Orchard to Orchard

Do you see now why I love what I do and where I do it?

This one video should give you not only a glimpse of what it’s like to fly in a helicopter in one of the most scenic areas of Washington State, but it should give you a good idea of why I love doing what I do.

It shows the entire flight — all one minute and 47 seconds of it — from the time I depart one orchard at the top of Wenatchee Heights to the time I settle in over the trees at another orchard in Malaga. I’ll admit it here: this is my favorite orchard departure path.

Enjoy this in full screen at high resolution if you can.

Making Greek Yogurt

It’s easy and it just makes sense.

I eat a lot of yogurt. I like yogurt for breakfast — especially with granola — and yogurt for snacks. I eat salad dressing with yogurt in it, enjoy frozen yogurt, and sometimes even eat flavored yogurt for dessert.

I buy plain, non-fat, Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is basically the same as regular yogurt but with a lot of the excess whey removed. You know what whey is if you’ve bought yogurt or cottage cheese or ricotta in a large container and used only some of it: it’s the liquid that accumulates at the top after you’ve scooped some out.

Greek yogurt is more properly known as strained yogurt and is also called yogurt cheese or labneh. You can read more about it on Wikipedia.

Not All Greek Yogurt is Created Equally

Creamy, delicious Greek yogurt has become wildly popular. Unfortunately, that’s causing a serious environmental problem: an overabundance of whey, the by-product that must be discarded. As this excellent article about the problem in Salon mentions, there’s 2-3 ounces of whey for every ounce of Greek yogurt produced. This video explains the problem and potential solutions:

A quick video explains the problems with mass-produced Greek yogurt and some possible solutions.

The article also suggests that you can help the environment by making your own Greek yogurt (instead of buying it) and using the whey that’s produced in your own kitchen and garden.

What some Greek yogurt makers are doing to circumvent the problem is “faking” Greek yogurt by adding artificial thickeners. The article, “Greek Yogurt: What’s Real & What’s Not,” lists the actual ingredients of many popular plain Greek yogurts. You might be surprised to learn that your favorite creamy yogurt is made that way by the addition of thickeners like corn starch and gelatin. This is covered in articles like “Greek Yogurt Wars: The High-Tech Shortcuts vs. The Purists” on The Kitchn and “High-Tech Shortcut To Greek Yogurt Leaves Purists Fuming” on NPR’s The Salt.

Real yogurt should have just two ingredients: milk and active yogurt cultures such as S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus and L. Casei.

I don’t know about you, but when I buy yogurt, I’m not interested in buying corn starch and gelatin. Take-away lesson: Read the ingredients list and make sure you’re paying for what you really want.

Or make your own.

The Recipe

My wasband wasn’t a big yogurt eater, but he told me, time and time again (as we often do in long-term relationships) that his Armenian grandfather used to make his own yogurt. I was kind of impressed, mostly because I thought it was difficult to do. That’s until I stumbled onto a recipe posted by my friend Tammy on her blog. I tried it and had immediate success. Since then, I make about half the yogurt I eat.

Tammy’s recipe can be found here. It’s got lots of photos with the step-by-step instructions. I find myself searching for the recipe time and time again; for some reason I can’t remember the important temperatures. So I’ve decided to put the short version here, mostly for my own reference. I recommend you stop by Tammy’s site and read it there before you try it. And then leave her a comment telling her about your results. I think she’d like that. (Most bloggers do like comments.)


I don’t usually include a Tools section in my recipes, but there are four that you must have (beyond what you might expect in a recipe):

  • Thermometer. I use an instant read meat thermometer. It needs to go up to at least 200°F. Temperature is extremely important in this recipe, so don’t try it if you can’t take an accurate temperature reading.
  • Whisk. I have a plastic whisk, but that’s because I use non-stick cookware. A regular metal wire whisk should be fine.
  • 2 1-quart mason jars with tight-fitting lids. Even if you don’t can your own foods, you really should have a few of these around your kitchen.
  • A small cooler taller than the jars. Make sure it has a tight-fitting lid.


  • 1/2 gallon non-fat milk. I used to make this by the quart, but when I started “Greeking” it (see below), the yield was lower so I started making 2 quarts at a time.
  • 1/4 cup real plain yogurt with active yogurt cultures. Did you know that not all yogurt is just yogurt? I discuss that above, in case you skipped it to get to the recipe. I recommend the following Greek yogurts: Chobani, Dannon Oikos, Trader Joe’s, Athenos, and Stonyfield. If not using Greek yogurt as a starter, check the ingredients list to make sure the only ingredients are milk and yogurt cultures. This quantity, by the way, is more than Tammy uses. Let it get to room temperature.


  1. Heat the milk to 190°F, stirring occasionally. I do this in a microwave. I have a huge glass measuring cup that holds 1/2 gallon. I put it in the microwave and heat it on high. In my current microwave, it takes 20 minutes to get to 190°F. I know this by repeated temperature readings as I heated it. (My old microwave in Arizona had a temperature probe, which was probably its best feature — and definitely the reason I packed it when I moved. I’d put the probe in the milk, tell the microwave I wanted the milk at 190°F, and it would simply stop zapping when the temperature reached 190°. I’m looking forward to installing it in my new kitchen — despite the fact that it’ll be nearly 30 years old by then.) Of course, you can always do this in a pot on the stove.
  2. Remove the milk from the heat source and allow to cool to about 120°F. I do this by letting it just sit on the stovetop.
  3. In a small bowl, mix about 1/4 cup milk with the 1/4 cup yogurt. This smooths out any lumps and makes it easier to blend with the rest of the milk in the next step.
  4. Whisk in yogurt/milk mixture in to the rest of the milk. Mike sure it’s blended well, but try to minimize bubbles.
  5. Pour the milk mixture into the mason jars. Fill them to the very top. Then close them up tight.
  6. Place the mason jars into the cooler and fill the cooler with the hottest tap water you can get out of your sink. My water heater delivers 130°F water in my kitchen, which is just a tiny bit too hot for my hands — but otherwise perfect, in my opinion. Fill to the very top of the jars, almost so they’re floating in it.
  7. Cover the cooler tightly and set aside for 6-8 hours. When I made this in Arizona in the spring and autumn, I used to set it outside on the patio in the shade. In the winter, it stayed inside. The idea is for the water (and milk) to cool slowly.
  8. Remove the jars from the cooler and discard the water.

At this point, the jars should contain yogurt. You can pop them in the fridge to enjoy at your leisure or “Greek” it.

“Greeking” the Yogurt

My only gripe with Tammy’s recipe — or at least the way it usually came out for me — was that the yogurt tended to be very runny. I don’t like runny yogurt.

I started making yogurt right around the time I discovered Greek yogurt. I actually stopped making yogurt because I preferred Greek yogurt and didn’t know how it was made.

Then I did some research and discovered that all I needed was one more step: strain out the extra whey.

Greek Yogurt Maker
You can get this nice Greek yogurt maker for about $22 on Amazon.com.

While you could do this with cheesecloth in a strainer and make a big mess on your countertop or in your fridge, I went online to Amazon.com and bought a gadget: a Euro Cuisine Greek Yogurt Maker.

To “Greek” your homemade yogurt, add these steps to the recipe above.

  1. Refrigerate the yogurt. I suggest overnight to really chill it down and give it as much substance as it can get on its own. Just put the jars in the fridge.
  2. Empty the yogurt into a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a nifty Greek yogurt maker like the one I bought. If using a strainer, you’ll want a bowl beneath it to catch the whey.
  3. Straining Yogurt
    This yogurt has been straining in my refrigerator for about 90 minutes. The yellow liquid is whey.

    Let strain for 2-4 hours, preferably in the refrigerator. The amount of time you allow it to strain will determine how thick the yogurt is. I have, in the past, forgotten about it and let it go overnight. The resulting yogurt was too thick, almost like cheese.

  4. Remove the yogurt from the strainer and place it into a container you can seal. I use (ironically) old yogurt containers.
  5. Give the yogurt a good stirring. This will smooth out any lumps and make it creamier.
  6. Store in the refrigerator. Obviously.

The removal of the whey should cut the total quantity of yogurt in half.

If you’re wondering what to do with the whey, this page has some excellent suggestions. I give it to my chickens and blend it with water for my tomato plants. I also, on occasion, make it into ricotta. As you might imagine, its very high in calcium but supposedly tastes very bad on its own. I’ve been too cowardly to try it.

Cost Considerations

One of the most mind-blowing things about making my own Greek yogurt is the cost savings. Yesterday, I spent $1.69 on half a gallon of skim milk. I already had yogurt for the starter and can use the yogurt I made for the next starter, so there’s no additional cost. This half gallon of milk will yield about a quart of Greek yogurt.

The last time I bought Greek yogurt, it cost $5.89 for a quart. So I’m saving more than $4 every time I make it instead of buy it. With two quarts a week — my average consumption — that’s $416/year saved.

And you know what Ben Franklin said about saving pennies…

Flavoring Yogurt

I have two things to add here.

First, a while back when I posted on Facebook about making yogurt and included a photo, one of my friends commented to ask, “When do you add the flavor?” Well, there’s no reason to add flavor because yogurt already has flavor. It’s yogurt flavor.

However, if you like to add flavor, you can always mix in some honey or a spoonful of your favorite jam or preserve. I like apricot, which I keep around mostly for a condiment on grilled pork.

And that brings up my second point, also from Facebook. A friend posted an image of a bowl of yogurt with fresh strawberries on top of it. Her caption: “This is how you flavor yogurt.”

Yes, fresh fruit is the best way to do it. Don’t add sugar; add more natural ingredients. It’s more healthy for you and it really is quite tasty.

What do you think?

Do you make your own yogurt? Do you think it’s worth the time?

Share your tips, thoughts, and recipes (or links to recipes) in the comments for this post.

Shoveling Snow Time-Lapse

I shovel snow for the first time in 16 years.

It snowed last night. Finally.

Yeah, we did have some minor snowfall way back at the end of November or beginning of December, but it wasn’t much. I bought a snow shovel at the local Habitat for Humanity shop for $5 but was better off just sweeping that snow away.

But last night we had the real thing. About four inches of the stuff, slightly wet but otherwise powdery. I saw it in the dark when I woke up and let Penny out. She ran to the edge of the porch, saw the white stuff on the walk and in the yard, and turned tail, running back into the house, obviously afraid. It was 30 minutes later, after she’d finished most of her breakfast and really had to go that she stepped out into it. That’s when I got an idea of how deep it was — she sank in up to her little body and wound up doing her business under the porch.

I walked out, still in my slippers, and stuck a forefinger in the fresh snow on the walkway. My finger was buried before I touched the ground.

At least four inches. Whoa!

I waited eagerly for the sun to rise. I was actually looking forward to using that new shovel.

Those of you in winter wonderlands who have had snow dumped on you all season probably think I’m nuts. I’m not. I grew up in the New York Metro area where the weather was a bit colder in winter than where I am now — and a lot colder than where I lived in Arizona for 15+ years. I didn’t realize how much I missed the snow until I got here, prepped for winter sports, and then waited for the snow to fall.

It didn’t.

Until last night.

Anyway, at about 8 AM, I donned my winter pants and jacket and boots and fashioned my Buff into a balaclava. Then I pulled on my ski gloves and went out to do a chore most people hate: shoveling snow. Of course, I created a time-lapse:

I don’t have to shovel the driveway, which is quite long. The man who owns the house I’m living in right now has arranged for snow plow service if the snow gets too deep. Right now, I don’t think it’s too deep at all — my Jeep has big, gnarly tires that won’t even notice the snow. Besides, temperatures later this week are expected to rise above freezing — heck, it’s already 31°F outside right now — so I don’t expect the snow to linger.

Maybe that’s why I was in such a hurry to get out there and shovel? I didn’t want to miss my opportunity.

Besides, once it starts melting, I suspect it’ll be a lot heavier and harder to move.

The Joy of Flying with an Experienced Professional Videographer

Makes me wonder why I bother with the amateurs.

I had a great flight yesterday. A flight that should stand as a shining example of the kind of flying I love to do with the kind of professionals I like to work with. Let me tell you about it.

But first — because I can’t keep a short story short — some background.

Dealing with Amateurs

I feel the pain of professional photographers — folks who have invested thousands of dollars and years of their lives accumulating quality photography equipment, learning their craft, and practicing until they know how to make every shot count. These people are now competing with amateurs who buy DSLR cameras and call themselves “photographers.” These people use the “shotgun approach” to photography — they shoot dozens of images with the hopes that one or two of them will satisfy their client. They undercut the professionals in pricing because they simply don’t have as much invested in the business and, indeed, some might even have other jobs to support them. The professionals are losing jobs — and their livelihoods — because the amateurs are taking away their clients.

As a pilot providing aerial photography flights, I see this a lot. I get calls from photographers and videographers looking for a platform to get their aerial shots. If they don’t balk at my prices, they usually come in with a set time limit to minimize their flying costs. I can understand this — to a certain extent, anyway. Then they arrive for the shoot and immediately begin to show just how amateurish and unprofessional they are by:

  • Bringing the wrong equipment. I’m talking about consumer quality cameras and lenses, telephoto and long zoom lenses, DSLRs for video, and bulky camera bags full of equipment they will not need and likely cannot access anyway during the flight.
  • Ignoring my advice for seating. If they’re serious about getting good shots of a specific target, they should sit behind the pilot. That’s the only way the pilot can see what they see.
  • Bringing two photographers with two different missions. Usually it’s a still photographer brought along on a video flight. That simply isn’t going to be as cost effective as they think if they take my advice and put the primary photographer behind me.
  • Failing to communicate what they want or expect. I can’t fly the way they need me to if they don’t tell me what they want. They have a microphone next to their mouths. They need to use it. Without specific instructions, I can only assume that what I’m doing is what they want. They have no right to complain later if it isn’t.
  • Making unreasonable demands. I’m talking about expecting to fill all seats in the helicopter when the extra weight would seriously affect performance. (I no longer do photo/video flights with more than two passengers on board. Period.) I’m talking about expecting the pilot to fly at top speed from target to target and then stop “on a dime” if a good shot comes into view along the way. I’m talking about expecting the pilot to hover low-level, fly close to obstacles such as wires, and perform other maneuvers that simply aren’t safe.
  • Talking down to the pilot. I’ve seen this too many times. Amateurs with a bankroll have expensive equipment, no clue how to use it, and an attitude that makes me want to kick them in the teeth. They know it all — or think they do — and they feel a need to correct me every chance they get. I take guys like this just once, give them what they ask for, and never take them again. I don’t want clients like this.

I can think of at least two posts I’ve written that talk about the problems with specific amateurs: “Flying The 2010 Parker 425” and “Tips for Aerial Photographers.” You can get a better idea of the kind of crap I have to deal with by reading those.

Dealing with Professionals

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about working with a seasoned professional who has lots of experience with aerial photography.

I started to get an idea of the level of professionalism I’d face before I even met the photographer. It was 7 AM and I needed to meet the client in Ephrata, WA at 8 AM. I was prepping the helicopter for the 20-minute flight. I wasn’t sure whether we’d have a single base of operations or if we’d be moving around. I needed to know whether I should remove doors before heading out.

The videographer, I’d been told, would be using a Tyler Minigyro. I’ve had experience with these before. They’re relatively flexible gyro-stabilized mounts that the videographer holds during flight. Because I wouldn’t be using my Moitek Mount, which needs to be installed in a specific seat, the videographer had three seats to choose from. Which door should I remove?

I called the client, coincidentally named Tyler. He was with the videographer. He asked the videographer what he thought. I heard his response through the phone: “The best seat is behind the pilot so she can see what I see.”

Rigged For Photo Flight
Here’s my helicopter yesterday morning, rigged for the photo flight with both back doors removed.

That was the exact right answer. “I like this guy already,” I told my client. I wound up removing both back doors in case lighting conditions made the videographer want to change seats. As it turned out, I didn’t need to do that and probably shouldn’t have — it caused additional wind to enter the aircraft during point-to-point travel. In all honesty, I probably could have left the doors on until meeting the client — and then stowed them in the client’s SUV.

Here’s Jim, the videographer, almost ready to fly.

After picking up one client in Ephrata and flying down to Desert Aire in Mattawa, I met the other clients, including the videographer. The videographer was a burly bearded guy named Jim who was friendly and good-natured. He’d flown quite a bit with a pilot friend of mine in Idaho. He had a huge array of professional equipment, including the rented Tyler Minigyro, two enormous battery packs, an older RED camera with external hard disk, two lenses, a half dozen camera batteries, and a video monitor for the front seat observer. While this may seem like a lot of equipment, he only carried what he needed onboard; there were no extraneous camera bags and loose items.

After prepping most of the equipment, Jim told me he liked to start each shoot with a meeting to cover the expectations. Another sign of a professional. We chatted for a while about the targets we’d be shooting — mostly dams and recreational areas along the Columbia River — and the kinds of shots he was looking for. I told him what I needed from him — clear communication of what he wanted — and told him that I’d do what I could to get him in position for all of his shots. I assured him that the helicopter’s performance with just three people on board and 3/4 tanks fuel would be sufficient for most maneuvers.

We wound up taking off the front passenger door for the other client, who wanted to get some still images. (Of course.) Fortunately, for the duration of the flight I was not asked to put him into position to get his shots; he just shot what he wanted when he could get the right composition.

We lifted off and got to work around 9 AM, leaving Tyler behind to shoot on the ground. We immediately encountered some problems with the camera. First it was dropping frames and then it was locking up. Jim switched a battery in flight and we were able to get to work. His instructions to me were clear and easy to follow. I could tell that he’d flown with a lot of pilots before by the way he phrased his requests: “If you think it’s safe, can we…” It was obvious that he understood the limitations of helicopters and the potential danger of certain maneuvers. That comes from a lot of flying. (I’ve only had two other clients who clearly understood limitations: one had been a passenger in a helicopter for more hours than I’ve flown as a pilot and the other one is an airplane pilot.)

It wasn’t long before we ware working smoothly together, almost as if we’d worked together for a long time. He’d ask for maneuvers and I’d do my best to deliver them. He and the front seat passenger would ooh and aah when they saw a particularly nice shot in the viewfinder or monitor. He’d tell me when I was doing something right and when I wasn’t doing it quite the way he wanted. Communication was excellent — I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a better communicator.

The helicopter performed remarkably well, especially that morning when the temperatures were still cool. All flight sequences, including sideways “crabbing” flights at speeds up to 30 knots, were amazingly smooth. This was, in part, due to the fact that there was hardly a breath of wind. I couldn’t have asked for better flying conditions that morning, although I wish it was about 15 degrees cooler that afternoon.

We worked our way up the Columbia River, shooting the dams, boats on the river, cultural and recreational sites, bridges, cliffs, communities, and more. We refueled at Ellensburg and kept flying, always moving upriver. Time flew by. By the time we reached the Rock Island Dam just downriver from Wenatchee and Malaga, I was starting to feel fatigued and I think Jim was, too. After a quick stop at Quincy Airport to meet Tyler to swap out batteries, we got onto our last leg of the flight which took us to Euphrata and Moses Lake. We shot agricultural and industrial sites along the way.

Unseasonably Warm
It’s been unseasonably warm this September in central Washington state.

By the time we landed at Moses Lake, I felt done — as in “stick a fork in me” done. The OAT gauge registered 101°F on the ramp. I was the only one with a door on the helicopter and was sweating up a storm by the time we touched down. Thank heaven for the folks at Million Aire; the girl who greeted us with a cart handed each of us an icy cold bottle of water that I really needed.

Jeez Louise! That’s a big plane!

By the time Tyler arrived and was escorted with the SUV out to the ramp, we’d unloaded most of the equipment from the helicopter. A Boeing 747 rolled in on the taxiway behind me and parked beside me; I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to a 747 on a ramp. (The damn thing is huge!) My clients stowed their equipment in the SUV and I fastened the door. I also let the FBO top off both tanks with fuel. Then my passenger and I were on our way back to Ephrata and, 15 minutes later, I was on my way home.

I got home around 4 PM. I’d spent 7.0 hours flying.

What Made this Great

I think it’s safe to say that this was one of the best aerial video gigs I’ve done in a long time. A few things made it so good:

  • The experience and professionalism of the videographer. He knew his stuff, he knew what worked, he never asked for anything I couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver. He was reasonable and extremely communicative. He was a real pleasure to work with.
  • The targets. The flight itself took us over some really nice scenery so point-to-point flying was a pleasure. The targets were interesting to see from the air and, in some cases, a bit challenging to shoot because of obstacles such as wires and cliff faces.
  • The length of the flight. It was refreshing to fly with someone who was more interested in getting the shot than minimizing flight time. More than once, we’d redo a shot just to make sure we got what the client needed. We also approached targets from a variety of angles and altitudes. This meant that we were in the air a long time. And I’ll be honest with you: I’d rather do one 7-hour video flight with no pressure to finish within a certain time than seven 1-hour video flights that must be done within an hour.

I really liked this client and hope I get more work with them in the future. And I hope they feel the same about me.

I suspect they might.

What Matters Most

A life lesson in a video.

Yesterday was my birthday. It was a bittersweet day for me — a year ago on my birthday was the day my husband called and told me he wanted a divorce.

What kind of sick bastard asks his wife for a divorce on her birthday? After living with her for 29 years? The kind of bastard I was stupid enough to marry.

Anyway, my bank — yes, my bank — emailed me a birthday message with a link to a video. The message said:

Just a friendly little birthday wish from us to you. We can’t send you a double-tiered chocolate cake (it won’t fit through the mail slot — we tried), but hopefully this little video will help brighten your big day.

Have an awesome b-day filled with fun, happiness and, of course, saving.

Enjoy many more, Saver.

Normally, I’d trash it as spam, thinking it was some kind of marketing ploy. If so, it would be pretty tacky. But INGDirect (now CapitalOne 360) is not your average bank. So I clicked the link.

Here’s the video:

I cried when I watched it, of course. I already understood the message — what happiness is really all about. In fact, I blogged about it earlier this month. What made me cry is that it clearly showed the difference in philosophy between me and my ex-husband.

You see, I understand that happiness is making life what you want it to be so you can look around yourself and be happy about what you see. I do work I like to do in a place I like to do it. I have what I need and not much more. I’m not interested in impressing anyone with showy possessions. I’d rather spend time and money and energy seeing and learning new things to make me a more rounded person than to piss it away on crap. I save for my future and avoid unnecessary debt. This enables me to keep my time flexible and to really enjoy life. That’s what it’s all about.

My ex-husband, however, apparently believes that happiness is about keeping up with the Joneses, working at an unfulfilling job to pay for an empty lifestyle that revolves around eating out with the same four or five people, watching television, and buying showy things like a costly second home, airplane he never flies, and Mercedes to show off to friends. He made his obsession with financial wealth pretty clear to me when he went after my business assets and money in the divorce, refusing to settle unless I gave him my half of our our paid-for house plus $50,000 in cash and paid off his debt in the home equity line of credit. His greed would have left me nothing to reboot my life and keep my business afloat — but he didn’t seem to give a damn about that. He forced me to spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees to defend what was rightfully mine. (We’ll see how that worked out for him soon.)

I cried mostly because he wasn’t always that way — at least I didn’t think he was — and I pitied him, as I so often do these days, for wasting his life away. For missing the point.

My friends have been telling me lately how glad they are to see me so happy after such a difficult time. I’m glad, too. I’m happy and will stay happy — because I know what matters most: spending your time doing things you like to do with the people you like to be with.