Archive for January, 2008

Major Burrows is history: RIP

January 19, 2008

Not only the snowdrops but the daffodils are poking their little shoots up through ground very nearly still frozen. Spring will be early this year.

But the really good news is that the pesky giant mole is dead and I can go on to worry about other things in Wii-world. Josh’s advice helped, but I really had to pay attention to when to thump-jump. My brain was somewhat foggy on the matter.

I’m still not totally sure why he finally died, but nonetheless, he did.

It’s hard to come back to real life, but back I am. Tonight’s dinner is my Americanized version of wonton soup. Everything’s done except the last-minute stuff. The last of the crystallized ginger scones from yesterday are sitting on the counter, and I’ll probably reheat them for dessert.

My daughter posted a weird dream on one of her blog sites today. http://www.inger.net/?p=126

Our concerns are obviously different, but she’s still one of my favorite folks. As I told her once, if she wasn’t my daughter, I still have to choose her for a friend.

Now to go boil stuff. . .

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Josh B., where are you when I really need you?

January 17, 2008

Buster and I are back. We had a grand adventure, as promised.

Buster is my little truck. I’ve never named a car before, but I’ve never had one wink at me in the dealer parking lot before either. It felt like he deserved a name.

Buster is the first car I ever bought all by myself (I mean without the help of a male person of some sort or other). I got a good price without assistance, and after somewhat over 100,000 miles, I think I got a pretty good little truck, too.

For the last 10 days, I’ve been a “residency assistant” at my old MFA in writing program. One of the blessings of being retired (and there are many) is that you have a lot of freedom in arranging your schedule. So when the call went out for program graduates who could come for the 10-day residency and do assorted stuff, I raised my hand.

My responsibilities were nebulous, mostly introducing writers at their readings and doing a little airport ferry duty. Buster becomes important in this part, because the airport runs were all on Sunday and Monday. You may recall that we had a little snow and ice those days.

Buster performed like a champion snow car (frankly much to my surprise), slipping occasionally but getting us safely from here to there past spinouts, head-on collisions and rolled-over semis. I never even had to chain up, which hurt my feelings not at all. The Monday morning trip to the airport over Hwy 30 took nearly 4 hours. The return trip, when things were thawed, was just over 2 hours.

In exchange for these light duties, I got to attend 10 days of lectures and readings by world-class writers, drink a LOT of Keoki coffee (just what my bronchitis needed, I’m pleased to report), and eat fresh seafood for a week or so in Seaside. I’ve OD’d on Dungeness crab and razor clams. The paying folks spend about $2,000 for this experience. I got it for free.

Long days of readings and writing craft discussions were topped off with evenings of sincere discussion of the curvature of space/time, Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems,” games of Catch Phrase, and other really important matters.

So I’m back. One of the things I found in Seaside was my Mario hat. I was sure it would improve my power star accumulating ability by leaps and bounds. But the truth of the matter is, even with my magic hat, Major Burrows is still kicking my butt. And I thought we had mole problems on the golf course. . .

So, Josh–what do I do about this guy? Several times I’ve had him running down the trail holding his rear in pain. Then he turns around and offs me, and I seem helpless to prevent it. Any suggestions?

The forest damage from the December storms around Seaside and Astoria is mind-boggling. Picture a hillside of a couple of hundred acres with a half-mature forest on it, thousands and thousands of trees 20-25 years old at a rough guess. All but about 50 of the trees are simply blown over, lying flat on the ground. The “survivors” are all broken off about halfway up. There’s not a single tree intact. It was like a massive explosion or meteor strike or something. It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in a long time.

I’ll write more tomorrow, but after all that fun and frolic, I’m really bushed tonight “and so to bed.”

Josh, I’m counting on you to tell me how to finish off Major Burrows before I throw the Wii controller through Ralph’s TV set.

Checking out, election 2008

January 6, 2008

Dear readers, this constitutes an alert. I may or may not be around in the very near future (read next ten days). I’m off tomorrow on an adventure (on which I may report later). But don’t be too surprised if you leave me a ping and I don’t respond for several days.

I’m surprised, and in at least one case pleasantly so, by the Iowa caucus results. Before I post at length again, it is likely that the NH primary will have occurred, and we’ll have other leading edge signals. I promise to comment at length then.

I’m old enough to remember the JFK buzz. I’m cynical enough to believe that politics as usual is not very good for the U.S. I find this election run-up insufferably long but incredibly interesting at this point.

Miss me, but don’t worry. I assure you, I will be back.

“Well this,” she said, “just chaps my hide.”

January 2, 2008

Full disclosure: There may be a rant coming here. In fact there may be several. At the very least, what’s going on in my head is what might be called “stream of consciousness.”

That’s a rather innocuous phrase, until we examine the components. I’ll ignore the “of,” a preposition that’s hardly worth its own dissertation. You can’t really appreciate prepositions unless you are old enough to have diagrammed sentences in English class or have read the delightful little book Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog, a history and examination of the diagramming of sentences.

But “stream”: Now there’s a word worth reckoning with, particularly if you live, as I do, with a “stream.” The Big Elk is, at some times of the year, a gentle little trickle that murmurs over mossy rocks and smooth round stones. It gives a home to crawdads (crayfish to you purists out there) and children of all ages interested in the art of skipping stones and wading. At other times of the year, however, it roars along with loud crashing, carrying 2-ton logs, lawn chairs, plastic buckets, and any other detritus that some human was careless enough to leave within its reach. A powerful word, “stream.”

And “consciousness”: A concept that’s getting a lot of play right now, mostly because for all of our scientific advancement, no one really knows what it is. For a long, long time, science argued that only humans are conscious. Now, setting egos aside, it would appear that consciousness exists across the animal world and possibly across the plant world as well. There are days that I would argue that even the stones here are conscious.

But all of this has little to do with my subject line, which is a direct quote from my daughter. She was confronting her freshman-English teacher about the amount of homework assigned in her Catholic high school.

When I heard the story, I was stunned, not because she talked back to a teacher (I would expect no less of any child that grew up in our house) but because of what she said. I’d never heard the phrase before, but it seemed so summarily appropriate to the situation that I was breathless in admiration.

“Chaps my hide”: This is the poetry of the American west, of cowboys and wranglers. It speaks of things so grating that we can only compare them to skin rubbed raw. But where in the world did my 14-year-old city slicker hear this expression? I still don’t know.

But I’ve never forgotten it, even though nearly two decades have passed. And there are, frankly, a lot of things that chap my hide.

First and foremost on my mind this evening is packaging. If is seems like I spend a lot of time worrying about packaging, it’s because I do. Reduce, reuse, recycle. I can reuse. I can recycle. But it feels as if I have very little control over the “reduction” of trash.

I could, of course, refuse to buy anything that’s packaged inappropriately. I’d be a lot richer financially if I did, because it seems as if these days almost everything is packaged inappropriately.

This rant was set off in part by trying to open various packages of things today.

I am a strong person, particularly for someone of the “female persuasion.” I have a lot of upper body strength especially. Some years back, when Ben had a broken foot, I decided to mow the lawns because they were getting rather shaggy. At the time we lived in a house that had only a wealth of parking strips (corner lot) and a postage-stamp back yard. So we had only a couple of the old rotary push mowers. They did a wonderful job, used no fuel except burned calories, and emitted no excess carbon.

But the grass was rather long, because it took me awhile to recognize that Ben probably wasn’t going to mow the lawn right away. So I went out to do it. That afternoon, I stripped the gears on not one but two old rotary mowers by trying to power my way through the long grass.

The lawn-mower repairman said he’d never seen anything like it in 60 years in the business. But it did have one felicitous result: I was forbidden to ever mow the lawn again.

What does this have to do with packaging? Just this: I am sick and tired of “easy open” packages that I cannot open without the assistance of heavy kitchen shears. Either they refuse to tear at all or they suddenly tear and explode ingredients all over my kitchen. Enough.

Especially since then I have to dispose of all that packaging. It made me mad opening it. It’s making me madder throwing it away. It frankly chaps my hide. . .

Goodbye to 2007, reflections, and a few interesting discoveries

January 1, 2008

And I wish I could say I’m going to miss this year, but the truth of the matter is, it’s been a mixed bag, so I don’t know if I will or not. But at least it’s been interesting. . .

Yesterday I heard of a Scottish custom for celebrating the changing of the calendar that I really like. At midnight you open the front door to let the new year in, then rush to the back door and open it to let the old year out. Beats the heck out of getting smashed and throwing up all over yourself and everyone close. . .

But I couldn’t help but wonder: What if you reversed the order and let the old year out before you let the new one in? Would it stop time for the moment? (I’m not usually this weird but I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on physics, and the lecturer has me thinking about the non-absolute characteristic of time. So that speculation isn’t as far fetched as it seems.)

There’s an article in the current issue of Archaeology magazine about the henge builders (think Stonehenge). One of the things we discovered this year was that we have our very own henge on this place, although it’s made of trees, not stones.

One of our serious landmarks is a very large (over 200′ tall according to my astrolabe) pair of Douglas fir trees. They escaped the logging that was done in the early 1960s (just before Ben bought the place) because they functioned as the tailholt for the tower cable (an anchor that holds the lower end of the cable in place). A piece of the cable still sticks out from where they have grown together over the years. They’re very very lovely, but that’s not the most remarkable thing about them.

The most remarkable thing about this pair of trees is that on the winter solstice, the sun sets right between them. It’s a beautiful thing to see and a good thing to know (especially if calendars should disappear one of these days, not a totally unthinkable event in these interesting times).

It’s very cold since the rain stopped, but that has its advantages, too. I started the kitchen stove first thing this morning because it puts out heat so much faster than the living room stove. So by breakfast time I had a hot oven, and we were able to feast on skillet-baked cornbread, bacon, scrambled eggs, and fresh, sweet orange wedges, the kind you only seem to be able to get in the winter.

One of this year’s real plusses is that I’ve had the time to become very good friends with my wood cookstove. I haven’t attempted a cake yet (mostly because none of us particularly likes cake), but I’ve run just about everything else through it. I’m getting very spoiled.

I discovered a piece of cookware I don’t have (Ben says that’s impossible). I don’t have an apfelskiver pan. I think that’s a very good thing. They look like a great deal of trouble to bake, and I suspect that other apple things taste as good or better. So I’m not looking for one.

And of course, I discovered White Lily flour. I’m still making discoveries about how to use it, when to mix it with other flours to get the desired result (for example, scones made with pure White Lily flour are too cakey for my taste, but if I add a little hard wheat flour (about 3 parts WL to 2 parts hard wheat) the texture is perfect.

And speaking of scones, you may remember that one of my goals was to find the perfect scone recipe. I hit it second time out, so now I’m messing with various additions for flavor. I used to think that apricot scones topped with apricot or peach jam were the best, but that was before I added some crystalized ginger to my plain scone dough.

The local co-op has a million varieties of organic crystalized or candied dried fruits, so I’m not through experimenting. But it’s hard to imagine anything better than that ginger. . .

One recent discovery is wonderful. Living off the grid as we do, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in flashlights. We’ve tried a number of LED mini-maglites with varying amounts of success. The problem with most of them is that a) they cost about $20, and b) they may be very bright up close but they don’t project. But I stumbled onto this weird little mini-mag (brand Performance Tool, made in China, of course, in a variety of bright metallic colors and basic black, but since I rarely chew on my flashlights, I doubt that there’s a problem here). It’s about 4 inches long, fits nicely in pocket, purse, or glovebox, uses 3 AAA batteries (don’t know the life expectancy yet, but with the LED lamps I’m expecting wonderful things), and projects its brightness about 25 yards (or roughly as far as you can shoot accurately with a pistol, even a good one). I liked it so much I bought a bunch of them ($3.50 each at Bi-Mart) and have scattered them around in useful places. I even have one by the stove for an oven light. And since I ended up for some strange reason (tied, I’m sure to a battery-buying binge I went on when I moved out here) with a surplus of AAA batteries, I think I’m getting a double hit here.

I think I’ve finally identified my mystery birds, and it’s so dumb that I really feel stupid. But I think the birds with the beautiful song are sparrows, house or song, I’m not totally sure. But if that’s the case, I can’t believe we’ve never had them around until this year. But they can come sing to me any time.

And of course I’ve discovered Super Mario Galaxy. I’m sure it will take me the rest of the winter to finish it. Most days I play only during the evenings when the generator is running and during the times I’m not busy getting dinner together or the leftovers put away. I’m trying to average one star a day, but some days I don’t play at all, so then I have to try to make up for it. The stars are getting harder and harder.

I think I’m basically too impatient to be a very good Wii player. My favorite approach is to run full tilt at whatever is my target. But sometimes my speed is better than my accuracy. This often leads to a less than satisfactory result. Come to think of it, there are a number of things that I approach exactly the same way, sometimes with exactly the same result. Hm-m-m-m-m-m. . .

Here’s what I’m hoping for in 2008:

  • Peace
  • More good weather than rain
  • Peace
  • A satisfactory resolution to my brother’s troubles
  • Peace
  • Lots of visits with friends
  • Peace
  • Some good writing
  • Peace
  • One belly laugh (or more) every day
  • Peace

You get the idea. . .

Now once again I have lumped so many topics together I’ll probably get another note from that guy who complained before, which is OK. At least I knew he read the whole thing. . .But I’m going to sign off. I’ve got to go write a poem about Appalachia, and I’m not sure where to start.

The best to all of you in 2008. Stay in touch.