Sunday, November 22, 2015

Here Comes the Sun

Summer view of greenhouse and panels
          After a long week of steady rain, the sun came out on Saturday morning. This happens about once a month during the winter, and we all leap to gather as much sunshine as we can. I threw three loads of sheets though the laundry and hung them outside to dry. The Farmer’s Market stands took advantage of the clear weather to leave their canopies at home, so the squashes and pumpkins could glow in the sunlight. We walked downtown wrapped in wool sweaters and hats, but not raincoats. In the afternoon, I raked up most of the leaves in the yard, spread some mulch, and trimmed down the asparagus bed, while Mark finished up some work on the greenhouse. Then we moved the coop to a new bed, rearranged the fencing, and placed the dilapidated cold frame on the just tractored bean bed.  “It might as well fall apart on a bed rather than the ground,” Mark observed as we shifted it into place.  Every hour or so, I swung by the solar panel display to cheer on the meter.

            Next door, the college students decided it was a good day to sit on the roof. The put on jackets, found some cokes, and climbed up. The last one carried his iphone and speakers. Once they were arranged in a line, looking west over the street, they turned on the tunes. Beatles songs. They sang along, belting out “Hey Jude” at the top of their lungs, followed by “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” like they were the first generation to ever do so. A couple of friends joined then. They grumped about school work and the football game.  Then “Here Comes the Sun” came on. They were quiet, basking in the setting sun.

 Down below, I put away my tools and latched the chickens in for the night. “Good-bye roof,” one of them said as they descended and headed inside for dinner. “Good night sun, “ I added and moved inside myself.

Solar output for the weekend—3.5 KWH, which is about what we produced in the five days leading up to the weekend.

Pumpkin Streusel Pie

            Start with a crust, add filling, then streusel. Bake in 350 degree oven until set.

2 cups of  cooked pumpkin, mashed
3 eggs
1.5 cups of cream
¾ cup of brown sugar
½ t salt
1.5 t cinnamon
1 t ginger
½ t nutmeg and cloves
¼ t allspice

½ c brown sugar, oats, chopped walnuts
¼ c flour, butter
½ t cinnamon

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My November Guest

I have been reading Frost’s poems about November to my class this week. Even though we are on the opposite side of the country and a little further north (read—even darker than Derry New Hampshire at 4:30 PM) they resonate.  We all understand the dark days of November. We have driven narrow mountain roads lined with fir trees that meet overhead, lace through clouds, and block the last bits of light from the afternoon sky. We have walked to school in fog rising from the ground, obscuring the hills around town. We have raked the leaves that cover the greening grass and dodged the piles in the bike lanes.  And, more than any other place in the country, we know clouds, piles and layers of clouds that hide the moon and sun for weeks at a time. We know November.

My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walked the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

Robert Frost

Hot Chocolate:
We also know Hot chocolate, the perfect November beverage.

¼ c chocolate chips
1 t sugar
3 cups of milk
¼ t vanilla or cinnamon, or both.

Heat and serve in big mugs after a long damp walk. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015


          Rain.  There will be months of rain.

            It has been raining, off and on, how it does in the Willamette Valley, for several days now.  We’ve replaced the white lights that hang under the “light shelf” in my classroom so there is enough light to read by near the windows in the early morning. We have all stared at the skylight when a downpour roared through in the middle of class one afternoon. We are all a little damp, little swelled up on the edges, like the mosses and lichens that hang from the trees on the refuge south of town. Rain.

            Yesterday was Parent Teacher Conferences, which always make me ill. For eight to twelve hours, depending upon the year, I perch on a hard plastic chair in the cafeteria, peering at an endless stream of parents, feeling ambushed because you just never know what is on their minds. Honestly, 95 percent of the interactions are positive— after years of practice, I am good at defusing parent worries, and the only parents who come are either very proud of their student and just want to check in or really worried about their student and need some help. Once we move past that thirty seconds of “Who is this stranger suddenly in front of me?” it’s ok. And even the surreal ones, that happen every few years, are helpful. But that constant talking, constant being on and focused, is exhausting, psychically and mentally. And my butt hurts from the chair.

            I took a walk in the rain this morning to shake the conferences from my head. It was misty and windy when I left the house, and, half way to the river, it poured for a few blocks. I was wearing my ancient,  Lost and Found box at school black sweatshirt, so old and shrunk tight that it is almost waterproof. It is my winter coat. Add a wooly hat and scarf, and it is fine in January. Push the sleeves up a bit, and it is comfortable in April. Perfect for October rains. The rain washed down my face and covered my glasses, so I walked into a blurry world. No problem. I know the way. A toddler, fascinated with a puddle, called hello before stamping in the water as his grandmother watched, totally in love. I chatted with an old colleague waiting on a porch. Leaves danced along the pavement. Deep breaths. The air smelled of ocean, and forest, and earth all tumbling together—home.
            Down by the river, a cab driver napped in his car, waiting for a call. No one else was around. Ducks, mostly mallards, chatted by the water. A few drifted downstream, then paddled back to the group before sliding away once more. A gravel bar was slowly disappearing as the river rose from the upstream rains. Grey green water swirled around the bridges, carrying small bits of debris to the ocean. Downtown, a few neon signs glowed in the grey day, but the path was empty. No one was really up and around yet, except for the cooks, chopping onions and frying garlic for lunch, and the bread bakery, which smelled of yeast and baking wheat. I swung inland and homeward, dreaming of another cup of tea and my new book.

            There will be months of rain.

Winter Lasagna

Another layered dish....

Take two large cans of chopped tomatoes, add garlic and onion, and simmer until the onion is tender.

Chop a delicata squash into small cubes. Chop a large bunch of kale.

Mix about a cup of mozzarella and a cup of ricotta cheese together.

Find the large casserole pan.  This is the order:
1/3 sauce
1/2 ww lasagna noodles, not cooked. They will cook in the oven.
1/2 cheese
All of the veg
1/3 sauce
1/2 noodles
1/2 cheese
1/3 sauce

Bake until the squash is tender. Let it sit for a while to firm up before cutting. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Autumn Snug

            The long sunny Indian Summer this year has thrown me off. Every day, I came home, looked around the garden smugly, and thought “Not much to do here” before heading off for a walk or a book. It was true—the beds were orderly, still producing, and needed little work. I had, however, forgotten about the flip side of Autumn preparations—the cleaning and ordering of interior spaces, the snugging in for the rains. 

            Last weekend, the realization hit. Mark brought home our traditional 70 pounds of onions from Denison Farms that needed to be stored in the larder—which was still home to a pile of recycling and several huge spiders. One afternoon went to vacuuming up webs and clearing the shelves, while the recycling went into the Ark to be hauled away on Saturday. After the onions were in, I gathered the squashes from the yard and tucked them away as well, before the rains began.

            After the larder was cleaned out, I moved onto the basement shelves. This was  the week to bring home fifty pounds of hard wheat berries and thirty pounds of oatmeal from Greenwillow Grains. That all needed to be poured into large storage tins (we use old Christmas popcorn tins from Goodwill), labeled, and tucked on shelves. However, the shelves needed to be ordered and swept before anything new was stored there which led to some re-arranging of canned goods and storage jars and preserving equipment. Where the drying racks clean? No. They needed to be washed and dried. Cleaning up the winter storage areas took several hours.  While I worked, I found some more recycling for the Ark…

            Meanwhile, we still had some Autumn yard projects. The new greenhouse needed a layer of plastic over the thin parts of the walls and some insulation. Pots needed to be moved in to increase thermal mass. The temporary shelves needed to be rearranged…and I still needed to find plugs for the clawfoot tub so that water did not slosh out of the old plumbing holes. That took a couple of days after work.  Now all we need to do is arrange a floor, either using more large flat stones or our reclaimed bricks. That will be a winter project.

            Finally, there was the general yard tidy. Hoses brought in from garden beds and out of the yard, coiled, and hung from the rafters in the shed. Tools put away. Tomato cages stacked and tucked behind the old chicken coop. Leaves hauled from the street and layered onto the beds, snugged in around the still growing kale and collards. The coop  shifted to a new bed.  Even more recycling appeared when we cleared out around the trash cans.

            We are, I am pleased to observe, almost done with the autumn clean-up. I have to plant the garlic (I was waiting for a bit of rain), wash and hang the storm windows, and clear up the front garden beds. The firewood storage area in the basement is still a disaster. And there is a hand-knit sweater that I was hoping to wear at school conferences, which are this week. I am half way down the body right now and have not started on the sleeves. This may be a winter project.

Bean and Barley Soup, originally from The Savory Way, altered to be totally local ingredients.

In the crock pot, place about two cups of Indian Woman beans, a chopped medium large onion, and several cloves of garlic. Cover with water. Cook for hours, until soft and friendly. Add about one and a half cups of cooked barley, a bag of frozen corn, salt, pepper, and parsley.  Allow to mellow together. This is a very simple soup that really grows on you over time.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Drive Less. Connect.

          Mark and I are participating in the Drive Less Connect challenge this year by not driving for the nest seven days. This is no great sacrifice on our parts—we rarely drive around town unless we need to haul lumber or travel out to the only feedstore in the area that sells the feed our chickens will eat. We used to be able to by feed in town and haul it home on the bike trailer, but the independent store closed when a national chain came to town. This happens more and more and stores move to the edges of town in car friendly parking lots, rather than on bike friendly gridded streets.  The goal of the challenge is to encourage people to drive less, at least one trip per week, by giving out prizes and encouragement.  You log your daily trips online for a week. Because the website is so annoying (I have little patience for bad website design) I  will log them here instead.


Mark rode his bike to Quaker meeting, about a quarter mile away.

When he came home, we headed out for  a “Shrinking Corvallis” walk. We started this two years ago before our walking trip to England. We knew we would be walking twelve to fourteen miles per day, so we started walking ten to fourteen miles every weekend from our house, which is centrally located. We were quickly in the hills around our town, walking through woods, and were amazed at, really, how small our town was.  Today, we put in nine cutting across campus and two city parks to eat lunch on the riverfront, then came home though the neighborhoods.

This evening, I will put on another mile trotting around the neighborhood hanging “No partying” doorhangers on every neighbor’s door.

Most important gear for driving less? Comfy shoes. They do not have to be fancy and expensive, but they need to fit your feet. These have logged hundreds of miles in the past two summers.

Mark rode his bike to and from work today, about three miles total. He rides every day unless there is an ice storm, then he walks. The fresh air clears his brain, coming and going. I walked to work, because it is faster to walk than to haul out my bike, fuss with lights, ride, park, lock, and fuss with lights. I will also spend half an hour on neighborhood doorhangers again this evening.

Our bikes are essential equipment for not driving. They are the most
efficient way to travel in town, both for time and energy used. We do not have fancy bikes. I bought mine used for two hundred dollars because I love the design. Mark’s was new, twenty years ago. We have baskets on the back; Mark has a milk crate, I have collapsible wire baskets. The different configurations make it easier to haul a variety of stuff. Cakes and pies fit into Mark’s while mine holds two co-op canvas grocery bags perfectly. We also have a bike cart for big shopping trips and bulky stuff, like chicken feed.

Mark rode to and from work, as always. I walked. When I came home, I emptied my day pack and headed over to the UU to pick up my fall CSA box.  It’s a little over a mile one way, through ranchland, which has become an interesting stroll. The houses were all built in the late 1950s and 1960s, so there are many mature gardens and lots of alterations to the buildings, so two houses that were identical are no longer. It’s fun to watch for housing patterns.  On the way home, I chatted with a long term resident of the neighborhood about the impact of student housing (which is bad). It is good, however, to talk because it reduces our feelings of isolation and impotence. I will bring her some doorhangers this week.

If you are striving to travel on foot, you need a decent daypack that fits your back and style. Mine is a large green jansport that was designed for cross county skiing; the two side pouches are not fully attached to the pack so that you can slide your skis  in—or poles, or umbrella, or loaf of French bread, or magazine…It’s big enough to use as a suitcase for a short trip, if you bring along only one paperback. I love it. Mark’s is more high tech. He needs the side pouches to balance out his water bottles and a smaller main compartment so that he does not strain his back. He also has—and uses—more straps than I do. Either way, we use our packs constantly to haul groceries, library books, lunches, rain gear…what ever we think we might need on the trail or sidewalk that day. 

Mark rode to work and back and had plans to ride over to a friend’s to sing, but they both felt off, so he collapsed on the couch instead. I walked to and from work, finished the doorhangers, and dug up a new garden bed by hand. This is, actually, a quiet week; usually there is at least one meeting or lecture in the evening that we would walk to.

A simple bike is good, but, as winter comes on, it needs a few pieces of equipment to remain appealing. The first thing I put on my bike when I moved to Oregon was a back fender. Without this simple attachment, you have a wet stripe up your back all winter long—and damp underwear. Nothing is more off-putting than damp underwear!  I also bought a rear and front light. Since then, I have developed a theory: you can tell the age of a cyclist to the decade by counting the number of lights on the bike and helmet. At least in Corvallis, people add another light for each decade over the twenties (who ride around with their cell phone lit, held in their mouths. I do not exaggerate.) I have front and rear lights on bike and helmet, plus a little light in the spoke of my wheels.


Mark rode to work and I walked, as always. After school, I had a dentist’s appointment, so I came home, freed the animals and headed out. The dentist is about a mile and a half away, right where the town begins to climb the hills and loses some of it’s walkable nature. As I walked, I considered how urban design impacts our ability to walk and bike comfortably. There are several factors at work in Corvallis that make our lifestyle possible.

First, we live in the area of town that is laid out on a block by block grid. This allows bicyclists and pedestrians to choose alternative but still efficient routes. We often bike one street in from the main commercial areas—and we are not the only ones, judging by the bike and skateboard traffic on our street.  We have learned which streets go through and which get tangled in cul-de-sacs. The grid is easier to follow when you are new in town—numbered streets parallel the river, while the presidents run perpendicular to it. Downtown is  First through Fifth. Some streets have alleys, which are often fun to explore on foot. Grape vines and old apple trees grow behind the older houses.

Second, we have many older street trees. Although it feels, some days, like the trees are all coming down, we do have long streches of neighborhood streets lined by trees. In the middle of the summer, we can  walk on the shady side of the street—it the winter, we shift to the sunny side. Trees also slow traffic.  Along with the trees, we have fairly dense neighborhood housing, so the streets feel very enclosed. It feels safe to walk around town and there are few nasty stretches of  hot blank wall.

Finally, we have sidewalks and on street parking throughout town. There is a distinct place to walk, often barricaded from the busy road by a line of parked cars. When Mark and I visited his family in East Tennessee last summer, we walked around the neighborhoods. The roads were narrow, with the white edge painted about three inches in from the edge of the tarmac, with a two foot ditch right next to that. There was no place to step off of the road when a car went by. It felt a bit hairy to walk when there was traffic. That does not happen where we walk every day. We also have bike lanes on the busy roads.

We are very lucky to live where we do. Although I have always walked as much as possible, much of Corvallis is designed to support this choice. I am always grateful.


Mark rode to work and back and I hid in the back yard, cleaning up small projects. I left the block once to deposit old magazines at the Senior Center for others to read. Itt was a very quiet day.


The weather was beautiful in the morning, so we headed downtown to the Farmer’s Market and Robnett’s Hardware.  I needed some eggplant for a potluck; Mark wanted some stove pipe for a small project involving bio-char he has been working on. The public library is almost exactly a mile from our house; the market is four blocks further on.  We finished our errands and come home, making a big loop. Rain settled in in the afternoon, so the cat and I took to the nook and read.


We are adding an eighth day….The world is beautiful, freshly washed and green from the rains yesterday. We walked for miles, out through the college fields, along a bike path that crosses wetlands, and through the hilly neighborhoods where deer and wild turkeys wander through the yards. At the end, we dropped off of a ridge and down to the co-op to do the week’s shopping before heading home.

Why walk? We walk because it makes us healthy. Mark walks off stress; I walk off colds. The rhythm of my steps settles my mind. For the first three miles, I am scattered, my brain jumping like a rabbit’s from one idea to the next. I make lists. I solve the problems of the word, but forget how. There is no focus. By mile three and a half, my mind settles  into place, exploring one idea. Sentences stretch out behind me. I see my life clearly. Patterns emerge. Then, after ten miles, my brain just…disappears. All that is left is the quiet sound of my breath, my feet, my dayback creaking softly behind me. I adjust automatically to changes in terrain. I no longer rush or slow down. Just move, steadily onward.

To consider more about walkable cities, check out Carfree Cities, The Pattern Language, and Walkable City.

Orange Pound Cake

This comes from The Boston Globe, back around 1988. It is still yummy.

1 cup of butter
1.5 cups of fine white sugar (not the organic large crystallized stuff. It messes with the texture.)

Cream together until fluffy. Scrape the bowl several times.

4 eggs, added one at a time
1 t vanilla
Rind of two oranges

3 cups of flour
1 t BS
1 t BP

1 cup of buttermilk

Add alternately and mix well. Scrape the bowl while mixing.

Pour into a tube pan and bake at 350 until done through, about an hour. You can frost with plain or chocolate cream cheese, white chocolate buttercream, or whipped cream. Any is yummy. Use the juice of the oranges if you are frosting with plain cream cheese.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2015 Summer Harvest

All of the produce that we preserve comes from within ten miles of home; it is transported here by bicycle. The bold entries were grown on site. This, of course, does not account for all of the fresh produce we ate during the growing season.

Blueberries: 2 quarts dried
                   3 quarts frozen

Peaches: six quarts dried
15    pints canned

Apples: apple sauce 8 pints
              Apple butter 18 half pints (it turns quickly)
               Dried 4 quarts
               Juice 19 quarts

Figs: 7 quarts dried

Plums:  butter 6 half pints
              Pickled 6 quarts

Grape juice: 36 quarts

Beets: pickled, 7 pints

Tomatoes: roasted and canned 54 half pints
                        Dried 3 quarts
                        Salsa 10 pints
                        Longkeeper storage tomatoes 10 pounds

Cucumbers: It was a very good year…
                        Quick Dill 10 quarts
                        Senfgerkin 10 pints

Gooseberry jam 4 half pints

            Blue three pounds—a mystery
            Yukon Gold 13 pounds, plus some early harvest
            Desiree 21 pounds
            Kennebeck 25 pounds
            Russian fingerling 26 pounds

Pumpkins and squash; six pie pumpkins and one blue Hubbard squash