Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hibernate!

Well, well, well. It's seems my long time enemy has risen once again to try and defeat me. I tell you, the very sight of snow sends off signals in my brain screaming, 'HIBERNATE!' 16 inches will be enough to send me snoozing into the spring.

Recently, I was in a class called YouTube Ready Videos. In the class, I created a music video to my newest song, 'Call of Ravenclaw' based of the Harry Potter series. Due to technical difficulties (throws nasty glare at camera) I have been struggling to finish it. But I still wanted to get my song out there for all my fellow Ravenclaws to hear. So I made a less elaborate video of zooming in lyrics and a glamorous self taken picture from 5 years ago. Lol. I've only gotten 8 views so far. If you'd like to take a peek, be my guest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKJ5tT5_iOk

I'd also like to mention I'm going on a very cold (and short) Investigation of a house reported to have strange activity around it. There is a rumor that it use to be an old goat farm, but it was disproven in an article in the Lost Fort Collins blog. But the reports intrest me. There have been strange sounds reported coming from the house and stables. There are also reports of shadows, the one in particular I'm interested in is the little one that people see. I'm going to take some toys to see it I can intise it. With it being so close to Halloween, the veil between the spirit world and the physical realm are at their thinnest. This is a great time to get some stuff possibly recorded and documented. I will be going tommorow. Wish me luck. :D

Squirrels love pumpkins

Oh, the squirrels. They raid our compost and our garden for goodies, destroy my sunflowers, and even try to get into the chicken coop to get chicken feed. They've also been eating our squash right off the vine. Now, they're hitting the pumpkins.

We noticed for the last week that the pumpkins we put out on our front step have had a few nibbles out of them. A couple of days ago we found that the squirrels had completely eaten their way into one and were busy hollowing it out. I'm sure it was delicious. The silly squirrels were hardly even afraid of us when we opened the door.

On another note... I realize we have been utterly lax about keeping this blog up to date. Sorry about that. The season just got so darn busy! When I was at home I wanted to be outside, not inside on the computer (which is what I do all day for a living). I'm sure this winter will be different.

Coming up... new compost bins, cold frame, and biking to work in the snow!

Sleigh bells? No, bike bells!

Yesterday we had our first snowstorm of the season, and it was a doozy! I don't know what the official report for Fort Collins was, but this morning we took a measurement in our backyard and came up with 16 inches. School for the kiddos was cancelled and my workplace closed mid afternoon. Today, the kiddos' schools were still closed but work was open for me. Darn! I could have used a snow day at home. (Although it would have been tempting to start on my NaNoWriMo project, which I can't do for another few days.)

So this morning I had a few options to get to work. I could dig my car out and drive, then park four blocks away and walk in. Or I could walk to the bus stop three blocks away, try to figure out the bus schedule, hope it's running today, and use the extremely convoluted and inefficient route home at the end of the day. I could walk; it's just under 3 miles to work. Or I could bike.

I chose to bike. My wife called me hardcore. I called it the most efficient way while using the least amount of effort. (Is that laziness?) I figured I could always walk the bike if things go too rough, or even find a bus to hoist it onto.

I should mention that our street never gets plowed and cars routinely get stuck when it snows. The snowfall yesterday was very light and fluffy and since the ground was still pretty warm, the bottom layer was all slush. It didn't freeze overnight, so there
was very little ice, which is a good thing. I should also mention that although I've been biking to work for over a year, I haven't biked in a fresh snowfall before. Last year, during the few snow days we had, I wimped out and drove instead.

I made it to work but it was slow going. I fully expected to go down a couple of times but that didn't happen, even though there were close calls. I saw one other hardcore bike commuter today, and a bike track in the snow proved that there was at least one other one. The bike racks were quite eerily empty at the university, though.


Lessons learned from my bike ride to work today:
  • I really should get snow tires for my bike. The slush was especially challenging to pedal through, and a couple times I had to walk the bike through heavy slush, because I just couldn't get traction.
  • Brake early and often. Just like in the rain, the snow makes the tires & brakes wet, which reduces the brakes' effectiveness. Oh, and don't brake too fast.
  • Downhill slopes are not my friends. See braking, above.
  • Slow and steady wins the race. (Even though it's not a race... you get the idea.) I normally cruise down Mountain Avenue at a rather brisk pace, thanks to the straightaway and beautifully wide bike lanes, but not today. The bike lanes weren't plowed, though the street was.
  • I'm surprisingly well equipped for winter bike commuting. I shouldn't be surprised, since I did this last year, but the snow throws an added wrinkle onto it. But I was plenty warm thanks to my under-helmet lining, gloves, heavy coat and boots. The fenders helped a ton, too. Now for those snow tires...
Hopefully getting home will not be as challenging, and there won't be ice.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eating the eggs

In my last post, I mentioned that we ate one of the eggs with a crack in it. Being novices to owners of egg laying hens, this seemed the right thing to do. I learned later that this probably wasn't such a good idea. Oops. At least none of us got sick!

Without being too graphic, chickens have one single hole, called a "vent", where everything comes out of (both eggs and poop). The egg thus comes into contact with chicken poop bacteria. While you aren't using the shell in your food, the shell does come into contact with your hands, the bowl (if you crack them over the edge of it), and possibly even some of the egg, as it slithers into your bowl or cooking pan.

Arguments rage over the proper way to sanitize eggs. Some say that you can wash them with cold water and a soft scrubby, some that you should use hot water and antibacterial soap or even bleach, and some say just wipe it off with a cloth. When an egg is laid by the hen, it comes with a protective layer on it to keep bacteria out. When you wash the egg, you are removing that protective layer. Most people agree that if you do wash the egg, you should do it just before eating it. So that's what I've been doing. I'm most comfortable with hot water and a small amount of dish soap.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Deliciosos Huevos

The 9th egg arrived today. 9 eggs in 10 days! All except number eight have been a very light uniform brown in color. Number eight, which I discovered cold this morning, was a rich, dark brown with speckles, which led us to the conclusion that it was from a different breed entirely than the ones we've received thus far. Three egg laying hens, that's exciting! Hopefully the other two will start feeling the urge soon, too.

We've been saving them up. Hadn't eaten a one yet. None of us wanted to deny the other the pleasure of eating the first egg(s) from our very own chickens, so we have been waiting until we have a suitable number to make a batch of scrambled eggs for all of us to share.

Number nine, picked out of the nest box minutes after being laid, we discovered had a crack in it. Well, this one had to be eaten right away! Daughter scrambled it up real quick (heck, it was still warm) just before we had to walk out the door. Another surprise, it had a double yolk! Although we each only had a few bites, they were delicious! I'm sure it was more the idea of it, but it seemed more flavorful than your usual egg. I'll wait until the next batch (this weekend) to see if the flavor really is better.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Huevos!

We have eggs! Two of them as of half an hour ago, Friday morning.

Dan discovered the first one on Tuesday. We had been on a family vacation and were busy on our first full day home.

Dan heard a lot of noise coming from the chicken coop, and went out to see one of the girls coming out of the coop. He went to peek, and sure enough we had our first egg! A perfect treasure, about half the size of large eggs available at stores.

We have been watching for another egg, and finally this morning it was time for egg number two.

I am home sick today, and I was startled to hear an amazing amount of squawking coming from the coop. One girl was inside and I could see the other four huddled in a corner in the yard under the coop. I heard a lot of unusual noises coming from inside and what was almost like a responding chorus of noise from the other chickens. I suddenly saw our girl named Viper (oh I know it is a strange name! My son's Lacrosse team) come out, continuing to made a lot of noise. As I looked at each nest box I noticed immediately that the nests are clearly being used, and the last one had another small egg!

So now to learn more about egg laying :)

But in a way I don't need to seek out all knowledge. I know about birth. I know that sometimes making more noise makes the impossible possible. I know that it is easier when you have a chorus of voices chiming in, being present for your journey. I know that having girls nearby is priceless for those hard moments.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bike Prom!



Dan and I went to high school together (Go Impala's!) and ran around in the same circle of friends. We didn't date, but have many shared memories.

Last night we had a chance to go back in time and do what would have been dreamy to look back on. We went to prom together!

This week has been Ft Collins bike week. With events every day,including a crazy successful Bike to Work day. There were approximately 30 breakfast stations set up around the city, and massive hordes of people biked to work and took advantage of free breakfast opportunities.

Last night was the grand finale event, the first annual Bike Prom. It is exactly what it sounds like. People dressed up in their wacky outdated prom regalia, and rode their bikes. The enthusiastic party goers descended upon Old Town just as Brew Fest was wrapping up, which meant that we got many startled stares from overindulging celebrants.

I found the most impressive 80's style prom dress at the thrift store for 6.99. It was challenging to figure out how in the world I made my hair so big back in the day, and the scent of Aqua net (which I could not find, but Suave super hold worked) filled the air as I caked on the eyeliner. Of course I ended up looking much like a lace covered Oompa-loompa, but wasn't most of the 80's bizarre?

We danced to some great 80's classics, slow danced and kissed to a Journey song, and spent a lot of time sitting and watching the entertaining 20-somethings acting like they created 80's fashion and singing the classic songs word for word. Overall a great evening, and a great opportunity to go to prom with my husband!


Posted by Picasa


From Bike Prom

From Bike Prom

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The risk of growing food

We have a garden to produce some of our food, and have a share of a small Community Supported Agriculture farm for much of our fresh food during the spring, summer and fall.

Last year we loved coming home each week with 1-2 reusable grocery bags loaded with organic vegetables that had been picked just hours before.

The intense storms Monday night produced a remarkable hail storm, centered over the small town of LaPorte Colorado (which is just North West of Fort Collins about 3 miles). Our CSA farm is in LaPorte. We found out that it hailed for 45 minutes, and left 3 inches of hail on the entire crop. Everything is shredded.

So the status of our farm share is unknown. We are not at all concerned about the payment lost. We knew that having a share of a crop meant that we are taking the same risk as the farmer. We could have a wonderful crop or a sparse crop, and are at the mercy of nature. This year we seem to have lost everything.

Our home garden is not in quite as bad of a condition, but we will likely only produce a fraction of the food we did last summer. Heartbreaking times. Sometimes it feels as if the world is just making it hard to walk out our ideals/

On a good note, Blondie has found a good home. We posted an offering on CraigsList, and had two offers of adoption by families living out in the country. One in particular appealed to us because the family has been showing poultry of all sorts at the 4H fair for 20 years. They have a polish hen (the breed that Blondie is) who is 4 years old so he will have company. They actually thought that Blondie may be beautiful enough to show at the fair this year, so we will keep you posted! We are just relieved to send him to a good home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

She is a rooster, crud!

Yes you read that right. Apparently my second polish chicken is in fact a rooster. the first proved itself to be a rooster early on, and I was so sad to loose my gray bird with a goofy poof of feathers on its head. We sent it off to live happily outside the city limits.

The second polish I had seemed to be a girl a bit longer, but surprised us with a cock-a-doodle-doo last weekend. I spent the week reading accounts found in google of hens that managed to crow in some sort of manner, and I convinced myself that she was just very special.

Until this morning, when the entire family stood with our mouths hanging open in awe in the morning light watching her crow her little heart out, repeatedly.

We do not want a rooster. We cannot have a rooster within the city limits, and we really do like our neighbors enough to want to keep life pleasant for them.

I called the feed and grain where we picked up the cute chicks, and they do buy back roosters but have a limit of 5. They have 5 right now. They tipped me off to the fact that the raptor center will take roosters. I innocently called to find out how the adoption process works, and the news was gently broken to me that they would be food for the birds of prey. I thanked them for their gentle way of breaking the news and said I just might take them up on the offer if I don't find a more pleasant alternative.

So now the offer goes out. I have one really funny looking Polish rooster available for adoption by anyone interested. Ideally to live a long amusing life being the small funny looking rooster of a flock. Anyone needing a rooster?

Please? :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brain Buckets

It has been a posting drought here, because we have been too busy working in the yard. Garden is in, and we are hoping most of it recovers from the hail pounding this weekend. (really, my lettuce looks so sad) We finally got roofing material on the coop so the blue tarp is gone. Lots of mulch added, parts of the lawn removed and repurposed (I just can't bring myself to water grass, so we are slowly getting rid of it all) We are appreciating the recent rains immensly but know that a bit of warm sunny weather will really make the garden look amazing.

So the family went on a wonderful bike ride last night, testing the new trail-a-bike we got. (Dan pulls Josh, or Josh pushes Dan)Just as we pulled into the driveway the torrential rain began. Phew!

I also biked to work today. It is an easy 30 minute ride on my cruiser, meandering along the Poudre River Trail for much of it. This is something I want to do more, since my entire family is made up of growing bike enthusiasts. Unfortunately my chronic illness does not always present me with days in which I can commute by bike and have enough energy to work as well. Getting to work is usually fine, but by the end of the work day the ride home is too much. Each day it is a gamble, but I took it today.

I was talking about biking with Dr Whitman in the clinic. (He truly is one of the best Dr's in Ft Collins for kids) We were talking about the importance of bike helmets and the significance of enforcing helmets 100% of the time.

Statistics show that helmets save lives. They reduce life changing head injuries. they are the difference between walking away from an accident and being taken away in an ambulance.

Plus, they are slowly becoming more and more cool. All the cool kids are doing it. Are you? Every single time you ride?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The car stays.

Thanks for the responses to my post about the car. I had some good responses here and elsewhere, and almost all said that the small cost of continued car ownership is probably worth it. Also, as my wife pointed out, if her car had to be in the shop for a week, that's a year's worth of "savings" from having only one car blow in a week.

So I will be keeping the car. Of course, if something happens to it that requires repairs, all bets are off and it will go to the salvage yard!

Vegas & Wedding Pictures



Thanks to my lovely wife for posting pics! Here are our goofy Vegas tourist pictures, and Chris & Suji's wedding pics.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Girls are roosting!

 

I know, I know, you have all been patiently waiting to see pictures. My skill at posting pictures has been proven(or disproven?) so I have avoided this. Sorry!

But here is one adorable picture, complete with fancy blue tarp roof (A la post hurricane Katrina) which works until we can finish the roofing(this weekend?)

Notice that as a true chick (ha!) I opted to plant flowers around the yard on Mother's Day weekend instead of finish the roofing. I do have priorities, and cuteness is number one. We also added a mulch walkway that leads to the door into the yard and the clean out door, so slogging through the mud is not part of the fun.

When I went out to close the hatch tonight, after the girls had wandered inside as the sun set, I found the most exciting sight. All 6 of the chickens were roosting (or their best attempt at it)! I am not sure when this started, but it must have been within the last week. I am not sure why this tickled me so, but it did. (It made me happy enough that I interrupted Dr Who)

I have to say that the Chickens cost way less than cable tv, but are endlessly more entertaining!

So we think we have settled on the names of Blondie(she has a true punk rock hairstyle), Viper (which is a ridiculous chicken name but is our 13 yr olds lacrosse team), Elvira, Annie (little orphan..) and two that look alike who are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

I am sure more tales will follow! Stay tuned folks.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Less Car?

I am struggling with a dilemma. Should I get rid of my car? I expect that many people would answer that question in various ways, from "Why?" to "Why would you hesitate?". I would appreciate your comments on this!

This is not as easy a decision as I thought it might be. I have been enjoying the virtues of bike commuting since last summer. Since I've deliberately commuted to work by bike for almost a full year now, through blazing heat and winter snow, I feel confident that I can handle it. And there's the fact that I enjoy it. Nearly every day I look at my car taking up space in front of our house and think, "Why is it there?"

We are a two car family. My wife drives the all-purpose minivan, and I (rarely) drive the same little car I've driven for the last 12 years. I'm the second owner; I bought it from my mother, who bought it new. It's a 1990 Mazda 323, 2-door hatchback. No frills, meaning no A/C, no power steering or brakes, no power windows, etc. It did have automatic seatbelts until the driver's side broke. The interior is rough, the body rougher still. It has a number of dents, scratches, and the bumper is smashed in front, but there's no rust. The engine (with 176k miles on it) runs like a top. I've rarely had to put money into repairing the thing, it just keeps going like the Energizer bunny. It's valued at $550

Insurance costs me $404 per year on this car. That's sure to go up as soon as my teenage daughter gets her driver's license. I put no money into maintenance aside from the bi-annual oil change. Altogether it costs me roughly $40 a month to own, plus gas. 

MPG is about 32, which is quite good. It is an extremely fuel-efficient car. I don't find myself at the gas station so much. 

It's not a particular comfortable car to drive. Manual transmission, with no power steering/brakes/windows. It gets far too hot inside in the summer, it's like a sauna. No A/C, of course. 

I find myself needing to drive the car for work about 2 days per month. I find it convenient to drive probably 4 days per month on average, on top of that -- either because the weather's not friendly or I'm feeling lazy and not wishing to haul a bunch of things to work. (A bike trailer would mitigate that.) Of those days I need to drive (required for my job to visit some remote facilities, too far to bike in a timely fashion), I could arrange with my wife to borrow her vehicle. So not a big deal. However, there are always those times when it's very convenient for the parents to have 2 cars for 3 kids. 

I'm not even considering the argument of how much cheaper it is to use a bike for regular daily travel versus a car. I already do that. The bike's bought and paid for, as is the car. There's no question of investment. I've committed a couple of years ago to not putting any money into repairing this car, and the darn thing just keeps humming along happily with no problems. If a major problem came up, I wouldn't fix it and would get rid of the car. I've been halfway hoping this decision would be made for me, but it seems unlikely to happen any time in the near future. And if I sell it now, while it still runs, I could get a bit of cash for my trouble.

What I'm balancing is the cost of convenience. $40 per month keeps me (and my family) in a second car. If an emergency or priority comes up, it sure is handy. And that seems quite cheap for a second car. If I had to rent one, that's the daily rate for a similar car. 

The bit of cash I could get for the car now would pay for a used road bike, or a bike trailer, or perhaps both if I'm lucky. These are things I've been wanting badly, and go a long way toward replacing a car, so it seems almost a fair trade. Plus, I could put that $40/month into a bike fund and plan on upgrading my bike from time to time.

What would you do?

Viva Las Vegas

My wife and I have returned from four days in Las Vegas. Wow, what a trip! We (who do not take many vacations, especially not without the kids) had a wonderful time together, exploring this glamorous tourist destination and gawking like the tourists we were. We'd come out for a wedding of one of my wife's best friends. To be honest, I'd thought I would never have visited this place, except jokingly talking about having our wedding vows renewed by an Elvis impersonator there. (We were, in fact, going to take this opportunity to do so, as our anniversary is next week, but the cost even for a wedding vow renewal was prohibitive. As a lark, it wasn't worth it to us.) Nonetheless, we had great fun, enjoyed ourselves tremendously, and the wedding was beautiful.

I have heard Las Vegas described as "gleefully unsustainable", and that seems to sum it up perfectly. The city that shouldn't exist, if human dwellings were based on natural resources. It likes in the middle of a desert and yet the waste (not just the use) of water and energy is tremendous. Waste in general happens on a staggering scale, from the litter on the ground to the massive light displays of the Strip that go on all night to the massive water fountain displays. Coming from Fort Collins, this was an immense ecological culture shock (not to mention the social culture shocks). We live in a semi-arid region and water is acknowledged by all who live here as precious. We have constantly evolving water rights issues, grass watering restrictions, and anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that water needs conserving. Not in Las Vegas, oh no. The land is truly a desert, and resources of all kinds (not just water) need to be pumped in from elsewhere on a massive scale. Yes, it makes for great dramatic effect -- there is nothing like the Las Vegas Strip, anywhere in the world -- but in the end I was so turned off by the wastefulness it was difficult to enjoy the moment. Perhaps I'm hyper-aware of the waste and the need for sustainability, but surely I'm not the only one. At some point I think that despite all the benefits it does for the tourism, something will have to give and Las Vegas will need to grow up and shrug off the cheap tarnished veneer it has carried for its entire existence. Perhaps it will be able to reinvent and thus save itself, for it has nothing but that false glamour.

That being said, we didn't wander far from the Strip. We didn't have a car and although we talked about hopping on the bus, there was no real need for us to be anywhere else. We did take the bus that goes up and down the Strip, but found that the Strip itself was so pedestrian-friendly that we didn't need to, much. Besides, for us our entertainment was all about walking and gawking. Our expenses came mostly from food, though we caught a variety show and Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and didn't gamble (except on the penny slots).

I counted the number of bikes I saw in these four days in the city: 10. Half of them were bicycle cops. (A lot of the cops also used Segways.) I saw that many bikes within the first four minutes of returning to Fort Collins. I kept thinking that a bike would be so handy for us, as our hotel was just off the Strip (about 3/4 mile).

Our hotel was the Wild Wild West, which I don't recommend. I chose it because it was cheap, and yep, it was. The rooms were clean enough, the shower worked, the walls were paper-thin but the door lock held. They neglected to leave soap for us and it took three times asking the front desk, and a Spanish-language call from my wife to the housekeeping staff to get us a bar of soap. Like nearly every hotel, there was a casino attached, but unlike all the others, this one was so smoky that we couldn't stay in there for more than a few minutes. Twice when we returned from our outings at night, we found police cruisers with flashing lights visiting our hotel. It didn't compare with the luxury hotels on the Strip, and I halfway regret my choice to save a bit on lodging, since I doubt I will visit again.

Still and all, I am happy. Visiting Las Vegas make my home seem like less of a desert, more progressive, cooler, quieter, and sustainably happy. Oh, and much less full of addictions. My wife got kissed by Elvis. A number of firsts for me: Got to ride in a double-decker bus, tried squid, ate at a Brazilian buffet, and of course gamble. I had fun while I was away, but it's good to be back.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The girls are home!

The chicken girls that is. We finished the work on the chicken coop and yard that had to be done before they moved in just last night. (Though there are some details left such as painting touches and roofing material.)

Unfortunately one of the great polish hens (one of the ones with a great tuft of feathers on its head) seems to have been a rogue rooster and will be sent to live on a happy little farm outside the city limits. (No, that is not code for some other means of getting rid of a rooster.)

So here we sit, all in a row, watching the small door that is the hatch out of the coop. One of the girls keeps poking her head out, almost stepping onto the ladder down to the ground, then changed her mind. I figure they will all come flocking out in about 10 minutes, when it is just cold enough for me to call it a night and go inside.

We just heard a melody of baby bird cheeps. A family of birds (finches? I will have to ask my neighbor) have built a nest in the bamboo window shade over the neighboring house. They must have just been thrilled to get some food. It will be fun to keep tabs on how they develop in the coming weeks.

The excitement here can be cut with a knife, really. Suspenseful happenings here, as we watch from the tree!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bike Ranger

I have been commissioned as a Bike Ranger for the Fort Collins Neighborhood Bike Coordinator Program. I have the badge to prove it; it will be going on my bike.

We Rangers met each other for the first time tonight, at the Resources for Bicycling in Fort Collins Event. I came up with the name "Rangers", by the way. We can't all be Coordinators, that would be silly. My second choice for title would have been "Geek", as in "Bike Geek", which is probably a pretty good description. "Ambassador" would be a good descriptive name but a bit pretentious. The Neighborhood Bike Coordinator Program is about getting the word out to our neighbors and friends about bicycling resources in Fort Collins, opening up our garage now and then to help neighbors fix up their bikes, air up tires, offer bicycling advice, pass out bike maps, and give out cool stickers.

I'm definitely the junior member of the Rangers, though. There's Dottie, who indoctrinated us to the program; she's a certified bike instructor for the League of American Bicyclists. There's Mike, who cheerfully exchanged quotes from seminal works of the League with Dottie. Miles talked about making his own bikes and the tricks he can do with his (like the ones my sons can do and I won't even attempt). Marty has his own bike-and-trailer based business, and Tom rode his two young kids in from the other end of town. I'm just the guy who rides his bike to work each day. I'm the only one in the group who doesn't have my own mechanic's stand. But I'm probably the only one who sports a coffee cup holder on my commuter cruiser!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tasty Harmony

I don't normally do restaurant reviews. In fact, this is my first one. But this dining experience was so fantastic I have to share with y'all.

I had been watching with interest the "coming soon" sign for an organic vegan restaurant in Old Town Fort Collins for several months, and I had the pleasure of finally visiting Tasty Harmony for lunch. The menu advertises "organic vegetarian goodness" and that's  a great way to describe it. They aren't 100% vegan but they are pretty close. Many of their dishes are also gluten free. 

Now I'm not vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. But I do really enjoy and appreciate organic and raw foods, which Tasty Harmony has in abundance. Another good thing: I asked the waiter where they sourced their veggies, and he indicated that they're working on a partnership with at least one local farm or CSA. Their goal is to keep as much of the food organic and in the community (local) as possible. I'm all for both.

The atmosphere is very welcoming. There is a bar where you can walk up and order from a large selection of drinks (whole meal smoothies with or without supplements, fresh juices, kombucha, soy or rice milk, various teas and coffees). I was pleased to see that there is no soda anywhere on the premises. I did not try these but I plan to be back at some point for a smoothie. Otherwise, you can sit and peruse the lovely menu while you are waited on. The menu, I was grateful to see, goes to great lengths to help the layperson figure out what some of the dishes and ingredients are. (I'd never heard of seitan, an Asian meat substitute, before.) There's a small patio section outdoors, too, but I went on a colder day and didn't have the opportunity to sit there.

Prices are mid-range. I'm quite frugal ("cheap") even when dining out, and for lunch this was a bit much, but it was a treat for me. Dinner and lunch prices are the same, and for dinner, these prices are quite reasonable. There are some lighter options than what I had, and even a kid's menu with the typical kid-appeal fare... just vegan.

Oh, and the food? Fabulous. You know how in most Mexican restaurants they bring you a bowl of chips to snack on while you wait for them to prepare your food? Same idea here but different execution: I was treated to a bowl of toasted seasoned pumpkin seeds. Yum! Nice touch. I snarfed them while I waited. Salad came next, and since I'm on a Caesar kick lately, that's what I had. Romaine lettuce with purple crunchy strips and a fantastic caesar-ish dressing. (No parmesan; vegan, right?) The purple crunchy strips were quite tasty and turned out to be gluten free croutons. A little bigger and I could have made it my main meal. (In fact that's an option.)

For the main dish I selected the Heart of Provence: "Cornmeal and almond crusted tempeh triangles over garlicky grilled polenta cakes and smothered in a Provence inspired tomato sauce." Yes, it was as good as it sounded in the menu. The sauce was absolutely heavenly. The tempeh triangles were crispy and firm, and tasty of course. The polenta was light on the garlic (I'm a garlic lover and usually say "more garlic") but were delightful, especially with the sauce. Oh, that sauce! 

I have to admit I enjoyed every single bite and savored each morsel. Afterward, the waiter asked if I wanted dessert. Even though I was there for lunch I might have been tempted, but I was well and truly stuffed! On vegetables! Amazing. 

Overall, I would highly recommend Tasty Harmony for anyone who would like a quality vegetarian, organic, raw food dining experience. Tasty Harmony is at 130 S. Mason St., between Bikram Yoga and Everyday Joe's, in Old Town Fort Collins. Open for lunch and dinner except Mondays.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Now playing on a webcam near you: Chickens!

Yes, I decided to make a little webcam project last night. You can view live coverage of our chickens here!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Community Health Care- your tax dollars working!

As our current economic crisis is evolving, health care is taking a huge hit for many families.
Add up the rising costs of everything, and many individuals and families are forced to gamble on staying healthy while stopping any health insurance they have. Then include in the equation the number of people without insurance due to downsizing and layoffs, you hit a terrifying number of individuals and families who are simply without the means to meet their needs for basic health.

Fortunately there is a network of community health centers in the country, acting as a safety net for those tumbling out of the normal working class system of insurance. These centers are typically funded through grants along with federal and state tax dollars. Tobacco taxes along with the settlements of tobacco companies, while the daily frustration and resentment of smokers, is often a consistent resource of much needed funding.

These centers provide a health care home to recipients of Medicaid and Medicare. Fewer and fewer private practices can continue to make ends meet with the shrinking reimbursement rates and slower payment times, and are simply forced to continue providing services in order to stay open and meet the needs of those with private insurance.

These clinics also provide insurance to those who need a safety net, including the uninsured and those whose resident status makes any sort of other coverage impossible. (this is not a forum for immigration issues, but the reality is that without some available clinic, we would have migrant workers unable to harvest our food, children with no health care, mothers with no prenatal care, and tragically sick members of the family of humanity)

My clinic is part of the Salud Family Clinic system. Salud means health in Spanish, and much of the original focus was providing affordable care to migrant families. (The clinic still runs a mobile unit, making rounds of farms and small communities in Eastern Colorado along with all clinics being along the front range,northern I-25 corridor and Eastern plains) With much of the staff being bilingual, and a cultural awareness focusing on the Spanish speaking community, we now meet the needs of thousands of Colorado families who would have little to no health care otherwise.

Of course our system is overwhelmed. We see more patients than in any way is possible, work in consistently busy and challenging conditions, and do our best to provide the very best care that we can in spite of the day to day mountains we face. The pay is less than average, the day entirely too full, and the clinic more overcrowded and dingy than private practices. But every single day we are appreciated. We know at any given moment we impact lives deeply. Despite at times feeling as if we provide a huge quantity of care instead of a huge quality of care, we know deep down that we do incredible things with every task, every smile, and every breath.

Not only that, but I truly work with some of the best coworkers I have had the privileged to work with in my entire life. We keep each other laughing, keep each other going through the rough times, and hold each other up when we feel as if we might fall into frustration. The only reason we are there is because we choose to be. There for our patients, and there for each other. Our bonds are the sort that can only be forged by challenging situations survived over and over.

Of course, we are being stretched even further every day. A system already bulging at the seams is squeezing in even more pieces.Each provider sees an average of 28-30 patients a day, which when you add it up should be a 24 hour day in and of itself. Each patient encounter includes labs, referrals, vaccines, prescriptions, procedures, counseling, education, so on and so on.

I could keep you here telling you heartbreaking stories of the families in our clinic. The single mother who now struggles with MS. The undocumented woman who is left behind, along with 4 children, by a husband killed in a tragic accident. The young 30-something white male who can no longer work construction due to a painful hernia which he desperately needs surgery for. The father of 2 with one on the way, always struggling to get by and now diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes. The young person with Aids, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill. On and on and on and on. Every face is a new story of good people.

We found out Thursday that the clinic has received additional funding that will allow us to be open until 9 at night (currently closing at 5 now) and Saturdays. The number of patients we will be able to care for has just increased dramatically. For the families for whom a missed day of pay in order to go to the doctor means a bill unpaid, groceries un-purchased, this can mean the difference between surviving or not.

The news is so new that we are not entirely clear at the bottom levels where the funding came from, but we suspect it is our share of the increased health care funding our current administration has injected into the struggling system.

If you wonder just what those dollars are being used for, here is your story. In this case it is not about mismanagement by those in power. It is not about overspending, consumerism and dishonesty or thoughtlessness. It is 100% about good people, a struggling country, and the basic right to health.

It is good news in hard times. Isn't it about time?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Summer bounty

Tonight I opened up one of the jars of tomato sauce we had canned last fall. I still find it to be a small miracle, when I crack the seal and smell the rich tomato sweetness. We only did a few super huge jars of marinara sauce (2 quart size), and some smaller ones of tomato soup, but I am still so proud of our first year trying to preserve our harvest.

Tomatos and anything acidic can be canned in a water bath canner, instead of a pressure cooker. Jelly is another thing that can be done in the simple boiling water bath. It is truly easy enough that anyone can do it.

I look forward to preserving even more of our garden goodies by canning next year. It is a lost art.

If you wonder what we did with our sauce, we made spaghetti. We used ground turkey for meat, and an herbed pasta we bought at the co-op last weekend. We cooked a quinoa pasta for Josh, who is gluten free, and rounded it off with salad and fresh sunflower seed sprouts. I look forward to our salad coming from the back yard! (I do have salad mix and lettuce coming up in the garden now.)

Happy eating! I hope that you are able to savor the pleasure of foods that you had a hand in creating, preparing, growing, and eating. It makes every meal taste so much better!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

11 Things You Can't Do With A Bike

1. Cruise the scenic parking lot several times looking for that elusive open spot.
2. Get to know the gas station attendant on a first-name basis.
3. Proudly display the annual parking pass in your front window. You know, the parking pass fee that's so big they have to take it out of your paycheck in three monthly payments.
4. Spend some quality time on the phone with your insurance company, learning which countries all of the reps you speak to live in.
5. Turn up the air conditioning.
6. Be the good samaritan with jumper cables for your coworker who has a dead battery.
7. Sport witty bumper stickers like "My other car is a...". (Unless of course you have a bike trailer, where there's room for bumper stickers.)
8. Invite your significant other into the back seat. (Unless you have a tandem bike.)
9. Keep your math skills sharp by calculating MPG, and hone your financial skills by tracking which gas station has the best price this week.
10. Chinese fire drills.
11. Show your support in "these uncertain economic times" for the embattled auto industry by leveraging your purchasing power on their behalf.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chicken update

From coop building



Once again spotlighting the chicken coop in progress, as we trouble shoot Picasa. :) Thanks for caring about our pet project you guys!

So why chickens? Because I have a dream of having a small farm of my own. Because I have always wanted chickens of my own. Because we are trying to become more self sufficient, more local, and more sustainable. Because having our own endless supply or organic fresh eggs is easy! And because they are cute.

I have a chronic illness that includes varying amounts of pain and stiffness. I very much wanted to be able to take care of my chickens (though I really will delegate to the kids on many days) and had to accommodate my personal needs in the design.

You will notice that it is elevated, meaning I can clean it without leaning over or stooping. This also provides a sheltered area underneath where the chickens can get out of the sun or elements. (this will be part of the run or yard we will construct once this silly spring snow is all done)Dan built a pulley system on the front of the coop so the door the chickens will use to enter and leave the coop can be opened easily from outside the run.

The cupboard doors are there to retrieve eggs from the nest boxes from outside the coop. On the front is a large opening that will be screened ventilation in the summer and covered with glass for a passive solar collector for heat in the winter. What you can't see is a large door on the back side of the coop that is large enough for me to climb in, or just reach in to pull debris and poop out of.

There are a lot of finishing touches left to do, such as decorative painting (more), the roofing material, and sweet yellow shutters on the sides of the window opening, just because I want it to be cute too!

For pictures of the building process take a gander at the web album. It was a great birthday party!
coop building

I love you.

No, really.

Products we love.

We are not a green family. We do not buy things labeled green, we do not frequent green businesses, we do not dye our hair green in a nod to the marketing frenzy that promises guilt free consumerism. In fact we are guilty of occasionally rolling our eyes at transparent claims of "green-ness". (yes, we are THOSE sort of people)

On the other hand, we are careful stewards of the resources we have. We keep an eye on our impact, making note of the niche products fill, the sustainability,and the amount of fuel used to get products to us. Will it save us money, last a while, and help us reduce our trash production?

So as I offer up products we love, it is not because we are trendy, or because we are cool. It is because they help round out our priorities and are aligned with our philosophies.

First item up for review is called the Twist European Sponge Cloth. They are thin sheets approximately half the size of a paper towel, and are very absorbent. The claim on the package is that one towel can outlast 17 rolls of paper towels. The towels are easily disinfected and cleaned by hand washing or throwing in the dishwasher. If you are really ookied out by post chicken cleanup (eeeeeeeew!) then you can sterilize the towel by boiling it.

They appear to be quite durable, and I anticipate they will hold up quite a while. The only thing I have been surprised about is that they dry quite stiff, but will soften up as soon as you start using it. I admit we still have our paper towels for some uses, but I am looking forward to training myself and the family to grab the sponge cloth first for cleanup. I did also notice that the Twist Clean company has quite a few other related products, and is based out of Boulder. (which means that there is less fuel needed to get it from the manufacturer to my kitchen, bonus) The final touch is that you can use the minimal packaging to make a bird feeder. Directions and lines to fold are all printed on the inside of the packaging.

The next products I am super excited about are 3B reusable produce bags. Reusable grocery bags are my obsession. I can't change the world, and I can't even change all of my bad habits at once, but I can use my reusable grocery bags every single time I shop. (and I do!) The missing link for me has been the produce bags. Most of my veggies can be purchased without a bag, but the checkers don't really love chasing loose apples rolling off of the scale. Even with our CSA in the summer, some items really need to be bagged. (can you imagine the mess of loose green beans in with loose salad greens in my bag?) I had an ambitious mental plan of sewing drawstring net bags (out of black tule I have left over from making skirts for the roller derby, no REALLY)last summer, but a sewing machine on the fritz stopped that plan.

So I stumbled across these bags at King Soopers last week. They come in a set of 3, are generously sized, and softer than my original plan would have been. Now I just need to remember the small bags every time I shop as well. I keep my large shopping bag collection in the car all the time, though I do have enough to leave some at home.

As an obsessive connoisseur of reusable grocery bags, I have to tell you my favorites are the square bottomed ones available for 99 cents at Whole Foods. They hold twice as much as most other bags, are very sturdy and able to securely hold a large number of heavy cans, and stay open as you load them. My second favorite are a spin off of this style. I love that they can be folded up into a palm sized package, making it ideal to keep tucked in your purse or pocket for the random purchases such as at the pharmacy or cosmetics counter. Slowly more and more cashiers are looking dumbfounded when I ask them to keep the plastic bag. ;)

Well, that is the view from the snow filled tree today. I am working on figuring out the Picasa picture links so I can show off the chickens again! Stay tuned.

And you know, we see that we have had 91 people have viewed the blog last month, but we only have had a few comments posted. (thanks April!) We very much want this to be a dialogue opportunity, so please let us know what you think of different topics!

Lazy Saturday

I'm sitting here with my laptop, tea, "everything" bagel, and strawberries while Josh dances around in front of the TV giggling at the cartoons. The girls are sleeping in. We were gifted with rain last night, which turned to freezing rain, then snow overnight. It's still coming down, and the forecast calls for snow and more snow today. I won't be getting out on my bike today... in fact, may not leave the house at all!

I can only take so much more of the inane cartoons, but fortunately, Josh doesn't normally watch TV. I suspect it'll be about half an hour and he'll wander away to build some more Bionicle masterpieces. I fondly remember rotting my brain in front of Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid. In fact, I remember watching a LOT more TV when I was a kid than my kids do now. Back then we didn't have cable -- we have VHF and UHF -- but that didn't seem to matter. Today, we made a deliberate choice not to have cable, and now with the impending digital TV switchover, I'm sure we'll watch even less TV than we do now, which is minuscule. We borrowed one of those digital TV converter boxes to see what kind of reception we'll be getting, and it's pitiful -- less than we do with our rooftop antenna now. No worries. Mostly, we use our TV for DVD movies, which we are big fans of.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about TV. She and her 6-year-old son don't have one at all. They watch movies on her laptop ocassionally, so it's not as if they're deprived of modern entertainment. (Not like that would be a big loss.) She was remarking that people seem so shocked when she tells them she doesn't have a TV. She was shopping for a new cell phone the other day and the saleman was trying to pitch one of those new cell phones that you can watch TV shows on. The conversation went something like this:

Sales Guy: "And with this phone you can even get TV!"
Her: "I don't want a TV on my phone, I don't even have a TV at home."
Sales Guy: "Oh... no HDTV?"
Her: "No TV."
Sales Guy: "No cable? What then, satellite?"
Her: "No, no TV at all."
Sales Guy (uncomprehending look): "No TV? But... how do you watch..."
Her: "I don't watch TV."
Sales Guy falls over stone dead from shock.

(Okay, I egaggerated that last part, but it was pretty close.)

I get the same reaction sometimes, on a more limited scale. We do own a TV but use it almost exclusively to watch DVD movies. (In a nod to modern life, we did get rid of our vast collection of VHS tapes a while ago.) Many people just don't seem to understand why we don't have cable. For a while, it was just another luxury we couldn't afford. At this point, though, we could afford it, but have little desire to. Sure, it would be nice to have a few stations (Discovery channel, BBC TV, etc) but I know that a lot of junk gets bundled along with the few gems, and that the junk would be playing most of the time. Besides, if you really want to see a show, you can usually get it on your computer over the internet. (High speed internet connection is something I will NOT give up.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy April Fool's!

I love April Fool's Day. After catching my wife in the ages-old rubber-band-around-the-kitchen-sink-sprayer trick yet again this morning, and helping my 7-year-old son create a fake broken arm for school, I came to work poised to receive the amusing feedback from my computer lab users about the curious random pop-up messages they would be receiving today (I wonder how they got there!) and expectantly looking up the best April Fool's joke websites.

Because I found quite a few I enjoyed, I'm posting them here so everyone can enjoy them!

Let's start with Google, which never disappoints: Following up on the announcement of CADIE (Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity) and her personal blog, Google announced many new CADIE-enhanced technologies: Gmail AutopilotGoogle Chrome with 3D, Picasa with Auto Red-Eye Addition, Docs on Demand, Image Search, CADIE's favorite places (Google Maps), CADIE recommended books, and unearthly intelligence in Google Earth. (For a more nerdy perspective, CADIE's also in the Google Code Blog.)

YouTube has a unique perspective today, as well. (Click on any video to see.)

My favorite so far is the Whole Foods web site. Other notable whole-website pranks are HowStuffWorks, and Fark's New Fark Experience (a parody of the new Facebook experience). Gizmodo's articles are all re-worded as spam emails. Also see Cyclone Dairy, which sells milk only from cloned cows.

The preeminent UK newspaper The Guardian announced today it will cease all paper publications and will publish only on Twitter. NASA gets in on the action with a report of an astronaut upgrading her own head during a spacewalk.

Traveling? You can book an Expedia flight to Mars (with their No Interplanetary Booking Fees special), 

In web browser news, IE6 needs your help, Opera has developed a new Face Gestures technology after the success of mouse gestures, and Firefox has no prank this year, disappointingly.

In other technology, Toshiba has debuted the PetBook K9, a new laptop for dogs. I really like Crane, "the web's first paper-based image editor". (Makes me think of this.) Packed3D takes an existing flash game and turns it into a 3D game! Amazong Web Services announced a new cloud-computing service hosted on blimps. The truly nerdy will enjoy this interview with the author of "Mastering Cat". And finally, for those who love the TinyURL, there's now a Freaking Huge URL Generator.

That's all I've got. Add your own in comments if you like!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Love Old Town Ft Collins!

So as my birthday approached I felt like I very much wanted to take a little road trip by myself. I planned either a spiritual retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center (no, I am not Buddhist, but they had a retreat for people with chronic illnesses and stress management) or a leisurely trip to the western slope of Colorado to spend a couple of days with my in-laws at their home also known as Casa Rosa and then visit a dear friend who moved to New Castle.

But alas, money,timing and an oral surgery (not me, the youngest in the family) lead to an unfortunate bout of sensibility.

So I took my 2 paid days off and took care of said kid and said oral surgery, then had today. So I have spent my day in Old Town.

Great things:
There is free wireless internet provided by FRII in the downtown area, and if you are in a place with spotty coverage, they likely have their own you can hop on! (Hence, I am writing this in Spoons, eating a grilled cheese and a cup of butternut/potato soup)

The Bean Cycleis our families favorite coffee shop. Great atmosphere, and it is home to the Matter Bookstore, a place to find local authors, alternative publications, and lots of groovy new and used books

Friday, March 20, 2009

New On-Street Bike Racks in Old Town Fort Collins

The City of Fort Collins (in partnership with New Belgium Brewing) is installing on-street bike parking in Old Town. Hooray! More details here. This is awesome. Personally I try to obey the rule about not riding my bike on Old Town sidewalks, but when there's heavy car traffic and light to no foot traffic, it makes you wonder why you're pushing your bike instead of riding it. The on-street bike parking plan supposedly will improve bicycle traffic on the streets too, which in that area can be somewhat risky for bikers.

A time to grow

I am feeling every bit of spring this year. My chronic illness always unwinds a bit as it warms up, the barometric pressure changes, and the sun is shining more. Life is blooming inside and outside of us all.

I couldn't wait to dig into the garden. Last year was the first time I gardened seriously and successfully. We worked for a couple of weeks to remove the sod, turn the soil and add our compost. (we compost with a traditional outside pile as well as a worm bin that spent the winter in the basement). We placed stepping stones amongst the plants so we would not have to step on the soil and compress it.

So as I sat on the walkway and dug what I could reach easily with a hand hoe the soil turned so easily that I felt victorious about my efforts last year. I have not yet dug into the side of the compost bin to see what has become compost over the winter, but the leaves and plant remains we left on the garden area seems to have composted a bit on its own.

So, I planted a small area (probably 3 feet by 5 feet?) with some of the seeds that do well in chilly ground and very early spring conditions. I have never planted anything before Mother's day, and was shocked to find out that I could do so! It was visiting with a person from a local group called home grown food that clued me in to this miraculous truth! In fact, we should be nibbling a few things from our garden at the point I typically would be begging the kids to help me dig and plant.

So currently in the garden is spinach, pok choy, chard, carrots and a lettuce mixture. I can't wait to see sprouts peeking through the garden, though we had to shoo our cat out of there because the freshly turned soil must look like an inviting litter box. Hopefully some of my seeds will have a chance.

I was just reading this morning that the Obama family has decided to plant a garden on the south lawn of the White House! I find this to be really exciting, as they have a chance to inspire others to get their fingers dirty, to enjoy the treasure fresh food is, and to deomstrate the idea of keeping your food local.

So what are you growing this year?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Now a food co-op member

The title says it all. I went today over lunch to the Fort Collins Food Co-Op and became a member. 

Membership costs $20 annually. Each month on the day of my choosing, I get 10% off my total purchase. Also on the 5th of each month, members get 5% off. It's pretty obvious that my $20 is going to be recouped pretty quickly if I do any quantity of shopping there.

Truth be told, that's probably not going to save me a ton of money. (We'll see.) The selection is of course not nearly as wide as a regular grocery store, so we'll still have to visit other grocery stores. However, there are other perks. The location is extremely convenient for me -- I can bike there for my small purchases either from home or work quite quickly. I'm supporting a member-owned, local business. I'm supporting another outlet for quality food products, food & health education, and locally grown food. The selection and quality of the bulk bin items are particularly fantastic. 

But what really intrigues me is the members' special order program. I can special order a large quantity (say, a case or a 24 pound bag of something) and get it for just a bit above cost. I can save an average of 20% off the shelf price for that item. You can see how useful this can be! (Especially for my Ginger Soother addiction.)

I'm sure some readers are asking themselves, "What took you so long?" Yeah, I know, joining a food co-op is a pretty basic step. I'm not quite sure why I put it off for this long, except to say that in the past, when I've visited the store, I didn't see it as cost-effective and I was much more concerned about cost at that point. (I was in a different place financially and health-conscious-wise.) Now, though... I am glad to be a member.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The most important blog entry to date



I just have to show off the babies!
Truly, I have to say that they don't have a whole lot of personality differences yet, or maybe I have just not sat watching them long enough.







I have been trying to let them get used to my hands, and holding some each day, but honestly, you can't really "play"with baby chickens, or can you?





There is one dark colored chick (I really need to have my friend/neighbor remind me what breeds they are) who is larger than the rest, and is quite protective of them all. Other than that, well they are just cute. That's all, but that's enough. as you can tell by the captivating images, their activities seem to revolve around eating, huddling together, and pooping.







I am sure they drink too, but it appears that the other activities are much higher priority. I tried to get one funny shot of a chick that fell asleep with its neck all stretched out and its bum on top of another, but of course some of the passion is lost through the lens. (that is the top right photo in this stunning photo essay)




I am most enchanted by the chicks with the great poof of feathers on top of their heads. When they are full grown that pouf of feathers will cover their eyes, making them pretty vulnerable to predators.

So there you have it, baby chicks! ahhhhhhhhhhh

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Overspending and a broken system

I had officially marked this space with a specific train of thought forming to fill it, but that thought has grown much too big to be contained in one post. In the pondering of such subjects, I came to another point at which to begin making a case for changes in the health care system. (yes, yet another case for this necessary change. I know that the need is not at all disputed, but my hope is to add yet another face to the crisis)

As an employee of a community health care system, one of the benefits in place to make the lower than average pay and overwhelming working conditions more palatable is free health care for my family. Well, it is free to see a provider in our clinic, as they do not bill the difference between what our insurance reimburses and what the clinic charges. We also are able to use one of the dental clinics in our system at a very large discount.

Our youngest family member seems to have some very unique characteristics, one of which is an extra "tooth" that is coming in between his two front teeth. This small tooth piece (I think it is smaller than a baby tooth) is causing his two front adult teeth (on the top) to come in turned 90 degrees from the normal position, which has obvious ramifications.

The dental clinic associated with my employer does not do extractions on children of this sort. I think that they may not do any extractions on un-erupted teeth.

Because most/all of the children who are seen in this clinic are covered under Medicaid or CHP+ (the option for families who make too much for Medicaid coverage but are not able to provide insurance for their children) the standard to to refer them to the dental clinic at The Children's Hospital. It is also ideal to have a child undergoing sedation for a procedure to be cared for by someone who specializes in the care of children.

We think very highly of this clinic(and the hospital) and were eager to return and let them take care of our "funny tooth" problem. I called TCH to make an appointment for a consultation, and was told that because we do not have Medicaid or CHP+, I had to speak to a financial counselor and make arrangements ahead of time.

When I was transferred to the financial "counselor", I was told that they have created a special "Dental Package" for families who will be paying out of pocket for the sedated dental procedure. The Anesthesiologist, the hospital fee and costs of using the surgical facilities is conveniently lumped into a discount package, and then the cost of the actual dental work will be in addition.

The cost of that dental package is $2500, with a down payment of $1000 required on the day of the procedure, and the balance payable over a 24 month period interest free.
Shockingly, I almost had a nervous breakdown, knowing that it would be all but impossible for us to pull together $1000 dollars in a timely manner. This procedure needs to be done as soon as possible in order for the remaining teeth to have a chance to straighten out at all on their own.

As I fought a panic attack and feelings of total inadequacy at taking care of my son, I rationally thought of calling another dentist to see if they would be able to do the procedure in office, or at least in town instead of in the Denver area.

We had a very good experience with a pediatric dentist in town (Dr VanTassell) so I scheduled a consultation appointment for the following week.

Much to our relief, he can not only take care of the procedure in his office, he suspects it will only take approximately 15 minutes under local anesthesia! Oh, and the cost? Somewhere between $125 and $350, depending on how easily the funny tooth is removed.

Which leads to the next shocking question: why should Medicaid or CHP+ pay significantly higher costs for the same procedure? Families who are helped by these programs are not in a position to look for a cheaper price, nor would they need to. All costs are covered. I know that in the past when our children were on CHP+, it never occurred to me to find out what the cost would be up front. Of course it would be discounted or at least a fair price. Isn't that part of being a participating provider?

So, start thinking in numbers. The minimum price for 10 children to have dental procedures done under sedation would be $25,000. 10 procedures that could potentially only cost $3000 dollars if done in a non-hospital setting.

Or to break down differently, the 25,000 used to care for the 10 children in a hospital based dental clinic could provide the same care to 83 children outside of a hospital.

So, start pondering numbers on an even larger scale. Millions of individuals covered under our current system, having millions of procedures, millions of care choices. What if we were to revamp the system so that the dollars we spend are used in a more frugal way? What if providers were required to bid for procedures, provide the most comprehensive yet penny saving services in order to become a qualified provider?

I know that what we hear of most (what I live with day to day) is the low reimbursement rates for primary care providers and specialists who care for the low income Americans. Many clinics are forced to limit or eliminate the number of patients they include in their practice due to the very slow or unfairly low rates of reimbursement.

What would a national health care plan look like in which providers who offer preventive care are reimbursed at a competitive rate, and procedures must be bid for like a contractor working for a government agency. How many more people could we provide basic health care to if the fat was trimmed, and there was adequate reimbursement for the key providers who keep patients healthy?

One thought: If the average hospital vaginal birth with no complications costs $7000-10,000 (this does not include the cost of prenatal care, it is only the hospital bill for the birth), and the average cost of a homebirth (in Colorado) is $3000-$5000 (including all prenatal and post partum care, and newborn care for baby), wouldn't it make sense for Medicaid to support it as an alternative for healthy women who have no risks, and wish to have a homebirth?

I know that the jump from dental care to homebirth seems sudden, but you will learn that for me, everything can be related back to birth. The suggestion of homebirth likely evokes emotions in the reader ranging from "wow, are there still homebirthing hippies around?" to "who would be insane enough to have a baby at home, what if something goes wrong?"

Each of those questions will be addressed in a later posting. I just encourage you to think about the dollar amount related to covering those currently included in national health care dollars, and how those dollars can be better economized to make sure all American's are able to count on basic health care. It is just not something we can afford to go without.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chickens!

I want to announce that my dream of having my own little flock of chickens has come true! My wonderful neighbor and friend took me to pick out my birthday gifts this morning. I chose 6 cute little chicks of varying breeds!

We will be celebrating my birthday with the extended family in 2 weeks, to build our chicken coop in the back yard. Until then my cute little babies are staying with my neighbors chicks in her coop, in a large aquarium with bedding and a heat lamp until it is a bit warmer, they are a bit bigger, and my coop is finished.

I am so excited to have the beginning of my small urban homestead tucked on the edge of city limits. We are expanding our garden significantly this year, hoping to be able to provide more of our own food. We will dry more, can and preserve a bit more this year, and make good use of the space we have. With our own chickens helping to scratch up the ground, eat bugs, eat some scraps and give us eggs(which we hope to start enjoying in August) that adds to our own little sustainable unit here.

I always believed that I was very limited in my ability to provide much of our own food by the space we have here in our yard. Then I found Path To Freedom, the inspiring story of a family in California who have not only been able to become self sufficent,they also grow enough to provide local restaurants with organically grown vegetables. I know that they have the benefit of a more moderate climate with a year round growing season, but surely I can do much more on my own property than I have ever imagined.

So what do you imagine in your little world? Can you grow salad greens in a container inside your kitchen window if you are an apartment dweller, or can you put a tomato plant in a pot on your deck? do you have a section of your yard you always pondered making into a garden but have been intimidated by? Or have you also had chicken dreams?

Lets all aim to make our own little homestead of all sizes. We will be less dependent on food that is trucked in from other parts of the country, other parts of the world. Less fuel, more fresh air and sustainability.

Or, if you can't yet start your own sized homestead, then go local. Join a CSA, shop at the Farmers Market to support local agriculture.We can all make changes, large and small, towards creating a new system that makes more sense, that will help us all works towards changing our habits.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The big day

So here it is, another year. Though really, I feel the same as yesterday. It has been a wonderful day though. I did choose to work, and take my paid day off in a couple of weeks with a weekend and a floating holiday. Thanks for the messages of love from so many.

I have to say it is a little funny to call mom and start to tell her something, and her say "Oh, I read the blog!" Well, Hi Mom!

I want to address healthcare. I know this is my pet issue, because I am a consumer (well, isn't everyone? But I am a serious consumer, with a chronic illness) as well as part of the health care system.

It is broken. it is heartbreakingly broken.

Today I helped prepare a woman for a casting of the wrist she broke 2 weeks ago. She was seen then in the ER.They only splinted it, and sent her to her "Primary Care Provider" for the casting. I imagine they wanted wait until after swelling went down a bit.(I want to believe that was the reason, and not a lack of desire to provider additional services that would not be paid for. Surely, but I imagine that sort of passing the buck is not uncommon in the nation when hospitals are being swamped by the needs of the uninsured, the poor, the weary)

The idea, the expectation of her having a primary care provider is ridiculous. She is homeless, transiently passing through town, wanting to head out on her "adventure" as soon as she can. She was told to call my clinic, because we are the net that catches the falling souls. Unfortunately we only have so much room in our net.

We are fighting a huge flu outbreak, along with a wicked virus. Each day we are sending established patients to the ER or Urgent care because we just can't see any more patients. You have to understand that most Dr's offices see 20 or so patients a day, give or take a few. The Dr's in my clinic see between 28 and 32.(In fact I know of one wonderful pediatrician who managed to get 19 very sick children through his rooms in just the morning, because he had to attend meetings in the afternoon) We are seeing as many people as physically possible, and we can barely keep up with that many. (each visit comes with prescriptions, labs, messages, orders, recheck appointments, referrals, so on and so on. I have never left working feeling as if I completed my job, because it will never even be near caught up. We are just always doing damage control, triage and mop up)

So we have to limit how many new patients we see each day, in order to save as many slots as possible for the established patients. Other clinics can say "no new patients, our practice is full". Not community health care. Federal and state dollars come with the stipulation that nobody is turned away. Nobody is turned away, but we have to slowly add new patients.

I know personally that things were squeezed a bit to get this patient in, this woman with the broken wrist. Most likely it would have been another week, if the "rules" were followed. To clarify, any children we get in immediately if they are sick or injured. They don't have to wait, we will squeeze them in that day if needed. OB patients (pregnant women) are in the same category. Just to start prenatal care they may need to wait a few weeks, but if they are hurting or bleeding we will put them in no matter what. (even if the Dr's all have their 28 slots full, which is why we end up with 30 or more patients most days)

How is it that in a country with as many resources as ours, people would have to wait weeks to get an arm casted? How is it that with so much money involved in the health care system, we have a wide chasm many fall into? Why is it that the burden of meeting the immense needs of the many are left in the hands of a few?

So as I was washing this woman's arm, which had been under a splint and bandages for two weeks, she kept washing her face, her other arm, with the soapy water. She said it was so dusty outside. I asked where she had been showering and she said she had used the one at the day shelter about once a week, but she felt awful. I had her stuff two packages of baby wipes in her pockets to take with her. I asked where she had been sleeping, and she said that after the friend she moved out here to live with kicked her out, she had been just doing her best to find out of the way places to go unnoticed at night. Some nights she was in the shelter, but she was afraid of the other people there.

I must add here that I see all sorts, the very mentally ill, the disabled, the addicted, and I really think she was not entirely hopeless. I can see that probably not long ago she was productive, functioning. I don't know her full story, nor did I ask. I just want to be the gentle smile and word of encouragement to those in front of me. That is why I am community health care. I have learned not to invest my heart, because then there is nothing left of me. this has not been the easiest lesson for me in this life.

She was clearly in a lot of pain. the process of washing and then casting her arm was not entirely gentle, and she shed some tears. She said that if she still had any of the vicodin she was given in the hospital she would have taken one ahead of time, but they were stolen. Her hospital record said that she was given 20 pain pills. It would have been entirely understandable if she had used them up in the two weeks she has been in pain, without a cast.

The Dr said not to worry about it, she would write her a prescription for more, say 20, but there would be no refills.

The patient asked her if she could make the prescription for less than that. In my healthcare experience, NOBODY asks for less pain pills. Even healthy people might think that the will use the few extras just in case, to have tucked away in case they re injure that knee or whatever.

This woman, in extreme pain, who has had to wait 2 weeks to get her wrist properly immobilized, said that she would have to panhandle in order to get enough money for a few pain pills. She asked for the Dr to only write it for 5.

Our system is broken. Seriously broken. This could be you, your mother, your sister, your old 2nd grade teacher. It could be the college student living on ramen or the new father, who gives up his own needs to meet the needs of his child.

The crisis out there, the one that most people don't see, it can't be fixed by just a few soldiers. We need an entire national effort to stop this.

I truly weep as I watch this finally being addressed by an administration. I don't care how many people tell me that individuals need to be responsible for their own health care. That it would be an un-democratic move to move in the direction of socialization. I invite any naysayers to just spend an afternoon sitting in the waiting room of a community health care center. Last I heard, it is likely that many of them will see themselves reflected in the faces of the estimated 40% who have no health insurance. That number is expected to rise in the next few years.

I wanted to pull a handful of bills out of my wallet, to help this woman manage her pain. but I can't fix it, I can't save them all alone. Are you willing to help? If so, send an email or letter to your representative, and tell them that health care reform is important to you. It is important to us all. Tell them that you believe every single American has the right to basic health care.

I was the first to sign her cast. I drew a great big red heart, with the words "Be Strong" boldly printed in black. I hope she is strong, and is ok in the end.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

passages

I find myself at this odd juncture of life. Somehow the birthday I will wake up to tomorrow feels significant. It is not just the number, though I sort of choke it out when I say it. It could be watching my children grow into young adults, especially my oldest who will graduate from HS next year.

It just might be the gray hairs, the ones that surprise me first with their texture and then as I fish them out of my bangs, their color. so how does this change happen. Do they grow out gray, and I just didn't notice them until they were 6 inches long, or does the color slowly fade from youthful hairs until they reach this sneaky gray?

So I am aging. I am passing time, in fact when you take into consideration my chronic illness and such, I am likely in the second half of my life now. While that doesn't scare me, it does cause one to pause for a moment, in reverence of things to come.

I have watched my mother, who seemed to slip into this phase of life relatively slowly, just now showing the years of worry on her face. My mother in law has taught me much about embracing and celebrating what you are, where you are truly. Seeing her happily wrap herself into the crone we all become makes me look forward to being the wise sage, observing the family from that spot.

I am so in between. I am a mother, but it is a different sort of mother than Iused to be. No more diapers (oh how I miss those cute cloth diapers!), no more breastfeeding (anywhere my baby needed it, thank you very much. Oh, and until age 4 *oh* did I hear a gasp?) no more baby toys, no more cute little outfits that I get to choose for the day.

Now I enjoy the lack of cleaning butts with poop on them, I do miss nursing, it was such a part of me, of my relationship with my children,and a way to really appreciate by miraculous body.
The kids become so independent, and I know they need me now, but it is just such a different way. Where are the mom groups for me? So many online communities that I was a part of, but grew out of. I could find a playdate, er, no playdates for the 17 yr old huh?

I am just not expressing my disoriented feeling very well in my sleepiness.
I do not fear my 37th year. I am wiser, more exprienced, I have done much, many wonderful things. I know that the coming decade, the 40's are supposed to be the best of all for women. I look forward to it, truly. My kids need me less, and I am finding that it means I can need me more. I need to take advantage of that more. I see time in the coming decade when my husband and I will be alone, just us. We never had that as a newly married couple, because we provided my husband with an instant family. But I look forward to time alone with my husband. I look forward to more bike rides on Saturday afternoon with my true love. I have so much to look forward to.

But I feel like I need to start getting it right. Whatever it is. I need to begin to carry myself more gracefully. I need to think of the wisdom I have to share in the moment, instead of an hour later and that person is gone. I need to wrestle with the gray hair, Shall I color? Can I color yet let my gray sparkle? I love red, I just was lacking the gene to really give me red hair color. Can I go red and still let my grey show?

So many worries,, so many bridges to cross, or streams to wade in.

So as I write this,I am sitting in bed. My incredible husband sent me to bed, with my new birthday toy... hmmmmm. Naughty or nice you wonder?

Well I have on my lap a new laptop. but it is not just a laptop, it is the laptop of my dreams! Because of my chronic illness I spend a bit of my resting time online. I have another laptop that has served me just fine. I dont need fancy stuff, don't game, I just surf and gather info, chat with friends. But my other laptop is old, like maybe 5 years old. It works for my needs, but is heavy. When my pain is significant I have trouble carrying it. Or if I am really weary, bummer.

So I have in my hands a tiny minibook, those new super sweet laptops about the size of a large book. This opens up so much to me, truly. I can take it with me, it won't hurt me from the weight sitting on my lap. I won't have to lug it up and down the stairs... I am blessed. I so adore my husband for thinking of this, for blessing me with something so useful to me.

A small energy savings

Last weekend, our garage door stopped working. It is one of the older electric garage door openers and had been having little difficulties for a while, but this time it went kaput. The problem is that we park our bikes inside the garage (no, the car doesn't fit) and every morning it's opened twice, once when my daughter leaves for school and once when I leave for work. Likewise twice in the evenings. I tried fixing it for a while but I'm no garage door mechanic so I gave up, having better things to do. I installed a manual slide lock so it could be secured from the inside and it's good to go. A small inconvenience to open it manually. 

Then I thought about it. I realized this was an opportunity rather than an inconvenience. I can save energy costs! I was inspired some time ago by the Fort Collins net-zero electric energy home, and maybe this is one of many steps I could take to reduce my energy consumption at home.

I did the calculations (see comments for my actual calculations) and found that I will be saving $68.58 per year on energy costs by having a manual garage door opener in place of an electric one.

I was speaking with a coworker about this very calculation, and she pointed out that the marginal utility of having an electric garage door opener versus a manually-opened garage door is highly in favor of the electric opener, given the cost savings. For some people, spending $5.71 per month to have an electric garage door opener is worth the cost. For myself, it's not; we only park the bikes in there, not the car, and don't use the remotes -- just open it from the inside anyway. 

For now, I'm happy with the arrangement. The cost savings is definitely worth the marginal utility loss. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lab School

Very short post here because we're starting on a Battlestar Galactica DVD watching spree. But I have to make this announcement!

Our 3rd grader's application to the Lab School for Creative Learning was accepted! I got a call yesterday, and Wandering Mom and I took a tour of the school today, and were most impressed. We decided on the spot to enroll him for next year!

The Lab School is an experiential learning school, which means essentially "learning by doing". The school's teaching philosophies are very much aligned with Polaris Expeditionary Learning School, which the teen daughter attends. We are VERY excited!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Picture this if you will.....

Mom sitting in the living room, back to the dining room, with her feet up for a few minutes after a long hard day in Community Health Care. The 17 yr old girl is helping her 7 year old brother on his homework. Suddenly she exclaims "No! This is so confusing, I can't even understand this problem!"

Yes, this is the same eloquent, well spoken teenager a few blog posts ago! It is moments of laughing hearts that makes being a parent such a wonderful journey.

So, can we talk health care? Our health care system is a disaster. I know that is not a surprise to most of you out there. The view from all sides of this (including from up in the tree) are equally devastating.

I am a health care consumer. I have a chronic illness, complicated by many factors. I have chosen a provider who uses integrative medicine to treat my illness and keep my quality of life relatively acceptable. Because my insurance considers this provider to be out of network, I pay more out of pocket. This is in addition to a multitude of tests, specialist consultations, an average of a surgery or other hospitalization each year, and prescriptions.

I would like to pursue alternative treatments for my illness, such as massage and acupuncture. If I do pursue alternatives, however, my insurance will only pay a small portion if any of that cost if any. Yet my insurance will happily pay for a prescription instead, that will mask my symptoms but not correct any of the underlying problems. In fact, they will only make me pay up to a specific amount each year, then they pay the rest. So it is to my benefit to be more and more reliant upon a pill to fix me.

Yet I am the lucky one in the whole picture. I saw a patient in my clinic today with the same health problem. She is unable to work due to her condition (partially because of inadequate care?) so she has to access the community health care center. She does have health care, but it is with a provider who is so hard pressed to even begin to meet the overwhelming need that she squeezes more patients into a day than my primary provider does. (This is partially due to the lower reimbursement rate by Medicaid and Medicare, and the need to increase quota in order to stay afloat as a clinic.) In fact the need is so great that on top of the higher number of appointment slots she has created, she double books over half of those appointments to accommodate the awful flu sweeping the community, the children who must be hospitalized, and the very ill.

As frustrated as I get with my reality as a health care consumer, I am even more devastated to watch daily the disastrous system that has evolved in an attempt to meet the needs of a huge segment of our population. This segment is growing bigger daily, due to the state of the economy, and more and more families loosing insurance. So to meet the increasing need, the community health care system is being spread thinner, thinner and thinner. Our culture, our country, our political leaders, have fed into a system of insurance companies, copays and deductibles, and it has lost sight of the purpose. The need is the help people restore or maintain health, to have a good quality of life, to be able to contribute and be functioning parts of society. Yet that need is met by the few, by the desperate, by the "system".

I am quite tired tonight, after a day in the trenches. I know my thoughts are not quite coherent, and I may edit this later, but I see the need daily. I see the crisis before us, I experience the frustration of not being able to fix the problem. I feel inadequate every single day. I can't possibly get every patient back to see the Dr while also doing vaccines, returning 30 calls, finding 20 charts, calling the hospital 3 times, drawing blood 12 times, and trying to find a specialist to see 4 of our high risk patients. Really, if each Dr in my clinic sees 32 patients in a day (which is the approximate goal established in order to make the clinic viable) then we can't do it. We can't do it with the resources we have, the manpower we have, the facility and the energy. it is draining, exhausting and discouraging. I want to be part of a system that really meets needs, that provides what our people need.

The system needs fixed............