Saturday, December 31, 2016

Adieu 2016, hello 2017

It was a tough year. No doubt. But I've had tougher.

Some good friends left this plane of existence. I hurt, but I've hurt worse.

I laughed some. A few tears dribbled down my cheeks.

I did some things I was extraordinarily proud of.

I experienced fear. I faced my fears.

I took some photos, wrote some stories. I sewed some art quilts that amazed the one critic that really matters: me.

I was reminded, over and over again, that it is dark and light that together make contrast, and that perception requires contrast. Contrast is what brings richness to art and to life itself.

All in all, 2016 was a rich year. I expect 2017 to be even richer.

When I toast the new year to come in a few hours, I'll raise a glass to you, too. Thank you for reading my stuff. Thank you for laughing with me, not at me. Thank you for being friends, whether I've ever met you or not.

Happy New Year. May 2017 be full of riches for you and yours.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Oh no! Not fry bread!

Yes, friends, once again I'm attempting to do this thing called "cooking". In this case, it's deep frying, and the idea was to salvage a lump of flour and yeast that was supposed to rise into a glorious sourdough to be baked this morning.

But it didn't.  Rise, that is.  I should have taken a photo of the lump, but really, it was too embarrassing.

So. About the bread loaf that wasn't. I've gotten to the point where I can make a quite acceptable loaf of regular bread, but given that I'm using sourdough starter to do so, the result has been a big disappointment to me.

Not that it doesn't (usually) rise.  Not that it doesn't make a pretty loaf of bread.  And not that I don't still eat it, but... it's just white bread.  Know what I mean?

I want sour sourdough, not just bread.

Internet research reveals that one method for getting a more sour flavor is adding some rye flour to the starter. OK, I did that. The effect of rye flour is supposed to be like candy for a toddler. It's supposed to make hyper starter.

My starter looked and smelled pretty much the same after dosing it with rye flour.

Another trick is supposed to be maintaining a drier starter. My starter is like batter, but some people's starters are like, well, lumps of dough.  I chose a consistency somewhat in between.

Anyway, being me, I didn't go at this scientifically. I used rye flour plus I made a sponge that was less like batter and more like really soft dough. Um... was the sponge the part that was supposed to be drier? I can't remember. I used about ten different sources for this experiment and they kind of got mixed up in my head.

Should it have been a clue when, after 10 hours, the sponge was more or less just sitting there? Like a lump? Possibly. Nevertheless, I went ahead and added more flour, kneaded it, put it in the bowl to rise so I could punch it down in another 10 hours.  Making sourdough isn't a speedy process.

When I punched it the next morning, it didn't even twitch, much less sag. Very tough bread dough. Hmmm. I figured I'd give it another 10 hours to get a life.

It's dead Jim.

I was sad to be unable to detect any signs of life.  This morning I was faced with the option of just throwing the lump out or doing something else with it. That's when I came up with the idea of fry bread.

Not a slice of bread that's fried (like French toast) but dough that is cooked in oil, shortening, or lard, rather than baked. Not exactly healthy but hey, the fry bread I've had at pow-wows and various fairs in New Mexico is darned yummy. Really, it would be like making a stiff pancake, I figured.  How hard could that be?

I don't have any lard. The very word sounds nasty to me, and I know where it comes from. Ewwww. The white pasty glue-like look of shortening is icky, too.  But oil?  I've got oil.  

I used virgin olive oil. Maybe I'd end up with a non-traditional taste, but then I don't think fry bread usually is made with sourdough starter, either.

I tend to go through a bunch of recipes and pick the parts I agree with most and then combine the parts.  Just sayin'. The fry bread recipes I looked at said to use lots of oil. Deep frying, you know. Yeah, well, they weren't using expensive olive oil, either, so I poured about a quarter inch in a small cast-iron pan and heated it up. 

Meanwhile, I mashed a smallish ball of dough (a couple inches in diameter) into a flat disc. I fancied myself patting it into a tortilla sort of deal like a pro. I'm pretty sure I got all the cat hair off of the ones that I dropped. Never mind. The hair would be sterilized in the oil anyway.

And then I cooked them, one by one.  It took a long time.  The whole house still smells like fry bread and olive oil.

The end result: Not bad. 

Will I do it again real soon?  Um... let me get back to you on that.

NOTE:  Don't try this at home, kids, not if you want traditional fry bread. Dense, really sour disks of cooked dough aren't for everyone. But boy howdy, they do taste good with peanut butter.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

People who can't follow directions will inherit the earth

Oh, you think that's so crazy? Hello! Think about it:  Innovators and creative types are people who want to do things differently. They are the people who push the envelope. Who dare to step outside of safety. Who, frankly, just can't even understand the point of directions when there are so many other ways of doing things.

They're the ones who have always dragged humanity forward, in spite of the kicking and screaming. They've been doing so since humans first were humans. Maybe before then.  

How do I know this? Because most people – and, to be fair, most living creatures – desperately want to stick to the status quo. The known. The safe. Humanity doesn't want to change... but it has.

Innovators and inventors, artists and intellectual agitators: These people are the evolutionary edge of humanity. They don't care about the known or the safe. They don't care about how anyone else does anything.  They're the people who don't quite get why things have to be the way they are. They want to see how things might be. They are compelled to step out of the cave, out of the castle, out of the arena of political correctness and social approval because they need to see what other options might be out there.

So.  These people who can't follow directions, they are people uncomfortable in the world that is. And the better they are, the more they they make other people uncomfortable. When people are uncomfortable, they move. They change. Maybe a little... but little can add up to a lot given enough time or enough people changing.

These innovators, these artists, these creators are people who do what they want, not what they should. They see and hear and feel things that others don't. Their minds are reinventing the world as they walk the fine line between what society hungers for and what it will tolerate.  Creativity is a by-product: Stuff that the rest of the world can perceive of what goes on in those innovative minds.

Growth. Change.  Somebody's got to do it because the alternative is stagnation and death..

These people, these ones who can't follow directions, they are the ones who will still be not following directions when it all goes sour. They are the ones who found new solutions to old problems by virtue of who they have been all along.  Old problems come from safe thinking, from clinging to the way things have always been done.  

These people cannot be subverted by safety.

They are not meek, these people who can't follow directions.  They are merely oblivious to propriety. But mark my words: They are the ones who will inherit the earth.  Always have been, always will.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What have we become?

I'm glad I was born when I was born. I was a child and then a teen during the most exciting times of 20th century, when there was an incredible spurt of free thinking in art and culture. It was a time when creativity exploded in every area, when politicians dared to lead us forward into outer and inner space, and when giant steps were made towards equality for people who were not white and male. It was a time of hope and promise, when everyone was made to feel they mattered, even if they didn't agree.

Not so much anymore.

Now it seems that we have stagnated in our great strides forward. There are fewer free thinkers. It has become more important to be politically and socially correct, to agree rather than to question. To conform rather than follow one's own path. 

Our most popular forms of entertainment -- movies, TV, music AND social media -- present themselves as pushing the envelope but they do so by titillation rather than by pounding the limitations of social pressure. Even our "alternative lifestyles" have become institutionalized. What does it really mean to dare to be different when you can only do it if thousands of others are there to support you?

Sadly, social media has become the biggest oppressor of all. The biggest force to conform.  Just express an opinion. Go ahead.  Say something that really is true to your heart -- about yourself, not about how others should live. Because it's easy to talk about others. Not so easy to expose your own soul.

Express an opinion about how you feel about living your life? Rude response follows. People don't respond to concepts but rather denigrate the person who has expressed the idea. People gang up. They oppress with memes that sound good but really don't substitute for personal communication.

What if I wanted to take drugs? Sorry. That is so bad for your health.
What if I wanted to drop out? Sorry. That is not mentally healthy.
What if I wanted to be a person who explored other lifestyles, to live the way YOU don't? Sorry. That is fringe stuff and only acceptable if you buy your clothes at the proper shops and wear/drive/support the approved brand names.

I know people think they're being socially responsible, but at what cost? Humanity is dying from correctness!  

Yes, I'm glad I was born when I was, but it's not so much fun these days, knowing what I had then and don't have today. Yeah, it was risky and it was dangerous back then, doing those things, but so what? I'm glad I got to experiment with things that everyone everywhere today knows are "bad" now. I lived life to the fullest then. I explored in ways that didn't bother anyone else, in ways that only affected me. I lived. I lived. I lived.

How did we come around full circle to where just to be truly different makes us huddle in our own spaces, worried that the lynch mob will show up in our email, on our homepage, at our gate, just because we still want to be real people, true to our own souls? Because we want to be who we are, not what somebody else says we should be?

Back in the day it was easy, I admit, to be your own person. That's because everyone was busy doing the same thing, living their own lives. Nobody was judging anybody else. Who had time for that? We had monumental goals to achieve, inner and outer space to conquer -- as a people and as individuals.

Oh, I know that it took a lot of work to get us to the point where we could experience that brief blossoming of freedom. Many didn't survive it, but they left us a legacy that we used to keep growing.

Until we stopped.

To live is to grow. To grow necessarily means to change. As long as people fight change, there can be no true growth. Without growth there is rot.


Will what we have today become fertilizer for the next growth spurt, or will it kill us all?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The thrivalist life - progress report

When Anaheim peppers go red
Somewhat over four years ago I self-published a short (56 page) eBook entitled The Thrivalist: Beyond Survival in 2012. It's not a hot seller, but it got nice reviews from my friends. As one person put it, "This is not a survivalist handbook, with instructions on how to survive the next tsunami, two-day power outage, or bank failure. The author makes a distinction between survivalism -- gritting your teeth to endure an emergency til things are all well again -- and thrivalism -- living the good life every day in as self-reliant a way as possible for your situation."  (Thank you Laura!)

I don't just write it, I live that lifestyle.  I do it not because I think there's going to be an apocalypse or any particular Bad Thing beyond the tough things that have always happened (flood, drought, blizzard) where I live, but because I actually prefer the lifestyle.

 I always have.

I'm one of those people who, as a kid, was thrilled with stories of explorers and pioneers, of disaster victims who made it through. I didn't care if it was fact or fiction, or whether it was the past (the farther back the better) or the future. I was fascinated by those who would boldly go where no one had gone before and who planned on staying there and living the good life.

I yearned to live that way. I experimented here and there, trying out various ways of doing things. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that I was building up to the kind of lifestyle I thought I could only dream about. It was even later when I decided that there was nothing stopping me from going whole hog with it if I really wanted to. I wouldn't be the first, after all.  But you know...

It would be a lot of work to just jump in.

Hence the gradual introduction of the various self-reliance practices over time at a pace that suited me. A very gradual pace. So gradual, in fact, that I didn't realize how far I had come until I took stock today.

For instance:
Off the grid and on solar for electricity. No utility bill – yay!
Solar hot water heating in the summer and even sometimes in the winter.
Composting toilet (home-made, not store-bought). I never have liked the idea of a big tank for holding sewage.

Gray water & rain catchment for irrigation .
Wood heat for the house in the winter and for water heating in the winter.

Propane: as little as possible.  I use it now only for cooking in the summer (not needed often, see below) because I cook on the wood stove in the winter. I've learned how to bake loaves of sourdough bread on top of a wood stove!
Mostly raw food diet. Much healthier way to eat, energy saving, too. Plus if I really want cooked food I can enjoy someone else's cooking in a restaurant in town (and someone else's dish washing!)

Garden… well. Maybe I shouldn't go there. This year I planted too much of the wrong stuff – why did I plant anything that requires processing to eat? And zucchini? What was I thinking? There's a glut of zucchini in the world. Fortunately my horses like zucchini. Anaheim chili peppers? Why? I probably will let them all go to red and then dry them. But my tomatoes are doing well, as are the potatoes, which I can store till winter when I want to cook since there's a heat source happening anyway. If I can figure out how to properly store potatoes for that long. The asparagus, which is now quite a few years old, gives me more than I want in the spring. The ants enjoyed the strawberries more than I did. Apples: Finally I got some on the trees this year! Four trees and a big total of three apples that I can see. Garlic: I failed to get it out of the ground in time, so the cloves will grow another year. Ditto for horseradish. My citrus tree (maybe a lemon, maybe a grapefruit) is growing like gangbusters. I started it from a seed. Who knows if/when I'll see fruit.
Plastering my straw bale house. Ummm. You'd be amazed how many people nag me to finish plastering.  Well. I did move the cement mixer closer to the house. That counts for something, doesn't it?
No refrigeration. Yes, it's true, and this is a biggie. For nearly three years I have not powered up my refrigerator, yet I've been able to keep foods cool that need keeping cool. And that's big because for over three years I have not had to have propane delivered. My huge, ancient (1940s model) propane fridge just isn't efficient enough for me to want to burn that much fuel to keep food cold. I'm getting a new (to me) smaller, more air-tight fridge delivered tomorrow. I'll hook it up to the gas line but I don't know if I'll ever turn it on.  It'll still work better to keep my food cool than the leaky old one will.

I could do more. I'm far from self-sufficient. But the end of the world as we know it hasn't arrived yet. I have the leisure to do whatever I want – or not do it. I have time to mess around with possibilities, and to learn as I go, and to enjoy the process because I don't have to do any of it! 

Sure, many of my experiments have failed, but I keep at it – not because I have to but because it's fun. And while it's more labor intensive to live this way,  the trade-off is it costs less to provide myself with what I need to live comfortably. It means a lot to me that I can work less to earn a buck and have the time to work on my own stuff.

Accidentally vegan

If you aren't going to use a fridge to keep foods cold, you have to be careful about your food choices. Cooked/processed foods, dairy and meats don't keep unless they're down below 40°, a temperature I can maintain in the winter but not in the summer. Fresh foods (fruits and veggies) can do fine with that if they're chilled overnight (are you wondering yet how I do that?)

Not keeping prepared foods, dairy, or meat at hand, I wind up eating vegan a lot. Since a vegan diet is not mandatory for my purposes, I don't mind it at all, especially since there are so many great vegan recipes out there these days.

Last week I cooked potatoes. Sometimes I go on a potato-only diet, but that's another story. Today I realized I had 4 leftover whole ones that I wasn't really that enthusiastic about eating plain., so I whipped up a tasty potato salad. It's accidentally vegan. Here's what I put in the dressing. Note: I like things tangy.

Vegan potato salad
  • Salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Parsley
  • Green onions (chopped)
  • Dijon mustard
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Land of Enchantment spice mix (yummy - but chopped garlic or garlic powder will do if you don't have any LOE)
  • A few pounds of cooked potatoes (I leave peels on but you do what you want)
Dice the potatoes and cover with the dressing, mixing lightly to get all surfaces coated. Let it sit half an hour for the dressing to sink in.  Eat.

Swamp cooler: chilling foods without a fridge
Warning:  This is something that works best in lower humidity

Evaporative coolers (swamp coolers) are a real thing. While I've never actually bothered with a thermometer, I can tell you that my swamp cooler system can cool objects lower than the lowest air temperature overnight if the air is dry enough to evaporate liquid from the surface.

Why pay money for propane or use electricity if you can use air to do the work?

Here in the arid southwest swamp coolers work just great, whatever the scale. At its most basic, you put your beer bottles in a bucket of water and keep it out of the sun. The beer won't get cold but it will be cooler than the air, because the water surface evaporates  Any time liquid evaporates it removes latent heat from the surface of that liquid. It's what happens when you sweat.  Sweating works best when it's not humid and the same is true with swamp coolers.

Taken one step further, a metal bucket that is in a pan of an inch or two of water will keep the objects inside the bucket cooler than if the whole thing was sitting in a dry pan. And if you put a moist cloth over that bucket, making sure the edges are in the water so that the cloth stays moist, the contents of the bucket get even cooler because there will be more surface area for evaporation and the metal bucket will not insulate whatever's in it from the cooling effect.


You do need to be disciplined about this, but then most of this thrivalist stuff calls for some discipline. You have to remember to set up your cooling system once the sun goes down and the air temperature starts dropping, and then you have to get up in the morning and get your food into the fridge before the sun rises and starts warming everything up.

I also cool jugs of water this way and put them into the fridge to create thermal mass. In the summer my system works even when nighttime temperatures don't drop as far as I want. In the winter, of course, it works really well.  

But remember, kids:  this kind of primitive swamp cooling is only cool enough for living foods (whole raw fruits and veggies). Don't be stupid about it. Food poisoning isn't fun, especially if you've got a composting toilet to deal with.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A grave situation

Two mornings ago I was walking along my usual morning path, racking up the Fitbit footsteps, minding my own business (meaning I was letting my mind wander wherever it felt like wandering), when I was ambushed by a new sight in a place where I expected things to be the same as ever.

Sinkhole above, grave below  July 2016 Lif Strand
In fact, I had walked right past a hole in the ground that had not been there the day before.  It took that long for awareness of the anomaly to interrupt my reverie and make me stop and turn around to investigate.

The thing was a sinkhole, a depression that is made when somewhere below the surface a cavity collapses and the earth above it sinks into that space. My sinkhole, the one in the photo, is over a grave.

No, I have not murdered anyone lately, nor have I allowed anyone else to bury any bodies on my property. This is the grave of a horse, and she was put in the ground some years ago. The sinkhole was totally unexpected, because unless you know where to look, you'd never know there was anything different about that place than, say, ten or twenty feet away. Dirt and weeds.

I've probably walked over that grave dozens of times over the years. I don't have creepy feelings about graves.  But suddenly I did have creepy feelings about the appearance of a sinkhole over one.

Of course, whatever I had been cogitating on to that point was shot right out the window, to be replaced by thoughts of zombie horses digging out of the ground.  My writer's mind ran with that one for a while until it reached a natural conclusion, which was that the sinkhole was too small for a zombie horse to have risen from.  So, more realistically, I started figuring out what had caused this sinkhole to form just like magic and literally overnight.

It's quite fascinating, in a gruesome kind of way.

I had just read an article, A different way to die: the story of a natural burial, originally published on Grist, a nonprofit news site that uses humor to shine a light on big green issues, and I had viewed an attached video which showed the process of decomposition of a dead (human) body. I got to thinking about the process of a body of a nearly thousand pound horse breaking down:  the effect of microorganisms on flesh that was no longer living; the sequential death of those microorganisms; how the body would go from something that looked like a sleeping horse to just bones; how long it would take for it all to happen in a hole that was over 6' deep and therefore relatively cool. Maybe an earthworm had bumped against a pebble that caused the collapse of an ant tunnel that moved a rock that shifted and allowed dirt to settle into the now-empty cavity of my horse's chest.

Then I had to wonder if the sinkhole had been big enough would I have seen a horse mummy? Or a mass of stinking, muddy glop? Or just bones?

I got to thinking about what it would be like if I had been standing on top of that spot when it collapsed. The hole is nearly four feet wide and it is a good 18" deep. It might have been bigger. I might have had to claw at the sides to break them down so I could scramble out. My foot might have broken through... I don't know what... and gotten wedged between the rib bones of the mare's barrel.


Those entertaining thoughts took me all the way back to the house. I got busy with my day, starting with making sure the Fitbit was syncing with my online account so I could be awed and amazed by the accumulated footsteps. Or maybe more like dismayed, because I have not been keeping up like I should be. But that's another story.

I went back and reread the article, which reminded me how natural a process death is if it's allowed to be, and further, how an end comes to all living things in this system of reality that we inhabit. And yet... and yet...

Death is still creepy. So today I went out to the sinkhole.  It has not gotten any bigger and shows no signs of a zombie hoof trying to work its way out of the grave. Or a vampire horse, come to think of it, though both would have risen early on if it was going to happen at all. 

I spread wildflower seeds in the hole. It made me feel better, because I know they will stand between me and undead horses.  RIP.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Photos: Around the ranch

Photos from around the ranch the last couple days of May, nearing the end of springtime.
Fertilizer and flowers  May 2016 Lif Strand
Yes, yes, it's just cow poop and bindweed, but it really also is the circle of life, isn't it?

Springtime reeds  May 2016 Lif Strand
The cows kept eating down the reeds over the winter, but now that there's a little grass for them they're letting the reeds alone.  There's just something about the water and the color and the angle of the sunlight that gets me every time.

Koko:  Places to go, things to do  May 2016 Lif Strand
My Arabian stallion, SE Kokopelli Kid.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Photos: Cat, flowers - you can't go wrong with either!

My cat Lili, now in her mid-teens.
A grump most of the time. Cute when she's quiet.
 did a bit of photoshopping as you can see.
Lili sunbathing  May 2016 Lif Strand

Iris! After years and years of not blooming
I have iris this year!
Iris, Greek goddess of the rainbow  May 2016 Lif Strand

Monday, May 23, 2016

Photos: Around the ranch

Last week it rained 3/10". That brings the precipitation up to nearly an inch since the first of the year, meaning it's dry, dry, dry. It also means when it rains that the soil turns to snotty clay-mud. I had been out of town that day when I came home to 'running the slick', as I think of it. The two mile of unimproved two-track from the county road to my property is always a challenge when there's been even the slightest bit of rain (snow's not quite as bad until it starts melting). So nearly a third of an inch of rain was quite enough to make my pulse rate rise, because I just do not like having to walk home in the mud (something I've done quite often enough, thank you very much).

I know where all the places are that cause trouble. The ones where I have to drive slow or risk spinning out. The ones where I have to be moving along at a good clip or I'll sink in. And then there's the spots where nothing works, and last week I did a bit of slip-and-slide. I managed to not get stuck and only had another minor slide after that. By the time I got to my gate I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

Until I saw a mass of wire trailing behind my car.

For all the cattle fencing out here in the West, you'd think cows would stay where they're supposed stay, but they don't. They're always seeing better graze on the other side of the fence, and they rarely meet a fence that they can't get through if they really want to. Consequently there often will be long strands of barbed wire curled into a coil or a wad of crumpled field fencing out in the middle of a pasture, the result of a cow going through a fence and taking the fence with her.

I must have slid over one of those wads, which hitched a ride on the drive shaft of my car.


I didn't even look at it till today. Partly because I was busy, partly because I knew that even using bolt cutters I was going to end up in a bad temper working the wire off. It was a trial, let me tell you. Trackers are little cars with not a lot of clearance underneath - better than a sedan, mind you, but not like a truck. There wasn't much room to maneuver plus there was dried mud in just enough places to fall into my eyes and ears whenever an arm or shoulder bumped up against it.

Stuff like this is pretty normal for out here in the middle of nowhere. A person has to be able to handle little things by herself or else she should live in a city where help is just minutes away. But she doesn't have to like it.

Is there an emoji for a snarly face?  If so, imagine it inserted here.  I don't do emoji.

Here's a photo of PJ Kitty (Papa J) in the alpenglow a couple nights ago. Makes me feel better just looking at him.

And here's a sunset photo from the next night. The delicate silhouette of the juniper against the flaming sky gets to me.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Photos: From the ranch

Here are a couple photos I took on a hike the other day

Mamas and babes May 2016 Lif Strand

Kelsey  May 2016 Lif Strand

(Click on a photo to see a larger view)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Photo: Knee deep...

Knee deep in hay (Tess & Sonnie) May 2016 Lif Strand

Because, you know, they're just so skinny that I've got to make sure there's enough for these girls to eat.


Truth is, I was going away for two nights and I'm a worrywart. Thus I put out five bales of grass hay for five horses. They're big bales.  If I was at home and not free-feeding, that'd be enough hay for a week. But I wasn't going to be home so I had to leave enough to keep me from worrying about them.

This isn't the first time I've free-fed them grass hay so I could go away overnight, mind you. I knew perfectly well it was an awful lot of hay. But you know.  Worrywart.

That's an interesting word I think. Apparently it was dreamed up for a comic strip called Out Our Way by J R Williams, that ran from 1922 to 1977. Worry Wart was the nickname for one of the characters, a boy, who was a real pest in his family. It used to be believed that warts came from too much stress and worry, so someone who was a worrywart was someone who caused stress and worry. Warts, not being life-threatening, were more of a nuisance so the worrywart was not a really bad person but more an irritating one. As with many terms, though, the meaning evolved over time. Today a worrywart is someone who worries too much and worries unnecessarily about something.

I guess worrywart is me when it comes to my critters.

My horses normally get an alfalfa/grass mix. They of course prefer straight alfalfa, which is like candy for them. Aside from Sonnie who is young, and Koko (not in the photo) who is a stallion, the rest are retired and don't need alfalfa hay. They're plenty fat, they're not working or breeding. But they love alfalfa.

My mares provided an income for us for many years, so they deserve to be treated well in retirement. They want alfalfa... but it's not good for them. So I compromise and feed them the alfalfa/grass mix. They think this is less than stellar treatment after all they did for us over the years but then that's why they're on that side of the fence while me and the hay are on this side.

I know my horses. I know that if I throw more than a meal's worth of alfalfa/grass over the fence so I can go away for a few days they would pick through the pile to eat the alfalfa all at once and then get sick.  With nobody here to help them. Thus the grass hay. Free feeding grass hay is almost as good as turning them out to pasture while I'm gone, but I can't just do that.  The stallion doesn't run with the mares since he's related to all of them.  He'd go bonkers if the girls were turned out 24/7 for a couple of days while he was locked up. And I'd worry about that while gone so all of them  had to be penned for the duration. Which I worried about, too, but not so much.

Free-feeding all that grass hay worked just fine. While the two in the photo above were interested in taste-testing right after I put the hay out, the others thought I was poisoning them. Ultimately none of them were thrilled about straight grass hay. They ate it because that was all there was. They're still working on the pile and will be for another day.

I had a good time on my little trip, by the way. Among other things were the great B&B we stayed at (such awesome breakfasts, beautiful gardens and incredible southwestern artwork on the walls that I can't tell you where we stayed because then everyone would stay there and there'd never be any rooms available for us); the four hour lunch we enjoyed at a friend's house yesterday; getting to hear Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire series, at the Albuquerque library last night; and discovering a new quilt shop today, Hip Stitch, before heading back home.

I'm glad to be home, though. The horses are glad, too. They're tired of that crummy grass hay. They want their alfalfa and they want it NOW. I better get out there and feed them before they starve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Photo: View from Laura's

Evening View at Laura's May 2016 Lif Strand
Evening view at Laura's May 2016 Lif Strand

Laura lives about four miles from me and on a hillside rather than in a valley.  Because the hill crests above her house her "horizon" is higher up than mine and therefore the sunsets look different than mine do - but they're just as amazing.

Of course they are - this is the Land of Enchantment. How could any photo of the place be less than amazing?

The camera I'm using these days - a Sony DSC-W830 Cyber-Shot - can take panoramic shots like the one above. This is a new-to-me feature and I like it.

The photo is 1000 pixels wide but the blog column isn't.  If you click on the photo you can see it in full. I think it's worth a look.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Adventures in Creative Cooking: Sesame chicken... or maybe peanut chicken

Tahini chicken, except it's not really...
I don't often cook, but when I do I want to brag about it.
[Disclaimer: follow my recipes at your own risk!]

My brother-in-law, Jeff, made a great chicken dish when he was out here visiting a few years back. It was so good that I've wanted to enjoy it again ever since. So he sent me the recipe because in a moment of madness I offered to make dinner for my friend Laura, who was letting me do laundry at her house.

Of course this is me cooking. As I recalled (and I should know better, my memory being what it is), what Jeff had made for me years ago used tahini (yum!) as a base. That's the first challenge. I live here, in the middle of nowhere, so that while my choices for ingredients are much, much better than they were in the past, there's still not as much choice as one might wish for. And because this is me, I also waited until the morning of the laundry/dinner making evening to shop for ingredients in town.

Tahini? Here? Hahahaha! No.

So the compromise for tahini (which I finally - and too late - remembered I had gotten online in the past) was sesame oil. But not all sesame oils are equal. Just like with olive oils, some are stronger tasting than others (or is that my imaginative memory talking?). The store frowns on your opening sealed bottles of oils to sniff them... so I chose more or less at random. It wasn't like I had a lot of choices, mind you.

Unfortunately the oil I got is very mild. It could be generic vegetable oil. Very healthy and all, but I wanted flavor. By the time I discovered the blah taste of the oil it was practically time to sit at the dinner table. Okay... now what?

Simple: chunky peanut butter, because hey - anything is better with peanut butter, isn't it? And when it comes to peanut butter only chunky will do, organic and no sugar added thank you very much.

To be fair, Jeff's evolved recipe (that is, the recipe he sent me the other day, compared to what I remembered from years ago) did call for peanut oil, but there was no such thing in town so I was planning on using peanut butter anyway. But now I had a reason to use lots and lots of it.

The result was awesome (and pretty to look at, too), though I still want the tahini chicken someday.

Tahini/Sesame/Peanut Chicken

2 pounds chicken breasts, cut up
3 bunches of scallions or green onions, chopped in half inch slices
1/2 cup of peanut oil
1/4 cup of sesame oil.

Pan fry everything together over hot flame till chicken is cooked through, 5-10 minutes. Turn off as soon as the chicken goes from pink inside to white. Don't over-cook as the chicken will become tough.

Serve over brown rice and season with soy sauce to taste

  1. OK, I didn't cut up the chicken breasts because I didn't feel like it. You really should. Cooking big hunks of chicken like that for just 10 minutes means the insides won't be done. And no, I didn't check to see if the insides were pink before I served the meal.  Giving the chicken hunks a few minutes in the nuker fixed that.
  2. My asparagus is coming up like crazy, so I harvested some and sliced that up to add with the green onions. It was a great idea!
  3. My actual sesame oil was about 3/4 cup and my actual chunky peanut butter was about the same.  
  4. Um... I didn't notice till just now that there was only supposed to be a quarter cup of sesame oil....

Saturday, May 14, 2016

In Praise of Me

Well, really, I deserve praise. I believe that the bad things that happen in my life are the result of my own choices.  It's therefore logical that the good things that happen in my life are the result of my own choices, too. That means when I'm happy, it's not good luck - it's the result of my good choices.

And I am happy, so why shouldn't I get a pat on the back for it?

You don't have to answer. I'm telling you: I do. Especially since it's so easy to not take credit where it's due.

Here's a little truth that applies to all of us. It's really easy to get on our own case. We've all done it, haven't we? Nobody gives us as hard a time as that little voice in our own heads that just won't shut up. But there's no reason that little voice couldn't be reprogrammed to sing praise instead of the crap it has been spewing.

There's good reason to make the effort to reprogram, too. When you reprogram that little voice, you set up a positive feedback spiral - not a loop, but a spiral. A lovely spiral that just builds and builds over time, till one day out of the clear blue sky you look around you and go "yippee" just for the sheer joy of living.

So, here I am, happy. I love where I live. I love the work I do. I love being in love with my life, and so I'm giving myself a pat on the back for choosing to be this way.

No small part of my happiness is the result of the choice that brought me here to my little part of New Mexico. I love my tiny, half-finished house, I love the valley it's in, I love the critters that live around me (domestic and wild). I just love the hell out everything about this place - not just the good stuff, but wind and flood and drought and bugs and rodents and all. Not because the hard things are so wonderful, but because it's all an adventure if I choose to make it so.

And I do. Because it makes me happy.

On a related topic... it makes me happy to share photos, too.

My treasure trove May 2016 Lif Strand
When you're in love, everything around you becomes beautiful and precious
Last week a Facebook friend wrangled me into accepting one of those photo challenges to post a nature photo each day for seven days. And given that the photos of nature that I used are of course of places around me that I love, I enjoyed posting them immensely. So.... I"m going keep sharing my nature photos, though probably not every day - I don't want it to become a chore, after all.

Think of it as my choice to contribute to the beautiful and the positive in life. I'm not going to challenge you to do the same... oh wait. Yes I am.

Please choose to make choices that contribute to the beautiful and the positive in life. We'll all be happier for it!

Thank you.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mexican wolf - spinning the results for another year

A few days ago US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) issued a news release about the status of Mexican wolves after their annual wolf survey.  The count is down and the media is, of course making a lot of noise about a drop in wolf numbers. 

Interesting about how played down it was that two female wolves were killed during the survey by the people doing it.  And as for the remaining supposed drop in numbers? Well, FWS and the media don't want to mention that that the numbers given are actually a minimum population estimate for 2015, not an actual count. And it seems nobody wants to provide a maximum population estimate, because then one might begin to wonder why the wolf needs so much counting and protecting and all.

You can't get the flat truth from government news releases; you get spin.  And of course we know the media doesn't actually care to report "truth" or "fact" since it doesn't build readership. So you have to go to the official reports, not that US FWS makes it easy to find them.  

The news releases don't describe to the public what actually happens once a year when they're counting wolves, or what the numbers they give out actually mean. 

If you read the official reports you discover that the best that the agency can do is to count the number of wolves with working collars and the ones they were able to trap without working collars - and then to guess at how many more wolves there might be out there (a minimum guess, of course).   

Actual counting is accomplished mostly by herding wolves from the air and counting them as they run. The news releases and media don't tell the public that they also dart the wolves from helicopters so they can get collars on them or replace batteries, or give them physicals or vaccinate them.  

And they trap wolves, too.  

The news releases don't mention how a trap might happen to break a wolf's bones. Or that the agency have turned three-legged wolves back out into the wild.  The news releases don't tell you about whether the three-legged wolves survive.  

Or that sometimes the stress of being run, trapped, darted, and handled by humans happens to kill a wolf. Or two.  

Please explain to me how it could possibly not be a risk for any wild animal, much less wolves, to be treated this way once a year, every single year of their lives.  Please explain to me how often this can be done to wild animals before they are no longer wild.

Please explain to me why people are outraged that "ranchers are bad for Mexican wolves" when there's no study that's been done on the effects of Mexican wolf management itself on the wolves?  

This is not science.  This is not a program being operated for the benefit of wolves or the environment. I can't imagine how any animal lover could support the Mexican wolf program.  It's not a program, it's simply animal abuse.

I never thought I'd ever say this, but where is PETA when you need them?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fitbit update - I gave up

No, I didn't give up on the Fitbit itself, just on trying to get the !@#$%^! dongle to work with my PC. It never happened, and Fitbit "help" was no help at all - not the online info and not their email replies, which were just copy/pastes of the online info.

But hey, a little bit of Googling revealed that there's a Kindle app for Fitbit. Easy to access and install and voila!  Within moments I could upload the Fitbit's data to the Fitbit dashboard and I was ready to roll. Or walk, actually.

I have no complaints with the Fitbit itself. I like that it's tiny. It lives in my pocket during the day and in its silicone clip at night when I've got my jammies on.

Because oh, yes, I have fallen for making sure every single footstep is recorded. I don't wear it in bed - the model I have, the Zip, is not like the more upscale models that tell you about your sleep patterns (I don't need a device to tell me how poorly I sleep!). The Fitbit in its clip sits on the bed table where I can grab it and walk with it pressed against the top of my leg when I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. So every single step is recorded.

Isn't that terrible?

No, it is not. I have already increased my footsteps from a few thousand on the first days - just doing my regular ranch chores gets me that - to a whopping 10.2K yesterday!  Isn't that what the Fitbit and other devices like it are for?  To encourage getting exercise?

Well it does exactly that, so I say in spite of the installation fail, the Fitbit is a winner for me.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fitbit report #3 The Force Awakens

I think I did it - get my Fitbit installed and working properly. I think so. Of course, anything is possible, because I realized last night that we are in a Mercury retrograde January 5 – 25.

Mercury retrograde: the astrological time when your computer, your phone, your Kindle, your FITBIT all hate you (more than usual).

You know the login issue I had last night? Seems that you can’t simply log in using a Facebook or Google account when you register – even though that option is provided. You have to create a Fitbit account on its own and then later you can sync the Facebook or Google account. Note: now that I finally got my Fitbit device registered (I think… I hope…) I’m not about to mess things up by attempting to sync accounts.

Here’s what my astrologer friend Trish says about Merc retrograde:
Mercury "rules" communication of all types, the devices we use to communicate with, our thinking process, also has influence over daily routines and schedules. When Mercury turns retrograde ... literally moving backwards in apparent motion in the sky ... Mercury ruled things do not behave in straightforward manner either. Messages get garbled, we're misunderstood, we lose things (Mercury "rules" the cubbies we keep small objects in like drawers and pockets), we don't think in straightforward ways ... it's better to "think through" old matters, redo writing (edit, etc), cover old ground. People we haven't talked to in awhile tend to show up with more frequency during Merc retrograde. Items we've lost previous do tend to reappear (it's said that if we lose something at a Mercury retrograde it will likely reappear at the next Merc retro ... this has happened to me more than once!).

Electronics are more glitchy as Mercury has influence over electronics, so not the best time to buy new electronics if we can help it. (If we can't help it, do it and don't worry about it .... the planet won't stop spinning, I promise!)
The primary influence of Merc retro is that it shreds schedules, so if we're used to keeping a tight schedule we're gonna be stressed out ... leave a lot of leeway in our appointments and schedules when Merc is retro, we'll probably need it. This is where the famed "don't travel on Merc retro" comes from ... it's not that Merc retro is bad to travel on ... it's actually great, as long as we're not tightly committed ... but you know, those trains and planes just will not run on time, or will do so less frequently so a longer layover better than a tight one at this time. 
~ Trish Marie Astrology (Facebook)
~ Never Give Your Birthdate to an Astrologer (Trish's blog) 
So not only can I blame Fitbit, I can blame Mercury, too - right? Anything but taking the blame on myself [sarcasm alert].

But seriously. There’s an art to writing instructions and it seems that that art has faded away. Getting back to blaming Fitbit, I’ve got to ask what is so awful about labeling the steps

Numbering: It’s been around a long time.

Does it matter with the Fitbit what order you do things? Apparently yes. So then, I have to ask why not say “this is the first step”. Or even “STEP 1”. And then go on to a second step, or STEP 2.  And not just abandon you in the Setup part, but actually add a STEP 3. And then when there are links, make sure they're also in the necessary order so that the poor customer who's trying to get her Fitbit up and running doesn't go haring off to a more advanced step. (Shouldn't there have been instructions somewhere along the way saying to put the battery in the Fitbit?)

Step-by-step instructions. Radical idea? Too radical for Fitbit?

Oh – and about the actual footsteps.

I live in a 700 square foot cabin. I’m not going to get many steps recorded when I’m inside even if I pry myself away from the computer, that’s for sure. So my steps are going to accumulate when I do outside chores and of course, when I hike.

This morning it took me just about 1000 steps to feed horses and chickens. The Fitbit stubbornly refuses to add anything on for chopping holes through the ice in the horse troughs, more’s the pity. Later on I’ll have to haul wood for the afternoon and evening, and of course tonight I’ll feed again and I’ll take my usual evening walk. I will rack up the steps then.

And hey, I’ve got nearly 1900 steps in so far today. See? The Fitbit, in spite of it all, is doing (in my opinion) what it’s supposed to do: Make me aware of how much I’m walking around so that I’ll be more inclined to increase my activity.

Here's an article about Fitbit and other fitness devices' accuracy. Looks like my model and the Fitbit One are the most accurate, but the article says: "We did find in general that most of these devices are accurate, but we found that smartphones, which most Americans carry with them every day, are just as accurate."

And by the way: The astrology

It would seem there is something to this Mercury retrograde. Look how this Fitbit thing is going.

But no - that's not all! I’ve been experiencing loss of connection to the internet every day for a few minutes at a time, this past week. And Windows keeps trying to install security updates automatically and then telling me the updates can’t be installed (of course, that’s pretty common now that Mr. Gates’ company has maliciously stopped supporting XP).

My computer’s clock started refusing to synch with internet time a couple days ago. For the past week it’s been 2 hours and 11 minutes off every time I start up in the a.m. Except this morning, it was just 11 minutes off. I can’t make the clock automatically sync, I have to manually set the time each morning now.

I’m not going to assume any of this is a permanent problem till after January 25, though. It's safer to just stick it out for another 10+ days till Mercury settles back down again.

Mercury being retrograde.  Nanner nanner.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fitbit report #2

Well, it finally arrived today, "only" 11 days after ordering. As I said before, buyer beware. You want it fast? Pay for faster shipping or buy from some company that actually knows how to get a product shipped.

Setup: Hah. First of all, my desktop is ancient. I’m running XP. So yes, I get it that I can’t expect modern tech to work smoothly with my computer but excuse me, Fitbit, if you don’t want people who use ancient OS to try to set up an account, then don’t offer the download for said ancient OS.

I decided to set up the Fitbit account using my Google account info. Well, okay, that didn’t work. It says “Welcome back, Lif Strand” but then it asks for me to login and won’t accept the Google account info.

So I click on “Forgot your password?”, enter my email address for password recovery and guess what? “The email address you provided did not match a registered user account.”

Oh no, I’m not messing with this tonight. I already hate Fitbit and this is adding nails to the coffin. If I keep trying to deal with this stupid login issue tonight I’ll just have to throw the damn thing on the floor and smash it.

Wonder how many footsteps that counts for?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fitbit report

Midnight blue!
Yes, I know Fitbits are just fancy pedometers with extra doo-dad capabilities, but so what. Any gadget that gets a person moving and helps a person become more aware of how much physical activity she’s really getting is a good gadget.

Plus I’m curious. My friends have Fitbits. I don’t generally succumb to the desire to have as many toys as the next friend, but darn. I know in a normal day I must take many more steps than they do.

I have a pedometer around here somewhere, but where? Am I even going to look?

No, because I have gone ahead and ordered a Fitbit.

I chose the El Cheapo model, the Fitbit Zip, no doubt called that because it doesn’t do much more than a pedometer does other than connect to the web and record footsteps. That's fine for me. I don’t really care to know how many calories it thinks I ate or used or whatever, nor do I need a device to tell me how poorly I sleep.

Besides, if I ever want to know those things and more, I can upgrade.

So I ordered my Fitbit Zip (in a chic Midnight Blue) from Fitbit itself on Jan 2. I ordered it with free shipping. Ten days ago. BIG MISTAKE.

I admit I’m awfully spoiled by Amazon. I’m a Prime member and Amazon processes orders and ships stuff faster than fast, so that even the slowest way of coming to me is only ever a few days.

But no.  I did not order from Amazon.  I ordered from Fitbit.  And I think Fitbit worked hard to find the absolute slowest way to ship so as to punish me for not paying extra for shipping.

Here it is ten days later and no Fitbit. Using the tracking number provided I see that not only is it still on its way, but now (for the third time) there’s another message that it’ll be a few more days.

I mean, really – could they find any way to ship slower?

My idea was to get the least expensive Fitbit, try it out, report about it here on my blog, and if I had a favorable report, I'd get the next level up, try it out, report about it, etc.

So my first post is this: TERRIBLE SHIPPING and disappointment and I haven't even tried my Fitbit out yet. And I haven't walked any more, either, because you know - I don't have my Fitbit yet so why walk?

Summary: Buyer beware. Get your Fitbit with free shipping from someplace other than Fitbit directly. Or don't be a cheapskate like me - pay the damn shipping fee. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016