Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Inspiration Thursday - Living is an Art

"Living is an art.  You've got you canvas and I've got mine."

Tales of a Very Reluctant Salad Eater

Hell might be freezing over as we speak.  For the people who know me best, well, you better sit down. 

*clears throat*  Hi.  My name is Beth and I actually like green salads.
Matt and I have longed joked that one of the reasons we knew we were meant to be together is that we were vegetarians who didn't like salads.  We could eat them sure, especially when it was the only vegan option available, but it was never something we'd prepare for ourselves.

Matt realized they weren't so bad at some point while he was working at the co-op.  He persistently, but gently encouraged me to explore the salad arena, but I was stubbornly resistant.

It made perfect sense to me how salads are a quick, easy, portable, and nutritious meal and I did want to eat more raw veg and leafy greens, but...

I don't like cold savory foods, with just a couple exeptions.
I don't like hardly any raw vegetables, especially lettuce.
I don't like cold, creamy sauces or condiments, especially if they're white-ish.

As such, I was just certain that I couldn't like salads.  Buuuuuuuut, it turns out that I actually do.

Michelle and Matt, two of my most highly valued culinary wizards, kept nudging me, encouraging me, inspiring me to think about salads differently.  Michelle actually blew my mind with what she defines as a salad making it all of the sudden seem reasonably feasible.

"Make a sweet potato salad with peanut dressing and green onions and corn and black beans and fresh red pepper for color."

Surprise, surprise!  I'd just been much too narrow and rigid in my thinking.  When I thought of salad I thought of the boring ranch covered iceberg salad bar concoctions of my youth.  Or of the even more horrifying potato or macaroni "salad" options that cause my nose to wrinkle in distaste.  I was limiting myself with all the I-don't-likes instead of focusing on ways I could make a salad that I actually would enjoy eating.

So what if iceberg lettuce is not for me?!  Spinach salads are amazing.  Even if I always think ranch dressing is gross there are so many other options!  Annie's Goddess dressing is pretty galled dang tasty, once I got over how it looked.  (Though I am in no way prepared to describe it as "drinkable.")

With that, I've become a salad eater (though I'll still probably balk if you give me iceberg).  I bet I've eaten more salad in the past month than I have in my entire life.  Not only am I adding more bright, beautiful veg to my diet, but I also cut down on my use of the microwave and take much more time chewing and eating my lunch or dinner...instead of just wolfing it down.  It has been surprisingly satisfying for me on all counts.

My current favorite is baby spinach with toasted sunflower seeds, marinated baked tofu, red bell pepper, and Goddess dressing--with a good twist of fresh black pepper.

My sister, Sarah, may be right.  I really CAN do anything I set my mind on.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Snow and Sunshine

"There is no bad weather, just bad clothing." 
- Norwegian proverb
Growing up in eastern Montana I was accustomed to winters that settled in around Halloween and finally petered out in March if we were lucky.  (Or this is what is seemed like anyway...)
That is not the case in my adopted southcentral Montana home.  Seriously.  It is a whole different world.  Matt jokes we're in the "banana belt" or the "San Diego" Montana.
The winters here are pretty much perfection, by me.
There is snow and cold, but not too much and there are sunny, blue-skied reprieves between the storms.  I derive much pleasure from the changing seasons.  I don't think I'd been keen to live without this dramatic play of light, temperature, and precipitation.  Each season is its own special jewel.  The first Bleeding Hearts and the baby birds of spring, swimming and eating raspberries right off the bush in summer, the rainbow of leaves and epic vacations in the fall, and the beauty of fresh snow, warm soups, and excessive board game playing in the winter.  And so on.
For much of my life I was pretty down on winter.  It was the "bad" season.  The season that found me bored and cooped up, deprived of being outdoors.  While it is still my least favorite of the four seasons I have realized within the last, oh, decade, that the issue might not be winter itself, but my attitude in regard to it.
So, I made a conscious decisions to embrace winter.  I prepared myself with appropriate winter gear from woolen socks to puffy coat.  I (re)discovered the joy of playing outside--sledding, snowshoeing, snowball fights, and a magical stroll through the neighborhood.  I even started some winter cycling, a few years back.  We recently went winter camping for the first time.  Winter is beautiful.
It is also our slow season and I've totally learned to love and look forward to that.  I breathe a deep sigh as autumn winds down and I know we can relax after the (amazing) hustle and bustle of summer--traveling, tie-dye gigs, gardening and so on.  I look forward to quiet evenings at home as they days grow shorter.  Matt and I play games and drink tea.  I work jigsaw puzzles and read with a cat on my lap.  And then just when I start feeling bored of that Spring comes and it starts all over.
It sure has been a winter wonderland, too.  Record-breakingly so.
Following a wet perfect-for-snowman-building storm in November Winter waited until December to start in earnest.  January was a minor reprieve, but winter's grip just hasn't really let up yet.  This is fairly unusual, in my experience, for our relatively mild wintered city.  This lead me to have a dorky good time looking over some historical local data from the National Weather Service recently.
Snow fell 21 out of 31 days in December with late December bringing two days of record-setting snowfall--2.3 inches on December 27th (previous record 2 inches in 1934) and 8.9 inches on December 29th (previous record 4.1 inches in 2010).  At the height of the storm on December 29th the snow was falling at one inch per hour.
With 25.3 inches of total snowfall December was the 3rd snowiest month in the past 84 years (the record being 30.4 inches in 2016).  This is still well above the December average of 8.2 inches of snow though.
January was a bit milder with only 7 inches of snow (when the average is 8.4 inches) so we caught a little bit of a break there.
The capper though is that is has been colder than normal for the past three months.  Both December and February were a full 3.5 degrees colder than usual.  January was half a degree colder than average.  While 3.5 degrees might not seem like a lot, it really is.
As February wrapped up there had been a total of 76.9 inches of snow since July 1 (the point in time that the National Weather Service uses to differentiate between winter seasons).  That amount broke the previous record from the winter of 1977-78 and put us at 44 inches above the expected norm.
At one point city snow removal employees were working 12-hour shifts around the clock to try to keep on top of it.  I wish I could say that I was surprised to hear so many of my fellow citizens complain about how it still wasn't good enough despite the effort and expense expended.
All in all there would be five days in the short month of February which would either break or tie historical records for daily snowfall and would ultimately rack up 32.4 inches of snow, shattering the monthly average of just 6.2 inches.  That makes it the 2nd snowiest February in 84 years, missing the 2014 record by 4.6 inches. 
We are now at 83.8 inches of snow for this winter as of the first week of March.  The 2017-2018 snow season is still behind the winter of 2013-2014 that got 103.5 inches, the highest season on record.  So, we've got a ways to go before coming close to that record.  I'll enjoy it if it comes, but I also enjoyed how free and clear that Poly bicycle lane was this afternoon as I pedaled to work.
Photos from November 2017 - March 2018.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mount Rainier's Glacier Gardens

Glacier Gardens
One upon a mountainside glade
The Universe lost her mind
With flowers
Rosy, crimson, purple, lavender
White upon white upon white
Yellows lemon hued to palest of sunlight
Rolling out from forest wall to horizon swell
They rubbed elbows and jockeyed about
For their own small space in the sun
Until a carpet was made
Fit for a Queen
And for me.

Once upon a spectral brae
The Earth groaned and moaned
Steadily shattering stone and silence
So ungodly bright as to sting the eyes
Blinding with beautiful whiteblue brilliance
Stumbling over shards of these former mountains
To a single boulder throne
Like a solitary snaggled tooth
Sticking up from the surrounding snow
Fit for a Queen
Such as me.
All photos from one magical day in the Sunrise Area of Mount Rainier National Park back in August 2016, primarily Berkely Park (where I saw the most flowers I've ever seen in one place) and Emons Glacier (where the ice was moaning and creaking and Matt nearly went blind from the sun-on-snow-and-ice).

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Gold Star for Reasonable Packaging - Mesa Verde

I collect souvenir patches from the national parks we explore.  I plaster my waistpack with them and, as such, take them along on the next adventure.  This practice, unexpectedly, gives me an opportunity to talk about packaging waste--and how we can do better.
It was simpler (and less disheartening) in many ways before I contemplated packaging waste--back when I selected a beer completely on taste and didn't consider if it came in a can (recyclable) or bottle (not).  Now I think about the garbage left behind with each of these purchases.  It is one of the reasons a household goal for this year is to make our own non-dairy milks.  Those aseptic cartons are one of our primary sources of non-recyclable, non-reusable rubbish.

This awareness is a blessing though, even if I do say it was simpler back then.  Ignorance is not bliss, not really anyway.  It is just a classic example of the not-in-my-back-yard approach to living.  The garbage still exists and must be dealt with regardless of whether consumers are aware of this fact or not.  There is a nauseating amount of plastic floating around in the ocean, strangling sea turtles and choking albatrosses.  Convenience seems to be valued above all else.  This bums me out, but I wouldn't go back to my ignorance.

I, for one, want to be conscious about how my choices impact natural resource use.   Earth Overshoot Day last year was on August 2, 2017.  That means we borrowed from future generations for an entire third of the year.  I am not okay with that.  We can do better.  We need to do better.  It is clear to me that our cultural values and priorities require some reflection.

Resource management is tricky, I realize.  There are a lot of factors at play.  But there is certainly some low hanging fruit, if you ask me, especially for my fellow first-worlders.  This includes boycotting plastic drinking straws and throwaway plates/cutlery, for example, and demanding (through both our spending habits and our voices) a move away from the excessive packaging of most consumer goods.  It can be done if we decide it is important enough.

Example:  The Mesa Verde souvenir patch was adhered to a plain, unbleached square of paperboard with two small staples.  Meanwhile, the Great Sand Dunes patch was adhered to a glossy paperboard square with three globs of sticky elastic goo and then the whole unit was further secured inside a plastic wrapper.
A Gold Star for Mesa Verde's minimalist packaging.
I'd rather save the plastic in that bag for something where plastic is much more critical, say, in the healthcare industry for keeping unsanitary dust and dirty fingers away from a lifesaving syringe, a premie baby, or something.    Or even to protect and safe guard highly perishable food en route to our tables (though food packaging is something I have concerns about, too). 

It strikes me as total overkill for a souvenir patch in a teeny-tiny visitor's center though.
These things are little, but the little things add up.  Recycling is good.  Reducing is even better.