Saturday, December 12, 2020

Gently 'round

When the candles are lit, the figures in the base go 'round. It seems to be a question of turning the paddles to the correct angle, or maybe it's more about the heat from the candles? This (what are they called?) doesn't come out every year, but when it does, I feel lucky to have something so clever, and charming, something I long admired. We found it in Solvang, a clever and charming town in the Central Coast, California. I think it's funny that much of its appeal has come to center around getting it to work properly! When I do think of it, and anticipate bringing it out, it is with confidence and certainty that we can make it gently turn, that we possess the knowledge to achieve the effect. Inevitably, it takes adjustments, contemplation, re-adjustment, some debate, a little resignation. Geoff almost always concludes that more candles is what's required. One year he had so many candles going it looked a bit ominous for sheep and an infant, with flames everywhere!

Speaking of lights, Geoff found more, and has been upgrading just about every lighting related thing in the house, and out of the house. If not for lockdown, I would hold a contest drawing for one family to receive a Full Home Geoff Speciality Lighting Upgrade with colored lights, synchronized, and automated, sparkling, twinkling, and wondrous lights. He is a wonder.

My contribution to Home For the Holidays is less focused. I practice more of a broad cast sowing approach to everything I do. I flit. I dabble. I come to a grinding halt and stare blankly at the middle distance. Then I spring back into action making Sweet Chex Mix, or stacking more pine cones. Recently, I pursued a link I found, on a blog I enjoy, Julia's Bookbag. I read the words Nordic Advent Calendar, and my soul stirred. It's possible that last year I would have shuddered at the idea of downloading an app, or found myself too busy for online games etc. And I would have been wrong. I would have been remiss. The beauty of this year (if we can call it that) is the ample time for online games etc, and I could not be more happy about having this pretty and wholesome amusement on my computer. I was a teeny bit hesitant, but I even sent some out to family and friends... I don't like to complicate anyone's life. Alex and Bambi recognized scenes and the ambience of Edinburgh, and that confirmed for me that these are worth sharing. I'd love to share a couple more, so if you like, leave a comment, and I'll draw two names.

Do you notice coincidence, or do you believe in serendipity? I am not sure whether or not Leslie reads Chickenblog (I know for certain she's read our Making blog, and there's a wonderful story about that!) Well, yesterday, only the day after I posted about Leslie, and me, and pinole, I discovered a gift waiting for me... seems the family came by with a new pinole source for us to try. It looks promising! I loved eating it straight from the pan it was toasted in, or sometimes sprinkled on an orange. It's good made like a warm, creamy cereal. And now it's the holiday season, one thinks of the very rich and special champurrado. Thank you, friends! I can't wait to test this one out, for science! So, was it crazy random happenstance, when I recall our first pinole talks, that Leslie brings me more pinole, or just a happy coincidence? Sakamoto, what do you believe?

Friday, December 11, 2020

Light, Merry, & Bright

It seems I was not only observant, but also progonsticating... Geoff really is coping, and thriving, by hanging lights. Lots and lots and lots of lights! First came those icicle lights around the deck, future site of my Hot Chocolate and Scones shop. Next he replaced burnt out bulbs in the garden with colored lights, red, green, yellow, blue. Then his ship(ment) came in and he really leveled up!
I think he said this is his favorite. Then again, I know he added a new one that I haven't photographed yet. There's not much that doesn't fascinate Geoff, that he doesn't want to try, explore, make, discuss, understand. But lights... lights are way up the list. Maybe that's why he's like a kid in a candy shop when a new flashlight hits the market, maybe that's why we have a single, long and oversized bulb over the dining table, among the standard, recessed canister bulbs, why in 1996 our house was the only one in the neighborhod lit up by black lights on Halloween! He is my light, showing me the way, brightening my day, keeping me hopeful, inspired, smiling.

The chickens stirred, bok-bokked. Google translate says, "Hey, turn down the sun! We're trying to sleep!

The sun goes down, and our lights turn up, in the front yard, in the back yard, up and down the stairs, and all over town. We want to spread light. We are making our fun, however we can, virtually, or secretly, right out loud. It's not so hard to understand how celebrations, and traditions of light sprung up, and endured, when light fades, and cold seeps in, and this year has put us closer in touch with the longing for hope and company. So we are happy, thankful, to recognize and appreciate all things merry, bright, and light.
Thankful. Thankful for unexpected gifts of care, and kindness, thankful for the postal workers, and delivery-persons, for local shops and artists, thoughtful neighbors, dedicated teachers, and medical personnel. I am thankful for phone apps, and stickers, for texting, and online engagement. And I am mindful that this year, this season, is terribly hard; for some it is much too hard. I am sorry. Every loss and trial is cruelly met, because we cannot do many of the small and great things that bring, and receive, comfort. Hold on! Please, hold on. Light travels, and the earth will tilt, and the sun will rise higher, and higher. I want to see you, again, when we can sit together, and feel the warmth of all the light that went out, traveling, to find you.
There. Straight up from the chimney. Do you see tiny Saturn, and brighter Jupiter? They appear to be converging, and their light is reflected, and traveling to us from 365 million miles, or more. On December 21, the longest night of the year, the Great Conjunction will bring Saturn and Jupiter visibly closer than they have been observed since the year 1226!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Full of Beans

full of beans

phrase of bean


lively; in high spirits.

"she was laughing and shouting and generally full of beans"

Ok. That did not mean what I thought it meant, but I like this better!

Not just any beans... I am full of heirloom beans. Early in the start of pandemic, when some foods were hard to source, Leslie and I went down a fabulous rabbit hole, where we found beans, and corn, and even pinole. Wow. I need to back up further. Leslie is a really fun foodie friend. She shops the international markets. She brought us cheese making, and Persian cotton candy, Pashmak. And one night, around the campfires, I mentioned my fond memories of eating pinole, a toasted, ground corn treat that is served in different ways. I shared my lament that I have not had it since childhood, that my Abuela told me their's was from a particular and rare variety of corn. I waxed poetic about it's nutty flavor, and confessed that I went to great lengths to eat any quantity I could. (I hope my Tía Santos forgave me: With willful focus and intent, when I was about 11 years old, I sat in her kitchen, wearing her down with imploring eyes, and sheer determination, for a small serving of the pinole she was preparing. It was that good.) Later that same night, after our campfire visit, I got a text from Leslie. She found pinole, and even though it was after midnight, she and I were texting and shopping online. I fumbled in the dark for Geoff's wallet (mine was downstairs) and made my first pandemic therapy purchase... beans, popcorn, pinole, even a machacadora. It was thrilling.

I have a habit I am not happy about, usually, where I save things for "special occasions." Too often that means that things go unused. Just ask my children about the infamous You Are Special Plate. I have made pinole, and even champurrado. The machacadora is pretty, and useful for preparing refried beans. I loved the popcorn. I fixed the black beans, and those were good. But I kept waiting on the Cranberry Beans. Finally, yesterday, I determined not to wait any longer. Make those beans, already, I insisted. And so, I did. Oh my!

The dry beans seem rounder, yet smaller than pintos, maybe a more pale pink. I should do a side by side comparison, maybe. Maybe, I am overthinking this. They are pretty.

I rinsed the beans, then soaked them for about 2 hours. They're thin skinned, and were ready much sooner than I expected. I got out my soup pot, warmed it up and covered the bottom in olive oil. I grabbed a few green onions, sliced those and sauted them with one very small, rather pitiful Anaheim pepper, a garden straggler. I let those mingle, while water was heating, and I drained the Cranberry beans, and added those to the oil, and onions, and tiny, chopped pepper. I stirred those around for a long minute, then poured the boiling water to cover the beans. No salt. Not yet. I let this boil, then turned down the heat and let it all simmer. I was already pretty sure I would not mash these, but serve them de la olla, as a soup, from the pot.

To keep things soupy, I added boiling water, so the beans are always covered. I also added a dash of crushed red pepper, about three garlic cloves, and when the beans were soft, I salted them. Oh, and the straggly pepper seemed kind of bitter, so I pulled those few bits out.
I have never seen beans plump up so big. I have never seen pinto-like beans keep the pretty little patterns after cooking. I tasted one bean... creamy, soft, delectable. I served a bit more into a bowl, afterall, how could a simple bean actually be this yummy? Further research and testing was called for. I am full of beans for Rancho Gordo heirloom, Cranberry Beans! This is no ad, they don't know me. I have already put in another order, and as soon as I hit Publish, on this post, I am going to heat the leftover beans for lunch, and live happily ever after. The End.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Hello, It's Me, Again

I am here to play a game with myself. I don't know the name, or the rules, but the objective is this... put aside fear, and grief, turn off notifications, stop trying to process or comprehend all that has come to pass, the losses, the challenges, resist the path where everything is conflated and ascribed to this year, to that side, to disconsolate beliefs. Mourning is a long journey, as are perspective, and comprehension, so I will take a rest from trying to unravel and attend to every issue, all the problems, from assigning meaning or significance to everything I see and hear. To this end, I am thinking of what worked, of what mattered, what I learned, appreciated, noticed, enjoyed in the Year of the Rat.

We are all together. A pod, a family. We cook for each other, and fold laundry, we make things, and play games. We have long, heartfelt talks, and find more love and trust, and comfort than we knew possible. We make this work, and make it comfortable, even fun.

I have practiced new things, like cutting hair. I always cut the boys' hair, when they were little, and I've been Max's only barber. But now I cut Geoff's, Maria's, and Bambi's hair. I can process Personal Protective Equipment, make delicious flour tortillas, and upload videos to YouTube. I've kept indoor plants alive.

In the first months of the pandemic, we turned to the garden and found abundance, even when the pickings were slim. Thank goodness for chives, volunteer tomatoes, peppers, and calendula, for nasturtium, and dandelions.

2020 is the year of the pinecone, and skywatching, stargazing, of campfires, and driveway theaters, of bike rides, beach walks, and running cables everywhere to get wifi. This is the year of Bambi teaching ballet, and working at school, art, interning, of Max graduating with a degree in applied mathematics, of William building a giant cat, and doing more consulting work in 3D printing. This is the year of Geoff putting out fires, and keeping me pedaling, of leading the way through developing and producing PPE. This is the year of Alex leading friends, near and far, on adventures in fantasy, writing scripts, creating worlds in Dungeons, meeting Dragons. This is the year Maria faced new and daunting challenges, and has been growing, overcoming, finding new strengths, and giving voice to her beliefs and visions, in words, and art. 2020 is when we finally put up a roof, and solar, when we designed and built a new space, where we will continue, and expand, our mentoring and making events.

This is the year I found that there are some things that are essential to my happiness, and I never want to be without them... love, and sharing. I hope to always make my choices informed by love, by compassion, and respect, and I hope to not only count my blessings, but to share them, as well.

We had another amazing sunrise, this time without wind, thank goodness.

There are a few places around the neighborhood where I can collect fallen pinecones. I wanted them to sprout, like ones I have seen on Pinterest. They make the most beautiful bonsai, small wonders. I don't know if I neglected them, or if they weren't viable to begin with. But they never sprouted, never turned into miniature forests, like I'd hoped. And I might even say, the practically cliché, "2020 fail," but NO! I was delighted with these from the start, from collecting them on my bicycle ride, from gathering little dishes, and planters. Maria and I played at planting them, with moss and stones, and even some geode pieces. And though they didn't "turn out," they have made me happy, as they are. They make me imagine ratty-rats decorating them for their holidays. When the moss is wet, it reminds me of Portland, of my Mom in her forest home, of my dear Redwoods.

I have almost reached 2,000 miles on the bicycle! It's time to pull out an atlas, again, and decide where I am, and where I am going. It's time to imagine, to believe, to hope, and to keep moving forward.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Sweet, Savory, and Sweet & Savory

Sunday night we gathered. It was like seeing a break in the clouds and running out to catch some sunny rays, before we all have to crawl back into our respective caves and lean-tos. We had one last chance to sit far apart, around campfires, and share time in each other's company, and I am so glad we took it. Last week my whole system (heart, and head) took a pretty severe nose-dive, and there's no denying I was in the midst of a very heavy, dark, pity party. Nothing that lead to that break-down has changed, but the get-together and laughter helped, and the rest is a matter of being too dehydrated to cry much more, and having enough perspective to know that denial, withdrawing, and simply not thinking about it goes a long way to helping me get through this. Then, while I am busy making the effort to not think about setbacks and disappointments, my idealistic, holiday hungry soul seeks music, light, pinecones, fuffy kittens, and online purchases. Geoff is coping by hanging lights. I am coping by collecting fallen pine cones and stacking them on open surfaces throught the house.

So, before the official start of the stricter lockdown, we did squeeze in another visit, and we enthusiastically asked Leslie to bring back that word game... what's it called? Just One! Leslie, you got us hooked! It's probably even easier to play in a house, with lighting, and everyone around one table, playing in close proximity. But Leslie has everything figured out, and she leads us with rounds of safe distanced play, using our phones, a spotlight, and easel, and loads of patience. It was fun, even though we went through a few rounds with some tough words to guess! William closed his eyes when Leslie showed the rest of us Just One word, and then each of us sent her one word to describe or associate with the word William would guess. Are you following? I don't follow games well, and it's always better to just play and learn as I go.

Do you want to try? If you saw the words: Molasses, Eyes, Buttery, Irish, Sprout, Salad, and Martian, what single word would you guess goes with all of those words? And I admit, this was a tough one, but William did come up with the right word. One more hint: the first and last clues are obscure, but excellent nonetheless.

After our game, after a nice long chat with Janece, William and I wrapped potatoes and roasted those in the coals, and watched for the Geminids. I only saw one meteor, but I know the viewing is going to get better and better, and I am determined to camp out all night over the 13th, because they are supposed to peak at about 2 am, and the new moon should keep the sky nice and dark. I love following JPL on Instagram, especially at the beginning of each month, when they announce what to watch for... What's Up, December. I had hoped we could have another driveway gathering for this, and Solstice, and the Great Conjunction... oh, that's right... I already nerded out about this. But it's so cool, guys! Who's going to watch the sky with me, but not with me, but together in skywatching nerd spirit?

Other Things. I made Chex Mix. And I made a survey/poll about it on Instagram. Also nerdy, I guess. I even tried to make vegan Chex Mix, concocting a kind of worcestershire sauce, without fish. I think it came out pretty good, but then Alex let me know that cereal with added Vitamin D is not vegan. Ugh! Foiled. He nibbled on the nuts. I started simmering spices and orange peel on the stove, and it smells lovely. And! I decorated the mantle, again. And even though Cairo jumped up there and started chewing the tree, he only did it once, and so far everything is still up and safe. OH! And the stockings! Every year it's a mad to scramble to find them and rig some way of hanging them, and this usually happens about 9pm Christmas Eve. This year I feel triumphant. I vacuumed the attic, brought out the stockings, created a sturdy and functional hanging system, and we are rocking the stockings!

Maria and I are thinking of making sweet ones, now. And we sat together trying to recall everything we remember from that one time we ate sweet Chex Mix. There's a recipe on the box, but the one we had was different. Instead of peanut butter, it went more towards peppermint. We have a lot of testing to do. Wish us luck!

The chickens and goats are doing well. It seems like the three flocks mix and mingle more readily than they did in August, and that's nice. I am keeping an eye on Liberty. She's getting on in years, and there are signs this may be her last winter. I can't think about that. She has had a very happy life, and that's about as much as we can hope for. I will think of those good days, and there have been many. She's still roosting, and getting around. I hope she stays comfortable.
Does anyone else live in a home ruled by their pets? Asking for a friend.
This was the view I woke up to. It made me spring to my feet to see it from the balcony. It was stunning. Before I saw this, though, Geoff and I heard the wind kick up. Oh, man. I really wish 2020 did not have to include Santa Ana winds. Seriously, it's too much, already. It's still howling. I could enjoy it, as weather, if it didn't put us on fire watch. Another thing... we have been waking up to mid-forties temperatures, but it was already 70 degrees fahrenheit at 6 am! Strange days. I won't think about that. Look at these colors and clouds. Even the hawks were up and riding the gusts, calling out.