President Trump’s speech

February 1, 2018

I apologize to all who hate all politics. If you do, stop reading now.

I watched President Trump’s state of the Union address. After all, my column, Americana, is about Everything Good in America! Surely if there are good things happening in America, it would be highlighted in our President’s speech.

I was pleased by his demeanor. I’m sure his speech writers worked long and hard to shape not only his image but the tone of his message. Frankly, I don’t think he (or anybody) could have done better. The only criticism that a literary folk like I might complain about was the addition of unnecessary adjectives, (wonderful, beautiful, terrific, horrible etc). Pretty small stuff, eh? But then again, the use of superlatives is quintessential Trump. And when read in print, it leaves no room for shading his meaning.

I appreciated the tact and subtlety in referencing our illegal alien problems when he said, “Americans are dreamers, too.” I wonder if the legal voters who oppose him realize that the huge toll illegal immigrants have on our society detours vast amounts of money that could otherwise be used to improve life for citizens in our inner cities, schools and make dangerous neighborhoods safer for honest, law abiding citizens.

He courageously highlighted the obvious truth that American leaders first obligation is to serve American interests. When America is strong and thriving, historically, we export prosperity around the world. Trump wants to make America great by serving AMERICANS first. It is his and every single representatives’, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, sworn oath to do so.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion for those who bring their families here for a better life. If I lived in Mexico or some other Latin American country, I would do whatever it took to bring my children here, whatever the price. But it truly is in the best interest of America to prevent illegals from draining our resources away from the most needy in America.

It astonished me to hear how the ABC commentators framed his speech. I am pretty certain that they had printed out their responses before they even heard the speech.

ABC, I have to wonder if you realized that everybody who heard your comments had just watched the speech. People who do that are going to have their own feelings and responses.

WE HEARD the president say several times that he wanted to work with both parties to solve problems. That is not divisive, it is unifying, if the minority has any interest in working for a better America.

WE SAW the rows of sullen Democrats sit on their hands when Trump lauded American Heroes and drew attention to victims of evil.

WE WATCHED in astonishment as reporters billed the “rebuttal” by Joe Kennedy as “a much more unifying speech” IN ADVANCE of his giving it.

WE SAT in astonishment as Joe Kennedy, (handsome, rich, (with a net worth of $43 million at age thirty-ish which he did not earn, but received from his incredibly rich white privileged family) and appealing, despite his overuse of vaseline,) talked about the poor and downtrodden WITHOUT PROPOSING ONE SINGLE SOLUTION TO ONE SINGLE PROBLEM.  I also noted that in a room full of well-dressed Democrats, there was only one black person visible and nobody of any other race. And wouldn’t a rebuttal, if offered as an answer to Trump, have more credibility if it ALSO was given in front of a mixed party audience?

If I were an ABC reporter, I would have refused to read a script of such nonsense, no matter how much I hated the President. It was an insult to  their viewers, and utterly destructive of their own credibility as news reporters.

It did however boost their value as potential comedy performers.

I assume that some of the statistics are massaged to reflect better than actual facts, though I have no examples of that. But after researching Obama’s flagrantly misleading use of numbers I have to concede that it may be a common political practice.

I also  know that no massaging was necessary when speaking of the truth that American businesses of all sizes are optimistic and thriving. That President Donald Trump has delivered on his promises to business in spectacular fashion. His ideas and economic concepts are working.

The result of thriving businesses is showing to be better than trickle down: it’s flowing straight into the pockets of American workers. Perhaps the wealthy are getting wealthier, (by my standards, coming from a single teacher/coach income family), I’m rich and our retirement account is getting richer.) But if the rich are getting richer, we/they are also buying more products, using more services, tipping, sharing, donating more. If you doubt me, look at the numbers for charitable donations in the last year. So the poor are getting richer, too.

Again, if you doubt me, look at the statistics. More importantly, note the upward mobility of the poorest citizens. Americas poor are not as poor as they used to be, and most American workers steadily increase their net worth throughout their lives.

I am sick to death of the left pointing out big salaries for CEO’s. The numbers involved are so tiny compared with the general economy that if you fired every one of the top twenty highest paid CEO’s  and confiscated their yearly salaries, you could give every American worker, (whether employed or not,) a whopping $5. FIVE SMACKERS! That’s a one time payment, not a raise or recurring event.

If I was so lucky to get that largess, I’d use a Subway coupon and buy a footlong sandwich!

But if there were no CEO’s, businesses would flounder. Soon they wouldn’t be hiring. Soon there would not be money to pay employees. Unemployment would rise and we’d slide first into a recession and then into a depression. Companies, like families, churches, schools, and every other organization, need leaders. In the case of business, the best leaders are the most profitable for the company and all its employees, and so they are paid the most. But anxious is the head that wears the crown. They are also the most likely to be fired for non-performance.

I thought it was courageous of Trump to call out the vicious gang MS-13. Though no Democrats seemed to approve, their constituents in the inner cities live in fear of this pervasive evil. Most of these gang members are of Latin American descent and enter the country as unaccompanied minors. Their common hand sign is the index and pinky held up in a ‘devil horns salute.’ Held upside down, it signifies the “M” for Mara. The 13 refers to the 13 second beating new members must survive before becoming members.

Wasn’t it fascinating that the Black Caucus didn’t clap or cheer when the President commented that Black unemployment is down by half? Why not? Why not indeed!

The ABC commentators swooned over the fact that some of the Black United States Congressmen were wearing their Kinta Cloths. So they are not Americans? They don’t want what’s best for Americans? If they are identified only by their ancestral origins, as they emphasize by their African adornments, are we to understand that they are only interested in the well-being of Africans?

Black Americans are doing better. Isn’t that something to celebrate? It seems to me that their hostile response indicates that they realize that when Trump succeeds in making life better for their constituents, they lose power and influence. Their oppressive tactics that maintain their power and encourage dependency are weakened as the people are empowered to succeed without them. No wonder they’re frowning. They’re being exposed for the corrupt and oppressive people they are. If Black Americans thrive, they lose. No wonder they hate Trump.

It’s a true fact that unemployment is down across all demographics. It’s indeed a direct result of friendly business policies. Trump deserves credit.

The extreme tactics resorted to by his enemies: hurling accusations, charges and innuendos without regard for  truth suggest just how much of a threat to their patterns of oppression he is.

I don’t endorse Trumps morals. From what I observed of him before he had political aspirations, personal morality was not important to him. Ironically, that’s the one thing the Lefties can’t bring up or exploit because of the well-known immorality/drug use by Democrat heroes like Clinton, Kennedy (s) and Obama.

It’s almost hilarious that the media is having such a fit over the crass comments Trump made about some black nations when Hillary Clinton herself is known to have a vicious potty-mouth extraordinaire.

But I digress. Like him or not, President Trump is doing a fantastic job. He’s truly creating a path to making America great again.

The only question that remains is whether we, as a people, have sunk into immorality and evil to the degree that God cannot longer continue to bless this land and people. When/if that is true, no mortal leader, no matter how talented and no matter how righteous will be able to rescue us.

If we want to receive good, we must BE good, work hard, be honest and committed to the cause of promoting righteousness.

If we do, we will prosper in the land.

Happy events

January 19, 2018

Many readers of CCC know my family. I have a daughter and six sons. I admit that I have to rationalize my pride in them. When does pride in one’s children become unrighteous?

Here’s how I have figured it out. Pride is unrighteous when it is competitive. Since I feel no competition, but merely wish to rejoice and to have those who care about me to rejoice with me, I am going to share some of our recent good news.

Today, Daniel successfully defended his Dissertation! When he finishes his Internship in August, he will be a doctor of psychology. He intends to work as a prison psychologist.

Tricia and Walt are about to have a baby girl. Daniel and Lindsay have a baby boy due the same day. Rob and Marseille are expecting this summer (gender or genders yet unknown)

Scott joined a dental practice in Pocatello, ID, last summer.  It’s so fun to have him finished with the Army and settling in.

Brian will be starting Medical School in May. He and Kelsi will be moving to St. Martaans. (Caribbean island)

Chris is plugging away at BYU-I. He changed his major back to ‘Business’ from ‘Financial Economics’ because of a more favorable job path after graduation. He’ll have 2 semesters after the current one.

Thomas is a sophomore at BYU, also majoring in ‘business’. He wants to earn an MBA. I think he still wants to do family financial counseling/planning.

My column, Americana runs in two newspapers (we’re working on others) and is doing well. The Oklahoman has an ‘online share’ tally with the online version, and it is not uncommon for articles to reach several hundred shares. Thanks to ALL my readers for that!

Most exciting, I’m working on a new book project. It’s a memoir of a man who was born with a lethal disease. As a newborn, he went from the hospital where he was delivered to a hospital for terminally ill patients.

Obviously, he didn’t die, but grew up in the hospital with the expectation that all his friends died. He was rejected by his family and addicted to the pain killers used to sedate him in infancy.

But there were angels in his life, too, some from the most unexpected quarters of society.  It’s a story of triumph and God’s ultimate love finding us, no matter how dark the corner where we hide. I want to finish it by the end of 2018.

Jeff is enjoying his retirement, complete with season tickets to BYU football and basketball, planning Americana story-finding trips, and enjoying family.

We both enjoy tutoring a couple of kids in reading a few time a week.

We will soon release our joint project of Beth Stephenson’s Americana, volume 2.

So that’s us! Life is beautiful!

 

 

A Movie record

January 13, 2018

Since I have no official parameters for this blog, I have to say, there a a plethora of good movies out right now. My daughter-in-law Kimberly brought “Hidden Figures” to our New Year’s weekend and it was fantastic. Its a true story of the mathematicians working for NASA. They were all black women and had some of the finest minds of their age. It’s so inspiring and family appropriate. Little kids wouldn’t be interested, of course, but I loved it.

Then we saw “The Man Who Invented Christmas” which was about Charles Dickens writing “A Christmas Carol.” I LOVED this one, but if you aren’t very familiar with the story, (including lines and characters) you might not enjoy it as much. I heard others in the theater saying that they hadn’t been able to follow it very well. That’s because you have to know which are real people and which are merely characters in the story Dickens is trying to write. The appear and disappear without explanation. I really enjoyed that method of staging, but it could have drawbacks. After Jeff and I saw it, we took my Mom to see it. Mom and I watched the George C Scott version of A Christmas Carol at home first to freshen it up in Mom’s mind. She seemed to enjoy it too.

Next we saw The Greatest Showman. It was not only entertaining, but loosely based on real history. There never was romance between Jenny Lind and PT Barnum, nor did the circus develop the way it is shown in the movie. Both his young partner and the trapezist are fictional characters too, but since PT Barnum was indeed a great showman, I doubt he would have minded much about the embellishments. The added romantic tension is fun.  Here’s another fun fact, PT Barnum never was recorded as saying “There’s a sucker born each minute.” That was criticism lodged at him. He may have said some version as “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

I’ve heard that Coco is good and I want to see it this week.

We rented the most recent Spiderman movie and I enjoyed it too. I think I would have cast the kid who plays Spiderman as a little less of a weakling, but overall, it’s good comic book type fun.

I wasn’t all that interested in the New Star Wars movie since recent offerings have been lackluster in my estimation. I have not met a single person who said they loved it. Most have said “Meh, it’s okay.” Some have objected to the blatant feminist slant. I haven’t seen it and won’t until it’s on TV or in Redbox.

If anyone has other winners to recommend for a family audience, Please comment on this post!

Why Capitalism?

January 11, 2018
I recently had a conversation with my sister in law where she argued against capitalism. She said that she had given up on it as an economic system and cited cooperative business models as an alternative. I argued the merits of the capitalism and expressed doubt that any such society existed. She later sent me a list of links to testimonials and “Ted talks” about cooperatives. She included comments of dismay over the gigantic salaries given to CEO’s.  Since I spent much of my day researching the data and claims, Jeff suggested that I share my response to her on my blog. So here it is.
If you want to check my data claims, just google the questions and the data is readily available. But I caution you to read to the end of every post. Some have details about how the data used was collected or what incomes were counted only at the very end of the studies and in some cases it gives an entirely different picture if you consider that the methods were aimed to achieve a specific result.
Here is my response with some editing for clarity.
I watched several of the videos and did some research on the Italian system. I also did some fact checking for some of the claims.
Here is what I found.
The Ted talk with Jim Brown begins with him making a statement that the USA is a leader in world poverty. This is WILDLY untrue. The worldwide standard of poverty is earning less than $3.10 American-spending-power-adjusted dollars per day. There are dozens of countries around the world where their poverty numbers using the $3.10 number are over (some well over) 50%. That is the global standard for poverty.
In the USA, poverty levels are calculated on income reported to the Federal Govt. The figures do not include government funds such as food stamps or subsidized housing or medicare that poor people receive in addition to their wages.  Yet the “poverty level” in American-spending-power dollars is more than 10 times higher here than the 3.10 used worldwide. Any single person making less than $1000 a month is considered impoverished. We had 4 kids before we had an income high enough to disqualify us for free lunches for poor families. But we owned our own home, had two cars, and had all the food and clothes we needed.
So our standard of living is so high that we consider a person poor here, when they would be wealthy by the standards used in most countries around the world. Freedom and the companion capitalism has produced that standard unprecedented in world history. So it is completely disingenuous to make a statement like he makes. We define poverty completely differently than most of the world. Even those living exclusively on govt. welfare programs are wealthy by global poverty standards.
Co’ops can work well within a capitalist system in small niches. In all the reading and watching that I did, I saw evidence of NOT ONE coop business that was a social system in itself. The coops were each a hybrid form that needed capitalism as a foundation. It’s a business model that can be successful as long as there are outside customers to buy the product and a donor to start the business in the first place.
Jim Brown used the Freedom Quilt guild as an example of a successful coop but they best demonstrate why it doesn’t work long term. The market for quilts eventually diminished.  Also members retired or moved on. In a free system, that will eventually happen with every sort of non-food producing coop.   Coops are specialized. When the market changes, they can’t readily adjust. IF in the happy circumstance that they can’t meet demand, they hire people to work for them like any other corporation. There is not an unlimited supply of quilters and if prices are too high, it kills the market. The Freedom group moved to mass production model with hired wage earners.  The biggest downside to the coop business model is their inflexibility. Without a saavy president or CEO anticipating market changes and creating new avenues for marketing or products, recruiting new members etc,  the coop stagnates and then dies away. The Quilters Freedom coop went through all of these stages and eventually dwindled away. That county in Alabama is STILL one of the poorest in the nation. So the coop was a temporary fix for a larger problem.
 The laundries and solar companies  (she sent me links to testimonials about a laundry business and a solar panel company) are worker owned, but they are HIRED initially and then can spend part of their wages to invest in the company. And before any of that can operate, an investor must build the facility. There always has to be a donor. There have to be leaders also to organize and devise rules of operation. So though they are slated as “worker owned” without leaders or CEO’s, that’s not actually true. The philanthropist that starts the laundry or the solar business may not be making more than the average worker, but he works for his mansions on high. Of course this requires an entirely altruistic wealthy individual and so we’re back to the pure-hearted donor making his money from an outside source.
As I looked at all the models,  each coop has the same potentially limiting factors. The laundry provides a little more prosperity and opportunity to it’s worker/owners for a while, but the local hospital could close. The market demand is stable so there is no growth potential for the business or for the individuals.  The market for clean linens could be swept away in the grunge revolution. Or eventually (hopefully) the next generation will want to do something more fulfilling than laundry, get an education and find better employment. The market for laundry workers will age out, just as it did with the quilters. The market for solar will eventually be saturated or someone will invent a superior product that will make that business obsolete. (Do you know that solar generators have a life expectancy almost precisely equal to the time it takes for them to pay for themselves in costs saved?)
You may remember that I worked at a factory job. I silkscreened football jerseys in Licking MO. My factory coworkers were poorly educated, and told me they spent of lot of income on booze and smokes. Pay started at about 15% above minimum. The factory was their world and it was striking how little interest they had in leaving their sphere. I never perceived a feeling of resentment toward the college educated employees who started at triple their wage. They worked in an adjacent building but  it simply wasn’t in the silk screeners’ path. When I explained to some of my coworkers that I was getting married and going back to school and would probably not live in MO again after my marriage, they wondered at it and explained it to themselves that I wasn’t from there, so I had different ideas. They had no thought of doing anything different from what they were doing and were apparently content. It wasn’t that they could leave, it was that they had no interest in leaving.
The perception about how much CEO’s earn relative to employees is VASTLY exaggerated in most cases. Companies paying CEO’s huge incomes proportionately to business results are a tiny fraction of business that make up the American economy. There are over 7000 companies listed on the NASDAQ and NYSE. Only one third of American workers work for a business that is publicly traded, and the statistics used on the anti-CEO websites are a reflection of about 5% of publicly traded companies. (The largest 200) So those extreme examples used in the propaganda represent less than 2 percent of total  American businesses.  There is a strong relationship to the size of a company and the size of the executive’s paychecks. So the reporting is done on the exceptions to a great degree.  The idea that overpaying CEO’s is a systematic practice throughout AMerica is not supported by data. They use only the portion of companies most likely to have that condition and present it as the normal. They generalize  falsely just as they do with poverty numbers and give a grievously false impression of the true condition.  There again, of course CEO’s pay is also the result of supply and demand. If the cost of an effective leader starts at a dollar but there’s only one in 10,000 who can do the job properly, businesses would be dumb not to offer to hire a competent leader at a much higher cost rather than an incompetent just because he or she is cheaper.
Many many American companies have profit sharing programs. At Farmers Insurance, where Jeff worked his whole career, employees are given a percentage of their wage based on meeting company goals and performance. Everyone wins when the CEO leads well, the investors invest well, the claims workers do their jobs well, the salesmen do their job well, etc, etc. Every company has some elements of Coop theory if they want to thrive. Capitalism allows them to be rewarded for working together well.
There is a catch phrase that people often accept which is blatantly false. “In a free (capitalistic) economy, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” This is contradicted by the statistics. As the standards of living rise for the rich, they rise for the poor. When the rich are richer, the poor have more opportunity.When the rich are getting richer, unemployment is reduced. Our economy is thriving now and we have almost reached a statistical zero unemployment rate. (That disregards those who do not seek to be employed) When the economy is thriving, charitable contributions soar. But when the economy is downturning, charitable giving does not follow that same pattern and remains proportionately high.
I recently did a study on the relationship between charitable giving and political leanings. People may call themselves “Liberal” but they are anything but that when it comes to charitable giving. The more blue any given state is the lower the percentage of personal income donated to charitable organizations of any variety. Utah led the nation in charitable giving, not only to the church but also to other charitable organizations as percentage of income.
Note what has happened with this recent corporate tax cut. Companies all over the country are announcing employee bonuses, hiring new employees and raising wages. New businesses are starting. When businesses thrive, opportunity abounds. When a controlling entity of governance skims off the cream, the leftovers are weaker and watered down. If you examine national economies around the world, the median standard of living is directly proportionate to the level of freedom the people enjoy.
In China, we learned that the current chairman traveled around the world and recognized that capitalistic countries lived better. He decided to allow a higher level free enterprise in one section of China, (the area nearest Hong Kong). That region quickly blossomed into the most prosperous in the country. So they allowed more free enterprise elsewhere and got the same result. Our guide concluded that it was “a very good thing for China. People are happier and they can do things they never could do before.”
To my knowledge, the purest attempt to live by the principles of an economic coop system were with the Mormons in Kirtland around the 1840s.  They started with donors. In one instance that demonstrates the whole, a thriving farm was donated to the Church for the cooperative use and labor of the members. Within a few years, (I think it was only 4 years!) the farm was in serious disrepair. There were several families living there in squalor and nobody was doing the hard labor of farming. There was nothing wrong with the farm. There was nothing wrong with the principle. But the recipients were not ready to make the sacrifices necessary for the benefit of a community without gaining more than subsistence for their work. There was nobody with knowledge and experience of farming directing the operation either.  Human nature is self centered. Only a perfectly righteous and pride-free society will ever or has ever succeeded with a purely cooperative form of society.
Current coop systems are much more similar to conditions of slaves. They work for their subsistence but they are strictly limited to the sphere of the coop, where they can never penetrate the iron limits of the business model. Even skilled American slaves were generally allowed to keep half their earnings. In a true coop system without any free enterprise, a worker has no incentive to work an extra hour or do something extra well because he/she has to divide the benefit with 50 other people. Skilled slaves, on the other hand, worked twice as hard, but they got to keep at least part of the resulting prosperity.  A coop is far better than idleness. It’s main success is that it can provide a more stable home life for youth so that they can receive an education and partake in the vast opportunities this nation offers.
I have been interested in the Kiva micro loans which enable donors to give small loans, often to coops around the globe.  The coops generally work to provide subsistence. The nature of the coop prevents them from thriving much beyond that sphere because of the limiting factors mentioned above, limited market, limited flexibility and the diminishing work force. MOST of those applying for KIVA loans write that they want to earn more so that they can send their children to school. They demonstrate the power of free enterprise allowing upward rising. Those who don’t belong to coops apparently rise much faster, even if they have a similar starting point regardless of the industry.
One last point. You cited the flat wage growth over time for lower income earners. I looked carefully through the most current charts and noticed a huge flaw in that interpretation of the data. Mean income is measured for certain ranges. Data shows that the income for the poorest segment of society has risen somewhat over the last 60 years. Each level measured, (poor, lower middle, middle, upper middle, wealthy and top 5% has seen a steady increase, but with the wealthiest much wealthier than 60 years ago. So it might suggest that the poor are downtrodden and the wealthy are hogging prosperity. But what those charts don’t show is the fact that each of those segments of the population is fluid. During that 60 year period, I have moved in and out of the very lowest almost to the highest. So it utterly fails to depict the truth that I used to be poor and now I’m rich and that is true of my generation.   What I wonder is, why is the poorest class better off at all? Probably because their now-wealthy parents are sharing with their adult children. Our children don’t have to eat beans and rice for very long. Doesn’t the upward trend on each level of income prove that capitalism raises the entire society, even those who contribute the least? Today’s poor are not as poor as we were and the entire nation trends upward in economic security. This is not true in any other model other than when saints live collectively in righteousness.
Off topic, sorta. California is raising their minimum wage. The budget office estimates that this will cause the net loss of 450,000 jobs over five years as they phase it in. Who will be most injured by this effect? The lowest income earners. This is reverse capitalism and its effects are devastating to prosperity. The upper earners will move to a more business friendly state, (as they are already doing.)
Capitalism isn’t perfect. There are predators and there is corruption in the human race and capitalism has no protection inherent in it. Yet for raising the standard of living for an entire society, no other system can touch it statistically. No other system can even come close.  In my observation, this prosperity also reaches the poorest peoples in the world. Poverty, world wide is getting better by inflation adjusted numbers and much of that is because wealthy people share. Our nation shares it’s prosperity both directly and by buying the products made around the world.
Pew research indicates that Americans’ wealth increases with age and genuine progress has been made against poverty. Here’s a link to some interesting data
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/13/whos-poor-in-america-50-years-into-the-war-on-poverty-a-data-portrait/

A New Year and a New Outlook, Learning to Forgive

January 4, 2018

The new year seems like a great time to consider the last year and plan how to do better. I ask myself what I want to change about myself and what I need to do to draw closer to my Heavenly Father.

My daughter-in-law, Kelsi Stephenson is a high adventurer and a gifted editor. She chose video editing for her recap medium.  Here’s the link.https://vimeo.com/249472064?ref=fb-share&

For some reason the link keeps getting removed so I took off the number 1 off the end. So cut and paste the link and then add a 1 at the end. Let’s see if this works!

The most important change that I see for my life is to forgive those who have offended me.  By not forgiving, I only make myself unhappy.

But it isn’t easy. I need to pray each day to control my thoughts and not to ruminate on things that make me unhappy and drive away the Holy Spirit.

But the Lord promises that if we we turn to Him, he will make weak things become strong. I know He can and will help me overcome the temptation to resent and review my justification for disliking others.

I know that in the eternal scope, the offenses are not significant. If I can only draw back and see the broader view, it’s easier to feel charity toward others and shrug off their petty issues.

All my best to all of you! Happy, healthy, productive and peaceful New Year.

Link to my most recent travel article (Dec 3 2017)

December 3, 2017

http://newsok.com/breathtaking-views-tasty-sweets-found-on-ecuadorean-trip/article/5574045

This trip was styled a little differently than other trips we’ve done. We saved a ton of money by scheduling the trip according to the Kayak explore site’s lowest airfares. We flew to LA on a separate itinerary first because most international flights are much cheaper out of LA.

Hubby Jeff also opened an Air BnB account earlier this year, so we can find very inexpensive lodging all over the world.

We saved over a hundred dollars between us by using only carry-on backpacks and not checking any luggage. I really like the backpacks, too because as we are boarding buses and travelling in the country, they’re easy to carry and maneuver.

We ate simply. Another advantage of the Air BnB’s is that most allow kitchen privileges. Our regular diet is less disrupted that way too.

In country travel by bus was very inexpensive. They’re easy to navigate and I loved the sense of cultural immersion.

The Tripadvisor site helped us find the best tour companies. We were delighted with the suggestions on rafting, jungle hike, and Mitad de Mundo. (equator site).

When we go to Europe next, we’ll use these same concepts but ride Ryan Air between countries. It’s prices are amazing, but on that airline, you even have a fee for carryon luggage. (I guess you could wear all your clothes and take them off when you got to the country!)

I’d love to see some travel on the cheap suggestions in the comments!

Rerun on money saving tips.

December 2, 2017

My friend Suzanne asked me for the food list I made a few years back.I didn’t find the exact list but a general sketch toward the bottom of  “How does a Pauper live like a prince? Budgeting can be fun.” (search for it on the homepage) There’s another one on the same theme titled “Saving money in the OKC area.” That one is somewhat outdated because food is actually less expensive now than it was.

My goal was to live for a month on $70 (for four people) and I managed it.

I can give a quick overview from memory. We ate beans, rice, potatoes, corn tortillas and pasta. I made everything from scratch. I kept fresh bananas,  onions, carrots, potatoes, cabbage and frozen broccoli, and peas  on hand.

All meat was served in a sauce or soup and always prepared it with chopped onions.

I made cookies or brownies from scratch and sent some in packed lunches each day.

I made homemade bread.

We had a box of powdered milk on hand and always had a loaf of bread in the freezer. This helps prevent an emergency run to the store

I bought 4 dozen eggs at the beginning of the month and sometimes served omelets for dinner.

For breakfasts, we ate oatmeal, other hot cereals, toasted homemade-bread and sometimes made-from-scratch cocoa. Every breakfast contained a starch and milk.

Meat was used only for dinners. Lunches were generally peanut butter sandwiches or tomato soup with chili added, or leftovers.

Dinners were spaghetti, chili with corn bread, gravy over mashed potatoes, tacos (sometimes stretched with taco flavored TVP) Pulled Barbeque pork over rice.

If I find the exact list with numbers of each item, I’ll repost.

 

 

 

 

Heavenly Caramels are Not Difficult to Make

December 1, 2017

Regardless of the name of this blog implying candy making or kitchen fare, I named it Chocolate Cream Centers because I know of nobody who bites into a chocolate and finding a chocolate creme center is disappointed. But this website is not generally geared to food but to subjects that tantalize the mind and imagination.

But today I want to share a CANDY recipe. Every year at Thanksgiving, I like to try a new recipe. This year, I wanted to make caramel. I had never attempted it, mainly because I never have much heavy cream on hand.

But this recipe uses just a few simple ingredients and is some of the very best I’ve ever had. I pulled the recipe off Pintrest and tweaked it.

Start by greasing either a 9×13 pan or a bigger one for thinner caramels. I use an 11×16 pan.

Optional:

I toast about 2 cups of almonds and about a cup of shredded coconut. I sprinkle the almonds on one end of the pan (touching each other) and hold the toasted coconut until after the candy is done because the liquid caramel pushes the coconut around. The almonds stay put. I leave the middle of pan plain.

Now you’re ready for a heavy, 4 quart pot.  Cast iron is fantastic but if not, my Club brand pot, (cast aluminum) (thank you thrift store) is also ideal.

Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot, NOT  touching the bottom of the pan.

Open 2 cans ((14 oz) of evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)  and keep handy, but don’t add.

Into the pot goes:

2 sticks (1 cup) of salted butter

4 cups of white granulated sugar

2 cups of light corn syrup.

Bring the mixture to a bubbly boil over medium high heat, STIRRING CONSTANTLY. (I use a metal spatula to scrape the bottom better)

Start adding:

the 2 cans evaporated milk, you opened earlier, about 1 tablespoon at a time. The trick is to make sure that the candy doesn’t stop bubbling because the milk is added too fast. So it takes about 12 minutes to add all the milk from both cans.

Don’t stop stirring!

At this stage, I usually turn down the heat to medium on my turbo burner.

Once all the milk has been added, it usually takes about 10 more minutes for the caramel to reach 238 degrees. (firm ball if you’re testing by dropping a little into cold water) Once it reaches 238 degrees, turn off the heat and stir for another minute.

Stir in:

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla 

Pour the hot caramel into the pan, (cover the nuts first if you’re using them). On the other end of the pan, press the toasted coconut into the top of the caramel until it’s all stuck down.

For salted caramels, sprinkle lightly with sea salt at this stage. (Sea salt is less salty tasting than table salt. You get the salty accent without it overpowering the other flavors.)

Let cool. (Fridge is fine)

If you got it exactly to 238 degrees, the candy will be firm enough to cut with kitchen shears and still chewy/soft enough to stretch of you pull it. I cut it into about 150 pieces.

If you want to coat some of them in chocolate, I use about 1 cup chocolate dipping wafers (or candy coat) and 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips,(You can use all chocolate chips, but they won’t look as pretty once they’re set. They tend to get a gray bloom that doesn’t affect the taste) melted in the microwave for  a minute, stirred, melted another minute and stirred again until smooth. It’s warm but not hot. I drop the caramel piece in, roll it around a  little and fish them out with clean fingers. Sorry about the out of focus picture. Jeff was getting a little too excited about the mass of heavenly treats and didn’t pay attention to his cameraman duties.

I let them set up on parchment paper/wax paper or a greased cookie sheet if you don’t have the wax/parchment. They freeze well, and I think it’s a good idea. They’re too tempting otherwise. 

These are gift-quality wonderful with or without the chocolate coating and with or without the add ins.

Ecuador on the comfy cheap

November 5, 2017

My son Thomas wanted a a Spanish immersion experience. He chose Ecuador because of its variety of attractions, climates sites and the fact that it was cheap.

All of that has turned out to be true.  Earlier this week we hiked into the volcano Quilatoa, high in the Andes. We rode mules back up because the elevation was too high to be certain we could make it out. I think the rim is at about 12500 feet where you begin the 280 meter decent over one mile.  The lake is about 800 feet deep and emerald green due to dissolved minerals.  It’s too cloudy in the picture for the green to show. 

We had hot chocolate in a cafe owned by indigenous people afterward. The 2 hour ( $2.75 apiece ) bus ride back to Latacunga was a mountain version of the Harry Potter Night express.That thing careened around curves, passed other busses, trucks and cars 4 at a time.  It was pouring rain and there were few guard rails.

The cool thing is that it is cheap! Our 5 hour bus ride another day cost a whopping $3.50 a piece. It carried us from the mountains to the southern Amazon region.  The bus is modern and comfortable and even has movies.  (In Spanish of course.) The bus system is extremely easy to navigate.  There are competing companies at the station whose workers guide you onto their bus.  In Quito, the city buses looked extremely crowded and taxis were too cheap to make us want to bother with buses. But for overland routes, buses are great.

A 10-15 minute taxi ride costs about $2 anywhere in Ecudaor.

The food is simple, and tasty. Rather than tortillas, they eat bread.  But an average lunch has rice, vegetables or salad, a piece of seasoned but otherwise unadorned meat (typically roasted pork) fried potatoes, a glass of fruit juice,  and some stewed lentils.  In Quito and in the mountainous areas it will cost $2.50-$3.00 Here in the more touristy area of Tena, the cost is about double.

I already ate half the vegetables

Yesterday I ordered the talapia and got….Talapia.  It was steamed in a banana leaf with Yucca root. Yucca root is smooth and starchy like a dense potato. It’s almost flavorless. The mayo-mustard sauce they served it with was thinned and added a needed dimension.  But the fish was FRESH and mild. I scraped the skin onto the head so he’d stop looking at me. The meal with juice and a nice salad was $5.

Today Jeff, Thomas and I went to Church at the local LDS branch.  It was testimony meeting and so we could understand more than if it had been assigned speakers.  Even here, we know what to expect people to say. As usual, the members welcomed us as old friends. They translated enough of the lessons to accommodate Jeff’s and my fumbling Spanish.

I love to go to Church when we travel. It gives a fun dose of unfiltered culture. The Relief society lesson was on budgeting, the same as last week in Quito. But I learned that an average Ecuador worker makes about $375 per month IF they have a high school diploma. If not, it’s less. Very few have more education than that.

A few years back the Ecuador economy collapsed and they changed to American currency.  That makes the money issue easy. Today’s R S  lesson made me double glad for the tips we have been surprising those who have served us with. An extra few bucks means ALOT more to them than us.

After Church and lunch of avacado, cheese, ham and tomato sandwiches on bakery rolls and fruit,  we went for a walk in the jungle surrounding the hostel where we are staying. We found bananas and cocoa growing wild.  I would bring home some chocolate seeds to plant, but they would grow too big to be a houseplant.  It takes such a huge quantity of pods to make a candy bar, I decided to leave it to Hershey after all. This is a cocoa pod with the gooey raw seeds.

But for the shared bathroom this hostel  more like a posh hotel.  We have kitchen access and a sheltered outdoor eating/sitting/hammock area. The beds are comfy and everything is sparkling clean. It costs us the average price here of $26 per night. Most nights we’ve had a private bathroom.     

 

weve mostly been eating bakery purchases for breakfast with queso fresa. Bananas are about a$.05 apiece. I’m including the inside of a passion fruit photo. You eat the seeds and the flesh has the consistency of snot, but the flavor is divine.  They were named passion fruit by the Spanish because the flower reminded them of Christ’s crown of thorns.

We splurged on hot chocolate often in the mountains, but now here in the hot jungle, we had small banana splits yesterday for $2.  Ecuadorians  love their helado and do it very well, similar to Italian gelato. The flavors are all tropical, however. They were amazing with scoops of berry, maracuya (passion fruit) and coconut ice cream.  I had chocolate instead of the berry but the berry was amazing. ( we shared) We have a white water rafting trip tomorrow and a jungle tour/hikes including an indigenous village where we will make chocolate (or help in the 6 stage process).  More later.

 

 

I could hardly hold my tongue.

October 22, 2017

I was pleased that Jeff and I were invited to go camping with our son, Rob, his wife, Marseille and their 6 children. As the previous post indicates we have some nice new equipment that makes camping so much easier and more comfortable, I want to do more of it.

But when after driving a little less than 3 hours we pulled into a dusty, rather desolate wash, I could hardly believe my eyes. No water, hardly any flora but for some scrubby cedars and not enough fauna to tempt a buzzard.  I kept a cheerful face, hoping that I simply hadn’t seen enough to appreciate why we had driven past lovely autumn canyons with laughing brooks and peeping deer and squirrels to this desolation. The girls bathrooms looked suspiciously like large rocks or for the boys, scrubby little bushes. (There is an outhouse about 1/4 mile from where we camped.) But the only water is the water you bring yourself.

Rob pointed out the old Uranium mines up on the mountain. Hmmmm. I’da brought my Geiger Counter to check out the campsite, if only I’d known.

We roasted hotdogs and made smores. Things were looking up. The sun went down and the kids went to bed. The night was utterly still and the dark, moonless sky revealed a heaven carpeted with stars. It seemed late in the season for shooting stars, but I saw four, two of which had orange tails as they burned out in the atmosphere.

The magic of the place began to work on me. . . or maybe it was just the radioactive dirt under my feet.

In the morning, we enjoyed instant oatmeal and hot chocolate with some of the gourmet syrups and melting marshmallows. The kids rode their bikes all around the camp and we hiked to the top of the mountain whose shoulder we had camped on.

Ancient Pictographs Near Goblin Valley

A cozy ledge for Christopher to meditate upon

Jeff has had a lot of adventures in his Indiana Jones hat.

(I have no idea why the server rotates some of my photos 90 degrees. I tried rotating them in the edit, but they come out in the same position, no matter how I insert them. I’m too tired to keep messing with it.  I hope you’re using a laptop and can rotate it. But the last one of Michael looks pretty awesome with him standing on his hands!)

But the fun really started when we drove a few miles to Goblin Valley. We stopped on the way to oogle the ancient pictographs. We could see a cow something with an un-cowlike tail and head wearing a saddle of sorts, a man with a dead deer and another man with a spiral shield. There were buildings, I guess, too.   

Meditating Shaaman? He watches over Goblin Valley

But Goblin Valley itself is a geological wonderland with nooks and caves and hoodoos and strange fantistical formations. If Dr. Seuss ever designed a playground, this would be it.  This fellow meditated so long he turned to stone!

This fellow looked pretty cheerful about being turned to stone

Beth Stephenson climbing the walls at Little Wild Horse Canyon. Even Grandma can’t resist!

This fellow had to take a break from meditating.

Joseph and Matthew on a natural windowsill.

But it’s not just a kid place. In fact, some of the formations are not kid friendly. But young and old alike scampered all over the place, challenging our bodies and courage. 17 month old Zachary grinned from Marseille’s backpack most of the time, but yearned to be set free to clamber up some wild stone serpent or exotic seeming Mars-scape.

In fact, NASA has tested Mars related gear there. Movies have been filmed there too, (I think Rob said it was Galaxy Quest)

Cute Marseille with her oversized Goblin, (Zach)

It’s true that there is no more flora or fauna there than near our campsite. The stone has been shaped by wind and water but the water now visits only in the form of flash floods. The ever-present wind whips dust and grit into the eyes until you get back into the higher more intricate natural mazes.

It was a ton of fun to explore and had the kids not been so little, a perfect place for the best EVER game of Hide and Seek or Sardines. The place is huge extending miles until a cliff drops off into flat, nearly featureless plain.  Rob was the host of a fantastic adventure!

That night back at camp, the wind was up and we had to improvise with our dinner. Instead of the planned foil dinners, we cooked the whole mixture in a dutch oven on the fire. It turned out wonderful with just chicken, potatoes, carrots and onions cut in small pieces and a bottle of barbecue sauce poured over the top.  Hunger works wonders with camp food.

Someone had  “mistakenly” drunk up the Sprite intended for the cobbler. (They had poured it into a water bottle for protection.) But the “cobbler” (a cake mix stirred with a cup of water and a can of cherry pie filling) was tasty, too.

I had brought a different sleeping bag than the one I’d used in Washington. This one seemed warmer and more suited for cold weather. I knew it had belonged to one of my sons, but for some reason, had been rejected by him.

I soon found out what the unnamed son objected too. It LOOKED warm, but with the temps dropping into the 30’s, I was cold even with a hood and several layers. At least my feet were warm in their wool socks.

I still love our Marmot Limelight tent. It stood up to strong winds and the ventilation is great. The shape is so convenient, too, we have room in the 3 man for Jeff and  me and our stuff.

Big to little bridges in Little Wild Horse Canyon, UT

This is a tame pose for little mountain goat Makayla

Michael posed for me, but he was fearless climbing the walls!

 

The next morning after fire roasted bagles and more hot cocoa we drove back near Goblin Valley to Little Wild Horse Canyon for a hike. It’s a narrow slot canyon, but is easily passable, even for the small fry. There are many places where we could climb the walls and our tennis shoes stuck to the bare sandstone so well that we could ascend the steep walls with ease. Even the little guys loved climbing  the stone walls, hiding in nooks and crevices and trying to outdo each other in daring.

As we tore down the campsite to come home, I found myself thinking of how much my other kids and grandkids will love Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon. I just HOPE we can get our great campsite back again. . .