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Wednesdeay 2020.9.16

Capitulating to Old Age?

No, not really; more like to a bad back. I sprained my back again. I don't know how I stressed it. I wasn't doing anything strenuous. Sunday morning I was toweling myself off after taking a shower and I felt my back rip. I know that sensation and usually I can relax into it quickly enough to minimize the damage. The worst of the damage is when I can't get out of bed. This time I'm able to walk around, if a little hunched over.

One thing I know to do is keep moving. I went to Home Depot anyway, despite the pain, and bought what I needed to start my container garden. Lifting a heavy sack of potting mix into a shopping cart was not fun, but I managed. When I got home, I left everything in the car. There wasn't anything like milk that would spoil.

What Was the Capitulation?

I ordered a rolling walker. I don't need one to remain mobile, but when I put my back out of whack a walker helps me get around my home more easily. A neighbor gave me one, a cheap walker her son found in a dumpster when he was looking for bottles and cans. Parts were missing, but I kept it anyway. I stored it in the back of my closet until this week when I finally needed it.

The important thing for me was to test it when I needed assistance. Despite its missing seat and anything to hold cargo, it does make it easier to maneuver around. A cutting board, a sheet of parchment paper, and a sofa cushion serve as a seat. It's useful enough to make me want to own a good one.

So that was the capitulation. Although I'd looked at several in the past, especially when Costco offered them at reduced prices, I never purchased one. This week I ordered a "Drive Medical Nitro DLX Euro Style Walker Rollator" from Amazon. That sounds kind of fancy, which it sort of is. I like the "Euro" styling.

Another consideration was the price. My choice was partly because Amazon had one marked down in an "open box" sale. Between that and the free shipping, I saved about $65.

However, given the fact that I only hurt my back once every few years, I probably won't get much use out of it, at least not until I'm much older. That was another consideration. Someday I might need it a lot more than I do now. For now, my back will probably be fully healed by the time this Rollator arrives late next week.

As for this old one I'm using, I won't even keep it as a spare. When the new one arrives this old piece of junk will go into the recycling bin. There is some good aluminum in it.

If you're wondering what I bought, it looks like this:

Maybe something worth mentioning: One review gave the walker a negative point because of the brakes. It said they required a learning curve because they are either fully off or fully engaged. That's only partially true. Push the brake handles down to fully lock the brakes for secure seating. In the neutral position the brakes are off. However, squeeze the brake handles upward to employ the brakes as needed.

And So…

Despite the bad back, I worked on my container garden — one container. Okay, it isn't much, but it's a beginning. Even the world's biggest and best parades begin with the first step.

Following instructions I learned from watching YouTube videos, I bought a five-gallon bucket that was labeled "food safe." I drilled ¼-holes, put screen in the bottom, some river rocks, filled the bucket with potting mix, and then placed it in a shallow basin that I can use to water the onions from below.

Of the nine onion bottoms I had rooting in water, one was doing well, five were looking hopeful, and three looked like lost causes. However, I'm not giving up on those yet. I planted six in the container. I changed the water for the other three and added a few grains of fertilizer to the water, hoping that maybe a little food in the water would encourage some root growth. I really only need one more survivor, but I can use all three if they succeed.

Here is my first container with six onions planted:

Two of the onions were just beginning to push up green sprouts. When all the green shoots get long enough, I'll fill in with mulch to discourage weeds. As for the placement of the bucket, it's in an area where it will get sun all day, at least for now. I'm not sure how much shadow it might get in winter, but I can always move the onions to a sunnier location.

How much did I spend? I bought the bucket, the dish beneath it, high-phosphorous fertilizer (supposedly onions like a lot of phosphorous), potting mix and mulch. $36.30. Okay, that seems like a lot — $6 each for those onions. But it's the fun of having a garden and watching things grow, and a lot of this purchase can be used later. I only used about a third of the potting mix, for example. And the mulch will go around my citrus trees because I'm tired of weeds getting in there.

What's next? I'm thinking my next container will be Roma tomatoes.

Sunday 2020.9.13

The Weather Fails Me

What was supposed to be a sun filled latter half of the week turned into days of gloomy overcast and foggy mornings with partial clearing, if at all, in the afternoons. I was really hoping to use my sun oven to make pasta sauce for freezing and, eventually, ragu for my Mom's American Chop Suey. I also want to make more Pasta Fagioli, using up more of the pinto beans I have before I order cannelloni beans. Maybe even more Pizza Sauce would be good to stock up on. However, the best I could do was get the cans out of storage and wait to see if the sun would shine.

On the positive side, the nights are getting cooler. I occasionally struggle with heat at night. It sometimes causes nausea. However, I learned a trick. I keep a fan next to my bed. For some reason the cool air blowing across me does well to prevent the nausea. I'd run the window fan, but the forecast has been for dense fog at night. Running the fan brings in that moisture and waking up in a damp room is not pleasant.

You've probably seen pictures of the skies here in California. Where I live the sky hasn't been as colorful, but sunrises and sunsets have a similar orange glow. Thursday the sun never shone at all; the sky was filled with a hazy yellow-orange glow all day.

Thankfully, the fires are far enough away so we don't have ash falling out of the sky and the air is breathable.


It is probably no surprise that I have a copy of Michael Cohen's book Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to the President of the United States. It's an easy book to read. I picked up a copy on Tuesday when it was released and I've already read most of it. The overarching impression of the book has been wonderment that anyone could have been so addicted to the lust for power and wealth, and so stupid, to be sucked into the Donald Trump vortex.

You've seen water swirling down a drain. That's what happens when people get too close to Trump. They get sucked in and eventually find themselves in the sewer with the other former Donald acolytes.

On Tuesday of this week Bob Woodward's latest book, Rage, is being released. I'll be ready for it. Speaking of which…

So Many Bombshells

It seems like Trump can't find a place to shelter from the bombs falling on him these days. Bob Woodward's book is due out on Tuesday. This past Tuesday Michael Cohen's bombshells were dropped. Also released this past week was Peter Strzok's new book, Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump. There are seven more Tuesdays between today and voting day on November 3rd. What's next?

We're a few weeks away from the "October surprises" we've been told to expect. I've been waiting to see if one of my predictions comes true. I suspect someone out there has copies of Trump's tax records, holding them for the right moment to drop them over the transom in some office at the New York Times, Washington Post, or other media outlet.

The audiotapes Bob Woodward has of Trump admitting he knew of the potential severity of the coronavirus and wanting to hide the danger from the American people are bad enough. What might October reveal? Buckle up. Next month could be a wild ride.

And Then There is November

I feel a little, but only a little, vindicated because of something Michael Cohen said when interviewed on TV. I predicted Trump might resign rather than lose the election. He hates to be a loser. Cohen offered a different outcome. If Trump loses in November he'll resign and Mike Pence will be sworn in as president. Then Pence will pardon Trump of all the numerous crimes he committed — tax evasion, fraud, money laundering, lying to Congress, misuse of campaign funds, pocketing the inauguration funds, violating the emoluments clause, etc. There is one exception. He can only be pardoned of federal crimes. He will still face the investigations of state crimes, especially in New York where prosecutors have been working hard to get his financial records.

So, yes, a possible resignation, if not as I predicted, but now more likely.

How about another prediction? If Trump loses this election, I suspect he'll spend the rest of his life in court defending himself against criminal charges. The "Trump" brand will lose its value and Trump will lose most of his wealth paying legal fees. He'll declare bankruptcy yet again.

How about yet another prediction? The voting by mail thing will be a very messy affair for the states that have laws saying those votes can only be counted after election day. Media outlets want quick answers. Who is the next president? Charges and accusations will fly back and forth. However, fiascos usually lead to resolutions and most of the problems will be resolved before the 2024 election, maybe before the 2022 midterms.


How are the onions doing? After three days I changed the water and checked for root growth. Some showed no development at all, some showed one or two little roots forming, but one showed several roots developing. I counted about a dozen, some longer than others.

Around the perimeter of the root section new white roots are sprouting. Although there were no green sprouts up top, the center part of the white surface (opposite the roots) was pushing upward, indicating there was some growth from beneath. So you really can grow new onions from the discards of old onions.

If I can get my car started, I'll make a trip to Home Depot to get the first of the supplies I need to start a container garden.

Wednesday 2020.9.9

A Dehydrator?

Some of the people who watch my YouTube videos recommend I get a dehydrator. They generated enough curiosity to send me looking at models on Amazon. The Excelsior seems to be the most popular.

Will I get one? Probably not. Storage is one issue. I've often said I live in a mobile home. There is no garage, no cellar, no attic. I feel lucky to have such a spacious shed (and lately I've been clearing out some items I never use). I also don't have a garden (but see below).

A good dehydrator is expensive. If I only dehydrated the occasional fruits and vegetables I found on sale, would I save enough money to pay for the unit? Add the cost of electricity to run it. How long would it take for the appliance to pay for itself? And how often have I ever needed or desired dehydrated foods?

Another Dehydrator

Actually, I already have a dehydrator, of sorts. My All American Sun Oven can be used to dry foods. Controlling the temperature certainly isn't as easy as turning a dial or pressing a button, but it's not impossible. There are several videos that explain using the oven as a dehydrator.

Another issue is sun. I need sunlight. The skies have been almost cloudless lately, but there is a definite haze in the air from the fires about 100 miles away. When the wind blows in the right direction the smoke comes this way. The sunlight has a yellow/orange tinge to it, but it makes for colorful sunsets. There is nothing I can do but wait until the wind changes direction and blows it away.

According to the weather forecast, tomorrow is supposed to be a sunny day. For the first part of this week the forecast has been "patchy smoke."

A Container Garden?

I watched several YouTube videos from growers who raise tomatoes in five-gallon buckets in their yard. Here in a mobile home park I don't have much garden space, even though I live on a corner lot that is about 1½ times the size of other spaces. So the idea of growing produce in containers intrigues me.

I have a long driveway, but only one car. I don't use the back of the driveway for much. Currently there is a rack of firewood to one side. I planned to use the wood, oak, for cooking, but it smokes too much even though it is thoroughly dry. After it's all used up I'll disassemble the rack and plan a container garden.

I saw a few videos from suburban farmers who grow their own onions in containers. They said you can cut off the bottom section, the root end, of the onion and place it on top of a jar filled with water. Roots will eventually start to develop. Green spears might appear to sprout from the center. The roots are the important part.

Supposedly, when the roots get going, transplant the onions to potting soil. Keep watered and place in an area that gets all-day sun. I decided it might be fun to try.

Here are my onions. (The bulk of the onions were caramelized, see below.) The photo is dark because the onions are so white. You can barely see the rings. That one in the back left corner needed to be held up with toothpicks because I didn't have enough small jars. I'll call that one an experiment.

I added the growing idea as part of a video about caramelizing onions. The plan is to store the video files on my computer and hold them while the onions are developing. Hopefully I can show roots later and maybe even show them planted in a pot with some green shoots sprouting. I won't hold the video until the onions reach full maturity because that can take four months, maybe longer because these will be growing through the winter.

Sunday 2020.9.6

Happy and Safe Labor Day Tomorrow

Santa Barbara closed some of the beaches this holiday weekend in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. I mentioned in Wednesday's blog that the numbers in the community where I live are low. As of yesterday's report, there are currently 13 infectious individuals in the local area — one here in the city and 12 in the student community next to the University.

As planned, I did go shopping again on Wednesday, stopping this time at Costco. Even though I brought a list, I bought a couple items on impulse — more nonstick baking sheets and a stove top nonstick griddle. I'll sort through my baking sheets and toss the old ones into the recycling bin. I try to buy new baking sheets each year so that I have pristine ones that look good in a video. It amuses me when watching a YouTube cooking video to see an old baking sheet, maybe handed down from a grandmother, that is blackened and dented.

This time I went nuts for vegetables — corn and three kinds of mixed vegetables. I try to use a little skillet to cook a piece of fish or other protein and my largest skillet for a generous helping of sautéed vegetables. I also bought a big bag of onions at Costco — 10 pounds. There are usually 10 or 11 in the bag. I'll cook those down until caramelized and then divide them into packets equivalent to about half an onion each, then package and freeze them. I use them mostly in sauces.

There's one problem: Not enough freezer space. I filled the freezer with the frozen foods I bought, but there were other foods — Italian sausages, ground beef, leg of lamb, steelhead trout — that I planned to portion and then freeze. I'll need to shift things around to find space. And if that fails, I can always take out the box of ice cubes to give myself an extra shelf. It will all work out.

I've done this before. If I remember correctly it was at the end of 2018 I made a New Year's Resolution to eat all the foods I had in the freezer before buying more. It took a while, but I did it.

Sun Onions

I mentioned in Wednesday's blog my plan to experiment with caramelizing onions in my Sun Oven. Here's the thing: When I do the onions on the stove, I start with a moderate heat to boil off most of the moisture. Then I start reducing the heat. Toward the end of the cooking time the flame is at its lowest setting. If I can use a low heat to caramelize the onions, wouldn't it work the same in the Sun Oven?

On Thursday the weather was perfect. Sunny all day. Not a cloud in the sky. Before my oven was fully in the sun (there was some shadow from my home) I had chopped up one onion and placed it in a pan with a little olive oil. By 9:00 it was in the oven and I was starting to monitor the temperature.

The question on Wednesday was: When do I remove the lid from the pan? In the first stage of cooking the steam would help cook the onion. When it's tender, should I remove the lid? If the door of the oven is sealed, I wouldn't dehydrate the onion. But that's what experimentation is for, right?

While the onions were doing their thing, I portioned and froze the ground beef (7.85 lbs.) into 15 eight-ounce packets, squeezing them into the freezer wherever I could find a little space. I'll use the beef with the caramelized onion and some pasta sauce to make the ragu I need for my American Chop Suey this winter.

That left the fish, lamb and Italian sausages to do, which I've been working on. Friday I did the fish and sausages. Yesterday I did the leg of lamb and that finished my freezer stocking.


At around noon I went out to check on the onions. They were starting to brown! I set the pan lid a little ajar and I did the same with the glass door to the oven to encourage some moisture to evaporate. How did they come out?

Here's a photo:

You can indeed caramelize onions in a sun oven. In fact, you can overcook them a little. There were some black pieces, which I pulled out later. Most of the onion, however, caramelized well.

I used those onions to make a plate of American Chop Suey. The first bite was a miracle. It was so delicious. I don't remember when I ate it last — maybe a couple years ago.

On Friday I tried again. This time I used three large onions that were part of a 10-pound bag I bought at Costco. They baked in the Sun Oven all day. I drained the water off twice, hoping that would accelerate the browning. By 6:00 the onions had browned a little, but they weren't caramelized like the first test.

Conclusion: Yes, you can caramelize an onion in a Sun Oven, but when doing several onions it is a lot easier and it takes a lot less time — 20 to 30 minutes — to caramelize them in a skillet on the stove.


Besides monitoring the temperature of my Sun Oven, I also kept tabs on the forecast this week. Today continued to be projected as the hottest day with temperatures in the low to mid 90s. It's usually about 10 degrees warmer where I live; so I expect to see 100 degrees later today.

Bulletins kept appearing on television during the day Thursday. I decided to turn on my weather radio and listen to the broadcasts. Among the warnings were warm nighttime temperatures; so I decided to roll out my bedroom air conditioner, which has been tucked away in the closet for several years. I can't remember when I last needed it at night. I only ever use it at night to keep my bedroom cool enough for me to sleep. The AC unit is loud, but I can tolerate the noise to escape the heat, if necessary. The window fan might be enough.

Besides the heat warning, we're also under a Fire Weather Warning. Should a fire erupt somewhere up in the mountains and/or foothills, power outages would be possible. As usual, I prepared. I lit my oil lamps to burn off any accumulated wax buildup in the wicks. I also went out to the shed to bring inside my battery-powered storm lanterns.

And, Finally, an Earthquake

There was a bit of a shaker not far from here yesterday evening. I was watching a college football game when my chair shook a little. There was no noise. It wasn't a rolling motion, which would indicate a quake far away. It was a little sharp, but lasted only a few seconds.

I immediately looked at the U.S. Geological Survey web site to learn the temblor was up in the Santa Ynez Valley, about 15 miles away. It registered 3.8 magnitude — not enough to cause any damage, but enough to be felt.

Wednesday 2020.9.2

A Short Blog Today

There isn't much to talk about. The Tour de France cycling race has been proceeding well. I really like the lack of large crowds making noise during the race. A few years ago someone complained about the crowds. Do we allow fans onto the football field during a game? Onto the baseball diamond? Onto the basketball court? Into the swimming pool during a meet? Onto the tennis court during a match? So why do we allow so many of them onto the streets during a cycling race?

If they really want to increase the popularity of NASCAR or Grand Prix racing, allow spectators onto the track. Plenty of people would tune in just to watch the carnage. (Yeah, it's morbid, but sadly it's true.)

A Change in the Weather

There was an alert bulletin on TV yesterday morning warning of potentially high heat for the weekend. It's too early to know for sure, but so far it appears Sunday will be the hottest day with temperatures projected to be in the low to mid 90s. Inland areas could see triple-digit heat. September and early October are typically the warmest times of the year here.

We've been in a pattern of overcast mornings with gradual clearing during the afternoons. It isn't the best weather for cooking with the sun's energy. Next week might be different. And so…

It Is Shopping Time

Yesterday I made my first trip to a grocery store since June 30th. Besides vegetables, which I was in dire need of, I bought a few ingredients to make the sauce to go with my Mom's American Chop Suey. Don't let the words chop suey deceive you. It's not Chinese, it's an Italian American dish. See the recipe for the ingredients. There are several variations and it is known by more than one name in the USA. In New England where I grew up we called it American Chop Suey. I think of it as "comfort food."

There are other groceries to buy; so another trip is planned for later today. Yesterday I shopped at Smart & Final, which is sort of halfway between a grocery store and a big box store. Today I'll shop at Costco, for which I'll have a longer list.

One experiment I want to try: Can I caramelize onions in a Sun Oven? It might take all day, but I think it can be done. The trick will be knowing when to take the lid off the pan. And if the onions only cook, not brown, I can caramelize them in a skillet on the stove.

My plan is to make a pot of meat sauce (beef ragu) in the sun oven. Then I'll portion and freeze it. When I feel like enjoying a bowl, I'll boil some macaroni, thaw and heat some sauce, then combine them.

And I'm still doing some grocery shopping on Amazon, trying to stay out of the stores as much as possible. The Covid-19 numbers are improving here. Yesterday's report said there are only seven infectious people in the community in which I live. I won't feel safe going to the stores until the number remains at zero for a while.