Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Utah Vacation

I can't believe that's me! I can't believe I did that! There I am surrounded by the Wasatch Mountains and all that famous Utah powder. What a trip!

Thanks Mark and Grace!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Let There Be Light

Until man duplicates a blade of grass, Nature can laugh at his so-called scientific achievements.
—Thomas A. Edison

The L.A. Times had a front page article last Saturday about a proposed California law that would make it mandatory to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs to replace old incandescent bulbs beginning in 2012. The purpose of the new legislation, authored by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, is to save energy. They compute that the difference in energy costs per year between the incandescent bulb ($9.20) and the CF bulb ($2.50) justifies the switch. If everyone used these new low-energy, long-lasting bulbs, electricity consumption would be slashed by 75% according to the article.

All of this sounds very good but nowhere in the article did it mention the one aspect of artificial lighting that matters most to me, i.e., whether or not the bulbs provide full-spectrum lighting. Until now, I had thought that fluorescent lighting was very bad for your eyes and that you could not get full-spectrum light or "natural light" from a fluorescent tube. I was wrong.

Let me explain what full-spectrum lighting is. The sun provides light in a fairly even distribution over the visible spectrum of electromagnetic waves. This is the light that our eyes evolved to see. We were not meant to spend our lives inside a dark cave (modern office building) coming out only for small periods of sun, or staying awake for very long past sunset. Of course, the sun's spectrum changes with location, the seasons, and time of day, and our eyes were also meant to soak up the sun's rays at various times throughout the day. Sunlight also provides a small amount of mid- and near-UV light.

The best artificial lighting would try to imitate what the sun can do for us. Full spectrum lighting is better not only for our eyes but for our general health as well. How can you tell if you are getting full-spectrum lighting? There are two numbers that will indicate the color temperature and the color rendering of any light source. The Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) is a measure of a light source's apparent "whiteness," yellowness (warmth), or blueness (coolness). This number is given in degrees Kelvin (K). If you use a good camera, you have probably encountered this number already. A flash will give you a cooler, daylight exposure than without flash in low light. Indoor photos taken under incandescent light will be very yellow. In the old days, there were different kinds of film you could use to counteract this. The sun's CCT can vary from 3600K (warm/yellow), to 4870K at noon, to 7100K on an overcast day, or to 25,000K (very cool/blue) in the Northwest sky. 5500K is considered "white" light from the sun.

The Color Rendering Index (CRI) indicates how well the colors of objects are rendered (reflected), using a light source at a specific CCT. Sunlight has a perfect CRI rating of 100. Note that this number cannot be compared with different sources that have different CCT ratings. An incandescent bulb may have a high CRI rating of 95 but still appear yellow because it's CCT is only 2700K. But generally, a light with a CCT of 5000K and a CRI of 80-89 will give excellent color rendering. To qualify as a "full-Spectrum" light, a bulb or fluorescent tube must have a CCT of 5000 to 7500K and a CRI of 90 to 100. Whether or not the artificial light also includes the proper ratio of mid- and near-UV light is another issue and a very thorny one.

OK, now try and find these numbers on the box of bulbs you are considering buying. It's not easy. Phillips assumes you are not interested in these technical details or couldn't understand what they mean if they gave them to you. GE offers a glossary of terms that does explain all this very nicely, but when you go to buy a particular bulb, you can't get the specifics. After much searching on the web, I found a few companies that will give you the full details and this is when I found that you can indeed purchase compact fluorescent bulbs that fit the definition of full-spectrum lighting. These bulbs are very costly, ranging from $10 to $50 for a simple 75W equivalent bulb. They are not available at your local Home Depot, at least not at mine, you must buy them over the Internet adding shipping costs to the total. If you are interested, you can get lots of info and the names of brands to consider from the Bates Method website store.

One major drawback to these fluorescent bulbs is that they contain mercury, although not very much. To dispose of them properly, they should be taken to a hazardous waste site (which I am not sure really solves the problem. It only pushes it on to someone else). And these bulbs don't fit some sockets and cannot be used with a dimmer switch. Currently, I have several lights with full-spectrum bulbs made with neodymium oxide, a rare earth element. These bulbs contain krypton gas and a chrome plated brass base that give them an earth-friendly life of over 3,500 hours. I am very satisfied with the results but may consider the CFLs when they need to be replaced.

But I still wonder if it is good to have the equivalent of noonday sunlight at 10:00 p.m. And what about UV light which is also important for our health? Most fluorescent bulbs have coatings to absorb the UV rays and many health experts think that this is good. But again, we were meant to soak up the UV rays all day long, too. And nature has ways of making sure we do not get too much of a good thing. (See Dr. Michael Eades's blog for Feb. 16, 2007 on the subject of Folate and Fun in the Sun.)

All in all, I think the best solution may be to insist on buildings with windows or skylights and at night to turn off the lights and go to bed early.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Got Him!

I have been trying to get a good photo of the owner of my hummingbird feeder for weeks and today I finally did it. Isn't he a jewel? But don't let his looks and diminutive size fool you, he can be quite ferocious, especially if some other creature tries to use his feeder. The rufous brown coloring and green back makes this an Allen's Hummingbird. His gorget (only males have such a magnificent gorget) can be red or gold depending on how the light hits it and he has to be directly facing you in order for you to see the colors. But he can actually control the "flashing" of this gorget to warn rivals away.

I make my own hummingbird nectar using 1 cup of sugar and 4 cups of water. I bring the syrup to a boil and simmer it for 5 minutes. After it has cooled a bit, I freeze the syrup in feeder-sized portions, which for my feeder and bird is about 1/2 cup. I clean (rinse with hot water—no soap) and change the feeder every 5 days in winter and 3 days in summer when it is hot. This recipe will make enough for about 7 changes.

The bird is perched on a branch of my Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, a native California species that is just starting to bloom. Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, CA, has a planting of several redbuds, both Eastern and Western that can put on a spectacular display in the spring. If mine is starting to bloom now, then theirs should be at their height in about two to three weeks.

Le Foulard—C'est Fini

The Foulard that I made with the yarn that I dyed is finished. I really like the way that it came out. First I soaked the finished foulard in warmish water with a little bit of Eucalan. This photo shows the wet foulard before blocking. I like the swirls and curls. Then I used my new blocking wires to stretch it out to a 40-inch square on two old mattress pads on the floor as there was no other place big enough for me to lay it flat. I pinned the wires to the pads and left the whole thing overnight, hoping I wouldn't forget it was there and walk on it in the middle of the night to get a drink of water or something.

Next morning, it was dry and ready for use. The yarn is so soft. The foulard can be worn many ways, but the easiest thing to do is fold it into a triangle and drape it over the shoulders. I tried to get a picture of this, but no luck. So here it is draped over a hanger. I think you can get the idea.

Now to finish the baby sweater. It's coming along fine. I am up to the armholes. I hope to have photos soon.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

String Fever

This one is for all my music friends. A nice diversion from intense CM preparations. You won't believe it, but be forewarned, the tune is catchy.

Thanks, Joyce.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Food Diary

When I started on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) in 2004, it seemed so radical to me (no grains!) that I wanted to be sure that I was still getting all the proper nutrients. The USDA has a website called My Pyramid Tracker, that helps you to calculate your nutrient intake and all sorts of other things like that. And it's free! You start by creating an account and giving some basic information about yourself like age, height, and weight, and then enter all the food you have eaten in one day. You can also input all the activities you have done on that day so that they can compute how many calories you need to maintain your weight or to lose weight. You can also find out what any one food item contains or a single meal instead of the whole day.

Start by listing all the foods you have eaten at one meal or during the entire day. If you eat a lot of ethnic foods, you may have trouble finding them on the list. I couldn't find bok choy the other day, so I substituted Chinese cabbage. For something like creamed cauliflower soup which I made last night with coconut milk and not cow's milk, I had to list all the ingredients separately. Then you select the quantities. This is where you might need to be a little creative. For example, I had 2 tablespoons of blueberry juice concentrate on a sliced pear for breakfast but blueberry juice is not an option. So I calculated, from the information on the juice bottle, that there are 61 blueberries in each tablespoon and entered 2.5 servings times 50 blueberries as my quantity. You can use fractions in the number of servings box. I then had to realize that the fiber number would be slightly too high.

Once you have your quantities, you are ready to look at the numbers. Click on Save and Analyze and several choices will come up. I ignore the Meeting 2005 Dietary Guidelines option since it is based on the USDA food pyramid and many diet gurus these days think the pyramid is flawed to say the least. The numbers that matter to me are under Nutrient Intakes. These are the numbers that will tell you what you are getting in your diet. The only number that I think is way out of whack is the sodium intake. They assume that if you eat anything prepared or cooked that salt has been added. If you do your own cooking and know that is not the case, then take this number with a "grain of salt."

Again the Recommendation or Acceptable Range is based on the food pyramid, so use caution when comparing your numbers to these. What you may want to look at are your totals of calories, protein, fats, carbs, and fiber. It would be nice if they gave percentages of your total calorie intake for all of the macronutrients, but you can get the percentage of fat on the DG page. There are lots of other things you can do like comparing your Omega 6 and Omega 3 intake. On the Paleo diet, the ratio of these two fatty acids should be in the 1 to 1 or 3 to 1 range, not the 10 to 1 range the USDA recommends. I like to have my ratio of calcium to magnesium roughly 1 to 1 also.

It is a little tedious at first because of all the details that are required, but you can save your favorite foods in a Frequently Used Foods list so that the next day it is much easier to list your intake. But it is worth it to go into as much detail as possible. Just adding 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to your food intake can really raise your vitamin C levels. The activity list gets into great detail also, like how many minutes did you spend making the bed? But you can go for the Condensed Option which assumes you do normal daily activities but nothing extra. However, if you do exercise your calorie requirements will go up and you need to know that if you are trying to gain or lose weight.

Keeping such a food diary for about a week should tell you lots about what you are eating and ease our mind if you are trying to go low carb. And you may be surprised by what you learn.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Learning New Things

On Friday, Baby C. learned how to roll over for the first time. On Saturday, I learned how to do my own taxes for the first time. We both have a long way to go.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


No earth, no sky, can be discerned at all,
Only these ceaseless snowflakes: still they fall.
-- Hashin

Snow has obliterated all from sight:
Mountain and moor are now a world of white.
-- Jôsô

All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other -
Only the mountain and I.

The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.
-- Li Po

The baby,open-mouthed, beholds a chase
Of falling cherry-petals: Buddha's face.

-- Kubutsu


Look away from the high lonesome hills
So hard on the hard sky since the swift shower;
See where among the restless daffodils
The hyacinth sets his melancholy tower.

Draw in your heart from vain adventurings;
Float slowly, swimmer, slowly drawing breath.
See, in this wild green foam of growing things
The heavy hyacinth remembering death.

-- L.A. MacKay

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Nut Muffins

I have given this recipe to many people, but this is the latest version of it. It was adapted from the muffin recipe in Elaine Gottschall's book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle. This book and the diet that Mrs. Gottschall created was the starting point for my search for better health through diet. I do not follow the diet exactly any more, but it is still highly recommended for people with bowel disorders.

2 ½ cups ground nuts (I use almond meal)
¼ cup melted butter, or ¼ cup homemade yogurt, or small amount of fruit juice, or pure apple butter (add last and adjust amount depending on the consistency of the batter. I use 1/8 cup butter and 1/8 cup coconut oil. Melt the butter first then add the coconut oil.)
½ cup honey (more or less as desired--I tend to use less and add water if more liquid is needed)
½ t baking soda ( have found a baking soda without aluminum in it--Bob's Red Mill)
1/8 t salt (I leave this out most of the time)
3 eggs (if eggs must be avoided, use puréed fruit to hold ingredients together)

½ chopped apple
1/3 cup raisins
½ cup blueberries, raspberries, or cranberries
walnut halves

Melt butter and add coconut oil. Place dry ingredients (nut meal, baking soda, salt) in one bowl and mix thoroughly. Place eggs in separate bowl and whisk in the honey. Add egg mixture to nut mixture and stir. At this point you can add chopped fruit, etc. and then add the butter/oil mixture. Stir. The batter will be rather more liquid than a normal muffin batter.

Spoon batter into muffin cups and place a walnut half on top of each muffin. Let them sit while you pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.

You can use almond meal or any nut meal to create breads, etc., and to use as breading, but this is the only baked goodie that I still eat since I stopped eating grains. As in the case of sugar, I feel that if you are going to stop eating cakes and stuff like that, then just stop and don't waste a lot of time looking for substitutes. You get over your cravings for them much easier that way.

A great source of nuts and the almond meal that I use (which can be an expensive item if you don't shop around) is Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon, CA. That's just before you get to Palm Springs.

Oops, I almost forgot. If you use Bob's Red Mill Baking Soda, you need to add something acidic to get the baking soda to react and cause the batter to rise, so I add one tablespoon of cider vinegar when I add the butter/oil mixture at the end. Organic, raw, unfiltered cider vinegar, of course.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Fiber Fun, Part 3

The original plan I had for the yarn I dyed (Fiber Fun, Part 1 and Part 2) was to make all three hanks into a shawl. When I made a swatch in the shawl pattern on size 8 needles, I could see right away that it was just not going to work. The bright colors which tended to look stripey just obliterated the stitch design of the shawl. And the yarn wasn't being shown off to its best advantage either. It's a triangular shawl that flares out from the center and I had thought that having the stripes go in different directions would be interesting. But the colors are too bright. It's too busy. Ixnay on this one.

Then I thought, with those bright colors and the light weight of the yarn (it's a fingering weight, merino wool), it would make something perfect for the baby! And after all that I put this poor yarn through, I know it is washable! In her book on Color, Sally Melville suggests using a variegated yarn with a solid color yarn to keep things under control. You let the variegated yarn stripe all it wants and border it with the solid color. I found a pattern for a raglan-sleeve cardigan for the baby with a stripe every 8 rows. I plan to use a solid color, maybe a dark blue, for this on-purpose stripe and for the ribbing, too.

I can't show you a swatch of that idea yet as I have to go out and get the second yarn, but here is a swatch of the yarn I dyed using size 5 needles. Notice how I got perfect stripes this time (for awhile anyway). This was because my row length was exactly right for the length of chartreuse in my dyed yarn. Some people try to get this effect on purpose. They stretch out the hanks of yarn to be dyed up and down and around, and then dye it with long color repeats. Problem is, as soon as you have an increase or a decrease in your pattern, you lose your stripes.

OK, the baby sweater will work, but it only uses one hank of the dyed yarn. What else can I do?

A foulard. The perfect pattern for my yarn. It is from the Morehouse Farm knitting book. The pattern is as simple as can be, garter stitch all the way, but you start at a corner and increase one stitch with each row. When you get to the middle, you start to decrease with each row. So except for the two rows in the middle, no two rows will be of the same length, and the variegated yarn doesn't have a chance to get into a stripey mode. This swatch was done with size 13 needles though the pattern calls for 11s. I wanted a more open effect. The stitches are pretty even right now, but when I block it I will purposely stretch them out to different sizes to make the final square look more casual and carefree. Looks Impressionistic doesn't it? Reminds me of Monet's Water Lilies. Worn as a shawl, it will be perfect for those cool summer evenings we have in L.A.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Fiber Fun, Part 2

Wow! Was I surprised to see how rich and vibrant the colors got after zapping the sausages in the microwave. The blue which had been a sickly pale blue was now a bright royal blue, the lilac (?) a royal purple, and a neon sign could not be as bright as the chartreuse. But would the yarn keep the color or would it wash out in the rinse?

The details: I placed the tub with the lid on loosely in the microwave along with a cup 3/4 full of water to act as a heat sink. I didn't want to set the yarn on fire. (I don't know if this is scientifically accurate, but it sounded like a good idea when I read about it.) Also, with the yarn all wrapped up there was no way to tell when the boiling point had been reached to create steam. As I wanted to warm the yarn up gently and because I have a rather powerful microwave (825W), I set the power level half way (5) and zapped the yarn for 6 minutes. Then I increased the power level to 8 and zapped for another 6. Things were starting to get steamy, but not enough I thought, so I did another 3 minutes on 8. And I turned the tub around each time I checked the yarn.

I had not sealed the ends of the wrap, as was suggested, because I thought the steam should be allowed to escape and I didn't want the sausages to explode. The result was that some of the dye water, not much, leaked out into the tub. Perhaps next time I'll put a cloth or paper towel under the coils. I think I will also turn the coils over as well as turning them around once or twice. The lid helped to keep the steam in the tub and I let the tub cool in the oven for several hours before unwrapping them. (Actually, I had to teach a few lessons.) The lid also helped to keep the smell of hot wet wool down to a minimum. And that was it! Very easy indeed.

When I was finished teaching, and the coils were completely cool, I unwrapped the them and rinsed off the hanks. I probably was a little too vigorous here as I got some felting later when the yarn dried, especially in the chartreuse areas as that was the only dye to run during the rinse. I then placed the hanks into a tub of tap water with a little Eucalan and let them sit for a few minutes before squeezing out the water with my hands and hanging them up to dry. Drying took forever because it rained the next day and I had the hanks hanging in the garage.

Once they were completely dry, it was time to wind the hanks into skeins and start swatching! Again searching the web, I found a site (thanks Elka) that explains how to wind a hank of yarn into a nice figure-8 sort of ball with a center pull. Elka calls it a "cacoon." Whatever you want to call it, it works and is really neat. Elka supplies complete details and lots of pictures but below is what you get when you are finished. The photos also show somewhat how the colors are going to blend together later when they are knitted.

Next installment: swatches.

Fiber Fun Part 3

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Fiber Fun, Part 1

Time for some fiber fun and pretty pictures. Well, at least colorful!

Monday I dyed some bare Merino wool from Knitpicks. A month ago I bought three 100g hanks of fingering weight yarn and three jars of Jacquard dye in the colors Sky Blue (621), Lilac (612), and Chartreuse (628). My original plan was to knit the finished yarn into a triangular shawl. And if things didn't work out and all I got was a muddy mess, I could knit a nice pair of socks. After dreaming a lot about the what, how, and wherefores, it was time for the when. Now.

I have had only one previous experience with dyeing, and that was the tie-dye party at Grace's last fall. I was the "newbie" that she mentions in her post. We dyed mostly cottons that day, which can be done without heat but with caustic soda ash. Protein fibers, like wool, use acid dyes and the dye is set by steaming or boiling. You can use simple white vinegar as the acid. So I was excited about dyeing my own wool, but a little apprehensive, too.

The book I have on dyeing fibers, Color in Spinning, by Deb Menz is a comprehensive tutorial in how to dye fibers for later spinning into yarn. She goes into color theory, the chemistry of dyes, DOS, WOF (more acronyms!), all the nitty gritty detail which I am sure I will get into someday if I continue to dye my own stuff. But I wanted to do something more simply this first time. I don't know about you, but my work as a violinist is so intense, so detailed, that when I am doing my hobbies, I just wanna have fun!

So I searched the web for more instruction, and found that just about anything goes. You can boil the yarn in a pot on the stove, cook it in a slow cooker, steam it in a wok, or microwave it! Microwave, I thought, now there's a good use for a microwave. I don't use mine to cook food anymore (and I will get to blogging about that someday) and they warn you not to use the same microwave you cook with to dye yarn. If you boil the yarn in a pot, you get one color or a random mix of whatever colors you put in without stirring too much. A wok can be used for separate dishes of dye solution and then you dip the yarn part way in one dish, part way in another, etc. But there are several ways to dye yarn in a microwave to get multi-colored effects and narrow bands of color which is what I wanted.

It took two trips to the store to get supplies: plastic tubs, plastic wrap, paper towels, rubber gloves, a mask, hooks to hang the wet yarn up to dry, and I still hadn't made up my mind exactly which method I was going to use and I didn't decide until the last moment. I also bought some plastic condiment bottles for mixing the dyes. When you put the powdered dye into the bottle there is only a small opening for any of the dust to escape. Breathing the powder is what is dangerous about these dyes. I was then able to squirt the colors onto the yarn exactly where I wanted them to go.

Microwave zapping only takes a few minutes, but the preparation time can be quite long as any cook knows. First I spread out some newspapers on the counter and on top of that overlapping thicknesses of the plastic wrap. I had soaked the yarn overnight in cold water with a little dishwashing liquid to make sure it was thoroughly wet. Donning my mask (in chem class we were constantly being reminded to put on our goggles), I mixed the dye solution in the plastic bottles. First 1/2 teaspoon of the dye, then 1/4 cup of vinegar, and finally 1/2 cup of water went into the condiment bottles, and holding my gloved hand over the tip, I shook it all up until the powder was completely dissolved. I decided to use only the three colors straight from the jar with no mixing.

After squeezing the water out of the yarn gently with my hands, I spread the hanks out on the plastic wrap and started to squirt. Variegated yarn can present problems when knitting because depending on the length of your row and the length of the color on the yarn, you get stripes, mottled colors, blotches of color, or weird moiré patterns. I had discovered this unfortunate fact when I made the leg warmers. Keeping things simple, I decided to have medium length color strips and I wanted blue to be the mediator between the lilac and the chartreuse. I didn't know how much the colors would run together and while blue and green mix together well, and blue and purple also, I wasn't sure what I would get with lilac and chartreuse.

So I squirted the ends with the lilac and chartreuse, and put the blue in the middle. This would also make the purple and chartreuse longer color lengths and the blue shorter, but the blue would come more often. I was trying to get some randomness in the colors while still having the three hanks very similar if I wanted to knit them all into one project. After taking this picture, I squirted on more dye until the blue and lilac were gone and only a little of the chartreuse was left. I then massaged the colors into the yarn to spread it more evenly and close the gap between colors. I didn't want any white in my final product. One spot that might not get enough dye is at the ends of the hanks where they are tied together, so I gave these spots an extra squirt.

It was only after I had painted the yarn that I decided to use the sausage method to microwave them. I didn't want the two ends touching each other. So I wrapped each hank in two layers of plastic wrap like sausages and coiled them up. This had the added benefit that I would only need one pan or plastic tub to cook them in instead of three separate tubs. That would have taken a lot longer and might not guarantee consistent results.

To be continued...

Fiber Fun Part 2

Fiber Fun Part 3