Friday, April 12, 2024

England vs. Idaho

Don stumbled upon a map of England depicting a cross-country trip across the length and breath of England. The trip lasted fifteen hours and doubled back and forth, zigzagging across the nation.

He got to wondering how such a trip would compare to Idaho, so he pulled up a map of the state and tried to recreate a journey of the same length, staying strictly within the boundaries of the state.

You'll notice the road is more of a backwards "J" shape rather than the zigzag. That's because there are many remote parts of Idaho that don't have roads, notably the massive Bitterroot Mountains in the central part of the state that straddle Idaho and Montana. There are very few passes bisecting these mountains.

So how does Idaho compare to England? Here are a few stats: 

England:    51,320 sq. miles
Idaho:        83,546 sq. miles (about 1.6 times larger)

England:    56,500,000 (almost 29 times more people)
Idaho:        1,950,000

England:    1,124 people/sq. mile
Idaho:        24 people/sq. mile (most of whom are concentrated in the larger cities)

As you can see, Idaho has a lot of catching up to do. On the other hand, it doesn't have the phenomenally rich history of England either (I'm an English history buff). Here in Idaho, a house that's 100 years old is ancient. England has homes dating back centuries and even millennia. How cool is that?

Lots to be said for both sides of the Atlantic!

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Chocolate-chip cookies, production style

An older gentleman in our church passed away late last week, and his funeral is this Friday (Don is a pallbearer). I was asked to make some chocolate-chip cookies for after the service. Lots of chocolate-chip cookies.

For this task, I took the best chocolate-chip cookie recipe I've ever found, and multiplied it. It's kind of an awkward recipe to multiply, since it starts with 11 tablespoons of butter. I had a full two pounds of butter I wanted to use, so I had to figure out the ratios. A little cross-multiply-and-divide (for those who remember that classic high-school math trick) and I determined the recipe needed to be ramped up by 5.5 times.

I got the original recipe from a now-defunct blog called (oddly) "A Girls' Guide to Guns and Butter." The blog is gone, but the recipe lives on. Here's the original:

• 11 tablespoons butter, melted (hot is fine)
• 2/3 cup light brown sugar (do not pack the brown sugar into the measuring cup but scoop it out gently and simply level it off – it should be loose and fluffy, or you will end up using too much and your cookies will be tough)
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
• Dash of vanilla
• 2 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Here's my 5.5x calculations, made a bit awkward due to the eggs and yolks:

The secret, apparently, is to melt the butter rather than merely soften it.

Brown sugar, white sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking soda:

Adding the whole eggs and egg yolks:

Mixing in the flour and melted butter:

Ready to add the chocolate chips:

This is the first batch. It's been a long time since I made this recipe, and I swiftly realized the raw cookies have to be much smaller, and more widely spaced, so they don't all meld together. I reserved the first batch for us; delicious, but not "pretty."

Thereafter I got the hang of making the cookies "pretty." The cookies are baked in a low oven (325F) for anywhere from 12 to 16 minutes, depending on oven particulars. I baked and baked, bagging up the cooling cookies, until the dough was gone. (The blue-lidded tub holds the misshapen first batch.)

This really is one of the best chocolate-chip cookie recipe I've come across. Just don't add too much raw dough – or overcrowd it – on the cookie sheet.

Monday, April 8, 2024


America went stark raving crazy over today's solar eclipse.  Oh the ridiculous conspiracy theories that abounded over what was, after all, a common and predictable event! We could expect earthquakes! False flag attacks! Biological warfare! Acts of terrorism! EMPs! Civil unrest! Mass zombie behavior! Communications blackouts! Internet down! Martial law! Lock downs! Um, have I missed anything?

Of course, the moment the eclipse was over and exactly NONE of these predictions came to pass ... crickets.

Here in Idaho, we were well outside the path of totality. Using this eclipse website, we would be seeing a bit under one-third coverage.

Last October, during the last eclipse, we really couldn't see it since we didn't have any glasses. However the sun filtered through the willow leaves and cast crescent shadows on our outdoor chest freezer, allowing us to "see" the eclipse (pretty cool, actually!).

This time, however, we have no willow leaves. They've barely emerged from their buds.

Although we had beautiful clear conditions, I despaired of seeing anything since we didn't have glasses. Then, unexpectedly, Older Daughter said she had purchased two pairs of glasses online three weeks ago. Holy cow, really??? I was thrilled! Smart kid!!!

Thus we were able to watch the proceedings. I photographed the sun through the glasses, and here's what I got:

How was your eclipse?

Sunday, April 7, 2024

In praise of short men

Years ago I read a story. It seems a Vegas showgirl, who stood a stately five-foot-eleven-inches in height, was regularly met at the stage door by a man who was barely five-foot-six. He always brought a dozen roses and a charming smile, and would ask if she'd like to go out to dinner with him. Concerned about their differences in height, she gently turned him down, over and over.

Undeterred, the man would appear evening after evening – not pushing or harassing, simply asking. Finally she said "yes" and he took her out to dinner.

They had an astounding amount in common, fell in love, and got married. At the time I read the story, they'd been married something like twenty years and couldn't be happier.

I've seen a similar story in action. One of my best friends from elementary school, Annette, was the daughter of Danish immigrants. She is tall and blond, with dazzling blue eyes. Annette grew and grew until she was six feet in height. We parted ways after high school, but kept in touch. She met a man from Morocco: dark, fifteen years her senior, widowed, and at least ten inches shorter than her. Don and I had moved to Oregon by this point, and I traveled down to their wedding where I met the groom for the first time. He was cheerful and outgoing, a truly joyous man. Later, when I showed Don the wedding pictures I took, he asked, "She's not standing on a box?" The height difference was truly amazing. Annette has been happily married to her groom for nearly 30 years now.

Another story: Don and I have some friends in Portland, Mike and Patricia. Both divorced from their first spouses fairly young, and they met each other in their 30s. She's five-foot-ten, and he's actually shorter than I am (Mike may have a form of dwarfism, I don't know, but he's not even five feet tall). They're been happily married longer than Don and I.

I mention these stories because of an article I just stumbled across, a truly horrifying article about how many men are undergoing extraordinarily painful and expensive (average is $100,000) surgeries to lengthen their legs and add inches to their height. I found the article horrifying not so much because of the graphic description of how the surgery was performed as much as why these men felt compelled to have the surgery to begin with.

Here are a few snippets from the article:

"I noticed that taller people just seem to have it easier," [said John, one of the patients]. He shrugs. "The world seems to bend for them. ... People just look at you differently when you're tall. I already get a lot more looks at the gym."

When I [the author's article] first called up Dr. D [the surgeon], he told me that business has been booming: Since the onset of the pandemic's work-from-home era, the LimbplastX Institute has been seeing twice its normal number of patients, and sometimes as many as 50 new people a month. That claim is backed up by a BBC report suggesting that hundreds of men in the U.S. are now undergoing the procedure every year.

But male height, particularly the absence of it, is one of the last social stigmas, as if the new rules of body positivity fail to apply vertically. Short guys aren't so much discriminated against as they are precluded from stuff: like dating certain taller people, or making your frosh-soph basketball team. According to a 2009 study of Australian men, short guys make less money than their taller peers (about $500 a year per inch); are less likely to climb the corporate ladder (according to one survey, the average height of a male Fortune 500 CEO is six feet); and, for the cis and straight among us, have fewer romantic opportunities with women (a 2013 study conducted in the Netherlands found that women were taller than their male partners in just 7.5 percent of cases).

Originally just under five feet six, Alan [another patient] never really thought of himself as short until a girl he had "a super big crush on, like, roasted me for it" in college. This instilled in him a deep insecurity that ultimately prompted him to get his femurs done in February.

It's Alan's example that ticks me off the most. How many short men undergo this painful surgery because some twit of a woman couldn't appreciate him due to his height? Many men, it seems, developed an inferiority complex after rejections from women, which is just plain cruel.

My dad (who is currently 88 years old) was a brilliant engineer. As a young man, he worked for Cornell Aeronautical Lab (later called Calspan) in Buffalo, New York. He either directly worked on, or was peripherally involved in, satellite technology (one of his satellites is now in the Smithsonian) and very early artificial intelligence (this would be in the mid to late 1960s). Later, he started his own research company (later bought out by Westinghouse) that involved additional groundbreaking technology. My dad is five-foot-seven inches in height, and was a giant in his field. I heard him discuss his height as it impacted his career literally never.

Don stands five-foot-six (compared to my five-foot-two). He's the perfect height for me. He also exudes quiet confidence, strength of character, and commands respect in every endeavor. As he puts it, "I look everyone in the eye" – no matter how tall they are.

In fact, both Don's and my extended families are short going back multiple generations. We jokingly tell our girls they have to be careful whom they marry, since we can't risk any tall genes getting into the family. Personally I find the compact efficiency of short men rather sexy.

That's why I was sorry to read about all those men who felt compelled to undergo the drastic surgeries to add inches to their height. What a crying shame they feel the need.

They say there's someone for everyone. I'm just glad I found Don, all five-foot-six of him.

Friday, April 5, 2024

An excuse to use up some blueberries

Our blueberry bushes are budding like mad.

The harvest promises to be good. Last year we picked sixteen pounds of berries from these fairly young bushes, which I canned up. However I hadn't really used up any of the canned berries; and if we're going to get a similar harvest this year, I figured I'd better come up with an excuse to use last year's fruit.

So, borrowing a cobbled-together dessert I made years ago, I made blueberry tarts.

I started by taking four quarts of berries, and draining them.

I used puff pastry for the tarts. I stinkin' love puff pastry. It's so versatile for both savory and sweet dishes.

I cut the sheets of puff pastry into 24 squares (12 square per sheet)...

... and rolled each square flat.

I pressed these flattened pieces into muffin tins.

To the drained blueberries, I added some flour and a bit of sugar...

...and spooned the blueberry mixture into the tins.

After this, I made a batch of "crumbs," consisting of 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 6 tablespoons margarine, mixed together.

The crumbs got distributed over the 24 tarts.

I baked the tarts at 350F for 30 minutes.

VoilĂ . An easy-peasy (and delicious) way to use up last year's blueberries!

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Rain and more rain

Yesterday (Tuesday) was gloriously beautiful: sunny, warm, high of 72F. We actually put the hanging screen door back on.

But all that changed today and rain moved in. Lots of rain.

Yesterday evening, while out walking Darcy, we noticed some fires burning as people took care of slash piles ahead of the weather. It was a good time to burn.

The sky remained mostly clear until early evening, when some clouds started moving in.

There even seemed like some cloud-to-cloud virga.

Late evening brought the sight of the slash fire glowing brightly.

The rain moved in overnight, and by this morning it was gray and wet. Rainfall has ranged from light to heavy, and it's nowhere near done.

But that's okay. Everything's getting a thorough watering. No complaints.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Tackling Camp NaNoWriMo

I'm still waiting on the next multi-book contract from my editor at Harlequin. Apparently she's swamped and hasn't gotten around to negotiating with my agent, so I've been playing the waiting game.

So, in need of progress, I enrolled in "Camp NaNoWriMo" to write my next story. It's already plotted out in detail, so now all I have to do is write it.

This means that when the time comes to sign my next contract, I'll already have a proposal (synopsis + three chapters) ready to send to my editor.


Backing up the laptop

As many of you know, I'm a fanatic when it comes to backing up my laptop. My dad (a computer expert and retired electrical engineer) hammered that wisdom into my brain years ago, and I've never regretted following his advice. Indeed, backing up has saved my fanny any number of times.

The information contained on my laptop is probably the single most valuable thing I possess. It includes all my writing and all my photos (somewhere on the order of 110,000+ of them!). I would be devastated to lose these data, hence my fanaticism in backing up.

Needless to say, I never use "the cloud" for this purpose (which is not a celestial weather formation, but merely someone else's computer). I used to back up to an external hard drive, but a couple years ago Don bought me a thumb drive which holds a massive amount of data – on the order of 512 gigabytes.

This faithful little thumb drive has served me well. Every Saturday, when my work week is finished, I first back up this blog (a harsh lesson from Granny Miller many years ago), and then I do a full-scale backup of my computer, including any new photos I uploaded. Because this represents so much data, I usually budget about three hours for the whole shebang. My archive of photos is so massive that it took about fifteen hours – no exaggeration – to back up the entire thing the first time I used the thumb drive. For this reason, I don't re-back-up the full photo archive each week, but instead just add any new photos I take.

A few weeks ago, I turned to Don and said, "I'd like you to do some research and make a purchase for me. I'd like to get another thumb drive for an extra backup." Backups to backups are always wise. (Besides, such a purchase is a write-off on our taxes.)

Anyway, he did his research and purchased a larger thumb drive, one terabyte in size.

You can see the size comparison below with my old thumb drive.

But how well does it work? I plugged it into my USB port and sample-copied a file with a bunch of photos. It was done so quickly I hardly had time to blink. Whoa!

Encouraged, I spontaneously decided to back up my entire archive of photos (remember, in excess of 110,000 pix). It – took – fifteen – minutes. Remember, the old thumb drive took about fifteen hours!

So I settled in to back up all my documents, a process that took three hours with my old thumb drive. The new thumb drive took twelve minutes. Twelve minutes!

So I'm hooked. This is a marvelous little bit of technology, and it offers me great peace of mind.

While you may not have 110,000+ photos to preserve, I strongly urge everyone to heed my father's advice and back up your computer. You won't regret it.

UPDATE: To those concerned about faulty thumb drives: No worries, I've tested this thumb drive and verified the contents, and it works perfectly. We did purchase another (cheaper) terabyte thumb drive and it didn't work at all, so I understand the concerns. Also, since we have another terabyte thumb drive ordered and on the way, and since the backup times are now so much shorter, I'll do two full-scale backups each week, and the second thumb drive will be stored in our fireproof safe where we also keep our vital documents.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Comical historical note: Here's a one megabyte hard drive being shipped by by IBM in 1956.