Monday, December 21, 2009

Child Labor in Switzerland

Yes it all looks innocent but if you study those sad faces you might
understand that they've been working rolling out little pastries on
those white boards for over 12 hours. It's a shame.

Motor Homes Are Eco Friendly

 I copied this from the UK site.  I'm thinking that now I don't have to feel guilty driving the big thing around like a turtle with his home on his back.

"Travelling 600 miles by motorhome only produces a fraction of carbon emission compared to traveling by plane (I read somewhere it's only 1/6th. of what's attributed to one person on a European flight)
Living in a motorhome uses only a fraction of the water and electricity compared to home/apartment/hotel.
If studied, living/travelling in a mh could possibly turn out to be more overall eco friendly than just staying at home."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The thoughts that hide in waiting in the day

I have to post this from my niece Sherrie Vigil, she posted it as a status update on Facebook and I think it's too beautiful to be lost.

"They tell you when you are little that there are no monsters under the bed and darkness holds nothing scarier than the absence of light. Though this is true when I’m lying in bed at night a different kind of monster rears it ugly head. The thoughts that hide in waiting in the day, plague me in the dark. I wish for the moment that the knight in shining armor, Sleep, will rescue me from the fortress of conscious thought into the warm cradle of dreamland where I can finally be at peace"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Skiing in Italy - The Dolomites

Here are a few random shots from various ski areas in the Dolomites,
just to give you a feeling for it. View the whole Sella Ronda tour HERE.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kid, Grandkids and a Turkey

Just some shots from our four days at Erin's house.

The Latest

We had a nice visit with Erin and her family in Switzerland.  She cooked a great turkey for a late Thanksgiving dinner with a little help from Luisa and me.  And we did our Christmas bit together.  Pictures to fallow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kids feet that grow too fast

Julia's ski boots that should have lasted two years don't fit.  Going tonight to get Giovanni fitted out for skiing this year and check on boots for Julia.  Good news is a deal for Giovanni, a rental for the season 129€ and we can change the skis if he gets good at racing and needs a step up. He says he wants to race but I'm not pushing it. Gives me the same feeling as I had with a daughter that jumps horses - fear for their safety.  But we can't hold them back.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giovanni Does His Clown Act

He provided his own entertainment at the party. His friends all
seemed to like it a lot. He surely doesn't take after me in this

Giovanni's 8th Birthday Party

We did the party at home. It was a cold but sunny day so the kids
played outside part of the time. I think he had a good time.  And they pretty much all ate the food I cooked.  That's probably because I've learned it's not worth giving them anything particular - french fires, chicken nuggets, wurstel, candy, chips, soda, cake they love it.  Their parents can worry about giving them heath food.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Niles Helm and the American Revolution

 Here is a bit of a story about one of my ancestors that fought in the revolution.  There are others.  I am grateful to all those who served and who serve today.

On the night of December 10, 1777, the British under Sir James Wallace landed
near his home in South Kingston, Rhode Island. Awakened by the
firing of musketry, he seized his arms and went out with other
members of the militia to meet the enemy. However, the British
advanced with such force that the militia was routed, and Niles
returned to his home just in time to remove his wife and
children before the British set his house on fire and destroyed
all his property. Three months later, in March , 1778, he was
drafted in South Kingston to serve a tour of 30 days under
Captain Stephen Babcock, guarding points along the coast. A
year later, in the spring of 1779, he was again drafted to
serve a similar tour of duty, during which the British
attempted a landing with a view to forage and plunder. They
were attacked by Nile's unit and driven off, with much
difficulty. Nile's next tour of duty was with General Sullivan
when he attempted in conjunction with the French fleet to expel
the British from Newport. Niles was first drafted at Newport
for 20 days, subsequently extended to 40 days. His unit,
initially stationed at South Kingston, was subsequently
transported by boat to the north end of Rhode Island to join
the main army. The army remained there for about 15 days, when
it retreated back to Butts Hill. The retreat began near
evening, with a guard of 500 men left to cover its movements.
This guard remained through the night and became lost in the
fog the next morning when it attempted to rejoin the main body
of troops. It was attacked and "much harassed" by the British.
Subsequently a general battle ensued between Butts and Turkey
Hills,  beginning about 8 o'clock in the morning and continuing
until mid-afternoon, when the enemy asked for a truce to bury
their dead. General Sullivan granted the request and sent back
word to the British Commander that "before the next morning he
would bury them all." The enemy became alarmed lest their
retreat should be cut off, and the night after the battle
retreated back to their fort near Tommony (?) Hill, which
enabled General Sullivan to affect his retreat without further
molestation. During these actions, Niles was in the right wing
which was partially engaged with the enemy and fought through
the day.  Several days later he was discharged and returned
home. Niles then enlisted for 6 months under Captain John
Weeden, who was in charge of a gun defending the Beacon light
on Little Rest Hill in South Kingston. Besides these tours of
duty, Niles, as was the custom of most of the able-bodied
population in those days, turned out as a volunteer for several
days at a time, sometimes to defend or unload vessels, or
"repel predatory incursions of the enemy."
In his pension application he states that two brothers were in
regular service during the war; Peleg, a sergeant, and William,
a lieutenant.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Life in Italy

We slept in for an hour longer than usual. Giovanni and Julia watched TV for an hour, now they are getting dressed putting their rooms in order, then they have home work to do. Giovanni has a soccer game this afternoon and Julia has a birthday party tonight. Luisa and I are here supervising, driving, and putting the house in order. Seems like I'm describing life most anywhere.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I'm into developing one pot meals these days. It's partly because of a desire to cook good food in our camper. So I came up with this the other day kind of by accident. You know Italians use a pressure cooker a lot. I refer to it as the Italian microwave. I've seen my mother in law have two going at the same time. Anyway this can be done and on the table in say less than half an hour, if you use the pressure cooker otherwise cook it in a conventional way. It just takes longer. It's also inspired by Erin's chicken soup and a soup served at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Encinitas California.


1 whole large chicken breast skinned
2 onions
olive oil
white cooking wine
tortilla chips
salt, pepper
various seasonings as you like garlic for example.
some nice cheese grated, maybe cheddar.

Cut up the two onions, put them in the pressure cooker with some olive oil and saute them until they start to turn clear. Put in the chicken breasts cover the chicken with white wine while it's still cooking away. Add your seasoning, salt, pepper, etc. Add two or three cups of water depending on how much soup you want. Close up the pressure cooker keeping it on high until it closes up and starts to steam. Then turn the heat down to the lowest setting and let it cook for about 15 minutes. When done take out the breast and shred it with a fork.

Serve the soup in bowls adding some of the chicken, tortilla chips on top and then sprinkled with cheese. Add a little hot sauce if you like.

It's good.

You could also add some carrots to the soup mix when you start if you like or maybe some other vegtables.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Passive Solar Heating and Cooling

and energy saving ideas.

By John Helm

These days all the talk is about saving energy and there are a lot of new as well as old systems to take advantage of the sun for heating and even cooling. Since my years in university I have been aware and have studied the various ways to take advantage of this free source of energy. The problem is that while the suns energy is there to be taken and used for free, the actual ways that we collect it and turn it into a form which is useable are generally not free and sometimes very expensive.

Over the years I have made many proposals to my architectural clients to implement various ideas into their projects. For the most part when the costs came in they resorted to the time tested and much less expensive standard forms of heating and cooling. The initial cost of the equipment can take many years to pay for itself and in the US at least where people tend to move often they don’t consider it a wise investment.

Therefore, in this short article I will restrict my comments to the things that we can do in our existing homes that require little or no costs and then I will discuss a few things we can do in our new homes to maximize the collection of the sun’s energy for heating and turn that around for cooling.

Existing Homes
We will start this little journey at the front door. Do you know that just putting a good door mat outside and a rug inside the exterior doors can save energy? Yes it can. Approximately 80% of the dirt we bring into our homes comes from our shoes. So just cleaning them before entering saves the extra time we would have to use the vacuum cleaner. Taking off the shoes and putting on house shoes or slippers will save even more.

Now I’m going to tell you some things you probably already know but I bet you don’t do them. Since I said no extra expense, I will stick to the things we can do just to maximize heating or cooling and minimize heat gain or loss without spending any money. The windows are generally the major tool here. They represent a hole in our walls when it comes to energy gain and loss. So they need to be managed. Assume you have curtains and better yet shutters that open and close. In the morning when the sun is out in the winter, open the south facing curtains or shutters while keeping the windows closed to let in the solar energy and open the doors of those rooms to the rest of the house. Keep the others closed until the outside air temperature warms up or you just can’t stand having them closed. As the sun passes reverse the process. At night shutter everything up.

If you have a fireplace, close the flue when you are not using it. Heat rises the open flue sucks the heat right out. On the subject of heat rising remember that it will rise to the upper floors on a two story house. If those floors contain the bedrooms, close the door leading to the stairs if you have them during the day or if no stair doors close the bedroom doors. There is no need to heat rooms not in use.

In the summer we reverse the above. Keep the south facing windows shuttered. Open the flue and open second floor windows that don’t face south.

Also keep in mind that hard surfaces such as tile and concrete absorb heat. This function can be used in winter and summer. If you have a tile floor for example expose it to the sun in the winter it will heat up a radiate the heat back out in the evening. In the summer protect it from the sun; you might even cover it with a rug but only in the summer. In the summer we can open all the windows in the night to cool the house and then promptly close them in the morning.

New Homes and Remodels
The most cost affective way to minimize energy use in new homes, when we remodel or make additions is to use the things we would build anyway in a way that is energy use conscious and does not add any or little to the cost. As before we start with windows for natural light north facing windows are great but that’s the worst location for heat loss or gain. They don’t see the sun. So it’s best to minimize them unless we are building an artists studio or they face a beautiful view. South facing windows are the one’s we want with hard surface floors facing them and concrete walls inside the house to absorb the heat to be radiated out in the evening. Skylights that can be opened bring in natural light and when opened in the summer allow the heat to rise out of the house.

Those big south facing windows are great in the winter as long as the sun is out; they are not so great when it’s not. So we should make some provision to cover them and of course they should be double glazed as should all the windows, even triple glazed in harsh climates. And what do you do about them in the summer? In the summer they must be shaded. This can be done several ways. We can shutter them, put up louvers or roll up awnings. Permanently shading them will eliminate their use for heating in the winter so don’t do that. One way we all know is to plant deciduous trees near them. Those trees will shade them in the summer and allow the sun to shine in during the winter as well as provide a nice appearance in the view and the yard.

Fireplaces can be a good source of heat if properly designed using outside air for combustion and some form of providing circulation of the heat generated. Glass doors allow radiant heat to pass while minimize the amount of heated inside air that rises up the flue. In the summer open the glass doors and the flue to allow the heat to flow out. Fans can be placed in the attic at little expense to draw out additional heat.

Let’s also not forget insulation, perhaps the very most important addition. Blanket insulation made of fiberglass is the least costly and in fact adds little to the overall cost. If one objects to the glass fiber there are also natural products made of wood and recycled cotton. Increasing the thickness of walls in wood frame construction allows increased insulation but at added cost though not that much in the overall picture. Another item to consider is using one of the modern house wrap products instead of the conventional tar paper. They seal the walls, but allow moisture to pass from the inside to the outside.

Finally let’s not forget the lighting. Windows, skylights and solar tubes can minimize the amount of lighting we need to turn on during the day. Proper placing of lighting for general purpose lighting as well as task lighting is important to minimize electrical usage. The use of fluorescent light wherever possible can reduce energy use by 2/3rds and as they become less expensive LED lights will bring consumption down even more.

So I have just touched a bit on the overall subject perhaps you, your architect and your contractor will be encouraged to use these ideas and think of more on your own.

Copyright 2009 by John Helm may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Italian Way

A lot of expats hate this, so far for us it's worked to our advantage. I just wrote a whole thing on this but deleted it as I don't want to take a chance of getting anyone in trouble.  The thing is that here it's a big advantage to get to know people.  As it seems that no matter what you need done you need a connection and even in the public health system things go much smoother if you can make a link to someone who knows someone, etc.  Of course when you get special favors you are expected to return the favor.  I don't have a problem with that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pressure Cooking

Risotto made in the pressure cooker, takes about 15 minutes start to finish.

Zucchini, half a red onion or some green onions, olive oil, saute for a couple of minutes, add 1 cup arborio, 1/2 cup white wine, let it cook down a little, add 2 cups water, some salt, a little butter, put the lid on the pressure cooker, heat on high until it starts to steam, leave on very low burner for about 10 minutes, open it up add more butter, cheese parmigiana, stir cook down a little if too much liquid, put it in the bowl sprinkle more cheese, fresh parsley, and if you are Californian sprinkle some spicy hot red salt on top. Don't tell anyone you cooked it in the pressure cooker.
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Saturday, October 10, 2009


Julia's class hike up to the local mountains. It's so great that they can do things like this by just walking directly from their school.


Some pictures Julia took on our hike up to the top of Nevegal. The
mountains to the South of us