I’m turning into my mother-in-law

2012-09-08 - Apple Cobbler Insides - 0015

Some women have a worry of turning into their mother, especially during stressful times. I have found through a quirk of fate that I think I’m turning into my mother-in-law instead!

She was a simple, though intelligent woman who died many years ago, a traditional homemaker who raised a large family in the 40s and 50s and never worked outside the home.

But as I review my current, semi-retired lifestyle, I find it remarkably similar to hers. For example: She rarely went out, except to the grocery store, the hairdresser and the bank. (Hand raised. Just got back from all three.) She had one good friend. (Hand raised).

She loved to cook Southern style, what we’d call today, whole foods, slow cooked: Home-made biscuits, fried chicken, apple cobbler, all made from scratch. Because I am mostly vegetarian and gluten sensitive, my style is different, but the same.

Right now I am cooking applesauce with apples from the frig, and I make my own almond milk, because many of the store-bought brands list sugar as the first ingredient! But I experiment–cooking beans in a slow cooker is the only way to go, and I have a chayote squash waiting for tomorrow’s supper. I notice I have shared her joy of discovery of a new recipe, the pleasure in the process and the pride in the final product. A nice feeling!

She was intensely interested in both her neighborhood and nature around her. She usually had a small vegetable garden and grew roses, even in the shortened growing season in Flagstaff. For me it’s the new covey of baby quail living under the Russian sage, and the pecans I harvested and shelled from our tree out back.

The fire that blackened Mt. Elden north of town was right at the top of her street. She felt the horror at that destruction much as I am living through the aftermath of the Slide Fire.

She loved afternoon TV and could quote you chapter and verse of the Phil Donohue show. For me it is books–I’ve currently embarked on an round-the-world cruise. Right now I am “in” Canada, and loving it!

But most of all, when I went to visit her, I loved the predictability. When I was in my thirties and forties, a full-time working woman, I’d rush to her house and let out a sigh of relief at her rhythm of life. The pineapple crocheted doily was always on the kitchen table, the same picture always hung over the couch, and the coffee (always Folgers) was brewing in the old Pyrex percolator that she’d had for decades.

I used to wonder, back then, what on earth she did with her day.

Now I know.

 

 

 

 

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West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon, R.I.P.

orchard vista

 

west fork reflections

 

rock wall

 

view from bridge

 

mushrooms

 

high cliffs water

 

cottonwood tree

 

cliffs with clouds

 

gravel beach

 

lichen

 

shadow rock reflections

 

bent trees

Rest in peace, West Fork, Oak Creek Canyon

Slide Fire Arizona Smog

Sky crane water drop

Sky crane water drop

Charles Dickens in his novels of Victorian England used to speak of thick, foul miasma of air that stung the nose and burned the eyes.

We had that here yesterday as an inversion layer crowded the smoke to the earth, grounding the air support helicopters and spotter planes.

I attended a community meeting in Sedona that seemed to be a platform for showcasing the dozens of support agencies working to control the fire.

The nasty little secret they don’t tell you is that to ‘control the fire’ they actually burn more. I was surprised to hear that the fire which had consumed Oak Creek Canyon would now be deliberately increased to three times its original size by firefighting units to create a buffer of safety.

What they mean by this is that the priority is to save people and structures, period. The pristine slot canyon that was West Fork is no more. What wasn’t burned by the original flash fire is now being systematically bombed with napalm-like fire starters to burn out the little that is left.

On the canyon floor, fire rings has been set around all of the structures, to ‘pull down’ the fire from the slopes of the canyon to the floor to save the buildings. What this means is that there will be a narrow fringe of green around the buildings, surrounded by char.

Who would want to live in such a place? Who would want to visit it?

Perhaps my initial shock and disbelief has now turned to the anger stage of mourning. I hold two images in my mind: one of the canyon that I knew and loved in all its serene beauty, and the other, the blackened destruction created by the firefighters who actually at this stage are fire starters. It is difficult to find gratitude for that.

The road through the canyon will not be open for a number of weeks, if then.

I do not know when I will be able return, or even if I want to.

I want to keep the memories I have.

Slide Rock Arizona Fire Loss

 

Arizona Daily Sun Slide Fire photo

Arizona Daily Sun Slide Fire photo

I’ve lived in Arizona for over 50 years, and for most of that time Oak Creek Canyon has been my haven.

I rode down the switchbacks in my girlfriend’s boyfriend’s ’57 Thunderbird, when it was brand new and we were, too. I had my Senior High ditch day at Slide Rock. I swam naked in the creek with one boyfriend and was proposed to by another, sunbathing on the red rocks near the creek.

Oak Creek fed my soul. When my first marriage was disintegrating I’d come down to the creek and stick my feet in the water and just cry until my toes were numb, and then dry my eyes and my feet and pick up the pieces of a challenging life.

This pristine beauty has been a sanctuary and an anchor for me, and I thought it would be always be there. Now it is not.

Larson_Newspapers_aerial slide fire cropped

Larson Newspapers Slide Fire aerial

In just 24 hours, with 40 mile per hour winds and 10% humidity, the fire started north of Slide Rock and raced through the entire canyon. What had been a lush, green oasis in the desert, visited by something like 4 million people a year, is now a blackened crater.

I should be grateful. Thus far no structures have been damaged or people hurt. Part of the canyon, the lower part, they say is still at present intact, untouched by the fire.

Yet I mourn what has passed from my life and never will return.

I can never again experience the healing green, the murmur of the creek, the perspective from the top that said, “It will be OK. This, too, shall pass.”

For it has passed, and this will never be OK.

A walk on the wild side

This past Sunday I took an early morning hike looping around Courthouse Butte.

Courthouse Butte, Sedona, Arizona

Do you know why it is a butte and not a mesa? Because it is taller than it is wide. Here is another, Capitol Butte, shaped roughly like our nation’s capitol:

capitol butte

Here in Sedona, we like to name rocks. This is muffin top:

muffin top

And of course, what else could this be but rabbit ears:

rabbit ears

The wind was blowing, so the birds were keeping low, hidden in the bushes. They don’t like wind, for when everything moves, they can’t see predators. But a Western scrub jay was out. They signal intruders like me with a harsh caw like a crow:

scrub jay

A gray vireo was also out. Their song is a series of chu-weets, lyrical and sweet:

gray vireo

It’s easy to stay on the trail, for the forest service has constructed these ingenious cairns made out of red rock in wire cages. (That’s half of Twin Buttes in the background).

trail cairn

 

The bikers don’t like this trail, though, because the middle of it runs through Wilderness area–makes it nice and secluded for us hikers!bicycle sign

 

The wildflowers are in the middle of their spring bloom. Here is a feathered dahlia. The white-magenta flowers smell like a combination of rose and jasmine and make a lovely tea.feathered dahlia

The strawberry hedgehog has a fruit that according to my plant book taste just like strawberries!

magenta hedgehog

You wouldn’t want to eat the yellow berries of this plant, though. This is the silverleaf nightshade. It is an invasive species, often found where there is overgrazing. You wouldn’t think that would be a problem here, but this area’s original name was Big Park, and there were large herds of cattle grazed here.nightshade flowers

 

Here are the berries. Poisonous, but used by native peoples to tan hides and curdle milk into cheese. All sorts of uses for plants.

nightshade berries

 

This little flower is called the Slender Gaillardia, also called the reddome blanket flower. The Hopis used this as a diuretic:gaillardia

 

We’ve had a very dry year. Some say we are starting a drought cycle. For that reason, water is precious to the wild animals. Even a small bit like this will draw deer for miles:

water hole no 2

 

As I rounded the bend, I caught a glimpse of our most famous rock formation, Cathedral Rock:

cathedral rock

People who say the desert is barren haven’t been to Sedona!

What am I reading right now?

Bookshelves

Bookshelves (Photo credit: gadl)

I’m a reader, always have been. I used to feel guilty ‘stealing’ minutes away from the necessary and vital things on my To Do list to read. I don’t, anymore. A friend has called me a scanner–that I read quickly, skimming for meaning. Perhaps I am that.

But a favorite quote of mine perhaps sums it up best:

“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” — Anne Lamott

So what’s in the stack of books by my reading chair today?

The Short Guide of a Long life by David B. Agus. I checked it out to check him out. He doesn’t say anything I haven’t heard before: exercise, eat right, be social–but it is always nice to be reminded.

Fooling with words by Bill Moyers. I like poetry; I like the intelligence of Bill Moyers.

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. She was featured on the cover of Time magazine not too long ago. I wanted to find out why. I wasn’t disappointed. A marvelous writer that makes sense of the spiritual quest.

The Healthy Headonist Holidays by Myra Kornfeld. She’s a flexitarian cook–fruit and vegetables always, fish once in a while. Her combinations are unusual and colorful. Fun to experiment!

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin. I recently discovered this Scottish mystery writer and have been working through some of his work. He understands people and how they interact with each other. I like that.

Bauble-Fest Fractal

The fractal geometry of nature by Benoit Mandelbrot. This is the French scientist who discovered fractals; those beautiful patterns that repeat inside themselves and expand infinitely. Wonderful illustrations and clear explanations by a writer so diverse in his interests he reminds me of da Vinci.

And on my Kindle I have:

Authors in a digital age by Kristen Lamb, which is The Best book I’ve ever read on social media and building platforms. This gal knows her stuff!

As David Thoreau once said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

I have a lot of ‘popcorn’ reading in my stack, too. We need both kinds. But when only the very best will do, I reach for a good book!

What’s on the tube?

old radio

Sometimes ideas arrive in your life at exactly the time you need them.

Several nights ago I was reading Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich by Duane Elgin. He describes how the commercial medium of television has profoundly shaped our culture.

Television stations make their profits by selling advertising, and advertising is bought by corporations to sell their products. And where does that leave us?

Elgin says that it creates an impossible double bind for viewers:

“People use the consumption levels and patterns portrayed in TV advertising to evaluate their levels of personal well-being, while those same consumption patterns are simultaneously devastating the environment and resource base on which our future depends.”

Strong words. But they led to me ponder my own relationship with television.

When I was growing up, we had an old Zenith radio prominent in the living room. My sister, brother, and I would gather around it in the evening while my mother cooked dinner and afterwards we’d return until bedtime. I learned to tell time by when Sergeant Preston and his dog Yukon King arrived at our house.

TV didn’t appear in my life until 5th grade. I have a clear memory of the kids (and grownups!) gathering at a neighbor’s house to catch the first snowy black and white picture. I remember wondering what all the excitement was about—it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

My child, of course, grew up in a very different world. She learned to read by watching Sesame Street and had favorite friends in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

TV gradually grew to be a constant background in my own life as well. That started to change about 15 years ago. Maybe the content of programs shifted or maybe I did. But suddenly the commercials seemed louder, or perhaps there were more of them. Elgin in his book estimates that people now may see an average of 35,000 commercials in a year. That’s a lot!

I found, too, that as more and more channels became available the content seemed to be degrading. Was it the garbage in, garbage out mentality that dictated what writers were creating?

Plots became simpler and sensationalism blossomed into an explosion of violence and sexual content. The definition of G-rated had come a long way from that first view of Elvis Presley’s hip gyrations on the Ed Sullivan hour!

And so, when I moved to a smaller home several years ago, I took the opportunity to take a break from television. I did miss it at first. There were blank spots in my living, especially at night when I got home tired from work, wanting to zone.

At first, I kept up with my favorites—Downton Abbey and House—via computer streaming. I compiled a list of 100+ must see videos on NetFlix. And I’d go down to the video store and rent a half-dozen of the latest at a time.

And then, another shift occurred. I discovered when I traveled, I no longer turned on the   I entered the hotel room. I was out of the habit.

I found to my disappointment that most of the ‘bestsellers’ at the video store were eye candy. Oh, they were full of sensational images and loud decibels but, as Shakespeare once said, “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I seemed to cycle in and out of the NetFlix membership. But that, too, is fading and I find that I am not missing it either.

So what has replaced it? Yes, I’m back to radio. Only this time it is the new and improved Internet version. I have discovered Pandora, which is the audiophile’s dream come true. It custom designs a radio station that just plays the music you like (sans commercials, no less).

I started out with my old favorites: Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel, with a bit of Enya and Clannad thrown in for good measure. But the software allows you, in addition to hitting the veto button (I don’t LIKE that song) to also say, OK, give me a bit more variety. I find lately that it is sneaking in some very fine guitarists and vocalists, often from Indie bands that I didn’t know about. And I like it!

I also have returned to reading. Some of it is also popcorn—the latest best sellers and mysteries. But in addition, I find I am reading a variety of other work. In the stack right now is  a  photo-essay on Bamboo, Pablo Neruda’s poetry, a book on good writing (of course!), a book on conscious eating, and Duane Elgin.

Although I don’t feel deprived, I recognize that the path I have chosen would not fit everyone.

But I would offer, in this season of mass, albeit desperate commercialism, that you monitor what your children are watching, absorbing, and digesting from the TV fare? And I challenge you to become more aware of what is entering your own world, as well.

I submit that the primary world can be infinitely more interesting than the shadows on Plato’s cave wall.

The day Miss McNuttle took her clothes off

Amazing Teachers

I went to high school a long time ago, but I still remember Miss McNuttle.

She taught Latin, both Latin I and Latin II, and Senior Honors English. Miss McNuttle was the prototypical spinster, back in those days when there still were spinsters: thick rimmed glasses, gray hair back in a bun, hospital shoes. We used to joke that she was a nun reject–that she was so tough the nuns wouldn’t let her teach in their schools.

She was so tough she could drive our star quarterback to tears with just one look–that look, you know the one. She was the only one of our teachers that you didn’t talk back to, that you addressed with her complete title, Miss McNuttle. You didn’t pile out the door when the bell rang, you sat there until she dismissed you.

So it was with much trepidation that I signed up for her class my senior year. Actually I was planning on skating that last year, but my guidance counselor flagged my schedule and called me on the carpet for taking home ec, art, study hall and bonehead English. I can still see that stubby pencil with the smeared eraser as she worked furiously to produce a schedule that my parents–and she–could live with.

That meant me and Miss McNuttle finally met. I’d taken three years of Spanish–no Latin for me!–but I knew her reputation. She didn’t disappoint. That year we learned how to diagram sentences, how to do word analogies. We struggled through not one but two Shakespeare plays and wrote countless essays that were carefully graded in red and required to be resubmitted.

But the crowning glory was public speaking. She said that every young well-educated woman or gentlemen should be able to speak in front of others. We wouldn’t be passing her class until we knew how to do it. Some classmates resorted to ditching on the days we had to emote. Others chose the quickest way out, stammering red-faced through the ordeal.

One assignment was to memorize a famous public speech and give it to the class without notes. Some of my classmates’ siblings had had Miss McNuttle in previous years, and they clued us in: the best speech to give was the Gettysburg Address–272 words, less than two minutes of agony if you talked fast.

The noon before we all had to go before the implacable judge we skipped lunch and traipsed out together to the track in-field grass, sat there coaching each other, prompting when we got to word 253 and were absolutely stuck. We arrived at class that day in a unit and nailed it! Twenty-seven renditions of “Four-score and…”, one after another.

We thought we were off the hook, but Miss McNuttle had another assignment waiting for us. We now had to give a five minute speech demonstrating how to do something. What do teenagers demonstrate that would be fit to display in front of this teacher? We put our heads together and came up with a reasonable list: tying fishing flies, ironing a shirt, making a Christmas tree ornament (that was me).

We arrived at class that day in a buzz, props at the ready in paper sacks at the side of our desks. But Miss McNuttle, waiting until the last straggler breezed through the door, had a surprise waiting for us.

She announced that it was not fair to ask us to do something she would not do herself; therefore she would demonstrate how to get ready for bed. We all leaned back in our chairs, welcoming the reprieve, however short.

First she took off her glasses. Then she peered in an imaginary mirror and brushed her teeth. So far, so good. Then she pantomimed taking off her shoes, one by one, unlacing them and putting them side by imaginary side. The blouse was next, unbuttoning one imaginary button after another. The blouse must have been long-sleeved, for she tugged a bit getting the last bit of imaginary fabric over her wrist.

Unzipped and stepped out of her imaginary skirt. Stopped a heartsbreath and smiled at us. Unhooked her imaginary nylons one by one from the girdle, smoothed them and lay them on the imaginary bed next to her blouse and skirt. Tugged and tugged at the girdle and finally shimmied out of it, tossed it on the imaginary pile. Paused another minute, smiled again, and reached behind her. She unhooked that bra–that bra so real we all could see in, even though it wasn’t there.

Smile at us all one final time, took a bow, and walked out the room. We sat in stunned silence. Where had she been all our lives? When Miss McNuttle returned a few minutes later, we were still in shock.

This woman, this mild, meek spinster explained that she once trod the boards, been a Broadway star “in her youth”. She affixed her black-rimmed glasses firmly back her nose and looked at us, making eye contact with every person in the room.

“Now,” she said, “Let me see you do your demonstrations. Shouldn’t be hard. I’ve shown you how.”

Ratatouille Afternoon

Yesterday was cold and windy. An anomoly day in our late spring. Unsettling and unpredictable. So what did I do? I cooked! And the birds and the wind kept me company.

Disney and his cartoon rats not withstanding, RATATOUILLE has a long history in the annals of cuisine. The exact recipe for this vegetable melange came from the Joy of Cooking, but, this post will give you, instead, my experiences that afternoon.

Ready? Here we go!

The major ingredients:

all the vegetablesOlive oil, eggplant, peppers (they suggested red, I only had orange, what’s in a color), zucchini, onions.

 

First came the eggplant and zucchini. Eggplant has an unusual texture, punky, light-weight, almost like cork. This allows it to soak up all the good juices of the sauce. This recipe called for peeled. The skin is soft and thick, unlike the skin of a potato, which is thin and crispy. Eggplant is filled with tiny seeds. Good thing they are edible, because impossible to get them out!

egg plant

 

At this point I looked out the window to my bird feeder and spotted a canyon towhee. What fun! Unfortunately, several window panes and porch screens got in the way of what I saw. Look close.

canyon toehee

 

Back to the ratatouille. After you peel the eggplant, chop up the zucchini and saute both in olive oil. The zucchini remains, well, zucchini, but the eggplant becomes translucent, almost like my mother’s old-fashioned watermelon pickles, which she stopped making when watermelon rinds became too thin to make good pickles. Can you tell which is the eggplant and which is the zucchini?

closeup egg plant and zucchini

 

Oh, look! It is a feeder full of lesser goldfinches!

goldfinches

 

Back to the ratatouille. After the zucchini and eggplant have cooked, you dump them out of the saute pan into a holding pot and free the saute pan for the next ingredient, chopped onions. My original picture shows red onions for artistic effect, but these are really too strong, so I substituted sweet Walla Walla onions, just so you know:

onion

 

Oh! Is that a Lady Cardinal? I do think it is:

lady cardinal

 

Now, after the onions have become translucent, add the red peppers–pretend these orange ones are red:

gold peppers

 

It is windy today. When I went out to fill the feeder, the wind chimes greeted me with music, and when I stepped back inside, the kitchen was filled with wonderful smells!

windchimes

 

Where was I? Ah, ratatouille. Along with the onion and red (orange) pepper, you need to add some garlic. The recipe calls for three cloves, but I don’t like a lot of garlic, so I’m only adding two. That’s plenty. You don’t have to peel garlic; just whack it with the side of a knife and the skin separates right off. (This is also a picture of my favorite knife).

garlic

 

While the garlic is cooking….oh! The black-headed grosbeaks are back for the summer. I’ve got about six that visit the feeder, along with the doves and sparrows. This one is the boldest:

grosbeak

 

Then you add some thyme. Did you know there are over 400 varieties of thyme? Creeping thyme, wooly thyme, lemon thyme. I don’t have a lot of time, so I add some common garden-variety thyme from my porch pots:

thyme

 

 

A quail! I have dozens that visit the feeder all day long, and they crowd everyone else (well almost everyone else) out of the feeder:

quail standoff

 

After the thyme add some other spices: bay leave and fresh oregano and basil (these last two I got from my food coop basket) and tomatoes. I didn’t have fresh, so I used canned, diced. Just as good. 🙂

tomato and spices

 

What? Yes! I knew I heard Sir Cardinal out there somewhere as well. Always a joy to see him visit:

sir cardinal

 

The final result, after eggplant and zucchini put back in mix and cooked at low for a while to meld the flavors. It tasted wonderful!

entire mix

 

A great way to spend a windy, wild afternoon in the company of good food and good friends.

 

Push and release

800_6365

800_6365 (Photo credit: binkwilder)

Ever take personal training at the gym? The trainer ignores all your moans and groans, loads you up with free weights and says, “Push, push, push” and then when you’ve pushed ’til the cows come home and your tongue is purple, they say “release.” Feels pretty good, right?

My week is like that. Monday and Tuesday I work really hard seeing clients. Push, push, push. Hard use of emotional energy. Then Wednesday comes and I say, “Ahhh.”  I also teach classes for my local university online. I work really hard Monday through Friday, answering emails, grading papers. When Friday night comes, when I have pushed through the week, I can finally say, “Ahhh.”

We need both the push and the release. I had a  friend several years ago who had a terminally ill partner. She devoted her life to keeping him alive: doctor’s visits, alternative treatments, special diets. Even though she knew the ultimate result, she couldn’t stop pushing. Push, push, push, with no release. My heart when out to her, and I crossed my fingers that she’d survive after he passed away. There was no release built into her 24/7; she couldn’t afford it, and her own well-being suffered as a result.

One of the most demanding Olympiad events is the biathlon. The Scandinavians excel–they ski at top speed for miles and miles, then stop and shoot for marksmanship with a rifle that they’ve had slung over a shoulder. They have measured the physical ability of these competitors: the best in the world. They are able to go from the adrenaline rush of high-speed skiing to the absolute calm of marksmanship, in other words, the push and release.

I like to go visit the beach; do nothing but walk the sand, feeling in every core of my body the push and release of the waves crashing against the shore.  We originally came from the ocean. I am wondering if the push-and-release instinct is hardwired into our psyche.

If so, we need to pay attention to what our body needs. Physical or emotional exertion, and then that relaxation release when we reach the end of the required effort. We need it; we crave it.

Push and release. Breathe. Repeat.  Ahhh!