This is one Mean Old Lady!

This is one Mean Old Lady!
Self-portrait: 'Quilter on Fire'

Monday, July 14, 2014

Summertime Living

If your idea of Summer includes lolling in a hammock or taking time off from chores, you're not a gardener, I'm guessing.  

Even though my garden plot is a fraction of the size I once cultivated--when there were teens to feed and pennies to pinch--I will still put hours into weeding, planting, cultivating,and watering (although this year, happily, Mother Nature has stepped up more responsibly, ending the pattern of drought and extreme heat that lasted for several years.)  The asparagus bed, which yields its harvest in early Spring, requires only weeding and watering.  The flowerbeds (planted heavily in my burst of enthusiasm after I retired) suffer from benign neglect--some weeding, some watering.  The volunteer elderberries--sprouting in odd corners when I dispensed with the large thicket after the DHubby gave up making wine with the (messy) harvest--are bearing heavily despite complete neglect.  

Last year, I cut the green heads of berries before they could ripen--such as they were, given the lack of rainfall.  This year, ample water meant a bumper crop, and I couldn't bring myself to interfere.  So... I picked the ripe heads of elderberries. 

 Once washed and allowed to air-dry, the heads go onto cookie sheets and into the freezer; after the berries are frozen solid overnight, one destems the berries; if this sounds tedious and time-consuming, that's because it is.  A batch of elderberry jelly requires about 3 pounds of destemmed, crushed berries, from which juices must be extracted; that's another overnight process.  And then you can cook up the jelly and put it up in jars.  

The sine qua non of jelly-making:  the right equipment.

A large, deep pot for boiling the juice, sugar, and other ingredients.
The pot on the left is fine for soup, for boiling pasta, for corn on the cob, but you want a deep, deep pot for jelly-making.

Then there is the long-handled spoon for stirring the jelly ingredients to a rolling boil.  (The spoon is behind the ladle somewhat, but you can see how much longer it is than the copper serving ladle.  Saves your hand from being parboiled!)

The wide funnel makes filling the jars neater and simpler.  

The jars (with lids and rings) are filled while hot and sterile.  Even with air-conditioning, making jelly is hot work.

It's rather easier to deal with the small amounts of vegetables I glean from the tiny garden.  The biggest chore, aside from picking, is washing the produce.  (I no longer freeze much of anything, even though I sadly acknowledge that frozen veggies from the store are not as tasty.)  

Celebrity tomatoes; Roma green beans; jalapeno peppers.  The arugula is the biggest pain when it comes to picking over and washing what I bring in from the garden plot.  

The local farmers' market supplies what I don't grow--though not all vendors are organically-inclined.  I bought my green tomatoes from a cooperative organic grower and made pickles.  One batch will last us a couple of years; (they're delicious with bean soup for Wintertime suppers.)  

When the figs come in, I will pick daily--twice daily when the figs are in full spate, so to speak.  More washing and air-drying...and I do freeze figs in addition to those we eat and give away.  
I don't usually dry many herbs, but I often go out and pick fresh basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, and 'Texas tarragon' (also sometimes labeled Mexican mint) as needed.

Summers are long as you're not hoping to lie around and relax!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Bringing Up Babies?

For the past few years a pair of broad-winged hawks--bird predators, alas--has nested in a neighborhood tree.  As far as the jays, crows, cardinals, mockingbirds, wrens, thrashers (and on and on) are concerned, they're very unwelcome.  We know for certain that some broods of green herons have fallen victim to these hawks.  One begins to feel guilty about putting out bird seed and suet, not to mention maintaining birdbaths.  

This was the scene a few days ago:

Three hawks have been seen in the back yard in recent days; we were thinking there are a mating pair and one young hawk, but after studying images, I begin to suspect we have three juveniles.  We've been as close as 20 feet to these striking birds.  One young hawk made a swooping attempt at a squirrel--inexpert enough that the squirrel made it into the tree and hid himself in the Virginia creeper festooning the trunk and branches.  

All of the usual poses--preening, stretching....
and then a quick dash onto the ground in pursuit of something--most likely a grasshopper.  Wings are outstretched and raised.  (Sorry--that's the best shot I could get.)  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Coming Home

We made the daunting drive home from Altadena in three days.  Four might have been kinder and gentler, but we knew we needed to deal with the damage at our lake house, and we both looked forward to being back in our little rut.

The first leg took us all the way to a Route 66 stop:  Winslow, Arizona.  We thought we were seeing a lot of haze during the day's drive; it turned out to be smoke from forest fires.  (Those have only gotten worse since the first week in May.)  TripAdvisor has come in quite handy in terms of finding good restaurants, so we settled on E & O Kitchen and relied on Garmin to take us there.  Garmin delivered us to a deserted airport hangar; it was beginning to get dark, and there was no sign whatever of a restaurant.  We went back and tried the route again; this time, though, I flagged down an oncoming driver who told us to drive around behind the hangar--and sure enough, there it was.  By then it was thoroughly dark, and the sign on the door said the place closed at 7....but we were greeted cordially, seated, and assured it wasn't too late.  The place was quite a find--delicious food, courteous service, and great prices.  When he saw DHubby's USAA credit card, the young man thanked him for his military service; that was nice.  

Our second day took us all the way across New Mexico--this time in clear weather.  It gave us a chance to see why this state is The Land of Enchantment--the colors, rock formations, vistas!  We stopped briefly in Gallup because I had seen a fabric shop the night we spent there on the way west; alas, it was not what a quilter would have in mind.  The store stocked satins and velvets in bright colors--the material of choice for modern pow-wow/dancing garb.  We passed one crowded corner where many people were lined up out the door and down the sidewalk--all ages and stages.  This turned out to be a 'payday lender.'  All of the people in line were Native Americans.  Sad scene. 

 We pushed on and stopped at last in Amarillo, Texas.  It was 5:30 on a Saturday night.  Every restaurant was packed to the gills, with hours-long wait times.  Turns out the Domino's now has a line of 'Artisan pizzas'--so we had one delivered to the motel room, augmented by some of the fruit and veggies still in our cooler.  Perfect!  

We will be thinking about this trip for a long time to come.  

I wrote a few reviews for TripAdvisor

Monday, June 2, 2014

Traveling to Altadena

The drive down Interstate 5 in California, we were told, would be 'fast but boring.'  It was certainly faster than negotiating the beautiful coastal route, but we did not find it boring.  We passed vast orchards and fields--industrial agriculture in action.  Workers were harvesting iceberg lettuce and strawberries; we were sharing the road with trucks bearing loads of boxed produce.  There was evidence that the lives of migrant farm workers have improved, at least marginally--portable toilets were available--but delicate crops that cannot be harvested mechanically will always require human hands.  There is no doubt it's as back-breaking as ever.

All of this is possible only through irrigation.  California's on-going struggle with drought, water rights, and dwindling supplies was embodied in large signs protesting policies and upcoming legislation.  We passed more than one orchard of dead trees.  

Lunch was at Harris Ranch--a surprising spot.  Apparently this is one of the largest ranch/farm operations in California, famed for its beef (and now for its racehorses, as well), an enterprise vast enough to warrant a huge hotel/resort/restaurant complex.  We split a Reuben and a salad, took a gander at the store (meats, some produce--asparagus, for instance), and continued on our way, entering high desert and dry mountains.  

Our destination was Altadena, one of the many cities ringing the megalopolis of Los Angeles.  Fortunately for us, it's the outer ring to the north-east, tucked in next to the San Gabriel Mountains.  My former teaching colleague, Susan Shwartz Braig, has lived there for 20 years and counting, with her room-mate Richard, in an amazing 1920's building next to the Altadena Country Club.  

Susan is self-employed--an artist, a grant-writer, and designer of jewelry created from DRUGS--primarily chemotherapy pills that, judging by their cost to patients, are more precious than gems.  (Find Susan on Facebook, LinkedIn, and more; her Etsy store is DesignerDrugJewelry.)  Susan and I met at Amelia Junior High School in SW Ohio in the early 1970's.  She was the art teacher; I was the special education teacher.  We would up car-pooling and becoming fast friends.  She willingly took my students into her art classes (this was the bad old days before inclusion was the norm.)  More than that, simply through this limited contact, she was able to gain great insight into my students; what she shared opened my own eyes and made me a better teacher.  Susan should have been a stand-up comic, methinks; like many gifted people, she might have followed a variety of career paths.  She can make even cancer sound funny.  

Susan's battle with breast cancer gave her a lot of insider information about the gaps in America's health-care system and the trickery in health insurance policies.  She became an outstanding advocate for change.  Check this out (from last October.)  You do not need to speak Portuguese to understand what is being expressed.
Today Global TV (Brazil's equivalent to PBS) ran a big story on U.S. Health Care and Obama Care's hurdles. They used my insurance and jewelry story to give it a "human face." Here is the link. Of course, most is in Portuguese:

Susan moved away from Ohio after two years of teaching--living in Wisconsin and then California--but we stayed in touch, I'm glad to say.  Over the years Susan had been able to visit us a couple of times, but this was the first time I would be seeing her space, and after a dozen or more years, our first time to see one another again.  

I did not do a great job of taking pictures--should have shot the exterior of the exotic building (undergoing much-needed renovation) and the house next door (where another working artist lives amid striking works.)  But here are some interior shots:

Isn't it lovely?

The 'Spanish/Moorish' influence in Twenties-Era California architecture is reflected in this two-apartment building.  The country club was frequented by Charlie Chaplin and other screen stars.  

The jewelry shop is tucked into this nook.  The 'ear-ring stand' is fashioned from a crutch.  

Arched windows and doorways....

Feel free to steal Richard's clever idea in his choice of kitchen equipment.

AND they're cat people.  Two calico kitties share the space.  This one is named Soccer.

There was time for delightful meals (Richard is the chef) and a bit of sight-seeing from the car, a little foray into Pasadena's antique shops, some catching up... (and DHubby drove down to Anaheim to meet another high-school friend and fellow debater over lunch)....and then we set out on the drive homeward.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Traveling...and winding down Part VII Friends

We moved to NE Ohio from California in September, 1987.  Many things have remained in the past, but not the friendships with special people.  Even though we were far away, we stayed in touch through the years, sharing our journeys through child-rearing, health challenges, and more.  

We were happily able to meet for lunch on Monday with Daychin--at her workplace in one of the Stanford Medical Center's vast complex of buildings.  We met in 1983/84 in a support group, Touchstone, for families having a child facing serious illness.  While few of our children had the same diagnosis or problem, we all faced many of the same challenges.  In our case, a daughter with a serious heart defect and complications to the spinal cord after surgery meant many issues had to be dealt with over a long period of growth and development, adaptation and acceptance.  Daychin also had a daughter (close in age to Nathaniel) with a serious birth defect, with the added complication of single-parenthood.  Coming together around these issues was just the beginning; Daychin and I shared many of the same attitudes (and not least, a sense of humor that's often the best 'medicine' for life's realities.)  

Grayer and a little battered, perhaps....but still smiling!

Barbara is another long-time friend and faithful correspondent; she is the mother of Nathaniel's 1986 classmate Joseph at the Palo Alto Friends' Nursery School.  We shared many of the trials and travail of rearing sensitive boys to adulthood.  Don and I were enchanted by the backyard transformation that Barbara designed (no more need for the swing set, needless to say.)  A fountain is the focal point of the lovely retreat.  (I very much regret not taking a photo!)   We walked past Friends' School (good old Quakers are still going strong!) and our one-time abode to a pleasant cafe for a delicious lunch. 

It is a joy to know I can now picture Barbara in this setting when I think of her.

And that was our last day to spend in Silicon Valley.  We joined Natty and Karen after doing some packing.  I had brought along my dry ingredients for pizza dough and a pizza pan, so Karen and I collaborated on a pizza.  I'm trying now to recall what we put on it, but all I can be sure of is the goat cheese...which was delicious!  

The next morning we loaded the car, checked out of the condo, and drove away toward our next destination:  Altadena (next door to Pasadena, of Little Old Lady fame.)  The only way to get over to Interstate 5 was to go sort of around our elbow as we left the area.  Four or five lanes going the other way were bumper-to-bumper with stalled traffic.  I bet that the jam would last for 5 miles, while the DHubby bet on 15.  (It lasted for 7 miles.)  Glad we were going the other way.  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Traveling....still! Part VI A Sunday Outing

One item I left off our Saturday  agenda was the jaunt to Sunnyvale's Farmers' Market in the 'historic district' on Murphy Street.  We ended up kind of circling the area before we zeroed in, and then we were dismayed to find a veritable gantlet of food booths.  Was this it?  But then we got to the corner and there was the real thing--farmers with food.  Very tempting, I must say.  All sorts of fruits, veggies, and even a long line at a stall selling grass-fed beef.  I bought a bag of  beautiful green beans, knowing we had a couple of dinners coming up at the condo on our own.  The variety of produce was amazing; ah, California!

On Sunday morning, we packed a cooler, picked up the young folk, and drove into the hills toward Saratoga to the Cooper-Garrod Vineyards.  You can scarcely throw a rock without hitting a winery in the area, but a little on-line research helped us find one that was not too far away and also offered a picnic area.  All of the wineries have hefty charges just for tasting, but at least you get a wine glass out of it...and indeed there were some very nice wines being produced in this combination horse-farm and vineyard. 

 We bought a chilled bottle and unpacked our picnic under a huge eucalyptus--sourdough bread (of course), cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, olives, veggies (to those of you who know Nathaniel well:  yes, there were carrots), and apples. The wine produced a fine glow...  There was even a young guitarist providing entertainment.

Our picnic spot...
 Is this not a great old tree?

A walk seemed like a good idea, so we strolled the loop that circled the stables and outbuildings.  The last of April usually ends the rainy season, which meant that everything was still green and blooming.  We were sharing the road with some riders and their mounts (real ones, unlike the decorative statue below.)

Beautiful views!  Despite the greens you see, the drought continues.  The Santa Clara Mountains are vulnerable to forest fires.  

We drove back toward Sunnyvale (past some palatial residences--some for sale) and out to the newer Bayview Park (am I getting this name right?)   It did not exist when we lived here.  
Waterfowl seem to enjoy unusual safety in these environs-- impressive family here, no?  We've never seen a pair of Canada geese with a brood this large.  The wind was quite fierce, as you can tell by the waves, so we did not linger very long on the shoreline, though it was interesting to watch the wet-suited guys trying to sail on the choppy waters.  We stopped, though, to watch people flying a variety of kites, including some that could be controlled to perform aerial acrobatics.  There were a few hapless folk who just could not get their kites into the air for any appreciable amount of time; fortunately, no kite-eating trees in the area.   (I could have sworn I took some pictures, but they're not in my camera.  Karen did take some shots, so perhaps I can post a few later.)  

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Traveling Part V: More highlights!

The city of Cupertino (bordering on Sunnyvale and sharing the school district) has a sister city in Japan and celebrates the Cherry Blossom Festival annually.  There are performances, vendors, exhibitions, and big crowds!  Last year I'd urged our young couple to attend, and they enjoyed it despite the very hot day; this year there were chilly breezes but bright sun. Unfortunately, the drought meant that the lovely ponds and waterways were empty and dry, devoid of waterfowl, much to Nathaniel's dismay.  

Inside were demonstrations of traditional art forms, including Ikebana (flower-arranging.)  Now, one Martin Herbach, a NYT Crossword Puzzle test solver and frequent flyer on WordPlay, the online blog that accompanies each day's puzzle, also happens to be an Ikebana Sensei (a master of the art.)  I knew he would have an arrangement on display.  When we entered the hall, I picked out someone who looked likely and quietly stalked him while we admired the diverse examples.  Picking a moment when he was not busy answering questions, I introduced myself, using my WordPlay moniker of 'Mean Old Lady.'  Martin exclaimed, "What are you doing here?" but not in a bad way, ha ha.  It was a happy surprise for Martin and a pleasure for me to meet him.  We met his wife (Japanese, also an Elaine.)   

I picked up this postcard at the Bonsai exhibition table.
Naturally, I had forgotten to bring my camera...

Our other Saturday plan was a potluck dinner with my nephew (and Nat's cousin) Ben Hilburn and his new bride Amy Malady (pronounced 'ma-LADY) at Nat and Karen's home.  I had made a cold pasta dish (cheeses, pine nuts, basil and EVOO) and Natty had smoked two chickens, flavorfully stuffed with olives and rosemary.  Ben and Amy brought a delicious chopped salad. Karen's fabulous praline cupcakes were a wonderful finish to the meal.  

Yes, this is how darling they are.

DHubby Don stayed bundled up a good bit of the time.  (Even on hot days it usually cools off at night.)  

Also present:  the three black cats.  Neo here looks uncannily like our beautiful Charlie.  

After it grew dark, we all repaired to the patio and toasted our toes and a few marshmallows around the fire pit.  

Lovely evening!

Rose 'Crepuscular'

Asparagus bed--post harvest

Lake Conway Mutti und Kinder