Posts Tagged ‘AZ’

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

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The Library on Route 66

ImageImageThe advertisement appeared in the newspaper a few months ago for a Job Help Instructor at our local library. Well, I didn’t know what a Job Help Instructor would do, but teaching is something I know about, so I applied. I didn’t really expect to get the job, but if there was anywhere in Holbrook I would enjoy working, I knew it was the library.

Ours is not an enormous library. It’s not the best one I’ve ever been in, I suppose. But it’s so much, much better than I would have expected for a town of 5,000 people that it delights me whenever I step inside the doors. I’ve always loved the staff there, who go out of their way to be pleasant and will do anything they can for their clients. The library director  (shown above) is talented, creative, and amazingly competent. What she manages to do on our shoestring budget should be studied by the federal government as a model for careful management!

Anyway, I got the job. Turns out that no one else bothered to apply, so I’ve spent the last few months learning to be a job help instructor. What that means is, I’m stationed in the library’s computer lab to assist clients who don’t have computers at home, or don’t know how to do things like write resumes, compose cover letters, apply for jobs on-line, etc. My work is strictly one-on-one for these tasks, and I enjoy it enormously. I love the library atmosphere, and my colleagues are every bit as much fun to work with as I expected. Lots of students come to the lab, too, which allows me to be in contact with young people again, something which a former teacher really misses.

Of course, there is a down side. To say that my technological competence is “limited” would be to flatter myself. But I’m the person on hand in the lab, so when people have problems with technology, I’m the one who gets the questions. I’m much more competent now than I was a few months ago, and I expect to be even better by the time my one-year, grant funded job is finished next summer.  When it is slow in the lab, I get to work at the circulation desk, where–I’ll just be honest here–I’m mostly useless. But my co-workers are cheerful about correcting my mistakes and explaining procedures over and over.  Even though I’m relegated to handling the simplest tasks, I love greeting people who come in and spotting new books I can’t wait to read. 

 I’ve retired a couple of times already from various teaching jobs. I may never have another actual paid position again when this one ends. But if so, what a blessing it is to finish up my working career at the Library on Route 66! Be sure to come in and see us if you’re ever in Holbrook.

Making Memories

Jaren and Mom enjoying tomatoes from the garden

Yesterday, Jeff received a call that shocked us both. A local man in his sixties,  who had befriended Jeff almost as soon as he came to Holbrook and who, with his wife,  planned to have dinner at our house this week,  died unexpectedly during the night. His physical self-care had been exemplary because he feared the heart issues in his family history.  There were no signs of illness or discomfort when he went to bed, but he awoke in the early morning in distress, woke his wife, and died before anyone could reach him with help.

Holbrook lost a positive, friendly, out-reaching member of its community with his death and of course, his family lost husband and father. I’m sure they’re still unvelieving and in shock. Jeff will preach the funeral sermon on Monday.

When someone dies in this quick, unexpected manner, the reminder of our own presence here as resident aliens who have no permanent home on this earth is vivid. We don’t expect lives to end so abruptly, leaving our plans and projects unfinished. We ask ourselves what we’d better get accomplished just in case, what item on our bucket list seems the most urgent, what we want to be sure to do or resolve in the time remaining to us. In a few weeks, I’m sure we’ll have let this sense of urgency slip away, but we talked quite a bit yesterday evening, in between trick-or-treaters, about what we want to do with the unknown segment of time that remains to us.

One of my goals, I decided, was making memories with people I love. For instance, right after we finished our vacation this fall, our daughter, son in law, and their four children came to visit. We had a lot of ripe tomatoes in the garden, so I asked if they’d like to help pick them. A couple of the children discovered that even if tomatoes in general are not their favorite vegetables, the sun ripened versions direct from the vine are a different case. Two year old Jaren ate and ate and ate, leaving the evidence around his mouth, as you can see in the photo. In fact, the next morning when I got up and went looking for him, I found him next to the tray of tomatoes we’d brought inside, munching happily. We dug a few tiny potatoes, too, and the kids were astonished to see where and how they grew. I think they’ll remember this experience with the garden for a long time–a positive memory of their grandparents’ home. I liked that. I want to do more of it.

It’s wise not to worry too much about the possibility of unexpected death, of course. We don’t want to be morbid. But it’s also good to be reminded sometimes of the simple brevity of life, to focus on things that need to be done while there is light to do them. Obviously, our spiritual lives are first priority; if we have not made peace there, we need to do so without delay. But beyond that highest priority, there are things we may want to do and changes we may want to make in the way we live.  So let’s remember that our time is not unlimited. Let’s do those things and make those changes now. Just in case.

Digging up the Old West

My literary agent, Joyce Hart, recently suggested that I consider setting aside the contemporary novel I’d been working on, at least temporarily, in order to get going on the next one, which is historical in nature. Trends happen in publishing as in most fields, and right now, few publishers are interested in contemporary novels or women’s fiction. Since what Joyce doesn’t know about publishing is not worth knowing, and what I know about publishing is minimal, I happily took her advice and plunged into Old West research with enthusiasm.

I decided to set my historical novel in Navajo County, AZ (yes, that’s where I live) because of the available resources here and their proximity. I didn’t expect Holbrook to yield too much in the way of exciting history, but it turns out that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Holbrook’s past involves cattle ranching, Mormon pioneers, one of the most famous ranges wars in the Old West, outlaws aplenty, and  a curiously monikered place called the “Bucket of Blood Saloon.” In fact, when Jeff and I went for our walk this morning, we followed Bucket of Blood street to its conclusion. Alas, the old saloon burned along with most of the businesses in Holbrook in 1888.

My research introduced me to our one-time Sheriff, Commodore Perry Owens, who settled the aforementioned range war decisively in a famous shoot-out in the yard of what is now the Senior Citizens’ Center of Holbrook. Seriously–the house is still part of the complex. I met Robert “Red” McNeil, a most literary outlaw who left polite notes and poetry–no, really, he did!–for the lawmen who tried to chase him down. Sometimes he sent a copy of his verses to the local papers, which were happy to publish them. McNeil enjoyed twisting the tail of Commodore Perry Owens, who had publically declared his intention of shooting the versifying bandit. Owens once had the chance, when he accidentally stayed overnight at the same cattle camp where McNeil had bedded down, but he didn’t know McNeil was in residence, no one told him, and for obvious reasons, the outlaw didn’t introduce himself. Relations with the local Navajo nation and the not-quite-so-local Apaches were far from exemplary in those days. Livestock changed hands with shocking regularity, and without the benefit of bills of sale. And certainly each group, the settlers and the tribe, committed atrocities against one another frequently. One visitor to early Holbrook commented that it was not a “safe place for women or churches.”

My main character is a school-teacher who arrived in Holbrook in 1885 from Los Angeles (then quite a small town) to bring education and a certain amount of civility to the violent little community. She will face a series of difficulties in the book, of course, since this is fiction and fiction requires them. But by the end of the book, she will have taught for more than a year, gotten married and become stepmother to four children, and helped the family keep their ranch safe from the predations of a greedy neighbor. Somewhere along the way, she’s going to have to meet Commodore Perry Owens or perhaps receive a poem from Red McNeil.

How could I resist?

Grandma’s Grave Surprise

This morning about 6 am, I knelt on my kneeling bench next to the huge brick flower bed beside the sidewalk leading up to my house. A dozen plants needed to be planted before my flower bed was complete, and I wanted to get them in early, before the sun started scorching them. I planted some blue lobelia, my favorite bedding plant, and then put in some sort of orange colored African daisies, as well as some petunias. Finally just two plants remained–both of them leafy, whitish Dusty Millers.

Perhaps because of the Dusty Millers, or perhaps because we’ve just passed Memorial Day weekend, I remembered something that happened when I was in my first year of college. It’s become a classic family memory. If you’ve known me very long, you may have heard this story, but I thought it worth retelling.

My grandmother, Lillian Mason, died around that time. She’d asked to be buried in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, near where she’d been raised. We lived in Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula then, and as Memorial Day approached, my mom picked up some bedding plants she thought would be pretty together and drove down to Chippewa Falls to plant them on Grandma’s grave. About July first, my mom asked if I’d go with her to Chippewa Falls once again so that she could settle some details of Gram’s estate. We would also, she commented, go to the cemetary and make sure that the plants were okay.

When we arrived at the cemetary, we walked across the peaceful, tree-shaded lawn toward the headstone marking my grandmother’s grave. Even as we left the car, I could see the flowers blooming vigorously in front of the marker. As we got closer, though, it seemed to me that some of the plants looked a little…different. Being the horticultural ignoramus I was then (and still am to some extent), I didn’t say anything about the anomaly.

My mother stopped at the graveside and stared down at the flowers. “What’s that thing? I didn’t plant anything that was supposed to look like that!

I followed her gaze. In the center of the colorful assortment of annuals stood several large, aggressive, green plants with knobbly heads that looked like…”Mom!” I gasped. “That’s broccoli!”

“It’s no such thing,” my mom insisted. “I planted a bunch of pansies and some petunias, and some of that Dusty Miller plant in the center. It can’t be broccoli.”

I reached down to snap off an immature head, holding it up for her inspection. “It is, though. Definitely broccoli.”

My mom’s face reflected the wild impropriety of the moment. Broccoli? Here?

We looked up and our eyes met.She shuddered and shook her head. “How awful! I planted broccoli on my mother’s grave.”

I clasped my hand over my mouth to prevent laughter from leaking out. But the irrepressible chokes and snorts escaped, and my mother also began to grin. And then to laugh and laugh. At last we sank to the ground beside the grave, still chuckling. I patted the mound beside me. “I think Grandma would have thought the broccoli was pretty funny, too, don’t you?”

My mom wiped her eyes and nodded. “Let’s just leave it here. It’ll make people wonder! She’d like that.”

We returned to our car, smiling and content–and somehow closer to my grandmother because of the laughter we’d shared at her graveside.

“You know,” Mom speculated as we drove away. “When broccoli is young, it has sort of powdery looking gray leaves. I remember the greenhouse where I bought the plants had the annuals all mixed together with the vegetables. I’ll just bet someone accidentally stuck some of their broccoli transplants in with the Dusty Millers.”

That’s probably what happened, too. All these years later, I never plant Dusty Miller without a smile, remembering my Mom and my grandmother, and the day we found the broccoli on Grandma’s grave.