Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Shout out to my visitors, you're a diverse bunch!

I thought people might be curious, so I actually went into my blog stats to extrapolate what little data Blogger gives me. I have fun looking at what nationalities look at my blog. I should really start documenting this regularly, but here's a peek at what the hits have been like, as only the top 10 are shown, and every now and then, I get individual hits from countries you don't always hear from, such as Malaysia, but those get bumped down by the "regulars", i.e. bigger countries. Blogger really should fix that with their stats, I'd love to see a spreadsheet of raw data, as I'm still a bit of a science geek.

You can tell that my country of birth (Finland) and my country of residence (United States), as well as other English speaking nations, are more heavily represented in the all time stats, but lately, especially my "Crafty Housewifery" articles have been popular on all continents except Antarctica. I promise, if I spot a penguin looks up my blog and wants to learn how to make yogurt, I'll let you know. (wink)

These hits are ordered from most to least in each time frame.

In the past 7 days.
  1. Germany
  2. Russia
  3. United States
  4. Sweden
  5. Finland
  6. United Kingdom
  7. Netherlands
  8. Brazil
  9. Canada
  10. Venezuela
In the past 30 days.

  1. United States
  2. Germany
  3. Sweden
  4. Russia
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Finland
  7. Venezuela
  8. Canada
  9. South Africa
  10. Malaysia

All time.

  1. United States
  2. Finland
  3. Russia
  4. United Kingdom
  5. Germany
  6. Canada
  7. Sweden
  8. Australia
  9. Belarus
  10. India

You learn new things every day

I've been admiring our new neighbors for a few days, trying to figure out who they are for a while now. Don't worry, I don't really do a lot of people watching. These guys are a pair of birds, about the same size as our other neighbors, the Steller's Jays. These new mystery neighbors are kind of boring to look at as-is, but once they take flight, they have gorgeous, reddish orange feathers under their tails and wings. They've also taken a liking to our 3 by 4 foot back "patio", to the chagrin of my cats.

Image source: Wikipedia

We spent a long time googling, oogling and searching to find out what they were. Actually, we both admitted, that this is one of those instances, where not having a computer, and in stead having a book would be the better approach to solving the mystery. Finally this morning, I accidentally managed to spot a picture of one in flight on like page 3 of image search results, after some less than likely search words. And I got a small history-geek geekgasm to boot. :)

The new neighbors are Red-shafted Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus cafer), a woodpecker species native to western North America, whose Latin name is a hangover from 1788, when a German "biologist" thought his stuffed bird samples came from South Africa (could it have been a mis-labelled crate?), and named them after an African tribe. Here's a quote from Wikipedia:
The scientific name, Colaptes auratus cafer, is the result of an error made in 1788 by the German systematist, Johann Gmelin, who believed that its original habitat was in South Africa among the Xhosa people, then known as the "Kaffir" people. (The term "Kaffir" is now considered an extreme ethnic slur in South Africa.)
That is what you get, if you never leave your cozy university faculty house to do your "science". You get weird booboos, and mysterious birds that were native to entirely different continents in your biology books. There are many examples of similar oversights by "scientists" of their days*. A well-known Charles Darwin purportedly tasted samples of each of his newly discovered species. Talk about dedication to your work. (Ick!)

One more thing of trivia! Our backyard neighbor's yellow cousin, the Yellow-shafted Flicker (C. auratus auratus), colloquially "Yellowhammer", is the state bird of Alabama, and native to the eastern half of the continent. You learn all sorts of cool stuff every day. And if you do learn a new thing every day, your day can't have gone to waste! And it's not even noon where I'm at, yet.

Blessed be,
- Penny

(* - I saw an ancestor of mine's old school books once. As late as the early 20th century, some educational literature was still categorizing Africans in with gorillas and chimps sort of midway through a book, in stead of at the beginning with the "human species", where the white Europeans were portrayed as superior in their civilized ways, and all "others" in their native garb, to emphasize the contrast. Shameful! On the other hand, that book was yet again the result of a "scientist" in essence plagiarizing the work of another author, some translation, and very little fact-checking. I hate finding evidence of this in the records of the country where I was born, but a the same time, Finns are still rather xenophobic. When that school book came out, it would take another three decades, before the first African would visit that country. I feel bad for the poor man.)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Keep it up, Rep. Harris!

I am not usually inclined to write about current politics on my blog. It's not a secret that I don't like the direction the United States is headed, but it doesn't mean I have to yell it off the rooftops non stop. I've been harangued and harassed about it every time I speak up for my values, for example if I defend the 2nd Amendment against liberal Europeans on facebook or at online forums, where I seem to be the only openly libertarian voice. Because I stand for individual freedoms and liberties, and smaller government, I land far, far right of the median of my internet friends, for example, although on the U.S. scale, I'm more in the middle, possibly a touch to the left, with some green spots. Ironic, isn't it?

What I wanted to write about today, is that I am getting righteously annoyed at the current panic mongering about how the sequester will hurt the little man, when most government spending could afford a much heavier tightening of the belt.

We all know, that the government is trying to pin the Sequester on Republicans. If you're wondering what the Sequester is (About a third of my readers are, according to my blog statistics, not in English speaking countries these days), let's start with that;
The sequester,or sequestration was created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), which codified the agreement that ended the debt limit crisis of 2011 and averted a federal government default. The law raised the debt ceiling in exchange for spending caps and mechanisms to achieve further deficit reduction, including the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (also known as the “Super Committee”) and the sequester. The failure of the Super Committee to agree to any deficit savings triggered the sequester. Source.
Let me just point out, that if the sequestration is brought on by an act from 2011, when Obama was President, doesn't that mean, that he has only himself to blame for this one? There are a lot of loud, highly publicized cries about "what about the children?" coming from White House officials, and a lot of finger pointing, blaming the GOP, when they should really be pointing at the guy in the mirror.

Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) scored points with me today, by calling the CDC director out on some BS. This is one entertaining exchange for those of us, who are tired of attempts to pull wool over our eyes. Representative Harris is asking as simple a question as can be, and he can't get a straight "Yes" or "No" out of this guy.

To summarize in my own words what the video is about, according to a memo from the White House to Congress, the Sequester's 30 million dollars in cuts to the CDC would cause children to not get vaccinated, whileas the 58 million dollars of cuts, that were in Obama's budget proposal, would have enabled the CDC to still provide these services to all children, without redundancy and more efficiently. I think the American people are being hoodwinked, and I'm relieved that someone is getting called out on that.

So my question of the day to all readers, and one directed to those whose knee-jerk reaction might be to just disparage me with abusive comments, is... What kind of a Complete Jerk would threaten to cut vaccination programs to children, just to get back at Republicans?
Blessed Be,
- Penny


P.S. Here's my 2¢ on where to start cuts and set examples from the top down. Everyone probably caught the news about how *gasp* tours to the White House have to be cancelled for visitors who've planned them for weeks or months, since the seven people on White House payroll, who manage these visits, are going to be affected by the sequester.

In my humble opinion, the cuts could as well be to Michelle's staff in stead of the seven people scheduling tours and showing citizens around the White House. A quick Google search reveals at least 22 taxpayer paid staff in her service in 2009, and I don't think they've been kicked out since. When the Obamas travel, their entourage numbers towards 300 people before Secret Service is accounted for. I'm willing to bet that the First Family doesn't know half of those people by name.

By comparison, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's entourage before security details for their Canadian tour, was a practical 6, of whom two were "on loan" from Prince Charles and the Queen, one was an Ambassador, and one family friend of the Middletons, helping with the Duchess' hair. Only two of the six are permanent staff. If it's good enough in total for the future King and Queen of the Commonwealth, why can't First Lady Michelle be happy with half a dozen, too? Just asking...

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Tea, or coffee? Coffee, or tea? How'bout an update?

First off, it's a 2013 now. I am aware, that it's been a long time since I posted anything, so some updates are in order.

Things happened, mostly, I had work, a cold, spent the holidays in NY, and went on a reading binge, after I bumped into the daily homesteading free Kindle book lists published by Joybilee Farm on their blog. And to come clean about my worst time-sink offender, I made it to level 32 on FarmVille2. It really is bad for you, but I've been justifying my casual gaming as of late by taking notes, and making a sort of a post mortem on the game. Game developers do that, to dissect a product, to find out what did or didn't work, how it was received, could it have been done differently, more efficiently, or more fun. And so on. And I get to pretend I have a farm before I can actually have a farm.

First rule of addiction; 'fess up to having a problem...
I didn't actually make any resolutions this year, but I have some plans and commitments I intend to honor. I promised myself and my husband to try yoga or pilates. Right now, I'm doing bikram hatha yoga a couple of times a week at a studio down the street. I was getting into it, when I had to drop out for two weeks to sort through my flu, but I want to continue. My horse handling skills and my horseback riding skills are progressing, and I'm beginning to get a better response from the Western horses I'm riding English, I still can't stand the Western lope, but I found out I'm able to cause a horse to actually pick up their feet and shift into a more collected, rolling canter. And I pulled off my first leg yields at a canter (admittedly by mistake) last week!

We are trying to conceive, so I can't commit too heavily to my volunteer work (this rules out that instructor internship for now, since I can't be sure I can honor the minimum time commitment), but I'm going to volunteer with other stuff at the same facility and we intend to save up money for a down payment on a mortgage for a house, or a plot of land for building a house on later this year. And at the end of the year, I have to deal with Immigration again, to change from a conditional permanent resident to a regular permanent resident. So that's about it for the past few months, and some prospects for this year. Also, we're going to save up cash, so I can go to farrier school some day. Shoeing horses will give me a way to be around horses, but make a living doing it, so we've agreed that I can pursue that career, although it'll probably have to wait until the kids we're trying for are a little older.

To get into the subject of the original blog post I found in my drafts...

Tea, or coffee? Coffee, or Tea?

Whichever way the question is posed, the one asked daily in so many households, made me wonder about something. I have been baking cakes lately, and in my mind, "tea and cakes" is much more appropriate than "coffee and cakes", despite the colloquial Finnish social event referred to as "kakkukahvit". Kakkukahvit or "cake-coffee", just means it's an occasion, celebratory or casual, where coffee and cake is served. (If that interests you, Swedes refer to going out for coffee and a baked good as "fika". So if a Swede offers fika, it's in no way related to four letter F-words you should be offended by). Most Finns know, that if they stick their noses into the typical grandmother's home, they've given the grandmother reason to throw a kakkukahvit for you.

To return to that innocuous question, of coffee, or tea... I've been reading about pioneer life on the frontier a century ago. I was curious to find out more about life in the late 1800s or early 1900s, as I still have my bleary eyes set on that old fixer upper of a farm house on just under 5 acres we can't afford (and the poor old house has been going on and off the market for a few months now), and want to know what life might have been like at the time. Seattle and surrounding areas were settled much faster due to its proximity to the coast, and booming timber trade, so I'm not surprised to see a 3 story farmhouse from over a century ago. At the same time, many people were still homesteading in Montana in tiny shanties, in conditions considered all but humane by modern standards.

Finding lists of what to bring along for the long ride west, and what to bring along for the sail west, one of them (James Fergus' list to his wife, Pamelia) list amounts such as 50lbs of black tea, and 100lbs of coffee, and the descriptions of sheepherders and cattlemen's limited supplies usually cited coffee, if it was just one or the other, I do sometimes wonder about our cultural beverage heritage. In her Letters of a Woman Homesteader (free copy of the book readable at Elinore Stewart wrote to her friend and former employer, Mrs. Coney, that "[...] when you consider that they live solely on canned corn and tomatoes, beans, salt pork, and coffee [...]" when she iterated her Christmas of 1909, delivering meals to sheepherder camps in their area. So sheepherders in Wyoming in 1909 drank coffee, and in the rest of the letters, you can glean that Mrs. Stewart offered tea to her lady friends.

Was this a vestige of the British era, when tea was the drink of choice for ladies of good repute? Had tea become more affordable after the Boston Tea Party hurtled the Colonies towards Independence, and become a "lady's drink" again? Is coffee a vestige of the original insubordination to the British that became the manly man's drink? Why do we drink heavily diluted espresso as posh yuppie drinks from coffee shops now? I don't really have answers to any of these thoughts, so simply provoked with my association of tea with cake. I think we can all enjoy one or the other, neither, or both. Just questions, and a happy appetite for my next cup of shade grown organic coffee from my favorite roaster.

Happy belated New Year and
Blessed be,
- Penny

Friday, November 02, 2012

Being a graceful loser

My husband and I watch a lot of television. It's almost a given, with us being an average middle-class family in America. We tend to watch a variety of shows, but do occasionally come across a reality program, where even my attention span, on par with a caffeinated squirrel, gets trapped, and we work our way through a full season. Due to my husband's preferences, we tend to end up watching Hell's Kitchen among our shows.

Image source: Wikipedia

 Many of these reality series have gotten to the point, where they're at season 9 or 10 of their runs, and a whole generation has grown up watching Survivor, American Idol and Amazing Race, just to mention some of the bigger shows, that air back in Finland, too. I think the Survivor concept first started airing three years earlier in Sweden, with their series Expedition Robinson (wikipedia helped me out with the chronology). This generation, that is now in their late teens or early twenties, who grew up watching these shows, have probably not even noticed a change. Those of us, who are even a few years older, in, or close to our thirties, or way past, can remember an interesting development throughout the years.

Think about this. You were blessed with intelligence... Heck, not gonna do it. The post title gives me away, so I'm not going to milk for an answer. I don't feel a need to. When a contestant in 1998 was voted off the show, lost a challenge, or was left a close second, there was foul language, some threw hissy fits, and a lot of crying occurred. When a contestant in 2012 hears from Heidi they don't have what it takes to make it in fashion, they aren't going to gripe to the judges about how they just misunderstood their genius. When Gordon tells a contestant they're not the next MasterChef, they bow out, and thank the judges for a great learning experience.

You see some contestants still do what we dubbed the "Old Fashioned", a complete fit of steaming rage, where you see glimpses of gorilla-sized security guards, who've been looming invisibly off-camera throughout the filming finally earn their keep. With a majority of contestants bowing out gracefully, and being respectful, these displays of primal rage create an even more stark contrast to what has become the new reality tv contestant's status quo. They make for good television, and I'm sure producers live for those flare ups, but at the same time, shake us up. The contrast, to me, is actually a valuable life lesson, if you're watching television with family members, and choose to discuss what you see, to better understand the world around you.

If you stop and consider whether you would have acted differently in any given situation, odds are, that you would have tried to be the better man or woman. Thankfully, a majority of us have come to see that. With so many individuals going through the reality television pipeline for their 15 minutes of fame (some reality television junkies, like Jake Nodar have actually been spotted in both the wilderness of Alaska on Discovery Channel, and jousting on History Channel), the idea of how to bow out when you lose, has actually become ingrained in our cultural subconscious.

The idea of a culture, where popular television shows provide valuable life lessons in our spare time stands in a stark contrast to the educational environment our kids are in, where failure has become a non-option, and tests are graded in purple ink, because red is too jarring a color. Somehow, I would like to think a universal force, call it Karma, or God, or dumb luck, has worked its magic to create us a new equilibrium, where, when teachers fail to teach their students lessons of failure, and how to get over it, popular culture edges in on that territory of life lessons.

I would still like to see this sort of things taught both at school and in the home. But if television has to be our teacher, then at least it's a good discussion opener, when you're stuck watching season 28 of Tap The Box... Perhaps I need more caffeine to keep my squirrel brain going today?

Blessed be,
- Penny

Friday, October 26, 2012

A-Typically Active Thursday

The post title is a pun. Not even a good one! I don't know why I came up with that one. I'm not ashamed, though. You can be on my behalf, if you think I'm silly!

I thought I'd share my "idle" housewife's day, since I know all of us face that "Honey! You didn't get anything done today!" thing from our significant others every now and then. My day has been pretty interesting. But I didn't do anything world-altering.

9:01 am
WAY TOO EARLY! The phone rings, since my iPhone's "do not disturb" setting  ends at... you guessed it, 9:00 sharp. My dentist's office is trying to schedule a checkup. I just can't be bothered to wake up enough to respond coherently, so she tells me she'll call at a more convenient time.

9:01 am. 40 seconds later
My older cat, Ron, is cuddled up against my face, kneading my cheek, since he confused the phone call with my morning alarm. I give sleep a futile attempt, accidentally waking my husband up in the process. Wised by this, I change the settings later in the day to 9:30, and add the only numbers that might want to contact me for a reason that interests me at such an hour to the exceptions to that rule.

9:23 am
I give up on trying to stay in bed, and make my way downstairs to fire up some coffee, and feed the cats. I can't find my note of the lesson changes at the barn, so my morning includes calling the non-profit to make sure I'm not going to be late. I start my morning chores, which include assessing our fresh produce, and staple supplies, and cross-referencing menu plans with possible sales at my local store.

10:12 am
I hear a knock from the door and open it up. I hear a "thank you..." from around the corner, where the mail order delivery guy has already blazed ahead. I unwrap a handmade quilt throw, and test cuddle it on the couch. Somehow during my morning projects, I manage to get some breakfast into my system, and almost a full cup of coffee. Since my husband gets up and goes to work, I can spend a few moments vacuuming up the salt I sprinkled on the damp carpet after removing a pet stain the night before. The salt has absorbed all the funk, and the carpet smells of... baking soda fresh, with a hint of lavender. I love my homemade carpet cleaning kit!

11:32 am
I get in the car and drive to work.

12:03 pm
I arrive at the barn. The first class doesn't really need me, so I float around, helping out with the "menial" barn chores, like sweeping floors, and helping others find everything. I'm loving every minute of it, it's a beautiful, crisp day, and the barn is well ventilated for fresh air. I'm told that some of the barn volunteers had to cancel, and asked to help out with turnout and horse lunch. I help volunteer in one class, followed by musical chairs with horses for an hour, and checking water troughs, buckets, and sweeping the floor.

3:25 pm
I get to check out from work a little early for my usual schedule. I make my way to Target, a local supermarket with a good supply of fresh local produce, and Fred Meyer, filling the car up with gas at the cheapest gas station along the way, since I'm running on fumes halfway through this trip.

Some common bargains I looked for and found included 12 pack boxes  of soda at 4 for $12, a high end brand of Camembert on clearance (it's close to its expiration date, but that's okay, I go through half a pound of it in a night, if I have some!), two pump bottles of Aloe Vera "after sun" -lotion with an expiration date beyond my realistic estimate of how fast I use it up, and turkey breasts at under $2/lb. My hair dye purchase and assorted wine bottles were all special promotions, so I saved on those, too.

Produce items I found at a reasonable price included red grapefruit (bought 2), one pomegranate, a big bundle of asparagus, with the cut surface still fresh, a big bundle of fresh broccoli, and one head of cabbage. I'm serving the asparagus à la Milanese or with homemade Hollandaise, the broccoli goes into mini-quiches, and remnants will probably be baked with cheddar as a side dish, the cabbage gets baked into pocket pies for the freezer, grapefruit is for breakfasts, and the pomegranate is a treat for my husband, who's a huge fan of the fruit.

6:03 pm
I make it home, a little late to pick up my husband's Amazon order from the leasing office, it will have to wait until tomorrow. I carry four loads of groceries into the home, catching an escape artist of a cat from the front yard in the process. I load all my groceries into their respective storage places, start thawing the turkey, fill up my flour bins with flours from the organic bulk selection at Fred Meyer and make an iced coffee out of my leftover morning Joe.

I clean out the kitty litter boxes and dedicate a good amount of time to taking out trash, culling some expired products from the fridge (kimchee really needs to be thrown out straight from the fridge, if it's gone bad. It smells awful!), and sort through whatever was in the mail box. I put bills, invoices, letters to be mailed, and other papers that need my attention into a basket dedicated for them.

7:30 pm
I spend an hour yabbering on chat with my friend, who's working a night shift back in Finland, since she's got a quiet moment or few. She's adopting a new kitten soon, and we ponder names for the new family member.

8:30 pm
I steal a bite of Halloween candy from my cauldron, and start scalding milk for making yogurt, and start working on making a new batch of whole milk ricotta. I also feed my rye sourdough starter in the fridge, feed a mixed grain loaf dough that's been puttering away since Tuesday, for baking later tonight. I bought a small amount of dehydrated pioneer yeast, so I'm going to see if I can wake it up for making a test batch of pizza dough this weekend, probably for Saturday night.

9:05 pm
Once the milk is heating up, I'm pulling out a rolled log of Amish made butter, cut off a chunk, and start working it into a pie dough. By now, my pie crust recipe is so well ingrained in my mind, that I can just eyeball it. It will make pie crusts for mini-quiches (my husband loves these with chourizo and broccoli filling), and the other part will be cabbage-filled pocket pies. All of these will be baked tomorrow, but I want to have the dough in the refrigerator, ready to go between my riding lesson and the barn's Halloween party, where I volunteered to hand out candy.

11:20 pm
I'm finally done with both processing the cheese and starting up my yogurt machine, and have put the whey away (it will probably be sneaked into bread dough, and possibly used to replace some of the milk in my quiche filling) and am done feeding my sourdough. I've got two types of sourdough batches brewing, and a new type of yeast starting experiment underway.

The dough that's in a bowl on top of the fridge will be kneaded and shaped into a loaf before my riding lesson tomorrow. I've also managed to hard-boil half a dozen eggs for use in lunchboxes and for snacking, while all this was going on. The kitchen is cleaned, sanitized again, and the dishwasher beeps that it's done with its wash + dry cycle.

I grab a small fistful of Halloween candy, and make my way to the couch to rest my feet by watching an episode of Good Eats (Summer Squash), while assessing my progress with my crocheted baby's blanket. I recently revised the repeat pattern of the granny squares, so I'm re-inventorying what I have, and making a to-do list to keep track of what I'm missing. I'm still on track to finish it by Christmas, if I keep my current pace up.

11:55 pm
I realize I need a shower, so I grab the hair dye I bought earlier today, and spend an extra 30 minutes up, reading a book on chicken keeping, while my hair bakes in chemicals.

12:40 am, Friday
I've got evenly auburn hair again. I'm tired, but my husband isn't home yet, so I don a flannel pajama, fire up something on television, wrap myself up in my new quilt with a cup of tea, two cats cuddled up next to me or on me, and wait for my hair to dry, and for my husband to get home. My hands keep crocheting granny squares.

2:20 am
After my husband gets home, I inspect my yogurt maker for progress, put my home dairy products away since they've finally cooled down a bit, brush my teeth, and get ready for bed. I'm asleep usually within 30 minutes of going to bed. That is, if my husband and I don't get stuck talking about things like the news of the day, or how to cat-proof our avocado tree, and such.

I wake up the next morning at about 10:30, to have time to knead my bread before driving off to my weekly riding lesson. I've gotten a little under 8 hours of sleep, which isn't as much as I'd want, but sufficient. My schedule doesn't follow the normal Monday to Friday grind. That's why I joke, that Monday and Tuesday are my weekend, since I spend so much more time Wednesday through Sunday doing permanently scheduled things.

Maybe I'll share another weekday, once I happen to have another crazy hectic grind again?

Blessed Be,
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