Solar Tracking

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

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.

Filling:
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

Streusel:
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

 
          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.