Friday, January 29, 2016


I keep inching up my efforts and experimentation with fermentation. Addictive, and fun.

I'd expected that I'd have to wait until summer to get some of these little pickling cukes, but was surprised to find them at the big market a few days ago. I didn't buy a lot of them -- not prepared to do a lot of them right now -- but wanted to give it a try. There is enough to fill up one quart jar and part of another, which is why they ended up in the crock rather than a glass jar.

Floating in the brine isn't ideal, but I quickly found that the weights I use for kraut and kimchi do not work on roly-poly floating cukes! So, until I'm able to work something else out, I'll just stir these around often enough that everything stays clean and mold-free. They will be just fine.

They began smelling like dill pickles within a couple of hours, which was cool. Now I wait for a couple of weeks and see what I end up with. Better to experiment small the first time anyway, I've found, then use the techniques I learn for larger batches. And if they are available in the market year-round, I can make small batches year-round once I get the process down.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Row River Trail

Our weather took a change for the better yesterday -- sunshine and temps in the 60s. Quite a welcome state of events after weeks of rain!

A friend invited me to walk along the Row River Trail, which is a great biking/walking trail in Cottage Grove, south of Eugene. We've ridden our bikes there in years past but this time were just strolling along, enjoying being outside and in nature.

 The trail skirts Lake Dorena, fed by the Row River, and I was shocked to see it mostly dry because of the recent drought years. I haven't been here for years, and the lake was always wall-to-wall blue water. This was a bit sad. The good news is that we have had lots of rain, there's lots of snowpack in the mountains, and more rains are on the way, so this is probably going to fill up again soon. We hope!

And while I couldn't exactly call it pretty, I was more than a bit fascinated by the lighting and patterns in the dry -- but greening -- lake bed. The setting is wonderful, with all the green hills and quiet nature. This trail is a wonderful thing to have nearby, although I rarely think to drive down there by myself. It makes for a really nice bike ride.

Just below the picnic table where we stopped to enjoy the surroundings before returning to the car, many signs that the lake is trying to refill itself. The hillsides are running with water escaping saturated soils, and this water flows into streams and rivulets such as this one directly below us. On the other side of the lake, as we looped around in the car afterwards, the Row River itself is flowing strong and full.

It was so nice to escape this room for awhile! I get out, but rarely for more than an hour at a time. The rest of the time I'm almost trapped in this room. A nice room, to be sure, but still it's nice to do something else.

I took this week off from exercise, for several reasons. One, my knees were complaining about the hills, and two, my body is simply tired from a couple of weeks of little sleep and lots of walking/hiking. So, prudence suggested I just let it rest this week, and try to get more sleep. Not a lot of success in the sleep department, but last night was an improvement so maybe hope is on the horizon.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rocky Mountain High

The webcam fetish continues. About all the traveling I can do these days! This webcam, which is located at the Alpine Visitor's Center on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, interests me on several levels. First, it always pretty. Beyond that, somehow or other the camera is set to click every morning just as the sun hits that notch in the mountains. Not sure how they do that, but it's cool. Different every morning, of course. Then they leave that sunrise photo up for several hours so more people are able to see it.

I visited the top of Trail Ridge back in 1983 during my 2-month Colorado bike ride. I'd been in Estes Park for a week, acclimating to the terrain and altitude before setting out on my first day of actual travel, which would take me up Trail Ridge past this spot, and it's a long, long road with lots of elevation gain. Lots! From Estes Park at 7552', to its highest point at 12,183'. The visitor's center, where this camera is, is at 11,796'. You do the math. It is the highest continuous motorway in the country. But, when the time came I had a serious feeling that I just was not yet ready to face this challenge. My legs were  used to climbing the Mayacama and eastern mountain ranges in the Napa Valley, and a week just wasn't enough to give me confidence that I could do this much climbing on my first day. So -- I took the bus up there, and felt no shame or guilt about doing so.

My bike up at the top of Trail Ridge, but looking in a different direction from the above camera. From here, it was an easy coast down the other side to a campground about 4 miles down the mountain. I had planned to go all the way down, but pulled in to check out the small campground and fell in love, set up camp and then with the bike unloaded traveled on down the hill to Grand Lake about 10 miles away to buy some groceries, since I hadn't wanted to carry that weight up the mountain (this was before chickening out!). Then, a lovely ride back up the mountain to my camp. I remember how light and lively the bike felt, freed from its 50 pounds of camping gear. I stayed up there a few days, did some hiking, before continuing on with the trip.

After this, I climbed several other major passes without benefit of motorized assistance, the highest of these being Independence Pass. This was my last major one, climbing up from Aspen at around 8000'. I didn't do it in one day, either, as this is a long, steep, narrow road filled with RVs and little or no shoulder for bikes on the downhill side -- which is way downhill in a canyon. I stopped for a couple of nights at another campground about 4 miles, I think it was, from the top. Did some more hiking. Rested the legs. I remember a tavern a few miles down the other side where I stopped for a big burger and fries, and beer. This was my usual reward after a pass, if such a thing could be easily found.

Enough reminiscing. Nowadays my cycling is mostly level, my hiking limited to more minor elevation gains and distances. This morning I had so little energy I came down the mountain next door as slowly as I'd gone up it, and that doesn't generally happen. The joys of old age. I'm just grateful that I can still go up that mountain (generally a bit faster, too) and that it's there for me to enjoy. Quiet this morning, early, in the forest. Only real sound was rushing water, as the streams are really flowing right now with all the rain we've had. Trees mossy and green, lots of big ferns on the forest floor. Really a treasure to have in my backyard.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Good, healthy yogurt

Interesting experience today with my yogurt making. Opted to try using the oven as an incubator -- turned it to a point where it didn't feel too hot. I don't have an oven thermometer, and for some reason my instant-read was not reading the oven air temp at a number that seemed right. It normally reads air temp just fine, but I felt it was too cool, so I used my hand as a judge. The oven was turned off, of course, but it holds its temp for a fair while after being turned off, so I thought it'd be ok.

Fast forward, a friend arrived for a visit so it was a couple of hours before I got back to check the yogurt. Put the instant-read into the mixture in the jar, to get an accurate reading, and it showed around 124, which is way too hot (supposedly). The max is supposed to be 115, and that's what it was when I put it into the jars. I panicked, took it out, brought it downstairs and into the un-preheated cooler, quite certain that I'd killed all the culture bacteria. Tried it in a bit, and it was down to 116. At that point I stuck a thick sweatshirt that was just out of the dryer into the cooler, atop the jars, sealed it back up.

After a little over 3 hours, curiosity led me to test it again, and lo and behold it had gone successfully from liquid to thick, creamy yogurt! I was stunned, and it's a good thing to learn, so I don't have to be so darned worried about that 115 max. I keep learning, and that's what makes it fun. Not to mention the good, healthy yogurt that goes into my fridge.

Only 4 hours sleep last night. Slept like the proverbial log from 10pm-2am, then my roomie walked around in the kitchen just long enough to get the old anxiety going, and I couldn't go back to sleep. Tired, too, from a good hour-long hilly hike yesterday. Sure wish I knew what to do about this -- I try to just accept, not get mad or anything, and I'm fine with all that. But I can't control the anxiety, and that's what's doing the damage.

Ah, well.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

This stuff is good!

I have kimchi and it is good!

Yesterday, per instructions, I took a taste of the brine, and it was so delicious I wanted to eat some of the veggies too -- ASAP! So off to the kitchen, crock in hand, to unpack and put into storage jars.

And of course, set some aside in a small dish for immediate consumption. Amazing -- it's crunchy, has a nice acid tang and some heat. Really glad I didn't put more than that small amount of hot Thai chile peppers in it. All the raw garlic and ginger, plus the green onions, add to that heat as well. It's not all chile peppers.

I haven't put it in the fridge yet. Yesterday, I added more water to the jars but forgot to add more salt to the water, so this morning I drained the jars and added some salt before returning the brine to the jars. I'll let them stay out a couple more days to be sure that new brine gets the full flavor that so impressed me. Yum!

I'd call this a winner, to be sure.

Yesterday did indeed turn out to be rain free. In fact, it turned out to be bright and sunny, something that we haven't seen around here for awhile. I didn't have the energy to walk in the morning, after the poor sleep, but I went up the hill after lunch and that felt great. Always good to be in the woods, especially since I didn't encounter another human until I was almost back to the trailhead.

Not much sleep again last night, but through no fault of my roomie. I opted for two things that didn't work too well: one, I used ear plugs and for the first time actually managed to insert them properly so they stayed in, but also produced more pressure in my ears than was comfortable. Blocked out sound, though! I also took some OTC sleep aids, all around 9pm because I'd been so sleepy all evening and I hoped to be able to sleep for several hours. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I woke up after 1.5 hours, with my skin crawling. That's a side effect of the pills, one that generally doesn't happen if I don't take them too often. There is nothing to do but wait it out, which took over an hour to happen. Whine! The ear plugs came out at that point, too, because they were too uncomfortable and the house was quiet.  So -- a second night with little sleep. I'll figure a way around all this, I hope, although the best answer is one that's unattainable at the moment: live by myself!

Still, all in all a good day yesterday. A nice hike, sunshine, and kimchi. What's not to like about that?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Nostalgia and daydreams

Autumn vineyard along Silverado Trail
Have you ever let your mind wander off into thoughts of what you would do with your life if you won the lottery? I mean the Power Ball, not the average state lottery.  At times like this, when the numbers reach so high, I admit that I follow that bit of fantasy for a short while. And if you are honest, I expect most of you have done the same.

What amuses me is how my choices change from one time to the next, as my life changes during the months between the big numbers. That seems to say that even at this advanced age, the lure of seeing and experiencing new things, new parts of the world, is still strong within me. Depending upon what's currently happening in my life, I might choose to simply travel the world, or go live in Thailand for a few years, or maybe Rome, or..... a myriad of things, really.

One thing that never changes is my desire/intention to give large chunks of it to all of the Buddhist monasteries and viharas that have helped me for little or no cost. Places and people where I've made cherished friends, learned much and become a better person. And probably, I'd do the same for countless small one-person viharas scattered across the country, even those presided over by monastics I've never met, or have met only briefly. All struggle, because westerners haven't grown up in a culture where support of the monastics is a part of life, as it is in Asia.

Flowers in shopping district along Napa River
But shoot, I could do all that with a mere $100 million -- ten times that is inconceivable. Still, I let my mind follow where it will and this morning it landed back in my beloved Napa Valley. With even a fraction of a billion, I could go back there and live in paradise once more, in hedonistic luxury, fine weather, consuming fine foods and fine wine. Seems to me that would be a pretty darned good way to live out whatever is left to me in this life. Naturally, that would also leave me plenty of opportunity to explore various parts of the world as the urge arose. Seriously, of course, my future is in an inexpensive apartment here in town, and I'm firmly grounded in that.

My friend's beautiful home high in the Napa hills
Still -- the draw of St. Helena seemed strong this morning, and as I stood in the shower I let the mind wander back to my time there, curious about changes, curious about just what I could buy with that amount of money. So once I finished, I looked at real estate availability down there and found that indeed, I could buy pretty much anything I wanted. Not that I'd want a $22,000,000 estate, or a winery. I have zero interest in the trappings of billionaire life -- the big estate, the private jet, the toys (although I could certainly live happily in my best friends' fabulous estate overlooking the entire valley, so maybe I'm not so immune after all). I'd be happy with a small Victorian or craftsman, close to town but with room for a garden and chickens. That would set me back a mere million or so! And a few simple toys.

Then I hit Google maps and started looking for a place I lived for awhile when I thought I was going to marry the owner. Unfortunately, I discovered that he was a bit more reliant upon the local product that I'm comfortable with, so I gave a pass to that one. He liked to get really drunk. If we were going to a big event for the evening he'd start early, get himself primed so he could enjoy himself all evening without needing a slow start. Not my idea of fun.

But, I digress. I knew where the place was, of course, but didn't remember the name of the cross street and even using Google Earth couldn't spot it. He lived on an estate, and I don't use that word lightly. Big, rambling, beautiful Victorian house on several acres, with a barn, a guesthouse, lots of lawn and gardens, and a bunch of vines at the rear that kept him busy, as he did all the pruning and other care needed, by himself. I knew that it would be next to impossible that the house had been razed -- it was beautifully restored and utterly private. So private, in fact, that it was almost invisible from the city street. Set well back on the property, it was surrounded by lush vegetation, trees and such. I'd passed it many times wondering who lived there, and what was actually back there, before I met him. Even when he told me it was a Victorian across the street from where a mutual friend lived, I never once thought he meant that place! So it was quite a shock when he first drove me under the gate and the full property came into glorious view.

I finally found it this morning, by using street view. The arched gateway is still there, unchanged. So is all the vegetation, so that I really couldn't get a glimpse of the house itself or anything but trees and bushes. Back on Earth, though, it was pinpointed clearly. He once owned much more of the surrounding land, but sold lots off in various chunks when I knew him and apparently, more since.  The vines are gone, but the house, the barn and guesthouse are clear, as is our mutual friend's place across the street (another, less grand, Victorian, also hidden behind vegetation). I don't know if he still owns it -- although I've seen him a few times when I've been in town and it seems he told me some years back that he'd sold it. Wouldn't swear to that, however.

So that was my morning of daydreaming. Good memories, lots of nostalgia. But I'm firmly grounded in the idea that living in even a hovel (if one could be found) in the Napa Valley is not in my realistic future. Especially since I never buy lottery tickets.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Outdoors vs. treadmill

I've just finished my first week of exercising in the great outdoors, rather than in a gym. All in all, I think it's a good switch. Granted, going outside in the cold and wet that first day took a bit of a push psychologically, but once I got outside I was -- as always -- happy to be outside. I've explored new city streets as well as tramped a bit in the woodland trails behind the house. There's been rain, snow, clouds and sunshine, and cold.

I think I'm getting better exercise, too. Stressing the body more. Walking on trails -- and to some extent even on city streets with curbs and broken pavement and driveway cuts and trash cans and the like -- forces the feet to move in various directions. Sidestep, step up, step down, wobble a bit on a rock or other uneven surface. All that forces the body to compensate in order to maintain balance. The lower legs in particular seem to feel it. Much, much different from walking at a steady pace on a smooth treadmill surface. I also tend to be out there for a bit longer -- so far, around 55 minutes each time as opposed to 45 on the treadmill -- and I certainly feel the fatigue in a way I rarely did on the treadmill. Especially when I'm at the bottom of that long, steep hill that brings me home! Can't say 'whew, I'm tired, gonna quit now'. Nope. The only way I'm going to get home at that point is to keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how hard it gets. And it seemed to get particularly hard today.

I also come back with a ravenous appetite if I go out in the morning, and that certainly never happened on the treadmill! Going right after lunch seems to keep the appetite happy, as it has plenty of food to digest. Logic says I must be burning more calories, right?

The psychological boost is wonderful. I love the outdoors, I like exploring new neighborhoods, and of course I love being in the forest. The weather conditions haven't really been a factor. I've been warm and I've been dry, and that's all I need. So, while I come home physically tired, I have a wonderful psychological boost.

My new thermal tops arrived yesterday -- wore one this morning with only a thin sweatshirt over it, which came off around 10 minutes into the walk. They are fleece, kind of bulky but nice and warm and soft, and breathable. By comparison, I went out a couple of days ago wearing two of my other thermal tops, with a good hiking rain jacket over both. That jacket really holds the heat in, even though it's a breathable fabric. It has pit zips, and they haven't been zipped since my first outing in it around 11 years ago! And while I had the front zipper partly unzipped during the uphill hike, I wouldn't have taken it off. I think the rain jacket over one of these new ones would be far too warm. Temp about the same both days -- around 38f. So, a good investment.

Tomorrow I'm taking a free introductory class in Urban Homesteading, just to get more details about the upcoming classes. I can't afford all of them -- and wouldn't have much use for things like beekeeping and chickens anyway -- but I do plan on taking a few of them in the coming months.

No more exercise until Monday. Gotta give this old body a good rest!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Yesterday, after the roads thawed enough to get out, I picked up the makings for kimchi.

The process was much easier and quicker than I thought it would be, somehow. Especially with the food processor mincing the garlic and ginger, shredding the carrots and daikon! All I had to do was shred the Napa cabbage, chop up the green onions. Easy peasy.

I've purchased kimchi made at a local Asian market, but didn't like it. I think what I didn't like was the red pepper paste that they traditionally slather on the layers of cabbage leaves, and I didn't like the big chunks of stem. And maybe some other unknown ingredients. But when I saw this recipe of Sally Fallon's, it sounded like something I'd like.

After adding salt and a little commercial sauerkraut juice to introduce some good lactobacillus, I massaged the veggies in the bowl with my hands until they softened and began to release their juices.

Then, into the crock, where a little pressing (as opposed to hard pounding) released more juices and packed them down.

I like the shredded cabbage, as opposed to layers. And of course, I love fresh garlic and ginger. What's not to like?

 I've learned a bit since making the kraut. Rather than just putting the weights on top of the veggies, I used a whole leaf to cover it all. This will help keep the veggies submerged, away from contact with air, rather than floating up around the weights.

With this, I've learned, the crock needs no other cover, just a cloth to keep out insects and dust.

Once the weights are added, the veggies sink and the juices begin to rise above them. More should come out and probably cover the weights as well, but if not, I have some good unchlorinated spring water to add.

Now, to wait.

There are also a few dried Thai hot chiles in there. I have a bunch of these things, whole, and they are killer hot. So I opened up a few, discarded the seeds, and crumbled up the pods. I like heat, but don't want to make this into something too hot to enjoy.

That's my day, but it's early yet. Plan on a good long walk after lunch, then on to making a batch of yogurt this afternoon.  The fermentation station is alive and well.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


The purge is underway. My psychological need to stuff my face this time of year is pretty much a thing of the past. Yes, I have a pizza and half a bottle of wine left to go this afternoon, but that's it! And not a moment too soon. I am ready!

When I say purge, I'm not talking about purging the body, although that might not be a bad idea. What I'm purging is my kitchen supplies. This morning (after making a big scone) I dumped the rest of the flour and the rest of the sugar into the garbage. One last ciabatta roll from the freezer followed. And that's about it -- nothing left in this house for me to eat after today except good, healthy, nutritious food. The kind I like best.

Tomorrow the plan is for very little solid food -- which for me, means smoothies filled with fresh fruits and veggies, yogurt, ginger and all kinds of things to help clear all these accumulated toxins from the body. High-enzyme fruits like pineapple and/or papaya (which I can't afford, normally, but which will be useful tomorrow), plus my fermented foods to point the gut back toward health (no kraut or pickles in smoothies, thank you very much).

On Monday, right back on the strict 1200 calorie diet that works for me, and back out in the cold to walk the streets and hills on a daily basis. And looking forward to it.

For today -- the last Duck's Football game of this season. Looking forward to that, too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!!

Wishing peace and happiness to all for 2016 and beyond. A stretch, I know, but I can wish for it anyway. And I do.

Cold morning here in Eugene as expected for my first day sans-gym. The habit is so strong, and I look forward to it so much -- but alas, 'tis no more for me. My membership was thanks to Silver Sneakers, a Medicare supported program that some supplemental insurance companies take part in. I changed my insurance company and had to lose Silver Sneakers. The new company has affiliation with a local gym with several locations, but none of those locations are particularly convenient here. Twenty or more minutes drive to the closest locations, and I'm not really all that willing to do that 3x week.

So -- the plan is to walk outside, in this area that is so conducive to that. Lots of walking/running paths on level ground, plenty of paved areas with hills, plus the trails going up the hill through the forest. Better than a treadmill any day. But -- I knew I'd have to practically push myself out the front door on days like this when it's either below freezing or wet, and this time of year it's likely to be one or the other.

I have a couple of lightweight thermal tops, have ordered a couple of heavy weight tops, plus I have plenty of good outdoor clothing for cold/wet weather use. That's not the issue. I don't have gloves, but there are pockets. I don't have a hat, but someplace I have a thermal head band that protects the ears. And I know, from all my years of hiking in hot weather or snow, that really warm clothing isn't needed after the first 10 minutes. The body warms up, extra clothes tend to come off. Oddly enough, the biggest issue around clothes is what combination to wear to be warm enough, not too warm, and no clothes to take off and carry. I'll learn, with a couple of walks.

The issue is that I just don't really want to go out there. I need to do it, and I want the exercise, I want to move the body because it feels good. I just don't look forward to the sub-freezing temps. Will I do it? I don't know. Probably. I know that the hardest part is getting out the front door. After that, it'll be fine. I need a good shove!

Later: I made it! The only way I could force myself out the door was to do a shorter trip -- less than the 45 mins I normally do on the treadmill, and less than walks I generally take in the 'hood. Ended up being about 35 mins, which for purely psychological reasons was much better than 45!  I also refused to walk trails this morning, for some reason. It was cold out there -- under 30f -- heavy frost everywhere down on the flatlands.  My route took 35 mins, went over one mid-sized hill and of course, finished with a hill no treadmill could duplicate, the hill that takes me back home, one that is unavoidable or I'd probably never do it. All is well.