Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Busy Storm Season and a Heat Wave

This is something of a serious rebuttal to a video I saw on a website for urban men. It was instructing on how to create an emergency preparedness kit. What they instructed was something between a plane crash on a remote mountain and the household plumbing going out for a few hours. I feel bad for anyone who took it seriously because the producers did...

The weather folks are claiming we could have a busier than normal hurricane season. "Could." It will be normal to busy. I realize this was mostly an attention grabbing headline. Something to whip up histrionics. We need more of that in our lives.

However, I will take it as a practical reminder to remind all of you that it is time to think about "disaster" season. Somehow we got past the usual Memorial Day flooding; due to a subtropical storm that pushed its hot and dry side to Texas. It's already in the upper 90s here. That sudden temperature spike got me motivated to figure out why our generator had stopped working. We needed it to run AC at the cabin. After one summer of use, it died on us, and I let it sit all winter. Fortunately, it was just a burned up spark plug. Easy to replace.

A Generator is Never a Bad Thing to Own

If you keep a generator at your home as a back up during power outages brought on my tropical storms and hurricanes, it's time to do the maintenance. Generator engines get so hot that I'm going to guess they eat spark plugs. Load up.  If you don't have a generator, you should consider getting one if you live in hurricane prone territory. I'm still a fan of propane because it burns clean, does not require a carburetor, and if you're conservative with what you power, it will run for a about 12 hours on one 15 pound tank of fuel. For those who are not sure why I don't like carburetors, I'll tell you. It is a device that mixes air and gasoline to power an engine. Your car has one. They get gunky. They have to be cleaned. Don't do that to yourself during a storm.

As a a reminder, I purchased the Sportsman GEN4000DF. It has 4,000 starting watts and runs at 3500 watts. That's enough to run a little AC. Or perhaps your freezer or a refrigerator. Make sure to get a pack of sparkplugs. "DF" means "dual fuel." Why would a gas hater get dual fuel? Just in case I can't find propane, I can always run on gasoline. Tammy would tell you that I annoyingly over think and prepare.

This brand has gotten popular enough that the price has basically doubled. I think I paid $250.00 for it last year. It's a pretty simple machine, so running it properly, keeping it maintained with good plugs and proper oil levels, plus keeping the air filter clean should make this a reliable product.

I'm going to tell you right now it's heavy as hell. Buy yourself a little cart to roll it around on, but don't leave it on the cart while running it. It will vibrate too much. Get a helper. Lift it onto the ground.

I provided a couple of Amazon links, and if you want to wait a month or so, Amazon Prime Day will be sometime in July. You may get a good deal on a generator, but that's no guarantee. I think other brands will be fine, too. Check your local hardware stores, farm and ranch, and big box stores. Don't go too small. I'd recommend going at least as big as mine, and if you think you need to power the Taj Mahal, definitely go bigger.

Lighting and Fans

You will not have enough power to run your whole house. Your power supply is limited by the size of the generator, the amount of fuel you have, and your power demand. Get some battery operated LED lights. Why LED? They use very little power. They won't burn out as quickly as the old camp lattern you packed in your attic ten years ago. Don't forget extra batteries!

If you need to use your generator to keep the freezer or refrigerator running, you will not have AC. Sorry. You're going to be miserable. A fan or two can help. Just remember fans will tap into your generator power supply, so don't go nuts on it. A few for sleeping. That's all. 

Food and Water

Don't wait until the day before landfall to get food and water. You can store canned goods and bottled water starting now. Think about it: 3 meals a day X number of people you need to feed. One gallon of water per person per day. I'd get at least a week's worth of supplies. If you don't have a camp stove, get one. They run on small propane canisters. Get 4 or 5 canisters. Academy and Walmart are loaded with these things. I don't see that Amazon has particularly good deals on them.

I shouldn't have to say this, but I'm not going to assume anything. BUY CANNED GOODS. No frozen or fresh food. Anything with a short expiration date is a waste of money. You need stuff you can store for a long time; just in case. You're not making gourmet meals. You're sitting out a hurricane or a bad storm. You do not need MREs. You do not need prepper buckets of freeze dried cereal. Skip that hype. Get canned goods. It won't kill you to eat them for a few days. Don't forget a can opener.

Paper Goods

Toilet paper. Go to Costco.
Paper Towels. Go to Costco.
Paper Plates. Go to Costco.
Plastic Ware. Go to Costco.

Plus hand sanitizer, band aides, Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, bug spray.

Get a few flashlights.
And a hand crank weather radio that can also charge your phone.

Finally, keep the gas tank of your car topped off. Usually, there's plenty of fuel. It just may be slow getting to affected regions. It's panicky humans that cause the shortage at the pumps. We saw this during Harvey - in Austin - which was not affected. Panic is a powerful disaster of its own.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Gym Myth

Worth their weight in weight loss

I tend to live in waves of fitness brought on by fatness. Basically. I live the healthy life for years, and then one day my mind overrides my habit and convinces me that I really don't feel like eating a salad, much less taking a bike ride.

I had this mental ambush about three years ago. FINALLY I conquered it, but what I discovered is this. The gym didn't do diddly for me. The gym is a scam. I'm 53 years old, and months of well meaning workouts alone amount to nothing. My most recent victory over sloth brought this fact to light. And here's why.

Sugar Sweet Talked Me Into 20 Pounds

God, I love sugar. As my head slowly killed my motivation to move faster than a stroll to the bathroom, I convinced myself that 3 Oreos a day was nothing. Then I blanked out and never saw the other crap I was eating. I appreciate those movies where guys decide to eat crap diets for sixty days. You know why? Because they are right. That mental and physical decline is real. 

If I felt bad, stressed or bored, I went for the sweets. I came home and agreed to taking a night off from cooking and had myself a greasy, fattening plate of restaurant food. A cooking break is welcomed by me, but the problem wasn't the break. It was what I ordered wherever I dined. Plus it became a frequent practice to split dessert.

I religiously made my way to the gym, and nothing happened. Nothing happened.

This fat Christy went to the gym daily

Step Back - She Could Be Dangerous

If a person pays $50 a month to stay in shape and that person loses nothing but the $50, that person will finally accept the truth. It isn't how hard your work out, it's what you eat. And with that admission, I stopped eating sugar and gluten cold turkey. I abandoned the gym and went back to a simple nightly yoga routine. I took more walks on the very nice greenbelt at the end of our street.

I lost 5 pounds a week for 3 weeks. Then it slowed down just a bit and finally settled back to my normal weight - my healthy weight, and I never went to the gym. I should have been a total crank, but after about day 3 I was o.k. I then stopped dairy and corn. I was a little depressed by the food deprivation. But I survived. I stabilized and now I can think like a rational person and maintain a healthy diet, yoga, and even running in the greenbelt.

It  is a mind game to do this. It requires will power. It requires resistance to peer pressure. No matter what you read, or what some celebrity promises you, it is not the workout as much as it is the food. If you accept that sugar and junk foods are demons, you'll be able to enjoy even the richest foods without guilt. Bacon has nothing on an Oreo cookie when it comes to weight gain.

Hoppin' John made from scratch

So let's do a little food budget analysis to see if I'm spending more money on whole foods than a quick, processed version of the same dinner. Option #1 has hidden fats, sugars, salt and preservatives. Option #2 is completely fresh and whole.

A Weekday Dinner

This is something most of us feel is impossible to cook, so we either skip cooking altogether or we pick something up on the way home. If you're like me, and you do cook dinner, you're probably looking for something fast and easy.

So I'm going to pick a meal and make it two ways, and compare:

Chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans.

Option #1
(Fast and maybe cheaper.)
Heat & Eat Chicken Nuggets - $4.62 - bake for 20 minutes
One boxed mash potatoes - $.91 - about 5 minutes
Can of green beans - $.50 a can - about 5 minutes
Total Cost & Time - $6.03 - Including prep time, 25 minutes tops.

Option #2
(I'm assuming you have basic spices and butter/milk to season your meal.)
Fresh Boneless Chicken Breasts - $4.27 - season and broil in about 15 minutes
Fresh Russet Potatoes - $1.83 for 5 lb bag. Use 3, so really $.61 - 20 minutes
Fresh green beans - $.75 - about 10 minutes
Total Cost & Time - $5.63 - Including prep time, 35 minutes tops.

Honestly, there isn't much difference here, so why choose processed foods over whole foods?
To be fair, I can prep a meal pretty fast because I cook all the time, so it might take you 40 minutes the first few times, but the quality of the food and the control of calorie intake is worth it.


Option #1 - Potato chips - $2 for 11 ounce bag - It says there are 11 servings per container, but come on. We know it's more like 5 servings; which adds up to 240 calories per honest serving.

Option #2 - Apples - $2.98 for 3 lb. bag. There are about 15 small apples in a bag. Even if you eat 2 at a time, the apples are going to last longer than the chips and cost about the same amount per serving. A small apple is more like 70 calories, so two wouldn't be more than 140 calories.

It's the way you choose to think about your eating and exercising habits. You can tell yourself the whole food way is too difficult, but you can't tell yourself it's more expensive. If you're not a big fan of exercising, then the diet change alone will be of benefit, but it makes total sense to at least take a walk.

To sum it up, I can drop my gym membership and save $50 a month, and I won't have to use any of my savings to offset the cost of a healthy diet.
It's nice to be back to my old self.

Back to normal
Don't forget to check out our product recommendations and reviews because you should keep the planet as healthy as your own body.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Brew Your Own Kombucha

Kombucha has become rather popular. This fermented tea has been around for centuries with many unsubstantiated claims to cure just about anything from cancer, to GERD to hangovers. Depending on what you read, you'll either get the hell scared out of you and avoid it, or you'll start draining your bank account on $3-$4 bottles of tea fizz.

An integrative medicine doctor recommended I start drinking the stuff to right the bacterial and yeast balance in my body, and hopefully calm my overactive thyroid. It did not cure my overactive thyroid, but it didn't kill me either. In fact, Tammy and I are somewhat addicted to the stuff. This same doctor told me to make my own to make it cost effective. So I do.

What is Kombucha?

It is literally fermented tea. It ferments due to the addition of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Also known as "mother" or "scoby." This thing looks like a big, flat, grayish brown booger. However, the scoby is the good bacteria and yeast our bodies need. One gallon of sweet tea will turn into fizzy kombucha in about 7 - 10 days. The scoby will grow until you have two scobies, and so forth.  I'm currently up to 4 scobies and 4 gallons of kombucha. We have a lot of fizzy tea in the refrigerator.

Whenever you grow any bacteria culture, you have to be very very sanitary. Although kombucha has been brewed since pre-sanitation days, it is entirely possible to grow yourself the wrong bugs and get super sick. So rule #1. Be very clean.

An Inexpensive Kombucha Recipe - Make Your Own Scoby

I used a recipe from The Kitchn because it was simple. I made a few modifications for cost and convenience sake.

There are a number of recipe books available; including ones you can download onto our kindle or phone (if you're a clutter free reader).

You will need the following:
4 Family-sized tea bags - I use 2 Lipton black tea and 2 Lipton green tea. You need some black tea to give the scoby and you some real nutritional benefits.
One Cup of Sugar - Again, I'm not going fancy. The scoby couldn't give a hoot whether your sugar is organic or fancy. I use HEB sugar.
One 16 oz bottle of plain Kombucha - I use GT's Original. GT makes the very best kombucha, if you ask me.
3.5 Pints of Water - Regular old water. I use tap water. There. I admit it. Not distilled. Not bottled. Not spring. Tap water. I'm practical like that.
Six 16 oz. Mason Jars - I know it's trendy to bottle in those cool Grolsch-style flip top bottles, but they're expensive, and this is about saving money. You can get 24 mason jars for less than $9. You'll need the other 18 if your scoby grows and multiplies like mine has.
One Gallon Glass Jar - Even a cookie jar will work if you really don't want spend $20 on a fancy jar with a spigot. In fact, the spigot will just get clogged with scoby and present a sanitation risk.
Tightly woven cloth and rubber band - A bar towel or cup towel works well. Not the terrycloth kind, but the smoothly woven kind.

Here's how to make your own scoby:

Scoby in starter tea
  1. Bring 3.5 pints of water to a rolling boil.
  2. Dissolve one cup of sugar in the water using a wooden spoon.
  3. Turn off the heat and add your tea bags.
  4. Let the tea brew to a preferred darkness. The longer it brews, the more nutrition for the scoby.
  5. Let the tea cool to room temperature. I recommend brew at bedtime, and let it cool overnight.
  6. Add your starter tea to the glass jar.
  7. Pour in your sweet tea.
  8. Tightly band the towel to the jar opening.
  9. Place jar away from direct sunlight and keep it at about 70 degrees.
  10. Let it sit until you form a scoby. It will take about 2 weeks.
  11. When the scoby covers the surface of your tea, and is about 1/4 inch thick, remove from the jar.
  12. Put the scoby in 16 oz of the tea and set aside.

You're Ready to Brew Your First Batch of Kombucha

This is short and sweet. Follow the above directions to make sweet tea.  Then do this:

  1. Pour one 16 oz bottle of original kombucha into the glass jar.
  2. Pour in your cooled sweet tea.
  3. Remove the scoby from it's tea and place it in the jar.
  4. Your scoby may sink or float sideways. It's ok. 
  5. Cover with the towel and band it tight.
  6. Set the jar aside out of direct sunlight, at 70 degrees (this is a recommended room temperature).
  7. Let tea ferment for 7 - 10 days.
  8. Start tasting at 7 days until its the right combination of sweet and tangy to suit you.
  9. When you're satisfied, remove scoby and pour 16 oz of your tea over it. Set aside to start your next batch. At this point, the you can use this tea as your starter tea and free yourself from the $3 bottle of GT's.
  10. Pour tea into Mason jars.
  11. Set aside for 3 days.
  12. On day 3, move to the refrigerator.
  13. Don't drink more than one a day. 
I like to zest ginger into my jars before I add the tea. It makes a fantastic flavor.
I've also added shredded apples. Add any fruit you want. It's really up to you at the bottling stage.

As you brew more tea, your scoby will get thick or make a separate offspring. When this happens, you can start a second batch.

Fresh batch of kombucha ready to ferment

Watch out for green or black bacteria growth. A healthy scoby is grayish, tannish or brown. Little stringy bits of it will also float in your tea. Boy howdy, you'll know if the bacteria's gone to the dark side because it will smell nasty and rank cheesy. Healthy kombucha smells vinegary.

My Perceived Benefits

I'm less hungry.
My skin looks better.
I'm maintaining a steady weight (because I got fat, y'all).
All of the above could also be attributed to knocking sugar and gluten out of my diet. I have a free day, but not every day. I also eat whole. I do not eat processed foods if at all possible. I drink a lot of water. I run, bike and do yoga. I lift a few weights. Therefore, I can't promise kombucha will do anything by itself. You'll need to make a 100% commitment to being healthy. 

As an anecdote, we do give it to our kid. She went on a junk food spree that included throwing away her healthy lunch and hustling up unbelievably massive amounts of chips and cookies. This was her primary diet. She was a monster. She was rumdum. She was in serious trouble. Currently, she's doing better and drinking kombucha. I WILL NOT SWEAR BY THIS. Any moment, she could decide to eat herself to death, but for now, kombucha is helping.

Try it. See what you think.