Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Be In Love with Your Life

In the early 1950’s, the world was a grim place in many ways. We were just coming out from World War II and the destruction that created, both to property and human beings. We were just learning the details of the Holocaust and the impact of nuclear bombs on human populations. The Iron Curtain had come down, dividing families across Europe. China was closing in on communism, and, here at home, despite the  end of the war and the economic boom that followed, artists and writers were wrestling with some dark images and ideas. We could, after all, be taken out by an atomic bomb tomorrow. The Beat poets, in response to all of this, had a rule for living—Be in Love with Your Life. Embrace what you have, now, because who knows what will happen in the future.

In my ninth grade classroom, we study the Beat Poets while we read Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury’s novel  of burning books and ideas, brought on, not by the government, but by the people, who do not want to face difficult times and ideas. It resonated with students when I first began teaching it, but, every year, it feels more true. Despite deep struggles with drugs, sexuality, and life, the Beat poets strove to overcome the darkness of their time, to not be beat down. They suggest a way to embrace your creative energy and live. It is a useful lesson.

This feels, to me, like a dark time. We are not wanting to do the difficult work of talking through our country’s problems. Too many people are shouting past one another. Too many people are afraid and divided. We need to talk—because I know, at the heart, there is more holding us together than apart. So, this is what I love about my life this week—one photo a day, starting on Sunday morning.
Sunday morning tea in the chicken teapot.

Our old rescue couch has a new cover.

Tuesday-- the peas are up!

Wednesday: Tulips.

My backpack in the sun reminds me that summer is coming, with long hikes into the mountains.

Friday does not have a photo. It is the feeling we all have as e leave school for the week. Yeah, it's cold, and sleety, and February, BUT anything could happen.

Saturday reminded me, once again, that I live in community. I spent two  morning hours shifting books around for the Big Library Book Sale, the  afternoon in a large crowd listening to our Representative to congress speaking, and the evening watching the high school version of "Cats." In each crowd, I was surrounded by people I k now from all over town.

Sunday: the contrast between inside and outside.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Great Storm is Over

                It has been a rough winter in the Willamette Valley. We’ve had five days off from school because of ice and snow, spread over a month (havoc to education and planning!), weeks of cloud cover, heavy rain, and just plain dank cold. My students are staring blankly out the windows as another day of rain settles over the hills, blocking the view.  We are used to some dark days, but, the weather here is usually more of a soft drizzle, suitable for a hoodie, rather than hard rain. Add in a nasty flu bug, fears of climate change, and concern over the political situation, and there are a lot of anxious, depressed people wandering the halls these days.

                Friday, the sun came out. When I came home at four thirty, I wandered into the back yard to insect the flood damage. The back area, under the hazelnut trees was still under water and what ground there was exposed was covered in mud. The raised beds were somewhat dry, however, and I could let the ladies out for a run. They leapt from the edge of the coop, flapping their wings joyfully as they dashed for the Big Coop, also known as the house, to check out sweepings. They then settled on the bench and peered into the greenhouse.  Lucy wandered out the back door, sniffing the air as she went.

                I wandered the yard. Snowdrops were up everywhere. The rhubarb was just beginning to push its way through the soil, a tight red bump in the ground. The Artichoke had some new shoots; the herbs survived; there were even a few small cabbages still growing in one of the beds.  Other bulbs were slowly emerging from the wet ground.  Everywhere, jays and juncos dug in the loose mulch, looking for bugs.

                In the far back corner, under the hazelnut tree, the beehive was perched on its bench, rising above the flood waters. Hazelnut catkins swayed in the breeze as I watched the entrance to the hive.  Were the bees still alive after this winter? I watched. Sun poured onto the hive and…a few bees came back from a flight, wandered around the front door, and moved inside.  While I watched, a few more wandered out into the sunlight and took off. The bees survived.

                This weekend, the sun has been out. It is still cold at night, but we have seen the moon, the sun, and the far mountains on the horizon. There is hope that spring is coming. In my mind, I hear the old song about the great storm is over—lift up your heart and sing.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Early Spring Moments

Seeds have arrived!

First round of early spring crops planted in the greenhouse.

Getting some warm spring rainwater.

A little too much rain....

New stove installation. Warm dining room!
Drying rack
Bulbs planted on the Solstice bloom at Candlemas.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

This is What Democracy Looks Like

                Last Saturday, I, along with 100,000 other folks, put on rain gear and headed for downtown Portland for the 4th largest march in the country. Five of us started in Corvallis, parked in Milwaukee,  picked up another, and took the light rail into town.  It was packed, but peaceful. While we stood, pushed in like sardines, waiting for the march to start, an elderly woman, clearly stunned by the crowds, needed to leave. She was moved, hand to hand, arm to arm, through the crowd; people reached out for her as she swayed and guided her on, towards, I hope, the waiting EMTs. We moved, chanting “This is what democracy looks like,” through Portland, waving signs and smiling at the police who monitored the route. They smiled back.  After the march, we went out for dinner and rode home through the dark night, singing along to Carol King’s “You’ve got a Friend.”  

                Mass marches of like-minded folk are a part of democracy, it is true. But they are only the beginning. For the rest of the week, I wondered what democracy actually looks like on a daily basis.  Because, really, democracy is hard work. It involves a lot of meetings, documents, and moving of chairs.

                On Sunday, we gathered to plan a large seed order; my way to save on shipping and split packages of seeds. Everyone brought lists and catalogs, and we tossed varieties around for an hour or so. Then, spouses joined in and we broke out the potluck dinner.  Served on terra cotta colored plates, the deep green kale salad and golden dal looked lovely.  Democracy is growing community, though plants and food.

                On Monday, I gathered with fellow League of Women Voters to meet with the city’s community planning director. We are considering our April event and wanted to see how it would mesh with work the city is considering.  We are in a land use planning crisis, being reactive rather than proactive, and are working to change that. For an hour and a half, we talked land use code and development. Democracy is about meetings, searching for common ground.

                On Tuesday, I was home to make dinner. I chopped up a squash from the back yard and some onions from a local farm and roasted them in the oven. With a huge green salad and a bit of rice, we were fed. We’ve been eating only local, seasonal food for so long now that we really don’t miss the old ways. By doing so, we support our local farmers, who are also active in the politics of our city and county.  Democracy starts at home.

                Wednesday was another home night. I spent some time listening to “Democracy Now” on the radio, a program I love because it discuses a few topics at length, for 20 minutes to the full hour, rather than in three minute segments. It allows me to consider several viewpoints—all to the left of center, to be fair—and gain a more nuanced perspective on the news. We also read The Economist and The New Yorker every week, as well as the local paper. Democracy is about staying informed, but also about focusing on just a few subjects. We cannot know everything.  But we can learn who to ask.

              On Thursday, I had a Budget Commission meeting. We were given an overview of the forecast for the next few years—not too bad for three, then PERS will kick in and it is bleak. We need new revenue or to cut services in the coming years. This is hard. Do we set aside money for the “rainy day” that we know is coming or fund a summer festival?  Is there any way we can tax the non-profits that dominate our economic landscape? We barely scratched the surface here and I was merely a new observer at the table while the commissioners who had asked these questions for years batted around the first volley. Democracy is about volunteering to serve your community, year after year.

                On Friday, I came full circle and walked downtown at five for the peace vigil held by Veterans for Peace. They have been standing in front of the courthouse every day since 9-11.  It is the longest vigil in the country. I spent time there before the Iraq war, when the number of protesters lined the block every day, but I have not been down in years. Now it is a small group, but welcoming. Standing for an hour while the sun goes down and people drive by on their way home to dinner is a peaceful act, meditative. Sometimes people chat, sometimes they are quiet. Some have signs. Friday night, we were visited by a man from India who had moved here as a young man because he loved America’s values. He taught engineering at OSU for years and he was very concerned for the state of our country. He moved down the line, telling everyone his story, one by one. When he moved on, three guys in “Canner” garb—heavy grubby coats, big bags, dirty boots—stopped by. “Ask me how cold it was a few nights ago,” one demanded, a grin on his face.  “How cold was it?” “So cold that when I took these out, they were still chattering,” he proclaimed, waving his dentures around. We all laughed. “Peace wins!” he shouted as he picked up his bike to move on.

                Peace wins. Democracy wins. But not by huge marches, although they have their place. But by daily acts of community, repeated over and over, by those who show up. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Winter Weather

                It’s cold.

                Every few years, weather patterns shift and cold air rushes into the valley, reminding us that we are pretty darn far north. The sky clears so that we can see just how low the sun is in the sky; at this time of year, it barely clears my neighbor’s two story house.  Without the blanket of cloud cover, all of our heat rushes away.

                The light is beautiful. One morning, I walked to work in early rose-gold sun that danced off of the ponderosa pines which line the baseball field and lit up the dusting of snow on the hills around town. Evergreens and snow at dawn—it doesn’t get much better. The next morning, snow swirled around our houses, covering everything, including the Christmas lights, with a dusting of white frost. When the sun came out in the afternoon, it was blinding.

                We’ve had to do some serious snugging down against the cold. I covered all of the garden beds with plastic sheeting and wrapped a spare piece around the wheelbarrow of strawberry plants. In the greenhouse, we pulled all of the plants close together on the ground and covered them with remay cloth. I wrapped the beehive in two layers of frost protection blanketing, leaving just a small opening for them to come in and out.  We also emptied the larder, which vents to the outside, into the basement so that the onions and squashes would not freeze.  Finally, we plugged the fireplace again, although we will take it out for Twelfth Night on Friday.

                When it is this cold (below 20 degrees), the chickens are not happy outside overnight. After dark, we pull on boots and wool hats and march out to the coop. Mark reaches in and captures one chicken, I pick up the other, and we settle their wings close to their bodies under our arms. Mark heads for the house first. I stand outside for another moment, holding the warm and sleepy chicken close, and glance up to the sky. High about, Orion carves his way across the sky and a quarter moon lights the yard. Once inside, we settle them on a log perch, over newspaper, and shut off the lights. They will spend the night down there, protected from the deep cold, until morning, when I release them into the back yard to cluck and shake their wings free once more. It is good to know that we are all settled into our little homestead on these bitter nights.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Year Ends Goals

Every year, we set goals on Solstice evening—and then evaluate what we learned and accomplished this year.  Some years are more impressive than others. This was a good year; I had achievable, practical goals, and I wrote them in the front of my notebook so that I remembered what they were through the year.  What a concept!

Goal One: Common Good Knitting. AKA working my way through the backlog of yarn in the closet. I figured that if I knit twelve projects from the big green bag, it would shrink significantly. It did. I made two sweater vests, which took up the bulk of the yarn, as well as hats, mittens, socks, and several potholders.  I also sorted out about ten skeins that I was never going to use and sent them onto other homes. The bag is not empty, but it is much smaller.

Goal Two: Track the solar panels and the garden weekly. I also accomplished this one. Mark created a little spreadsheet to track production and usage every week and we posted it as well. I had no idea, really, what an impact a cloudy day can have on your year’s production! However, we should just break even in March, when the solar cycle begins again. We are now neutral in electrical use.  The garden records are a little more spotty because I lost track of the week of the year several times.  It was still better than last year.

Goal Three:  No big projects.  We were very successful here. No projects beyond rebuilding three garden beds in March happened this year. This means we still do not have solid benches for the picnic table.

Goal Four: Greens this winter. I am getting there. There’s a pizza’s worth of arugula and a few kale leaves out there right now, along with some solid old collards which we will eat with Black Eyed Peas on New Year’s Day. There are also a couple of small cabbages which show some serious frost damage.  There’s still a lot of work to do on this goal, like getting the January King cabbages planted earlier so that they have some heft going into the fall. Next year.

Next year’s goals?
1.       Work life balance—I’ve got a busy year ahead.
2.       Cabbage at Candlemas, 2018.
3.       Deal with: couch, woodstove, benches, windows, and greenhouse.
4.       Continue working with the season extenders, like my beautiful hoops.
And, yes, they are written in the front of my notebook.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Yule preperations

                The world called a snow day for us today, although, really, in the Willamette Valley it’s more like an ice and sleet day. Not much accumulation, but really bad roads. Not what you want a bunch of sixteen year olds driving on at seven thirty in the morning. When school is cancelled, Mark stays home, too. He was not raised in the lands of ice and snow and cannot drive in it.  We are taking the day to prepare for Yule, that pause in our lives that happens between the beginning of Winter Break and Twelfth Night.

                First, we cleaned the house and washed mountains of laundry, some of which went through the driers down the road at the Laundromat. Clean sheets. We even got the blankets aired before the sleet started.  I vacuumed dust bunnies from the cozy room while Mark purged the fridge. We set up the platform for the tree, brought down the boxes, and arranged the mantelpiece. I fixed the outdoor lights.  Mark chopped up some wood. We even bought the tree in full daylight, carried it home, and put it in the basement to melt and dry. Mark packed and shipped the presents to have to travel to Tennessee. Cards are in the mail. We need to make a cake, some cookies, and some stolen, but those are later, more pleasing, projects. The work is done.

                Tomorrow, when school is done, Yule begins. We will take long walks in the woods every day. Being outside, even in our dim northern light, makes a huge difference in our health and mood. We will have fires at night, English muffins for tea, and hearty soups for dinner. We will sleep until the sun comes up around eight, buried in piles of blankets, with Lucy stretched out beside me, head on my pillow. We will read, write, stare into space. Mark will work probability problems, his latest obsession. The world will pause. Nothing is growing—there is no light. Deep down in the dark, though, roots dig deep. In space, the planet shifts and turns towards the sun. When Yule is over, the light will be coming back.

Pumpkin Scones
2c of flour
1 c oats
1 T of sugar
1 T BP
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 t ginger

6 T butter

3/4 c mashed pumpkin
2  T milk
1 egg

Mix dry. Crumble butter in. Add wet. Knead lightly. Roll into a circle and cut into wedges. Bake in 400 degree oven until done.