Monday, December 27, 2010

Sorting through papers...

I'm sorting through a bunch of my boxes that we brought up from California.

I have journals and letters and all kinds of fun stuff. I'm really enjoying my writing from when I was little.

Here's something I wrote maybe in second grade, because it seems to be with some second grade stuff.

Earth Day

Today is Earth day. People can plant seads. Natchure is a big part of Earth day. People should at least recycle today. People recycle glass so they do not have to boil sand to make glass.
So lets recycle today.


Also, in my journal from when I was twelve years old, it seems all of my journal entries begin by describing how I woke up. Like, "I woke up at about 6:45" or "I arose late because..." or "I woke up relitively early."

I'm great!

Christmas Highlights

This year, J and I had my brother Tyler as our person to give to in my family's exchange. We got him some clothes. I started wrapping the first shirt, and in my efforts to make it not look like a shirt, I ended up with an interesting shape that I thought would look pretty silly with eyes. So I added eyes and a mouth, and giggled to myself.


J was on the phone with his friend, so I got a little carried away with wrapping everything. Tyler's other presents were shaped like other animals. Then, when I got tired of making little statues out of gifts, I just started adding eyes to everything. I added scary teeth and menacing eyes to one present. For one little gift that we were giving Jess (and Mitch?), I drew one of those little disguise faces with glasses and a nose and mustache. I just kept enjoying it, so I kept going. As I laughed about my little amusement, I texted Jess and told her I was making the presents into creatures. She didn't quite understand. [Hm, I thought I got a picture of all of them, but maybe I only have a picture of the first ones. Oh well. You get the idea. The rabbit had a cotton tail on the back, and its hands are holding the tag. Fun.]


My family loved it. Steph kept not letting Tyler open any of his presents until her boyfriend came over, because she wanted him to see them. A few people from my family texted me about them. Tracy told me I should make it a tradition. So, that was something fun.


For J's dad, I Photoshop-ped a photo for him. See, he and I have this long rivalry. For his birthday last year, I gave him a U of U hat. It really surprised him, and it was pretty funny. So J's parents gave me a BYU hat for Christmas last year. J's dad and I put our hats on for a funny picture together, on Christmas morning. He never wears his hat. He definitely wouldn't put it on for a picture, except for the picture where I was right next to him wearing a BYU hat. So, from the instant we took the picture, I knew I wanted to cut his head off. In the picture, I mean. I wanted to paste that head onto some other picture. My graduation picture ended up being pretty good for that. It's still pretty obvious that it was Photoshop-ped, but that just makes it funny. I painted a frame bright red to put it in. Everyone got a kick out of it. He liked it.


For J's mom, we gave her chickens. Two White Leghorn chickens, actually. The special thing is, they are white egg layers and ours are brown and green layers, so we'll know which eggs are hers. It's a gift that keeps on giving! J's mom has been saying she wanted chickens for over a year, so we thought it would be fun to give her a couple of her own. We put them in a wrapped box and waited for someone to notice that the box was making noise and sometimes moving. Nobody noticed.

J moved the box to his mom's feet, and after a while she saw it move. It was the funniest thing, because she absolutely stared at the box after that, to verify that she had actually seen it move. She had, of course. "It's moving! My box is alive! I can see it breathing!" she suddenly announced to everyone. "I think I'd better open it now," she declared, even though it wasn't her turn.

Everyone was fascinated. What could it be? J's dad had a very interesting expression on his face. He couldn't think of anything that would be alive that he wanted. He tried to be a good sport about it anyway, but he wasn't too excited.

"They're chickens!" she announced. "Two of them!"

"At first we worried that Snickers [their outside cat] might eat them, but they have beaks and claws, so I think they'll be all right!" I explained. I think J said something about how great the birds would be for fertilizing J's dad's garden.

J's parents were not too sure what to say. J's dad was not at all excited, but was being nice. Maybe they could build a chicken coop, or fence off the yard in one place to keep the birds from getting to the garden... "I've been saying I wanted chickens for over a year!" J's mom explained to the other people who were confused about why we gave her chickens.

I explained that they can let the birds live with our chickens, and that we picked white egg layers so that we could identify which eggs are hers. That was the plan all along. J's dad was very relieved. Everyone enjoyed watching his expressions throughout the chicken gifting.

The birds sat in their box the rest of the morning, no problem. When another family came over to visit Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas, the kids all enjoyed petting the chickens. Their smallest boy really thought the birds were very interesting, and kept opening the box to check them out.

I gave J what he asked for, which was a shower filter (and refill), and two fancy-schmanzy brands of hair gel that do not contain MSG. It was really hard to find them, actually. His brand that he has been using changed their formula, and now he can't use it anymore.

J gave me what I asked for, which was a book called Seed to Seed, which is about growing heirloom plants and preserving seeds. The book looks really boring, actually. Also, really useful. I started reading it last night and I think it will be extremely helpful.

He also gave me what I wanted and did not ask for, which is a Taurus 941 revolver. It was a surprise present. When I took my Concealed Carry class, I chose one that was more than just a bare-bones class. I took a class from Welden Andersen, with Self-Defense Solutions. It was a great class, and Welden really knew his stuff. When we talked about the different kinds of firearms and different things, he passed stuff around. He had a ton of stuff, and a very useful, thick handout for the class. Also, his class included range instruction. We went out and shot targets (and we shot metal guys that fall over if you hit them right)! He looked at how we were shooting and gave people help when they needed it. I tried out my Ruger LCP, but I didn't like it at all. It was so hard to pull the trigger (a safety feature!) that my accuracy was abysmal! Since I only had hollow-point ammo ($) for my Ruger, after I shot one magazine on the Ruger, Welden let me shoot his revolver.

The revolver was amazing. I always kind of thought revolvers looked a little stupid, like, what, do you think you're a cowboy in the Wild West? But actually, I shoot extremely accurately with that revolver. It was wonderful. I liked it better than the guns I shot in my Pistol Marksmanship class, and of course better than our guns. It was very easy to shoot, and I just loved it. I wrote down the specs (Taurus 94! .22 ammo! 9 shot!) and dreamed that someday I would buy one. Recently, J and I discussed getting another small gun and I told him I wanted this particular revolver. I told him how much I love it, and that I would rather spend personal money on it than buy an off-brand one like he was suggesting. So he surprised me with it. I'm way excited! (Now...how to conceal a 4" barrel?)


We also got a neat present from J's dad. He made us a feeder for our goats. The goats toss their hay around and waste about half of it. J's dad built us this feeder (his own design), and he installed it, and now the goats don't waste any hay! And, it doesn't get wet and snowy. It is just perfect; exactly what we needed.


So. We had fun. We enjoyed spending a bunch of time with J's family. We had a wonderful dinner together. Some of the grandkids performed "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." J's dad did a neat little presentation about Zacharius. The grandkids did a costumed performance of the Christmas story (including: a donkey wearing a kangaroo skin, a girl doll with lots of curly hair that was baby Jesus, and two Marys that took turns). J and I slept under the tree at his parents' house on Christmas Eve, and it was very nice. I hadn't done that in a long time.

Now, back to being productive.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Heirloom Seeds!

I am interested in trying to grow heirloom plants and preserving seeds.

Last year I ordered a Baker Creek catalog and looked through it, but I didn't end up actually ordering anything, because it was too late in the season and also I knew things were going to be way too busy.

This year when the Baker Creek catalog came, I decided I would go for it! I read through all of the descriptions and picked out some plants that sound fun to me. I ordered them, and then I talked about them with J to try and get him on board for a big garden next year. He was not as excited about it as I am, but he decided he would garden with me and it can be something we enjoy together. Good!

Christmas came early for me this year--on Christmas Eve, my seed order arrived!

Here are the things that I ordered:

Melons
1. Early Hanover - small, sweet green melons that were famous at the turn of the 20th century!
2. Ginger's Pride - The largest melon they carry, which averages 14-22 lbs. per melon! "The flesh is very sweet, melting, and of excellent quality."
3. Petit Gris de Rennes - Small, orange melons with a grey-green rind. French melon, rare in USA.
4. Rich Sweetness 132 - From the former Soviet Union. Red, striped with golden yellow. Tiny melons.
5. White Sugar Lump Watermelon - Rare, with creamy white flesh. Light, sweet taste.

Berries
6. Hardy Kiwi - Little kiwi without fuzz! Eaten like grapes. Grow on vines.
7. Yellow Wonder Wild Strawberry - Creamy yellow strawberries that are supposed to be very tasty and also easy to grow.
8. Narangilla - Fruit from the Andes. Sweet-and-sour, orange flavor fruit. Good for juice.

Tomatoes
9. Brave General - Big, beautiful Russian tomatoes from Kazakhstan. Rich, sweet taste.
10. Violet Jasper - "Tzi Bi U." Asian tomatoes that are violet purple with iridescent green streaks. Dark purple-red flesh. Very high yield.
11. Hawaiian Pineapple - "1 lb fruit with yellow-and-red mottled flesh." Sweet, fruity, pineapple-like in taste.
12. White Queen - White tomatoes! sweet, citrus taste. Part of American history.

Vegetables
13. Corn Rainbow Inca Sweet - Multicolored corn, good fresh, or good for grinding into flour.
14. Squash Zucchino Rampicante - Italian vining zucchini, which is used in Italy to stuff gnocchi and ravioli. (I remember it!)
15. Lettuce Little Gem - very small, green romaine type. Heat tolerant variety.
16. Carrot Jaune Obtuse du Doubs - A lemon-yellow carrot that comes from France. Originally used for livestock, but popular now because of its sweet taste.
17. Artichoke Purple of Romagna - Large, round purple chokes.
18. Cauliflower Purple of Sicily - Purple cauliflower. Sweet. Cook to bright green. Easier to grow than white varieties.
19. Asparagus Mary Washington - Popular, long green spears.
20. Cucumber Sikkim - Fat, large fruit. Good cooked or raw. Rusty red color.
21. Carrot Parisienne - Small, round carrots. Popular in France. (These ones were my free gift; every order comes with a free pack of seeds!)

Herbs
22. Hyssop Blue - Attracts bees and butterflies. Antiviral plant used to treat flus, etc.

Anyway, that's everything. My father-in-law has already started looking at our backyard to think about where my garden will go. I don't actually know what can be grown in this climate, or how to grow any of it, so it will mostly be a big experiment. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Learn About Steaks: Top Round! (and "How to Make Beef Jerky!")

Okay, so basically, if you were to slice a cow once, in order to just cut its back legs off (but all in one piece), the piece with the back legs is called the "Round." So, the Top Round is pretty much from the top of that piece. I think kind of on where the hips are. Which is also where the cow's rear-end is. They can make that part of a cow into steaks or roast, or both!

I originally pulled a Top Round steak out of the freezer because J and I were going to make breakfast burritos with steak in them. At the beginning of my research I learned that since they're not fatty, Top Round steaks end up pretty dry if you try to cook them in a pan. Instead, Top Round steaks can be cooked with a slow, moist method, or, people commonly slice Top Round thin and dry it out, to make beef jerky! So I put it in the refrigerator to defrost, and we used a Sirloin steak for the burritos instead.

Making beef jerky is simple! I combined a few recipes to make my own recipe.

After the Top Round steak was defrosted in my fridge, I trimmed all of the visible fat. Fat doesn't dehydrate (it just spoils) so that's why Top Round works well for jerky: it's already lean.

I put the meat in the freezer for about an hour, just to make it firm. Then I sliced* it as thin as I could. When people make beef jerky, they usually try to cut meat against the grain. But, you can also cut it with the grain and it still works.

I wasn't very good at slicing it. I ended up with a lot of little pieces and only a couple big pieces.

Then, I seasoned the slices. When you're making beef jerky, salt is a helper! Salt helps the drying process. I seasoned our steaks with: salt, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, honey, and paprika. I put the steaks all in a quart freezer bag and I added some vinegar. I mushed the meat around to make a marinade. (The picture below is pre-mush to show how much vinegar I added.)

I put the bag of meat back in my fridge to soak up tasty, tasty flavors.

NOTE: People online really like adding soy sauce and worcestershire sauce for their marinades. Most of the recipes I saw online contained both. Apple cider vinegar is also popular. Be brave! Try something fun. Worcestershire sauce contains soy sauce, and soy sauce naturally contains a lot of MSG, so I didn't use them.**

You can marinade your meat for as little as a few hours or up to a day. My day was busy, so I left my meat alone for 23 hours.

Then, I took the meat out of the fridge and put it on trays in my dehydrator. (No overlapping, so the air can move around.) I ground pepper on the strips of meat. I stacked the trays in my dehydrator, set the temperature at 145 degrees F, and plugged it in.

NOTE: Most recipes online recommend spraying your dehydrator trays with nonstick spray first. We don't use nonstick spray at our house, so I didn't do this. If you use nonstick spray, I really recommend using it when you make beef jerky because I had to scrub, scrub, scrub my dehydrator trays.

NOTE: Be liberal in your use of pepper and seasonings! I thought I was putting way too much on, and my jerky came out tasting barely peppered (or seasoned!) at all.

The recipe that I was following that said 145 degrees recommended cooking for 8-10 hours, until the jerky was brown and would bend "like a willow" but not break. My jerky was actually done after about 5 hours. I think it was because I sliced the pieces pretty thin and I didn't have that much drying all at once.

NOTE: You can make beef jerky without a dehydrator! You just use your oven at a low temperature, and prop the door open with a wooden spoon or something, so that the air can circulate. If you're doing this, maybe Google it, though, because there may be other special instructions for oven jerky. (Every site I looked at mentioned ovens too, though, so it's a respectable alternative.)

When my jerky was done, I let it cool a bit and then I put it in a freezer bag to keep it from becoming stale.

Results: We've been eating jerky over the past few days and it is fantastic! "Em, this jerky's really good. The more I eat it, the more I like it," J told me. I had no idea how simple it was to make beef jerky! We will definitely be making a lot more in the future.

Your homework:
1. Point to your "Top Rounds." (HA ha!)
2. Cook a Top Round steak! (Remember, slow and moist, or JERKY!) If you make beef jerky, give yourself an automatic "A" for this assignment.

* See my knife in the pictures? It is a Cutco "Trimmer" knife, and it cost like $60. I bought it because one of my classmates "just needed to practice" his sales pitch, and "it was okay if you don't buy anything--even just watching helps." Lies! If you say no, they try to sell something cheaper, and the sales pitch just goes on forever. BUT, seriously, if I could afford to, I would buy the entire giant, super spendy set. Because I love, love, love this knife! My one Cutco knife is definitely my favorite item in the kitchen. It cuts perfectly. It's like, the Dyson vacuum of kitchen knives: you think you're fine until you try one and then you realize it has always been missing from your life.

** Actually, all of the big commercial brands of beef jerky contain MSG. Most of them don't even hide it at all. They list monosodium glutamate in the ingredients. I just can't in good conscience eat that stuff anymore. Sometimes we'll see places advertising "home made beef jerky!" and I'll feel hopeful, but I've never seen a brand that J could actually eat. It has been a fun treat to have beef jerky around. J really likes it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to make ICE CREAM CAKE!

This year J wanted an ice cream cake for his birthday!

Of course nowhere sells ice cream cakes that he can eat, so I made one for him. It was surprisingly easy.

I picked a "safe" recipe for chocolate cake, which I found online. It is called "Sandy's Chocolate Cake," and I found it on allrecipes.com. I followed one of the people who left a comment, and I changed the recipe from 12 servings to 9 servings, to make a 2 layer cake instead of a 3 layer cake.

The ingredients were:
2-1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup and 1 tablespoon baking cocoa
2-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup boiling water

Instructions:
In a mixing bowl, cream brown sugar and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Blend in vanilla. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; add alternately with sour cream to creamed mixture. Mix on low just until combined. Stir in water until blended. Pour into two greased and floured 9-in. round baking pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

So, I just followed those instructions. Except, instead of greasing and flouring my pan, I traced the pan on a paper towel, and cut it out, so that I could plop a piece of paper towel in the bottom of the pan. Then I just poured the batter on top of the paper towel and cooked it that way. My grandma taught me to do that one time when we were making a cake at her house, when I was 14 or so. I tried to warn her that there was no way it would work, because you really need to grease and flour the pans. She told me we didn't need to. She was right. When you're ready to take the cake out of the pan, you loosen the edges with a knife (if you need to), and then since the paper towel is at the bottom, it'll just come right out of the pan. (I set a plate on top of the pan, and flip the whole thing over and pull the pan up off of the cake). Then you just peel the paper towel circle off of the bottom. So, so easy!

I made my two halves of the cake and let them cool completely. I was putting Haagen Daaz chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the middle (it is "safe" and it's J's favorite flavor), so I put the two containers in the fridge while my cakes were cooling. That way the ice cream wasn't melty, but it was soft enough to spread around pretty easily on the cake.

I trimmed the cakes so they were round, instead of slightly cone-shaped (because I cooked them in a pie dish!).

I put foil on a plate, and set one of the cakes on the foil-plate, upside down. Then I spread 1 1/2 or 1 1/3 pint containers of Haagen Daaz on that bottom cake. Then I put the top cake on top (right-side up). I kind of smooshed it together a little, so that the ice cream would get into the top layer of cake, too. I covered the whole thing with foil, and put it in the freezer overnight.

The next day, I made the frosting:

Ingredients:
1/4 c. and 2 tablespoons butter
2-1/4 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
2-1/4 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
3-3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions: For frosting, in a medium saucepan, melt butter and chocolate over low heat. Cool several minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine sugar, sour cream and vanilla. Add chocolate mixture and beat until smooth.

I used some 70% Lindt chocolate and some 85% Lindt chocolate (which are both "safe"), and I weighed them on our kitchen scale.

I frosted the cake right before we were ready to serve it, because I wasn't sure what it would do if I froze it (like, would it turn gray on top, or something?). Actually, though, we froze the leftover cake, and the frosting did just fine.

I'm sure you could probably do this with a cake from a mix, and any kind of ice cream--just make two circle cakes, let them cool, put softened (not melted!) ice cream on one layer, put the second layer on top, freeze it together, and add frosting.

It was really tasty! Everyone loved J's cake.

Our Experience with Worm Therapy, part II

We met with Garin, from Worm Therapy at a particular parking lot, on the US side of the US/Mexican border. It was easy to find the lot, and easy to find the place he suggested we meet.

Garin was fantastic! It was obvious that he is very passionate about his study of hookworms, and he is totally dedicated to learning all about them and sharing potential benefits with people.

So, we met up with Garin, and he walked us across the border. It took about 2 minutes. As we walked across, he asked me what I thought about J getting worms, and I told him it seemed like it made a lot of sense, so I'm interested to see how it goes. He was excited that I was supportive of J getting hookworms.

After we were about 15 or 20 feet into Mexico, Garin spotted our driver. Andrew came up and said hello, and we followed him to the car, which was on the other side of the street. Andrew is the doctor's son, we learned, and he will be going to medical school next year. His English was very good. (So was his driving, thankfully!) As he drove us to the clinic, we all talked. Andrew has worms, and he shared his experience of how they worked for him. Basically, occasionally there are people who have incredible, fast results from the worms, and just have an all around excellent experience. Andrew is one of them. Garin warned us that Andrew's results were not typical, and that we shouldn't get our hopes up. Andrew was obviously really excited about them, though, so it was fun to hear his experience.

The clinic was not far from the border. It probably took us about 10 minutes to get there. We went inside, and Garin went upstairs to let Dr. Llamas know that we had arrived. J and I went in and sat down on some sofas to wait. Andrew offered us something to drink, or something to eat. We had water. Then, we were invited upstairs, into the doctor's office.

Dr. Llamas was really great! He talked with us for, oh, probably an hour or more. We went through J's whole medical history. We talked all about J's family members, and their medical histories. We talked about J's lab results.

Dr. Llamas talked to us about Vitamin D, and how it has been proven to prevent many diseases and cancers. He had a chart that showed all of the ranges of Vitamin D levels that you needed to prevent different things. You could look across the top, find what amount you have, and bring your finger down the chart to see everything your level of Vitamin D was enough to prevent. J's vitamin D level is high enough to prevent...rickets. LOL! And that's it. It's kind of funny, because you don't need much vitamin D to prevent rickets, so almost everyone would be safe from that, but then the ranges of Vitamin D that you need to prevent all of the cancers are quite a bit higher. Dr. Llamas strongly recommended that J and I each take 5,000 IU of Vitamin D every day. He said that there is another study that is being done, where people take a huge dose (50,000 IU? I don't remember anymore) of Vitamin D once a week for 8 weeks, and then once every other week thereafter. He said the results of that study look promising, but that for now we should stick to 5,000 IU daily. Dr. Llamas said that we needed to take Vitamin D3 that was not with other vitamins. Older women can have problems if they take too much Vitamin D because they also need to be taking calcium, and high levels of Vitamin D with calcium can cause problems. But doctors can help older women manage it; it isn't hard, he said, but it just depends on how much calcium they are taking, and so forth.

We both loved Dr. Llamas! We wished he were practicing here in Utah because he actually listened when we talked to him. It was really neat, because we talked about J's experience with raw goat milk curing most of his allergies overnight. We also talked all about how J had been diagnosed as bipolar, and used to take a ton of different drugs for it, and he couldn't keep a job, and he couldn't handle relationships, until 3 years ago when he eliminated processed foods and artificial stuff from his diet. His bipolar symptoms totally disappeared. J is not bipolar. After a little bit of experimentation, he learned that he is extremely sensitive to MSG. When J accidentally has some MSG, the same symptoms come back. He can tell within a few minutes that he's had some, and then he starts having rapid cycles, which gradually get better over a few days. In the past, when we've talked to doctors about these things, they think J is crazy. He isn't. His whole family saw him stop taking allergy medications after he started drinking raw goat milk. His whole family knows what he used to be like before he realized he was sensitive to MSG, and now his whole family knows he's just a normal guy. Dr. Llamas was fascinated. He said he'd never heard anything like it. He said that since we know MSG causes those reactions, it is an auto-immune response, and he believes the hookworms will likely be able to help with that. Dr. Llamas is very interested to see what results J has with the hookworms.

Dr. Llamas also talked with us about how many worms J should have. The standard starting dose is 25 worms. Unfortunately, there are some side effects at the beginning of having worms, so some of the people who come in can't start with that many because their intestines are in pretty rough shape, and a worsening of symptoms would make things much worse for those people. Those people often have to start with 10 worms. You don't want to go over the number of worms you can handle, because if it's too hard on your body and you end up needing to get rid of them, you have to start all over, and you lose a lot of time. So it's better to start low and add more later. J is in good health, though, so the doctor recommended he start with 30 worms. We decided that sounded all right.

The doctor suggested J pick a target item. It needed to be something that would cause a reaction for him. He said a lot of people use a cat. Basically, he wanted J to have something pretty measurable to use, to gauge how the hookworms are working. J is extremely allergic to cats. We have my cat, Paley, but she is an outside cat now. If I hold Paley at all, or pet her, I have to wash my hands and change my clothes, because J will have allergic reactions to me after I've been with the cat. Usually after about 3 minutes, J's eyes become red and puffy, and he gets dark circles under his eyes. He starts feeling blah, and needs to lie down. So the doctor agreed that Paley was a good target item. I said, "Oh, she'll love that!" Paley always wants to be friends with J, and he likes her, but he just can't touch her. So. That should be fun.

Usually the doctor does a physical examination, too, but he didn't feel it was necessary in J's case. (I think this would probably be more useful for things like psoriasis.)

After our interview, we went into a different room where J was going to get his worms. Garin met us there. Garin explained the procedure. The hookworms were in tiny vials (they put them in different increments so that they can give people different numbers of worms. J tried to look inside one of the vials to see them, but of course, they're too tiny to see without a microscope.

Dr. Llamas put the worms on a bandage, which he put on J's arm. Garin started a timer, and we all chatted while we waited for J to feel the worms going through his skin. (What hookworms do is, they burrow through your skin. They travel through your bloodstream into your lungs, and then you cough them up and they go down your throat, into your digestive system. When they get to the spot they want to be, they latch on in your intestines, and hang out. Hookworms drink blood, they don't eat your food, so they stay tiny--they're not worms that grow to be 15 feet long or anything!) After a few minutes J started laughing because I guess it felt pretty weird for the worms to go in. (Garin said it's hard to do placebo studies with worms, because it's hard to mimic the feeling of the worms going through the skin. So if people who get placebos have a chance to talk at all with people who get worms, they can always tell immediately who actually got the worms and who got placebos.)

When the worms go in, they shed their little casings, which they leave right beneath the skin. It's a trick on the immune system, because the immune system sees the casings as the invaders, and it responds to those while the actual worms go along their merry way in your bloodstream. So Garin warned J that where the worms entered he would get red bumps. They are itchy, kind of like mosquito bites.

Anyway, they wrote down how long it took for J to begin to feel them going through his skin. They had us wait 30 minutes for observation, just to be sure J didn't have any really weird reaction (but they said nobody ever does). J gave the doctor a cashier's check, and the doctor gave J a box of medicine that kills worms, just in case J wanted to get rid of them ("but please talk to Garin first, unless it's an emergency!") and a prescription for the medicine, in case he needed it at the border (but nobody ever does).

I took several little videos as J was getting his worms, and some pictures. Then, Andrew drove us back across the border. The line to go through on foot was longer than the line to go through by car. Andrew said people were going across to buy stuff for Thanksgiving. A lot of people there celebrate Thanksgiving, I guess! While we were driving, and waiting to get across, we chatted some more with Garin. We talked about his experiences working with Jasper Lawrence, and we talked about his experiences in medical school (he attended 1 year and then decided it wasn't for him), and I asked what his parents thought of his hookworm stuff. We talked about what his hopes were for hookworms, and what challenges he was facing. We talked about his hookworms, and what they did for his psoriasis. It was all very interesting. It was fun talking with Garin. He has a lot of personality!

Eventually we got to the border. The border guy talked to Andrew in Spanish about who we were and why we had been in Mexico (to visit a doctor). He looked at all of our passports and looked to be sure we were the people on our passports. And then we drove through.

Andrew dropped us all off at our parking lot, and J and Garin agreed that they would be in touch at certain times about how J's progress was. With worms there is a certain timeline for different symptoms.

That was about it. Our families had been quite concerned about us visiting Tijuana because of the violence that has been going on near the border. Actually, though, most of our time in Mexico was at the clinic, and there were no portions of our visit where we were walking down Mexican streets, or trying to go through crowds, or anything like that. We felt completely safe for our entire visit. We were escorted to and from the clinic by Andrew, who is Mexican, so it wasn't just a group of Americans bumbling around. I wouldn't hesitate to go back.

J was to leave the bandage on for a few hours, just in case one was a little slow, or something, but it usually doesn't take that long. When J took the bandage off Wednesday night, he had a bunch of red spots.

Now, it's a few weeks later. The spots got bigger, and a little swollen, and they're starting to disappear. J's had some allergic symptoms which we attributed to the worms. He also began feeling a little nauseous about a week ago. He hates nausea! For the past two weekends, he's spent bunch of time resting. Supposedly weeks 3-6 are the worst (as far as symptoms go), and he's in week 3. He's hoping he doesn't feel this way for the next couple weeks. He's kind of wishing he would have gotten 25 worms instead of 30.

We have seen some positive improvement with allergies, though! Every morning J used to wake up with a stuffy nose, but for the past week his nose hasn't been stuffy in the morning. Also, last Saturday he pet Paley. Yesterday he pet his parents' cat, and touched his face afterward. He had no allergic reaction! His eyes weren't even a little bit red...until like 3 hours later, when he had a very mild cat reaction. So, now he has a delayed cat allergy that is not nearly as bad. It's an improvement, for sure, and we're eager to see how things continue to improve (since this is the very beginning).

Our Experience with Worm Therapy, part I


So, as I mentioned in my last blog post, we recently went to Mexico for J's hookworms (necator americanus).

When J and I were researching helminthic therapy, we didn't find a lot of people's experiences online. There was almost nothing, really. We didn't find any negative experiences documented online at all, but there were only two or three people telling about their positive experiences. I decided I would like to blog about our experience with hookworms especially so that if someone else is researching (or considering) helminthic therapy, they can see how J's experience goes. We would have enjoyed reading something like this as we were learning about it, anyway.

All right.

There are a few companies that offer hookworms. J actually heard about Jasper Lawrence in 2006. Supposedly, Jasper went off to Cameroon to infect himself with hookworms. Back in 2006 J looked extensively for a company that offered helminthic therapy, and there was just not much out there. Now, Jasper has a company based out of the UK. We contacted them first. He was very expensive. He wanted to send hookworms by mail, but not to the US. He was willing to send them to Canada, and I have half of my relatives in Canada, but that seemed really awkward. Jasper had us fill out a really long pre-interview form, and we did, but we didn't hear back from him. We were not very impressed, and we moved on.

J found another company, Worm Therapy, and began to contact them about hookworms. J began talking with Garin, who runs that company. We had hoped that they would be willing to ship worms to J (because really, no, really, we won't tell...) but they wouldn't (really, no, really they don't ship worms). That would have been a lot easier. Their process was, you set an appointment, you have lab work done and submit the results to Garin, you meet at the Mexican border, you go to a clinic in Tijuana, you meet with a doctor, the doctor determines how many worms you can have, and then the doctor gives them to you (along with medicine that kills them, in case you ever decide you want to get rid of them).

Since my family lives in southern California anyway, going to Mexico wouldn't be too bad. For J's worms, it was going to cost a little over $2,000 (plus the costs associated with J's lab testing).

We decided to do it.

J had some required labwork done (just at a nearby place that does that). I think part of it was an HIV test. It was also optional (but recommended) that he have his Vitamin D levels tested. Almost everyone is Vitamin D deficient, but Vitamin D deficiency is linked to auto-immune disorders, and the hookworms also work better if your Vitamin D level is not deficient. We decided to have that test done as well.

When the results were back, J forwarded them to Garin. Everything looked all right, so they set an appointment for the day before Thanksgiving.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thanksgiving!

This year for Thanksgiving, J and I drove down to California. We left on Tuesday and we took Chalcy with us.


On Tuesday, we spent all day driving. The trouble was, Chalcy is OCD with her bathroom habits. She will only relieve herself in our backyard--not on walks, not on hikes, not outside the vet's office on a patch of grass, not outside puppy preschool on a patch of grass, or at the dog park. Only in our backyard. It's a pretty good problem to have, as far as dog problems go. At least she doesn't chew our stuff.*


Anyway, so Chalce tried to hold it the whole way to California. We knew there was no way she could hold it for 10 hours, so we kept stopping. At first we only stopped every few hours or so, but after we had been driving for a while, we worried that she would have an accident in the car, so we stopped much more often (every 30 minutes or so). She liked all of the times we let her out of the car, but after we would walk around for 10 minutes and nothing was happening, we would get back in the car and keep going. Just past Vegas, J started to play rough with her when we took her out. Still nothing. We decided to put her in the hatchback portion of the car, since it at least has a plastic lining thing. That worked great! J put some clothes beneath her to absorb any accident. Then we quit stopping as often and we tried to just get to my grandma's house. It ended up taking us twelve hours. Chalcy totally made it, accident free. Good girl.

We were so sick and tired of stopping all the time, though, so I told J we should buy her some doggie diapers for the trip back up. We decided it would be worth it, at almost any cost. As we were heading into California, J became a little drowsy and I read him "testimonials" from fancy doggie diaper websites online. Some of them were pretty funny.

When we got to Grandma and Grandpa's, we picked our room, visited with my parents, and went to bed. It was already pretty late, and we were getting up early the next morning.

On Wednesday we went to Mexico! J had an appointment to get hookworms in Tijuana. I think I would like to blog more about this separately, so for now I'll leave it at that. It's an interesting story, though. After Mexico, we drove back up to Grandma's house and visited with my mom and brothers for the evening.

On Thursday, we celebrated Thanksgiving! It was fun because my family all came over to Grandma and Grandpa's, and the boys played with Chalcy a whole lot. I helped my mom make some posters for her Weight Watchers meeting that she was going to lead the next day. We got to meet Steph's boyfriend Alan, and we got to see Nathan look surprised (some more).

Friday, J and I attended my mom's WW meeting as guests. It was fun because there was this lady in her group who kept talking and talking, and finally at some point she mentioned being Italian. At the end of the meeting she and I talked for a little while in Italian, about all kinds of different stuff. I enjoyed that. (I don't know if J had ever really heard me speak Italian with anyone before, either, so I think it was kind of interesting for him, too.) Then we went and helped my mom move stuff to a smaller storage unit. We got my boxes separated out so that Sarah could help me bring them up to Utah. (Hooray!)** Then we went over to Tracy and Freddy's house to pick up the barbecue and see if we could fit it in our little car with the seat folded down. IT FIT! We also helped them pack for a little while, because they were moving to Phoenix the next day.

On Saturday we had a long (but very nice!) breakfast with Steph and Alan. We thought Alan was great! (Steph was too.) Then we bought doggie diapers at Petco. And J took my dad out to lunch, and I visited with my mom some more. I don't remember what else we did.

And then, we got up at 4 am on Sunday to start driving home. Sunday was supposed to be sunny, until partway through the week when it switched to being a big snowstorm. By leaving so early, we figured we could drive through Cedar City, etc, during the warmer parts of the day, and be home in the early evening. Sarah drove up with us, so that if she wanted a break from driving we could help her, or if she had any problems with the snow, we could help her. She was just fine, as it turned out. But I think she was glad she had left early anyway. The snowstorm made our drive back very slow and a little slippery.

And we made it home safely.

The end.***

Oh, and the picture of Chalcy with something in her mouth is from when we gave her pieces of ice from the cooler and she ate them.

Oh, and the other funny thing was, at 5 am on Sunday, we discovered the largest size of doggie diapers didn't fit Chalcy. So we had to use duct tape to re-size a diaper by extending its velcro attacher-things. You can see it in the picture.

* Except our chickens. Ugh.
** Except now we have Mt. Emily in the garage. Sigh.
*** Except for the story about the worms.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Learn About Steaks: T-Bone!

Is anyone interested in learning about different types of steak with us?

I was thinking it might be fun to share some of our adventures as J and I learn about different types of steak. The thing is, J and I tend to buy ground beef, or cubed steak (plus one time I bought chili ground beef, and once or twice I've bought roasts). So we're not fancy at all when it comes to nice steak. Not yet.

So far we've tried ground beef (which we added to our pasta sauce), a chuck roast, and just now I cooked some T-Bone steaks.

Each time we try something new, I learn how to cook it properly. As we eat, we discuss what part of the cow the meat comes from.* (Most delicious anatomy class ever!)

Today we learned about T-Bone steaks. J guessed that they came from a vertebrae...and he was right! The curve in the bone at the middle of the top of the T is the round part of the vertebrae.

T-Bone steaks are especially fancy because the meat on the different sides of the T are both desirable ones. The larger side of meat comes from the "short loin" and the smaller side comes from the "tenderloin**." Both the short loin and the tenderloin are on the sides of cows, just after the ribs.

When you cook T-Bone steaks, you're supposed to cook them dry, so your main options are to grilling and broiling. You don't have to worry about tenderizing these; they're already tender.

I decided to follow a recipe on the Food Network website. It was way easier than I thought it would be. You heat a little bit of oil in a pan. Salt and pepper your steaks. Put the steaks in your pan, and brown each side (it takes about 4 minutes for each side). Then, move them into a preheated 450 degree oven.*** Cook them until a thermometer reads 120 degrees. (They say 6-8 minutes for a medium-rare steak. I cooked mine for about 10-12 minutes for pretty well-done steaks.) Then take them out and let them cool 10 minutes and cut them off of the bone. (I omitted this step, and J and I each cut our own steaks off of the bones, because it wouldn't have felt like T-Bone steaks if I had pre-cut them. And it would have made them look much smaller.)

Results: I ate mine with steak sauce (after trying it without)**** and asparagus. J ate his plain (and without asparagus). We both thought it was very tasty.

Your homework:
1. Point to where your T-Bone steaks would be, if people had short loins and tenderloins. (Optional: point to a T-Bone on a real cow, or on any other willing and available model.)
2. Try cooking a T-Bone steak!



* Sometimes I use Chalcy to demonstrate. Is that awful, or what? She's big enough. Don't worry. We won't eat our dog.
** Filet mignon comes from the tenderloin, actually. Mmmm.
*** Yes, I used my toaster oven again. :)
**** Not because it tasted bad without it; I just love my A1.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

We got our meat back!

This Thursday I drove down to Spanish Fork to pick up our meat!

We ended up with 150 pounds of veal! I paid and waited while they brought the meat out to load up. I wasn't sure how I would feel about it, since I know where the meat came from, and all.

It was just fine! As we loaded the meat into my coolers, I felt awesome! I felt like Nephi bringing back food for everyone after his bow broke, or something. I was so proud that my efforts over the past year will be feeding our little family. (And our friends.)

I stopped by Jessica's house on my way home. She and I have a joke that I took the calf to go live with a new family, on a farm.* So of course we joked that I was driving home from visiting the calf. It was fun to see Jess.

When I got home, we put the meat in our big freezer. Today I actually counted it out. This is what we ended up with:

Ground beef patties - 20 packages, 5 patties per package
Ground beef chub things - 7 of them
Short ribs - 4 packages
Rib steak - 9 packages
Sirloin steak - 5 packages
Tenderloin - 1 package
T-Bone steaks - 10 packages
Round steak - 1 package
Tip roast - 2 of them
Top round steak - 3 packages
Chuck roast - 5 of them
Cubed steak - 3 of them
Rump roast - 4 of them
Stew meat - 3 packages
Pot roast - 1 of them
Soup bones - 5 packages

I think the steaks have 2 per package. And I forget how many pounds I had our roasts cut to. Maybe 4-5 pounds? Now we just need to decide who all we are sharing with, and then start learning how to cook our different cuts of beef! It should be really good, since it was raised on our little pasture, with no steroids or hormones or anything. We did supplement with some grain.

We're pretty convinced now that we will be getting another calf for 2011. We may try a Holstein this time. We'll see.



* Oh, gosh. The kids who live on the other side of our pasture (little kids, like a 3 year old and a 5 year old) always stand on their side of the fence and they're friends with our animals. They liked the calves all right, but they really like our goats. They feed the goats, and call out to them, and the goats come visit. Anyway, as we were loading up Chuck to take him off to the meat place, the kids were over at their side of the fence watching. I don't remember if they asked what we were doing, or if J just volunteered the info, but J started to tell them, "We're taking him to go get meat!" and my jaw dropped. "NO!" I told J, in a sharp whisper. "DON'T!" "Why not?" "J. You are a bad person. You don't tell little kids like that!" "Ohhhh. Well? What do I say now? I'm in the middle of talking to them!" "Nothing. You can cut off a sentence and little kids don't realize it. They think what you said just didn't make sense, but that happens when adults talk to them anyway." "Okay." So he just kind of smiled at them. Their mom told us later that it was kind of funny because the kids told her we were taking the cow to go get meat. But like, they didn't realize the cow was the meat. They thought we were just taking him with us and bringing back meat. So it was all okay, because even though J practically told them we were eating their friend, it was still totally over their heads. Crisis averted.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Other Things We Have Been Up To


New Mexico

Last weekend, J and I went to New Mexico for J's grandpa's 95th* birthday! We drove down to Farmington on Friday afternoon and drove back up Sunday afternoon.

It was such a nice trip! We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, which was pretty new, and very pleasant. We had breakfast Saturday morning with J's parents and some of his other relatives. Lots of fun. It turns out, one of J's cousins that he doesn't know very well actually has goats. He's into a lot of the same things as J is, and J just had no idea until his aunt was telling us about it.

We went out to J's grandpa's orchard for the birthday celebration. We talked with him for a little while, and he told us some neat stories.

J's dad grew up on the farm, and he took us for a tour on Sunday morning. It was neat to see a lot of the things I had heard about when I interviewed J's dad for my class last year.

One of J's uncles is a private pilot. He offered to take us up in his airplane to see the orchard from above. It was fun! He gave us a demonstration of weightlessness--he had us each put something out in the palm of our hand, and he went up and then dropped down, and our stuff floated above our hands. It was pretty intense. He also let me fly the plane a little.

We went to dinner at Tequila's, which is J's dad's favorite Mexican restaurant, because they have amazing salsa.


Those were some of the highlights.


Calves
[Warning: you may not want to read this.]
We made an appointment for the calves, with Circle V (in Spanish Fork), which is where some of our neighbors process their meat. We were supposed to take them down to Circle V last Tuesday, except that J didn't want to drive his dad's truck after our experience with the new truck on Monday. So we rescheduled for Saturday morning.

Friday evening I went outside and everyone was crying, and I thought I could hear Stew mooing from back behind the chicken area. Sometimes the calves get into the chicken area and a couple times they've gone back behind the barns from inside the chicken area. There's kind of a corridor between our barn and the wall in the back of our yard. When the calves get back there, they can't figure out how to get out and they moo.

Stew was kind of echoing, though, which was weird. When I went back to lead him out, I found him back in that area, but instead of being in the corridor, he had fallen into one of our irrigation wells. We have two wells, and we use them to switch the direction water flows when we're irrigating; they're square-shaped cement holes that are about 3 1/2 feet wide, 3 1/2 feet long, and about that deep, too. Anyway, Stew fell front-first. His front legs were at the bottom of the well, his neck was towards the bottom but bent up, and his back legs were sticking up out of the top. Poor guy. He was mooing and mooing. He was pretty scared, and he had feces all over, because animals do that when they're scared.

I tried to shift Stew a little to help him get up, but he didn't budge. He mooed some more. I scratched his neck and rubbed his head for a few minutes, and told him everything was okay. (It wasn't.)

J got home about then, and I had him come back behind the barns to see if we could pull Stew out by his back legs. We couldn't. He didn't even budge. Well, maybe he budged, but that was it.

What next? We decided we would need some men to help us get him out. We went to our neighbor's house to see if he would help us. He said he was in the middle of planning his wife's funeral** but if we would give him some time to finish up, he would be right over. He could bring his mare and we could put straps around the calf and have her pull him out, maybe.

We went back home, and Stew wasn't mooing anymore. He wasn't moving anymore, either. Poor guy. The weight of his own body broke his neck. What a terrible feeling--he was such a nice guy! What an awful way to die. Plus, after raising him for 10 months, and bottle feeding him 3x/day for two months, and spending lots of money on food, we were not going to get any meat from him. It was all a waste.

Our neighbor came over and he was all suited up for the task, and he brought some ropes and stuff, and we let him know that Stew didn't make it. (What a great neighbor though, eh?) We let him go back home to be with his wife.

We called a large animal vet to see about having him removed. After all, people have horses die and they have to do something with them, so there must be people who can do that sort of thing. When J explained where the calf was, the guy wanted J to get a bunch of guys out to our house to help him pull the calf out. (Uh, the reason we were hiring you is so that we don't have to ask our friends and family to do it.) So J wasn't sure the guy knew how to get the job done, and it was going to cost $150 (ouch). The guy was going to come the next morning.

J called some of his family to see if he could get help, but they couldn't or didn't answer or something. He called our home teacher, and got voicemail. He called the next day; he couldn't come. J called one of our neighbors (who used to be our home teacher), and he agreed to help! He came across the street within five minutes or something. He had a "come along" which is a tool that you attach to something, so that you can lift heavy things, or move them. He hadn't used it yet, but he thought it might be good for this task.

It was.

They hooked it to a tree over the well and eventually got Stew out. There was no way even 4 or 5 guys could have done it. Stew weighed about 400 lbs, but he was also caught on something.

They pulled him out to our truck; I put a tarp in the bottom of the truck. They used some wood to make a ramp and used the come along again to get him up into the truck.

What a friend, though. We really felt like we needed help, and it was such an awful task, but our neighbor just stepped right in, and he didn't complain once. It was such a relief to have the help; it really meant a lot to us.

Saturday morning J and me drove Stew to the dump. And then we drove him to the county dump, because it is the only one that accepts dead animals, we found out. The inspector there was super helpful.

Then we went back home because we were supposed to have Chuck down to Circle-V. J got the trailer attached to the truck, no problem, but Chuck didn't want to get inside. (Even with food to lure him in.) J put some grain bags down, to make a little ramp up. Chuck was still not interested. He's big enough that you can't push him or pull him.

I had the idea that he would probably step into the trailer to suck on his bottle. I went and grabbed one of the (empty) calf bottles out of the garage. It worked.*** J and I got out of the trailer and closed it up. We drove down to Circle V.

They don't actually slaughter on Saturdays or Sundays, so we put Chuck in a pen behind the building. We glued a little label onto his rump so that they would know who he was, and we poured some grain for him to eat, and then we left him there. It made me kind of sad. I liked our calves.

I feel less bad about eating our own meat when animals die and go to waste. It just seems like life is so fragile, and either our animals can die and rot and become dirt or they can nourish us, and sustain our life, and they can be a gift to other people, and nourish them, too. It's almost a beautiful thing, looking at it that way, that they can go to so much good, instead of just decomposing. When the dog kills chickens, or Stew dies, it seems like their lives were just wasted.

Anyway, enough about all that.

We're thinking we will probably get another calf this winter, since we will only be getting 1/2 the meat we were planning on.


My Little White Bird
Do you see the little white bird in the first picture of the calves? She is my Silkie chick. After Chalcy killed her buddy (the rooster), she didn't have a flock anymore. So last week she started hanging out with the calves. She would cuddle with them when they were laying down (they were warm!), and follow them around when they walked around the pasture. It was pretty cute. Also, isn't that sad? She lost her rooster buddy, and then she lost her flock of calves, too. Now she kind of hangs out with the goats. A lot of times she comes over to me when I go outside. I like her.


Volunteering
I was asked not to say much about this**** but after orientation, hours of interviews, and a pretty thorough background check (they actually called 5 people), I am now volunteering with an organization! When my background check came through, they called me and let me know that they had a couple matches for me in the program. I picked one, things were approved, and we have been moving forward. I'm really excited about this. (Is that vague enough? It seems like it is going to be a pretty big part of my life for at least the next year, and probably longer, so I wanted to at least mention it.)


Chalcy
Our dog is doing well. Lately she loves to chew on things. Usually she does not chew on things she is not supposed to, but she really tears her toys apart.***** I think for her, pulling stuffing apart is kind of like popping bubble wrap is for people.

Chalcy is also a teenage puppy, and she is testing all of her boundaries. Sometimes she runs around our house and climbs over our bed. NO. Or she bugs the trash. NO. Or she steals napkins and rips them up. NO. (I'm such a fun-hater.)

Chalcy LOVES her bell. We put a bell on the doorknob so Chalcy would let us know when she needed to go out. For a long time she wouldn't touch it, because I accidentally got her toes when I "rewarded" her for ringing the bell (by opening the door). Now she rings the bell and takes a step back. And waits. And rings it again. I let her out, and half the time she just wants to play. We leave her outside sometimes, because otherwise we're in and out, in and out. When it was snowing it was even worse, because the snow was SO FUN, but it was COLD. So she would ring the bell to go out, she would play, and then I would bring her in because it was too cold for her to stay out. She would warm up for, oh, 2-3 minutes, and ring the bell again.

Chalcy thinks I'm around just to be friends with her. All day she follows me around and tries to stuff toys into my hands.

Chalcy stayed with Heather and Josh while J and I were in New Mexico, and we really appreciated them letting her visit for the weekend.******

Our next trip is going to be to California, and we're bringing Chalcy with us so my family can meet her, and so she can try traveling with us. It should be fun.

Chalcy is BIG. She can't stand up all the way in her crate anymore. I think we're going to try to get her a dog bed and see if we can transition (and get her huge kennel out of our living room!), but I don't know if she will be obedient enough for that to work yet. I guess we'll see.



Okay, I'm about as caught up with blogging as I need to be for now, so I'm going to cross "Blog about Subaru" off of my list, and get back to doing other things.


* He is old.
** How's that for bad timing? She has cancer, and it's terminal. She just has one of her lungs now, and she's not doing too well. It's really too bad. They're a very, very nice family.
*** How sad is that? All he wanted was a bottle. He had nice memories.
**** On Facebook, which probably also means on blogs.
***** Remember "Sid" from Toy Story? It's like that. Fox only has one eye and one ear left, and I stitched up his face. Chalcy pulled Lobster's eyes off (because they poked up), and that pulled his head open. Giraffe's ears and horns and tail were all gone the first day, its hooves were gone the next day, and by now Giraffe has stubs for legs and only part of its head. Squeaky Bear doesn't squeak anymore because Chalcy bit his head off.
****** Seriously, thanks so much, guys.

Car shopping wraps up.

I knew it wasn't fair to keep wanting a Subaru Baja because there are almost none of them listed for sale, and almost none of them listed for sale in Las Vegas, and the same even for southern California.

Plus, Bajas were kind of more than we wanted to spend, unless we got a 2003 one that wasn't turbo, with tons of miles. And then how good of an idea was that, really?

So we started looking at trucks again.

J wanted me to test drive a Ford Ranger, since that was one of the types of truck we were considering before the whole Baja thing.

Last Monday there was a KSL ad for a Ford Ranger that was a pretty good price. It was up in Bountiful, but J wanted us to go up during his lunch break to test drive it, so it wouldn't sell before we had a chance to see it. (A couple of the other serious contenders sold before we could get to them.)

He called, and the lady told him someone was coming from Logan with cash, but she said she would call back if the Logan person didn't buy the truck.

She did call back (the guy just didn't show up), so we drove up to Bountiful in pouring rain to go test drive the truck. It was immaculate. They had it detailed every year, the lady told us. J and I both test drove the truck, and it was fine. The tires made a bunch of noise, but the lady's husband warned us that they would, so it wasn't any surprise.

I liked the truck all right. It was similar to a Tacoma, because it was kind of a narrow truck, so it didn't feel like I was driving Noah's Ark. It was nice because it had four wheel drive and a V6 engine, so the truck was capable of doing the truck things we wanted it to, but it was also comfortable to drive. Really, it was a pretty good compromise for J and me, because it was a TRUCK (instead of a vehicle shaped like a truck that has about the same power as a car...what's the point of that?), but it was pretty inexpensive, and it had 4WD like I wanted, and it was not so huge that I hated it.

We decided we were ready to take it to a mechanic and then, as long as everything was fine, we would buy it.

The lady didn't want us to take the truck down to our mechanic, because Bountiful is not super close to South Salt Lake, and she didn't want her insurance to be responsible for such a long drive. Fair enough. We took the truck to her mechanic (Evans Automotive?) instead, in North Salt Lake.

CJ (at the auto shop) had the truck lifted on one of their lift things, and had one of the mechanics start checking it out. We talked to him for a little while about trucks, and towing, and just a bunch of different things. It was pretty interesting. Then he took us out to the shop to see some things-- the front brakes really needed to be replaced. The back ones still had some life. The tires were worn really weird.

We went back inside for a bit, and they lifted the truck higher so that we could walk beneath it. It was in pretty good shape, he said. There was some rust, but it was better than average, for its age. The owners maintained it very well, because the... fuel filter? had been replaced. And when people don't replace fuel filters, you may end up with a problem with some pump that could end up needing to be replaced or causing problems, or something. But this truck was fine that way.

So we knew we would need all new tires, and new front brakes. Plus we were going to put a tow package on it, because it just had a tow hitch on the bumper (and those are pretty much the same as not having a tow hitch because they can carry almost nothing). CJ said in Salt Lake vehicles usually go for 10-15% below Blue Book values. He recommended asking the lady to cover the cost of brakes and tires, and he told us it was safe to buy the truck, but that it's usually a good idea to go home and think about it first. Mmkay, thanks.

I ran a CarFax* on my phone, and it came out great.

J called the lady back and negotiated with her, since the tires were worse than we realized, and they hadn't mentioned the brakes to us at all. She took a few hundred dollars off, and that was a compromise that we were fine with.

We all met at our bank to set up a car loan, and things went fine. We had already submitted paperwork** when we thought we were buying the Subaru, so things were ready to go.

After we officially bought the truck and the lady signed the title over, we went to follow her back up the hill to her house, to remove the truck's plates, to pick up our little red car, and to get her "Truck" file, with all of the maintenance records.

We drove out of the parking lot, turned the corner, J began to accelerate after the turn, AND!

WE LOST CONTROL OF THE TRUCK!

Oh no, oh no, oh no.

The truck swerved into the oncoming traffic lane. J corrected*** and it skidded towards the curb on the right side. J corrected again and the truck slipped back towards the oncoming lane. He corrected again and it went towards the right curb again. J corrected one more time, and the truck began spinning forward down the street.

There was just no way to avoid an accident. (RIGHT right after we bought it!) The truck kept not gripping the road at all. We just never got any traction at all. J was not pressing on the brake or the gas, because he thought that was the right thing to do. It was just what I was afraid of, and just the reason I didn't want a 2WD truck. But I didn't think it would be a problem with this truck.)

The street had a 30mph speed limit, so the cars coming toward us could see that we had lost control of the truck. They stopped in their lane, 6 cars all lined up.

The truck spun across the road and finally landed in the oncoming lane, right where all of the cars were lined up. When the truck stopped, we were facing our lane (at like, 5 o'clock position from where we started).

J and I didn't really feel the truck hit anything, but J opened his door to survey the damage. The we had stopped spinning 3 inches from the line of cars. It really was a miracle--we didn't even hit mailboxes or parked cars, or anything. J closed his door, and got us back into our lane that we belonged in. We pulled over as soon as we could, because we were both so shaken from the experience.

The lady we bought the truck from came back, and parked in front of us. She had been a little ways ahead, but in her rear-view mirror she saw us spinning in the middle of the road. She said nothing like that had ever happened to them while they had it. ["This. Truck. Needs. New. Tires," I told her, super irritated and shaken. Because when you just buy a truck and then it spins out and you wonder what you've gotten yourself into, you feel irritated and shaken, and it's ok if you let the person who just sold you the truck know you feel that way. "I was actually going to wait until next spring to replace them," she said.]

We put 4 wheel drive on (it had been in 2WD, because you're not supposed to need 4WD for just rain...) and followed the lady home very, very slowly.

Our warm-fuzzies for the truck were gone, and neither of us wanted to drive it all the way home from Bountiful. I agreed to drive it, because it was supposed to be my truck, and I worried that if I didn't drive it, I would be afraid to drive it in the future.

I took State Street home, instead of the freeway. I drove slowly, and accelerated slowly, and I don't think I ever went faster than 35 or 40mph. I kept it in 4WD the whole time.

We had already planned to replace the tires and brakes ASAP, but those tasks became even more urgent. Neither of us were going to drive it again until the work had been done. Also, in the maintenance records, the top record (from September of this year) had a highlighted note about checking the brakes and alignment. Heyy.

So I price-shopped and compared different things, and ended up taking the truck to Big O Tires, since I think like 7 people have independently recommended them to me, and their prices were reasonable. We got all new tires, new front brakes and rotors, and had the alignment corrected--it was wayyyy off. (The wheels were pointed outward, so...no wonder we had problems.) Plus, the truck had 10 ply tires, and it was actually supposed to have 4 ply tires. That means that the tires were wider than they were supposed to be, and that means that the truck was less stable because the weight of the truck was distributed over more square inches of tire than it was supposed to be.

Anyway, after that I had an emissions test, registered it, had a tow package installed (by U-Haul****), and I insured it. Now it's just great. It feels completely different to drive. J and I both feel safe driving it.

This past Saturday we used my truck to tow the DOOOOMSBUGGY. No problems. It towed like a champ.

One final thing: want to see something funny? Look at the second picture on this post. My truck is the one in the back. The one in the front is our neighbor's truck. We have the same truck. They look almost identical. Except if you look closely, the neighbor's taillights look black. And our neighbor has a black plastic thing across the very front. But they're the same truck, both white, both with an access cab, both 4x4s, etc. Pretty funny.***** (Also, if you look closely at the picture, Paley is in the driveway and her eyes look creepy.)


* A real one this time.
** Banks want a ton of paperwork from us--full leases for all of our rentals, etc.
*** Over-corrected.
**** Poor guys! We were talking to them about whatever that thing is that you put a ball on, and then you stick it into the tow thing with a pin...? We wanted to take our tow ball off of the bumper and put it on the new metal thing, because the ball we already had was a 2" ball, and that was what we wanted anyway. They volunteered to go out and take our ball off of the bumper, while we were inside paying. Except, the ball was rusted. And they really couldn't get it off, even with their spray stuff and their tools. They decided to take the tow package off, so they could access the bottom of the ball better. So they actually installed our tow package twice. Thanks! (It was nice, though, because we never would have been able to get the thing off by ourselves, without impact tools.)
***** J sent him a funny text about how we like his truck, but please don't park in front of our garage, ok? Or something like that. It was kind of funny, except our neighbor never replied to the text, so then it just became awkward. I'm sure they must have noticed our truck by now, so maybe he was just confused when he got the text.

The Subaru Baja from Auto Maxima


I worried about this happening--I write cliffhanger blog posts! Since I never finished my story about our floor, I knew I really needed to wrap this car story up. Did we buy the Subaru Baja? Did our mechanics find anything? I'll finish the story in THIS post, ok?

[If you forgot what was happening, this story is continued from part one, part two, and part three.]

So remember, I had decided to keep quiet about my suspicions that Auto Maxima was doing some shady things. If there was really a problem, our mechanics would reveal it, anyway.

Not long after that, J texted me:

J: Turns out the subaru has been in a very minor accident, Gustavo just disclosed. Hmmmm. We'll see what the mechanic says about it (Wed Oct 27 12:11pm)

I replied:

E: I've been very curious. I think many of their reviews are fake. I think some are real. I think the mechanic will be able to let us know more. Can I call you? (12:14pm)

So I called J, and I explained why I was pretty convinced that some of the reviews were fake. J agreed that it was pretty likely. We decided that we would tell Action Auto Repair to especially watch for accident-related damage, because we suspected Milla and Gustavo were not being straight with us. J said Gustavo was delaying taking the Subaru in--he was supposed to take it at 10 or something that morning, but he was just now getting to it. He said Gustavo mentioned the accident pretending that he had already mentioned it before. (Uh...we would have remembered that.) It was just a minor accident, though, he said. The airbags were not deployed, or anything like that. Nothing serious. Gustavo was also going to e-mail J a copy of the CarFax report. J said he would forward it to me as soon as he got it. Great.

J texted me: Bill warns that subarus are unusually vulnerable to undetectable engine damage when hit from the front. (12:32pm)

He also forwarded the CarFax to my e-mail...

Except that it wasn't a CarFax report; it was actually a report that eBay does for all cars listed on the auto portion of their site. Still, it had useful information. The report indicated that the Subaru had never been in any accidents...BUT it was not driven between February and May of this year. And not driven much since May, either.

So the Subaru was listed on eBay Motors. The seller had 302 transactions and 100% positive feedback. Hmm. That's a lot. So maybe they were not as deceitful as they appeared? If they had sold 302 cars and everyone on eBay gave them positive feedback.

I pulled up the listing on eBay so that I could check out the feedback. Only about thirty of the transactions were from this year. AND, all of the feedback was from buying things, not selling. Last year they sold a lot--but still no cars. They sold face cream, and make up, lingerie, and just some really random things. I wondered whether they listed vehicles on eBay just to be able to give out copies of the vehicle report, since maybe the eBay one is less revealing than real CarFax? Not everyone has cars checked out by a mechanic before they purchase, so it would be a good plan for fooling a lot of people.

It was weird though...why would Gustavo tell us that it had been in a small accident if the vehicle report was clean? Didn't that indicate the report was not accurate? Also, I noticed the Subaru had actually been in Texas up until now. Hmm. And it was in an auction. What causes vehicles to be in an auction but not reported for something or another?

J and I e-mailed back and forth.

J's e-mail: I just checked out usedcars.com to see prices of Bajas around the nation. It's easy to see that the deal we have brokered is a very good price relatively speaking. So, there is a discount there for something undesirable like damage. How much that's worth to us or how bad the damage might be will hopefully become clearer to us today. (1:42pm)

My e-mail: Yeah, I'd say it's probably 50/50--it may still be worth it. What does the warranty do, if we were to insist upon the warranty based on new information? Do they replace/repair/refund/or what? Any idea?... This is great fun! If it turns out to still be worth getting, I will name the car Carmen, maybe, like Carmen Sandiego, since we're so interested in where she's been and what she's done. Ha! And I will like her all the more, because she's been on adventures. (1:51pm)

Soon after, J called because he was on his way to the shop. The mechanic told us what we had been waiting to hear:

The Subaru was in a major accident--it wasn't a small hit at all.
- The unibody frame was bent. This would mean that we would wear tires faster. Subarus require special tires, so we would have to buy a $600-$700 set of tires every 10,000 miles. (Ouch.) Plus, it would all just get worse, from being driven.
- The radiator was hit, and it was cracked. A new one would be $300 new.
- The right wheel axel shaft (?) was torn and leaking. It would cost $200-$300 to fix that.
- One of the lights was broken. It would be another $200-$300.
- The rear wheels fell off before. The body was scraped up from it. (Uhhh, that's a lot different from what Gustavo told Jeff originally. When they were first making the deal, Gustavo said the worst thing about the car was a missing hubcap. Hmmm.)

J told the guys at the shop that he was getting it for $4000 under Blue Book. They told him "this is why you brought the car in" and told him definitely, definitely don't buy it. Even way below Blue Book.

J and I agreed that we would not be buying my perfect, favorite Subaru Baja, which I loved so much.

J called Gustavo back. I didn't hear the call, but here is the part of the conversation that I remember from what J told me about it:

J: The mechanic advised me that this vehicle was in a major accident. The unibody is bent.
G: Take it to another mechanic. They each have their own opinion.
J: I am comfortable with their assessment.
G: It's not that big of a problem. It can be fixed.
J: They advised me not to purchase it at any price.

That night, J left a review on Google. He wrote:A couple days later, Milla posted another review:

It's kind of a funny review, because there are hints of the truth, but basically the review is totally false.
- The actual deal was not for $9000...it was for $11,700, with them also including some detail work on our car that we are about to sell.
- J didn't leave a bad review because he couldn't have the car for $9000... like... why would we pay $85 to take it to our mechanic if we hadn't even agreed on a price? (Also, he almost didn't want to leave a bad review at all, because it could be bad for their business. But we decided it was better to leave a review for future people thinking of buying a car from them. But he kept his review all just factual information. They may be very good at detailing cars, we decided...)
- Scott said "there is no frame damage even idiot can see it"? Hmmm. Is Scott a real person? Does Scott work for them? Frame damage isn't exactly something subjective. And Action definitely wouldn't tell us there was frame damage just for fun. Milla and Gustavo do collision repair...but they wanted one more opinion? Why would they want one more opinion? The car probably came to them crunched up to begin with. They know exactly what happened to the car.
- Why would we make up stuff about the wheels? What is our incentive for that?
- Also, they never did provide a CarFax.

They listed the Subaru on KSL as a Featured Ad, and then after a little while the ad went down. I suspect they've probably sold it. Too bad for whoever bought it.