Sunday, February 27, 2011

Time to Make Yogurt

I had never liked eating yogurt until our first trip to Europe. While we were in Sweden visiting family, I discovered that it tasted great on my morning cereal. In the years following that trip, I bought small containers of fruit-flavored sugar-free yogurt at the grocery store every week. One shelf in the door of our refrigerator was reserved for these small items.

In 2007, during a stay at Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah, I was talking to the campground host. They tried to drive to the grocery store no more often than once a month. I think I replied that I could never wait that long because I didn't have space in the refrigerator for all the yogurt I would need in that period of time. "Oh, I make my own yogurt," she said. I immediately followed her to their RV to get the recipe. And I have been making my own ever since. The commercial yogurt I used to love is now way too sweet for my taste buds.

This week it was time to make my supply for the next couple of weeks. All I need is a box of non-fat dry milk powder, water, five small glass jars and about 2 to 3 tablespoons of yogurt from the last batch as a starter. I mix:
7 cups of water
2 1/3 cups dry milk powder
and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat till the mixture reaches 180° for 60 seconds.

After cooling the mixture to between 115° and 120°, I stir in a small amount of yogurt from the previous batch. This is just like using a sourdough starter for bread or pancakes.

These are the jars I use for the yogurt.

I fill them with the hot milk mixture and screw on the covers.

Then I heat one jar of water to boiling in the microwave. This hot water is the heat source to "cook" the yogurt for 9 to 12 hours.

I place all of the jars in a foil-lined insulated cooler.

Then I set it in a corner of the kitchen counter all day or overnight. On cooler days, I reheat the one jar of water after a couple of hours so the milk mixture cools down more slowly.

That's all there is to it. The jars then go into the refrigerator. Each one provides three servings for my morning raisin bran breakfast.

I don't know that I save any money. Powdered milk isn't cheap. But I only have to plan ahead 12 hours to have a steady supply for breakfast. No inventory to take each grocery shopping day. And it is much lower in sugar and calories (or Weight Watcher© points) than even the light commercial yogurt.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Life Happens

We have had some real ups and downs in the last couple of weeks, bad news, followed by hopeful updates. Earlier this month we learned that our older son, Doug, has been diagnosed with colon cancer. When they did a CT scan to see how widespread it was, the good news was the area of the colon that is involved was relatively small. But the scan showed something on his liver.

Next, they did a Pet Scan to look at the liver. We are very thankful that results from that scan showed the liver is clear!

Later this week Doug will have a port inserted so he can have chemotherapy, as well as radiation treatments, over a period of four to six weeks, followed by surgery. That surgery may lead to a colostomy--either temporary or permanent.

Doug and his wife, Sherry, have two daughters, 8-year-old Rachal and 6-year-old Samantha. They have asked us to come out and help support Doug and care for the girls when he has surgery.

We will be glad to be with them at that time, get a better understanding of how things are going, and help care for the girls. Until then, we will continue volunteering at Casa Grande Ruins.

Doug has retired after 23 years with the U.S. Marine Corps. When he was deployed to war zones, we worried a lot and were always relieved when he returned home. This is different. This enemy is inside his body and he has to let the doctors and medicine do most of the fighting. We can only imagine how Doug and Sherry feel in the midst of this battle. Hearing this news feels like being punched in the stomach.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Family Time in Arizona

Our son Eric and his family drove down to Arizona for the Presidents' Day Weekend. His wife Liz's sister has a house in Fountain Hills, so when we got off work Friday afternoon we drove up there to see them. Kylie and John headed to the hot tub and pool on the back patio as soon as we arrived. Here they are with their dad.

Later in the evening all of us enjoyed the warm water. Here are the tree generations of men.

We enjoyed this view before dinner.

After Eric and John cooked some steaks, Eric brought them to the table and we enjoyed a great meal.

As we sang happy birthday to John (his birthday was on Saturday) he looks like he's thinking, "What do I do with this cake now?"

Later, Kylie sang a rap song she had written. What fun to watch her!

Could any Papa want more than this on the morning of his 68th birthday?

After more hot tub time, we drove to downtown Fountain Hills to see the fountain.

We hiked up the Lake View Trail to watch the hourly fountain eruption. It was good we enjoyed the hike. When the wind is over 10 mph, the fountain doesn't go off--a fact we didn't realize until we finished the hike.

Eric's smart phone has lots of bells and whistles, including being able to find nearby geocaches. Here are Eric, Liz and I watching Kylie and John uncover the cache.

This wonderful tree is located in the park around the Fountain Hills lake. Kylie was the first one to climb it.

When Eric went up there, Kylie went again, too. I love this picture of the two of them.

Kylie's shoes are the height of pre-teen fashion.

Then they took us to In-N-Out for lunch. Liz worked in California for several years and it is her favorite hamburger place.

Lots of people agree with her. Can you believe this line at 1:30 in the afternoon?

They give their hats to anyone interested. So John received one for his birthday. I'm not sure he was happy about that.

I had to try it on, also.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Busy Weekend

We had a very busy weekend, working at the Third Annual American Indian Music Fest here at Casa Grande Ruins NM. The event brings Native American artists from throughout the U.S. and Canada for two days of performances. The stage is set next to the 650+ year-old four-story building once used by Ancestral Sonoran Desert people.

In addition to the musical performances, there are numerous exhibitors and vendors. Many were demonstrating how they manufacture their artistic works. We also had several desert organizations, including the Desert Archaeology Center and a raptor rescue group. Isn't this bird beautiful?

John Bear is one of the flute players who took part in the Music Fest. I chose this picture of him on stage because, if you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see the audience and in the background the RV compound where we live with five other volunteer couples.

One of the most popular performances was by Estun-Bah, a group that includes two dancers. This is Tony Duncan, who a week ago won first place in an international hoop dancing competition. Here you see him jumping through the hoop, almost like he was jumping rope.

Another member of the group, Jeremy Dancing Bull, also dances. Isn't his traditional dress impressive?

Two friends from Colorado, who now live in Tucson, stopped by to attend the Music Fest on Saturday. It was good to see Dick and Nina, though we didn't have much free time to spend with them.

On Friday afternoon, John and I had helped the Monument superintendent unload the truckload of rental chairs and tables. Sunday afternoon we helped fold them up again and stack them. In between, John's work included assembling canopies for vendors, keeping an eye on foot and vehicle traffic in the vendor area, and staffing one of the two visitor desks in the Visitor Center. I spent most of the time collecting fees from visitors in a temporary booth set up outside.

All volunteers work both days of the Music Fest. Since we work Thursday, Friday and Saturday, that means we had an extra day of work this weekend. That, plus putting in 10- and 11-hour days, meant we were pooped. Monday we slept in a little later than usual (meaning till 6 and 6:30 in the morning) and tried to take it easy.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Friends and Home Improvements

Earlier this week, we met our friends Marcia and Bob at Mt. Athos Cafe in Florence. We know them from the Church of the Transfiguration in Evergreen, CO. They spend part of the winter in Gold Canyon, just east of Mesa, so Florence was a good meeting spot. We had a good lunch and three hours of great conversation.

That was the first time we had been to Mt. Athos, but other volunteers here recommended it and we are glad we tried it out. As we were winding up our visit, we could smell baking bread. I couldn't resist showing you the luscious looking loaves.

During the past two weeks, we have made a number of improvements to our home. First, we ordered new lawn chairs. John has never liked sitting in the inexpensive folding chairs we have owned. Within the last year, we read about the Strong Back chair in another RV blog. We both love the chairs! They really give good back support. If you are interested in them, they are available here on line.

The second improvement was sun screens on several of our windows. We fell in the love with the large picture window on the door side of our 5th-wheel trailer. It is great--unless we are parked facing south or west. Sometimes we have to put an aluminum shield in the window to keep the RV cool. So we investigated sun screens. This is how it looks.

As I was looking at the possible colors for the screens, I thought I wanted white, since the trailer is white. But then I looked at the windows and they appear black from the outside. And it really is amazing, but from the inside you can see the outside view clearly. The amount of daylight in the trailer is a little less, but we don't sacrifice the view and we won't need to completely block the windows when they sun shines in. It was a good purchase--and very reasonably priced.

The third improvement has been a new TV in the bedroom. We don't watch that TV very often, but we do use it occasionally. The old TV was large and heavy.

We picked up a small flat-screen TV at Wal-Mart. First we just set it in the opening.

Then John measured the opening in the cabinet, bought a piece of plywood and stained it. This is during the measuring step.

And this is the finished project. It looks great, we are carrying a lot less weight, and we have gained some new storage space. Great work, sweetheart!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A Gourding We Did Go

Sunday, after church, we drove a few miles to the Wuertz Gourd Fest at the Pinal County Fairgrounds. We attended the event last year for the first time and were so impressed with the fine art work we saw there, we knew we didn't want to miss it this year. It is just amazing what people can do with gourds. They really are just a canvas for all sorts of artist expression.

First we saw this diorama that is made with gourds. I love the Gambel Quail and hope the buzzard doesn't get them.

This artist did fine painting on their gourds.

This project is called "Keeper of the Pots" and was done by the Southwest Gourd Association. Each member made one of the pots sitting at the feet of the Keeper.

This is another project of the Southwest Gourd Association. It is a "quilt" in the form of the State of Arizona.

I think this vase is really beautiful. And I am amazed at how much work was involved. I talked to the artist and she said each hole was drilled and shaped, one at a time. She estimated the project took at least 80 hours to complete.

The bottom gourd has some kind of thread woven over it.

These wreaths are so bright and colorful.

To see more pictures of the gourd festival, check out the post I did on last year's event.

We even bought three gourds to try our own projects. I hope to cut off the top of the large gourd and use the bottom for a fruit bowl. John wants to paint the two small gourds.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

It Has Happened Again

Well, it happens at some point during every volunteer assignment. One of us or the other (almost never both of us at the same time), gets to the point that we are sure that we could run the place better than it is being run; no one else has a clue about how to do their job correctly; we are the only ones who really know how to do it. That person frets and fumes. Hopefully, the other person keeps their mouth shut--not affirming the person who is unhappy but not supporting the full-time staff or other volunteers.

Eventually, that person works through whatever it is that set them off. To do that involves several mental exercises. First, we retired because we were tired of being the person in charge. If we don't want to be in charge, we have no excuse for criticizing the one who is in charge. Second, isn't there more than one way to do any job? Are the others getting it done, their way? Is the public happy with what they are doing? I'm afraid the answer to all of those questions is "yes."

This is the 12th time we have volunteered in state and national parks, fish and wildlife facilities and private campgrounds. We always seem to come away with the understanding that our personality may be fitted for short-term work in any of these places. However, we would be utter failures if required to hang in there and work in any of these places for years on end. Doing that takes a different outlook than ours. In addition, we are retired. Not only are we not the ultimate authority on how to do it; we don't have to be because we are responsible only for our small portion of the job, and only for a short period of time. That is our freedom and our joy.

I wonder, how many of the rest of you who are work campers experience the same reactions?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I guess we have been in Arizona for too long. We have turned into wimps. We think it is way too cold. The low this morning was 29 degrees. The high here today was 45. Even though I kept reminding myself it was 40 degrees or more colder back in Colorado, where we come from, it didn't help. I was still cold. We didn't like it.

On a more positive note, yesterday we went to a movie in a theater for the first time in years. We gave one of the staff here our old lawn chairs. Since her husband works at the Harkins Theater in Casa Grande, she gave us 2 free passes and 2 free popcorn vouchers as a thank you. Since they were showing The King's Speech, and we had seen a story about it on TV, we decided to go. Admittedly, it is the only current movie we knew anything about. But from the first, it had sounded like it would be something we would enjoy.

And we did! We highly recommend it. It is very moving.