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.

Camping in November?

Bouchon Roast Turkey

Who in western Washington State goes camping in November? I am sitting in the John Wayne Waterfront Resort in Sequim (pronounced squim for the uninformed). The park is mostly full with only a couple of spots open for this evening.

Winter in western Washington is noted for its dreary, wet, gray weather.  Sequim, however, touts that it has 200 days of sunshine a year and today is one of them.  On my last camping trip in September, when driving through Sequim, it was not one of the two hundred and it was coming down in buckets!

Finding camping locations any time of year is becoming more difficult as there are more and more full time RV’ers, as they are termed.  They move from campground to campground extending their stays to the full limit of days allowed by each location. Some locations can let them stay as many as one hundred and eighty days while state parks limit your stay to eleven.  One private campground company will allow only a certain number of days in a row and you must locate to a non-membership campground before you can return to the membership ones.

Consequently it takes a lot of finessing to be a full time camper.  You need an enormous of patience to be an occasional camper.  We camp about once a month, sometimes for a few days and sometimes for a week and half. It has now become necessary to think nine months in advance.  That is as far ahead as you can reserve a state park site in Washington State.  No last minute camping trips anymore.

So here we are sitting under blue skies in November on the Olympic Peninsula.  It is the second year in a row that we have decided to spend Thanksgiving camping in our trailer in Sequim. Gorgeous sunrise this morning.  Cold but no frost yet.

In years past, and when we were younger, we always went someplace for Thanksgiving.  One time we cooked a turkey over a fire on San Juan Island in the Straights of Juan de Fuca.  The wind blew so hard we couldn’t get any heat on the turkey.  Finally upended a couple of picnic tables to create a windbreak so the turkey would cook.

One year we slept in the back of our Volvo station wagon and just about froze as the frost outside was white and an inch deep.  Luckily it was a two dog night and we happened to have two which we invited to share our space to keep us warm.

We have had many horrific storms in the Pacific Northwest on various holidays, The Valentines Storm, The Columbus Day Storm and, yes, The Thanksgiving Day Storm.  We were barbequing a turkey on Orcas Island that year. Before the storm started, we went for a walk and when we returned, the barbeque had blown away and we never found the turkey. We ate beef stroganoff for Thanksgiving. When we returned to Whidbey the power was out for eight days.  We hadn’t lost power on Orcas, however.

Another Thanksgiving on Orcas, the metal sign outside our cabin blew in the wind all night long making a screeching sound that did not permit sleep.  We didn’t know what it was until we could see it in the morning daylight when it was swinging in the wind.

Thanksgiving is the last camping trip for the year.  We usually do not go out again until about April which means camping in the rain.  Then we try to go monthly throughout the spring, summer and fall, even if just for a couple of days. We don’t sleep on the ground or in the back of a car, or on a picnic table in our older age.  We have a fifth wheel trailer with most of the comforts of home.

Because of the potential for heavy frost, we winterized our rig in September when we returned from two weeks camping.  So we have most of the comforts of home except water.  Winterizing entails removing the water from all the waterlines, the hot water heater and the water pump.  It’s a little more like real camping to haul a bucket water in to heat and wash dishes or to take a “spit” bath.  This campground has the luxury of a HEATED bathroom with a shower that has real hot water, so I braved the cold morning sunrise to walk the block or so to the shower and indulge in a nice hot one.

Camping isn’t sleeping on the ground and cooking over a campfire for us anymore.  I think the clincher was when I awoke to the feeling that a vampire was sucking on my neck in the middle of the night.  It turned out to only be a Western Washington banana slug. Yuk!  No more sleeping on the ground.

FALL

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It’s Fall

Well after a summer of very grey weather but no rain, fall is here with a blaze of glory.  We have had a very strange year in the maritime Pacific Northwest, here on Puget Sound.  I live on an island in Puget Sound and this morning the fog has rolled in densely and is cocooning us in its wraith-like quality. Certainly appropriate for the up-coming Halloween season.

Yes, it was a very strange summer with few days where the sun shone, but still we had a drought.  By October first the y-t-d rainfall was less than eight inches, a very rare thing in these parts.  It is rare to have a drought and even more rare to have clouds throughout the season that did not bring rain.

Finally about the end of September it started to rain.  And rain it surely has. We are up to almost eleven inches and it is still the middle of October.  It has poured and poured, too late though to make the broadleaf maples turn beautiful colors.  They just got crisp and turned brown, but not so with most of the other deciduous trees which are performing spectacularly now.  It is some of the most beautiful color I can remember.  Too bad the broadleaf maples couldn’t have joined in with their show, but alas, they suffered more than most.  Cedars suffered from the drought as well, sacrificing the top third of their noble visage to conserve water, and a few have died, they being somewhat shallow-rooted.

Another phenomenon we are experiencing is a bumper crop of every kind of mushroom you can imagine including some we haven’t seen in years.  The drought has brought on varieties that require drought in order to “bloom.”  Not only are there rare varieties, but the common ones are standing in abundance in my orchard, flower beds, walkway gravel, in the woods and in the open. One state park here has limited the daily amount you can collect to two gallons! I didn’t even think it was legal to pick anything without permits in state parks.

There is heavy fog this morning and I can hear the ferry “sounding” to detect the echoes from shore.  When I first moved to this island forty-nine years ago there was also a siren that sounded like a police car winding up it siren.  It rang about every thirty seconds.  That is no longer in use and modern technology doesn’t require the ferry to “sound” any longer.  I think he does it to wake up the dock attendant.

Fog can do strange things to acoustics.  There is a railway along the shore of the mainland about three miles from my home.  I can hear the train whistle too.  It “sounds” at most crossings.  It is as loud and clear as the ferry.  If I listen carefully, I can hear the cars getting off the ferry with the clunk-clunk of the wheels on the ramp to the dock.

My rain barrels are full now.  I had emptied them early watering during the drought and had to resort to the old fashioned hose bib to water by early summer. My mint never came up until the rain came in the fall.  Now it is going great guns and mojito season is past, more like hot buttered rum and spiked cider time.

I’m not complaining as the temperatures are still in the fifties and comfortable.  The weeding is much easier now that the ground is wet.  You could hardly pull weeds when the ground was like cement. I enjoy the fog and to me it feels cozy, hiding much of the world and giving me the privacy I once enjoyed when I first moved here, before the hoards discovered that living on an island in Puget Sound is close to paradise.

Fair Time

 

It is July and it is fair time.  I was always a pretty active participant in the fair, bringing goods and winning ribbons was lots of fun.  That was forty years ago.  The fair has changed considerably in more recent times.

It is still the fair, but it is no long run by the county and therefore not a “county” fair.  It is the Whidbey Island Fair run now by the Island County Port Commission.

During the transition from one system to another some important things were neglected, the major one being the booking of the carnival folks.  We always had the fair around the middle of August when things were hot and dusty.  Now the fair is the middle of July, much too early for an agricultural event.

What happened? When the port realized that they hadn’t booked the carnival, it wasn’t available and there weren’t any others available for the usual time frame, mid August.  What to do?  Well you need a carnival for the fair and the only one available was available way too early for an agricultural event.  They booked it and moved the fair up a month.

What were the repercussions of this sad move?  The carnival activities look ok, though this concessionaire is smaller and doesn’t have the usual Ferris wheel or roller coaster or hammer. The rides aren’t as exciting.

The biggest repercussion is the agriculture events.  How many folks in Western Washington (night temps in the 50s) have corn ready to show at the fair?  Only strawberries have ripened in time.  You should see the examples of garlic, beans, and squash.  Piddily. Most of the produce is just coming on and showing juvenile veggies is not what the fair is about. There were flowers, but they were early summer ones not late summer, a completely different collection than what we use to see.  Folks can’t get inspired to show their wares if they are still immature.

Cattle, pigs, sheep are still somewhat under their usual August weights.  Auctions bring in smaller dollar amounts.  Horses are ready any time as are the chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and such.

When I first moved to the island and lived in a Clinton beach community, the local kids and I would go on walkabout and collect shells, sea glass, seed pods, driftwood, and rocks and work on project gluing these to plywood or larger driftwood to enter the kid’s crafts.  It was fun and they treasured the ribbons given to them for their labors. Nowadays the kids are on computers or cell phones and don’t collect detritus from the beach to make beach collages.  Too bad because the exhibit was painfully lacking in interesting material.

Photography seemed to be popular with hundreds of participants, but most were just snapshots without much concentration on creating a piece of art.  The fine arts exhibition was beautiful with a variety of participants, but smaller than in past years.

The usual commercial exhibits didn’t show because the attendance wasn’t high enough—no vegamatic.

We usually go on the first day of the fair in order to see the flowers and vegetables and baked goods at their best, before the wilt and mold set in.  Baking was poorly attended, but there were a goodly number of flowers.  Vegetables were, and have been for all the years the fair  has been in July, small, and severely lacking.  It used to be my favorite department and I would always participate.  Unfortunately, this year, the weather has not cooperated especially, with temps in the 50s at night and 60s during the day and rain to damage much of the goods.

My students produced an educational project that garnered a blue ribbon.  I won two blues and a red.  Many of my students achieved the blue ribbon and some the best of category.  I am proud of them.  The judge was fair and did write critiques for them to read about their work.  It is good to compete as you put your best foot forward and work on painting harder.  The rewards reinforce their attempts. Not everyone goes home happy, but most are happy.  I will crack the whip next year to get them to compete again.

All in all, I enjoyed my work time at the fair (4 hours) as I got to see old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years, many of whom I have know as long as I have lived here (almost fifty years) and one who I have known since high school.  It becomes a reunion time.  Some of the kids from the beach collage are parents and grandparents now.  It is good to see their development.  Some of the folks ask questions and one family had only lived here a week.  They were really enthusiastic about the country fair never having been to a small, old fashioned one.

I had my Fisher Flour Mill scone which I have had at the fair as long as I have lived here.  When I was a little kid we went to the Puyallup Fair, which is officially the Western Washington State Fair and had a scone at the Fisher booth.  My sister and I would collect coupons off the flour sacks all year so we could each have a free scone with strawberry jam using the coupons.  I am told the line is very long now, though I haven’t been to that fair in years, too commercial. We don’t get free ones any more, however.

Without a doubt I enjoyed myself and maybe I should work to make it a better event.  We need to keep these small fairs going, they are dying out in America and they are really what the county or country fair is really about. You should seek them out and visit.  They are truly a part of rural America.

PS:  See my award on my website https://theruralgallery.com

Crabbing Season is Here!

crab and cheese breakfast
Here we have the breakfast muffin with crab, poached egg and cheese.

Saturday was the first day of crabbing season here in the maritime Pacific Northwest.  One of nature’s bounty waiting out there for us to pick up and eat.  Though it sounds easy and, at the beginning of the season, is abundant, it is more work than it would seem.  There is a reason why picked Dungeness crab is $36.95 at the fishmarket.

Firstly, you must have a boat which is seaworthy.  You can go out in a kayak, and I have seen a few folks do it that way, but it would be dangerous.  Pulling a pot up from the bottom of the sea takes some effort, a lot of lead weighted rope and hopefully a pot full of crab.

Luckily for us, my brother-in-law has such a boat with a winch to haul up the pots.  I have gone out with friends, invited because I was strong enough to grab the buoy marking the line and strong enough to raise the pot from the ocean’s floor.

My brother-in-law’s first haul on the first day was a full pot, filled with all males, all legal size.  You can only harvest the males and only five a day per person with a state wildlife permit. In two days, he and my sister limited and shared their abundance with us.

Next you need a large pot with a heavy duty burner.  A turkey fryer set up works well.  You can boil about 4-5 crab at a time.  Then the cleaning when they are cooked.  Plunge them into cool water to cool them.  Peel off the main carapace and clean their second-hand dinner from inside.  Rinse well.

Now you are ready for the hard, time-consuming part, picking the crab.  Yesterday I picked, and picked, and picked.  We had crab for dinner and the chickens got the shells (a good source of calcium for them).

We netted about two pounds, about a quart, of picked crab.  Last night we had crab melt sandwiches, hot.  This is an English muffin with crab in mayo covered with melted cheese.  Breakfast was almost the same with an addition of a poached egg and fresh tomato.  We still have lots left and our next choice will be crabcakes with red pepper rouille. Yum!

After reading all that, some of you probably will go to the fishmongers and buy the picked crab and consider yourself lucky to have it for $36.95 a pound.  Well you enjoy it and hope it is as fresh as ours.

Crab season is upon us.  It doesn’t freeze well and turns grey if you can it, so eat it while it is fresh and say thank you to mother nature for providing such a superb delicacy.

Back Roads

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The Back Road to our Farm (the only road)

Today we will go to a potluck sponsored by the local historical society here on Whidbey Island.  The potluck is at a hundred year old community hall.  This gathering happens once a quarter and the discussion is about back roads of Whidbey.  This time we are discussing Quade Road and Goodell Road.  I assume that this is the current Goodell Road as there use to be a couple of roads named Goodell Road.

The photo above is a back road, albeit, more rustic in nature than the ones under discussion.  It is an old road to my farm where I grow my vegetables and fruit.  I have talked about growing there in former blogs.  The interesting thing about this road is it is six hundred and sixty feet down this road to the edge of my farm.  I travel another four hundred feet beyond to the garden.  The farm is ten acres of very secluded land.  About two acres is cleared and my garden and fruit trees are in this clearing.  We have farmed here for about seventeen years.  It is not where we live, but eighteen miles from our home.

We use to garden at our home, but the land to the south of us, which was fields when we moved here, have grown up into tall conifers and shaded out our garden and orchard.  Now we garden in this remote site. I love the peace and solitude this remote location affords.  About the only sounds I hear when I am gardening are the resident raven making his croaky sound to talk with its mate, an occasional airplane and the scream of an eagle who has his eye on my dachshund. I have to keep a careful eye on both the dog and the eagle.  If the eagle gets too aggressive the dog has to be in the truck.  He would much rather be looking for mice in the garden. He likes to dig in the garden with me.

The interesting thing about this back road to my garden is that once this road was frequented by trucks that hauled strawberries to the local steamboats that took the goods to larger city centers.  Until 1945 this was a strawberry farm, as were many of the farms in adjacent area.  They had their own grange in the community as well.

In 1945, for some reason, the farm was left to decay.  The folks who lived here moved out, leaving a very small house, two rooms, no plumbing, electricity, with wood heat, and never returned.  We bought it in 1988.  The house was partially collapsed and had to be taken down.  A neighbor down the street gave us a photo of what it looked like when a family lived here.  He didn’t know what happened to them.  When we bought the property, strawberries still grew here, wild, but not flourishing.

There were also two other buildings on the property and an old root cellar.  The two other buildings were at opposite ends of the property and were workers shacks.  They were about ten by fifteen feet with just studs on the inside walls.  The outsides had shiplap siding.  Where there were knot holes in the siding and the knots had fallen out, the residents (strawberry pickers and weeders) had nailed up cornflakes box tops over the holes to keep the elements and mice out.  Tin can lids were nailed over some of these as well.  The same was true of the boards on the floor.  The roofs were hand split cedar shakes from the property.

It was always fun to travel down this long road through two gates and arrive at this little part of history that we owned.  We had hoped to build here someday, but life passed us by and it never happened.  We garden and enjoy the solitude and hope that the folks who had tended there garden here so long ago watch over us and feel that we are good husbanders of their land.  It is never easy work.  Even with my modest garden, it is still a lot of work.  I can’t imagine tending acres of strawberries.  They also had goats, so maybe they provided milk and cheese and weeding for the strawberry farmers.

Now we are to an age where we have to think about the end of our lives and the farm will provide our retirement when we sell it.  The time has come and I only hope that the new owners, when they materialize, are as reverent of the land as those who have gone before.

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Hundred Year Old Apple Trees

The dish I am making for the potluck, if you are interested, is Italian Strata

Here is the recipe.

Italian Strata

Layer the following in a large casserole (I am using my lidded cast iron kettle)

Large cubed bread (day old, stale, tough) soaked in a little butter, cream and milk until soft

Finely chopped onion

Pesto

Sun-dried tomatoes

Goat cheese (chevre)

Homemade ricotta (see previous blog) with a little lemon zest stirred in

Red and yellow peppers chopped

Diced and browned lonzino (you could use bacon or ham)

I mixed five eggs with milk and poured over

Topped with shredded romano cheese

And bake until set.  Because mine is large, I am baking part of the time with the lid on and then taking off to brown for the last few minutes.

I know, I didn’t give any measurements.  It is just great to do it by feel and sight.  You can add lots of goodies or a few.  Bread is the main constituent, but it doesn’t have to be.  Just have fun.

Winter

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I guess that winter is here.  In a previous blog, I wrote that winter should be two months before December 21 and two months after.  Well the day before yesterday (Nov. 3rd) we had snow.  Not much, but snow.  Now it is thirty-four degrees outside.  It is dark and cloudy and they predict three inches of snow tonight.  It is early for us to have snow, but not the earliest.  The earliest was Halloween when the kids wondered about amidst the snowflakes to collect their annual haul of too much sugar.  These days, we don’t have any trick or treaters.  Haven’t now for several years and we haven’t had much early snow either.

When we woke up yesterday morning, the internet was out.  Was it just my computer being its recalcitrant self, or was the system down?  After several tries at fixes, I called a couple of neighbors and found out theirs were down as well.  Couldn’t get through to the people who provide the service so assumed that they already knew that they had had a failure.

While eating breakfast, I hear the friendly beep, beep, beep and know that we are finally back on line and that emails are arriving.  Five minutes later the power goes out. This IS winter.  Typical.

I had already made breakfast so that wasn’t an issue.  We were eating when everything went black.  We live in the woods, so it is dark without lights in our house.

What to do.  We went for a two mile walk, visiting with friends along the way to be sure they were warm and could cook food, if needed.  It was much lighter outside down the road than in the house.  Though the temperature was cold, we spent about an hour and a half outside enjoying the crisp weather and the neighbors, except for the racket of generators chugging away to keep their houses lit.

We do not have a generator. We have lived through almost fifty years of power outages.  This is nothing new. We have a small set up for the evening of a large LED light bulb in a small receptacle hooked to an inverter and then to a battery.  Works great and it is a very bright light by which to read. Works for us and we usually read in the evenings anyway.  We don’t own a television, so we don’t feel withdrawal .

After our morning walk, in the freezing weather, we came home to have tea.  Why is it the power goes out when the weather is the coldest? Anyway, my husband filled a saucepan with water (we normally use an electric teakettle), put it on the wood cookstove to boil.  I asked if he wanted his tea more quickly he might want to use the stove in the kitchen which is gas.  He tried to start the burner with the clicker on the stove, but since there was no electricity, he needed to use a match.  Habit is a hard thing to break.

Shortly after lunch, the power came back on.  It was on for a while when we had a brown out.  I called it in to the power company, but didn’t see any response.  Yet again in the next morning it was still browning out.  I called again as low voltage is not good for many appliances.

The brown out did merit some phone calls to us from neighbors, some of which I hadn’t heard from in years, to see if we were affected. At ten thirty this morning, about twenty minutes after a call the power company, the brown out was over.  The lights are bright again and the motors are humming at their usual levels.

Now life is back to normal and it is snowing.  It started the day before yesterday, just a few flakes, nothing significant.  It started again this morning and some of the roofs were white.  Fortunately, most of our neighbors now have some alternative for heat besides electricity or they have a generator to run fans on propane furnaces and stoves.  Back in the beginning, forty or fifty years ago, many did not have a way to heat when the power went off so now in our community there are “warming stations,” back then we just all got together at a warm house and had a neighborhood gathering.  I sort of miss those.