Month: July 2017

Lights Out by Ted Koppel- Book Review

The Outer Banks made news this week due to the mandatory evacuation of thousands from a loss of electricity. The power outage occurred after a construction crew drove some steel through a main power line. There is not a good estimate on how long repairs will take. The incident spurred me to pull a book off the shelf to review. The book discusses the electric grid.

I read Lights Out by Ted Koppel a few years ago and it really affected me. The book caught my eye from the new release table at my local library. I had no inkling of the content when I checked it out. My eyes were opened by this book. Once I finished, I urged the members of my immediate family read at least the first section.

Koppel’s topic is the nation’s electric grid. He breaks the content into three sections. The first part is titled A Cyberattack, with eight chapters discussing actual attacks on the United States grid. The second section, A Nation Unprepared, is short but factual. The final section of the book, Surviving The Aftermath is the least technical part and the easiest to follow.

Koppel has a very readable writing style. His background as a reporter is evident throughout the book. The author grabs your attention with a hypothetical scenario. However, he quickly turns to factual information with a first focus on cyberattacks. His facts are backed with documentation.

Many of the attacks on the grid have not received widespread media coverage. Some were totally unknown to me before reading. They range from automatic weapons destroying a transformer to malware which has infected the national grid. At times these first chapters, swimming with acronyms, become difficult to follow. It is important to reread until the information soaks in. Danger lurks within the nation’s infrastructure.

The middle of the book, while relatively short, illustrates just how unprepared the United States is for this new warfare. Part of the shortfall stems from the aging grid infrastructure and the lack of coordination between utilities. Yet another factor is economic. Large power transformers (LPTs) are difficult to replace. One reason is that each is custom-built at a great cost. So there is no mass production available for replacements. If multiple LPTs fail at once, there is not a stockpile to draw from.

Another problem pointed out in this part of Lights Out is the lack of a cohesive plan to respond to a long-term grid failure. Koppel uses anecdotes to make the point that neither state or national agencies nor non-profit groups have plans for long-term emergencies. The current focus is on short-term problems such as seen after hurricanes or blizzards.

The final section has received some negative feedback, but I found the information interesting. Koppel focuses on what individuals and private groups are doing to prepare for long-term problems. This goes beyond preparing for short-term natural disasters. Interviews with groups including “Preppers”, emergency preparedness groups, and Mormons show the extent some in America have readied themselves for long-term disasters. However, Koppel’s posits that most in these groups are not ready for an extended time without electricity.

After reading Lights Out we made some changes. We have a generator for back-up power and in the last year it has kicked on as needed three times. I am doing a better job of stocking the pantry. Also, I have increased the size of the vegetable garden and have taken to canning with a zeal. So perhaps, I could relate to those described as being emergency prepared.

Cyberattacks in the form of ransom ware and for theft have become more common. But it is hard to tell if inroads have been made against the grid. Media coverages of power outages usually take a back seat to other news, but I have begun tracking the grid failures on social media. Very seldom does a single day go by without loss of power somewhere. Koppel’s work convinced me that at the very least it is time to upgrade our power grid infrastructure.

The Big Island of Hawai’i

The Big Island

The State of Hawaii is comprised of a chain of volcanic based islands. The largest land mass, also named Hawaii, is often referred to as The Big Island. Population on this island is approaching 200,000. In comparison, the population of Oahu where Honolulu is located is approaching one million even though the size is about a third that of the Big Island.

Recently, I spent time on both islands and while I have favorable things to say about Oahu (Look For future posts) I fell in love with the Big Island. I spent a limited amount of time in the tourist areas, although you can read about a favorite stop in the Kona area in Quilt Passions. My favorite region is the ranch land which centers on the north central part of the island. The town of Waimea acts as a base for this industry.

On my first drive into the area I stopped at Anna Ranch. The old homestead has been turned into a museum and has an event center which is used for local special occasions. I was fortunate that the grounds were open because on a later trip the gates were closed. For tours, call in advance. The ranch has been in operation for generations. The land is named for Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske (1900-1995) and was founded in 1848 by James and Ka’ipukai Fay. A creek runs through the property and the pastures are beautiful. There is a self- guided tour with informative signage and a donation box. For more information visit the ranch website at https://www.annaranch.org/

I did not take the time to get on a horse, but several opportunities for trail rides and horseback riding can be found in this area. Two stables I passed while on my cross island drive were Horseback Above Waipi’o Valley and Na’alapa Stables. Each offers opportunities for riders of different skill levels. Reservations need to be made in advance. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to reach this part of the island.
A small shopping center anchored by the Parker Ranch store can be found in Waimea. A food court in the middle provides public restrooms. In addition to small stores and a Starbucks, is a grocery store. This is a great place to take a break from driving and do some shopping. From this point you can either head to the wet Northeast coast or the dryer Northwest section of the island.
On that first drive, I stopped at the lookout point over the Waipi’o Valley. The view from the overlook is incredible. The drop into the valley requires 4-wheel drive. So, venturing into the valley will have to wait for a future trip.

Travel Safety

I recently read a blog posting shared on Twitter about women travelling alone. I do not know anything about the writer other than gender which matched my own. My main takeaway was her frustration with the idea that women should not travel alone. Perhaps an even greater concern for me would be the safety factor.

I travel extensively, and have done so for years. When I worked, there were trips with co-workers and trips on my own. The same holds true today. My latest trip, Hawaii, had some of both. One day I spent traveling the Big Island by car while my fellow travelers spent time by the ocean. I am not one for cliff jumping. The different climate zones were fun to experience and I felt very comfortable on my own. On the last morning there I spent an enjoyable time exploring Banyan Drive in Hilo alone and met a delightful retiree while waiting out a light rain. Chance meetings reaffirm my faith in people.

I know bad things can happen. However, I do have suggestions for travelling alone which should reduce the negatives and increase safety. These tips have worked for me and maybe they will appeal to you. Some of the ideas really rely on using common sense.

The first time I traveled across the United States by car I was 13. I now live in a rural, and by East Coast standards, isolated part of the country. It is about 200 miles to the nearest large airport. The closest shopping mall is 100 miles. Thus, I am used to long car rides but, I believe the travel safety begins before ever hitting the road.

One of the most important things is maintaining your car. Regular oil changes and tire rotations are a must. If the car has more than 50,000 miles on the odometer, a recent check-up under the hood is also important. I start out with a full tank and try to refill before I am below a quarter tank. When I need to refuel I like to find interchanges or areas with multiple gas stations. Then, if I pull into one and get bad vibes, there is an easy back up location. I like stations that are busy but not too busy. I try to stop driving before nightfall, but if I am on a final leg where the destination is with a family or friend I will drive in the dark. In those cases, I make sure I top off at a gas station before dusk.

Where to stay has a set of requirements for me. I avoid large cities whenever possible and look for hotels in smaller towns. Part of my reasoning is avoiding rush hour traffic when I set out in the early morning. My first choice in hotels is the Hilton chain. I particularly like their Hampton Inns for over the road travelling. Many are located in the small communities where I prefer to stay. Out of family loyalty I also stay at the Starwood/Marriott chain. Most of these are in the suburbs. Both chains offer many price points.

If I am spending the night on the road in a hotel, my goal is to check in before dinner time. I do this for several reasons. First, by that point I have usually traveled at least 10 hours which is plenty of time on a solo drive. Second, I can avoid the rush at the hotel front desk and I always ask for two keys. This reduces the number of fellow travelers discovering my single status. Third, I can find a place to eat if there is not one in or near the hotel. Finally, I can get a workout in all before full dark which is when I like to be settled in my room.

When flying somewhere, I take a similar approach, depending on the length of my trip. If I will be gone just a few days and it is not winter, I try to book a midday flight and park in close at the airport. That allows me to feel comfortable going from car to security. I like to reach my destination in daylight. For me, a key to feeling comfortable about travelling alone is time of day. I try to return morning or midday for the trip to the parked car.

If however, I will be gone a week or more, I stay at one of the airport hotels offering Park and Fly rates. In this case my flight times are much more flexible since I take the hotel shuttle to and from the airport. But even then, I do not like to depart or arrive late at night. I take the same approach in winter to build in flexibility around possible winter storms.

Where I eat depends on where I am travelling and what my budget is. I do like the hotels that include some type of breakfast. Quite a few are also offering some type of dinner option now as well. However, sometimes I need or want to go off property. If I am in a city I look for the big box chains, in small towns I go for the mom and pop restaurants. To be honest this is the part of travelling alone that I like least; eating alone.

The most important thing for me is listening to my intuition, or Spidey Sense. I don’t hesitate to walk or drive away if things don’t seem right. I also stay with the tried and true for hotels, gas stations, and restaurants more often than not. My experiences travelling alone have been positive, but I have always taken common sense precautions.

Bread Illustrated-Review

BREAD ILLUSTRATED- A Step by Step guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home

I make almost all our bread. By almost, I can count on my fingers the times I have bought bread from the store this year. The health benefits were a major consideration when I took up bread making, but I love the taste of fresh made bread and I have discovered an immense satisfaction baking from scratch. I do not use a bread machine but I do use a stand mixer for the majority of the kneading.

I spotted Bread Illustrated edited by America’s Test Kitchen while browsing through a Barnes and Noble bookstore. A quick glance was all it took to make it to the check-out line. Each recipe is accompanied by multiple photos illustrating the process. The book also includes a troubleshooting section at the end of the recipe.

The troubleshooting sections address common problems with the final product. For example, if pizza dough is to soggy the tip is to use less sauce. One of the troubleshooting explanations discussed the jagged edges of whole wheat. The solution was to let either the wheat berries soak in water before processing or add additional liquid to already ground wheat.

The book gives weight amounts in the dry to wet ratios and following these ratios keep the loaves from being too dense. The section on hydration is part of a series of pages that explain how-to before the recipes even start. Other sections include pages on mixing and rising.

The recipes range from sweet rolls to rustic breads and includes a section of breads that take a bit more time to make than I have this summer. Maybe next winter! So far my favorite recipes have been the easy sandwich bread, pan-grilled flat bread (delicious with hummus) and the hoagie rolls which I shaped into hamburger buns.

Quilt Passions

Three fabrics with a Hawaiian ThemeOne of my favorite things to do when travelling is to visit local quilt shops. Recently, I stopped by Quilt Passions in Kailua-Kona on The Big Island of Hawaii. The store was very busy and I had less than an hour to browse since I was island hopping and had a flight scheduled. As soon as I entered the store I was wishing my plans were not already set. The store was offering a full day quilt class for the next day and a week-long summer camp was also on their schedule. My travelling companions gave me a rolled eyes look and checked their smart phones for the time silently indicating I needed to get with it.

 

Hawaiian Fabrics

I like to find fabrics that are representative of the region I am exploring. I hit the jackpot at Quilt Passions. Somehow, I limited myself to just three prints. All were exclusive to the store. The first, a water background print is a discontinued print of Robert Kaufman. The fabric is still obtainable through Quilt Passions both online and in the store.

The second fabric is a batik print featuring sea turtles which was designed by Quilt Passions. I love using batik’s in my quilts and find them to be great blenders. However, they are hard to find where I live.

The last print is called The Big Island. This fabric is manufactured by Hoffman California but was designed by Quilt Passions and M.M-Cox. I can’t wait to use this particular print because I fell in love with the Big Island, especially the areas off the beaten path.

Quilt Retreats

If you are a serious quilter, this is a place to keep in mind when planning your next quilt retreat. The place was very busy, but staffed well. So no delay for someone with a limited amount of time, along with plenty of attentive help for those in need and not in a hurry. While the footprint is small, the fabrics are well-organized. Furthermore, for those who prefer yarn, the store has a separate room just for you. Registrations were available near the check-out counter for a variety of classes. For those of you that shop online, you can scope out Quilt Passions at by clicking here.

I believe you may find something you like. If you happen to live on or visit the Big Island of Hawaii, the store is located at 75-5626 Kuakini Highway Ste 4, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740 and the best part of the location is the off street parking lot.

Small Batch Preserving

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard has been around awhile and I make recipes from it fairly often. Each recipe offers detailed directions and many have variations presented. I kept checking this book out from the library and liked it so much I finally bought a copy. I count it in my Top Five cookbooks.

If your garden is like mine, the vegetables don’t ripen all at once, thus the necessity of making small batches. The book also provides great combination recipes for fruits which eliminates the monotony of jams and preserves.

In addition to the recipes, Topp and Howard cover basic safety procedures for preserving and canning. Their step-by-step guidelines are easy to follow. They cover the four ways to preserve food.

The book contains charts for high altitude adjustments, multiple glossaries and lots of How To’s in a step by step format. One can find recipes for jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, sauces, vinaigrettes and oils. The output is measured in cups with most yielding less than 4 cups. Large color photographs of the prepared preserves are grouped in two locations so there is a need to flip from one section of the book to another in order to compare your outcome with that of the authors.

The recipes span the range of the taste buds from sweet to savory as well as spicy. One of the things I like the most about Small-Batch Preserving is the combination jams and jellies. For example, my gooseberry yield this year was small, most likely due to a late freeze. But, combining the gooseberries with sour cherries allowed me to use the berries in a jam. Additionally, the book includes multiple recipes with blueberries. Since blueberries are low in acidity, many cookbooks leave out this super fruit.

The salsa and chutney recipes follow a similar vein. Combinations of fruits and vegetables in recipes ranging from tart to sweet with varying degrees of spiciness can be found in the book. Last fall I made both fruit and vegetable chutneys. Favorites were the Orchard Chutney featuring peaches, apples and onions and the Apple Plum Chutney. Again all these recipes were quick to make due to the small amounts.

A wide range of pickle recipes can be found in Small Batch Preserving. While cucumbers are the feature of this section, one can also find recipes for pickled peaches and beets. I am a relative novice at pickling. Last fall I tried eight of the pickle recipes. All disappeared before Christmas.

If you like to make your own preserves but don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen this book is for you.

TRIP Around The WORLD

Quilting is one of my favorite hobbies. I began quilting in the mid 1980s just as the art was experiencing a comeback. I was living in Houston at the time and was fortunate to have a quilt shop just a few miles from where I lived. While I have kept a few, most have been given away.

The quilt in the photo above is the pattern Trip Around the World. I made it for a young lady who was a frequent visitor to our house. She choose a wide variety of colors and prints which made the design process a bit difficult.

The squares are 2 inches finished and I did not add a border on this particular quilt. The hot center is balanced by the gray greens. I was fortunate enough to find a nice Bali print in my stash to use as a transition from the bright pinks and reds to the cooler tones.

Planning is key when making this pattern. I use graph paper to plot out the fabrics. The chart becomes my guide when I begin piecing. Care is needed in order to keep the pattern aligned. If you have a lot of prints as in this example, it helps to snip small pieces of each fabric and either tape or glue onto the chart in the proper order. In this case I simply described each fabric on the chart.

I wanted this quilt to be a square but you could create a rectangular bed spread by adding boarders with differing widths. I like to add my side borders first and then the top and bottom. This particular quilt took me a month to piece and hand quilt.

THE DRY

The Dry by Jane Harper

The book starts out with death. A murder/suicide blamed on the harsh conditions of an Australian drought. The isolated farming town of Kiewarra is the background setting for Jane Harper’s The Dry a crime fiction novel published in 2016.
Aaron Falk returns to the town he grew up in to attend the funeral of his friend Luke Hadler, a funeral he might have skipped if not for the accusatory note sent by Gerry Hadler, “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.” Falk is a Federal Agent and the elder Hadler needs him to look into the death of his son.

A past death is entwined in the story. As youngsters Falk and Hadler had a close friendship with Ellie Deacon, a victim of a drowning during their high school years. Before the drowning the group became a foursome during the teen years with the addition of Gretchen Schoner. The storyline does an excellent job of fleshing out the teenagers flaws and discloses how those surviving evolved as adults. Town folk at the time were suspicious of Falk and Luke Hadler provided him with an alibi. Naturally, the current situation is compounded by the mystery of the past.

Falk and the current local law, Sargent Raco have doubts about the crime. Why was the baby spared and not the grade school son? Why leave the house, after killing the wife and son and then commit suicide? Why, was the ammunition used a different brand than what Luke Hadler had stocked? Thus, the basis of the story is discovery of the truth.

Harper does an outstanding job bringing the setting to life. The reader can almost feel the scorching heat. It is easy to see how such dire conditions could lead to a murder/ suicide. The characters are complex and interesting. The flashbacks are key to understanding the present. A few twists and turns in the plot keep the reader engaged.

The italicized flashbacks flesh out the characters. Harper used this technique to let the reader glimpse the background of the story line. Usually I do not like books with this style of writing because the two time periods make it difficult to follow the story line. However, The Dry works well with this type of writing, perhaps because the two tie so well together. The first death could be a catalyst for the second. Thus I did not see the ending coming.

I enjoyed reading the story. I was caught up in both the plot and the characters. The suspense level was adequate as this book should be categorized as a fictional crime more than a mystery. The key difference is subtle. You are not on the edge of your seat wondering who will be the next victim. Instead you follow the lead characters as the past is confronted and the murder/suicide is exposed along with an outstanding development of characters.

Go to the nearest library or bookstore and look for Jane Harper’s The Dry. You won’t be disappointed. This is a tremendous effort for a first publication. I like her writing and look forward to reading her future works.

LEARNING CURVE

Learning Curve
One of the most difficult things we face today is the challenge of learning how to work, live and function within the technological revolution. Some individuals, those described as early adopters in the business world, can’t wait to try out the latest and greatest item before the rest of us even know it is out there. An example would be an individual in the mid 1980’s transitioning away from the big boom box era to a Walkman and then to an Ipod just after the turn of the century. In contrast, what marketers call a late adopter, is the individual who is the last on the block to own a car with a backup camera. That would be me. My car is fairly new, but no Backup camera or GPS. Maybe on the next car which will be sometime after 2020 unless Tesla can build a car capable of going 500 miles on one charge.

As a blogger I am pretty late to the ballgame. The newest trend is vlogging, which according to an article in the May 23, 2017 Daily Mail is the desired occupation of 75% in a survey of 1000 school-aged children. For any other late adopters, vlogging is blogging via video such as You Tube. Building this website has been a stretch for me, I am not ready for vlogging.

Regardless of how quickly an individual adopts a new technology or task, a learning curve is present. Right now I am facing a steep one. My IT background is one of osmosis. Anything I know I absorbed from sitting next to tech geeks in meetings. Fortunately, the tech world is bent on creating user-friendly approaches. It is a matter of economics. If everyday people like me can’t figure out how to work the product, no sales will be made.

Website building has reached that critical point. I have no coding in my background other than a class that introduced Pascal a very long time ago. I have heard of HTML but can’t write the language. While this site wasn’t built in a day, the time spent as a DIY project hasn’t been too unwieldy. The support platform provided by WordPress has been very good. I have experience with Q&A forums, email responses and a live chat system. I have yet to need phone help.

However, there are plenty of bugs to work out. Additionally, I will be traveling a great part of July. I believe my posts will publish on the main page, but so far I am manually connecting to other tabs. Thus the IN THE LIBRARY postings may not auto populate. In other words I haven’t learned all the posting tricks.

Restaurants use soft openings as a chance to train the staff in real world operations. ECONOGAL is under the same format. Even though it is visible to the public, I have not put any effort into marketing. I have always been a hands on learner which is why I have taken this approach. Please keep that in mind and exhibit patience while I tackle this new venture. I am finding the learning curve steep.

IN THE GARDEN-1st Garlic

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IN THE GARDEN-First Garlic Harvest of 2017

In all honesty, this morning’s harvest was triggered by finding the headless, tailless, remains of a snake in the garden last night. The markings were similar to a bull or rattlesnake but because of the condition I am not sure which. It is quite possible the lawn mower did the creature in. Although Sophie the Hunter Cat could have been involved.

Nonetheless, the finding spurred the need to clear out a patch of weeds in an area where I had plopped some garlic last fall. There was also a volunteer purple potato plant in the mix. This area of the yard really isn’t in the garden. Instead it is in sort of a no man’s land between the yard around the house and the lot.

This distinction plays a role. The lawn is kept mowed by my spouse. The lot is my territory. Buffalo grass prevails in the non-irrigated lot, so it is green for about six weeks in the spring and brown the rest of the year. The Bluegrass/other mix watered by the sprinkler system needs constant mowing. No man’s land sometimes receives water from the sprinkler system on windy days.This particular spot has very sandy soil and a history of much failure. No fewer than four trees have met their demise there. A small Blue Spruce was planted last spring as a memorial and hasn’t croaked yet so maybe things are on the upswing.

Last year I had quite a few purple seed potatoes and I popped some in the area about a yard away from the Blue Spruce thinking having both there would spur a reminder to water. Last fall when I harvested the potatoes I was surprised to find that area had the largest. So, having little success with garlic bulbs getting any bigger than the clove I planted, I thought I would give the patch a try hoping for an outcome similar to the potato.

This spring a volunteer potato plant emerged alongside the garlic. Unlike some gardeners, I relish plants that come up on their own. I live in an area classified as semi-arid. The average rainfall is in the low teens. Unfortunately this decade has had multiple years of under 10 inches and two years below 7 which makes it a dryer time than the Dust Bowl Years. Thus, if a plant can make it up on its own I believe it has an extra hardiness factor and deserves to live.

The past month the garden needed to be hardy due to an absentee gardener. No man’s land was thick with weeds about 18 inches tall. Perfect territory in my mind for a snake. So this morning, I turned on the hose full blast in case another slithery critter was taking refuge. Two rabbits bounded out but no snakes.

Along with pulling weeds, I harvested the garlic and the potato, although the latter probably could have stayed a little longer. I am happy to report that the garlic actually looked like garlic. The potatoes were a bit on the small side. More the size of new potatoes.

The nicest surprise was a baby oak tree. One of the critters that inhabit my yard must have dropped an acorn off the oak I planted 20 years ago. The oak is one of handful in this area, since oaks just don’t grow here. Applying the aforementioned hardiness theory, I plan to let the oak grow and transplant in a few years if both trees are still surviving and one needs to move.

In the picture, the garlic apart from the others was also harvested this morning but out of a proper garden spot. It is a different variety as you can tell from the coloration. Altogether the yield was just over 9 ounces. The purple potatoes weighed in just under 2 pounds. Not bad for an early harvest off a volunteer plant.

An Original

 

Welcome to ECONOGAL. My hopes for this website are many and varied, but foremost I am using ECONOGAL as a way to create new pathways in my brain. Since my maternal side of the family has a history of degenerative brain diseases, I plan to fight any similar conditions in my own brain. Some of my research, consisting mostly of reading news articles, has led me to believe that new knowledge helps keep brains healthy.

I have some limitations with respect to content. I am a private person. I married someone with even greater privacy issues and hence any offspring we may have created inherited the same sense of privacy. So any family or friends who may hope to glean personal news may be disappointed in this site. However, if you are a cat lover, my cat Sophie has no issue with the possibility of a public life.

This site will be eclectic in nature. I realize this may doom ECONOGAL from commercial success, so be it. Book reviews along with commentary concerning successes (and probably failures) in the kitchen, garden and hobby room will be a prominent part of the site. Additionally, there will be occasional interviews and travel recommendations.

Eclectic describes my reading habits. My favorite fiction genre is the murder mystery ( gruesome I know) but I read everything from historical to sci-fi. Non-fiction is not quite as extensive with a heavy emphasis on how-to, although some technology themes have had some of the greatest impact on my everyday life.

In the Kitchen will center on baking and preserving. Recipes will be shared. In the Garden will focus on what I grow. I am somewhat limited by the fact that my garden receives an average of less than 15 inches of moisture a year. Finally, In the Hobby Room will feature quilts and acrylic paints. I have decades of experience in the former and am a newbie in the latter. My new foray into painting is yet another attempt at renewing brain cells.

Finally, I intend for this site to be read by all ages. Therefore, my posts will be G rated. Hopefully all comments will be as well. But if not– there’s always the moderation button. Happy Reading.