A Celebration of Life

IMG_4323For the past several weeks we have been glamping in our trailer, traveling down Washington state, through coastal Oregon and down to the Redwoods.  This is a trip we have taken, with purpose, twice before.  The first time we made this pilgrimage was for our honeymoon and a celebration of my just having finished a three month round of radiation therapy for breast cancer.  We did the trip in our car, staying in motels along the way.  The second time was five years later with our small travel trailer.

 

This time we have a larger trailer, though it is the same length, it is a foot wider and the “slide” is two feet wider than the one on the old trailer.  We are “glamping.”  You can look this up on the internet, or you can read an old blog of mine.  We travel with a kitchen that is well stocked and sleep in a comfortable bed.  Remember that now I am twenty-one years older than the first trip, I have survived breast cancer a second time and am six years out. This is definitely another celebration.

 

This evening I am sitting on the shore of Soap Lake, Washington, enjoying a beautiful sunset of cerise, rose, gamboge, and cerulean.  (Can you tell I am a painter?) It is warm and dusky and the sky is beautiful.  I have one more night after tonight before I must return to my usual regimen.  I used to come to this lake when I was a little girl.  We would stay in one of the fifties funky motels here which featured a tub with two sets of faucets, one with fresh tap water and one set with hot and cold water from the lake.  This lake is known for its “waters.”  We have carried the waters back to friends for such things as eczema, colitis, hair loss and more.  It was famous around the turn of the last century (1900) for its healing powers.  Tonight I have seen a woman dressed in attire which appeared to be from Pakistan or India approach the water, bow and wash her face in the waters.  Children slash unconcerned about the medicinal qualities and note that they can float better here.

 

I guess that we choose to revisit these waters as it is a pleasant basin in which to relax and enjoy a little R & R.  We had a picnic of cheese curds, landjager, pepperoni, cheddar, asiago and spinach French bread, grapes from my student’s garden, tomatoes from my garden and more with a glass of French wine, while watching the sun set over the far hills, reflected in the waters of the lake.

 

It is dark now, but the sky is clear and the city park where we are camped is quiet and the stars are reflected in the waters.  The breeze has picked up and by morning it will probably be forty degrees though it was seventy this afternoon.  No matter, the crisp morning only serves to make the waters more beautiful. I am thankful to be here twenty-one years after the first celebration to celebrate again.

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Soapy surf the next morning as the wind blew from  the north and frothed the “soap” (read minerals ) in the lake.

 

 

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Dining in Middle America

IMG_4321Today we were traveling through north/central Oregon on our way home from camping.  We stopped to have lunch not far from the Washington/Oregon border.  Many of the small towns in this region are dying away. This was really brought home to me while I “dined” in the local cafe.

 

This town had one main street which was the interstate highway.  Most folks just blazed through without taking in the local color.  Since I am a painter of “vanishing rural America,” I take in everything.  This means every derelict truck, tractor, falling down barn, abandoned gas stations and more.

 

It was one o’clock and my husband thought that we should stop for a bite to eat.  This town included a diner which probably had fifty feet of frontage on the main drag, a market which has a sign painted on its side that says, “Last Market for 67 miles,” and a post office.  There was also a rock shop to purchase stones from piles of plastic boxes stacked in the yard full of rocks.  We went into the diner.

 

When we drove up an older gentleman also arrived on his lawn mower and parked beside the front entrance.  I can only assume that he either didn’t have a car or a driver’s license.  He took one of the ten, or so, stools at the counter.  There were three additional tables for four people each.  We chose a table by the window so we could watch the world drive by.

 

Not long after our arrival, another man pulled out of an alley between two buildings across the street, but since he was headed the wrong way, he went around the block and pulled up out front, well away from the sandwich sign which stated “open.”  No use blocking the information that indicated any signs of life in this little burg.

 

We ordered from a VERY limited menu, but had not received our food when three elderly folks drove up.  There were two women and a man who had trouble exiting the vehicle.  I noticed that the waitress already had the coffee or dishes ordered up and almost ready when the various customers arrived.  One she asked, “Will it be the usual?”

 

Once the group of three where located at the table next to us, the conversations began.  “Where are you from?” “Oh, I have (insert one of many relatives) from near there.”  The conversation continued in a very one-sided way telling us all about things that happened there, how long the man had farmed, how he could no longer farm, how Social Security and the local hospital managed to keep them out of the poorhouse and mostly well. One told how many times she had been married and how it wasn’t happening again.  She had outlived those husbands and wasn’t going for a third try. We got quite a tour of the local gossip and their lives, bless their souls.  They were kind-hearted and probably excited to have someone other than a local to tell their tales.

 

Not long after that a couple in their Mercedes pulled up, obviously out-of-towners as were we.  They sat at the opposite end of the bar stools from us at the third table for four. The two ladies working the kitchen and the tables took their time in the local fashion.  The menu, being limited, meant that there were little complications in producing the requested menu items. I had ordered one of the hamburgers on the menu with a cup of soup. The soup of the day was tomato basil which turned out to be heavenly.  I wished I had ordered a bowl instead of the hamburger which was just a diner burger.

 

Well, it certainly was a view of middle-America.  Looking out the window at all the derelict buildings and thinking I could spend a month here painting “Vanishing Rural American” in this town, I was happy to know that the big houses, shopping malls, and overspending ostentatious public had not found this place yet.  Though the locals had trouble meeting their hospital bills (which were forgiven by the hospital) and the town only had three of its original (out of dozens) storefronts active, I found an amount of peace here talking with folks who had grown up here, attending one room schools, raising wheat, and growing old in the local cafe with their friends.

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The Golden Hour

Hot air balloons at sunrise

Lighting during the golden hour is soft, diffused, and warm. Image by Martin Sojka.

The Golden Hour

It is fall and it is time for doing clean up around the yard, harvesting fruits and vegetables and splitting wood.  However, summer is still upon us here in the Puget Sound Basin.  We have been having temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s.  Most everyone is complaining.  I love it.

We also have the addition of lots and lots of wildfires to the north, east and south of us.  Though the weatherman predicts high temperatures, they are tempered by the largely overcast sky.  The sky is overcast with smoke.  Ashes rain on the land.  My car was covered yesterday morning when I got ready to leave. The advantage, which many don’t seem to realize, is that it is keeping the high temperatures down.  It would have been ten degrees warmer if we didn’t have the high altitude smoke. Occasionally you can smell it, but it isn’t bad.

This morning I split firewood for a while and was bathed in the “golden hour.” Normally the golden hour is only a short while during the day when the sun is above the horizon, but is shrouded with particulate matter near the horizon which causes a golden glow to happen.  It isn’t usually an hour, but that is its name.  Photographers and painters just love it.  Being a painter, I am really enjoying it.  The shadows cast upon the ground all have very orange edges.  The light, though not bright, has the orange/golden color.  I would love to be able to capture this on canvas.  I am taking lots of photos so I can paint it later as I have the wood splitting/veggie harvesting/yard watering and cleanup work to do.  Somehow it is more pleasant during the golden hour which is lasting all day.

Yesterday when I went out I noticed that sun was an orange ball in the sky.  You could look directly at it without endangering your eyesight.  Too bad we didn’t have this condition during the eclipse, we could have all viewed it directly.

For those of you who are experiencing this phenomenon appreciate it while it lasts.  The heat of the day is tempered by it; it gives a wonderful feeling and makes work seem lighter.  It is seldom that we have the opportunity to experience it.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

 

 

Thank you Martin Sojka for your photo.

Summertime

rasp 1

Summertime

Since it is summer and the weather is finally warm, I guess I have some excuse for not writing as often as I should.  Needless to say there are many distractions outside these days.

The yard needs mowing.  We keep it fairly long so we don’t have to water and it will still stay green.  Wonder of wonders, it has been almost a month since it last rained.  This is unheard of in maritime Washington State.  We could use a little rain right about now.  Not only would it green up the yard and wash the dust from all the leaves, it would reduce the danger of fires.  Fires are not usually a problem here, though we take precautions like burn bans and mowing the sides of the road to protect from careless cigarette smokers, but last year eastern Washington was devastated by fires.  This year already over 50,000 acres have burned by the end of June.

My vegetable garden demands a lot of time.  I had promised myself that I would reduce the size this year so I wouldn’t be driven crazy with trying to keep it up.  Also a large garden requires more water and since we must collect all the water we use for it, I probably should have reduced the size.  We are half the way through the first barrel which holds 1500 gallons.  We still have a barrel with 350 gallons and one with 2500.  Hopefully we will make it until the end of the season. I was going to plant half a row of beans, but my husband mentioned that we were just about out in the freezer and we had a whole row last year.  He doesn’t remember that we gave lots to the food bank last year but we will probably  have enough to do that again this year.

It is now raspberry season so I am making raspberry wine and jam and shortcakes.  Picking and processing them takes time.  They need to be processed almost immediately after picking or they will mold and if I don’t stay on top of the picking, the birds get them.  I am happy for them to have some, but I want the lion’s share.

Teaching still takes up two afternoons of my time and painting and writing the rest of my time.  I am working hard toward the goal of publishing my book about my life teaching in Beijing.  It has been a struggle and I have promised myself to have it ready for a publisher this summer.

At the moment I have three shows with over a total of forty paintings on display.  I sold one in the first week it was showing.  Yeah!  Now it is county fair time and I just took three more in for judging yesterday.  I still probably have over one hundred stored in my studio.  I should have a burning party and get rid of the old stuff, but it is summer and I would probably burn down the countryside as the MDF I use burns VERY hot.  Better save that for a winter project.

I have a lot of excuses for not keeping up with the blog, but I really enjoy it when I have a chance to do something on it.  I certainly encourage everyone to have a place to write about their day to day life.  Journals, blogs, or whatever.  I will work harder to try to keep you posted on rural living.

Have a great summer!

A Milestone

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I heard on the radio the other day that the U. S. has accomplished a new milestone.  We have now caught up with England.  Americans spend more money eating out than they do on groceries.  I guess that is a milestone.  I am not sure what it says about us, but maybe we are more affluent?  Not as many people cook?  Too many bad cooks?  More people work full time so they have an excuse not to cook? More offerings out there that tempt us away from our own meal preparation.

I know families that haven’t eaten together in years.  I was surprised to find that a neighborhood family hadn’t sat down to a meal as a family in over eight years.  Kids off to soccer, dates, studies, etc. Mom down at Zumba and dad getting home late from work.  Often times none of them eat the same meal.

Now there is so much fast food that meal preparation is considered a bother.  Then there’s cleaning up as well.  Most folks have a dishwasher so that isn’t as bad as it use to be.  I still don’t own a dishwasher, but my husband and I pitch in together to get the clean up licked lickity-split.

Grocery stores now have full service food isles that have complete meal selections heated and ready to serve.  They also have ones that you can heat.  Restaurants now have take away meals (usually at the same price or higher) for eating at home or office.  So many things are offered at a quality that far exceeds the capabilities of the normal home cook.  Throw out the containers when done and all you have expended is money.  No wonder our dining out costs exceed our grocery bill.

For all my life I have avoided fast food.  I have also avoided prepared foods at the grocery.  My shopping trip at the grocery involves going around the outside isles of the store, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and cash register. I have shop at grocery wholesalers.  I still (2017) purchase a month’s groceries for about $120 for two people.  These are staples like cheese, meat, seafood, dairy, fruits and vegetables we don’t grow ourselves, flour, sugar, salt, spices, etc.  This month about the only prepared item I bought was granola.  We cook from scratch.

I am an excellent cook and former restaurant chef.  This makes it difficult for us to eat out and enjoy excellent food.  Few restaurants can provide us with a meal that surpasses what I prepare at home.  Even still we manage to spend more on eating out than we spend on groceries.  This has been the case for most of my adult life, but it is easy to spend more than $120 at restaurants.  We spend that much on one dinner in a truly excellent establishment.

When I was growing up we were all in the kitchen from a very young age, helping in some way to prepare the meal, even if it was just setting the table.  I started cooking full meals when I was six years old.  It was a tough chore for someone who couldn’t even reach the counter.  I had to stand on a chair to do most of the prep and cooking, but it was a joy for us all to be together for the celebration of those meals.

I am not saying that it is right or wrong to spend more on outside dining than on what we prepare ourselves.  I am bemoaning the fact that we do not spend time, with our family, preparing and eating a meal that gives us time to commune with one another.  We do not have the bonding that preparing and eating a meal together gives. Many of those meals prepared by family were truly memorable even years later.

Cold poached salmon
Cold poached salmon with chipotle aioli, & salsa

 

Making your own

Yogurt that is.  I have given this lesson before, but this time I am including some additional photos in hopes that you will try it.  Making yogurt is very easy, but it does take a few hours setting time.  Often I make it after breakfast, but I also make it sometimes in the evening and let it set overnight so it is ready for breakfast.

yogurtFirstly, find a large clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid.  I use an old peanut butter jar.  Make sure it is clean and has some kind of rubber seal in the lid.

IMG_4015 I use a fresh unopened carton of milk for the milk.  I want to be sure it is free of unwanted bacteria.  It isn’t good to use a carton that the kids left open on the counter when you weren’t paying attention.

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Clean Jar–Whole milk

I use whole milk, but you may also use low fat or non-fat milk, whatever your preference. If you like cream top yogurt, you may add fresh (previously unopened) whipping cream.  Yum!

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Teaspoon of sugar

We like to add a teaspoon of sugar to the mix just to give the milk a little sweetness.

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warming in the microwave

Now you need to warm the milk.  There are several options for this.  You may warm the milk in the jar with the lid on in a pan of warm water on the stove, but be sure that you don’t break the jar.  I use the microwave and for a quart of milk, it takes one minute to bring up the temp to lukewarm (no higher than 90 degrees).  It should feel warm to your finger.

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If this is the first time for you to make yogurt, or you have exhausted your old batches, then purchase a small plain carton of yogurt with live cultures from the grocery.  We like the Greek Yogurt because of its wonderful taste which is transmitted to the new batch you are making.  If you have made a batch, be sure to save some, at least a quarter cup, for the new batch of yogurt.

Stir the new package of yogurt or the quarter cup you saved from the last batch, into the milk thoroughly.  Screw the lid onto the container tightly.

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This photo shows the cooler/thermos that I use to culture the mixture.  It is an Igloo drinks cooler.  You need one that will hold the jar plus at least a quart of hot water.  If you do not have enough water, it will take a long time to culture the yogurt as it will cool too fast.  Refrain from adding boiling water.  It is sufficient to use the hottest tap water you have in your kitchen.

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I have placed a spacer in the bottom of the cooler so the lid will sit up a little higher in the container.  I then fill with the hottest tap water I have up to the edge of the lid of my yogurt container.  Screw on the top of the cooler.  The lid of my cooler is uninsulated, so I put a kitchen towel over the top to insulate it.

IMG_4023Now comes the waiting.  Usually this will take about six hours.  Longer is OK.  What you want to see is yogurt that is thick and creamy.  Remember it will be a little thicker after chilling.  If you want to make quark, you can pour the entire contents,  into a colander lined with cheese cloth and let drain. Remember to save 1/4 cup of yogurt for your next batch.

This yogurt is smooth and creamy with no pectin or gelatin.  It is not real thick, but you can allow it to drain through cheesecloth if you prefer the Icelandic variety of yogurt which is almost spreadable.  If you are making quark, let it drain for several hours, covered to avoid mold spores getting into it.  Then add basil, thyme, oregano or other herbs to make a nice dip or spread or if you want you can use cinnamon, nutmeg and a sprinkle of brown sugar and granola.

We eat it soft with granola, bananas and apple chunks for breakfast or in smoothies.  It also makes great tzatziki.  Enjoy!

What is it with Squirrels?

Squirrel, Grey, Brown, Fur, Cute, Mammal

(Ready, set, go!)

 

Today I was driving down the road.  This type of event happens almost daily around the island where I live.  I know that it isn’t limited to this area because I have seen it elsewhere as well.

Why do squirrels and chipmunks decide to cross the street just when I am driving by?  Why do they turn around and try to go back instead of just crossing?  Why do they do it several times before I almost run over them?

Are they like dogs who chase cars and bite at the tires?  Are they trying to bite my car tires?

As I pass the spot where the squirrel has changed his direction several times before I pass and I look in my rear view mirror cringing.  Did I run over the insane critter?  Most of the time the answer is no.  Does he just sit under the middle of the car as I pass and then race off to the side?

What is the explanation? Well, many websites posit many answers while others admit that they haven’t a clue.  I still haven’t a clue.  I strongly suspect these are teen-aged squirrels and there is a buddy in the bushes at the side of the road and they are playing a game of chicken!