Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How bumbling-stumbling-fumbling Government suddenly threatened America’s medical-industrial complex

Our current Republican leaders apparently enjoy gazing lovingly at their big fat 3-tiered chocolate cake while devouring its very yumminess too.  How else can you explain their sudden and dramatic insistence that a government-run “public option” as part of health care reform will compete unfairly and essentially drive the insurance industry out of the medical business?

Come on!  People!  We’re talking about Guv’ment here!  These bureaucrats can’t run ANYthing – remember?  Their renowned incompetence is so scary, we’ve been instructed to drag the whole thing into the bathtub and drown it.  These fools are the folks who will run health care so efficiently no private company could possibly be expected to compete?  Really?

It’s my recollection that we’ve spent the last 30 years privatizing as much government service delivery in every sector possible because it’s common knowledge that private industry always does it better – whatever “it” is.  Obama must be even more all-powerful than even previously suspected – he’s turned the entire public sector into an ominous threat to private industry!  Wow!  Poor health insurance companies!

I understand all the concern about a level playing field, really I do.  What's fair about government managers who don’t require first-class airline tickets, - or even private jets – and stay in run of the mill hotels?  Just because Federal laws prohibit the inclusion of golf club memberships and junkets to the Caymans on the taxpayer’s dime is no reason why private sector executives should have to suffer. 


Come on, folks. Either government can offer up a cost-effective alternative for health care consumers (thereby threatening the for-profit model) or its bureaucratic wastefulness will prove that the private sector is the better option and raise the private insurance company back to the pedestal where it belongs.

How, exactly, does a Public Option not serve us?  It forces the industry to a non-profit standard (let us recall that much of health care was, actually, non-profit until recent decades) and insists that $1B (yes, that’s with a B) CEO compensation is not a cost of doing business that costs you and me.

I say Let The Government Waste Begin! 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Good Advice

As Hallmark so ubiquitously reminds us, June is for "Dads and Grads."  We've had a relaxing and wonderful Dad's Day, with our SSF papa spending most of the day poking around with his son until that got too exhausting and he napped.  As it should be.

The other June tradition of emerging from academic studies to face the future sees graduates every year peering at what seems to them unprecedented challenges and unheard of crises.  And yet, in a very real sense, war and peace, fear and hope, loss and opportunity are all timeless realities that each generation turns its attention to in its own unique yet universal way.

Here at SSF, we mark a graduation of sorts ourselves - a finishing of one schooling experience and the looming challenge of another:  Dylan and his classmates ran through the long tangled tunnel of children's arms on Friday to emerge as elementary school "graduates."  But, unlike most of the kids that ran ahead or behind him, he won't be sitting in all the middle school classes come next fall.

For a broad palette of reasons, we've chosen a cafeteria-style approach to middle school, combining certain classes at our local district school with an afternoon homeschool curriculum.  So, as silly as a 5th grade "graduation" may seem on its face, for our family it really does represent a major milestone.

Many years ago, I read a column by a Chicago columnist, aimed at the graduating class of that year.  It stuck with me and I was, in turn, delighted to stumble upon a musical version of the very same column that has become something of a cult phenomenon.  For about a year now, I’ve been battling with my iTunes to figure out a way to share it with my GGF – her daughter is moving through school alongside my son and the essay/song seems to me even more relevant to the ears of girls than boys.  Truth be told, it is good advice for male and female, young and old.  Its wisdom occurs to me often in the course of any given day.

Lo and behold, as I was pulling weeds just now – another great task for solving the world’s problems – I had the pathetically obvious epiphany:  YouTube.

So, herewith GGF, other close friends with growing children, and anyone else in need of a little insight into getting up each day and making friends with the passage of time.  A graduation present:

Everybody's Free - 



Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Feast from Farm and Freezer

This past weekend marked a couple of milestones.  

First, I got another year older, just like that.  Some good friends gathered and helped me say good-bye to 43.  This coming year promises several significant life shifts in our family, so I look forward to 44 with a unique eagerness.  Dylan is leaving elementary school and starting a hybrid of middle and homeschool; Mark is leaving his workplace; I hope to begin work on a book. 

And, the farm is beginning to be self-sufficient.  I decided to celebrate its newfound solvency by challenging myself to lay out a feast without a trip to the grocery store.  Guess what?  We did it!  Not everything was from our own backyard, but it was produced by hand on a small-scale, either here or nearby.  To wit, our Birthday Menu:

Fresh-baked Spicy Cheddar Artisan bread and just-picked snap peas with Hazel's garlicky Fromage Blanc (Hazel is our friend's Guernsey dairy cow)

SSF Frittata with SSF eggs, Russian kale, and garlic scapes and Hazel's cream and Fromage Blanc (I have to say, this was absolutely delicious)

Rosemary garlic Leg of Lamb
Calgary grass-fed Black Angus sirloin marinated in our own Syrah (OK, and some Lea & Perrins and olive oil) and grilled
Grilled line-caught salmon (sold road-side by an islander) with herb rub

Salad of 4 lettuces and fresh-picked snap peas

Just-picked strawberries with whipped Hazel cream

YUMMY!  What fun we all had.  Thanks everyone-

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Small miracles in my backyard

After Dylan and his friend had exhausted most every kind of self-sufficient entertainment strategy while the parents sheared sheep, Dylan got one of his ideas..  M, Mark, and I toiled on the last few lambs, came inside to shower and change, and sat down on the front porch for cool beverage – as the boys quietly crept up and down the stairs to the unfinished attic above Nana’s place. 

Just as M packed up the overnight gear, the boys presented us with the great unveiling:  They’d spirited down a piece of plywood and two small chairs and fastened them into a desk.  Then a folding chair, a desktop hutch, a desk lamp, a floor lamp, and a tablecloth to complete the desk.  An African spear for decoration.  Writing paper and a pen.

For me.

I’m a good person, but it’s hard not to believe in karma.  I had to have done something pretty great somewhere back there.

Thanks, Dylan.

Ode to Mr. Oreck and his Wonderful Machines

It is a well-known established and scientific fact that vacuum cleaners hate me.  These diabolical contraptions and I have a long, ugly history, and if I'd kept every one that bore the scars of my wrath instead of hauling them, one by one across the years, to the nearest dump, I'd have a mighty fine pile indeed.

Floor sweepers, "cordless brooms" (the irony kills me), canisters, uprights, fancy, plain, HEPA - you name it.  I tried 'em all and fell in love, serially, with each model's features, simplicity, price - whatever.  But, finally, the perfect storm:

Fall, 2005.  My latest floor sweeper has coughed up its last fur ball.  I am disgusted and disheartened.  I seriously consider the sexy Australian model that specifically targets animal fur.  But, the price, the price gives me pause.  Plus, all those bells and whistles...I'd grown skeptical.

I stand in the aisle of famed Costco #1 - we are, of course, Home of Costco - and try not to let the drool hit the grey cement floor.  But, I resist.  Wow, that is a lot of money.  And, with my history?

Then a sort of weird thing happened.  While I was musing on my vacuum karma and how one can move into one's own appliance future in some sort of altered reality, real people experienced real tragedy in a real place - Hurricane Katrina hit.

Now, I listen to progressive talk radio and I'd been hearing David Oreck hawk his product for over a year.  I'm generally immune to this kind of advertising but I couldn't help admiring his straightforward style and his adamant insistence about the warranty.  I couldn't get away from how aggressively he stood behind his product.  I admit it:  I was impressed.

Then, Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast. Day after day, Mr. Oreck - now almost 80, by the way - came on the radio and described the devastation the storm had wrought to his manufacturing operations and, more pointedly, to his employees' homes.  He talked about his plant and his employees and what he was personally doing to get his staff through this time.

I was hooked.  

I figured, if I'm not going to buy an American product that I'm already interested in, that's made on the Gulf Coast while its being decimated, when am I ever going to put my money where my mouth is?  Was it expensive?  Yes.  (but no more than that fancy Australian model) Did my money go to American workers?  Yup.  I pulled out the credit card and put in my order.  

David Oreck flew bombers in WW2.  He didn't own his own company until he was 40 years old.  Even today, in addition to taping radio and TV ads, he flies, gives talks (pro bono) to budding entrepreneurs in college, and works.  He serves on the board of a New Orleans school that he continues to give money to.  

David Oreck is a lot of things.  Father, grandfather, pilot, entrepreneur, donor. But, I'll never forget those commercials he spent money on during the dark days after Katrina when he didn't talk at all about vacuuming or dust, but instead talked about people and hope.  He vowed to keep his manufacturing in America.  He vowed to take care of his employees.

And, you know what?  He did.

Plus, here's the great part:  He makes a mean vacuum.  The punchline to my story is that Mr. Oreck's vacuum is the best, by far, I've ever owned.  I would swear that he has broken my curse.  And, he throws in a canister vacuum to boot.  Nothing fancy, no bells or whistles, just actual vacuuming that actually rids your house of dust and household allergens.  How refreshing!  Back to the bag system, but in a whole new way.  We've gotten so enamored with HEPA, we forgot that capturing all that yucky stuff inside a sealed bag is, when it works, a good idea.  And I'm a pretty severe asthmatic, so a decent barometer.

I've owned Oreck vacuums for nearly 3 years and am literally impressed every time I use them.  Vacuums lead a hard life at my house - I pull them out every other day - and by God, these suckers just do the job no questions asked.  There's no fiddly adjustments for carpet height or dirt intensity - they just vacuum.  Yay.

We could use a few more David Orecks.  And I can't recommend his products enough.  If you're looking for a way to Buy American, he's your guy.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Almost Everything Off the Farm Frittata

In the spirit of my spring resolution to buy as little at the grocery store as possible, I decided to embrace the Spanish tradition of eggs at dinnertime, not just breakfast.  Except for the mushrooms, you can probably find all these ingredients at your local farmers market.  Freshness is what makes this dish delish:

In a 10-12 inch wide ovenproof pan, such as cast iron, saute a half-pound of mushrooms and half a red onion in a TBS of olive oil for about 3 minutes, until the onion begins to soften.  Add in 3 cloves of minced garlic and crumble in a TBS of Herbes de Provence.  Saute another 5 minutes, stirring only occasionally.

Meanwhile crumble 1 C of feta into a bowl.

Turn on your broiler.

Whisk 8 eggs together in a large bowl.

Chop a handful of fresh parsley.

When your mushroom mixture is ready, pour it into the eggs, and stir in the parsley and the cheese.

When blended, pour the whole mixture back into the pan and cook over medium high until the eggs set, about 3 minutes.  Carefully transfer to the oven and broil another 3-5 minutes until the top browns.

Enjoy with crusty bread and a light green salad.  

Monday, June 1, 2009

In the Garden

Before bearing some of nature's yummiest mouth candy, climbing pea vines put on a show.

Report In: Happy Healthy Sheep

This past weekend was our quarterly sheep wrangling event, when our friends Michael & Ellen come out from the city and help vaccinate, worm, and hoof trim our flock.  Yesterday we added the new, not-insignificant task of shearing.  Mark and I purchased a set of scary-looking shears back in early spring and had given a couple of the sheep a haircut vaguely suggestive of a visit from Freddie, but this time we went after the whole lot of them.

Ellen had to stay back this time, but Michael came out with his son Saturday night.  We enjoyed halibut tacos together, then the young boys retreated to their glowing tent lair and the big boys headed up to a concert fundraiser in town.  And the next morning, we were up and at 'em by 8:30.

It was a long day, six hours in the sun (sun!), with Mark and Michael taking turns holding up 100 to 200 pounds of sheep, cutting away months and months of fleece, dirt, and, well, muck.  Sweaty and gross, the work was made almost fun by the tonic of camaraderie and the shade of our ancient apple tree.

It was a relief, too, to cut away the dead fleece and reveal plump shiny mamas underneath.  Gone are the skinny girls of February, replaced by nice round tummies and strong legs - even nursing isn't wearing them out.  

Next time, we'll have fleece worthy of the Farmers Market.  Thanks for a good days work!