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New Moon  1st Quarter  Full Moon  Last Quarter
    Jan 4           Jan 12          Jan 19        Jan 26   



Recommended reading

Eat, Pray, Love. One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.  - Elizabeth Gilbert 



 New Year's blessing

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! - 1 John 3:1  


Saying of the month

 "New Year's Day is everyman's birthday."
-   Charles Lamb 


New Years -- January 1
MLK Jr. Day -- January 17

Valentines Day--February 14
Presidents Day-February 15 
Ash Wednesday–-March 9

Spring Equinox - March 20  
Easter Sunday – April 24

Mothers Day -- May 8
Memorial Day--May 30

Flag Day--June 14

Summer Solstice -- June 21 
Fathers Day--June 19

Independence Day--July 4

Labor Day--September 5  

Fall Equinox --September 23

Columbus Day--October 10
Halloween--October 31

Veterans Day -- November 11
Thanksgiving–-November 24

Our Lady, Maria de Guadalupe--December 12

Winter Solstice- Dec. 22  
Christmas-- December 25 

  Grandma Susan starts the second year of her website. The 2011 Almanac Calendar is an informal monthly journal that encourages homemakers to do more things for themselves - crafts, handiwork, “from-scratch” cooking, gardening, and other domestic arts.  Grandma's motto is: "Let's work together to improve our lives by simple living, self-reliance, maintaining our religious faith, and sharing the blessings of life with others."  



A New Year's blessing


Saying of the month


Reading recommendation


High fructose corn syrup: cheap for industry, costly for your health and the environment.


Stay in the now.


 A lot can be said about a good scarf.


"From scratch" recipe of the month - Black-Bean Burgers, Served On Buns





High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a processed form of sugar made from corn. It’s in so many foods on the supermarket shelves that you might have to search to find one without it. It’s used in crackers, bread, cakes, canned goods, and soft drinks. It even shows up in places you wouldn’t believe - like processed cheeses, canned meat, and catsup. Even though it has been highly criticized by nutritional and medical sources, it continues to be the one biggest source of calories in the American diet. In the meantime, a growing fraction of the general population has heard the controversy surrounding the product, and many consumer groups are asking food companies to eliminate or greatly reduce its use.

And you don’t have to look very hard to find plenty of good reasons for why HFCS is being bad-mouthed – more on this later.

A September editorial in the N Y Times talked about the campaign led by the Refiners Association, a firm representing HFCS, to try to make corn syrup more acceptable to the U.S. population. The promoters of the product have petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration for permission to call HFCS, corn sugar. The new name is supposed to sound somehow more “natural.” (And what could be more American and more natural than corn, well, maybe only apple pie.) The spokeswoman for the campaign affirms that the ‘corn sugar’ tag will better communicate to consumers about the nutritional value of HSCS. Obviously, the Refiners Association also hopes that their new publicity campaign will help take the heat off the public’s demand to limit the use of HFCS.

Just what is HFCS, anyway?
While common table sugar comes primarily from sugar cane or sugar beets, HFCS is made by extracting starch from corn kernels and then turning the glucose part of the starch into fructose. HFCS is a favorite of the food industry for practical reasons: it retains moisture better, giving food products a longer shelf-life and is also much cheaper than other sweeteners because corn growing receives heavy government subsidies.

What we do know is that since the 1980’s, HFCS has replaced regular sugar, honey, and similar sweeteners in practically all processed foods and especially in our beverages.

Why does HFCS have a bad rep?
A number of studies conducted over the past few decades indicate that HFCS use in foods is connected with both health and ecological concerns. Here are some of the most important arguments for limiting the use of corn syrup:

1. Just hallow calories.
In the past decade, just one ingredient, HFCS, that has no nutritional value (beyond calories), now accounts for about 10% of the total caloric intake of the U. S. population – mostly due to its use in soda pop and fruit drinks. Just think about that for a minute - to have anything so highly processed as a major factor in the diet has got to be a really bad idea! Remember we need proteins, fats, complex starches, fiber, vitamins, etc. for health. Substituting industrial sugars, of any kind, for real food needs is asking for big trouble. 

2. A cause of weight gain
HFCS appears to be a major cause of significant weight gain, leading to obesity. Nutritional scientists believe that corn syrup and other high fructose sugars have the effect of temporarily stopping the communication (hormone interference) between the stomach and the brain. By the time your brain finds out you’re full, you’ve already overeaten. Therefore, you’re much more likely to get fat when your food contains HFCS.

3. Increased risk of diabetes
Besides making you fat, there seems to be a link between HFCS and the risk of developing Type-2 Diabetes. Medical doctors and anthropologists point out that humans are omnivores and have always eaten some fruit. That means we should be able to deal with the metabolic effects of fructose (the kind of sugar in fruits). The explosion in health problems related to HFCS appears to be due to the huge amount of fructose that’s being consumed and the fact that corn syrup has been stripped of the antioxidants and other protective substances that occur naturally in honey and fruit.


4. Increased risk of liver disease.
A recent study done at Duke University Medical School suggests that HFCS has a role in liver disease.  Obviously, the elevated obesity level in the U.S. is a result of high caloric intake. But, there is another illness related to high consumption of HFCS, that may happen with or without excessive weight gain. It’s

called fatty-liver disorder, and it’s something that’s usually related to excessive alcohol intake. Just like the sugars in alcohol, HFCS appears to be a cause of fatty liver. This condition causes scarring and hardening of liver tissue, which in turn can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

5. HFCS has a huge environmental impact.
For economic and political reasons, corn agribusiness receives huge subsidies from the U.S. government. So, corn is big business for farmers, who, because of subsidies, can sell it cheap, and corn's industrial product, corn syrup, is super-profitable for the food industry.

Journalist and agriculture industry critic Michael Pollen notes that the amount of corn that’s grown specifically for HFCS creates a huge environmental problem. Most corn is grown as a monoculture, meaning that land use is solely for corn and not rotated among several different crops.  These practices maximize corn yield but deplete soil nutrients, weaken the topsoil, and, in turn, require the use of more pesticides and fertilizer.  The situation has really become grim. Fertilizer runoff from the Corn Belt into the Mississippi River has created hundreds of square miles of “dead zone” (about the size of New Jersey) in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s called a dead zone because the oxygen level is so low that nothing  can live there.

What should thinking people do?
What kind of sloppy thinking would allow us to continue drinking soda pop and other syrupy fruit drinks with HSFC? Instead of a refrigerator stocked with sodas, the kitchen should be a place where milk is available (especially to children) and tea or lemonade is made with moderate, not huge, quantities of regular sugar. Better yet, learn to drink and teach your children to drink plain water with meals and at other times of the day.

Beyond that, we’ve got to be on the watch for sugars in any form that become too important in our diet. Population and food expert, Barry Popkin (North Carolina at Chapel Hill) stresses that the U.S. obesity problem hasn’t occurred just because of HFCS. Rather, it's the fact that sugars from all sources have become are so prevalent in our food supply. He says that we can’t be healthy if sugars, in all their forms, continue to be so prevalent in our diet.

Once again, as is much repeated in nutritional circles (and, of course, in these posts), it’s always best to eat wholesome, home-cooked meals and to steer away from highly processed foods, as well as from fast food restaurants -- that sell monumental quantities of sodas and other sweet temptations. What's more, we should be vigilant to read food labels and never buy processed foods containing high fructose sweeteners, and HFCS in particular. There is reason to limit even the more common sugars from in our diet. And, if we feel that we can’t do without sweets, then we should eat them only in small amounts.

Here are a few suggestions that can keep your sweet-tooth happy, while your body stays healthy.

-- Replace some of the sugar in recipes with fruit puree from apples, prunes, or apricots. Stew the fruit in a little water until tender. Then blend it and use it to replace an equal volume of sugar in your recipe.

-- Or substitute apple juice or grape juice for half the liquid and cut the added sugar in half.

-- You can also exchange half the fat and half the sugar in a recipe with the same quantity of pureed apple. As an added bonus, it makes your bake goods moist and gives them a touch of fruity flavor.



There are a lot of reasons for living for today. If we are living in the now – this very moment-- then we can find reasons to be peaceful with ourselves. If we focus on some memory in the past and make too may comparisons about where we are today, it will cause us to feel slighted or depressed. Don’t let your head – like the proverbial ostrich - be stuck in the sands of the past, trying to relive the glory of the old days. Yes, there may have been some happy times in our lives – when we were freer of responsibility or when everything seemed to be working out according to our plans. But those memories should serve us as treasures to be cherished, and not be a heavy yoke upon our necks that keep us from finding serenity and contentment in our current activities.

And there is the other flaw that can be keeping us from counting our blessings today. We can also have our heads stuck in the sands of the future. We have this mentality when we reject our present and say: "If I can only get X (you fill in the blank), then I can begin to really enjoy life." If you’ve been consistently waiting for something in the distant future or very different from what you have today, you will forget to live the present. When this happens, you forget to enjoy the path, day by day, that leads to your future. No one can know what the future will bring. Even if you should reach some dreamed of goal, the triumph might not be just what you expected it to be.

Not even one day of the past can be relived, and no one – rich or poor, in good health or bad, accompanied or alone -- is assured as much as one day in the future. So, look for meaning in today. If we get lost thinking about the past or dwell on the future, we will destroy our only opportunity to live out this very day to the fullest. So, look for meaning in today.

So, the message is to do what we can to hold our thoughts in the NOW, right here. We do that when we honestly say to our Creator: “ Thank you, God, for this day.” It may not be the perfect day, by some external “standards,” but it was our day. And if we are striving to do our best with whatever circumstances that have come our way, then it is a good day. Above all, our measure of today should be how well we are glorifying God by our thoughts and our efforts.

When we make ourselves fully live this moment and keep ourselves from wandering off into the future or the past, we become attuned to the benefits of what we are doing. In this way, we can sense that our lives are truly blessed and stop worrying so much about the future.

 So, you may ask: "How can we train our minds to focus on the opportunities that the present offers?" Here are some ways that others have recommended to help us maintain a positive frame of reference and fully experience each day.

- If you have a conversation with someone, let the other person speak at least 60% of the time. And try to listen to what that person is saying. If it is positive and useful, reinforce that moment, telling the person that you understand what he or she is saying – and mean it. You can enjoy your family member or friend and learn a lot if you are actually present, trying to understand and be helpful. If you are just waiting for the other person to shut up, so that you can continue what is essentially your own monologue, then little or no good will have come from the occasion.
- Read a devotional or self-improvement book, and really concentrate on what it says. Soak up what the book offers. Take notes to help you remember the important points. Then, work to shape your future from your experience of that book.
- Take time for a class or otherwise reward yourself with something healthy or inspirational that you really like to do – like going swimming, running, doing yoga, meditating or listening to good music. Whatever you do, immerse yourself in it and do it fully - and not as a background for doing or thinking of something else.
- Start a personal project that you have been putting off because you were always too busy. You’ll never find time for your projects if you wait for the very best time to begin. Start now with whatever time and talent you have. The moments and hours for continuing your efforts will be found, when you decide to invest your time.

Once you start living more of your time in the present, a burden will be lifted from your shoulders. Being in the now allows you to focus on the opportunities of the day and to act on them. You’ll find some breathing room, be stronger and increase your odds of finding a better future.

The present is all we’ve really got. Today may be our only chance to get where we want to be tomorrow. Don’t get lost in daily life and go through life half asleep. Find rewards in doing good things this very day -- for yourself and for others. Doing this will build the positive you that can achieve many important things. If we aren’t capable of recognizing openings appearing on the horizon, then what can we expect of the future?


One of the handiest items you can have in your wardrobe is a good scarf. All kinds of scarves are available in a variety of materials, colors and textures, but you don’t need a bunch of them. You just need a silk or cotton one in summer and a wool flannel or knitted scarf in winter. Choose a neutral color that goes well with almost any other thing you might wear. For even more versatility, you should have four scarves -- one large square and another oblong (rectangular) shaped – two for summer and two for winter. If you have as many as four scarves, one or two of them should be multicolor or otherwise have a pattern that adds more interest.

Even a simple and plain outfit can be made into something interesting with the addition of a scarf.  They are handy and look beautiful, and these days, what with our lack of extra cash, we have to make the most of everything in our closets. So, instead of shopping for more clothing, let accessories, like the scarf, update your wardrobe. And, of course, as the really cold weather arrives, your scarves will keep your neck warm.

You need to learn how to tie and fold scarves in various ways. You can loosely tie it around your neck, or use it as a headband or head wrap or drape it like a shawl on your shoulders. Besides the more conventional uses, a scarf can also become a belt, a halter-top or even worn on your waist as a short sarong. Beyond that, to most everyone’s surprise, the square scarf is making a fashion comeback. Remember the classic Marilyn Monroe movie where she wore the white square scarf folded in a triangle on her head – babushka style? The same vintage look is back and it’s as elegant as ever. (Actually, Grandma Susan who, as you might imagine, always chooses comfort and warmth over stylishness,never stopped wearing her scarves babushka style.)

Handcrafters find scarf knitting to be an easy opportunity to use their creativity. They can experiment with different threads, primarily cotton, wool and acrylics, along with colors, textures, shapes and sizes and come up with any number of dramatic successes. Lengths for scarves are totally variable. And, as for widths - a sheer scarf may be 3 inches wide, whereas a warm muffler may be up to 8 inches wide

Hand knitted scarves can be made from several different knit patterns. Here are some simple patterns that even beginner knitters can do. They are quick to make and much appreciated as gifts.

Horizontal Stitch Scarf: It is a very easy knitting pattern, which is knit from side to side, using just knit and purl stitches.

Condo Knit Scarf:  This pattern uses two different sized needles on two different rows of the same project. Since it produces a light lacy pattern, a condo knit scarf is a perfect accessory for the springtime.

Cabbage Row Stitch Scarf: This is an easy double knit stitch, which adds a lot of texture and warmth. As a variation on the garter stitch, this stitch has the added advantage of looking the same on both sides – front and back - of the knitting..




I’ll share with you the pattern for the horizontal stitch scarves that I just made as Christmas presents for my two little granddaughters.  (I also made them warm, matching headbands, using the same yarn and the cabbage row stitch.)

I used size 13 needles and two strands of heavy acrylic and nylon yarn – red and gray multicolor for one little girl and brown and beige multicolor for the other. Because of the big needles and the heavy yarn, this was a super fast project -- each scarf taking just a few hours to complete.

I cast on 11 stitches and used:
Purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, purl 2, knit 1, and purl 2 for the front side.
Only purl for the back.

The scarves are 40 inches long, not counting the 3-inch fringe on each end. It took only about 5 ounces of yarn for each scarf. 




Black-Bean Burgers, Served On Buns

1 cup  left-over rice
4 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups cooked black beans, well drained 
1 egg

1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons fine chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c cornmeal, plus 1/2 cup for coating burgers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

6 whole-wheat hamburger buns, toasted
Optional: cheese slices, lettuce leaves, tomato slices, mustard, salad dressing

Make a rice and bean mash with potato masher. Be sure that the mixture is cold. Add one egg, cornmeal, and combine with other ingredients. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Make 6 patties and roll in extra cornmeal.

Heat oil in a skillet over low-medium heat. 

Cook in skillet until egg has set and patties are brown and crisp on both sides, about 5 or 6 minutes per side.  

Serve the burgers on buns with your choice of sandwich toppings.

With some potato salad and apple sauce, you've got a whole meal. 

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