Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
Canning and drying have begun!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Dreaded PD

Professional Development…just the phrase makes my heart sink. Why?  It usually feels bad—sort of thrown together, full of buzz-words and jargon, and abandoned by November.  It does not have to be this way. We can do better. I’ve had three excellent rounds of PD in twenty years as a tracher. Maybe they had something in common.

The best PD ever—five days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, learning how to make Shakespeare come alive in the classroom. We spent five hot days in two small cement rooms, doing choral readings, physical-izing (not acting, mind you!) the words, talking about the language. We also saw FIVE plays, went backstage, heard several lectures by experts, and chatted with the actors. Oh, and we did some dancing, too. We stayed in dorms, ate out for lunch and dinner, and talked to each other constantly. And it was free, because CHS got a grant. What made it great? It was graduate school for English and Theater teachers.

The second great PD week was a stay at Reed College, organized by the Oregon Council for the Humanities. The topic for the week was the intersection of science and the humanities. About a month beforehand, I received a graduate level packet of reading in the mail, to be completed before I arrived. This series of articles required me to pull out all of my old reading comprehension strategies to fully comprehend it. It was great. The week that followed was, once again, a series of in-depth discussions, formal and informal, lectures by experts, and a tour of Reed’s nuclear reactor. We also did some weeding around the buildings while waiting for someone to arrive. Once again, we stayed in dorms, although we ate in the quite excellent Reed cafeteria.  What made this one great? Once again, it was the intellectual ideas and discussions.

The last great PD was very different. It happened the week after school was out for the summer, which is a really good time to plan a new class. It was organized around project-based learning, a movement I have always loved. It engages my students fully and allows me to say “yes, that’s brilliant!” far more often than other styles. Even my Honors Juniors love to break out the watercolors and glue guns occasionally. I volunteered for the week, working with a teaching partner. We were well matched by style and knowledge base and happy to be exploring a new class. We spent morning on some theory work, thinking about why specific strategies were effective, then, in the afternoons, we applied them and designed lessons and projects.  We went out for gossipy lunches in a cheery group. What made this one so great? It was absolutely useful—and a lot of fun.

What do these three very different weeks all have in common? First, we were treated as scholars, not teachers who need “something to add to your toolbox “(a phrase I hate!).  In their own ways, each week fully engaged my brain in the same way I want to engage my students. They were deeply  intellectual weeks. I learned new ideas and ways to look at the world. I was a student. Second, the teachers were excellent. They knew more than I did and thought about how to present their ideas effectively. Once again, they respected our intellectual capabilities and stretched our minds. Finally, they were totally voluntary. No one made me do any of it. I had total control over the time.  Good food did not hurt our experiences
So, what would I like to see this year for PD? I would love to spend a year on American Realism, the late 19th century literary movement. I don’t quite get it so I do not teach it well. You might say we kind of skip it some years, to be honest. I would love to read some novels and participate in some discussions led by someone else and outside of the district, an expert in the field. That would be very helpful. Or, I would like to spend the year exploring the impact of poverty on my students and how we can work to reduce the negative impacts and create a more equitable school, in a meaningful way, not superficially. Once again, here are some excellent books on the topic, some serious experts in the field within one hundred miles of Corvallis.   Either of these topics, thoughtfully done, would engage my mind. Barring that, at least let me complete all of the “safe schools” and first aid trainings I need to be able to take my kids to the university library in November….

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Canning Grape Juice

Finished juice
                It has been warm lately—about 100 degrees one afternoon last week—and everything is ripe. I have spent hours in the kitchen canning roasted tomatoes and grape juice. Fortunately, both projects have a come and go rhythm to them. Once you have set up your systems, I am  free to check email or read a few more chapters for the Honors American Lit Summer Reading assignment that I, like all of my students, have put off until mid-August  (if not later, to be honest).
 I spent Sunday afternoon  in an interesting vortex of Women’s Work, canning grape juice into vintage jars collected from my partner’s mother and a friend of mine, both of whom were serious canners until their children left home. The jars reach back at least to 1976; I have eight or ten that sport Bi-Centennial designs in the glass. Some are “magic mason” jars and a few are so heavy and sturdy I think they have been around since the 1950s. I think of the gallons of preserved foods these jars have held and will hold while I pour boiling water over grapes and sugar. Preserving foods in steamy kitchens has always been women’s work—as has gloating over the full jars in the basement later.
Grapes and sugar
While the canner was steaming away, I read A Midwife’s Tale, which is close reading and research work by one of my old professors looking at the life of a midwife in Augusta, Maine in the 1780s.  By looking at the records in the diary, we know that very few women died in childbirth in rural Maine. More died from diseases that swept the town periodically. There were also some  bits of scandal revealing in the journal on Sunday—out of wedlock births, people cheating on one another, and a rape case. Small towns are small towns, no matter what the century. Martha Ballad Moore, the midwife, kept her own accounts independent of her husband; they were partners, not dependents. It is an interesting read. I worked my way through three chapters, stopping every ten minutes to empty and load the steam canner or pour some more boiling water into the jars.
 Despite electricity and glass jars, I did not feel that far away from the 18th century world I was reading about. Winter is coming. We must be ready.   

Grape Juice:
Pick a bucket of wild, deep flavored grapes—the kind that sprawl over the fence in the back alleys of older neighborhoods. Rinse them off and remove the stems. Wash a bunch of quart jars. Buy the lids before you start the project.
In each jar, tumble about a cup of grapes and a quarter cup of sugar. This is totally flexible—it started out as half a cup of each, but that was too sweet for us. A few more grapes never hurt anyone. Pour boiling water over the grapes, leaving a half inch of headroom at the top. Cap and ring. I always get a little ahead of the canner with the boiling water.
Process in boiling water or the steam canner for ten minutes. Cool, label, and put on the shelf for winter.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Old School Oven Repair

                After 65 odd years, the thermostat in our Norge oven gave way a few weeks ago. Bread was burning, cookies, cakes, and granola were impossible, and the only thing I could safely cook was roasted veggies, and then only when I opened the oven several times during the process to cool it off. Our local repair shop basically refused to come out and look at the problem because the stove was too old, so we were left  on our own—or, as the repair people suggested,  we could buy a new stove. I refused. An old stove is not that complicated and a new stove, I knew, would last ten years and need to be replaced.  We were determined—and followed a few simple guidelines to success.

Find the experts.  After being rejected by the local repair guys, someone suggested that I contact Spencer Appliances in Portland which specializes in old appliances and repairs. Mark took the thermostat out of the stove (no easy task), taking photographs and labeling wires as he went. He handed it off to me and I hopped on the bus to the big city to visit a friend and the parts store.  I felt like I was stepping back in time, visiting a Portland that was rapidly disappearing twenty years ago, when I lived there, and almost gone now. It lurks in outer South and North East, on old commercial streets. The places are doomed—there are cafes  moving in next door to both—but they are still there, with stoves and washing machines spilling outside. I walked in to Spencer’s, carrying my part. The owners looked at it, sighed, and sent someone off to the storage area. “I dunno,” they said, “It’s an old one.”   The searcher came back empty handed. I waited. The guys looked at the part again.  “I really like my stove,” I said. “Is it one of those forty inchers?” one asked. I nodded. They looked thoughtful. “Well,” the owner sighed, “There are replacement parts, if that’s ok.” I nodded eagerly. He reached for an old and battered book, rattling off numbers to himself. “This one will work,” he said, pointing to the illustration and writing down the numbers on a slip of paper. “Go to Nor-Mon on Stark. They’ll have it.” Nor-Mon  on Stark did have it, along with some advice on installation. “We used to work with nine shops between Corvallis and Albany,” the owner told me. “But there’s only two left—and one’s really changed in the last two years. They don’t work on stuff anymore. It’s a shame. Those old stoves were great. “ “I know,” I agreed.

Trace the energy flows. When I came home, proudly bearing the new—and old—part, Mark went to work.  His big task was to figure out how the electricity moved so that he could attach the wires to the right places. Despite assurances that it was quite clear and the instructions were great, this was a challenge.   He spent hours tracing wires back, labeling them, testing out theories, and moving back to his notes.  What is the voltage—is it changing? Where are the grounds?  Where does the electricity flow? Although the stove is pretty simple and he had rewired a burner last year, it was a challenge. He had made one big assumption that was WRONG.

Question your assumptions. Early on, we decided that we did not need the wire that led from the thermostat to the timer. After all, when was I ever going to put a raw dinner in the oven and leave it, setting a timer to turn on the oven hours later? I’d heard about such things, back in the day, but this was clearly against the Food Handler’s Card rules. It is just complicating matters, Mark thought.  Then he spent hours trying to see how electricity flowed into the thermostat… and realized that it flowed THROUGH THE TIMER. Once re re-attached that wire, everything fell into place.

Plan ahead.  If I had been thinking, I would have baked some bread before we turned off the oven. We would have put the nasty, dirty oven back into the yard on the first day. Mark would have changed out of his good pants before kneeling in oven grease (left by the part which should be in the back yard). Mark would have labeled everything better before he began. 

But the oven is working once more and the thermostat is good for another sixty years.  Maybe we should rewire the burners soon, before the old shops and ways are gone forever.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Lammastide-- The Early Harvest Season

                Lammastide is clearly here when, every day, I haul more food into the house from various gardens than we can eat. Even though I have designed our garden to feed us a huge variety of fresh food, not fifty pounds of tomatoes or green beans in one day, it still gets away from me in early August.  So I dry and can and pickle for an hour or so a day.

                Today I harvested a five gallon bucket of apples, a big bowl of blackberries, and a basketful of green beans, as well as a bowl of tomatoes, mostly cherry sized.  As I sliced the apples thinly and arranged them on the trays to dry, I imagined where they were going to be eaten next year. Many will go to work or school, so that we have something to chew on in the late afternoons. Some will fuel us on trail hikes. We’ll re-hydrate handfuls for oatmeal and yogurt in the mornings. I’ll carry a bag of dried fruit with me everywhere next winter. You never know when you’ll need a snack. Yesterday’s apples became seven jars of apple butter, slowly cooked down in the crockpot overnight. Tomorrow’s will be applesauce—and when that’s all done, I will roam the neighborhood scavenging wild fruit to press into cider.

                The green beans became four jars of Dilly Beans, ready to join the batch of Bread and Butters I made yesterday. Here, the steam canner comes in very handy. It is easy to haul out and can four or five jars of something, like pickles or jam, without the hour long process of heating water in the big pot. When I used the boiling water pot, I waited and collected produce, then had a mad rush of processing and canning. It was exhausting. Now, I can run a batch of something through before dinner and the shelves fill up slowly but steadily, day to day. It also saves energy!

                Blackberries are good fresh off of the vine, warm from the sun, while the chickens hope for dropped fruit. I throw some into quart jars and freeze them for muffins in the winter. I’ve made jam from the wild ones, straining out the seeds. But today, the bowl of berries is just the right size for a pie. And I am thinking of cutting little circles out of the crust so that the juice bubbles up and through. That would finish off our dinner of zucchini and tomatoes and salad nicely, especially with a little ice cream.

                I’ll be doing this work every day for the next few weeks. Roasted tomatoes and jars of salsa, more jars of dried and canned fruits and veggies, and then potatoes and longkeeper tomatoes, squashes and apples, tucked away to be eaten all winter long. A little effort now—huge benefits all winter long. It’s a fair trade. 

Apple Butter

Quarter a big pot full of apples. Don't worry about skins or seeds, but whack off the nasty bits and bugs. Toss into a large pot, add about half a cup of water, and cook quickly into mush.

Push the mush through a food mill to remove skins and seeds. I balance mine over the crockpot rather than dirtying a bowl. Add half a cup of sugar, a tablespoon of cinnamon, and a bit of allspice. 

Set the crockpot on low heat and place in  a corner with the lid off. Leave all day or over night. Stir occasionally.  The apple butter is ready when it has reduced by half. 

Can in half-pint jars. It is not as shelf stable once opened as jam, so this reduces waste. Process for ten minutes in the steam canner. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Growing Up!

We are growing up the sides of our buildings this year, dreaming of harvesting cucumbers
Climbing Zuchinni
from the greenhouse shower, beans from the living room couch. And, perhaps, finding a bit of shade on the hot south side of the house.
Scarlet Runner Beans and tomatoes.

Thornless blackberry jungle

grape arbor

Squash and cucumbers on the greenhouse

pumpkins on the fence

Monday, July 25, 2016

Backpacking Stuff-- What do I really need?

I love my backpack. I’ve had it for twenty five years. It’s been to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, around the Three Sisters and Mt. Rainier, from the Skyline to the Sea, and countless trips into the White Mountains and the Cascades. Paired with a hand-made walking stick and some light weight shoes, I am ready to go.

It took me a year to find. Internal packs were just coming onto the market and women’s packs were pretty rare—we were expected to wrestle with things that were too long for our torsos, but hugged our hips. I knew, when I went into a store and the salesman adjusted yet another pack for me, put weight into it, and I almost tipped backwards, again and again, that the pack was not right. Mine is a Madden, one of the first designed for women. It’s small, dark grey, and a simple sack. I found it in a little crowded shop in Boston, across from BU, where I was in grad school at the time. The salesman bent the back bars, put a few sandbags in, and placed it on my back. “Hello!” it said and I knew. It was perfect. The salesman showed me how to shift the weight from my back to my shoulders, depending upon terrain (and sore spots) and I left the store with my pack.

I have learned how to pack for both long and short trips and my pack is much lighter than it once was, even when we are out for five or six days. First, gear is lighter. The water filter I once lugged around weighed about three times as much as the one we have now. It was less prone to breakage, but it was heavy.  Our tents, sleeping bags, and mats are all lighter replacements for gear I bought in grad school.  I have also eliminated redundant systems. Once, I took a candle lantern (finicky, heavy) and a flashlight. This is puzzling because we rarely used either—we were proudly working on adjusting our eyes to the coming darkness and wandering around camp after dark without a light or we were in bed, asleep. Now, I have a tiny flashlight, but prefer to lie in my tent watching the darkness settle on the trees above. I don’t need three t-shirts; I just need one, plus my long underwear shirt. I certainly don’t need TWO reading books; I question the wisdom of bringing even one sometimes, although bringing a book you need to read on a trip with a lot of downtime can be an effective means of getting through it.  I do, however, need my raingear AND my towel, which acts as pillow, shade cloth,  towel, shawl,  and dinner warmer.

I have been working on food for years. I carry the food for the trip, except for the snack bag, so weight is important. There’s a delicate balance between “loose” food, like a bag of fresh green beans or a couple of apples, and the nutrient dense nuts, dried bean mixes, and kippers that will keep us going down the trail.  Food also has to be tough.  Bagels, even white flour ones, fare better than a loaf of bread, which needs to be sliced before we leave. Cucumbers are better than tomatoes. I like a bit of variety as well. After taking a pound of almonds to the Grand Canyon for a week, I did not want to see an almond for several years. I often mix up the snacks so that we have peanuts and raisins one day and apricots and almonds another. We scour the shelves of grocery stores for light weight prepared foods for dinner and I also compound our own, based on bulgur, orzo, cous cous and other quick cooking grains.  As the week goes on, my pack grows lighter, especially when I weigh out each dinner and we eat the heavy one first.

It is important to have a light, tightly packed backpack, especially on a longer trip. I have not abandoned my safety items—the first aid kit, the space blanket and water purification drops, the rain gear and wool hat—but I have seriously reconsidered all of the extras I once hauled up hills.  My trips are better because of this. The pack no longer hurts my shoulders at the beginning of a walk.  I do not have blisters; I have given up heavy boots (and camp shoes) in favor of my Keen sandals. I can walk upright and see the world that I am passing. And I can hear my backpack creaking away, right behind my head, as I head up the trail. “Hello,” it says, “It’s been too long.” And I agree.

The List
Tent/stakes --Mark
Sleeping bag, mat -- both
Flashlight-- Charlyn
Whisperlight stove, c. 1990—Charlyn
Fuel—Mark, outside pouch
Lighter, matches, repair kit—Charlyn
Bowls, mugs, sporks, pots—Charlyn
Napkin, stirring spoon, salt and pepper, oil if needed—Charlyn
Soap and sponge—Charlyn
Snacks-- Mark
Water filter and two filled quart bottles—Mark
Rope and a couple of small bungies—Charlyn
First Aid kit, including tooth brushes, etc.—Charlyn
Space blanket—Charlyn
Tool bag from Daypack (pocket knife, sunscreen, bandana, playing cards, hand lens)—Charlyn
Camera, with new batteries—Charlyn                   
Duct tape on water bottle, safety pins on backpack
Towels, facecloth—both
TP and trowel—Mark
Raingear, wool hat, long undwear, fuzzy jacket—both
Clean socks--both
Walking sticks (Mark has a rake handle, mine is from the White Mountains)—both
Notebook, Walden—Charlyn
Reading book or magazine—both

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Time-- a rationale for not taking a "real job" after college.

“Thirty years from now,” Gailie said, studying the Ceres Bakery Christmas Party photo, “When we look at this, it will be like our kindergarten class. We will remember each person.”  We nodded then—but she was right. That photo captured a singular moment  in our lives, one that was far more profound than we believed at the time. Then, we were just… happy.   I’ve been thinking about this time a great deal later, partly because one of my dear friends from that time came out to visit.

Working at Ceres Bakery was a good job. The pay was good, we had health insurance with excellent maternity care (our boss had her two girls while I was working there), free food, a very flexible schedule that allowed all of us to take months off to travel at least once while I worked there, an old pizza oven to lean on on cold mornings, and people loved and respected our work. We fed the community, every day.   We worked hard, but there was conversation, and laughter,  and support, and warm chocolate chip cookies, cut into pieces to share. We were strong and healthy; I loved to haul out the fifty pound bags of oatmeal (which look like one hundred pound bags of flour) and dump them into the big storage buckets.  

Everyone who worked at Ceres was in some sort of transition. We had mostly graduated from college with liberal arts degrees—Art and English were very common. It was, for the most part, pre-crushing student debt. We were in our twenties. Some of us were married, others had boyfriends, others were working out relationship issues, but the men did not dominate our lives. They were there—at home. Not at work. Some of us were thinking of going back to school; I actually did for my last year of work. For the most part, we did not own houses, but lived in various apartments around town and moved as our relationship status changed.  We gardened in small spaces.  In the summer, we went hiking and swam in the Atlantic Ocean at twilight, when the beach was empty; in winter, we learned to knit, read, sewed, held Craft Nights that lasted until three AM, and shared food. In all seasons, we met at the Bakery before starting out on any adventure and we fled to the Bakery in times of crisis or boredom. The back door was always open. We all spent hours sitting on the back counter or a flour bin, talking, talking, talking.  We had time.

And the time….time is what made those years profound, in retrospect. We had time, and support, to figure out where we were going to go next, what we valued, and where our adult lives were headed.  It is no coincidence that some many of us still cook, grow much larger gardens, paint our houses vibrant colors, sport a vintage design esthetic, and work to create a more beautiful world. We figured that all out on our long hours in that small, hot space, talking.  There was time. We had time.

This is the key, I believe, to a happy adult life—time while you are figuring things out.   One friend from that era, who had her son at 16, said “You get your freedom young—or you get it when you are older. I’m getting mine late.” She was ok with that—but I think we have stronger, healthier, happier lives if we take that time while we are young, before we have serious relationships, and children, and big jobs, and mortgages, and older parents, and all of the things that I have now that I cannot run out on to take time to find out who I am now. Because I had  the time when I was younger, I know. And I remember on long hikes in the woods in summertime, when I have time once again.

So, when you are working behind a counter and someone your own age says “Haven’t you graduated yet?” implying that you should be doing something more important with your life, just smile.  You are living the questions, finding the answers, and, when it is time, will be ready. They, on the other hand,  will be balding, driving a red sports car, and hitting on people half their ages.