Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Classic Grapefruit

Two youngsters out by Grandma Gifford's grapefruit tree in Mesa, Arizona

Fun Facts About Grapefruits
  • The grapefruit came to the US in 1823.
  • Four US states, including Arizona, Texas, Florida, and California, are responsible for nearly all domestic grapefruit production.
  • Grapefruit season runs from October to June.
  • Grapefruits average 97 calories. They are are chock full of Vitamins A and C, and are high in dietary fiber. And they're low in fat. What's not to like?

A Sexy Little Grapefruit Avocado Salad

3-4 green onions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil

1 grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments

1 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into small cubes
2-3 cups argula

Combine all ingredients except argula lettuce in a mixing bowl. Add argula and toss. Serve with vinegrette dressing.

Grapefruit Memoirs

If you haven't had the experience of grapefruit juice squirting into your eye while you were cutting into a grapefruit, you haven't lived!

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 pink or ruby-red grapefruit

  • 1 firm-ripe California avocado

  • 1 oz baby arugula (2 cups)

  • Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 pink or ruby-red grapefruit

  • 1 firm-ripe California avocado

  • 1 oz baby arugula (2 cups)

  • Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 pink or ruby-red grapefruit

  • 1 firm-ripe California avocado

  • 1 oz baby arugula (2 cups)

  • Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 pink or ruby-red grapefruit

  • 1 firm-ripe California avocado

  • 1 oz baby arugula (2 cups)

  • Coarse sea salt to taste (optional)

  • Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    My Groceries Rant, for Utahns Only

    Here is the rant ... grocery. The word is pronounced \Gro"cer*y\. It's just one syllable longer than grocer. The pronunciation gro-shree is incorrect. Yet for reasons that defy explanation, I'm hearing lots of radio ads in Utah about gro-shrees. This hammering of the pronunciation is making me nuts, maybe not to the point where a support group is needed, but close. It's worse than my dislike of hearing someone say they're nauseous. No doubt, gro-shrees is a local dialect, but why wouldn't somebody go with the standard delivery? After all, we weren't all born in American Fark.

    Buy Russian Groceries in Brooklyn

    Photo courtesy of Phillip Bastian

    On my last visit to New York City, I skipped the hardcore touristy stuff like Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. My son took me to Brighton Beach, which is down by Coney Island in Brooklyn. We ended up in a Russian neighborhood. We went to a local grocery store and saw many imported Russian foods. It was a bit of a distance for grocery shopping on a regular basis but it was fun once, and my son bought some things at the store. Even the local businesses such as the Chase bank had words in cyrillic on the signage.

    The web site below has a list of the many ethnic neighborhoods in New York City. If you are planning a visit to the Big Apple, pick an afternoon and visit one or two ethnic neighborhoods. Most are accessible by subway. You'll get a whole new flavor of New York ... literally.

    Monday, March 29, 2010

    A Slight German Sock Fetish

    It was on my first trip to visit my son in Munich Germany in late 2002 that I became acquainted with German socks. I don't remember the circumstances that led to my need for socks while on holiday, but it must have had something to do with my aching feet. Urban hiking in Europe with my son, Phil, can be excruciatingly painful at times, not that I would have agreed to miss even a step.

    Back to my new socks. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ... ooooooooooooooooooohhhhh ... oahaohoahaohaohaohhhhh ... I don't want to get too graphic, but Virgos like me love their feet to feel that way. Akin to the most tender touch a foot masseuse could render on my feet were these socks. Real, organic cotton.

    After wearing German socks one day, I determined that I could not, would not, live without these socks, so I bought up the limited inventory at the department store, Galleria Kaufhof. I bought yet another pair at the airport.
    And German socks were amongst souvenirs procured on three subsequent Europe trips, not to mention they were mailed home to me as Christmas gifts.

    German socks last a long time, but eventually they wear out. Four years went by and the furthest out of the country any of us went was to Canada and Mexico. My supplies were wearing thin. Last year, when I found out that family members of some of my daughter's friends were going to be in Germany, I went outside my comfort zone and asked, much to the embarrassment of my daughter, if they would get me some German socks. At the time, the euro-US$ exchange rate was obscene but I (gladly) paid $10 a pair for my socks to be brought back.

    So now, sadly, I'm about to open my last package of socks. But gloriously, Europe is on the agenda this summer, for my son, and with any luck, for me, too.

    Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh ...I don't know what it is about German socks, but I love 'em.

    Sunday, March 28, 2010

    Just Monkeying Around ...

    Sunday afternoon. No better day for an experiment. Today's experiment is to see how many people will go to my blog if I do a Facebook post. Because I wouldn't want anyone to feel like their visit to my blog was a complete and total waste of time, I am adding a video from my favorite video collection, the Trunk Monkeys.

    At one of my jobs, we used to watch five Trunk Monkey videos every Friday without fail, including the one pictured above where the monkey bribes a policeman. Watch all of the Trunk Monkey videos using the link below. So funny ...

    Saturday, March 27, 2010

    Risk Management for Arm Pits

    Last January, I began making some lifestyle changes, including with my anti-perspirant. (Sorry to be writing about such a personal topic as this. If you aren't comfortable, use your browser to re-direct yourself elsewhere.) At the time, I was hard core sweaty, so I used the strongest anti-perspirant on the market to prevent "embarrassing perspiration stains and odor."

    My concern was with all that "power" to prevent perspiration, I was building up more and more aluminum in my body. Aluminum is used in many anti-perspirants. Aluminum is found also in pans (even stainless steel pans may be bonded with aluminum), old home wiring, aluminum foil, buffered aspirin, and antacids. Exposure to high levels of aluminum is suspected to be a factor in Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer.

    While scientists studied further the relationship between aluminum toxicity and disease, I concluded that it was time for a change. I've had my share of "abnormal" test results pointing to higher risk of breast cancer. Why increase the odds? So I went to Whole Foods and found a wide selection of "natural" deodorants, but little in the way of anti-perspirants. Deodorants mask the smell of perspiration odor. Anti-perspirants suppress the perspiration in the first place. Ideally I wanted both.

    I figured a little market testing would be fun and useful, so I purchased several different brands and types. A few of my purchases turned out to be a waste of money. I smelled like fresh apricots, and sweat like a pig. But my test paid off.

    What I quickly learned is that Desert Essence Dry By Nature worked as well as the anti-perspirant I had been using. What I have learned over time is that this deodorant is effective, and it lasts far longer. Previously anti-perspirant was a monthly purchase and Desert Essence a quarterly one. (If I smell bad, will one of you please let me know?) I also like Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil deodorant. These deodorants contain no aluminum, animal ingredients, alcohol, artificial color or synthetic perfumes.

    A must end with a little disclaimer. Desert Essence did not pay me to endorse their products. Although I am not a scientist or a medical doctor, I love to read about medical topics, including disease prevention. Call it "enlightened self interest." I understand generally the level of scientific study required to prove conclusive association between use of a substance and onset of a disease. That said, I am not claiming that deodorants containing aluminum cause Alzheimer's or breast cancer. But the use of aluminum-containing deodorants was a risk I was no longer willing to take. Fortunately, there are at least a couple alternatives available.

    And With Spring Comes L'Amour ...

    Spring would hardly be spring without an inspiring love message.

    There is no disguise which can hide love for long where it exists, or simulate it where it does not.

    Francois de La Rochefoucauld


    And here, the same quote, in French, from where Monsieur
    de La Rochefoucauld hails.

    Il n'y a aucun déguisement qui peut cacher l'amour pour longtemps où il existe, ou le simule où il ne fait pas.

    I like it even better!

    Either way, I'm sure you get the gist of it ... real love is visible, almost tangible. And love's imposter is exposed ... sooner or later.

    May your spring day be filled with flowers and something sweet!

    Robins on the Lawn

    Robins on the lawn is a metaphor for new beginnings.

    There are robins on the lawn.

    The calendar says it's spring.

    The weather says "wintry mix."

    Still, the robin's mere appearance is a signal that winter is fading.

    The grip of yesterday is loosened.

    The robin signals verdant, green, uncharted fields.

    So begin again.

    Photography courtesy of Phillip Bastian

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Life ... It's Just a Movie

    Mired in life drama?

    Try this: think of life as a movie. After I was telling Anna, one of my former co-workers, about the comedic situation surrounding my breakup with a boyfriend, she laughed hysterically and said to me, "Don't ever get married!" Her point was that hearing about my life provided her with so much comic relief, she couldn't imagine not hearing my next story of love drama. Sometimes life is a comedy, other times it's a drama. And at times, you are the star, but often you don't even have a speaking part.

    Detaching in the sense of watching a movie takes some of the emotion out of the challenging situations of our lives. When the going gets tough, you can "watch" from a more subjective vantage point than immerse yourself in the moment. And it's free ... you don't even have to buy a ticket!

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Personal Message Makeover

    My former colleague Peter often said "What is your message?" when someone walked into his office. It always brought a chuckle when he said that.

    Whether we realize it or not, we are sending an ongoing message to the world, to our co-workers, our friends, our family, and others with whom we come in contact. When I think of the past year, I know I have sent a message of loss ... lost best friend, lost aunt, lost job, failed romance, and most recently, lost dog.

    Think about it ... what message do you send to the world? Is it negative? I once knew a person whose message was "I'm small and sick, so please feel sorry for me or leave me alone." Some have a constant message "I want you to realize how stupid the [other] party is." Or is your message positive? I have a friend who is excited for every day, because she is re-learning to walk. Some of my yoga teachers pronounce life "amazing." Maybe your message is neither positive nor negative, but it ends up being hurtful to loved ones. "I'm very busy" would summarize the ongoing life message sent by a few people I have known.

    Ask those closest to you what message you send. If your message is negative, you may want to
    re-frame it. For example ... amidst my losses, there have also been some amazing gains ...

    Your message to the world is what people will remember about you tomorrow, next week, and next year. Think about how powerful that is! And then ... do something about it.

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    My Free Health Care Plan For You!

    The "ayes" have it. Now that the health care vote has happened, we all know what our elected officials (and everyone else's) want to do or not do about health care. I've seen angry and condescending Internet and Facebook posts and comments directed at those with the opposing viewpoint to theirs. I have seen inappropriate behaviors such as finger pointing, arrogance, and accusations from both political parties, the media, and the public.

    In reality ... neither side has a crystal ball on what impact the newly passed health care bill will have, so I am skeptical of the "all knowing" arguments in favor of and against. But regardless of political position, we should never forget or neglect the component of health care over which we as citizens have the most control. For most of us, our own actions have a huge influence on how healthy we will be, regardless of our insurance plans. A few pointed questions for your consideration ...

    Are you ...

    ... exercising vigorously four or more times a week to promote heart health?

    ... doing strength training to maintain muscle mass, burn calories, and help to reverse such conditions as osteoporosis?

    ... eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily to prevent cancer and other serious diseases?

    ... avoiding alcohol altogether or drinking in moderation to avoid addiction, liver disease, and diabetes?

    ... using over-the-counter and prescription medicines according to the recommended dosage to avoid addiction, overdose or dangerous side effects?

    ... attending worship services and/or meditating independently to help reduce blood pressure and promote healing?

    ... giving up cigarettes, avoiding second-hand smoke, or never smoking in the first place to protect your heart?

    ... eating red meat, sweets and fats sparingly to reduce the likelihood of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease?

    ... turning off the tv once in a while and going on a hike in nature to reconnect with your inner self?

    ... finding alternatives to angry outbursts, road rage, fault finding, ongoing criticism of "the other side", and festering resentments which may harm mental and emotional health?

    ... if you are a mother, breast-feeding your infant to develop your child's healthy immune system?

    ... developing and fostering a support network of family and close friends to manage stress and promote mental health?

    ... if you are a parent, limiting video game and tv time in favor of outdoor exercise which lays the foundation for your child's heart health for life?

    ... eating a well balanced diet and exercising to maintain a normal weight and avoid the health risks associated with obesity?

    ... brushing and flossing teeth regularly to prevent tooth decay and heart disease?

    ... if you are sexually active, ensuring that you are protected from STD's?

    ... getting adequate sleep each day to allow the body to recover and heal itself?

    ... eating foods that are free of pesticides and added hormones so that these are not released into your digestive tract?

    Note that I did not ask if anyone was refraining from eating chocolate. That is because chocolate in its purest form (ie without all the cookie, gooey, caramel filling) has some medicinal properties! Eat it daily, in moderation.

    Okay so here comes the big bonus: If you can avoid or reverse disease (and yes ... I know it is sometimes beyond your control), you will subsequently avoid trips to the doctor, boring magazines in doctor's waiting rooms, medical tests, probes, pokes, medical procedures, insurance claims, the side effects associated with many prescription medications, review of explanation of benefits statements, collection letters from medical providers who didn't get the reimbursement check from your insurance company yet, hospital visits, and nurses putting needles in your hind quarters. And you may be able to avoid using a bed pan ever!!!

    Imagine how great it will be to be and stay healthy! And no matter what health care plan you are on, neither your government nor your insurance company are the primary beneficiaries of your health ... you are! So you ought to care about this! Best of all, most of what you can do to improve your health costs little or nothing. Certainly less monthly than the cost of a health insurance premium now or in 2020.

    Personally ... I have a long way to go to keep myself healthy. It's a daily and sometimes hourly battle, but it's mine to persist or retreat. And in case anyone is wondering, I don't believe that we can prevent disease in all cases. In my case, I have two grandmothers that had diabetes ... I've been told it's quite possible that I will get it, too, unless I can maintain or lose weight, continue to exercise vigorously, and avoid megadosing on the triple chocolate brownies I made yesterday.

    Unless we begin acting individually and proactively on the need for wellness, our health and quality of life will falter, regardless of what insurance plans are in place. So many contribute to their diseases with inaction or a series of wrong actions. Back when Earth Day began, the slogan was "A little bit of change makes a lot of difference." The same is true with health. The health care legislation, whether or not you wanted it, doesn't take effect for four years. You can begin protecting your health today. And you should. Just my two cents.

    Disclosure: I'm on COBRA and will lose health insurance coverage in March 2011 unless I get another insurance plan through a new employer or private insurer. Since I was laid off from my corporate job, complete with generous health care benefits, I have taken up yoga, have improved my eating habits, and have noticed my stomach aches and headaches have all but disappeared. The urge to smoke paper towels, which I developed in high school chemistry, persists. And I still hate flossing.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Wearing of the Green

    I was asked to create a necklace and earrings set for a contest to launch Everyday Inspirations, a blog founded by my daughter Angie and her friend Ashley.  The goal was to create a piece with sufficient green to celebrate the St. Patrick's Day opening blog post.  With help from Angie, I selected green glass beads, copper spacers and findings, crystals, and seed beads.  The copper maidens on each side of the necklace were added for an Irish look and feel.  The design process was largely trial and error, and it took longer than the assembly itself. 

    Photography of finished set courtesy of Angela Fairbanks

    Here's to My Girlfriends ...

    Life has changed in small and big ways this month and in the last year. But one constant ...
    The Girlfriends. God bless the girlfriends. The girlfriends ... married, single, in between, uncertain ... are available for breakfast, lunch, dinner, chit chat, sharing life drama, emailing, texting, relationship analysis, networking, shopping, shoulders to cry on, gallery strolls, travel, telling bad jokes, and beading. Gotta love the girlfriends. They are always there.

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Our Four-Legged White Wonder: Mac, 1996 - 2010

    I'm definitely not one to humanize a pet. Our West Highland White Terrier, Mac, humanized himself.

    First of all, he really didn't relate well to the whole butt sniffing routine dogs usually relish. He wasn't much of a butt sniffer and detested being sniffed by others. He was rather offended by it.

    Second, Mac said "hello" and he said it often. No, I'm not kidding. It was not a garbled rendition but clear enough to be heard in the room and on the telephone. There are many witnesses and recipients of Mac's hello's, although we probably should've done a video and entered him in a pet tricks contest. Imagine being the recipient of a heartfelt "hello!" when you arrived home from work each day. Such was my life. After we'd come back from a long trip, he'd often say hello ten or so times in succession. His happiest hello's vibrated deep from his throat when Angie, Phil, and I were together.
    Third, Mac was cultured. He loved classical music ... Canon in D by Pachebel was his favorite song and if anyone tried to move him out of the room when I was playing this piece on the flute, he growled at them fiercely. Before he lost his hearing, Mac was my greatest fan, and would lay on the office floor and listen as I practiced songs for mass. Some might argue another sign of his cultural appetites was his dislike of country music. If I turned on a country station, Mac gave me a rather disconcerted look. FM100 (soft hits) and KBYU (classical) were his favorites, and he'd sit close to the radio when those stations were playing. Fourth, Mac loved luxury. He always found the softest bed in the house, whether a couch, a pillow, a lap, or even a dust mop. His resting comfort was paramount to his complete happiness. Occasionally, he snuck clothes out of the laundry basket and fashioned a bed of bathrobes, towels, whatever else he could find.
    Mac came to live with us on a temporary basis during the fall of 2001. It wasn't an easy adjustment as he desperately missed his previous owners, Fred and Donna Cannon. He would walk around the house, go to the bedroom where they'd slept, and he wouldn't eat. Finally, he decided to be friends with Angie and I, and he took a liking to his new home. He left during the Christmas holidays to visit his previous owners, but because of their travel schedule, he was back by the Sundance Film Festival in January, this time for good. Mac was a well-traveled dog who went on plane trips to San Diego and Phoenix, and on lots of walks around Cottonwood Heights. West Highland White Terriers as a breed are known for hunting. Occasionally, Mac would find and proudly bring us the remains of a critter he found in the backyard. More commonly, Mac used to do his hunting in our kitchen and bathroom trash cans. If we left him to his own devices, we arrived home to a house strewn with trash. Also he had a fondness for uprooting house plants left within his reach. Mac made no apologies about not liking cats. Once last summer, Mac was very sick from a "medical cocktail" designed by the vet, who we later fired. We found out later Mac had been given a combination of four drugs, three of which caused nausea and vomiting in dogs. Pretty amazing considering I took him to the vet because he had been vomiting. Anyway, Mac had been laying around, refusing to eat, and was sick to his stomach. All of the sudden I heard this fierce and rapid tapping on the patio door. He'd arisen from his death bed and spied a cat in the backyard. From Mac's perspective, a cat's presence in our backyard was unacceptable, and, even as sick as he was, he raced down the porch stairs to reclaim his territory. Mac was "fixed" so perhaps not as fond of the ladies as other male canines might have been. Actually, we're pretty sure Mac preferred men. When Angie and I had our gentleman friends over, Mac would get all excited and ceremoniously bring his towel to the center of the room and begin humping it. He didn't do this when our female friends came by. In fact, our female friends didn't excite him much at all. We more fully confirmed Mac's love of men when he stole two chocolate male "parts" this past summer from Angie's room. These "parts" were intended to go to Las Vegas for a bachelorette party. At seven in the morning, I heard this deafening wail from downstairs. Angie was screaming and it sounded like she'd found a body or something along those lines. Mac had eaten two male "parts" whole. At least it was white chocolate, so it didn't kill him. "Guess that pretty well confirms our suspicions about Mac's preferences," I said to Angie. She agreed.
    When Mac moved to Utah, his favorite people foods were popcorn and toast, but both of those were prohibited when we learned he was allergic to wheat and corn. We learned to read dog food bags very carefully over the years. But sometimes, we weren't careful enough to keep Mac away from food that was not good for him. His prized conquest was pizza. Angie's friend Thomas had pizza stolen by Mac's five-foot leaps on at least two separate occasions. Once Mac went to the airport to pick up Angie, who was coming home from skating camp. Mac stole an Arby's sandwich out of a lady's purse. I wanted to melt into the floor.
    When Mac was out in public, he usually did worse things than steal food, like pooing. It didn't matter if it was the vet waiting room, the pet store, a crosswalk, the groomers, or wherever ... Mac always had to unload.
    Mac had chronic skin problems, and we spent much time and expense to identify ways to get and keep his skin clear. One vet in San Diego, who Mac visited while on vacation visiting his original owners, said that keeping a Westie's skin clear involved getting the right "cocktail" of medicines. It also involved the right foods, frequent bathing, medicated shampoo, and the right seasons of the year (summer was worst). And new remedies to replace the ones he developed resistance to. In the winter, one of the ways we kept him from scratching was to put a sweater on him. He looked so adorable, that is, when he didn't decide to eat the sweater.
    Besides the backyard, Mac's favorite place was under Phil's bed, especially in the hot summer. He would hide under there in hopes that we'd forget about him before we left for the day. He didn't want to come upstairs and have to stay in his kennel where it was warmer. Mac was nearly always in a good mood, especially if he knew that we were going on a walk. He'd jump high and repeatedly if he saw his leash. If we mentioned going on a walk, he would follow us around and say "hello" til we finally walked out of the front door. He also said "hello" at other times, like when he wanted to eat. We were fairly certain that our neighbors suspected us to be engaged in dog torture. More accurately, Mac had a prized howling ritual that he carried out when he thought he was alone. He'd howl like a coyote howling at the moon. The most hilarious scene was when we'd walk into the room and he'd stare right at us and keep on howling.
    My social science educational background led me to do some experimenting on Mac to see if he could become like Pavlov's dog. I'd experimented on Phil and Angie, and it didn't hurt them, so why not the dog? For those who didn't take psychology, Pavlov's dog learned to salivate each time a bell rang. We taught Mac to come when he heard the bell, no matter whether he was in the backyard or in the basement under Phil's bed. His reward was a doggie treat. It worked without fail, til Mac could no longer hear.
    Mac often smiled as much as a dog can smile. He was always excited when visitors came and he remembered them from the last time.
    The day after Mac went to the Rainbow Bridge, I mentioned to my mom that on this day of grief, I kept visualizing my aunt, who has recently passed on, wearing her shorts and smiling as she walked in grass with a healthy, happy, tail-wagging Mac. I would like to hope it is so! She was very fond of Mac, and Mac was fond of her. She always asked me about Mac when I saw her. Once my mom asked my aunt why Mac always followed her around, and my aunt confessed that it was because she'd fed him hot dogs when she took care of him.
    We hope he is smiling and eagerly wagging his tail once more, free from the physical discomforts and limitations that beset him especially in his last few months. He will be missed.
    Cannons Mac Too
    May 30, 1996 to March 13, 2010

    Sire: Sir Hunter Mactavish
    Dam: Cloie Allastaire
    Owners: Fred and Donna Cannon, Susie Cannon, Angie Bastian, and Phil Bastian

    Many thanks to our supportive friends who listened and cared during the last few weeks! We could've never made it through this difficult time without your loving concern.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Aliens Hijacked My Computer

    And the story continues. Malware has taken up residency on my computer. And getting rid of it has been a pain in the rear.

    So this time, I made my own fixexe.reg file, ran it, and then scanned using Spyware Doctor. This program, unlike the programs I used previously, really nailed the identity of my gremlins. But unfortunately it conflicts with my other security software included with my cable subscription, so I may have to cancel it.

    Oh well. Fixed for now.

    Maybe soon I will have some new thoughts to put forward.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    The Long Farewell ... It's Not Quite Time

    Those closest to me know that the last two weeks have been extremely trying. My 13.75 year old Westie, Mac, is failing rapidly. He has been increasingly restless and uncomfortable. Throughout his little life, he has had periodic skin and ear infections, and recently, these have been slow to relent in spite of various vet-recommended treatments and holistic remedies.

    Keeping the dog comfortable has been my main goal for the last couple of months. Last Friday, after three nights of Mac scratching himself and pacing the floor for the better part of each night, I had to break the news to my daughter that I felt we should put him out of his misery.

    After seeing Mac over the weekend, Angie agreed with my assessment. "I don't want him to suffer," she said bravely. Her childhood pet was lethargic and uncomfortable on Sunday. She was here all day and only got him to play for a few minutes. The rest of the time Mac slept or laid down in some discomfort.

    Angie arranged to take today off work so we could take Mac to be put to sleep. Her husband was not working today as well. I was available since I'm not working. The three of us had planned to take him together. But the best laid plans were not to be, not this day.

    Oddly enough, Mac rose from his sick bed early, at 7 am, whereas lately he's been sleeping in til noon or 1 pm. He was alert and interacted with Nate and Angie as soon as they arrived. He walked around the house, went outside a few times, and ate breakfast, lunch, and a snack. He was a happy little guy, even wagging his tail for the first time in about a week. The transformation almost left me speechless. It was as if he was a different dog than he'd been for the last ten or so days.

    We discussed and debated for a couple of hours. In the end, we cancelled the appointment because none of the three of us felt good about taking an extra perky, happy dog to be put to sleep. "Stay home and enjoy your dog," said the kind woman at the pet clinic.

    We acknowledged it won't be long before our final goodbyes are said. We are all emotionally exhausted. Mac is weak and has developed a twitch that ripples through the top third of his little body. His hind legs are failing. But today was not the day for Mac's final farewell. He still had a few things to say to the girl he loves best. He made his "self satisfied" noise when he sat on her lap, and put his paw up on her leg to let her know he wanted her to pet him. Just like the good old days, before Angie moved away to live with her husband, Nate.
    Maybe this is a long-shot but my personal theory is Mac didn't want Angie to see him off to the Rainbow Bridge, that place where pets go to await the arrival of their owners after this life. Mac and Angie forged a special relationship at Mac's puppy-hood and it has grown from there. I read this week that although Westies are sociable animals and relate well to most people, they do have a favorite human. I'm sure Angie was his favorite. Mac didn't want his favorite human to experience any pain or sadness. He wanted her to remember him as loving and loyal and strong as ever. And I am sure she will.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    Tamale-Fest 2010

    My daughter and I have a tradition of day-long, tamale-making sessions. Today was our first tamale-fest since 2008, before my daughter's engagement. We invited her mother-in-law over to watch and help. Her mother-in-law is an excellent cook, and we were eager to share our process with her.

    All in all, a successful day. Lots of female bonding to be sure. I wish I could show step-by-step pictures from this event but we were too busy to stop. Now we have enough tamales to fill the freezer for a while. We made 9.5 dozen tamales. Yum.

    All of the recipes below assume that since you are going to the trouble of making the tamales, you will want to make lots to freeze. The filling amounts below yielded us about 9.5 dozen tamales. With the masa, you will need to make several batches.

    Corn and Green Chili Filling
    2-3 cans of corn
    1-2 cans of green chiles
    2 teaspoons cumin
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    1 pound Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

    Combine all ingredients except cheese in a bowl. Shred the cheese into a separate bowl. When filling tamales, spoon corn mix on first, then top with cheese.

    Habanero Pork
    2-3 pound bone-in pork roast
    3 tablespoons chili powder
    1 onion, diced
    1 habanero chili, diced
    3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
    4 teaspoons cumin
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    Cilantro, removed from stems and chopped

    Place roast in roasting pan. Top with chili powder, onion, chili, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. Add 1 cup water to make steam and seal pan with foil. Bake until tender, at least 3 hours. Drain drippings, remove excess fat, and cut into small pieces. Add cilantro and combine well.

    Green Chili Beef
    2-3 pound beef pot or round roast
    1 onion, diced
    3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
    1 can green chiles
    4 teaspoons cumin
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    Cilantro, removed from stems and chopped

    Please roast in roasting pan. Top with onion, garlic, chiles, cumin, salt and pepper. Add 1 cup water to make steam and seal pan with foil. Bake until tender, at least 3 hours. Drain drippings, remove excess fat, and cut into small pieces. Add cilantro and combine well.

    Jalepeno Chicken
    2 pounds chicken breasts
    Olive oil
    3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
    3 teaspoons cumin
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    1 can of jalepeno peppers
    Cilantro, removed from stems and chopped

    Drizzle olive oil on chicken. Top with garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Bake until tender. Dice chicken. Stir in jalepeno peppers and cilantro; combine well.

    Corn Husks Preparation
    Corn husks must be pliable, so submerge them in very warm water about 30 minutes before you intend to begin assembly. You will notice that some of the husks are too small in diameter to hold a tamale. That's okay, you can tear these into strips and use for ties on the ends. A large plastic bowl in the kitchen sink works well to get the corn husks sufficiently immersed.

    Masa Preparation
    4 cups masa (available at most grocery stores in the Mexican food section)
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    3 cups chicken broth
    1/2 cup shortening or lard
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon chili powder

    Blend the masa by working the ingredients together with your fingers. As an alternative, a hand masher works well, too.

    Be it known, my daughter is the masa maker and she likes to slip in additional spices, such as extra chili powder and cumin. We will do about anything to prevent our tamales from tasting bland and rubbery like many of the ones available at Mexican restaurants. That isn't to say ours are more authentic, but they are very tasty.

    This recipe, when doubled, makes about 30-40 tamales. Secret hint: we always double the recipe and still end up making three batches in a typical tamale day.


    Remove corn husks from water and place on a flat working area near the masa dough.
    Form 1.5" balls of masa dough and place on wax paper.
    Press out the masa onto a plate or tortilla press. (Note: We got our tortilla press in Puerto Vallarta. It's the authentic Mexican wooden type, but there are more modern versions available on the Internet. The press is not a necessity; however, the process will go much faster and easier if you have one.)
    Transfer the masa to a flattened corn husk. The edges of the masa may hang over the husk by a little bit, allowing for overlap when folding.
    Spoon a heaping tablespoon full of the desired filling lengthwise down the masa dough.
    Fold the husk edges and press the edges of the masa dough together.
    The husk edges should overlap. If not, add a second corn husk to completely cover the masa dough.
    Tie the ends with strips of corn husks. I have found that two strips creates a stronger tie which is less likely to break when you are making a knot.
    In a large steamer (or two or three ...), steam the tamales for 45 minutes. While they are cooking, be sure to check the water level every 10 or so minutes.
    Remove from heat and cool slightly.
    Wrap in freezer wrap.
    Add stickers, if desired, to identify by filling type.
    Place in freezer bags.
    To reheat, place on plate and microwave for 3-5 minutes. Serve as is or with salsa.
    Tamales tend to be quite a popular food for a quick meal or snack. You'll probably need to do another tamale day in a few months, or take the easy route and buy them at Costco.

    The Rhythm of the Day ... a few final tips
    It's definitely fun to have some salsa music playing in the background to set the mood.
    This sounds selfish but don't invite too many friends or you won't have tamales to freeze.
    Have something planned for lunch. Tamale making takes all day and it may be several hours before you have finished product to sample. Depending on when you start, this may be before lunch.
    Know where your doors and smoke alarms are. Chances are, with all the steaming and baking, you will set one off and will need to take prompt action.
    It works best to have each person have a job for the entire day rather than rotating ... that way everybody develops some "expertise", and you will appreciate this expertise around 8 pm when everyone's feet are tired and you are ready to be done.
    Complete one or two steps along the way done before moving on in the assembly process, especially if there are only two or three people.
    Assemble the green corn tamales while baking the roasts and chicken. Or ... you can cook the roasts the day or evening before, then the order of assembly won't matter.
    We use star stickers like the ones from kindergarten to identify the tamales by filling. Yellow for chicken, silver for pork, green for corn, and red for beef.
    Vegetarians ... other than the green corn tamales, I don't have recipes for vegetarian tamales. There are many cultures with a scant understanding or appreciation for vegetarianism. I'd consider Mexico to be one such, although I know there are a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants cropping up in the beach tourist areas.
    A word about guys ... guys love tamales. But be warned, you may see them disappear faster than you had planned. Always good to have a hiding place in the freezer for a quick meal. :D
    Photos courtesy of Angela Fairbanks Photography

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Fortune Cookie Message

    Conquer the angry man by love. Conquer the illnatured man by goodness. Conquer the miser with generosity. Conquer the liar with truth.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Today's Job Posting Gems

    Alas, another day on the hunt. Job hunt, that is. Here are some random headlines found on

    Great business oppertunity.. ... Obviously want someone to check your spelling, no? and last time I checked, ellipsis was ..., not .. but I'm open to new ideas.

    *** Investor seeks 3 Interns *** ... I smell snake oil written all over this. Next thing, I'd be required as an intern to invest my own money, blah blah blah.

    Female Navajo Voice Over Talent ... Well this should attract a fairly large pool of applicants given the distance to the Navajo reservation. Not.

    Casting for a Latina character for principle TV role ... Somebody forgot the usage rules on principle/principal. But I hope the successful candidate is principled, just the same.

    TRACTOR TRAILER SIDE DUMPS NEEDED ... Gosh, that side dump's been just sitting in my RV parking awaiting an opportunity like this. I once considered financing a loan for a belly dump truck. Does that substitute for experience? Never mind, the job's in Louisiana.

    Egg Donors Needed! Women Ages 21-29!! ... Yesssss ... maybe they'd take my eggs even though I am past the age limit. I can see my egg donor resume now ... Proven offspring. No childhood discipline problems except the occasional sneaking out of the house at midnight and deleting everything from hard drive on computer. Talented in ice skating, photography, music, cooking. Magna Cum Laude for everybody! And ... witty and cute, too.

    Become Unstoppable! ... Sounds like a Viagra ad. In my last job, I was unstoppable, but am hoping for a saner work schedule next time.

    --Slot Tech II-- ... This ad is for a casino game repair person, even though it's based here in Gamblenot. I don't have the required two years of experience. I wonder if the Utah legislature knows about this company.

    Eng to Tongan translator ... I don't know why they couldn't have bought a few extra letters for added comprehensibility. G-L-I-S-H, to be precise.

    BUCK BUILDER - 2nd SHIFT ... I know what 2nd shift is but what I thought a buck was a deer. I don't think ... yeah. No.