The Idiosyncrasies of Isolation

When can you remember (as an adult, not a child) having a time where you no longer had any commitments? No obligations? No appointments? Not working? Well, in Washington State, as of midnight last night, this is the status quo. Our governor declared that we not leave our homes for any non-essential reason.  We have a governing body that has decided what is essential and we are supposed to conform to that.  Medical issues, groceries, pharmacies, liquor stores (wow?) are open for our essential needs.  Almost all others, including the Boeing Company, employing almost a quarter of a million people and the largest employer in Washington state, are closed.

It is amazing what a virus can do.  We have a large number of confirmed cases here on the island where I live and the mainland across the sea from me has many more (65confirmed {March 25, 2020, the fifth largest number for a county in the state).  Western Washington was the first site of the outbreak and it is growing daily.  This virus is much stronger than the ones we have had in past years, though in the 2018-2019 winter season over 34,000 people died of flu in the US.  This one poses an even great threat, so mass isolation has been issued here in our state.

I live on a five acre farm and I can go out and work in the gardens, take a walk, and be outdoors as long as I maintain a distance of six feet from my neighbors.  I seldom see my neighbors.  I am an artist and I have been painting, painting, painting.  I have all the time I want to paint.

Idiosyncrasies? Well, my husband and I have been getting along better than ever.  We never have had so much time together.  I was worried that the constant contact would bring about bickering, but quite the contrary. We are having a great time.  Maybe having more time to interact has brought us closer.  We sit at breakfast and have discussions about all sorts of things, sometime for hours.  (I don’t have to get out of my jammies until I want.) We may see more divorces and we may see a boom in the babies born nine months hense.

Idiosyncrasies? We will probably get fat, but we are making all kinds of wonderful meals.  Tonight was Beef Stroganoff, last night was Swedish meatballs.  We fixed Chinese dumplings a biaozi (steam buns) with hot and sour soup and onion pancakes, pecan pie, peanut butter/chocolate cookies—FROM SCRATCH.  You get the idea.  I think that we will get fat during our incarceration!

Idiosyncrasies? Well the downside is we drink more alcohol.  Not a good thing.  Makes you fat and is addictive.  Enough said about that.

Idiosyncrasies?  The house is cleaner than it normally is.  This is a good time for spring cleaning and preparing to get rid of the “non-essential” stuff that has been a burden for who knows how long.  Clean out the closet of anything you haven’t worn in a year or that doesn’t fit, but you are hoping to fit into soon. Not likely since we are eating so much better and drinking more and probably gaining weight, but don’t have the nerve to get on scale to find out.

Idiosyncrasies? Communicating more than we normally would.  We are sending email and phoning relatives and friends a lot more often than we would normally would.  We don’t usually use the telephone this much, but people call to see how we are and we have a number of folks we check on as well, some because we cannot go out or because they cannot go out, but just to be sure that all is well with everyone we know.

Has this isolation caused us to do things much differently? Well, my husband and I are not particularly social people, so we do not miss the parties, dinners and social engagements too much because for us they are few and far between. We do have friends that have contracted the virus and who were in compromised positions even before that, so we are keeping them close to our hearts and trying to stay in touch every day.  We are trying to see to any needs they may have without compromising our own situation. (Ordering deliveries from Amazon for their needs or for gifts.)

I must say there is a new freedom I feel as a result of this isolation.  When I was very young and asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I replied, “I want to be a hermit.” In all honesty I guess I still enjoy a life free of the encumbrances of society. If nothing else it would give me time to do whatever I wanted, be it mend the broiler on my oven (which went out last and I am waiting for parts) or painting and creating to my heart’s content.

This coronavirus is a bad thing and we should all treat it with respect.  We are staying isolated even to the dismay of some our friends, but my spouse has compromised lung issues and it would be devastating to our household if it enters our lives. Better to be safe than sorry.  To parrot the governor, “Stay home, stay healthy.”

Remember, life is fragile, protect it.

If you are doing something wonderful in your time off, freedom from commitment, let us know.

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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Homemade Biscuit Mix

When we go camping and even at home, I have a batch of homemade biscuit mix in a container in the cupboard.  We have waffles, pancakes, muffins, or biscuits at least a couple of times a week and I found having a mix on hand makes the morning’s chores go more quickly.  My general mix is for the buttermilk variety.  If you want to make the recipe with sweet milk, then leave out the baking soda.

For the batch I make for the RV, I use powdered buttermilk in the mix so all I have to add is water, oil, and for all but the biscuits, eggs.  If you want to make scones, add a little sugar.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use a cup of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice added and let it set for a few minutes before adding.

 

The mix:

6 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

Shake all these together in an air-tight container and you are ready to go.

If you are camping you can add 1 cup powdered buttermilk to the mix, in which case, you just add water for the liquid. Remember buttermilk needs the soda.  Regular sweet milk only needs the baking powder, not the baking soda.

When you are ready to make biscuits, take 2 cups of the mix.  Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you are using the camping mix, just add waterand oil).  Variations:  You can add grated cheese, herbs, red pepper flakes, bacon bits or whatever inspires.  If you want to make scones, increase the oil to 1/3 c or substitute butter and add 3 tablespoons of sugar.  I like to add white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  Any nuts are good, try hazelnuts and when you are ready to eat spread with Nutella. Yum!

For waffles or pancakes, use the same proportions as above, but add a little more liquid (about a cup)to achieve the correct consistency.  We like to add nuts to the waffles or bacon bits.  Pancakes can have sliced bananas added (if served with peanut butter, Elvis would be happy).  Ricotta cheese added to pancakes with a goodly amount of lemon zest shavings makes a great pancake, but plain is good too.

For muffins, line the tins with greased muffin papers or just grease the pan.  Mix 2 cups of mix with 1/3 C white or brown sugar, 1/4C vegetable oil, and 1 cup buttermilk mixed with one egg.  I like to add dates, cranberries, craisins, nuts, bacon bits, pieces of dried fruit, blueberries, orange zest, lemon zest, vanilla or almond extract, just about anything.  I sprinkle them with coarse raw sugar and bake at 400 degrees about 15 minutes.  Any of the additions make for great muffins.  Serve with lots of butter and jam.

Hopefully you will find this is a great mix to keep for camping or just making your mornings easier.  You can make almost any recipe you find on a biscuit mix box, but you need to add oil as the commercial stuff has shortening added.  If you add it to your homemade mix, then it needs to be refrigerated.  I usually skip that and add it when I am making breakfast.

Happy baking.

Camping in November

An out of focus photo of Ft. Warden Light near Pt. Townsend Washington.img_3466I probably should say that we went glamping as we stayed in our travel trailer and out of the cold, inclement weather.  Since I didn’t have to work on Veteran’s Day, I had a space of five days free and we decided at the last minute to travel to the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington State.  For us this entails a ferry ride since we live on Whidbey Island.

Early on Thursday, my first day off, we headed to the Keystone Ferry in the middle of Whidbey.  This ferry takes us to Pt. Townsend, one of my favorite towns in Washington.  It has an 19th century charm that is going though restoration off and on, but still in keeping with the National Historic District status.  Beautiful three and four story brick buildings with Victorian flair.

We stayed at Pt. Hudson our last night and visited the town, but the first day we headed for Sequim (pronounced SQUIM).  John Wayne owned a substantial piece of waterfront on Sequim Bay many years ago where he moored his yacht, The Grey Goose, when he was in the area.  The land was donated to the county and is now a beautiful marina, campground, boat launching area and more, well protected by the long spit that juts across the mouth of the bay.  Calmer seas prevail here as the spit almost encloses the bay with a small passage out to the Straits of Juan de Fuca outside the passage.

Kingfishers, herons, seagulls and crows love the beach by the RV park.  I love watching the kingfishers dive into the water, coming up with small fish. Their turquoise and green iridescence makes them spectacular.  They look a little crazy with such big heads and small bodies.

Next we went to Joyce, Washington to stay at Salt Creek State Park.  This park has a very rocky precipice overlooking the Straits.  Waves crash on the rocks below the cliffs.  The park is a fairly steep hill which has been terraced for the RVs.  We backed into a space in the highest tear, thus having an unobstructed view of the straits and the shipping lanes there.  I love to watch the ships go by and I can do it from my dinette table inside.  We saw oil tankers, car carriers, and container ships interspersed with the minuscule fishing boats. The two lighthouses on Vancouver Island were visible flashing their lights after dark.  They were hardly visible through the fog and moisture in the air during the day.

We took a day trip to Forks and LaPush and had lunch one day.  Hiked around the campground another as it is an old fort from WWI.  The neighboring bay, Crescent Beach, was packed with surfers, though there wasn’t much for surf the day we watched. Cougars had been sighted in the region and they suggested you keep you children and pets on a short leash.

We did see some seals out in a large bull kelp bed.  Picked up some shells and beach glass while wondering beaches.

It was warmish, with the temperatures in the mid 50s.  Sunday, however there was a gale that made it hard to push open the door of the travel trailer to get out.  We were glad to be in Pt. Townsend and not at home that night.  (Our home is situated in a treed area and often we need to leave home if storms are to dangerous.) We were only staying one night, but we unhitched as it was difficult to walk against the wind to downtown, many blocks away.  Had a great dinner, once again, at The Fountain Cafe.  They never fail to please us and we are very hard to please.

Mostly, this was a relaxing trip.  We took our time, did a lot of reading in the evenings, slept late, and were generally lazy.  We didn’t have to be anyplace and any particular time and we just wandered, a great way to spend a little time off.

 

 

 

 

A Good Vacation

Arches national park 5It was a good trip, not a great trip, but a good one.  We made it home from Moab, Utah on time for me to get to my obligations.  We put 3000 miles on the truck, two-thirds of which were when we were pulling the fifth wheel trailer.  We saw lots of sites, did quite a few things and in general had a passable vacation.

They say a change is as good as a vacation.  Since it was raining here, I guess snow was a change.  We had checked for several weeks before we left to see what the weather was doing down in that part of the country and they were having sunshine.  So off we went in search of sunshine.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get sunshine.  We got snow.

We had also hoped to boondock (dry camping without benefit of water, electricity, sewer). We have a propane furnace in the trailer and it works well if we are plugged in to electricity so the fan can distribute the heat.  It was COLD every night which necessitated being able to plug in to keep warm.  A couple of nights, we had three quilts on and it was still on the chilly side.

We went there for warmth.  Boy were we misguided.  We did get some sunshine, but it was the cool, watery sort that does not warm the bones.

Moab Utah is a sporting town.  Folks who go there are into danger sports of which many can be found there. They had just had a LARGE jeep rally that had made it almost impossible to find a campground to stay.  Luckily we found one that was relatively new and it had availability.  The folks were wonderful though the site still needs a lot of contouring to make it more comfortable.

The best part of Utah was the rocks which were spectacular even though we had to wait almost a half hour to get into the park the line was so long. (In the photo above, the rock balancing on a thinner column is called a Hoodoo.) We get into the parks free on the Senior National Parks Pass.  It is $10 for your lifetime.  Good starting when you turn 62.  I really recommend that you get one if you are that age or older.  You can also camp half price at a lot of BLM, National Forests and other National sites.

We spent a good deal of our time in the Arches National Park and the CanyonLands National Park.  We also visited the Fremont Indian Museum in Sevier, Utah which I found most interesting.  Geology is great, but I like it mixed with a little Paleontology and Anthropology as well. A couple of museums we went to see were closed unfortunately.  I was sorry to miss the one in Green River, Utah.  Another in Lehi, Utah was difficult to visit while towing the trailer.

We returned through Idaho, spending the night in McCall where the temperature was 27.  Thank goodness we were plugged in and the furnace was going full blast.  You have to realize that most trailers are not insulated very well. They get very hot in summer and cold at nights in the winter.

We came back to Washington State and stayed at the city park in Soap Lake, Washington for two days and I have to say that they were the best days of the whole trip.  It is beautiful country with lots of rocky buttes and towers, caves and wonderful formations but, unfortunately, without the spectacular colors of Utah.  They are columnar basalt formations with amazing patterns caused by lava flowing into water.  Very dark in color with few of the reds seen in the south.  Some have beautiful yellow lichen growing on them.

Soap Lake is a mineral lake and the “waters” are taken for their health benefits which include a high saline content.  You can float easily.  The school was on spring break and the sun was shining and the kids were out swimming and paddle boarding and kayaking.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that we don’t need to travel 1100 miles to find our vacation dreams, some are right in our own back yard!