Kelly Update and a Great Podcast

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Time to get back to blogging! But first an update on Kelly. It’s been exactly two weeks now since the doctors, nurses and staff of Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center saved Kelly’s life. Kelly is back at home and, according to her new cardiologist, it’s unlikely that she’ll ever suffer another aortic dissection. Right now she’s spending a quiet six weeks recovering from the ordeal of open heart surgery. She thanks all of you for your kind comments, as well as our local friends who dropped off food and took care of us. When she’s feeling better Kelly wants to say something on the blog but right now she’s got to rest.

I’m also not quite up for the usual blogging just yet, but I did want to note a really nice podcast I heard recently that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I take care of Kelly. It’s an episode of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ideas with Paul Kennedy called “It’s the Economists Stupid.” The show features two outside of the mainstream economists, Dr. Julie Nelson author of Economics for Humans and Richard Denniss, author of Affluenza, When Too Much is Never Enough. One of the topics in the show is how many of the domestic arts this blog focuses on do not get counted by economists. All that cooking, cleaning, gardening, child and elder care count not one bit towards the sorts of calculations economists obsess over such as gross domestic product and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This is particularly unfair to women who tend to be more responsible for what happens in the home. And let’s not even get into the ethical difficulties of placing a dollar value on human beings. It’s a great show that I think everyone should listen to.

An Update on Kelly

Kelly is home and hopes to, someday, describe her ordeal soon. But I thought I’d put up a quick post to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and to let you know that Kelly is back home. It turned out that Kelly had a relatively rare genetic defect that led to an aortic dissection (type A). She was wheeled straight from the emergency room to the operating room for open heart surgery. The doctors and nurses of Kaiser Permanente saved her life through quick diagnosis, skilled surgical treatment and attentive and compassionate nursing care.

I also want to note that, thankfully, we are fully insured through Kaiser and live just two miles from their medical center. All we had to pay was a reasonable co-payment for the entire operation and hospital stay. I must also thank our friend Caroline who drove Kelly to the emergency room, stayed by my side late into the night and cleaned our house top to bottom the next day with her sister Rebecca. And thanks to Fr. Mark Kowalewski of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral who was with Kelly in the emergency room and with me in the waiting room while Kelly was in surgery. Lastly, thank you to our dear readers. Kelly was in tears as she read your comments yesterday.

Thankfullness

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My dear readers,
Life has its surprises. At around 5 p.m. on Friday, towards the end of a routine day that included such dull tasks as going to the grocery store, the hardware store and a stop by our local Indian buffet, Kelly suddenly felt one of her legs go numb. Thankfully she had the good sense to know that she needed to get to the emergency room. By 9 p.m. she was being prepped for open heart surgery. She pulled through the surgery and her prognosis is good, but she is in incredible pain and is still in the hospital. We think this is a congenital condition and we had no warning. The doctors, nurses and staff of Kaiser Sunset saved her life.

Obviously we’re going to put this blog and podcast on hold for a bit while Kelly recovers, which will take many weeks. It’s a cliche, but your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated. And please promise me that if you ever experience chest pain, numbness in a limb or any other unusual symptom, you will call 911 immediately.

The Root Simple 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

history_02-20847If I had broad dictatorial powers we’d return to a pre-19th century version of Christmas: just another day on the liturgical calendar with optional drunken carousing. But that pre-commercial hope is as vain as the elimination of daylight savings time or the quest for a decent doughnut. We just have to resign ourselves to a certain amount of mutually assured destructive gift exchange. Towards that end, I thought I’d offer some suggested gifts, mostly obtainable online, for the urban homesteady types in your life. Most of the links are to Amazon, and we get a small cut of the proceeds, which helps keep our webmaster in kibble.

But First . . . Charity
Of course, rather than buying unneeded crap that will only clutter our already messy houses, we could agree to give to a charity instead. This season, due to our national “orange swan” event, Kelly is favoring the National Resources Defense Council. In addition, I suggest the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic, that provides medical care and counseling to needy folks right down the street from us here in Los Angeles. On Black Friday you can also shop at Patagonia, which is donating 100% of sales that day to environmental causes. Or you can make your own gifts. Everyone gets jam!

Incerto: Fooled by Randomness The Black Swan The Bed of Procrustes Antifragile

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Speaking of orange swans, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has gathered four of his books into one mega-cranky boxed set. Taleb’s genius is in pointedly pointing out the faulty ways the “adults” in our culture deal with randomness and complex systems. In my humble opinion, if you’re into permaculuture you should also read Taleb.

The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America

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As a hopeless dabbler, I envy people who obsess and focus on just one thing. Baker Stanley Ginsberg is one such person and he spent years researching rye breads in both Europe and America. He’s gathered them all into one book, everything from Swedish flatbreads to a classic American deli rye. If you want healthy, sourdough fermented wholegrain breads, this book is for you.

Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes

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Planting in a Post-Wild World came out last year, but I think it’s still the most interesting new book on gardening and landscape architecture. Rainer and West describe a difficult to summarize philosophy that bridges the “wild” and human constructed landscapes. Along with Taleb and Kat Anderson’s Tending the Wild, this book should be on the bookshelf of all gardeners and permaculturalists. 

A New History of Western Philosophy

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If, like me, you managed to get through school without a shred of philosophical training, do yourself a favor and take a stab at this book. Kenny writes clearly, though I won’t say that the whole book is easy going. But just grasp a fraction of the content of this book and you’ll understand how $50 concepts like epistemology and ontology underlie assumptions about everything. Yes, such seemingly mundane things like gardening and construction work take on a whole new meaning once you dig into the preconceptions that we make about meaning and reason. I’ve come to enjoy beginning my day with a passage from Kenny’s book. 

Ship’s Cats in War and Peace

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There’s no nice way to say this. I’m a crazy middle-aged cat dude. The similarly pitiful cat-lover in your life will enjoy this strange and obsessively researched book, though they will develop a lifelong hatred of Ernest Shackleton (the bastard shot the ship’s cat!). You will learn two important facts: the celebrity cat phenomenon is definitely not a new thing and sailors spend a lot of their time sewing special cat hammocks.

Vegetable Seeds

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Who should you trust with your vegetable varieties? How about our friends the Italians? They know a few things about tasty vegetables. My favorite source for years has been Franchi, a family owned company that dates back to the 18th century. Franchi’s American importer is Seeds From Italy. But wait, what about climate change and drought for those of us in the arid Southwest? That’s were Native Seed/SEARCH comes in.

Silva Ranger 515 Compass

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Let’s say you don’t want to end up wandering in the desert drinking your own urine, like two of my fellow LA hipsters ended up doing recently. You’re gonna want a compass. No, you can’t use it to rate the park on Yelp or Instagram yourself drinking your own urine. Kids, what the compass is useful for is figuring out where you are and/or where you’re going when that cellphone of yours has no signal. What I like about this particular compass is that it has a sighting mirror, critical when you’re getting your bearings. But don’t forget that the compass is, pretty much, useless without a map. Thankfully, you can download USGS topo maps for free.

Leatherman Rebar

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Leatherman makes many different versions of their iconic multi-tool, one for each of America’s varied lifestyle categories. There’s the Leatherman Hipster, the Leatherman Accountant, the Leatherman Tech Bro and the Leatherman Internet Troll. OK, I just made all that up, but they do have the perfect tool for the person in your life, like me, who is little more than a low-grade, mostly incompetent building supervisor. Let’s say you need to do some dodgy electrical work, bad tree pruning or slice a muffin in half. The Leatherman Rebar is the tool you want. Here’s what it’s got: needlenose pliers, replaceable wire cutters, electrical crimper, knife, serrated knife, wood/metal file saw, small screwdriver. large screwdriver, phillips screwdriver, awl w/thread loop, ruler (8 inches), bottle opener, can opener, wire stripper, lanyard ring. I’m especially fond the wire stripping capability. If you need anything more than that you need to re-prioritize your life. I deploy my leatherman rebar at least once a day and wear it on my belt at all times.

Solavore Sport Solar Oven 

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Consider this thing a solar-powered slow cooker. We were sent one by the company for testing and what I like about it, over other solar box cookers, is the ability to cook two pots of food at once. Civilized people need some rice with their stew.

SolSource Solar Grill

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We did a video on this cool solar grill recently showing how you can use it to . . . deep fry! Looking somewhat like a James Bond villain prop from “Moonraker,” the SolSource’s mirrors focus the sun into a supremely hot point. Consider this a grill to compliment your Solavore oven. Together they form a supremely self-righteous outdoor kitchen that will function perfectly well in the post-zombie apocalypse outdoor entertaining combat theater.

Fencing lessons

Let’s say the significant other and/or the kids in your life are spending a lot of time on the couch playing the latest video game like the kid in the Ukrainian fencing studio ad above. Why get the same first person shooter experience with a little exercise thrown in? Fencing is an odd, three in one sport: foil, epee and saber. Like video games, fencing has electronic scoring and you even get multiple lives! Most adults do epee (it’s all I’ve ever done) and, traditionally, kids start with foil. Equipment costs are minimal but you will need to spring for one-on-one lessons. I dearly love running and riding a bike, but fencing has the added benefit of providing lessons in strategy. It’s a mental workout that’s often described as “physical chess.” The sport requires you to think several steps ahead of your opponent. If you’re a local, I can’t say enough good things about Fortune Fencing in Monrovia–it’s a friendly and mellow place (no yelling coaches). If not fencing consider some other lessons. Research has shown that money spent on experiences makes us more happy than money spent on things.

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How to Block Telemarketers

telemarketinghellIf you’re in possession of an AARP card, you also probably have a land line telephone. If, like me, you are taking care of an older relative it’s likely that your elder depends on a land line that rings every few minutes with offers and pleas from dubious charities, political parties and Elmer Gantry types. In my opinion, there’s a special level of Dante’s inferno for telemarketers who prey on the elderly, but I won’t be able to fix that problem in a blog post. Let’s just take care of those unwanted calls.

At my mom’s house I tested two solutions: the Sentry Call Blocker and Nomorobo.

51sxnaptccl-_sl1000_Sentry Call Blocker
The Sentry Call Blocker is a piece of hardware the goes between your phone and the wall jack. It sells for around $40 on Amazon and has no monthly charges. The way it works is that you manually enter a list of approved callers. Unknown numbers get forwarded to a recorded message (oddly, a man with a British accent–an out of work Shakespearean actor, perhaps?). You can also scroll through a list of previous incoming calls and either put them on the approved list or block them. It did a great job of blocking unwanted calls. Unfortunately, it also did a good job of blocking wanted calls. After using it for a few months I had to disconnect it. Important calls from health care agencies as well as some of my mom’s friends were not getting through. And the interface is too complicated for an older person to operate.

cmfuwjawiaajvq6Nomorobo
Nomorobo is a call blocking service for VoIP phone lines. Nomorobo maintains a large database of telemarketers that they’ve culled from the FTC, crowd-sourced reports and their own “honey traps.” When a spam call comes in the phone rings once and then, satisfyingly, automatically hangs up on the helpless boiler room employee. I’ve been using it on my own line (it comes free with Spectrum VoIP service) for around six months and in that time not a single telemarketer has made it through. Not even an election related call! Nomorobo offers a version for iPhones for $1.99 a month that I’m considering using to stop the student loan calls (I don’t even have student loans!). If you’re a Spectrum/Time Warner subscriber you can activate Nomorobo through the web interface for your account under “VoiceZone/Peace and Quiet.”

There are numerous apps for Android and iPhones that also promise to block telemarketers that I have not tested. In my experience the National Do Not Call Registry is a joke, but I’ve listed my numbers anyways. At least until the telemarketers find a workaround, Nomorobo gets my vote.