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?