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Thursday
Feb072013

Muscle Memory

I am working on a piece of choir music for Lent (we'll leave aside for the moment the fact that I have not yet organized a choir to sing this piece of music).  It's a pretty amazing piece of music and I knew after listening to it a couple of times that the piano part would be a lot of fun to learn. Incredibly difficult, but fun nonetheless. I love a challenge. 

I've had the music for about five days now, and I am about halfway through working it up. This morning I sat down to work on one particularly tricky part; the piano and violin are playing together and there is a fairly dramatic key change. Alas, there is also a page turn right at this critical part (there always is). I had been working on the page before and the page after, but it needs to be smooth, and it would help if I could see both pages at the same time. I went to the copier and made an enlarged copy of the entire piece. I almost always do this with my choir music. That way, I can mark up my copy to my heart's content; dynamics get highlighted in yellow and I can write fingerings in where I need to. 

With both pages blown up and sitting side by side on the piano, I was able to practice that transition over and over and over until I had it right. The key to practicing is not "playing it until you can play it correctly"—it's "playing it until you can't play it wrong." Even after nailing it about a dozen times in succession (this is why I practice when no one else is home), I'll still have to work at it again in the next practice session. I just won't have to work at it quite so much. That's the thing about muscle memory; training one's muscles is rather a "two steps forward, one step backward" proposition. 

Please do not ask me why I find this fascinating; I just do. When I first got that piece of music five days ago, I stumbled through it like a rank beginner. You would have thought I had never touched a piano before (and I am a pretty darn good sight-reader). I think my hands are pretty amazing, that I can teach them how to do something new like this. By the time I was done today, they were finding the correct keys all on their own, without me having to think about where to put them. 

When I was in the MT training course, we were given a footpedal to use to control the audio file. It's how most MTs transcribe. Interestingly, when I was hired, I was told to put the footpedal away and learn to use the function keys to control the audio playback (F2 start/stop, F3 rewind, F4 fast-forward). It took a while to get used to, but now—even if I have the opportunity to use a footpedal—I configure whatever program I am using so that I can use the function keys instead. I don't have to think about what I am doing. My fingers start and stop the audio as needed. 

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Some miscellany that has nowhere else to go:

  • Last night, the husband and I were watching "Wednesday Night at the Range" on the Outdoor Channel. Shooting USA did a feature on a 12-year-old boy who shoots competitively. He was born with polydactyly (extra digits—he has 14 fingers), and syndactyly (a fusion of two or more fingers). They interviewed his mother, who said that he has had 11 surgeries on his hands; several of them were before he was a year old. They also interviewed his older brother, who said that when his little brother wanted to learn to shoot, he could not find any semi-auto pistols to fit his hands properly. They were approached by a custom gunsmith who offered to make him a custom pistol. The kid learned to shoot and now he shoots competitively and is a wonderful spokesman for overcoming obstacles. I thought it was a great interview, although at the end of it I could not help imitating Thom Hartmann's whiny sanctimonius voice saying, "The only reason to buy a gun is to shoot someone." Sheesh. 
  • My sister tells me that today is the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I feel like I should go milk a cow or something. Oh well, I fed the chickens; that counts. 
  • I am judging at the high school invitational speech and debate meet tomorrow. I've judged every year for the past 6 or 7 years and I enjoy it tremendously. The kids always do an excellent job. This is going to be a huge meet, too—they needed several hundred judges—and DD#2 gets out of school early tomorrow afternoon. She and the boyfriend will probably go hang out at the coffee shop until I am finished. These kids take their coffee very seriously. I find that hysterical. 
  • Tomorrow is my last day of work at my old job. I have been playing with some test files in the software used by the company I'll be working for come Monday, and I think I have a pretty good handle on how they operate. Some things are similar; some are different. I had a moment of panic when it looked like my text expander wouldn't work in the new software program. I rely heavily on my text expander (my typing speed is at least three times what it is without an expander), and the thought of having to learn a new program and enter my thousands of expansions all over again made me break out in a cold sweat. I played around with it this morning, though, and I got it to work. Whew. 
  • I decided yesterday that I need to buy myself a pair of overalls. If I am going to be a farmer, I might as well look like one. I'll bet the thrift store has some. 
  • It is still too cold for toe shoes. I tried. 
Wednesday
Feb062013

Whisper in a Hurricane

I listened to two interesting podcasts this week. The first was about listening to and trusting one's inner voice. The interviewee on the podcast was Brian Brawdy, author of the book Something to Believe In. I enjoyed the podcast but I likely won't get the book; Mr. Brawdy, while interesting, came off sounding too much like a smarmy motivational speaker. I find that kind of a turn-off. I also kept waiting for him to say something about how, actually, to develop one's inner voice, and he never really got to that. (I suppose he rightly wants people to buy and read the book, but a teaser would have been nice.)

The other one was Jimmy Moore's Livin' La Vida Low-Carb podcast, in which he interviewed Elaine Cantin, author of the book The Cantin Ketogenic Diet.  I am fascinated by the concept of a ketogenic diet to treat cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate protein, low-carb diet that—in the absence of carbs for quick fuel—forces a person's body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy. It was first used, with significant success, to treat epilepsy. Ms. Cantin (no, she's not a doctor) used the diet to treat her son's type 1 diabetes and then her own invasive breast cancer (which completely disappeared). I think there is a lot of merit to her approach. Cancer is often described as a metabolic disease, so addressing it metabolically—through diet—makes a lot of sense. Of course, that is not how the American medical system operates. I know that if someone I loved got cancer (or I got it again), I would lobby pretty hard for alternative treatments. As I often tell my naturopath, I am my own clinical trial. So much of what I have done for myself and my health—because I was listening to that inner voice—has worked splendidly. And I get no government funding for my research. 

It is not an easy thing to speak out against the mainstream. I am getting more comfortable wearing tinfoil hats as part of my daily wardrobe, but believe me, people—there is a lot of stuff I don't say because I already have a reputation for eccentricity. So be it. I am going to do what is right for me and what makes me feel better, not what I am being told by the medical-industrial complex. I just have trouble understanding why the rest of the world is so ready to believe that doctors have all the answers. The older I get, the less I find that to be true. And I find my tolerance for other peoples' "organ recitals" has virtually disappeared. You don't want to be sick? Great. Start with what you put into your body every day. Make it the healthiest food you possibly can (and cut out wheat!). I think a dietary approach can fix most of the general aches and pains that most people experience, and if it can't fix some of the bigger stuff—well, at least you've removed all the stuff that can be fixed with diet, leaving a much clearer disease picture to be addressed by other means. But apparently most people don't have the discipline—or the desire to be healthy—that I have. 

Speaking of illness, the husband and DD#2 both appear to have the same kind of respiratory infection—runny nose, cough, fever. It might be the flu, but neither of them has really complained about muscle aches or headaches. Thus far, I appear to have escaped it. On Sunday I made a big pot of some very spicy chili (the husband said that helped considerably to clear out his sinuses), and yesterday I made chicken and rice soup. I was craving pizza, so for myself I made this:

It's pizza using the gluten-free pizza crust from the Wheat Belly Cookbook. Tell me that doesn't look yummy (it was). This satisfies my craving for pizza perfectly. I have never been a big fan of thick pizza crusts to begin with. I took this recipe and rolled it out into the bottom of the jelly roll pan to about a half-inch thickness. I baked the crust—minus the toppings—for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, and then I topped it with some of the tomato sauce I made the other day, italian seasoning, mozarella cheese (I should have made my own but I didn't have time), and pepperoni. I stuck it back into the oven long enough for the sauce to heat up and the cheese to melt. It was yummy. The crust is so dense that you really only have to eat a few pieces to become full. (The crust is composed of almond flour, garbanzo bean flour, and ground golden flaxseed. Don't taste the raw dough, though, because the garbanzo bean flour has a nasty taste and you won't want to eat the crust. After it cooks, that taste goes away completely.)

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All of the seeds we ordered have arrived. I was attempting to bring order to the chaos of seed packets on the kitchen table, and the husband commented that when he saw how many seeds we had, he figured we'd have to plant every available inch of our property with vegetables (this, from the man who planted 32 fruit trees last year).  Some things I ordered extra packets of so we could do more succession planting, so it looks like we have more seeds. Actually, I think we do have more seeds, but we should still have room for all of this stuff in the garden.

One of the items on the to-do list after the snow melts is to expand my herb garden into the old vegetable garden which is next to it. My herbs ran out of room a long time ago. They really do need some additional space. We're also going to move the strawberries to a separate bed. They are in an awkward spot in the big garden, and they are trying to take over the world. 

I am going to make seed tapes for the smaller seeds so we don't have to thin seedlings. Somehow I never get around to thinning them and they don't do as well. 

And now, cold pizza for breakfast. 

Monday
Feb042013

The Messy Household Economy

The household economy is much more messy, at least in terms of how we think of messiness. The household economy necessitates that we deal with ourselves, that we work within the uncontrolled variables of life. We don’t go to work in the household economy. We live there. We don’t leave the home to engage in the household economy. We stay in the home. We don’t give control of the household economy to outside forces. We control it ourselves. We don’t standardize the household economy. We make it our own and each household economy exists only in one specific home.

Joel Caris, Of The Hands Blog

I love this passage. It sums up very nicely so much of what and how I think about our lives. Here, he is speaking about the household economy within the context of a larger economy in which everyone is an expert. The household economy does not lend itself well to the idea that each individual has only one area of expertise and all other areas of expertise are managed by their respective experts. The household economy requires that we have, if not expertise, at least a passing familiarity with a whole lot of diverse tasks. 

If there is one person I would most like to go back in time and visit, it would have to be Angeline Wilder. She was the mother of Almanzo Wilder, husband to Laura Ingalls Wilder of the Little House series of books. The book Farmer Boy is the story of Almanzo's childhood in New York State in the mid-1800s. Angeline features prominently in that book as a full and very capable partner in the family farming enterprise. Every time I read that book, I am astounded at the amount of work that woman did. She cooked for a family of six, cleaned, made candles, spun yarn, wove fabric, made the majority of their clothing, preserved food, entertained visitors graciously, made butter to sell, negoatiated with the tin peddler...I sometimes wonder if she ever slept. I want to know how she did it. I want to know how she felt about doing it. 

Sometimes I think I was born 100 years too late, but I do have to remind myself not to romanticize history. I am sure she had her share of days when she wondered if she would get anything done. I am sure she had days where she wished she could lie about in bed for a while instead of getting up to cook a huge breakfast for her husband and two starving teenage boys. Nothing ever seems to go badly for her in that story, and I know that just isn't how real life works. 

[I made two pumpkin pies the other day because I was trying to use up some eggs. I ate one piece (sans the crust). DD#2 came home from school a few hours later and there was only one pie left. I looked at the husband and asked, "Did you eat the whole pie?" He responded, "No, I didn't eat the whole pie. You had a piece." The thought of having to cook for three men who eat the amount of food the husband eats makes me feel faint.]

What I love about what we do here is that there is so much satisfaction to be had in taking care of oneself. I love that I could make chili yesterday with tomato sauce cooked down from tomatoes we grew last summer. We eat eggs every morning from our chickens. I am willing to put a whole lot of energy into what I do every day because the husband and I get to reap the benefits of it. I am less inclined to put that much effort into working so that someone else can forcibly skim off the top. And if I get to be a jack of all trades and the master of none—well, at least I am not going to die of boredom. 

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This time of year here in Montana is so funny. Those of us who have lived here a while know that—even if we get a nice warm-up in January or February—winter will likely hit us with a vengeance again in March. That's just the way it is. However, even some of us who have been here for a while like to pretend that spring is just around the corner. I think it must be some kind of defense mechanism that keeps us from breaking down.  

There is no snow in Kalispell right now. There is still snow at our house, because we're up on the side of the mountain, but I do like going to town where I can walk around without YakTrax strapped to my boots. 

I think I've told this story before...the year I was pregnant with DD#2 (she was born in July of 1997), we had a ridiculous amount of snow. It began snowing on October 15 and the snow literally did not stop coming down for six months. The last of the snow didn't melt until the end of May. We have pictures of our dogs walking on top of the garage, because the drifts were high enough that they could just wander up there and look around. 

There was a day in April that year when I said to the husband, "Please watch DD#1 for the day; I have to get out of here. I am going down to Missoula." Missoula didn't get as much snow that year. By the time I got down there, I was looking at green grass and enjoying 60-degree temperatures. I so enjoyed that day. It reminded me that we weren't going to be snowed in forever. 

The wealthier among us have the luxury of going to warmer climes until warm weather finally reappears. I really have no desire to do that, but I like being able to get out of the worst of what passes for "spring" here for a few days. 

I need to get out the toe shoes and start wearing them again. 

Sunday
Feb032013

The Battle You Win is the One You Don't Fight

When the husband and I are at home on Friday nights watching TV—which is usually, because we don't have much of a social life—we often catch a show called "Stop the Threat" on the American Trigger Sports Network. (Yes, there is such a cable channel and we get it.) This is a half-hour show with a moderator and panel of three guest experts (firearms instructor, law enforcement officer, etc.). The panel watches a video re-enactment of some kind of incident in which a civilian carrying a concealed weapon either draws his weapon or draws his weapon and shoots someone. The panel then deconstructs the incident. Should the civilian have drawn his weapon? Should he have shot the other person? Would there have been a better/different response? What should the civilian do after the shooting? 

One would think that this show, focusing as it does on civilians being armed, would glorify vigilantism. It doesn't. In fact, much of the show stresses how to get out of these kinds of situations (or how not to get into them in the first place) without ever having to draw your weapon or even let anyone else know that you are armed. One episode a few weeks ago had to do with a civilian exiting a mall and finding himself in the middle of a gunfight.  He wasn't the target; he was an innocent passerby. However, he inserted himself into the situation by taking cover behind a car and drawing his weapon. Almost immediately, he found himself at the business end of a policeman's gun—the cop had no way of knowing if this person was part of the group trading shots initially, and by having his weapon out, the civilian made himself look like a threat. There was much criticism of this guy's actions by the panel, with the consensus being that the best and most prudent course of action would have been to remove himself from the situation completely without ever drawing his weapon. 

At the end of the show, the moderator almost always reminds viewers that "the gun battle you win is the one you don't fight." After the show the other night, I said to the husband that I wish gun-control advocates would stop to consider that that position is held by the vast majority of responsible gun owners. None of the people I know who carry concealed walk out of their houses with their guns strapped to their hips praying for an opportunity to shoot someone. In fact, I would say that all of them are praying that they won't have to use their weapons. It's why I get so annoyed when Thom Hartmann announces in his whining sanctimonius voice that, "the only reason to buy a gun is so you can shoot someone." Yeah, that's not why *I* bought a gun. I hope to go my entire life shooting nothing more threatening than a paper zombie target. But that side of gun ownership—the responsible side of gun ownership—is not the side that gets all the press. 

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When I was in Portland and had finished my trip to Powell's and was (finally) back on the MAX train going back to the hotel, something happened that helped me to understand a lot of the irrational fear of firearms by people who aren't around them a lot. That doesn't mean I agree with the fear; I still think it's irrational—or perhaps "misplaced" is a better word—but I do try to look at things from various perspectives and this was a different pespective than I usually have. 

I live in Montana. There aren't a lot of people here. A lot of the people who are here are carrying concealed. This is not a high-crime area. I feel perfectly safe walking around Kalispell. I feel safe in my own home. 

In Portland, however, I was surrounded by masses of people. (That in itself makes me very uncomfortable.) I was in an unfamiliar area. The likelihood that "something bad" could happen was much higher there than it is Montana. I found myself sitting on the MAX train across from a guy dressed in fatigues who was behaving very strangely. He looked like he might have been on some kind of drug(s)—his eyes kept darting back and forth, he was mumbling to himself and making challenging gestures to other people on the train, and his leg kept bouncing up and down like he had a whole lot of nervous energy and nothing to do with it. (I had my sunglasses on so I was observing this out of the corner of my eye without being obviously rude.) It was with a great deal of relief that I watched him get off the train shortly thereafter, and it occurred to me that I wouldn't want a guy like that to have access to a weapon. It further occurred to me that it is a much easier answer to attempt to keep weapons out of the hands of someone like that than it is for a society to either figure out how to deal effectively with that person, either by preventing mental illnesses from occurring (to the extent that is possible) or by treating it when it does. I had a moment where I thought, "Yes, if I lived in a big city like this with people like this on the street, my initial knee-jerk reaction might very well be, 'Ban all guns so this guy can't hurt anybody.'" As I said, though, that's the easy answer. And I am not sure what the best answer is. All human beings have a tendency to think that what is best for them personally is best for everyone else, so if it makes you feel safer to have all the guns off the streets, you're going to think that that is the best answer for the whole country. And if it makes you safer to think that everyone should be armed, you're going to think that's the best answer for the whole country. It's finding that middle ground that seems to be so difficult.

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I picked up some potting soil the other day so I could start a few trays of lettuce. That is today's pre-Super Bowl activity. The husband said it was 85 degrees in the greenhouse yesterday. We've had quite a few sunny days lately. We also have a heater we can run to keep the temps in there above freezing at night, because even though it was 49 degrees the other day, it's still February in Montana and we have a long way to go before spring really gets here (sometimes it doesn't show up until June). 

I also stopped at the thrift store the other day. I was killing time before picking kids up from cheerleading practice. I scored a pair of Royal Robbins pants in my size for a whopping $1.50 (it was half off blue tags and these pants had a blue tag). Royal Robbins is a line of clothing for the "outdoor enthuasiast."  REI carries them and I have seen pants like these at REI in the $50-60 range.

I do not want Baltimore to win today. I'll leave you all to figure out why.

Saturday
Feb022013

Happy Groundhog Day

The husband showed up at breakfast yesterday morning and announced that James Howard Kunstler had a new podcast episode. His podcast, which we both enjoy very much, has been on hiatus for the past couple of months. I have missed it. I was heading to town yesterday afternoon, so I made sure to download it to my iPod. The husband had already listened to it and said it was very good. 

It was extremely good. JHK interviewed a woman named Nicole Foss, one of the senior editors at The Automatic Earth, which is a website recapping events in the world of finance, energy, and globalization. Ms. Foss is an incredibly brilliant woman with the ability to distill down a lot of what is happening in the world and why it is happening. Naturally, many of her views on peak oil and sustainability mesh nicely with JHK's. She is so well-spoken and cogent, though, that this episode would be at the top of my list of podcasts to give to those people who are interested in this topic, precisely because she does such a good job of summarizing where we are and how we got here and what that means about where we might be going. 

I did say to the husband later that the irony does not escape me that so many of these people who are speaking out against peak oil and the unsustainability of our current lifestyles are the same ones who are jetting around the world to talk about the subject—something they would be unable to do were it not for cheap oil. Ms. Foss has been traveling nonstop for the past three years, by her own admission. I suppose there is something of a mindset of "do it while we can," that factors into this, but I do wish some of these people were a bit more up front about acknowledging that they are taking advantage of the very thing they are warning everyone else about. It's not that I think they shouldn't, but at least be honest about it. 

DD#2 came home from school and announced that they were studying Germany in the aftermath of WWI. (I should note that she has a fabulous history teacher and this is one of her favorite classes.) The kids, apparently, were struck by the concept of monetary inflation and how quickly prices rose during that period of time. The husband suggested that she read The Creature From Jekyll Island (a book about the creation of the Federal Reserve). I don't know that she will, but we do try to provide our perspective on historical events and how we think those things are going to play out in our kids' futures. I noted that Ms. Foss suggested in the podcast that the timeline for rampant inflation in the United States may be as far off as ten years, with a very good explanation of why she believes that. That particular tsunami *is* going to hit us at some point. Some people will insist that "it hasn't happened yet so that means it isn't going to," but that is one huge logical fallacy wrapped up in a whole lot of wishful thinking (did I mention that the Dow closed above 14,000 yesterday?). 

Anyway, it's an excellent podcast episode and one I recommend highly. 

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I was at Jo-Ann Fabrics yesterday afternoon, looking at some patterns, when my cell phone rang. It was a nurse from the City-County health department. Apparently DD#2 has been exposed to someone at school with a confirmed case of whooping cough, so they called to let me know I should call our family physician and have them get DD#2 a prescription for a Z-Pak (a five-day supply of azithromycin). It was still early enough that I was able to call the doctor, talk to the nurse, get the doctor to agree to call in the prescription, then run over to the pharmacy to pick it up before picking up DD#2 from cheerleading practice. 

I had to assure the nurse from the health department that yes, the adults in the family had had the TDaP vaccine recently and that DD#2 was also up to date on her vaccines. The City-County health department is apparently on a very old computer system, and their records have some pretty significant holes in them. Just before DD#2 went off to college, I took her in to the City-County health department to have the meninigitis vaccine (our doctor always sends us there because the vaccines are cheaper than what he can provide and they will automatically let the doctor's office know so that the records match). I had DD#2 vaccinated for meningitis at the same time. Last year, the City-County health department called to tell me that DD#2 had been exposed to meninigitis, and they wanted to know if she had had the vaccine because they had no record of it. I found out afterward that they had no record of it, but they had somehow let the doctor know to update his records, because the date she had the vaccine was in her record at the doctor's office. ::insert eye roll here:: 

In any case, DD#2 is now on a Z-Pak, and it looks like we're at the beginning of another wave of whooping cough cases here in the Flathead Valley. Herd immunity, anyone? 

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I am cooking down tomatoes again. We must have had about 20 gallon Zip-Lock bags of tomatoes in the freezer (of which I have probably only used half), and we have another 3 one-gallon ice cream containers of frozen tomato sauce. I am going to try making some ketchup or BBQ sauce. 

While I was making the house smell like a pizza parlor yesterday, the husband finished painting the foyer. He said that he is getting a little tired of looking at that particular color of paint. It does look very nice, though. 

We're having a bit of a heat wave here. Of course, one man's heat wave is another man's arctic blast. It was 49 degrees yesterday afternoon when I was in town. In Montana, 49 degrees means we all take off our coats and pretend that it is spring. 

Oh, and back on the subject of podcasts, I am still test-driving some to see if I can find a few more good ones. I downloaded one that looked promising, called "The Caveman Doctor and Relentless Roger," which is done by two guys. The Caveman Doctor is a radiation oncologist who is also an advocate of the Paleo diet. His sidekick is some guy name Roger who is very much into physical fitness. I also discovered, after a few minutes of the podcast, why he is called "relentless." The podcast would have been good if he hadn't been hogging the microphone talking about working out at the gym. I really wanted to hear more from the doctor, because he was speaking about diet and cancer, especially how a low-carb diet can help to starve cancer cells (they feed heavily on glucose).

 I may listen to another episode before I pass judgment, but it's not looking promising.

I have been looking for some gardening podcasts—especially ones about organic gardening and heirloom varieties—but I discovered this morning that I wasn't thinking big enough. I couldn't find any good podcasts under "gardening," but the minute I searched on "farming," a whole lot of podcasts with potential popped up (I love alliteration). We'll see if there are any gems among them. 

Tomatoes are calling my name. I think that's enough for today.