Archive for February, 2015

Sometimes You Just Can’t Win at Camping

Jeff and I have adopted camping as our favorite hobby to do together–it is inexpensive, plus Arizona and our sister states nearby have wonderful places to visit. Okay, so it’s only February, but according to the weather forecast the temperature in the south of the state would be in the 80’s during the day and the 50’s at night. We set out with optimism for Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It’s a fairly long drive–perhaps six hours. But we had a book on tape and all seemed well.

Organ Pipe is an international biosphere reserve because of its unique desert conditions. It actually receives a reasonable amount of rain, so it is a fairly green desert habitat. The plants are much closer together than is usual for a desert. The mountains in the background provide a lovely contrast.

And that’s pretty much where the good luck stopped. The temperatures were in the sixties daytime and at

The shy cactus hiding behind the bushes in the foreground is an Organ Pipe Cactus

The shy cactus hiding behind the bushes in the foreground is an Organ Pipe Cactus

night–well, the desert can be mighty cold at night, as we can now verify via personal experience. I brought some nice meals to make at the site, but we managed to forget our camp stove. I decided to take some pictures and found I’d left my memory card in the computer at home and had only the miniscule internal memory. Jeff found a map of a potentially lovely 16 mile drive, which turned out to be 36 miles of the nicest scenery and worst roads in Arizona instead. And the next morning, we had a flat tire, compliments of the rough road.

We finally gave up a day early and came home, stopping in Flagstaff on the way home to see “McFarland, USA,” which was a wonderful triumph-of-the-human-spirit type movie.

And we needed to be reminded that the human spirit can triumph about that time! Anyway, here are a few photos we managed to keep on the camera.

 

Beautiful Desert Scene

Beautiful Desert Scene

Saguaro Army

Saguaro Army

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saguaro Cacti against a mountain backdrop

Saguaro Cacti against a mountain backdrop

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I Knead You

I admit it! I’m a “crunchy” person. I bake my own bread, make our cereal, can and dehydrate food from our own garden, and generally DIY if I can. In this attitude, I’ve been encouraged lately by an
Australian grandmother named Rhonda Jean, who writes a delightful blog at http://downtoearth.blogspot.com.

Through her, I’ve learned to make my own laundry detergent, glass cleaner, liquid hand soap and a good many other things. Before you start laughing, may I just point out that my laundry detergent contains no harmful chemicals, works as well as yours, and costs less than $2 per gallon? Anyway, Rhonda’s blog is a delight as well as educational. Check it out next time you are feeling crunchy yourself.

On the general topic of crunchiness (?), I thought I’d post some photos of yesterday’s bread making around here. I labor under certain restrictions with my bread. First of all, for Jeff to eat it with enthusiasm, it can be as healthy as I can make it, but it has to look mostly white. I know, I know. Take it up with him.

Next, it has to be…um, squishy. He hates dry bread. In this, I agree with him, so I try to watch the consistency of the dough and length of time I bake it, etc. I rarely make bread the same way twice, but this is what I used yesterday.

My ingredients list for yesterday's baking

My ingredients list for yesterday’s baking

Home-made bread, as you may know, can be made very basic (liquid, yeast, flour, salt+(usually) a sweetening agent) or quite complex. This batch had unbleached white flour with yeast, wheat germ, and salt mixed in with it, a cup of milk, two cups of hot water, some butter, maple syrup, and a cup of oats soaked in warm water for 25 minutes or so. I mixed it up, kneaded it for about 5-6 minutes with the heels of my hands (you don’t want to sink your fingers into a dough ball), and voila!

Dough set for first rising

Dough set for first rising

At this time of the year, the house is a bit cool, so this aluminum bowl gains warmth from a couple of inches of warm water in the second bowl beneath it. This makes the bread rise more efficiently.

After a couple of risings, it goes into the greased bread pans to rise once again. This was a batch of three loaves. We only use two most weeks, so it allows me to give a loaf away. This time, the extra loaf went to my wonderful hairdresser, Elsa.

Bread set to bake after a couple of risings.

Bread set to bake after a couple of risings

I’ve known my oven for three years now, so I know that it bakes bread best at 365 degrees. Some people use 375, some use 350 degrees. Like the flexible ingredients in bread, the temperature isn’t terribly crucial.

Just out of the oven and lightly buttered on top

Just out of the oven and lightly buttered on top

I tip a loaf out of the pan to check the bottom and be sure it is done. If it is, I set the bread on a rack, take my baking brush, and coat the loaves thinly with butter.

I then commit bread-baking heresy by covering the loaves with a clean towel. I understand that for many people, a nice crisp crust is important, but my favorite bread-taster likes a soft crust, so it gets the towel treatment.

And now, it’s ready to eat. There’s just no beating warm home-made bread with fresh butter. I think Rhonda Jean would approve!

Ready to Eat

Ready to Eat and appropriately squishy

A Red Face and then some!

There we are in the photo below, looking respectable and entirely clergy family-ish, right? Okay, so I didn’t realize I had my hand inside the pastor’s shirt, but hey, no big deal. Though we don’t always succeed, Jeff and I try to maintain some level of propriety. But sometimes the ol’ red face is destined to win.

Last Monday, Jeff and I drove to Show Low , where he had some business. I had business, too–shopping. A lovely little royalty check had recently come in, and I needed a couple of items of clothing. While Jeff went off to do his thing, I marched straight for JC Penney’s and the clothing section.

After picking out a pair of trousers, I also saw some dresses that appealed to me. They looked just right for church, and they were my size, too. I picked out two or three of them and went into the dressing room. Alas, the manufacturer had cut those silly dresses much, much too small. Short of a miracle, I wouldn’t be wearing those dresses to church.

My ego had had enough. I packed up my purse and the trousers that still needed to be checked out, hung my jacket over my arm, and gathered the dresses to take back to the return rack. A clerk stepped forward to assist me when I left the dressing room, and we chatted for a moment.

I realized Jeff had probably finished his business already and was waiting at the appointed restaurant. I flew out of the store and trotted across the parking lot toward it. Halfway there, I felt something flutter against my leg. I looked down and saw–gasp!–SALES TAGS! I’d left the store with the trousers lying over my arm along with my jacket.

Had I paid for them? Nope. I’d simply walked out with them. I felt sick, and, to be honest, I even considered just going to my car to avoid the embarrassment of what I knew I needed to do. But could I ever wear the pants later, knowing they were stolen, however accidently? Not a chance. And I needed them.

So back I went, worrying every step of the way that someone would jump out from between two cars and yell, “Thief! I saw what you did!”

Once inside the store, I nearly ran down other customers in my rush to the checkout. Even there, I could have just kept my mouth shut, paid for the pants, and no one would have been the wiser.

They say confession is good for the soul, and maybe it is true. Anyway, I couldn’t help blurting out my tale of accidental larceny to the two women behind the counter. They thought it was  funny to begin with, and when I told them I was a minister’s wife, they thought it was even funnier. They regaled me with similar stories and certainly did their best to make me feel better.

But all the way back across the parking lot, I kept thinking one thing: What if someone had seen me leave the store with those trousers? What if a store security person had apprehended me? What could I possibly have said?

“Yes, I stole them, but I didn’t mean to?” Oh, right. I’d draped my jacket over the pants as if to conceal them. No one would have believed me. I wouldn’t have believed me, either, for that matter. I’d have been charged with shop lifting and probably convicted as well.

I shook my head and groaned every few steps all the way to the restaurant.

“What’s wrong?” Jeff asked when I got there. “Why is your face all red?”

“You’ll never believe what just happened,” I began…..

 

At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising, MI

At Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising, MI

 

Out West for Reals

Another Resident of the Real West

Another Resident of the Real West

Sometimes I forget where I live.

Like everyone else, I get busy with church and garden, meetings and work, and I forget that I live in the place my Midwestern parents always called “out West.”

And then something reminds me. The other day, for example, driving home to my ordinary neighborhood, I saw some folks standing out in their yard, talking with a friend who’d ridden up on his horse–cowboy hat, boots and all. He wasn’t acting like a cowboy–he actually was one.  Out West for reals.

This morning I went out in my yard for something, and there was our first daffodil of the season. On February 12. Dorothy, I thought, you are simply not in Kansas anymore!

About a week ago, Jeff and I drove out to see the Little Falls of the Colorado River. It isn’t normally very impressive, but this time, it was fantastic because we’d had a good bit of rain and water was plunging over the rocks, roaring like Niagara Falls. Oh, yeah. Seasonal rivers, from torrents to trickles depending on the time of year. Out West for reals.

Great Falls of the Little Colorado River, muddy brown as chocolate milk!

Great Falls of the Little Colorado River, muddy brown as chocolate milk!

And on our way home, we saw a little herd of sheep, grazing, which could of course happen anywhere in the country, except that these sheep were not fenced in. They happened to be on Navajo land, where free grazing is quite common (see steer, above). I didn’t envy them what they were eating, but they looked happy, healthy, and content.

Sheep with lambs, munching on desert plants.

Sheep with lambs, munching on desert plants.

And as we were leaving that area, we looked across the high desert to see the San Francisco Peaks in the distance, one of the sacred corners of Navajo lands. Out west for reals. How glad I felt to remember where I live once again!

San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, AZ

San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, AZ