Pushing the envelope

It has been a full year since the last time I went to sleep in New Mexico.

I think we’re about to hit the upper limits of my patience, though. I’m getting fidgety and impatient and a bit frayed around the edges, and it’s starting to show in my productivity. Next three-day weekend I get, I’m throwing my guitar in the Dreamcar and booking it out to the Land of Enchantment. I need a cobalt sky, a night under the neon, and a chilly New Mexico wind to blow the clutter out of my mind.

Last time I took to the desert to clear my head, I drove down Tucumcari Boulevard, mentally updating my resume and dreaming of how I’d look coaching scholar bowl in Rattler purple, when a thought came to me — calm and quiet and in the second person, the way it always is when it comes from somewhere outside my own will — and the thought was:

Just wait. I’ve got a better idea.

It didn’t make any logical sense at all and was about as far from what I had in mind as it could get, so of course I listened to it, and of course I trusted it.

Three months later, I was organizing a 450-mile move in the opposite direction and feeling better about it than I’d ever imagined possible.

I haven’t had that kind of clarity about anything in a long time. I need the high desert and a few hours on the llano to ground me and remind me how to listen.


Well, that was surreal.

Look at these pictures:

merida2 merida1

Now, look at this post from 2006 that I stumbled across tonight while I was looking for my thermophilic compost recipe.

I told y’all Pixar wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of a rough-and-tumble redhead with Scottish blood doing unladylike things while dressed like a refugee from a Renn fair.

Too bad I gave that outfit to Goodwill before the movie came out. I’d look pretty cool wandering around the Secret Garden in Makanda in that getup.


Renew my hippie card.

Remember last winter, when I resolved to do more hippie crap this year? I think my latest project qualifies. That batch of yogurt I started last night turned out even better than I’d hoped: thick and creamy, with a flavor more like buttermilk than yogurt. Just glorious.


Here’s the recipe, in case you want to try it yourself. It’s very simple and doesn’t require any fancy equipment.

1/2 gallon whole milk
1/2 c. plain yogurt with live cultures

Stockpot or large saucepan
Candy thermometer
Wooden spoon
Four clean pint jars with lids
Small picnic cooler

Pour the milk into a stockpot or saucepan, clip on the thermometer, and heat on top of the stove until it reaches 180 degrees, stirring occasionally with the wooden spoon.

Remove from heat. If the heating process caused the milk to form a skin on top, skim it off.

Let cool to somewhere between 105 and 120 degrees, then whisk in the yogurt, working quickly. Pour the milk into the jars, put on the lids, and put them in the cooler. Run hot tap water in the cooler to about halfway up the sides of the jars, close the cooler, and leave it in a warm spot away from drafts. (I set mine on the kitchen floor next to the refrigerator.) I started this project about 8:30 p.m. and changed the water once just before I went to bed (around 12:30 a.m.) to make sure the jars stayed good and warm.


When you get up in the morning, open the cooler, drain off the water, and open a jar. You should find thick yogurt inside. Store in the fridge.


If it’s not as thick as you like, you can line a sieve with a coffee filter or a tea towel and drain off the whey to make Greek yogurt.

I bought Full Circle organic milk ($3.78 for a half-gallon) and caught a sale on a pack of Stonyfield Farm organic Greek yogurt ($4.99 for a four-pack of half-cup cartons). I haven’t tried this yet, but I’ve read online that you can freeze unopened yogurt to use as starter.

Assuming that works, I spent $5.03 to make four pints of organic yogurt. Not bad, considering I usually shell out $4.99 a pint for Stonyfield Farm.



Today marks the eighth anniversary of this blog. It’s wandered a bit — both literally and figuratively — from its origins, but I think the spirit is the same.

I began Dec. 22, 2005, with references to the inaugural issue of The Mother Earth News, the wonderful Waterman and Hill-Traveler’s Companion, my life in Red Fork, Red Zinger tea, and Scout.

At this writing, it’s 2:30 a.m. CST, and Cape Girardeau is dark and quiet. It’s chilly and cloudy, and I am sitting in my home office 450 miles from where we began (but only 30 miles or so from where I found my initial inspiration), some of Scout’s ashes resting next to a kachina doll on the shelf above my head, sipping Wild Berry Zinger tea and surfing the Mother Earth News website while a batch of homemade yogurt incubates in the kitchen.

It’s another grand night for sleeping. Rest well.


Munchkin Tuesday: My Name Is You. With chords!

Remember this?

I’m convinced the number of bigoted a-holes in the world would be dramatically lower if everybody had seen this video as a child.

I’ve wanted sheet music for “My Name Is You” since the first time I heard it — sometime around 1983, if I remember correctly — but I’ve never been able to find it. In keeping with my new habit of simply stealing songs out of thin air if I can’t buy them, I sat down the other night and figured out the chords.

If you want ’em, they’re up on Ultimate Guitar now. Click here.

You’re welcome.


Coming soon: New weekly features

In the interest of making this site more practical and taking it back to its roots as an erstwhile quasi-almanac, I’m adding a pair of new features for 2014.

The first new feature: Eco-Saturday. Every Saturday in 2014, I’ll post a tip for reducing your environmental footprint. We’re not talking about big, expensive projects like installing a solar array on your roof or a woodstove in your living room (although I highly recommend both if you can manage them). We’re talking about cheap, simple projects like making your own laundry detergent; upgrading to LED bulbs in the light fixtures you use most often; or using power strips to eliminate phantom loads. Most of the projects I have up my sleeve can be done in an afternoon or less, and all but a handful cost well under $20 apiece.

The second new feature: Vegan Friday. In the interest of reducing my environmental footprint, I’m going to try to incorporate more vegetarian meals into my diet. Full-time vegging isn’t a viable option at this point, but a weekly vegan meal? Yeah, I can swing that. To expand your culinary options and keep myself honest, I’ll be posting a vegan recipe every Friday. Most of these recipes will be quick and easy, and of the 60 possibilities I put on my master list, only six depend on ingredients you’re not likely to find at the average supermarket.

Oh, and I’m also working up a list of Folk Thursday possibilities so I can share a more diverse assortment of videos with you. Expect to see classics like the Freedom Singers, Leadbelly, the Weavers and the Kingston Trio, along with some lesser-known artists and quite a few non-folkies covering folk and/or protest songs.

If your New Year’s resolution involves being nicer to the environment, be sure to check back here every weekend in 2014. I’ll make it easy for you to keep that resolution.


Folk Thursday: Amy Kucharik

OK, y’all. The cute brunette singing harmony on this video is one of my oldest and dearest friends. A couple of weeks ago, during a Facebook conversation about ukuleles and rugrats and folk music, she just casually mentioned that Trout Fishing in America had recorded a song called “Creepy Dead Bug” that she and Greg Klyma wrote.

That’s right, kids. The eccentric folk duo that gave us “My Hair Had a Party Last Night” and “Baby’s Got the Car Keys” recorded a song about a dead bug that was co-written by my junior high science fair partner.

I’m gonna need you to remember that the next time you’re tempted to assume your friends are cooler than my friends. Unless you’re best friends with Peter Yarrow, I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna one-up that. (And as far as I know, Peter Yarrow never worked the terms “thorax” or “compound eye” into a song, so Amy still wins.)

Having seen some of the bugs that perished in the Kuchariks’ pool when we were kids, I have absolutely no difficulty visualizing the unfortunate creature that inspired these lyrics….


Snow on 61

As far as I’m concerned, snow’s highest and best (and possibly only legitimate) use is as a subject for photography on blue highways.

With that in mind, as soon as the highway department got the main roads cleared this weekend, Ron and I grabbed the camera, hopped in the car and headed north on Highway 61 for a Sunday drive.




For my money, this little shrine overlooking the Blues Highway and the floodplain next to it is the coolest thing on 61 south of St. Louis, with the possible exception of that cool arch at the Arkansas-Missouri state line. I saw it for the first time when I was driving south on the Blues Highway from Ste. Genevieve to Cape to interview for my current job, and I fell in love with it immediately. It reminds me of Our Lady of the Highways on Route 66 near Raymond, Ill., although this grotto is a bit more elaborate than the one on 66.

Stuff like this kinda makes me wish I were Catholic. I’m not a huge fan of public displays of theology, but there’s just something reassuring about a roadside shrine.


PSA: Tracks have rules.

As we approach the new year, with its time-honored tradition of buying gym memberships and abandoning them three weeks later, I’d like to address a point of etiquette too many people ignore:

Track lane usage.

If you join a gym with an indoor track, please take a minute to find out the rules for using that track — and then follow them.

Most gyms ask track users to run clockwise one day and counter-clockwise the next. To avoid head-on collisions, find out the day’s direction before you step onto the track.

Blind curves are an unfortunate reality of most indoor tracks. The shorter the track, the more blind curves per mile — so for safety reasons, gyms with multilane tracks usually designate separate lanes for runners and walkers.

When you run in the walking lane, you risk crashing into an unseen walker as you round a curve. This risk is particularly high at the hospital-owned gym I use, where many walkers are rehabbing from injuries and have limited mobility. They can’t get out of the way if a wrong-lane runner suddenly comes barreling around a curve.

You also risk confusing walkers, who may end up in the running lane in an effort to stay out of your way. This endangers both the walker and any runners who might be cruising along in the correct lane, unaware that a slow-moving obstacle is just around the curve. There is a big difference between a 10:00 mile (my top sustainable speed) and a 20:00 mile, and if I come around the corner at 6 mph to find someone dawdling along at half that speed, I have little time to react.

This is annoying at best — I’ve just been forced to alter my pace for no good reason — and dangerous at worst, as it forces me to risk injury by stopping on a dime or changing directions abruptly to avoid a painful collision.

This scenario is even more dangerous on outdoor trails shared by cyclists and pedestrians, as the speeds are faster, and bikes tend to be harder and have more pointy edges than people. Trust me: You don’t want to be involved in the aftermath of running in the bike lane, or vice versa.

For safety’s sake, stay in your lane.

Please pass this information along to anyone who might be thinking of joining a gym after the holidays. A little forethought can prevent a lot of pain.