Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013...2014

 
It's New Year's Eve in Las Vegas!! Whoooo!!
 
And when all the action that you see in that photo is happening at midnight, I'll be up on my roof with CoolGuy watching it. And then, we'll climb down and go to bed. Because we are Major Partiers!! Dude!! Well, not since about 1982...The last time we actually went out on New Year's Eve. We used to go to a command party at the base, or to one of his co-worker's homes, and we danced and laughed and drank lemonade. But that year, as I went out to pick up the babysitter, something broke on our truck, and, although CoolGuy could fix it, right then was not a good time. So we just stayed home that night. And it turned out to be a great new tradition.

As the kids grew older, there was a lot of fun to be had there at home. We don't drink, and --for sure now---I'm not much of a dancer. And at your own home, you don't have to worry about drunk drivers or other troubles. So, after we got a T.V. again, we started having movie night, and at midnight, the kids would go outside and bang pots and pans and wave sparklers around and we'd holler in the New Year. Most of the places we've lived have had plenty of people willing to shoot off their semi-legal fireworks all around the neighborhood. Now, we just climb the ladder to our roof, and enjoy our panoramic view of Sin City and all the various fireworks that light up the sky.

Here are some of the favorite New Year's Eve movies over the years:
  • It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
  • The Great Escape
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Casablanca
These were memorable to the kids because they'd never seen nor heard of them. Plus, they had famous people from our youth in them (Marilyn Monroe, Steve McQueen, Phil Silvers). And, two of them are black and white. These are also movies that all ages can enjoy. It was interesting how three of them also are set in historic contexts, so they gave our children some cultural literacy, too. But...mainly we watched them because they were such great entertainment!

So, this year, with no children around, we're still going to watch a movie, and then climb up on the roof and enjoy the fireworks. We had an amazing 2013---two college graduates, three summer trips to Wyoming, and a wedding! Here's hoping that 2014 will be a memorable year, too--also for good reasons. It is a landmark year for one thing: 40 years of the CoolGuy and EarthSignMama collaboration. That's worth a WHOOOOO!! isn't it?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Celebration Time

Today is the day! The Last Day of Darkness! December 21st, the winter solstice, is a date I anticipate eagerly each year. It means that the dark times are finally moving on and we will experience the gradual increase of daylight. By February we will start to notice that the sun is slipping behind the mountains a little later each day. When I leave the school at the end of the day, there will still be a little light in the western sky. Joy will fill my heart.

I've never enjoyed winter. It isn't hard to know that It wasn't all that fun to trudge around in the snow and the cold. Some days could be beautiful with the sun gleaming off the brilliant white snow, the stunning blueness of the sky arching over the mountains. I didn't dislike winter when I was a child. I had no particular opinion of it. It was what it was. Winter was a normal part of my life. I reveled in the mini-thaw that always came along in February, melting the snowpack off the highways, leaving the sidewalks bare and easy to traverse. Of course, March usually came in with a lion-like roaring blizzard, and we often had snow storms right through April, too. But, that is life in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains. Summer was more pleasant than winter, but winter was just the way it was every year.

Then...I lived in Southern California for twenty years. So, I'm ruined. I'm a certified weather sissy. I do not ever again want to live in an environment that makes me walk or drive on snowy, icy roads or sidewalks. I like to see the bare ground, or---even better--flowers and shrubs and grass and trees that are green year round!

So, this time of year, I laugh with CoolGuy about how we should light a big bonfire in the yard, and paint our faces and dance around with antler crowns and amulets and cheer for the end of darkness. But probably, we'll just soak in the hot tub and tomorrow I'll go to church and play the organ for the celebration of Christmas. I know...the old Christians just incorporated all those ancient customs into a new reason to have a ritual joy-filled event in the dead of winter. But, doesn't it really make sense to take a pagan celebration of the return of light by replacing it with a Celebration of the Light of the World---He who conquered the ultimate darkness--death? Sure it does! So join in the joy and have a great day tomorrow as we begin our seasonal journey to the days of light.


 
Some day I'd like to go to Stonehenge and join these devotees in their celebration.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

I'm Glad I Was Invited

Yesterday, the ward mission leader left a message on my cell phone. He apologized for the late notice, but asked if I'd be able to come to the church on Thursday at 6:00 P.M. to play for a baptism. I called back and said I'd be happy to be there. I just assumed that this was for the missionaries. They are quite busy in our ward, I've played for five or six baptisms this year. It was quite a different event than I expected, however.

When I arrived at the church and walked into the foyer, I recognized the older lady sitting on the sofa, but I hadn't seen the fellow who was reclining beside her. His feet were on her lap and his head resting on a pillow with an oxygen tube in his nostril. His wheelchair was off to one side. Several other people from my ward were chatting with them. So I just went right into the font room and sat down at the piano.

The ward mission leader came over to greet and thank me, again. That was when I looked in the program to see what songs I'd need to play. The baptism was for an eight year girl---not the adult convert I'd expected. The very frail, elderly man in the foyer was her grandfather, who is dying from cancer. His son is the father of the young girl and is in the Air Force, stationed in Minot, North Dakota. His parents live in our ward, but the father has been ill for as long as we have been a ward (a little over two years) and has never been able to come to church. But that is why I recognized the woman--occasionally she can attend.

Son had come home from Minot to baptize his daughter, and---I presume---to be with his dying father. Apparently, the daughters and the mother of the children live here in town with her parents. There are a few questions that I'd like to someday get answered: are the parents divorced? Why do the kids and wife live here, if not? How did they both get such an amicable set of in-laws if they are divorced? The two sets of grandparents were pleasant and warm with one another. On and on....

Here's how it went: We were going to just hold our meeting in the usual way, when our bishop (who was presiding since it is the grandparents' ward) said, "Let's just move it all out there by grandpa." So, we picked up our chairs, the full-time elders rolled the piano, and we took the meeting to the foyer so that grandpa wouldn't have to sit in his wheelchair, but could continue to recline on the sofa. We sang, we prayed, we listened to a very nice talk by the mother's side grandma. Then, they gently lifted Grandpa into his wheelchair and we all went back into the font room. With each grandfather poised as witnesses, Dad and his little daughter entered the water and performed the ordinance. Then, they moved Grandpa back to the sofa, we all sat quietly in our foyer meeting place and listened to a couple of testimonies. Dad and daughter returned.

Then, daughter sat in a chair right next to the sofa. Grandpa leaned up with support from Grandma, and joined the other grandfather, dad and a couple of men from our ward and all put their hands on the sweet little girl's head. The father pronounced the confirmation and blessing. When the prayer was finished, Grandpa sagged back into the sofa, and his little sweetheart gave him a tight hug. She hugged all the grandparents and both parents and then sat down by Dad, who by now was wiping tears from his eyes. Me too.

I don't know much about this family. But it was evident that this is likely the last of these precious events that Grandpa is going to attend. Son will have to return to the base in North Dakota, at some point. Life will go on. But I'm so glad that I had to opportunity to be a witness to this very precious hour they all spent together tonight.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What Great Cooks Do

Here's what was prominently featured in the grocery store where I went for a few things tonight:

 
If you look closely, you'll see that it is a display with large bags of whole dried chilies, piles of cleaned corn husks, big cooking pots, and just behind the corn husks are bags of masa. Because....tamale time!

I've lived most of my adult life in communities where making tamales was a critical part of the Christmas preparation. I've even been the blessed recipient of some of these tamales. It just isn't Christmas without tamales. And believe me---it is no small thing to make them! It requires hours of work and many hands. And love and devotion to your family, because it wouldn't be the holidays without this traditional food.

Which is why I am writing this tonight. Today is our mother's birthday. She would have been 86 years old. I'm pretty sure that she wouldn't have been actually still cooking all of the bounty that came out of her kitchen when I was living there at home, but I imagine she may have been directing others in the "right" way to prepare these foods that we all associate with Christmas and our mother's kitchen.

We didn't make tamales in that kitchen, but we did make hand-dipped chocolates. She made a variety of fondant centers---cherry, mint, maple, orange, lemon, vanilla. She would also wrap some of it around a Brazil nut and then all of the centers were dipped in chocolate that was gently melted in the top of the double boiler. When she used up all the centers, she'd pour raw Spanish peanuts into the remaining melted chocolate, stir it around until they were all coated, and scoop little heaps of them onto the waxed-paper covered cookie sheets. These trays of bounty were then carefully carried into her room where they were lined up on top of the chest deep freezer that stood along the wall. [There wasn't any other place to put that behemoth.] Our house didn't have the greatest heating/insulation and so that corner of the house was cool enough to allow the chocolates to set up.

Another big production was lemon meringue pies. These weren't  specific to Christmas, but were regularly served for dessert, usually on a Sunday. Now, as an adult, I've become quite skilled at baking lemon meringue pie, and I still marvel that she whipped out two of them on those Sundays. It's not like she had extra time. There were many small children to dress, feed and whisk out the door by 9:50 so we'd have time to drive past an elderly lady's house and pick her up, and yet arrive on time for Sunday School. She'd get up with the milking crew on Sunday, bath and wash her hair, set it in brush rollers, and then make the pie crusts. They'd be put in the oven and she'd brown the beef roast or the huge chicken that would then be set to roast while we were at church. [This was back in the days of one hour Sunday School, and then you went home and came back in the evening for Sacrament meeting.] After the pie shells cooked, she would kneel on the floor in front of the open oven door and let the warm air flow over her hair to dry it in the curlers. Then, the roasting pan lid went on, and on the other front burner, she made the lemon filling. As the filling cooled slightly in the sink, she'd beat the egg whites into meringue, dribbling in the sugar just soooo, in order to dissolve it completely. The warm filling was poured into the cooked pie shells, the meringue quickly swirled over it--ensuring that it was smoothed right over to touch the pie crust so there'd be no gaps---and a sprinkle of coconut flicked over the egg-white peaks. Back into the oven for 15 minutes to brown the meringue, and after the pies were set to cool on counter top trivets, she shut off the oven, but again...leaned down to dry her hair a bit more in the still warm air.  By the time we finished Sunday School, the roasted entrĂ©e was finished, the pies cooled enough for dessert and we'd feast.

I could go on and on: scratch Angel Food cake for every single birthday.  Fruit cake at Christmas (and it was delicious -- I don't know why fruitcake has such a nasty reputation). We ate cherry pie for Washington's birthday and three birthday cakes within a ten day period in February. She made outrageous fresh strawberry pie in the summer. She cooked ridiculously delicious fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. I don't even make fried chicken because I don't want to be disappointed. Homemade root beer, cinnamon rolls, fudge, and ---twice a week---six loaves of bread. I'm drooling now.

Ask any grandchild and they'll tell you of all the amazing feasts they ate at her table. And the interesting part to me is that many of their favorite culinary memories of Grandma are foods that she didn't even cook when I was child living there. The menu differences between we older four girls, and the younger four children are even startling. But....that's what good cooks do: they change it up. She was a kitchen adventurer. She looked for new ideas as well as using the old standards. I thought of the joyful memories that will be made this year by the Latino mothers and aunties and grandmas as they unite over the tamale ceremony this next week or two, and I remember the joy my family experienced all because our mother was a GREAT COOK.
 
Here's my dad with one of those Angel Food cakes on his 50th birthday.
 

That's my mom (in the blue shirt) with her two sisters. She was the best cook, they all agreed.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Two of My Friends

Throughout my teen years, I knew that winter meant I would have cracked and bleeding cuticles. I always assumed this occurred because of the two hours every morning, and two hours every evening, that I spent milking cows. My hands were usually wet or cold, or wet and cold, from washing udders and carrying the milking machines around. Out in the barn, (in the olden days) it was impossible to wear gloves because your hands were wet so often. The whole process involved lots of washing, rinsing, etc. Anyway, the ultimate result was chapped hands. I used lots of lotion, carried it around in my purse and had it by my bedside. Actually, in an attempt to keep my hands from being a total disaster all winter, I became very faithful at applying the udder cream to the cows that my dad encouraged us to use. By "greasing" the cows, I was also slathering it on my own hands and it helped to protect my skin from the ravages of the job.

However, after I moved away from the farm, I found, to my dismay, that my hands would still get dry and cracked and my cuticles would peel and bleed anytime the weather got cold and dry. Blah! I spent years rubbing Vaseline on my hands and sleeping in gloves, or over-lotioning. Then...I met the best friend that cracked cuticles ever had:

 
This blurry photo may not show you the title clearly: Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream. It smells lovely (unlike Bag Balm) and really, really works! When I use this faithfully -- i.e. night and morning--- it really keeps my pathetic fingernails from having raggedy cuticles. There isn't any cracking, peeling or bleeding. I only wish I'd found it sooner. But when I went online to look up the history, it seems that Burt's Bee cosmetic products have only been widely distributed since the early 2000's.

I've used another product of theirs longer than the cuticle cream:


This is Burt's Bees Res-Q Ointment. It is a first aid cream that has one of my favorite healing herbs as an ingredient: comfrey. When I had a serious injury to my hand in 1980, my mom made some poultices from comfrey leaves she'd been given by a friend and the wound healed up very quickly. I've used comfrey leaves in poultices for a variety of injuries and bruising on myself and some friends with excellent results. So I was quite pleased to find an ointment with comfrey.

Anyway, I just wanted to introduce you to two of my "friends" and recommend them to you. We'll be buddies for many years to come or until I move to the tropics where there is never cold, dry weather. But...I'll probably still manage to hurt myself, so I'll keep Res-Q in stock.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Feliz Navidad

Well, this is .... well ... I'll just let it speak for itself. Here's a still photo. Then, definitely, play the video.

 
This is a little friend I borrowed from the music teacher at my school. He has a musical message for you at this festive time of year.
 
video

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Preparing for the Freeze

Well, it didn't snow--much to the great disappointment of my students. But it has been mighty cold here. Yeh, yeh...I know. We're sissies here in the desert. It barely made it into the 20s. And in the state of my birth and childhood it was in the  MINUS 20s. I know. But, I don't live there anymore and there is a very good reason for that. I don't like to be cold. I didn't like it then, either. But I didn't realize that there were options. Actually, when I was a child, there wasn't an option. But, as an adult, I've discovered the regions of our country where one doesn't have to shovel snow or cow manure, and I plan to reside in one or the other of them for the foreseeable future.

Here's how we prepared for the coming frost:  First I harvested the remaining tomatoes.

 
After the blast furnace of August, I let my tomato plants just sit there in my garden and they begin to recover and, by early October, I can usually pick another small batch of the lovely red orbs. These were the remaining green ones that had formed in the balmy November days we enjoyed. But I knew that temperatures below freezing would wipe out the plants, so these can ripen on my counter.

Next: CoolGuy helped me bring in all the potted plants that line the patio. They didn't all fit in this corner. There are ten here, and two more on the other side of the room.

 
I always plant geraniums and pansies in the fall, and they thrive all winter in the [usually] mild temperatures. But, frost would kill them, too. And the ice doesn't do a thing for my succulents. After a few more days, it will be safe to put it all back out there. I'm glad we brought them in, however, because all the other yard plants are now showing the signs of the frost: dead leaves, curled up blackened flowers. We'll have a big yard trimming "party" in January.
 
This morning, there was a thin sheet of ice across the swimming pool. Usually, we leave the pump running all night to keep it circulating. But we didn't even go to the hot tub last night because there was a brisk breeze rushing that cold air across the yard. It just didn't seem like a very inviting idea.
 
But, the wind has stilled, the thermometer isn't supposed to be dropping below the freezing mark tonight and by Sunday----60 degrees is back!  So, we're going out to the tub tonight. Sigh. Survived another "winter" and we're ready for .... well, it's not quite Spring, but at least it isn't Wyoming in December.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Excuse Me???

 
 
Do you see that little snowflake icon on Saturday????  That is just SO WRONG. I'll be expecting a correction right away, Weather Gods. This is the Mojave Desert and we only want our snow falling on the mountain tops, where we can gaze on its beauty while walking around on our dry, bare ground in our shirt sleeves. Okay, okay, I'm willing to wear a sweater, even. BUT NO SNOW.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Thankful

I'm thankful we got to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter's family here in the desert. They arrived on Wednesday afternoon because they didn't have school that day. So it was a pleasant drive during daylight to get here. I came home about a half-hour after they arrived and we all  enjoyed a pleasant little meal. Then, we started in on the fun.

First, we went over to see the Christmas lights in the cactus garden! Doesn't that sound like a very Mojave Desert-y was to celebrate the season? The cactus garden is adjacent to a chocolate factory, and I don't know why I was a little surprised to see that the factory and the store were open. Duh...So after we wandered around the beautiful outdoor scenes, we walked through the chocolate factory tour and got our free samples. Yum...then, naturally, I bought some chocolates, and we headed for home.

The little people got tucked into bed for the night and I baked a pumpkin pie. I spread out some bread slices on a cookie sheet so that it would be dry enough to make dressing the next day, and then I went to bed. About 1:00 A.M. the three year old starting vomiting. Poor mom... Grandma slept through it all.

I woke up the next morning and found out about the disaster of the night before. The little sick sweetie was sitting forlornly by mom on the couch, with a bowl standing by. Mom had had very little sleep---little sister almost none, too. That is where the sweetie ended up spending Thanksgiving---on the couch. Her seven-year old brother (with the help of Grandpa Cool-Guy) made breakfast pancakes --from scratch---for the rest of us. So cool.

I started the turkey roasting, and then I heard the discontented quarreling of children who've done nothing but lie on the floor and watch T.V. The sick one was quietly enjoying not moving and just letting Minnie Mouse and friends entertain her. But those two older ones got scooped up by grandma and we went off to explore one of the entrances of the wetlands that is near our house. Binoculars, hiking shoes, sunscreen---off we went.

After about an hour and a half, we headed for home and finished making the whole meal: rolls, dressing, a pumpkin and a pecan pie, pickles, olives, cranberry sauce, salad, mashed potatoes and gravy. Those of us who could eat, did just that. We ate and we ate. Then we cleaned it all up, and by then, it was late afternoon and so, as the sun set, Grandpa and I and the two big kids went out and played in the little pool (hot tub) for a while, just enjoying the orange sky and the warm water. We watched a movie and everyone got into their beds/sleeping bags and actually spent the entire night sleeping. No puke. Yeah!

The next two days were filled with hiking and eating and playing with their uncles' old Legos. Little did I know that old Legos are "super awesome" because all of the figures are "classics" and my Lego loving grandchildren were thrilled. It was pretty sad when we finally tucked everyone in on Saturday night, knowing that the next day they had to pack up and go home. Well...sad for me. Actually, they considered staying with us and Grandpa almost had them convinced that they'd love going to my school, too. But, ultimately, no matter how much fun you're having---there's no place like home.

So we bid farewell, found all the missing socks and sweaters and packed up their clay and their stickers and their really dirty clothes and they headed north on a beautiful morning. They're going to get snow this week. We're going to get really chilly weather (for us). We had an idyllic holiday to enjoy together with nothing more important to do than stop and examine rocks and dig in the clay.

 
The cactus garden is a pretty fun place to go. If you're ever down here during the winter holidays, we'll go there and get a couple of cups of Mexican hot chocolate and wander around and enjoy a unique light show.
 
 
This is my new motto.

 
Grandpa and one of his Sweetie Pies enjoying a lovely afternoon in the desert.

 
Here's who they were gazing upon. He was only about 30 feet away. These wild desert bighorn sheep graze in this park during the day. It's a great life, if you can get it.

 
Here's the formerly sick girl giving her brother, sister and grandpa a ride.

 
Clay! Real clay! It's just part of the ground out here in the Mojave. It rained for three days the week before they came to visit us, so in a shady spot like this part of the trail by a mountain, it was still damp. It was just such a new experience to find REAL CLAY out in the wilderness that the hike was over and a new fun time was begun.

 
The afternoon light is beautiful out there by the lake and it was a great place to take a photo.

 
The next day we went to the wetlands near our house. Here we are looking at the mosquito fish darting about in the shallow water. Also, some coots and moorhens swam near to us.

 
Again, there are lots of photo ops in this place. In fact, we came across a large family taking pictures with the grandparents, the little babies, the grown children. It was a beautiful day, just warm enough, no wind and so many nature things to see.