas came in well despite the heat, deer and drought. Not on our tree, of course --deer got them all, but for others. Perhaps semi-dwarf trees were not the right choice!

We bought some from a local who takes care of trees for an absentee landlord. We should have tried them first as the subtleties of apple harvest had been missed.

What do I mean? Imagine your favorite apple. Take a bite. Is it crisp, juicy and sweet? Probably. Were the ones we bought? No. Texture was like and old sponge. A dry old sponge. This is completely preventable, especially considering that the trees were under irrigation.

So how does this happen to the novice apple-harvester? What is the subtle but important methodology for crisp, juicy apples?

The first step is to sample one right from the tree at first daylight, just as they start to turn from green on the way to the desired color. Is it crisp and juicy? If not, step up the water just a bit and try again two mornings later. Repeat until you get a crisp juicy apple. Keep to that schedule.

Next step is to harvest just before the flavor peaks, which again, takes some understanding of your apples. It's like cutting a rose when the bud is open enough to bloom but before it actually does.

The last two steps are critical. Harvest at first light, when the water content is high and the apples are pre-cooled. Second is to store them in a cool place. Don't just leave them in a basket on the back porch or in the barn in the heat. It will quickly ruin them. If you sell at a roadside stand, better to have a reputation for the best apples by running out mid-day (to pick again tomorrow) than having a reputation for mushy apples that have 'gone-by' or passed their peak when left over from a few days ago.

The good news is that our purchase was not total waste. They made good apple sauce!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Anvil Chorus

Not sure if 'anvil thunderheads' is a real meteorologic term, but we get much of our monsoon rain from these amazing cloud formations that grow an anvil-shaped topknot. They tend to be localized, growing from a few puffy clouds, then the anvil grows up and the rain falls down. Often lightning announces the impending rain, which may only cover a square mile or less. We saw about 15 of these today -- this being the most spectacular one. The dark gray area under the center of the 'topknot' is getting a nice downpour. The growing anvils may drift away as they form, taking our moisture to another town, full of people welcoming this gift of life.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our little mother

There were hints. A hollow in the ground near the willow tree, abandoned. The dog taking interest in a previously uninteresting part of the yard. Finally we saw her. We both thought it was a confused dove. You can see her tail behind the fork of the old bicycle.

She found a well-protected spot in the seldom-used old dog run, now storage for stuff -- like the old bike frame. When the tempurature is just right, around 7 pm, she leaves to go eat and drink. We finally saw the eggs.

No dove here! She is a gambel's quail. It will be so exciting to see those little golf-ball sized fluff-balls soon! We'll need a strategy to keep the Wiley Coyote away when they inevitably venture into the main yard.

She was a very busy girl. I count 16. How about you?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Random Post-Fire Pictures

The third of three major canyon 'blowouts' caused by fire storms shooting out the mouth of the canyon, taken about 4 miles from the area.

Not much left but ashes

When wildfire gets too close for comfort....

The corner of this house caught on fire. Debris was thrown out the window (boarded over in photo) by the Hot Shots trying to put out the fire.


Another few minutes and the entire house would have been lost.
Bare wires show where the insulation melted.

Opportunites to update the landscaping!

Go out and try new restaurants because the best fajitas in town won't be available for a while.

And then there were three....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Still Burning

The Monument Fire is now over 20,000 acres and about 15% containment. 4 homes and about 13 other buildings have been destroyed. More than 3000 are threatened. The next evacuation areas will probably more than double the number of threatened structures. Winds will be extreme today, gusting to 50. Could be a tough day.

Quick update on 6/23: Fire is close to 30,000 acres. Winds have been low for two days, so crews have been working to keep it away from residential areas. Sunday a canyon blew out and took out more homes. 61 residences have been lost plus another 18 outbuildings and businesses. Temps and winds will be up today and we'll see what this fire is up to, again. The Rocky Mounain Coordination Team brought in the National Commander. He indicated to local leadership that these are the worst fire conditions he has seen in 30 years of fire fighting. Lucky us. Our summer rains are about 2 weeks away. They are about the only hope of stopping this before it consumes the whole range.

On a brighter note, my sister's home was in the paper and is standing. She lost her master bedroom and bath but the remainder is mostly OK.

She has high praise for the Hot Shots and fire fighters who worked to save her place. She said it looked like they went in through heat-shattered windows to extinguish burning wall studs. In the process, they neatly folded items that survived intact when they needed to move them -- including a bedspread and rug. She choked back tears when she said "They treated it like it was THEIR home, not some stranger's. I am so grateful!"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How NOT to fight a fire

Since my last post, a lot has happened. By Monday morning, someone at NIFC declared victory and recalled the slurry bombing planes to put on another fire. Tuesday, the winds picked up and the fire exploded past the containment. There wasn't enough resource to do anything. 24 homes were lost that evening. Sixteen more since, and another 10 non-residential including a church. Fortunately, it seems that no one was killed, but several people left their homes and saw them burst into flames.

The fire is now approx 9000 acres and uncontained in rugged terrain. We have a slurry bomber back today, but it can't fly at night due to the rugged terrain. The fire is large enough that night vision technology won't work either as it 'blinds' the pilots.

The humidity has been in the single digits most of the week and the temps have reached the high 90's. We've had red flag wind warnings daily. Tomorrow will be gusts to 40, sustained winds at 10 to 15. The next defensible fire line in the rugged mountains is about 5 miles north. Not sure where there is one on the flat lands -- Oh, forgot to mention that the fire jumped the highway -- which constituted most of the early 'containment.' Residents on that side had no pre-evacuation order because the jump was unexpected and the fire was essentially moving at the speed of the wind.

My sister, her husband and their pets are now living with me. As of 6 pm last night, they still have a home. Not sure if they will by 6 pm tonight. I helped another friend move family heirlooms last night. If they are fortunate, they won't need to evacuate until tomorrow. Some of the people who left in a hurry on Tuesday to stay with friends are again in the new 'pre-evacuation' areas. Makes me a little crazy that this could all have been avoided if they left us ONE slurry bomber on Monday. These planes and their skilled crews are what has kept the property loss so low at the Wallow fire, now the largest in Arizona history. To date, we have lost almost five times as many homes and structures than that 400,000+ acre fire. Nice work. Totally preventable if the Feds were doing their jobs, starting with controlling the border.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Walking on Eggshells

Seems like we've been doing this all year, waiting for the summer rains. Big fires to the east, west and north of us in the dry brush and forest lands. Well, look like it's our turn now. This is how it starts.

My sister and her husband, who live a little farther south and closer to the forest, are packing up their stuff. We've offered to come with our truck, but so far, no thanks.

I hear the helicopters and planes flying overhead. Usually the spotters are followed by the 'slurry bombers' which drop wet retardant to slow or stop the fire's path. Luckily the USFS air tanker base is near us -- just a few miles north of this fire, so we get a little more attention early in the process. It is dry enough that this type of fire can move miles each day, and it would not be helpful if the tanker base burns up. Even if it is enlightened self-interest, our residents are appreciative.

In years past I've stood and watched grassland fires move at the speed of the wind, which can be a fire front moving at 10, 15 or 20 miles an hour. It is an awesome and terrifying thing. Our USFS teams are really good. The majority of the fires this year were contained before they hit 2,000 acres. I'm hoping we can be part of that story, not the others that are in the news. Please keep us all, especially those near the Wallow and Horseshoe 2 fires, in your prayers.

UPDATE: As of late evening 11 June, the human-caused grassland and forest fire was 1,400 acres and 48% contained. Containment is likely higher now, as the winds were fairly calm last night. I could see the red glow of the firelines in the mountains from 10 miles away. Local word is that at least 2 homes were lost, and uncertainty about whether all the grazers (cattle, horses and alpacas in the area) were saved.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I am of the generation that was brought up in a relatively traditional home and encountered the emerging feminist movement as I went off to college. My parents were both college-educated westerners, Dad a chemical engineer and Mother in home economics. By the time I went away 'back east' to school, I could use the correct utensil at a formal table setting, model on a runway, make a garment from fabric, cook and bake, fire shotguns and pistols accurately, mount and ride a horse, and a few other things. I never doubted then that I would work outside the home for a while, then settle down and raise a family. Somewhere along the way, that didn't happen.

For a decade, I bought into the nonsense. It is essentially a trap. Any man who doesn't mind that his wife and the mother of his children isn't spending most of her time devoted to him and raising their children to be the very best people they can be -- probably isn't worth marrying. Feminism taught just the opposite -- that men who wanted these things in a partner were just trying to 'keep us down.' Heaven forbid that they may actually want to cherish their wives and children, partner with their spouse to create wonderful children and a home, care for them, provide for them and protect them.

Fast forward thirty+ years. How much better is our country after 3 decades+ of so many children whose mothers entrusted them to strangers for 8+ hours, 5 days a week from the tender ago of six months until they trundled off to college ... or prison? Are we a better educated, more innovative and productive society or are more than 40% of households on food stamps? Are we a generally more charitable or moral society?

Mom and Dad were right. Should have paid more attention. My opinion about the feminist movement is that the only group that gained benefit is the IRS, because now they have more homes with two income earners to tax. I married twice, one divorce which left me single during my prime child-bearing years so never had my own. But I watched my friends and coworkers struggle with home, work and children. The kids were raised by strangers. Some of them were naughty in their teens and later. Many of them did not go on to Ivy League schools like their parents. Some of them were lost and lonely. Same for the parents. Affairs at work, not enough time to devote themselves to their home and their union.

There is nobility in being a HOME-Maker. Learning to live simply enough to live well on one income is an art that American women were good at for a long time. We should consider getting back to the basics, encouraging young women to do so as well. It may not be as exciting in the short term, but I believe it will be much more gratifying in the long term, and better for our communities and our country.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fire Season Continues in the Southwest

For those of you living in Arizona and New Mexico, you know too well that we are having quite a season. I wanted to share a link that I check often this time of year. It is the Southwest Region of the National Interagency Fire Coordination Center. The National Center is in Boise, ID, and saves lives and taxpayer dollars by coordinating responses to wildfires, primarily on public lands. They do an amazing job every year, and especially this one.

For the latest info, you can view this feed called news and notes. I check this when I see smoke to ensure that it has been called in. For more in-depth information, the morning report provides a narrative update. If you aren't sure how close the fires are to you, they have maps. This one is for the wildfires greater than 100 acres in AZ and NM.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


'The Simplicity Primer' by Patrice Lewis has a release date of June 7th, next Tuesday.

I follow her blog and really enjoy her perspectives and the simple yet elegant rural life she documents so well. I have come to love her cows and Lydia, the great Pyrenees who manages them all!

If you check out her website and are interested in ordering the book, by waiting to order it from on the 7th, the volume peak that day will improve the ratings and do some sort of Amazon magic to help the author and book.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where's Don when you need him?

Quixote, that is! We have a really amazing wind project going up down the road. No reason cattle and antelope can't graze under these giants. By the time it is finished, there should be close to 50 of them, each generating up to a megawatt. They aren't comissioned yet, so they will probably miss all the lovely spring wind this year. There's always next year!

Chain of events

As I mentioned in my last post, it's dry and Africa-hot here. The drought has taken a toll on wildlife and they are coming into the rural towns to raid yards for any edible cultivars. Despite wire cages around the bases of trees and fruit-producing plants, I have a browse line in my yard. That and the ample scattering of deer pellets tells the story. The stealthy devils only come in at night.

Sunday night our amazing chicken-dog started acting odd. After a few nervous, whiny spins near the front door, she grabbed her stuffed frog and scratched the door to go out. Something was up! I peeked out and there was a good-sized deer peering over the 4' fence trying to decide if there was enough re-growth after his last meal in our yard to make a leap worth while. Of course, 4' is nothing to a deer, except it keeps the javalina out so there is more for the deer to munch.

Thinking that there was a meaningful enough barrier to keep the dog from making contact with the deer, I opened the door. Ms. Ferocious darted out, frog in mouth and gave the deer the frog-dog muffled anti-deer mutter-bark. Despite the comedic aspect, it was successful -- at least for a while. The deer were probably back before midnight after our Wiley Coyote sacked out.

The sad part is that our small town straddles a state highway. The speed limit in town is reduced to 35 miles per hour, which is somewhat helpful. We still get a few too many of the thru-traffic drivers who decide the signs are for suckers and keep their lead feet on the accelerator. Two of them, in separate incidents, met hungry deer the hard way this weekend. The deer lost.

Poor deer. Stupid drivers. We can take some solace that the drivers probably experienced maximum inconvenience for their folly. See, we have no cell phone reception. Nearest hill with reception is a couple miles out of town. We also have no pay phones and no mechanic or road service. You hit a deer, and unless you are driving a stout vehicle, you're probably stuck until the tow truck comes from the big town, about 45 miles away. That's provided you can break the code and contact them. Locals aren't too fond of being awakened at midnight by a speeding outlander who hit our deer.

Remember us if you are one of those holiday weekenders who ignore the signs and blast through small towns on lonely state highways en route to your sanctuary du jour. We live here for a reason, and it's mostly to minimize our contact with idiots like you.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Our weather crisis

Everyone thinks of Arizona and New Mexico as hot and dry. Well, normally that's not quite true. Southeast AZ and southwest NM weather is usually not technically 'desert' weather. Normal rain in much of the area is 10 to 12 inches, with higher precipitation totals at elevations above 6000'. Last year was especially nice, with reports of 40+ inches at homes around 7000' in the canyons.

But not so this year. It is the dryest I have experienced in 20 years of living here. The winter rains, usually 30% of the annual total, were a bust. We got less than half an inch of the 'normal' 3+ inches between 1 December and 31 March.

To add to the enjoyment, the spring winds, usually a March-April phenomenon, have persisited. Most of the Memorial Day weekend, winds were gusting at 20 knots or more, with a steady 5+ knots. Add the single-digit humidity and temps nearing 100 degrees, and people and plant-life start to get cranky. I'll post next about what it does to the poor deer.

DRY may not be as exciting as floods and tornadoes, but it sure feels like things aren't right. Hope we get our summer rains next month or the whole place is going to blow away with these hot winds!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Fire season continues and we hold our collective breath -- literally at times because of the dense smoke. Again, major fires in the valleys east and west of us. To the east, 44,000 acres and growing. Nearer and to the west, 10,000 acres and growing. On Monday afternoon the wind blew from the west. I could smell the smoke in my office with all the doors and windows closed. A quick dash into Target on the way home resulted in sniffles and red eyes. Visibility was about half a mile.

The photo shows the fire east of us at about 1 pm yesterday. The plume in the center is about 75 miles away. After I put my camera away and started driving, I noticed that the plume doubled and darkened as the afternoon winds kicked up.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reflections on Faith

I've been pondering this post for a while now. Though I am not religious, i.e. church-going or claiming one Christian sect, I do believe in a higher power and a lot of other stuff that is related to that. In general, my beliefs are Christian and I try to live out my beliefs consistently and prayerfully. I am also a scientist, which some believe to be inconsistent with being a person of faith. I will take a stab at what has been brewing in my head, so here goes.

Most of us have faith. We have faith based on beliefs and experiences. Faith that the sun will come up tomorrow, gravity will continue to hold us down, the electricity will be on today, the people in the space shuttle will get 'there' and back. We cannot function without a worldview that includes faith in the routine of our lives.

Some of these things we take as fact are based on the current science. As recently as 100 years ago, some of these matters of faith were considered folly or insanity. Other 'facts' of science from years past have been disproved and replaced with new theories -- remember relativity, the flat earth, the earth as the center of the universe?

As a scientist, I make observations on my own experience. My primary observation is the abundant order in our natural world. The complex evolution that ensures that cats give birth to cats and apple trees make new apples is a miracle. I absolutely understand the science that makes it happen. But what is the ordering force that makes the science happen?

I am often amused at the debate between creationists and evolutionists, as I reconciled the issue for myself years ago. I literally compared the timeline in Genesis with the timeline in my earth history class. The only discrepancy I found was the length of time, and then it hit me! Who am I to presume how long or short God's day is?

I have had some very intense personal experiences that have given me faith that there is a higher consciousness and that when we calm our mind and listen, we can connect with it. That still small voice has saved my life, literally, at least once that I am certain of.

So I marvel that people who take much on faith -- the full faith and credit of the U.S., faith that the elevator inspector wasn't on the take, faith that their spouse is not cheating, faith that all people deserve a chance to be free -- will scoff at others who have faith that we are not the highest consciousness in the universe because there is no scientific proof. How silly that sounds to me. For a million years man was able to exist without scientific proof that water is H2O and required for our metabolism to digest and eliminate food, remove impurities through sweat and urine, etc.. See where I am going? Not having some threshold of peer-reviewed proof does not mean it is not true.

To require proof of a higher consciousness is not a standard these people require for virtually every other belief that makes up their day-to-day 'faith'. How convenient to require proof for the basis of morality, goodness and selflessness. To refuse to attempt this element of faith without proof is perhaps a convenient excuse for living selfishly. If we are all part of a higher, ordering force, then regardless what you call it, order calls for charity and morality. Charity and morality require standards, introspection and self-discipline. Without these as part of our shared belief system, the world will again disintegrate into barbarism as it has so many times before.

Am I out to lunch?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review: HOME GROWN

HOME GROWN by Denys de Saulles is a great book for the novice to mid-level home gardener. It has a lot of info on 130 basic fruits and vegetable that a home grower would want, along with cultivation and pruning information on one or two pages per variety. Several pages on pest management, too. There are also wonderful illustrations so if you inherit something and you're not quite sure what it is, you can identify it by sight.

It is the best one-volume gardening book I've seen. I've had mine for over a decade and still use it as a basic reference. This is NOT a new book -- copyright is 1988 -- but it is still a great guide. I recently bought a second copy from Amazon, and they are available for about $7 including shipping. What a bargain!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bacon bit bonanza

Today's entry is the website for my other blog, Frugalprep. I just wrote about my adventures in bacon-bit land. The process gives you wonderful bacon bits, ready when you are, for a low cost. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Irrepressible Iris

I have grown fond of bearded iris, despite their short bloom season in the high desert. They require little from their caretaker. If the winter rains are sparse, a couple of waterings are enough to last them until the monsoon. The brief show of blooms is beautiful and fragrant, but in dry years like this they seem also to be... deer-delicious. My very favorite iris has a deep purple edge with snowy white:

I awoke one day after a deer raid on the yard to find all but one bud had become deer salad. I do appreciate having one left. Here is the full view, with three stems cleaned of their buds -- one in the right foreground and two behind the solitary survivor. Hey, it's hard to make a living out there this year!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fire Season

First, a book review, then a commentary on our fire season.

Our retirement home is in a small community in New Mexico. A few years ago an interesting young man spent occasional weekends in our area. Turns out he was the fire-watch on our nearby Forest Service fire tower. Also turns out he was a writer, formerly of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal or some paper of renown back east. He has written a book about the summers he spent on fire watch in the Gila National Forest, titled...Fire Season. His name is Phillip Connors. I read the book. Parts of it were wonderfully familiar as he narrated the changes from the cool winds of spring to the hot, dry tinderbox of early summer in the high desert. Other parts recounted the philosophical evolution within the national leadership and the development of the forest service within our Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for our national forests. Still other parts of the book reflect the joys of solitude, to which I can relate. Overall I recommend the book, which is about $15 from

As for our fire season this year, it is in full swing and will be until the monsoon arrives, probably in early July. Our valley is filled with haze and smoke from the three large fires in the adjacent valley and on the border with Mexico. Some of the fires are more than 10,000 acres and not contained. We have already had two small fires on our side of the mountains. We haven't had rain since last November and the humidity has spent too long in the single digits. The predominant colors of our landscape are tan and brown. We have six or more long weeks to go before promise of rain, hoping we can not lose thousands of acres to wildfire -- and with them, burned or starving animals and the devastating erosion that comes with fire followed immediately by the rainy season. This leaves no time to sprout a few sprigs of grass to slow the erosion, so ash and soil cascade off the mountains leaving rocky scarp behind. The muck buries the streams and fills the river. Life is tough for our critters for several years after such a fire. Keep us in your prayers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blue Birds and Black Swans

Years ago while working in marketing, I learned the concept of 'bluebirds'. The sales staff had their annual plan for meeting sales targets -- what projects were anticipated for which large customers, and how they would 'win' the project. Any large sale that was not in the plan carried the label "Bluebird.' Perhaps from Bluebird of happiness, this was an unanticipated or unplanned positive event.

Most of us have had that experience -- anywhere from finding a $5 bill to winning the lottery or being selected for a job we thought we had no prayer of getting. Consequences of a bluebird are usually positive -- paying bills off or just feeling good.

The opposite phenomenon is a Black Swan -- an event beyond reasonable anticipation or probability. Personal Black Swans can be the unexpected layoff, the need for a root canal (see previous post!) or being hit by a bad driver.

The increasingly common use of the term is for larger scale events-- at the national or global level. Recent examples in the US would be the 9/11 tragedy or Katrina hitting the gulf coast, though I'm not sure how well Karina fits -- it was reasonably foreseeable that some day a major hurricane would hit New Orleans, so is it a Black Swan if it hits during your lifetime and the levees fail as well??

I've started to think of these on the Black Swan Scale (I think my own invention), sort of like the Richter scale for earthquakes or Fujita scale for tornadoes. A '1' would be noticeable enough to be called a Black Swan, but the event is localized with impacts that are non-persistent (time-wise) at a national or global level. A '10' would be devastating and persistent -- think major asteroid strike with extinction level impact. OK, I'll admit, this line of thinking has resulted from the unfolding of the Japanese earthquake.

So what are some examples: I'll start from the impact of 9/11 -- factors of sudden and reasonably unforeseen, loss of life and some persistent economic impact to the US and globally -- probably a '2' on the Black Swan scale.

The Tsunami of 2004 seems like a '3' to me -- very unexpected, huge loss of life, minimal impact on the global economy.

Japan is only starting to unfold. I'm thinking that the earthquake alone --well above what anyone expected in our lifetime -- would probably have been a '2.' Add the tsunami -- defied the predictions for arrival time after a quake so greater loss of life -- maybe into '3' or '4' territory? The unanticipated failure of all reactor management back-up measures, causing the nuclear release and long-term power supply issues, may bring the series of events up to a solid '4.' The evolving impact on the global economy is starting to look like it may easily bump up into '5' territory. Already markets are adjusting downward and precious metals prices are falling.

How will it impact us as the Japanese stop buying US treasury bonds? What other tentacles of these events will tickle the world economy? Who knows -- Black Swans are an adventure into unknown territory.

So how do we define the Black Swan scale? What are your ideas of some historic examples and where they would fall on such a scale?

As for the current one, hang on to your hats, it could be a wild ride!!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why I love my healthcare spending account

What a concept! A program that allows you to put aside your own $$, tax-free, to reimburse yourself for copays and other medical and dental expenses you incur! Seems a little like free money to me, but somehow this program has survived essentially intact and without additional taxation.

I've been participating in the program for about 5 years now. At first I noticed the extra dollars not being in my paycheck. Not so much any more. My insurer has partnered and does a direct-billing thing, so my MD visit and prescription copays are automatically refunded to my checking account. How convenient!

Here's the really great part, at least I'm appreciating it right now -- they reimburse for large dental expenses -- like a root canal -- which even dental insurance usually does not cover. I can understand why -- the need for a root canal usually means you just ignored your teeth for a long time so why reward someone who needs one?

I really did not ignore my teeth. I go in at least once a year , usually twice for the X-rays and cleaning. I plan to get the x-rays from my September visit to see whether these guys just flat missed the problem. I can't imaging that the tooth blew-up under an apparently OK filling in just 4 months. Baffling to me.

Anyway, I was thrilled to find out that this will not be a huge hit to me financially. The icing on the cake is that they will also reimburse me for the nitrous oxide I was sucking during the procedure. I believe the oral surgeon was happy about my choice as well -- I tend to be a bit anxious when people are messing with my teeth, so he didn't have to put up with my grimaces and white-knuckles either.

If you are employed, find out if your employer offers a health care spending account program. It is at least a two-fer -- lower income tax and reimbursement for costs your insurance does not cover. There is a catch -- you lose any funds you put into the account that you do not use during the year. Example, if you participate by having $25 taken from each 2-week paycheck, you'll put away $650 dollars toward your medical expenses and reduce your taxable income by $650. If you only claim $625, the other $25 will not be returned to you, as it was not used for its intended purpose.

Good planning and record-keeping will prevent that loss. In addition to the medical and dental, it will reimburse for new prescription glasses and some other personal care expenses. Each program is a little different, but in general reimburses for all of these things. Filing requires copies of receipts, a statement of what you paid for (usually the billing statement is enough) and a simple form. If you are high-tech, this can all be done electronically.

Again, with a little planning this is a great deal. Thus far in 5 years, I have run out of Health care spending account funds before I have run out of year.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pesky Teeth!

Every winter a couple of my teeth start to hurt. They have these really long roots that stick up into my sinus, and they ache when the storms move past us (low pressure). I dutifully go to the dentist to have them checked -- just in case. I am usually really embarrassed, but better safe than sorry.

So today I went in. Not the usual problem. Bummer. A different tooth -- not one of the usual suspects -- developed a large decay under the filling. To make a long story short, it's root canal time.

I am not a happy camper. I'm not a big fan of discomfort, especially dental pain. Oh, well, there is much good news so I will try to be optimistic! There was no infection. I have been especially frugal lately so I don't need to stress over the cost. It will be done on Monday, so I do not need to spend weeks dreading the whole business.

Just one of those exciting experiences that remind us we are alive! So far, it seems to beat the alternative!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Blog Bug Strikes Again!

'Being Awake' is about the here and now, my observations on life in the desert southwest. For some time I've been feeling a need to write a really basic blog about family preparedness ( see my postings from August and September about National Preparedness Month). I am especially interested in passing tips along to young, growing families who may need the basics and some tips on how to start their preparedness on a shoestring.

Why this calling? In the last several years we have seen some serious disasters and semi-disasters in the US and some of our neighboring or allied countries. From major disasters like Katrina and the Haiti earthquake to the short-term-but-still-deadly blizzards this winter, it seems like the common refrain following these disaster is that aid in any form was slow to arrive. To that end, the self-help of family preparedness can be the difference between an inconvenience and a personel disaster. It may not maintain 'wholeness' but it can save your life or your health.

Soooo, my sister blog is called FrugalPrep. If you are interested in looking, you can find it by going to ABOUT ME, or through this link:

Feedback, either here or on the new blog, will be much appreciated!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

From Cabin Fever to Spring Fever

The weather in the high desert can be confusing. Ten days of nights below freezing and days below 50 degrees and we start staying indoors. Ten nights above freezing with days above 60 degrees and Spring Fever sets in. Most of us have the good sense not to act on the intermittent Spring Fever impulse, at least beyond going out with no jacket. Chances are we will see the cold cycle return repeatedly until April or May. On my last bout of Spring Fever, I did buy some wonderful seeds from a great website, the Pumpkin Nook. They were fast and about $1.50 less per seed packet than my local store, but with a better selection.

Spring Fever here must be tempered. When you watch the big weather map on TWC, they show weather patterns that reflect the edge of the jet stream, which is often the curved line where temps north are a bunch colder than temps to the south. Invariably that curved line is just a little north of us. Cool, always warm, right?!? NO. What it really means is a lot of wind, especially when we are on the LOW side of the atmospheric pressure.

Spring for us is a gardener's nightmare. The humidity drops, sometimes to single digits, then in mid-March, the winds start. Usually they stop by the beginning of May. Anything planted before the winds stop must be protected. May as well not bother even then, because three weeks later, the temps hit 100 degrees and stay there until July. There are some vegetables that love that -- cucumbers, summer squashes, string beans, maybe corn.

Those of us who have lived and gardened here for a while have learned to delay gratification and do most of our planting in July or August, after the summer rains begin (monsoon). Findings from some U of A studies on the health of perennials related to time of planting indicated that a plant dug-in in March never quite catches up to one planted in late January or late July of the same year. The stresses of the desiccating winds and excessive heat as they try to put in their first roots is just too much for many plants.

So I buy my seeds, prep my starter and know that I can put out about 6 plants until July, all of which must be babied. Then we wait and hope for the summer rain and our gardening fun can begin in earnest!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Works for Me! (part 2)

These are my bread-making tips. If you are not a baker, these will be very boring!

1. If you make at least a loaf of bread a week, buy the 1 pound yeast brick (Red Star or Fleischmann's) in the institutional food section of your grocery. Once opened, it turns into the same stuff as in the Fleischmann's jars at the grocery but will cost about 20% of the price, volume for volume. Pour the granulated yeast into one of the Classico Jars (see my last post) and store in the fridge.

2. Measure the oil first, then use the same spoon or cup to measure the honey. The honey will slide out, rather than stick to the utensil.

3. Your bread will stay fresher an extra day or two if you add an additional Tablespoon of olive oil or pure unfiltered coconut oil per loaf.

4. If you use a bread machine: Measure the water, oil and honey into the same Pyrex measuring cup. Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds per cup of volume. This will allow you to 'pre-warm' the ingredients so you can use the quick cycles.

5. If you use the quick cycle per #4 above, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of regular yeast if you are not a rapid-rise yeast user.

6. If you sit down for a cup of tea while your bread is baking, warm your spoon in the tea before measuring honey into the spoon. The honey will slide right off and mix into the tea more easily!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Works for Me!

Thought I'd share a few tips that work for me:

1. Water down shower gel by about a third. It will be just enough more liquid in consistency that it won't slide off your hands or washcloth. Can't tell how annoying it is to watch that little green blob of gel swirl down the drain!

2. If you have just a few pomegranates, you can juice them using an old-fashined citrus hand press or squeezer. Not the type with the little dome in the center or the tall ones with the slot-machine handle. You still need to do a moderately good job of separating the fruit from the bitter rind. Fill the hopper and squeeze, stir and squeeze again. The clean out the seeds and start again. It is much faster and less tedious than using a sieve or food mill.

3. When I have small amounts of fruit, whether leftovers from the store or late-comers to the garden, I make a version of freezer jam with it so they won't go to waste. It may only be enough for one or two small jars, but it takes little time and usually tastes great. I throw the clean fruit, chopped if larger fruit like peaches or pears, into a saucepan, add some sugar (usually about half of what you'd use in a true canning recipe) and let it simmer. Once things are soft and fragrant, if the fruit has not brokendown some, I'll hit it with the stick blender-- not enough to make a puree, just to make it more spreadable later. Then turn the heat up a little, add the liquid pectin (even if it is only a pint of fruit) and let it come to a boil and simmer for a few minutes more. The pectin is good for you anyway, so why not add it all? When the mixture looks and smells 'jammy,' pour into sterilized jam jars. I use sterilized white Ball lids, not standard canning lids for this, because they will be going into the freezer shortly, not sitting on a shelf. I put the lid on loosely and let them cool on the counter. Be sure to leave a little extra headspace as the jam will expand in the freezer. I let it cool to room temp, then put in the fridge for a few hours, then into the freezer. The gradual cooling helps keep the jar from splitting inthe freezer. After about a day in the freezer, I tighten the lids. Use within a few months and keep in the fridge when thawing and until used up. Use within 2 to 3 weeks of thawing, as it does not have enough sugar to completely retard mold growth over the long term. Because this has less sugar, you can also use as cake filling, on top of a cheesecake, or thin it down for pancake syrup. When blueberries are inexpensive at the grocery store, I put up a few pints this way and it makes great BB preserves.

4. The same Bell lids fit the Classico pasta sauce jars. I clean the Classico jars and use them, with the Bell lids, to store my daily-use amounts of sugar, flour, pasta (we use half a box of dried rotini for a meal) and other dry goods.

Next, bread baking tips!

Feeling Remiss

It's been a week since my last post (sounds like a classic Catholic confession...) and I am actually experiencing guilt for not posting. The week has been so unremarkable that I considered just writing about my jerkey recipe. As I sat writing, my mind went to last Saturday's bizarre events not far away.

I shy away from organized politics, though try to keep informed and vote at each opportunity, but I am horrified about the crazy guy who shot my district's Congresswoman, a child,and four other citizens exercising their first amendment rights. I am even more horrified by both sides of the national political debate using this as an occasion to push their agendas for censorship and causes du jour, some of them climbing their soapboxes less than 24 hours after the smoke cleared.

The evidence is increasing that the assailant was mentally ill, possibly an undiagnosed schizophrenic. His actions seem to have little to do with the ongoing political debate. They possibly had more to do with his reading of some books now considered political classics in some circles. Let us not ban free-speech, change the Bill of Right, nor burn the books he read (or may have thought about reading) as a result of a tragedy caused by one mad man.

It seems we must tolerate the small fraction of foreign religious or other fanatics without concern or be branded with many broad unflattering adjectives, but not so with our home-grown crazies. I'm certainly not advocating any departure from allowing our justice system to handle the matter and determine the young man's fate. I do advocate that cooler heads should prevail when it comes to twisting the event to cast unwarranted blame on any political ideology (left or right) or justify unrelated infringements upon the Bill of Rights for the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Winter Wonderland

There was a storm brewing! It started with the wild clouds as the front moved toward us.

Wet, nearly horizontal pellets flew for a while before the big fluffy snow started to fall.

It fell long enough to stick on the dog!

and to make fairy landscapes before it melted away.