Solar Tracking

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

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. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Winter Days

Cold rain falls, almost sleet, almost snow. Bare branches trace the sky.  The clouds have settled over the hills; the valley is enclosed in winter.  Across the street, in early morning, one house glows from one string of Christmas bulbs along the roofline. A bicyclist hunches against the damp and pedals quickly down the street.  Inside, beans reach for the light against the glass panes, spider plants tumble off of the light shelf, strings of white fairy lights brighten the seats near the chilly windows.  The Christmas cactus blooms. Art covers the walls. Students make tea, clutch the warm mugs in their hands.  We gather together to read, to write, to think, to share ideas.

It’s been a busy week. I’ve been to three meetings related to the coming council season, done some CEA work, sent a few emails about the political scene. At the same time, every time I fall behind on sleep, the cold that settled in my sinuses a month ago sends my head spinning;  I spent half of the freezing rain day on the couch, knitting my final stash- reducing project for the year, trying to steady my inner ears.  This time of year is all about looking both ways, trying to embrace the change of season, the moving into the dark times, while not just hiding out for two months.

On Saturday, the sun came out for the morning. I rose at six thirty to roll out the Lucia Day buns while Mark made quarts of cocoa. We gathered oranges, a sheet of still warm rolls, and our heavy sweater to head out to Bald Hill. Light sparkled on the twigs and the grass as we walked towards the open framed barn. For once, the candle remained lit, a tiny light against the dawn. We hug mugs of cocoa, munch Lucia Day buns, watch the dog chase a stick, talk quietly. After an hour, we wander towards the woods, climb the hills, bask in the sun at the top. We can see the entire valley below. So lovely. A few people peel oranges, bright in the morning sun. The sun will come back again.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Twenty One Days of Action

                On Halloween, I pulled a Tarot card to see what the next six weeks would bring: The World, reversed. It is usually a joyous card and, even reversed, the worst translation of it is “stagnation.”  A few days later, the election hit, Mark’s cold lodged in my sinuses, and I stagnated.  The weather did not help; it has been a remarkably dark and wet autumn. All I wanted to do was go to work (it is easier, as a teacher, to power through work rather than dealing with the repercussions), come home, nap, and sit by a fire with a cat. Stagnate.

                About a week ago, I woke up and looked around. It was still raining, but I went for a walk. I can’t stagnate forever, I told myself. I have council trainings to attend, people to talk with, cookies to bake, backyards to clean up….and an election to react to. The next day, Jill Stein announced a recount effort.  I know it will not change the outcome, but action makes us all feel better. To paraphrase T.H. White in The Once and Future King the best thing to do when you are feeling sad is to learn something—or do something. There are about 21 days to the Solstice, when the world tips towards the light once more, I thought. I will take some small political action every day for 21 days.

                What counts? Clearly, any day I have council training or meeting I have met the requirement. Small donations count. Thank you letters count (we love our national Representative, Peter Defazio), emails of concern about political appointments count. Even a serious conversation with someone I do not usually talk politics with could count. What does not count? Signing an on-line petition. Ranting on social media. Talking with Mark.  Anything I would do any day.

                Action so far:
·         Donated to the recount
·         Emailed the president about Standing Rock—and the governor of North Dakota
·         Council training on legal issues
·         Thank you note to Defazio
·         CEA work at school
·         Pre- council meeting
·         Email Oregon senators about the proposed Secretary of Education

I will say, it is still rainy and cold outside. The fire and a cat still look tempting. I am still massaging my forehead to move the stagnated fluids along. But I am moving. Taking small actions every day has made me feel better about the future. And then, there is Corvallis—where women will be the majority on city council for the first time.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Candles in Dark Times

                When I was little, the best part of the Christmas decorations, even better than the tree, were the window candles. My mother placed one in every window (with the cords adjusted to fit to every outlet) and one of my jobs was to wander the house as the darkness came down, turning them on. I loved looking out through the frosty glass at the cold dark yard right before I tightened the yellow-orange bulb and cast a warm glow on the window and throughout the room. I paused after each, thinking about light and dark, before moving on. At night, the golden light was comforting; I believed my mother when she told me that Santa Claus was checking on the neatness of my bedroom and spent hours huddled under the blankets so he could not see me.  The candles helped.

                When I left home, I bought my own window candles. I changed out the bulbs to a more sophisticated white, but still wandered through my small apartments, turning the candles on in December. The lights were especially beautiful in the houses that lacked good heat because of the frost on the window panes.  I loved driving through small New England towns where all of the houses which lined the commons were window lit with candles. Square, proud Federal houses with white lights against the snow is a haunting image. Home, they said. We have been home for hundreds of years. You are safe here.  Years later, I lived with a Jewish roommate. We celebrated Hanukkah and lit his menorah every evening, then placed it in the front window, where it’s light shone into the darkness. Candle light in the window grew in significance in my mind. 

The Pacific Northwest does not use the window candles and our tiny house only has to front windows, one of which will hold the tree when Yule begins.  But, as nights grow darker, I am drawn to lighting a candle in the evening, before I begin dinner. Like washing my hands, it creates a line between times of day. When the candle is lit, it is time to draw inward, chop an onion, turn off the news, and make dinner, creating, every night, home. Sometimes I leave the candle on the table, but I often move it to the bench by the front window, where the light reaches out to our dark and busy street.

                I have read that the window candles signified a Catholic house in Ireland, a signal to the priests forced underground that a family was seeking his blessing, and that the Irish brought the idea to the United States. That would explain the geographic distribution of the decoration.  I have also read that they were a beacon for travelers on Christmas Eve, that there was a meal and warm fire within. And I like that idea. As we move into dark times, small gestures, like a window candle, become more significant. Ours says that our house is a safe place—that if you are in trouble, you can knock on the door.  I like to imagine streets, like the old Commons on New England, where there are candles in every window.

                

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Technology Shabbat

I first wrote this several years ago, but I think it is worth remembering. Many people are struggling with social media and the election process-- and we do have choices here.


A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about technology Shabbat—the idea that we would all be better off if we just turned off our electronic devises for a day every week. At the time, it was a theoretical posting. Our computer resided in the cold basement and took ten minutes to warm up and access the Internet. Turning on technology took a serious effort. It was not hard to avoid for several days, especially if the weather was warm and the book compelling.

            This changed last winter. Two things happened. One, we had two huge snowstorms. Unlike New England, all of the Pacific Northwest shuts down for days on end when there is snow and ice. It’s rare. We don’t have snowplows. It’s cheaper just to close up shop and stay home. Stuck in the house, I turned to technology for entertainment. The other thing that changed was our technology. We acquired a mobile electronic device that allowed us access to the internet in seconds while sitting on the couch and produced a cheerful little chirp when someone contacted you. I was hooked. I spent hours looking at people’s photos of snow—people who lived a mile away, so it was, really, the same snow. We compared depths. We considered whether or not there would be school the next day. We liked each other’s snow. After two days, the cheery little chirp created a pavlovian response. I HAD to check Facebook, or email, to see what was happening. And what was happening was more photos of snow.

            When the snow melted and school was open once again, I had a newfound appreciation for my students' obsession with their phones. I understood, for the first time, why they could not just ignore that vibration during class. Something had changed in their mental wiring; I swear the cheery chirp stimulated the pleasure center of our brains. I also realized that I used my work email as a Prime Stalling Technique, checking for something interesting rather than engaging in grading papers. Even the chirp at work perked me up, although I knew it was often just the daily announcements.  I had to turn off the computer at the end of the day in order to work my way through the stack of papers on my desk. Something was not right here.

            So, last spring, I began the Technology Shabbat in earnest. Every Friday afternoon, when I come home, I check email, Facebook, my blog, and NOAA weather. By sundown, I turn off the device and place it on my desk in the cozy room, out of sight, out of mind.  And it stays off, often until Sunday afternoon.  I quickly came to like the peace of mind turning it off brought to me. And then I realized that—no offence to anyone—was not missing anything huge. Photos of cute puppies and good dinners, organizing emails, library reminders could all wait until the next day for my attention.  A day off is a good thing.


            So, if you want to contact us on Saturday, you’ll need to use old fashioned technology to do so. We still have our landline. Give us a call. If no one answers, come on over. We’re probably reading in the back yard.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Henny and the election Season

   
            I have been seizing the occasional hours between downpours to tidy the yard this week. I’ve hauled a pile of leaves and mulched, raked the back yard, cut down the asparagus,  moved my beautiful metal hoops onto the bed that will need to be covered if it ever grows cold this winter, and planted two buckets of small mystery bulbs that I sifted out of the front strip planter when I did a bit of revamping  in early October.  Bringing order to the garden helps my mind to settle down, away from the chaos of this last (Thank God!) week before the election.

                Our white leghorn, Henrietta,  is not feeling well. She has had a huge molt this fall, but she has also, suddenly, grown old.  Her comb is drooping. She is moving slowly and napping a great deal. This week, she has not flown up on the perch at night. One afternoon, when I offered her some banana—a preferred food—she did not even see it. I was sure that she was about to go. I let all of the ladies out while I planted bulbs. The Buffs ran about, hunting bugs in the grass. Henny sat, stooped, in the sun. When she did not even come out on Friday, I sat with her for a while, telling her that she had been a good chicken and it was ok to go.  I sent Mark out when he came home for the same reason. The next morning, I did not rush out; when Mark took a while coming back in, I was dreading the news. “She’s still there,” he said. “Looks pretty good. She even ate something.”

                Today, we let all of the hens out again. Henny came out to sit in the sun near the greenhouse for the afternoon.  She was munching on some grass. I like to think that she is waiting, as I am, for the outcome of Tuesday’s election. She has always been a scrappy little hen, bossy and loud. A good layer—we could host Hot Cross Buns for eighteen on just her white eggs alone. She kept the Buffs in line until just last week, when her comb began to droop. Even now, they leave her be. She was always  first into the compost heap when we brought out the yogurt container full of kitchen scraps. Henny never doubted her place. So, maybe she is waiting—more patiently than me, to be honest—for Tuesday evening. And she is hoping, as I am, to see history – or, maybe Herstory—made, when we finally elect a woman for president. It will be a victory for women. I hope Henny is still here to see it.  I hope I am, as well.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Loose Connections-- the foundations of community

                Despite the sign reading “Corvallis: Population 56,000” on the way into town, Corvallis is a small community. Take away the 20,000 short term residents (AKA OSU students) and you have a village. And, after teaching English here for twenty years, I know a lot of people—or, more accurately, they know me.

                Last night was speed dating with parents, better known as conferences. I talked to 44 sets of parents, some with students, some with small screaming children, some with translators. You never know, when they sit down, where the five minute conversation is going to go, although I’ve developed some techniques for directing the discussion. At least five times last night, someone commented on my council run. One woman launched on a mental health is a cause of homelessness discussion (I’ll get back to her in a few months) and then remembered that there was someone behind her.  But the best moments are when you are teaching a younger sibling and the parents take a moment to catch you up on the older children’s activities. Married, working, kids….Parents are proud.

                This morning, I visited the library to find out about acquiring some books when they are de-accessioned. The Friends of the Library who were working in the sorting room were thrilled that I was going to be on council, reminded me that I had given them a tour of the back yard, and took me into the woman in charge of removing books from the system. We had a grand talk about the state of the world, how libraries are the foundation of a democratic society, and how the whole book sorting system worked, as I only see the warehouse end when I sort over the summer.  I left her with my name and the title of the book I was interested in.

                Finally, when I was raking leaves out of the street, an older man paused on the sidewalk. He had a big bag of cans and had been checking the neighborhood dumpsters for more. “Are you the lady who was looking for the cat?” he asked. I was and assured him that she had come home.  “Sometimes they just go walk-about,” he observed as he headed off down the street and I went back to work, using my new-old wheelbarrow that a friend repaired and gave to me last spring.


                These loose connections are the foundation of a functioning community. We all need the tight connections of family and friends, but we are floating in space without the constant interactions that tie us to a place and time. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Tiny homes-- the solution to Oregon's housing crisis?

There is a deeply held belief in Oregon that tiny homes are going to solve the affordable housing crisis. At a forum last week, the Pacific Green candidate for county commissioner proclaimed that “People are dying to live in tiny homes! They were lined up around the block at a trade show to see inside one.” I sighed. People love to look at tiny homes—and they are very cool--but do they know what it is like to live in one?

                When I was eight, my parents decided to sell the house they had built in Hampstead, New Hampshire and buy a camper so that we could travel around the United States. It was 1969. We spent a year visiting trade shows and RV lots, looking for our new home. I was in love—all of those tiny, well-designed spaces for living….We found the perfect camper; it was a couple of feet longer than the others so that it had a side door. The inside was a very modern harvest gold and tweedy brown. My parents promised that the space above the cab was mine, so I lined it with my books, packed my clothes in the overhead compartments, and settled in. Our new puppy found her space under the table. For a year, I ate dinner with my feet resting warmly on the dog.

                The trip was amazing. We drove across the northern U.S., camping in state parks and along the road. In Washington, we spent a week on the Olympic Peninsula while I roamed the empty foggy beaches with Honey. We camped one night by the side of 101, where my father said you could “spit a mile” straight down. It was cool and misty. My mother lit the gas lamp which provided both heat and light and cooked dinner. I walked down the road while I waited—the camper was a golden beacon in a dark world. We ran out of money in California, worked for a few weeks, stopped in Las Vegas (where I won over twenty dollars in the nickel slot machines), and drove quickly across Texas to Florida, where we had family.

                We spent the winter living in the camper. It was not a hardship. In Florida, you live outside. We set up a table, chairs, and pretend classroom on the space beside the camper. The showers were down the road a bit; the laundry room made a great hair drier.  One campground was set in the “Gardens of  Light” where colored lights lit up palm trees along boardwalks. There was even a swimming pond. My parents worked. I went to school. We were normal; several other families lived in the park with us. Florida schools were set up for transient students.  In the spring, we came home. By fall, we had a house. Even so, my mother and I spent summers in the camper in New Hampshire, settled in alongside my aunt’s house on the lake.  Twenty years later, I made the same trip, living in my VW vanagon for three months—and many smaller trips since then. I love living in small spaces.

                That being said, tiny houses are not the solution to an affordable housing crisis built upon the rising costs of land because of demand and an excellent, strong land use law. It would be far more efficient to build studio apartment complexes on the same land; apartments are less resource intensive and expensive than hand-built tiny homes and provide the same level of independence as well as protection from the rain.

 Tiny homes are, also, honestly, artisanal RVs. Would you be willing to have an RV park next door to your house? If so, I could support that. There are hundreds of dying RVs on the back roads of Oregon. I counted at least fifty one afternoon, driving from the Otis CafĂ© to the turn-off to Monmouth.  This was not a functional vehicle count, parked in driveways; these were the ones buried in blue tarps and blackberries. I’d be thrilled to haul them out, fix them up, settle them into a well-managed park, and rent them out for nominal rates to local house-less people. That seems like a win-win to me. However, it would not be a cool looking as a tiny home compound.

Finally, tiny homes are not practical in muddy, rainy climates, especially some of the smaller designs that do not have fully functional kitchens and bathrooms. They may work well in dry climates, where roommates can escape to the back yard for some space, but here, where we are often inside, they would be very difficult to endure. Walking to the bathroom is charming while camping in a yurt at Silver Falls or spending a night at Breittenbush Hot Springs; it grows old fast in a downpour when you track mud inside after every trip or when you do not feel well.  I challenge anyone who thinks that tiny homes are a serious solution to the housing crisis to try living in one for the month of January in Oregon, with their entire family and, perhaps, a wet dog thrown in for good measure.  
               

                

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Week in Hiaku

Friday:
Tea. Toast. NPR.
Two cats sleep. Fall rain outside.
Wool socks. Home morning.

Saturday:
Rain. Wind. Leaves. Yardwork.
Armloads of tomato plants.
Beds prepped for fall mulch.

Sunday:
Bald Hill Walk in clouds.
It is lovely to be out.
Typhoon is over.

Monday:
A day of meetings.
PLC. City Council.
People like to talk.

Tuesday:
Grey sky, mug, table, wall.
Red pen draws lines through papers.
Gold leaves. October.

Wednesday:
October Nineteenth.
Debate? Or Young Frankenstein?
The choice is so clear.

Thursday:
Ballots came today.
So weird. I voted for myself.
Charlyn Ellis. Ward five.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016 Harvest

2016 Harvest

Blueberries: 3 quarts dried

Peaches: 12 pints canned
                4 quarts dried

Plums: 6 quarts dried
                8 half pints of jam

Apples:  Sauce 12 pints
                6 half pints Butter
                5 quarts dried
                14 quarts of cider

Grape juice: 33 quarts

Figs: 6 quarts dried

Cucumber pickles: 8 pints
Dilly Beans: 4 pints

Tomatoes: 6o half pints roasted
                2 quarts dried
                9 pints of salsa

Pears: 5 quarts dried

Potatoes:  95 pounds, total

Honey: 11 quarts

Gooseberry jam:  5 half pints

Butternut squash: nine solid squashes

We’ve also brought in for winter 25 pounds of oatmeal, 50 pounds of hard wheat berries, five pounds of barley—and we will order onions, squash, and more beans as they come available.

Bold  indicates from our own back yard. Everything else is raised from within ten miles.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

Equinox Rains

                The rains came down last night, silencing crickets and drunks around midnight. I could hear the drops pounding on the greenhouse roof and then running off into the flower beds below, all night long. The gardens drank deeply. This morning, we woke up to grey skies, damp grass, soft rain. The house was chilly. While Mark showered, I chopped potatoes to roast in the oven and started a fire in the fireplace. After closing the windows and the doors to both bedrooms (we have an oddly old New England house for the West Coast), I pulled the chairs close. Mark made tea and set up the folding table. Each cat claimed a chair.  I found an ancient hand-knit heavy sweater from the era when my sleeves were way too wide but left my feet bare to soak in the heat from the fire.  We ate toast and canned peaches and potatoes by the fire, listening to NPR.

 Outside, the butternut squashes I harvested on Thursday and resting on a garden bench. I will bring them in today, out of the rain. I need to pick tomatoes, too.  The figs are taking up the moisture and turning into fig bombs; hopefully we picked enough low down and the cedar waxwings ate enough high up to minimize the mess. The chickens are sulking on their perch—they went from sun and a run to rain and a confined space last week and they are not happy about it. The grass is greening up.  Fall is here.


Oat Bread: The Fall Equinox Quick Bread
1.5 c oats
1.25 c buttermilk
6 T oil
.5 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1.25 c fresh ground whole wheat flour
1t BP and BS
.5 t salt
1 c currants or dried blueberries
Soak the oats and buttermilk. Add wet ingredients and mix well. Mix dry together, then add to wet. Bake in 400 degree oven until done. If you have a pan that tends to stick, line it with bking parchment first.





Monday, September 26, 2016

Zucchini!

                There is a small Zucchini problem in our back garden this fall. The bush plants started pumping out fruits in mid-June and slowed down in August, just in time for the Italian climbing variety to shift into high gear. We have been well supplied with zucchini this year. One is four feet long and hanging off of the back trellis; it has not grown in a few days, so I think it is as big as it is going to get.  This means that we are creative in our zucchini cooking; it appears everywhere. Tonight—cream of zucchini soup and some zucchini muffins. Tomorrow—fritters. Wednesday—calzones. And then we will have to shift to cucumbers and tomatoes again.

Zucchini Muffins:
3 c flour—half whole wheat
1T BP
½ t BS
1t salt
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
½ t cloves
½ c milk
½ c oil
½ c sugar
2 c shredded zucchini
1.5 c ground walnuts
Large handful of dried blueberries
Mix dry together. Mix wet together. Mix dry and wet. Scoop into muffin tins and bake in 350 oven.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fall Equinox

                This is the week of the turning of the season, of Fall Equinox, the shift from light to dark begins now.  In recognition of this shift, we spent Friday Evening watching the harvest moon rise over the prairie at Finley Wildlife refuge
.
                We arrived at the boardwalk about an hour before the moonrise. The tall grasses were golden in the evening light. Birds were rushing about, finishing up the day’s business. Crickets were talking about the coming dark. To the west, the sun went down slowly over Mary’s Peak, sending pink light back over the open fields. The sky was huge above. We settled down with our dinner to wait for the moon. “I think it will come up over there,” Mark pointed east, where some thin clouds were obscuring the foothills of the Cascades. We watched. Suddenly, Mark gasped. “It’s there,” he pointed further south. Right then, the moon was a molten glow on the horizon. As we watched, it raced up into the sky, banded by clouds. A half moon…a full round moon, huge and orange in the dusky light, then a half moon again, looking like a photo of Jupiter with its bands of color across its face.  A few geese honked overhead. The wind died. The world was quiet as the moon rose, slowly shrinking and fading as it rose. When it was high in the sky, we gathered our dishes and left, coming home to the same moon playing on the tomato and bean leaves that are growing over our living room windows.

                We returned to Finley this morning to walk the marshes. Clouds had settled over the landscape so low that it was not really raining—we were walking in the clouds. The world was flat and open. We walked the long and winding boardwalk through the ash swale which is totally flooded in the winter time, observing the long, complex strands of usnea hanging from the trees like Spanish moss. The boardwalk ends in a bird blind looking over the marshes. Pelicans and ducks were hanging out on the snags in the middle; great blue herons stalked through the shallow water on one end; some mysterious fish swirled and leaped in front of us. We studied the landscape, and then turned onto the path along the marsh which leads to the cattail ponds. Swallows darted overhead. Elk track led across a recently plowed field. Quail trotted ahead of us, looking for their runs into the blackberry thickets. The air was moist and spicy. When we walked under a huge beach tree, it hummed. Why? We looked more closely; wasps covered the hanging catkins. Rain fell on our faces as we looked up into the sky, then the sun broke through and dried us off again.  The changing season was evident in the slant of the light.

                This week, we will begin to clear out the garden beds. I have already brought in the pumpkins, corn, and beans from  the Three Sisters bed. It will hold the chicken coop by Friday morning, when we give the annual house tour to the high school sustainability class. Some plants will have a final burst of growth from the rain but, for most annuals, the dying light is a clear signal to shut down production. What growth will happen has happened. I will arrange the hoops over the two beds I hope to over-winter, so that, when a cold spell comes, I am ready, but I will not cover them and cut off any light now. Soon, we will gather in leaves from the street and pile them on the beds and in the compost hoops, tucking everything in for the winter. But now, we wander outside, soaking in the last of the sunshine, seeking a balance in our lives.

                

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Local Eating

                There is, in Corvallis, a deeply head belief that, when the apocalypse comes, in the form of a 9.9 earthquake (we were all profoundly impacted by the New Yorker article last summer), we will be saved by eating from our neighborhood gardens. Although I am a deep believer in local food, eating from my own backyard, and supporting local farmers, I am a realist. I know that we would be VERY hungry if we tried to survive on our backyard.  Even now, in the peak of ripeness, when there are vegetables all around us, we would be hungry. I would hate to try and survive on our garden and basement storage in late March, when there is mustard and kale and little else.
                I have tracked our consumption, by volume and by calories, several times in the past  few years. We are 99% local in our vegetable consumption, year round.  We raise most of our own produce during the summer months and purchase the rest from very local farmers, directly and from the market. We also store potatoes, squashes, and onions for the winter and put up canned and dried fruit from neighborhood trees.  This is a clear positive for all of us. Our food is fresher and more alive; our local farmers benefit from the support; it requires less (if any) fuel to transport. Local produce is a clear winner.
                We eat about 90% of our dairy from within one hundred miles of home, which is also quite easy. Our milk comes from a local dairy and I make our yogurt from it. Most cheese and eggs are local as well—eggs travel about fifty feet from hen to pan. At one point, I knew where our butter came from, but the dairy is no longer selling anywhere in town.  We like having local dairy products and have adjusted some of our tastes to focus on the local cheese. Aside from eggs, the calories from dairy are not produced in the backyard or the neighborhood.
                Beans and grains form the backbone of our diet. About half of our calories come from local sources.  I but wheat berries, oatmeal, and barley from local farmers. The wheat, after being ground in the kitchen aid mill, is added to white flour from Eastern Washington to make our daily bread. We eat a great deal of bread! Oatmeal is standard breakfast fare. Our beans also come from local farmers; we can purchase garbanzos, pintos, Indian woman, and black beans from farmers and the co-op Almost all of our beans come from within ten miles of home.   We do not produce significant amount of beans and grains. It requires far more land than we have in our back yard.
 However, we also eat pasta, rice, and other grains for dinner, and none of those are locally produced—yet.  When I add in the oils, spices, and vinegars that liven up our foods, it is clear that we do not begin to produce what we would need to survive. We purchase and produce about half of our calories locally. And we are committed to the process, willing to pay more for our food to help expand the local markets. I don’t think a community garden is going to go very far towards feeding the neighborhood.



Early September Menu
Friday: oatmeal with grapes
                Potato and chard curry, rice leftovers)
                Whole wheat pasta with eggplant, tomato, zucchini, onion
Saturday: oatmeal waffles
                Pasta leftovers
                Black bean soup, coleslaw
Sunday: toast and tea
                Out for lunch
                Baked potatoes, melon and cucumber salad
Monday: yogurt and granola
                Out for lunch (very unusual to have to lunches out in a week)
                Tomato pie and apple pie
Tuesday: oatmeal and grapes
                Tomato pie leftovers
                Zucchini soup, whole wheat bread, salad
Wednesday: cereal
                Zucchini soup

                Bulgur salad with nuts, dried cherries, tomatoes on a bed of lettuce

Sources for our local foods:
Sunbow Farm-- beans and veg, best around
GreenWillow Grains-- wheat and oatmeal
Denison Farms--CSA and bulk onions

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.   

Canning
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.
grapes
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
Sitpads—both
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
Food—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
Map—Mark
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
Pills—Mark