Saturday, December 30, 2017

How would we wake up

How would we wake up, if it weren't for cats?

Or, 4am rolls around. Normally my darling husband is up - but tonight he slept on, blissfully unaware of the universe and the felines in it.

Kili knows that her large human should be up, making his first cuppa, and able to be coaxed into sharing the milk when he pulls it out for his tea. At about 0415hrs, she evaluated her options. Prior experience has taught her that any aggressive motions may result in flying cat (and the humans still asleep), so she resorted to being overly friendly. Yes, overly friendly. Walking between her humans on the bed, she started to purr so loudly her little body was shaking, a rasping, full-throated purr.

When that failed to wake either humans enough for them to move, she started gently grooming a hand sticking out from under the covers. But even that failed to wake Peter (even if I came to half-awake at the sound). So she adapted and overcame.

Turning to the me, she started licking and nudging until I turned over in bed to get away from the grooming, and ended up flat on my back. Then, she gently and delicately climbed on top of me, settled down with two paws pressed into my diaphragm while she kneaded my bladder, and purred fit to vibrate said bladder like driving down a washboard road.

At which point I have to throw back the covers (and cat) and dash for the bathroom. She follows, purring and wrapping a tail around my ankles, confident I can now be led to the fridge and made to pour milk even if I will go back to bed instead of making tea and a lap to sit in... because if I go back to bed, the purring and grooming and bladder-kneading will redouble until I finally get back out and give her milk so I can be left in peace to get a few more hours of sleep in.

You know, for only weighing eight pounds and a brain the size of a walnut, the cat is pretty clever at figuring out a way to get what she wants. I may not appreciate the method chosen, but it was effective. Sigh.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Starting Strength, Six Months In

I am a proud, independent adult! ...Okay, actually, I am a "I think I maybe got this..." adult. Either way, I'm doing well enough that I'm trying my first month without a starting strength coach constantly at my side.

Not that Carmen doesn't occasionally call out form corrections to me anyway, and double-checks my plans on how much to lift when I ask, and happily helps spot me when I'm struggling to do my work sets. (Those are the heavy ones.)

But anyway, what do I think of this whole starting strength thing, after six months of it? Well, the fact that I'm still doing it is a really good clue. The pros: I'm much stronger, now. I hurt less, I sleep better, and I'm generally less stressed as I have this awesome opportunity to burn off all the adrenaline and cortisol three times a week. I also am recovering from injuries faster... and not getting injured as often! It's a real blessing to step off a curb with my foot in exactly the wrong position for the pothole I didn't notice, and to be able to catch myself without feeling like I've wrenched every muscle in the knees and ankles - I am more stable as well as stronger.

Funnily enough, it's also doing wonders for the seasonal affective disorder - the winter blues. I'd forgotten just how much I had to regularly work out when in Alaska, in the winter, in order to avoid my brain deciding that since there wasn't much light, all was doom and gloom and despair. Lifting weights is like a reset button: I can actually feel the endorphin and dopamine flood resetting my background emotional state to normal.

And, mirable dictu, I'm finally over the "I'm completely exhausted and everything hurts" post-workout feeling. I knew this was coming when my body got accustomed enough, as I knew there were plenty of guys who feel revved up and ready to take on the world after a workout. Well, I may still feel like only doing light work, but I no longer want a nap and an epsom salt bath and a blankie after working out. So, yay!

The cons: The scale is still stubbornly stuck at a number I'd be embarrassed to divulge. I'm the heaviest I've ever weighed. And I'm still size mumble-mumble in jeans. Carmen, my coach, warned me about the not losing jeans size - that the increased muscle in my thighs would offset the loss of fluffiness around the waist, especially as I did not start with tiny and delicate anything to begin with.

And yes, I know it's gaining muscle. I know that. Unfortunately, intellectually knowing that I shouldn't judge myself by a number doesn't measure up emotionally when I've been judging myself by that number since I was a preteen, you know?

For numbers that I don't mind sharing, because some of y'all are hard data geeks like me:

On July 12, I bench pressed 32 pounds - on Dec 26, I benched 87 pounds.
On July 14, I overhead pressed 15 pounds - on Dec 29, I pressed 60 pounds.
On July 17, I deadlifted 55 pounds - last week, I deadlifted 150 pounds.
As for squats, I started with leg presses and had to work my way up to squats, because I was neither strong enough nor stable enough to try 'em right off.
On Jul 21, I squatted 15 pounds - on Dec 29, I squatted 120 pounds.

Clearly, I am not morphing into muclebound anything. It's a shame; I wish those scare stories about "If women lift weights they'll turn into Sarah Connor!" were right. However, they're not, and I'm one shirt size smaller, but still me.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Clean Water, Hot Water

It's never good to pull up to the house and see a line of water trickling out of the garage door! Turns out that regular flushing of the hot water heater and replacing the sacrificial anode since we moved in neither dislodged years of compacted sediment, nor saved us from the effect of the prior homeowner neither knowing nor caring about the concept of preventative maintenance. (There were 14 burned-out lightbulbs in the attic by one single light socket that he'd never bothered to bring down with him. 14. Enough said.)

Thanks to OldNFO, we already knew a good plumber, and he'd been out a few months earlier to give us an estimate on installing a drip tray, leak alarm, and whole-house water filter. We'd been saving up to do it once and do it right... and now here was our opportunity to do it all at once while also replacing the hot water heater. Yay?

As the hot water heater was disconnected, the plumber said "What is this extra line here? It's not house supply?"
"Oh!" I said, "That's probably the geothermal unit."
Peter and I looked at each other, and Peter pulled out his cell phone. "I'll give them a call!"

Turns out that when your geothermal is plumbed into your house water supply, it's a very wise idea to get the geothermal pump turned off when there's no water in one of the lines. The geothermal guys were very happy we called instead of waiting until the pump burned out.(So was our pocketbook.)

So now, I have some brand new PEX plumbing, and a whole-house water filter that's upstream of the hot water heater. (It's going to take a lot less flushing if the sediment doesn't reach it! And showers will smell and taste better even when the lake turns over!) Interestingly enough, the water coming out of the tap is now on par with bottled water - as in, I can't tell the difference. This is amazing!

I'm going to count my blessings instead of counting the pain in the pocketbook, and just be glad we upgraded more house infrastructure ahead of schedule. While drinking tea that lacks the Red River's, ah, terroir.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Seventy Six Years Ago...

It was a December morning in northern Ohio, much like many before and after. Chances are very high there was snow on the ground, but the clouds were high enough and wind light enough that airplanes could still fly. My bird was brand-new back then, only a few months since she came out of the factory, her wings still proudly sporting her brand new 65-hp engine held aloft on a 36-foot wingspan. She was put together by my grandmother's best friends in shifts after high school, and (here my grandmother sighs) "What men were left", as the United States of America was gearing up for the inevitable entry into the European conflict.

At 11:55 in the morning, my plane was flying - and the young men inside of the flying club were likely having a blast with a brand-new bird on a beautiful winter day... only hampered by the fact that a Taylorcraft's heater is just powerful enough to warm the pilot's right big toe!

There was no way to know that half a world away, right at that moment in the Command Center on Ford Island, Commander Logan C. Ramsey looked out a window to see a low-flying plane. His first thought was that it was a reckless pilot (For certainly young men and powerful planes are a temptation to mischief, so this wouldn't have been the first or fiftieth reckless pilot he'd seen.) Then he saw “something black fall out of that plane” and realized it was a bomb.

And the world, in a sudden, heart-wrenching instant, would never be the same.

Commander Ramsey ran to the radio room and ordered the telegraph operators to send out an uncoded message to every ship and base: AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL

That message echoed across America, at the speed of light, hampered only by the reflexes of telegraph operators, and by early afternoon, even Alliance, Ohio knew. Because the war machine had lurched to life, and closed the airspace to all non-military flights.

Yes, they never teach us that 9/11 wasn't the first time the national airspace closed - but it was! If your plane wasn't involved in the war training effort, carrying passengers, or special exemption, it was grounded for the duration - that way we knew if any unfriendly airplanes appeared, they couldn't be our own.

There's an almost two-month gap in the logbook, after she was grounded on account of war. And then she took to the skies again, as a trainer, teaching young men to fly in her patient, friendly little cockpit before they moved on to fighters and bomber in theater. We'd been bled hard in The Great War, and now attacked on our own soil... and by God, we were going to make the world safe again. Pearl Harbor would never happen again!

I'm going to go spend some time with my old girl tonight, as she rests in a hangar in Texas. She's seen a lot of the world for a little bit of disposable fun that wasn't supposed to last more than twenty years.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Can't get anything done

Some days, it's cleaning by brownian motion around here. Task: strip the bed, remake the bed, and wash the bedding. Reality: realize the floor where the comforter would go is dirty, so sweep the floor. While sweeping the floor, note the foam toe-protector on a corner of the bedframe has been knocked loose. Head into garage to find electrical tape. Find four boxes that have been ripped open and never broken down or thrown out, and electrical tape. Throw out boxes. While throwing out boxes, notice that some books from the last convention never made it back to the bookshelf.

Grab tape, grab books, move books to bookshelf, realize it's badly organized and stack at base thereof for fixing later. Go back to the bedroom, secure foam back to bedframe, sweep floor, take off comforter, strip bed, and take dirty bedding and electrical tape back to garage. Put away tape, start laundry.

Come back to bedroom to find both cats sprawled in the middle of the stripped mattress, ready to "help" make the bed by pouncing on the sheets.

Think that it's taken fourty minutes and I still don't have the bed made and now have books to reshelve, too. Mutter something about sorcerer's apprentice and housework, and go to get a cuppa. Cats promptly follow, and start importuning to get into the closed garage since the washing machine is making noises. Let cats in, skip making cuppa, quickly make the bed.

Lets cats back in the house, and ignore pleas for sharing of the milk as I make tea, and think it a wonderful thing that I managed to make the bed. One task down!

...oh wait, still have to reshelve the books.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Range day!

Alma Boykin of Cat Rotator's Quarterly mentioned a few weeks ago that she was looking for a new carry gun. For her and I, this is a process as fraught as trying to find, say, a new pair of women's jeans that fit, allow enough movement, and look good, while having functional pockets. It's not impossible, it's just... rare, and usually involves trying out lots and lots and lots of disappointing variations first.

Actually, it's normally harder than jeans, because at least with jeans you can go to stores and try the fit and function. Where can you do that with a wide range of guns?

Oh, wait. I'm married to a Bayou Renaissance Man, and live just down the road from LawDog and OldNFO. And when it was mentioned that she was looking for a new carry gun that would fit her hand size, build, and needs, the gentlemen carpe'd the diem. This became A Project!

I can tell we're regulars at the gunshop when we walk in, and the owner says the following: "Hey, OldNFO. Morning, LawDog! Morning, ma'am, how can I help... Wing, where's Peter? You leave your husband at home?"

"I'm just here for moral support!"

"Moral or immoral?"
"Whatever Alma wants!"

We checked out the plastic fantastics and the other semi-automatics, and then rapidly migrated over to the revolver side of the store, where the nice young clerk was trying to be very helpful without sounding patronizing or condescending. (Very nice man. But if he'd been dancing any more carefully over his words, it'd have been a full two-step. Eventually rescued by the owner, with a "Son, OldNFO has forgotten more about guns than you'll ever learn.")

Old NFO loves Colts. He has some beautiful, magnificent specimens. He has the most peculiar grimace when he pulls the trigger on something else, like a Labrador that thought it was stealing bacon and got lemon rind instead. "Ugh! Smith trigger!"  

To be fair, Colt triggers are things of beauty and joy, and unless given a trigger job, Smith & Wessons are most definitely not. But I have to giggle a little when he makes that face.

After determining that nothing in the shop right then cried "Take me home with you!", we went back to OldNFO's and he opened up the cornucopia of wonders... ahem, the gun safe. And then we went to my house, and Peter started pulling out the "everything I've tried for my wife, so it's in tiny grips size for a lady's hand." (Alma and I have almost the same hand size. Not quite same glove size, but very close. We can grump to each other about the difficult of finding Mechanix gloves that fit.)

And then we went to the range (Well, Peter took a nap, but the rest of us went. This time, LawDog didn't have to shoo the cows off, either! Beautiful blue-sky day, cloudless and almost calm. (Very calm, for North Texas.) There had to be twelve planes flying past just in the times when I was chilling out and not concentrating on shooting. One of 'em was an L-19, still with the old Italian Air Force markings. (I happen to know that plane - and yes, the prior owner carefully masked off the control panel when painting, so it still has all the italian inside, too, as well as the english-required placards.)

I figured this was the perfect time to get some more practice in, as well as try out some of the guns broken out for Alma. The weightlifting has really helped with shoulder stability, to the point that I can now fire something a lot closer to snubbie - but it sure ain't fun! And I got a chance to try one of OldNFO's beautiful colts that was out of my abilities before... only to discover that it's beautiful, lovely in the hand, nice on the recoil, and the checkerboard grips tear the heck out of my soft no-callus palms. (Yes, I've been weightlifting for five months, and the only calluses I have are right where my wedding wing rubs when I grip the bar. I dunno either.)

On the extremely bright any shiny, you know when you've hit that point where you're finally good enough that the coach doesn't say anything on your lift, and you're kinda waiting for the other shoe to drop before you realize it's because you did everything right? I had a cylinder like that, with OldNFO & LawDog standing by and watching! Yay! If I could do cartwheels, well, I wouldn't have done one because of the cow patties on the range, but I felt like doing one!

Alma, meanwhile, went though quite a range of guns, and found that what she really liked was my carry gun - it's a Taurus .357 that I only shoot 38 special out of, because that's what I can take, with a nice squishy Hogue monogrip that takes a whole lot of bite out of its bark.

Clearly, she'll have to come back to try it out, as well as others we didn't get to, some more!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Ding! New Level Achieved!

Autocorrect on my phone and I do not have a friendly relationship. (Who does?) Among other consistent "help", every time I texted a friend about lifting the 22-pound training bar while learning to weightlift, it would auto-correct to "training bra."

Fortunately, said friend is female, lifts weights, and understands the vagaries of Otto Corrupt, so there was simply eye rolling, laughter, and moving on with the conversation. And as I gre stronger, I moved from the 22-pound bar to the standard 45-pound bar, and could leaving that particular fight with Otto Corrupt behind.


I was still using the 5-pound plastic plates on deadlift, to put the bar at the right height. Big tough powerlifters, and everyone else, uses the 45-pound plates or higher, all of which are large enough to put the bar at the correct starting position - but 5, 10, and 25-pound plates are too small.

Yesterday, I finally managed to lift 135 pounds, for the first time. I even managed a set of 5 lifts! My coach happily told me that from now on, we're going to start with 135, and not use the plastic training plates again.

So of course, I go to text the good news. "Yay! Now I'm off the training bar AND the training plates!"

That is absolutely not what Otto Corrupt sent.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Light vs. Dark... Meat on the chicken!

Today was going to be a pot roast day, according to my meal plan. But as I tossed and turned the night before, my knees let me know our cold spell had been interrupted for a hot, humid day with impending thunderstorms. (The impending delivered; there are some truly impressive flashes of light going on outside my window. All potted herbs are on the ground so they don't have far to fall if the wind knocks 'em over.)

Pot roast goes better with cold and crisp fall days, not muggy thunderstorms. And besides, when I was at the grocery store, they had fresh chicken drumsticks on sale for $0.89/lb! So I brought them home with plans for a Cajun chicken alfredo. (Not that it's really Cajun, but it uses Cajun seasoning.)

I'd forgotten how much my darling man despises drumsticks, along with a ...strong preference... for boneless skinless breast over any and all other parts of the bird.  Possibly because we've been working our way through a flat or two of boneless skinless breasts that were on a good sale from Sam's club that I'd broken down into smaller packages and vacuum sealed.

My darling man had forgotten how much I adore bone-in, skin-on dark meat, roasted until crispy in the oven. Outside of long, slow cooking recipes that pretty much turn anything into pulled chicken, it's hard for breast meat to match that juicy flavour.

"By the time you cut off all the skin, gristle, tendon, and bone, there's hardly any meat for all the chicken you paid for!"

"You're supposed to eat the crispy skin! And it tastes so much better, that it works out far better in flavour per dollar! Why eat dry white breast you have to simmer in juice or smother in gravy when you can have a couple juicy thighs?"

Yeah, I don't think he's ever going to come to the dark side of the bone. At least this means we're not competing when we split a rotisserie chicken!

Cajun Chicken Alfredo (The easy way, in 3 parts:)

The chicken:
drumsticks or thighs (Or breasts, if you must!)
olive oil to grease the pan
1/4 Tbsp pat of unsalted butter per piece of chicken (probably more if you do skinless)
Cajun/Creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachere's "more spice" version.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400F
2. Lightly oil a pan big enough to hold all the pieces of chicken (it's fine if they're snugged up against each other)
3. Put the chicken in the pan, and cover lightly with seasoning. (If you really want a lot of seasoning, flip the pieces and coat both sides.
4. Put a pat of butter on top of each piece to keep it juicy and moist while cooking.
5. Bake for 25-45 minutes, until done. (I cooked about 2 pounds, and it took 45 minutes)

The noodles:
1/2 spaghetti squash per person spaghetti squash

1. Cut spaghetti squash in half. Unless you got one big enough that'd take an axe, in which case just stab a couple holes in it for steam to escape. (Like a potato. A very tough potato. Be careful!)

2. If you were able to halve it, scoop the seeds out of the halves, the wrap them in plastic wrap. If not, skip this step.

3. Place halves face down in the microwave, and microwave for 10 minutes. If you weren't able to split it open, just stick it in the microwave for 8-15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash.
4. IMPORTANT! After the microwave is finished, LET THE SQUASH COOL OFF SEVERAL MINUTES BEFORE HANDLING! Steam burns are no fun.
5. If you didn't scoop the seeds out before, cut the squash in half and do so now. Oven mitts help in handling hot, steam-laden squash.
6. Take a fork, and scrape out the spaghetti squash flesh. It comes out like noodles. Pile ontop plates, or into serving bowl.

The alfredo sauce:

1 jar alfredo sauce (I told you this was the easy version.)
1/2 pack (4 oz) mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1 shot of bourbon for the sauce (optional: another shot for the cook to sip)
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk

1. Slice mushrooms and onion thinly.
2. Heat oil and butter in saucepan on med to med-high, then add onions and salt. Stir until onions are coated, and steaming away.  (They're going to be too crownded to saute, but will turn transparent.)
3. Add mushrooms, stir to coat with oil & mix with onions, then stir occasionally to keep from sticking. The pan will be too crowded to truly saute, and that's fine. When everything's limp, and the onions are starting to caramelize, deglaze the pot with bourbon.
4. Dump in alfredo sauce, stir to mix. Do not toss sauce jar! Reduce heat to simmer/low.
5. Add milk to sauce jar, put lid back on, shake to thin all the sauce clinging to the walls. Open jar, add to the pot. Stir.
6. Stir occasionally, but this sauce'll keep while you're dealing with the spaghetti squash - so when your chicken is done, and your squash in a serving pot (or if only feeding two, just, ah, pre-plated), dinner is ready to put together and serve.

I served with a salad, and it was all good. Except for the look on my husband's face as he tried to salvage boneless skinless chunks from a drumstick or three... Sorry, dear!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gardening recap

It's mid-October. I just moved all the herbs from underneath the mulberry tree to up against the house, in the hopes that more direct sunlight and some extra warmth will keep them going a little longer. Something Alaskan in my brain still hurts at that statement, but it's true.

I would bring them inside, but... two cats. That does not end well, or cleanly. In fact, it's dirt and roots and leaves everywhere...

As things go, I know now not to try to grow cherry tomatoes in a planter, because when the gigantic tangle of tomato vines gets higher than 6 feet tall, the sheer wind resistance will start pulling the planter out and knocking the whole thing ever in every bad blow. I currently have it braced with dowels. Next year, I think I'll try planting tomatoes in the actual ground, by the fence, where the tomato cages will be more anchored.

I'll also try a different varietal. This one didn't say it'd turn into a 6 foot tall tangle reminiscent of briar hedges, either, but... the search shall continue. (And my brain is now imagining a riff on the fairy tale cottage overtaken by roses, only this one with cherry tomatoes... actually, this particular varietal would do that in a heartbeat, if it lived long enough!)

Also, next year, no more thai chili peppers. Too hot to eat regularly, and this plant is putting them out by the handful. No, more than that... the stems are starting to bow under the weight of peppers. Apparently I must have some ideal growing conditions, but I don't like them that much!

Maybe some sweet peppers next year?

The rosemary, because I didn't use it enough, has crowded the oregano out of the pot. Next year, I'll have to start a new pot with just oregano - and the same for parsley, as the thyme has decided it is small but mighty, and taking over the world!

On the bright and shiny, I kept everything but the dill and the cilantro alive this year, which is a vast improvement over my first year of gardening in Texas. Next year will be better yet!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A perfect storm of fluttering wings

Last weekend, I found myself inadvertently in the middle of one of Nature's near-inexplicable little miracles. Namely, I was on the high plains in Colorado, standing outside a farmhouse looking at a line of storms, when the air was suddenly filled with butterflies.

Now, I'd noticed a higher-than-normal number of butterflies around for October, but FarmMom said it's been a very wet year, and I wondered if they'd just survived the summer. But when every direction I looked, including up, the air was filled with hundreds of butterflies - I had found, by sheer accident, a butterfly migration path. Monarchs, painted ladies, sulphurs, and one or two cabbage whites, all swirled, danced, and tumbled on the wind in a generally southward cloud.

It was like being inside a swirling windstorm that shook all the leaves off the trees - except there weren't any trees shedding leaves nearby, and these were all flying, flapping, tumbling around each other, alighting on cars and grass and barn and people, even on the rifles. (One poor sulphur was most disappointed to find a taillight, while red, is not a hummingbird feeder full of sugar.)

I've gotten up at 4am and napped while my husband drove to a remote Tennessee corn field to see ultralights leading whooping cranes on their first migration, but I'd never put two and two together and realized I even had a chance to see the butterfly migration.

That was amazing!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fall cleaning!

It was 67 degrees and raining today (third day in a row of rain), which made it a perfect day to wash the airplane!

Although, I did hit culture shock when I asked a pilot on the airport "Where's the non-potable tap?"
"The what?"
"The non-potable tap? You know, for washing the airplane?"
I got a very funny look back. So I asked another pilot, who looked confused and aimed me at a third.

He grinned, and said "We don't have non-potable on the airport. It's all purified, off the city water." As my eyebrows started climbing to my hairline at the idea of wasting potable water on washing, his eyes were crinkling up in suppressed laughter. Fortunately, he continued on to outline where the airport had not one, but something like 6 taps around the hangars. "You're welcome to taxi over and use the hose outside my hangar - just wash the plane on the taxiway, so you keep the greasy belly dirt off my white apron!"

How do you wash an airplane with a hose? I'm not sure what to do with an abundance of water.  So I did it the way I know best. First, I rolled the airplane out into the rain to get wet. Then, I found the nearest tap, and filled the bucket three-quarters full, lugged it back, and added a good amount of aluminum-safe soap. Taking the nifty mop-like scrubber, dunk, and start at the top of the airplane, working my way down to the dirty belly.

Although, North Texas has such an abundance of dirt in the air, and I haven't flown the plane enough, so for the first time in my life the top of the wings were dirtier than the belly. That just ain't right.

When finished with the first pass, I emptied the very dirty water where we don't want plants growing anyway, then rinsed out the bucket, refilled it, and added just a little soap. Then I washed a second time, really cleaning now that most of the dirt had been removed and bird poop had time to soak.

I could have done a third pass with just water, but my arms were killing me. (The gym this morning was squats and overhead presses. Next time I wash the plane, maybe I'll do squats and deadlifts instead? Or be brilliant and wash her on a day I'm not already tired from the gym!)  So instead I called my father, and chatted with him about sacrificial anodes in water heaters and the newest high-tech paints which have ammonia that flashes off when applied, leaving behind an acid-based polymerization to create a film on the wall instead of ground pigment particles suspended in a drying medium, like... the entire history of paint before now.You know, standard daddy-daughter conversations.

After fourty minutes or so, we rang off, and I judged the airplane rinsed enough by mother nature, and pushed my dripping bird back in the hangar.

I guess there must be another way to use a lot of potable water and clean planes quickly. Maybe someday I'll acclimatize to the Lower 48 and think it's normal?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Poor prior planning makes for playgrounds

Yesterday was laundry day. It was also group dinner day, though thankfully by the time for friends to come over I looked almost presentable, and the house was close enough to clean for confirmed bachelors to be at home. (Even if Old NFO did have to dodge me passing him with two milk crates of freshly dried laundry before he even got something to drink.)

I left washing the mattress pad until after dinner, not wanting it spread out to dry over the chairs or couch while guests might want to sit there. This meant that I spread it to dry over the living room chairs shortly before bed.

...which means there was a fresh damp white mattress pad for the bored black kitten to amuse himself all night. And this morning, it looked every inch of it. *sigh*

In fact, as I write this, the kitten dashed up at tapped Kili on the hindquarters. She snarled, and disappeared under the chairs, behind the mattress pad, covering her retreat with fierce hiss and lightning paw. He's now sprawled on the floor on the other side of the hanging curtain of cloth, upside down and back legs splayed, batting under the edge of the formerly white pad at her.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A good day

Yesterday, I deadlifted 100 pounds.

On the other hand, when I tried to do a set of three overhead presses with 57 pounds, the third one inspired a spate of unladylike words as my right shoulder chose the moment the bar was almost - almost! - to the top of the rep to go extremely unstable. It hurt like blazes, too, on the way down. It didn't actually feel injured, just unstable and aggravated. Right pissed off, as a matter of fact. 

So I gave it five minutes to recover, and tried again. I got two rep, and one the third, the bar got to about ear height and I just ran out of gas. Picture a car halfway up an icy hill, wheels spinning madly as it slowly slides backward... that was my third rep.

Friday, I'll try again - but we'll back off to 50 pounds and concentrate on form, making sure it's perfect before we add weight back.

But you know what? I deadlifted 100 pounds. It was an awesome day.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Bad Timing

Note to self: No matter what execrable pun or rotten limerick your Darling Husband says, do NOT laugh while you're trying to bench press more weight than you've ever done before. Because if you blow out your breath with a laugh, your chest collapses, lower back and shoulders destabilize, and the barbell will suddenly and very painfully go sideways on you. And then everything goes pear-shaped in a hurry.

In other notes, thank God for a good trainer who is spotting.

And my husband owes me SO MUCH chocolate. Ow.

...going to ban him from opening his mouth when I'm under a barbell...

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sage and blue cheese roasted squash

The original recipe is South African, calling for Gem Squash. I've only seen seeds for gem squash available once in 8 years of looking, and I lost the packet in moving - the squash itself, I've never seen in stores. (Note, this is not "gem" watermelons, which are not only much larger, but melons.)

But hey, you're roasting a small squash and then stuffing it with blue cheese and sage leaves that have been crisped in butter. Acorn squash is close enough!

Original recipe here:

American translation as follows:

3-4 acorn squash
1 wedge stilton (5-8 oz)
1 handful sage leaves (call it a cup. These are seriously tasty, so more is better!)
1 stick butter

First, get out the cleaver and carefully whack the acorn squash in half. Scoop out all the seeds, then flop two halves cut-down on a plate and microwave for 5-7 minutes, until the shells are shiny and the squash beneath is soft when you poke the shell. (Use something not your finger to poke it. It's hot!)

Flip the squash halves cut-side-up on a cookie tray. Divide blue cheese and crumble into each hollow.

Meanwhile, melt the stick of butter on medium heat in a frying pan. When melted, add the sage leaves. Let the dish bubble to itself for a while - about the time the butter is turning sage-green and the milk solids are starting to turn dark brown, the sage leaves will look less fresh and more fried. Remove from heat, and spoon the butter and leaves over each squash. Try to get all the cut parts coated in butter, so they won't dry out.

Stick cookie tray in oven, turn on broiler to low, broil 5 minutes or so until the cheese is bubbly, lightly browned, and sage leaves crispy but not burnt. (If doing 4 squash, just use two trays and rotate them out.)  

Serve with your main dish, and enjoy :-)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Starting Strength, the housewife review

Nothing makes me feel quite like a fat, tired, old hausfrau as looking at weightlifting & bodybuilding forums. For one thing, I can and do use correct spelling and grammar instead of "GAINZZZ!" For another, I fully recognize that it's taken me years to get into this shape, and it's going take time to get better - I'm not particularly concerned about my ABZZ, because I haven't seen them since I was 18, anyway.

Nor am I particularly impressed with the amount of noise I can make when dropping the weights, or the ability to motivate one's self or others through aggressive, crude posturing and mouthing off. (Really, boys. After you've heard Gunny Kowalski in a particularly vile mood while fixing his car, that's just infantile, unimaginitive, and repetitive.)

And I am not at all enamored of potions, lotions, pills, and powders that promise in highest pseudo-scientific commentary to deliver the same thing as Charles Atlas, without the work. I'm a woman of a certain age. Not only have I heard all that before with a slightly different spin from the cosmetic companies for decades, but I'm already taking enough potions, lotions, pills and powders that come with copays and scheduled checkups attached.

So, it may seem completely counter-intuitive that I started weightlifting with a Starting Strength coach - but it's actually been exactly what I needed, and delightfully free of  bushwa.

Starting Strength has a very simple, basic premise: you're there to get stronger, and you'll do that by lifting weights. They'll teach you how, and why, and what it does for you - as long as you put in the effort to do it.

And am I ever learning. When my darling man and I walked in to eyeball the gym and get a gut-feel for the people running it and coaching, they politely mandated we read the textbook before our first session (Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training), and then gave us a second textbook for supplemental reading (The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40).

My eighteen year old self would likely have shirked the reading, and made faces about textbooks outside of college. These days, I'm a little wiser... although, having never lifted before, a lot of the references in the manual were really hard going because I had no context. The first month has been full of "Ah, so that's what that means."

The coach was also most firm that we're going to perfect form before we add weight, a practice that I wholeheartedly agree with. (I've been in physical therapy enough times I know this drill; doing something wrong with lots of force = lots of pain and injury.) Enthusiasm without form leads to injury, and I don't have enough joint tissue left for that nonsense now.

And they deliver on results!. Now, being a rather broken and fat old woman who keeps a cane in the car for bad days, they didn't start me on weight right away - rather, I got to start with leg presses to build up enough strength to do squats. And Lat pulldowns to build enough strength for an overhead press. Even bench presses, I started with a 10-pound bar that was very clearly a 3/4" ID pipe cut to length, with stripes painted where the knurls are on real weightlifting bars. (I spent a few moments trying to remember if this was Schedule 40 or Schedule 80 pipe.)

But a month in, with three workouts of roughly half an hour each per week, I am now deadlifting 45 pounds, bench pressing 50, overhead pressing 35, and squatting 65 pounds.

The numbers on the exercises, though, are less important than the benchmarks in day to day life: I can once again put glasses away on the high cupboard shelf, and take down the pyrex jugs. My knees don't hurt as much all the time, and when I do things, they hurt less than they used to. I can now mow the front lawn and most of the back lawn, too, where before it was definitely one each per day. Oh, and my jeans are looser. Not dropping sizes yet, but it's a possibility in the future if this goes on!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

It only LOOKS fancy

I have been accused of cooking fancy. Let me set the record straight: the only difference between a bachelor's "What have I got in the fridge?" for dinner and my cooking is a longer lead time between "What have I got in the fridge?" and dinner itself, a bigger food storage, and a wider range of recipe searching.

Specifically, sometime before cooking for a dinner for 6 (often the morning of), I look in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, and think "What in this do I need to use up / want to get rid of?" Then I start searching the mental database and the internet for combinations of those ingredients.

Last Tuesday, I wanted to get rid of  two skirt steaks that were getting buried in the back of the deep freezer, before they were freezerburned. I also wanted to get rid of a partial jar of green salsa (instead of made with just tomatillos, it was made with hatch chilis too.) Having plugged "low carb mexican food" into a search engine, low carb slow cooker barbacoa came up. While it didn't use the green chili salsa, it called for green chilis, onions, lime juice, and chipotles in adobo sauce (which contains vinegar.) So that's all the same ingredients as the salsa - I just have to adjust the other ingredients a bit, and other than the chipotles that I could sub another smoked ground dried red pepper (hot smoked paprika), I had everything on hand. And I could use up the bottled lime juice that was getting old, too!

One of the other sites linked to non-low-carb mexican food, including borracho beans. And lo and behold, I have three bottles of Modelo that have been sitting in the fridge for at least a month, several cans of pintos and rotel that need to be used up so I can rotate canned stock, and all I'll have to pick up is the cilantro.

I did a test run on the beef, found it excellent but very dense, and decided it'd be better as a chiles rellenos - stuffed in peppers with cheese. My husband made doubtful noises about adding more peppery heat to the beef. Well, when I went to the grocery store to pick up the cilantro, I found green bell peppers on deep discount sale, so they and a block of munster cheese came home with me to be the stuffed pepper main course.

I also made a salad, because that's a dense enough meal it needs a salad. And because I always have salad fixings on hand. (Also, those tomatoes needed using. If I wasn't using 'em in a dish, then salad.)

And when I taste-tested the beans and went "Picante! Muy Picante!" I dug out the rice cooker and made a side of rice, too.

For dessert, I failed to remember to pick something up. So a quick check of the freezer produced a sad-looking bag of frozen strawberries, and two partial tubs of different kinds of vanilla ice cream with less than half a tub left each. No whipping cream in the fridge, so I had to improvise - I thawed the strawberries, reduced the juice into a thicker sauce, and poured it back over the strawberries along with a shot of Van Der Hum (spiced tangerine brandy), and let it soak together. No extra sugar, because ice cream has plenty! I served bowls with strawberries on the bottom, ice cream scooped on top, and topped with some chocolate sangiovese sauce I had in the fridge.  (It used up the strawberries and one tub of ice cream, making more freezer space.)

It only looks fancy!

Next week, I'm eyeing about two pounds of ground beef that someone stuck in the freezer in a "I'll just put this aside and use in a couple days, so no need to get out the vacuum sealer and do it right" kind of way, that are looking icy and ragged. Given a long, slow cooking to make them tender in a very flavourful gravy, I'm sure I can rescue them into something very tasty... likely a shepherd's pie or a Guinness stew.

Which lends itself to an inevitable veggies on the side. Maybe I can roast the carrots that have been in the salad drawer long enough to get hairy roots... I can pick up some turnips & roast 'em with that.  Or if they all go in the stew, there was the roast summer squash & cabbage dish a pub did... guess I better check what's on sale next week, and that'll tell me what my side dish is. Unless there's something else in the fridge to get rid of by then.

And hopefully this time I'll remember to pick up dessert. If not, there was that bag of "I have frozen blackberries? Since when?" I found when pulling out the strawberries. That can be a cobbler. Or an ice cream topping... if I pick up more ice cream... Ah! I could make custard instead, using up the eggs that are getting old, and hide any cracked tops under a blackberry sauce!

If it manages to look fancy, that's just a bonus. Being an adult isn't about perfect plans executed perfectly, it's about having well-developed contingency habits to deal with whatever life throws at you... and whatever needs to be used up first.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Back Burner Borracho Beans

I'm not yet fully acclimatized to Texas. I made these beans, and they were too spicy for me without copious amounts of sour cream, rice, and cheese. On the other hand, the Africans, the Texans, and the Cajun at the table all thought they were wonderful.

Back Burner Borracho Beans

In 5-1/2 quart Aldi knock-off of a Le Creuset dutch oven (because the slow cooker is full of barbacoa beef), combine:

3-4 cans pinto beans. (or make 2 pounds from scratch if you want. Me, I didn't plan this dish 18 hours in advance, so cans.)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Modelo beer
2 cans Rotel, drained (diced tomatoes with green chiles)
1 Tbsp smoked hot paprika (use chipotle powder if you have it; I couldn't find mine)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup cooked bacon crumbles (because it was in fridge, and easier than cooking bacon or buying salt pork)
1 tsp smoked mesquite salt
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar*
salt to taste**
Water to cover (don't add if using slow cooker)

*If everyone who eats the dish loves cilantro, leave this out. Cilantro's alkaline nature lends to the soapy taste. Chemically speaking, adding acid to alkaline makes a water and a salt, and thus vastly reduces the soapy nature of cilantro, while leaving some of the flavour.
**given you're using canned stuff, if you don't drain 'em, you'll have too much salt. If you do drain 'em, it's probably just right... but check.

Simmer on the back burner for at least an hour, stirring and scraping the bottom occasionally so it doesn't burn to the bottom. This lets the flavours meld - the longer you simmer, the better it gets.

True Texans would throw chilpotles in adobo sauce and fresh jalepenos in there. Me, no.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Slow Cooker Barbacoa

This recipe is adapted from Gimme Some Oven's recipe, and toned down for my, ah, less-spice-tolerant palate. Original is here:

Slow Cooker Barabacoa, the easy way

3lb skirt steak, cut into 1-inch chunks
1Tbsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp dried oregano
3 bay leaves
1 tsp mesquite smoked salt
2 tsp smoked paprika (hot)
1/4 cup bottled lime juice
1 16-oz jar Hatch Valley Green Chile Salsa, poured on top

Cook on low for 6 hours; it'll shred itself when you mush it with the back of the serving spoon.

If you want to get really fancy, there's always stuffing poblanos with equal portions of this & some cheese...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It's a good week

First, and most importantly, LawDog's book is out! He had a totally awesome launch, between Castalia's new release mailing list, his fans, the gunbloggers, Larry Correia's bookbomb, and an instapundit mention... out of over 5 million books in the kindle store, his hit #87 for a few hours!

Even more importantly, judging by reviews, the readers love it. Whether old fans or new, he's made a lot of people laugh (and cry, and spit out the drink they'd so unwisely taken just before reading that particular observation...) This is the best part of being an entertainer - the ability to connect with your readers, to pull them out of their everyday life and make them feel something else for a moment.

The rest of the Tiny Town, Texas Gun and Writing Club is even more ecstatic, because it's just so incredibly wonderful to see good things happen to people we like. All teasing about him resetting the bar aside, It was an excuse for a party last night. Granted, I cook dinner for LawDog's Lady and all the guys every week, but hey, I got a fancy tiramisu dessert from the deli, and sparkling cider so we could have a toast despite multiple people disliking the taste of champagne. (It was too sweet. We promptly went back to our regular drinks. But hey, the form was observed!)

Second, on a more personal note, I have now progressed on learning the correct form for the deadlift to the point that the trainer wants me to acquire weightlifting shoes. This is pretty awesome!

Yes, I'm still on the lightweight training bar with the 5-pound plastic plates that are merely meant to hold it at the right height... but now I get to buy a new piece of clothing! (I'm such a woman.)  It'll let me upgrade from rank n00b to level one newbie with one of my armor and equipment slots filled! (Okay, I'm such a female geek.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

nonverbal communication

We have a water fountain for the cats. Yes, they're spoiled - but also, it means I can just pour more water in, let the two cats duke it out, and clean it / change the charcoal filter once a month, instead of having bowls on the floor that need monitored daily for water volume and cleanliness.

Because it's a fountain, the motor noise changes when the water level drops past a certain point. This makes "when to refill" really easy.

Now, some people have cats that meow a lot. Some breeds are naturally talkative (meezers!), and others, it's been argued, figured out that the big dumb thumb-monkeys can't figure out body language and have to be meowed at like kittens. My cats, well, the maine coon kitten chirrups, but the older cat doesn't meow.

Kili just came and got me, by way of walking to where I was sitting, and putting a paw on my knee. When I put the book aside to provide a clear lap, she faced away from me, then stared over her shoulder. I sighed, put the book down, and followed the tail-high slow walk that stayed two steps ahead of me to the water fountain. She crouched and stared at it, but did not drink.

"It's full, Kili."

She stared at it, and did not drink. When I didn't get it, she looked up at me, then stared hard back at the water fountain.

"Cat, I have it on the schedule to clean it and replace the filter Saturday."

More staring at the water fountain, like it's a spider she hasn't decided how to kill.

I sigh, unplug it, and pick it up. Kili immediately dashes around the kitchen island, jumps up on the counter, and stares at the sink where  I'll wash it.

"I got the point, Kili."

Right, maybe there's a reason this cat doesn't meow. She's got her people pretty trained on the nonverbal communication.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Today, for the first time in my adult life, I did a deadlift. I actually did several of them, under the close direction of a Starting Strength coach. I also, for the first time in my life, did a bench press with a barbell. That was easier... no, it was simpler. Less body parts moving in concert with less timing. Easy evaporated around the third rep, and never came back.

I did not do a squat. The folks I'm paying very good money to be experts think I need to work on leg presses before I try to attempt a squat.

Very sadly, unlike scrawny 18-year-olds who can get away with drinking a gallon of milk and eating a loaf of bread a day, I am advised to up my protein and keep my carbs low for now. I was so looking forward to more bread...

Right now, though, I'm looking forward to a bath filled with epsom salts. I am going to be so sore tomorrow.

And then Friday I'm going to do it again.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Prepping, Bread, and Oil

We got back from Libertycon on July 3, and racked out. When we got 'round to unloading the car and cleaning the house, it was Independence Day, and all the stores were closed... and I had 6 hungry people to feed dinner, despite a rather empty fridge!

This is the kind of thing I prep for. The end of the world as we know it may or may not come once a lifetime, but extra mouths at dinner, not wanting to go to the store due to blizzard, volcanic ashfall, wildfire burning upwind, heavy rains, or just don't want to is a lot more common.The only downside to having no fresh veggies in the fridge was that I had to bake and cook, so I served a hot meal with no cool salad.

Appetizer: Greek psomi bread with dipping oil
Entre: Chicken chili on rice (Yay slow cooker and rice cooker!)
Side: Green beans with sauteed bacon, onion, and garlic
Dessert: Ice cream with sangiovese chocolate sauce

I was going to do a casserole, but the bread took long enough that I switched to beans, which can be microwaved and mixed with the sauteed part of the dish to be ready on time.

Psomi is really easy to make if you have a bread machine to do the kneading for you:

1 cup water (warm is best for dissolving the honey. No hotter than body temp, though.)
2 Tbsp honey (Killer Bees Honey. Amazing stuff!)
1.5 tsp quick yeast
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt

Use dough cycle. When it's finished, I cheated and formed the loaf into a mock braid directly on the silicon baking sheet, no extra floury surface needed, and slapping saran wrap over the top for the rise time. I also sacrificed crustiness on the loaf by oiling my hands to make it easy, which left the surface of the loaf lightly oiled, and then baking it at 325 for 30 minutes instead of 400 with sprayed water for extra steam for 15 minutes.

When it came out, I let it sit for two minutes, then dumped it onto an appetizer platter, with steam rising from where it broke in half while being shaken off the baking sheet. The mock-braid parts rose high and free, nicely browned and crispy, and were promptly broken off and eaten by happy hungry family.

Dipping oil:

1-2 tsp Tuscany Dipping Seasoning from Amarillo Grape & Olive
(Or use this recipe's spice mix, or make your own mix)
A few torn fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon capers
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil (use the good stuff.)

In bowl, mix the spices and balsamic vinegar. Microwave for 10-15 seconds, set aside.
In pan, saute capers & garlic in olive oil until capers have bloomed. Toss in basil until just wilted, then pour/scrape everything into the bowl with the balsamic & spices. Serves 2; triple for a hungry crowd who's going to attack the fresh loaf.

(I cheated last night; I was out of capers, so I just added a little extra fresh basil from the garden to the spice mix before microwaving, and wilted it just fine like that. It was low-garlic, but no one complained, especially not with the good olive oil and 25-year balsamic.)

Despite being an emergency meal thrown together from stores, I got no complaints.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Texas Scotch Eggs

Scotch eggs are a delightful thing - not only can they be made to satisfy keto, but they're an excellent way of stretching expensive meat by wrapping it around a cheaper egg. The latest round I've made includes a handful of this and a handful of that from the garden, which makes it even more rewarding for me. Like meatloaf, you can change the ingredients every time and still get a good meal.

12 eggs for boiling
1 more egg for the meat mix
1 pound country sausage
1 pound hamburger
1 tbsp lemon zest (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp fennel
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried, to taste)
1 thai pepper, seeded and diced fine
1 handful sage leaves, diced (or 1-2 tsp dried, to taste)
1 tsp mesquite-smoked salt

First, hard-boil eggs. Easiest to put them in a pan with cold water, heat it to a rolling boil, then take off the burner, put a lid on it, and let sit for ten minutes.  Then drain hot water, add cold, and let sit so they cool to non-burning temperatures. Repeat as necessary.

Second, peel the eggs. Easiest if you get a paper plate lined with paper towels, and a teaspoon out of the silverware drawer. (Yes, the eating kind of teaspoon, not the measuring kind.) Roll the egg on the counter until the shell has cracked into several portions, then flip the spoon over so the curve of its bowl matches the curve of the egg, and work it underneath the shell. This will allow you to lift and peel away large amounts of sheel much easier than picking it it with your fingers. Rinse each egg to remove any tiny shell fragments, and let dry on the paper plate.The dryer your eggs are, the less slippery they'll be.

Third, preheat the oven to 350 F. Set out a baker's half-sheet or two cookie trays, lined with aluminum foil or silicone mats for easy cleanup.

Fourth, chop the herbs and toss into a large mixing bowl, crack the egg into the bowl, and then add the spices and the meat, and mix thoroughly. I don nitrile gloves and mix by hand, because then I can just move on to step 5... and no sausage under my fingernails.

Fifth, divide the mixed meat in half. (Just ram your fingers down the middle of the bowl to make equal halves.) Then divide again, so it's in quarters. Given you have 12 eggs to cover, this means each lump must cover three eggs. Scoop out roughly 1/3 of a lump, and form it into a ball in one hand. Then mash that ball flat with the other hand. pick up an egg, place it in the center, and wrap the meat around it. You may need to squish the sausage mix around some in order to get even and complete coverage. Put the meat-covered egg on the cooking tray.

Sixth, pop the meat-covered eggs into the oven for 25 minutes. 20 will probably do, but I like 25. Pull out very carefully, realizing you're going to have a puddle of grease in the bottom of your tray(s). Stick the tray on the stove burners to cool down.  If you want, you can make the mustard sauce to go with them.

Mustard Suace

1 egg
1 cup mayo
1 Tbsp ground mustard, or 1/4 cup prepared mustard
a couple of strips of sundried tomato (optional)

Mix everything but tomato in a saucepan, then bring to simmer, stirring frequently. As soon as bubbles start poking up (or the sauce dramatically thickens), you're done. Remove immediately from heat, and pour into a bowl to serve. Garnish with sundried tomato strips.

Work well served hot, or served cold.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why does getting better hurt so much?

At the rehab center's gym this morning, I was working away at the weight-machine and corestix portions when I observed a bunch of elderly folks toddling toward the yoga studio room. Good for them!

Then I went to do my free weights, and discovered that the ladies and gents had taken off with all one the one, two, three, and four-pound weights (except one lonely one-pound weight sitting abandoned at the bottom of the rack.)I gulped, and looked at my discharge instructions. Well, they do say "increase weight as condition improves." So I picked up the five-pound dumbells, and proceeded to try to do two my two sets of ten in every range of motion with them.

Oh, my stars and garters. Ow. That felt almost like I was back in the beginning of physical therapy. On the other hand, it wasn't actually injurious, and perhaps I had been taking it a little too easy...

I'm now lying on the couch, trying to decide if I'm a masochist or just really well trained by a succession of physical therapists. Because I know when I next go to the gym, I'm going to do that again.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bacon-wrapped stuffed dates

I had these, many years ago, as an appetizer for a chef's tasting menu. Since then, I've been looking for the best recipe to recreate 'em, and I"ve pretty much found it.

A few notes:

1. Pick a mild, soft blue cheese. Stay well away from anything crumbly, or "salad-ready". In fact, if you really can't abide blue cheese (though you may be surprised, when it's in this), then a Camembert, brie, or Gorgonzola will work as well.

2. Use medjool dates. No, really. They're juicier, taster, and... as they're larger, they're easier to work with. Easier is better. And get the ones with pits; they're jucier, and you're gonna be cutting them in half anyway.

3. Find the bulk-bin nuts section for your slivered almonds. You can get twice as much as you need for a half to a a third of the cost of buying 'em pre-packaged. And given that you're going to be using roughly a quarter of a cup... we're talking spending 75 cents here, not $3.50 for a fancy package

Blue-cheese  & almond stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates.

32 Medjool dates (just get a pound, and save the money, get the ones with pits in.)
1 small wedge soft blue cheese (Somewhere around a cup?)
1 pound thick bacon.
1/2 cup slivered almonds (You won't use it all, but you won't run out.)
Pepper grinder
Mesquite-smoked salt (optional)

Cut each date open lengthwise, and pull out the pit. The tray on which you're going to cook these is a great place to store the split-open dates - and if you have a silicone sheet, it makes cleanup so much easier!

When you've gotten all your dates de-pitted, wash all the sticky off your hands and the knife. Now, drop 2-3 pieces of slivered almond in each date (4 for the really big ones, 1 for the really small ones.) Cut the cheese into small chunks, and then stuff each date & close it back up. (Soft cheese makes it easy to adjust the amount needed to the size of the date, and stuff the rest in the next date down the line.) You're aiming to have no empty space, and no cheese oozing out.

Wash all the gooey off your hands and the knife, and put away the rest of the dates, blue cheese, and almonds. Come back, and place about the number of toothpicks you need on the cutting board, plus a couple extra. (You're about to have raw-meat hands, and don't want to contaminate the jar.) Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Open the bacon package, and cut the chunk of bacon into thirds. (The original recipe called for quarters, but that's just fussy, finicky, and more bacon is better.) Then, wrap each stuffed date with a piece of bacon, and secure with toothpick. Place on baking sheet when done.

When finished, wash the grease and raw meat off your hands, then grab your pepper grinder and add a dusting of pepper to the top of the bacon, followed by a light sprinkle of mesquite-smoked salt. (If you're grilling, skip the salt, keep the pepper.) Pop tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Put away the tiny bit of leftover bacon, clean the knife and area thoroughly. You're now ready to make the rest of dinner and there's only one cutting board and knife that need washing.

When the appetizers are done, give them 5 minutes of resting time so nobody burns their mouth. Or, you know, let the appetizer-snatcher beware. Can be served cold, but better piping hot.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Gardening in Texas

Ah, Texas. I just had one of the contractor's guys ask very, very politely if he might have a few of the Thai Peppers growing outside my back door. Please, ma'am. Might I have 4? I didn't grow any this year...

The pepper plants are, ahem, prolific. I happily gave some away (they're still unripe and green, but they're already hot.)

And then a friend brought a sprig of catnip with her to dinner. Kili is now ensconced on a chair where the kitten can't get at her easily, sitting on her catmint, stoned as can be.

She also brought her latest round of plotting for the extra back yard I have... perhaps a trellis shaped like a quonset hut, for squash and melons, convertible to a hoop house for some things like citrus that can't take the coldest parts of winter? And what do I think of a fig tree? Or pallet gardening?

...I think these plans are more than my remaining shoulder and knee can handle. But together, together we can take on the world! Muahahaha!

(Okay, the world of gardening. In north texas. in our yards. Take on, at least. Conquering remains to be seen...)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


I love hot running water. I have turned down jobs that were off-grid, because I did not want to live without hot running water, refrigeration, and electricity.

I have been out of Alaska for... six years, now? Still feels like just the other month.

I have been in Texas for a little over a year.

I have just finished a long, hard, hot morning of yardwork. And taken a lukewarm shower. And for the first time in my life, I liked it lukewarm instead of hot.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Fat Head Pizza

Sarah Hoyt recommended the Fat Head pizza crust recipe to me, as low carb and yet tasty. I have to agree, this is the first pizza crust of the low carb variety I've run into that is actually as good as the wheat-based version.

One minor note: it's incredibly filling. I didn't have parchment paper, so I patted it out by hand on a silicone baking sheet into roughly a 9x11in crust. I loaded it up with toppings, hoping it'd be enough with a salad... and between Peter and myself, we had half a leftover pizza and leftover salad.

Definitely a keeper... and good enough for company! I loaded it up with straight tomato paste for the sauce, sauteed bell pepper & onion strips, chopped basil out of the garden, the last of the pepperoni in the fridge, and some sausage, then added a little oregano and plenty of mozzarella on top. The recipe called for 5 minutes more of baking, but I hit it with 30 seconds of broiling to give the cheese topping that proper touch of browning and faint blackening on the toppings that poked through.

Monday, June 5, 2017

One cookbook too many...

I like cookbooks; they're entertainment for me. For example, Gordon Nelson's Lowbush Moose (And Other Alaskan Recipes) is a wonderful collection of stories of places and people in Alaska, and the recipes that bring them to mind. The Rocky Mountain Wild Foods Cookbook neatly avoids the problem of so many other edible plant guides by providing ways to make what you find into a tasty dinner, not just a handful of munchies on a hike or survival "Eugh! This is why we domesticated all the alkalines out of our salad greens!" rations.

Hank Shaw's Buck Buck Moose is an excellent collection of recipes to make hooved wild game delicious (and I like supporting him, after all the years he's put into more stories, ruminations, explanations, philosophies and recipes on his website.)

And then there's the cookbooks I go to often for recipes. The first is Prof Noakes' Real Meal Revolution, which is the fruit of two South African ultramarathoners taking on ketogenic lifestyle and cooking. The recipes are a healthy version of the food my darling man loves, and tasty enough it's worth the trouble of translating grams, Celcius, and courgettes into American english. Then there's Dana Carpender's 1000 low-carb recipes. (Best one-star review ever on Amazon: "This is just a compilation of all the best of her prior cookbooks!" Yeah, that sold me!) And Stephanie O'Dea's More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow.

Unfortunately, I just got another cookbook... and when I went to put it on the shelf, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. The poor thing collapsed, and wiped out the next shelf down, flooding cookbooks and reference books everywhere across the floor. Just because it's going on 20 years old, and has been disassembled and reassembled across at least 4 moves...

Off to to our itty bitty town hardware store for some brackets, and busting out the cordless drill! (Itty Bitty Town's hardware store is staffed by a couple old guys who are masters of jerry-rigging, and a couple high school kids whose farm boy origins mean they're pretty possessing of clue despite their age. They can't compete with Big Box Store in the nearby city on price or selection, but they're masters at suggesting which duct tape and how to rig the bailing wire, and completely unflappable when someone comes in with pajama bottoms, bathrobe, and urgent need for some plumbing bit.) I cleaned them out of their inch and a half brackets, and couldn't resist a magnetic retrieval tool on the way out. (Vision of where a screw might end up with feline assistance were dancing in my brain.)

By the time my darling man and I were finished, both shelves aren't going to move until the entire structure gives way. And the cats only got a little stepped on. And... I reluctantly thinned out a stack of books I'm not going to re-read, and cookbooks I'm not going to use again because I've gotten the one or two good recipes I use memorized. (They're lovely books, but too high-carb for us, now.)

I shouldn't be eyeing the empty space and contemplating my next cookbook... but Hank Shaw's Duck Duck Goose is calling my name...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Peppers and Dill

Despite the title, that's not a recipe. The dill is doing most excellently - I think it's trying to bolt. So today's dinner included fresh dill and oregano in the tapenade-stuffed pork loin, and steamed carrots with a sauce of butter, lemon juice, and fine-chopped dill. I also made some refrigerator pickles - fresh-sliced cucumbers, peppers, and half a red-onion, all thinly sliced, with vinegar, stevia, salt, and some dill stuck in the fridge to marinate to itself overnight.

Dessert was dill free: cherry pie and black walnut ice cream.

Meanwhile, I have little tiny thai peppers growing. I've never seen the skinny little peppers grow before, and was surprised and amused to find that after the flower is pollinated, the petals don't drop off. Instead, they become a wrinkled brown crown on the pepper itself as it grows out from the base of the flower stem. I picked a few rings of dead flowers off peppers this morning, and it seems like they grew half an inch by evening. Spiffy!

The tomatoes, on the other hand, are strangely curly-leafed (I suspect it may be a blight or virus), and none of the flowers have turned into little green tomatoes. Win some, lose some!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Lists, Plots, and cleaning.

Some people have a list of chores they need done, and mark them off as they are done. Some people have a list of chores done divided per day, so Saturday is laundry day while Wednesday is clean the bathroom day, or something.

Me, I needed more motivation than that. After the injury spent months grinding me down by staring at all the things that need doing and I couldn't do, I've started on a simpler track:

I do things, and make a list of what I have done.

I learned this from a writer, Dean Wesley Smith, who was talking about the artificial divide between pantsers (make it up as you go along, plotting by the seat of your pants) and plotters (have a detailed outline before you write the first word). Most authors aren't actually one or the other, he contends, and there's a wide range of folks who agree that their "plotting" ranges from six bullet points on a notepad that have to be accomplished by the story's end to writing the ending, and then figuring out how to get there, or building a plot, then writing scenes with characters, and as the characters do their own things by their own motivation, revising the plot.

Dean himself plots in reverse. That is, he'll come up with a title, and then write whatever comes to mind, in the style of a pure pantser - but when he's done with a writing session, he pulls out a notebook and notes down who the people are, where they are, and what they did in the scene. After every session, he'll add to that. And if he gets stuck, he'll pull out the notebook, look at the plot so far, and go "Ah! I haven't done anything with that character / plotline!" or "I need to flesh out that character arc." And that'll inspire him on how to go on.

I'm not that awesome. But I can clean in reverse: look around, pick something, and start cleaning. Then clean the next thing, and the next, noting them down as I go. The advantage is that I'm making a growing list of "I got this done", instead of failing to cross out a list of "need to do." So when I become one with the couch in a puddle of very tired and sore shoulders, I can feel accomplished at everything I managed instead of frustrated at what I didn't do.

Hey, works for me.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


For the last few months, OldNFO has been tossing a chapter at a time to us when we come over for dinner (and sometimes, bringing a revised or new chapter when he comes over for dinner.) The story is awesome, even if it's, in his inimitable way, something completely tangential to most Military SciFi right now. Even better, it's now out for sale!

Remember when he had a maintenance tech get stranded because he was too busy setting up the illegal still to notice the evac order? If you don't, he's got the story up for free right now:

But yeah, same universe - this time, it's the story of a medically retired ground-pounder who just wants to get to a nice little backwater planet and live a quiet retirement.

Things never work out that way.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tapenade-stuffed Pork Loin

Sams club had artichoke-olive tapenade. It looked nifty, and we were tired and hurting, so it ended up in our cart. (Grocery shopping when hurting is like grocery shopping when hungry; pain definitely erodes my impulse control.) So I was looking at it, and wondering what the heck one does with tapenade besides putting it on baguettes.

Turns out, it's good stuffed into pork loin. I added a little roasted garlic to the jarred mix, and then used about a cup of tapenade on four pounds of butterflied pork loin. (two 2-pound chunks.) Then I coated the top and sides of the pork loin logs with bacon, and secured them with kitchen twine.

See here for a pretty good idea of how I prepped the pork loin.

One difference: on top of the bacon, I sprinkled mesquite-smoked salt from Amarillo Grape & Olive. Excellent stuff, and makes up for a distinct lack of charcoal and fire.

Because I don't have a grill, I preheated the oven to 425 F, and cooked them for 40 minutes, then rested them for 10 minutes covered loosely with aluminum foil before carving.

Served with coleslaw and dessert of French silk pie, and everyone was happy. Even LawDog, who failed to object fast enough and got tasked with the twine-cutting and carving. (I distrust myself around sharp objects when past a certain level of tired, and have wonderful friends who don't mind stepping into the breach and making sure everything happens without blood or bandaids.)

Good stuff. Even if you haven't had jars of tapenade end up in your grocery cart, try it out!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Low Carb Coleslaw

Or, what to throw together as a side dish to tapenade-stuffed pork, barbeque, or pepperoni pizza chili.

Low Carb Coleslaw

2 bags pre-shredded coleslaw mix
1/2 red onion, quartered and then thinly sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp salt

Mix together, cover, chill for an hour. It won't look like enough dressing at first. Mix again well; the dressing will have pulled water out of the cabbage, onions, & carrot shreds, and made the whole thing much creamier. Serves 8.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Low Carb French Silk Pie

I promised Phlegmmy that I'd compile a recipe that I've drawn from three different sources, so here goes:

Low Carb French Silk Pie

1-1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix dry ingredients, add melted better and vanilla. Mix into a ball of dough. Press into pie plate in roughly even depth and up the sides a little, bake for 12 minutes. Let cool. (Takes longer than you think to cool; start this early.)


16 oz cream cheese, room temperature (2 boxes)
4 Tbsp sour cream
4 Tbsp butter, melted (half a stick)
1/4 cup truvia (or other stevia blend)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp truvia (for whipping cream)
1 tsp vanilla extract (for whipping cream)
1 Tbsp brandy (Van Der Hum, or Blackberry brandy. For the whipping cream.)

Put cream cheese, sour cream, butter, 1/4 cup truvia, 1 Tbsp vanilla extract, cocoa powder, and salt in bowl. On low speed, mix everything together until very well blended, and then beat a little faster to aerate. Rinse off beaters. Check crust - if still hot, pop into fridge to cool off.

In separate bowl, mix whipping cream, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and brandy until stiff peaks form. Break out a spatula and gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate batter a third at a time, until the whole mix is creamy, fluffy, and well-mixed. Then scoop into pie crust, and smooth off the top.

Refrigerate - if you're making more than a few hours ahead, cover. Otherwise, just chill and enjoy.

The crust is an a variation on an excellent crust here: Wicked Stuffed
with chocolate and cinnamon added a la here: CJ Eats Keto
The filling is drawn from here: Ruled.Me

As a note: cocoa powder (and stevia) are bitter. One of the main functions of salt in cooking is to remove bitterness. Many cooks (and recipe creators) don't realize this, and instead try to overwhelm the bitter with sweet. If you're looking to cut sugar (and expensive sugar substitutes), the first thing to do is look at your ratio of bitter ingredients to salt to sugar. In this case, I have removed the sugar from the crust entirely by adding salt, and cut the sugar in the filling in half by adding a teaspoon of salt. The people eating the pie didn't miss the extra sweetness at all; they liked the pie just as is.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Proud, fierce, independent cat

Kili is a loving cat... from two feet away. She likes to be on the arm or back of the couch when I'm sitting on it, or curled up on the other side of the bed when I'm sleeping and Peter's already up. If I'm on the treadmill desk, she's ignoring me in the windowsill nearby.

Every now and then, on her terms, she likes actual contact; she'll climb on my chest, purring, in the middle of the night and settle in happily. Or she'll claim my lap, and I'm just supposed to move my laptop elsewhere and let her sit... but if I try to pet her, I get this look from her, and she vacates to out of touch range. (She's a pre-owned cat from the shelter. Like many pre-owned cats, she has issues.)

But last night, we had a front stall out over the Red River, and the bedroom was brightly lit with almost continuous flashes of lightning. I realized this when I woke up to the light and noise... and found a cat welded between my hip and Peter's side, underneath both our arms. Purring frantically.

Yep, proud, fierce, independent cat... until scared, and then it's all in on finding a way to be practically hiding underneath her humans, where they'll protect her.

Cats really are little women in fur coats!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Way Up North has moved!

If you haven't seen a post from Rev Paul lately, and were wondering where the daily life in Alaska, meditations on Scripture, and Unalaska Police Blotter reports went, he's now at:

If you're not reading him already, go forth and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When people love their job

This morning, I was at the rehab center's gym, faithfully grunting, wheezing, and trying not to whimper as I'd made up my mind that today I was going to get through every single exercise on the discharge instructions list, at full weight, full reps, full time.

Side note here: North Texas Rehab has a gym area and a pool, and they've opened both up to the public as regular gym memberships. I think this is awesome business sense, because it lets them recoup cost for all the expensive machinery and pool maintenance - and in the therapy sense, because it lets clients continue working on the same machines and routines when they graduate to self-directed. Wish more places did that!

While I was contemplating the levels of sheer stubborn bloodymindedness the dumbbell exercises were taking, one of the older physical therapists was gently coaching an elderly lady through exercises nearby. She finished before me, and tottered her way out the door with a "Well, young man, I'm certainly glowing today!"

The therapist turned back to me just as I was collapsed on top of a yoga ball inbetween planks, and said "You doing all right?"

I lifted my head until I could see him, and summoned up a smile. "Yeah. Just following all my discharge instructions," and I twitched a hand at the form, "So I don't end up back in physical therapy."

He looked heavenward, raising two fists and pumping them. "Yes!!!" Then he looked back at me with a grin that pretty much showed all his back teeth. "The ones you're doing are great exercises. You'll get a lot stronger in no time."

I nodded, slightly dazed, and blinked a few times as he left the gym area. Then I finished the next set, and remembered that physical therapists are not unlike airplane mechanics: they rarely get to see the things they put so much work into actually doing well and working great. Apparently, I have made his day by proving that at least one client follows instructions, and is putting in the sweat labor to continue getting better.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tuna Melt Stuffed Tomatoes

The recipe for this one is simple: preheat oven to 400 F. Slice top off tomatoes, scoop out innards with a spoon & discard. Turn upside down on a paper towel to drain while you make tuna fish salad the way you like it, and slice the cheese to cover the tops.

(Mine included tuna, mayo, diced celery, thinly sliced green onion, a little mustard, some cajun seasoned salt, and chopped parsley from the garden.)

Turn tomatoes back over. Spoon tuna fish salad into tomatoes, place on baking pan(I used a silicone baking sheet for low-mess cleanup), and top with cheese slices. In my case, I turned a couple pointy tomatoes that wouldn't stand up straight over and smooshed in the pointy end, or sliced it off with a sharp knife so they'd stand up straight.

Pop in the oven for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your tomatoes. Let cool a couple minutes, so the cheese doesn't burn your mouth. Enjoy!

Two out of two cats agree that I'm the most popular woman in the house right now, as the scent of hot tuna wafts out of the oven.

Original recipe here:

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Duke Elegant and AvCanada

Sometimes things slip away into the dusty archives of the internet, and sometime they're lost and only 404's remain to mark their passing. For everyone who loves flying, let me pull back the curtain and show you some tales that were saved, when an old aviator found a message board and started swapping some "been there, done that"s you'd normally never hear anywhere that regulators and busybodies could ask questions.

Armed with the anonymity of an internet handle and a diagnosis of cancer that cleared off the last care he could have given, he started telling stories. The board is gone, (upgraded), but the stories have been saved.

I give you: Duke Elegant, and the big chill.

The intro:

The rest of the pages are here:

and finally wrapped up at Tales of a Wayward Aviator

Read 'em all. There's a bit missing here and there (sad to see the nose art from the firebombers is missing, now), and it's a strange form to see archived instead of reading as they came out, but what's left is worth reading, and passing on.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rules for When to wake up the husband

Daddybear has an excellent (funny and true!) list for when it is and is not appropriate to wake up your husband...

For a taste:

1. Do not wake up your husband for inclement weather until the dude on TV is telling folks five miles from your house to get in the basement.
2. Do wake up your husband when you hear something that may or may not be a home intruder, large critter on the porch, or ghost.
3. Do not wake up your husband for a sick child until the child tells you it is sick. That is, of course, unless said sprog is an infant, in which case neither of you will be asleep anyway.
4. Do wake up your husband if the child announces said malady by spewing like a shaken can of cheap beer.

for the rest,
Go here, enjoy!

Read the rest, and tell me, what other rules would you suggest?

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Italian-stuffed poblanos

This recipe started with the wicked stuffed blog's version, but I ran into a couple problems. First, banana peppers aren't in season in early April in Texas, so... poblanos. Also, doesn't take as much stuffing as they call for.

Italian-stuffed Poblanos

2 pair nitrile gloves (optional, but makes handling cut peppers and seeds so much easier!)
10 Poblano peppers
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 lbs mild country sausage
1 onion
2 tsp fennel
1/2 tsp black pepper
pinch red pepper
pinch garlic powder
2 tsp herbs de provence
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1/4 cup wine
8oz shredded mozzarella
1 cup marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Don gloves, and set out two baking sheets with either silicone baking mates or aluminum foil
Pour olive oil into a bowl you can reach into to get oil all over your hands (but don't oil up yet.)
Cut off tops of poblanos & deseed.
Oil hands, and rub down the outside of the poblanos.
Put knife you used in the sink, then remove gloves & throw away.
Bake pobalos for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook sausage over medium heat. Add fennel seeds, black & red pepper, cook until browned. Add onion & salt (if you think it needs salt, cook until onions translucent.
Add herbs de provence, and deglaze the pan with the wine.
Set sausage mixture aside to cool.

When peppers come out of the oven, let cool until merely warm to the touch.
Don second pair of nitrile gloves, open cheese packet.
Cut each poblano in half, then strip out the pith and seeds you missed earlier.
Lay poblano halves back on baking sheets, skin down.
Crumble the sausage & onion mixture even finer if needed, and heap onto peppers.
Layer cheese on top of sausage mixture. Toss gloves, have still clean hands.

If you let everything sit to room temperature, pop trays back into 350 oven for 5 minutes or so. If not, skip this step.
Turn on broiler, and broil peppers until the mozzarella is bubbly and browning. Swap baking trays & broil other one, too.
While broiling, stick marinara sauce in microwave on reheat power, stopping to stir occasionally, until steaming hot.

Serve marinara on side with ladle, and trays of peppers laid across the burners on the stove, with a spatula. Is tasty, not fancy.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Biting off more than I can chew

I'm about to graduate from Physical Therapy. Unfortunately, I already know this song and dance: I'm not 100%, I'm just to the point where I don't need to be supervised in order to safely get there. I know the exercises, I know the routine, I have the equipment... go forth and get the last 10% back, and better tan that, on my own time.

Sadly, my brain still wants to say "You're 100%! You're graduating! You should do ALL THE THINGS! And do them now!"

Well, I can get the bathrooms cleaned, three loads of laundry folded (and two more washed), and dinner made. But I can't get those last two loads folded, and even dinner's going to require a while on the couch recuperating before I get up to tackle the last stuffing the peppers and sticking them in the oven bit.

Our writing group is going low carb. This is awesome, because it means I get to try out low carb recipes that are just far, far too much work for two people. This is a whole lot more work than my shoulder likes, because I'm using it as an excuse to learn the dark arts (chemistry and physics) of low-carb baking.

Today's recipes will either be wonderful or be the kind of disaster that sends us out to a nearby restaurant. Among other things, I figured out that the "lemon custard" for the tart was really just a sweetened hollandaise sauce... right as it split on me. Thank goodness for the internet, because I'd clean forgotten how to repair split sauces!

now I just need to mop the kitchen and dining room, vacuum the couch and cat tree (Maine coon kitten - when it comes to shedding, he's definitely the malamute of the cat world!), mow the back lawn, clean the place up, fold the last two loads of laundry, and...

Maybe I'll just sit here and have some tea.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Relearning the basics

It's a truth and a truism that you don't necessarily go to experts to learn the very basics: if you want to learn to paint, you'd better learn a bit about gauche vs oils vs watercolor and what brushes, or brushstrokes, do what, much less how to mix pigments, etc. before you do a class with Franzetti, Whelan, De Royo, Sam Flegal, or Melissa Gay.

This is because experts at doing are much in demand to do instead of teach, so their teaching time is limited and best saved for going from good to really good and need a lot of practice with the new techniques you just learned, eh?

Except... (there's always an except) When you learn from someone who's very good at what they do, and they're taking the time to start at the utmost basics, you can learn a heck of a lot faster because you get to skip a lot of guesswork, learning wrong, and having to unlearn the wrong way in order to relearn the right way.

And a surprising amount of what goes wrong at the mid level, preventing you from getting to great, has to do with needing to go back and fix / perfect the basics.

I've been lucky, or unlucky, enough to receive basic flying instruction in several different environments, from Palo Alto to Alaska Oklahoma to Appalachia. This was partially a function of running out of money for instruction before achieving the license several times, and partially a function of relearning after physical therapy. When your muscles no longer pull with the same amount of force or pressure that you used to have, it's a good idea to go over the basics of how much push, pull, turn, and twist to do before you get into a tight spot where you really need the airplane to do what you think you told it to do.

I like the crusty old curmudgeons, the quiet guys in the battered ballcaps, because the experience they can impart and the standards they hold me to are priceless. Each one had something different to teach me, and some extra experience to learn, over and above their local knowledge. Some things I learned in offhand comments in conversation would later save my life, or prevent me from getting into a fix that required greater skill than I had to get out of.

Now I'm back in physical therapy (and I'm probably going to pick up a local flight instructor when I'm done, at least for an hour or two.) But I'm tackling another physical sport... shooting.

Now, my dearest darling husband wisely absented himself from teaching me, because husbands teaching wives is... fraught. But OldNFO and LawDog consented to drag my carcass out to the firing line, and start with the very basics: stance, grip, how to carry the gun on and off the range, where to focus, how to sweep the safety off, etc.

Those two gentlemen are very good shots. OldNFO is an extremely patient teacher. And I... I try to be a good learner. Tell me what you want, and I'll do my best not to have to be told twice. (Though I inevitably miss some things on the first round. I aspire to make different mistakes, instead of the same ones over and over!)

Now, when LawDog is demonstrating where my elbows should be when carrying the pistol, in order to make maneuvering in the stack and fighting a hostile who's going for the gun easier... Yeah, that's the thing with learning from experts. Their tangents are fascinating, even when your skill level is nowhere close to being able to apply it.

Like Paul Claus muttering about having to rock the floats for a curving takeoff on glassy water, because the suction with no waves will increase the drag and lengthen your takeoff run significantly otherwise. Or... shoot, I don't remember which author it was now, but explaining that writing to length was a matter of writing the story, then if you needed to pad 10-20 thousand words, you added another character, 20-30K another subplot, and if you needed to cut, see prior. Or Mr. Buckland noting that boredom kills, so if you're likely going to get stuck under a slow-moving low pressure front, make sure you have a good thick book you wanted to read and some handicrafts in the plane. "I think I'll go see if I can make it" is the cause of a lot of heartache.

But make sure you get the basics down first.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Getting better

I know I'm getting better when the symmetrical physical therapy exercises are a challenge to the uninjured side of the body, too.

...or more out of shape? Um, let's stick with getting better. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Low carb flan

Still working on the syrup at the bottom, but I've got the proportions worked out for the custard.

Syrup: next time I'm trying
1 Tbsp Truvia powder
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
2 Tbsp water

1 cup cream
1 cup half & half
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp truvia

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Find a pie plate that fits inside a baking dish.

To make syrup: combine ingredients in bowl.
Spray pie pan with nonstick cooking spray & pour mixture in.
Microwave on half power for 4 minutes.
Place pie pan in large baking dish.

To make custard:
Whisk together all ingredients, and pour over syrup in pie plate.
Place baking dish on oven rack, trying not to slop custard over the side.
Add water to baking dish, trying for up to the level of the flan, but not in danger of slopping over on the oven bottom or in the pie tine when you put the oven shelf in so it can bake.
Bake for 45 minutes or when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (65 minutes on my last try.)

When finished, if you turn the sink into a room-temperature water bath and plunk the flan in it, it'll cool quickly. Otherwise, let cool however and cut into eighths. Serve with clotted cream for pure decadence.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Spell check problems

Alma and I had a hilarious conversation the other month, in which we pontificated upon the theoretical problems of spell check in a world where magic works, and auto-correct might try to substitute shrubbery wrath (like the shining) vs. Shub Niggurath...

She now has the result up for free on her blog! Go forth, and giggle!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The real interesting part...

So, over at a friend's tonight, and he had the Oscars on.

One of us was definitely watching for the costuming. I kinda was, too, though I was playing "spot the costume mistresses fixing everything for photo ops."

But four of us were really playing "spot the security in tuxes." My goodness, that place was swarming with security! So we were counting the number of people in dove position, and spotting the security guy in tennis shoes instead of shiny black wingtips that aren't so good for hauling butt, and the security guy who clearly neither knew nor cared that his bowtie was askew... (I kept expecting a costume mistress to make him twitch by running up and fixing it, but the camera wasn't catching it.)

There were some celebrities there, too. I didn't recognize most of 'em, so they got labelled manbun-boy, concentration-camp-vampire woman, unhappy-child-bride, etc. But who cares about them, when there are costumes, costume mistresses, and security to watch?

Apparently appendix carry was really popular this year, because most of 'em weren't printing on the tuxes.