Growing Mint: An Herb Garden Staple

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Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant
Chocolate mint in the garden next to tomato plant

Mint is a perennial herb with very fragrant, toothed leaves and tiny purple, pink, or white flowers. It has a fruity, aromatic taste and offers many health benefits. There are many varieties so you have a wide range to select from. One thing is certain — mint, grown organically, is an herb garden and kitchen staple, much as basil is.

The Many Varieties of Mint

The number of mint flavors can be a bit overwhelming; I like to keep at least two of them growing. An odd thing is the way you can identify it other than the smell. If you look close, the stem is actually square. The oddities of nature, yes? Anyway, pick your favorites from this list:

  • Chocolate. Yes, it really does look and taste like the real thing. My favorite additive to go into my dark-roast coffee grounds in the morning. None of those artificial chemical flavors for me.
  • Apple/Pineapple.
  • Spearmint. Was this your favorite chewing gum flavor as a kid?
  • Pennyroyal.
  • Citrus Mint. Just the thing for iced tea on a summer afternoon.
  • Corsican. This is one of the strongest tasting of mints and it is also the smallest; growing tight-knit it makes a good ground cover in semi-shady areas. Unlike most mints it can be difficult to grow. It likes to be well-watered. It makes a good companion plant for things like chives and tomatoes.
  • Peppermint. For adding a bit of candy flavor without all the sugar.
  • Banana.
  • Orange. Also good in tea and cold brew coffee.

Planting and Care of Mint

  • First, consider that mint spreads rapidly. This means growing it in a container or enclosed within some kind of root barricade to rein in the horizontal runners and underground rhizomes.
  • Mint likes light soil with good drainage; its native habitat is along stream banks.
  • Most varieties prefer some shade; check the exact requirements of your favorite variety/s.
  • It likes a thin layer of compost or organic fertilizer every few months.
  • Keep the area covered with a layer of hardwood mulch to retain moisture. Do NOT use any colored mulch. Those color chemicals and dyes are not your friends, especially if you intend to consume the leaves.
  • Other than watering, a light top-dressing with compost, some mulch, and occasional organic fertilizer, these are easy plants to grow.
  • Prune them back regularly. the smaller, younger leaves are the most flavorful… but, where you let them flower, the butterflies will thank you!

Nutritional Benefits

  • Aids in digestion.
  • Eases dizziness and nausea.
  • Helps with nasal congestion.
  • Boosts dental health.
  • Improves blood circulation.
  • Boosts immunity. That’s not a bad thing during the CORVID-19 pandemic.

By now you can see why growing mint in your garden or containers is a good idea. It’s healthy, tasty, nutritious, and importantly to many of us, easy to grow.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

8 Immune-System Strategies for Cold and Flu Season

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Cold vs flu symptoms
Cold vs flu symptoms

It just doesn’t seem fair; just when we are feeling upbeat and optimistic as we look forward to spring, songbirds, and short britches, the cold and flu season arrives. Just like clockwork many of us are coughing, enduring stuffy noses, sneezing, and worse. And to add insult to injury, this year we have to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19). For any of these afflictions, these 8 immune-system strategies will help to avoid sickness and make life a wee bit more manageable while on the mend if you succumb.

  • Get a Flu Shot. OK, you should have gotten it some time ago but there is still time if what you’ve got is the common cold. When your immune system is already compromised the flu might see you as an easy target.
  • Cut Back on the Alcohol. Too much can leave you susceptible to dehydration and poor sleep which are the two immunity-boosters you need the most. Being a bit tipsy can also lead to unhealthy food choices, sleeping less than you need to, and a higher chance of skipping workouts, all of which will have a negative effect on your immune system.
  • Get Enough Sleep. This can’t be stressed enough. Not getting enough sleep can lower the immune response. Your body has to have the correct amount of restorative time that it needs to fight off germs of all types. Quality deep sleep is the key factor but it all counts. See the image below. This was my sleep history last night as recorded by my Garmin 235 watch. First, I didn’t get enough rack-time and my deep sleep wasn’t optimized. I still have work to do. Hey, I’m dealing with it.
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
Sleep pattern screenshot recorded with a Garmin 235 watch
  • Heft that Water Bottle. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate. Copious hydration keeps energy levels up and also allows your body to scoot toxins and other waste materials out of your system at a faster rate. This fine-tunes your immune system’s ability to fight infection. Remember that many fruits and vegetables contain both water and electrolytes.
  • Include Probiotics in Your Diet. A surprising proportion of your immune system is actually in your gastrointestinal tract. The cells lining your gut have a responsibility for producing antibodies which fight off bacteria and viruses. Foods such as yogurt with live cultures, kimchi, kombucha, and sauerkraut are your friends. Supplements are also effective for this and overall health to keep everything in balance.
  • Keep Your Hands Away from Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes. You probably touch your face more than you think you do. Even though you might wash your hands often, germs can still build up on your hands shortly after. The CDC tells us that germs can easily enter the body via the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Get Enough Exercise. Stick to your workout schedule. It improves the way your immune system combats germs and disease, making it more efficient at fighting subsequent infection, the National Institutes of Health points out.
  • Finally, Wash Your Hands Frequently. This one should be common sense but many people neglect it to their detriment. When it is not convenient, use a hand sanitizer. Keep a squirt pump bottle in one of your car cup-holders. Ladies, put one in your purse. Studies have shown that some of the most germ-laden surfaces are grocery store carts and restaurant salt shakers and menus. How often have you seen these items wiped down with sanitizer? That’s right. Never.

Adhering to these 8 immune-System strategies for cold and flu season may not guarantee that you won’t get sick but it will certainly shift the odds in your favor. And remember, you are not only protecting yourself, you aren’t spreading anything to others.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

A History of American Medical Insurance

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Medicare health insurance card and benefits
Medicare health insurance card and benefits

Today we are surrounded by so much high-tech medical apparatuses and procedures that we take them for granted. For example I recently had laparoscopic inguinal (groin) hernia surgery. No scalpel slashing, just 3 punctures. All the work was done microscopically and I was on my feet withing 3 hours.

But it wasn’t always that way. More than 90% of commonly-accepted medicine did not even exist in the 1950s. One of the consequences is that people, average people, not just the monied upper-crust, are living longer. A greater understanding about things like controlling high blood pressure adds years and quality of life.

The Cost of Modern Medicine

It should come as no surprise that all this progress comes with a cost. In fact, it has been rising faster than any other expenditure when looked at on a national level. Flash back if you will to 1930–we spent $2.8 billion on health care. That equates to 3.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) or only $23 per person.

In 2015 that rose to $3 trillion. That’s $9,536 per person or 15% of GDP. During the 1980s medical expenditures rose by 117%. Of that, 43% can be attributed to inflation. 10% can be attributed to the rise in population and longer life expectancy. 23% was due to new technology, medicines, and treatment innovations. The remaining 24% is due to another instance of inflation that resides totally within the medical community. This last number tells us that there is a lack of oversight and cost transparency. There is no financial propping up as with the banking, agricultural, and auto-building industries.

The Transformation of Hospitals

It was only in the 1850s that the medical community realized that diseases were caused by microorganisms. This became known as the germ theory of disease and it was indeed revolutionary. It led to research that was to begin to focus on preventative rather than just curative treatment. Rabies was banished from human population in 1885. Diphtheria and whooping cough were brought under control. When milk began to be pasteurized the death rate of children went from 125.1/thousand to 15.8/thousand in 1925.

In 1873 hospitals, of which there were only 149 in the country, were more like hospices; the poor and and deathly-ill went there to die; those institutions were little more than petri dishes, not at all sanitary. But that changed because of the changes brought about by germ theory.

By 100 years later the number of hospitals had increased to over 7,000 and their role had morphed into medical research and clinical medicine. Exciting times. But… they cost a lot to operate and the number of patients could not be reliably estimated. The solution? Late in the 1920s hospital insurance was introduced in Dallas, Texas to stabilize cash flow. For a premium of $6 per year Baylor University Hospital would provide 21 days of care to subscribers.

Soon other hospitals adopted this model and formed confederations so that patients could choose a treatment facility. This was the business model for Blue Cross which launched in California in 1932. These were rudimentary insurance plans; they did not include co-pays or deductions, just fixed premiums meant to stabilize cash flow. One consequence is that patients gravitated toward hospital stays (expensive) rather than outpatient treatments (cheaper).

This insurance was paid directly to the hospital and not to the individual. This eliminated any opportunity to “shop around.” Since the money was not coming itemized out of the patient’s pocket, why should he or she care what the price tag was?

The Government Fails to Regulate Medical Insurance

During the mid to late 30s Blue Cross was spreading rapidly. The states moved to try to regulate them to the same standards as other types of “insurance.” But the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association lobbied to be exempt, claiming an exception due to operating on a non-profit basis. The IRS agreed and ruled that they were also exempt from federal taxation. Blue Cross and other insurance companies emerging in the field operated on a cost-plus basis. Now there was zero incentive to control costs an strive for efficiency.

Hospitals began to compete not on price but by wooing doctor referrals. Doctors were being paid “reasonable and customary” charges. If Dr. C began charging a bit more, Dr. A and Dr. B would follow suit and the standard of “reasonable and customary” inched up. No oversight.

The Modern Medical Insurance Paradigm

When World War II drew us in, two things happened. One, the labor market got tighter since more workers enlisted in the military. Two, price and wage controls were implemented. In order to attract the best employees, companies began offering employer-paid health insurance as a fringe benefit which the IRS recognized as a business expense.

The National Labor Relations Board imposed collective bargaining on health insurance plans so unions began to demand more and more, driving prices up. But a consequence was that the patient became further distanced from the medical system and they lost many choices; one must take what is offered.

In 1965 the government waded into the medical market with Medicaid and Medicare. Initially, hospitals and doctors resisted but when they began to reap the dividends they quickly changed their tune. Now state governments largely controlled the purse strings of most major hospitals and thus could influence policy.

More recently a major factor in driving up medical costs is litigation. Medical malpractice suits have exploded. Cases have increased by a 1:300 ratio in the years from 1969 to 1990 alone. A special class of lawyers have even emerged to take advantage of this low-hanging fruit; these are your ambulance-chasers and your class-action law firms where actual plaintiffs make pennies while the lawyers walk away with the bulk of the settlements.

This short history of American medical insurance should serve to put things into perspective as we have a national debate over how it really should be handled. Should we stay on our present course or model our system on Britain or Canada? Should we believe in a socialist “free for all” system as Bernie Sanders advocates? (Hint: there’s no such thing as free.) Should we adopt an Obamacare model complete with a Jacobin death panel? This will continue to be an evolving national debate.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

A Fundamental Guide to Long Runs

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Long run on an asphalt highway
Long run on an asphalt highway

Many runners, especially newbies, are of the mindset that running long is a workout done solely for preparing for a half marathon, full marathon, or an ultramarathon. In actuality, there’s quite a bit more to the story. They are an important part of a properly balanced training program for runners of all stripes. It is just one aspect of the 10 habits of highly-successful runners. By the way, the same logic applies to walkers as well.

Weekly long distance runs also supply key benefits for athletes that are preparing for a 5K, 10K, or any distance. It also keeps the body from plateauing for individuals intent on burning calories for a weight loss program.

In short, longer distance, slower workouts are just one more factor in a comprehensive workout program. Your easy and recovery runs should make up the bulk of your program in order to avoid injury.

Round out your weekly routine by adding in some interval workouts, fartlek, tempo runs, and sporadic pick-ups to activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers for developing speed. Adding in some hill training will boost leg strength and teaches your legs to handle lactic acid build-up.

Whatever type of workout you have planned for the day it’s important to stick to your workout warm-up routine. It might not seem necessary for a slow long run but in fact it is. And after all, there is something to be said for conforming to habit to keep you honest. The importance of rituals in our everyday lives keeps us balanced.

Long Distance Running Stimulates Physiological Adaptations

Running Times (sadly, a now-defunct magazine) coach and columnist Greg McMillan rightly pointed out that there are 3 distinct physiological adaptations that distance training provides us with.

  • New capillary growth. What are capillaries? These are the smallest of blood vessels; the more you have, the more oxygen-delivery your body is efficiently capable of. The end result is that they enhance your ability to do work. Capillaries are also key during the process of dissipating heat as they direct more blood close to your skin.
  • Musculoskeletal strengthening. As Arnold the Terminator would say, “I’ll pump you up!” Similar to the way lifting weights strengthens particular target muscles, when you add stress to your legs it promotes ligament, tendon, and muscle strengthening. To maintain and build bone density be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. As far as supplements go, CoQ10 is highly encouraged for the many benefits for runners, especially us, ahem, older ones. See the graphic below.
  • Enzyme changes. Running long distance encourages an increase in the amount of enzymes in the legs.
The many benefits of CoQ10
The many benefits of CoQ10

Increase Your Running Distance Slowly but Surely

The majority of wise runners do their weekly long runs when they can allocate the time for both the run and the requisite recovery; usually this means the weekend. I’m comfortable with my long run on Saturday and my recovery run on Sunday. Just look at a marathon training schedule and you will see that two things stick out. First, run distance increases adhering to the traditional 10 percent rule.

Secondly, the 10 percent build-up happens every other week in most plans; a good distance on the alternate week is generally about 10 miles for a good maintenance-distance run if you are training for a marathon. It goes without saying is that this rule becomes even more important as one gravitates to longer and more intense endurance events. The second caveat of the 10 percent rule is to limit your total weekly mileage increase to 10 percent.

Make the Long Run a Social Event

There are good reasons for making your long run a social event. And, not because “misery loves company.” Rather because accomplishment loves company. This is one of the best benefits of running clubs. It is certainly much easier to roll out of bed in the sleepy pre-dawn hours when you know your comrades are waiting for you to start laying down the miles. In fact, distance training and comradeship is the foundation of many long-lasting friendships.

As an example, organizations like USA Fit have made a cottage industry of it, and some would say, have taken the concept too far (strongly encouraged to buy merch, etc.) They’re everywhere; in Texas alone there are at least 20 clubs.

These kinds of organizations seem to be largely responsible for the growing phenomenon of marathon walkers (sometimes called turtles). Not that there is anything wrong with that as long as the race organizers let walkers start at least a couple of hours before the gun for the runners goes off.

Hopefully, this guide to long runs has encouraged you to to insert them into your training regimen. Your heart will thank you, your bathroom scale will thank you, and of course it goes a long way towards managing insomnia.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Body Weight, Fat Percentage, and BMI

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Weight loss before and after
Weight loss before and after

Here we are in February. Was weight loss one of your New Year’s resolutions? How’s that working out? Weight loss is kind of a nebulous term. What most people really want is fat loss, not to be confused with lean muscle mass loss.

When a person goes on a diet and introduces weight training, the number on the scale starts to lose its meaning and those pounds reflected are not a good way to judge progress. Your “body weight” may not change much but your percentage of body fat does. Why? Because muscle weighs about 15-20% more than fat so the same “weight” of muscle occupies less real estate than fat. The way your clothes fit give a better indication of your progress than the scale does. Of course, if you do not introduce weight training the scale becomes more of a better indicator. This is also true if you take up running.

BMI is the Best Body Fat Guideline

To maintain optimal health it is important to reach and maintain a certain percentage of body fat. There are many components to your weight such as bone density, level of hydration (water), and organs. BMI or Body Mass Index is a method of estimating a person’s body fat percentage based on their weight and height measurement which it assigns a reference number to. It is easy to calculate. Try it below.

It is helpful to continue to weigh yourself on the scale but to get a real grasp on your “weight”, keep referring to the BMI calculator for an assessment of what you really want to know. The longer you are overweight the more chance you have of high blood pressure, stroke, heart problems, and type 2 diabetes. Don’t relapse into your old fat-inducing bad habits.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

The Trails at Countryside Park, League City, Texas

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Countryside Sports Park, League City, Texas
Countryside Sports Park, League City, Texas

I recently wrote about the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trail. Today I’ll tell you about the Countryside Park here in League City, Texas. Both trails are excellent for hiking, biking, walking , and running. One of the best things about both trail systems is that they are long enough to get some good mileage in.

There are a couple of other things to recommend Countryside. First, the trail is never crowded. Secondly, most of the trail is well-shaded, a real benefit now that we are experiencing the scorching days of summer.

The trail itself is concrete so it’s not as forgiving on the knees as the crushed granite trail in Seabrook, but the shade and scenery more than makes up for that. There plenty of wooded streams which makes for a pleasant view.

How to Get to Countryside Park

Getting there is easy. From I-45, turn west on FM 518 (which is Main Street in League City). Drive about 5 minutes and turn right on Bay Area Blvd. Approximately 1 mile down the road the entrance will be on your right.

Water flowing by the trail.
Water flowing by the trail.
Wildflowers are abundant.
Wildflowers are abundant.

Look for the Wildlife

A turtle catching some morning sun.
A turtle catching some morning sun.
Sub-tropical creek in the woods
Sub-tropical creek in the woods
The trail goes under the highway.
The trail goes under the highway.
A wooden bridge, about 1 mile into the hike.
A wooden bridge, about 1 mile into the hike from the parking lot.
Want to go off trail? There are many rustic side-trails.
Want to go off trail? There are many rustic side-trails.
Clear Creek flows past Countryside Park
Clear Creek flows past Countryside Park (It’s not so clear, is it? What a misnomer.)
The park benches may seem a bit eclectic.
The park benches may seem a bit eclectic.
Park trails amble off into the distance.
Park trails amble off into the distance.
Countryside Park basketball courts
Countryside Park basketball courts
A wooded ravine
A wooded ravine.
Recommended field attire for adventure.
Recommended field attire for adventure. Excuse the perma-stubble; I’m being trendy, OK?
No idea what these wildflowers are.
No idea what these wildflowers are. But I like them.

So there you have it. This (Countryside Sports Park) is another very un-utilized park in our area. That’s a good thing because we can enjoy it without undue crowding. Take time to unwind and enjoy.


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Omron Evolv Blood Pressure Monitor Review

Omron Evolv Bluetooth Blood Pressure Monitor
Omron Evolv Bluetooth Blood Pressure Monitor
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If you are like me, have high blood pressure (hypertension), and have a doctor that wants you to keep records, you really need a blood pressure monitor. My old one was a typical Omron with the cuff, electronic unit, and the associated tube and wires. 

All that made it a bit unwieldy to use or take out of town. Unfortunately, it fell victim to the flood that Hurricane Harvey bestowed on me. So it was time for a replacement.

Enter the Omron Evolve

I knew that I wanted an Omron. Omron blood pressure monitors are the #1 recommended brand by doctors and pharmacists for clinically-accurate home blood pressure monitoring, and the #1 selling manufacturer of blood pressure monitors for over 40 years.

The one I bought and use daily is the Evolv Bluetooth Wireless model. It is affordable and offers many benefits:

Since it is basically just a cuff with all the electronics built in, it’s convenient and portable.

No power wires, just 4 AAA batteries.

It’s compatible with Amazon Alexa.

The free Omron Connect app allows you to upload your readings immediately and wirelessly. The app also features a graph and stores an unlimited number of readings.

Why it’s Important to Monitor Often

If you have hypertension and you are on medication (I’m on Lisinopril), you know that your dosage has to be right. It may not be an issue for many people but I run a lot, sometimes long distances and the meds can affect me in a goofy way.

Another reason to monitor your blood pressure and keep accurate records is that it can vary wildly throughout the day depending on many factors. If you only check in with your doctor every 3 months, what he measures at that one sitting may not even be your normal. But with the Omron Evolv you can just whip out your phone, open the app, and show him your stored data.

So play it safe and take care of yourself so the “silent killer” won’t trip you up.


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