Mar 192012

I was using Philips Pronto remotes for over a decade. No more. My last one just died.

The Pronto was a really cool device when it first came out. From the beginning it included a fully programmable touch screen graphic interface and could replace a pile of remote controls with programmable automation. This was way before tablets and smart phones. You could build a glitzy interface and set one button to do multiple actions, like turn one the TV, turn on the receiver, switch inputs, turn on the DVD player, dim the lights, etc..

Due to all the competition from tablets, smart phones, and other cheap devices and apps, Philips stopped making the Pronto last year. There are now hundreds of automation options available. I started looking into what to use to replace the old Pronto, and quickly decided to take a totally different route.  I’d just code up my own.

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Jan 132012

Our house was built in 1950. The first floor bath looked it. Hadn’t been updated in decades. Rusting medicine cabinet. A loud, rattling ventilation fan. Corroded faucet. Outdated electrical. Water wasting toilet. Aged wallpaper. Since we kept putting off a full remodel, a few weeks ago I decided to just do a quick refresh.

Above is a photo of the old bathroom.

Ripping a bath down to the studs can save you a lot of aggravating retrofitting work and allow you to get exactly what you want, but it’s also a bigger commitment to expense and  inconvenience. While doing this refresh, our bathroom was never out of commission. I finished one project, cleaned-up, and then moved onto the next. The big things to keep in mind is that a full remodel gives you a fresh start, and a simple refresh has less down-time, but requires working within existing limitations of the existing room. It’s a trade off. Decide what’s more important to you.

Our bathroom felt worn out worn out. The fan noise woke people up. The faucet couldn’t be cleaned any longer. The electrical just looked and felt like danger on the wall. We also didn’t have enough storage space and had to keep some things in our hall pantry.

While working, under the layers of paint and wallpaper I discovered the room was originally pink and gray-blue with big brown-red linoleum tiles accented in a golden style equivalent to paisley. The built-in vanity had once been pink as well, so I assume it is original to the house, since pink is a very 1950 color choice. The wood drawers also have our address written in pencil on them to designate the job for the cabinet maker, which is very old school. The tile job is sloppy, and was likely slapped up by a homeowner in the last remodel, which I’d guess was in the 1970’s or 80’s. This is a room that has remained partially intact for 60 years, and would do so for a while longer now since the walls, ceiling, tiles, and vanity were staying intact.

An early decision we made was to switch from dark brass to brushed nickel. We liked the brighter metal and matte finish. The pain about switching is you have to switch everything to get a consistent look. I got carried away. I even changed the door hinges and door knob to nickel.

In case you’re not interested in the details, here’s a glimpse at what we have today:

For more details about the changes made, read on!

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Dec 192011

My friend, J. Kathleen Cheney, posted a link to a recipe for Habañero Brownies that sounded absolutely fantastic. Chocolate! Hot Peppers! Yum!

Since I still had hot peppers in the freezer from my crop this past summer, I decided I had to try adapting the recipe. I keep gluten-free and lactose-free and generally low-sugar and carb, so I figured I might as well go all out and try twisting the recipe up until it was gluten-free, vegan, white sugar free, and low carb. It turned out good enough that I’ll definitely be making it again!

Of course, if you can eat the original gluten, dairy, and sugar filled recipe, I’m absolutely sure it’s sweeter, richer, and tasty! The link is above. I hear it’s a most wonderful spicy brownie!

Also, if you don’t need/want to keep sugar-free or vegan, I included ingredient options that should also work. I haven’t tried all variations, but my experimentation tells me the substitutions should work. Let me know if you try a variation.

Also, I personally prefer very dark rich chocolate — 80% or darker — and not overly sweet. If you prefer sweeter chocolate goodies, try one of the secondary sweetness options I included in the recipe and let me know how it turns out.

Nearly Primal Spicy Habañero Brownies

Brownie Ingredients:

  • 4 oz unsweetened bar chocolate
  • 1/4 cup Earth Balance margarine, grape seed oil, or butter
  • 1 fresh habañero (add 1 or 2 more for spicier!)
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • Juice from the zested orange (Grate zest for both brownies and icing first. About 2 TBSP juice.)
  • Choose a sweetness option:
    • LOW SUGAR: 10 packets of your favorite low-cal sweetener.
    • ALTERNATE SWEET: 1 cup of agave syrup
    • OLD SCHOOL SWEET & RICH:  1 1/2 cups of sugar and
      an additional 1/2 cup of butter.
  • 4 eggs  or  Egg Replacer and water to equal 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2.5 cups almond flour
  • 1 cup walnuts


  • 2 TBSP Cream Cheese (Can use dairy-free Tofutti “Better Than Cream Cheese”)
  • 3 TBSP Earth Balance or butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp orange zest
  • 1 tsp Hatch Chili  or ground smoked chipotle pepper  or  other hot chili powder (More for spicier.)
  • 3 tsp cinnamon (I prefer Vietnamese)
  • 4 packets of favorite powdered sweetener or enough powdered sugar to make it sweet and creamy


Brownie Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F; grease one 8×8″ baking pan.

Melt chocolate and butter at low heat. Stir to avoid burning.

Very finely dice habañero pepper and add it to chocolate mixture. Also add orange zest and juice. Set aside.

Combine sweetener (Stevia, agave, or sugar) and eggs or egg substitute. If using regular sugar add the extra butter/oil now as well. Blend until smooth.

Add baking soda and almond flour to the egg mixture and mix until incorporated.

Add chocolate mixture to the batter and mix well.

Fold in walnuts.

Pour batter into baking pan. If it’s thick, pat it flat. Bake for about 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into brownie comes out clean. While cooking, make frosting.


Frosting Direction:

Mix all ingredients until nice and soft, but not liquified. Taste test. Add more Stevia or powdered sugar until sweet enough for you. Add more chili pepper until as hot as you’d like.


When brownies are done, remove the pan from the oven and let cool. When cool enough to not melt the frosting, frost the top.

Devour. I’m currently on my second piece. That was a tasty breakfast.

Dec 162011

Previously I posted about finding natural gas leaks in four out of six homes I checked using a natural gas detector, including my own.

Next up, I decided to check for “Sick Building Syndrome” in a few homes, including my own. I was a little surprised by by findings.

Sick building syndrome is typically caused by poor ventilation that allows for a buildup of gasses, chemicals, CO2, mold, etc. that can cause people to feel some range between a-bit-off to terribly sick. One method of determining if a building does not have adequate ventilation is to check carbon dioxide levels, abbreviated as CO2. High levels of CO2 means there obviously isn’t enough ventilation to refresh the air in relationship to the air that’s being burned or exhaled.

Now, don’t confuse CO2 with CO, which is carbon monoxide. Checking for CO is common because CO in high doses is a quick death. CO detectors are sold along side fire detectors.

CO2 is different. We breathe out CO2 with each breath. Plants absorb the stuff. Our outside air, as of this point in human civilization, generally has around 350-400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2. We breathe it all day long. Thus, it is not in itself a hazard in normal quantities. Yet, government recommendations are that office buildings should remain below 1000 ppm. Apparently studies show that a level of just 1000 ppm of carbon dioxide will reduce the ability to concentrate by about 30 %. It takes more massive concentrations, above 15% (150,000 ppm ), to cause immediate unconsciousness, so there’s apparently a large range between feeling off and medical crisis.

I originally picked up a CO2 Monitor out of pure curiosity about our air quality after finding natural gas leaks in our house. The device sits in a room and monitors CO2, humidity, and temperature. We just had a new high efficiency furnace installed, so I really wasn’t expecting to find an issue. Surprise.

Plugged the monitor in. Our levels were above 800 ppm. I had no idea if that was normal. Searching the internet was confusing. Higher levels, over 1000 ppm, were listed as a problem in office buildings, but there was little info out there on what is considered normal in a house. Occasionally the alarm on the monitor would sound, alerting me to the fact that our levels were suddenly over 1000 ppm. Interesting. What could cause that? I admit to having gadget fun. I played with it for days off and on doing various tests. I tested different rooms. I tested near different appliances. I cracked open windows. Turned on and off the furnace fan. What I finally realized was that when the furnace was running the CO2 in our house would steadily rise, about 1 ppm per second. Was this normal? Heat the house a degree or two hotter and we’d jump well over 1000 ppm setting off the alarm. If I opened windows the levels would drop down to around 400 ppm.

Right away I decided to leave the windows upstairs open a little at all times. I also turned the furnace fan on continuously to keep the air circulating and mixed. This seemed to help keep the levels down to around 850 ppm, as long as I didn’t change the temperature on the thermostat. I erased the programmed temperature changes so the furnace wouldn’t cool the house at night, because in the morning the CO2 levels would set off the alarm.

On Thanksgiving I took the device over to my parents house. It clocking in well above 1500 ppm! I realized it was due to their gas stove and oven being on all day long. They didn’t have a vent in the kitchen to refresh the air, so they were breathing in the CO2 produced by continuous open flames. Perhaps it wasn’t just the Turkey making us sleepy. A follow up test conducted on another day found their levels between 800 and 900.

Took the monitor to another house. There the living room was in the 500s, but when we placing it in a closed bedroom that was host to a sick person, the levels were way up above 1000. In this case it was due to a lack of air circulation. The bedroom door had been closed all day and night with someone breathing out CO2 to fill the small room. Essentially, the air was stale. I suggested the owner of the house turn the furnace fan on to help circulate the air, but they were too worried about burning out the motor if it ran day and night, so they cracked open a window instead. The nights are well below freezing, but I recall when I was young, before heating costs were one of my concerns, I preferred to sleep with the window open as well during the winter. I liked the fresh air.

You can install a whole house heat exchanger to avoid losing as much heat and cold when pulling air into the house from outside, but apparently you need to maintain these just as you do your furnace air filters and humidifier, and so they are not suggested by HVAC installers very often.

Well, unable to determine if the high numbers on our house were normal, I decided to call the company that installed our furnace. They sent two guys out to inspect my concerns. At first they said it might just be normal operation, as no one had ever asked about CO2 before. Just the same, while they were there they set about making some minor adjustments.

They asked if we insulated the walls and had done any other efficiency changes to the house recently. A well insulated house leaks less air and is more likely to have CO2 buildup. We have done very little. Our walls are actually hollow. I started researching spray-in insulation over the summer, but have yet to do it.

While here they adjusted the slope of the exhaust. Modern efficient furnaces have their own fresh air intake and exhaust out pipes. Ours was sagging in the middle, and the slope was very slight. Second, they added a U to one of the water drainage pipes that came off the air intake. I also asked them to change the furnace to run the fan motor at a slower speed when the fan was used continuously. That would allow more efficient, silent, slow and steady air circulation.

After they left I found the CO2 levels had dropped dramatically. Unoccupied rooms on the first floor were in the 400s. The average level I now get in my office while working is just under 550, and the maximum I’ve seen for occupied rooms on the first floor has been around 650. The CO2 levels no longer climb when the furnace is running. When I checked, I found that in the middle of the night the levels actually dropped below 400 in my office. Yeah, our house is not sealed tight, so that was outdoor late night air quality. That’s a leaky house. Maybe I do need some more insulation in my walls.

The second floor levels still rise a bit at night, getting into the 700s. I know why. We have no cold air return upstairs, so the air isn’t circulating. Getting a return air duct upstairs is now on my to-do list.

So, once again, my curiosity and love of gadgets proved very interesting, this time pointing out that we needed to get the furnace corrected.

Nov 182011

What’s in your household air?

When we moved in, our gas meter was located in a small closet in the basement. A representative from the gas company would enter houses like ours to take the readings, and sometimes I was required to phone in the numbers. All very old school. Often, when I opened that closet I would swear I smelled gas. I had the gas company out, but they said it was fine.

After ten years of having to read the meter inside the house, the gas company finally decided to move our meter outside. After that change, I started occasionally noticing an increased gas smell around the small closet where the meter once was. I called the gas company. They checked the area again and said nothing was wrong, and maybe the smell was from the sewer.

From a friend, I learned that one of the household maintenance tasks homeowners should be doing yearly, along with changing filters and humidifier pads and all that, was to pour a quart of water into your basement drains. If you don’t the traps can evaporate and sewer gas will enter the house. Traps are the “U” shaped sections you see under a sink. They fill with water and keep gasses from entering the house through your drains. It’s smart to run water in every drain in your house at least twice a year. Not only did we have the drains on the basement floor, but we also had a sink and a toilet that were never used. I’ve since been sure to run water into all of those at the start of winter and summer.

As the years passed, I rarely had to enter that small closet, but when I did I continued to smell something odd. I could swear it still smelled like natural gas. It would dissipate quickly though.

Years ago, we had one of those combination carbon monoxide and natural gas detectors. The detector started randomly going off, alerting us of a gas leak. Again, we called the gas company. Again, they said there was no problem.

Two years ago the air conditioner pipes started freezing up. We discovered the air conditioner coils were leaking inside the furnace. Two years and $900 later we realized the HVAC company we were using was wasting our money. The central air conditioner wasn’t fixable. This summer we replaced it, but for this story we have to go back before that leak was detected, because it took months to figure out freon was leaking. For all I know the freon was triggering the gas alarm. I really don’t know. In the mean time, since the alarm kept going off, I decided to buy a natural gas detector off Amazon. It’s not as fancy as the ones the gas company uses. It only has an audible reading. Like a Geiger counter, it starts off with a slow tick, about twice per second. When it detects gas the ticks speed up, machine gun fast, accelerating, until it’s nearly a single tone. The more gas detected, the faster it rattles. The more expensive units have a digital readout (like this one), which would be nice since you can assign the leak a number, but they’re way more expensive. Keep in mind this is not a carbon monoxide detector, but a natural gas detector. They also have radon detectors. There are different devices for different gasses.

I started sniffing pipes. The detector’s ticks went crazy.

I discovered two areas with gas leaks. Multiple connections were leaking right where the gas company had disconnected the old gas meter. There was another leak where the dryer was connected. Once again I called the gas company. This time I told them I used a gas detector myself and explained where I found the leaks. They said, yeah, it was leaking. They tagged the pipe joints and told me to call a plumber to fix it.

So, I called a plumber a neighbor had used. He’s an old guy with a rusted bucket-of-bolts truck filled with well used tools. He was affordable, and I figured he must have had plenty of experience. He started ripping out and reassembling the pipes. Just outside of the closet we still had the last of the old ceiling tiles up. They had been nailed to the floor joists decades ago. I had to remove a section of tile so he could finish the job. When he was done, and the gas was running through the pipes again, I sniffed some of the newly revealed pipe joints with the gas detector. Surprise. Another leak! Patching this new joint would require ripping most of the remaining ceiling tiles out to get to the hidden piping. The plumber said, “You’re just going to get yourself in trouble with that thing,” and proceeded to slobber joint compound on the pipe without disconnecting it first. He billed about $100 and left.

You can’t sniff newly connected pipe. The joint compound off gasses too much. A few days later, after the compound was dry, I checked that last area he’d slathered over and it was still leaking. I started wondering if I was over reacting. The gas company obviously didn’t consider a bunch of small leaks a problem. The plumber didn’t either. I would have to call another plumber in, which was more money being spent. I let it go for a while.

I decided to check a few other houses. Out of six homes I checked, four were leaking natural gas. Of the homes with leaks, each had multiple leaks. Maybe a small leak wasn’t considered important enough to the gas company to tag, but what about six to twelve small leaks? Doesn’t it add up? Especially when all these leaks are near the furnace which is circulating air though the house? Add onto that freon leaks, sewer gasses,  and the small amount of acceptable CO2 and radon. We sure do live in a lot of fumes.

This week I tore down the last section of the ceiling. As I pulled the tiles out I could smell trapped gas. There I found yet another leak. I had a different plumber out. We opened the windows, turned the furnace fan on continuous, and refreshed all the air in the house. As of today I’ve checked every pipe joint in the house. No more leaks.

While I was at it, I poured water into the drains.

The Internet is so filled with contradictory information. I see posts saying that natural gas is totally non toxic, unless of course, it kills you due to suffocation. I see others saying the additives that give it that nasty smell cause cancer. Yeah, everything gives you cancer. I also saw a few posts claiming that long term gas leaks in their houses had caused all kinds of digestive and neurological disorders, including food intolerance, anxiety, insomnia, dizziness, memory problems. Will we be healthier without all those natural gas and freon leaks? I’d have to assume so.

All I definitely know is the basement now smells fresher than it ever has.

Sep 122011

Wall Art

This summer we swapped some rooms. You see, back when Coral was born we moved my office up to the 2nd floor, and our bedroom down to the first floor. That way Larc didn’t have to carry Coral up and down stairs, and we could just put a gate (with a foot triggered latch) at the stairs. Now that Coral’s older, there’s certainly no worry about her using stairs, so we moved both bedrooms upstairs and returned my office where I can once again get sunlight. It’s nice to once again see out the front window to watch for the UPS truck, or just stare at the blue sky and trees while thinking.

One problem I ran into was that I’d mounted shelves to the wall over my desk. We pulled the shelves down and I patched the drywall with plaster. We ended up with a bunch of white plaster sploches and messed up paint. Went to check for touch-up paint, and found a brick. Really. A brick. We’d used clay paint. Paint actually made of clay. The clay was dry. Brick.

Went on-line to order a pint, but found they no longer had the same color. We’d just moved three rooms, and no way did I want to move furniture and repaint the entire room, but at the same time the move didn’t feel done. So, as I do, we made it into an art project. Here you can see exactly where my desk once sat, and where the shelves hung. Added photos from a past vacation we had already in frames, and now the room feels complete.

One day maybe we’ll paint the whole room again, but for now we have wall art.

Sep 082011

Want you some Chocolate Babka?

In 1993 became ill enough that I was told by my doctor that I would spend the rest on my life deathly ill and in and out of surgery.

After a year of this illness my now wife and I bought a house. That very week I quit my stressful job as a software development project leader and started consulting. While my doctor had insisted that stress had nothing to do with my disease, I quickly started feeling somewhat better. I was taken off the harsh medication, but was not in the clear. My digestion was all messed up.

Two years later my wife’s brother was dating a woman who had a condition known as Celiac disease, otherwise known as gluten-intolerance. My gastroenterologist was firm that my condition had nothing to do with what food I ate, but I decided to try the gluten-free diet anyway. What could it hurt? At my next check-up my gastroenterologist declared it a miracle.

In the years since my miracle, gluten-intolerance has gone from an unknown condition in the USA to a common diagnosis. My gastroenterologist became a believer in more than miracles and is now active in local Celiac support.

While tests show I am not Celiac, I am gluten intolerant. This distinction is another issue I will save for another post.

The hard journey I had going gluten-free is no longer as difficult as it once was. Back then I discovered that in Europe they had been testing for Celiac for many decades, and the USA was way behind. What was well understood in other countries has since spread to the USA. This is why you’ll still find a lot of products are imported from Canada, Australia, and Europe. But shopping for Gluten-free food is no longer difficult in the USA. In fact, there are now plenty of restaurants, bakeries, and products in regular grocery stores all across the country. You can easily find beer, pasta, and cake mixes. Recently the FDA has implemented allergy labeling. Checking a product can be as easy as looking on the ingredients list to see if you can find the label “Contains: ” and see if GLUTEN is listed.

So, in the past I would have had to write up a very detailed set of what to watch for and how to find gluten-free foods. No longer, as there’s tons of information available on-line, but I understand that it’s still overwhelming for those just getting started, so here are some tips from my own experiences.

  1. Groceries: 

    Markets typically have two gluten-free sections. One with packaged foods and mixes, and another in the freezer section. Because gluten-free bread can dry out faster than wheat bread, you’ll almost always find the bread and other baked goods in the freezer or refrigerator.

    Some Products We Frequently Buy:

    • UDI’s bread
    • Tinkyada pasta
    • Annie’s Mac ‘n Cheese
    • Kellogg’s has Rice Krispies and Rice Chex that say Gluten-Free on the box
    • Betty Crocker cake mixes are easy to find, and most frostings are gluten-free
    • Pamala’s packaged cookies and their mixes are very good
    • Hodgson Mills pancake mix
    • Kinnikinnick or Celiac Specialties donuts

    The Essential Gluten-Free Grocery Guide
    is an option if you’d like a short-cut resource to see what’s gluten-free without having to weed through the store.

  2. Bakeries: 

    I’ve found that most cities I travel to have local gluten-free bakeries. Google “gluten-free bakery” plus your state or city to see if you have one. We have three within 20 minutes from our house, one only a mile away. If you don’t have a bakery near you, Whole Foods has their own gluten-free bakery and has many products in their freezers. Trader Joes has a gluten-free product list. You can also buy products at health food stores and on-line stores. Amazon has a lot of gluten-free food items, and there are many specialty stores and bakeries on-line that specialize in gluten-free baked goods.

  3. Baking: 

    If you like to bake, you can certainly bake your own recipes. Gluten-free baked good are sometimes a little different in texture and density, but many recipes taste as good as their non-gluten-free counterparts. My current favorite pre-mixed flour is Better Batter Gluten Free Flour. You can often take a wheat flour recipe and use Better Batter flour instead. Their web site includes a huge number of tested recipes. I came up with a Chocolate Babka that my daughter is totally addicted to.

    You can also find many pre-made mixes. Even big companies like Betty Crocker and King Arthur have gluten-free flour and mixes in many neighborhood groceries. You can even get gluten-free Bisquick. Also, watch for the Bob’s Red Mill display as they package most every type of gluten-free flour. If your local grocery does not have these flours, look for a health food store or Internet store.

    You’ll find that every cookbook you buy will use a different flour blend. Each cook likes to develop their recipes with different flours, which keeps cooking interesting. I keep many bags of flours and starches on hand, many in the freezer. I also got into the habit of actually grinding my own rice flour. I have a The Kitchen Mill by KTEC and will do five or ten pounds at a time. Hit Costco and you can often buy 25 pounds of white rice for about $10. This was more important back in the beginning when rice, tapioca, and potato flours were the flour mix of choice, but I still do it once a year because it’s a lot cheaper than buying preground rice flour.

    Note that most gluten-free recipes will call for Xanthan Gum or sometimes guar gum. You usually need an ingredient to help bind the flour and replace the gluten. Better Batter uses pectin for this purpose. Some recipes use gelatin or agar agar. This is a difference you’ll find in most baked goods recipes.

    We find a lot of recipes out on the web, and use the following cookbooks the most:
    1,000 Gluten-Free Recipes (1,000 Recipes)
    The Gluten-Free Gourmet: Living Well without Wheat
    The Gluten-Free Gourmet Bakes Bread: More Than 200 Wheat-Free Recipes

    As a first gluten-free baking experiment, make brownies! I’ve found they’re always good, even if you can’t cook, especially if you add extra chocolate and some chips.

  4. Pizza: 

    Many people get upset about not being able to eat pizza, but don’t. In our area there are four chains and a number of individual restaurants that do gluten-free pizza. Some are better than others, so have some fun trying each. In our area Buddy’s Pizza has a tasty soft crust, Amichi’s has a nice bready crisp crust, Cottage Inn is just okay, and Pizzeria Uno’s is like total cardboard. When up in Lansing we found a fabulous pizza place. There was another in a party store in Ann Arbor. Check the Internet to see if there are any gluten-free pizza places in your area. It can be hit or miss, but when you find a hit, pizza can be comfort food of the gods for someone gluten-free.

  5. Restaurants: 

    You’ll find many chain restaurants have their own gluten-free menus. For example, for American style Chinese food, P.F.Changs and Pei Wei both have gluten menus. Outback Steakhouse does as well. For fast food, we typically do Wendy’s where I have chili and a baked potato. Most Indian dishes are gluten-free, just avoid the nan bread (this is so sad, which is why you must learn to bake your own.) Thai is often gluten-free, but be sure it does not have wheat in the fish or oyster sauce. Mexican, when only corn tortillas is used, is usually fine. Soy sauce often contains wheat, but some soy sauces are gluten-free (usually I get Tamari Soy Sauce, Wheat Free, Organic at a grocery), so check. Many nicer restaurants will handle dietary requests very well, though I’ve found it’s best to call ahead or arrive early so you can ask the chef personally. Don’t assume your server understands what wheat is. I’ve had people explain to me that white bread does not have wheat in it, only wheat bread does! This simple issue with words confuses many people. You need to be careful of cross contamination, especially in deep fryers used for both breaded onion rings or other breaded items and french fries; ask if they have a dedicated frier for their fries. Also, beware of packaged foods like vegetables or hash browns which sometimes include flour to keep the products from clumping when packaged. Ask the chef to check their processed foods and not just assume. I like to eat at places that prepare from scratch. Fresh cut potatoes taste better as well.

    We use The Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide when traveling, though if you have a Smart Phone you can often use the web to find places to eat.

    The Urban Spoon website is great to find restaurants since you can narrow down by city and the “Gluten-Free” category, and each restaurant has ratings with comments.

  6. Kids: 

    Keeping kids gluten-free takes some planning. When our daughter was two and wasn’t growing, we decided to put her on the diet. She quickly caught up with the other kids. When she was five we tried taking her off the diet and she was constantly complaining about stomach aches. So, she’s following the diet as well. Sometimes it’s hard on her, but she doesn’t like the stomach aches, and she watches what she eats on her own. To make this as easy as possible, we keep a snack box and birthday cupcakes on-hand at home and and at her school. She never has to go without, though she doesn’t get exactly what the other kids are having. We also call ahead for birthdays and gatherings and make sure to bring what ever we need. We use a local gluten-free bakery when we don’t want to bake her own birthday cake. There are plenty of snacks, cookies, and cakes available. Some we get at the grocery, some at health food stores, some we make. There are even gluten-free ice cream cones. We’ve found local restaurants that have gluten-free bread for sandwiches and will make french toast. She’s happy to eat hotdogs without the bun, and we sometimes bring her pizza if we know that’s what the other kids are getting. As listed above, Tinkyada pasta and Annie’s Mac ‘n Cheese is great. We make dumplings for soup, pierogi, pancakes, brownies, pizza, whatever. There are tons of packaged cookies, including K-Too’s Choclate Cream Cookies which are the next best thing to Oreos. Kids are adaptable, but we can make it easier.

  7. Beer: 

    For the beer drinkers out there, there has been plenty of progress. While I have yet to find a good stout, there are many gluten-free pilsners, usually made with sorghum. Redbridge is the most common. Another option is cider.

So, while starting out on the diet you may feel overwhelmed with all the food you can’t eat, there’s tons of food out there that is gluten-free. I’m covering just the “replacement for wheat” options since they are what people are most curious about, but in reality most food is not made of this one ingredient. You may have to plan ahead a bit when going out, but it’s not difficult once you get the hang of it all. Just don’t let someone convince you to cheat on the diet. There are simply too many good gluten-free foods, and too many replacements for wheat to make yourself sick.

Sep 142010

A month from now, October 14th, will be the yearly fundraiser for Community Housing Network. I’ve been providing media assistance for this event for many years, taking client photos and creating videos. What’s most interesting about this gig are all the personal stories I hear when interviewing those helped by the organization. Some were homeless. Some are handicapped. Some are the emotional family of handicapped individuals. Others are recovering from mental illness. Just showing up with a camera tells these people that I’m interested in them, and most just open up and tell me all about their lives. I always have to coax them to talk about what’s going to be relevant to the project at hand, but between those discussions I always hear some strange or interesting stories. For example, one guy that worked at an airport  offered details about why you never stand in front of a jet plane engine and what impacts can do to the human body. You never know what you’re going to learn.

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Sep 102010

If you’ve watched book trailers (video commercials for a book) on-line, there’s a good chance you saw a slide-show of stock photos and text. Sometimes the images are panned or change size. Canned music typically plays. I’m always surprised, and thrilled, when a book trailer actually holds my attention, because it’s so rare. That’s why I thought doing short films as book trailers would be an interesting exploration.

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Sep 072010

A while back I won a “Writers Of The Future” award. This is a yearly award for science fiction and fantasy short stories. You’ll find my story, “The Girl Who Whispered Beauty,” in the Writers Of The Future anthology Volume 24.

“The Girl Who Whispers Beauty” is the story of a young woman who can use her breath to shape and grow other living things, but as she does so her own life diminishes. Such women are put into servitude to enhance the elite class, but our heroine, Etelka, has other plans.

Winning is quite a nice deal. The contest is judged by big name authors, so it’s great validation.  Thousands enter, but only twelve are selected. There is, of course, a decent monetary award, plus they buy all the winning stories for their yearly anthology, paying a rather good rate. You’re flown to an award ceremony (ours was in L.A.) and put up for a week so you can attend a workshop and a awards ceremony filled with all kinds of well-known, respected genre authors.

Each story in the anthology has an illustration created by one of the winners of the “Illustrator’s Of The Future” contest. Stephen Knox of Philadelphia created mine, and an excellent piece of work it is! This print hangs nearby as I type. Thanks, Steve!

Rich Horton mentioned “The Girl Who Whispered Beauty” and the Writers Of The Future v24 in his yearly recap. He said there were usually multiple entries under “Anthologies of New Writers”, but in 2008 we owned it.

The stories I particularly liked were “Simulacrum’s Children”, by Sarah L. Edwards, and Al Bogdan’s “The Girl Who Whispered Beauty”.

Rich reviews for Locus and has edited some excellent best of anthologies for Prime Books, so I’m thrilled to get his nod of approval.

Brent Knowles wrote about Writers Of The Future v24, and for my story he said the following:

This is a rather strange story, but delightful. Whisper girls, who cling to life in a precarious way, are able to modify humans. But these modifications cost the whisper girls and they have to careful in the application of their powers. Just a beautiful read, very imaginative and original.

You can find  “Writers of the Future, Vol. 24” on AMAZON

If you write science fiction or fantasy you should look into the contest. It’s quite an experience.