Saturday, December 31, 2011

Should old acquaintance be forgot

...and never brought to mind?  That's how the traditional New Year's song goes, anyway.  The last few days have been spent looking at houses out west of here, and meeting with realtors both on the buying and selling end of things. We also rented a storage space to hold some furniture and stuff we need to clear out, in order to make our current home look a bit less cluttered and sellable.

 I can't help but wonder how we'll feel when we look back on what we did this last week of 2011, or if we'll look back on it at all.  Will we fondly and nostalgically call to mind this house, which is currently being stripped of all its personal quirks and personality in order to make it more attractive to buyers?  Will we recall standing in line at WalMart this morning, buying storage tubs,  plus cheesecake and champagne for later on?  Will we idealize and wax nostalgic over the years spent here, in this home, this neighborhood, or this geographic area? Or will New Year's 2012 be a celebration of thankfulness and joy that we got the heck out of here and took our little tribe over the hills to a place with cleaner air, more scenic surroundings and better career opportunities?

Here is what I am hoping:  That exactly 365 days from today I will take a moment, perhaps in front of a nice fire or woodstove or maybe standing out in a field behind our house with chickens and goats busy around my feet, gaze off into the distance for a moment, and think back on today.  I hope I'm thankful to God for my blessings. I hope I reflect on the journey taken, reflect on how far we came in 2012, and feel proud and satisfied. I hope our family, especially our children, are well and happy pursuing the lives of their choice, and I hope the same for everyone who reads this.

I hope that wherever we are living 365 days from today, that we'll all remember to take that cup of kindness yet for Auld Lang Syne.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Feast, reloaded

Last night I was scavenging around in the refrigerator for something to make a dinner for one with, and I found these terrific Christmas leftovers.  Since I left the Christmas dinner clean-up to the kids, I had no idea what was left and what had been demolished completely.  So you can imagine my delight in finding a near-perfect replica of the meal served on The Big Night tucked neatly into Tupperware containers and stacked in the fridge.  There was prime rib, mapled sweet potatoes, green beans and horseradish sauce for the meat.  There was even leftover champagne! The only thing missing was the Yorkshire puddings I'd made, which tend to vanish off the serving plate and into people's mouths at lightning speed anyway, so I wasn't expecting to find any of those.  Maybe I'll make more next year.

This meal, unlike the first, was eaten in solitude and in the quiet of a cold, clear evening.  It gave me a chance to reflect on my blessings and sort of take stock of the year that's just passed, and my hopes and dreams for the one to come.  Christmas dinner No. 1 was sweet because it was shared with family.  Christmas dinner No.2 was sweet for its opportunity for quiet reflection and joy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas, cooking and crops.

Today our Christmas tree will come down, after a lovely month of enjoying its pretty lights.  As much as I love looking at all the bright ornaments, I am ready to get the house back in order so it can be clean and organized by the New Year.  I'm also done in the kitchen, after a long month of cooking for people during Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and then Christmas.  We won't starve the next few weeks, but my meals will consist of easy-to-make dinners that don't leave me standing in front of the stove or preparation counter for hours like I have been doing.  

Out in the garden, the cauliflower, lettuce, onions, scallions and carrots in our four raised planter beds appear healthy, but are growing slower than ever.  This time last year I was already busy harvesting and freezing our bounty from out there. Maybe it's the below-freezing nights (far more than are normal for us), or the fact that we've had crops in those beds pretty consistently now for a couple of years. The soil may be a little low on nutrients.  I'm not sure of the culprit, but after we harvest what's growing now, I'll throw some grass seed down, then plow the new green blades into the soil to enrich it while giving the beds a few weeks' fallow.  Guess the biblical mandate of a time of sabbath, rest, or fallow is good for everyone and everything, including the earth itself.  There's a time to create, and a time to rest.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best night of the year

Christmas Eve is absolutely my favorite night of the year.  Folklore would tell us that Samhain, or the time around Halloween, is when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest and the spirits of the next world are more present in ours.  I respectfully disagree.  To me, it's around this time of year when the veil between worlds is thinnest; when you can almost feel the tendrils of Heaven being drawn down to earth and a little nearer into our reality. 

People give more charitably this time of year.  This Christmas, for example, despite the recession, mystery "Santas" are going into Kmart stores all over the country and paying off stranger's lawaway account balances, to ensure these strangers' children have toys and gifts to open on Christmas morning.  People donate more food to the needy, and ensure the elderly have a warm meal and some company, because they recognize that no one should be alone at Christmas.  Carolers will stroll the halls of hospitals and nursing homes tonight, carrying Pointsettas and comfort to those they sing for, including those whose time on this earth is drawing short.  

I believe the repeated act of blessing others brings the ideals of the heavenly world down here to earth, and those things happen most during this time of year.  That's why I love Christmas Eve more than any other night. It's the time when the blessings flow the strongest, when those who give do so, abundantly, and those who need, receive the most.  Tomorrow it will be all about wrapping paper, electronic toys that buzz and light up, family dynamics and enough food to feed an army. But tonight is all about the blessing, and the feeling that when the night falls and our world goes quiet, this sometimes selfish and troubled planet will intersect with God's kingdom of Heaven just a little bit. And we will be the better for it.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Festivus for the rest of us!

At this point the holidays are backing up like jumbo jets over O'Hare. First Chanukah, then the Solstice, and December 23....Festivus!  (At least for fans of "Seinfeld.")  

Wishing everyone success in their Feats of Strength tonight.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Comin' around

Last night was the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Starting today, the days will get a little bit longer with each one that passes; first by just a few seconds and then as we head towards summer, by a minute or two each day.  This happens because the earth comes to a point where it hits a far spot in its elliptical path around the sun, and then begins coming back around again.  Kind of like a race car which reaches the far end of the track, then whips around the curve and begins circling back to the place it started.

I'm conscious that this particular "trip around the track" will see us leaving this area.  I think about moving every day.  When I did my ancestral family tree last year, I discovered my family has been in this country since 1635, when they left England to join the Massachusetts colony.  Soon after they left there to found a settlement in Long Island, New York.  And sometime after that, they left again and headed out to West Virginia, where they stayed put for about 200 years. But after 200 years, something made my grandfather leave West Virginia to come west to California, back in the 1940's. Maybe it was the promise of better weather.  Or plentiful jobs.  Or just the chance to reinvent himself in a new form, a new lifestyle, which would include trips to the beach instead of outside to shovel snow off the driveway.  

I come from a family of folks who have always been willing to head west and establish a beachhead in undiscovered country.  I'm no different.  I will take all that I've learned up to this point to The New Place, just as my ancestors did.  And I will start again, discovering in the process exactly where I fit in and what I'm supposed to be doing there.  

I will visit the beach, often, and I will find a good patch of land on which to keep some animals and grow some vegetables.  And by doing all these things, I will hopefully honor those who came before me, the ones who were not afraid to leave and begin afresh elsewhere, who loved rather than feared the thought of the sun setting over an unfamiliar horizon each night, until it was no longer unfamiliar to them.  

But for now, from my perspective on this far side of the sun, I will sit and I will dream about what's to come, while the nights are still long and while we bide our time through winter.  After all, what are the long nights for if not to dream?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chanukah was a bust

We're one of those bi-faith families that celebrates both Christmas and Chanukah.  Last night was the first night of Chanukah, and it was a total wash-out.  My husband came home late from work, in one of those mysterious "wet blanket" moods men sometimes seem to get in.  So I rushed through the prayers, lit the candles, and set about feeding everyone instead of really focusing on the celebration and its significance.

The bright spot is that Chanukah lasts eight nights, which means we have seven more times this year to get it say the prayers with meaning and maybe even discuss the significance of the holiday with the kids.  If Christmas gets messed up, you're done for a whole year.  I've had bad Christmases before, and it can be very depressing. There's a massive lead-up of expectations for a perfect holiday, and when that gets a throwdown -- you end up sick, breaking up with your boyfriend, having to work, or being stranded at O'Hare in a snowstorm while trying to get home -- major, severe holiday depression can set in.

Since it's more or less accepted by theologians that Christ could not possibly have been born in December and Christmas was instead grafted on to the Roman Saturnalia and even older solstice festivities, maybe Chanukah is a safer holiday to celebrate.  It's not as commercialized, and isn't trying to celebrate something that's surely a great thing, but on the wrong day.  And if things don't go right -- your spouse is a jerk or you burn some of the latkes, there's always more candle, one more prayer, one more chance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We are heading into the Solstice this week -- the shortest day and longest night of the year.  We have a scant 9 hours of daylight right now, and even when the sun shines (after the fog lifts) it's a wan, weak sun up there.  This is one more reason why it's the perfect time of year to fill the house with lights -- the menorah, the Christmas tree -- and celebrate indoors with those we love.

But there's also another inner celebration we can have, if we so choose.  One cold day or evening, we can light a few candles, put on some calming music, and sit and quietly reflect on the year that's about to leave us, and the life that went into the past before it.  We can think about those we knew who are gone from the earth or just from our lives.  We can remember the people we used to be, without recrimination or regret -- just reflection.  

The year is closing, and a new one is beginning.  It's time to dream about all the good things that are possible as we start again -- heading back towards longer days and shorter nights, and all the possibilities a new year brings with it.

It's a good time to take a moment, and take stock.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Animal Ethics

There's a discussion going on at another blog I follow about the ethics of posting a photo of an animal's hooves  after it's been slaughtered, as part of a discussion on local meat.  Eating meat is, of course, the larger issue, and what's causing the controversy. Being carnivore is something I still wrestle with.  I went many years being a vegetarian, but have eventually come to the conclusion that the predator/prey cycle is so built into the planet and its own health, as well as the health of our bodies, that it is what is is.  

If you look in the Book of Genesis, there are no references to slaughtering or eating of animals in the Garden of Eden.  It states that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the trees.  I take this to mean that in Eden -- the idealistic world -- everything Man needed came from the fruits of the trees.

But as the saying goes, we live in a "fallen" world, and so the uncomfortable process of animal slaughter is part of our human history.

The fact is that if everyone ate vegan, the planet's ecosystem would be ruined due to over-tillage. Soy and grains are especially hard on soil and land. The best and most natural fertilizer for vegetarian crops is animal manure, which requires keeping animals in one place in order to take advantage of it. And if you keep animals, they are going to reproduce. Cows do not produce milk without giving birth first...chickens must reproduce in order to make more hens, and some roosters will be part of any clutch of chicks. So even if you only drink milk and eat eggs, you still are left with the issue of what to do with the superfluous male offspring  -- the bull calf and the young rooster, as they will not produce neither eggs nor milk for you, and you don't need more than one of each on any rural block.  Nature is overly repetitious with males, and at some point culling them seems an inevitability, in any community or on any farm.

Which brings me to the blog I was reading.  "Today I get to watch a cow die," was stated in the post, and later on, there was a graphic image of severed cow's hooves posted.  Was it too sensationalistic?  I say yes.  Some of what seems to be going on these days is that people are so excited to be pasturing and slaughtering their own livestock that they seem to actually believe the animal is OK with being a part of the whole, wonderful process. "I get to watch a cow die" sounded like, "I get to see Justin Beiber in concert."  Whaaat?  Why all the excitement and joy? 

Make no mistake about it:  When any mammal dies, that is not what it would choose, if it were given the choice.  So when people make comments like, "I think Annie The Pig would be proud to see everyone enjoying her meat so much at our Harvest Party," that is complete and utter bullshit.  Annie would have voted to not be killed, if given the choice, the same as you or I would. (And don't even get me started on why in the world we gave Annie a name in the first place, like she was a household pet.) Not that there's any kind of higher level thinking going on with the average farm animal, but there is the will and the desire to live, which is ingrained in every animal's brain stem, us included. Saying the animals is "proud" to be in your freezer is just more anthropomorphic nonsense from an already too-anthropomorphic generation. 

If we are going to cull, butcher, slaughter animals (you pick the term) lets be honest about what it is.  We're not "harvesting" them like we would a carrot or ear of corn.  We're ending the life of something that has a brain, a heart, two eyes and likes to lay in the sun and enjoy its morning breakfast.  Culling animals is, in my opinion, necessary to the balance of life of our planet.  Slaughter is uncomfortable and sad.  It's not a cause for cheering (unless you're currently starving) or overly sappy and sentimental calls of how "sacred" the whole thing is.  It's bloody and its primitive.  And it's magical thinking that the animal somehow understands this is all a part of life and is OK with being shot and having its throat slit to bleed it out.  

It's part of living in a fallen world.  No one loves a good pasture-raised steak more than me, but I don't fool myself for a minute that it came to be either willingly or painlessly on the part of the cow, once alive, and now dead and in my freezer.  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A cold night unless you're menopausal

Menopause sure is energy-saving in winter.  I absolutely love sleeping in a 55 degree room.  I have a hot water bottle for my feet (which, despite the hot flashes, still remain popsicle cold) but the rest of me is completely comfortable.  I sleep better and longer, and awake more refreshed.

If only I was this comfortable in summer, when the energy needed to create a 55 degree room would bankrupt us.  Perhaps there's a place atop a glacier in Alaska I could spend my summers on...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Orange/lemon blossom hand lotion

I'm making little pots of these for Christmas presents.  It's a fabulous hand or face lotion, very light yet protective.  And it smells divine.

Recipe is as follows:  Two cups warm water, infused with about a tablespoon of orange or lemon extract, or infused with orange/lemon flavoring by simmering some rinds in the water for several hours.  Pour into a mixing bowl.  Then heat 1/2 cup Crisco shortening and one cup canola oil together, until Crisco is melted.  When very hot, add a couple of tablespoons of beeswax.  Remove from heat.

Next, once oil mixture cools off until it's almost the same temperature as the water, add the oil mixture slowly to the oil, beating with a mixer as you do.  Once all the oil is added, keep beating until as much of the water as possible is mixed in.  Let cool and spoon into jars and seal.  Should keep for several months, especially if you put unopened jars into the fridge until you are ready to give or use them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Back when I was living in LA, a good friend once likened the city to a cage filled with chimps.  She was an animal behaviorist, and had worked with primates in her college years.  She told me that if you have a cage (like a zoo cage, for example) and place three or four primates inside it, within a short period of time they will figure out a hierarchy and things will proceed along smoothly.  Put 20 primates into the same sized cage, and you will set the stage for intra-species murder, in this case chimp murdering chimp.  Intra-species murder is something very rare in the wild, and usually only happens when something within the animals' environment has gone terribly wrong -- like having too many others like you, too close.  

Her point, of course, was that we human primates have clustered ourselves into cities, and there are more of us per square mile than there should be.  LA's homicide rate was proof of this, she said, just like the chimps.

I think she is right.  Sure, we gather together for protection and a sense of community, but every one of us "chimps" still needs a certain amount of space to be comfortable -- especially once any predators like  wolves or bears are no longer a threat and we know we'd be OK with a little more space.  Then we resent being gathered around in thick clusters as if we're in danger.  

I live in a subdivision with small lots.  No, I don't want to hurt/murder or do any kind of intra-species damage whatsoever to my fellow chimps neighbors.  I actually really like my neighbors.  My next door neighbors are my favorites. But I have to say, on summer days when they gather out by their swimming pool I tend to close up my windows so I can't hear the music and kids screaming.  Several of my neighbors have pool pumps and I hear them if I'm hanging wash outside. That gets annoying sometimes.  An acre between us would not hurt anything.  I'd still wave to their kids, stop to chat when coming home, and bake them homemade Halloween and Christmas treats. My neighbors are not the only ones who create noise, either.  We have a dog who occasionally barks continuously for no apparent reason (despite our best efforts to stop her) and I'm sure its tried the patience of every one of our neighbors. I say again, an acre between us would not hurt anything.  

This is one of the many reasons we're looking for country property.  There's just too many chimps in this cage.

So here is my take on city planning.  it's a cool little 8-point primer to know if there's too many chimps in your cage:

You know you’re living too close to your neighbors when:

1. You've ever accidentally flooded your neighbor’s yard using a garden hose in yours (I include this because I did it yesterday).

2. You pass gas while on the toilet and suspect your neighbors can probably hear it from their patio.

3. You know the names of one of your neighbors' dogs and/or children only because you’ve heard the adults in the house screaming at them in their back yard.

4. You can’t hear your TV when your neighbor is mowing his lawn or blowing off his sidewalk with the leaf blower.

5. With your windows open, you can, however, keep up with whatever television program your neighbors are watching.

6. You can smell exactly how much lighter fluid your neighbor used to start up his barbeque.  You can also tell exactly what he’s cooking.

7. You know what musical instrument your neighbor plays, and you also know he doesn't play very well.

8. You have reason to believe that when you’re standing in your back yard talking to yourself, you are not the only one who’s listening.

9. When searching for new property, your first task is to check and see how close your neighbors' houses would be, and assess whether any of the above might be true once again.  If it is, you move on and look at something else.

Some people don't mind living in a subdivision, surrounded by other people.  Even though we've been blessed with good neighbors -- people who we enjoy living near -- we'd still enjoy life a lot more in an area with one house per acre and space between.  That is all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Double Duty

People start doing homesteading-type activities for many reasons. A couple of the main ones are frugality and a desire to simplify life. In these bizarro-world economic times, no one can argue that frugality (especially if it's virtually painless) makes for a nicer number when looking at your bottom line at the end of the month, after paying the bills. When our family started taking things back to basics, our main reason was to disconnect from being consumers only, and to begin being producers, specifically producers of the things we were going to use.  But after a few months we noticed a marked increase in our savings, so frugality was a nice and very much appreciated side effect.

Outside right now, I have a lasagna cooking in the solar oven and a load of wash on the clothesline, meaning the sun is currently acting as both my stove and my dryer.  We have a lot of different sized mason jars laying around that see duty as canning jars and drinking glasses.  They're also food storage containers.  In the refrigerator, I use them instead of Tupperware containers, to preserve a cut up onion, a half-used jar of tomato paste or leftover spaghetti sauce.  I use them in the freezer, saving chicken broth, limoncello and peach syrup for making sodas with. In the pantry, large half-quart jars hold all our flour, pasta, rice, etc..  Don't get me started on the mason jar thing.  I'm fairly obsessed.  And my point is that the mason jars can do many things successfully, which increases their value to me, as well as their cost-effectiveness.  

Many things can do double duty, if you're willing to get creative. I just ate an orange and now the leftover peel is sitting on the stove simmering, along with a half stick of cinammon and some cloves, to freshen the air in the house. I like it better than any air freshening crap they sell in the store, and I'm sure breathing in the scent of real oranges and cinnamon is probably better for me than whatever's coming out of the spray can or the  liquidy goo plugged into some power outlet.  

Occasionally I peruse the Sunday ads and am amazed at the number of appliances which 1) serve no other purpose than the one advertised and 2) are so easily done by something else -- something most of us already have around the house.  Two great examples are appliances I saw advertised last Sunday.  One was a self-contained cupcake maker, and the other was a quesadilla maker.  These were both stand-alone devices, using their own supply of electricity and taking up either valuable counter or shelf space in the kitchen, 365 days a year.  

I know now why modern man keeps needing bigger and bigger houses -- it's not because we need more space in our bedrooms or family areas -- it's because after a few years we run out of space to keep all our cupcake maker, quesadilla makers and other assorted -makers that have accumulated through the years.

I have a cupcake pan that goes into either of my ovens (solar or conventional) and a Lodge pan that does the same thing.  With these, I can make cupcakes, muffins, quesadillas, and about 100 other things.  

People might say I'm sounding preachy about this, and maybe I am.  So I'll preach it. Do we really need this much stuff?  What might life be like without cupcake makers and canned air freshener?  Damn good, I'll tell you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Goin' out to Canaan

We're moving to San Luis Obispo County in a few months, and one thing I've had to be careful of is elevating the place we're going to, to where it looks and feels like a perfect, promised land in my mind's eye.  As if we're going out to Canaan to the land of milk and honey.  Of course, there are some actual reasons to feel that way. The air is much cleaner, the climate more temperate, and unemployment is half of what it is where we live now.  The beach is close.  All those are great things.

But whenever you come upon a new way of life, the temptation is to view it as the perfect solution to whatever was bugging you about your life before, which pretty much guarantees you will be disappointed once you get into the actual reality of things. You know how it goes.  It's a year later, you're in your new place and you notice some graffiti. Or some 5150 fellow hits you up for spare change in the Kohl's parking lot. Or you see that the city's leaders are just as ineffective as they were back home. 

 I don't want to be disappointed. I want to enjoy the new area for all that's good, and be appraised of what's not-so-good.  But I'm a cock-eyed optimist, a romantic, and a dreamer, so tempering my excitement is not easy.  The trick is to see it as good, even better than where we are now, without falling into the trap of thinking it's perfect.  But on the other end of things, I never want to be such a complete realist that I end up giving myself a total buzz-kill about this life adventure of moving to a new area.  It should, in some ways, feel like we're coming out of Egypt and into a new and better land.  It should feel like starting anew.  

It's this way with everything.  Buy a new home, start a new job, or begin a new romantic relationship and you always have this honeymoon period where you think you've found the perfect "whatever."  As time goes on, you usually finds that you may have improved your lot some, but that your new situation also offers some new challenges and maybe even some things that you don't care for.  And that's where the work of building a new life begins.  Not in starry-eyed optimism, but in honest realism.

Yet, since we all know life is like that, maybe it's OK to dream, to idealize, and to swoon just a little at the start of a journey, don't you think?  Maybe it's OK for me to think of SLO County as The Promised Land, even if some residents there would disagree.  Perhaps it should be OK for all of us to get a little starry-eyed as we're chasing down Camelot -- if just for one brief, shining moment.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My son showed me this video, and it struck very close to my heart.  The fact that my son also liked it makes me very optimistic that maybe finally there's a recognition that our food systems need to change, among both young and old alike.  Enjoy! (it is produced by Chipoltle, so there's a pretty big product label inserted, but despite that I think the message is still a good and important one)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The humble rake

Everyone has at least one task involving manual labor that they love, often irrationally. Homesteaders usually eschew machines for many of their household tasks, but they still have some manual-labor chores that are more loved than others. Mine is raking leaves.  Unless they're stuck in the mulch, I can usually tidy up a yard with a rake much faster than I could with one of those annoying leaf blowers.  When I use the rake, I can still hear the birds sing.  I burn some calories.  And I use no gasoline or oil, and make no air pollution whatsoever.  Plus there's a certain zen to gently clearing the ground of leaves on a cold fall or winter afternoon and sweeping them into a pile.

Often when I drive into town I see the gardeners with gasoline packs strapped onto their backs, blowing (more often than not) dirt off the sidewalk, or leaves out of the dirt.  Sometimes I want to hand them a rake and a broom, and show them how much more efficient these tools really are.  And I can't really believe that lugging around a gasoline backpack and waving a heavy plastic hose -- plus wearing a face mask and ear plugs all day long -- is either saving labor or making the tasks more pleasurable.  Plus, what's the point of working as a gardener if you can't even spend your days listening to the birds sing?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

George Washington slept off his hangover here

So last night I decided to make George Washington's original colonial recipe for egg nog, which he came up with himself (perhaps with a little help from Martha) and which I found on the  Farmer's Almanac website.  Like many people my age, my only experience with egg nog came from a carton, bought at a supermarket during the holiday season.  Supermarket egg nog contains some of the same ingredients Washington's does, but adds stuff like high fructose corn syrup, carrrageenan, gum arabic, and mono and deglycerides to give it the super-thick egg nog taste we are all familiar with.  I wanted to try real homemade egg nog to see what it is actually supposed to taste like.

I was right, it was very different.  Colonial egg nog is, more or less, simply a rather plain platform unto which Mr. Washington loaded an unbelievable amount of alcohol.  I was surprised how bland it tasted without any liquor added (I was making it in a house where teenagers could have it, so I left the booze out).  It's rather like melted vanilla ice cream, without the vanilla flavoring.  Very eggy.  And yes, it does have raw eggs in it, but I'm guessing with the amount of liquor Washington added to it 1) any pathogens or bacteria did not stand a chance of living or reproducing in it, and 2) no one remembered it as "bland" if, in fact, they remembered anything at all the next morning.  Which I'm guessing they didn't.

So here it is:

George Washington's Colonial Egg Nog

"One quart cream, one quart milk, one dozen tablespoons sugar, one pint brandy, 1/2 pint rye whiskey, 1/2 pint Jamaica rum, 1/4 pint sherry—mix liquor first, then separate yolks and whites of eggs, add sugar to beaten yolks, mix well. Add milk and cream, slowly beating. Beat whites of eggs until stiff and fold slowly into 
mixture. Let set in cool place for several days. Taste frequently."

Bottom's up

P.S.  I did actually add the liquor Mr. Washington recommended after the kiddos had gone to bed.  After all, he is the Father of our Nation, so it seemed somehow disrespectful to not take his full advice.  Alcoholically enhanced, this egg nog packs a bunch.  It's kind of like drinking tiramisu.  Delicious, as long as you don't have to drive your horse and carriage home after you've had some.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We may have a tractor

We haven't even put our current house on the market yet in order to start looking for country property (we'll be doing that in February) but it looks like we've been blessed with a tractor to take care of the land we don't yet have.  It's almost 60 years old, but still in pretty good working condition.  It does run.  It needs a few new parts, and a little TLC though. 

I am a firm believer in God and how he works, and I love that He sent us the tractor in advance, almost as a sign to stay on the path we've chosen -- the path to relocate, west of here. I think there's a sweet farmhouse and couple of acres to use the tractor on up ahead in our future, too.  

As it says in Deuteronomy 8, "For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land..."  In this case, a good land with a Ford tractor to use on it.

Art for whose sake?

Even if you're too young to remember, you probably realize there was a time when art was incorporated into many areas of American's day to day lives, and the world our grandparents inhabited was more beautiful because of it.  The coffee mug above is printed with a reproduction of an old fruit crate label.  Crate labels were beautiful art -- today they are collector's items, and you find them (or larger art replicas of them) framed and matted, hung in people's homes.  Or on coffee mugs, and who knows what else.

Somehow, I don't think today's packaged food artwork will ever adorn someone's wall as a piece of art.  A Keebler Elves logo on a coffee mug?  A Kellogg's Fruit Loops box lovingly reproduced and hung in a living room?  Nope, I just don't see it.  The same way courthouses no longer are built with winding steps and copper ceilings, with graceful murals adorning the chambers and gargoyles standing watch from high places.  When a nation loses its desire to make industry, commerce and government beautiful, does that make it lose its soul? Or does it cease doing those things because its already lost its soul?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

These dreams

Everyone has at least one recurring dream or nightmare, and I had one of mine again last night.  I am back in college and it is finals week. I look down at my finals schedule and see several classes I have finals scheduled for which I NEVER WENT TO, not once, for the entire semester.  For some, I'm not even sure what building they are held in.  It's a terrible feeling.  I know I signed up to take these classes, and never dropped them, therefore I know I will be responsible for knowing an entire semester's worth of material when I go in and take the exam (if I can even figure out where the class is being held, otherwise I will get a zero on the test and a Fail in the class for not showing up).

What in the world could this mean?  I'm with Karl Jung on the subject of dreams, who believed that some dreams are meaningless -- mental chewing gum, if you will -- and should not be taken seriously.  But usually a recurring dream has a message within it that you need to pay attention to.  Obviously on some level, in some part of my life I feel as if I signed up for something and then never bothered to see it through, but that it's going to bite me on the ass in the end.  And it's important to me to do the work and figure out what the dream might be trying to tell me, if only for the reason that maybe then I can stop having it.  Truly, I'm tired of seeing the same sequence and feeling the same things -- regret over having signed up for classes I never went to, anxiety about being tested on things I never learned, and ultimately, dismay at ruining a perfectly good grade point average by committing the sin of not doing the work I was supposed to.  

There are large implications to what my subconsciousness could be trying to tell me, and none of it is very pleasant. 

My 20's and 30's are littered with things I started -- careers, relationships, ways of life -- that I never carried through on, but I've been a good wife, mother and all around person-who-can-be-counted-on for a long time now, so the ultimate solution to the dream is something I'm not too clear on.  What can you do in life, other than move on and keep the vow to do better? 

Monday, December 5, 2011

it's never really the end

I wrote my last column for the paper today, a very bittersweet experience.  I've enjoyed my eight years of being a columnist, although the slightly-raised public profile has honestly been a bit weird at times.  When I first started writing the column, I had a by-line using my name only.  A couple of years on, the paper started using pictures of their columnists, and I found myself getting recognized in restaurants, in the store, and shopping around town (I live in a very small town).  It was a bit uncomfortable for me, because I'm normally a pretty private person.  But gradually I adjusted.  Getting older (while my pic in the paper did not) also helped, since I gradually came to look less and less like the 2001 self in the picture I'd given them to use.  A former columnist for the paper, Anthony Cicale, told me to find a picture that looked as unlike the normal "me" as possible in order to protect my day-to-day privacy, and I'm glad I did.  

The best part of writing the column has, of course, been the actual writing itself, and connecting with readers when I captured what they were thinking right along with me.  To feel passionately about something and be able to give it a public platform is both a great gift and a great responsibility, and that has been very gratifying.  

But there are certain times in one's life when transition is the name of the game, and when the old has to be cast off to make way for the new -- even when the new has not yet taken shape.  It needs a vacant space to move into.  And so, my writing career for this paper, in this town, is over, ending on a good note.  

I will never stop writing, but there's a "vacant" sign hanging in the space I used to write my column in, in my life.  What will God bring into my life that will fill it up?  I don't know.  I have some ideas and some dreams. But I'm getting the space ready for whatever comes next.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Search

The Search

when I look for you everything falls silent
a crowd seeing a ghost
it is true

yet I keep on trying to come toward you
looking for you
roads have been paved but many paths have gone
footprint by footprint
that led home to you
when roads already led nowhere

still I go on hoping
as I look for you
one heart walking in long dry grass
on a hill

around me birds vanish into the air
shadows flow into the ground

before me stones begin to go out like candles
guiding me

                                                                                          W.S. Merwin

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

During the summer months, I grow a lot of squash, and as the leaves on the vines get bigger, sometimes one ends up with monster squash that managed to hide themselves under the leaves until they reached gargantuan size and girth.  While these monsters may look impressive (or scary, depending on your perspective) they are not usually the best for eating.  So what I do is peel them, coarse-grate them, and freeze them for later use in things you might not normally expect.  My other option is to leave them on the passenger seat of my neighbors' cars, but since most folks have started locking their car doors that is no longer a good option, sadly, because it was fun while I was doing it.

Anyway, my favorite purpose for zucchini monsters is chocolate chip zucchini cake.  It's moist, feels a lot richer than it is, and does not, I assure you, have even a hint of zucchini taste in it. This means you can serve your kids some zukes and they'll never know it.  

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
1 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
1/2 bag chocolate chips
3 cups grated zucchini (if frozen, this will seem like less after you strain off water, but that's OK.  You can also add more if you like -- I double the amount when using frozen and squeezed zucchini as opposed to fresh)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.  In a medium bowl, stir together wet ingredients -- eggs, oil, and zucchini.  Add cocoa powder and sugar and stir in well.  Add flour, baking soda and powder, and chocolate chips last.

Fold into baking pan and bake for 50 - 60 minutes, using toothpick to test doneness.  Let cool and serve. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Blowin' in the wind

Now that our trees are smaller and trimmed up nicely, there is a lot more sunshine and breezes in the back yard. This means on nice days I can use my absolute favorite appliance -- my solar clothes dryer, a.k.a. the clothes line.  This sounds pathetically commonplace until you realize how few people dry any of their clothes outside anymore.  Some suburban HOAs even have rules against using them, claiming it makes the neighborhood look too "ghetto" (this is not how they say it, but c'mon, you know it's what they mean). The average electric indoor clothes dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in a household, second only to the television and air conditioner.  And when you're drying clothes for a family of five like I do, that adds up to a lot of kilowatt hours. Seriously, go outside (to wherever your electric meter is) sometime and then have someone inside start the dryer. The little energy use wheel on your meter will begin whirling around faster than an over-caffeinated spin aerobics instructor. If we weren't moving soon I'd definitely be looking into solar panels, but for now we'll take Mr. Sun's warming rays for all we can, using what we currently have.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


When the tree crew started trimming the cottonwoods yesterday, I couldn't help but notice all the buds on the branches that were coming down.  I learned how to make healing cottonwood salve from the folks over at the Simple Green Frugal Co-Op ( ) so I thought I'd take advantage of nature's bounty and make up another batch.

Cottonwood salve is simply put, the best thing I've ever used for wounds of all kinds -- punctures, cat scratches, burns, and rashes.  I've also heard it's a great rub for sore muscles, but have not used it for this purpose yet.  The cottonwood bud has an active ingredient that has antibacterial and well as anti-inflammatory properties.

Here's what the buds look like:

And once I put one cup of them into a quart mason jar with some good olive oil, they look like this:

You can make the salve immediately if you heat up the buds and the oil together on the stove, but the buds contain a very sticky resin (the active ingredient) that's almost impossible to get off the bottom of the saucepan once you're done, so I wouldn't recommend it.  It's easier to just add the buds to some room temperature olive oil, seal tightly with a lid, and let it rest in a dark place for a couple of months, occasionally turning the jar to help mix the ingredients.  Then when you're ready, strain off the buds and use the oil, or if you wish, heat the olive oil on the stovetop, add some beeswax (maybe a teaspoon or so) to give it a slightly more firm consistency and pour it into some smaller jars you probably have laying around.  The tiny jelly jars made by Ball are great for this. It should stay good for up to a year, maybe longer.