Monday, August 31, 2009

Mmmmmmmm

Sourdough flat bread, Swiss chard and onions, skirt steak and mozzarella goat cheese Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Cheap Eats

I am a second generation sourdough starter. Maybe third or fourth generation; I'll never know. I just know that my father, who was a displaced soul, implanted that culinary memory in my mind. Not a bad one.
---------------------------------------------
Sourdough starter is easy to grow. I feed mine weekly. It thrives better than my houseplants. Add a little flour, knead and roll out, fry in a dry pan, hit with a little olive oil and seasoning, and you have an awesome flatbread. Cost: almost nothing. Reaction of your guests (if you have them): priceless. My buddy Ted, the poet, was even impressed. That's saying something.
So, what to do with the flat breads? I'm going to lightly saute this Swiss chard I've been growing ($.95 for the seed pack, which will last all season) with a little onion and dress it with home made goat cheese. Do I figure in the vet bill in estimating the cost of this meal? Naaaaaaa (goat imitation). The onion was about .5 pounds = $.50. I'll use half of it. $.25. The milk is essentially free, as I volunteer for Faith's room and board, and gain more than I give from my goatie friends. I have two frozen skirt steak pinwheels, bought from a local organic farmer. I'll saute them in the same pan I'm using for everything else, and slap them into the flat breads. YUM!
Now, this is the part that tops it all. I cleaned out a basket of miscellaneous "stuff" that was in my way in the kitchen. In it, I found three shrivelled but otherwise viable apples. Not fit for eating raw, but otherwise OK. What to do? Apple head dolls? No time right now. Apple fritters! Dessert tonight and breakfast tomorrow. I cored and chopped those elderly beauties. The batter is just 2 eggs (free range, $3.50 a dozen), a little flour, more goat milk, a pinch of baking powder, salt and a little sugar; so, $.60 for the eggs, negligible amounts for the rest of it. I fried the whole mess in spoon-fulls in canola oil. I don't remember what I paid for the jug of oil, but they last forever, as I rarely fry. Dinner is served.
----------------------------------------------
You may notice that today was my first day of school. I won't be discussing that here, but it impacts on my home life in many ways, including my usage of time and the energy I retain for my personal activities. My interests often follow my lessons, so those ideas may surface here as well. But in the mean time: Bon Appetit! Cheap and healthy!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

As I do every weekend, I began my day by making soup. This lovely lady did NOT get into the hot tub with the other veggies. She's chillin' in my fridge for the time being.
The boys enjoyed the sun while we worked. A typical cat day. It makes me wonder who's REALLY in charge here.
Stephanie and I tried to rebatch some soap (fail!) but made a beautiful fresh batch. She brought her newly designed labels, and wrapped up the last batch. Cute huh?
Speaking of cute, this little girl tips the scales! She was hopping and skipping by the time we left. Pretty thing...
Miss Faith, our newest soap model; you'll be seeing more of her soon!
------------------------------------------------------
And that's it. I'm back to work tomorrow. It was a perfect summer. I hope the school year goes as well.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A New Arrival

Buttercup's New Baby
What a wonderful evening! I was feeling a little stressed for time when I arrived at the farm to milk this evening, but that feeling disappeared as soon as we rounded the corner. Buttercup finally delivered her calf, and there she was, still wet at the very end of the field. All three cows were gathered around for the blessed event (which was kind of scary, since they're big, and the calf wasn't walking yet). Rebecca had her all rubbed down and dried off, but Buttercup was a vigilant momma and licked her for what seemed like hours. We decided it would be in the calf's best interest to carry her in to the stall they had prepared for her.
---------------------------------------------------------
Let me tell you: CALVES ARE HEAVY! Buttercup wasn't very happy with the idea of me carrying her brand-new baby, and tried to herd me back to the spot where she gave birth. It took the efforts of Rebecca, Peter and myself to get halfway across the field, where we decided a wheelbarrow might be a good idea. I was worn out! That worked well, and baby was delivered to the barn yard intact, with Momma close behind. Rebecca quickly cleaned the stall and we got them settled, with water and grain for Momma and a clean bed for both.
---------------------------------------------------------
When Kathy arrived, she made sure the new baby got up and got the colostrum, which perked her right up. She hadn't stood on her own before. That colostrum was just like Red Bull for calves; after a little help she got right up and began toddling around. Below, you'll find a short video of Buttercup and her baby, 2 hours after her birth:

video

I am still astounded at the miracles we have access to every day. Emerson said it this way: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”. This was one of those moments. Life is beautiful.

Goatness Gracious!

Our New Company!
Label by Stephanie!
WooHoo! We start packaging tomorrow; our first commercial batch of homemade goat milk soap is ready to go. To order, if you're interested, go to http://www.flinthill-farm.org/. Proceeds benefit the farm (a non-profit). YAY!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Love is Good

Holding Hands
About two weeks ago, Gris-Gris (on the right) slipped out, and was outside for the entire night. We live in a small city, and to keep our boys safe, we don't let them wander. You may recall the guest blog my husband, Peter, contributed on the subject ("Detente", August 15). We haven't declawed them (I believe it's inhumane), so our furniture is shredded, but we prefer healthy, happy cats to a perfect home. It's a scary world out there for a pampered kitty-cat; cars, dogs, mean people, disease, hunger, weather... Poor Gris was traumatized, and wore his heart on his sleeve. Hobie reacted accordingly. It was awful! When they needed each other the most, they only saw fear and aggression. How human of them!
-------------------------------------
I am happy to report that fences have been mended, and our boys are once again best friends. They spoon on our bed each morning after we get ready for work, and snooze and snuggle all day (I've caught them!). They rally when we get home, and beg for yummies, then do the obligatory high-tailed sumo wrestling performance on our living room rug. At bed time, they're right there, curled up on the bed, watching TV with us, belly-up. Their favorite mousie is carried from room to room.
-------------------------------------
Our boys love each other. Love is good. I believe this is true for all species.
-------------------------------------
Life has returned to normal in the Eckert-Bourdelle household. We were concerned, because their reaction to each other was based on the defensive signals they each threw. Just like wounded people; just like us. They've healed. We're a family again. Whewwww! We can learn so much from our animal friends.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New-Year Resolution #1

Mosaic mirror; recycled pottery shards on plywood with molding scraps
As I was unpacking my room today, it occurred to me that I could do so much more (environmentally speaking) than I'm already doing. Currently, I do a unit on recycled materials; there's a world of artisans who are making wonderful art from cast-off materials. It's a rich resource for studying cultural connections, socio-economic issues, and really cool art. The web is a wonderful resource for these explorations. My latest find is this site: http://www.beadforlife.org/, where Ugandan women create wonderful jewelry from colorful bits of paper, and have rescued themselves and their communities from poverty through their art. I've heard the story before, and have loved it each time: the art of Oaxaca, Mexico comes to mind specifically. Any Fair Trade site will show you the gazillions of ways people have used their ingenuity, talent, and local materials to pull themselves up from the depths of poverty. Creativity = Possibility. But I digress.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
I have spent the last few years canvassing my fellow teachers and support folks for their unused, unrecyclable stuff to use in my art room. We use those nasty meat and vegetable trays (well cleaned, no worries) for paint trays. We use plastic bags to keep clay moist. We melt waste glass into beads. We use broken glass and pottery for mosaics. We make paper from cast-off paper, and make paper-mache from leftover, slightly used newspaper, which we also use to cover our desks. We repurpose the books the library discards, making altered books and using the extra pages for origami. Each lesson has its cultural connections.

Recycled glass, metal scraps, wire and stone chips

But there's more we can do. Do you know how much paper is discarded in an art room? Or how many plastic bottles of water are consumed by a school full of students in a single day? I'm going to start with my own room, and learn the dynamics of greening kids; from past experiences, I think they'll be on-board. We'll move out then, into the cafeteria, and the other classrooms. Right now, I have tons of boxes waiting to be broken down and reused or recycled. I have a box labelled with "plastic", and another one with "paper" by my desk. I'll haul it home to the recycling center myself if I have to. My messy, wasteful artroom is GOING DOWN!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shifting Gears

How Stuff Works
For me, and every other teacher on the planet, it's true: shifting gears is How Stuff Works. The photo above was taken from the site I linked to it, about bicycles. In my (our) case, I'm referring to the schizophrenic years we have.
---------------------------------------------------
First, a teacher's year begins in late August, not January. It ends in June. Those months in between are not part of the year. They're "summer", an alternate state of being. In "summer", you can have a second cup of coffee in the morning, read a book for pleasure, and urinate at will, not at the sound of a bell. People call you by your first name, and you don't have to wear a badge. You can wear sneakers and shorts. Denim is OK in the summer. You can stay up later that 9 PM, and your pets get to know you again. You can have a glass of wine without worrying about tomorrow. True, you are most likely taking a grad course or two, or writing curriulum, or coaching, or developing lesson plans, but your body and wardrobe are yours for awhile. You remember what "quiet"means.
----------------------------------------------------
Then that first day arrives (or in my case, as I'm writing, the night before). You wonder what your students will be like, what administrative goals you will have to fulfill, what contractual changes you'll be experience, if you're lucky enough to even have a contract. If not, you wonder how your year will play out. You wonder what your day will be like; what duties will you have? What new colleagues will you meet? Who will be gone? Who will remain? You know your leisure time is over; your days will be full, and your nights will support them. You will think, breathe and live for your students. You jump on the bike, and start pedaling. You will pedal until June.
----------------------------------------------------
There is joy and pain in teaching. The joy of discovery, of reaching unreachable goals, of touching a heart or glimpsing a future. There's pain in constraint, in the endless paperwork the system demands, in the politics and pressure to succeed. You get to know your students, and they're real people with real problems, and as much as you'd like to, you can't fix them all. You want to mother the hurt ones. You can't. But there's a lot you can do. You can give them tools. You can give them safety. You can show them the best roads to travel. You can lead. You can make it safe for them to follow.
-------------------------------------------------
Every year is a new beginning, and each year holds echoes. Wish me luck. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new story; every Labor Day is. What will this new year bring?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recycled Food Porn

Last week, I made an egg batter to dredge some fish for baking. I had leftover batter, so I diluted it with milk, added a bit of flour, and made crepes. I filled them with whatever I had on hand. It was a revelation.
-------------------------------------------------
News Flash!!!!!! You can stuff anything into a crepe and it's a party! Leftovers, veggies, cheese, beans...anything! The crepe above is a mixture of greens and beans, fajita seasoned beef strips and cheese. YUMMY! It's the best way ever to use leftovers with savoir-faire! Bon appetite!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Imaginary Dinner Party

So You Are having a Dinner Party? I lifted this from Farmer's Daughter who lifted it from Rob's World, and since I'm really distracted today, I thought I'd have a little fun with it. Here goes!
-------------------------------------------------------
1. You are having a dinner party, and you can invite any 4 couples- who do you invite? I'm assuming this guarantees that your invitees will accept! If that's the case, I'd invite:
Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed; they'd have great stories to tell, and she's my favorite ever recording/performance artist.
El and Brody-Boy Warner (Synthetic Culture). No one said the couples had to be single-species exclusive. And El would be really mad if I had Laurie Anderson here and didn't invite her. I'd also expect the same from her. My friends Ron and Chuck; they'd enjoy the company, and I owe them about a million social invitations. And Ron is always the life of the party.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Sandy and Bob Wood: Writers, artists, soul-mother and her spouse. They'd be a perfect match for this group. It would be a fusing of minds and talents.

--------------------------------------------------------------

*QUESTION: Do I get to choose WHERE I have the dinner party???

-----------------------------------------------------------

2. What do you serve?

*A platter of artisanal world cheeses and flat breads, grapes and apples

*Baked brie with honey and almonds

* A variety of wines and beers

*Local corn and vegetable salad, salsa verde and home made sour-dough flat breads, tomato confit

*Grilled tuna steaks (rare) with wasabi dressing, wild rice and roasted new potatoes

-----------------------------------------------------

3. What Wine do you serve?

* I'd ask the dealer for something special and back it up with a box or two of cheap stuff for the party after the party.

------------------------------------------------

4. What's for dessert?

Creme brulee with fresh berries, home-made ice-cream. Coffee and/or espresso. More wine.

Your Turn!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Irony

Buy-Nothing Challenge Drop-Out
Just before the beginning of the month, a mere 22 days ago, I was determined to participate in Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge for August. It looked like I could do it. My truck and husband had other ideas. I'll take partial credit for the husband spending. I asked him to join me at the Ocean Grove Bath Avenue House because it was so simple and restful there and he was working himself into a tizzy. That was a good investment in our mental health and well-being as a couple, and most likely the last chance we'll have to get away together until next summer. The truck, however, was unplanned.
--------------------------------------
It is impossible to live without a vehicle where we live. Public transit does not deliver you to school in Hellertown at 7:30 or to the farm, then home afterward. If you only travel to the mall or stay within the confines of the city, you're good to go, but we don't, and don't want to. Carlessness is not an option.
--------------------------------
Read yesterday's entry for the other reasons a replacement car was necessary. Factor in the following criteria: less that 10K, low mileage, good MPG, manual transmission, front wheel drive. Add the following circumstances: we live 5 minutes from Allentown's "Auto Mile", and web searches for sensible cars (Subarus, Volvos, etc.) with the above criteria were fruitless. Peter picks up the newspaper and there was the Miata (our dream car: zoom-zoom) for 9K. All criteria met. Still impractical and overly luxurious for two schlumps that usually smell a little goaty by the end of the day. Oh well. We bought it.
-------------------------------
I'll send my regrets to Crunchy Chicken. I failed the challenge. But this is one car payment I just might enjoy making. Two good things: the mpg has to be better than the truck's was, and Peter looks great in it! We'll probably repair the truck and sell it, which will give us a leg up on the loan. And boy, do I feel snazzy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Back Again

Preface: Started the truck to go milk goats, home 4 hours. Cracked radiator. Damaged serpentine belt. New hoses. $800.00. Day after vacation? Priceless. Summer is all over.... Okay, so it wasn't the best way to start the school year, but it was most likely the best of circumstances if it really had to happen (as things do). Had it happened the day before we left, I would have cancelled, damaged trust, set myself up for an even-worse start of the school year (we have no contract and I am prone to anxiety attacks). YAY! It waited! Peter saved me as usual, and hauled me around this morning while my poor truck was in the O.R. The goaties were happy to see me, and I came home to work on the tomatoes and corn that we brought home from Phillipsburg (just 25 miles away but a world better). Jersey IS the garden state! I'm making a raw corn salad, tomato confit, collard greens and beans (white), and sour-dough flat breads that I'll wangle into fajitas. The farm folks are due this evening, and one is vegetarian. I'll serve bacon as a condiment. Right now, I'm going to sleep a bit, perchance to dream a bit. Overload.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ocean Grove and Asbury Park

I'll elaborate on some of the sights tomorrow and provide a link to my facebook photo gallery. I'm too tired right now; I came home to milking chores in heat and humidity and a mysterious broken radiator in my truck. Summer's officially over *sigh*....
Tillie: Ugly Can Be Beautiful (Asbury) Silverball Museum Pinball Hall of Fame (Asbury)
Pierre at Dinner at the Supper Club
Wednesday Night Free Fireworks on the Beach (from our table)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"You May Then Wonder Where They Have Gone"

Memories are made from unedited moments; the coarse grit of wet sand and your mother's smile, running between father's legs as he laughed, a mile high and ready to swing you in his arms. You dig to China and mine smiles. You sleep in dreams of starfish and mermaids.
You enter adolescence. You are your own audience. You experience the world through a tentative lens. You know time is fleeting and forever. The days are immeasuarably long, and horribly short. Your mind is on fire and your feet are bound. You step into the future, one toe at a time, like a hot bath. The pain is exquisite.
I am reading Annie Dillard's An American Childhood. My beach book, quite appropriate. Here's what she told me today.
---------------
"You may then wonder where they have gone, those other dim dots that were you: you in the flesh swimming in a swift river, swinging a bat on the first pitch, opening a footlocker with a screwdriver, inking and painting clowns on celluloid, stepping out of a revolving door into the swift crowd on a sidewalk, being kissed and kissed until your brain grew smooth, stepping out of the cold woods into a warm field full of crows, or lying awake in bed aware of your legs amd suddenly aware of it all, that ceiling above you was under the sky-in what country, what town?"
------------------------
"You may wonder, that is, as I sometimes wonder privately, but it doesn't matter. For it is not you or I that is important, neither what sort we might be nor how we came to be where we are. What is important is anyone's coming awake and discovering a place, finding in full orbit a spinning globe one can lean over, catch and jump on. What is important is the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch-with an electric hiss and cry-this speckled mineral sphere, our present world."
-------------------
Who could say it better?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Going Down the Shore

Asbury Park from Ocean Grove
Today will be a flurry of activity, all in preparation for tomorrow's escape. We'll be off to Ocean Grove for a mini-vacation. I'll take a few pictures while I'm there, but for a very good sampling of the local attractions, check out this link: http://www.oceangrovenj.com/, then click on the "Little Views" link. You'll find a current and well-illustrated collection of both Ocean Grove and Asbury Park hot spots.
The thing I find most interesting about the "Twin Cities" is their incongruity. Ocean Grove is a beautiful, historical town, complete with restored Victorian architecture and an old-time Methodist tent village. Most of the homes have been converted to upscale beach houses. Ocean Grove is quiet, quaint, and dry. Asbury Park, on the other hand, just a short walk north on the little boardwalk they share, is not dry, and looked like a war zone until a few years ago. It's currently enjoying a Renaissance, and now boasts a lovely little beach, several terrific restaurants, and a water park for the kids. A block or two off the beach, you can shop for antiques or enjoy a cocktail, eat sushi or look at fine arts and crafts. It's still fairly quiet as beach towns go, though if you look hard enough you just might find some mid-week fireworks, farmers' markets or the occasional drag show.
So, my favorite beach area has something for everyone. I like the quiet town, but close access to good food and shopping; the uncrowded beaches and beautiful architecture. I can't wait to go!
See you on Thursday!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dog Days?

Whoever named them "dog days"?
92 degrees and the farm cats are loving it.
Despite the awful tomato blight that has plagued our soggy east coast gardens, I am inundated with vegetables. The tomatoes are dropping from the vines, green and rotten, but there are still enough, since I started so many plants. Apart from a rotten zucchini vine, everything else did quite well with the extra moisture, and zucchini can always be had. Interestingly enough, my heirloom vegetables were the most successful; the dark little heirloom plums and the white and yellow heirloom squash are all happy. I have adequate peppers and eggplant, basil enough for us and our friends, kale and collards to give away. The tomatoes were disappointing, as this was the first year I started my own, but I'll try again next year, and hope the weather is more willing.
On Tuesday, I am dragging Peter away for two days. I'm going to insist he dips his feet in the ocean and puts away his smart phone. I'm going to encourage him to read and sleep and walk. We'll be going to the same beach house I visited with El a few weeks ago. No TV, no WiFi. It'll do his soul good.

There is a minor complication. Vegetables. I have a world of vegetables to eat, process or give away between now and Tuesday morning. Veggie pizza and a mushroom and squash saute tonight; I also made a big pot of ratatouille to freeze, and roasted 6 red peppers to make red pepper pesto with. I'll try to freeze them once I slip off the skins, so I can do that when we return. I'll give away the ripest tomatoes and cucumbers, and refrigerate the squash. the corn can go to the Caring Place when I drop off this week's soup. Etc. Abundance can be exhausting.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bountiful Planet

Tomato, Ricotta and Mozzarella Pie
Green Tomato Relish, Dill Pickles, Peach and Apricot Chutney
Corn for the Winter
I just read a line in Sleeping Naked is Green by Vanessa Farquharson that spoke to the abundance I feel when I harvest from my garden. Despite financial losses, abbreviated vacations, and necessary frugality, I feel so rich in a garden. She says it this way, on page 261 of her book: "...my challenge has taught me that everything I truly need in life is right here already...", and "All this is courtesy of Mother Nature, and it will continue to be here for years to come, providing I show her some love in return. This reassures me."
I am so blessed to have a garden and a goat, the skills I need to tend them, a loving husband, my Flint Hill family, my relatives, my profession. I'm lucky. I live with abundance. Even if my credit rating IS shot.
Life's good in the summer.
(To follow a weekly discussion of Sleeping Naked is Green, See Crunchy Chicken's blog.)

Detente

The Prodigal Son
(By Special Guest Writer Peter Bourdelle)
We woke up this morning with no sign of Gris-Gris. After we canvassed a few blocks around, Sandy saw she had leave to milk the goats. I then composed a "Lost Cat" poster, and our inkjet printer ran out of ink, mid print. Gris looked orange.
Before heading out to buy a fresh ink cartridge, I went again to shout his name again from backdoor & front. Wait! Out front? Did I really hear a timid squeak? Not by the garbage cans, but again a squeak, by the front steps: Behind the topiary evergeen? Just past that, under dad's wooden bowl planter peeked those lovely yellow eyes, framed in Gris-Gris fur. "Come on, Boy, you had us worried! Come on in now". As I headed back to our front door, he vacated his lair, and skulked up the steps, hugging low to the ground. I opened the door and he lit for the kitchen, as I called Sandy with the good news. Behaving very subdued, GrisGris ate a bit of the canned food then water.
Satisfied our prodigal cat had come back unscathed I left the boys to enjoy breakfast together while I unwound. A few moments later, a yowl emitted from the breakfast club, and I turned back to find them posturing and yowling for a real-live-Catfight! Gris Gris' night out on the town had him transmogrified into an alien, and Hobie-cat was on full siren-howl, hissing, out-for-blood posturing. 1st foray of heat-seeking missle fusillades flared up the stairs to our bedroom, where fully-clawed mortal combat ensued, with me in hot, screaming pursuit. "Cut that out, you jerks; ENOUGH!"
Now, as self-appointed UN Ambassador, I've established 'Detente' by sitting 4th step from the top, where I can look through bannisters to see Gris Gris รก la Sphinx, guarding his masters bedroom entryway, while from the 1st floor guard-post, Hobie keeps trying to storm my Gaza,with fully dilated-pupils and bristling fur on his backbone.
At last Sandy's back, to lecture them both while I take a bio-break. Sandy's got "Mr. G" purring on our bed again, but the tail flicks still spell trouble. Her lecture to Hobie includes "did you hold the door open for him, hoping he'll never return?" rings true for the moment. Now freshly showered, Sandy encourages the former comrades to regain a little trust. Sandy detangles her wet hair, we exchange that look of "d'you believe these cats?" when from under the bed, Gris Gris emits a vocal warning "nnnNNEeeeeewwwhh" again. One more altercation in the kitchen, and I sequester Hobart to a safe-house, as Sandy tosses Gris Gris in the litter-box to add a more familiar stink to his fur.
Hours later they're posturing & following each other from a safe distance, still mewing if too close for comfort, but no mayhem. I'm secure enough to nap now.
So bizzare, that just one night out could estrange them so. Let's all be more vigilant with our furry bruddahs in our comings & goings here at the Allentown cathouse.
Thanks. Pete Bourdelle

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Inextricable Links: Greening Time

A decade ago (maybe more) Wayne Dyer introduced me to a concept that changed my thinking. Google him and "Following Your Bliss". Essentially, he posits that being true to your own inner yearnings and passions will open doors and create positive, transformative energy. Currently, Deepak Chopra discusses the same thing though his terminology is different. What they are saying is this: we make our own reality. I recall freshman philosophy. Descartes, Kant, etc. These guys have it all over them with the advantage of a global perspective. It's refreshing.
I have friends that are aging. They are becoming aware of their limited time left on this earth, and regardless of their religious beliefs or political persuasions, the thing they have in common is their feeling of urgency; they have something they were meant to do during their time here. They are following their bliss, connecting with their cosmic energy, acknowledging the God within. Say it anyway you like. They have a vision they need to make real.
Funny. I'm slowly approaching retirement age (I have a few years to go). And I think this may be the most dynamic period in my life. I have close contemporaries who are living frugal lifestyles despite higher degrees to A) write the novel, B) build the educational center, C) create their own meaningful art. Beautiful. It's a mid-to-late-life Renaissance. The heck with the status-quo. We have visions. Passion. Direction. And a deadline. Literally. As Martha would say, "It's a Good Thing." Some goals are lofty; some small. We have an inner voice that speaks to us, if we choose to listen.
I like to think of it as a conservation of time and resources. Like the green movement, we, as aging artists and dreamers know we have limited resources (time and money). We want to make it mean more and last longer; leave something behind. So some of us choose to live frugally, and create our visions. Some of us didn't make it, and we hold them in our hearts as we move on.
"Have you been half asleep and have you heard voices? I've heard them calling my name. Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors? The voice might be one and the same. I've heard it too many times to ignore it. It's something that I'm supposed to be. Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me." (Written by Paul Williams and used by Kermit the Frog, of The Muppets, Jim Henson Productions).
Kermit Rocks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hot Glass

Proto-bat

Make it and Take it: Girls at Play

Lunch for Happy Crafters
I enjoyed a crafty play date with my good friend Stephanie today. Stephanie was my student teacher a year or two ago, and is my favorite hands-on, creative friend to spend an afternoon just "making" with. We have a wonderful symbiosis. We encourage each other to take the steps that are needed to create the things we envision privately. Let's see: OUTSIDE of the classroom (where we did EVERYTHING) we have worked with clay, glass, soap making, painting, and some major culinary explorations. We've been camping, hiking, geocaching, boating, pubbing, dining, marketing, farming. She has introduced me to microbreweries. I introduced her to goat-milk. She didn't dwell on my introduction; I did on hers. We share a love of good teaching, good food, good books, good art, and good living. We share. She's too young to be my classmate but too old to be my daughter. I love her energy and don't have to mince words with her. She's the best teacher I ever met.
Stephanie is a spelunker, a passion I shared earlier in my life. She is due for a get-together of like minded people, where she will spend some festival-type time with her caving friends. She'll sell our handmade jewelry on their flea-market day, and our stashes of beads will yield some dividends to further enrich themselves. I'm a beading junkie; she's on her way.
I'll include some pictures of our wares on a later blog; I'll post a picture of my first lamp worked glass bat in a few moments. Today's blog picture is of our impromptu lunch (a new tradition for us). She calls our lunch "tapas"...we both spelunk our fridges and offer up a variety of stuff. Today's offerings were as follows: fried green tomatoes (thanks to the moisture that is killing my vines...more about this later), fried zucchini, heirloom plum tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and homemade mozzarella with balsamic vinegar, local ring bologna, corn, and fried pitas; homemade sweet and hot vegetable chutney, homemade butter for the corn and pitas and local hard cider. Oh, yeah. Local, sustainable, organic energy. Energy to fuel our creative juices. Summertime rocks...even if your tomatoes ARE green.
Everyone should have an artsy playtime buddy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Buy Nothing Fail: Thrift Store Wardrobe

It happens every year. About two weeks before I return to my teaching job each year, I realize I'm going to have to shape up my wardrobe and persona and reconform to societal standards. My ever-patient husband, who does the majority of the wash, apologized a week or two ago because he hadn't done it in awhile. My response? "So what. It's summer." And that's exactly how I feel. Add to that the goat-barn perspiration, the pervasive eau-de-cow, the grimy shorts and ruined undergarments, and I was forced...FORCED, I TELL YOU! to think about returning to a supposedly civilized environment in a week or two. Sans sandals and shorts, blue-jean free . So I'm in the process of trimming, clipping, grooming and clothing myself these last two weeks, to get myself in good (enough) show-pony shape.
So, how best to do it? I am not a fashionista. There's news! I could care less about styles or trends. I'm all about function and comfort, and minimizing certain unflattering aspects of my burgeoning middle-aged body. I have no problem wearing last year's styles if they're comfortable and durable. Some clothes have lasted decades! I applaud them! They're old friends! The answer? Kamikaze thrift store shopping! I have always been a hit and run shopper, but I decided to limit myself to thrift stores as a way of greening my yearly need. It makes total sense, in my circumstances.
There are two items I will not compromise on however, one being undergarments and the other being sensible shoes. Second hand undergarments...well, yuck if you get my drift. And shoes? Have a go-around with plantar fasciitis, and you'll understand my decision. So, after my whirlwind tops and bottoms spree today (I spent a quarter of what I usually spend, and got better names and more booty), I will only need a few more items to be ship-shape. The Hubs even scored a pair of swim trunks and a couple of Hawaiian shirts for our mini-vacation next week. The heck with fashion; no one cares once you're a "certain age" anyway (which is SO liberating!). I'm good to go. But forgive me, Crunchy, for I have spent...again. I DID circumnavigate the majority of my yearly Bon Ton debt, however, if there is any absolution to be won in compromise.
I think I did allright.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Of Cabbages and Kings

I just stopped following a blog because of a sentence that bothered me: "New Age, Buddhist or other Cult philosophies will *NOT* be welcome here."
When did Buddhism (which began in 580 BCE!) become a cult? And why are some people so intolerant of others? How can we be so culturally ignorant? As an artist, teacher and lover of diversity in all things, I truly have problems with this sort of thinking. While it may be prudent to warn off the poor Buddhists and New-Agey spiritual seekers from potential shunning and dogmatic aggression, I find it difficult to understand the real reasons behind such divisiveness.
But I digress. Please forgive my rant; today's post was just supposed to be about composting, little boys and the wheel of life, not exclusionism and cultural ignorance. My bad.
-----------------------------------------
On a lighter note, I'm happy to report that my grandsons, who I assumed would be new to the magic of composting, are way ahead of me. I handed the 10 year old the trowel, and opened the bottom chute, and his comment was "Yup, it turns into dirt. Hey, you have worms!" Then, pointing to the planter beside it: "May I eat that tomato?" My daughter is doing a good job with them. The little guy just carried the soup jars to the truck so we could go see Miss Vicky at The Caring Place. He likes Miss Vicky. They met Earl today, too. They were very curious about his life, and very grateful for their own lives and circumstances when we returned home. Good boys.
P.S.: Check out the following blog (Frugal and Urban's timely post today!) for some helpful meditation techniques based upon Buddhist principles: http://frugalurban.wordpress.com/2009/08/11/taking-refuge-in-the-moment/

Composter Denouement

Cue Scooby-Doo time warp music and cartoon/psychedelic graphics; step back to early spring, 2009. Driving down an unknown road between Allentown and Quakertown to meet an unknown person at a previously unknown site. It was a dark and rainy night...
Actually, it was a cold and cheerful morning and I was buying a still-in-the box, never used composter from a woman who worked at an upscale Bucks County restaurant. I had been using a garbage can that I had drilled several hundred holes into, but it didn't make compost; it made swamp mud. I needed help. Craigslist to the rescue! I felt out of place, meeting her in the entryway of the 18th century pub in my work shirt and jeans, but her ad never mentioned a dress code. Much to my relief, we completed our transaction in the parking lot and the composter was mine.
I have been dumping my considerable vegetable and gardening scraps into the black box all summer, where they have been dutifully decomposing. I throw the occasional lost worm in there as well, and hope for the best. Like magic, the pile goes from tall to short, with no effort on my part but an occasional grimace and turn with a short pitchfork. I have decided that today, with the help of my two soon-to-be greener (and dirtier!) grandsons, the compost bin will divulge her secrets and offer her jewels up to my water-logged city garden. I will introduce my grandsons to the mysteries of life and death, and the inevitable wheel we're all riding. Let the games begin!
----------------------------------

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rainy Days and B Movies

The State Theatre, Boyertown, PA
I have a confession to make.
There is nothing I'd rather do on a rainy day than watch (or more accurately, listen to) a B movie. Even worse, my preferred genre is horror, with sci-fi as a close second. I love them. I have bought Cd's of B movie soundtracks. I was an avid fan of MST3K (http://www.mst3k.com/) before its untimely demise several years ago. My Saturday mid-mornings were planned around that program; I saved boring chores for that hour and a half each Saturday, and laughed at the puppets' snide remarks while I plodded through piles of laundry or sinks full of dishes. I joined Netflix to have access to these old gems, though I humor my husband with "real" movies from time to time.
I'm not going to apologize for this obvious character flaw. I have great memories of the little black and white TV I had as a kid, rabbit ears and all. If I was really lucky, I could tune in to a very grainy but somewhat recognizable channel 48, where Chiller Theater http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CafM97ifNc) played on Saturday nights. I didn't get out much as a kid, apart from the gazillion small jobs I had. One of my pre-adulthood jobs was in the local movie theater, where the first movie I ever worked for was "The Frogs" . I was in hog (well, FROG) heaven. Oh, yeah. Big time. I had some great times in that theater. I graduated from candy-counter girl to projectionist in a few short years. As projectionist, I had control. I opened and closed, and spent many late evenings alone or with one or two other co-workers in the empty theater. I believe my later interest in both acting and set design may have begun with the love of that silent space. Empty old theaters are magical places that seemed to be holding their breath, just waiting for the curtain to open. As projectionist, I knew the secret handshake, the magic and mystery. It was a sacred space.
The State Theatre in Boyertown (http://statetheatreboyertown.com/hmpg.html) still used carbon-arc projectors in the 60s and 70s. Ollie, the projectionist who taught me (and a great friend) used to open the side of the projector and tan himself. We spliced film, made manual changeovers, and used extra movie reels to make a miles-long paper chain of chewing gum wrappers. Life was simpler then. He gave me a ride home on the back of his Triumph one night so I wouldn't have to fight off the drunks that ogled me at the Mansion House, where my father sometimes bartended, and where I had a short stint as a dishwasher. I wasn't wearing a helmet; we got pulled over by the local policeman, who listened to our story and let us go. It was a small town. My parents never knew.
So, I allow myself the occasional thriller. Nothing too gory; more laughs than shudders. And I fondly remember growing up in the anticipatory dark, and the smell of pop-corn.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Simple Pleasures

It has been a simple day. Peter joined me today, which was an unexpected pleasure; the usual morning for me: goats, garden, and home. Peter's job was to collect some fallen branches for our new chiminea, and he found exactly the right selection.
.............
Have you ever noticed how memories are tied closely to smells? My world is full of them; the mint I place on my dashboard reminds me of my father's mint on HIS dashboard; the goat milk smell on my hands: the 1976 farm. Later in the day, there was vegetable soup simmering (fresh from my garden!), and though I don't know what this reminds me of apart from the soups I have made over the years, I know it makes me feel safe and warm. The first soups sustained us when we had no other food; my weekend work selling African beads on the flea market with Tom and David allowed me access to the closing market and the last ditch prices for the vegetables that remained. A few cents worth of chicken necks and backs made a lovely broth, and we ate soup for the week for nearly nothing. It kept us alive. Soup makes me feel safe.
..............
The final scent of the evening was the wonderful sassafras smoke from the chiminea. We lit a small fire, since the evenings have been unseasonably cool, and sat with it until it died down, then retired to the sun room to watch Julia Child reruns on PBS. Heaven.
..............
Julia trussed chickens, cut off fish heads, spilled wine and burnt herself; she laughed at herself and forgot things. She flipped omelets with ease, and threw things on the floor when she had enough of them. She was real; larger than life, flawed and perfect in her honesty, she was as wholesome as the smell of goat milk or wood smoke, and we enjoyed her company over a glass or two of wine. It was a perfect night.
..............
Simple pleasures.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Goschenhoppen

Handmade Brooms at Goschenhoppen http://www.goschenhoppen.org/festival.htm
If you read yesterday's link, please keep it in mind when you consider the time that passes in an artist's life; in any life. So many changes. So many memories, both good and bad. With luck, we emerge unscathed and well-rounded from the experiences. We assimilate the experiences, learn from them, and base our present on lessons learned from our past. Or we don't, and we repeat behaviors that harm us. The sins of the fathers, so to speak. We are our neurosis, or the wisdom that follows.
.................................................................................................
Dear First Boyfriend,
I saw you today, from a distance. You were making beautiful pottery, the way you did in the 70's, and you didn't see me. I remember your long blond hair, and how we used to go everywhere in your little black VW bug, how we'd spend days in the mountains swimming in the streams, or go to art festivals at the local college, or lie in the big hammock in front of your family's house together. You barrel-fired your pottery there one weekend; we went to open studios at school together, and you were the better potter of us all, though I became the art teacher somehow. We knew all of the best power lines; places to hike awhile, then throw a blanket on a warm summer day, to read in the sun, or just nap. We hiked stream beds, looked for ruins. We went to the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and Grendel's Lair; we heard Maria Muldauer, David Bromberg, Arlo Guthrie, Murray McLaughlin; all the old greats. At home, your younger brother had orchids growing in the trees, and played Scott Joplin on the piano. Your older brother caught me looking at myself in the mirror in your living room hall and called me "Mother Earth". Your father tolerated me; your mother despised me. She was ultimately the instrument of our undoing, when she whisked you off to school with no warning. I was devastated. You were beautiful; I have a picture of you standing on the rocks at St. Peter's Village with your denim shirt open, your jeans slung low on your hips, a perplexed look on your face. You questioned everything. We were best friends.
I heard stories of you over the years, as I'm sure you did of me. We even met briefly a year or two later, when I was carrying my daughter, and we parted ways. I pictured you since then with your 20 year old face, living your life as I lived mine. You were always blond, beautiful; slender, tall...you imitated Bob Dylan and sang Neil Young songs to me in my memories. We never grew up.
I saw you today. Real life. We're in our 50's. I had to look closely to see you, but you were there; the curve of your fore-arm, the shape of your mother's face, a wisp of once-blond hair slipping from your cap. Would you see me? You were making pottery, reenacting the folk arts of the 1800's. I stayed back, unwilling to reveal my middle-aged self to you. I will let myself forever be 20 in your memory. I love, and am beloved. I am anonymous to you in my older, fuller self.
In the 70's, you took me to Goschenhoppen. Today, I returned and you were a presenter, not a boy who was sampling his culture, building his future. You were present, strong, whole. And in my memories, you will always be beautiful. You were beautiful today as you smiled at your audience, showing them the pot you had thrown on your wagon-wheel kick wheel, explaining the history of your craft. We were beautiful. Part of us always will be.
Peter said I should have spoken to you, but I couldn't. I hold those memories as precious as a drop of amber, a jewel of the past. It was good to see you. It was good to know you made it through alive.
How did we ever get to be this old?
Your old girlfriend,
Sandra-Deedle-Dee

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Moonstruck. Still.

Post-script
I left my camera at goat-post #2. I hope they don't eat it. They were moon-struck too. In the mean time, here is an article from Salon that made me laugh...or cry...you be the judge. It's a play on Steven Covey's advice to highly successful people, with a creative twist. http://www.salon.com/people/feature/2000/02/09/sevenvices/index.html

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lunacy

Strolling Goat
On our midnight drive to Fleetwood last night, I was taken by the beauty of the full moon, as it emerged from the filtered clouds that were obscuring it. First an eggy smudge, then a clean-edged, glowing man-in-the moon face emerged, just glowering down and daring us to live our orderly lives. It's been a chaotic day or two. Lunacy; ba-dum-bump. Back in 1978, when I was a photographer of newborns at Booth Maternity Hospital in Philadelphia, the nurses swore by the moon. When the full moon approached, they prepared for more deliveries. I know emergency rooms are busier near the full moon, as are bars (having been both a patron of both and a bartender in my younger years). Tides are higher, and farmers plant by the cycles of the moon. Animals statistically bite more often, and are seen in animal emergency rooms more often, and their human victims are seen with more frequency in the human ERs. Who am I to argue? Sure, there are skeptics. Not me; I believe in the pull of the moon. After all, we're 80% water. We have cycles and tides, too. So, with this in mind, I took the time provided by our late night drive to reflect upon the moon as the moon reflected upon me. And I found it easier to accept the craziness of the day I had experienced. My Australian uncle, enroute to see my mother in Fleetwood, PA, had been bumped from his flight twice. Having changed his plans several times over the past few days, I was used to the "flexible" arrangements, so it really wasn't a problem. He, having traveled from Australia to Singapore to Germany to Kentucky to Pennsylvania in the course of a month or two, was unimpressed by a few bumped flights. My poor mother (not quite so cosmopolitan) was frantic, and between my mother, my aunt, my husband, the various airlines and myself, we burned up our share of phone minutes last night. How did we ever function without cell phones? Happily, he finally arrived in Allentown at 10:30 last night, and we delivered him unscathed to my 81 year old mother who was nearly jumping up and down while holding her walker with one hand when we arrived. She was glowing as brightly as that full moon. It was worth it.
Uncle Paul was full of news about the various cousins (mine) he visited on his journey. Among them was my cousin Michael who (according to uncle Paul) owns the Hooters franchise in much of Germany. How did this happen? The last time I looked at pictures (my mother fans them out like poker cards every time I see her) he was a little boy, then a young handsome man. I guess he grew up, all right. I took a rather risque udder picture today, in honor of the situation, but have decided not to post it. Hooters of Coopersburg. I'm happy for his success, but really surprised! Here I was thinking I was hot stuff for graduating summa in the 80's and becoming a teacher. Hahahahaha! Hooters trumps public education, at least financially! But public education has its own rewards, right? Right. It does. Really. Something has kept me coming back for 22 years...and it's not the paycheck.
The other cousin who uncle Paul had great reports about was his own youngest child, now the mother of four children, who has, with her husband, made sound decisions and investments, and has just bought her 4th house. Drives to work in a Mercedes. Well, it's not like Michael's personal assistant and (most likely) humvee, but it sure isn't a Chevy truck that ANOTHER cousin (blush) drives either. It's ok. I like my life. And last night, MY personal assistant, Peter, was driving us to Fleetwood in his Ford Contour. It doesn't get much better than that, does it Mr. Moon? The goats were capricious both yesterday and today, having learned how to wiggle under the fence to allow themselves access to the barn door and food; inside, they have also learned how to unbolt gates, and are pretty much in control these days. If they could just learn how to milk themselves and deliver to the milk house, I'd be ok with that; it's the independent strolling down the lane that worries me. I'm pulling double duty at the dairy the next two days, as I'll be helping out Kendra, who helps me out on my days off. I'll also be a visiting goat-sitter at her home tonight and tomorrow. Her LaManchas will most likely add some excitement to my evening tonight, after wrestling with my girls at Flint Hill.
Like the goats, cows and horse, as I get older I am more disrupted by change, though on my best days the distraction of those disruptions is a good thing. Yesterday was full of smiles. I'll try to remember that as I gaze at the full moon tonight. I hope the goats, the relatives and the air lines do the same. Moonstruck, all of us. It's a beautiful, if chaotic thing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rebecca's Big Adventure

Rebecca and Mac
What a great day! Rebecca has never been on a horse before, and she changed that in a BIG way today.
Rebecca is a tireless employee of Flint Hill Farm; she has spent countless hours mucking stalls, feeding animals, selling cheese, and just plain working at the farm since last fall, when Kathy offered her a job and provided the catalyst for a huge transformation. Rebecca, who had never touched a horse before, fell in love with them and the experience changed her life. The details are hers to tell, but it's a remarkable story. It's a book-worthy story. They inspire me.
Yesterday was Rebecca's birthday. Today, she asked Ms. Kim for a lesson on Mac, and she faced her fear and rode the big boy, who she loves. I swear he was smiling too!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Sundays, I Cook

You're going to love this one: Frozen Yogurt with Honey and Mint I didn't take a picture because it began to melt too quickly, but here's a link to the recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Frozen-Greek-Yogurt/Detail.aspx I used raw cow-milk yogurt, local honey and mint from my back yard; the only non-local product I used was one store-bought lemon (home-grown lemons being scarce in Pennsylvania). You'd think the yogurt would taste too sour with only honey added, but it is such a perfect combination! And healthy to boot! Try it! Yum! The soup for the week is a sausage/potato/kale/corn concoction; I supply a gallon each week to The Caring Place: http://www.thecaringplace.org/, and take a thermos full to Earl, under the bridge: http://www.mcall.com/news/local/allentown/all-5earl.5894689sep16,0,3330983.story . I like to do this. I've always cooked too much for my small family, and it occurred to me that this compulsion to cook might have a healthy application. So, rather than give up a lifetime activity that gave me such pleasure, I was moved to use my impractical overindulgence this way. It feels right. We should listen when we're called, follow our bliss. Self actualization doesn't have to be selfish. My other culinary escapades today were sourdough flat breads from my pet culture (Fred, who I keep growing in a jar in the fridge) and a crock-pot full of pulled pork for sandwiches tonight and tomorrow. Peter is working on one of his many projects, so he's been pretty absent all weekend. Crock pots are one way to feed an absent husband without having to go to extra trouble. Nothing too exciting, but everything is as local and natural as I can make it, with the pork coming from the farm, and the veggies in everything from my garden or a local farmer. Summer rocks.

Horsehair Bracelet Remix

Double 5 Strand Braid, Various Horses
For Flint Hill Farm Agricultural Education Center in Coopersburg, PA. If you're interested in purchasing one (deductable donations of $25 each; we're a non-profit), contact owner Kathy Fields through the following website: http://www.flinthill-farm.org/, or just let me know, and I'll hook you up. I can also create bracelets to order with your own favorite horse's hair.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

There's Nothing More Beautiful Than a Garden

Tomatoes, first: plums, heirloom plums, a yellow pear (hidden), cherries and a few volunteer strays; rhubarb, parsley, dill and dill seed, rosemary, basil (both English and Thai), green beans, spearmint tea, chocolate mint tea, lemon balm, peppermint, oregano. Left for another day...the greens, more herbs, more and more. So much my neighbors are feasting too. So much.
I find God/ Goddess/ Powers-That-Be in my garden. In any garden. Growing, giving, nurturing, natural. My days see the divine in the eyes and udders of the goats, the growth of the vegetables, the harsh reality of animal and human birth and death, and the breathtaking beauty of nature. We're all breathing, together. Life's good.