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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Balky Winter

A Facebook friend from Laramie posted today that she was going cross-country skiing today at the Happy Jack recreation area just east of town. I'd spent a fair amount of time there during Laramie winters, first learning to ski, then gliding over the well-packed trails, sometime with Kerry, usually alone.

When we moved to northern Idaho, we took up snowshoeing for winter activity. We've been looking forward to some time on the logging trails that cross our 66 acres, especially since some good friends have just decided to get some gear and try snowshoeing this year. But there's been no snow. Just a hard frost every night, coating the cars, the fields, the road, and the trees. some areas are so shaded from sun that the first frost is still on the ground.

The cats don't seem to mind. They're still hunting mice, crouched perfectly still on the cold, white grass, concentrating on the catch, more successfully than not. And the neighbor's chickens don't seem to care. The neighbors went away for the day and asked me to put the birds to bed at night and let them out of their roosting box in the morning. The rooster let me know in no uncertain crows that he'd expected to be let out earlier than I did (well, it did take me 15 minutes to defrost the car this morning). The rooster and his six-hen harem were out of their heated box and wired run as soon as I opened them. I think I'd rather have stayed in the box a while longer.

It's been overcast much of the week, with a weather inversion that's engendered a ban on outdoor burning. So, I've been spending time on our second hill felling trees Kerry marked earlier in the year, and cutting them up for firewood. Now the hill is littered with branches that I need to haul to the several burn piles we've built. But, who knows when the ban comes off. I check The Weather Channel Web site daily, looking for sunny days when I can get back on my road bike (armed with warmer cycling gloves) and when I'll need to mount the snow blade on my ATV. Expecting one sunny day this week; no appreciable snow.

Winter remains balky.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Past Times Books: Historical Fiction E-Books




Back in October I was flattered to be asked by Wendy Bertsch, the founder of the website Past Times Books, to join its cadre of historical fiction authors and list my historical novels, The Wolf's Sun and A Devil Singing Small  It's a very particular website and vets applicants' novels for writing quality and, I assume, the ability to tell a good story.

The authors who reside on the site are nice, too, and have led interesting lives, which they write about. Best of all, you can peruse their works of historical fiction, which have direct links to Kindle and other ebook sites for purchase.
I read Dodging Shells, by Bertsch, a novelization of her father's World War II military experience as a Canadian soldier during the invasion of Sicily and the push up the boot of Italy.  It was poignant (he was so young) and it was humorous (if you can't find humor in war, you'll go mad).  Not a lot has been written about the Canadian forces during World War II, but they fought alongside the British from the beginning of the war in 1939.

I feel quite at home on Past Times Books, as though I've become a member of an exclusive club.  If you're in search of some good historical fiction, I hope you take a look at this website and the literary riches it displays.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Early Winter


Winter has come to the Inland Empire. About two inches of snow on the ground, bearing the tracks of turkey and deer from the house to the mailbox. They've come down from the hills, scrounging for food. This morning six does and yearlings were milling about under the willow trees in the front yard, eating leaves that had blown down during the week and digging through the snow for still green grass. I threw them some apples that had gone bad in our cold room; a few of the shyer deer, skittered away when I opened the door, but the bolder ones went right for the apples, some of which were purloined from under their black, wet noses by large turkey hens. Later, when I walked a couple of letters to the mailbox, about 20 turkeys were gathered across the partially frozen creek, and another 40 were huddled along our north fence line.

The forecast is for rain and snow most of the next 10 days, but no prediction of accumulation. So, I'm holding off on fixing the plow blade to my ATV, thinking I'll get to do some more work on the hills - cutting wood and building up our burn piles - before the serious weather hits.

Hunters are out in force; the gunshots sporadically echoing in the valley throughout the day. Last week a deer hunter knocked on our door, saying he'd hit a turkey on the county road with his truck, asking if he could remove it from our property. I told him he could. Kerry later said that he went through the wire fence along the county road and didn't reattach it to the gate. I'll take care of that when the weather warms a bit next week. We think he might have left a pile of turkey residue, including it's final bowel movement. Pete, our black, long-haired cat, showed up later that day with his head-fur full of turkey crap. Had he rolled in the remains? Kerry cleaned him up with a handful of baby wipes, and now he's back to his usual handsome - though crabby - self. Another hunter knocked at the door a day later and asked if he could shoot "one of your deer." We declined. During the years, we have come to think of them as our deer, and they're not for hunting.

Piles of firewood have been building up in the back meadow: mixed pine and fir, aspen, and apple. We've advertised it in the local free ad paper, and have sold a cord of the softwood. People have become really particular about their wood - they need the rounds split; the logs are too long for the wood stove; they really want just red fir; the apple wood is too old and holey. Maybe the wait-till-the-last-minute crowd won't be a picky as winter closes further in.

So, with snow on the ground, there's less time working in the hills. Watching a lot of football (great game between Oklahoma State and Iowa State yesterday) and waiting for my Kindle Fire to arrive, so I can catch up on free e-books I've downloaded to my computer. Amazon.com shipped it Nov. 14, and it's been on the milk train since: Phoenix, Los Angeles, Kent, Washington. Funny thing is, the Kindle comes with a two-month Amazon Prime try-out. One of the benefits of Prime is two-day shipping on everything - except, it seems, the Amazon Kindle Fire.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

HERITAGE (HEIRLOOM) APPLES

  This morning I listened to a story on NPR about people looking for abandoned heritage apple trees in the Salmon River area of Idaho. It was titled  “Pioneer Apples, Saving A Taste of Idaho’s Past.”  http://www.nwfoodnews.com/2011/10/28/seeking-genetic-diversity-in-abandoned-apple-orchards/
                Up here in the Panhandle there are more than 100 heritage apple trees of various ages on our 66 acres. I know that because I mapped them a couple of years ago, following deer trails through the woods, and coming across another apple tree among the pines.  There are only four original trees in the old orchard by the spring that old Mr. Cable planted in the 1930s or earlier.  The rest have been unconsciously planted by the deer.  I recall the names Mom mentioned during my childhood in the 1950s – McIntosh, Winesap, old Delicious, Jonathan, Wagener, Baldwin, Rome Beauty, Russet – but I am unable to marry most of the apples to the names. (See the photo to right of seven to nine different varieties.)  There are even hidden trees producing apples I know we didn’t have during my childhood. 
                One mystery apple’s name has been solved.  There are about five trees that produce a wonderful eating apple scattered near Anna Spring and on a western slope among the pines, but I have no memory of a similar one from my youth.  Our neighbor, Pat Ferry, is the grandson of the first couple who homesteaded across our narrow valley in the 1890s.  He had mentioned Grandma Ferry’s apple tree as a Winter Banana, and that he had loved the fruit as a boy. The family story was that his grandfather brought it from Ireland.  Sadly, the old tree died a few years ago.  When Pat paid us a visit last week, I brought out some ribbed apples bearing a bright pale yellow background and a contrasting blush, darkening to dark pinkish red.  “Is this your Winter Banana?” I asked.  “Yup, that’s what that is,” he replied, and we enjoyed the crisp, juicy, mild sub-acid flesh while we visited.  Our apples probably aren’t as large as Grandma’s Ferry’s had been, because the trees are not irrigated, and must seek their own moisture. But they’re just as good, I bet.  But it didn’t come from Ireland; the Winter Banana actually originated in Indiana in the early 1890s.
                I know which is the old Delicious because of the little knobs on the bottoms of the fruit.  It is nothing like the Red Delicious in the grocery stores, which keeps their cheery red skin intact even when the flavor has disappeared from inside.  Our old Delicious has a bit of a bite, but still is an eating apple.  I didn’t appreciate it as a child; Mom would put one in my lunch pail, and I’d trade it for someone’s banana.
                The Jonathan is described as having a brilliant red color, being highly flavored, and useful as a dessert or cooking apple. It was sold for the fancy trade during the holiday season. So, now, I know that one. 
                There are two books on http://books.google.com/ebooks that can be downloaded free to help identify heirloom or heritage apples.  One is the Manual of Horticulture 1913, Idaho State Board of Horticulture, which has plates of some of the apples known to be best for the Idaho climate.  The other - which will make your head spin because of the many color plates (not to mention the half-tone plates) of nearly every apple developed, plus its description and history - is The Apples of New York, published in 1905.  One would think it easy to identify our two varieties of white or transparent apples (one small and round and the other larger and more oval).  But, no, there are just too many that were developed in the early days.  They are both sweet, but with a different tang.  Is the larger one a White Pearmain and the smaller a White Pippin (related to the Michael Henry Pippin)?  Perhaps I’ll never know.


                And which ones did Mom use to make those wonderful apples pies?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Independents' Day

I was thrilled to get a great review for The Wolf's Sun from a historical novel reviewer, Siobian Minish of The Owl Bookmark Blog  Four and one-half owls out of five.  She also requested an Interview, the result of which is also on her blog. 

We indie authors are no different from small press authors - we must do our own publicity and market our books ourselves. The only difference is that we don't worry about our books going out of print or sharing our income with an agent and publisher. We share with only Amazon and Barnes & Noble (and that's fair).

The Kindle (electronic) and Create Space (for paperbacks) phenomenon is what indie authors have been waiting for longer than we realized. It's as nice as being able to download movies directly to one's television.  Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman, among so many authors who self-published, would be so envious.  Some authors, such as the Pinkerton detective Charles Siringo, went broke trying to get out their stories. Not anymore.
    Oh, yes, The Wolf's Sun will soon be out in paperback, available from Amazon.com.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Oh, Them Eggs...


...they remind me of a chicken and I'd rather have a chicken than eggs. (Martin Mull)

Our neighbors have both, and when they went off for the weekend, they asked us to make sure the door to the chickens' temporary home was partially opened in the morning and closed at night - and, we got to keep any eggs the hens laid overnight. Easy to do.


While their roosting box is being finished, the chickens are living in a large shed, with a 2" x 4" roost, some hay bales on which to lay, and a concrete floor where a couple of eggs (and a lot of chicken droppings) ended up. But there on the hay, on the second night of our chicken sitting, were three eggs: one large and light blue; one small and light brown; one larger and a darker brown, with speckles.

When the neighbor lady came by to thank us (with a yummy loaf of bread and a delicious salami), we asked which hens produced which eggs. The blue egg was the product of an Ancona hen; the light-brown egg was laid by a New Hampshire Red; and the larger brown, speckled, egg is from a Black Sex Link hen (no, we'd never heard of them either). The Guinea hens came up empty.

The New Hampshire egg had a double yoke, but the three weren't enough for an omelet. So, I added a couple of grocery store chicken eggs to the mix. But, before I did, I had a chance to examine the different colors of the egg yolks. The New Hampshire double yolk was a dark yellow; the Black Sex was a bit lighter; the Ancona was even lighter; but the store-bought eggs were starkly brighter yellow, with a thinner consistency, and their shells were markedly thinner than the neighbors' eggs.

Too late, I realized I should not have scrambled them for an omelet (with cheddar, home-grown tomatoes, and home-picked morels). I should have fried them individually for a taste-off. But, I've been assured there are more local eggs in our future. A man can learn from his mistakes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Old Friends and New


There's a common belief - I'm not ready to call it common wisdom - that men don't make friends after the age of 30. I met Steve when I was 36, interviewing for a job with the Public Affairs Office of the U.S. Naval Academy. He was the public affairs officer, a lieutenant commander and graduate of the academy; I was a bearded refugee from the Department of Health and Human Services, with 10 years experience working for the Army. It was an interesting interview, including a Myers Briggs Test (not allowed under federal human resources rules) and a lot of time with the office secretary, who apparently liked me.

I only worked with Steve for a year; the Navy promoted him to captain and rotated him early to the 7th Fleet. During the intervening years, through his reassignments and my job changes, Karen and I remained friends with Steve and his wife. They stayed at our house on the way to Pearl Harbor, and on the way back. They'd visit us in Laramie, Wyoming, whenever they visited Steve's brother in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Steve came by himself after he and his wife divorced, and with his brother and their sons on their way to Jackson Hole.

A few years ago, Steve met Karen and me in Portland for a wine-tasting tour of Oregon's Willamette Valley. We learned a lot about wine from him, but it was more of a good way for us to spend a few days together.

Steve was one of the first friends to contact me when I went through cancer surgery. And he called on his way to Indiana to bury his mother. We talked through his troubles with his then girlfriend and celebrated by phone his thriving new business and catamaran. Eventually, we became aware of his new girlfriend, Luz Marina, whose name translates as Light of the Sea, a fitting companion for a mariner. We knew she was Colombian, but not much beyond that. Then, in the spring, Steve said they wanted to come visit us in Idaho. We enthusiastically welcomed them, though with some trepidation. Would we like her? Would she like us?

The pending visit gave us the impetus to do some work on the old house Karen's father had built in the early-mid 1950s - painting the house and garage; hanging a new light in the living room. We also laid in a modest supply of local wines and worked on interesting menus.

Karen and I loitered in the arrivals area of Spokane Airport, waiting for the plane to debark. The arrivals board showed the plane had arrived on time. A Chinese family reunited; a foreign exchange student smiled at a couple holding his name on a placard. Then, there they were. Steve had aged, as had we, bearing the signs of too much work and a broken neck suffered the year before; Luzma was tall and slim, with long dark hair and eyes so dark they seemed to be all pupil. Hugs all around and back to our house, catching up with Steve, learning about Luzma.

What a wonderful visit. We had breakfasts in and lunches out. I cooked standard American fare for dinner; Luzma made a delicious dish from Spain. We drank good beer (Red Hook ESB) and better wine Steve bought on a visit to Arbor Crest Winery. We took long walks on our land and had long talks by the creek. We visited Coeur d'Alene; I took Steve for a ride to the top of our property on my ATV; we picked blueberries at our neighbor's patch; Steve and Luzma taught us a card game, which we enjoyed with a neighboring couple.

Our friendship with Steve didn't miss a beat; and we felt we'd known Luzma for years rather than days. Old friends and new - three of us now in our 60s, one in her 50s. Soon, perhaps, a visit to Steve and Luzma in Virginia, or a week in Vancouver, or even a trip to Spain (at least one of us can speak Spanish - and it's not me).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dragonfly Summer


The sky above our lower meadow resembled the Battle of Britain tonight, shapes soaring and darting through the skies, skimming the long yellowing grass, paths crossing, wings shimmering in the western light. It was the annual summer massacre of the dragonflies.

Yesterday evening, Kerry and I sat on the porch watching dozens of dragonflies hovering over the driveway, then flashing off. Occasionally - very occasionally - one of our cats would suddenly leap into the air, swiping with a quick paw. Our orange tabby, Ricky, trotted away with a dragonfly tail dangling from his soft mouth, awfully pleased with himself.

But tonight, it was slaughter in the fields, as dozens of swallows flew above the meadow chasing the low-flying insects, faster than the camera lens could follow. It lasted about 30 minutes, until the sun dropped lower in the sky, throwing the meadow into shadow. The swallows moved up the hill into the sunlight, hoping for a second course.


Right You Are, Guy!

Funny thing about Texas. It produces some
unbelievable politicians. And, it produces some
UNBELIEVABLE songwriters. Think Townes Van Zant, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, or Guy Clark.

Back when we lived in Laramie, we went to see Keen and Clark in concert. One of Clark's most popular songs was Homegrown Tomatoes:

"Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes"

Well, I've got both. Later this month, Kerry and I celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. And the four tomato plants in the back yard are really producing this summer. Last year, not so much. After a lot of care, filling the bottom of Home Depot buckets with gravel and mixing dried cow pies into the soil, they produced three tomatoes.

We took a different approach this year. No gravel, no manure. Just soil and water, with grass clippings to shade the soil and a sprinkle of Miracle Gro once a week. Tomato production is booming. Four Early Girls have already made their sweet, juicy way into salads and sandwiches, and the plants have dozens of fruits growing and more blossoms ready to produce.

If frost holds off - nights are in the 50s - we should be eating homegrown tomatoes well into fall. and that's gastronomic true love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

HERITAGE CHERRIES

Donovan stretching

We have a heritage yellow cherry tree on the place. It must be about 75 years old, for it was a good size when my parents and I moved up here in 1951. The cherries are deliciously sweet.  My parents, not being horticulturists with a bent toward pruning, allowed it to continue its upward yearning until many of its bearing branches were out of reach.  Currently, only half of the tree survives, the other half having split off years ago. It's ancient but rugged, despite an occasional branch dying off.  Toward the end of July it bore heavily and Jay, my son Donovan and I made an effort to harvest as many as we could reach from the old wooden picking ladder.  Donovan is the tallest and has a great reach, so he was tagged to harvest the higher hanging fruit.

As I said, this is a heritage cherry, which means it is fungible and begins to turn brown a day after being picked.  I thought  only one yellow cherry variety existed until a few years ago when I came into possession of a wonderful large tome titled The Cherries of New York, by U.P. Hedrick, published in 1915, with beautiful color plates.  Being a dealer of rare books at the time and living far away from this particular old tree, I perused it and then sold it for a good price to a horticulturist in Australia. 

Now I wish I knew the cherry's variety and history.  Alas, The Cherries of New York is not a book one finds in the public library.  But wait.  Google has scanned books published before 1923 from major university libraries for our free download and use.  I do a lot of research on that site.  And sure enough, there is The Cherries of New York. None of  the color plates is of a white or yellow cherry, but of numerous long-forgotten black, red and orange varieties.  Toward the back of the book are short paragraphs on lesser-known varieties.  And here I find the white and yellow cherries.  So, is this tree a White French Guigne (1851),  whose flesh is creamy-white,  tender, melting, sweet; ripens in middle of July [in New York State]; or perhaps Fraser's White Tartarian (1803), pale yellow, approaching amber on the exposed cheek, with flesh juicy, pleasant, brisk subacid becoming sweet.  Or the White Transparent (1831), The White Spanish (1790), The White Mazzard (1838), The White Hungarian (1831), or The White French (1881).  Cherry varieties enough to make one dizzy. Or maybe it's the Yellow Glass (1903), introduced from North Silesia by Professor Budd of Ames, Iowa, its skin light lemon in color with firm yellow flesh, meaty, sweet, with colorless juice, and of good quality.  That fits it well.  But we'll never really know.

So, we ate some and dried the rest in our dehydrator for future use.  Chewy, sweet with just a hint of tartness.  And very brown and wrinkled.

Monday, July 25, 2011

THEY'RE BACK!

They're back!  And they've brought their chicks with them.

The wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) that live in our valley move to higher ground for nesting and hatching their young, so from about April through most of July we don't see very many down here near the creek bottom.  One would think we'd be excited to have them back, but they are so ubiquitous that we've counted as many a one hundred in the pasture behind the house.  "And they leave tar-like shit in the driveway and on the porch," said Jay.

I'm not so sure that this area supported the wild turkey before the white man.  They certainly didn't live here when I was a kid in the 1950s.  It's the "trap and transfer" project about 12 years ago that dropped them into this valley.  It might be Merriam's Wild Turkey (M. g. merriami) that live here now, having originally thrived in the Rocky Mountain region, and having a predilection for roosting in ponderosa pines.  My mother found them delightful and fed them during the winters.  I've been told that she'd stand in the driveway surrounded by dozens of wild turkeys and whitetail deer, tossing out handfuls of cracked corn.  She always had an affinity for wild creatures.

But now their population has exploded.  Their predators are coyotes, bobcats, cougars, golden eagles, as well as  great horned owls, dogs and foxes.  Humans are actually the leading predator of wild turkeys.  I shouldn't complain about their numbers because we have been asked by hunters to open our land for turkey hunts, but have declined.  They do feel safe here - and if Mom were dead, instead of in assisted living with dementia, she'd roll over in her grave at the thought of hunting on her land.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cuomo 2016


Just about two weeks ago, I got a phone call from my sister with a big announcement - she's getting married in November. Same sort of phone call families receive every day across the country. But, this one was 30 years in the making.

My sister, Mickey, will turn 63 next month. This will be her first marriage. She and her fiance have been living together about 30 years. Thanks to the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on Nov. 19 she and Susan will be married in New York. Due to my own health concerns, Kerry and I won't be going to the wedding, but a friend of Mickey's will be standing in as "best bro." In my toast, I will wish them well, as will Kerry. Perhaps another 30 years, but this time as a married couple.

The wedding will occur less than three months after Kerry's and my 31st wedding anniversary. We didn't need a legislative act for our wedding. Now, at least in New York State, nobody will. And that's a good thing.

Kerry and I find it amusing that many people proclaim - and some probably believe - that same-sex marriage somehow threatens more traditional marriage. I must say that this summer we feel more threatened by wood ticks and mosquitoes.

During the past couple of years, two of our closest neighbors and friends in the valley have gone through divorces. And an old friend is coming to visit with his new girlfriend, several years after he and his wife divorced. All heterosexual marriages of many, many years. A consequence of legalization of same-sex marriage? Don't think so. All still heterosexual; all dating. Me, I'd chalk it up to wood ticks and mosquitoes.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pigs in (Our) Space


Pigs have provided an interesting subtext to politics in our valley. A few years ago, our neighbor Davey started rearing pigs along with his herd of cattle. Just a few, about six. Davey's north-side neighbors, who wanted to turn their barn into a wedding/special events center, complained about the smell to the state Department of Agriculture. The ag folk dismissed the complaint.

Fast forward a couple of years. After Davey's north-side neighbors lost their agricultural tax exemption, they started laying in livestock - chickens, Highland cattle, and, most recently, Tamworth pigs. A bit of irony in all that.

This morning, while looking out the kitchen window, I saw some strange shapes ambling up our driveway. As they got closer, I recognized their sleek, reddish shapes for what they were - the Tamworth pigs on a jailbreak. Absolutely fearless, they made straight for our recycling bins next to the garage. We have four bins, one each for plastic, cans, newspaper, and mixed paper. The pigs butted, turned over, and rolled on them all. The Rubbermaid Roughneck bins held up well. Only the mixed paper bin opened, and the Tamworths took full advantage the opportunity, rooting through the paper, tearing it up, and scattering it across the front yard.

I called the owner, seemingly waking her, asking if she was missing some pigs. She apologized, and said she'd be right over to get them.

Bored with the paper, the pigs migrated under a barbed wire fence into our lower cattle pasture. After a few minutes, the owner showed up with her Kubota tractor, two grain pails in the tractor bucket. She commented that they were getting too adventurous, crawled through the barbed wire gate and gave her pig call. They came a runnin'. They headed right for her tractor, and she spilled a bit of grain on the ground to get the pigs' attention, and then climbed back up into the driver's seat and led them home through our front gate and back out to the county road. Darn cute pigs!

We live in a rural area, governed by the concept of open range. You come to expect free-range cattle, not free-range pigs. Always something new.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Easy as Pie



I am reading The White House Cook Book (the 1889 edition) as research for a novel I'm writing.  It's a fascinating look into cooking and baking with a wood stove.  Some recipes uncommon today make me smile.  For instance, when making squirrel soup, you must strain the finished soup through a course colander, "so as to get rid of the squirrels' troublesome little bones."

I worked my way to the desserts.  There I found a recipe for apple custard pie with brandy, which I've never sampled, have never seen on a restaurant menu, and appears not to be a staple of the modern cookbook.  I suggested to Jay, my gourmet cook husband, that he give it a try.  I wanted him to duplicate the recipe, but his being a diabetic made that impossible from the get-go.  Besides, he immediately balked at grating the three large pared apples by hand, opting to put them in his Cuisinart and chopping them in short bursts.  I compared his result with a bit of apple I had grated, and the consistency was pretty close.  The recipe read "to every teacupful of the apple add two eggs well beaten, two tablespoonfuls of fine sugar, one of melted butter, the grated rind and half the juice of one lemon . . ."  What in today's measurement is a "teacupful"?  Well, look it up on the Internet and the answer is "six oz."   Those three large apples added up to four teacups or 24 oz. of apple.  Jay substituted Splenda for sugar and bottled grated lemon peel.  But when it came to adding "half a wine-glass of brandy" for every teacupful of apple, he simply reached into the cupboard and grabbed a red wine glass.  But has the red wine glass changed size during the ensuring years?  There was no time for more research.  Jay was on a roll.  He measured a half wine glass of brandy per teacupful of apple -- the result was that he added three mini-bottles of Christian Brothers brandy. The last ingredient was a teacupful of milk per teacupful of apple.  Again we came up short.  We use skim milk and I was certain the author expected that rich milk would be used.  I took a can of whipped cream from the refrigerator, sprayed it into a measuring cup and added skim milk, then mixed them together.  Pretty rich.  "Pour into a deep dish lined with paste and bake 30 minutes."  Jay had enough for two pies.  He poured the thick batter into a prepared Pillsbury crust (he has learned to coat it with egg white so it won't get soggy, just as the author suggested so many years ago) and the remainder into a graham cracker pie crust shell we happened to have on hand.  They looked tasty already.

"So, what temperature should I set the oven at?" he asked.  "They didn't go by temperature settings," I replied.  "At the beginning of the baked goods section, the author says that if you can leave your hand and arm in the oven counting slowly to 20 without being burned, then it's right for baking."  He gave me an intense blue look behind his glasses as he absorbed this last bit.  "I'll set it at 350 degrees," he decided.  We were advised to check the pies with a broom straw to make certain they'd set, but I used a table knife instead.  We did leave them in an extra 15 minutes and they looked great when they came out of the oven. "Now let those cool," Jay admonished, "while I mow the lawn."  It was hard to wait.  I like warm pie.  When Jay came in, I'd already put pieces on plates, replete with whipping cream.  They were wonderful, though Jay said he thought the brandy flavor overwhelmed the apple and custard flavors.  But I think the ladies in my novel will love every brandy-flavored bite.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Anna's Spring

The family that lives at the head of the valley, a couple of clicks below where Cable Creek emerges from the ring of mountains, lost their seven-year-old daughter, Anna, to liver cancer last June.  We did not know this at the time (we'd met the mother once a few years back) and, I suspect, only a few other families in the valley knew what is often the most private of losses - the death of a child. 

My grandfather's younger brother, Everett, died as a child in the 1880s. The family had a large and heavy framed photograph of Everett, with his name and "In Memorium" in gilt script under his photo - so faded by the time I saw it as a child that I don't know now whether it was taken while he lived or just after he died.  My grandfather hung it in the living room for everyone to see, just as it had been hung in his parents' parlor.  When my grandparents' own child, James, died in 1921 at age 10 of blood poisoning from a blister on his heel, the family was too poor to commemorate his death.  And it's possible that memorializing a child's death had become less common.  I heard my grandparents speak of James only once.  They both wept, remembering.   I had friends in the 1970s who lost a two-year-old daughter to liver disease some ten years earlier, and they discreetly kept a small photo of her in their bedroom.  They spoke of her only the one time I saw her photo.  It was just too painful, they admitted.

Anna's life, from the time of her diagnosis, is commemorated at a Caring Bridge site on the Internet. www.caringbridge.org/visit/annaschindler .  Her mother says, "It is a realtime look into our journey with this nasty, nasty disease."  It is an appropriate way to remember a loved one in this brave, new cyberworld.  And the family has done more.  Her mother again: " Our experience with Anna, the hospital, and seeing first hand childhood cancer, has driven us to start a foundation in Anna's name.  www.annaschindlerfoundation.org   We will keep trudging along with God's help and try to help others.  We consider it passing on the love, prayers and supports we were shown."


After the snow melts and until mid-summer, there is a fresh spring that angles down the eastern slope of the valley and across our land, meandering on before emptying into Cable Creek on the valley floor.  It is called Anna Spring.  I don't know how I know this, or even if it is on the map.  It must have been named for an early settler.  Now, I think of it as commemorating another Anna who loved this valley.

Duke


I was 20 and in college when our family's 15 year-old cat died. With my sister in New York and my parents both working, he'd been a lap-sitting companion for my grandmother. She didn't want another cat; she'd been too close to Smokey (or Mudie, in Yiddish). During the next summer, we saw an ad in the local paper for puppies - $5 each.

My father and I drove to see the litter of six. They were a mix of German shepherd and Tennessee black and tan
coonhound. No getting around it, they were cute. But aren't all puppies. We brought back two, one whose hair was predominantly black (with brown eyebrows and muzzle), one whose hair was predominantly brown. At the time, I was reading the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; we named them Holmes and Watson. Getting the puppies was a huge mistake in so many ways. They were too high-energy for my grandmother; as they grew larger they got way too big to sit on her lap; and, over time, the neighborhood changed dramatically. I can't remember whether I was still in college or at my first job, but a few years later the dogs were poisoned in my family's back yard. One died quickly; the other went blind.

I never had another dog. Living in apartments and then a small townhouse. In Laramie, we were surrounded by labs. Now that we're in the Idaho countryside, I sometime think I'd like to get a dog.

Years ago, when we were living in Maryland, a guy who worked for me had his own little menagerie. Two ferrets, a Gordon setter, and two Brittany spaniels. The Gordon was something of a glamour queen; beautiful, and she knew it. The Brits were more like the girls next door, pretty and lively, with a great sense of humor. One day I went to see them at a field exercise and thought, "If I get a dog, it will be a Brit." Maybe someday.

One of our neighbors is a carpenter by trade, and when he's out of town on a job he asks Kerry and me to take care of his critters - Hootie, a big (actually, overweight) black cat with yellow eyes; and Duke, an Australian shepherd. Duke's got a lot going for him (though he's also a bit stocky). He loves people. He loves to play. And when he first sees you, his pointed ears stand up and actually cross.

Duke's favorite game is "chase the ball." After a few nights, I threw out my right shoulder - and then discovered the Chase-it! The combination of a tennis ball and Chase-it is right up there with the pairing of chocolate and peanut butter. It's kind of like an Australian woomera for dogs, just replace the spear with a yellow Big R tennis ball. Takes the strain off the shoulder, elbow and wrist.

After missing his "dad" all day, Duke relishes our visits. He'll jump up and down, and run into the meadow to play "chase the ball." There's a joy in Duke that reminds me of John Belushi in "Animal House." Always something to do. Somthing fun. After about 10 minutes, it's time for a cooling dunk in the pond (he takes the ball in with him so I can't play without him. Then, another 10 minutes, until it's time for us to go home. Duke will dig a shallow hole in which he rests the ball until the next day, and sits on his side of the invisible electric fence, watching us go.

Would a Brittany spaniel be as much fun? I don't know. Maybe I'll get a dog, maybe not. But at least I have Duke to play with now and then.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Kaboodle of Kits


There's a small raccoon that comes to visit most days. Actually, to clean up the food we leave on the porch for the two cats that spend their nights in the garage. We'd wondered whether it was a young boar or a sow. Well, now we know. She's a sow. Today, for the first time, she brought round her three kits. Then, after taking them home - wherever that is - she stayed to eat and build up her milk supply.

Perfect Day for a Ride


Today was chilly, windy, and threatening rain. A perfect day for a bike ride. There's a winding country road behind the apartment complex in which we lived before moving out to our ranch. It skirts a shooting range, runs through some McMansions, and then heads out to farm and ranch country, up past a stable to a ranch with a pond that usually (but not today) hosts a great blue heron, sweeps down at nearly 40 mph to a valley floor, climbs past a small herd of bison and then past a barn with an enormous Washington State University cougar mascot painted on it, heads left past a fire station and starts another climb past an archery range, a flock of Barbados sheep ($1.00 to feed the sheep), and up past a horse ranch, farms, and finally a dead end.

The climb up was mostly into or across the wind. I kept the bike in a small gear, trying to keep my cadence up, eating every 30 minutes to keep my blood glucose levels up (I've been a Type 1 diabetic for nearly a year after having surgery for pancreatic cancer).

On the way back, I had a tailwind/crosswind and made the most of it. I started the long, steep climb in a small gear and spun most of the way up, finishing the climb out of the saddle. Midway back, the rain came, but it was a soft, misty rain. I felt as if I was cycling in the British midlands.

During the ride, I saw two other riders, passing me in the direction from which I'd come. Brothers of the bike. Riders in the rain.

Following the Herd

Tuesday night, a herd of cattle appeared in the meadow behind our house. They were two weeks early.

Davey and Pat, two of our neighbors had grazed a herd of steers in our meadows for a couple of months last year after their grass had been devoured. Seems like our meadows mature a bit later in the spring. So, this year, we added a steer to the herd, and told Davey he could add our upper meadow to his grazing lease. Davey's an efficient guy, a finish carpenter by trade, and a farmer by rearing. He hammered in T-posts all around the upper meadow and strung a line of white PVC-coated fiberglass electric wire about halfway up the posts. He said he'd string the lower wire before he brought the steers on in about two weeks. Great.

We've had a really rainy spring, and the grass was tall and lush. From a distance, where you couldn't discern the grass from the weeds, it looked like a BBC documentary on Irish farming. So, we were looking forward to having the cattle come on. But not so soon.

On Tuesday morning, I awoke to find nine steers from the herd in the meadow behind our house. Problem was, the lower meadow fence hadn't been completed, and our gate to the county road was open. In a sweatsuit and slippers, I hazed the nine back into Davey's land, and shut the wire and slat gate behind them. A job well done, I thought. Until Wednesday, when they showed up back in our meadow. OK, fine. Let them stay in the meadow, chewing their cuds. I shut the gate to the county road and waited for the rain to come. Which, it did. Next time I looked out the back window, they were gone. I drove my Honda ATV, with Kerry on the back, up our driveway, and found them on the backside of the hill overlooking our lower meadow. So, slowly, we hazed them back down to our meadow. Then, later that evening they disappeared again. Kerry and I got back on the ATV, which started having clutch slippage problems (it's now back in the shop), and went looking for the herd.

The next morning, they were gone. Seriously gone. We went up the driveway overlooking the upper meadow. No steers. We went up to our putative house site and looked down the hill toward the lower meadow. No steers. We drove down to the spring and the base of the upper meadow. Still no steers. Back at the house, we strung a lariat between old gate posts across our driveway, and strung orange and pink surveyor's tape from the rope to discourage the steers from coming down into our front yard. Then called Davey and Pat. Got answering machines for both. After a bit, Pat's son-in-law came over to get the lay of the land, and said he'd come back the next morning.

But, Thursday morning, I found the steers - lying comfortably in the meadow north of Davey's property. Happy to let sleeping steers lie, we waited until Davey got home from a carpentry job and hazed the cattle from that neighbor's meadow, onto the county road, and back to his meadow, from where they originally started their odyssey. According to Davey, one of the cattle figured out how to open his gate to the county road, using its tongue to slip off a bungee cord holding the gate sections shut. The gate is now chained shut. Let's see the Houdini steer escape now!

They should be back on our land in about two weeks. On purpose.


Mysterious Mushroom


I've had a growing interest in mushrooms and other fungi during the past few weeks, due in part to our finding those black morels growing on the place, which I wrote about earlier.  It's been an especially wet spring and summer.  Such a variety of mushrooms -- so lovely or so lethal-looking -- I've begun carrying my camera with me on walks.  I ordered the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to Mushrooms, determined to identify what I photograph. Last week I found the most remarkable large black mushroom, I thought certain that an evil black fairy must have used it for a throne. To my disappointment, It shriveled up within a day.  And when my field guide arrived, I couldn't find that black beauty in it.  However, some white egg-shaped mushrooms had sprung up nearby, but I'd forgotten my camera. When I came back a day later, in between rain showers, they were gone.  I was certain the deer had eaten them.  But there were two more black mushrooms.  Today, I solved the mushroom mystery when I was able to finally photograph another egg-shaped mushroom that  popped up this morning.  My field guide identifies it is a shaggy mane mushroom and in the same photo is the black mushroom I couldn't identify --  one in the same at a later stage.  What an amazing transformation on its way to death.  It consumes itself and turns to black ink in order to release its spores.  In fact, in olden days ink was made from this dissolving comprinus comatus.  They are edible if picked young, but must be cooked or dried within a short time after picking because the autodigestion of its gills and cap will pick up speed with picking.  Within a few hours it will have dissolved itself.  However, according to the Internet,  it should not be consumed with alcohol because of it contains comprine, causing symptoms such as flushed face, burning gums, and fear of imminent death - all of which will pass in a few hours.  Sometimes this occurs without alcohol, so I don't think I'll be eating any.  Remember my cautious husband, Jay, our gourmet cook.  Nevertheless, I find it all fascinating!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lilacs in the Wilderness

On this ranch, there is a steep forested hillside with a northern exposure.  It is covered with dense brush, fir and pine, and old fallen timber, which makes it hazardous to descend or ascend.  Here will be encountered the ancient rusted barbed wire fence and rotting wood posts marking the property line when least expected, nearly unseen in the shadows. The deer and elk have knocked some of it horizontal in their migrations and now know the best spots to cross.  Rotting pines have fallen over it, breaking barbed strands. Young trees have grown through it.  Never a favorite haunt, though it was on this slope that Mom found the elusive calypso orchid many years ago.  Since the loggers opened up the area last summer, it's easier to look down into the ravine.  I felt a thrill then last week when I peered down through the trees and saw something unexpected -- an enormous lilac bush in full bloom growing below among the pine and fir. (Photo taken with telephoto lens.)  It wasn't planted by human hands.  The original homestead was on the other side of the hill.  How then did it come to grow there, unseen by human eyes?  Did the wind carry a lilac seed that landed in the right place.  Perhaps a bird that had eaten some, sat on a pine branch above -- and nature took its course.   And why did it grow alone there?  Where it is dark and mysterious, eternally damp, the steep ground covered in emerald moss, rotting stumps and a variety of fungi - a veritable fairyland.  Ah! Of course!  I should have known.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Morels in Our Big "Backyard"

It's morel mushroom season.

When I was growing up on this ranch, it was, "Don't pick the toadstools . . . don't even touch them," and being a dutiful child, I did not.  In fact, I barely looked at them, fearing temptation.  We know what happened to Snow White with that apple.  So, last year when the forester was surveying our land for some tree harvesting (a necessity to keep our timber exemption for tax purposes), and he said, "You know you've got some morels here," I was dumbfounded.  "I thought they only grew in the Cascades," I replied.  I may not have known what a morel was as a child, but I sure as heck learned about them when I married Jay, a gourmet cook.  "I found some on your neighbor's property," he said. So, we poked about the old apple orchard all May of last year, but nary a one did we see.  The loggers did their work, plowed trails along the hillsides, cut the big trees, did a bit of clean-up and left.  And lo and behold!  Where they left their "footprint," there are black morel mushrooms (morchella elata) popping up their delicious little heads, honeycombed with pits and ridges.  Ever a careful town-raised child and concerned we might eat false morels and die, Jay emailed photos (whole and sliced) of one of our finds to a mycologist at WSU.  His return email, said, "Looks like a black morel to me."  And so we've been enjoying them in a wine sauce over grilled sirloin, in scrambled eggs, and tonight in a cream pasta sauce.  Optimistic, Jay even bought a dehydrator (we can always use it to dry pear and apple slices).  And the morels have kept producing.

Research on the Internet tells us that burn areas and logging sites are great for black morels.  We've been very careful not to pull up the roots.  The question remains:  Will they be there next spring?  We aren't finding them anywhere but in disturbed soil.  Time will tell.  In the meantime - bon appetit!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Meadowgrass


Rained most of April, and the grass is coming up green and thick in the meadow behind our house. This evening, a herd of 13 cow and calf elk came for supper.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Long Arc of Justice

President Obama announced tonight that a U.S. military operation in Pakistan killed Osama Bin Laden. To quote acclaimed political analyst Jim Carrey, "Well, alrighty then."

Sugar Time

What an odd day yesterday. Woke up after a good night's sleep, feeling good - then realized I hadn't plugged in my insulin pump when I went to bed. My blood glucose had rocketed to 388 ML/dl overnight, and it took all day to stabilize it. I figured a bike ride would bring it down, and, boy, did it. I started my ride into a headwind with my BG in the 200s, and ate half a Clif bar after 20 minutes. At the 10-mile mark I took mark, I sat down and did a finger stick - 60 ML/dl! Ate the other half of Clif bar and a Chocolate 9 gel, and started back, riding leisurely to keep my effort down. After a couple of miles, I was passed by a fit young woman in her 30s, riding a shiny new Trek carbon bike with a stock block. She gave me a cheery "On your left," and took off up the trail. I was feeling much better, with a lovely tailwind, started to reel her in, and flew past her on a sprinter's hill, offering a cheery "On your left." I powered back to my home in the next eight miles and wasn't passed again. Back at the car, my BG was 179 ML/dl. That was a surprise. Over the day, my BG dropped into the low 80s, and back to 110 by bedtime. Still a challenge.

So was my new heart rate monitor. My 13-year-old Polar NV died, and I decided it would be cheaper to buy a new HRM rather than send it off for repair. Got a Timex Digital Zone Trainer T5H911 Heart Monitor. It was pretty intuitive once I got it set up, but the out-of-zone alarm kept beeping at me every 2 seconds for an hour and 20 minutes. First thing when I got home - read the instruction booklet and turn it off. Looking forward to my next ride.

Our old Siamese cat, Blue, is still experiencing high BG with his diabetes. Took his sugar five times yesterday - 386, 376, 351, 415, and 596 before bed. This morning, he was 397. The 3 units of Lantus twice a day don't seem to be doing much good. I'll check with the vet on Monday.

Friday, April 29, 2011

...And Then You Win Some

Four years. Four long years fighting to keep our rural valley in norther Idaho rural. And, now, we've won! Last night, the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-0 that the proposed wedding/special events center had no place in rural areas of the county - that it would fit in a commercial zone; that the commissioners wouldn't pass a text amendment to county zoning ordinances to facilitate commercial resorts, and would not authorize a conditional use permit to the applicants.

What did it take? Community organizing - all but one family in our valley was opposed to the "party barn," and registered their objections throughout the process. Effort - forming an association to challenge the county Planning Department (and win) in district court, meeting frequently and attending way too many hearings of government commissions and boards. Money - people throughout our valley (and a few from other parts of the county) donated tens of thousands of dollars to the fight. Persistence - going through county files and filing lots of public records requests. Professional help - a great attorney and an experienced planning consultant. The electoral process - the Board of County Commissioners granted the applicants a conditional use permit in 2009 on a 2-1 vote. In 2010, two commissioners were voted out of office - one supporter of the party barn and one opponent. They were replaced by two commissioners who saw to the heart of the problems with county planning processes and dragged along the remaining commissioner who had approved the project in 2009. So, a clean win.

And why does it really matter? I've come to cherish the rural lifestyle that has can be difficult to maintain, and easy to lose - the quiet mornings, punctuated by the calls of magpies, chickadees, and wild turkeys; the walks on our property, among the deer and the burbles of our spring, the breeze through the pines, firs, and aspens; the herd of elk that graze and then bed down for the night in the meadow by our house and on our middle hillside; neighbors who help you free your chainsaw from a tall tree, who ask your help to clear a line of sight for their satellite TV signal, who graze their cattle on your land and who graze your cattle on their spring grass. The enjoyment of neighboring children riding their horses along the county road and onto our trails.

This win also shows that, while you might not be able to fight city, you can fight the county - if you try hard enough.

Congratulations to everyone involved in our fight - and a big thanks to the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

As Gene Autry sang, I'm back in the saddle again. Today was the first truly lovely day for cycling in months. Sunny, in the upper 30s when I went out, just a bit of a breeze. I'd been out a few times this spring, but it was a fight against the cold and wind. A couple of tech notes: after riding with a Giro Helios for nearly a decade, this winter I picked up an Ionos from Colorado Cyclist. The helmet liner really obviates the need for a cap on other than really cold ear-frosting days. Very cool. And, having lost about 20 pounds this summer, my old Pearl Izumi cold-weather jacket no longer fit; the bottom leaked like a badly insulated door. Got a Castelli Spunto from one of my LBS (Vertical Earth, in Coeur d'Alene), and am enjoying a close fit and comfortable warmth - particularly with the fold-up collar.

It was a day to enjoy nature - the rushing noise of the Spokane River, filling with water from the Post Falls dam; the chickadees; the Canada geese one of which managed to perch on a topped pine-tree about 8 feet off the ground (must have been a fantastic landing); and a whole array of dogs being walked by their people on the Centennial Trail, including two different people with Schipperke's (I'd only seen one before). A bit of a tailwind out, a bit of a headwind in. About 3 miles from the end of my 26 mile ride, a young woman on a new Trek time-trial bike caught me, and we chatted for most of the way back about her bike and triathlon experience. Then, she took off, and I rode back to my car.

The critters have come out with the spring. The Tom turkeys are strutting around near the house, fanning their tails, which seem to tilt left and right to help them navigate, like a mainsail on a three-master. Wings dragging on the ground, their heads blue and caruncles red, they work to corral their hens, putting on quite the show. Whitetail deer graze in bunches of six or eight. A few evenings ago, 7 cow and 1 bull elk grazed and bedded down on a hillside that last spring was logged off. I think that's a sign that the altered landscape will be in good condition.

So much rain this spring. I had to mow the back yard last weekend, the earliest in four years. The ground is still soft in most places, and the state road restrictions are still in place for our county road. Karen's been stalking the hillsides and meadows with her weed-puller, clearing any mullein and thistle within eye sight.

Yesterday, we were working on the hillside, Karen clearing weeds, I trimming off ankle-biting, eye-poking hawthorn branches, when a county pick-up appeared above us on the driveway leading to our putative home site. It was Jerry from the timber and ag department, coming to get the status of our grazing plans. I walked him through the meadow we're going to fence off this year, and the one we used last year (and will use again this year). We added a steer this year to our neighbors' herd, and we'll move them on to our place in a few months, when the meadow grass comes up ("meadow grass" always reminds me of Tom Rush's version of "Urge for Going." Blue, our diabetic Siamese, was with Karen; the twice-daily insulin shots have been doing him a lot of good. But, he's growing visibly older, and I don't know how many years we'll have with him. We're going to try to enjoy the summer together.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Finally

I do believe it's finally spring. A soaking rain yesterday dissolved nearly all the snow that had stacked up during the past few weeks. Still a chill in the air, and today was intermittently sunny and partly cloudy, with some breezes. I had a chance today to check some of the wind damage: large- and medium-sized willow branches littered the front yard. A sign out on the county road marking the telephone right of way had blown loose from its metal post and lay in the borrow ditch, one nut resting on the sign, the other nut and the bolts nowhere to be seen. I found a couple of license tag bolts in the garage and put the sign back up.

The ground was mostly marshy, though the grass is coming up on the trails created by the loggers last spring. There are some small red flowers, though no buttercups yet. And, there's mullein everywhere. Kerry's been using a weed puller to attack the mullein infestation, but there are years of work ahead.

The meadow up from first hill was dry, as was the slope down from the gravel road. I bungeed the chainsaw to the front rack of the ATV and headed to the meadow to cut down about seven small pines that dotted the flat. I also wanted to clean up the partially-consumed burn piles from fall and haul the wood up to a consolidated burn pile where the road switches back from north to south. Took about five trips, and I'm not quite done. Following my diabetes coach's instructions, I dialed back the basal rate on my insulin pump to 50 percent, and ate about 12-15 grams of carbohydrates every 30 minutes. When I got back down, my blood glucose level was 88. Right in the sweet spot.

While I was loading wood from the meadow into the trailer, one of the neighbor kids rode up on his horse. Carlos lives about three properties north, and we'd often see him riding along. His parents are friends of ours, members of our neighborhood association. Kerry had offered his parents that he could ride on our 66 acres. Mom and dad had brought him up right. He'd stopped at the house and asked Kerry if he could ride our trails, and she, of course, said "yes." And, so, he stopped to talk with me as well before heading up toward the barn, from east of which several good trails fan out. He was dressed in casual cowboy style, boots, vest, cowboy hat with a stampede strap. For a while, last year, his parents had made him wear a lacrosse helmet after his horse bucked him off and returned home without him. Carlos had sustained a broken arm, but with dad working at the hospital in Coeur d'Alene, he got good care. No helmet now. As I was unloading wood from the trailer to the burn pile, I saw him walking his horse down along the lower spring and toward the peony beds. Later, I saw him galloping back toward the barn; maybe the stampede strap helped, but the Stetson stayed firmly in place. The horse seemed to have a smooth gait, and Carlos had a good seat. Kerry said it was nice seeing a neighbor's kid on the land. It was.

A long two hours, and the nap afterward was welcome. A short nap, though. I had to take Blue's blood glucose level at 4, and it was an astonishing reading of 168, much lower than the upper 200s and lower three hundreds. That must have been an outlier, as his 8 p.m. reading was 322. I'll call the numbers in to the vet tomorrow; I suspect she'll increase Blue's insulin from the current 2 units, twice a day. He's taking his shots like a brave little cat soldier, though he's not fond of the ear pricks necessary to measure his blood glucose.

This week? The first of two administrative hearings with my health insurance company to try to resolve a billing dispute from back in July. That should be interesting.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Diabetes Times 2

Well, it's official, our 14 year-old part-Siamese cat, Blue, is diabetic. I know it's not a contagious condition, but what the hell? Now, I've been diabetic since the end of July, when my surgeon removed my bleeding, tumorous pancreas. Yesterday, we took Blue to the vet for some tests. He's been lethargic, drinking a lot of water and urinating frequently. Kerry thought it might be the result of Mirolax, which the vet suggested to help with his constipation. After looking up Blue's symptoms on the Internet (a great electronic encyclopedia of everything), Kerry concluded he was diabetic, and asked me to take his blood sugar. I used my old meter and test strips (I'm on a pump now), and sure enough, it was nearly 400 MG/dl at one point.

So, we hustled him into the vet yesterday, and the results came back today. Not only is he diabetic, but also he has a basal cell carcinoma on a back toe (we'll have that removed when the diabetes is under control. So, he's on Hill's M/D wet food ($31 for a case of 24 cans), and tonight I start giving him Lantus, 2 units twice a day.

By coincidence, I went to see my endocrinologist today, and after explaining about Blue, he gave me a sample bottle of Lantus; I already have a boxful of syringes I don't need since going on the pump. So, we'll try this for a month. Our vet thinks it's possible that he'll be OK by then and not need continuing insulin. We'll see. Poor Kerry, having to take care of two diabetics in the family.

Anyway, I'm doing fine. My A1C is down to 6.8, my blood pressure is down to 117 over 79, and I'm feeling great. Once the snow and rain stop, I'll be back out cutting wood. And once he's feeling better, Blue will be back taking walks with us.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Anyone Seen an ATV Cover?


Overnight, the temperature inched up and the wind picked up from the south. I could hear snowslides on the metal roofs of the house and garage, and the wind whipping the cover on my ATV in the lower meadow. And when I woke up - it was gone! I pulled on my boots and walked out to the fenceline with our neighbor to the north, walked it up to the gate between our properties, and went through his place, back up to the county road. No ATV cover. Could be in Otis Orchards by now. Snow coming down in big flakes, but melting on contact.

This afternoon we're taking Blue to the vet. For the past few years he's been accompanying us on walks through the hills, but he's become lethargic, drinks and urinates frequently, and has elevated blood sugar levels. He might have become diabetic not that he lives in the house and has had all-day access to dry food with high carbohydrates. Hope not. It's hard enough treating human diabetes. He's an old cat now, 14 or 15. Wondering how long he'll be with us.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Will It Ever Stop?

I don't usually watch local news. Spokane isn't really local for those of us who live in Shenanigan Valley. But, I'd just finished reading Cooper's Last of the Mohicans," a free Kindle download. Took a while to get into the rhythm of the 19th century writing in approximation of 18th century language, but it served to remind me of the art of screenwriting. The Michael Mann film - which I love and watch every time I run across it on TV - has little in common with the book except the names of the main characters (what happened to David Gamut?) and the rough outline of allies and enemies in the French and Indian War. But I'm done and waiting for the national news to update the nation (except, of course, for FOX watchers) on revolution in north Africa.

KHQ showed footage of Wednesday's storm and accidents that tied up traffic on I-90 near the Rathdrum exit. I drove past it on the way to Coeur d'Alene and decided to take Seltice on the way back to Post Falls. Didn't help. Northwest Blvd. was bumper to bumper on ice, which threatened to cause sideways skidding with the slightest forward motion. Seltice wasn't as slippery, but still bumper-to-bumper in both westbound lanes right up to the Rathdrum exit. Then, it was clear sailing (as it looked to be as well on the highway). Fortunately, people drove with good sense and little hurry. Yes, I stopped for supper at the KFC near the intersection, but it still took me 2 1/2 hours to drive to CDA, pick up some documents at the county building, and drive home - about the same time it would have taken me to drive from Laramie to Casper back in Wyoming. Unless there was nasty weather on Shirley Basin highway or near Elk Mountain, which was usually the case.

The snow came down heavy in a strong sidewind all night, but Thursday morning was beautiful. Cold, but sunny, with no wind. I strapped on my snowshoes and broke trail into our lower meadow in search of my ATV cover, which seemed to have blown off during the night. I took the failed results of wheat bread from our malfunctioning Panasonic breadmaker, and threw the crumbs to a flock of turkeys near our norther property line. The turkeys have become unnaturally tame, and didn't run until I started up through the trees on our first hill. Back down our driveway, I saw shallow cat tracks and wondered if it might be from Tom Quinn, the big unneutered tabby who had been living in our woodpile since summer, but was now missing; the sweet-faced female tabby who showed up on our front porch for a meal one night; or the big white-faced tabby with white paws who strolled through our cat-hobo-jungle for some dried food another night. Then, back down the driveway toward the house, with very cold hands. On a whim, I cut across the meadow toward the uncovered ATV and found the cover on the ground, mostly covered with snow, where I'd apparently left it after cutting some applewood that had been lying near the treeline for more than a year. Memory's not what it was - either age or too much surgical anesthesia.

This morning, the temperature outside the kitchen window read zero. Stayed in all day reading Cooper and drinking tea. Even when retired, Saturdays are special. No government offices open, no business to conduct.

More snow on the way.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wood Work

It's cold and clear this morning, and near enough to February to prune the younger apple trees in the orchard near the house. I remembered the extension service instructions - trim off the branches growing up or toward the center of the trees. I also managed some offending branches on the older trees. I'd been meaning to do this for a couple of years, but never quite got around to it. The investment in good pruning shears has paid off.

Karen has been using them right along, on the few days this winter when it hasn't rained or snowed, to thin out some of the smaller pines growing on the hillside east of our driveway. The loggers only took out the larger diseased trees last spring, leaving the congestion of small straight trees and large leaning trees; some had bent nearly to the ground. Karen marked the trees for me to cut, using pink plastic surveyor's tape. Twice this week I trudged up the hill with my trusty Stihl MS 250 chain saw, a gas can, a container of bar and chain oil, and a chain file and scrench. An hour a day; even this mechanized exercise has a dramatic effect on lowering my blood sugar. Friday, I had to finish the past 15 minutes on 4 glucose tabs.

But, the thinning is going well, slowly, and the burn pile is growing larger, slowly. A couple of weeks ago I bought my 2011 burn permit. We'll be burning this spring.

Big day tomorrow; I start on my insulin pump. For the past week, I've been practicing - attaching the canula to an absorbent pad; filling an insulin cartridge with saline solution; using the Animas One-Touch Ping remote to take my blood sugar and give the pad bolus shots based on the glucose reading and carb counts. Since using the pump calculations, my sugar's been a lot more stable. I can imagine how much better it will be once Animas and Dex Com get their joint CGM/pump venture approved by the FDA.

It's supposed to snow today, but the sun's still shining. I guess Karen and I will chuck more wood on the burn pile. In the meantime, we're watching news coverage of the protests in Egypt. How's this one going to turn out?