Enduring good

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“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.”

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

It is easy to watch the news or scroll through Facebook or read the paper–however we get our news–and think that humanity is just plain doomed. And in a sense, we are. As of right now, no one gets to live forever, so we all carry our own little seed of doom around with us. Humans are bad for the planet and we’re bad for each other. According to the news, the only thing we’re particularly good at is destruction.  There is truth here, but it certainly isn’t the whole truth.

Someone shared this Estes quote with me today, and it was like being handed one of those enormous bundles of balloons that I always wished for as a child. If it could carry kids away on adventures in cartoons and storybooks, I wanted it, too. How cool would it be to soar over Mt. Everest without having to climb it…?  I haven’t yet had the opportunity to actually attach myself to a huge bunch of balloons and float away, but hopeful words like this make my brain and heart feel like they are holding tight to those strings.

When I think about all of the problems faced in just my little tiny dot of a town on the map of the world, I am overwhelmed. When I think about the problems faced in schools, in the environment, in our current political climate, in international relations…well, I’m pretty sure my mental overload meter is on red. It is too easy for me to look at the big picture, and think about how powerless I am in the face of it. Estes’s quote reminds me that I don’t have to focus on the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art, but can choose a wing to get to know.

In Estes’s quote, I hear echoes of Mother Theresa. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” We can contribute to the accumulation of acts and tip the scales toward enduring good.

 

The beautiful in the ordinary

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My friend Lee Ann has days she refers to as “pink stone days.” They are days that are magical, either because of the beautiful in the ordinary, or because they are extraordinary.

I don’t have a name for those kinds of days, but I may need to come up with one. I’ve had two of them this weekend, and it has been magical. Both yesterday and today, the sun was out bright and warm. Yesterday, we had lunch on the patio with friends, and then later walked over to check out their maple sap boiling operation (and got a half gallon of maple syrup! Tapped from the woods just to the northwest of our house!) and go out to dinner. The maple house was built by the neighbor by hand, including the wood burners under his pans. It is a beautiful building, and amazing to see the ingenuity that has gone into the set-up.

Today, we did some outdoor work, took a nice hike with the dogs, had a beer with a friend, and then we were invited by him to walk his land–over 80 acres of wooded hills and vales, with a cold, clear stream running through it.

The walk alone would have been magical, but our friend also narrated what we were seeing. Larry and I have come to rural living late in life, and don’t have the knowledge of the woods and the area around us that many of our neighbors do. When they’re willing to share that knowledge, we are willing students. We learned that where our house sits was probably once under the waters of Lake Champlain, and the ridge above and behind our house was an island. We saw a bear den, coyote den, porcupine tree, (the mound of porcupine poop around its base was about two feet tall at its highest point…needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like it) and deer skeleton that was relatively recently left by the coyotes.

We learned how to approximate the age of a deer by looking at its teeth, and to tell if a skull was male or female. He thought this one might be an approximately six to eight year old female. Her fur was scattered across an area about 25 feet long to the south of the skeleton, and our friend was able to paint us a picture of what the capture, kill, and aftermath might have looked like. It sounds gruesome, but when it is in this kind of setting, where wildlife lives a wild life, it just seems natural (if a little sad).

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There is no doubt in my mind that when I can spend time outside in the sunshine, I am a happier person. To have the opportunity to be with friends and our dogs, learn new things, relax with a few beers on the patio, and enjoy each others company made this a “surrounded by the beautiful in the ordinary” kind of weekend.

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Ahhh…

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Today was the kind of day I wait all winter for: not too warm, so we can gradually get used to being warm, but warm enough to have lunch and a few beers outside with friends. (Hot dogs! On the grill!) The above photo was taken around 4:30 or 5; otherwise, we had abundant sunshine all day.  I haven’t figured out yet whether or not the pink tinge on my face is windburn or a hint of sun, but it’s nice not to look like I dust my face with powdered sugar. Winter pallor: not sexy. On the other hand, it means it’s time to break out the sunscreen again. Not so sorry about that.

I used to think my favorite season was summer, but I’ve come to realize over the last five or so years that the excitement I feel as I walk around the yard greeting the first buds on trees and the plants pushing up through the ground may mean that my favorite season is spring. Daffodils! Tulips! Lilacs!

I’m feeling a little giddy at the thought of all of those flowers.

A little love for the rutabaga

 

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There are a lot of recipes out there to try. Most of the time, I’m thrilled that I can type ingredients into a search box–almost any combination of ingredients–and come up with a recipe that someone has made. Chili, butternut squash, and lime? Here’s your recipe. Thyme, carrots, and lemon? The web pulls up a bajillion options.

With all of this food creativity at my fingertips, it’s not often that something gets made more than once. If it does, it has to be mighty tasty AND have ingredients I’m likely to have around. I have a well-stocked pantry, but there are limits to what I’ll add to it (mainly because it’s full…). One recipe that is on the yearly rotation, in mass quantities when tomatoes are ripe, is a simple Tomato Mozzarella Pie (par-baked pie crust, a bed of mozzarella, a sprinkling of fresh slivered basil, a layer of thickly cut tomatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil. Bake at 400 for 35 minutes, let cool for 15). By July, I’m dreaming of it.  Another is Spaghetti Squash Carbonara–or it will be a yearly thing, now that I know about it. I’ve already made it twice, and it’s on deck for our dinner Sunday night.

Recipes that use vegetables I’ve grown are a huge plus, obviously, so I’m always looking for new things to do with root vegetables other than simply roasting them. Last year, Eating Well had a goat cheese and rutabaga puree in one of it’s holiday issues. I made it–Thanksgiving, I think–and really liked it. I liked it so much that fast-forward to today and my last two pounds of rutabagas, I remembered it. We had it with roasted chicken and this recipe for dinner.

The rutabaga doesn’t get a lot of love. It looks complicated to break down, it has a pungent smell–it’s kind of horseradishy-cabbagey to me, though I don’t know if that’s how others read it, and it’s not the blank slate of a potato. The breaking-it-down issue is easily dealt with: cut the long root off at the base of the bulb, cut the stem off where it starts to spread out at the top of the bulb, and peel it. I use a regular peeler, but a Y-shaped peeler also works. Cut it up (use a sharp knife and lay a flat end on the cutting board to keep it stable–it’s harder than a potato) according to your recipe and you’re ready for good eating. A cooked rutabaga is mild, with buttery, cabbagey, earthy tastes. Roast it, boil it, mash it, cook it low-and-slow in a stew, but make sure you give it a shot. If you like all the other flavors included, I recommend starting with this recipe.

This is where I got the picture:https://klamathlakefoodexplorer.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/rutabaga-goes-to-aerie-acre/  Oddly enough, even with all of my veggie pics, I don’t have one of my rutabagas. I’ll have to fix that next fall.

You wish you were this sexy…

On the list of topics for my blog, I’d have to say that my upper lip has not always been high up there. But since it’s about three times its normal size right now, it’s kind of the center of my attention.

This isn’t the first time this has happened; December and January saw some inflating, though not quite as impressive as today’s. The first time, I was picking up groceries at a local drop for a Wholeshare group I belong to and then taking the dogs for a walk.  I popped a mint into my mouth, and it seemed that within seconds, it felt like a knot formed at the center of my lip and then the left side swelled up. I thought it might be the mint, so I stayed away from them, and then a few days later, the same thing happened. This time there was a variation, and the right side of the lip swelled. A few weeks later, the whole lip.  Still no mints, so I decided that wasn’t it and started eating them again.

I went through the rest of January, all of February, and nine days in March without it happening, so I was surprised when I felt that knot forming again this morning. It happened right after licking the spoon I used to measure out walnut oil into my salad dressing, so maybe it’s walnuts? I can’t remember if I had been eating them the first few times.  I hope it’s not that. Think of all those plant-based omega-3’s I’ll miss out on if I’m allergic to walnuts! (Of course, that’s my first concern. It has nothing to do with all of the brownies with walnuts that I’ll have to miss out on…)

As far as allergic reactions go–or whatever this is; I’m not convinced it’s an allergy–this doesn’t seem too bad. It’s not painful, just mildly uncomfortable. The worst part is having to go out in public, but given the fact that a lot of the public seems hell-bent on nominating The-Toupee-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for president, I might not mind interacting with them a bit less right now. The swelling lasts less than 24 hours, and an enforced day at home…well, the punishment doesn’t seem so bad.

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Wouldn’t you know, though? This doozy (it’s the worst one so far) happened the same day that I get to see my husband for the first time in almost two weeks. Oh well, some women pay for lips like this, right? I can tell him I’m testing it out before I pay to get both of them done.

Hurry up and wait

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The best advice I have about spring is the advice I find hardest to follow.

Wait.

It was mid-60’s here today, with moments of sunshine that were warm and not just bright, like they have been for the last three months. If a gardener was tempted to stick seeds in the ground, the sodden, cold mud that’s just below the surface of mulch and debris would be a good reminder that it will be awhile. But, oh, it’s tempting to think I can be out there planting things.

Instead, the first warm spring day of the year is reserved for clean-up. I do most of the vegetable garden in the fall, and some tidying of the flower beds if I get around to them. But by October, I’m tired. I’m ready to be done for a few months, and I’m canning my brains out to preserve vegetables and fruits for the winter. (I don’t even put that much up, in comparison to some–most?– people who can. I have no idea how they do it.) So, if I’m being honest, flower bed clean-up isn’t high on the list.

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I don’t feel too badly about that admission, though, because except taking out things like peonies and phlox that can over-winter powdery mildew, most of what I leave has seeds for birds, and provides shelter for critters. In fact, the catmint could probably hide a small city, it’s such a matted, enormous clump. Another benefit is that the hydrangea mop heads, echinacea seed heads, lily seedpods, and grasses offer some visual interest in an otherwise bare garden. (That picture is post today’s clean-up. I’m leaving the grass and hydrangea, because things are still pretty bare…)

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Finally, spring clean-up is like a discovery expedition.  Cutting back the catmint and spearmint, I found the green whorls of tiny new foliage. The day lilies were already putting up new green beneath the flattened gray foliage of last year, and under the mulch, the reddish tips of a peony were showing. One patch of chives is also on its way, though I had to look pretty closely to find it. Exciting stuff. (And probably puzzling to the drivers going by while I had my head practically hidden in the juniper and my bum in the air while I was looking for the chives.)

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I also planted some seeds today, which helps with that “I’d like to have my fingers in the dirt” feeling that I get around the end of February. Celeriac, escarole, leeks, and bunching, red, and yellow onions are nestled in their pods, sitting on a heat mat under the grow lights. The escarole should be the first thing that comes up; I’m looking forward to the excitement that comes with that first tiny green.

This first spring day is usually also a good reminder of muscles that winter makes me forget I have. My calves, hamstrings, and shoulder muscles are moaning quietly in sympathy with each other after the three and a half hours of bending, reaching, crawling, lifting, and pulling. Because heaven forbid I start slowly.

The aches and pains are okay, though. On the northwest side of the house, there’s a witch hazel getting ready to bloom for the first time since I planted it a few years ago. Those scraggly, wispy, crimson flowers–followed by a profusion of others from spring through fall–make everything worth it.

Repurpose

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Despite the cookie-cutter set-up of each show, (which is true of all of the reality shows on television) I find I have been completely sucked in by “Fixer Upper” on HGTV. Joanna and Chip make me laugh, and the houses they re-do are just beautiful when completed. If Larry and I ever win the lottery, I’m going to see if I can convince them to come renovate our garage.

One of the things I like so much about the show is how they try to repurpose as many materials as they can. The table in the picture is from a shop I was in with friends this past Saturday, and I loved the use of old doors. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with the two doors against the wall, but I think turning lovely old doors and table legs into new pieces always looks so pretty.

I wish I had more confidence about my ability to do those kinds of things. If I could just get the mind-set of, “If it doesn’t work, take it apart and start over,” it would help.  It’s funny, because that’s how I approach gardening and cooking, and I approached lesson-planning that way. I just haven’t been able to extend that to things that require a hammer, nails, and paint.  Maybe I need to add it to the list of things to tackle.