Friday, 28 January 2011

Ingredients for a great meal

Originally posted to Multiply January 17 2010

Collect the ingredients.

Pull from freezer: Vegetable stock made from peelings. Chicken stock made from the carcass of one of Linda's home-grown chickens. A baggie of frozen dill, bought from market buddy Colette last summer.

Get from pantry closet in the hallway: Organically grown onions, from the neighbors in Washington State. Home-grown potatoes and garlic. A can of B.C. wild pink salmon, a can of clams, origin dubious but we can't be perfect.

Get from fridge: Organically grown carrots from our heroic local farmer Janet Spicer. Celery from the supermarkt, "corporate organic."

From spice cabinet: A bay leaf. Whole mixed peppercorns, Caribbean seasalt. A few cloves.

Invoke the memory of Dot, my boss at the Frontier Drive-Inn in Grand Forks who taught me how to make Clam Chowder in 1972. I think of her every time I make it. I cannot remember Dot's last name, though the government of Canada could help out. She was one of my sponsors when we became Canadian citizens in 1975. I remember her tears when she found out our first-born had died a day after birth. It turned out she had lost her first baby too. When you break a leg suddenly the world is full of broken legs. So it was with dead new-borns and other failed first pregnancies. We digress.

Ingredients and memories collected, now for the most crucial part: turn on Sunday Morning radio.

I absolutely love CBC's Sunday Morning. It is a leisurely paced program presented by the donnish honey-voiced Michael Enwright. It has room for documentaries, a bit of music, unhurried interviews and thoughtful analysis of what's happening in the world. It lasts from 9-12, and is a perfect accompaniment to the making of soup.

I even saved the extra potato water for baking bread tomorrow. Sometimes I am so virtuous I can't stand myself.

Life without Taps

Originally posted on Multiply Jan. 11 2010

We are responsible for our own infrastructure out here. Just plugging in to municipal water and sewer is for suburban sissies!

The ridge where we live has issues with water. Many neighbors have spent a small fortune on drilling deep wells. We were fairly lucky. Chris' knowledge of hydro-geology and a local dowser's intuitive work both pointed to the same spot as the best place to dig a shallow well. Our water source is a culvert sunk 15 feet deep into bedrock at the bottom of the land. Electricity pumps it up to the house. I can't just turn on sprinklers willy nilly, and after a dry summer we have to be careful with water, but we have never run out.
After the delicious hot sunny summer of 2009 the well was way down. Chris made it work by managing it manually: go down to the pump house, check the water level, open the main valve to the system, fill the tank, and turn off the valve so the pump is not in danger of sucking in mud and air. Repeat later in the day after the well has had a chance to replenish itself.
Laundry was getting to be a problem, solved by taking big loads to the laundromat. One certainly did not want to spend a leisurely half hour under the shower, and the "If it's yellow let it mellow" rule was applied to the toilet.

But otherwise it was still a civilized household with hot and cold running taps. That ended after a cold night in December, when the pump froze and died. A new one was speedily installed. Alas, in order to get it up and running the tank needs to be filled twice, in rapid succession. We just cannot do that until the water table goes up, probably not till breakup.
Until that happy day we revitalize the water management skills we acquired during our years in the tipi and the old log cabin. That explains the blue camping thingy on the counter, the pails of water in the tub for flushing, and the big garbage pail in the kitchen full of melting snow. We have it down to a fine art.

It is a bit of a hassle, and of course I will be glad to get the system back to normal in spring. But let's get some perspective here: we can fill the blue containers at friends' houses and take them there by car. We don't have to melt snow for laundry, we just go to the laundromat. I can get quite clean with a wash cloth, and once a week or so we go for a good wallow at the Hot Springs. We have 2 to choose from.

It is a far cry from having to walk through dangerous desert for hours for the sake of a pail of contaminated crud, which is what many women in Africa have to do.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Curse of the Flat Cloud

Originally posted on Multiply January 6 2010

It was supposedly a sunny day in Southern B.C. today. A Facebook acquaintance from Revelstoke, another town along the Columbia 100 km to the North, reported brilliant sunshine.

Alas, here in Nakusp the dreaded Flat Cloud reigned supreme for most of the day. The official name for this weather phenomenon is Valley Cloud or Valley Fog. It is a narrow band of cloud that forms over the lakes in between the mountains. It comes with inversion: cold air is trapped below, it is warmer above. It is fun to drive a logging road to get above it. First you drive into the fog, then through it, then you emerge into brilliant warm sunshine. Looking down upon it is like flying above clouds.

But most of the times our little lives take place below it. The view from my living room window is supposed to look like this:
On a Flat Cloud day it looks like this. The cloud band hangs well below the mountain tops. It feels like being in a pan with the lid on top.
Nakusp is the Flat Cloud Capital of the Southern Interior. High pressure ridges in fall and winter eventually bring inversion to all the valleys, but we get it sooner and it lasts longer. When we first lived here, after 4 years in the sunnier climes of Christina Lake, I was totally obsessed by it. We knew by the vegetation that this valley was wetter than the Boundary region, but we had not counted on low cloud during those lovely Indian Summer weeks in September and October, when time stands still and all is blue and golden. Honest rain is one thing, spoiled good weather something else.

It used to drive me nuts. In the early tipi years, when I worked in a local restaurant, I would question anyone who had been out of town. "Did the sun shine in Kaslo today? New Denver? Hills? Fauquier, Burton?" If the answer was no, it was foggy all over, I'd be at peace. But on the many occasions when I heard that the clammy grey cold was limited to our neck of the woods I'd get all depressed. IF we had known about this micro-climate quirk I would not have settled here. Since the land was perfect otherwise it is just as well we didn't know.
Today the clouds parted just long enough to show a few glimpses of light.

I used the opportunity to walk my little loop on the land again. Not exactly a hike, but at least I was outside for most of an hour.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Good Start

Originally posted on Multiply January 1 2010

How is everyone doing with those silly New Year's resolutions?
One of mine is to spend more time outside in winter. I don't enjoy walking on icy roads. I used to cross-country ski on the land, but that ended after I broke an ankle 12 years ago. First it took more than a year to heal completely. Then there was no money to buy new ankle-supporting boots. They remained on the 'next year' agenda for a few years but by now quite frankly, I am becoming too chicken. Maybe there are snow shoes somewhere in my future, but do we really need them? It's not like we go hiking in the wilderness anymore.
Today was a typical old-fashioned West Kootenay winter day: just below freezing and snowing generously. The white stuff is welcome. You can still see the tops of bracken fern, dogbane, bunch grass and other 'bossies' above the snow. That should be hidden under a deep layer by now.

Chris does the snow shoveling, for which I am truly grateful.
But without a reason to go out I can stagnate indoors for days. Who needs the world when there is a laptop and a cable connection? So today I pretended that I was a child in Holland, where snow was always a total thrill. Who needed snow shoes? Lack of gear is just an 'if only' excuse. So far the snow is only knee-deep, you can still break a trail through it. I just stomped around for a good 40 minutes and created a little loop.

If I keep it up daily there will be a nice trail to use all winter. Yeah me!

Ty and Rosie's Solstice Party

Originally posted on Multiply December 23 2009

I have in the past blogged about my inspiring friend Rosie, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at the age of 34. I am part of a team of volunteers who supplement the hours of Home Support, so Rosie can continue to have a life.

Quite frankly, a year ago I was wondering how long we could all keep it up.
Then miracles started to happen. Rosie had given the natural PD program a thorough try. It has worked for some people. But in Rosie's case removing the energy blockages, as well as eating healthy food and supplements wasn't enough. But now, with the addition of "regular" medication progress is being made. Lesson to all: always think and/and, instead of either/or!

Taking a bite of Papaya without help may not seem like a big deal, but in Rosie's case it is. She still needs help with regular food.

Another miracle is a new love in her life. When Rosie's speech improved I said how much easier this would make it to attract volunteers. Said the undaunted, never-give-up-dreaming miss R: "I wasn't thinking help. I was thinking a man!" 
Lesson to skeptical your's truly, who thought "Yeah right...": Never think Never!

Ty, we love you!

On Solstice Day, which is also Dad's birthday, Rosie and friends organized a party. One of Rosie's famous cheesecakes was produced with teamwork: Rosie as instructor and brain, someone else as hands.
There was music, great food, and good friends. What better way to start a new solar cycle.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Between Merry and Bah Humbug

Originally posted on Multiply December 20 2009
I truly admire people who have the energy, creativity and design sense to decorate to the hilt, but am not one of them. Ordinary life is enough of a challenge. We live surrounded by real fir trees, why bother bringing one inside? Of course it was different when there was kids in the house. Last year as a token to the spirit of Illumination we bought one of those tiny fake trees with shifting shimmery lights. It is quite cute, but the sparkles don't show up on a picture.
Chris had the idea to string the lights that would have gone onto a real tree along the ceiling, and I hung some balls from an old lamp chain. The sheep with the googly eyes would normally top the tree, but it gets to guard a ball instead. VoilĂ , Casa van Houten is as decorated as it will get.
It actually looks quite nice and twinkly in a funky sort of way but the flash destroys the effect.

December sets one up for grief. There is all that pressure in the air to have a life filled with Hallmark moments. It is easy to feel sorry for oneself if reality is different.

Both of our children have valid reasons for skipping the "Home for Christmas" family gathering thing. Son is with the girlfriend, which is where he should be after an intense semester of study at the coast.

Daughter works her scientific tail off and needs the break to just veg hassle-free with her own family. I can totally relate. We will do a relaxed pressure-free visit sometime later in the winter. This too is as it should be. And of course our extended family of siblings is all overseas.

As usual I feel torn between wanting to be part of the whole thing and pulling the covers over my head till Groundhog Day. In an earlier blog I described December as the month one feels depressed about not being invited to parties that one doesn't really feel like going to.
At least there is something one can do about the first part: Do the inviting! Yesterday Saturday 19th, we had a nice relaxed almost-Solstice dinner party with some neighbors.

I made dip, punch, a huge pan of locally raised goat meat in a spicy Ethiopian sauce, millet (great with goat or lamb) and a witloof salad. Others brought raw vegs, garlic mashed potatoes, ratatouille and wine. For desert a fabulous Black Forest Cake was produced through the magic of barter. The baker gets Reflexology.

Wine, talk and laughter flowed freely and it appears a good time was had by all, but I don't post pictures of people without their permission.

Today is my favorite part of any social event: the day after. I am basking in the glow of having pulled it off.

It's Canada's turn to cringe

This was first posted on Multiply December 15 2009. How long ago that seems, as I repost it to Blogger in January 2011. Back then the glow had not gone off Obama yet, for those of us who were thrilled to see his arrival. maybe I should have posted this on the Rants and Ruminations blog. Oh who cares!

To all friends in the USA who had to suffer through 8 long years of mortification, while Canadians smugly branded themselves as the kinder, gentler all Americans who sewed a Maple Leaf on their backpack so they would be taken for Canucks: It's payback time.

It is Canadians' turn to cringe.

Prime Minister Steven Harper, who keeps forgetting that he is leading a minority government, is really the Prime Minister of Alberta, or rather, PM of Tar Sands.

The following remarks are from George Monbiot in The Guardian.
"The harm this country could do in the next two weeks will outweigh all the good it has done in a century. "
Read the whole sad but true article here.

Some background:
The consensus in Canada tends to be Centre-left, usually represented by the Liberal Party. Now I don't care which party you are, too many years in power will lead to corruption. The liberals deserved to be turfed out for a while.

Alas, their counterpart to the right, the Conservative Party, has been taken over by its Alberta wing, a more socially conservative, aggressively capitalist bunch. Alberta is a lot like Texas. Sounds familiar? If Steven Harper had been in power in 2003 Canada would have been in Iraq.

And it is true that at this moment people from all over Canada are working in Alberta, in the Tar Sands. The old industrial economy is on the way out, and the new one isn't quite here yet. What we need is a massive infusion of imagination.

I was quite thrilled when the Liberals elected Stéphane Dion as leader in 2006. His main idea, that the country needs a "Green Shift", was bang-on as far as I can tell, but he didn't manage to communicate it. It is not easy to be eloquent in a borrowed language. Dion's heart speaks French. He got clobbered in the elections.

Thank goodness the country had too much sense to give mr. Harper a majority, twice. But for now, this is the face of Canada on the world stage.
I am ashamed.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Whales and Mermaids

Just a funny. I don't often post these but I love this one.
This came my way through an internet friend, a great herbalist whose website is here:

Recently, in a large city in France, a poster featuring a young, thin and tan woman appeared in the window of a gym.
It said, "This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?"
The question supposedly elicited the following response.

To Whom It May Concern,

Whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, sea lions, curious humans.)
They have an active sex life, get pregnant and have adorable baby whales. They have a wonderful time with dolphins stuffing themselves with shrimp.

They play and swim in the seas, seeing wonderful places like Patagonia, the Bering Sea and the coral reefs of Polynesia .

Whales are wonderful singers and have even recorded CDs.
They are incredible creatures and virtually have no predators other than humans.

They are loved, protected and admired by almost everyone in the world.
Mermaids don't exist.

If they did exist, they would be lining up outside the offices of Argentinean psychoanalysts due to identity crisis. Fish or human?
They don't have a sex life because they kill men who get close to them, not to mention how could they have sex?
Just look at them ... where is IT?
Therefore, they don't have kids either.
Not to mention, who wants to get close to a girl who smells like a fish store?

The choice is perfectly clear to me:
I want to be a whale.

P.S. We are in an age when media puts into our heads the idea that only skinny people are beautiful, but I prefer to enjoy an ice cream with my kids, a good dinner with a man who makes me shiver, and a piece of chocolate with my friends.

It goes on a bit but I left the lame ending out.

Pears, Vicars and Feet

Originally posted to Multiply November 21 2009

A huge pail of pears came our way for free, looking ugly as sin but organically grown and quite delicious at the right ripeness. Pears don't keep. One day they are rock-hard, the next they start to rot from the inside. Being fanatical about not wasting food I set about preparing them for the dryer, a sticky and tedious chore.
A boring task can become a pleasant time when the work is accompanied by a good story. Enter the wonderful world of audio books, courtesy of the local library.

The pears got done while I listened to a rendition of "Barchester Towers" by Anthony Trollope, one of those leisurely nineteenth century novels that one normally doesn't have the patience for. Vicars feature prominently. It is actually quite funny in a genteel Victorian way. Sometimes it reminds me of Tom Wolfe. Both writers are great at sharply observing and describing human beings jockeying for position.

And where do the feet come in? Well, the dehydrator was broken. My handy neighbor fixed it in return for Reflexology. We both suffer from a lack of the coloured pieces of paper that are the agreed-upon means of exchange. I love money when I have it, but in its absence there are other ways of trading!

Facebook has its uses!

Originally posted on Multiply November 15 2009

Facebook has its uses.
We had some friends over for dinner last night. One of the friends moved away from here years ago. We have all known each others' children as babies, and the question inevitably comes up: how are they doing? What do they look like now?

Enter Facebook. Keeping track of the kids was the main reason I joined it anyhow. The laptop was hauled out to the dinner table and everyone visited the kids' FB pages, complete with baby pictures of their kids. Perfect!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Remembering Remembrance Day

Originally posted on Multiply, November 11 2009

My brain is crowded with thoughts about the politics of war and peace, the military-industrial complex, the sad historical realities of geo-politics such as the Great Game, the virtues and vices of soldiers and those who would control them.

The rants and ruminations connected to that will have to wait for another time. Today we are keeping it simple.

Today we just shake the hand of the old veteran who stands on the corner by the local Supermarket, hand him a twenty for a poppy, and make it a point to thank him personally for the liberation, once again. (actually that was Monday)

I was a toddler at the time and do not remember the liberation of Holland by Canadian soldiers in May 1945. But the memories of both occupation and liberation were still vivid in those early years. Since the Netherlands had managed to stay out of WW1 the whole November 11 thing did not play there. Remembering the dead took place the evening before Liberation day, May 5.

On May 4th at 8 PM two minutes of silence would be observed religiously all over the country. My parents would listen to the radio for the bugle that sounded at Dam square in Amsterdam at 8PM sharp. Even as small children in our own home we were totally quiet for those sacred minutes.

Later when I was out and about on a bicycle I remember standing still, in traffic, for what seemed to be forever.
At that time of day, at that latitude, the streetlights were not on yet. They would come on at 8PM to give the signal that it was time for traffic to stop. And it did. Trams were exempt, but otherwise all you heard for 2 long minutes was the evening chorus of birds.

A tram in the distance. Silence. Birdsong. Suddenly you smell the spring in the heart of a busy city. That's remembrance.

Trip to Washington and Oregon, October 2009, Day 10

Surprise! The last day dawned bright and clear, we had not expected that.
We had plenty of time for a bit more exploring. Now that we could see mountain tops again it was worthwhile. The road we were on appeared on the map as a thin line, that we had taken to indicate gravel. The pavement was fine. Washington does good pavement, much smoother than B.C.
The map finally told us that the road type referred to jurisdiction, not surface. All those thin barely-there roads are local, not state. Do we care? The map would have told us earlier if we'd asked. We decided to drive the little loop from Tonasket into the hills and see what Nighthawk looks like. For years I have been intrigued by a turn-off from Highway 3 West of Osoyoos that announces: Nighthawk, USA, and disappears into high barren mountains.

Now we know, Nighthawk looks like this. The road there from Tonasket was really pretty and more populated than we had expected. There was ranchland and orchards, small lakes and resorts. Alas, any pictures I took were not great and were later sacrificed. Next time I must bring extra memory. East of Nighthawk it looks like this: tough terrain that still bears signs of old mine shafts.
We could have crossed into Canada now, but one more small road beckoned, from Oroville through Chesaw to Midway. Lovely landscape but the road was rough. We had to crawl, that uses more gas, Thing doesn't like being rattled either so we turned around at Chesaw, about 30 miles later. I am glad we did because the views facing West were oh WOW.
Northern Washington East of the Cascades is sparsely populated, alternating ranchland with woods. The forestry industry has been decimated here as at home. The woods are glad to get a break from unsustainable cutting, but the working people are having a tough time. At least they live in a beautiful place. The country is the place to be in an economic meltdown. There is deer to hunt (is there ever!), trout to catch, gardens can be grown, you can collect firewood to stay warm.
We crossed the border at Osoyoos after all, and were once again depressed by the general level of paranoia at borders. Chris had forgotten to have his passport ready, it was in the camper. So he just wanted to get out of the car and into the back to grab it. Panic! No sir, you must park THERE, come back throught THAT door, and then show your passport. Makes you feel like a total criminal.

Anyway, we were back on our side of the line. The relaxed feel of Oroville was replaced by the busyness of Osoyoos. These towns share the lake, and are both centers for the fruit industry. But Osoyoos is a rare Southern hot spot in Canada, while Oroville is just another town in a Northern backwater. Both places are pleasant, but Osoyoos is slicker and more of a tourist trap.

Tip for people who want to enjoy Osoyoos Lake: the best place to do so is the beach park in Oroville. We stopped there once on another Washington trip, and really enjoyed it.
The next pictures are all taken from the viewpoint just East of Osoyoos.

We had a good visit with our old friend Linda near Greenwood and were home early in the evening.


Sunday, 2 January 2011

Trip to Washington and Oregon, October 2009 Day 9

We were getting close to home now. The Washington map was dug up again and we picked a route. It would be nice to visit our dear old friend Linda on the way home, so we aimed for a border crossing that would take us past Greenwood, B.C. The most logical place was Osoyoos, back on Highway 97. The day started out like the photo below.
 I like to document the river crossings. Traveling through Central Washington one is bound to cross the mighty Columbia at least once. Below: the bridge between Wasco, OR and Goldendale, WA.
The picture has no artistic merit, but that's what it looked like.
As far as we could tell we were traveling through hilly desert, with the odd patch of irrigated pasture or orchard. We were resigned to not seeing much that day, but the skies cleared near Yakima. Driving into the Yakima valley from the South was very different from the other approach. A mellow agricultural valley surrounded by deserty ridges. If Mount Adams was visible from that angle it was hiding today.
On the way down we had taken the canyon route from Ellensburg to Yakima, this time we took the high road. Both choices were just right. First some more desert.
Remember we live in forest country. Open desert is a treat.
Coming into Ellensburg from Manastash Ridge you get some splendid viewpoints.
And on the other side of the valley we find....surprise.....More desert!
We wanted to cover a bit of new ground instead of just following Route 97 North, so we turned East at Ellensburg, direction Vantage. At Vantage one has to cross good ol' Mother Columbia again.
We didn't stop at the petrified forest there. We saw it years, nay decades ago on a trip with the kids. We cut North-East over a corner of the agricultural plateau. Past Ephrata to medicinal Soap Lake, and on to Lake Lenore.

This is a fascinating area. We swam in Soap lakes years ago, on that same trip with the kids. It is weird sticky mineral water, supposedly with medicinal qualities, that is easy to float in. That time we had come from the baking oven of Moses Lake and Odessa. The great municipal park on the beach was a welcome oasis. This time it was just a place to stop for lunch and use the facilities.
On to spooky Lake Lenore. Even if it is fresh water in a parched land, there is something about that stark landscape with its black rocks that creeps me out. I would never pick it as a vacation spot, but if I lived in Moses Lake in August I'd gladly go for the day!

Just before we hit Electric City and the Grand Coulee Dam we turned onto road 17, straight North. This took us through some farm country and some ranch country and eventually past the Chief Joseph Dam back onto Route 97.

The fruit belt looked quite different in the gloomy weather. Any pictures taken were sacrificed the next day to make room for views from above Osoyoos. Anyway, we found our old spot from day 1 on the Okanagan River in Tonasket and settled in for our last night.