Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The best time of year

I love September. It's still warm, but the days are getting shorter and the sun has a kind of lazy quality. I love to sit on the deck in the morning sun and watch birds fly around the garden and listen to their songs. There's a feeling in the air of things starting to wind down.
This September was a busy month. I had planted my tomatoes late in the season, so by September they were coming on strong. I usually roast and then freeze part of the crop and puree and preserve the rest. Mixed together later on, they are a perfect consistency and flavour for pizza or pasta sauce. 
This year, I decided to get tricky and pressure-can the roasted tomatoes to save on freezer space. Which worked quite well, except for the one jar that didn't seal and when I lifted it out of the pressure cooker it exploded all over the front of me. A perfectly round piece of skin, about the size of a dime, came right off the tip of my nose, and there were a few other smaller burned spots on my face. And some of the scalding bits of tomato went inside my robe and burned me in unmentionable places.
Here they sit, seemingly innocuous but actually rather deadly.

It was to be a few weeks of clumsiness and accidents on my part. I fell off my bike and sprained my wrist, broke the blender jar out at Vista House, sliced my finger badly while making a food cup for Shirley, burned a potful of boiled eggs, mistakenly left a pan of tomatoes roasting in the oven overnight not once but TWICE (!), and had several other bad spills and burns and accidents that I can't recall right this moment. I finally decided that I needed to start thinking proactively every time I embark on a task instead of plunging into it, and the strategy seems to be working.
Jazzed I am!

In the midst of my clumsy period, my dear friends from New Zealand came to visit for a couple of days. The weather was perfect and they went to see the Spruce Goose and the Portland Temple and one evening I showed them some of the local city sights.
I love friendly visits. I can't get enough of them. We used to get lots of friendly visits when we lived ten minutes from Disneyland. Living in the wilds of Oregon really helps you to identify your TRUE friends, because only true friends will travel this far out of their way to see you.

On another perfect late-summer evening, Jeff and I went to see Home Free. 
Jeff said I was smiling funny, but it's because I had gum in my mouth.

If you're one of the five people in the civilized world who haven't heard of this group (who are immensely easy on the eyes as well as the ears) check this out. 

And, during the concert, I self-diagnosed myself with age-induced crotchetiness.
Tell me, in all seriousness, why certain loud-mouthed women will always insist on calling out lewd comments to band members, both during and between the songs? It quite ruins a concert for me. I go to hear the music, not women who have too high an opinion of their own delightfulness.

Mid-month, I was lucky enough to have the Mitchell kids overnight while Mom and Dad had a well-deserved break. On Saturday morning we needed to get out of the house, so we went to a local park, thinking that it was Oktoberfest.

Well, it wasn't.
But we had fun anyway.

And then we stopped at Lori's Little Free Library to nab some books.

And then the little darlings cajoled me into visiting the frozen yogurt shop.

Daniel is such a softie for his wee sister.

And we were all very excited, because later that day we were expecting some very important visitors.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Labour Day on the Banks-Vernonia Trail

I love to ride my bike in the summer, especially on organized bike rides that aren't horribly challenging (read:big mountains). One of the groups I have been riding with is the Tour-de-Cure group, via my friend Robin's Joy Riders group. Early in the summer, I challenged Robin to ride the Banks-Vernonia trail with me before the end of summer. Jeff and I had done it with a group of friends the year before on our recumbent tandem and it had been a killer of a ride for us, due to the twelve miles of uphill that is difficult on a recumbent tandem. With my road bike, I knew the ride would be much easier, although it is a 42-mile return ride, which I haven't done for a few years. 

We settled on Labour Day for the ride, which dawned clear but not hot, my favourite riding weather. Jeff had to leave for a job site, so he sadly missed out.

The rail line was originally built in 1913 to transport passengers, timber, and freight. The line was abandoned in 1973, bought by the Oregon Department of Transportation in 1974 and transferred to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department in 1990. After twenty years of improvements, the trail was completed in 2010. It is eight feet wide and crosses twelve bridges and the Buxton Trestle, an old railway trestle that is 600 feet long and 80 feet high. A second trestle at Tophill was destroyed by fire and is now bypassed by a series of infamous switchbacks, where several friends have ignominiously bitten the dust. The trail is 21 miles long and tens of thousands of people use it to run, walk, and bike along every year.

Robin always has the necessities of life. In this case, salt-water taffy.

Ellen, Lauren, David and I rode over from Newberg together.
In a car, silly.

Robin (with her beloved Percy) and I stuck together on the uphill, while the rest of the pack forged ahead. We were quite happy.

Ah yes, the dreaded Tophill. Try riding down the switchbacks if you dare, but don't come crying to me if you topple, 'cause I warned you.

We started in Banks and, twenty-one miles later, we stopped for luncheon in Vernonia. The restaurant was crowded with like-minded bikers and service was at a snail's pace, but we were kind of okay with that. 

Besides, there were men in uniforms to look at. Although, they were not quite the eye candy of this day.

After an unmemorable lunch, but a lovely long rest, we headed back to Banks. Lauren vowed to NOT try to keep up with her husband this time and we rode together. There she is in the distance.

Here we are on the Buxton trestle. Still smiling. Lauren, you look so stinking cute!

And strangely, the twelve miles of downhill was harder on my body than the twelve miles of uphill, which makes no sense at all. But we made it all the way back in one piece for which, considering my track record of late, I was very grateful.

Birthday hilarity

A few weeks ago one of my children, one of the cynical ones, asked me why so many people are obsessed with documenting every event of their lives with photographs. I explained that some of us like to fondly reminisce on the happy times of our lives, and that (without hard evidence) the details fade over time until many things are completely forgotten. 
One of my joys is reading over past blog posts and recalling the details of happy times with friends and family. I wish that I had more documented stories from my childhood like this, and so I blog; not to impress anyone else, but for my own pleasure and satisfaction. And maybe some day when I am long gone, my children and grandchildren will enjoy reading about our adventures together. 
So, I am repenting of the dilatory nature of my blogging of late, apologizing to no one but myself, and here goes.

It was Natalie's birthday a week before Halloween and Bethany's birthday today, so I decided to throw a good old-fashioned party for them, calling upon my memories of childhood parties attended by my sister and me. So last night, this happened.

Having a party on the day after Halloween does have its drawbacks. Kenzie was lethargic, Daniel was hyper to the max, and Josh was over-sensitive. 
Natalie, however, was in fine form. Her gift from Aunty Jenny was of all things Frozen.

After the very short gift-opening, we played games.
It was mandatory.
And the first one was my piece-de-resistance. One of the standard party games when I was a young 'un was Pass the Parcel, and I continued the trend with my own children's parties. The premise is simple: wrap layers upon layers of paper, with small prizes hidden within the layers. The dilemma was what to put in the layers. Not candy, because, you know, the whole day-after-Halloween thing. I don't like buying junky little toys because they are ... junky. And the really good stuff is expensive. So I came up with this plan, which cunningly gives me more excuses to spend time with the little darlings.

I considered it to be a stroke of brilliance. Coupons for treats at local businesses, most of which also cater to the gluten/dairy-free amongst us. And trading was allowed if the recipients were mutually willing. 
It was an indubitable success, with rowdiness at maximum level and Daniel exceeding the bounds of bounciness. 
Here's how it works. The participants sit in a circle and start passing the parcel around. Every time the music stops, the holder of the parcel unwraps one layer. Maybe there is a treat hidden in the layer, and maybe not. The music starts again and off it goes. 
I monitored the music, with some lively Lorde tracks. She is a singer-songwriter that so happens to be from New Zealand and we all enjoy her music. Check her out.

 Things got a little wild. It was the most epic game of Pass-the-parcel ever!

Then we played Pin-the-tail-on-the-pig. Jenny made the poster. And Madelyn won.

No party is complete without a game of Musical Chairs. The Lorde music continued and everyone boogied around the chairs.
And yes, that is my foot in the photos, which Bethany was taking.

Sometimes they ran around the chairs.

And then we played Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar and it was hilarious but no one took photos.
And then we sat down to three kinds of cake.
Gluten/dairy-free vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting for Josh and Madelyn.
A personal gluten-free chocolate cake with chocolate ganache filling and frosting for Bethany.
And a fudgy chocolate cake with whipped ganache frosting for the normal eaters amongst us, which recipe is to be found here (only baked in a 7 inch round pan at 335 degrees for 30 minutes then 320 degrees for another 40 minutes or until middle tests for crumb) because I love you and you should make this cake.
Daniel managed to burn himself TWICE while trying to light the candles.
Boy Scout fail.

Ready, set, ....(Jeff looks crazed)


I just keep chuckling at how much these two are alike in looks, if not in temperament.

Happy Birthday girls!
And that was one of the merriest parties to ever grace this house.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Not shopping and a chicken

Hmm. I started this post halfway through my "no shopping" month, and here I am, at the end of it already. I should have had all kinds of spare time, what with not shopping and everything, but it's been a busy month.
I did make a few mindful exceptions to the "no shopping" rule. There was some French sea salt butter that had date-expired at Grocery Outlet and I was determined to snag some, so I haunted the dairy section for a few days until I caught the dairy manager and persuaded her to mark it down. Came home with five pounds of deliciousness, as well as a few Lindt bunnies that I couldn't resist. On an earlier haunting, I bought a big box of Haagen Dazs salted caramel ice cream bars that spoke to me. What can I say? Also bought a 20-pound box of peaches with a bulk order I was running, but figured that hardly counted because it wasn't from a store. So I wasn't perfect, but my fridge and pantry have a few holes in the shelves now, thank goodness. 

I am thinking that I will continue with the avoidance of shopping for a few more months. I have missed bananas and onions, and Jeff has missed his orange juice, so I will be less stringent. 

Here are some highlights from the month.

Jeff was up in the attic for some reason and said to me, a couple of days later, did you know that there is a bunch of toilet paper in the attic?
What? I said, I thought you had brought it all down ages ago!
Well, not, apparently. So this made an appearance, a stash from at least twenty years ago, I am sure. Amazingly, it is still usable, a testament to the durability of the product. I am trying to ignore the dead spider parts that are scattered throughout the packages.

 Early in the month, I used up the last of a very large bottle of soy sauce (Costco-style) that has been in my fridge for about the same length of time that the tp has been in the attic.
Awesome. Annihilating FDA guidelines in as many ways as humanly possible.

I started blinging my remaining bowling ball and ran out of glue. I really tried to resist, but ended up sneaking in and out of JoAnne's as quickly as possible to get some more E6000.
Guilty as charged.

Not sure why I love these as much as I do, 'cause they're kind of tacky, if I was to be honest about it.
But love them I do!

Halfway through the month, a friend called and asked me to take a chicken that had been badly injured by a wild animal who broke into the henhouse. Julie nursed her back to health, but every time she put her back with the flock they pecked her and re-opened the wounds.
So, meet Shirley.
Jeff says it's a dumb name for a chicken, but I'm pretty sure it's really her name.

The dear bird has spent the last two weeks making a complete mess of my formerly-tidy flowerbeds. She came with a small cage, but hates it. The second night of her residence, I was out puttering around the garden and it was getting to be close to sundown. A little voice told me I should put her back in the cage, but I told it to be quiet and I would take care of it in a few minutes. By the time I looked for her again, she had disappeared and, although I spent close to an hour looking for her, was nowhere to be found. I went to bed hoping that she had found a safe place to roost, because we do get raccoons in the yard occasionally and they would love to make a meal of her.

The next morning, at 6:30, I heard a gentle clucking outside the bedroom window. I still haven't figured where she spent the night.

Here she is, sheltering under a big hosta leaf from the sprinkler.

She lays one beautiful big brown egg every other day.

Natalie likes to feed her nasturtium leaves.

Jeff and Chris spent most of sweltering yesterday building Shirley a nice coop out of wood that I scavenged from a building site. 

I've been roasting and canning tomatoes this week. Some of them are from my garden and some from the senior centre, where excess produce and bread is often available. It's kind of ridiculous how easy it is to get free food around here. I'm still struggling with the Tattler lids and had four jars out of fourteen that inexplicably didn't seal. And I won't elaborate on the accident that splashed boiling tomatoes onto the end of my nose which then lost a perfectly round section of skin and has been looking very weird all week.

Such is my life.