Archive for the ‘winter’ Category

Dell, redeemed

January 4, 2010

Redemption is a wonderful thing, in literature as in life. Despite my rather bitchy post last evening, today Dell, or more specifically a rather great technician, redeemed the company, so I feel obligated to make note here.

It took an hour or so on the phone with India, but my new wireless printer is up and running. Thank you Amit. I asked them to give you a bonus. . .

I thought I had waited long enough to not be hanging on the bleeding edge of technology, but alas, I was mistaken. However, all is right in the world now. I’m gradually shedding cords and assorted paraphenalia. My desk is a little more orderly, me new computer is still most excellent, and my printer works. It is unfortunately not a candidate for the 12-volt conversion that lets me run my DSL modem/router without the generator, but that’s OK. I don’t print that often anyway.

The stew is simmering on the stove, and the first of two loaves of our favorite bread is on its second rise, so dinner’s not far off.

This bread recipe (as I’ve adapted it, at least) is seriously simple and fabulously superb. I don’t know if it would cook as nicely without the serious heat generated by a wood oven, but by golly it works for me. There’s something soothing abaout eating bread still warm from baking with a lot of melted butter dripping from it, and we’re doing so almost every day right now. You know the expression “make hay while the sun shines”? Well in this house, it’s “make bread while the sun isn’t shining and let the other fire go out so the house stays below 85 degrees.”

I’m committing what some would probably consider the ultimate sin tonight. I cut up most of a piece of superb round cut as thick London broil to make the stew. I found a little local farm that sells pasture-raised beef, so we’re trying some. The hamburger is flavorful, virtually no shrinkage, less than 7% fat. When I cut into this steak, I just stared. I haven’t seen beef that color in a butcher shop in years. My mouth is watering just thinking of it. I saved a little to make minestrone later this week with some home-canned tomato sauce, but most of it we’ll just inhale tonight.

OK, enough, I’m out of practice at this. Ciao.

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Happy New Year, Dorrie, wanna banana?

January 3, 2010

That subject line won’t mean anything to anyone but me, but that’s OK. Something about 2010 just took me back about 40 years, and it conjured up memories of a friend long gone. So it’s a bit by way of being a salute to the past.

I brought this all on myself complaining early in December that we were about 20 inches short of our average annual rainfall. Didn’t have an effect immediately, but the last few days of the year struggled to make up for the earlier dearth of dampness. The river is about as high as I’ve seen it this year. It finally has stopped raining an inch-plus a day and the river is dropping a bit, which is fine by me.

I’ve got last night’s leftover bean soup warming on the woodstove and will go eat some shortly. There’s still fresh bread from yesterday, although it’s not quite as fresh as it was yesterday. Brenda found a great fast yeast bread recipe mid-year. I’ve been fooling with it a bit, and it gets better each time I make it. No pain, no hassle, just good, crusty staff-of-life stuff.

I think I could live on bread and properly cooked potates. Must be the Irish in my background.

I love winter. The woodstoves are going all the time and it’s tough not to just go cook something.

I’m off now, so the best to all of you reading this for the New Year. More anon.

Today. . .Don’t want to get out of the habit

December 29, 2009

Sitting here wishing I had a) trimmed my fingernails and b) got things cleared away enough to use a regular mouse. I hate those little slide pads, and Windows 7 seems to keep making decisions about what it thinks I want to do. But I’ve been reluctant to disassemble the clutter of old computers that eats up my upstairs desk until I was sure everything was working, Tomorrow I’ll try to set up the new wireless printer. Then I might get my office back.

English-style meat pie in the oven, and I’ve 15 minutes or so before I have to go feed the fire. Ben’s good about keeping it fed, but when I’m baking I prefer to do it myself. I don’t know if the English actually eat anything like this or not, but that’s what we call it–meat and veggies baked in a crispy crust. I learned it from a crazy woman who grew up in Corvallis but learned it from her English mother-in-law. Oops, there’s the bell.

OK, to quote Tom Paul Glaser, I’ve “put another log on the fire.” The pie is starting to look pretty darned good and smell even better. So I’ve a few more minutes, anyway.

We’ve had some pretty massive cold weather. The Big Elk froze clear across for the first time in about 35 years.

The plus is that we keep both fires going pretty much all day, so I’ve been doing a lot of baking and roasting–breads, pies, a standing rib with roast potatoes yesterday, piroshkis on Christmas Eve (a bit of a tradition in our house), cinnamon rolls, blah, blah, blah.

I must admit I’m very partial to being retired. It suits me. And I got an order for four more of my books today, which suits me even better. . .;^}

But now I need to go drool around the kitchen and set the table. Ciao.

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.

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.

The perfect snow

December 27, 2007

The perfect snowfall is something like this:

You tuck yourself into bed and pull the down comforter up around your ears. You fall asleep.

At some point in the night, you awaken briefly. The world is silent, totally silent, that peculiar silence that only comes with a heavy snowfall. You smile to yourself and go back to sleep.

Somewhat later, you awaken. The skies have cleared while you were sleeping, and a full moon is in the sky. The unusual brightness in the windows tells you that everything is white outside. You go back to sleep.

In the morning, you awaken to find the sun shining and the landscape covered in white. It’s pristine–no footprints, no cars moving. The fir branches are drooping with the weight of this heavy magical snow.

You perk and pour a cup of hot coffee, put on parka and boots, and step outside into the magic.

You don’t have to go to work. All day you play in the snow, admiring its the alien landscape. Then you go to bed.

The next morning you wake to find that all the snow is melted and the world is back to normal–no slush, no dirt, no nasties. The snow has come, and it has gone just as quickly.

This is the perfect snowfall. We didn’t get one.

Instead we’ve had 15-20 serious hailstorms in the last couple of days. The ground is white, but it’s white with ice. The road is slippery. The paths are slippery and crunch under your feet.

But the lentil soup (made with leftover prime rib, no less) is simmering on the stove and bread is warming in the oven. Christmas has once again come and gone. We all survived it. It’s a pretty good evening, snow or no snow.

Hope yours is as nice.

Solstice countdown

December 20, 2007

The winter solstice is expecially troublesome in our house. We are far enough north (approx. 44th parallel) that there is a substantial difference in the amount of light we get at different times of the year. It’s wonderful in the summer, when days last til after 10 p.m., but this time of year it’s totally dark by about 4:30.

Ben deals with it better since he learned to start counting down early in December the number of days until the light starts to return. Only a couple of days left now, so we’re all looking forward to the days being much, much longer. I believe it’s about seven minutes a day that the light increases. But psychologically, it feels like much more.

Some people take drugs for sinuses and headaches. I’m not one of them. So far Wii is working equally well, although it may be raising my blood pressure. I’m afraid to check. It’s time to go read the manual and see what those little crowns on the map mean. I think they mean you’ve cleared a galaxy, but if that’s the case, I have to go revisit some places.

But I have 14 stars, and I killed both the stupid mushrooms (goombas, I seem to recall from earlier Mario games?) on Yoshi’s head and finished off the tarantula, so things are going well. Josh is right, the game just keeps getting better and better.

I really enjoy the good Mario games. I like Zelda, too, but there’s a complex puzzle-solving element to those games that my brain just isn’t up to at the moment. Ben is much better at those than I am, and I’ve managed to give him my sinus infection, so he’s not very much in a puzzle-solving mood.

But Mario, at its best, is full of action and concentration. You have to pay attention when the game is teaching you a new skill, because you’re certain to need it very soon. This is the best Mario so far, and I’ll probably wear out the generator playing it.

Dinner in the oven–blackened pork chops baked with stuffing, to which I’ll add mashed potatoes, gravy, and spinach. I know I’m on the mend, because yesterday my appetite came back. I think I lost about five pounds last week (yes! but not my favorite way to do it) because food just didn’t sound good. But yesterday, suddenly, I was hungry again. Makes it easier to cook, too, when you can imagine how luscious something will taste.

Chilly, and chili (no Chile, or maybe just a little)

December 2, 2007

The subject line I just typed in reminds me of my current recent episode of insanity. Ben and I between us are trying to shore up the U.S. economy with a spate of consumer buying. Here is my most recent excursion, but probably not the last tonight. Later on we’ll be logging into Cabela’s Web site, which is probably going to be very expensive.

A couple of days ago, I ordered the full 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. I’ve coveted this for years. I have a real fetish for dictionaries, I think, that matches my fetish and focus on words. It’s not a minor purchase. Each time I’ve been on the verge of buying it, I thought, “Well, perhaps next week.”

But right now it’s on sale. I’ve never seen it on sale before. The price is 15% below what I’ve ever seen, and the sale price includes the CD version with full search capacity. I don’t want to be limited to that. I want the print version. But I’m curious to see if they have actually used hyperlinking and other modern innovations to provide more robust capabilities.

I’ll soon know, I guess.

It’s coming by UPS. We have an agreement with UPS to leave packages on the neighbor’s porch, since our gate is always locked. I can’t wait to hear Kenny’s call when he discovers boxes weighing 150 lbs. on his doorstep.

The post office has called nearly every day this week to let me know they have a box “too big for the mailbox.” I really appreciate the heads-up. It lets one of us be down to greet Betty when she arrives instead of having the package sit beside the county road until someone thinks to check the mail.

We awoke this morning to a skiff of snow on the ground. It was lovely. Most of it melted by noon, which is a perfect snow day. What I’d really like is to awake to six inches of snow, go out and play in it, and have it all gone by the end of the day. But that isn’t how things work.

The wind is picking up, as is the rain. So perhaps the promised hurricane is going to materialize too. I took down the doorbell tonight (a hanging clanger powered by a scultured maple leaf) so we wouldn’t have to listen to the wind knocking at the door all night. It will stay down until the storm passes.

So, it was chilly all day. Now I have a big pot of chili on the stove, with cornbread soon to follow in the oven. I’m slowly assembling the topping mix for a batch of olive crostini for tomorrow’s hors d’ouevre potluck at Donna’s house.

The only thing I can tell you about Chile at this moment is how much I love most of the works of Isabel Allende. What a fine writer.

But the chili is a bribe. Ralph’s hooking up the Wii tonight.

Storm watch

December 1, 2007

I can hardly believe I’m about to write about the weather again. The simple fact is, this time of year we get a lot of it.

Whether it’s global warming, 20-year cycles, or other strange phenomena, this forecast is just plain weird. Possibility of snow tonight. We generally get a little each winter, but this seems very early. But it’s Sunday’s forecast that really boggled my mind.

The weather scrutinizers are predicting that the first ever cyclone/hurricane warning is about to be issued for the forest where I live.

It seems the two recent typhoons in Asia have combined to send a monster storm headed right at Oregon–sustained winds in the 90-100 mph range with pelting rains and flooding. So we can anticipate power out, trees down, roads impassable, and other fine stuff. None of this affects us too much (except I’ll probably lose my DSL until they get the emergency generator up and running at the repeater). We’ve always got a couple of weeks worth of food around, plenty of gas for the generator (and chain saws), and today Ben refilled all the firewood racks in various places in and around the house.

Also, I got about nine new books today, a new New Yorker, and two newspapers. I also replenished the wine and Scotch supply, so I think we’re set. We could run a little short on meat and milk, but I’ve plenty of beans, rice, nuts, flour, and yeast, a fair amount of butter and evaporated milk, some fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, and almost all of last summers canned goods, onions, and winter squash.

Let it snow, rain, blast away, I say. With a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a good book, and hours of indoor stuff that needs doing, it’s probably a good thing.

I’m supposed to go to Portland Monday morning for a series of medical appointments–nothing serious, just the annual routine. It took great effort to get them all booked on the same day, then they had to be changed once, and now this.

So, if the storm materializes, I may just declare myself healthy this year and put all this off a bit longer. I’m very good at that.

Besides, we’ve got three new Wii games that need playing.

Rainy day, funny day. . .

November 17, 2007

I made an amazing re-discovery today. The tiles of the fire-retardant pad under my wood cookstove are actually white! Who’d have thought it?

The area under the cookstove takes a beating, what with spattered grease, stacked firewood (it’s a perfect place to dry wood that is basically cured but a bit damp), and of course, the occasional slop-overs as I carry pots back and forth. But Thanksgiving is coming, and we’re having a houseful of folks here, so it was time to tidy a bit.

Move the firewood, sweep, mop–a simple sequence. Then move the wood back, but this time onto white tiles rather than something nondescript.

White might not have been the optimal choice, but I elected to go for light in the area rather than a more dirt-hiding color. And at least I can tell when they’re dirty.

We’ve logged 2.2 inches of rain in the last couple of days. Very soggy here.

Nice treat in the mail, a book from my friend Phil in Cornwall, an autobiography/memoir by one of my favorite writers. I’m hoping for more rain.

The first of a number of houseguests arrives tomorrow, so the next week will be full of fun. I’m surrounded by cleaning detergents and implements, shopping lists, and the other paraphenalia that goes with a major holiday. Spent a creative moment today assembling an homage to autumn on my little spare table in the kitchen: a cornucopia, dried leaves from the yard, nuts in the shell, gourds, wheat stalks, and a couple of candles (which I hope won’t set the rest of it on fire–that’s been known to happen).

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is known in our house as National Throw Flour Around the Kitchen Day. It’s the main day of the year when I get to ignore the demands of real life and regular meals and bake pies and bread and croissants, map out a strategy for the big day, and generally create a huge mess. This year, with all of my new flours, I’m looking forward to an adventure.

As the days get shorter, it’s hard not to enjoy it–sleeping in an extra few minutes, dozing in front of the fire with the radio on, outside chores set aside for the moment. In another short month, they’ll start getting longer again, and things will start to grow, and the whole craziness will start all over.

 In the meanwhile–z-z-z-z-z-z-z. And happy Thanksgiving to all of those of you out there who celebrate it.