Month: August 2017

Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

Disaster Relief Efforts

Many of us are watching the news from the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Harvey has decimated many parts of Texas and Louisiana. I am particularly interested in the relief efforts since I lived in the Houston area for about 3 years. It is a city near and dear to my heart.

If you are like me, you want to help somehow, someway. But how can you tell which efforts are scams? Also, which relief agencies have the least administrative fees? Hopefully this post will help.

There are actually quite a few websites that rank charitable foundations. Charity Navigator and Charity Watch are just two. Each site has its own criteria. Some of the rankings are based on a ratio of administrative fees to funds handed out. Others rely on ratings from individuals, similar to web ratings for restaurants or hotels. A few do not include religious groups since they cannot access the IRS returns. However, for some these church sponsored groups remain valuable.

There are many organizations I trust. The United Methodist Church is at the top of the list. I will donate to their Disaster Relief Fund which you can access here. The church website relates stories of already completed help. Link to UMC website for more details.

Sometimes individual churches provide direct help. Many churches in the path of the storm became shelters for those forced from their homes. Others became staging areas for rescue efforts.

Churches outside the affected area can help in the months to come. After the tornados in Joplin a few years ago, members of our church traveled there months after the fact to help. Actually, a later visit to help often works better. Perhaps youth groups and other volunteers can plan now to help next spring or summer.

Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey wreaked so much havoc that relief efforts will need to continue for the forseeable future. I know the neighborhood I lived in as well as the areas where I worked were inundated with water. At this point in time the best thing I can do is send money. In a few weeks or possibly months the dry goods could come into play. For now, it is a time to clean up. The restocking will come later.

Social and Economic Aspect of the Solar Eclipse

Blacked Out

Minions Eclipse

Charlie Brown Eclipse

The Social and Economic Aspect of a Full Eclipse
As I previously wrote, I was fortunate enough to watch the 2017 eclipse from a position within the path of totality. Today I plan to share with you some of the social aspect as well as the economic impact. I was in a group of about 40 of which the vast majority were complete strangers. But there is a certain bonding which occurs in such an event. It is this social aspect which adds to the thrill of watching a total eclipse.
About half the attendees were children. Most were in the K-12 range with a few younger and perhaps one or two in college. The nearby schools made the day optional for attendance. I was one of the oldest, if not the oldest and so the mid-fifties was the upper range. Therefore, many of the adults took the day off or if on a night shift, awoke early. One individual had his business shut down by the state due to the anticipated crowds. When you see the negative economic impact figures, this loss of productivity is what the numbers represent.
Since I am at a stage where I am beginning to forget things, I forgot to pack a shirt for the overnight trip. Shortly after arriving, I made a stop at the local Target and bought two eclipse shirts. Only adult medium and youth large were left. They were sold out of all other sizes. I also enjoyed dinner at a restaurant with two good friends. I don’t think they planned on eating out before I called them that morning. Additionally, I bought a tank of gas both coming and going to the event. I do not know if these expenditures, which offset the loss of productivity, are counted in any way.
The eclipse party also included some extra consumer spending. As you can see from the pictures, there were other t-shirts sporting the eclipse. Even though I was a stranger to most, I was not the only guest at the party from out of the area. There were at least three individuals from Dallas, Texas and several other towns, cities and states were represented. Most drove but at least one attendee flew in for the event.
While many observers of the eclipse were watching from parks, soccer fields and even the sides of highways, I watched on private property. As I previously noted, most of my fellow watchers were strangers to me. I was the outsider, but am grateful to my host and hostess for including me. They like me, have an appreciation for privacy. Therefore the group of forty was quite small in comparison to the amount of space available. It remains to be seen if any longstanding relationships develop from the experience, but I will never forget the people I met.
A total eclipse is special. An experience that inks permanently on the brain. My only regret is echoed by a fellow observer on the following video clip. I wish I had a better camera.

Short Eclipse Video

Book Review of Collared by David Rosenfelt

Collared- An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt

Collared has two connotations. The first is collaring a dog, while the second is collaring a criminal. David Rosenfelt may be alluding to the former, but the theme of his book is really about the latter. My library has a sticker on the spine indicating it is the 14th Andy Carpenter mystery. This is the first I have read. Rosenfelt writes so that you are not missing out by not having read the previous books.

The narrative is first person through the eyes of Andy Carpenter. It took me a few chapters to warm to his personality. Carpenter is a reluctant lawyer. References are made to the fact he is wealthy enough not to work. This background allows him to fully focus on just one case.

This story (and perhaps all the Carpenter stories) is triggered by a dog. In the case of Collared, an abandoned dog is identified via chip as one that disappeared at the scene of a kidnapping. The young child has never been found yet a man, who proclaims his innocence, resides in a New Jersey penitentiary.

Over the course of the novel, Andy Carpenter takes on the convicted kidnapper as a client. Carpenter successfully pushes for a retrial. In the course of defending his client the mystery is solved. As with all good mysteries there are quite a few twists and turns before the criminal mastermind is collared.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. The twists and turns are believable. I enjoyed the writing because the author made me smile and even chuckle a few times. I read to relax and for entertainment. Many people watch television for the same reason. I prefer books.

Authors that succeed in getting an emotional response out of me get flagged as one to read again. Yes, I plan to go back to the library and check out another of the thirteen books featuring Carpenter as the protagonist. Rosenfelt is an author I find entertaining.

Path of Totality Solar Eclipse 2017

Eclipse Day
August 21, 2017 will be in my mind for years to come. I was fortunate to watch the eclipse from the heartland. The location was in the 70 mile stretch called the path of totality. Approximately 40 people were enjoying the 2017 solar eclipse from a private ranch with incredible views of the horizon in all directions.

Yet another piece of luck was the presence of Dr. Michael Dowling. A veteran eclipse watcher, this was his fifth total eclipse, Dr. Dowling was invaluable in sharing his knowledge. Many had never experienced any type of eclipse. For most this was the first time watching from the path of totality.

As shared in Awaiting the Eclipse of 2017, my previous experiences were limited to partial eclipses. I am so glad I made the trip to see the full eclipse because there is a huge difference. Now I understand why people go to great lengths to travel to the path of totality. I am looking forward to 2045 when the path leads over my house. The eclipse will last about 5 minutes that year, more than twice as long as yesterday.

Over the next few posts I will share pictures and movies of my experience. The final minutes leading up to the total eclipse are shown in the longest video posted below.The camera is a bit shaky because I was holding it behind my back while watching the sun with my glasses. The shadow that sweeps across the land just prior to the moon totally covering the sun comes from behind. You cannot look both for the shadow and watch the sun. I chose to watch the sun and hope the camera could pick up some of the shadow. I was pleased that the video was able to capture the event. The audio tells the story as well.

All were shot with a two year old cell phone camera. I definitely need to upgrade. However, I was able to capture much more of the event thanks to Dr. Dowling. He was great. In addition to bringing a shadowbox to view the moon covering the sun, he provided explanations of what was going to happen. At one point he had volunteers act as the sun, moon, and Earth in order to demonstrate the process. I think this was particularly helpful for the kids in the group.

Solarscope

The pictures to the left are of the solar scope. Due to Dr. Dowling and his explanations of the eclipse highlights, I had a tremendous first experience of a total eclipse.

My absolute favorite part is called the ring effect. I did not try to capture this instant on the film. I just wanted to enjoy the moment. Sometimes photos can’t quite capture the human experience. Bailey’s Beads and the diamond ring effect fall into this category for me.

I plan to share the social experience in a later post. I have two chances to repeat this experience without leaving the continent. The first is in 2024 which would involve driving to Dallas. The second is over 20 years later. I plan to watch both from the path of totality.

Where were you for the 2017 Solar Eclipse?

Awaiting Solar Eclipse of 2017

PART 1
I live about 5 ½ hours south of the path of totality for this year’s solar eclipse. Naturally, I wanted to take part since my previous experiences have been partial eclipses. Fortunately I know several people who live in the path and found someone willing to put me up for the night.

Since the news outlets repeatedly released warnings about eclipse traffic I took the back roads which added a small amount of time. Of course, in my neck of the woods the main roads are two lane U.S. highways for the most part. The back roads are state highways and in some cases county roads. For the most part the traffic was not difficult. So maybe the traffic will be heavy the day of the eclipse, or maybe I am late to the party.

However, the farther north I drove the more crowded the gas pumps were. Perhaps this was a direct result of the warnings of possible gas shortages. Or maybe people wanted full tanks to go home on.
In addition to the temporary signs warning of higher volumes of traffic, the states I traveled through had other preparations. Lots of no stopping or standing signs appeared as well. As I reached the area that will experience the total eclipse cones and barrels appeared on the side of the road to keep people from parking on the shoulder.

I vividly remember some partial eclipses from when I was a kid. We made pinhole projectors with a piece of cardboard and a white piece of paper. This year I will be using specialty glasses. I will also observe shadows.

Another thing I hope to do this year is to take lots of pictures. Since I will be using my cell phone, the quality may be questionable. However, I plan to take pictures of the social aspect of the event as well as the eclipse itself.

The most important thing is not to look at the sun without special glasses. According to the NASA website it will be safe to look directly at the eclipse for the brief time it is fully covered and ONLY if you are in the path of totality. However, much like experiencing the eye of a hurricane, you do not want to misjudge the timing of the re-emergence of the sun.

I hope many of you take the time to see either the full eclipse or the partial depending on where you live. Be sure to check back on Econogal for a full report.

ALL-TIME FAVORITE COOKBOOK

\"\"The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

My all-time favorite cookbook is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. My current edition is the 13th. By current, I mean the third copy I have used. To be honest, I have no idea what edition I started with.

As you can see in the adjacent picture, my current edition is in bad shape. I don’t blame the publisher even though all my copies have met similar endings. Instead, I believe the condition reflects the daily use.

To be honest, I don’t remember if my mom or my maternal grandmother gave me my first copy. I do know it was a wedding present. Since I have been married over 30 years and am on my third cookbook, I can say each one has lasted a decade.

Hopefully my book-lover/ bookseller cousin won’t disown me, but I see some books as tools to be used. This cookbook is in that category. As you can see in the pictures below, the front and back inside cover give quick reference tips. If you are like me and don’t have the metric system memorized, it includes these measurements as well. I also like the old-fashioned tips such as blanching to remove skin peels which are found in between the tables.

The first 50 pages are full of definitions and explanations of cooking terms and items found in the kitchen. At the end of the recipes are two short sections. The first contains sample menus for various meals. The second is a wonderful table which includes calorie count as well as cholesterol, fat, protein and carbohydrate count of various food ingredients.

In between are hundreds of recipes along with more how-to information. I really like and use the tips found at the beginning of each section of the cookbook. For example, the book contains a two page spread under the fish/shellfish section that helps identify the different types of seafood. This is carried out through the sections.

So if you can’t quite figure out the mystery fruit in the produce section, buy one and bring it home. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook will not only help identify but also give you tips and recipes to use. The editors also use illustrations on cuts of meat as well as in the bread making and preserve sections. While not as fancy as some of the cookbooks with full color photo spreads, I like the fact that the visual aids always pop up where you need extra help to picture the process.

Since home economics classes are seldom found in K-12 schools, this is a great book to give. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is well written. The recipes work even for those without much cooking experience. I love this book and highly recommend it. This cookbook is on the list, even if I could only own ten books.

What cookbook is on your top ten list?

Germaine’s Luau- A Hawaiian Tradition

A Hawaiian Luau

Another stop on my recent trip to Hawaii was the island of Oahu. The traditional luau was high on the priority list for one of my fellow travelling companions. Prior to the trip I researched luaus in the Honolulu area where we spent one weekend. I selected Germaine’s Luau and I was not disappointed. I was looking for a family oriented event with audience interaction. Another key in my search centered on the fact I was not renting a car while on the Island of Oahu. Germaine’s runs shuttle buses out to the beach site where the luau is performed.

We were fortunate and had ideal weather for the night we scheduled. The pick-up location was just 3 blocks from our hotel. Germaine’s ran four buses into Honolulu and each made multiple stops. In addition to the driver, each bus had a host or hostess.

The host is tasked with collecting tickets and offering upgrades. Since I considered the trip a once in a lifetime opportunity, I had already signed up for the works. Our host “Cousin Greg” was entertaining and informative. He also excelled at marketing. Quite a few of the passengers bought upgrades and boy it was worth it.

Once we arrived, our Plumeria tickets granted us individual photos with the dancers. The photos are developed before the end of the night so you can take them home. Of course in this age of selfies there are opportunities to take pictures with your cell phone. In our case the advanced photos we had taken included the fire-knife dancer.

Our tickets gave us seats front and center right next to the stage. The upgrade also came with table service. This was particularly helpful for the family we shared a table with since they had young children. Since my experiences with children and buffet lines leaves something to be desired, I count this as a plus.

The amount of food is incredible! The toddler plate would have been plenty for me. The traditional dishes were fun to try. My favorite dishes were the Kalua Pig and the Haupia. As part of the entertainment the guests watch the roasted pig being lifted from the fire pit. The traditional dessert, the Haupia is fantastic. The coconut flavored squares had the consistency of Jello but you (or at least I) use your fingers to pop into your mouth. Of course Poi, made from Taro root, a Hawaiian staple was also served. The poi reminded me of hummus in consistency. I ate too much.

The entertainment was fantastic. Germaine’s really made it a family affair. Audience interaction was a key component and all ages were involved. Part of the success I believe was the ground work laid by the bus host and hostesses who had us interacting on the drive there. The guests on our bus came from all over the world. Many opportunities arose to go up on stage. Many of those on our bus did and it was fun to recognize them. The night we attended, a man who had been stationed at Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack was celebrating his 90th birthday. Naturally we sang Happy Birthday to him.

I am sharing some pictures of the various dancers. Multiple South Pacific traditional dances were performed. The islands of Fuji, Tahiti, New Zealand and Samoa were represented. In my opinion the best part was the Samoan fire-knife dancer. I was so mesmerized I didn’t get any photos of the chief!

I am sure there are many good luaus but I certainly recommend Germaine’s. This is a commercial operation run like a family business. I loved the luau and would like to go back!

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August Hail Storm

August Hail Storm

High Plains Hail Storms

Today’s post will have lots of photos of damage to both my garden and that of a nearby relative. While we do not suffer the threats of tsunamis or hurricanes, we have our share of bad weather. On the high plains natural disasters appear in the form of blizzards, flash flooding, strong straight line winds and hail.

I have lived in my present home for 22 years and this is the third time a major hail has hit. Most of the hail we get is pea sized or slushy and doesn’t create widespread damage. But with a storm like this, contractors will be busy for months. We may have been fortunate, depending on the assessment of our roof. Many of our neighbors have broken windows, both car and home, damage to siding and roofs. Businesses suffered as well.

The recent storm carried golf ball sized stones. We are still waiting the claims personnel to see if we will need a new roof. Our current one is just 4 years old and 3 times thicker than the average. Other damage to property is limited to screens and fascia.  However, the garden suffered a direct hit.

Fortunately, I am a fanatic about keeping apprised of the weather. A cold front bringing severe weather was forecasted, so I was aware of the possibility of damage. Once the radio indicated the front was about 30 minutes away bringing large hail I quickly harvested what I could. Any tomato with the slightest bit of red was picked along with other veggies that were near ripened state. The root vegetables were left in place with the hope that the foliage would not be totally shredded.

As you can see in the photos, the hail tore the leaves apart. I estimate the locust trees lost about half, even though the leaves are small. The oak, red buds and peaches all took a hit. The photos of my beds show stripped pepper and tomato plants and damaged artichokes. Both the potato and sweet potato plants now have holey leaves but the crops should be far enough along underground not to be stunted.

The hail beat up the veggies as seen in the photos of the tomato and peppers. All the peppers had been knocked to the ground. The hail stones even knocked holes in large fruits such as melon and pumpkins as can be seen in the photo of my relative’s 20 x 20 garden plot.

The damage was not limited to neighborhood gardens. Farmers took a hit as well as can be seen in these photos of a nearby cornfield. Each year, farmers on the high plains face this threat to crops. Because of this, yields can’t be predicted for any long term planning.

The Devil’s Triangle-A Book Review

The Devil’s Triangle By Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison

 

The Devil’s Triangle is the latest Brit in The FBI series from the writing duo of Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison. This action adventure has a quick pace and is easy to read. The characters are likeable but the plot does require a suspension of belief.

British born FBI agent Nicholas Drummond and his partner Michaela “Mike” Caine receive a mayday call from known cat thief Kitsune. She needs their help. Her latest theft, the staff of Moses, has gone awry. Her clients, an evil pair of twins in search of the Ark of the Covenant, have kidnapped her husband.

Exciting chases from the canals of Venice to hidden islands off of Cuba provide the background for the story. Underground labyrinths also play a role, but it is the characters which keep the plot moving. The theme of good vs. evil is somewhat muddied by Kitsune. Her allegiance to Drummond and Caine is strong. They defend and protect her. Thus the authors are indicating many grey areas in a world that likes to think in terms of black and white.

The background for the development of the evil twins did not quite work for me. The maternal grandfather blames their behavior on a son-in-law. The twins’ kill their father previous to the action in the book, but his retold actions do not paint him as disturbed. However, the twins do make perfect villains.

The writing clearly portrays the twins, a brother and sister, as brilliant but flawed. The psychotic episodes which increase throughout the novel are well done. I could believe they were obsessed with finding the Ark of the Covenant. In fact, I want to know why and how they diverged so much from previous family members. Is it the obsession alone?

Coulter’s FBI stories usually involve romance between agents. Evidence of the special relationship between Nicholas and Mike can be found throughout. I love Mike’s Bond reference toward the end. The Devil’s Triangle has what is known in the industry as a sweet romance wrapped in the storyline. I like this approach and believe the book should not offend in this regard.

While the character relationships are G rated, there is quite a bit of violence. That is the norm for this genre. The description is not especially gory, but if you do not like murder and mayhem there may be parts you want to skip over. I found this an entertaining summer read and I recommend you check it out at your nearest library.

 

I Almost Forgot About You-by Terry McMillan Book Review

This is the first Terry McMillan book that I have read. It moved me. Not only did I feel empathy for the individuals in the story, but I also felt connected. Even though I have lived a vastly differently life I laughed and cried as the story unfolded.

On the surface I have nothing in common with Dr. Georgia Young, the main character. She is twice divorced, a daughter from each marriage, has her own practice, lives on the West Coast in a thriving city and a woman of color. But boy how I could relate!

Dr. Young is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis. She is lonely. Happiness is fleeting. She wants to quit her lucrative practice, sell her house and find herself. However she is a bit daunted by the fact that she is in her fifties. In addition, obstacles, normal life events, stand in her way.

McMillan does a fantastic job of exploring that age when more years are behind rather than in front. Questions pop up when you reach your fifties. Have I made a difference? How would things turned out if…? This is the age where you either reach Maslow’s self-actualization or think you might need to start over.

In real life, seldom do changes occur over night. Thus the author creates a realistic tale by having Young’s desire for change transpire over a number of years. The characters are so well-developed the reader feels a part of the story. And the time flies.

The trigger for the entire story is the discovery of the death of a former lover. Dr. Young decides to find, make amends, forgive if possible, or thank as the case may be all her past significant others. One BFF thinks this is a great idea and the other is horrified.

The search takes time. Life keeps churning even through the stops and starts of the search. Old issues are resolved, or not. Finally, a happy ending, which does not always happen in contemporary novels.

I loved this novel and recommend it for mature readers. The writing is superb and I plan to buy more of McMillan’s books. However, this is a novel which covers topics which can be shocking or controversial depending on your background. Read with an open mind. Or don’t read at all.

 

 

Econogal’s Homemade Granola

Econogal's Homemade Granola Recipe

Homemade Granola

We like granola. I adapted this recipe from one shared on a blog I follow. This recipe takes a bit more time than others I have tried because of a three step process. The extra time and effort is worth it! Variations are easy since the types of nuts and dried fruits used can be determined by what you have on hand. I buy my oats in bulk from Heartland Mill but you can use Quaker Oats or other store bought brands as well.

Ingredients:

Step 1                                                                   Step 2                                                                 Step 3

6 cups Rolled Oats                                                    1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped nuts                                 1 to 1 1/2 chopped dried fruits
3 TBS Brown Sugar
1 TBS Cinnamon
1/3 cup Coconut Oil
1/3 cup Honey
1 Tsp Almond OR Vanilla Extract

 

DIRECTIONS

Step 1 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl mix the rolled oats with the brown sugar and the cinnamon. Over low heat, melt the coconut oil and honey, stir in your choice of extract. When liquefied, stir into the oat mixture and spread evenly in pans or baking sheets with edges. I use Pampered Chef stoneware. If using metal pans, reduce cooking time. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in oven.

Step 2 

Chop nuts. You can use all one kind or a mixture. Stir into oat mixture after the first baking. Return and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Step 3 

Chop dried fruit if needed and add to the oatmeal nut mixture. If you plan to store in glass jars, can while still warm. If storing in plastic containers let cool completely and then fill.

At our house, the granola is consumed quickly and so I have not worried about processing for long term storage. But you may want longer storing so check Fresh Preserving for canning directions.

Important Difference

A key difference in this recipe is adding the dried fruit after baking. I tried several recipes which called for including the fruit in the second step. This makes the fruit very hard. My favorite nut combinations are almond slivers, chopped pecans and chopped walnuts. Dried fruit favorites are cranberries, raisins and apricots. Be sure to let me know your favorite combinations in the comment section.

Granola Ingredients

Canned Granola

Econogal's Homemade Granola

Econogal’s Homemade Granola

RECIPE CARD

This is a family favorite that I can’t keep stocked up. Makes about 2 ½ quarts.

Ingredients:

6 cups Rolled Oats
3 TBS Brown Sugar
1 TBS Cinnamon
1/3 cup Coconut Oil
1/3 cup Honey
1 Tsp Almond OR Vanilla Extract
1 to1 ½ cups Assorted Chopped Nuts
1 to1 ½ cups Assorted Dried Fruits, chopped if desired

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In large bowl mix oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Over low heat combine honey, coconut oil and extract until liquid. Stir hot liquid mixture into oat mixture and spread into baking pans or baking sheets with edges. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in nuts. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Stir in dried fruit and store in sealed containers.