Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Very Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
Let us not forget how our forefathers spent their Christmases to bequeath this freedom to us.*

Enjoy and remain aware.
Let us re-commit to preserve the blessings of liberty to our grandchildren.
* look here if you do not understand this image

Friday, December 21, 2012

Something you should read

If you want action to be taken in response to the events of a week ago.

My heart goes out to all who were affected by the senseless violence last Friday.  Mixing violent mentally ill people with children forced to spend 5 days a week concentrated in schools without meaningful defense is, and always will be, a bad idea. Defending our children is a good idea. Making it easier to assess and detain people with classic signs of developing mental illness, especially when responsible adults are fully aware of the issues, would also be a rational response. In at least 3 of the 4 most recent incidents this was the case.  Two of those shooters were dismissed from academic programs due to their mental status -- unleashed, angry and confused, on the general public.

Since 2010, there have been 9 similar incident reported from China, where children of young age have been attacked, wounded and killed.  The weapon was always a knife, but the damage was the same. Will we all soon be eating only with spoons?

Too bad the numerous positive US incidents, when mayhem is prevented by a rational, legal weapon owner, are not given the same press coverage.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WELCOME and Thanks!

WELCOME to Connie and thanks for following this blog.

Thanks also to my other blog followers. I treasure each of you!

Most of you are fellow bloggers and Connie is no exception.  I follow her as well and am a big fan.  I always learn something new and occasionally yearn to be at her dinner table -- especially after her recent post on all those onions!

What will we do if no one is in charge??

In my humble opinion, there's a difference between 'society' and 'community.' My experience with society has a lot of elected officials, regulations and people in charge of their domains. Government does stuff for you and you pay for it whether you use it, want it or not.

Community is different. It is somewhere between loose organization and chaos.  People do things because it's right to do them or they want to do them, not because it's required. Things come together, or they don't. 

My current experience in an unnamed place in an unnamed western state is a positive reflection on the goodness of community. A family has a genuine misfortune, there's a fund-raiser. 

People want music? It happens, right there.



Folks need to communicate?
 Put it on the bulletin board.

Christmas coming up? Decorations materialize.
If someone is offended, they keep it to themselves.
Decorations will be taken down soon enough.

Neighbor too busy with work to decorate the fence?
No sweat, that's what neighbors do.

Got something you don't need?
Need something you don't have?
Check the free box outside the Mason's Lodge on Main Street. Today there are books, a hat, an inkjet cartridge and a clean egg carton for your hens' product.
Folks tend to only put nice stuff that still works there, not stuff that should go to the dump.

A few local folks, through a variety of circumstances, wouldn't eat regularly if not for the kindness of others. Cafe serves them, other regulars add a buck or two if they can when they pay their bills to cover the losses.

There are more examples every day, but just thought I'd offer a small glimpse of living communites that function with out someone "in charge."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Spice up your holidays

I'm a huge fan of Penzey's spices. They have high-quality, fresh spices at very reasonable prices.  If you save your old spice jars you can refill them with Penzey's spices in resealable ziplock bags, many of which are in bags as small as one ounce of product, for even greater savings. For example, based on the way I cook, I buy dill weed in one ounce bags, garlic in 4 ounce bags and cinnamon in 8 ounce bags.

They always have some special offers during the holidays. This year is no exception. First is their free shipping with an order of $30 or more, a minimum savings of $7.95.  The second is this year's holiday gft box. It is a great sampler of some of their spices, and also a wonderful gift for a friend who cooks. Their cinnamon (included in the box) is unbelievably good -- I occasionally sprinkle it on buttered toast to make cinnamon toast. No sugar needed! The gift box comes with a cute kitchen towel.  If you prefer pairs of towels, you can buy extras as well.  Several of my friends and family members will get these for Christmas (surprise!).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the opportunity to succeed or fail.

Thank you for the ability to start again after success or failure.

Thank you for the abundance we forget we have.

Thank you for the freedoms we take for granted.

Thank you for the blessings we so often overlook as the minimum standards for our lives.

Thank you for giving us minds and hands to do your work.

Thank you for this peaceful day.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Easy Holiday French Toast

In addition to being a day for us all to reflect on the blessings in our lives, Thanksgiving is a day for foodies to excel. I'm not normally a big fan of 'convenience foods' but the following meal is one time I'll make the exception. Why make the day only about the BIG meal when you can start the day with an easy but special breakfast? Here's a way to make a fabulous breakfast with little mess of fuss. 

Start with the right ingredients, like a loaf of great cinnamon raisin bread and some Del Monte bottled citrus salad. For a light side of fruit, a small bowl of the bottled pink grapefruit or regular orange sections with a little fresh banana is a great for a light, colorful fruit side. Should take about 5 minutes to 'prepare.'

The French toast is almost as easy. Take some bottled eggnog (I like the Shamrock), add an egg or two (about 1 egg per 3/4 cup of nog), moisten a slice of good quality cinnamon raisin bread and cook. Prep time before cooking is about 5 minutes and again, very little to clean up after. Serve with butter and your favorite syrup.  The great part of this is that the spices and extra goodies are contained in these products!

If you have the time, you can make your own 'french toast' bread (FTB) in advance by adding more raisins (and nuts or other fruit), spices and sweetner to your a loaf of your home-made bread.  I'll make my loaf of FTB today with oat and wheat flour, raisins, walnuts and lots of spices! I include nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and a bit of cardamom. (Remember to add a little extra yeast to counteract the antibiotic action of the cinnamon if you use a lot of that.)

This is a great festive start to an otherwise frantic but wonderful day. It works well for Christmas, too.  If you want to repeat at other times of year, stash a can or two of the Borden's eggnog.
No refrigeration needed and it's available when the dairy case eggnog is out of season. 
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Dumpling Season!

The cool evenings lately signal the beginning of another favorite for me: dumpling season!  It's too warm half the year for steamed dumplings around here, so this is very exciting!  These aren't the dense, labor intensive flat noodle-like things some people call dumplings.  Our fast, simple dumplings are like fluffy steamed biscuits immersed in soup or stew, so the flavors mingle to bring you pure satisfaction. These are total comfort food at the level of mashed potatoes or meatloaf, not a gourmet meal.

NOTE TO SPOTLESS KITCHEN BRIGADE: some photos below may reveal real life. Viewer discretion is advised.

The recipe is fairly simple:
1 c. flour (half can be whole grain)
1.5 t baking powder
0.5 t salt
1T sugar
3T cold butter or lard
about half a cup of milk
Mix the dry, cut in the butter or lard as in biscuits. Do not add the liquid until your pot of soup or stew is simmering on the stove.  I use a covered skillet with sides about 4 inches high to allow room for the stew and space for the dumplings to rise.
Just before the steaming part, add the milk.  The mixture should be moist but not runny. See the picture for consistency.  I goofed and this is a little wetter than normal. Yours should not be more moist than this. You may need a smidge more or less milk than 1/2 cup depending on your humidity and altitude.

If using canned soup (like Progresso) add another 1/2  cup of water or broth to the soup, as these dumplings will absorb water and thicken the soup.  If you don't anticipate this you will end up with something too thick.

I use the basic recipe for stews of all kinds. The picture is left over beef stew with additional water added.  Once the batter is at the right consistency, drop quickly by medium spoonfuls into the simmering stew. Initially the dumplings will sit low in the simmering broth.  As they steam, they will grow in size and rise ad the leavening starts to work. 

You can stay simple or dress these up for Sunday dinner.  For chicken and dumplings, I may add a pinch or two of thyme or sage to the dry batter.  For beef stew, perhaps a dash of dry garlic. 
From the point in the picture above, cover and DO NOT UNCOVER for 10 excruciating minutes. If they don't look like the next picture or even fluffier, cover and allow them to steam for another 2 minutes.

Carefully lift each dumpling with a large spoon and place on plate or shallow bowl with the accompanying soup or stew.  We sprinkle ours with shredded Parmesan cheese, but they are fine without.

You will be rewarded with a meal that may win you over to dumpling season!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Be the ONE

The national election is Tuesday.  If you haven't already voted, please plan your day to ensure that your vote is cast and counted.

If you have an absentee ballot and have not mailed it, you should seriously consider dropping it at a polling place.  In my state, it must be at the County Registrar's office or an official polling place to be counted on Tuesday, NOT postmarked by that date. That means mailed ballots must be received by my County no later than Monday's mail.  Not sure about your state? Call on Monday to find out.

Do you think your ONE vote won't matter? What if a million people nation-wide have the same sentiment? Or 2 million? Presidents have been elected with smaller margins! Don't give in to feeling powerless. Do not give your power away and let others decided for you. Individuals matter. That concept is a founding principle of our Nation. Do not prove our Founding Fathers wrong. Be the ONE.

Consider copying this post and sending it in an e-mail to 10 or 20 people.  If they each forward it to just 5 or 10 people, that's as many as 200 people encouraged to vote. If they each forward it to a few people, we can be in the thousands after that one forward.  It would not be a chain letter threatening dire consequences.  The consequences of voting or not become clear soon enough.  If you don't vote and don't like the outcome, don't complain.  Instead, BE the wonderful, powerful ONE.  Vote on 6 November.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ethics of Halloween

From Zero Hedge, an interesting slant on the ethics of the evening from a free-market economy perspective.  Guess I'd never pondered it from this angle!

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Big Girl Halloween

Who says kids get to have all the fun? This year we had Big Girl Halloween! How? well, here's how.

First we planned the get-together for the gals and Dad can have a few hours with the kids. We gals  dressed up and brought munchies. We also had a home-made big-girl pinata. Yup, the funny thing filled with stuff that you get blind-folded and swing at with a bat.  Of course, because with alcohol on the menu, we did the pinata early in the evening.
So what makes it a big-girl pinata? The stuff inside, of course! But I'm getting ahead of myself! First, how to make your own pinata.  We looked at several YOU TUBE videos and selected an easy one.  Blow up a large enough balloon (12 inch diameter minimum, I'd suggest), mix up some flour and water, add strips of newspaper to cover most of the balloon, let dry, repeat. You need to plan at least a few days ahead (you still have time to do yours!) because the wheat paste takes a while to dry.

Some tips not in the video: wear disposable gloves, don't make the wheat paste too runny because it will take forever to dry, and don't hang your drying pinata by the balloon stem.  The drying paper forms points and will pop the balloon!

 Once the undecorated base was dry, I used holiday napkins, separated down to one ply to add the color. Because these are rather delicate, I used a mix of Elmer's glue thinned with water, a pastry ( or 1.5 inch paint) brush and the 'gold leaf' technique. This technique involves painting the center of the Target area, centering the piece of napkin on the painted area, putting it on and then painting it down gently with the glue from the outside.  Once the napkin is first placed, moving it will rip it, so use forgiving designs.
Leave a hole in the top large enough to fill the pinata. After the final drying, a simple hole-punch can be used to make the holes for ribbon or string to hang it. What makes it a big-girl pinata is the FILLING! Several of us got together and donated unused free-bee items.
 You know, buy a cosmetic and get a 'free' pouch of trial-sized blush, lipstick and mascara items.  Because those are meant to have something for everyone, no one uses all of it.  Fortunately, our neighborhood  ladies are diverse enough that some items will go with some one's complexion or eye color! The Bath and Body Works coupons for a free sample of their new offering is another good source of big-girl pinata filling.  Penzey's spices usually sends a free sample with your order, so those went in the B-G Pinata too. A few token candies are a nice touch. If you have a 'donation' that is too big or heavy for the pinata, put a surrogate in.  For example (from the picture), when everything is sorted out, whoever got the little cosmetic brush (small, light, non-breakable) gets the bronzer compact (large, heavy, does not bounce well) to go with it.

From here. it's like a normal pinata event. Blind fold, stick, turning the batter, waiting for the crack and going through the loot!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Revisiting Past Posts

Lately I've seen several blog posts that reminded me of some of my older ones.  I thought I'd revisit two and provide any insights gained in the intervening years.  The first one is from my other blog and was about that superfood, bacon. Several things have changed since then, especially the price of that 3 lb package of ends and pieces.  It's now about 40% more that in May 2011. Ouch.   I've stopped segregating into three piles, unless there are some really beautiful bacon-like strips that beg to be cooked and eaten immediately. I just chop the whole collection into bits and start cooking. I still do not can the resulting bits for several reasons that include my reluctance to try out my pressure canner. I do pack most of the bits in clean bacon fat and either freeze or store in the fridge. We use them fast enough that they don't show their age, and I'll occasionally add a teaspoon of bacon fat from the bit-storage to the olive oil when cooking for flavor in some recipes.

The second post was about the bread I make for our breakfast. The recipe is more simple now to reduce the cost and because DH likes it that way. Local pecans are in when available, some of the spices are out and he prefers just raisins for the dried fruit. The flours now include rye, wheat and oat.

Local mesquite flour is available now-- the harvest is just being ground, but you need a strong mill for that. This winter when the acorns are ripe, I'll start adding some of that flour as well. I hand crack the little devils, then grind them twice, first to crack the nut meat into pieces about the size of a normal grain and then in a different mill to make flour.  I thought I'd written a post on how to make acorn flour, but I can't find it. The first step is to locate one of the two species of US oaks that don't have the high tanin levels that require soaking and washing. I'm fortunate to have one of those, an Emory oak, in my front yard and right now it is LOADED with nuts. Guess I know what post to write once they are ready to harvest!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ahhhh Autumn!

A couple of weeks ago, I took a solo trip to one of my favorite spots in the high desert of the southwest US.  Normally, we leave early, but on this rare solo journey I took my time and covered the last few miles of the trip several hours later than usual. The clouds and light were especially nice on the hills.

I noticed the little pinnacle to the right of this peak-- the light really made it pop!
A little rain and cooler weather brought out the green along the way.

There seemed to be a small difference of opinion in the ranks about weaning.
Autumn here isn't characterized by bright red and orange leaves.  It's more like palpable relief from the heat, with rest from the blazing sun.  Deciduous trees drop their yellowing leaves and hardy plants flower because they have survived with enough to spare.

A friend has a small orchard in a flood plain. His harvest was so abundant he invited locals to pick. Unlike other places you may have read about, we were respectful and appreciated the opportunity. Several tons of sweet apples found their way to nourish the community. Plenty were left for the birds and bears.

The pears were small this year, but the plums were the size of baseballs!
The evenings cooled down enough to enjoy 'grill for one' on the porch. 
A great ending to a southwest autumn day!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

How not to satisfy your customers

I had a really lovely posting planned. Really. The bounty and beauty of autumn, complete with photos, but it will have to wait. Right now I need to rant.

I've done a lot of business via the Internet. I live in the sticks and am really particular about what I own, so do my research and go to the best sources.  I've had wonderful service from businesses like LL Bean, Sierra Trading Post and the giant Amazon.  I've been treated like royalty by small businesses, like Doug at Spruce Haven Farm/Meaford Wool (probably the only Internet seller of socks made of musk ox wool -- I told you I'm particular).

My recent experience with Sportsman's Guide (SG) has to have been one of the most needlessly frustrating I can recall. It may end my relationship with them because it really hasn't been 'made right,' the process by which you save an otherwise loyal customer ( especially one who forked over a $29 annual membership).  Though I retired from a government job, I spent 10 years in a real business, half of that in marketing.  It costs a lot to gain a new customer, so a good business can afford to do a little to save a customer with a track record of buying.  Not so much here.

If you aren't already tired of this, let me share the story. I wanted a sleeping pad for a specific purpose. It needed to be less than 23 inches wide and preferably 2 inches or more thick, but compressible and light weight. I searched far and wide and found one at SG. I ordered it in time for a trip which included an opportunity to test it before the event for which I need the darn thing.  The pad was a Red Canyon DELUXE Sleeping pad. SG also carried the next size up, the OUTFITTER, which was several inches wider and twice the weight of the deluxe.

The box arrived 3 days before my trip.  I could tell by looking that it was the larger pad.  I measured and weighed it, silly me. I then looked at the tag which confirmed my suspicion. The manufacturer had clearly marked the bubble next to OUTFITTER, but the SG label on the back stated DELUXE. A simple warehouse error. I called the company and explained the problem.  I suggested that when the replacement was sent, they have a note instructing the order-filler to confirm that the right item was being sent. They even agreed to send the item by 2-day air to an alternate address so I could keep to my original schedule and sent me a postage paid return label. So far, OK.

Two day air turned out to be 7 day air by the time it was delivered.  I could tell before I opened the box that they sent the wrong item AGAIN.  Sure enough, same item, same labeling error. I called again. They would have 'Linda' the product manager check it out at the warehouse and give me a call tomorrow.  No call. No chance to dry run the product. No satisfaction.

I called them back today. I informed the rep that I wanted to talk to a supervisor and she asked to let me give her a chance. She verified that Linda had discovered the warehouse error, that there were no DELUXE pads, all were the outfitter size and that I should return the one that was too big. I would receive a $10 off coupon for my inconvenience and the pad would be removed from the website (which has not yet happened).  Seems I was the only malcontent and the other recipients were happy to have the larger, more expensive pad at the special discount. 

On to the box.  I didn't have a 30 X 8 X 8 box, or any other large enough for the rolled pad, and the one that had been battered for an extra few days by UPS was in poor condition. Would they pay for a new box?  The rep suggested I check with grocery and liquor stores for a replacement. I went ballistic. I had already spent several hours making up for their mistake -- twice-- and she wants me to box hunt??? Helpful but insane. I ended the call.

After regaining my composure, I called back and insisted on a supervisor. I explained the situation and she was less than helpful. After some extended discussion, she reluctantly agreed to credit me the extra shipping I paid to receive the initial wrong item and suggested I just use some extra tape on the pitiful box. I understood why the rep tried to save me from a chat with the supervisor.

You can tell a lot about how a business is run by how they react to their own mistake, and whether they self-correct, listen to customers, and make it right. Sportsman's Guide flunked the test on all three counts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Been puny

I've had some bad bug for about a week and am just recovering. Please pardon my poor posting.

If you are interested in some information on National Preparedness Month, please hop on over to my other blog, which is a little more up to date. 

I owe you a few and will get to it soon!

Monday, September 17, 2012

So simple but a long road to get there

If you have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, or know anyone who has, read on! 

I was diagnosed with whatever this is almost 11 years ago. Mostly it's about hurting all over all the time, or at least most of it. Other symptoms include physical and mental fatigue at increasingly high levels. There are a host of other symptoms that may or may not be present, and they may or may not be present today but are back tomorrow.  If I weren't suffering from it I might not believe someone describing my set of symptoms either.

I try to minimize the prescription meds because there are side effects and unintended consequences to all of it. There are also several theories about what caused the suite of symptoms. Most MD's  just treat symptoms and don't try to go after root causes. I have been prescribed and tried a lot of meds -- some that worked for a while, others one dose was enough to know it was not for me.  I kept a list with the name, dose and why I found it unsatisfactory.  The list is a couple pages long but allows me to analyze and prevent revisiting failed meds. Of the many meds I've tried and stopped using due to the side effects, I noticed that low doses of brain-affecting meds that monkey with norepinepherine levels gave me the most relief without narcotics (HATE those). Unfortunately most had other undesirable side effects.

A recent article on natural anti-depressive compounds gave me an idea.  The article provided several vitamins and amino acids that are precursors to serotonin. None were mentioned for norepinepherine, so I went to my pal, Google.  Turns out L-tyrosine is the precursor amino acid and that the most bioavailbale form is N-acetyl L-tyrosine (NALT).  I found it at the health food store for under $8, so bought a bottle of 30 X 300 mg tablets and started to play around with it. That was a few weeks ago.

Half a tablet was too much. I was UP! All night! like the old MTV show.  I skipped a couple of days, during which I felt pretty good and was increasingly more able to sleep. Whew.  Next I tried a quarter of a tablet, about 75 mg. Well, it really helps.

Taking a quarter of a tablet each morning has done some amazing things for me. I am no longer taking celebrex ($125/month). I am no longer taking nuvigil ($90/month). Decided not to try to titrate Strattera for the same purpose (would have been $100 per month). Haven't needed a percocet in two weeks -- happy to be without that too. Occasionally I notice a build-up with trouble sleeping so I skip a day.  MANY fewer side effects than the drugs replaced. No meaningful risk of bleeding ulcer, no racing heart beat and wired-feelings from the nuvigil, etc.

I'm not a doctor and this is not medical advice, but my self-experiment seems to be working well.  Looks like the cost of the NALT will be less than $3 a month to replace $215 for less effective meds and prevent another $100 a month experiment. Not a bad deal.

It's been amost 3 weeks. I'l let you know if it's still working a month from now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cool New Toy

OK, not really a toy.  For years I've been looking for a small one-piece washer-dryer laundry unit for our vacation place. There are several European  and US manufacturer models available, but they are almost all unvented, which means longer dry times and higher potential for internal mold and mildew growing between visits.

We finally found a VENTED unit, small enough for our intended space and with good user reviews -- most of the unvented unit reviews were filled with regret and sadness. Turns out the unit was designed for cabin cruisers, yachts and luxury RVs -- not quite our niche!

Well this little item, the Splendide 2100 XC, works. It is counter depth (23.5" wide and deep, 33.13" high), uses 110 current, and vents the dryer heat and moisture out of the unit rather than condensing it to use on the next load of wash.  I bought it from Camping World and picked it up from their nearest location.  Shipping costs were not bad, but I was going to town anyway, so saved myself a few $$.  Timing was great.  They are having a Labor Day sale so it was $299 off, but I did have to spend $20 on a Good Sam Club membership to get the discount. $20 to get a sure $299 off, I'll take those odds. That's better than a true daily double, Alex.

There is one website with a lower price.  The shipping charge was about the same, BUT you had to inspect upon delivery or you couldn't return it if it was damaged. That meant an additional trip to the vacation place to sit and wait. No savings in that option for us.

We passed on the installation service because it didn't include the drive time to the vacation spot -- no chance it would be a reasonable fee.  It was fairly easy to install.  The hardest part was removing the shipping block that kept the drum from crashing around during transit. The remainder was pretty easy --hook uo the hot and cold water, stick the drain hose in the drain pipe in the wall and connect tothe vent. 

For now, it is venting into the house. We held back on finishing the utility room until we had a unit, so we'll now design the remaining space. Until we have a firm design and cabinets installed, we'll keep venting into the house. With winter coming on and the perpetual low humidity, it could be a two-fer every time it runs. May even rig up a method for summer venting to the outside and winter venting inside the house to recycle that heat when we can use it!

We cranked it up and did a few loads. The little nipper has a lot of options and choices for how you do your laundry -- just like the big ones! First challenge was getting accustomed to load size.  It will wash about 15 lbs, but if you dry it all at once, things come out very wrinkled --like wadded in a tight ball that can only be relaxed by washing again. Setting the initial dry to about 20 minutes allows opening it and pulling out some of the items that can hang well, like shorts, tops or sheets. That leaves the drying capacity for the important stuff like soft towels! I also dried one load in two phases, which worked well.

Having this little luxury reduced the laundry that we need to bring home, wash and take back by about 70%. Once I realign sheets, towels and work clothes at the other end, the percentage may be higher. I like the idea of not having piles of dirty, and storage tubs of clean, laundry kicking around home for weeks at a time. This may even let us take a more fuel efficient vehicle on vacation because we are hauling less. Hey, lots of connections to real life from this little toy.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Rules for LEGAL Immigrants

I have a friend I'll call Vera from a solvent European country with a name that starts with an 'S.'
Vera has fallen in love with the US desert southwest.  She is a retired civil servant of that 'S' country, and has investments, property and a pension. She is also fluent in English and probably knows more about this country than most Americans. She decided she wanted to have property in the US almost a decade ago. She bought a few acres, which increased the tax rate on those acres from 'agricultural' to 'residential' which is good for the local government. She has also improved the property with a small cabin (about 250 square feet) and hired someone to drill a well.  I guess you could say she is helping people stay employed.

Last time we spoke, she talked about wanting to build her permanent home on the property. She wants to be here for the full construction, but it's a problem. You see, she is from a country that takes laws very seriously so she respects and abides by US law as well.  Under the current US Visa rules, she can only spend as much time in the US every year as she spends outside of the US. If I understood her correctly, she can get a visa for 90 days and then must leave and be out of the US for 90 days before she returns.  It will take close to 6 months to build her house. She can't find anyone willing to work on the house for 90 days, take a 90 day break, and then finish it. It might be easier if she were building it in a big city, but she likes the area because it isn't a big city, like the one she lives in back in Europe.

The only ways she can legally stay longer include: win a visa in her country's official lottery (less than 10 per year are allocated for most European countries); marry a citizen; go to school but leave as soon as her studies are completed (nearest college is about a 90 minute drive each way); enter on a work visa to do a job that her employer hasn't been able to find an American to do (nearest employment is about a 90 minute drive each way), or open a business that employs more than 10 people.  If she had family here, they could sponsor her, but she doesn't.

While MILLIONS of illegal immigrants are here using government benefits, many without contributing, a self-financing retiree is unable to spend her last 10 or 15 years in the place she most wants to live -- at her own expense and contributing to the local tax base.   A few million children of those illegal immigrants just got temporary and likely will get permanent amnesty, scholarships and other benefits while Vera must figure out a way to build her dream home 90 days at a time. Makes me a little crazy if I think about it too much. Go figure.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What is in a name?

The dog previously mentioned as Thunder Chicken has a real name.  At least she would have if I'd filled out the papers, but we don't plan to breed her, so I didn't.  Dear Husband and I fell into what I believe is our M.O. on dog names when we named our wonderful Teddy years ago.  We name the dog based on their characteristics, whether looks or personality.  We got Teddy when she was barely 6 week sold, just weaning, and still had much of her flattish little 'milk nose.' She looked like a little Steiff bear toy, so became Teddy the Bear, or Teddy. It seemed to confuse people that a female could be named Teddy.  She seemed not to care, so neither did we!
We use the dog-name convention that the 'household name' should be not more than 2 syllables and the emphatic version should be one syllable. So Teddy the Bear was 'Teddy' with the emphatic version being 'TED!!' 

For this more recent creature, it took a bit longer to develop her name.  For several weeks she had no name as we got to know her and size-up her personality. We watched this crazy beast and she seemed like a cross between the cartoon characters Baby Huey and Wiley Coyote from Road Runner fame. She was clumsy -- always a little bigger than she could manage, like her nervous system was slow to catch up.  She also did this weird pattern formation that skipped a step in logic -- not that we expect our dogs to be logical, but Teddy was strangely so. 

Baby Huey was appropriate but not a great name for a female dog.  We settled on "Violet's Wiley Coyote'  as Violet was her mother's name. That gave us the household name of YOTIE and the emphatic name of YO!! which was used often and loudly during her first few years.  Always good when a dog reacts immediately and appropriately to the emphatic name.
Here's an example of evolving Yotie logic:  We used the treat reward system when she was being housebroken. She responded well. Small cookie for urinating in the back yard. She learned to hold it for the 'regular' schedule or go to the door to go out in between.  This soon evolved into going to the door, walking out onto the patio, doing a small loop, coming back in and expecting a cookie. No soap, no cookie. She then cut out the unproductive middle step. My dog the efficiency expert! She went to the back door with the expectant look. As soon as one of us got up to let her out, she made a beeline for the cookie jar and sat next to it. Hell no, Dog! We are training you, not the other way around!

She is now 6 years old and starting to mellow out, thank goodness. She is a good companion, but still shows these odd dog-logic patterns on occasion. She has certainly earned her name, many times over!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Observations in Retail

I do my general 'stuff' shopping at Target.  My routine is to spend about 90 minutes there every other week or so. It's been like a time lapse movie of how retailers and suppliers are managing in this slow and upredictable economy. A long slide into the sparse shelving that looks like an old man's gap-toothed smile? Here are some of the things I've noticed.

First is product diversity. It is decreasing. My favorite makeup was discontinued in 2009. Other things have disapeared as well, at least locally, like the G2 mini pens. These fit in a small purse but feel like a regular pen when in use.  It was the the second thing I noticed missing. Haven't seen one in the usual places in this town for almost 3 years.  Other nice and nice-to-haves are disappearing.

Now that I have more free time, I look at not just the 'sale' and 'incentive' items, but also the ones with the small red CLEARANCE tags.  In the last month, our Target has phased out a number of product, like an Italian espresso that they carried for years. Less inventory is a major cost savings measure, especially when there are other similar items --  Starbucks and the store brand Coffee seem to have won the coffee battle.

Many of the items that consume disposable income are on clearance. They will blink out soon. No more frozen crab and asparagus sliders, no more SAN-J organic soy sauce, no more Medaglia D'oro espresso for sale. Products are shelved farther apart and some are stocked only one or two deep. Belt-tightening comes to town.

Products are moving to less expensive, and sometimes less functional packaging.  My favorite Crest toothpaste in the stand-up dispenser is now made in Mexico and has a newly engineered tube that doesn't work worth a damn. Some of the previous, more expensive hidden components that made the paste move up in the container have been removed.  Now, once you are halfway through the product, it takes the strength of Hercules to get the remainder out.  I called P&G and complained.  The sent me free product coupons. As a consumer, I like that. As a stock owner, I don't. It's called giving away the store over a piece of bad 'value engineering.'

The staples are being incented to get people to part with their cash. Buy 2 12-roll packages of Bounty and get a $5 gift card. Same with toothpaste and laundry detergent.  I hop on these offers myself on occasion, but only when it's a product I actually use. Some of these specials seem to preceed packaging changes or 'new and improved' labels. I noticed that the old 48 ounce pine-sol is on the shelf with, and priced the same as, the 'new' more convenient 40 ounce bottles. More convenient to whom???  My 16 ounce box of Kashi Go Lean  is on 'special' for 2.99, except that it now weighs 13.1 ounces. About 2 years ago the 1 pound box of Barilla PLUS rotini pasta went up to $1.19.  Yesterday, I bought the 14.5ounce equivalent box on CLEARANCE, marked down from $3.24 to only $2.75.

I'm not getting warm fuzzies about this economy from my grocery shopping experiences these days. How about you?

New to Me

I bought my last 'new' car in 1992 when I had a sudden need to go from my 5-speed Subaru sedan to anything that I could drive with one arm.  A 15-year old new mother was mad at her boyfriend, so took her Dad's Olds Delta 88 to go yell at him in person. Of course, she was unlicensed and unskilled. We had no warning when she pulled out in front of us. We were going the speed limit, 50 MPH. I was really lucky.

Only a few seconds before I had almost undone my seat belt to get something out of the back seat.  That Still-small Voice told me I could reach it with my seat belt on.  I heard it very clearly. My hand was on the little metal flap when I heard "No, you can reach it from here."  I had learned over the previous couple of years to listen to that voice. I believe it literally saved my life that day, but I did not escape unscathed. 

My left arm was wedged behind the driver's seat, which was kind of like being put in the medieval rack, but with a twist and some back-and-forth waves. Some of the energy was absorbed in my lumbar spine and the discs were/are pretty screwed up. The rest was dissipated in my left shoulder and humerus bone, which had major damage and a spiral fracture. Luckily, the nerves were so damaged that it took about 24 hours for the incredible pain to set in. When I hear people mention 'fainting from the pain,' I came to understand how that could happen. I lost the use of my left arm for about 6 months. I was single and had a job. The MD failed to tell me at the time that I needed to take a couple of months off, so I was back to work in a week.  Drive to work, take half a percocet, stay at work until it wears off enough to drive, repeat. Dumb.

 So I never bought the Saab I was saving for. Instead I bought a Ford Tempo. It was OK, except the early 1990's Ford Tempos and Tauruses had a major problem with the AC, which seemed to fail just as the warranties expired. That was 2 second-hand Honda Accords ago. (The one I was driving to work was 12 years old but had just under 60,000 miles.  Lots of life left in that boring old car so Dear Husband is now using it as his work commute car, replacing his 1991 Honda Accord with > 125,000 miles.)

So I decided that part of what I have saved for during my working life is a car I want and would enjoy during this early fun part of my retirement. I wanted to keep the expense down, have some SUV-like features, and have lots of room for taking stuff with me on trips.  I narrowed my choices down and decided on a new Toyota RAV4. At the local dealer they had a year old trade-in with 7000 miles. Car fax said they weren't  trying to pawn off a totaled mess, so I went for it. The trade off was getting some features I didn't need (moon roof!), but it was also about $6K less than the new one, so close enough.

This car is such a hoot! I love that it has a place for my stuff (Yes, George Carlin was an early influence) that is out of sight until I need it. It has a cool instantaneous MPG calculator to help  optimize your driving. It has a CD player!!!  If I get serious about going to see my friends in Montana, I can load it with stuff and still drop one side of the back seat and have enough room to sleep in the back! Oh, it also drives comfortably and gets about 25 MPG overall, thus far. That's as close as Thunder Chicken, Queen of the Shedder tribe, is getting.  Step away from the vehicle....

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Our Daily Bread

How many times have you said this: "Give us this day our daily bread?"  How many times have you pondered this prayer?  In our times of plenty, when a loaf of some substance called 'bread' is the least part of our grocery bill, it seems like a platitude at best.

Hearken back a couple thousand years, before modern milling, refining and grocery store variety.  Bread was really something, for some it was everything.  Coarse meal from whatever was available, probably fermented to soften to grits and grow yeast. It may not have met the 'food pyramid' guidance, but it would keep you from starvation. Where there was life, there was hope.

I started seriously baking our own bread about 5 years ago when the cost of a loaf of 'good' bread approached $5. I bought a bread machine (which paid for itself) to do much of the work because I was working and battling chronic illness, so could not afford the personal energy to do it all.  Soon after, I discovered that I could buy more than 10 pounds of grain for the cost of a (shrinking) package of King Arthur flour -- which around here was often quickly rancid because it stayed so long on the grocer's shelf.  I bought the Back to Basic hand grain mill (good exercise) and started making bread almost from scratch.

Dear Husband (DH) was taking his 'lunch' to work -- a Clif Bar and a bagel from the nearby bagel joint.  Somewhere in the flour price run-up, the bagel joint closed and we developed 'breakfast bread'. 

What has fascinated me during the process is the simplicity and flexibility of bread.  I've made it 'flourless' by soaking and then mashing wheat berries; added rye, oat and buckwheat berries to the grind; substituted almond and coconut flour for part of the wheat flour (adding a couple T of vital wheat gluten to keep the loaf together); used mashed banana, apple and butternut squash (cooked) for part of the liquid and many other weird changes to the basic recipe. I also learned how to adapt the generic recipe to 5000' and 8% humidity. Few of these 'experiments' resulted in a bad loaf. Some may not have been repeated because the effort resulted in no noticeable change to the flavor or texture and did not add to the nutrition. A few were like a pan of pebbles and became treats for the Thunder Chicken.

Sure, I still buy tortillas and an occasional loaf of store bread, but about 85% of our bread product is made at home. It tastes good, probably better because I know what's in it and that it is capable of sustaining life.

'Give us this day our daily bread' has a lot of meaning. It is both about the physical nourishing substance and the spiritual nourishing substance -- the metaphysical transubstantiation of nourishment into the potential for enlightenment and wisdom.  Pondering the physical bread can lead to the same for our intellectual and spiritual bread. I choose not to stay in the Wonder Bread aisle for that, either. 

How about you?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Necessity is a Mother, all right!

We were at the vacation house last week. One of the neighbors has been ill and was doing poorly. Our vivacious 9 year-old guest decided we should take cookies to Mr. N.  We laid out all ingredients. We started the process -- while I creamed the sugar and butter, Little Miss did the eggs and vanilla. I opened the flour to measure and the smell hit me like a hammer. It was rancid. Nasty rancid. I should have kept it in the fridge, but for some insane reason did not. It had probably been in the plastic 'keeper' for a year in all kinds of temps between 50 and 80 degrees and did not age well.

Panic set in. It was 8 pm and the nearest grocery store was an hour's drive.  I did not want to put all progress in the fridge and start again tomorrow. Borrowing the flour from the person who will receive the gift is rather bad form. What to do????

Strangely, on the previous trip I brought some Quaker flour tortilla 'mix' and actually remembered to put IT in the fridge. I yanked it out and read. Mercifully it contained everything we needed but hadn't already added to the mix! It worked perfectly and the cookies were great. The neighbors loved them!

In case you have a bunch of flour tortilla mix hunting for a purpose, try chocolate chip cookies. Follow the normal recipe until you get to the dry ingredients (minus sugar), then substitute the same amount of flour tortilla mix for the salt, leavening and flour. 

Next, I think we'll make oatmeal raisin tortilla cookies!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Really interesting website

I really love this website.  It has an amazing amount of information, primarily about the sun, and is updated frequently throughout the day.  Each section teaches something different.  I have become more interested and aware of just how dynamic our star is -- primarily from reading and learning related to info I've found here. 

I had no idea how solar flares travel through space -- first as energy followed by charged particles.  I did not know that the 'solar wind' changes frequently and that the earth is subjected to differing amounts of particles daily.  Sunspots have unique numbers and take about 10 days to traverse the face of the sun -- at least relative to us. Some are fairly benign, others are rip-snorters!

Often photos or animations about interesting and related phenomena, like northern lights or eclipse are included.  Estimates of the potential for X and M class flares and for geomagnetic storms are in the left margin.  A table lists the known asteroids we will encounter soon, and their distance from the earth is expressed in lunar distances.  Other charts I've seen use the solar distance as a reference point, which creates a major challenge in figuring out whether something is actually close, versus just closer than the sun!

OK, so I'm a little geeky sometimes. Maybe so. Just remember, if you check this and teach yourself like I did, then one day if there is an earth-directed X7 flare,  you'll know what it means and be able to react appropriately.

Monday, July 23, 2012

One more thing

My Dad grew up in rural New Mexico in the 1920's.  Then and there, every man over the age of 10 had some kind of firearm, usually for the legless varmints, but sometimes for the ones with legs.  He was already a good shot when he entered ROTC, and became even better serving in North Africa and the European Theater until the end of WWII.  He had the unenviable experience of learning  the serious nature of what firearms can do. In no way did he become a 'control' advocate -- just the opposite. After fighting tyranny, he was convinced of the importance of our 2d Amendment rights.

The first time I remember shooting I was probably 7 or 8.  We lived in rural Virginia. Dad called us all into the back yard, which was a hill behind the house.  He had a galvanized garbage can -- the real solid ones of the late 1950's -- filled with water.  We stood back and he fired one round from a weapon aimed at the can. He then took us up to see the damage and explained about the little hole and the big hole and where the water went.  He also explained that's why we don't play with real weapons, because it will do worse to people.  We then practiced safe handling (with an unloaded weapon!) and did some target shooting with the hill as a backstop.  It wasn't the last time we practiced.

Fast forward to my teen years.  By the time I was 15, I was the only kid left at home.  When my parents went out to evening bridge club or the monthly birthday party for their crowd, Dad handed me a dish towel and the 'Blue Steel Babysitter.'  His instructions were to have it in my hand or next to me at all times and shoot anyone who tried to enter without a key. Good advice. Fortunately, Blue and I spent those occasional nights alone.

 I suspect that if a Dad did this today, he'd land in jail. Too bad for all of us.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just can't stand it

I've tried very hard not to enter into the fray of politics on this blog, but today I'm giving in to the temptation. Every time some mentally unstable person does something insane with a firearm, the media takes an opportunity to gin-up an anti-second amendment furor. I'm sick of it.  Following the awful 2011 Arizona shootings, the media was quick-- and wrong-- to blame conservative lawful gun owners.  Although there is less open and wrongful blame this time, the media and those who prefer a defenseless population are again calling for gun control. PLEASE don't take this rant as any attempt to diminish the tragedy that occurred Friday.

I have seen statistics showing that murders with firearms certainly account for a fair number -- on the order of 11,000 per year nation-wide. Everyone of these was certainly a tragedy.  Who keeps stats on the murders and homicides that were prevented by lawful gun owners? Bet you a nickel that the answer is : NO ONE.  I did find a website that has an estimate based on a small sample, and the estimate is 162,000 per year.  Another website, with an obviously stronger bias increases that estimate by an order of magnitude at well over a million. So restricting weapons ownership would probably increase that annual firearms-related homicide rate if I did my math properly.

Next, let's do the math about rate of illegal fatalities among gun owners.  Just for the sake of the argument, let's assume that all weapons homicides were accomplished by persons with weapons legally owned (which I don't believe for an instant).  The low estimate of gun ownership in the US is 70 million persons. At the current rate of firearms-related homicides it would take 636 years for the rate among US Firearms holders to reach 1% of all current owners.

Strangely, about the same number of alcohol-related automobile deaths (~11,000) occur every year.  Alcohol and automobiles are regulated at an even lower level than firearms ownership.  Why is no one crying out for mandatory breath-testing equipment as standard equipment on all vehicles?  How about raising the legal age to drive to 21 and requiring a 3-day wait for your learner's permit?  Total auto-related deaths exceed 30,000 each year and more than 2 million are injured. That seems like a problem for real focus.

 So back to firearms. Many of the high profile events in the past few years were by people whose family and acquaintances thought were a bit off between the ears. Most of them were not the now-famous "clingers." How about a better methodology to screen for the mentally ill?  Perhaps an easier way for young adults to be referred for mandatory mental health screening to detect schizophrenia onset? Who is calling for that?

Above all, our Founding Fathers held the right of free people to be capable of defending themselves against tyranny to be second only to freedom of expression.  Tyrants world-wide have remarked that the average US citizen's right to bear arms is a deterrent to an invasion of our 'turf.' Let's keep it that way. If there is an organization out there that you believe represents your concerns about these rights, send them a few bucks or join. Let your Senators know to vote against any treaties that would be counter to the 2d Amendment. Stay vigilant, for as goes the 2d Amendment, so go our individual liberty and ultimately our national sovereignty.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chicken in Wolf's Clothing

This is my enormous golden retriever. Turns out she would be small --for an English Mastiff.  She's not fat according to the Vet.  His little silhouettes of thin, normal and fat put her between thin and normal. She still weighs 80 pounds.  We were hoping for 50.  Most of the time the XL dog is a good thing. People tend to avoid a home with large dogs equipped with a bark that can split your head.

Every year, I forget that she doesn't like thunder at all. Before I retired, most of her thunder-chicken behavior was done in private. Now that I am at home for the wonderful monsoon storms, I'm the recipient of the full fraidy-dog routine. Let me share.

First, as the storms build she sticks to me like glue. Her preferred location is between my legs, even when I 'm standing doing food-prep in the kitchen. Do I need to explain how 80 lbs of dog between your legs and a sharp knife in your hand could be a safety hazard?

As the storm nears, she needs more protection and assurance.  She wants to be in my lap, even if I'm standing.  Forget working on the computer.  It just doesn't work with a dog who wants to be in your lap in an office swivel chair.  When redirected, she crawls under the desk, which is fine until the storm gets a little closer and she decides she needs to dig-in to be safe. After dodging being electrocuted by the dog,  I tried closing the door -- both excluding her from the office and allowing her to den-up in the laundry room.  Both were less than successful. She became frantic and tried to scratch the door down.

Oddly, when we go outside, she calms down immediately, so apparently it's related to being in the house and whatever vibrations she catches. She does not, however, want to be left out alone -- back to frantically clawing the door. Inside, I seem to have two choices that don't make at least one of us crazy.  Both involve being in physical contact with this tiny ball of fur. One is on the sofa with her head on my chest, which means half of her 80 lbs in my lap.  Perhaps she is calmed by the 'momma-dog' heartbeat.  The other is with her on the bed next to me.  This is not my top pick for sooo many reasons. I really wonder what she did when she was home alone.

We tried doggie downers several years ago for long car trips.  Even at higher than recommended doses, they just dis-inhibited her.  She got crazier, so I've not tried them for storm behavior.

The monsoon is less than half over! Any ideas on how to manage a large petrified dog?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just add water!

Amazing what a little water can do for a landscape!  These datura are a near-favorite. I have seen some with a pale purple lip that I like a smidge better, but these aren't bad!

The desert willow (chilopsis linearis) are everywhere and the scent is amazing. The bright yellow senna are starting to leaf, but no blooms yet. Maybe next time.

These not-so little doves were crowding momma dove last week.
Today, they were gone.

I was working with some environmental contractors from 'Back East' a few years ago.  They were on contract from the DoD, looking to find sites in need of clean-up at the nearby military installation.  Usually these sites are old artillery or bombing ranges. I thought I knew the fort pretty well.  They were planning a trip out to look at sites and wanted to see a specific small arms range that had been inactive for more than a decade.  They were insistent that it needed a review due to the impact craters.  I was confused, because our history showed nothing but pistol use since being built during WWII.

They assured me that the aerial images clearly showed the craters. I asked for an electronic copy and it made me smile.  From the air, these large harvester ant clearings actually do look a lot like the impact craters made by artillery shells. (unless you have a stereo pair) The Easterners came and we took a nice walk through the ant hills.  If you are not familiar with harvester ants, they are large but not particularly aggressive or venomous. If you happen to get in their path, they will mosey up your shoes, onto your leg and up your pants. They have large, powerful jaws and do not liked to be trapped up your pant leg against your undies elastic. I can tell you from personal experience, it will make you drop your pants to get the little monsters out of there once they start biting. Several of the visitors were treated to this little ritual I call the 'ant dance.' Welcome to the desert.