Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Don't miss the Book Giveaway

In a Pickle - Q and A

Okay, so I was asked - first, if I would be interested in opening up a Q&A forum, and I would, but I don't really know how to go about doing that without making it just as confusing and, ultimately, cumbersome as all of the others.

I thought, as an alternative, if there are specific questions, perhaps, just doing a post about it - that would be spidered and eventually would end up in searches and with the opportunity of having people comment on their solutions - might work in the short term. I could label all of them "Q&A", and, at some point, when there are enough questions, I could put Q&A menu in the side bar.

The second part of the request was to answer a specific question about pickles, and the problem is (and I've had this problem, too - by the way ;) that I've canned these beautiful pickles, careful to following the guidelines regarding fresh PICKLING cucumbers, exact measurements for brining solutions, etc. At first, the pickles are wonderful and crispy, but after a few months in the jar, they turn to mush. They're still safe to eat. They're just not very ... palatable.

The first part of the dilemma is the question of whether or not this is normal, and if there is a way to avoid it.

The second part of the dilemma is the question of what to do with all of those mushy pickles.

For the first part, my personal suggestion is to dispense with the canning altogether and instead do lacto-fermentation. It will result in much crisper pickles to begin with, as the process of fermenting the vegetables makes them crispier anyway. I would recommend the books: Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation and/or Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

The process requires a couple of weeks. The lacto-fermentation process is slowed with cold, and so the "finished" product should be stored, long-term, in a cold place, like a refrigerator or a root cellar, which might seem to reduce the long-storage option afforded by canning ... BUT, lacto-fermented vegetables are edible for MONTHS after they are ready to eat.

Plus, it's a live food, which makes it much healthier for us, overall, than canned pickles anyway.

As for using those mushy pickles, as long as they were properly canned and aren't contaminated but just mushy, I'd recommend adding them to some other recipe. Potato salad or egg salad comes to mind. One might also chop them up and turn them into a kind of relish.

For me, unless I suspect that it might poison my family, I'm loath to throw out a failed canning experiment, and I'll find another way to use it. Like "runny" strawberry jam is used as a sauce for drizzling over ice cream or pancakes or for adding to smoothies and/or yogurt. I won't simply throw it away.

For mushy pickles, what other recommendations/solutions do you folks have?

Health Care Costs to Increase

The headline is Insurers Alter Cost Formula, and Patients Pay More.

Is anyone else *not* surprised?

So much for all of the rhetoric about making health care more affordable. The law did nothing, except give control of health care over to a bunch of money-grubbing corporations that never see patients, and yet, have all the say-so in how they are treated ... unless the patient is able to pay for the costs of extended treatment out of his or her pocket, and since the whole controversy is around those people who couldn't afford health care, the reality is that working people and taxpayers are paying MORE all around.

I won't go so far as to insist that it's all some sort of conspiracy/master plan to impoverish us all (or part of some grand scheme toward depopulation), but I will say that this outcome was totally predictable, and anyone who didn't see it coming was consciously looking the other way.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Back to Basics

Sometimes I get nervous about things. About a month ago it was because of some news I was reading about solar activity. I got pretty nervous. I knew there was probably no reason to be ... and even if *it* did happen, other than what I'm already doing, there was nothing I could do ... but still. Sometimes rational thought and irrational fears collide, and one of them is going to win. That day last month it was the latter.

The news that day was filled with stories about Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). Say what? A CME is also known as a "solar flare", and I know that's not really being more descriptive, but basically, the sun that provides the gravitational framework that keeps our nine (I still think Pluto got a raw deal) eight planets rotating, and warms our planet, providing the sustenance for life, is not a simple benevolent being out in space taking care of us. It is a fiery ball of gas that occasionally shoots theses big solar lightning bolts out into space, and occasionally, one of these travels toward Earth and actually hits us.

It happens all of the time with varying degress of effect, and if we didn't have any electronics, there would be nothing to worry about, but our dependence on electricity and the likelihood that a very large CME could do damage to our individual electrical gadgets (at best) or to the grid as a whole (at worst) is pretty high.

In fact, in 1859 a pretty big solar flare hit the Earth, disrupting telegraph service and creating such a magnificent Aurorae that in some places it was as bright as day time. The experience has been dubbed The Carrington Event, after the scientist who first identified the phenomenon.

The significance of that event to our time lies in the fact that we are much more heavily dependent on electricity, and such an event could wreak havoc, if it takes out the grid. In the days prior to the March 2012 CME event, there was some babble in certain online circles about "what could" happen. The gist of the conversations was that there are x-number of substations across the US, each of which have a transformer. Without the transformer, electricity can not be distributed. For every x-number of transformers, there's one replacement, and it takes x-amount of time to manufacture a new one.

So, basically, if a very large CME destroyed *every* transformer, there would be places in our country that would be without electricity for several years awaiting the necessary equipment to fix their part of the grid. The question is, who would be first in line, and further, what would those at the bottom of the list do in response to not being first?

Most people probably didn't even know it was happening - that it happened. There were no worries and no preparations. Ignorance was running blissfully through the masses, and since nothing happened, no harm done.

Even if something had happened, though, what could we have done to prepare? I think saving the electronics would probably have been an exercise in futility. Best case, I could have enclosed our computers in a Faraday cage (there's a really cool one at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, and a favorite stop for Deus Ex Machina, who is an electrical engineer and has a love of all things sparkly - except Vampires). The problem is that I don't have a faraday cage at my disposal, although I could get one, I suppose. It's just that if all electronics are wiped out (from the grid to unprotected bike generators), what good would having my computer do me after the six-hours of battery life is exhausted?

What worries me, though, is not that there was so little news about the event, which means there was very little or no preparations on an individual level, but that there was a flurry of worried anticipation and half-hearted attemts at getting ready followed by a sigh of relief that nothing happened and a return to life as usual.

And I guess that's what bothers me about our collective mindset in general. It's like bees.

In a bee colony the entire focus is on saving the Queen. Without the Queen, life in the colony ceases to exist. A regular bee's lifespan is pretty short, and in order for the colony to thrive, there needs to be a Queen that is laying fertile eggs. The difference between a fertile egg and a non-fertile egg is gender, with the latter producing the male drones.

Drone bees are pretty cool. They don't have stingers, and while some drones are necessary for the health of the hive, too many will kill the colony.

The fertilized eggs are female. They are responsible for doing the work of the hive that keeps everyone else alive. Specifically, they venture out, collect the pollen, and turn it into the honey on which they all survive.

Honey, for the bees, is survival, and so, in response to a threat to their hive, they will start to eat the honey. One of the common practices among beekeepers who wish to work with the hive is to use smoke. It is often taught that the smoke calms the bees so that they don't sting. It's actually an opposite effect with the same results. The smoke sends the bees into a frenzy. Believing that there is a fire and that the hive is in danger of being destroyed, they begin to eat the honey, and they don't attack the invader (beekeeper), because they're too busy trying to save the hive.

We, humans, tend to be a lot more like bees than most of us would believe ourselves to be. In response to a looming disaster, we rush to make preparations, but mostly, during our day-to-day lives, we just go about our business ... the business of making money ... er, honey.

In a conversation on the night of the CME in March, when I was asked about it, I said that it could knock out the entire grid ... or it could do nothing. Either way, on the day of the event, there's really nothing left for us to do, but wait and see. For the average Joe, the event was a non-event. Where I live, we didn't even get to enjoy the Northern Lights because of the cloud cover.

My concern is that we've become too complacent. It's like we're living in the Boy Who Cried Wolf story, and every time something like this is about to occur, someone cries Wolf!, and everyone scrambles to "get ready", and then, nothing happens, and next time there's a cry of Wolf! fewer people will be slower to react.

Maybe nothing will ever happen, but maybe something is happening somewhere all of the time.

I don't go to the grocery store when a big storm is predicted. Aside from the fact that I don't like the frantic energy from the crowd of shoppers who feel the need to prepare for "this" storm, but little need to prepare, in general, there's very little that I need to get. Deus Ex Machina and I are usually stocked up on the essentials, because I hate running out of stuff (a fact which amuses Deus Ex Machina every week at the grocery store when I put, yet another, carton of oats in the cart ;). So, we usually have, at least, a few weeks of back-up, and for those things that we don't have, we have some sort of substitute.

In short, we're usually prepared to weather any storm without fear.

My concern with this most recent emergency is that, instead of just changing how they live so that things like this won't be an emergency, most people are still living as if there will never be an emergency, and then, when there is news that there might be an emergency, they rush to eat all of the honey.

And what we've created is a reactionary way of life. In short, most of us think we're planning for the future, because we have a 401K or an IRA. We have money in the bank for when we retire. And in the meantime, we're working a 9 to 5 job (with which very few of us are truly satisfied) to pay the bills, and when there's an emergency, it completely disrupts our lives.

Instead of really living and enjoying life, we're always waiting for that "right time" to do one thing or another. Like Scarlet O'Hara, we live in a fog believing that there will always be tomorrow to worry about that, and so when tomorrow comes, and we've lost our job or the stock market tanks and we lose half our life-savings or the price of gasoline creeps up to $4/gallon while we aren't paying attention and we can't afford to fill up our 10 mpg F100 truck (and pay our mortgage) or a crop loss in some town out West most of us has never heard of causes the price of flour to triple, it is an emergency, and we are, invariably ill-prepared to handle it.

What's so disappointing is that, if we were paying even just the slightest bit of attention to that obscure article on page three by the junior journalist who will probably lose his job if too many people actually read (and believe) the truth he's revealed, none of these emergency events would be emergencies, because we would have known they were coming for months.

I got the coolest note from my mother the other day. She likes buying books for me, and I like getting them. Sometimes, though, she buys me a book I already have - as happened recently. So, I offered to send the book back to her so that she could have a copy, but she said she already had a copy, too. In fact, she told me that she'd opened up her copy not too many days previously and got lost in its pages for a few hours.

The book? Back to Basics.

It's one of the best 'how-to' self-sufficiency books we own, and it covers just about every skill a homesteader might need from food (raising and perservation) to reusing rags to make a rug. There's even a chapter on making a mountain dulcimer. The instructions are simple and easy to follow.

Peak oil. Climate change. Resource scarcity. And now, catastrophic sun activity. There's a lot to worry about, for sure, and we won't be able to prepare for every eventuality. In fact, we may find that when at our most prepared, we are ill-prepared. But knowing that we can find what we need, that we can provide for ourselves even in these worstcase scenarios really does make it easier to laugh about a CME, and it takes the fear out of contemplating losing ....

Deus Ex Machina and I have two copies of Back to Basics. We're planning to keep one, and we've decided that we'd like to offer the other here.

If you're interested in receiving our well-loved copy of Back to Basics, please leave a comment detailing a lost skill you have been working to learn ... and also, why you think it's important for you to know.

Deus Ex Machina and I are working on foraging food ... but not just for today's dinner, but also for adding to our winter stores. This past weekend, in fact, we went out and gathered stinging nettles, dandelion greens and flowers, and Japanese Knotweed. The first two were dehydrated for use in future soups. The flower heads were cleaned and are in the fridge. They'll become fritters. The Japanese knotweed was blanched and is in the freezer. We feel learning to identify and use wild foods is important, because we have such a small lot and while we can grow a lot, we'll also need to supplement our diet. We feel wild foods are our best option.

What's yours?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Raspberry Flavoring Sans the Beaver

In the last week, we've had a bit of fun talking about food additives. In particular, after reading this article, which revealed the true source of artificial raspberry flavor, we've had a lot of fun contemplating the question "who figured it out?"

It's all been in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, but the fact is, that those who eat a lot of processed food have no idea where most of that food comes from. The other fact is that we've lost our sense of what real food tastes like. The artificial flavor is never, quite, what the real flavor is, and so, for many people, the fake flavor is what they know (and just FYI, green apple flavored candy tastes nothing like real apples), and when faced with the real taste, it can be a bit of a surprise.

For the past couple of weeks, Deus Ex Machina and I have been going out each weekend - just to see what's out. Over the past several years, we've been transitioning our diet from the typical "American" diet (consisting largely of fast-food and processed convenience meals-in-a-box) to more local fare. It started with eating local foods, moved to growing a lot of our food ourselves on our quarter acre, and is culminating this year to a more concentrated effort on foraging.

We've let the girls know this is our plan.

I'm not sure they're really digging the idea of eating wild foods.

When it comes to food choices, we're not tyrants (exactly), but I have gotten to a point where there are simply some food additives that I won't pay for. It's ridiculous to me to pay for a food item that I know is slow poison. I wouldn't feed my child arsenic. I won't - consciously - feed them high fructose corn syrup or benzoate-based preservatives or anything in a BPA-line can, either.

So, while we're willing to allow them some choice, we're also pretty adamant that they, at least, try what we've prepared.

This weekend, we were very busy. Deus Ex Machina and I had our first successful foraging day and harvested nettles, dandelion flowers, and Japanese knotweed shoots.

We also harvested our patch of Jerusalem artichokes (the final tally on 12 square feet - not six - was 22 or so pounds of roots), which we've been eating for the past few days. The first night sauteed with nettles. The next night I thin sliced the roots and fried them like potato chips. We've also dehydrated a bunch of them and are making it into flour, which I plan to use for pasta.

One of the best points of the weekend was when Deus Ex Machina and I decided to try making, what we've decided to call, Freezer Berry Wine, which was just our attempt to use up all of the berries we've had stored in our freezer. The original plan was to use all of the berries and have a mixed berry wine, but we ended up using just raspberries (because we had a bigger stash than we'd realized) - and as it turned out, we had more juice than we had room for in the carboy, and so I planned to boil what was left to syrup and save it for the girls to mix with water and ice as a fruit juice cocktail.

Unfortunately, I went outside to work in the garden, left the pot simmering, got a little side-tracked, and we ended up with a little over a pint of raspberry jelly.

Of course, then, Little Fire Faery wanted to know if she could have some more (I gave her a pre-taste) of that yummy juice stuff, and I had to admit that I'd spoiled the syrup, but I opened the freezer and started talking about other berries we could make into juice. Little Fire Faery spied the cranberries and asked if we could use those.

"I like cranberry juice," she told me.

Really? Since when?

And then, I nearly hit the floor, because Big Little Sister, who won't eat or drink anything I recommend (without much cajoling), said she likes cranberry juice, too.

That was enough for me. A couple of hours later, we had three quarts of cranberry juice (and a day later, we have none ;).

Kids like things to be familiar, especially food, and making the transition from all processed foods to all whole foods to what we find on the side of the road or out in a field has not been a smooth process.

But my kids are really good sports, and the absolute best moment of the whole weekend came when Little Fire Faery said to me, "I thought eating local and making all of our own food this year was going to be terrible, but it's been pretty good so far."

And that's definitely enough of an incentive for me to keep pushing the envelope.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Famine Food

For the past several weeks, Deus Ex Machina and I have been going out foraging each Saturday while the girls are in dance class. We've been watching, in particular, the Japanese knotweed and the stinging nettles, because we know those are early spring foods.

Today, we were rewarded for our diligence with a wonderful harvest of both.

And for dinner ...

We smoked one of the chickens we raised last summer on the grill, which we served with steamed Japanese knotweed and stinging nettles and Jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke) sauteed in garlic and butter. I want to find a different way to prepare the knotweed, but the nettle/artichoke ... OH.MY.GOD! So, yum!

It's definitely a repeat, which is good, because today, Deus Ex Machina harvested 20+ pounds of Jerusalem artichoke from the small patch we had growing (about six square feet). We're drying most of it for flour, but I think I'd like to try fried sunchoke chips.

If you're looking for a perennial food plant that is prolific, easy to grow, tasty, and healthful, I can't recommend more highly the lowly sunchoke.

In fact, when I was researching the sunchoke, I learned some very interesting things about it. First is that it is indigenous to North America, especially the northeast region, and it was introduced to the settlers by the natives here and taken back to Europe. Initially, it enjoyed some notariety as an "exotic food", but when the Europeans started growing it and noted how easily it grew in their similar-to-New-England climate, it became a favorite food item, especially among the less wealthy members of society.

In short, the sunchoke became associated with peasant food, and lost any appeal it might have had.

For a small garden, though, it's a wonderful perennial crop. It overwinters in the ground, which means that one doesn't need to have any storage facility for it. So, those without cold storage might take note. As long as the ground can be dug, the sunchoke can be harvested, but primarily, it's a spring vegetable, and it's full of wonderful nutrients and flavor.

It has a very low glycemic level, which makes it perfect for those suffering from diabetes, or for those who are trying to reduce their carbohydrate intake. It can be eaten raw, or cooked, or made into a flour.

After Deus Ex Machina dug out the bed, we were sure to reseed it. And then, we decided to plant a few of the root pieces in other parts of the yard, and we've saved a few root pieces for some guerrilla planting.

I can't think of any thing more fun that seeing all of the pretty "sun(choke)flowers all over town ... and knowing that if food really does become scarce, I've helped to provide some famine food for myself and my neighbors.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pedaling for Power

This morning, I hopped on my bike, rode a mile, and generated 30 watts of electricity. It took ten minutes ... and I never left the house :).

I wanted a bike generator for a long time, before I finally convinced Deus Ex Machina to get one. Part of my desire for the generator was that I knew I needed exercise. I like riding my bike, but I felt that it was a "seasonal" activity and not something that I was going to do when it was cold or rainy outside - and I am, definitely, not interested in trying to 'share the road' with a snowplow while I'm on a bike.

*Please note that I said not something I was going to do and not something I can't do, because I can ride my bike anytime I want. It's not a matter of ability, but rather a matter of will.

With regard to "will", I'm also not the kind of person who is willing to exercise for the sake of exercise. I don't like going out for a run ... unless I'm running to or from something. Running around the block, especially when there are so many other things that need to get done, just seems like a waste of my time. By the same token, I love to walk, but not just to walk. I love to walk as a form of transportation, and when I was younger and didn't have ready access to motorized transportation, I walked a lot to get from Point A to Point B - and it showed in my overall fitness level.

And, then, I had kids, and it became more complicanted to walk or bike for transportation.

So, I wanted a bike generator, because I figured it would serve two purposes: it would motivate me to exercise, and it would feed into my need for exercise to be related to a purposeful activity - in this case, generating electricity (which feeds into my never-ending quest to lower our overall usage/dependence on the grid :).

For the record, I'm still learning how it all works, and so we haven't put it into full use, but I still hop on my bike and pedal every day or so, and I love watching the numbers change. I love getting on the bike when it reads that the batteries are 60% full and getting off ten minutes later to see that the batteries are fully charged. There's something incredibly fulfilling about having "created" something.

A lot of people have been asking about our set-up, and (finally) I'm able to provide a better explanation.

We used a standard adult mountain bike mounted on a stand. We had to take the tire off the back wheel to hook up the belt that drives the motor.

The generator is hooked up to a charge controller (the nifty device on the handle bars) that keeps the batteries from getting overcharged (so far, not a problem ;). The charge controller also allows us to see how charged up the batteries are and a lot of other information that I don't know, yet, how to read (it's a process, right?).

The charge controller feeds into the batteries (down on the floor in the corner), which stores the electricity we're generating when we pedal.

We have an inverter (the little device on the shelf) that plugs into the charge controller, and we plug whatever we want to power into the inverter.

When the light on the inverter is green, all systems are go :).

A bike generator is not, necessarily, the best way to generate electricity - especially when we consider that the typical American uses KILO watts (a kilo is a thousand), and even a really seasoned bike rider will only generate power in the watts.

One electric stove burner on high uses 1200 watts of power. Even pedaling as hard as I could, I wouldn't be able to keep that burner hot enough for long enough to heat up a pot of water.

As such, the bike generator is definitely limited in what it can do. The key is to recognize those limitations, but also to not be stultified by them. Even that tiny bit of electricity is something. LED lights use very little electricity, and conceivably, a bike generator could provide enough energy to light a dark room. We could power an iPod or a laptop computer. We could charge batteries for small appliances, like our digital camera or a flashlight.

For me, the bike generator was not my family's *only* answer to the energy crisis, but rather one solution among the many we will use in the coming years.

And, if nothing else, I get to have a pretty cool toy that, at least, has some functionality ... and gives me a workout so that I can minimize the "secretary spread" that seems to be forming on my sit-down parts.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bon Voyage, Mon Amie


Sometimes we get lucky, and we are blessed and befriended by a being who is truly able to be unconditional. Such was my luck for the last fifteen years ... and such is my misfortune to have her leave my life.

In 1997, when Deus Ex Machina and I drove across the country from Texas to Maine, she was with us. Our little 1989 Honda Civic was stuffed to the gills with all of the things we thought we'd need for the next few months (at least until September, we hoped) until we found a house of our own.

Big Little Sister and the iguana were in the backseat with everything we could shove around them and under them filling every inch of air space, and so the dog had to sit on the floor of the passenger side of the car at my feet ... on my feet, really. It wasn't comfortable for either of us. She never complained, not once, during the whole trip, but I did ... loudly and incessantly ... for 2000 miles.

It was July. It was hot. She was very furry, and she panted, and drooled ... a lot ... and she had bad breath.

We left Texas during the evening rush hour and by the time we'd made it halfway through Arkansas, we knew we needed to stop for a rest. It was July. Did I mention that it was hot?

I saw this postcard once. On the front was a cartoon picture of a huge mosquito, and the caption was "Arkansas State Bird", and like all bloodsuckers, mosquitoes prefer the night.

We pulled into the rest stop, but soon realized we had a real problem. We couldn't have the windows down, because the mosquitos were horrible, and we couldn't have the windows up, because the dog was panting so hard, it was like being in a sauna. Fifteen minutes after we stopped for the night, we were back on the road.

We bumped into Kentucky sometime after sunrise. Zombies are more alive than we felt.

After a couple days' rest, we were back on the road, heading to Maine. Somewhere between hither and yon, we stopped at a rest stop. I was out of the car and halfway to the bathroom before Deus Ex Machina had even pulled into the parking space. Big Little Sister had been caterwauling her displeasure (for the last ten miles) that her lunch was in the front seat while she was stuck in the back. Deus Ex Machina had just gotten her out of the car, when a van pulled into the spot next to us.

It was at that moment that we truly learned something about the personality of the furry friend we'd just adopted. She hated dogs - all other dogs. As Deus Ex Machina let the rear door shut, YooHoo jumped up on the closed driver's side door. Her foot hit the lock, which caused all of the locks on all four doors to simultaneous engage.

I came out of the bathroom. Deus Ex Machina asked me for my key. I pointed to car. Deus Ex Machina's keys were still in the ignition. Inside the car, she barked and panted, and looked at us as if to say, "Hey, are you going to let me out?"

Luckily, I hadn't closed my door all the way, and the people in the van had a knack for getting into locked cars. We didn't ask questions, but we did thank them profusely for their assistance in gaining entrance into our car.

It was a bumpy start for me and YooHoo. I couldn't understand why she couldn't get the whole potty-outside thing straight, but it wasn't a failure on her part, I (finally) learned. It was a failure on mine to understand her messages. She always told me when she needed to go out, and if I ignored her or tried to make her wait, she would do what needed to be done ... and I'd clean it up later.

I know she never set out to be my teacher, and I'm not even sure she knew that she was. She was never condescending to me, and she never took on that patient superiority that those who deem themselves our mentors often take. She allowed me to believe that I was the Alpha female. She deferred to my authority, but at the same time, she would do what needed to be done.

Like when other dogs came too close to her yard or her family, she would put them right in their place ... no matter how much bigger than she they might have been. She was fearless.

When people came into the house, especially people she didn't know, she didn't bark incessantly at them (like some other dogs we know), but she would position herself between me and them, and give a low warning every so often.

She was completely loyal and cautious. If someone smelled funny to her, she wouldn't let them touch her. I kept an eye on those people. I figured she knew something I didn't know.

When it came to the other animals in our household, she knew exactly what her job with them was, too. The chickens and rabbits were her job to guard. The other cats and dogs were her charges to instruct, and she kept them in their place. If the beagle seemed too interested in one of the chickens, YooHoo let him know that the chicken wasn't for him to munch, and he needed to back off.

She was often smarter than I gave her credit for being.

YooHoo had a personality.

She had thoughts and feelings.

She worried about things, sometimes. Like over the past few years, as her body grew older and she got more tired, she didn't have as much control over things. It mortified her, when she would wake from a particularly sound sleep and realize that she had, essentially, wet the bed. I caught her, once, cleaning up the mess, and cried as I tried to get her to stop, and let me do it for her. I could only imagine what was going through her mind.

She had a consciousness and an awareness of who she was and her unique place in our lives ... perhaps in this world.

I've had dog and cat companions for most of my life, even when I should never have taken on the responsibility of a pet, and I think of all of the lessons she taught me it was that dogs aren't disposable. They aren't transferable, either, and before we take on the responsibility of care giver, we should really be aware of what we're doing.

I hope she knew that she belonged with us and that we valued her and her role as a member of our family.

I know that I will never be lucky enough to have a companion quite like she was. She was as much a part of my life here in Maine as the house I live in, and it will always hold the memory of her within its walls.

I don't think the realization has hit me, completely, that I will never again hear her clicking toenails on the linoleum or her yippy bark when she wants a treat or her growl-bark when she tries, and fails, to howl (which was actually kind of funny, because I could see how much she really wanted to howl, but she couldn't, quite, get her vocal cords to work that way).

She will never again gaze at me with those deep brown eyes or nudge me when she needs to go out.

And she won't be there, lying across the kitchen floor, keeping me company while I'm cooking or washing dishes, because her only desire in the world was to be near her people.

We knew that she was nearing the end of her physical life with us, and we talked about what we thought she'd want. We decided that she should die here at home, with us, rather than at a vet's office, and she did, quietly in her sleep.

I am grateful that she entrusted her spirit to our care, and I am truly blessed to have known her.

Thank you, YooHoo. You are a beautiful spirit. I wish you well on your journey.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mixed Messages

An NPR headline claims New Jobless Claims Drop .... A similar headline in the Wall Street Journal states Job Claims Decline.

Both articles use this information as a basis for their optimistic claim that things are picking up.

What's more interesting is the conflicting messages, if one chooses to look a little deeper than headlines. In this article entitled Americans Brace for Next Foreclosure Wave, there is no optimism about a recovery. One of the people featured in the story is facing possible foreclosure. He's lost his job, and his unemployment benefits run out this month - April.

Like many other people (if one reads the finer print articles, rather than the rosy headlines), he will no longer be counted in the statistical data with regard to unemployment numbers - not because he's found a job, but rather because he's no longer eligible for benefits. How many people are there, like him?

I really loved this article entitled Ford Plans to Boost Production ... in China.

Say what???

I thought Ford's plans were interesting considering our faltering US economy and the very significant need to add jobs, here at home ... and then, to juxtapose a story about Ford investing in jobs in China with a story about the financial devastation of Detroit - America's former "Motor City." The article credits GM with the decrease in the unemployment rate, but perhaps there's another reason Michigan is no longer in a pickle.

Water Company Sells Rain Barrels

I love ...

While some parts of this country have outlawed rainwater collection, Maine not only allows it, but the water company even encourages it by offering discounts on rainbarrels.

You gotta seriously love a company that encourages their customers to engage in lifestyle changes/behaviors that might make the company's bottom line a bit smaller.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Looking Like an Elite

I'm laughing outside, but inside I'm crying. The infamous yuppie kitchen outfitter, Williams-Sonoma, is heading into backyards and offering a new "agrarian" line of products to include a spiffy, pre-fab abode for one's flock of laying hens.

I don't know what I think about this. I live in the suburbs, and so, of course, I'm drawn to these rustic-looking gadgets. I get a lot of catalogs from seed companies and garden supply companies, and I always love flipping through the pages and looking at how put-together everything is. So neat and tidy.

And, then, I go out into my own yard that's not neat or tidy or remotely put together, and I dream about those catalog pictures.

I also know that, even if I had the money to spend on those high-end products, once I brought them home and put them to real use, they would cease to be the picturesque displays one sees in catalogs. The fact of my life is that life is messy.

According to this article about Williams-Sonoma's new line of products, the line the company is feeding the public has to do with a desire to help families who are concerned about where their food comes from (i.e. locavores) and to help families who want to embrace this healthy lifestyle.

Personally, I think they're a little late in the game to be launching this line of products. It's something they should have done four years ago, and while I applaud their stated goal, I know, for them, it's a ploy to sell a product - just another follow-the-money scheme by a company that's watched its sales plummet as fewer and fewer people are able to afford the luxury of spiffy kitchen gadgets.

And, actually, it irritates me a little, because when companies, like this, jump on the bandwagon, it kind of does support the supposition that the local foods movement is elitist - which it's not.

I'm all for anyone who wants to grow his/her own food, and if something like this will get them started - more power to 'em. My thinking, though, is that Williams-Sonoma is shooting itself in the proverbial foot, because the local foods movement goes hand-in-hand with a very strong movement toward simplifying one's life, i.e. voluntary austerity ... which means that those folks who are attracted to the Williams-Sonoma designer chicken coop will soon realize that buying those high-end dishes and gadgets is ridiculous, and they'll stop shopping for shiny, new stuff, and end up at the thrift store looking for their neighbors' Williams-Sonoma cast-offs.

Better would have been for Williams-Sonoma to develop a marketing campaign to show locavores how much better all of that local food would taste when prepared using Williams-Sonoma cookware ;).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Glass is Never "Empty"

Yesterday, Deus Ex Machina and I went on a kind of "Where's Waldo?" hunt in our local area. Of course, we weren't looking for the infamous chameleon, Waldo. What we were actually in search of is spring foods.

It's possible that we were a little too ambitious. There's obviously not a lot going on ... unless one looks a bit closer.

Deus Ex Machina was pretty thrilled to see that this patch of stinging nettles is thriving. It's growing next to a stand of Japanese knotweed, and it's spreading into the knotweed, too. It's also growing right in the sandy hill - where nothing else seems to want to grow anyway.

Nettles are used extensively in herbal medicine - most often as a spring tonic ... which makes sense, as it appears to be one of the first plants to start greening here in the spring.

We also found Japanese knotweed buds and young sprouts of curly dock, mustard, and dandelions, which are all still a big small to harvest, and a number of medicinal plants. In addition, we found burdock shoots, which means there's probably some usable roots in the field somewhere, and we're hoping to find some, because we have a couple of interesting sounding recipes for burdock root.

We didn't come home with any foraged food - this time - which is okay, because we still have a pretty decent supply of stored food (including sixteen of the almost five dozen chickens we raised last summer), another pick-up with our CSA winter share, and some things, like the Jerusalem artichokes we have in our yard, are ready to harvest. So, we have plenty of food for now, and from the looks of things, there will be several spring greens that will be ready within the next three weeks.

Although we didn't find any food, we didn't come home empty-handed, either. We brought back a camera-full of pictures that will help document what's available and when. We brought home a better understanding of what's available right around the corner.

And we brought home a big load of firewood. With a snowstorm predicted for tonight, the wood will be very welcome.

As to the title of this post, I subscribe to Dr. Weil's daily digest, which means, every day, I get an email from the Dr. Weil website with some insightful piece of health advice. Most of the time, the message in the article simply validates what Deus Ex Machina and I already practice. Such was the case with this morning's note, entitled Four Ways to Beat Pessimism.

The general message of the note is that having a positive attitude is healthier, and it's not just something I believe in theory, but something I practice on a (mostly) daily basis.

The message is: "Be Happy - Live Better ... in that order."

I couldn't agree more.