The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Feeding the Active Writer

I use a lot of spices and seasonings in my cooking.  I find that as I get older stronger flavors appeal to me more.  Still, sometimes I like a fairly basic dish where the flavors of the base ingredients stand on their own.  So here's a dish for that:

Creamy Chicken and Mushrooms.

4-5 lb boneless skinless chicken.
1 Tbsp xanthum gum
1 cup chopped onion
2 cup heavy cream
16 oz chopped mushrooms (I use "mini-bellas")

Place the chicken in a 4-5 quart slow cooker.  As you're adding it, sprinkle the xanthum gum over it.
Add the chopped onion on top of the chicken.
Cook about 8 hours on low.
Turn off the slow cooker.
While the contents are still hot, stir in the heavy cream and mushrooms.  The chicken should break up while stirring.
The residual heat will cook the mushrooms.
Serve warm or portion and freeze for later use.

Note that this makes a pretty big batch as I generally make a week or more's worth of these things.  You can probably cut the recipe in half without problems, just cut the cooking time by an hour or two.

While enjoying the above recipe, you may also enjoy my story "The Spaewife":

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Profit motive vs. Socialized Medicine

People like to talk about the problems with private medicine in the US but don't recognize the problems that can come with it or even because of socialized medicine.

Well, I've had some experiences of my own with "socialized medicine" over the years.  Let's start with the UK.

UK1: When I was in the Air Force, I lived in the UK for two years. One of my co-workers was married. The small base we were assigned to did not have its own hospital. Any medical care beyond cold and flu bugs that wasn't severe enough to be evacuated was handled by local UK hospitals. This included my co-worker's wife's pregnancy.

It was a second child so the pregnancy was "routine" (It Says Here). She had a problem with hemorrhaging with the first child but a second was "routine", by policy. The doctors were warned of the problem but a second pregnancy was routine. After the child was born, she started bleeding. She bled to death in the hospital. A "routine" childbirth (even though the first had had the exact same problem and the doctors had been told that) and she bled to death in the f*king hospital.

Oh, your wife died? Too bad, so sad. But how could we know something like this could happen since it was a routine pregnancy? You told us? But it was a routine pregnancy.

***

UK2: At the same time there was a great debate going on among doctors regarding the subject of "crib death" (was still being called "SIDS"--Sudden Infant Death Syndrome--back then I believe). A very popular theory was that it was a result of maternal neglect/negligence if not outright what would now be called Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. That "theory" had been thoroughly debunked in the US for literally decades. But in the UK a mother who just lost her baby was as likely as not to have the added burden of having her doctor blame her for the loss.

***

Another "poster child" for socialized medicine is Japan.

Japan1: My wife's uncle had cancer. I visited him in the hospital once. Filthy place. Seriously. If I ever get seriously ill or injured in Japan, stabilize me and get me out of there if you have to send me on deck space on a freighter. That's only moderate hyperbole.

Eventually he was deemed an "unlikely prospect" for a cure. Treatment was cut off including pain medication. In the end he ended up dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire. I am dead serious. No hyperbole. He literally burned himself to death rather than face the untreated pain of his progressing cancer.

***

Japan2: While visiting Japan on business I attended a Judo club as a guest (Judo was my sport of choice at that time). In the course of randori I managed to sprain my shoulder. Not "serious" in any major way but lordy did it hurt. I could not buy over the counter pain medication anywhere. Not aspirin, not acetaminophen, not ibuprofin, not naproxen sodium, nothing. They have some topical "pain patches" (and predated their availability in the US) but those were worthless for anything like this). The only "pain killer" available was ethanol but . . . I don't drink. Short of going to the hospital (and my guide at the company I was visiting did suggest that but see above) there was nothing I could do except apply ice and tough it out.

***

Japan3: While returning from another business trip I tripped on an escalator in Tokyo station and sprained my ankle. It didn't seem to bad at first but by the time I got to Narita it was quite painful. Fortunately (yeah, right) there was an actual medical clinic in Narita right off the walkway from the train station. I stopped in there (Yeah, I'm not covered by their "national health care" but I could pay for it so I figured....)

When I got in, I was told simply that the orthopedist was not in and so nobody could look at my ankle. Excuse me? A sprain, something anybody in the US with MD, or even PA, after their name could handle and they couldn't even look at it and splint it/tape it up/ or something? They had to have a specialist come in for even a sprained ankle?

So the question there becomes, are doctors who aren't specialists in orthopedics not trained in diagnosis and treatments of things like sprains or are they simply forbidden based on the government control that always comes with government payment?

***

And those are just the experiences I was personally involved with.  I also know some ex-pats from various countries with “socialized medicine”.

This is, of course, the point where someone will say "but I've experienced socialized medicine and had good experiences."  Well, does your good experiences make my bad experiences go away any more than my good experiences with American health care make the bad experiences that are sited as reasons for going to "socialized medicine" go away?  If those bad experiences count on the one side then mine count on the other.  And once you recognize that "socialized medicine" has its own problems the choice of which is "better" is no longer so "obvious" as proponents would like to claim.

You can keep your socialized medicine.  Just keep it far away from me.

On the flip side, the castigating of medicine, insurance, and medical support (equipment, pharmaceuticals, and what not) being "profit motivated" has come up in another forum.  Part of this is recap from an earlier, shorter posting on the same subject but here's my response:

"There are certain necessities in life, and medication is one." So how did we get along before these medicines were invented/discovered? And even if so, you might want to consider how many new, effective, treatments and medications have come out of the West where people have, to some extent at least, been allowed to profit from their work than have come out of, say, the old Soviet Union over the same time frame.

You (that's you personally, whoever you might be) have access to far more in the way of medical treatment and medications because companies like Dow and Lilly were allowed to make money than if we had followed some ivory tower "good of society" model.

At my age, I take quite a few medications. More than half of them are "$4 generics" at my local Kroger, that's $4 flat without insurance, and that's medicines that didn't even exist when I was a boy, medicines that only exist because companies like Lilly and Dow have been profitable places for people to invest money, have paid high salaries to attract some scary smart researchers and technicians to develop these new medicines and treatments.

Without these newer medicines I would be limited to the medicines my parents and grandparents had, medicines that were less effective, or with more and more severe side effects.  Thanks, but no.

Companies, with a profit motive developed smaller and less expensive X-Ray units.  Because of this my doctor has one in his office.  When I have an impact or joint injury I can get an X-Ray right there--immediately--without needing to go to the ER or scheduling an appointment with a hospital radiology department.  Less expensive and quicker diagnosis.

The same profit motive led to the development of portable EKG machines which my doctor also keeps in his office.  My annual exam includes an EKG every time.  Should I start to develop heart problems early diagnosis means early treatment with much better chances for my continued breathing. (I'm in favor of breathing and would like to continue doing it.)

The same profit motive led to the CAT scan unit being right there in my local hospital after my last auto accident. (Rear ended by a Tahoe while I was leaning forward to change stations on the radio putting me at about the worst possible posture for a whiplash injury.)  They're everywhere.  They're everywhere because people with profit motive made them available.

The same profit motive led to improvements in glucometers so I can quickly and reliably check my blood sugar with less pain and fuss than my mother did a scant two decades ago.

I could go on and on.

And if I can't afford the latest and greatest? Well, I didn't have it before either so I can't really complain that much. And if only the latest and greatest can save my life and I don't have it? Well, sucks to be me in that case, I guess. But although I may not have it, my daughter will. After all, yesterday's "latest and greatest" is today's "cheap and ubiquitous".  But hamstring the Lillys and Dows of the world by undercutting profit and going to some Marxist "according to his need" (which is what that "they are necessities" amounts to) and she won't.

And that, I can never forgive.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Rainbow Bridge

In another forum someone mentioned the loss of a beloved dog.  I've certainly lost my own over the years. (Dogs lives are too short--their only fault, really.)

And, so, to that end, there is this:


The Rainbow Bridge

inspired by a Norse legend

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.
For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.
No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.
They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.
For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.
The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.
© 1998 Steve and Diane Bodofsky. All Rights Reserved.
In the same vein, there is the following:

Unlike most days at Rainbow Bridge, this day dawned cold and gray, damp as a swamp and as dismal as could be imagined. All the recent arrivals were confused and concerned. They had no idea what to think for they had never experienced a day like this before. But the animals who had spent some time waiting for their beloved people knew exactly what was happening and began to gather at the pathway leading to the Bridge to watch. They knew this was something special.

It wasn't too long before an elderly animal came into view, head hung heavy and low with tail dragging along the ground. The other animals on the pathway...the ones who had been at RainBow Bridge for a while...knew the story of this sad creature immediately. They had seen it happen far too many times.

Although it was obvious the animal's heart was leaden and he was totally overcome with emotional pain and hurt, there was no sign of injury or any illness. Unlike the pets waiting at the Bridge, this dog had not been restored to his prime. He was full of neither health nor vigor. He approached slowly and painfully, watching all the pets who were by now watching him. He knew he was out of place here. This was no resting place for him. He felt instinctively that the sooner he could cross over, the happier he would be. But alas, as he came closer to the Bridge, his way was barred by the appearance of an Angel who spoke softly to the old dog and apologized sorrowfully, telling him that he would not be able to pass. Only those animals who were with their special people could pass over the RainBow Bridge. And he had no special beloved people...not here at the Bridge nor on Earth below.

With no place else to turn, the poor elderly dog looked toward the fields before the Bridge. There, in a separate area nearby, he spotted a group of other sad-eyed animals like himself...elderly and infirm. Unlike the pets waiting for their special people, these animals weren't playing, but simply lying on the green grass, forlornly and miserably staring out at the pathway leading to the Bridge. The recent arrival knew he had no choice but to join them. And so, he took his place among them, just watching the pathway and waiting.

One of the newest arrivals at the Bridge, who was waiting for his special people, could not understand what he had just witnessed and asked one of the pets who had been there for some time to explain it to him.

"That poor dog was a rescue, sent to the pound when his owner grew tired of him. The way you see him now, with graying fur and sad, cloudy eyes, was exactly the way he was when he was put into the kennels. He never, ever made it out and passed on only with the love and comfort that the kennel workers could give him as he left his miserable and unloved existence on Earth for good. Because he had no family or special person to give his love, he has nobody to escort him across the Bridge."

The first animal thought about this for a minute and then asked, "So what will happen now?"

As he was about to receive his answer, the clouds suddenly parted and the all-invasive gloom lifted. Coming toward the Bridge could be seen a single figure...a person who, on Earth, had seemed quite ordinary...a person who, just like the elderly dog, had just left Earth forever. This figure turned toward a group of the sad animals and extended outstretched palms. The sweetest sounds they had ever heard echoed gently above them and all were bathed in a pure and golden light. Instantly, each was young and healthy again, just as they had been in the prime of life.

From within the gathering of pets waiting for their special people, a group of animals emerged and moved toward the pathway. As they came close to the passing figure, each bowed low and each received a tender pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears. Their eyes grew even brighter as the figure softly murmured each name. Then, the newly-restored pets fell into line behind the figure and quietly followed this person to the Bridge, where they all crossed together.

The recent arrival who had been watching, was amazed. "What happened?"

"That was a rescuer," came the answer.

"That person spent a lifetime trying to help pets of all kinds. The ones you saw bowing in respect were those who found new homes because of such unselfish work. They will cross when their families arrive. Those you saw restored were ones who never found homes. When a rescuer arrives, they are permitted to perform one, final act of rescue. They are allowed to escort those poor pets that couldn't place on Earth across the Rainbow Bridge. You see, all animals are special to them...just as they are special to all animals."

"I think I like rescuers," said the recent arrival.

"So do the gods," was the reply.

--Author Unknown.


And, yes, these two just about always make me cry.
 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Treva's Children

New story up at Amazon. Treva's Children

Baroness Talisa leads the last few surviving members of her household through the mountains in the dead of winter, fleeing the changeling hordes that have destroyed the kingdom. In that world of white and gray she stumbles on an oasis of green, a garden, sacred to Treva, goddess of the wild things of the world. There, Talisa encounters the mysterious guardian of the place who possesses great and mysterious magical power and who claims Talisa's life as forfeit for trespassing in Treva's Garden.

A snippet:



The wind howled down off the mountain, blowing snow into Talisa’s eyes.  She pulled her ice-encrusted scarf higher over her face and held up a hand to block the tiny frozen daggers. On the slope below the few remaining people of her household struggled single file through the knee deep snow.

“Milady!” Embron, her huntsman, shouted over the roaring wind. “We need to find shelter and build a fire.”

“Fire will draw the Schahi,” Talisa said. “They will...”

“This storm will kill us all,” Embron said.

Talisa found herself smiling despite their plight. Embron had grown bold in the last few days. “There are many ways to die, Huntsman.  Some better than others.”

Embron shielded his eyes and stared through the snow back the way they had come, as if to conjure an image of their pursuers. “The storm will have covered our trail.  Perhaps...”

“We must be sure.”

“Let me go back and check, milady.  I will be sure.”

Talisa considered. “And if you are seen?”

Embron bowed. “Then I will lead them away.  But I will not be seen.”

Talisa smiled again. “No, I suppose you will not.  Very well.  We will take shelter in the next copse...and build a fire.  I rely upon you.”

Embron bowed again and then hastened down their back trail.  The pine boughs tied to his feet allowed him to walk over the snow.  She turned and trudged down the hill, wishing she could use Embron’s trick.  Every time she tried, she tripped over the branches and fell.

“Kailin!” she called when she neared the first of the group.

“Milady?”

“Next stand of woods, Kailin,” Talisa extended her arm in the direction of their march. “We’ll take shelter there.  Hang on that far.”

“Yes, Milady.”

Talisa stood by and waited as each of her remaining people passed.  To each one she offered a few words of encouragement, telling them that soon they could rest.  When the last had passed, she turned and followed in their wake.

...



Blinking frost away from her eyelashes, Talisa dredged up the energy to break into a trot.  She caught up to Embron, her chest heaving with her labored breathing.

Embron pointed down the slope before them.  Talisa looked.  Her jaw dropped open.  She wiped her eyes and stared again.

White.  White, broken by an occasional bit of gray was the only color she had seen for days.  The greens and browns below her almost seemed to burn her eyes in their brilliance.  Trees in full leaf.  Grass, just coming into seed.  A brook that ran clear, not frozen.  A vision of spring, of summer.

“Sorcery, Milady.  It must be.”

“Sorcery,” Talisa agreed. “Or the Gods.  But to our salvation or our doom?” She looked back.  Even her eyes could now see the cluster of dots moving in the distance, the Schahi on their trail. “We have no choice.  Onward.”

Embron cast a fearful glance into the valley below.  He wiped his hand across his mouth, then looked back.  He picked up his pack and looked back again.

Talisa placed a hand on Embron’s shoulder. “If it scares you, if it scares me, how much more will it scare the Schahi?  Perhaps they won’t dare it.”

Embron just looked at her.

“No, I don’t believe it either.” Talisa shrugged. “But what choice have we?”




Monday, May 4, 2015

Feeding the Active Writer

Creamy Garlic Chicken

This is a simple little recipe that I've developed.  Easy and tasty.

Ingredients:
6 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
optional 2 Tbsp olive oil.
2 Tbsp xanthum gum.
2 Tbsp finely minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup heavy cream

If desired, start by browning the chicken breasts in the olive oil.  If you do that, you may want to cut them into large chunks.

Place the chicken breasts in the slow cooker.  As you're putting them in, dust them thoroughly with the xanthum gum.  Scatter the garlic overtop the chicken, then top with the onion.

Cook on low 6-8 hours.

Turn off the heat, and stir in the heavy cream.  The chicken will break apart from the stirring.  Depending on the effect you want, you can stir just enough to mix the cream leaving the chicken in larger chunks or stir thoroughly to make a more shredded chicken.

The only problem I find with this recipe is the tendency to eat too much at sitting because it's so good.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Chains, a poem

I wrote this back in 2010, partly in response to the so-called "Affordable Care Act".

Chains
By
David L. Burkhead

©2010 David L. Burkhead, all rights reserved.

 Wear your chains lightly, about neck and legs and wrists.
They are not so heavy these chains, not now anyway.
But chains they remain.

Dress up your chains in fine designs and smith-wrought filigree
Paint them gold and call them gorgeous jewelry.
But chains they remain.

Exhort others to share your chains, every man and woman and child.
For how could they be chains, if shared all equally?
But chains they remain.

Raise your voice in anger, at those who deplore your chains.
Say they are not chains you’ve taken on willingly.
But chains they remain.

Take pride in your chains.  Stud them with rhinestones.  Polish them with care.
Rejoice in your chains, in raucous revelry.
But chains are not for me.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Feeding the Active Writer

I do a lot of different variations on meatloaf.  Previously, I did an "italian meatloaf" that was pretty good.  I've just developed a new recipe that falls under the "ridiculously easy" category.

My wife likes to have spaghetti and meat sauce from time to time.  I can't eat the spaghetti, of course, but she suggested I could have the sauce with something else.  So, reading labels in the Italian foods aisle I discovered a brand (local or national, I don't know) "Rao's" that was quite low in sugars and net carbs.

I was planning a meat loaf to portion out and take as my lunches to work the last time my wife asked me to do the spaghetti thing and I had a thought.  I bought a second jar of the spaghetti sauce to use in place of the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc., I previously used in my "Italian meatloaf."

So, Italian Meatloaf II (or, as I like to call it, "Spaghetti and Meat Loaf").

Ingredients:

3 lb lean ground beef.
4 eggs
1 28 oz jar Rao's (or other low sugar/carb) pasta sauce
2 cups flax meal (optional, use whole flax seed for a somewhat different texture).
Optional, 1 cup shredded mozzarella and Romano cheeses.

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  It really is easiest to just get in with your hands (gloves save a mess of washing up here).
Put the mixed ingredients into a 4-5 quart slow cooker.  Cook on low 8-10 hours.
If using the cheeses, spread them over the top while the meatloaf is still hot and let them melt.

Since I do this for lunches, I let it cool thoroughly before removing from the slow cooker.  It's easier to handle cool than still hot.  Divide into eight portions, place each portion in a freezer container and freeze.

Enjoy.

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Are you ready for a zombie apocalypse?  How about a zombie apocalypse in space?

If the idea intrigues you, you might like Plague Station: