Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Solar Production 2016 and 2018

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2016 Goals

Work for Change: Listen more than talk. Two ears, one mouth.

 Improve Recordkeeping: weekly notes on electric usage and production and garden notes.

Clear out the yarn stash: at least twelve small knitted projects to give away next December.

Garden Greens in the winter.

Spanakopita: Christmas Dinner

Thaw a package of filo dough and two bags of chopped spinach.

Sauté a large onion in olive oil. Add some salt, pepper, and oregano.  When almost soft, add the spinach.

Melt two tablespoons of butter and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Meanwhile, mix five eggs, a pound of cottage cheese, two cups of cottage cheese in a large bowl. Add the onions and spinach.

Working carefully, lay down two sheets of filo dough, brush with melted butter, and repeat several times. Spread the cheese and spinach mixture. Layer more filo dough on top. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in a 350 oven until done. Eat. Freeze any leftovers for an emergency dinner in Febuary.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Living Within Our Limits,

            In September, our new solar panels went live. It is a 2.2 kw system—eight panels sitting thirteen feet off of the ground, above the greenhouse. Whenever people see it, they nod— it’s a cool design, unlike anyone else’s system. We like it a lot. The panels should, over the course of the year, cover our electric use. But, because I am not convinced that they will, I have been investigating energy savings. It’s not easy. We have already picked all of the low-hanging fruit, like power strips on the computers, replacing light bulbs, and insulating all of our spaces. I borrowed a Kill-a-watt gadget from a friend and I have been exploring our energy usage for the past month to see where we could conserve.
            My first step was monitoring the lights we left on, but after running several through the kill-a-watt, I realized that, even with three or four lights on, the impact on our panels was minimal. The table lamp used .03 kwh for two hours. No big deal.  I then checked the internet modem-- .12 kwh for 24 hours, so turning off the modem would save up to 1.2 kwh in ten days. That is significant and worth our efforts.
  How Bad Are Bananas?, boiling water using a gas stove burner or an electric kettle is about equal, and the stove is better, carbon budget-wise,  because it heats the room a little bit as well. We, however, have an electric stove. I believe the electric kettle is more efficient, partly because we save by boiling only what we need, but do not have the data to back it up. It is certainly faster. Maybe we need to drink less tea…
          I then turned my attention to the biggest energy hog in our house—the stove/oven.  It is difficult to get accurate measurements here, because we do not have a meter to measure 220, although Mark is considering a purchase, IF our stove plug would fit into the meter. (The stove is from the mid-1950s.)  Is it more efficient to boil tea water on the stove or in an electric kettle? The kettle takes .11 kwh to boil three cups of water. According to
            I have also been examining the crockpot rather than cooking soup beans on the stove.  The Carbon Buster’s Home Energy Handbook suggests that crockpots are more efficient than an electric burner.  Ours, which is from 1972, cooks a pot of dried beans into a rich soup using .7 kwh but saves hours of monitoring and washing stuck-on food off of pots. We are eating far more local beans than we did before, which saves transportation energy—although not electricity.
            Finally, I have been eyeing the oven. We considered insulating it, but, when we took the side panel off, someone had already beaten us to it. There was white fiberglass tucked in all around; it looked like a late 1970s project, but was still clean and tidy. Once again, I cannot measure the energy used, but it is a large oven. I consulted the Carbon Buster’s Handbook. It says a toaster oven is twice as efficient as an electric oven. Even if it uses more energy per square inch, our little toaster oven, by virtue of size, has to be more efficient! It used .3 kwh to cook a batch of sweet potatoes last week. The biggest drawback to the toaster oven is its location; it lives in the unheated back hall, rather than the center of the house. It cannot warm the kitchen on a rainy fall night as it bakes our potatoes.
            For the stove and oven, the best energy savings may be in cooking habits. I can only run the oven when full—bake bread, granola, and a gratin for dinner, rather than just baking a loaf of bread. I can turn it off as the food comes close to being done. When I have something small, I use the toaster oven. It is large enough to hold a casserole dish easily, but not a muffin tin for twelve muffins. I need to buy a smaller tin at Goodwill. I am working on peeking in less, as well. In the winter, the oven does heat the house while it bakes or dinner.
            Our other energy hog must be the refrigerator. It is a small one, nine cubic feet, with a freezer above. I cannot measure how much energy it uses and I could not find it on-line, but it is a new model, about four years old, and small. It is usually full and the freezer is packed. If I could give up ice cream and frozen local berries, I could shut the whole thing off for the winter and store my vegetables and mustards in the larder. We would have to buy small quantifies of milk and yogurt, but it would not be any different from week-long car camping trips.
            We will be monitoring all of our energy use closely in the coming year. I am very interested in how much we will produce as the sun comes back. Right now, on a dark and rainy day, we are lucky to eke out .5 kwh for the day. A bright day will produce 1.3 kwh, mostly in the middle of the afternoon. We have calculated how to see what our consumption is as well as production. When the lines cross in the spring, life will be good.

Whole Wheat Anise Cookies-- A December favorite

Cream 1/2 c butter, 1/2 c margarine,  and 1 cup of sugar.
Add one egg and 2T anise seed.
Add 1.5  t BP, 1.5 c whet flour, 1.5 c white flour.
add 1/4 c water.

Roll out between sheets of waxed paper and chill for several hours. 
Cut into star and mmon shaepes and bake in a 350 degree oven.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Homestead Hygge

          As December comes on, we move inward. The garden is put to bed; there is no work to be done; nothing is growing. The outside world has paused, balancing on the point of solstice light. Inside, we move towards coziness, or, as the Danish call it, Hygge, which is more than just a warm seat by the fire. It has two faces, inward and outward.

            Inward Hygge involves tucking ourselves into our home for the winter. We hang the storm windows, which makes the interior quiet as well as warm. We break out the extra blankets for the bed, rocking chair, and reading nook. We light fires—candles in the windows and on the table, fires in the hearth of the house, with chairs pulled close and cats near-by.  We clean. We bake bread and cookies. We hang lights around the front door and greenery on the mantle. The house glows on foggy nights, welcoming us home in the evening.

            Outward Hygge involves a whole series of small festivals, which begin with Thanksgiving and the Pie Social. Every few weeks, we have another. There are potlucks with friends, the Lucia Day walk, complete with warm, fresh Lucia buns, cocoa, and a happy dog running head up the hill. We send out handmade cards to our friends far and near.  We are mindful of the long nights around the Solstice, eat salmon on Christmas Day, visit the Chinese Buffet on New Year’s Eve, and celebrate both our anniversary and Mark’s birthday in January. The season of small festivals ends with Candlemas, where we plant the first seeds of the new year.  Bringing friends together around food and long winter walks helps us focus on what is important in our lives.

           Because of these small rituals, we have come to love the long dark winters and look forward to the evenings alone and with others.

Winter Squash Bread—the new Lucia Bun dough

Make a batch of bread dough—3. cups of water, 1.5 T yeast and salt, six and a half cups of flour, half whole wheat. And a tablespoon of cinnamon and a cup and a half of mashed squash. Stir together and allow to  rise overnight before baking. This is an excellent sandwich loaf, but also makes nice rolls and buns.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Winter Lights

  On clear nights, which are rare, the light is gone from the sky by five PM; on cloudy days, it is 4:15 in the weeks before the Solstice. The world is dark. In response, we all turn on our “Winter Lights.”
            When I was little, my parents won awards in Hampstead, New Hampshire for their light displays. It was a daylong project, bringing the lights down from the cold attic, stretching them out and checking the bulbs, and rewinding them for my father to hang. My mother tightened every bulb, giving the recalcitrant ones a quick lap of the tongue to start them. Once they were in order, my father ran extension cords across the yard. Each tree was a different solid color; the house was outlined in multi-colored huge bulbs; a white cross rested in the peak of the house, visible from a mile away. They also lit the manger scene of cement Mary, Joseph, and Baby (they weighed a ton. I moved them for years.) While my father swore at the strands of lights, my mother created wreathes for every window and re-wired window candles so that each reached a plug without an extension cord. I loved walking around the dark house, turning each on in the frosty evenings, bringing light into darkness.
            At the same time, I was haunted by the simple strands of lights hung in various stores around town. We did not live in a wealthy area; people considered their electric bills, even at Christmas.  The drug store where my father bought a bottle of Channel Number Five each Christmas Eve had one strand of bulbs hung over the drug counter, entwined with a tinsel swag. The grocery store might have lights around the windows, but not through the entire store. Houses outlined their front doors, for the most part, or put  candles in all of the windows. Everyone did something and the results glowed along the dark country roads we traveled.

            For several years, after we moved into our house, I ran lights around the roofline, stretching from the top of the ladder to hook the wires over the peaks. It was hairy. When we repainted two years ago, I took them down and did not feel like rehanging them on a rainy night in December, so I wrapped the two strands of large lights around the front porch and covered the arch with three strands of colored twinkle lights. It takes a little less energy—so I turn them on a little early, on the first night of Advent, bringing some light into the darkness of our neighborhood.

Mac and Cheese
I make this in my mother's old casserole dish. It tastes better.

Cook about 2/3 pound of small pasta, like elbows or ears. Pour into the casserole dish.

Make a cheesey white sauce with two cups of milk, two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of flour, and a big handful of cheese that melts , like cheddar. our this over the pasta. Add  about two cups of chunks of various cheese ends, like cheddar, provolone, Parmesan,  or Swiss. A mixture is best.

My mother laid slices of orange american cheese over the pasta...I do not. Cover with bread crumbs and bake until bubbly.

You can add various veggies, like roasted cauliflower, or peas, or ....

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

Monday, September 21, 2015

Planning for Solar Panels, part three

The planning and execution of our greenhouse/solar panel structure has been complex. We needed to shift installation companies, apply for retro-active permits, and build the structures during the hottest summers on record. It was a whole summer project, which has just wrapped up last week.

Because of rebates, a real concern about climate change, striving for the Georgetown Energy prize, and peer pressure, solar panel installation is way up in Corvallis this year. In March, solar companies were seeing a ten fold increase in the number of people interested in installation and that continued throughout the summer. All of the companies in town were booked out early. We worked with Benton Electric, who was able to reach further afield for teams, but the press of business made communication difficult, which had long term impacts on the permitting process.

In late June, we worked with Benton Electric to begin the process. They calculated that eight panels, creating a 2.2 kw system, should cover our use for the year, if we were conservative. Nine would be better, but they would block considerable light into the greenhouse, and we decided against the extra panel. Once we had the dimensions for the layout of the panels, our builder went to work constructing the greenhouse and panel rack. It is an uneven hexagon, a bay with windows of three different sizes projecting into the yard, with a long annex that reaches all along the neighbor’s garage. Because of the design, it does not dominate the view of the gardens, but blends in, even without mature plantings. For days, he dug deep post holes and planted the treated beams that would hold the structure upright. Once they were all planted, he needed to cut the roof angles, all different because of the shape. When the angles were cut, he had down the roof and framed in the windows, then hung them, and framed them in with cedar. Once the greenhouse was finished, we painted the clawfoot tub and moved it in, setting up the shower.

When the greenhouse was complete, Mark, our builder, moved onto the rack for the panels, which is also a funky structure of angles and braces, raising the panels thirteen feet above the ground for maximum light and minimal visual intrusion. He finished the evening before the panels were to be installed. The next day, in early August, the installers arrived. “That’s interesting,” the head installer commented, “but I can work with it.” In four hours, they had installed the panels, wired the system in, and added an outlet in the greenhouse.  We were on track for completion, just waiting on the electric installation….

And then things came to halt. The electrical inspector, seeing the structure and thinking “that’s weird” referred us for a building permit before the electric could be inspected.  “But we don’t need a permit,” I argued, “the structure is too small.” “Code says that you do,” the city returned. What code? We don’t know. What did we do wrong? We don’t know. One person talked about earthquakes, another about hurricane force winds. Maybe we should cement the posts in, even though that rots them faster….it was never really clear. Don’t ask, was the general message. Hire a structural engineer to write a letter saying that the whole plan is ok. It will be easier than bringing it up to building code. So we did. “Humrph,” he said. “That’s interesting.  Lets put a little brace in here and call it good.” “A trellis? I can live with a trellis.” Several weeks later, we received the retroactive permit and passed the electric inspection. But the panels were still not on.

Pacific Power needed to replace our meter—and Benton Electric needed to repair a fuse so that the system worked. That added another week to the whole process….finally, I came home to a new meter. Two days later, to a functional system. The meter was spinning backwards! For the first week, we produced four to five kwh  per day; when the clouds went away, production went up to six, then seven, and today, eight. We are at the equinox, with the sun sliding down in the sky further every day, so production will slowly drop off for winter.

So, what did we learn from the process? Perhaps to ask very specific questions before building—despite talking with three city departments, we did not know that we needed permits for the structure that attaches the panels to the greenhouse. Now that we are done, we are working to live within our means, to not use any more electricity that we will produce, even if we are not always using fresh electrons.

Fish Pie

This is a layered dish.

Layer one: finely diced carrots and celery to cover the bottom of the dish, followed by .25 pounds of various fish—shrimp or scallops, salmon, and white fish. Scraps are good.

Layer two: 1.5 cups of white sauce, with leeks, salt and pepper.

Layer three: mashed potatoes for a crust.

Bake until bubbly in a 350 degree oven.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Late Summer Evening


not much space here
      Silence drops slowly over the backyard in the evening. The flock is integrated now, so there is no chicken fuss over dominance after the first squawks of the morning and a bit of ritual labor coaching while the youngest lays an egg. In the late afternoon,  the ladies discuss tidbits quietly while the hive hums loudly as the drones come out for air, the of the cat calls for attention from the fenceline, cars cruise down King’s Blvd., cedar waxwings feast on the high figs, and people head home on foot, shouting into their cell phones. After dinner, the foot traffic is gone and all we hear are the voices of our neighbors over the fence speaking Spanish, or English, Chinese or Arabic—the apartments behind us hold a world of cultures in their old brick walls. An occasional car pulls into the alley, shifting gravel. Further away, a couple of small children play.  Mark and I eat dinner outside, chat softly, and listen to the world. A dove hoots from the telephone line.
            As the light fades, so does the volume. The chickens move into their new coop and begin protracted negotiations on roost rights.  Wings flap. Someone is shoved off the perch and launches upward. Bees move into the hive quickly when dusk comes. Cats wander by, looking for a warm lap. The crickets begin. Inside, Mark runs water for dishes, humming to himself. Water sloshes into the greywater bucket as he works. The crickets begin, softly at first, then growing louder. Mark turns on the lights in the kitchen and the house glows.
            When it grows dark, I move to tuck in the animals. First, the rabbit, who, like a toddler, does not want to go inside for the night. I chase her around the yard until she makes a false move and is caught by the garden fencing. In she goes with a thump, then bounces loudly over to check her crunchies and look for the treat we often use as bribery. Once she is in, I move to the back bed, where the coop is perched for September. All of the ladies are in and settled now, but they chirp softly when I jostle the coop to hang the full bucket of feed. Occasionally, one will jump down to see what she’s missing. The hive is still buzzing softly, especially when I slide between coop and hive to reach the chicken feed. Some nights, a few bees buzz a warning that I am too close and I slip behind instead. One of the cats investigates the motion in the backyard and rubs against my legs, purring.

            When everyone is settled for the night, quiet comes down. Mark empties the last bucket of greywater onto the kiwi vine. I take a shower. The crickets chirp. The possum drops out of her home in the laurel hedge and bumps into the garden fence right outside the bedroom window. The moon rises, tangled in the plum tree branches. A few cars pass in the distance, but, by ten, the world is still.

Swamp Maples
Whole wheat bread with rice

Use the "bread in five minutes a day" system. 

Cook 3/4 cup of arboriso rice and cool.

Mix three cups of water, 1.5 T of yeast and salt, three cups of wheat flour, three and a half cups of white flour, and the rice. Allow to rise and proceed as usual.

The dough is wet. You will need more flour than usual to toss it into a dough ball. It will also take longer to cook-- beware. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Fig Tree

            In 1941, George Schreiber planted a fig tree in his front yard, right on the property line. It was a protected spot for a tree that was borderline for it’s planting zone, between two houses and near the road. It throve. Eighteen years ago, we bought his old house and ate our first fresh figs, which were just coming ripe as we moved in. Our fig tree is the largest in Corvallis, even after Figpocolypis, the very cold winter when many trees suffered a great deal of damage. Ours lost some branch tips and took a while to push through last spring, but it is still going strong. There is a good crop of fruit this year.

            Our fig is well known in the neighborhood. We have a mosque down the street and many Middle Eastern students living near by. For them, the fig is a taste of home; for four years, the same family came by every fall to pick on the weekend they brought their son down to school. When he graduated, they gave us an art poster in thanks. Other people pick the low hanging fruit as they walk by and, occasionally, a car will drive by slowly, hoping to catch someone out with a ladder. We are always generous with the fruit. We cannot begin to eat it all, even after drying and fig jam, and it is good karma to give something away. Right now, the tree is divided into three zones: low hanging for people walking by, ladder range for human consumption, and high in the branches for the Cedar Waxwings, which are feasting on the over ripe fruits.  Figs will ripen slowly over several weeks, holding on until the fall rains come in. Then, it swells and drops to the ground as soggy fig bombs, nasty and squishy, and the harvesting season is done. 

Drying Figs

Pick figs before dinner, as it is an overnight process to dry them. Cut off the stem and quarter the fruit. Spread the fig open to expose more of the inner seedy sweetness to the dryer. Turn the dryer on high, place it somewhere you want the bit of warmth during the night, and begin. Check in the morning before heading off to work. Figs are done even the very ripe and sweet ones feel a little damp but the rest are chewy. Store in quart canning jars on the shelf.The over ripe ones never feel dry, but they will not mold in the basement. 

Dried figs are the best fruit for those awful moments when you are hungry but dinner is still a couple of hours away.They have staying power.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to School

            We go back to school tomorrow. It is always a hard transition, moving inside and sitting down for hours, not to mention the cacophony of 40 odd teachers all talking at once, after a long summer of walking, reading, digging in the earth, and being silent. This first week is especially hard because, although administration is thrilled to see us after rattling around in the building alone for a month, teachers are not happy until the students arrive, and so we are a hard to please bunch. And a bad audience for meetings. A seriously bad audience.  After all, we teach high school. We know all of the tricks.
            I love my work, however. I never know what is going to happen on any given day. Yeah, I have lesson plans, and I know who I will be working with each day, but there is an element of surprise in my room that I have never found in any other job. Will I be discussing my laundry patterns this morning? Will someone have a most excellent excuse for being late to class? Something like “I woke up late, the cereal box attacked me, and then, when I was in my car I realized that I was almost out of gas and thought about how late I would be to class and how mad you would be then if I ran out of gas and I had to stop. And then the train came.” Or “Jackson parked his truck too close to someone’s and we had to pick it up and move it over so that he wouldn’t scratch the car.”  Or maybe there will be that moment when the class comes together over a brilliant idea, or a unintentionally funny comment, or the deep silence of reading a story silently together…You never know. Even in the depths of February, ninth grade is pretty darn entertaining. We all live for the shining moments of grace that happen in classrooms.
            But, tomorrow, what I will be thinking about, really, is how lucky I am to work with my colleagues. We’re a pretty amazing and intelligent bunch at Corvallis High School. I realize this when I leave the building in the late afternoon and I see my colleagues prepping for the next day. One person is grading papers, another setting up a lab, and, out in the shop, they are repairing machines for the next day. Each person is teaching students, not only the contents of the class, but how to think. Thinking like a scientist, like a mathematician, like a writer, like a cook, or an artist—each discipline has it’s own patterns of the mind and we cover them all. High school is really about learning which patterns of mind fit your mind the best—as Salinger says in Catcher in the Rye, learning which ideas fit your size and type of brain—so that you can move out into the world with that knowledge. High schools are miniature worlds when it comes to knowledge. Whatever questions you might have, in a good high school, someone knows the answers. Add in the amazing mixture of students and their own specialized knowledge, and there is nothing you cannot learn in high school.

            And so, we are heading back into that world Tuesday morning. Kids won’t show up for another week. All over town, Honors English students are finally breaking out their summer reading books and taking notes. In the building, we will be wrestling with the Big Questions: Do we have a tardy policy? Do yoga pants violate dress code? Why is the copier down? And, how will we teach our kids well for one more year?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kitchen Ode

One of the things that I love about our house is, despite its age (built in 1931!) it has never been seriously remodeled. There are a few chunks out of the woodwork in mysterious places but it is remarkably  unchanged, probably based on its excellent design. There are some layers of paint on the backs of the cabinets revealing changing tastes, but the structure is the same. This means that my kitchen, along with being tiny, is also the same as it was 80 years ago. I love it.

The first distinctive feature of the space is its size. It is, at its widest point, 9.5 feet wide and 10.5 long, but there is a chunk taken out of the room for the living room fireplace, so the actual space is closer to 85 square feet. There is room for a small table, two chairs, and a stepstool. We can stash the yogurt cooler under the table in the winter.

 This is the counter space. To the left of the sink is the dishes to be washed space, as well as a pull out cutting board for bread and cheese. To the right is the prep space-- about four feet square. As you can see, we keep the electric kitchen gadgets to a minimum-- kitchen-aide mixer, toaster, and electric kettle. I tried to put the kettle on the stove, but the plugs did not speak to one another. I can overflow onto the kitchen windowsill, as well as the table for a resting space. However, I've worked in professional kitchens where the personal workspace was not any bigger.

 Because of the tiny space, we have to special order our refrigerator. It is difficult to find a five foot tall fridge!   When we first moved in, I was concerned about the size, but now I love it. I do not lose food to rot in the far back reaches of the space-- there are no dark corners. Because we eat so much fresh food directly from the garden in summer, I do not need a huge storage space. And, in winter, we can leave greens and a big pot of soup in the larder on the way into the cellar, where they will keep for over a week. A small refrigerator cuts down on waste, both in energy and in food.

 The pantry is the best aspect of the kitchen. I loved really pantries when I was little. My grandmother, who lived in double-deckers in Boston and Somerville for years, often had a real pantry off of her kitchen. I would poke around, wiping shelves, sniffing spices, and talking about making cakes for hours whenever I visited. Although I would still love to have such a room, I am resigned to my very tall storage closet right in the kitchen. All of our bulk goods are stored on these shelves. It is very handy!

I am also blessed with an old stove. It has a huge oven and space on the surface to rest posts and pans. I never have to juggle  hot equipment while cooking or canning. Over the years we have had to replace the burners and the oven heating coil, but the stove is solid and beautiful. The old timer and stove light still work. In winter, it is the heart of our home; baking bread, potatoes, cookies, and dinner all at the same time.

I have an old cherry maple table and chairs which fit neatly into the space when the drop leaf is down. I found them while I was still in college. There was a used furniture store on my way home from the bus, which I often checked out. One day, they table and four chairs were there. Seventy five dollars for the set. That was a lot. But they glowed in the spring sunshine. I came back a week later and they were still there. The owner of the shop confessed to a friend that she was tired of them and was going to drop the price to  sixty to clear them out, not knowing that I was considering a major purchase. Hush, her friend whispered, but it was too late. I heard and offered sixty, and carried them proudly away.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cucumber Madness

           Cucumbers are taking over the kitchen….we eat three for lunch and five more come in at dinner time. It has been a good year for cucumbers. The weather has been warm; the beehive is active so pollination is excellent. I planted a few extra plants because of slow germination. Finally, Lemon cucumbers are just prolific and the “double Yield” variety from Territorial is, literally, a double yielder. I have had a whole series of twinned fruits. For whatever reason, the vines are heading towards the fence at a rapid rate.

            Every evening, I wander out to the back garden to check for dinner. Beans? Tomatoes? Collards? Cucumbers? I harvest what is ready and plan supper around the basket. Despite the occasional run away zucchini,  the system has worked in the past. This year, however, I check the cucumber vines before dinner, moving the leaves around, picking the green fruits.  An hour later, when I run out for fresh basil, I spot yet another fruit, large and golden, lurking at the base of the trellis. How is this possible?

            My vegetable bin is full of cucumbers. I have made four varieties of pickles, all from The Joy of Pickling: bread and butter, senfgerkin, Dutch lunch spears, and quick dill. Each batch clears out the bin for a week, but then it backs up once again. Last week, I pulled all of the cookbooks off the shelf and hunted down every cucumber recipe possible. Every night, we try another, but we are not complaining. Cucumbers are summer and summer can stretch out for another month.

Cucumber Salads:

·        Cucumbers, yogurt, mint, salt and pepper.
·        Cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet onion, feta and olive oil and vinegar
·        Cucumbers, sweet onion, paprika, rice vinegar, and sugar, salt
·        Salted cucumbers with soy sauce
·        Cucumbers, dill, and vinegar
·        Chinese noodles, peanut sauce, and cucumbers

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

And still....

             Between the very hot summer—the long predicated effects of climate change beginning—and an article in The New Yorker on a magnitude nine earthquake lurking right off-shore, the summer has had apocalyptic undertones.  We started with a dry warm spring and low snowfall in the mountains, moved into an early heat wave the first week of July, followed by a second at the end of the month. For several days, both times, the temperature rose to at least 100 degrees in the valley. We are not accustomed to this dry, bakey heat and the plants and fish are suffering. Already, trees are dropping leaves and turning gold and brown. Fish are dying because river water is too warm and too low. Yards and gardens look September beat in early August.  It is not good.

            In the middle of the first heat wave the article on the Pacific Subduction Zone was published.  Because it was recently discovered, in the late 1980s, we have not really prepared for the potential earthquake. Apparently, over the last few thousand years, the Oregon coast has had a huge, sudden earthquake every three to five hundred years, and we are closing in on the time for the next one. Some people say it is overdue, some that it will not be THAT bad, but there has always been a lurking fear of the earth shaking here. This summer, the article said “everything west of I-5 will be toast.” We live ten miles west of I-5. Most of the state lives west of I-5, to be honest. Because we are not prepared—our pubic buildings are not earthquake proof, our alarm systems are limited, our schools sit on fault lines and in the direct line of tsunamis—civilization will collapse. It was a dire article, not helped out by a presentation I heard one evening while camping on the coast. “We will all be fine,” the official said, “As long as we are prepared.” He followed this statement with the observation that the last tsunami created all of the “haystacks” along the coast by scouring away the softer rock.

            Clearly, civilization is doomed. If we are not taken out by climate change or peak oil, then the earthquake is going to end civilization as we know it.  And how do we respond to this? How do we respond to any overwhelming sense that our world is ending? I’ve been wrestling with this question all summer, but found an answer, or, rather, several answers in a poem by Clemens Starck that I read to my students every year. We like it because it is about fixing cars, a cool car, and so, even my hands on boys respond to it.  But is also about how to deal when someone you love is dying.


Changing the Alternator Belt on Your 504

To do this the radiator
Must be removed. Two bolts on top, three
On the bottom, and disconnect
The hoses.
Four small screws, and the shroud
Comes loose. This leaves
The radiator free.

Lift it out carefully. Set it
Outside the garage, on the gravel.
Take five.
Contemplate the plum tree.

If the soul took shape
It might look like that—a cloud of white blossoms
Throbbing with bees…
In the rank grass,
Daffodils flaunt their yellow message.
Six fat robins
Skitter across the pasture.

It makes no sense.
Eddie Rodriguez is dying. You know
That you are dying too,
And still there is spring
And fixing cars.

With the radiator out,
The rest is easy.
After replacing the belt, reverse the procedure:
Radiator, hoses, anti-freeze.

Turn on the engine.
Be brave. Be sad. Check for leaks.
Wipe your greasy hands on a rag.
Drive on,
Brother, drive on.

For E.R., 1945-1987
Clemens Starck

            What I love about this poem is the delicate balance between the practical and the philosophical.  He walks us through the process of taking apart an engine, carefully and mindfully. When in despair, he suggests, it helps to do something with your hands and mind to repair a corner of your world. A friend of mine, when stressed, would organize the shelf about the sink in the kitchen where we both worked. Something in our lives can be put in order, even when the larger picture is chaos. There’s no point listening to a screaming alternator belt just because your friend is dying.  Fix something.

And then, in the middle of the repair, pause. Turn philosophical. Contemplate nature and the soul. Because we need these moments of peace in a difficult time as well.  We have lost a great deal and that loss haunts us, but the world still is a very beautiful place.  We need to be outside, watching a dipper climb a cliff, eating lunch with friends. We need the deep silence of mountain lakes, the damp breezes of the ocean, the long vines of cucumbers and squashes growing up the trellis in the back garden. We need these quiet times to help us confront the despair that threatens to overwhelm us when we contemplate the reality of death and the end of the world as we k now it.

In section three, he moves on, back into action. He finishes the task, acknowledges the pain, and drives on. I see this a metaphor for life in these times. Rather than give into despair,  remember that there “is still spring and fixing cars” and persevere. 

My class also loves Starck’s poem about the local Seven-Eleven. There are three in town and we spend about ten minutes every year, after I read he poem, discussing which one he is describing, using lines from the text to support our ideas. It is, to be honest, and English teacher’s dream.