More Fun with Wild Food
After last week's success with mustard greens, Jeff and I joined our friends from the Backyard Farmers group, Ed and Gillian Ferranto, for foraging and quiche at their house. Despite the desert environment that surrounds their neighborhood, the Ferranto spread is one of the more verdant yards I've seen lately. Plenty of nutritious greens thrive in their backyard outside their raised garden beds.
First, we all followed Gillian, a master gardener and pure food enthusiast, through the yard, pointing to various weeds and listening to Gillian explain the names and uses of these plants. (I apologize, but my photos came out so badly that I hesitate to post them here. For a better look, check the links attached to the names.) Gillian has studied several books and other sources and has learned to use these plants in her own cooking.
I reached down and picked the leaf of a dandelion sort of thing, but the back ridge of the leaf was spiny. Gillian called this "wild lettuce" and wasn't keen enough on its flavor to add it to our dinner. But there were other delights next to the lettuce that she preferred.
Stork's Bill is a wild geranium with a tiny purple flower. It's a good pot green with lots of flavor. (By "pot", I mean that it's good to add to the soup or stew pot.)
While in Israel, I watched an old couple picking mallow in a vacant lot. The ruffly leaves were huge, about three inches in diameter, but here in the Great Basin, these are a tad smaller. One volunteered to live in our cold frame, so it will hopefully attain Middleastern dimensions. Anyway, Gillian said mallow has a bland flavor and doesn't cook down as other greens do, so it's a good one to bulk up the amount of greens in the dish.
Yarrow is probably familiar to every gardner as it is a pretty plant used in landscaping. It's lacy leaves can be added to the pot or used as a spice. One herbal medicine practitioner told us that if you injure yourself on a hike, for example, you can mash yarrow leaves and apply them directly to the open wound. Yarrow has antiseptic properties.
Not to be confused with the Carribean banana, this variety of plantain has a strong flavor. Pair it with mallow to decrease the flavor a bit.
Gillian showed us many more plants that can be used: lamb's quarters, pepper grass, purslane,wood sorrel, comfrey, and mullien.
Purslane is a succulant and can be used to thicken a broth. I remember my sister picking several "four-leaf clovers" from a patch of wood sorrel in the Santa Cruz mountains. What luck! And Jeff wants to plant comfrey to feed to the chickens. Gillian agreed this would be a good source of protein for animals. Her goats are going to love it. The Romans use the oil-rich spears of mullein as torches, but these days, those same seeds attract birds to your yard.
After picking a large bunch of several of these plants, we washed, chopped, and sauteed them with scallions and butter to add to a quiche Gillian baked for us. It had a rich flavor that stood up to the beer and satisfied without additional side dishes. The variety of ways these plants can be used is limited only by the cook's imagination. Omelets, quiches, stews, soups, anything where you would use spinach, for example.
So, if you feel compelled to take a weed whacker to your backyard, stop and consider the possible food value. Why fight the weeds when there are so many that volunteer and flourish in your yard and are good to eat. Bon appetite! -- 5-20-2013
I've often fantasized about foraging for wild food. I've seen people do it during my stay in Israel on Kibbutz Usha. In Truckee, I gathered dandelion leaves and cooked them up for lunch as per the instructions of my favorite uncle, Harvey. He would be smiling at me today because I served another yummy lunch of tumbleweed mustard picked from our yard.
We all complain bitterly about the ease with which "weeds" grow in our grass, vegie and flower gardens. Why fight it? There is so much to learn and gain, in knowledge and health benefits, if we explore the use of wild food.
Care must be taken, of course. A competent mentor and good resources of information will protect explorers from premature death. Nobody wants that!
Between last year's hot, windy summer and this spring's battle with irrigation system repair, a certain patch of grass has simply given up survival. Even reseeding didn't resurrect the landscape. However, a hearty patch of tumbleweed mustard has taken over this area of Rancho Pequeño.
At first, I picked the plants, roots and all, for the chickens, who didn't find them nearly as succulent as other weeds I've picked for them. They've all become a harem of princesses. Oh, they'll eat the stuff after awhile, but they have to be desperate.
Then, at our Backyard Farmers' gathering, I showed the patch to the guests and one astute backyard farmer, Gillian, told me these were mustards and that all parts of all mustards were edible. They can be bitter, but picked when young, they can be quite tasty.
Next day, Gillian posted some reference links to our Backyard Farmers Facebook page. This one gives good identification information for mustards in general. The other came from the UNR Coop Ext. Weed Control site and it scared the bejesus out of me.
Emboldened by the other link, I decided to give these fresh and very willing volunteers to my food production efforts a try. The one key thought was 'if it burns the mouth, it's toxic." Okay, here goes.
I filled a small basket with leaves, only picking two leaves from each plant. Among these leaves, I found a few dandelions and added a few of those to my poke salad. At the time, I was thinking of adding them to a bag of Trader Joe's salad mix because of the strong flavor they might have.I didn't even have to pick leaves from every plant in the patch. I soon had a generous amount, about enough to fill a quart bottle. I knew they would shrink down if I cooked them, though.
I rinsed each leaf, making sure there were no bugs or other litter. Several elm tree seeds got washed down the drain along with a couple of twigs. The leaves were fairly clean, actually. No bugs and no spray.
Then Jeff came in to see what I was up to. We both tasted a raw leaf. "Hmm, tastes like spinach," he said. "Not bad at all. Why don't you cook them in bacon fat?" So I prepared a pan with a teaspoon of fat. Then I hunted down some potato patties and some cheese leftover from the gathering to round out the lunch.
Adding a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper to the leaves, it didn't take much longer to cook them than to nuke the potato patties. Despite the reduced size of the bunch, there was enough for each plate.
Both of us reacted the same. YYYYUUUUMMMM! And picked just out of the backyard, a luscious bunch of weeds ... sorry ... poke salad for lunch.
So, instead of fighting the weeds, embrace them. Learn their secrets and uses. And don't be afraid to take a taste of a raw leaf. If it doesn't burn, it's probably a good sign. And if it doesn't kill the chickens, chances are it won't kill you. -- 5-9-2013
Spring's arrival in northern Nevada has always been a cause of contention for gardeners. Tomatoe enthusiasts are cautioned to wait until the snow melts off the Peavine mountains to be sure the last killing frost has past. Today's newspaper weatherman gave us more hope. 'Just follow the calendar instead of folklores and, using protective measures, plant those tomatoes now.'
Okay. I planted the tomatoes in the cold frame and have a sheet of Alumanet to protect them at night. We're still dipping into the mid thirties around here. Meanwhile, I'm fretting more about whether or not my little blueberry bush will survive and bear fruit this year.
Last year, when the air and sunlight were still relatively cool, this hearty survivor of three transplantings, two Truckee winters, and a move to lower elevation, leafed out fully and gave me hope. Then the sun grew hotter in June and the little punk dropped its leaves.
Thankfully, it didn't die, as my wussy Tombstone rose did. It maintained itself through another year. Then it leafed out again and, as you can see in the photo, has clusters of blueberry buds.
I clutch my cereal bowl in giddy anticipation.
But I'm wondering what went wrong last year. Should I shift it under the shade of the wisteria vine? Did I water it too much? Not enough? It's planted in peatmoss with a garland of pine needles as mulch. We were told blueberries love acidic soil. Is this too acidic? Did I kill the leaves with too much fish emulsion?
I can only watch and hope that it will continue to grow this year. Maybe last year's transplant into the peatmoss and container was just one transplanting too much. If I'd just leave it alone ....
So, I turned away from it and cleaned the winter mulch from the wine tubs and planted cilantro seeds. As you can see, the chives are thriving. I've never had such good luck with chives. They wintered well and love the sun. Okay. Leave well enough alone!
I also bought a couple of huge though lightweight tubs and planted lettaces, carrots and beets in those. Of course, I'll undoubtedly get a bumper crop of baby elm trees. Seeds from these trees have been snowing down upon us for days and there are still billions left on the trees. These things need no help in surviving anything. They'll greet the cockroaches when they emerge after the nuclear appocalypse.
Having taken care of our culinary experiments, I bought a flat of petunias, another plant that will survive anything. Then again, some of these almost didn't survive the ride home, but I have hopes they will spring eternal and flood the containers with color and fancy.
So, I've finished all I'm going to do to assemble our garden. Again, I can only hope the apple tree, which gave us so much last year, didn't get nailed by the late April snowstorm. Half its blossoms wilted in the cold, but some managed to stay closed during the storm.
While the weatherman gave us permission to throw caution, and seedlings, to the wind, he also informed us that the last frost historically comes no later than mid-May. Of course, weather is not observing historical patterns these past couple of years. Or is it?
Our friend, Rick, who works with the scientists at the WNC Observatory and the Desert Research Institute, told me that Nevada climate follows 100-year and sometimes 500-year climate cycles. We're in drought this year, but what will happen next year?
Even with all our technology, it's still a crap shoot to predict the weather patterns. The gods are laughing and all we may be able to do is hope that spring will be eternal. -- 5-4-2013
CERTs and a Hazmat Drill
As I watched the news about the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent capture of the perps, the scenario repeated in my mind as to how I could have helped. I imagined carrying my CERT bag to such events, prepared to dive in as so many people did to help the injured.
Nevada has had its share of similar catastrophes during the past two years: the IHOP shooting, the plane crash at the Reno Air Races, a train wreck, and numerous wildland fires. All of these events, especially the IHOP shooting, have haunted me. How to prepare and react cogently to such events?
Last year, Jeff persuaded me to join him in a twenty-hour CERT training. We would learn basic first aid, emergency site assessment, setup of triage sites and operations centers, search and rescue. Mainly, we would learn how to help ourselves and our neighbors so we don't add to the problems of first responders. I was gratified to discover how valuable this training could be.
Luckily, we haven't needed it in any real event so far. Yesterday, though, about a dozen of us CERTs (Citizens Emergency Response Team) practiced setting up and breaking down an Emergency Operations Center. From the time we were called and reported to the EOC to the time we completed the setup, it took a little over an hour. Pretty good time, according to our Coordinator, Ronna Hubbard.
Even for those who work there all the time, the practice was useful. Lots of little glitches were discovered. And they decided to hold the practice every six months to hone our skills and the process. Plus, it was just a lot of fun to get together in a drill and get to know each other and our workability a little better.
Twenty hour trainings are really great, but information retention goes down the tube quickly. Also, people don't learn that extraordinary skill that can't really be taught in a classroom: compatibility. Each of us has a wealth of knowledge and experience from our work lives, etc., but meshing that and our attitudes, quirks, and idiosyncracies makes the whole exercise more effective.
So, besides the luscious donuts and coffee, we acquired a satisfying amount of personal interaction that's going to make a huge difference when we're mustered again for the real thing.
By the way, CERT organizations can always use more people. And even if you decide not to join a team after the initial training, you will have received the basic knowledge that will save you and your neighbors in the aftermath of a disaster. And the way things are going these days, a little of such knowledge won't be a dangerous thing. -- 4-20-2013
So You Want to Buy a Baby Chicken
Here's the scenario: You enter a feed store in Spring and hear the soft, tantalizing cheeps of baby chicks. Oh, they're so cute. You want one. Maybe two. Oh what the heck! The store is offering a bag of chick feed if you buy six.
Then again, you may be tempted to buy a chick or two as gifts for children. What a fun experience to show them the process of life. Oh, the folly ... right?
Actually, you can raise pullets like these in the photo below fairly easily and learn how to produce some of the best tasting eggs you'll every eat. Here are ten tips on how:
1. Starter Kit: Chicks need warmth, food, and water. Most feed stores sell an array of necessities for your babies. The short list includes:
a water container with head-sized openings to allow chicks to drink without drowning;
a feeder which holds plenty of food for a day or two;
a heat lamp which can later be used to heat a coop if you live in frigid climates.
2. Housing: You can furnish your own cardboard box or buy one from the store to protect the chicks from other household animals and even from children's eager hands. Too much handling, or should I say mauling, kills baby chicks in no time.
3. Food: Chicken "scratch" comes in two types, crumbles and pellets. Crumbles are best for chicks, but as they mature, pellets last longer and don't "get lost" if spilled in the bedding.
Also, chick food has an antibiotic added to keep your chicks healthy during those vulnerable first months. Once they start laying eggs, usually at about six months, switch to non-anti-biotic food. You wouldn't want the anti-biotic in your eggs.
4. Bedding: Straw, not hay, makes really good bedding for chickens of all ages. A shallow layer in a box gives chicks a cozy place to nestle without creating too great a fire hazard from the heat lamp.
If you decide to raise chickens, a thick layer in the coop is good for about six months before being replaced with fresh straw. The bedding breaks down the fecal material into a lovely compostable fertilizer for your garden.
5. Hen House: Coops come in all sizes and shapes. A basic shed fitted with roosting bars and nesting boxes is great. I saw one set-up where the people used a large plastic "hoop house" generally used as a greenhouse. Inside, they built ascending racks of roosting bars and covered the ground with a thick layer of straw. The flock of almost two dozen hens had plenty of space to wander around, peck, and be chickens.
6. Space: The minimum space recommended for one chicken is about a square meter. If you only have one chicken, you can house her in a cage that most stores carry that is exactly two-by-two feet. I would suggest, however, that you provide a fenced yard and coop where a small flock can run and scratch and not go crazy from being cramped. Also, if you live in an area with raptors, enclose the top of the yard if possible.
If you have horses, chickens do a great job of cleaning the yard of fly larvae and other undesireable critters. In fact, chickens will eat anything. Give them your kitchen scraps, including meat, yard waste and grass clippings, and watch them devour it all. This varied diet will enrich their eggs.
7. Social Order: The term "pecking order" comes from the society of chickens. For about a year, our flock of twelve hens and a rooster we named Cogburn, pecked each others' feathers until some were almost naked. We learned from a feed store advisor that if we got rid of the rooster, the hens would grow back their feathers. We did and it worked. They are now fully feathered and gorgeous. Plus, we didn't need the heat lamp in the hen house this winter.
8. Bullies: The pecking order continued as normal, but one hen got much more than was safe. We purchased a two-by-two cage, nesting box and a smaller water container and set her up in her own little condo next to the chicken yard. She could still hang with her friends on the other side of the fence while being safe from the bullies.
9. Loneliness: Our lone hen thrived through the winter and started laying eggs again in the spring. We took this as a sign she was healthy; but was she happy? I noticed that she often thrust her head through the gaps in the caging and pushed against it as if she wanted a bigger space to run.
Our feed store offered to take her back and place her with another customer who had a huge open yard. Our little hen could range freely with plenty of room to stay away from bullies.
10. Adding New Chicks: Now, it's chick time again and the feed store is offering chicks and pullets to tempt us. But how do we merge new chicks with an established flock, especially when there are bullies? Once again, the feed store oracle rescued us.
If there's a hen who likes to sit on the eggs as if she's brooding a nest of babies, put the new chicks with her and watch them for a couple of hours. That hen will protect them from the meanies until they all accept one another.
Or, put them in the smaller cage, such as the two-by-two, inside the larger chicken pen and let the hens and chicks get acquainted before releasing the chicks into the main flock.
We've yet to try this, but it's good to know for the future. We're quite happy with our little flock and the abundance of eggs they give us. Hopefully these ten tips will help you get started on a fun and tasty adventure of your own.
By the way, we didn't bother eating Cogburn. We're heard from other friends who spent wads of money and a miserable time killing, plucking, then stewing the rooster for coq au vin that it just wasn't worth the effort.
In fact, we've been told by other chicken owners that cooking an old hen whose stopped laying isn't really worth it either. She's usually old and spent after all those years of laying eggs. Time to give her an honorable burial. She's earned it.
A basket full of "cackleberries," however, is definitely worth the effort. A dozen hens will produce more eggs than the average family can consume. There will be plenty to share with friends or return to the days when "egg money" supplimented the household budget.
Granted, chickens will only lay eggs from around the spring equinox to the autumnal equinox. Let them rest during the winter and your will be able to enjoy your hens from about five years. -- 4-15-2013
New Slogan for Nevada
Gov. Sandoval unveiled a new campaign to promote the unique place that is Nevada with the slogan: Nevada: A World Within, A State Apart.
Nevada is indeed a very unique world. Some would even write it off as a wasteland and drive through it as fast as possible. Or they would only frequent the casinos of Reno and Las Vegas. That to them is Nevada.
This new campaign, however, invites others to explore Nevada in a deeper, richer way. It's initially scrubby appearance hides the many cultures that live here: Paiute/Washo/Shoshone, Basque, Italian, German. Ranchers here still embrace the centuries-old vaquero traditions in working their cattle while integrating new agricultural strategies. The hard-scrabble gold miner of yore still lives in the heart of more technologically sophisticated gold miners, making Nevada among the top five gold producers in the world.
Several high tech businesses are relocating to Nevada because of the business-friendly environment as well as the natural environment. There is little reason why solar and wind energy production can't join geothermal, gold mining, ranching, and gaming as the top industries here.
Beyond these, though, is a landscape that often defies imagination. This land is filled with surprises around every corner. The sagebrush sea yields to aspen groves folded within the mountainsides. Basalt caves and hot springs beckon. Migrating birds take their rest here, some deciding to stay in the reeds and rushes of our lakes.
This landscape has weeded out those not tough enough to survive it to produce a hearty yet friendly people who cherish freedom. But that freedom and its symbol, the wild horse, are in jeopardy.
Here's a letter I wrote this morning to Gov. Sandoval. If you wish, feel free to use it as an example of your letter to our Governor and the Legislature.
Dear Gov. Sandoval:
Your campaign to promote Nevada is a winner. I love the slogan. The more we promote the unique beauty of Americaís Outback, the more likely we will attract visitors who will appreciate and want to protect it.
While Iíve lived in Nevada only two years, I grew up and lived at its edges, Salt Lake City and Truckee. Many visits to Nevada have inspired me to write two books about the people Iíve met and seen here.
One of my cherished memories is where my husband and I stopped along the road to Jarbidge to watch a herd of pronghorns on one side and a small band of wild horses on the opposite side of the road. Belly deep in grass, these animals were fat and healthy. Only half the herd of antelope ran off before being entised back by the members who stayed to watch us.
Furthermore, what travelers along I-80 donít see is the rich, green places in Nevada that surprise and nourish us.
Another memory, however, is one of deep disappointment. A friend was regaling us about her trip to Red Rock Canyon. She was especially delighted by all the burros there.
Months later, my husband and I went to Red Rock to discover that all the burros had been removed by the BLM. The ranger told us it was because of drought. I was angered and appalled. Were these animals, who had been living in desert conditions for generations, really that much at risk?
In the ad campaign, the idea that Nevadans love their freedom popped out as one of the prime qualities of this state. Nevada allows people, for the most part, to be who they want to be; far more than in California where, ironically, so many ďfreedomĒ movements began. Burning Man is an example of how one of those movements moved to Nevada for expression and growth.
How can the people, and indeed our precious wildlife, continue to be free when nearly 80 percent of this state is under the jurisdiction of the Federal government? How can Nevada State officials allow the BLM to remove a precious resource for tourism and squander billions of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate thousands of these animals in conditions far worse than their natural habitat? Even the attempts of wild horse advocates for alternative solutions have been denied.
The BLM is on a power trip here; and as long as we Nevadans allow the Feds to control this state, we will never truly be free.
Please, Gov. Sandoval, use your influence and that of the legislature to get our state back. Nevadans should control the fate of this state, not the Feds.
Great Basin Springtime
Boy, am I glad I didn't plant those tomato starts or clean the mulch out of my patio container garden. That's snow at the base of the chives in the photo. Such is springtime in the Great Basin.
It is Tradition to have a snowstorm sometime in April that will crush the tulips, break the newly-leafed tree limbs, and sting the fruit blossoms to ruin the crop. That's Tradition with a capital T. Tevya would understand.
With global climate change, the huge two-foot dumps of snow that fell upon Salt Lake City when I was young are mere dustings in Minden. Actually, I don't know if that's climate change or not. These are two different locations, SLC is at about 6000 feet elevation and Minden is 4500. Rancho Pequeño is in the banana belt along the eastern foothills while the center of the valley is lower and about 5-8 degrees cooler. We know this because we've watched the temp gauge in our car show the drop in degrees as we drive westward on Johnson Lane.
Astonishing, isn't it. This isn't a huge valley but there are definite differences in temperature.
Most of the winter, Jeff and I will sit by our fireplace, watching the storm clouds descend upon Genoa and the western communities at the foot of the Carson Range. The vortex of wind whirls these winter storms downward, creating a colder and snowier winter for those folks than for us. This, of course, agonizes me. Poor dears.
Then again, we are in what's called the rain shadow which robs our side of the valley of much-needed moisture. Storms blow over us and land in eastern Nevada and Utah. Skiers in Utah benefit from this because all that wet heavy snow of the Sierra Nevada is all dried out by the time it reaches the Wasatch Range where Alta, Snowbird, Park City, and Deer Valley are located. Anyone who has skied those resorts have experienced the joy of fluffy powder snow. Nothing like Sierra cement.
This lack of moisture and late storms, however, makes spring planting of vegie gardens a crap shoot. How appropriate for Nevada.
At the Backyard Farmers meeting yesterday, we discussed the issue of whether to start vegies from seeds or starts. Most liked to start seeds, but I've had much better luck with starts. I also feel good about starts that are grown in local nurseries. Starts planted in our cold frame give us an edge on the blustery and variable weather that is northern Nevada.
Luckily, (I hope) our little fruit trees' tiny blossoms are closed tightly against today's storm. And our beautiful and prolific apple tree has barely leafed out. Maybe this cold weather won't harm the fruit crop this summer; and perhaps will be the snap the apples need to give them that crisp texture that is so wonderful.
Meanwhile, our sole blueberry that has suffered neglect by tenants in Truckee and two subsequent transplantings has leafed out a bit. Last year, it did this too, but as the heat rose in summer, it dropped its leaves and went dormant. So, maybe this cold snap will help it grow this summer and give us blueberries. And I've got to find a cooler place somewhere on this spread where it can thrive without being coddled.
Thus, we wait. We bide our time with clean-up chores, our green thumbs itching to dig in dirt, for spring to actually and faithfully arrive. Spring in the Great Basin can be exciting, with lots of fuzzy green stuff popping up between the sagebrush. We all rejoice with the warmth after our long albeit mild winters. Nothing like the blizzards of the midwest. We are lucky here, but we have our own climatic issues too. Everyone does. And the frustrations of Great Basin springtime will soon fade into full and delightful summer. - 4-8-2013
Happy Easter and Joyous Passover
Regardless of the lack of rain and snow, despite the frigid cold of this past winter, Spring has arrived in the Carson Valley. While many trees throughout town have fully bloomed, our fruit trees are taking their time. Only today, Easter Sunday, did they display their first promise of a productive summer to come.
The cherry tree that failed last year because of lack of water is returning this year with new growth. Amidst the crusted fruit of last year, new buds are opening today. This tree is literally coming back from the dead.
All of the baby fruit trees that Jeff worked so hard to plant over the past two years have buds on them. Some reminds me of the fuzzy pussy willows that were so much a part of my childhood. This may be the first year we'll see more fruit. We just have to nurture them and protect them from harm.
-- Easter Sunday 2013
Kudos for my Beloved
Today is Jeff's last day working in advanced tools support for IBM. On Monday, he will begin working with Big Data, a relatively new software technology that helps organizations analyze huge amounts of data.
What's great from my point of view is that he stays with IBM and he stays home.
One of the key benefits that IBM has given its employees is telecommuting. For the past six or so years, Jeff has been able to work from home, allowing him to forego his thousand-mile-a-week commute. Imagine the savings in time, fuel, and environmental degradation?
In tech support, he's been able to keep in contact with his colleagues in Linexa, KS as well as colleagues and customers around the planet. Idea exchanges and consultations take place through same-time conversations on computers, emails, and that old stand-by, the telephone. Just pick up the receiver and say Hello!
Meanwhile, a worker doesn't have interruptions at the cubicle by bored co-workers and supervisors who want to look busy. The work gets done, and ideas and information gets shared in an appropriate manner. A lesson to those CEOs who desire to own their employees lives.
Perhaps I digress here, but it's certainly nice to have Jeff home and participating in the same community and general lifestyle as the rest of the family. At one point in our lives in Truckee, Jeff was working in San Jose, Valerie was attending college in Chico, and I was shoveling snow in Truckee. Our lives were so different, it made family integration difficult. Weekends were much too short to reconnect. Also, I tortured my Beloved on these weekends by asking him "Let's go for a ride."
Right. Ask the man who drives a thousand miles a week to take you for a drive. Granted, I often took my own "road trips" when he was gone, but it wasn't the same. I wanted him confined in a small space - the car - without TVs or computer screens or anything else to distract him. The poor man never had a life of his own except while he was driving to and from wherever.
While IBM is stepping back a bit from the telecommuting idea, they allow Jeff and others to work from home because they live so far away from offices. What IBM has given these employees with telecommuting, though, is their lives back. The stress levels dissipates. Workers can pursue hobbies, get involved in their communities, get to know their families. Face time with the family is much more important to our societies than face time at work. Think latchkey kids. Think isolation, alienation, frustration, and school violence.
I certainly have strayed from the opening paragraph here. This is a big and exciting move for Jeff. It offers opportunities for growth in a a new field of endeavor. It's like a blast of fresh air for him.
I'm just so grateful to have Jeff home and pursuing a new and up-and-coming product that will stretch his talents and still allow him to work at home. He's beyond thrilled. This is something that he's been interested in for a long time; and for the past few weeks, he has been devouring as much training material as he can find to prepare himself.
What's more, his new manager has been forthcoming with concise yet thorough training materials to help Jeff hit the ground at a sprint come Monday. Everyone in this department will be ramping up new skills. This is the newest thing and everyone is excited. In a way, it's like working for a start-up, yet the stability and traditions of an established company will be there.
So, the gods are smiling. Good times are ahead. Congratulations, Jeff, for hanging in there all these years, for being such a hard worker, and such a patient man. And good luck to you in this new adventure. It's great to see that old twinkle back in your eyes. -- 3-29-2013
New Frontiers in Sewing
My intrigue with a hexagon quilt kit at Fabric Chicks Creative Oasis launched me into a new sewing project that even stymied my friend and mentor, Norma Coffey.
Norma paints with thread, makes prairie points, and constructs placemats shaped like poinsettias, etc. etc. etc., but when I asked her how to sew together hexagon pieces, she looked stunned. Tilting her head, she grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and started to scribble. That failing her, she and I both examined Beth Watt's ancestrial quilt top that hangs from the door into the main part of the shop. Tiny, one-inch hexagons proved to be sewn together by hand.
According to my other friend and mentor, Linda Brush, "hand" is a four-letter word. If it can't be done by machine, it can't be done. Thus, Norma and I looked at this lovely old piece of handiwork made by Beth's grandmother (I think) and marveled. The thought of working hexagons together on a machine seemed unimaginable.
Norma's support, friendship, and mentorship, however, have given me a lot of confidence over the two years since I first met her. She even coached me through my knee replacement recovery. So, I owe a lot to this fine lady. Eventually, though, the student and teacher come to a place where they are both at a loss and one, or preferably both, have an opportunity to learn something new.
So, I took my newly-purchased kit of colorful hexagons home and laid them out on the felt wall. After I finally worked out the color design, I consulted my alternate Oracle of Knowledge: the Internet. YouTube specifically. Bless it!
There for all to see and learn was a very clear video showing how to sew hexagons together by machine. Will wonders never cease?
Clear enough, I thought; but as has usually been my bane, what looks clear in demonstration never works the same when I actually try it myself. That's one reason why I failed math classes.
The next obstacle, then, was facing my fears and just doing it. This was, afterall, an inexpensive kit and I could afford to work upon this little sewing etude without grief over failure. What the heck! If it works, I can donate it to the shawl ministry up in Truckee. If it doesn't work, then I can throw it in the growing pile of scraps to recycle into something else. Life goes on.
It took a number of days over a few weeks to gird up my loins enough to do this. Sewing the hexagons into rows first, I then turned and folded them to attach the rows together. The first two rows came out wonky, of course. Then magic happened. Suddenly, I could work them without getting them crooked. The struggle turned into fun.
Finally, I pressed the finished piecework. Pressing hides a multitude of sins, you know. Hey, it looks pretty good, I thought, throwing it back on the wall to admire. Even Jeff was impressed; and it's always a major coup to impress my math-endowed husband.
Now, I've got to frame it, choosing this floral fabric for that purpose as well as the backing. I realized I'm going to have to cut and insert a couple of half-hexagons on the ends, but I'm going to slice off the points on the sides and call it good.
So, this little etude is coming out all right. And perhaps I'll do another one. It was fun and a lot easier than I expected, especially after I soldiered through it and got over all the humps of doubt. -- 3-25-2013
You know, all it takes is a walk in the park ... or on a trail ... to perk up your energies.
Remember back in January when I rhapsodized about my post-holiday laziness, not having the energy to do much more than play with my Kindle Fire and ignore my resolution to walk to the mailbox? Well, this week, I finally started walking the dogs to get the mail.
It's just a block, but it's uphill, which challenges a long-sedentary body. This week, though, the temperatures reached the 70s and the desert trails near our house called me to venture forth.
A couple of weeks ago, Val outlined my training program for climbing Mt. Whitney: baby steps, Mom, baby steps; first walk to the mailbox; then walk to the crossroads - that's a quarter mile away; then walk to the top of the ridge; then to the painted rocks - that's about a mile; and after that, .... Sorry Val, I stopped at the mile marker.
But my daughter's right. Such retraining to be part of the functioning human race takes baby steps. So, Buzz, Cinch and I hiked up the incline to the mailboxes. As the cattle dogs frolicked in the sage, flushing quail and chasing rabbits and other hoodoos, I watched and felt the Itch. It got me. To hell with the mailbox. I'm ready to go to the crossroads.
And I did. I wove my way through the sage to the dirt road that leads eastward and kept walking. My knees and hips loosened to the pace and filled with fresh, nutritious blood. At the crossroads, I turned and scanned our beautiful Carson Valley and the Carson Range to the west, forming a solid wall against the angst of California.
Fresh air filled my atrophied lungs. My body tingled with an awakening. My heart beat with a steady, strong rhythm. Most of all, I wasn't tired. My hips ached a tad, but the knees were ready to carry me back home.
The next day, I leashed up Cinch to control her wildness until we reached the desert. Then she launched with manic glee to flushing and chasing and hoodoo-ing. Buzz ran at first, then slowed to an easy trot, stopping to "read the newspaper" of tantalizing aromas. For me, the trail beckoned. I spotted the top of the ridge as my goal and ventured forth.
At the crossroads, I veered southward until I found another trail. There are hundreds carved throughout this desert. I followed it up the hill until I reached a mid-point and turned around to gauge my progress and to enjoy the view.
A friend had told of a pair of wild horses that have hung around her horse paddock with her three boys. I looked toward her house, but found no horses. Her news, frankly, was welcome because of recent BLM gathers of wild herds in the area. Apparently, there are bands that still flourish around us and manage to escape the capture nets.
Then, to my dismay, another neighbor was fast approaching on her Fresian. This magnificent horse is a steady beast, but my cattle dogs are prone to herd such animals and I didn't want to create a rodeo. Luckily, she must have seen me and the dogs and turned in a direction that would avoid us.
Such is the self-regulation on these BLM lands. Whenever Val has ridden Abby out here, she's found that dirt bikers have never given her cause for alarm. There's an etiquette here that is carefully observed most of the time. There are also other people who live off the grid and want to be left alone, or criminal elements (cartel drug growers) who also want to be left alone and use nefarious means to insure their privacy.
With this knowledge and trepidation of getting myself into trouble, I faced the ridge top and continued my ascent. Within minutes I reached it and slowly turned a 360 to get my bearings and enjoy the beauty. I was back home. On track at last. Back to my strong hiking self of a few years ago when I walked all over Hawk's Peak in Tahoe Donner. And I did it without the aid of trekking poles. Even my balance had returned.
It's a wonderful thing to get one's life back. To recover former strength and vigor. And as spring and summer approach, I'm promising myself to wander the hills, with or without the dogs, and with or without Jeff. He's not a walker, but prefers to explore the intricacies of technology by reading. That's his life, but it's not mine. I need to move.
So the next baby step - and perhaps it's not so tiny - is to leave my bodyguard and companion to his reading without making it feel like a separation. Become independent without cutting the cord that binds us. That's quite a step between two people who love each other yet need space.
Then again, his mother advised me when Jeff and I first married: Let there be spaces in your togetherness. -- 3-15-2013
Winter has usually been a real downer for me, especially when we lived in Truckee where the snowdrifts grew up the sides of the house and buried us for six to eight months. When we moved to Minden, I knew the snow would be much much less, but the Great Basin color scene of brown, tan, and grey would replace those growing snowdrifts at pushing my mood into the ground.
Little did I know that Carson Valley has a secret asset: bovines. Specifically, calves. And February, the most winter-weary month of the year, is when the calves are born. This year they had it lucky. January and February were the driest months since the 1970s.
Baby animals are usually the essence of cuteness, but cows of any age have a quirky kind of countenance that brings out the "aw" factor. And baby bovines just bowl me over with their playful exuberance. But why do they time their natal debut for February?
To celebrate this yearly tradition, Minden holds the Eagles and Agriculture Festival. This event invites photographers, birders, and other bovineophiles to tour local ranches and watch migrating bald eagles and other raptors feast upon the afterbirths of calves. Rather than pay the hefty prices for this event, though, many people stop on the shoulder of Hwy 395, binoculars in hand, and watch the cow population double itself, hopefully to catch sight of one of our nation's symbols doing its thing.
This is one of those wonderful times when domestic and wild come together in a synergistic rite. It's one of those natural processes that prove that the cattle business doesn't really disrupt wildlife, but actually improves conditions for them.
The way cattle hooves churn up the soil, for example, provides better conditions for grass to grow. Also, a pasture full of cows is better for Nature than a subdivision of McMansions.
There are so many cattle and hay ranches in Carson Valley, I've heard it referred to as "cow land". And indeed, it is. While there are almost 47,000 people in Douglas County, there must be at least twice that number of bovines. This valley's European-American pioneers established several ranches 150 years ago, most of which are still raising cattle and hay to provide food for America's carnivores.
While I think calves are cute, they're also hamburgers on the hoof. For the next two years, though, these little guys will feed on rich grass relatively free of harrassment by predators except for the occasional coyote who might think he's big enough stuff to take on a steer.
This morning at pilates, I heard about a place in Genoa, NV, Trimmer Outpost, that sells locally grown grass-fed beef. The woman told us she just bought forty pounds of assorted meats, such as beef, lamb, etc., for about $250. And it's good stuff: steaks, roasts, chops, and not a lot of if ground beef.
I'm thrilled to know about this new outlet for buying local meats. I'm coming close to the end of our supply of beef we bought from a ranch near Quincy, CA.
Meanwhile, I must have a denial factor in my genes as I stop next to a meadow full of cows and calves and laugh at the young'uns cavorting around like ... well, calves. Like most babies, they're filled with wonder and excitement as they explore the realms of their childhood paradise. And like every animal, humans too, they will suffer that day of days when their paradise will end.
Until that day, however, they will enjoy a life that we humans can envy. And their destiny, both at their debut and their end, is to provide food. All things considered, that's not a bad gig. -- 3-7-2012
Today's Coincidence: If you have about twenty minutes of spare time, this TED lecture: Allan Savory: How to green the desert and reverse climate change proves that desertification can be remedied by re-introducing large herds of cattle and sheep in what he calls "Planned Grazing." He claims that we can bring the carbon levels in the atmosphere back to pre-Industrial levels regardless of what happens with fossil fuel usage. Interesting turn-around in academic thinking.
Perhaps my readers will recall the dilema months ago when I had to separate Skipper, my Buff Orpington hen, because she had suddenly become the omega and the others were pecking her to death. For nearly a year, she had to live in her own condo, a two-foot square cage set up with heated water, nesting box, and food.
Not a bad deal, really, but after so many months, she was struggling to squeeze through the wire mesh to freedom. Even a life where all survival needs are met, the call of Freedom is just too strong.
I decided to find a new home for her, but like any mother, I wanted to find a safe, open and welcoming place for her to spend the remainder of her life, even if that would only be three or four more years.
About a mile away from Rancho Pequeño is a family with about two acres of land. They board horses and have a huge flock - I counted about forty hens - running free in the horse paddock. This is a perfect way to keep horse paddocks clean of fly larvae and other creepy-crawlies. And I've often stopped and watched them peck around and be chickens. This was exactly what I wanted for Skipper.
I acquired the phone number, but because of my current mode of procrastination, I didn't call. Instead, I talked to Wendy at S and W Feed yesterday when I went in to buy chicken scratch. "Oh, we'll be glad to rehome her for you. I have a lady in Dayton who has a huge place for her chickens. There will be plenty of room for your hen to get away from bullies."
I was thrilled and raced home to bring Skipper in for transfer.
As Skipper quietly sat in the carrier, calm and serene dispite being taken from her condo and shoved into a box, I stood near where Wendy was selling starter equipment for a couple who were buying chicks. At one point, Wendy saw me and stopped. "Oh, is that your hen?"
I nodded and held her up for Wendy and the couple to see. "She's a beauty isn't she? And she's started laying again. We've gotten three eggs in the past week." I said.
Wendy looked at the couple and said, "Orpington's are really good mommies if you want a hen to take care of your chicks." The couple got excited at the prospect, and the woman said, "Oh, we'd love to take him."
"Her," I said. "She's a hen. He's don't lay eggs."
"Oh," the woman nodded. "We'd be glad to give him a home."
I stepped back a bit. Then the man said to her "we're moving in two days. What are you going to do with her while we move?"
I stepped away further. Why are you people buying twelve chicks and all the stuff for them if you're moving?
I looked at Wendy and said "I'll just put her in that pen outside." Wendy grinned widely and nodded.
"Oh, but we'd still like to take her," the man said as he followed me toward the door. "I just need to figure out how we can work it all."
"That's all right," I said as politely as I could, even though my heart was racing at the prospect of my avian daughter ending up with such clueless people. Granted, there's a bit of a learning curve with caring for chickens, although they are relatively easy after one gets the hang of it. And the folks at S and W Feed are really good with information. But if a person can't even discern the gender of an animal ... well, I turned away from the man and carried Skipper out to the pen in the parking lot.
Maybe some other person wouldn't have been so squeamish about handing over a chicken to anybody who was willing. After all, Skipper's just a chicken. She's just a chicken for pete's sake. After caring and feeding an animal, especially one who has allowed me to take away her eggs, there's a larger sense of responsibility and gratitude I feel a need to extend to Skipper. She trusted me enough to allow me to pick her up and stuff her into a cat carrier and dump her out into a strange pen next to another pen of suddenly attentive roosters. Her world had suddenly expanded and she was a tad nervous.
I watched her peck at stones and slowly look around at her new surroundings for awhile. I laughed at the banty rooster pacing the fence line, trying to get her attention. Then I turned and walked to my car. I watched the couple drive away with their twelve chicks and accessories, relieved that Skipper would undoubtedly go where people know a rooster from a hen and what that's all about. -- 2-26-2013
Sometimes you just have to immerse yourself into something trivial before the creative juices spark. Then again, maybe it's the end of a long bout with the flu and the warming of the weather.
Whatever it is, today I was far more productive than I've been in a long time. Since the holidays, in fact, when Jeff gave me that ... THING! That seductive little Kindle Fire. So, as I wrote in an earlier Rave, I've been playing lots of games and exploring this wonderful little device.
But nothing much was getting done except some quilting. Going to Fabric Chicks twice a week has helped me stay on course with that. A class in using old denim jeans sparked me into making this fun quilt. Indeed, Jeff dragged a huge and heavy box of old jeans into the house and I used a handy little Skilh cutter to prepare them. Then I learned to machine applique the flowers. Beth also carries flannel batiks in her store and they make up the colored squares.
All that sewing, though, nearly wore me and my machine to a nub, so I decided to blanket stitch the edges instead of binding them. Beth told me I'm the only person she knows who still ties quilts instead of quilting them. It's the old fashioned in me. Sometimes, especially when the grand feat of quilting is just too much to endure, a simple needle and thread in hand will help me get through it.
This stitching is going to take more time than I thought because of the dense fabric; but I just wanted to give myself a rest. It appears that I'm entering a new phase of laziness. I do a little task, then play a Kindle game. Do something else for a few minutes, then return to the Kindle. What New Year's resolutions?
Anyway, back on topic here, I awoke this morning and dragged myself into the kitchen as usual. Jeff had already fed the dogs, retrieved the paper, and made coffee. He was about to get up and start work. I'd feel guilty about my lack of morning industry, but I'm retired.
Then, as I worked the crossword, I started thinking about one of three novels I've started in which I've gotten mired. Occasionally, I thought of a plot twist here, and plot twist there, in any of the three; but this morning, the epiphanies pulled me from the barcalounger and into the office where I added them to my notes on one project, Cat Walk.
This has been a particularly close and painful writing project because it's 99 percent memoir involving the loss of my cat, Snigglefritz, and the past year's family and health struggles. It's been a difficult time, for me at least if not for Val and Jeff. So, it was very difficult to tackle this project with any discipline. Friends have been hounding me about writing another novel and I have just put them off with "well, I've got three started." Okay, how about ENDING one of them?
I've heard the second novel is really hard to get going because of any success with the first that may foreshadow it. I really don't have that excuse, but starting a second novel has still left me uninspired. Until this morning. After tweaking the notes, I realized I had the story and the characters where I wanted them. I have already written several chapters and the purpose of this novel became clearer as I tweaked the notes.
I'm ready now. For the first time in a long while, I feel like I've moved into a story and can write it. Finally. And I have the distance from the circumstances that will clear this story for passage. Time to fly with it. -- 2-22-2013
Mt. Whitney and Beyond
My usual experience with MDs is discouraging, especially when they say an ailment is "all in my head," or "you really shouldn't eat/do/move like that." My year-out visit with Dr. Kyle Swanson, of the Tahoe Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, proved to be a huge surprise.
For this appointment, I was all warmed up by the morning's pilates class and paced and stretched in the room as I awaited his arrival. My left knee bent to the same angle as my right knee, and I tested the pain levels and stiffness, finding both to be much lower than in previous months. I was extremely happy with the results of this surgery and my progress.
So was Dr. Swanson. He was also very encouraging as I asked if I would injure the knee if I kneeled on it or crossed the left leg over my right leg. His dry humor came out when I crossed the right leg over my left knee and said "I'd like to be able to do this with my left leg." He smiled that inscrutable little smile of his and said "I can't even do that." (Please Kyle, I do believe you can. You're young and limber.)
"You really can't injure this knee or the mechanism," he said.
"Yeah, I remember your assistants telling me that it would take a fall from a great height to break it."
"That's true, but if you fell from a great height, you'd break your leg anyway, but not the knee replacement."
Jokingly, I then said, "So I guess I shouldn't climb Mt. Whitney."
He looked me in the eye and said, "Oh, you can climb Mt. Whitney. Do you want to hike Whitney?" He didn't seem the least bit skeptical of my accomplishing this pipe dream of mine.
Then he proceeded to surprise me further. "We climbed it a few years ago, but we did it in one day. Very grueling and not much fun. When you do it, take a few days. Enjoy the hike and the scenery. It's a beautiful trail." Again, his eyes showed no trace of skepticism. "You can do anything you want."
"By the way, have you lost weight? You look great!"
Why does this man have to be an orthopedic surgeon? Why can't he be a general practitioner and bring that "you can do anything" spirit to the medical world?
He asked me to see him again in a year -- two years out from the surgery. Hmmmm... if I start now and walk walk walk as much as I can, build up the stamina and muscles, maybe I CAN hike Mt. Whitney. And if I do it before I see Dr. Kyle Swanson again, won't that be a major coup? --2-13-2013
Despite the sports world's need to blame Colin Kaepernick for the 49ers' loss of the Super Bowl, he scored big points with me. In fact, it appeared many times throughout the game that he was the only 49er who showed up to play the game.
The big disappointment for me was how he would throw the ball and there would be no one to catch it effectively. Nearly every catch was fumbled or misplayed.
It was good that the stadium's electrical system went down for a half hour. It gave the 49ers a chance to arrive, change into their uniforms, and come onto the field. The players in the first half were obviously stand-ins from some high school. It was truly pitiful to watch. I wondered if they had partied so much the night before that they were still hung-over.
But hey, the pros on the team have a rookie scapegoat now to blame for their loss. Kap should have played a perfect game. He almost did. But for a slip in one long-field throw, the Raven intercepted over the head of a lone 49er available to receive. It will go down in sports history as Kap's failure, an interception. Fie!
It was like that for most of the game. Kap would throw and there'd be no one to receive. Where were they? The Ravens' offense wouldn't have been as effective if the rest of the 49ers were on their game. But they were relying on the Phenom, the Wunderkind. He'll play the whole game for us.
Such is life. When we pin all our hopes on the Star Player, we fail to step up and do what we need to do to support that Player. It's a team effort. All hands on deck.
As for Kaepernick, I think he did a splendid job. Nearly perfect. Wish the rest of his team had done as well. -- 2-4-2013
Kindle Game Magic
My book loving friends, of which there are many, are going to drop me on my head for this Rave, but that's unfortunate. I love my Kindle Fire HD.
Mind you, now, most of these "book lovers" love the hard copy version, no matter how many trees are sacrificed for their tactile pleasure. As they spurn me for my betrayal of the printed page and the independent bookstore, I know many of them sneak into the woods at night to hug trees. I hope this irony is not lost on anybody.
I agree that hard copy books are wonderful. As I've aged, though, arthritis and blurry vision have decreased certain capacities. I find it difficult to hold a book at all, much less view the fine print. Literally holding a book is no longer a pleasure for me as it is with my paper-loving friends. All that weight sagging from my weary wrists takes the joy out of any tactile delights books obviously give other readers.
Enter the Kindle, of any generation. I've had one of the first gens for years and have enjoyed many novels on it because I can increase the font size. Now, my friends are probably writhing and saying "why don't you read large print volumes?" I've already tried that. Think about it, friends. When you increase the font size on a printed book, you increase the size and the helt of the whole book. Wrap it in a hard cover, as most large print versions have, and you have one heavy mother tome. Remember what I said about weary wrists?
This Christmas, Jeff gave me a Kindle Fire HD that has added many new dimensions to my reading, viewing, and gaming needs. As with any computerized gadget I've received, I will never use the vast wealth of applications available to me, but they are THERE! My god, what an embarrassment of riches in one small device. And this isn't even a pocket-sized smart phone. I don't even want to go there.
With sub-zero temperatures and being knocked flat by the flu, January has become a month where Jeff and I huddle side-by-side in our barcaloungers, tablets in hand. His Ipad allows him to download technical manuals with graphics that help him build his job, HAM radio, and other hobby skills. I immediately searched for novels to download, but found so much more. Oh mercy!
I'm currently enjoying The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston, but have already read Cheryl Strayed's wonderful memoir of her trek of the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild. Instead of struggling with 10-point print in a book that battles my attempts to hold it upright, I can read books at 14-point type and can lay the Kindle in my lap, hands free, using either portrait or landscape angles. Sometimes, there is a problem with reflective glare, but that's easily remedied.
I've always wondered how a movie would look on such a tiny screen, so I downloaded Days of Heaven, a film with expansive outdoor shots and minute details as well as a soaring and lyrical score. Not only did I see more on this tiny screen than on the wide-screen TV, but the sound quality enabled me to hear dialogue that was obscured in previous viewings.
Then there are the games. For some reason, settling in with this new gadget has given me courage to explore other than my customary solitaire. Gosh golly, I branched out to Spider Solitaire, a diabolical and fascinating version. I downloaded Tetris and have yet to get hooked on that. Then there's Free Flow, where you have a grid - anywhere from 5 by 5 to 11 by 11 - and you have to connect each colored dot to its mate. Oh, the mind twists just thinking of it. You can't cross paths and must fill all the squares in the grid.
Each game not only has strategical lessons to learn, but also your character and thought processes are put to the test. Do you have the courage, the patience, the temperament to continue a game that seems to be at a stalemate? Free Flow taught me that the obvious trail isn't always the answer and I will fail to solve the puzzle if I don't change the direction of my trails on the grid. The trick is to go beyond the obvious.
Of course, those of you who have cut your teeth on these games will scoff at my glee over these discoveries. A person of a certain age, however, will find these games not only challenge the way things have been done in your little pea brain all these years, you can almost feel new synapses reaching across the empty spaces in your grey matter, bypassing blockages that have stymied you for decades.
So as the winter winds howl around the house at night, Jeff and I huddle in our barcaloungers, entering this new portal that leads us through the looking glass and into worlds of mental growth and stimulation. And I don't have achy wrists after I'm done. -- 1-28-2012
A Minor Miracle
After years, actually a couple of decades, of hobbling around in a twisted body, something wonderful has happened. My left hip finally found its rightful place in my anatomy and appears to want to stay there. Of course, this miracle didn't come to pass without a lot of work.
I won't bore my readers with a blow-by-blow account of the past twenty some-odd years, but will focus on the past two weeks instead. And the remedy came after listening to my daughter, Val, speak of her hip woes and how she found a cure.
Both Val and I have twisted pelvises and sacrums -- or is that pelvisi and sacra? Anyway, between riding and falling off horses, holding a toddler on my hip for a couple of years, and other daily life erodings of the body, the sacrum joint finally tilted one direction, sending the left hip to twisting in another direction. (What did I say about focusing on the past two weeks? Sorry.)
Val chose to avoid chiropractors and went to a physical therapist instead. In conjunction with that, she also worked on building the strength in the pelvic muscles. This worked to pull the hip joint and pelvis back to where it should be and the muscles would be strong enough to hold them there. That's how strength and conditioning workouts work. And Val ought to know about such things. She's got a Master's in kinesiology - a fancy word for how the body and muscles move and behave.
She's wanted to be a strength and conditioning coach since graduation, but with all the body-workers here in the Carson Valley, she decided to work for the Health Dept. Because of her expertise, I tend to listen to her when she offers advise on how to remedy hip problems. When fifteen years of chiropractic didn't completely heal my problems, I listened more carefully to Val and continued my pilates workouts at K2 Pilates in Gardnerville.
Beth Shrum, my favorite pilates guru, works with students who have twisted bodies. I call us her garage projects. With abundant good nature and a deep knowledge of anatomy and pilates theory, Beth guides us through exercises that test and build our strengths while being careful not to push our sore spots too hard. No pain, no gain is NOT Beth's mantra. She is not a drill sargeant, which is why I trust her with my body.
A couple of weeks ago, she did lead us through a particularly challenging class that including a lot of straddling of the reformer. Straddling anything is not something I've been able to do for a long long time. The hip joint just wouldn't open up, but would catch on a couple of little bone spurs. So, this session of pilates was painful indeed. I hobbled back home and iced a strained groin muscle for the remainder of the week. I even had to miss the next pilates class.
Then, that Saturday, the pain moved into the hip joint itself. Oh oh, I thought. This is it. Jeff's going to have to carry me into Dr. Swanson's office for a hip replacement. DRAT!
Despite the pain and my fears, I pushed myself out of the chair and focused my attention on clearing and storing the holiday decorations. I limped and shuffled and bent and lifted this way and that for a few hours until the chore was done. Then I grabbed an ice pack and a glass of honey whiskey and sat back down for the rest of the day.
When I got up again, not only was the pain gone, but the hip joint didn't catch on those pesky little spurs. I walked around more and more over the next few days and discovered that this wasn't just a fluke. The hip had finally responded to all that hard work from pilates class. The muscles had pulled the joint back into its proper place and were holding it there.
It has been over a week from that miraculous Saturday afternoon and the hip is still holding its place. I've tended to chickens, sewn on a quilt, done more pilates classes, gone shopping - including walking around Walmart for an hour, and done a dozen other things around the house. The hip holds. Fireworks are in order.
This brings me hope. It's very strange to be able to walk without that familiar little click and hitch in the hip. Instead, my gait is smooth and sure. The pain is gone from both the knee and the hip. It looks like my senior years are going to be far more active and rambunctious than those middle-ages were. I'd say that is a miracle! -- 1-21-2013
Peanutbutter and Frozen Eggs
January is the time of transition - from the holidays to ... the rest of winter. This year, we revived a tradition acquired from living in the Hobbit House in Truckee: the Peanutbutter Tree. Also, we learned what frigid temperatures do to eggs not hastily gathered from the coop. Guess!
For years while living in Truckee, CA, we placed our untrimmed Christmas tree outside the patio door and I slathered hunks of peanutbutter on the limbs to feed hungry, cold birds until spring. In Truckee, that's a long, long time, usually until mid-April or June.
Chunky peanutbutter works best to entice mountain chickadees, Stellars jays and the occasional rufous towhee. Oh, and squirrels. That's where the fun begins in a household full of dogs.
Even though I found the overeager chickadee perching on the end of my knife to be tremendously cute, we were continuously entertained anytime the squirrel, who denned between the snowbank and the back of our house, climbed into the peanutbutter tree for a nosh. Checkers would go crazy. After the squirrel discovered the window glass, it would sit with its back against the glass, gnawing on a wad of peanutbutter while the dog barked ferociously and impotently from the other side.
Some may think we were cruel to the poor dog, but we thought it was terribly funny. Checkers survived the humiliation.
So, this morning, Jeff parked our tree outside the patio doors of Rancho Pequeño and I slathered chunky peanutbutter on some of the limbs. It will take a day or so for the birds to find it. And I'm not sure if doves and quail will acquire a taste for peanutbutter; but we'll find out how many squirrels we have in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, it's been bitterly cold, temperatures lingering during the nights in the single digits. I keep thinking I'll find dead hens when I go down to check on them and gather eggs. We haven't had the heater on this winter, yet a few of them continue to give us about four eggs a day. How's that for wealth!
Anyway, you know what happens when water gets into the sidewalk cracks, then freezes? Same thing happens to eggshells. This morning, however, when I broke the eggs into the dog bowls, one of them was frozen solid. Now, remember, there's usually a big, fat hen with a puffy warm coat of feathers sitting on these eggs. When they freeze like this, that's cold!
In other news, a basil plant that our neighbor, Dan, handed me over the back fence is still thriving. I occasionally pick a few leaves to add to salads or whatever. You can see there are even flowers blossoming on it.
And the tulips we bought at a local drugstore a few weeks ago burst into brilliant blooms which lasted for two weeks. As I cleared away the Christmas decorations, I also plucked the spent blooms from the tulips and pruned the stems. Adding a few drops of plant food to the container, I'm hoping they will continue their lifespan until spring when I can plant them outside in some fresh soil.
The grower doesn't guarantee they'll bloom again next spring, but tulips are tough. And these have shown a particularly hearty, robust strength. They may even survive my care. So, I'm hoping they'll bloom maybe a year from now or so and then continue each spring as tulips are naturally programmed to do.
As you can see, life at Rancho Pequeño moves on apace. We are well and happy. And we hope the remainder of winter treats you as well. -- 1-14-2013
War on Kids
RANT ALERT! Although I'll attempt to keep it to a low roar.
Last night, Jeff and I watched The War on Kids on the Documentary Channel. If ever you wonder why kids are shooting up the world and behaving in other forms of anarchistic ways, this documentary will enlighten you as well as turn your stomach.
Just ask any baby boomer if they enjoyed going to school or what their memories of school entail. You will probably find among the raves about dances, games, cool teachers, and interesting electives a lot of people who are still afraid of Jocks and Soshes, remember being razzed for their appearance or classroom performance, belittled by teachers or having to endure the attitude of a bored teacher, etc. etc.
The War on Kids talks about how our schools have evolved into demoralizing prison-like institutions that treat children like criminals if suspected of using drugs while doping up kids with Retalin and other toxic pharmaceuticals if they so much as question a teacher's authority or knowledge, or fidget and wriggle at their desks.
A few commentators in the film discussed how kids on Retalin become lifeless, disinterested bodies that almost drool. As soon as summer break arrives and the parents take their kids off Retalin, the kids perk up, laugh, want to play and joke around, and are engaged in life and other people.
The documentary stated that Retalin was developed in Switzerland, but parents there refused to put their kids on it. England has banned the drug from use with children and teenagers. But hey, the United States is always more than willing to support the pharmaceutical industry.
Meanwhile, if you're waiting for the Zombie Apocolypse to occur, wait no more. Just visit your local high school and you'll find hundreds of zombies.
Furthermore, you'll find students looking downward to avoid the constant peering eye of security cameras. And hundreds, maybe thousands of schools around the country already have police officers patrolling the halls. This current talk about putting such security measures in every school is not a new idea. It's already being done.
In one segment of the documentary, a high school was compared to a prison, from the process of checking into the facility to the security cameras to the library and classrooms. Both institutions have all of these things, but after seeing the difference between the prison and the school they chose for this film, I would prefer to be locked up in the prison. By comparison, the prison was a bright, cheery place where people could learn and grow. The high school was depressing and, indeed, horrifying in its oppressive atmosphere.
Years ago when I was a storyteller performing in schools, I saw a range of conditions, especially in the high schools, that made me cringe. Crumbling buildings. Windowless classrooms. Halls so crowded between classes that students can barely pass through them.
And just because a school looks bright and cheery doesn't necessarily mean a child will be safe. After a year at a new elementary school, we entered our daughter into a home school program because a woman with whom I had had a falling out a couple of years before actually threatened to hurt Valerie as she stood alone on the school grounds. I talked to Val's teacher about this and got a very unsatisfactory response from a distracted teacher.
Meanwhile, the two years of home schooling in a quality program helped Valerie regain a love of reading and gave her the freedom and time to engage in any learning activity she wanted. In school, Val's biggest problem that her teacher mentioned was that she never finished her work; but the teacher noticed that Val took time to organize her materials and think about what she wanted to do. By the time she started working on the project, though, it was time to move on to the next activity in the schedule.
At home, Val was allowed to follow her interests and learn at her own pace. It was paradise. From this, she also learned to guide herself, becoming a self-starter and good organizer of projects and activities. This in turn helped her through high school and in college. Jeff and I never had to ask her if she had finished her homework. She always did it herself. Home schooling provided the opportunities to become self-disciplined.
Public school began over a hundred years ago as a way to homogenize our society of immigrants into Americans. We still have immigrants, but our school system seems to have forgotten, or never learned, how to teach children the skills of learning. School has become a process of pouring a wide variety of facts, that someone high up has decided is important somehow, into a child's brain and having it remain there long enough to pass a test.
Children are naturally curious and have dreams and ideas they want and need to try out in order to grow properly. Our schools and indeed our society would be better served by programs that would allow children to explore their interests with the guidance of knowledgeable people who enjoy passing on their knowledge and experience to youngsters.
If schools were about teaching children how to learn and then letting them do it, we would have little need for drugs - illegal or pharmaceutical. No child would become so frustrated that they'd want to blow away their teachers and fellow students. And special ed teachers would not have to wrangle students with non-existent learning disabilities because they didn't learn to read or do math according to the schedule.
Learning doesn't happen on schedule nor does it happen with all things being equally absorbed by all people. We're not robots. And we're not zombies. Let's not use our schools to create such beings. -- 1-9-2013