Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sad trash

There is something sad about trash. I mean, besides the business of abusing the planet. Trash is clearly the unwanted stuff of our lives. The broken bits and pieces, the used-up dregs.

There something about throwing out shoes that is sadder than tossing other stuff. I don't know why.

My poor sneakers are worn down to the point where the soles have cracked. I stopped wearing them because I got tired of pebbles and stickers and other irritants working their way inside and making me hobble like I was the walking wounded. They've been sitting on the floor for months now, waiting for me to move them out of my life.

Really, how hard could it be to just toss them? But no, not me. I've got shoe guilt. Not as bad as, say, putting down an ailing pet as a mercy, but not as easy as yanking up a weed in the flower bed.

They're in the trash now. I am resisting the urge to pull them out, give them another chance. There's only one way to make sure I won't, and that is to put other trash on top of them so I can't see them anymore. I swept the floor. Put the contents of the dustpan on top of the sneakers. It felt kind of like throwing the first handful of dirt onto the coffin.

I think I've done all I can for them now. I'll just have to let them go.



Monday, September 11, 2017

Adventures in housekeeping

Everything I learned about keeping house I learned before I was 12. After that age I was was dead set against having anything further to do with the topic. I didn't want to starve or live in a disgusting cess pool, mind you. But I also figured I that knew enough to get by and anything else I could just fake.

Fast forward a bunch of decades to today. My mind hasn't changed one bit about housekeeping. Time has only made me less interested in cooking and more tolerant of my mess.

However, there are housekeeping things in life that Must Be Done.

When the ice in my propane refrigerator began to encroach on the items on the top shelf, I knew I couldn't put off defrosting any longer. I had always had self-defrosting fridges, I guess, but when I moved here to New Mexico we weren't on the grid. No ready supply of electricity. So we got an ancient propane fridge. That one started to give up the ghost a few years ago when it was nearly 75 years old (it was a 1942 model), so last year I traded it plus cash for a smaller and newer (read late 1950s model) Servel, the one I now have.

The first one's door was a little askew plus the door latch had fallen off not long after we got it so a bungee cord held it closed. Hey, I have no pride. The door was so leaky that the freezer didn't really work. It generated cold enough temperatures, but the freezer would simply go straight from defrosted to block of ice. So I let it do what it wanted. I didn't have to defrost it (I occasionally chipped off ice chunks that got in the way), but I also didn't have a freezer to use. A person can live without a freezer, by the way.

My "new" fridge is more airtight. The freezer works just fine. But, alas, it needs periodic defrosting.  Like right now.

I kept putting off the inevitable, but one day when I reached for a bottle on the top shelf and the glacier from the freezer had just about fully embraced it, I knew the time had come to do the deed. Defrosting. Anyone can defrost, right?

Amazingly, when I got this second Servel, it came with a manual. Please review paragraph two, above. I have no idea where that manual might be. Possibly in the file folder labeled "Manuals", but unfortunately I can't seem to find the folder.

But really, how hard could it be to defrost a freezer? The dial on the bottom even has a setting for Defrost. So hey, I emptied the fridge into cooler chests, turned the dial to defrost, opened the door wide and waited for warm air to do what comes naturally.

Chunks of ice are frozen water. You know that. I know that. But it kind of escaped me that when large chunks of ice melt there will be equivalent amounts of cold water congregating somewhere. The volume of the ice mass was larger than the tray under the freezer compartment. So naturally it would overflow if not regularly emptied.

A girl's gotta sleep sometime.

So this morning a bunch of time before coffee was spent mopping up the floor and using a sponge to collect the water that had accumulated in the bottom of the fridge compartment. I now have two very clean places in my house, so that's nice.

Also this morning there was still a whole bunch of white stuff on and in my freezer. 

Did your mother ever nag at you to stop picking at that? If you were a kid, it was usually a scab. There are some things in life that just need to be helped along. I don't know if my freezer door already had gouges and scrapes on it, but now it does. They're from the kitchen knife I used to break off chunks of ice. That's because I wanted to hurry the defrost along by wedging open the freezer door with a pants hanger. I thought the hanger would work nicely because it was more compact. 

About an hour ago, after having emptied the pan yet again, I realized it had been 24 hours since the start of this project and there was still a large iceberg on top of the freezer unit. Not that I'm any expert on defrosting, but that doesn't seem right. And why was the fridge running constantly if it was on Defrost? How long was this going to take and at what point would I have to just throw out all that food in the cooler chests?

It was time to get serious. Time to [gasp] Google it.

I'm going to cut to the chase here. I admit I was doing it wrong. I'm going to just copy and paste the perhaps obvious method for defrosting a refrigerator that has a Defrost setting.
As close to automatic as it gets
In order to defrost, all you need to do is turn the temperature thermostat dial to a minimum setting in the evening and in the morning the frost in the fridge will be defrosted and drained through the above process. At this point in time all you need to do is turn the thermostat dial back to where it was prior to defrosting. No need to empty the contents of the fridge. No need to turn off the unit. No need to use a hair dryer or hot water to defrost. This is why we call it the EZ-Defrost System.  

Note: I want to be fair to my mother who must have had to defrost her fridge when I was a kid. I think I must have hidden in the closet when she did it.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How To Break In New Shoes

Note: This article falls under the category of "Don't do this at home, kids".
July 11, 2017

You know how some shoes are just too precious to wear casually - even if they're casual shoes? Maybe it's just me, but I've got a thing about shoes, and I have a hard time resisting them even when I know I won't wear them because they're too precious to wear.

I bought a fabulous pair of strappy black sandal heels about 10 years ago that I've never worn and I likely never will. I'd break my neck in 3" heels. My feet hurt just thinking about putting them on - my toes don't bend that way any more -- but I can't get rid of them. Every time I even think about finding them a new home, I open the box they came in (yes, they still are in it) and look at them, and I lust for them anew.

So I was in a Skechers store a few weeks ago looking for a sensible pair of flat shoes that wouldn't hurt my feet. I have one pair of Skechers slip-ons and I adore them. I wanted another pair for when I wore the first pair out, because if Skecher ever stops making that particular shoe I will weep and wail. They're that comfy.

But no
When I left the store I had a pair of precious shoes, not a second pair of the sensible ones. They weren't heels, at least. They didn't have the super cushy soles I love so much, either, but they made up for that with memory foam insoles. Plus they were air cooled. Air cooled! The Volkswagen Beetle of shoes!

The air cooled part came from being loosely knit. They came in a limited number of boring colors. I ended up with gray. But wait! They weren't just gray. They were sparkly.

Sparkly!
My friend Laura says that I am part magpie. I love sparkly things. I don't wear sparkly things, I want to look at them. And I want to have them. I love sparkle. I can't help it.

These shoes were gray with tiny silver sparkles, probably part of the thread but I didn't care about technical matters. I tried them on. I said no, I want sensible shoes. I walked away. I tried on shoes, rejected shoes, and came back to the precious ones. The sparkly ones.

And left the store with them.

Breaking in new shoes

That was a few weeks ago. Until this morning I had not put the new shoes on. Oh, I looked at them. Brought them into the sunlight and admired the tiny sparkles. But wear them? They're too precious!

I worked on my attitude for a few days before deciding last night that I absolutely was not going to have one more pair of unworn precious pair of shoes in my closet. I would wear the sparkly Skechers today and that was a firm decision.

This was a good day to wear a pair of shoes for the first time. I was going to drop off my car in town to be worked on and Laura would pick me up in her car so we could run errands. Most of the day would be spent driving from place to place, so I'd be sitting as much as walking. Easy on the feet, a gentle way to break in a new pair of shoes. I figured I didn't even need to wear socks, thereby breaking Lif's First Rule of New Shoes: I never ever put bare feet into closed shoes for the first wearing, for if I do, I Will Suffer.

I don't consider myself a delicate flower, but my feet are another thing. I don't care how soft, how cushy, or how sparkly shoes are, my feet will not be happy unless I gently introduce them to new footwear. Well, maybe not slippers. But... Skechers! Do they really need breaking in? They truly are soft, stretchy, and cushy - and have I mentioned my pair was sparkly?

Sparkly feet
So today was going to be perfect for new shoes. I confess, I spent a lot of time during the day looking at my feet. They made me happy. I was wearing my own version of ruby shoes. Except not red. But sparkly, did I mention that?

But there's always a dark cloud, especially when you flaunt the Shoe Gods' Rules Of Breaking In.  My errands got done but the car didn't. Not a problem, Laura would drive me home. 

Except rain happened.

We've been experiencing an incredibly dry year so far. July is when our monsoon rains blow in to my part of New Mexico, but they had been taking their time. I had checked the weather forecast this morning, honest.  While there was a good chance of rain in the afternoon, the forecast was for less than two tenths of an inch. The two-track to my place can become a quagmire with a significant rain, but two tenths wasn't an issue.

Except that the part of the storm that passed over my place and then on out to the grazing allotment that my road runs through didn't care what the forecast was. The gods decided to gift the land with a hell of a lot more than two tenths of an inch of rain.

The county road was slippery but the mud wasn't too deep. Still, when we got to my road I knew Laura shouldn't even try to make it to my house. I said the words, my precious sparkly shoes forgotten for a moment.

"I'll walk home".

It's not really that far from the county road to my property, just under two miles. But now it was two miles of mud and sudden lakes. I had to leave all my stuff in her car and take the minimum for the cross-country hike.

Laura loaned me a raincoat and I grabbed my backpack/purse. It contained no more than it had all day, but knowing I had to walk home with it on my back, it suddenly weighed ten pounds. I wanted everything in it, though, because there was no way to know when I'd be able to get back out again.

I've done this before. 

Preciousness lost
I started down the road, carefully stepping on grass clumps, trying not to think of the Thing that was going to happen very soon.

I would have to walk in mud.

New sparkly shoes.

If you have read any of my other ramblings on, you know that I'm not adverse to adventure. So aside from the shoes issue, I actually wasn't upset about having to walk home. The air smelled fresh, the day was cool for a change, I could hear birds tweeting and ravens croaking and spade-toed toads singing their mating songs... uh oh.

Spade-toed toads are interesting critters. They spend much of their year dormant, snuggled deep in the soil of the arroyos that cut through the grasslands, waiting for the perfect conditions to wake up, get out and entice a mate with virtuoso toad-song, breed, and die. Okay, I'm not sure about the die part - maybe they live more than one season. But once they breed and the females lay eggs, everybody hops around stuffing their faces for a while then they dig down into the mud and go dormant again. That's toad life for you.

But here's the thing: The circumstances that wakes up a spade-toed toad (and who came up with that name anyway?) is pounding, sustained rain.

When I realized what I was hearing, I knew my sparkly shoes were in trouble. Sure enough, I'd only gone a few hundred feet when I first hit mud that I couldn't avoid. My new shoes got a layer of brown on them halfway up their sides. It wasn't too bad, but it was sad. I pressed on, cautiously, carefully.

And then I miscalculated my path and stepped into a hole, soaking my whole right foot and my jeans halfway up my shin. All right, okay, maybe the mud would rinse off. What could I do anyway. I kept going until I crested a small hill and could see my valley about a mile away.

Between me and the valley was a bog with a few islands of mud and grass.

Onward
About half a mile from my gate I started to hear the muted roar of floodwaters, and when had slogged my way there, sure enough, there was a river where just a few hours ago there had been a low spot in the grass.

To this point I'd been walking cross country because the two-track that was my road was slick with gooey mud. When I reached the point where my only option was to step into the flood water, my feet thanked me. Mud = grit. Grit inside shoes without socks = blisters. My heels were unhappy and the rest of my feet weren't any cheerier. The frigid floodwaters felt great. I waded through the water towards my gate, wondering how much road would be left tomorrow, and finally got onto semi-solid ground on my own property.

My place is a valley and it drains a large basin to the east of me. It floods several times a year. I've gotten used to being stuck at home, and occasionally having to hike in or out. So today's unexpected rain wasn't a big deal, nor was the unanticipated flood.

 The shoes, though.






RIP Skechers?
When I got to my house I wanted to take the shoes off right away, but when I reached my kitchen door I found an angry, wet ground squirrel in the varmint trap (live trap) on my porch. I'd been trying to catch the thing for days, and had forgotten about the trap when I had left the house in the morning. One end of the trap was protected by a pail so if I caught the squirrel it wouldn't sit in the sun till I relocated it.  The critter still wet and it was very pissed off, in spite of the fact that it had a belly full of most of a loaf of slightly moldy bread I'd left as a lure.

I sighed. I thought about just releasing the squirrel right there. I knew I'd be sorry if I did so I grabbed the trap and slogged back through the mud, waded through the flood rushing through my valley. I figured that maybe if the squirrel couldn't get back to the house right away it would stay away even when the flood dried up. When I opened the trap door the squirrel took a second to realize it was free and then ran to the floodwaters and jumped in. I watched with open mouth as it swam - who knew squirrels could swim - with the current downstream. After about 50 feet it swam to the bank (thankfully the opposite side from my house) and ran off.

Okay then. I grabbed the trap, waded back through the floodwaters, slogged through the mud, decided to feed my horses, and then finally - finally - got to take my gritty brown shoes off.
Household hintLet me take a moment here to tell you about shampoo. This is a tidbit I got from Laura: Shampoo not only cleans, it rinses out very quickly. 
I washed my Skechers in a bucket of water with some shampoo, rinsed them a couple of times, and put them in the shower to air dry. There was a lot of mud in the wash water, let me tell you. But the shoes weren't brown anymore.

Aftermath
So that's my story. I believe once my blisters are healed that my feet will accept these shoes as broken in.

And let me say this: My shoes still sparkle. I believe they will be all the more precious for that, once they're dry.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Just the ugly

The good the bad… no… just the ugly: 

A cautionary tale


I have been writing about music, creativity, and magic, along with odds and ends of living outback, for over 5 years. I also maintain social media accounts for clients, which means that I'm connected to those sites all day every day. Before that I was a researcher and non-fiction writer-for-hire, and thank the gods for internet and its research resources.

I work from home. I live out in an area so remote, so unpopulated by humans, that some federal agencies call it "frontier". Suits me just fine. Except... when you live in truly rural America you discover they are out to get you.

I don't mean the feds or aliens. This is not that kind of a tale.

This is a story of taking advantage. It's about internet satellite. This is a typical story about what happens to those who have no alternatives. You don't have to be poor or homeless, you just have to be an outlier, a demographic that contains few enough members that Big Business sees a great opportunity to suck victims dry.

I've been on satellite internet for fifteen or more years now. Before that – dialup. Really. It was horrible. I was always calling the phone company to complain, but as it turned out, the phone company was for sale and they weren't interested in upgrading their outmoded equipment. I still cringe when I hear that dialup sound when someone uses the FAX machine at the library.

Thus, as soon as I learned about satellite internet I lusted for it. A couple years after Starband began offering services in the US I signed up. I stayed with them, no matter how crappy their service (and it got truly crappy at the end) until they turned off the signal in September 2015.

September 2015. OMG!

If I had thought Starband was bad, that's only because I had never used HughesNet.

Let me explain. DSL doesn't reach me here in my part of New Mexico. I don't get a cell signal on my property because I'm in a valley.  The nearest cell tower is far enough away anyway that neighbors who do get a signal have their own problems because of the distance.

Cable? Bwahahahaha! Is there even cable anywhere in New Mexico? Heck if I know.

Satellite internet is all there is for folks like me. I don't think a person could even access email using dialup anymore. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I don't want to find out.  When Starband announced that they were going out of the ISP business, HughesNet was about all I could get if I didn't want DIRECTV, and believe me, I did not want DIRECTV.  I don't do TV.


Enter, HughesNet

HughesNet offered their Gen4 service at a cost of about twice as much as other people with "real" internet had to pay for equivalent service (for the record, I was paying just under $100/month). For that, I got a metered allowance of 9MB per month of data, beyond which they'd FAP me (no, not what you think! FAP = Fair Access Policy, i.e. being throttled back or, as we victims put it, "molasses mode": adequate for email but forget accessing the web). Think dialup without the modem noise.

To avoid the FAP fate I could monitor and constrain my use or I could pay for outrageously expensive "tokens" that gave me more bandwidth. HughesNet's "fair access" clearly meant I could have as much bandwidth as I wanted, as long as I was willing to pay for it through the nose. How that is "fair" to everyone stuck with satellite internet is beyond me, but in any case I paid for tokens and kept them in reserve, pretty much getting along just fine on 9GB per month. I couldn't stream movies or TV, had to wait for YouTube videos to buffer (though that didn't always work, and let me tell you, start-stop-start-stop of YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and other videos is absolutely maddening). I couldn't stream music. Skype was out of the question. Most web pages loaded slowly and some not at all, but oh well. I had internet.

But right away I started having problems. The first sign was service disruptions, always at the same time of day, for days or weeks in a row, and then it would stop. In the beginning I called HughesNet. (Ironically, both internet provider companies I've used provide no way to reach them digitally). I had to constantly ask "Bob" or "Terry" in India to repeat themselves, as I couldn't understand them. To their credit, most of the techs I talked with were polite, but they weren't actually helpful. I dreaded the ordeal. I hated that somehow it was always a problem on my end, never on HughesNet's.  Funny, but when I learned to simply call HughesNet, let their automated answer do the "system check" and hang up, that would often fix the problem. Temporarily.

Then, in April of this year I started having not just service interruptions but also slow-loading or no-loading pages, to the point where I just couldn't work.  Coincidentally (or not), HughesNet's Gen5 came out in April and suddenly the fix for my problem was an upgrade to Gen5. "5X faster internet, Built-In Wi-Fi, and more Data" (copied and pasted directly from an email they sent me).


Now for the ugly

More data turned out to be 1GB more per month than I was already getting, but for less money/month and hey, "5X faster". That sounds pretty good, right? The tech I talked to told me that if I was getting along on 9GB before, 10GB would probably be fine, and besides, I could just upgrade if I needed to. He assured me that my pre-paid tokens would carry over.

Uh huh. I should know by now that those conversations need to be recorded. I upgraded. Bye-bye tokens.

Since "upgrading" to Gen5 my bandwidth use has mysteriously become much higher – extraordinarily higher - than with Gen4 even though I have not increased what I do on the internet. This billing period I looked at my HughesNet data meter a few days into the billing cycle and was shocked to discover how much bandwidth was already gone. I would clearly use up the allotted 10GB before I was even halfway through the cycle. I thought I had some kind of malware sucking the bandwidth. I ran scans, found nothing. I turned all my devices to airplane or powered them off. I always turned off the modem at night, now I did it whenever I went out of the house. I cut back on YouTube videos (which has put quite a cramp on my writing about music), made sure my ad blockers were working, made sure auto-play, auto-download, auto-anything was turned off.


Surprise! Nothing made any difference

Then I started researching and found out something I should have seen right at the beginning. I didn't pay attention to where HughesNet says that if I was on social media sites one hour a day I would use up all my bandwidth for the month with 10GB of Gen5.  That means no other use: no email, no browsing, no movies, no nothing.  Just ONE hour of Facebook a day.

ARE YOU KIDDING? It takes 10GB for Gen5 to deal with 30 hours of Facebook a month? What is HughesNet's Gen5 really doing? Why is Gen5 so data consumptive that what before used 9GB/month suddenly now requires double or triple that amount?


Customer = victim

HughesNet's solution to my problem? Cut back on my usage or upgrade. I have cut back. It doesn't make any difference except to make it harder to work and to make going online an unpleasant experience. And realistically, how could cutting back work if only an hour a day of social media consumes10GB of bandwidth a month? Why would I even consider upgrading, when all it would do would be to reward Hughesnet for creating a data sucking monster like Gen5?

From the user end it sure appears that HughesNet has set it up so that everything Gen5 customers do costs multiple times as much bandwidth as it did before. It is NOT helpful to say that because Gen5 is faster more data can be used in the same time period and that's where the bandwidth is going. Usage shouldn't suck up two, three, or more times as much bandwidth with Gen5 as it did with Gen4 if what people are doing on the internet is the same. If a person gets 100 emails a day with Gen4, then just because Gen5 serves up the 100 emails a day faster shouldn't mean multiple increases of bandwidth consumption.  If a person goes to a school or a government website or, for that matter, HughesNet's own website, it shouldn't cost more bandwidth to do that with Gen5 than Gen4.  If a person turns on the computer it shouldn't cost more bandwidth to do that with Gen5 than Gen4.

But it does.

So that got me to wondering. Why is "fair access" only a one-way street? How is it fair for HughesNet to run the meter faster for their Gen5 data use compared to GEn4, or to other ISPs for that matter, and why is it fair to avoid clear disclosure of the greater consumption of bandwidth by blaming the consumer for the consumption? How is it fair that we can't just dump HughesNet for their unfair business practices and go with a competitor because we're locked into big-penalty contracts and no one will listen to reason?

What I see here is HughesNet taking advantage of consumers that can't do a thing about it. Fair access, indeed.


Victims can fight back

I've tried getting answers on HughesNet's community forum, but all there is there is how we all are flagrantly using bandwidth and we need to cut back or upgrade. Perhaps it is time for each of us to consider filing FCC Consumer Complaints*.  At the very least, we can contact elected officials. They should care about this because our jobs depend on internet access, our kids need to get online for school, we need internet access just as much as people who live in cities. And hey, we may be few but we are voters.

Also, every state has enacted consumer protection statutes, which are modeled after the Federal Trade Commission Act. This allows state attorneys, along with general and private consumers, to commence law suits over false or deceptive advertisements, or other unfair and injurious consumer practices.

I don't think anyone out here in the frontier would grumble that much about having to pay more for satellite internet. After all, everything is pretty much more expensive here. But Fair Access should go both ways. HughesNet, don't make us get ugly about this.


* Note that HughesNet does not allow the use of "FCC" on its community forum -- a bot won't allow you to post if you try to provide a link to the federal agency that has oversight for internet.  That alone is food for thought.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Coming soonish to a bookstore near you

Coming soonish to a bookstore near you: Well, okay, not soonish. Maybe digitally in a few months, but in print... next year at the earliest.  I don't care - I'm so jazzed!

Because... this is how it begins.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Writing tip: Don't get writer's block!

It's easy to become discouraged when it comes to writing. The more a writer doesn't write, the more discouraging it gets. It grinds you down until you can't get a single word out. And then the worst. You realize you've contracted that deadliest of diseases: Writer's block.
Don't let writer's block happen to you! Take action now! Tell your doctor about.... 

Seriously - there is an almost magical thing that can cure you. That thing isn't abracadabra, it's deadline.

As it happens I've spent most of the last 17 years as a non-fiction writer, working for people with deadlines. Deadlines are tough. If I screwed up on my deadline I'd screw my client's deadline. Out in the real world, that can make or break a writer. Miss just one deadline and a client might go looking for someone else. Reputations take a long time to build but it takes just one flubbed deadline to ruin. Tough as the demands of deadlines are, I nevertheless grew to appreciate the value of having time constraints imposed on me. It meant I didn't have time to become discouraged because I had to write.

But then I decided I wanted to write fiction.

Things are different when you're home alone writing a story or a novel for yourself instead of for a client. Suddenly there are no deadlines. What a luxury to be able to write without the pressure! Unfortunately, believing there's a lot of time to write can end up as an excuse to put off doing any actual writing. When the day is done and there are no new words on the page it can be discouraging. When that happens the next day, and the next, well, you know what happens. Nothing.

Writer's block: it's real, but it's self-inflicted. It's kind of like push-starting a car. Getting those wheels rolling is hard, but once the vehicle's moving it's not so tough to keep it moving. There's even a natural law about it and that kinda sorta applies to writing, too.

When it comes to writing, you have to write to keep writing. Once you've started, do not stop!

Even writing on social media has value for a writer if it's more than emoticons and one-word comments. For me, writing about writing (as I am here), promoting myself as a writer, launching a Patreon account (it's coming soon!), and getting a professional editor to review my work gives me that deadline feeling. So does belonging to writing groups and having first readers I've promised a next chapter by such and such a date.

So when I find myself doubting, when I sense that discouraged feeling, I've found the very best thing I can do is sit down and just write something. Anything. A blog post, even. I drum up that deadline feeling and I push myself to get it done. Pressure. It's the magic cure.

♪ Under Pressure (Queen, with David Bowie)



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Not just your mother's potato salad

Making certain old standard dishes at my mother's house is a risky business. You know the dishes in question -- comfort foods, the dishes that always remind you of home and family and good times (whether they were truly good or just in selective memory). These foods vary from culture to culture, from family to family. For me, it's turkey stuffing, mac and cheese, meatloaf, bow ties (a vaguely Italian dish named for the pasta that is used), potato salad. These are foods that never taste quite right at your best friend's house, or the way your mother-in-law or your neighbors make it. No restaurant makes those dishes properly.

These are the dishes that you want to make just like Mom made. These are the dishes that give meaning to the phrase "you can never go home again".

It is potato salad of which I write.

Let me start in the beginning, which is the logical place to start. Logic ends with that point.

It had been springtime here in New Mexico. I could tell because the calendar said it was late April. Not only that, but one of my apple trees had blossomed (unfortunately not the self-pollinating tree). It was a glorious display. My asparagus had sent up the first spears and I greedily ate the raw shoots moments after harvesting, because that's what you do with the first asparagus. Birdsong filled the air as they hunted for mates, flies buzzed around the horses, and the horses' tails were working as their winter coats flew off, hair by hair, into the warm breezes.

Definitely spring.

One afternoon when it was almost hot and felt kind of summerish, I got the notion that I had to have potato salad. Just like Mom used to make -- the only way it can be made, after all. The next time I went into town I bought a bag of organic Yukon golds. I couldn't make the dish right away, as I had to be out and about too much over the next few days, so I stored the potatoes in a cool, dark place till I needed them.

For three days I thought about potato salad, because it was spring.

Then it wasn't. New Mexico changed its mind. The thermometer dropped to 10° overnight. A frigid wind blew through my valley straight from the North Pole, not even pausing at the spaces in the wall of my cabin. I had to build a fire in the wood stove, the first time in weeks. Fortunately I hadn't gotten around to moving the logs outside yet. Procrastination does have value.

By morning there was a few inches of snow, and though the sky was blue at that point it clouded over shortly and snowed again. Several times.


Somehow the notion of making a batch of potato salad wasn't as attractive as, say, a hot pot of thick potato soup. Not that I made the soup. I made cornbread instead, but that's another story.

Springtime again... maybe

And thoughts returned to potato salad. I decided to go for it.

Mom's recipe is pretty simple, but it must be exactingly followed. That's the risky part about making one of these family recipes if you're at Mom's house. She wants it to be made just like she has always made it. And so does the rest of the family. No fooling around. No experimentation. Just tried and true.

Well. 

If you've read other stories of my cooking here, you no doubt are aware that following directions is not exactly my thing. I wasn't at Mom's and what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Plus I didn't have all the ingredients.

I'm sure you're wondering how that could be, since I had been wanting the potato salad for a week and I had been to the grocery store in that time. I can only say that I didn't feel like buying mayonnaise. I rarely use the stuff and so any leftovers after making this recipe would just go to waste. I figured I could fake it. That's pretty much my approach to life anyway, so why not with potato salad?

Why go by the rules when you can invent something new? Choosing a route off the beaten path is always entertaining. Yes, there's the risk of getting lost, of attacks by dragons or saber-toothed tigers, of death rays and carnivorous plants, quicksand and... you get the picture. But adventure! Excitement! And the possibility of treasure.

No different with cooking, though that's just my opinion. I've had my failures (I just threw out a batch of sourdough that refused to rise and was sad that even after a second chance it chose to remain a lump of flour and water). I've had some dubious results that probably no one but me would like. But sometimes... treasure!

Okay, today's potato salad isn't everybody's treasure. For one thing, I don't put sugar in it, for another -- faked ingredients. But I did have potatoes. And celery. That was a good start, right?  The rest of the ingredients were what I had in my fridge and in my garden that survived the snow.

Ingredients (all organic)
  • 3 lbs gold potatoes
  • salt
  • celery
  • garlic tops
  • green onions
  • white vinegar (a couple tablespoons at most)
  • Icelandic yogurt (or other plain yogurt)
  • dill pickle juice (a couple tablespoons at most)
  • sour cream
  • black pepper, ground
  • olive oil (a couple tablespoons at most)
[EDIT: 05/01:  Last night I decided the recipe would benefit from some olive oil, since oil is one of the ingredients in mayo.  So I did add a splash or two and that gave a richer taste.]

Directions
  1. Boil potatoes till cooked but still firm - if you're going to want salt in your recipe, add some to the water. 
  2. Cut potatoes into little chunks when cool enough to handle. 
  3. Sprinkle a small amount of white vinegar over potato pieces and mix. Cover and cool, mixing occasionally so the vinegar will be absorbed uniformly.
  4. Chop celery into thin slices.
  5. Chop garlic tops into small pieces.
  6. Chop green onions into small pieces.
  7. Add the chopped ingredients and the rest to the potatoes when cool.  You'll have to experiment with quantities so add the yogurt, pickle juice, and sour cream in small amounts, tasting as you go.
  8. Chill before serving.
Note about Icelandic yogurt: It was in the grocery store and I hadn't seen it before. It had interesting stuff on the container including a list of all the nasty stuff that wasn't in it. It's thick, like Greek yogurt. I liked it and will get more.
My mother would not approve of my potato salad. She would taste it and be polite, but I know she'd be comparing to her own. Mine would come up a faint second best. But you know, I haven't lived at home for a long, long time. I've been making potato salad for decades and each time I make it I follow my own taste buds. At first my potato salads and all the other comfort food dishes did taste like Mom's. Over time they evolved. Sometimes the changes came about because I didn't have the exact ingredients, sometimes because I had no reference to compare to. Mom lives far away and I don't get to enjoy her cooking much anymore.

And you know, when I do go home and eat a meal there, I compare her dishes to mine. And I wonder why what she makes doesn't taste like it used to.


[EDIT 05/01/17:  Google for some reason won't let me comment or reply to comments on my own blog!  So don't assume because I don't reply that I haven't read your comments!]


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hopeless and helpless

This is my desk. I didn't set it up for the shot. It is what it always is, except that occasionally things get moved or replaced.

Over on the left almost out of the picture is bottled Starbucks coffee. In the morning it'll be brewed coffee, with the bottle for later if the French roast wasn't enough. If I develop caffeine jitters I'll change over to room-temperature weak green tea till it's time for my evening glass (or two or three) of Merlot. Unless it's a hot day and then maybe a beer, though not often 'cause I'm not much of a beer drinker.

You'll note the coffee is sitting on top of my day planner. I'm very good at writing things down in the planner, not so good at paying any attention to what's scheduled. Quite often there are coffee rings on the pages. I can't explain it, but there's something about the warping of a day's page from the dampening and drying that I find attractive.

Behind the planner and the coffee is my Kindle. Mostly it's off, but there's always one app running in the background -- it's called Ship's Clock and it's the coolest thing ever. It chimes every half an hour, emulating the old fashioned sound of a ship's bell that regulated the sailors' duty watches (do ships still use those bells? I don't know). It took me a long time to learn how to tell time with it but I can do it now. Except that if I don't pay attention I don't even hear the chimes. But I like it anyway.

I've got an atomic clock because otherwise I'd never know what day it was, or month, or the date. I have to check that clock before I look at the calendar on the wall because come on, if you don't already know what day it is how can you tell from a calendar on the wall? Sometimes I need to know what time it is in between bells, too (and yeah, sometimes I need to know what time the bells are supposed to be telling me).  The atomic clock provides temperature too, but my laptop's fan blows on it so it's not reliable. Besides, I'm sitting in the house -- I can feel what it feels like in here without help.

Vitamins and other supplements. Those are empty bottles waiting for me to remember to reorder. I really should get around to it.

Rune stones. Why? I don't know. They seem cool. I'm no good at reading them (or tarot cards or any such predictive tools), but I could learn if I keep at it long enough. After all, I learned the ship's clock. The meanings of the runes are in my Kindle. Handy device, the Kindle. I hear a person can read books on it. Just kidding -- I do occasionally do that, but ewwww. Books on a little screen? Give me paper any day.

The laptop's on a metal stand. The theory is that the metal will help conduct heat from the laptop. Seems to me it gets awfully hot anyway. On either side and behind the the laptop are my speakers, and hidden behind the laptop is the monitor for my XP machine, which I can't quite convince myself to get rid of. To the right of the screen is the ailing, failing desktop computer tower. It's hard to see because of the stuff leaning against it. I do remove it all if I turn the old computer on, but that happens less and less anymore.

Do you see the cute koala bear peeking up from behind the papers? I don't recall where I got it but it has to live on my desk. I don't know why. Poor thing is buried in old mail and project binders. My theory is that if I have them nearby, I will someday open the envelopes or the binder covers. In practice I only do that when I get a threat about a bill that's due, or if a deadline for a project is fast approaching.

I've got a half dozen CDs waiting to be ripped so I can listen to them. I'm using MediaMonkey nowadays instead of iTunes. Mostly because I resent the lack of flexibility of iTunes. Apple so thinks it is better than everything else. Sorry, all I want to do is be able to find the music I've got in my computer and play it. I don't need your proprietary smugness, iTunes.

There's my daily journal and my moon phase calendar. There's a drawer under the laptop with a bunch of cables and lip balm. Somewhere under everything should be my Passport external drive. Hmmm. Haven't seen that for a while. But it's there, I'm sure.

The Writer's Market. But of course. Because someday I will actually need to market some of the stuff I write. But not today. Why? Because it's scary. Because it's hard. Because I have to clean my desk before I can get serious.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

RIP Mr. Potatohead

Okay, to be truthful, this potato was always going to be sacrificed. I just thought it would be dinner, not compost.

This was my third try at baking potatoes in the ashes of the wood-stove. The first two were great, honest. This potato is hard as a rock and weighs next to nothing, just like a charcoal briquette.

I like the idea of baking potatoes while simultaneously heating the house and heating water. Wood stoves are great that way.

But let me be clear about this: Just because it's buried in ashes in the wood stove and you aren't paying for gas or electricity to bake it doesn't mean you can forget that it's there.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mexican wolf program: Bound to fail, but not because of ranchers

Mexican wolf release 2017
photo: White Mountain Independent
These are not words that pro-wolf people like to hear, but they need to be said: The Mexican wolf program will fail. It was fated to fail right from the start.

Contrary to what some preach, it's not because of ranchers, or obstructionist local governments.

No, the program has been doomed from day one because of a false premise of biology, and a false promise to the public.

Background

In 2014 over 100 Mexican wolves were counted in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. In 2015 there were fewer counted, but that doesn't mean that there were fewer wolves. By the nature of the methodology the count does not include all wolves. The count is performed by fly-over. A spotter plane finds a wolf pack, and the wolves are then counted from a helicopter. Obviously there is no way to get an accurate count with this method. Wolves don't stand still to be counted, they run every which way. Some may hide and not be counted at all. Some may be counted multiple times. Some wolves might simply never be spotted by the plane, especially those that are outside the official Mexican wolf area (like the ones that are in my area).

Whatever the count, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists say the number of wolves is too few to ensure a diverse gene pool for the species.  Environmental groups, like Defenders of Wildlife, say the release of captive-bred wolves is imperative to the genetic health of the wild Mexican gray wolf populations.

I say that no number of Mexican wolves will ever ensure a diverse gene pool.

You can't make something out of nothing.

Every single known Mexican wolf in the US, both in the wild and in captivity, is a descendant of a very limited gene pool of captive wolves. I do not know what the genetic spread of the Mexican wolf might be, because that seems to be a big secret that the public is never allowed in on even though we foot the bill through our tax dollars. But I do know that you can't create something out of nothing. You can't create a diverse gene pool for a species from a limited founding population.  

This is well known science. It's true for animals in the wild, so it's got to be true for Mexican wolves. Take the cheetah, for example. About 12,000 years ago, a mass extinction event caused an extreme reduction of the cheetah's genetic diversity. Today the cheetah suffers from what is called the "founder effect". This is when a new population is started by a few members of the original population. Such a small population size results in reduced genetic variation from the original population and a non-random sample of the genes in the original population.

Genetic diversity serves as a way for populations to adapt to changing environments. Lack of genetic diversity can, all by itself, lead to extinction for that population. All it would take is one disease that the cheetah population is genetically unable to resist. Lack of genetic diversity means that if some cheetahs can't handle the changes in their environment brought about by climate change -- something that's a fact of life right this very moment -- then the likelihood is that none of them could handle it.  As it happens, it appears that climate change has already adversely affected the ability of wild cheetahs to reproduce and to hunt.

Why would Mexican wolves be more resilient than cheetahs?

If 12,000 years isn't enough for cheetahs to recover genetic variation why in the world would any scientist pretend that 40 years of human selective breeding will build genetic variation in the Mexican wolf? Build it from what? You start with x amount of genetic variation and that's what you have to work with. There isn't going to ever be any more.

"From seven animals you have a reduced genetic diversity to begin with... we won’t increase genetic diversity unless we magically find a new animal, which we won’t,” Sherry Barrett, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican gray wolf Recovery Program, recently said.

There are over 300 Mexican wolves in captivity, some in zoos, some running semi-free in preserves. All of them live in controlled conditions and receive regular veterinary care.  If there was any point to raising more Mexican wolves, it could be readily done. But what's the point?  All the captive wolves come from the same founding population. They don't have different genes. Breeding more of them won't save the species because there will never be more genetic diversity than there is right now.

If the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican gray wolf Recovery Program knows that the program is not going to create genetic diversity, what is the program for?  To raise more animals for zoos? Mexican wolves are at tremendous risk in the wild and it would take very little to wipe them out. Putting more wolves in the wild, as Defenders of Wildlife and others want, won't change anything.

Albert Einstein may or may not have said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.  It seems true no matter who said it.  So I have to ask:  Why do we continue to pour money into the Mexican wolf program that, purely on a scientific basis, is doomed to fail?  Isn't that kind of insane?



Saturday, February 4, 2017

We're all this way but...

There's still time to change the road we're on.

Click to enlarge image or read the text below

Once upon a time there was a woman (or maybe it was a man… doesn't matter) who didn't much like where she lived.

She was surrounded by pushy, misinformed people who nagged at her to come over to their side. She battled those people and their ways valiantly. She lashed out at their thinking, and she girded her loins (why do loins need girding, anyway?) for the inevitable backlash.  She defended herself artfully, seeking weaknesses in their stubborn beliefs to replace with her enlightened viewpoint. She used all the logic and reasoning she had, and she used facts, and bolstered them with the opinions of those who supported her own beliefs. 
Now, this woman (or man… doesn't matter) didn't really want to fight.  She truly longed to live a peaceful life. She yearned for the relief that moving on would provide her. But all she could see was the fight in front of her, and there was little time to spare for where she would rather be.

So she stayed immersed in the reality she hated.
Thus she never looked to the place where she wanted to be.

And so she never got there.

The opening line for this post is a paraphrase from Stairway to Heaven, of course.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Join Author Steven F. Havill 
2 events in Eagar AZ 
January 19 and 20, 2017

Thursday Jan. 19, 5:30 PM  
~ Round Valley Library book discussion (Heartshot) and chocolate chip cookie bakeoff
Friday Jan. 20, 11 AM - 1 PM
~ Wildfire Espresso Bar book signing.  Steve will have a variety of his books available to purchase


   Undersheriff Bill Gastner knows that Posadas County, New Mexico, is not your average peaceful backwater.  So when wild Ricky Fernandez and four other teens die in a mysterious car crash, Bill’s instincts tell him there’s more there than just a tragic drunk-driving accident.  Then a bag of cocaine turns up in the car, and Bill has his hands full with a publicity-happy new sheriff — and helping a newbie undercover cop find the drug’s source.

   But in a county reeling from unimaginable loss, people will do anything to see quick, brutal justice done.  Soon, a nightmarish revenge spree sparks murder and destroys a vital lead.  Now Bill races against time to bait a desperate last-chance trap.  And if confronting a murderer doesn’t kill this determined lawman, tragic obsession and an even deadlier enemy just might finish the job….


   Steven F. Havill is the author of over two dozen mysteries and westerns.  He has written two series of police procedurals set in the fictional Posadas County, New Mexico; along with other works. 
   If you’re a Longmire fan, you’ll love Steve Havill’s books!