Monday, March 30, 2009

Space Candy - Sunset, Sunrise

Alaska's Mt. Redoubt volcano has erupted at least 19 times since March 22nd, and several of the most powerful blasts have spewed clouds of ash and sulfurous gas into the lower stratosphere. The last time an Alaskan volcano blew its top (Kasatochi in August 2008), similar clouds caused fantastic sunsets around the Northern Hemisphere. Today's edition of features satellite maps of Mt. Redoubt's sulfur dioxide emissions. Using these maps, we can track the volcanic clouds as they drift around the globe and be alert for unusual sunsets and other phenomena when they pass nearby. Visit for more information and updates.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Soup is On, Boys are Flying

I'm up at the cabin whilst a couple with whom I have swapped my Tucson house are in residence there. My grandsons are here for spring break and if their mother ever finds out just what I have let them do by way of fort building and rappelling , I'm in trouble. It's bright and sunny out but quite cold, hence the indoor chaos. Add four dogs to the mix and you'll agree that I am a candidate for sainthood. I'm letting them do their own thing because I'm working along with Genny and Peltier Effects to de-bug the new Bulletin Board and interactive component of due to go live April 1.

Friends staying at a nearby 'resort' (very basic, really comes alive through in hunting season!) dropped in for a drink last night and invited us to join them for dinner at the resort. "Are you sure the dining room is open?" I asked. Quick phone call and it became clear that short of sending them to Bear Wallow down the road that has the motto (or should have) "if we can fry it you can have it" (breakfasts are great there) , I had company for dinner. I keep a well stocked pantry here and fortified by excellent wine which friends had brought, olives and smoked salmon, we set out on a pantry raid to make , or as one boy put it, "build", a soup. No photos because by the time I remembered the camera everyone was wiping bowls clean with bread!

Close to an hour from start to finish, the following soup was on the table. Plenty for six adults with leftovers.

  • 6 sausages . We used Jenni O brand low fat Turkey/Hot Italian*
  • 2 Tbs, olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1 large white onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 Cup dry white wine
  • 2 Cups diced celery
  • 2 Cup fresh green beans cut into 1" lengths
  • 4 Cups of potatoes cut into ~ 1" chunks. We used Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes unpeeled and cut in half.
  • 1/4 of a large cabbage, cut into thin slivers (kale would be equally as good)
  • 2 x 32 oz. containers (8 cups) of low sodium chicken stock. We used Progresso brand Organic.

Pre-heat oven to 400F and roast sausages until cooked, around 15 minutes. Meanwhile prep the remaining vegetables.
Heat olive oil in the soup pot until warm, add the sausage cut into 1/2" slices and saute until brown and crisp on both sides. Remove from soup pan with a slotted spoon and put aside.

Add onions and garlic to the pan and saute gently, 5 plus minutes, until soft but not browned.

Add wine to pan and cook down with the onions until almost all liquid is evaporated, scraping the bottom occasionally to loosen any stuck onions.

Carefully pour stock into the pan and add the potatoes, celery and green beans and sausage. Bring to the simmer and simmer 30 minutes or less or until potatoes are cooked through.

Five minutes before serving add the cabbage to the pot and heat through until wilted but not soggy.

Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to personal taste.

Ladle into warm , shallow soup bowls and serve with crusty bread and slices of sharp cheddar cheese.
* You could substitute any of the really good gourmet, low fat sausages available at most supermarkets. These usually come fully cooked so the pre-cooking step would be eliminated. If the sausage you use is mild, suggest a pinch of dried red pepper flakes to give it some zing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's a Long Way to Tipperary - first find a Rarey

My county of origin is Tipperary and if I had a dime for every time someone said to me when I said I was from Tipperary , "It's a long way", I'd be living the life of Riley now! As far as I know Riley was the catch- all name for the Irishmen who emigrated to America and struck it rich. The other line was "to tip a Rarey, you first have to find one". It's a rich, lush county and the name derives from the Gaelic meaning "Well of Ara"....the river Ara flows through part of the county.
The song was written by a man who had never set foot in Ireland ; his grandparents had left there for England long before he was born. It was, so the story goes, written one night in 1912 as a bet and performed in a music hall the following night. It got picked up by foot soldiers in France during World War 1 and was catapulted to fame when the Irish tenor, John McCormack, recorded it. It is nice to know that the song writer put the name of his friend who placed the bet on the music sheets and the two reaped good royalty rewards.
For a good read check out 'Tipperary' by Irish novelist Frank Delany is, as my father was fond of saying about a book he enjoyed, "a good yarn".
I grew up on the Irish tenors. "I'll take You Home Again Kathleen" (my mother's name) and "Danny Boy" being two of my father's favorites. In tribute, I'll play my cd of Irish tenors singing maudlin songs tonight! No corn beef and cabbage though. I'm up at the cabin, have just lit a fire, brought the dogs in from chasing canada geese and I'll probably have salmon for dinner...not Irish though, this piece swam it's last laps in Alaska.

Meanwhile, visit Connections for Women and find our delightful Irish baby. She'll lead you to a pot of gold! You have until noon MST tomorrow to enter.

Colcannon and Champ - Potatoes Forever!

In the spirit of St. Patrick's day and Connections for Women on going 'find the Irish baby' contest, I'll share two of my favorite potato recipes. True, the Irish ate an enormous amount of potatoes, it was the staple of a poverty stricken nation's diet and, it was the blight that destroyed the crops that brought on the famine and the massive diaspora; also true that in the forties and fifties of the last century, Ireland was rich in dairy products and cream and butter used liberally. My grandmother, feeling sorry for us living with rationing in England, devised many methods for sending us contraband - butter stuffed in a goose perhaps the most interesting! I have clear memories of the postman riding up on his bike with an absolutely reeking package tied to the rack behind is seat. It took a while for me to understand why my mother would open this revolting package and search it before burying the contents - she was looking for the nylon stockings that my gran would also stuff in the goose! To this day I cannot abide the smell of goose in any form.

Just a plug here for my favorite author. If you want to read a novel of middle-aged coming of age combined with Irish history, read 'My Dream of You' by the late Nuala O'Faolain.

Dinner at my grandparents small farm was served mid day and always included potatoes rich in butter and cream. My favorite version of mashed potatoes goes by the name COLCANNON - once the food of the poor, I noticed on a visit to Dublin a couple of years ago that it's now found on the menus of trendy Irish restaurants showcasing Irish grown foods. Along with CHAMP, it's hard to imagine more sublime mashed potatoes . I've gone easy on the cream in these two recipes but if it's a once a year treat - go for broke. Served with really good, artisanal sausages and a side of green beans or peas, both make wonderful and easy suppers. Also great with thick slices of ham.

COLCANNON - Four hearty servings
  • 1 llb of young green cabbage or young spring kale.
  • 1 llb of small new, thin skinned potatoes
  • 6 spring onions/scallions/green onions
  • 2/3 Cup of milk or cream
  • 1/2 Cup butter
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • dash of nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. sugar
Finely shred the kale or cabbage first removing core of the cabbage or thick stems on the kale. (I use a Cuisinart shredding blade for the cabbage) for the kale, pile the leaves on top of each other and use a very sharp knife to cut intro thin shreds.
Toss the shredded greens in a bowl with freshly grated nutmeg and the sugar. Place in a steamer and steam until very tender but not soggy! Should still have a little crunch to them. (This cooking method is excellent treatment for cabbage, even cabbage haters love it.)
Meanwhile boil the potatoes unpeeled until fork tender. With young, thin skinned potatoes there is no need to peel them. If you don't like the idea of unpeeled potatoes, boil in the skin and then peel.
While the vegetables are cooking, chop the scallions into tiny pieces and add them, along with the milk/cream to a saucepan, bring to the simmer and cook about 5 minutes.

Drain the potatoes, mash well and season with salt and pepper. Beat in the scallions and milk and then incorporate the steamed kale or cabbage. Mound into an oven proof serving dish, cut the butter into four parts, poke four holes in the mound of potatoes, insert the butter into the holes and pop the whole dish under a broiler for about five minutes or until lightly browned on top. Serve so that each portion has a hidden pocket of butter!


Exactly the same process as above but minus the green vegetables, nutmeg and sugar. It's common to substitute a handful of chopped parsley for the green onions in this recipe.


'Top of the Mornin' to You

Did you know that the traditional response to the greeting, "Top of the morning to you", is "and the rest of the day to yourself"? It stems from noon or top of the morning, being the time when hired farm hands (who had worked since before dawn) could leave their place of work to go home and work their own land.

Check out Connections for Women today. We've got a fun hunt going on to find a gorgeous Irish baby hidden in a few articles; find her and enter into a drawing for a $25.00 Amazon gift certificate.

Growing up as Irish in a predominantly British culture, keeping origins discreet was often the wisest course of action. I remember very few instances of open hostility but one stands out. I was in my second year at university and wandered into the residence common room. There had been an IRA attack on British soldiers earlier that week. A girl from the north of England turned on me as I walked in and let loose a stream of obscenities and hatred directed at "stupid, filthy Irish". It left me , and everyone else in the room, in shock. My father left Ireland in order to escape the culture of retribution and hatred that developed during the "troubles"; he'd seen enough senseless violence to want to leave it behind. It was never spoken about but I long suspected that one uncle was active in the IRA. For their part, my parents refused to participate in the ugliness and for may years, we simply did not go back to Ireland.

No matter where we were in the world, sometime before St. Patrick's Day, a small box would arrive from my grandmother containing a little mound of moss dampened shamrock picked from her garden and we'd wear a discreet sprig of it. It was not the blatant in your face pseudo Irish stuff that goes on here beer, drinking oneself senseless, the object of the day was a quiet reminder of a religious holiday and national pride. My grandmother on more than one occasion sent a dead goose with butter stuffed in the cavity through the mail...that's another story!

I still have that national pride and it is pride for a culture rich in poetry and mythology; pride in a people who survived one of the worst famines in history; pride in a land truly green and beautiful. Oh, and I have pride in that gorgeous Irish baby....she's my grand daughter, Maxine.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

VERIZON OPT OUT And a Cross Cloud to Ruin a Dog's Morning

Oh the small print dramas that we live with are enough to drive me to triple espresso this morning. For all of you with Verizon wireless phone service who do NOT wish to be bombarded with un-wanted solicitation calls from 'affiliates' you need to dig deep into the small print (good luck) to opt out of this new marketing proposal by Verizon - can't blame them for trying. Rather than hunt down the small print or find the opt out link on your electronic statement (took me over 30 minutes ) do the following.

Call 1 800 922 0204 Verizon Customer Service This is the AZ number, other states will differ. The nature of your call is CPNI (Customer Proprietary Network Information) don't try saying that! The automated system will misunderstand you and, like Alice, you'll end up down a very deep rabbit hole - just use the initials and, if your luck is anything like mine (must be the Irish in me and approaching St. Paddy's day) you'll get through to a delightful representative who will tell you that she fully understands why you want to opt out and , voila, 'tis done.
Happy Saturday - I'm heading for Tucson Festival of Books held at the University today...might have to take an umbrella as it looks a bit like rain - dog just looked at me all dejected and big brown eyes tearing up - it is raining, one cross cloud overhead.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Raising Connections- I Got That Lovin' Feeling

Genny and I have been having some heart to hearts lately. Where are we with Connections for Women, are we on track - essentially evaluating the state of our business union. We've both acknowledged that the doom and gloom economic scene has the effect of casting a dark shadow over all and that if we allow it, the shadow doses out pretty fierce gobbling up of confidence and limiting the spring in anyone's step.

Rather than be dragged down we figured that we should seek out the good news stories, the small steps to success stories that come from our readers. To that end we've been reading e mail, making calls and looking for twitter leads in our demographics and, there is lots of good news out there!

Sylvia Edwards who quit corporate America to re invent herself as an aesthetician, two years into her business reports February her best month ever; another woman in the beauty/self-care field reports a 30 percent increase in her business this year to date. Our contacts at the local Farmer's Market tell us that business is up and very brisk. Friends in the business of web site development are having to hire an additional designer so that they can keep up. We're going to feature these and other good news business stories as we find them and as they come in...e mail me with your story.

Meanwhile raising Connections for Women is going well. We've gone through the terrible twos where everything was "no, can't, won't" and are approaching a more positive stage of growth! And we have done some growing. We've been able to crystallize our business philosophy and recognize the growing pains, as just that, growing pains. We've put together a brief history for the April issue.

I think the most salient points that we have identified as being crucial to success in any business are the three P's. Passion, Patience, Perseverance and, admittedly you can run short on anyone of them during the growing process. Something else has come out of the discussions we've been having and that is the nature of a business partnership.

Genny and I have only known each other since the inception of Connections for Women; we have become friends - not in your house, talk every five minutes, can't make a move without you, dish the gossip friends but mature, respectful of one another friends, something that is so very special between women. Personally I've seen this as one of the positives in building the business. We've been able to weather the ups and downs without the emotionally charged demands of an old friendship getting in the way. We've been able to come into the development of the business leaving our personal history outside the door; in other words, we haven't traded on a past association to excuse poor performance or out right failure to carry our end of a bargain. By starting out as business partners, rather than old friends, we've , somewhat unconsciously, built a working relationship that dos not exploit friendship. Certainly not saying that friends cannot be successful business partners but I think it takes more than bubbling with enthusiasm to really weather the harsh realities of a start-up.

At Connections for Women we're bringing in advertisers and these companies are going to be the mortar that enables us to keep going. Check out our advertisers, click and visit their sites. You don't have to buy anything (although if you are in the market for inexpensively priced window treatments do we have a great 10% discount source for you!) but just visiting their sites encourages advertisers to realize that we do have a viable market and that they will be on your mind next time you are shopping. And if you have a product tailor made for women 40 plus who think, travel, write, start a business, take care of their health, make the buying decisions for the household, read books, think about relationships, create beautiful home spaces, then do we have a deal for you to advertise your product or services.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Worm Moon

Tonight's full Moon has a special name--the Worm Moon. It signals the coming of northern spring, a thawing of the soil, and the first stirrings of earthworms in long-dormant gardens. Step outside tonight and behold the wakening landscape. "Worm moonlight" is prettier than it sounds.
For other wonderful tidbits of celestial information, sign up to receive alerts from one of my favourite sources Space

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Wicked Step-Mom Rides Again

A third item should be added to the old saw of the only two things we can be sure of is death and taxes. We should add - "and problems with stepchildren" if there has been a mid-life new marriage!
  • Common sense dictates that everyone, whether married to the same sweetie you met in high school or happily forging a second or even third try at marital commitment, should execute a financial and health care power of attorney and living will before senility or an incapacitating illness take over your life. Tucson Attorney, Will Conway explained these terms, benefits and advantages of both, in a two part article some months ago.
  • Everyone should make every effort to convene a family meeting or use some other form of communication to make clear your intentions re disposition of assets and intentions regarding long-term care and/or extraordinary medical intervention.
  • Everyone should communicate to family and the loved one entrusted as the executor of your will your desires re what to do with your body once you die! It's not squeamish, morbid or in anyway indelicate to put in writing "I don't want to be buried, I want to be cremated" or some variation of the same. My kids know full well that I wish to be cremated and they know that they are to throw one heck of a party when they scatter my ashes.
  • It's even more important to do all of the above , if you have had more than one marriage and there are step-children involved.
I've been subjected recently to what can be kindly referred to as "harassment" by step-children four years after the death of their father. He and I did everything the right way. Once we realized that we had a viable business that was attracting the interest of buyers, we set about, with the guidance of an accountant and a legal specialist, creating an estate plan that included our last wills and testaments. Our attorney was exceptional, kind, patient and not adverse to gently pointing out where something we thought of doing might create problems. Working closely with him we put in place the documents that would be legally binding and support our intentions.

We married when we were both in our early fifties. There were children on both sides. Once our legal ducks so to speak were in order, we called a family gathering bringing in three of his children from afar (one lived in Arizona as did my children). In a congenial gathering, he and I took turns to speak of our intentions and the contents of our wills. We made very clear that it was our intent to take care of one another first and foremost and that upon the death of the final survivor, what was left, would be distributed amongst children of both marriages. Questions? there were some but we labored hard to make everything transparent and open.

I need to add here that I'm not some floozy who came along, saw a sitting duck and married for money. Quite the contrary, brilliant as he was in his profession, my dear late husband was a lousy business man and within weeks of our being married took his company into bankruptcy. We used my asets to dig out of the very deep hole and together, side by side, we built a successful company. We each had one offspring working in the business and when we finally sold, they were both well informed of the terms of sale and well compensated for their individual rolls in the growth of the business. And yet, four years on, my stepchild (speaking for siblings as is noted) is portraying me as the ultimate wicked step-mother and has made numerous allegations that with documentation and real fact checks, have proven to be completely false. The final claim was that they knew their father's intent was to, 'provide for his children', implying of course that I had thwarted that intent. This leads me to my final soapbox on this heavy subject.
  • Parents do NOT have any obligation to provide for able bodied adult children. Bequests are gifts and as such are optional! Rock on to all those couples I see in the RVs declaring that they are spending their children's inheritance but a correction - It is NOT their children's inheritance that they are spending. It is money they spent a life time working for and they deserve to spend it in anyway that they want to.
Another article in Connections For Women worth reading on matters of money and marriage, is by attorney Lisa Abrams on the subject of pre and post nuptial agreements.
We appear to be a society where we can speculate on style of underwear worn by presidential candidates and enjoy reality shows that make spectacles of marriage and commitment and yet we are so reluctant to talk about what is really important - death, money, incapacitating illness. Let's get real.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Rent-A-Man Saturday

Well, what's a girl with needs to do? Dog doesn't have thumbs and I'm turning my house over to strangers in a week as my part of a house swap deal.

The past three weeks, perhaps with some Spring motivation but definitely with the motivation of wanting to make my house swap guests feel at home, I've been purging closets, turfing out archived useless "stuff" and, becoming ever more aware of minor irritants around the place that could be major to someone with less personal connection to them. That closet door that you have to put your hip against to close; the missing switch plates, result of the pest control man taking them off and 'forgetting' to put them back; the plastic sheeting stuffed into a crack between patio overhang and roof line...previous owners solution to a steady drip when it rains. All things that I was going to get to but the going to suddenly became urgent so I rented a man!

Theo worked out to be a perfect choice. Efficient and with impressive belt and truck based arsenal of tools he moved swiftly from one task to another with nary a sneer of disdain at my haphazard approach to fix it issues.

I'm not a helpless woman and I do have a few essential tools of my own but there is something about home maintenance that I balk at. Love being a handyman's helper but hate taking on the tasks myself. Anyway, closet door now glides silently open and closed; silicon sealer has replaced the plastic sheeting and the switch plates are all back in place. Two hours of labor and all my angst disappeared. Love that I can rent a man but don't have to be beholden to him!

Now I'm moving on to that drawer in the kitchen. You know the one I you have one. The one that is home to used wine corks, dead batteries, rubber bands from the supermarket broccoli, two Zantac and the freebie multi-vitamin samples. Oh, and the screwdriver for which you cannot find the charger and the charger cords for two now distant memory cell phones. Doesn't matter how good my intentions, I manage to create one of these drawers in a house before the mover has left. Shoot, I even pack up the current one and move it intact.

Heading up to the cabin whilst my house swap guests are in residence here and I have a list two arms long on spring fixits needed up there. My daughter and son-in-law have a wonderful all round do anything from plumbing to rocket science friend who is willing to trade out a week of vacation time up there for a week of work. Barter, what a good idea; we should be doing more of that.

I remember the first time I heard the expression "honey do" list; I loved it. Two husbands and one of them was a rocket scientist and the other a physician but neither had any interest in home maintenance. I was determined that my kids would know one end of a screwdriver from another (and that they could cook and do their own laundry) and enlisted the help of a very practical male friend to let them tag long and learn guy stuff that involved tools. My daughter is far more practical than her avowed anti-handy man husband , so much so that mutual friends gave her a tool belt as a wedding present. My sons can both take care of routine maintenance, essential skills in my book.

I'm beginning to think, given the number of women I know alone or with husbands or mates less than interested in toting the load around the house that I should open a Rent-A-Man agency....any takers? Go to Connections For Women and contact us and share your handyman solutions.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Packrat Saga - Sharing the Desert

It's no secret amongst my friends and family that I've been invaded over the past few months by packrats! major expensive issues ensued like replacing the motor in a three week old washing machine, re-sealing the garage doors and, lots of calls to the packrat experts in town to come and get them. We became really chummy, packrat expert man and I - first name, stop in for coffee when you come to get the catch of the day- chummy. There have been one or two lighthearted moments - dog for instance managed to get the peanut butter laden cracker intended for said packrat on his forehead. For the most part they have been a pain!

I've done all the right prickly pear close to the house; no accessible bird food. Realized about 4 months ago (alerted by psychotic midnight yowling from the cat) that something was invading the house at night. Other tell tale signs were chew marks around the rim of the dog's bowl and the stuffing pulled from a window seat cushion. At first I blamed the cat but she huffed at me and lead me to the garage storage closet where we found the scene of a massacre. My prized ostrich feather duster was well and truly dead - feathers everywhere- looked as if it had fought the good fight though. Next the washing machine quit. I was indignant as I called service...hmph, less than a month old and all that. When the machine was pulled out Mr. & Mrs. Packus Ratus' luxury, ostrich feather lined quarters were in full view. There was some other material lining the nest that puzzled me until I moved a couch in the great-room and found the fringe missing from the carpet. Busted you rat!

Then followed about 3 weeks of daily setting of traps, capture and release (please click here for correct technique - it does involve blindfolding the critters) . Six down we figured we had got them all and peace appeared to settle on my little beleaguered kingdom.

Then the wine fridge went kaput. Nada, nothing. It was only today that I cornered someone to help me pull it out from its very snug under-counter lair and there, horrors, was another nest, this time made from carpet fringe and cushion stuffing. There was also enough dog food to support an army on the march for a few years. Obviously dog had not been cleaning his bowl every night and therefore had earned lots of unwarranted "what a good boy, join the clean plate club" pats. He meanwhile was asking "where's dinner?".
Fortunately there were no signs of recent habitation and bleach and disinfection by the bucket load later, I've purified the area.

Co-existing with desert creatures is nothing new. I have no fear of spiders , not even tarantulas on the prowl , so large that you can see them moving in on you from over a mile away; not the javelinas - I put up a fence to keep them out and no amount of pleading by little piggy eyes from the other side will induce me to let them in to eat my succulents. Snakes we won't talk about. But these darn pack rats are Houdinis and I guess I can't afford to let down my guard. I've just had a woman to dog talk with Hamish, putting him on notice that he has perimeter duty and failure to perform will mean curtailment of rations. We'll see. I'm far too busy working on Connections For Women to assume role of hunter. Short of digging a moat and putting up a drawbridge, that I doubt I'll get past the HOA, I'm stuck in this battle for supremacy in the desert. I have the sneaking feeling I won't win.