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Monday, September 28, 2009

Going Green

Going green is a big topic these days. It's also a pretty trendy thing. Which is good, I think. I hope eventually we'll all be so green we'll have flowers sprouting from our ears.

Peter and I have made a few small efforts to "go green" in the past few years and I wanted to share them here. My first green topic is one of my biggest pet peeves: disposable plastic shopping bags. How many times have you been to the store and bought one item and they hand it to you in a bag? I know that I am not the only person who thinks this is ludicrous!

I remember in 3rd grade my class was discussing the environment. We were debating the advantages and disadvantages of paper versus plastic bags. It boiled down to the fact that paper bags biodegrade but they use tons of trees. Plastic bags, on the other hand, do not cost us our precious trees but they do not (readily) biodegrade and they produce pollution during manufacturing. At the time I remember being thoroughly stumped. Neither option seemed ideal but what, oh what, was the alternative?!? No one suggested one that day in class.

It took me until about 2005 to find the solution. Reusable canvas bags! I'm not saying that I spent that entire period between third grade and 2005 agonizing over that problem. I'm just making the point that something so simple and so economical should not be such an anomaly in our culture. We have just grown accustomed to a wasteful, disposable lifestyle.


So, a few years ago Peter and I became the proud owners of these three handsome canvas bags that we bought at H-E-B, pictured above (notice Theodore sitting so urbanely in the background). Today, you can buy reusable bags at almost every grocery store that I've seen. Although, most of the ones I see are not as big as ours. I really like ours because they can hold a lot and they are very sturdy. I would recommend seeing if H-E-B still carries them.

In my opinion, this is one of the easiest changes you can make as far as going green goes. It will probably take a few grocery store trips before you remember to grab your bags. I keep one or two reusable bags in each of our cars in case we forget them or we are out and need to run an errand.

The cool thing is that this actually saves you money. At Whole Foods you get $.10 for every bag you bring in. I believe that is also the case at Kroger. Granted, it's not enough money to fund your dream vacation to the Bahamas. But it's something. It does add up. You will have earned a Starbucks in a few weeks. Which is convenient because now there is usually a Starbucks right there in the grocery store! At the very least, the bag will pay for itself.

Of course you'll still probably need plastic bags for various reasons in your household. But you might be able to find creative ways to reuse plastic bags. I recently started bringing slightly used bags home from the hospital (patients put their shoes in them during surgery) to use in our small trashcans. There are also huge, sturdy plastic bags that are used to bring in various items to our stock. The stocking manager leaves them for us and I've been bringing them home to use them in our big trashcan. This saves money as well, we haven't bought trash bags for months.

Here are a few ugly facts about plastic bags:

Introduced just over 25 years ago, the ugly truth about our plastic bag addiction is that society's consumption rate is now estimated at well over 500,000,000,000 (that's 500 billion) plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute.

Plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food.

Those were from this website. If you want to know more or shop for reusable bags go here: http://www.reusablebags.com/facts.php?id=4

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tid bits

1. It is cold here! We only turned on our swamp cooler (a cooling device that works by evaporation) about 3 times this summer. And only when we had company because we thought they would like it (the Nesses especially seemed to be a very temperature sensitive group! :o). So, we were hardly paying any utilities. But. BUT. I am about ready to turn on our furnace and leave it on for about 8 months. I predict we'll spend roughly the cost of one year in medical school on our heating this winter. Just kidding, I hope not. It still gets warm during the day but it's so hard to get up in the morning when its chilly! (Sidenote: Because it is officially fall now, I will have to change my header picture and quote. Which I will do post haste when I find a good fall picture!)

2. On September 1st. I underwent my very first filling for a cavity. Yes, my very first cavity! I was expecting pain and discomfort. I'd heard people's stories about injections, drilling, and numbness. Well, my dentist did mine with a laser. There were no injections, no drilling, no numbness and no pain! It was fabulous! If you are looking for a dentist, try to find one with a laser. Plus, it just sounds really cool to say that your dentist uses a laser.

3. Two weeks ago Peter and I went to a program at Snowbird ski resort called stargazers. They gave us a little presentation on astronomy, then they took us to the top of the mountain to look through telescopes to actually see the stars and some of the things that they talked about in the presentation. It was really fun! And, did you know that there are star nurseries? Vast portions of space where little baby stars come into existence. Does that not blow your mind? (It blows my mind.)

4. If you want to be uber dorks like us, there is a series coming up on PBS that we are super excited about. I believe it is called "America's Best Idea" and it is all about national parks. We are so looking forward to this. We love PBS and this is right up our alley! It starts Sunday September 27th, I believe. They even have a screening at a local park in the city that we might go to.

5. I'm starting to see why some people don't want to have pets. We had to get rid of our couch because of problems with our cats marking their territories. Thank goodness the couch was free. But it was a nice couch so it is still a shame. Bluebonnet peed on the couch long ago. We cleaned it and we hoped it wouldn't be a problem. But it's in their nature to mark their territories, especially where they smell urine. Their sense of smell is much better than ours so even though we couldn't smell anything, they could. So, recently they began marking that spot. So, the couch or the cats had to go. We opted to get rid of the couch first since it had a bunch of cat urine on it. But if they pee anywhere else I'm affraid its good riddance. I have really had it with cat pee. But I really hope that doesn't happen! This whole problem was caused by Bluebonnet... that darn cat!

6. Peter got another Ophthamology interview at UT Houston. We would love your prayers for this and his other interviews!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Curiosity killed the cat?

Obviously not enough of them. Which is a good thing, in my opinion. I'm happy to have cats around! But I'm curious as to how they, as a species, have managed to avoid any serious repercussions of their most famous (infamous?) quality.

Every time I open a cabinet, drawer or door, they are right there eager to know what feline treasures might lay therein. I somehow have them convinced that I'm stashing dozens of species of small rodents and yards upon yards of string within every nook and cranny to which I have denied them access.

It seems logical that the propensity to rush blindly through every new door that opens might lead to some untoward consequences. Like, getting hit by a car, having a rigged grand piano crash down upon you. Or something more prosaic like being thrown out by your owner who is sick and tired of trying to keep you out of the neighbor's apartment. (These are all hypothetical, of course.)

Wouldn't the laws of natural selection come into play and cause the most curious kitten to also be the deadest? These days there is much human intervention that allows cats to survive despite their occasional foolhardiness. But centuries ago domestic cats were not nearly as spoiled rotten as they are now.

But somehow this curiosity gene has survived and thrived. (Maybe it's the nine lives?) Our cats are always eager to get any place they have not been. Which I suppose isn't so terribly different from us. But I like to think we show a little more decorum and planning before we go rushing out the door into the unknown. Or into the neighbor's apartment. Which Theodore has done on at least one occasion. And do you know what he decided to do in there, that brand new place full of untapped possibilities? He sat on their window sill. Looking at the very same view that he has from our duplex. Go figure.

And that's what is kind of funny. They're curious and yet they're so predictable. If they could get to the most exotic places in the world they they would be sorely disappointed there unless they found a soft place to sleep and a person willing to scratch them behind their ears.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

First interview

Just a quick update from yesterday's blog post.

I received my first ophthalmology residency interview invitation today. Texas Tech, here I come! Oct 9!

Praise God. It is great to see him answer my prayers. Let's hope there will be many more interviews to come.

Now for another picture of the beautiful Teton Mountains, just to make sure you don't feel disappointed about visiting our blog today.

Eye balls, applications and snow

I know that Leslie mentions me here on the blog every once in a while (actually pretty regularly), so you probably are aware that I'm still alive. It is just a little rare that I get the motivation like Leslie to sit down and write a blog post.

Maybe a short update would be good. I'm finishing up applying for ophthalmology residency for the second year running. I try not to think too much about the fact that I've done this once or how much money it costs. Currently, we're at the stage where residency programs are sending me emails acknowledging receipt of my application. No interview invitations have come yet, but it is a little early for that. The interview season starts around Oct 8 and finishes right before Christmas.

It is kind of funny that one of my first and only posts on this blog has been that disgusting video where I dissect that cadaver eye, and now that is what I do multiple days a week at work. Don't worry, I don't have any more videos.

I've been enjoying work. Once a week, I take medical histories for patients coming in for surgery. Some people in my position dislike that part of the job, but I think it's kind of fun meeting the different people and talking to them a little. The best part is when they ask about their surgery. Assuming I am familiar with that particular surgery, it is really enjoyable to teach people about the eyes and what the surgery entails.

I believe that God has been confirming to me that I ought to be an ophthalmologist, although I think I could be content in a number of specialties. This makes the upcoming interview season that much more exciting. Please pray that God's will would be done - whether that means I become an eye surgeon or not. I have no doubt that our Heavenly Father's plan is better than anything I could imagine.

FINAL NOTE: COME VISIT US!!!
Leslie and I want to remind everyone that our door is open and our guest bed is comfortable! We would love to have visitors at any time. It is a joy to host family and friends, or strangers for that matter. The ski season is approaching and the saying here is that it's the "best snow on earth".

Friday, September 11, 2009

14 hours

I fell asleep last night at 6:30 PM after I ate dinner. I meant to tell Peter to wake me at 7:30 PM to go jogging. Only I was asleep before I ever gave him the message. I did not wake up until 8:30 AM. 14 Hours of sleep! I must have needed to catch up, right? I do feel good today.

Actually, I woke up for the second time at 8:30 AM. I was rudely awakened at 5:30 AM when Theodore threw up. On my pillow. The pillow on which my head was gingerly resting. Is that not one of the most disgusting things you've heard today? Luckily none got on my face, head or hair. So I quickly cleaned up the chunks of partially digested cat food, stripped the bed and threw everything in the wash. Then Peter and I went to sleep for three more hours in the second bed room. Yeesh. Cat ownership has some downsides. But when he's not interrupting my sleep with his disgusting bodily fluids, he's actually quite charming.


Yesterday I read this article from the NY Times that made me very excited. It's by Michael Pollan (author of the Omnivore's dilemma and In Defense of Food). I really like and agree with a lot of his ideas. I have not read either of his books but I have read some of his articles and interviews.

Anways the article provides an interesting perspecive of the healthcare debate. Pollan discusses why certain health care reforms might galvanize the insurance industries to throw their financial weight behind reforms of our food industry. Our food industry being, according to Pollan, the root of many of our health problems. It's cheaper to buy junkfood than it is to buy an apple. This, of course, contributes to a host of health problems, like type 2 diabetes. Right now, insurance companies don't necessarily have incentive to keep people healthy. They can drop clients when they become sick, they can deny coverage due to preexisting conditions and they can impose lifetime caps on coverage.

But if insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny and to discontinue coverage they will have a huge financial reason to want the population as healthy as possible. They might put their enormous financial resources into improving, among other things, the way we eat.

Here is the article. It's not long and I found it interesting. Give it a read! Big Food vs. Big Insurance. I'd love to hear any thoughts you have!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wildflower Days

To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie -
True Poems flee.
~Emily Dickinson

It has been lovely to enjoy the wildflowers these past few months. I just love the nuances of each season. (So far. I might not enjoy the nuance of scraping ice off of my windshield in January but I'm sure there will be something to love about winter. For example, an excuse to consume metric tons of hot chocolate.) Wildflowers are a gift of summer here; a vibrant wreath on summer's plentiful head. The Texas wildflower season seems to pass so quickly. Or perhaps it just seems that way because in Houston I spent a lot less time hiking. However, this past weekend on our trip to the Tetons the flowers weren't very abundant. There were a few stragglers but I believe their time is almost over. Like Emily Dickinson said, true poems flee. Soon all of their vibrant color will be migrating to the leaves. Autumn! Here are some pictures we've taken this season:

Three shots of Sego Lily in Bryce Canyon. I love the progression in the shape.


I believe these are Indian Paintbrushes. These are my favorite. They come in so many shades.

Columbines. I love these as well. They almost look like something out of star trek with those spines on the back. But they are so elegant and bold. (I'm not even sure that's the right combination of words, I can't really describe them. But they have such a delicate gravity (is that an oxymoron?!?) about them.)

Splashes of color in the desert at Zion National Park.

Would you look at this?! Isn't this a zany little flower? It's a Columbia Monkshood.

These all remind me of this verse:

"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?" Matt 6:27-30

Monday, September 07, 2009

Seize the Weekend

We've developed a small reputation around work for being eager to get out and see the sights around here. My coworkers, who are from here or have lived here for many years, were joking that they needed to ask Peter and I about things they should do locally. It has been really fun to be able to do so many things that we enjoy so much but weren't really able to do in Houston. Or at least weren't able to do in such pristine locations. We've been camping 6 times in 4 months. It's been spectacular. But also really exhausting. That ground seems to get harder and harder. And I might be a wee bit burned out. Consequently, our trip this Labor Day weekend to Grand Teton National Park was uncharacteristically laid back. We only went on one hike. And we spent a lot of time sitting around watching for wildlife. Which was wonderfully relaxing.

What we have really been wanting to see is a Moose. On our hike yesterday we came tantalizingly close but not all the way there. We saw a Moose's antlers. He was sitting across the river, shaded in thick foliage. We could see his antlers and his ears twitching back and forth but we didn't actually see him.

Yet, we weren't complaining because that morning we had seen two bald eagles, a family of otters, a few beavers, a coyote and a marmot.

I don't have a good picture of the otters. They were a pleasure to watch; such jovial creatures. It was like a big family party. Like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Otter Style. They were slipping in and out of the water, tumbling with each other on the bank and feasting on huge fish. The beavers appeared to be a stodgier folk. They seemed to due away with the frivolities of life and get down to the business of eating and preparing wood for their lodge. We could actually hear them munching from the other side of the river. Yet this is only my impression. I don't actually know any beavers or otters personally.

This is a yellow-bellied marmot. Until a few years ago I thought marmot was simply a brand of outdoor clothing. I was surprised to learn, it's also an animal! One whose lifestyle I very much approve. We saw some of these fellows a few years ago when we hiked Wheeler Peak. They were basking in the sun and preening. I like animals who bask because no matter what I'm doing, I always wish that I could be taking a nap in a sunbeam. Really, I think there's far too little emphasis on lounging in this modern world of ours.

Anyways, I was happy to have seen so much. Several of those animals I have never seen in the wild. But we were still hoping for that elusive Moose. We stayed out past dark and rose before sunrise to try to get a glimpse of one. Yet, this morning we still hadn't seen one. So, we were preparing to leave the park without a sighting. But while it was still fairly early we decided to give it one more try. We drove out to a place called Blacktail Ponds which provide perfect grazing opportunities for moose. And, behold:


A Moose! And...

Another Moose!

We watched them graze for a while. Then we left to go by the little nearby town to get gas. So, we made one turn and saw...


A third moose! Right by the road!

There were two other bulls behind the one close to the road but we couldn't get good pictures of them. I believe that our moose viewing needs are officially met! What fun. Here are some other pictures:

What a colorful feast






Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Summer!

Green Tomato Frittata

I can't believe that it's already September! Fall is on its way and I'm so excited for my first "real" Autumn. However, Summer is not gone yet. We are still awash in delicious summer produce here. Tonight I used one of summer's stars to make two dishes: Green Tomato Frittata and Heirloom Tomato Salad. So good and so healthy!

One thing I love about the farmers' market is the diversity of types of food there. For example, last week I bought 2 lbs of green tomatoes and 1 lb of heirloom tomatoes (several different varieties). Heirloom varieties are seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation. They are open pollinators. Meaning they reproduce the old-fashioned way using the birds and the bees as opposed to being genetically modified in a lab. They each have a unique flavor and very fun names like Banana Legs, Snow White and Tiny Tim.

Heirloom tomatoes

I have never seen green tomatoes at the grocery store. And usually they only have a few varieties of tomatoes. Why is that a problem?

Well, overall we're losing diversity and taste in our food. I read about this in Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Since it took a book to lay out that argument, I know that I won't be able to do it justice here very well in a few paragraphs. But here's the gist:

"Most standard vegetable varieties sold in stores have been bred for uniform appearance, mechanized harvest, convenience of packing, and tolerance for hard travel. None of these can be mistaken, in practice, for actual flavor." Animal, Vegeble, Miracle, pg 48.

And anyone who has had a tomato right out of the garden will tell you that store-bought pales in comparison!

Besides losing flavor, we're also losing genetic diversity. Reducing the genepool of various vegetables to meet the requirements of shipping and supermarket shelflife, as described in the quote above, make crops more vulnerable to disease.

"Under highly varied environmental conditions, the resilience of open-pollinated land races (heirloom varieites) can be compared approximately with the robust health of a mixed-breed dog versus the finicky condition of a pooch with a highly inbred prdigree (genetically modified crops). The mongrel may not perform as predictably under perfectly controlled condtions, but it has the combined smarts and longevity of all the sires that ever jumped over the fence. Some of its many different genes are likely to come in handy, in a pinch. The loss of that mongrel vigor puts food systems at risk. " Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, pg 54.

The rise of commercial farming has already caused many heirloom varieties of crops to go extinct. And its not just tomatoes. In the book she also mentions varieties of turkeys and cows being lost. And I'm sure there are others, both plants and animals.

There is a movement to preserve diverse varieites of plants and animals called Slow Food International. The goal of that organization is "to protect the pleasures of the table from the homogenization of modern fast food and life." I have looked up Slow Food's website but I don't know much about it. But I think that just by going to the farmers' market I'm contributing in my own small way against the "homogenization of modern fast food and life."

If you want to know more, I would highly suggest Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I've also heard that The Omnivore's Delimma and In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan are very good but I have not read either.

Here are my tomato recipes, they were so delicious:

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Heirloom Tomato Salad

1 lb mix of heirloom variety tomatoes, chopped

1 tbs sliced basil

slash balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Feta cheese

Mix all ingredients together and enjoy!

Green Tomato Frittata
- from the NY Times recipes for health section, with some changes that I made.

1 pound green tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cornmeal for dredging

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, green shoots removed, minced

1 tablespoon slivered fresh basil

1 tablespoon snipped chives

8 large eggs

2 tablespoons low-fat milk

1 long green chile

1 jalepeno

1/4 c Gruyere Cheese (or whatever kind of cheese you like, or no cheese at all)

1. Core the tomatoes and slice half of them about 1/3 inch thick. Set aside. Peel the remaining tomatoes by dropping them in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then transferring to a bowl of ice water. Cut in half, squeeze or scoop out the seeds, and chop fine.

2. Season the sliced tomatoes lightly with salt and pepper, and dredge lightly in the cornmeal. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy, nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, and fry the sliced tomatoes for two to three minutes on each side, just until lightly colored. Remove from the heat and set aside. If there is cornmeal in the pan, clean and dry the pan.

3. Heat the remaining olive oil in the pan over medium heat, and add the chopped onion, chile pepper and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, until tender, three to five minutes, and add a generous pinch of salt and the garlic. Stir together until fragrant, about 30 seconds, and stir in the chopped tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have softened and are beginning to stick to the pan, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the basil and chives.

4. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and milk together in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper (I use about 1/2 teaspoon salt). When the chopped tomatoes have cooked down, turn the heat up to medium-high and pour in the eggs. Swirl the pan to distribute the eggs and filling evenly over the surface. Shake the pan gently, tilting it slightly with one hand while lifting up the edges of the frittata with the spatula in your other hand, letting the eggs run underneath during the first few minutes of cooking. Distribute the fried sliced green tomatoes over the surface of the frittata. Turn the heat down to low, cover and cook 10 minutes, shaking the pan gently every once in a while. From time to time, remove the lid and loosen the bottom with a spatula. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler.

5. Finish the frittata under the broiler for one to three minutes, watching very carefully to make sure the top doesn’t burn. Remove from the heat, shake the pan to make sure the frittata isn’t sticking (it will slide around a bit in the nonstick pan) and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes, up to 15 minutes. Loosen the edges with a wooden or plastic spatula. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese on top. Carefully slide from the pan onto a large round platter. Cut in wedges and serve, or serve at room temperature.