Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Return to Domesticity: Vinegar, biscotti, consume and the art of kitchen forgiveness

By way of getting cozy with the dark days of winter now that the holiday hullabaloo has subsided, I'm returning to the domestic arts.  This week is all about homemade: biscotti, vinegar and clarified chicken broth, which from my days as a waitress at the Somerset Club in Boston I recall is also called consume.

The vinegar was darned easy.  Nothing about this is exact. 
  • Mix some leftover red wine with a few cups of unpasteurized, unfiltered vinegar from the health food store.
  • Put it in an open glass container (don't use metal).  I used old mason jars.
  • Tie cheese cloth over the top to keep out bugs and dirt.
  • Put the jug somewhere kind of dark with air temperatures that hover between 70-80 degrees (f)
  • Stir it once in awhile and taste.  
  • After a few weeks or months, when you're happy with the taste, pasteurize it by boiling it at 170 degrees (f) for about 10 minutes.
  • Store it in glass bottles or jars
Biscotti is the most forgiving cookie.  The recipe I used combines "Gourmet" with something from the internet.  The same basic recipe conjured up Apricot Biscotti, Chocolate Chip biscotti, and Spicy chili pineapple biscotti.

The key to clear consume is egg white!  Whip 1 or 2 egg whites mix that with the egg shells and about 1/4 cup water.  Stir it into the cloudy chicken broth and heat to a slow boil for about 10-20 minutes.  Strain it through cheese cloth.  There are a number of workable approaches to this basic idea.  Julia Childs recommneds 4 egg whites... maybe.  Some people add julienne carrots to the mix to add more flavor to the broth.  Others only heat one side of the pan hoping to increase the roll of the boil.  One of the Iron Chefs reportedly repeated the boiling and straining process about 4-5 times with the same batch of soup.  Anyway you look at it, it seems to work.  Another rather forgiving kitchen art.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 Improves Useablity

Learn a language online for free?!!  That's the LiveMocha promise.  These guys and gals from Seattle have made it possible for anyone anywhere -- even in the Uni-ligual States of America -- to get a little bilingual going in their lives.  I've tried both Rosetta Stone, Learn Spanish and Livemocha.  Livemocha delivers almost as much for free as Rosetta Stone delivers at a much higher cost.  I love that Livemocha integrates the efforts of people around the world.  Not only can you learn from other but you can act as a lesson reviewer to earn points for more classes.

Sing Hallelujah from the BBC and More

Just in "thyme" for the festive season the BBC comes to the rescue!  For the holidays they give us a handy set of youtube videos to teach the parts of Handel's Magnificent Hallelujah Chorus. You can also find the Karaoke version on Youtube.  Sing Hallelujah indeed! This could have saved me many an anxious  moment Monday night if only I had found it before the festive event itself.  Next year eh? That's one of the beauties of the Messiah honey, it rarely changes (anymore).  Let's take BBC's Sing Hallelujah event global next year.  Why should the UK have all the fun?  Write to the BBC now and ask them to sponsor an event in your area.

Enery Bars Savory *Not* Sweet

I'm on a quest for an energy bar that is more salty than sweet.  Yeah, it's fun to nosh on double fudge chocolate lemon bar but really, it gets kind of old.   If you have any ideas ... comment! 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wishing You a Sing it Yourself Messiah and Other Musical Escapades

Music is transcendent.  My high school used to host a Messiah sing for students and alumni in the days when we still referred to the activities of the season as Christmas Vacation and The Christmas Concert.  And while I'm all for tolerance and respect the changes and diversity tolerance has brought into our lives, there are days when I wax nostalgic for what seemed like simpler times... hey I was pretty simple back then.  I was 15.  Anyway.  Tonight a friend and I went to sing the Messiah with about 500 like minded amateur singers.  And the magic happened.  We were not all in tune all the time and we certainly didn't all sing the right notes all the time, but when a group of people come together to make music the world resonates with joy.  If everyone who ever was in a high school choir or played in an orchestra or band would take out their instrument and find others to share music with them, the world would be a better place.  You gotta make it yourself or it doesn't work. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bag that Genius Before it Gets Away: Bagster

Getting Rid of Junk Before Bagster
How did I live so long with out this new product from  When you unfold this bag it's as big as a dumpster.  Who doesn't need a dumpster every now and then.  Bagster ( sells for $29.95 at home-improvement and hardware stores as well as Fill it up then go  online or call Waste Management to pay for and schedule a pickup for $79 to $159, depending on the area -- 50% to 70% less than a dumpster rental.  Really, in the age of consumerism how did we ever get through the go-go 90s without this.

And this is bagster
Forget The real internet find is   Bagster 3CUYD Dumpster in a Bag.

Snaps to AdAge for finding this gem as part of the article America's Hottest Trends in 2010.

Heidi Klum Follows Through on Her Promise

On the season finale of Project Runway, Heidi Klum promised Michael Kors that she would wear Mondo's bubble dress, and did she ever.  She rocked the floor-length dress at a Los Angeles screening of "Black Swan," during the closing night of the American Film Institute's AFI Fest 2010. The NY Daily News has the details... 

Once a loyal Hulu watcher of Project Runway, I'm so over it.  My love for the show will never be the same since Michael Kors stole what should have been Mondo's win and gave it to that simpering woman who's name I can't even remember.   I just remember her whining.  And simpering.  And Mondo's brilliant designs.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hello: Why do you think they call them clippers? has just released a study on couponing behavior and  guess who uses coupons the most?

"The study of 8,500 consumers, conducted by MyType, found that the people most likely to use online coupons include six-figure income earners, the highly educated, the highly imaginative, extroverts, and those who value social responsibility and the environment."

This confirms what Harris found in a couponing study published this spring:  Here is the Deals.coms profile of coupon lovers and haters.  You can read the full report here

Profile of a coupon "lover":

  • People with household incomes in excess of $100,000 per year are roughly two times more likely to be coupon lovers.
  • People who score as extraverted and imaginative on a standard psychological assessment of personality are respectively 47% and 25% more likely than others to favor online coupons.
  • Women are 67% more likely than men to be coupon lovers.
  • People who consider the environment of utmost importance are 37% more likely to be coupon lovers than those who are less concerned about the environment.
  • College-educated people are 78% more likely than the non-college educated to be coupon lovers.
  • Parents are 48% more likely than non-parents to be coupon lovers.
  • Northeasterners are 66% more likely than West Coasters to be coupon lovers.
  • Coupon lovers are 220% more likely than avoiders to highly value tradition, and 96% more likely to highly value self-direction.
  • People who identify social responsibility as the most important element of a good work culture stand out as 151% more likely to be coupon lovers than avoiders.
  • Devoutly religious people are 31% more likely to be coupon lovers and substantially less likely to be coupon avoiders.
  • Libertarians are 47% more likely to be online coupon users.

Profile of a coupon "avoider":

  • People who score as insecure or temperamental on a standard psychological assessment of personality are 33% more likely to be avoiders.
  • Detached, sophisticated, careless and procrastinating people are also each at least 20% more likely to be coupon abstainers.
  • Men are 27% more likely to be coupon abstainers.
  • Insecure, low-income men are the quintessential coupon abstainers, being 130% more likely to avoid online coupons. Though they have household incomes of less than $50,000 per year, they are only a fifth as likely as others to be coupon lovers.

How to Calculate the Value of Facebook Fans

Many marketers have assumed that a Facebook fans is of value, but now a company called Syncapse has put a number on it.  Somewhere about $136 give or take the change.  How did they get to this number? To quote the Syncapse report:
  • "The Syncapse model utilizes key research Findings
    across all five measured variables, specifically
    (1) Product Spending, (2) Brand Loyalty,
    (3) Propensity to Recommend, (4) Brand Affnity and
    (5) Earned Media Value. Averages and participation
    rates across multiple Facebook programs were
    then assigned based on Syncapse SocialTRAC™
    databases. It is important to note these values are not
    a simple reflection of Facebook marketing efforts and
    engagements. They are complex calculations that
    look to understand differences in audience values
    and declared spend levels."
To read the full report click here

Many thanks to blogger Jeff Bullas for bringing us info about the value of a facebook fan.  You can read his post

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shrinklet: The Great Gatsby and the Seven Deadly Sins

NaNoWriMo has taught me a lot. After just two days of writing and 14 days of procrastinating,  I've decided that the novel just isn't my medium...  I'm more of a shrinklet kind of girl.   So, to celebrate all this self knowledge, the Institute for Really Bad Poetry brings you this bitsy bite of literary analysis that's almost in iambic pentameter to show you the wonderful link between F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby and Catholic Church's Seven Deadly Sins.  Have at it all you high school essay writers.  And remember to give credit where credit is due (or the internet plagiarism police will catch you).

Gastby's love for Daisy
(A silly little bubble)
Is almost pure and unrequited
But leads to a mess of trouble

In a big misunderstanding
Gatsby gives his life
A Nouveau riche takes the bullet
For a bully who screwed someone's wife -- and his wife who takes the gal's life.
(wrath and lust)

Bully Tom and his wife frothy Daisy
Have never worked or paid
Nothing for them has consequence
And everything's just a game

These socialites Gatsby worships
Don't have anything useful to do
They lounge in airy rooms all day
Play golf and party too

Daisy lives far above Gatsby's class
So he constructs the ultimate fake
He creates an illusion around himself
But he's really on the take

Gatsby hosts elaborate parties
His dream is a trap that binds him
He's the ultimate dweeb with no real friends
When all he wants is for Daisy to find him

To pay for his transformation
Gatsby does business deals for mobsters
He sells illegal liquor
So the rich can have wine with their lobsters

Gatsby's illusion works too well
And while Tom is off with his mistress
Daisy dallies with Gatsby and makes useless plans
and then comes the real nasty business

When all seven sins are accounted for
Daisy drives Gatsby's car into Tom's mistress
The mistress is dead
The poor spouse loses his head
And comes gunning for Gatsby with vengeance.

Nick, our trusted observer
All alone attends Gatsby's funeral
Daisy and Tom take an long trip
and give consequences the slip
They never take responsibility

So the lesson we learn is as follows
The idle rich have no scruples
So don't be their pupils
and don't screw with other people's spouses.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 4 of 30

We are at Day 4 of NaNoWriMo (see previous post).  1700 words a day seems daunting but with an army of helpful collaborators we can do it... for 10 people that's only 170 words a day... heck, I write that many words in emails.  If you would like to join the Palo Alto NaNoWriMo project click here for permission.  As soon as I get your request I'll let you in.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Plot No Problem: A Novel by Dec. 1 in just 1,700 Words a Day

November is taking off with Dia de la Muerte leading the charge and The Festival of the Dead Turkey bringing up the rear. In between the feasts (and before the Christmas rush) we have stumbled upon NaNoWriMo or "National Novel Writing Month: 30 Days of Literary Abandon".

More than 170,000 writers have signed on to produce a novel before December 1, 2010.  Their goal is to write 1,700 words a day.  Their battle cry is "No Plot No Problem".  This pen wielding army of prose-a-tarians have already written more than 2 million words this year alone.

The NaNo organization, kind of like Team in Training, offers full support for this writing marathon, including a Procrastination Station featuring a page called Permission to Suck.

So pen warriors.  Take arms and start typing.  Join the battle and speak your mind in a Mes de la Pluma  if you will.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Public Relations is Dead and Other Thoughts About New Marketing Realities

Mark Twain never exactly said: "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated"; what he probably did say was something like: "This report of my death was an exaggeration". (How great indeed is the need to tweak another man's prose).

While we are on the topic of deaths, real or exaggerated, and in observation of Dia de los Muertos, let's mourn the classic model for technology sector public relations.  This is the model best and most widely implemented by Regis McKenna Inc. and his many devotees.  If it's not exactly dead, it's on serious life support, just waiting for someone to trip over the cord.

If the RMI PR model is dying the cause is most likely complications related to old age.  Certainly technology has changed around us. As Marshall McLuhan observed so long ago: the medium is the message.  As the medium changes, the message changes, and so does the messenger. In the last 30 years the medium of communications has gone from paper publications to tweets in the blink of an eye. 

The "Mad Me" phenomena encapsulates the changes in our world in the glass jar of the 60s and 70s.  We can watch as the world changes around Don Draper (a fictional character within a fictional character) and feel safer as our world changes around us.  Let's have a martini with lunch today and remember the good old days.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Everything We Know About Study Skills Sucks

The New York Times has published a review of study skills and learning styles:  Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits. Sept. 6, 2010.  In summary
  • No research exists to support the old advice about studying
    • Use the same quiet place
    • Study according to a routine schedule
    • Set goals and boundries
  • Recent studies call for more actual research about learning styles theory
  • NPR Talk of the Nation has an article about Master Teachers that can be heard here  
  • More ideas about the craft of teaching Uncommon Schools Networks
  • Master teacher demonstrates classroom control

We won't grow up: Why 20 somethings delay adulthood

According to the "New York Times Magazine", 20 somethings are delaying adulthood: avoiding the checklist items of adulthood like the plague.  Fewer than 1/2 of women and 1/3 of men have passed the 5 classic milestones of adulthood by age 30. 
  • Mortgage? Not possible if we want to move every year
  • Financial independence? Waiting for a job that's both meaningful and relevant.
  • Finish school?  Would I have to matriculate?
  • Marriage?  Forgetaboutit.  Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free.
  • Children?  Wait, I'm the child here.
The real story is more complex.  Read  "What is it About 20-Somethings ....Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up" by Robin Marantz Henig. New York Times Magazine. Aug. 18, 2010
Details here

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Frugal Leben: Stuck on Glue

When living by frugal life creed ("reduce, recycle and reuse") you will often be forced to repair.  Use the right glue for the job. provides a truly simple glue finder app as well as gripping true-glue stories from real life like the You Glued What Gallery.

Pass it on.... may it live long and prosper... and you too! 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A different kind of garden: Raising Kids

Two of my three beautiful daughters were adopted from China.  It's complicated.  It's wonderous.  It's one of the mysteries of life that seem to become more profound the longer I live.  PBS will be airing a documentary about adoption Fall of 2010 starting with a view of a recent Chinese adoption. The trailer touched me deeply.  The interview with the film maker can be found here

Watch the full episode. See more POV.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How long does it take? Can't believe we won

How long does it take to build a winning team?  My kid's summer swim team won for the first time since Regan was president (anyone else who remembers trickle down economics?).  Anyway, we were lucky to have a number of really fabulous young swimmers join the team this year probably because of our inspiring coach -- a one time Stanford and Olympic swimmer who trained with the legendary Richard Quick.   The program has been on the build for about four years.  Here's a fun look at the pre-meet celebration:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Square Foot Garden Update

In addition to the Great Wall of Lettuce and Rapini, the Mel's Square Foot Gardening method experiment is also underway in a 4x4x1 foot box.  Here are some observations:
  • 4x4x1' is a perfect size for convenient gardening.  Mel recommends a depth of 7" but the plants seem happier with 12" depth, although it requires more soil and hence more cost.
  • The Mel's mix soil recipe is great, although I made a few modifications to suit my eco-ethic and pocketbook. The original recipe calls for 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite.  Mine is 1/3 compost, 1/3 lignea peat, 1/6 vermiculite, 1/6 red lava rock.  These modifications cut my costs significantly, increase the air and water retention of the soil and increase the local content of the materials.
  • The box is supporting fewer plants than Mel square foot chart would lead you to plant.  Mel suggested 8 bean plants per square.  I have more like 4.  
  • The beans were supposed to share the carrots, lettuce and chard but completely shut then out.  next year the beans go in the middle of the box, and the melons go on the outside
  • I over planted zucchini... a typical rookie supply mistake because last year's yield was so bad. 

Zucchini Bread

Right before I leave on vacation, the zucchini are coming.  Here's a great looking bread recipe... hope your zukes don't take over your life while I'm gone!

2007 Award-Winning Recipe!
Candace Dugan * Douglas, Michigan
There is nothing more deliciously heart warming on a blustery fall afternoon than a slice of this cake-like zucchini bread with a mug of steaming hot tea. Enjoy it warm shortly after baking or freeze it for use throughout the winter. Our staff here just adores it~we filled our freezer with it for afternoon breaks!

Candace Dugan's Zucchini Bread
  • 3 eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon

  • 2 teaspoons nutmeg

  • 2 cups flour

  • 2 cups grated zucchini

  • Optional: raisons and/or chopped walnuts

  • Coarse baking sugar

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two bread pans. Mix together the eggs, vanilla, oil and sugar. Add the salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg to the egg mixture. Alternatingly in three parts, add the flour and the grated zucchini to the egg mixture~it will be thick. Hand stir in optional raisons and/or coarsely chopped walnuts. Fill each prepared bread pan no more than 3/4 full. Top with coarse baking sugar. Bake for about an hour until a cake tester comes out clean.

  • Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Noted: Pole Beans

    Pole beans in a wash tub
    The pole beans planted in early May have started to yield results almost 70 days later.  The 5-6 squares of beans planted May 6 have created 2 massive vine towers and 3 shorter towers.  Today I harvested about 1 pound of beans with more on the way.
    • The plants sharing the 4x4 box with the zucchini yield the most and grow most vigorously.
    • The plants growing around a study bamboo teepee are the easiest to harvest and the most pleasing to observe
    • The tower created around old tomato cages make a wobbly tangle.  
    • The beans planted in the homemade "self watering" container box yield the least and look spindly
    • Those in the wash tub and the watering trough containers also seem less vigorous although they were probably least densely planted as well.
    I  have met my goal of providing enough beans for our family for a few weeks.  The costs including one time start-up expenses were high.

    Ongoing costs
    • $100 water for 3 months over and above what we use during the off season
    • $15 seeds
    One time costs:
    • $150 for soil ingredients: vermiculite, lava rock, various composts, lignea peat
    • $140: 2 watering troughs
    • $20: recycled 2x4s for 4x4 planter box
    • $15 bamboo pole supports
    • $20 garden ties,bits and pieces for the drip system
    Stuff that was "free-cycled"
    • Drip watering system (re-purposed from other years)
    • Washtub
    • Worm compost
    • Hose
      The best part is finally having something to do with all the worm compost I've been generating over the past 2-3 years.... next I'll try to measure the effects of the various types of compost... but maybe next season.  For now I'm going to eat some beans.  

        Friday, July 23, 2010

        Replanting the Great Wall of Lettuce... and Rapini

        After our day at the beach I found the energy to replant and rebuild the GWL,  which by the way, now includes mostly rapini.  The new challenge becomes how to keep it alive during my vacation.  The people who are staying at the house don't seem like the type to fuss over watering schedules.

        The drip system is installed.  The next few days of testing will show if it can hold up on an every other day schedule.  Of note... while the seeds are germinating the water is best applied as a spray, after roots form, the drip works best from a water conservation perspective.  The micro bubbler sticks seem like the best bet for the task.  During the sprout season they can spray the surface of the pot, then after the seedlings emerge, the spray can be adjusted to more of a drip.  Let the experiment begin again!

        By way of random observations, we are living with function over form.  With the water and gutters installed, the beauty of the graceful straight lines of the bamboo supports contrasted against the repeating pattern of the round pots has been compromised.  Renewing the beauty will be a task for next planting.

        Thursday, July 22, 2010

        Frugle, simple and or sustainable living? Not even close

        Summer in suburbia.  Aside from a few tweaks to the Great Wall of Lettuce,  the rest of today was spent in typical suburban pursuits.  Or more accurately, aiding and abetting my children in their typical suburban pursuits.  Time poolside, breakfast out at a local hash house, water polo practice, seeing a friend off at the airport.  In all the kids and I logged about 50 miles in the car today.   I watered what is left of my lawn until I can  succeed at replacing it with something either more water wise, or more productive.  Nothing of what I did today was sustainable on a local or a global level and that makes me sad.  For all my bread making, and vegetable growing, and water wise gardening and re-purposing leftovers for the dog, I am still living an incredibly wasteful life and it's starting to wear me down. 

        Repurposing KFC leftovers: Dog Treats

        My dogs are loving me today.  It all started with a bucket of KFC.  Ewww... but it makes wonderful dried dog treats. To recap, I took my kids and the rest of the neighborhood to the beach yesterday.  In a mad rush to get lunch for 7 kids on a budget, we did a KFC drive through for a bucket of chicken.  Luckily it was enough food to feed everyone with leftovers. 

        The dilemma:  what to do with the leftovers.  I hate wasting food.  It's a combination of depression-era respect for the plenty of the American food supply (even KFC); a new respect for the work that goes into producing food (a lesson from my gardening and bread making experiments); and the fact that our local garbage service is both expensive and restrictive. 

        And so, necessity being the mother of invention, we made chicken jerky dog treats.  Eating the chicken didn't seem smart.  It was kind of disgusting when the bucket was new, and truly disgusting after the kids had pawed through, but it made really great dog treats.  (Hey! Dogs will eat much worse when you leave them to their own devices).  Here's how you can do this at home with any meat leftovers.
        • Set the oven to around 200 degrees.  
        • Slice the meat or chicken into thin pieces (1/2 to 1/4 inch). 
        • The size doesn't really matter as long as they are thin.  
        • You can cut with the grain or across the grain as you prefer.  
        • Set the slices on baking trays in the oven for about 1-2 hours until they are dry
        • Store in a container in the 'fridge for a few weeks or frozen for months.

        Wednesday, July 21, 2010

        Sport-Brella at the beach

        In lieu of gardening today, the kids talked me into a trip to the beach.  I gave in hoping that a break would help me over my gardener's block.  It was windy and cold but the kids loved the waves and the water and I devoted a few hours of my life to sudoku.  The Sport-Brella was perfect for a day like today.  It blocked the wind and gave the kids a great place to warm up and snack.  And it gave me shelter to enjoy my puzzles.  Tomorrow I'm back to work on the Great Wall of Lettuce.  See you then. 

        Tuesday, July 20, 2010

        Gardener's Block and Revisions to the Great Wall of Lettuce

        By now, you know that the Great Wall of Lettuce is my raison d'etre this summer.  Aside from a few ADD meanders through sourdough bread and sunscreen, it's the only purpose I have (unless you count loading and unloading the dishwasher, the washing machine and the dryer).

        But I'm stuck people.  Stuck.  Gardeners block so bad I can hardly lift the hose. 

        To date we've learned through our first crop that the gallon pots are too small to support a salad-worthy lettuce crop.  So, the soil (Mel's mix of Square Foot Gardening fame) has been dumped into 2 and 5 gallon pots and refreshed with a little worm compost.  And the pots are ready for planting but I'm hung up on how to redesign the watering system. 

        The problem with watering the Great Wall is channeling the runoff to reduce waste.  The original idea was that the water from the top-most pots would drain into the pots below then run into a gutter to water the peach and raspberry bushes.  This worked pretty well with the gallon pots, but it's not so neat with the larger sizes.

        The problem lies in maintaining a sun-shade balance.  When the pots are stacked for drainage, the plants below don't get enough sun.  Even lettuce.  When the pots are offset, the drainage system doesn't work.  Once the drip system is in place, it gets harder to move the pots around.  So we're stuck.  Back to the drawing board.  Unless I figure this out soon, I'm going to lose another hour of life to sudoku.

        Monday, July 19, 2010

        Natural Sunscreens

        Many of my correspondents have asked for recommended sunscreens.  Here's a list from EWG ... you can also find them on
        Search for natural sunscreen

        Sunday, July 18, 2010

        Worm Compost

        The Great Wall of Lettuce has finally provided a use for my worm compost. I've been feeding those little guys for almost two years now and haven't been willing to use the "black garden gold" they reportedly produce. But now that I'm mixing my own soil using Mel's Mix, the worm compost has become invaluable. The only question is how much nitrogen does it really contain.

        Here's the worm forum from GardenWeb:

        Gardeners: Get the Lead Out of Your Soil

        Your garden looks great, but is your soil contaminated with lead? The answer might well be yes if you garden is near a house or fence that was painted before 1970. But never fear... once again compost is the gardener's best friend.; it can render lead inactive. Here are highlights from the Cleveland Plain Dealer article "Getting the Lead Out" (by Michael Scott, July 18, 2010):

        Reduce the risk of lead in the soil by using compost:

        "The science behind it is actually quite simple.... In short, any time you mix a phosphorous material -- manure, food scrap compost, mulch, bone meal -- any dangerous lead in the soil attaches itself to that material.

        'The problem with lead is that it can be sitting in the environment indefinitely, but when it hits stomach acid after you ingest some dust, it dissolves,' Basta said. 'When it does, it essentially attaches itself to our bones,' he said.

        But by simply mixing compost materials into soil, we force lead to make that attachment before it goes airborne -- rendering it harmless to our bodies if we do end up breathing it in."

        The effects of lead are well known. The article also discusses the problems. Basically, lead is a poison that affects brain functioning. In the garden you breath in the dust and the lead gets into your blood. By composting and using raised beds the lead in the soil is essentially rendered harmless.

        Does Sunscreen Really Prevent Cancer

        Lately the sun has been fierce--even angry. After just 10 minutes in the garden my bare toes sport a sun rash.

        But. Before you buy another tube of sunscreen, read the Environmental Work Group (EWG) 2010 Sunscreen Report. EWG reviews a mindbogglingly comprehensive body of sunscreen research to create recommendations for best products.

        Their most interesting findings:
        The BAD Stuff?:
        • Oxybenzone (a synthetic estrogen that's absorbed by the skin)
        • Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate) (it's good to eat but bad to rub on the skin)
        • Added insect repellent
        • Sprays
        • Powders
        • SPF 50+
        The RIGHT Stuff:
        • Zinc
        • Titanium dioxide
        • Avobenzone or Mexoryl SX
        • Cream
        • Broad-spectrum protection
        • Water-resistant for beach, pool & exercise
        • SPF 30+ for beach & pool
        The BEST Stuff:
        • Hats
        • Shirts
        • Shade
        • Sunglasses

        Thursday, July 15, 2010

        Sourdough bread update

        The sourdough bread was great. Sour and soft and full of nice even holes. Hooray for the yeast ranch! I wish I could send you a picture but it's almost gone. If I find my camera before it's entirely gone, I'll post!

        Wednesday, July 14, 2010

        A New SPIN on Growing Food Locally

        Those Canadians! While we've been down here moaning about finding sustainably farmed local produce, they have been up there in the north country inventing boutique food production methods that give people the courage to grow produce sustainably in their own backyard.

        The program is called SPINfarming and involves using harnessing sub-acre plots of land for money-making farm production. They claim that by using intensive gardening techniques SPIN farming overcomes the 2 big hurtles to farming: land costs and capital. Here's the link to learn more about this innovative idea for food production. and

        Great Wall of Lettuce Update

        (The Great Wall of Lettuce today after the first harvest of Rapini and Lettuce)

        It's been a few weeks since the start of the great wall of lettuce project. Here's an update and a long overdue thanks to my GM friends for offering up their empty 1-5 gallon pots for the experiment ... and to MM for the chocolate mint plants: they love their new home on The Wall.

        The wall supports about 16 1-gallon pots and a few 3 and 5-gallon pots. Here are some observations:
        • Keeping the plants hydrated is easier than expected. The plants get enough afternoon shade and are protected from the wind. they only need water 1x per day.
        • Getting the water onto the pots is harder than expected. The best method has been hand watering with a hose. The line drippers don't spread the water well enough and the spray dippers just don't angle properly allowing too much water waste and runoff.
        • The 1-gallon pots are too small for more than one plant at a time. There just isn't enough nutrient in the soil to grow truly useful plants.
        • The 5-gallon pots grow enough leaf lettuce for a nice dinner salad and the shoots regrow after harvesting.
        • The baby bok choy seeds weren't planted deeply enough. The plants are spindly
        • The mint loves it semi-shade exposure (about 4 hours of sun a day)
        • The bigger pots have a tendency to topple over. The container cuke was damaged by a bad fall.
        • Lettuce and Rapini have worked the best. Both were in 5 gallon pots. Maybe the baby bok choi will be better planted deeper.

        Sourdough Recipe: Working the yeast farm

        Today we make bread using our yeast. Here's one recipe for sourdough (from John Ross:
        • 2 Cups of sponge (proofed starter)
        • 3 Cups of unbleached flour
        • 2 tablespoons of olive oil or softened margarine
        • 4 teaspoons of sugar
        • 2 teaspoons of salt
        Actual measurements vary. I would have made a good apprentice because I like to learn the feel for things rather than reading the book about them.

        Farm in a Jar: Soughdough Ranching

        Here in suburbia the lot sizes are small, so today let's scale back our yield expectations. This week we'll grow our livestock in a jar with the hopes of producing a perfect loaf of sourdough bread. The story so far: We threw out that last batch of sourdough starter because it was a dud. It was such an early experiment we didn't even bother to tweet about it. Then we rolled up our sleeves and learned something interesting.

        Failure is really the mother of discovery: Who knew that yeast is a single celled creature known as a eukaryote cell? When my daughter was studying cells a few years ago she and I struggled with that vocab term, but today what was once a stupid obteuse vocab word is a living concept (... in my world anyway, not hers).

        Kidped has a great article about yeast and bread.

        Anyway, the key to making your own sourdough starter lies in getting the environment in your Masons jar to a PH level of around 6. Into my jar I tossed
        • 1 handful of flour (whole wheat is reportedly rich in yeast spores, but I only had white)
        • 1 cup of water
        • 1 squeeze of fresh lemon juice
        • 1 squeeze of fresh peach juice
        • 1 long dribble of carbonated passion fruit Juice Squeeze (the experts recommend 8 oz. pineapple juice but I didn't have any.)

        Here's what active yeast cells look like when they are replicating (thanks Kidped).

        Throughout the day I tossed in a table spoon of flour and a splash of water every now and then (now here's a recipe I can love... measurements for ADD people). It looks like the yeast cells have been replicating like mad because this morning we have a bubbly paste that smells like, well, like bread yeast. Do you think it's too soon to try a loaf of bread with it?

        Tuesday, July 13, 2010

        Chaos and Sourdough Starter

        If the kitchen were clean, you wouldn't be reading this blather about homemade sourdough starter because I would be doing something truly useful like unloading the dishwasher or mopping the floor. But seeing the kitchen knee deep in detritus just gives me the motivation to just keep moving. Lead with your strengths!

        In this case we are leading with something that is probably described in the annals of chaos theory. (Play with the updated powers of ten imagery and see how that works... )

        The need for constant motion has led us to the mystery of sourdough starter. You can buy the stuff ... you can make the stuff with a boost of dry yeast from a packet ... or you can hunt the big beast that is the capturing of natural yeasts found on the wheat flour.

        Think of this as uber-intensive gardening. There's a lot of tiny livestock in the jar along with the yeast and the key is to set up an environment that helps them all play nice together.

        My first batch was made with flour, water and a packet of dry yeast. The loaf was delicious but hard even after rising all night. So I tossed that batch out and started again. This new batch includes peach juice and lemon juice with the flour and water. The experts recommend pineapple juice to create the perfect environment for yeast to grow, but I didn't have any. Some people have tried raisin juice while others use grape juice.

        But in any case, the PH levels are important in balancing the atmosphere for the needs of the yeast. Following are some useful links if you want to try this at home. Let the chaos begin ... or in my case ... ferment to a new level.
        • The juice on pineapple:

        Tuesday, July 6, 2010

        Here's a new system for learning a new language. Fluenz. It seems like Rosetta Stone on steroids for about the same price. I've used Rosetta Stone on line and loved it. Live Mocha on line and loved the price. Haven't tried this yet, but the marketing is spectacular. Someone buy it, try it and let me know what you think.

        Sunday, July 4, 2010

        4th of July: Beans and Surprises

        The 4th of July has delivered us a handful of beans from the bush beans--a little too long and a little over ripe. And a zucchini still on the vine which is going to get very big at the request of my neighbor who wants to stuff it. The great wall of lettuce, as it turns out, is really the great wall of baby bok choi. Who knew? Actually, I did know there was going to be some bok choi, but I didn't remember planting it so generously.

        Thursday, July 1, 2010

        More Beans

        The 4 squares of bush beans bequeathed me a great big big handful of green beans, enough for a family dinner and also enough to share with my neighbor! Soon the zucchinis will arrive with a vengeance. I wonder if it will be as easy to gift them to others.

        Cold Brown Rice

        Breakfast today is cold brown rice. It's a kind of penance. And actually, it doesn't taste that bad. In an effort to get more fiber into the family diet I cooked up an enormous pot of brown rice, which turned out like mush because as we all know, instructions on the bag are no substitute for experience. It wasn't supposed to be enormous either but with the this and the that of making dinner in a household full of children sometimes it's hard to think clearly about quantities and especially when reading the instructions on the bag. Who tests these recipes anyway. You and me that's who. And there's no feed-back loop so errors are never corrected. Revisions are never published. Where is crowd sourcing in the food industry?

        At any rate. No one in the family would eat the rice probably because it was brown, and mushy and at the time it was still a little crunchy when we sat down to eat. Now that it's been sitting on the counter in the rice cooker for two days, in the summer heat, it's soft and looks a lot like oatmeal. I'm eating smothered in nuts and brown sugar. Maybe this is an attempt to prove that foods like rice that have been sitting out for centuries probably won't kill you. And maybe because so many people are hungry all the time. And I'm not. Not ever. Eating old rice porridge is a celebration of my relative wealth. And a quiet wish that I could share it with people are are hungry.

        Peas porridge hot.
        Peas porridge cold.
        Peas porridge in the pot,
        Nine days old.

        Wednesday, June 30, 2010

        Performance: It's a Head Game

        Building confidence always seems to be the crux of the job in my role as management consultant. In most situations different plans have an equal chance of succeeding, but the team has to get behind one plan and they have to believe it's The Right Plan. Belief alone gets you half way across the finish line.

        This inspiring quote about the effect of training on confidence and peak performance comes from the book "Rocket Men" by Craig Nelson.

        "I always find that when time came for a mission, there was just and incredible degree of just solitude. You just felt comfortable... The adrenaline's pumping, but you have this incredible confidence in your team and in yourself as a result of... training... (It's) given you confidence.... This instructor has given you this absolute confidence in your ability to get the job done. You never think about: 'If I get airborne I've got to get back to ground I may crash'." Gene Kranz, Mission Control Chief Apollo 11 flight team.

        As a manager, coach or a teacher how do you give you kids, you athletes and your team members absolute confidence in their ability to perform during a competition or on a test?

        Tuesday, June 29, 2010

        Tomatos, Joey Buttafuoco and the Buster Controversy

        The neighborhood is abuzz about the new cat down the street. Buster. A big gray guy, wide in the middle, with a skinny short tail and muscles. You see him saunter down the street and you think: If Joey Buttafuoco were a cat he'd walk just like that.

        Apparently Buster is quite a mouser, something we've needed here in Squirreltown. Just to give you a feeling for the squirrel problem, they ate all my tomatoes for that two years, and in the world according to Google, squirrels don't eat tomatoes.

        Not being gardeners, no one else really cared except for the neighbor who hates the nests in the trees.

        But I cared. And now Buster cares. For the first time in 3 years I've had tomatoes ripen unmolested on the vine. Sorry squirrels.

        And sorry to the neighbors who own the house across the street where Buster deposits his kill. For some reason Buster leaves the bodies on the front porch right in front of their door. These squeemish people feel a total aversion to nature and it's causing quite a controversy. Frankly, I'd be glad to shovel the dead for them, but they are too proud to ask for help. Maybe they will accept a gift of tomatoes.

        Note: Get the update on Buster here:

        "Hope in aTime of Anxiety"

        A remarkable man in our community has done much work in a subtle joyful way to improve our community. Standing back and looking with the eyes of heart you can feel the new energy without actually pinpointing the source; the place just plain looks happy and healthy. Trust me, this has not always been the case. What is so artful is that the man has created transformation with a remarkably subtle touch.

        But, transformation is never easy and resistance is common -- as soon as some people perceive that their world is changing, even if it's a good change, they feel fear. They smell fear on others and they start to act all crazy. Mob behavior calls for a dose that wonderful poem by Ruyard Kipling "If"... Scroll down to see the guy who tattooed the entire poem on his back.... now that's a commitment to literature.

        I'll monitor this situation and report when it settles out. In the meantime I'm reading Hope in a Time of Anxiety.

        Monday, June 28, 2010


        Four squares of bush beans planted in the watering trough around April 20 yielded a nice big handful of beans for supper tonight with more to come in the next few days. The square of snap peas against the fence are still offering up a crunchy little snack every few days and the leaf lettuce is promising a salad or two along with greens for sandwiches, but the baby romaine is just about gone. I'm vaguely thinking about cost per square calculations, but how do you factor in the romance of gardening and the lovely sense of anticipation, accomplishment and hope that a garden yields in addition to the odd tomato and the promise of crazy zucchinis any day now.

        Language Learning Rosetta Stone Alternatives

        My kids are learning Chinese. My husband and I are learning Spanish. I was using Rosetta Stone until they pulled the plug their online library program apparently putting the money instead into marketing. My husband being the pragmatic guy he is, just went out and bought Rosetta Stone instead of mounting an online search for alternatives. All searches point me to Live Mocha. It's just about the same as Rosetta Stone, with a little more complexity in set up.
        I haven't tested it with a microphone so I'm not sure how it teaches pronounciation and I haven't tested the Chinese but if anyone has, please comment.

        Friday, June 25, 2010

        Rules for Living

        Recovering from CF meant learning a whole new way of life from the inside out (see my new rules for living below). With that said, a friend of mine is combating CF using drug therapy at Stanford Med Center. There is evidence that for some people anti-viral meds work... I can try to get the name of her Doc. for you, but I wasn't impressed by the preliminary results from the study she was part of, and I'm not convinced that's the route for me. rules for living:

        (1) A Priori: don't get angry... nothing sends me into a relapse like anger. And I've learned that nothing is worth a relapse in terms of the impact on my family. So whenever someone pisses me off I have learned to ask myself: it is worth it? As a result I blow off a lot.

        (2) Nothing is worth a relapse... nothing. I do less at work. I care less about volunteer positions. I make a lot of mistakes. I say I'm sorry a lot and move on. I blow off high maintenance people even if I love them. I define my responsibilities as being in a very narrow band. I mute a lot of emotions that would otherwise take over my life.

        (3) Yoga, garden and walk. Limit aerobic activity to days when I feel marvelous (1x per year?). Gardening... some days it means dragging myself outside, sitting on the grass and scratching the dirt with a fork -- but touching nature is very healing for me.

        (4) Art and dream therapy... both really work for me. My CF is exacerbated by emotions I feel in my body but block with my conscious mind. Art helps me release them. I draw impressionistic images that feel to me like the sensations in by body then I list words to describe what I see in the picture. This was really helpful early on. I made tons of progress when I was working with a dream group... wish I could find another one.

        (5) Forcing myself to stick to a routine. Up by 8am weekdays, 9:30am weekends... no matter what. No naps. In bed by 10pm. No media before bedtime. If (when) I get into a cycle of waking up at night I just get up and read or practice mindfulness meditations lying in bed. I let go of my fear about being exhausted the next day... oh well... a slow day tomorrow... so it goes. Pasta for dinner again.

        (6) Mindfulness, forgiveness and boundaries. Read a lot of books on these topics. Seek out experiences that bring them into focus for me. I really like the books "Boundaries" by "Townsend and Cloud"

        (7) Speak like a preacher when necessary.... I find myself blathering a bunch of aphorisms from my youth like a mantra... They are very soothing. Other people look at me like I'm a nut case but so what.

        (8) Get outside in the sun as often as possible even if that means sitting in a chair wrapped in a blanket. Direct sunlight helps me regulate my body clock.

        With all that said... recovering from CF is a journey of learning to live in your body. Anything that helps you get to know your body is good.... sending you lots of good wishes....Keep me posted on your progress... any if you ever have time for a walk.... my shoes are always ready... Alexis

        Monday, June 21, 2010

        90 Days: Time to Replant

        Musing on replanting... a kind of recycling. Recycling the space that has stopped being useful. Like cleaning closets. Letting go. Out with the old in with the new:

        The Old (Planted March 13):
        • 6-7 sq. lettuce. Romaine 2-3 plants per square was enough to give us a daily salad for about 2 weeks.
        • 2 sq. snap peas. Enough to provide a morning snack every 3rd day for about 2 weeks
        • 2 sq. bush beans. provided about 2 cups of green beans. Very discouraging really.
        The New
        • Lettuce growing in the great wall is useful as a source of transplants. I'm moving plants to the empty squares and hoping they don't bolt. They aren't really getting enough sun on the wall. Maybe 4-5 hours a day. The plants are spindly and sad.
        • 2 squares of pole beans planted in the watering trough.

        Monday, June 14, 2010

        Taking Spritual Guidance

        In a un-straight line
        Reaching out
        Toward something
        Seeking to reach the world... as if

        The individual and society in an eternal unavoidable conflict.

        Resolution is the only real problem in this situation
        because resolution means that one side has lost.
        And when one side loses,

        the world goes sideways for awhile.

        The individual fights for his values: the hero's path.
        Society fights to establish common ideals.
        The brave hero; the wise judge. This conflict keeps heroes and judges from turning into egoists-- from becoming criminals and dictators.
        Everyone knows this fight, both in the heart and outside.
        Day in day out.

        The wisest words I've read in weeks or years. To hear intuition you must stop the conscious mind

        Excerpted and paraphrased from the site Links to lots of great artwork too.

        Thursday, June 10, 2010

        Status Update June 4, 2010

        The lettuce seedlings emerge. As of today, 16 pots are planted with a variety of Mesclun, baby romain, baby bok choy, mint, and rapini. The 12 bush beans planted at the bottom will soak up any water that splashes out of the gutter and provide more shade for the lettuce if they grow. This experiment, based on Mel Barthomew's square foot gardening techniques with a dash of hybred hydroponic gardening priciples tossed in for good luck is entirely ad hoc.

        From Renee's Garden: "Mesclun has come to mean any mixture of young salad greens that is sown, grown and cut all together."

        Little Heart

        A friend of mine died this year. She was 50, looked 30. Her memorial service was lavish. The alter was obscured with 20 massive wreaths.

        One of the speakers, using English that was clearly a second language for her, described my friend as having "Little Heart".

        To my Western ears "Little Heart" sounded like a diss, but the speaker went on to define what she meant by the literal translation of a Chinese idiom. She used the term "Little Heart" to describe Nancy's most profound characteristic; the magical ability to use grace to transform small everyday work into something meaningful and beautiful for everyone around her.

        So perhaps in our days and our work you and I can practice the art of "Little Heart" in the Chinese way and in memory of Nancy. Sending you love and light whoever you are, wherever you are on your path.

        Wednesday, June 9, 2010

        What did I plant?

        Although I adore experimentation in the trial and error way, I've never been good at keep records. I did jot down a few notes about what I planted and when and even managed to get most of it written in the same book. Yesterday I tried to transpose it all into an excel spreadsheet, but forgot to save. Oh dear. We're back to the void.

        Setting reasonable goals: How much to plant

        Today I counted potential yield or perhaps more to the point, counted my chickens before they hatch.
        • 12 green tomatoes and a few blossoms on the celebrity and heritage tomato bushes
        • 5 hard peaches from the 2-year old tree
        • 0 raspberries from the 2-year old bush
        • 0 pea pods down from about 5-6 pods per day from 2 squares
        • 0 bush and pole beans from 5-6 squares
        In a tiny garden what can be achieved. Including the great wall of lettuce, I have about 50 squares of plantable space almost all of it in containers. What can be grown in this area that will produce a useful yield. So far the successes include:
        • herbs: savory, thyme, basil, sage, rosemary
        • lettuce especially "cut and come again" types
        The experiment includes
        • beans
        • tomatoes
        • peas
        • baby bok choy
        • red chard

        Monday, June 7, 2010

        Havesting Water

        We live amidst the illusion of abundant water. In my garden water is used and used again whenever possible. Today I tapped the side of the bean trough to gather the run off and harvested about a gallon. This had the added benefit of keeping the ground around the pot from getting squishy. But still, I am so grateful for abundance.