Monday, March 13, 2017

A Day of Spring

Truly it has not been springlike this winter in Oregon.  However, today it's been quite pleasant, no rain, sunshine and temperature worthy of a sweatshirt only.  So it's time to blog about gardening and loving the yard.

I could have broken from the hiatus much earlier; the crocus were blooming-in the snow.  Irises were poking their leaves out, but then they do that the fall before and just sit there through the winter.  The bluebells are thick like a lawn, and mowed off by the deer like a lawn.  Tulips are slowing inching up and for the most part behind temporary fences since deer treat tulips like chocolate cheesecake-delicious.

We did have burn day last week.  The first burn of the spring is always special to reduce the pile of trimmings from throughout the winter.  It's a special annual season, a time to dig in the soil which is wet and soft but the skies are not so wet.  The transition is often surprisingly, going from constantly wet sidewalks to desert-like cracks in the garden.

So Sunday was a sun day and the last for a while as the weatherman posted a series of dark rainy clouds on this weeks forecast.  So back to some of the indoor activities until the next sunny day comes up.

Happy spring (a week early).

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How Long is Long Enough

Nine months is long enough for a fetus to develop in preparation for birth.  So science, experience and a mother's attitude will tell you.  College students figure it's about 20-30 minutes that they should wait for an absent professor.  More than an hour for a traditional Christian Sunday morning worship service is pushing the edge of being too long.  One hundred to a hundred and twenty minutes is just about right for the length of a movie.

But how long is long enough to allow a new presidential administration to establish itself before evaluating its performance.  If the actions in the first several days make everyone happy maybe that's enough.  If the actions in the first weeks seem to consistently disturb a large number of people, maybe that enough.  If there are highs and lows, if people have varied opinions, maybe one needs to wait a bit longer, weeks, months, a year?

Today it's been four weeks since inaugural day and the country is gravely divided on the evaluation of these first four weeks and the effectiveness of the government during this time.  Eight years ago an African American nominated and supported by the Democratic Party was elected.  Those who didn't vote for him vowed to disrupt any efforts by him to do anything.  Now the shoe is on the other foot, but again those who didn't vote for the current president have rather consistently blocked most efforts by the present president to govern the country.  Some would even say that he is not governing the country but padding his resumé, bankroll and ego.

While I may be among those who see his efforts as counter to traditional and progressive ideals, I more strongly believe that we must find common ground and work together to advance conditions to help all persons.  Perhaps my frustration comes when I don't see current policies and governance improving the lives of all persons but only some persons.  My frustration is also that that then finding a common goal for the betterment of all persons, we argue about what others are doing wrong and trying to obstruct their efforts.

I have no solution to our dilemma or even a clear understanding of our dilemma just as million of much smarter persons don't have an answer, but I would suggest one place to start.  Work with each to improve life on planet earth by finding a simple common goal and working toward that goal without labels and titles for our philosophies.  I believe that if leaders of traditionally opposed parties would clear define goals to improve life and honestly and intelligently debate the path to those goals we would improve our lives.  We can balance poverty and wealth without taking anything from anyone.  We can accommodate residents, natives and guests around the same table.  We can believe our faith while recognizing those who believe in another faith.

We can continue to maintain a great society.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

On the Edge

It's super bowl Sunday; they say it's an unofficial national holiday.  Sometimes I wonder if it's considered more important than Christmas.  Too be a bit extreme, I wonder if comparing a couple teams of big men knocking each other to the ground over or paying thousands of dollars to watch that to a poor man who taught us to love each other, to be non-violent and whose memory and lessons continue to inspire and affect the entire world after 2000 years.

Yet, the wisdom of our current catholic pope saw the virtues of this day: to come together in unity to enjoy ourselves, to be positive; to respect rules and work together.  He helped me to make the connection between something I cherish and something I accept.

At church a mother of a young man, probably just shy of 30 years old, asked if I might visit with him about his questions concerned the reason for life and how God fits into the picture.  He is very close to family who lost a son a dozen years ago to cancer.  Now the dead boy's sister, just over 20 years old, is fighting cancer and not doing well.  So where is God in this scenario?

The super bowl pre-show included a clip of Johnny Cash's "Old Ragged Flag."  It speaks to respecting the flag that has been through many wars.  The men and women that have worked and fought so hard to keep America free both in war and peace, I respect them highly, to the point that I tear-up when I think about it.  However, I don't agree with pledging alliance to a piece of cloth, despite its symbolism, instead pledging alliance to the principles that form this country and society.

A blog I follow recently spoke of an open mind and how after listening openly one can close the mind on an idea judged to be best.  I'd be a hypocrite to say that my mind is more open than that because saying that means I have closed my mind.  Despite being raised in Christian doctrine that didn't leave much room for questions, I think I have more questions than ever including the role of Jesus and the nature of God.

Just about everything seems to sit on a razor thin edge where one could go one way or another.  So what do I know or believe.  I believe that I should first and foremost benefit other people and most issues will stay on the edge as questions that are secondary to what's most important.

I hope that if I fall off the edge on one side or the other I can climb back up to see what on the other side.  And you know even when I question God I inherently accept the God's existence because I'm asking God about God's existence.  Confusing isn't it.  That's living on the edge.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Inside Homesteading

If we mimicking homesteading or living off the land, and I do envision that often from raising some of our own food in garden, orchard and barnyard, there is the inside component, baking, cleaning, preparing food, cooking.  And so is today.

We've cut back on the baking, which is really hard to do because the products are so delicious, breads, sweet breads, rolls, cinnamon or grey rolls, pies, cookies, cakes, but so full of sugars, fats and carbohydrates.  But it's Christmas and we get to bake all these goodies for the special meals, as gifts and for parties when someone else will eat them.  We just get to bake them.

Today is in preparation for tomorrow when we give cinnamon rolls to the volunteers at the clinic.  Almost before my feet hit the floor when getting out of bed, I sprinkle the yeast over warm water and dribble in a bit of honey, honey fresh from the bees near Carson, North Dakota.  After a shower and dressing, and after the yeasty water is frothy, I add the other ingredients: molasses for a old-fashioned homemade delicious flavor, oil, milk (actually I add water and powdered milk), a nip of salt to enhance the flavors, about half the flour as whole wheat, it's healthier and it's adds to the old-fashioned flavor and some of the while flour.  I continue to add white flour until the consistency is right on.

Here's where I gleefully deviate from the "old-fashioned."  I have it all in the Kitchen-Aid mixer bowl and I turn on the mixer watching all the ingredients become one smooth silky batter.  Switching to the dough hook, I slowly add the rest of the flour until it appears to be a bread dough climbing the sides of the now dry walls of the bowls.  Onto the chopping board for kneading and adding flour for that perfect texture, about 100 folds in the kneading.  Into a large bowl so the batter, now called dough, can rest and rise to about double the size.

When it's doubled, the fun begins.  The dough is soft and silky and feels so good to knead.  Once the gases caused by the growing yeast are all kneaded out, it's divided and rolled out on the chopping block, about a quarter to three-eighths thick.  Spread on the soft butter, crumble on the brown sugar and sprinkle a coat of cinnamon.  Roll up, slice into inch and a half pieces, and place on their sides in a oiled pan.  We like the glass pans.

After another 15 or so minutes of resting and rising, it's in the oven, gas not wood, with a thermostat set at 350˚F for about 13 minutes.  Then it's out with an old-fashioned pot holder, dumped upside-down on the chopping block and dig in.  Oh no, these are for gifts and so we only get the one that broke or fell apart or was distorted or was damaged [intentionally] when coming out of the pan.

Did I mention that during the rest periods a cake was mixed and baked?  It's an eggless, marble cake to be served at church as a test for the upcoming wedding cake.  And so the day's routine is gloriously not routine.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Not Much Yard Work

There are parts of the US who yard work now means shoveling or blowing snow; feet of it.  Here in Oregon it means emptying the rain gage and mowing the lawn one more time before Christmas.  I did rake the last of the leaves yesterday and lit the burn pile of yard debris, twigs and branches.  That's because there was no rain accumulating in the gage.

Today might have been more routine for this time of the year.  Mix and heat some water and sugar for the humming birds.  Put seeds in the bird feeder for the jays, chickadees, juncos, and dove.  The quail can share also but they were out back searching through the lawn.  The deer wondered into the yard until I asked it to leave.

There's the route to feed the dog, Sheba, to feed the cats, Dr. Skittles and Toby, to feed the chickens and gather any eggs if there are any.  Actually yesterday there were two, the first ones in about a month and they were pullet sized.  The filter in the fish pond will have to be cleaned tomorrow.

We did pick the two squash and six pumpkins a couple days before Thanksgiving so we had real pumpkin pie and froze the squash for another day.  The forecast talks about snow in the mountains, even down to a thousand feet but we're at less than 500 and the valley floor is somewhat lower than that.  We're safe; maybe some scattered rain showers.  A great time to write, paint and do some woodworking.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


It's hard to avoid these days, politics, that is.  It was suggested in the media, and the media is always right, right?, to avoid the political conversations at the Thanksgiving family gathering.  We did, for the most part, avoid that conversation but it did creep in a bit.  Fortunately it was quite civil, perhaps because it was rather one-sided.  In fact, it was suggested that in a world of division and some hostility that our house was a safe zone.  One could say what they wanted without arguing and fighting.

You may have guessed that the conversation was not in support of our president-elect.  If you guessed that corrected you can probably also presume that we receive emails with similar leanings, as we did this morning.  Now it would be wonderful to fight everything that our president-elect has suggested as a part of his plans for governing our country.  This may be where we're making mistakes, regardless of who you voted for or what your perference for governing this country may be.  It's what the Congress has done for the past eight years, block everything that the president proposes, and that didn't get the country anywhere except frustration and our current political atmosphere.

Let's assume that everything we propose is not perfect and that everything the other side proposes is totally wrong, because in the real world that's probably true.  So when someone suggests that we should block everything the president-elect proposes, perhaps we should step back a step and see what it is that we are blocking and consider a compromise.  Perhaps all of us should consider what is best for our nation as a society and work with each other in that direction.

I would also think that we could work together trying to understand each other and continue in our small ways at home to care for and support each other and in particular those in greatest need and those feeling marginalized.

One might hope that the words politics and polite would have some common grounds, such as politics is a process of being polite in community decision making.  That's not true.  Politics has a Greek origin meaning "affairs of the state," while polite has Latin roots for being "refined, organized."  Perhaps by common use we can make politics polite.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bread, Pies and Cookies

Days don't get much better than ones like today; we're preparing food, lots of it, with some variety, for dear ones both friends and family, young and not-as-young.  The day is special as we go beyond the routine making tasty foods that are more seasonal and special.  The day started long before today with planning, making lists, gathering supplies and doing preliminary tasks.  Last evening I baked the traditional and sought after Gramma cookies.  While Gail is a grandmother and the cookies could be named after her, if she actually did the baking, or they could be named after my mother who was a grandmother and did bake these cookies later in life, but actually the name was coined when I was a youngster and my grandmother Marie [Saxowsky] baked them.  She probably did them more than just at Christmas but I remember them particularly at Christmas.  This batch turned out really well; some of the best I've ever done, lightly brown on the bottom as well as the top, plump and soft but didn't sag from being under-baked.

So today started by running hot water over the metal mixer bowl so it would be warm when I put water, yeast and honey in it to proof.  Then sift the powdered sugar and cocoa together for frosting the cookies.  Actually Gramma cookies are pepper nuts or as they were called in German, Pfeffernuss.  As I was putting some ingredients back into the cupboards I wondered what ingredients my grandmother had to work with back in her day, especially when she was young.  Thinking first about chocolate chip cookies, when were chocolate chips first available.  The answer is that the first chocolate chip (Toll House cookies named after the Toll House Inn where they were first made) cookies were made with chopped up Nestle's chocolate bars in the mid 1930's.  The "chip" was made starting in 1941.

The ingredients in Gramma cookies were all available throughout her life; flour, lard, coffee, eggs, spices, sugar, molasses, honey, cocoa, powdered sugar, vanilla.  She probably made chocolate chip cookies after the word about their goodness got around.

Gramma made her frosting thin enough to dip the entire cookie in the frosting, dip them out with her hand and place them on wax paper.  I vary a bit from that in that my frosting is a bit thicker, I dip only the top into the frosting and spoon off the excess before putting them on wax paper, or newspapers.

By now the yeast is proofed and we mix up the batter in a nice mixer, knead it on a wooden chopping block and place in a bowl with a towel over the top to rise.  That aside, we combine shortening (lard would have been used decades ago) and flour, blending them until they are uniformly combined.  I use the wire wisp attachment on the mixer.  Then I switch to the regular blade and slowly add the water, letting it mix only a short time until the water is integrated throughout the mixture.  Then it's squeezed together into a uniform ball before I cut it in half and roll it out as a pie crust.  Gail makes the pumpkin mix from pumpkins from the garden that we cleaned and cooked last evening.  Soon the pies are in the oven and setting up.

Back to the bread dough which has doubled, it's kneaded and separated into a small ball to be rolled out, spread with butter, cut into small pieces and rolled up into crescent rolls.  The last ball became cinnamon rolls.  Yummy.

It's time to move on.  The cookies are frosted and the frosting is setting up.  The pies are out of the oven and cooling.  The bread rolls are on the cooling rack waiting to serve their purpose tomorrow along with the turkey, all the trimmings and the side dishes.  Okay, maybe tomorrow with be a better day than today.  Two great days in rows is quite grand.