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.

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!