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Friday, March 30, 2012

Gathering for a Diabetes Cure

Last night I went to a reception for the Spokane-area American Diabetes Association "Tour de Cure," the aim of which is to raise money for diabetes research and awareness of diabetes awareness, prevention, and management.

As a Type 1 diabetic for the past two years, I decided to ride in this inaugural Spokane tour. The constant rain we've been experiencing this winter and spring (the front yard is currently flooded from the high, fast-running Cable Creek) have kept me from training much, but last night's reception has renewed my motivation.

According to tour organizer Todd Duncan, nearly 100 individuals and 23 teams have registered for the May 20 tour. He's hoping for as many as 500 by the time the tour begins.

About 30 people attended last night's reception. Many were organizers, but there were some riders, one of whom was Dave Holden, a University of Washington student from Spokane who rode domestically for the Team Type 1 professional squad. A Type 1 diabetic for the past two years, Holden spoke about how diabetes didn't hold him back from training and racing as a pro. Holden's a lot younger, leaner, and stronger than I am, but we both gave metered our blood glucose and took the appropriate glucose before dinner.

Dave will be among the more than 100 cyclists riding the tour on May 20. I'm sure he'll be both kicking butt and dispensing encouragement to the rest of us "Red Riders," diabetics who use cycling to stay fit and beat back diabetes.

Some of us will never recover from diabetes - until or unless biotechnologists create the first transplantable pancreas. But others will eventually benefit from the diabetes research funded by the Tour de Cure, and I'm riding for them. I hope you'll join us, wherever you live.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's the Little Things

One of the joys (I hope) of building a new home is the ability to select your own materials, and by doing so to capture both your own personality and your particular sense of place. Karen and I have been collecting Arts & Crafts furniture, artwork, and objects d'art for most of our 31-year marriage, but we've never had an Arts & Crafts-style house in which to display them to full advantage. Our new home will be in the Craftsman style, with appropriate lighting, tile, and hardware. We're building up in the hills on the middle 26-acre parcel of our property. It's on a high point among large pine and fir trees, and the exterior colors will reflect the trunks and canopies of these evergreens. Even small details, like this doorbell surround will reflect the landscape and our building style.

Having signed our building contract and having locked in a construction loan rate (with pre-approval), we've started purchasing the hardware for the house, including locksets, doorknobs, and pocket-door pulls. This doorbell surround was the first item to arrive in the mail. More to come.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A House Is Not a Home

For the past three years, Karen and I have been living in the home where she grew up. Her parents built it from 1951-1957 with their own hands. Considering Al had no training or experience in construction, he did pretty well. But, it's a relic of its times. The single-pane windows export heat and import cold; what warmth we have is provided by an ancient oil-burning furnace and a propane-burning fireplace Karen and I installed; it has one bathroom and insufficient plumbing for a dishwasher; the hookups for the washer and dryer are in the kitchen, and there is no external vent for the dryer through the pumice blocks of which the house is built (and, no, there is no wall insulation). It is not a comfortable house.
To Karen, the house is more a reminder of her unhappy teenage years. Her father was schizophrenic, her mother took a lot from him and gave nearly as good as she got, and Karen was frustrated with her parents and her isolation in the country, (all fictionalized in Karen's novel "A Devil Singing Small"). It is not a happy house, and it would never be our home.

Even before we moved into this house from an apartment in Liberty Lake, Wa., we started planning to build our final home in the eastern hills on our property. We selected a site that's warmer year-round (the old house is chilled from its proximity to Cable Creek on our western fence line) and receives more sun, being above the valley floor where the old house sits. We had a half-mile packed-gravel driveway built from the county road to the new home site and had a well drilled. Then, I got sick. Then, the stock market crashed. Then, I got sick again.

During all of that turmoil we pessimistically wondered whether we should, or could build. We optimistically hired a Spokane-based architect who designed a great house - that would have cost two-and-a-half times our budget. After I recovered from my second illness, we worked with a nearby log home company that designed another great house, but would have cost about twice our budget and come with all the inherent problems of log homes, such as log settling and twisting and cracking sheetrock.

Finally, this winter, we remembered that a friend had suggested looking into modular homes, and so we did. Stratford Building Corporation is located just 30 minutes away in Rathdrum, Idaho. We stopped in, looked at their model homes, met their construction manager, Mike Tinsley, visited the factory where they "stick-build" custom homes, and went home with a brochure. During the next few months, we worked with Stratford to develop plans, revise plans, and revise them again. On Thursday, we signed a contract agreement with Stratford. On Friday, we secured a construction loan/mortgage from nearby Global Credit Union. Today, Karen and I selected the color scheme for the entire house.

I'll be posting frequently to this blog as we progress through the construction period. We anticipate that, sometime this summer, we'll have a new house that will be a home, for the rest of our lives.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Today's Special

When Karen and I lived back in Laramie, for several years we belonged to a university-based foreign foods group. About a dozen couples belonged, and every month we'd gather at a member's home to eat and drink way too much. Someone would decide which ethnic cuisine we'd try the next month, and every couple would make a dish or three for everyone to share. I remember Spanish, Greek, Scandinavian (worst choice, ever), Italian and Indian. I'm sure there were more, but they probably weren't as memorable.

We'd become great fans of Indian food, making the 90-minute drive to Fort Collins, Colo., every so often for a buffet lunch at the late, lamented, Star of India, or to the Indian restaurant in Loveland. Eventually, we found some Indian ingredients and sauces at a natural foods store in Laramie, and then an Internet Web site for Tasty Bite foods. Karen even bought a kit of Indian spices and made her own blends while I was off at work.

There are several Indian restaurants in the Spokane area, but the best of the bunch is downtown, about 30 minutes away. I've done some Indian cooking, but not much. I did tonight, though, but with more inspiration than effort. Yesterday evening, we downloaded a Netflix movie called "Today's Special," starring Assif Mandvi of "The Daily Show." I'd never heard of it before Karen found it, but it was really good. The story involves sou chef of Muslim Indian descent, who aspires to be chef of a top French restaurant - spurning the family's Indian restaurant in Manhattan. When his father suffers a heart attack, he reluctantly takes over the family restaurant and, with the help of a cab driver/former chef, makes the restaurant a top draw for New York foodies.

While trolling the aisles of the Post Falls, Idaho, Wal-Mart today, I discovered they now carried whole wheat (a sop to my diabetes) naan, the delicious Indian flat bread. Back in the car, Karen asked, "Are you going to make Indian food because of the movie we saw last night?" You bet, but I didn't have a lot of time to work at it. On the way home we stopped at The Trading Company grocery store so Karen could mail some packages at their contract postal office, and I found packages of Tasty Bite Kashmir spinach. I bought two. Then, off to Albertsons to pick up our meds and buy some lamb. By the time we got home, it was 3:30.

I sliced up some onions and sauteed them with a little butter and olive oil in a cast iron skillet; chopped up some plum tomatoes and threw them into the pan; cubed the lamb and added it to the onions and tomatoes. After the meat was done and tender, I added the two packets of Kashmir spinach (saag and cubes of paneer cheese), covered and let simmer for about a half hour. When nearly done, I oiled the naan and sauteed it in a separate frying pan. A Red Hook IPA (India Pale Ale), and it's dinner. Not as fancy as the food cooked up in "Today's Special," but pretty good chow.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I Hate Hawthorn

Actually, I despise hawthorn. Not Nathaniel (with an "e"), though Demi Moore's version of "The Scarlet Letter" could have tipped the balance on old Nat. No, I'm talking about the bush. Some people call it thornapple, some thornberry. I call it misery on a stick, and if you let it, the bush will turn into a tree that slashes through sweatshirts and jeans as well as unprotected skin. Even in spring and summer, fleece-lined elk-hide gloves are essential. The picture on the left shows why - and these aren't the worst examples.

For nearly five years, Karen and I have been trying to get a house built up in the hills above where we're currently living. More about that in future blogs, but suffice it to say that it's been a long, frustrating process. We're getting closer, and hope to start construction this summer. So, in anticipation, Karen suggested we start clearing our putative home site of deadfall, slash and
hawthorn. Ten hours of work with a chainsaw and an ATV-mounted trailer resulted in multiple scratches and bruises, but also a mountainous brush pile of hawthorn branches.

This morning, after breakfast, I finished building the pile and, armed with a propane torch, lit it up. The flame caught quickly, but the brush at the bottom of the pile was still damp from a wet winter and spring, and the fire just wouldn't spread to the other edges of the pile. So, if the fire won't spread to the wood, you spread the wood to the fire. I spent the next three hour moving wood from around the pile to the hottest part of the bonfire. Finally, the pile was nearly completely consumed. I threw the remaining unburned branches onto some smoldering ashes and, in doing so, found a half dozen pieces of barbed wire that were probably attached to old fence posts from previous burns. There's just no end to it.

So, now the home site is cleared and looking good. With any luck, we'll get our builder's contract and estimate early next week and, if it's in our ballpark, start shopping for a construction loan. Between now and summer, I hope I'll be posting updates and photos of our "excellent adventure," and that this newly-cleared hillside will be the site of our next and last home.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Death by Leash

The snow has melted. The plow blade is off the ATV and the bike is back on the road. Weather forecasters predicted a high of 51, so I rummaged through my cycling closet, trying to figure out what would keep me warm, but not hot. An old Pearl Izumi fleece-lined long-sleeve jersey; bib shorts and leg warmers; long-fingered Giordana gloves; and a liner in my Giro helmet. Spot on for a ride west on the Centennial Trail toward Spokane.

The Spokane River was running high, and the geese were flying back north over the rapids. The trail was crowded at mid-day, with cyclists, young skateboarders, and people walking their dogs. Or, in some cases, dogs walking their people. Most folk were pretty aware of their surroundings, maintaining proper trail etiquette. Cyclists and skateboarders on the right (with traffic), and walkers facing traffic. So far, so good, until I passed Mirabeau Park and saw, about 100 yards ahead, a man and woman on the right of the trail. I cruised toward them at about 16 mph, and was prepared to give them a heads-up holler, "On your left," when just 20 yards from them, I saw the leash, stretching across the trail to an Australian shepherd on the extreme left-hand side of the trail. I hit the brakes, shifting my weight to the back of the saddle so I wouldn't go over the handlebars. After giving the couple a piece of my mind, they apologized and I geared up again. The dog didn't seem phased at all.

I turned around at Farr and headed back toward Stateline Rd. and the Idaho border. This was my second time out this year after way too much rain and slush, and my legs started to tire some after climbing the sprinter's hill at Barker. Paralleling I-90, I was passed by a younger guy riding a Specialized carbon bike. I caught his rear wheel for a while, but fell back until we approached the final sprinter's hill with a sharp left hand bend. He stayed right, so I jumped out of the saddle, hands on the drops, and passed him on the inside of the bend. It felt great until I blew up about 100 yards farther on and he passed me for good. I met him at the parking lot. He was a 20-something year-old German. Not Jan Ullrich, but in pretty good shape.

My blood sugar was 122 at the start of the ride, and 109 at the end. Two Chocolate #9 gels and a Honey Stinger bar did the job. Off to Taco Bell for a Burrito Supreme. Man can not live on cycling food alone.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Seeing Eagles

This morning, driving down Wellesley Ave. in Otis Orchards, Washington, I saw what seemed to be a hawk circling near the elementary school. The area is flush with red tailed hawks, and so I didn't find this particular bird remarkable - until I got closer and thought it must be the largest hawk I'd ever seen. Then, I saw the white tail and the white head. It was a bald eagle, probably over from Liberty Lake for brunch. It was a rare sight.

A few years ago, Karen and I were walking from our house in Post Falls up to the old barn when we saw a flock of crows circling the upper meadow. As we approached, they rose up, and we saw a deer carcass, which had been largely picked over. There was no blood trail. It looked like a coyote kill. Walking south along Anna Spring, we were shocked by two bald eagles crossing the trail about 10 feet off the ground, 20 feet in front of us. Magnificent. It was the first time we'd seen bald eagles here, though there are times they've been seen in profusion at Liberty Lake and Lake Coeur d'Alene.

When we lived in Laramie, Wyoming, I often saw golden eagles while on bike rides on Herrick Lane. Along that flat, undulating route, with cottonwoods along distant springs, the eagles built nests and perched atop telephone poles. Brown feathers flecked with gold, massive, watching for vermin. I thought this morning, as I saw the bald eagle, that I favored the golden eagles. Birds are what they are, but to me the golden eagle seems more stealthy, more deadly in its visual subtlety.

These days on my rides, I mostly see ducks and geese on the Spokane River along the Centennial Trail. Some quail. The occasional coyote. And, of course, red tailed hawks. I miss seeing the golden eagles as I ride, racing pronghorns across the prairie. You make do with what you've got.