Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Hold

I guess I am taking the bulk of the week off from my blog.  It wasn't planned.  It just sort of happened.  I have oh so many things to share like dancing at reggae concerts with my mom, and putting up apple pie filling, cool, weird bug larvae in the woodpile that I think might be from a mud dauber, and trying to start the house on fire (not really, but sort of...a potholder went up in flames, but that is it), but school started again this week and I have been just too swamped with helping the new students and training the new employees that I haven't had a spare moment.

Adding to the usual craze of the start of the new year on Tuesday (the second day of school) I was informed that half of my student staff no longer qualified for funding and so they couldn't work for me anymore.  (That number has since been reduced to just two of my staff members which is still a pain and a loss to the library, but a significant improvement.) 

Its all good though.  I have a nice little nest-egg of comp. time to use up already.  I finished training the last newbie today.  Tomorrow is at LONG last Friday.  So...I'll be back next week with lots to tell.  Have a great weekend in the meantime.
A rainbow streaks through the smoky clouds over a cow pasture in western Montana.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Garden Updates (in Photos)

Our first strawberry crop coming red.
Peppers going gangbusters.  No complaints from this lady!
A lovely lavender eggplant bloom.
The volunteer mountaineer squash....
....and the biggest mountaineer squash we've ever grown.  Its probably twice as big as those we grew last year.  I guess the volunteer found a good place to spring up!
Looking across the beds from the southeast corner
Looking out from the northeast corner.
Things are coming along well.  We're picking peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, strawberries, kale, and herbs right now.  We're drying some sage and just put away our first ever sack on onions.  Its not a huge sack in store, but it is more than we've ever had before.  We just planted a fall crop of spinach and carrots last week so that we can have fresh greens again this fall and, if Matt has anything to say about...which he does, well into winter with the use of hoop houses as well.

Sometimes...

Sometimes you just have to stop in your tracks and gaze with amazement and awe at all the breathtaking beauty that surrounds us every day, despite all the problems of the world.  And sometimes you might even have a camera handy to capture a small portion of that majesty to share with others.
Sunset over the community garden sunflowers.

Delicious Summertime

And speaking of garden bounty and special summer meals we also determined that eggplant make excellent kebab vegetables.  But, then again, I think just about everything is fabulous grilled.  There is just something about that flavor that screams both "Delicious!" and "Summertime!"

Garden Fresh Pizza

As you may remember, I am a big pizza fan.  It is one of my favorite meals as it is so flexible to whatever is on hand, so filling, so satisfying, and so easy to make.  But, no pizza can hold a candle to the pizza made from just-picked garden bounty.  That is a special summer treat.  The eggplants we grew this year are an excellent topping which we've never had at our disposal before.  Yummy! 
The first red tomatoes of the year.  Always a cause for celebration for this tomato loving household.  This also marks the first year that our put-up tomato sauces and juice lasted all the way through to the next harvest.  We only had a couple jars, but we've never managed it before.  I feel like jumping for joy at every mile-marker of self-sufficiency. 
I am so glad we decided to try growing eggplant this year.  It has been the perfect super-hot weather that they are supposed to thrive in.  Well, they certainly have been thriving.  The plant is pretty well loaded with them
Basket-o-bounty!
Nardello and banana peppers, eggplant, kale.
Enough with the pictures!  Let's eat already!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Being

"You are not separate from the whole. You are one with the sun, the earth, the air. You don't have a life. You are life."

If you know any dog/cat lovers...who have  philosophical or spiritual leanings (or who have too much stress and in need of some peace)...suggest this book to them--The Guardians of Being.  It is so sweet and so profound whilst remaining wonderfully simple and direct.

Dogs and cats are prefect examples of living in contentment and joy by living in The Now.  They've no worries for the future or cares for the past.  They've no concern about their image.  They just are as they are, flaws and all.  They love unconditionally.   I'd read this book a couple years ago, but after talking about it with a friend last night I had to re-read it today.  It is illustrated by Patrick McDonnell, who draws the comic strip Mutts if you are familiar with that.  The words are by the spiritual guide (and in my opinion, genius) Eckhart Tolle.

While I am not a Buddhist I do find the Eastern precepts are often quite reflective of my own mystical experiences.  I have felt absolute connection and unity with strangers, friends, trees, mountains, animals, and sunshine.  An overwhelming and rather indescribable love and compassion and understanding and sense of kinship.  I wholeheartedly believe that we all contain the essence of the Creator--a part of the majestic divine.  Everything is sacred.  Trees, earth, wildlife, streams, humans, stones, waterfalls, stars, clouds.  It is this belief that encourages me to live the way I do--to want to lessen my negative impact and live with as great a harmony as possible with the people and the land around me.  I am not perfect in this, but I try as best I can each day. 

I copied the following quotes down into one of my journals when I read it the first time.  I enjoyed them just as much the second time.  I'd recommend the entire book, but here are a few of my favorite passages. 
----------------------------------------------------------------------

True happiness is found in simple, seemingly unremarkable things.

Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. How still it is, how deeply rooted in Being. Allow nature to teach you stillness.

Everything natural -every flower, tree, and animal- has important lessons to teach us if we would only stop, look, and listen.

We get lost in doing, thinking, remembering, anticipating -lost in a maze of complexity and a world of problems. Nature can show us the way home, the way out of the prison of our own minds.

Dogs offer the precious opportunity, even to people who are trapped in their egos, of loving and being loved unconditionally.

Every being is a spark of the Divine or God.

When you are present, you can sense the spirit, the one consciousness, in every creature and love it as yourself.

Love is a deep empathy with the other's "Beingness." You recognize yourself, your essence, in the other. And so you can no longer inflict suffering on the other.

The one life, the one consciousness, takes on the form of a man or woman, a blade of grass, a dog, a planet, a sun, a galaxy... This is the play of forms, the dance of life...

--------------------------------------------------------------------------
Excepts from Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle (with drawings by Patrick McDonnell)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

An Anniversary

The librarians.
This week marks my five year anniversary at the library where I work.  Its crazy how time flies.  I couldn't hope to work somewhere better than this place.  I love it here.  It has its challenging days...I DO work with college students after all, but I still believe it to be my dream job.  Here is to another five happy years!

Vintage Reading

We got a donation of older magazines to the library recently and I have just been enjoying the heck out of them.  I love the advertisements most of all.  They are so different than modern ads.  There are so many words and so few images.  They really sold themselves on their product, not just their image.   It seems to speak volumes about a cultural shift.  That in general we don't have time to read all about a product and why we should buy it, where it was made and of what materials.  We want it fast and flashy, cut to the point with a photo, forget the words.  Image sells, not content and quality.  Its a real shame.   I also confess to getting a real chuckle out of the strong gender roles that were such a blatant part of this era.  The ads telling me that I should be happy to let my husband get a Bell phone connection installed in his workshop because that is probably where I have my washing machine so I can use it to while I am doing laundry.  But, for all my chuckling at its outdatedness I DO enjoy doing the laundry and the washing machine IS in Matt's workshop.  I also adore all the ladies' dresses and how gosh darn handy the people seem to be.  There is a real we-can-fix-that! kind of attitude.  Oh how I wish we still had that.  Now we lean more towards the we-can-throw-that-out-and-buy-a-new-one! attitude.  We're not keeping these for our library, but have offered them up to a group of libraries nationwide to see if any of them would like these treasures. 
I had just asked my dad (while we were at the local minor league ballpark) how fast a baseball travels after it is hit.  I knew they had recorded how fast balls were pitched, but I never heard how fast they travel off the bat.  Turns out it about 47 mph.  Interesting.

Check this out!  Its a rotary mower like mine, but as a RIDING lawnmower...that you pedal....like a bicycle.  How awesome and whacky is that?!

This is an example of the awesome we-can-fix-it attitude.  How to Repair an Umbrella.  Awesome.

This was a pretty amusing and interesting idea for an article.  They did a side by side test of how many suitcases you could fit into a car versus a station wagon, complete with diagrams and comparison photographs.  In the end, the conclusion was yes, station wagons are worth it if you travel a lot.
.I love to come across a cultural treasure trove like this.  I really hope we are able to find it a new home.  I couldn't possibly send them to recycling!

Montana Peaches

A conjoined twin peach that I thought was awfully cute.  It only had one stem, but two lobed bottoms.
 I learned something new.  We can grow peaches in Montana.  I was shocked.  I guess I thought peaches only grew hot places with long growing seasons.  Not a fruit I think of when I think of Montana.  But, when we went to press cider over the weekend just down the alleyway was a peach tree so laden with fruit it was about to snap a limb.  I guess it doesn't fruit every year, but on a long, hot summer like this one it was going wild.  I am not the biggest peach fan, but I like them well enough to eat a couple warm-right-off-the-tree and to take a number home for a peach pie.  I've never made a peach pie before.
I emptied my basket of apples, but tossed in a few peaches for good measure.

Pressin' Cider 2012

Last year's exposure to fresh apple juice/cider was a real eye opener, I guess you could say.  So this year we were set on at least doubling the output, which we did.  In the end we pressed about 12 1/2 gallons of local, organically produced apple juice.  Woohoo!  I don't think I said that loud enough.  WOOOHOOO!

Figuring out how the motor was hung and in which direction it would turn.

Tossing apples into the crushing hopper.
As I mentioned last year our buddy Josh's parents own a cider press that belonged to Josh's grandfather.  It used to live in an apple orchard (I mean why haul all those apples somewhere else?) before Kenny (Josh's dad) brought it back to his house and started the work of getting it in working order again.  From the sounds of things many wood parts were reinforced and replaced with new wood.  The pressing barrels and mechanism is all original.  In the '50s the contraption was modified with a belt and washing machine motor so that the apple crushing is not done by manual hand crank.  The pressing of the pulped apples is still done manually.  Its a nice little hybrid.
The crusher is a spinning cylinder with little teeth that crush up the apples into little bits.

The little bits are spit out the bottom into a pressing bucket.  When this bucket gets full it is slid over under the pressing mechanism and an empty bucket put in its place.  These buckets have no bottoms so that the juice can freely run out.  The pressing forms the apple bits into a rather hard little cake so that it doesn't even fall out when you remove the bucket after pressing.  You have to knock it out.  We fed the apple remains to cows and yaks.  I'd never seen a real, live yak before.
Last year I didn't get to help with the apple pressing because we were in crunch time because of the Furthur Megavacation and general busyness of harvest and canning season at home.  This year I was able to come along and see all the fun first hand.  Actually, Kenny was pretty much set on me sitting under the shade of the covered porch, drinking wine, chatting and watching "the boys" do all the work.  I guess we were on supervision duty.  I did help though.  It looked too fun to let "the boys" do it all.  Josh's parents are awfully interesting and fun folks though so I kept moving back and forth between the sticky, amazing apple machine and the porch with its comfy chairs, fun parents, and mango salsa.
Josh cranking down the pressing mechanism, squeezing out that glorious nectar which is coming out the spigot at the bottom.

I like how happy Matt looks.  He really thinks this cider making is the bee's knees.
It didn't take long at all.  Maybe two hours.  It was an interesting and fun enough process that the time just flew by anyways.  Now all that is left for us is canning the juice into quart jars for the drinking and making of apple jelly (and hard cider, possibly).  After leaving a couple liters with Kenny and Mary, and Josh taking a few gallons, and drinking quite a bit straight away, we ended up with about 8 gallons to bottle, ferment, and jelly exactly twice as much as we got last year.  Superb.
Josh taking a sample from the first pressing.
I don't know if this will work or not, but Josh took a pretty good video of the apple press in action.  Its on his facebook page though and I don't know what sort of security settings he uses.  I'll give it a go though, just on the chance it will work.

I'll say it again. Thank goodness for free food.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

This is the peanut butter cookie recipe we copied down years ago off of a bag of flour.  We, naturally, modified it so that it is vegan and uses applesauce instead of oil since, as I've mentioned, we make our own applesauce, but have to buy oil.  It pretty basic, but pretty delicious!

Peanut Butter Cookies

1/3 cup applesauce
½ cup peanut butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ t baking soda
½ t baking powder
¼ t salt

Mix thoroughly the applesauce, PB, sugars. Blend in flour, soda, powder, and salt. Cover and chill. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll around in a small bowl of sugar until coated. Flatten with fork into the standard criss-crossed PB cookie pattern on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes until set but not hard.

Badger Faces are Beautiful

Sometime wildlife pops up where you'd least expect it.  We expected it as we drove through Yellowstone.  We expected it on the hike up Mt. Washburn.  We expected it along the shore of Long Lake and Lake Yellowstone.  But we didn't really expect it right next to our tent in the Tower Falls campground which is exactly where we happened to cross paths with a beautiful badger.  I mean, we see all sorts of birds and ground squirrels in the campground, but never something like this.  We were completely and happily surprised at the opportunity.

It was Matt's first badger sighting and my second.  We were sitting in our camp chairs next to the tent, drinking a beer and relaxing after our Mt. Washburn hike when we both realized that the raspberry bushes behind us were shaking and rustling.   After debating whether or not it was just our camp neighbors' dog (illegally) off its leash Matt hopped up on a tree stump for a better look and out came a badger!   The badger moseyed towards us (making us back up and quick!  I know enough about badgers not to really want to cross paths) coming within ten feet of us (too close).  We kept backing away, but the badger turned and angled off uphill another direction.  It hopped over a log and disappeared into the grass and bushes again.  We could track the movement up the hill for some way, but then the badger was gone.

As we lay in our tent that night I asked Matt what his favorite part of the weekend had been.  He said without a moment hesitation, "The badger."

I don't know...hiking to the top of Mt. Washburn may still have been my favorite part, but the badger was a very close second.
I was using my patented snap-wildly-without-looking-at-the-camera style of photo taking.  This was the only really salvageable one.  I wish it had more of his beautiful black and white face, but oh well, I have the mental photo.  It is better if you enlarge it (by clicking on it).

A Canning Inventory

My mom gave Matt and I boxes and boxes and boxes of canning jars and lids that she picked up at a garage sale this summer.  It was great and saved us quite a bit of money.  There were lots of jelly jars and as last year was our first year making jelly we didn't have many of those at all so that was an especially good bonus.  It was a mixed-bag of all sizes and shapes, including some square jars which are always my favorites because you don't see them as often.  Like the blue glass jars.  They are different and special. 
The boxes had just been sitting in a stack on the utility room floor since she gave them to me...months ago now I think.   There wasn't room for them and we were too busy to make room.

But, Matt and I (on one of our newly found evenings together) recently went through all the shelves in the utility room (which serves as tie-dye studio, laundry room, and preserves storage) and did some much needed rearranging.  Things had been put away when we moved in five months ago, but now since we'd had five months of using them and weighing the pros and cons of their placement (as well as some new additions to put away) we decided to totally reorganize. 

We took tally of our preserves still on the shelves as we put them away again.  There are not too many of them at this point.

We have:
3 qts. apple juice
2 pts. grape juice
3 qts. apple pie filling
14 pts. applesauce
2 pts. tomato sauce
4 pts sour cherry jelly
1 qt. dill pickes
2 pts. pears
1 1/2 pts. pear butter
2 1/2 pts. persimmon jelly
1 pt. strawberry-rhubarb jam
We actually had 4 quarts of apple juice, but the project inspired in us a strong desire for some of that fabulous nectar!  So we got out our extra-special heirloom glasses (which are used in every day living because every day is a special occasion) and filled them up.  I set the camera to snap as we took a drink and I think it completely captured sheer joy of the treat on my face.  "Oh man, that is good!"
We're starting on filling the jars back up now, at present with the focus on apples--applesauce, apple juice, apple pie, and apple butter. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

High on a Mountain

I've been trying to find a moment to blog about this all week!
 
I hiked to the top of my first mountain last Saturday.  It was awesome, something I really should have done long, long ago.  See, I've hiked up many mountains part way in my travels with Matt, but I never really had the desire to climb to the very top of one.  I was so happy just hiking the trails I didn't at all feel I was lacking for anything in the experience.
It may be hard to see, but in the center of this photo...on top of the mountain...is a tiny little square.  This is the fire look-out tower/observation platform at the peak that we hiked to.
On the way up we passed a woman panting by the side of the trail.  She stopped us to ask what the point of walking sticks were.  She was from Missouri and was on her very first hike ever.  The elevation was killing her, but I was super impressed.  She was dead-set on making it to the top.  She also asked me if I knew what "those red flowers" were.  I was glad to tell her they were Indian Paintbrush, one of the few flowers I can identify without my guide. 
You can see the fire look-out tower again in this photo, just a wee bit closer.
Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel.
For many years I also did lack the strength both of mind and body to push myself that far.  I was always of the “It looks AMAZING from here! Let's stop,” mindset.   Some four years ago I camped along the Hyalite Lake, within sight of the trail leading to the peak and I actively chose not to climb it even though it was only a few miles to the top.  I was tired.  I was content to sit by the lake and look up at the peak.   I will still be content to look up at the peaks—they are lovely from any vantage point—humbling and inspiring and breathtaking.  But I now know the thrill of pushing myself up, up, up and seeing the world from the top, too.  It is like nothing else.  
 
Lewis's Western Flax.

Matt, comparing his map with the view as we tried to locate a few different mountains and features.  The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the divide between the trees in the middle of the vista.
Driving on mountain roads or hiking along the trails one is frequently caught by the thought that everything is so huge, so open, so endless.  The mountainscapes, the countless trees, the big blue sky filled with puffy white clouds—they seem enormous and stretch on to eternity.  It is even more so from the top.  It is like being on a magnifying glass that enhances the beauty of everything somehow even though it was already stunning.   Even through the smokey haze (caused by all the wildfires) I could still see on and on, over mountain ranges.  Over the millions of trees appearing as an unbroken velvet carpet.  The clouds seemingly so close you could reach out to them.  It was quite thrilling and quite freeing.
Yellow Bellied Marmot.
Exhilaration and triumph.

Happy to be at the top.  The woman from Missouri took this photo for us.   We were enjoying the view and a granola bar on a boulder at the top when she came up the trail.  She hadn't given up!  She was very proud to have made it all the way and we made sure to congratulate her profusely.  What a first hike!

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” - John Muir