Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Halloween developed from ancient new year festivals and festivals of the dead. In the A.D. 800's, the church established All Saints' Day on November 1 so that people could continue a festival they had celebrated before becoming Christians. The Mass that was said on this day was called Allhallowmas. The evening before All Saints' Day became known as All Hallow e'en, or Halloween.

People in England and Ireland once carved out beets, potatoes, and turnips to use as lanterns on Halloween. After this custom reached America, pumpkins began to be used. According to Irish legend, jack-o-lanterns were named for a man named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miser.
He could not enter hell either, because he had played jokes on the devil. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth with his lantern until Judgement Day.

The Celtic festival of Samhain is probably the source of the present-day Halloween celebration. The Celts lived in Great Britain, Ireland and Northern France more than 2,000 years ago. Their new year began on November 1. A festival that began the previous evening honored Samhain, the Celtic lord of death. The celebration marked the beginning of the season of cold, darkness, and decay. The Celts believed that Samhain allowed the souls of the dead to return to their earthly homes for this evening.

(Lucky the cat who is no longer with us)

On the evening of the festival, the Druids, who were the priests and teachers of the Celts, ordered the people to put out their hearth fires. The Druids built a huge New Year's bonfire of oak branches, which they considered sacred. Then each family re-lit its hearth fire from the New Year's fire. They sometimes wore costumes made of animal heads and skins and told fortunes of the coming year.

Many of the customs of the Celts survived even after the people became Christians. During the 800's, the church established All Saints' Day on November 1. The people made the old pagan customs part of this Christian holy day. The church later began to honor the dead on November 2. This day became known as All Souls' Day.

Many early American settlers came from England and other Celtic regions, and they brought various customs with them. But because of the strict religious beliefs of the early settlers, Halloween celebrations did not become popular until the 1800's. During this period, large numbers of immigrants arrived from Ireland and Scotland and introduced their Halloween customs.

People once believed that ghosts roamed the earth on Halloween. They also thought that all witches met on October 31 to worship the devil. These supernatural beings remain symbols of Halloween.

And today we now celebrate Halloween in a fun and happy way. Youngsters dress up in costumes and masks and go from door to door saying 'Trick or Treat'. The neighbors, to avoid having tricks played on them, give children such treats as candy, fruit and pennies. Some children trick or treat for UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.

Happy Halloween! Trick or Treat!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chinese Take Out

When Hubby wants to bring me home a special treat, he knows to bring home Chinese Take Out. Pork Fried Rice, Broccoli Beef, Pork strips, and Egg Roll. Mmmmmm!

And I love that I don't have to cook a thing!

But it is fun to set a pretty table. My sweet sister in law, 'T' sent these pretty place mats to me as a gift one year for my birthday and I always pull them out whenever we have Chinese. It just makes it a little more special.

I found this hand embroidered table cloth at a little shop nearby for a song. I think I paid $2.00 for it!

It is all hand worked in cross-stitch on a stiff flax fabric.

It just adds that extra special touch.

A little escape from routine.

It's fun to collect little things to add to the ambience.

The best part? Reading each other's fortunes!

I hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Little Cottage in the Big Woods

Our little cottage sits on top of a little mountain in the foothills of the Cascades. We are surrounded by 75 to 100 year old (and older trees). The back is facing South East so we get warm sunshine from that side. (When the sun is shining)

We are at approximately 1200' elevation. There is a steep little river valley directly below us. We can't see the river, but we can hear it on still nights and in the Spring when it is full to overflowing. It is actually called a Creek, but it can be a torrential river when it wants to be, taking out roads and bridges further along it's journey. It cuts into the surrounding foothills forming steep canyons and originates from one of the many glaciers coming off Mt. Rainier. The water is very cold and pure. Salmon spawn there. It is protected. The road ends there.

There used to be bridge going across it many years ago, as late as the 1930's. There was also a town, an old coal mining town. Once when I was waiting for the bus to bring my children home from school at the bottom of our steep hill, an old, old man and woman drove up to me and asked me if the bridge was still there. I said, 'No', and they drove away. I wish I had stopped them and asked them about it.

The town was quite booming, and had a hotel, saloon, and little mining cottages. When we first moved here, we would go down to an old foundation that was still standing from one of those cottages and dig for old bottles. There were old rose bushes still blooming, and an ancient plum tree. I have some of the old bottles, still. The town is long gone now. The mines are closed down. But some of the air shafts were still open when we first came. But 'The Bureau' of some agency, maybe 'Mining and Land Reclaimation', came and filled them all with concrete. There were quite a few. There are still some open, deep along the steep sides of the hill that they never got to. (None on our property) My Dad put huge metal grates over one of them on his land. It is scary to think that you could be walking along and fall into one of them. You would never get out.

This large cedar tree sits about 15 feet from my front door in a little grove of similar trees that we saved when we were clearing the site. The ground here is sloped, and all the water runs this way. We are situated slightly lower than the top of the hill. So we kept the little grove of trees to absorb and deflect all of the run off. Besides, the little grove is so beautiful. Very little will grow beneath them, though.

This time of year, they all drop their golden needles and it covers the ground with a golden carpet.

View looking out to the right from front step.

This keeps me busy sweeping.

There are several varieties of large trees here, including many Western Red Cedar, Hemlock, Douglas Fir, Engelman's Spruce (with it's lovely blue needles and golden cones), and the massive Silver Fir (we have one in our back corner that must be at least 300 years old). Some of the deciduous trees include the Big Leaf Maple, Alder, Cottonwood, Vine Maple, several varieties of Cherry, and Cascara which the Indians, (and up until the 30's, drug companies) used the bark for medicinal purposes.
The smaller trees include Indian Plum which is edible, Red Elderberry (not edible), Hazel nut, Wild Plum, Holly, Rowan, Dogwood (regrettably the one tree I don't have on the property that I know of), and Ocean Spray (beautiful feathery white flowers that give it the name)

Then there are the shrubs and berries, too numerous to name, but a few are Blackberry, Huckleberry, Raspberry, Salal, Oregon grape, Thimble Berry, and Salmon Berry.

Among everything grows the large, leathery Ostrich fern, the tall deciduous Lady Fern, Maiden Hair Fern, Deer Fern, Bear grass and all the many, many wildflowers.

We cleared very little, not wanting to disturb nature. But it is enough to keep Hubby in shape mowing the grass.

View looking out to the left, standing on front step. Octagonal window looks out from loft above bedroom. Door goes to laundry room.

Our little cottage was built to take advantage of the lay of the land. Situated to take advantage of the Southern exposure and tucked into the hillside to protect it from run off.

It is a passive solar design, with sliding glass doors facing south, and a steeply sloped roof towards the tall North side with skylights to further take in the sun. On sunny days I don't need heat.

The style might be called 'Modern Salt Box'. The Northern side, which is also the 'front', is tall with two stories. The Southern side, is only one story, but mostly glass. On dreary winter days, I am very grateful to have so much light.

We started with only 1600 sq. ft.; the main house, with two bedrooms and a bath upstairs for the children and Hubby and I slept on a pull out bed in the living room for many years.

Ten years later we added our bedroom and the deck. I think we enjoy that space more than any other. It allows us to go outside any time, day or night without fear of what we might encounter. It sits high and safe above the ground. It is like our own little tree house. I frequently go out there in the wee hours of the night, just to look at the stars. The low end gives us access to the little side yard. This end includes the fenced in dog pen. It makes it inaccessible to wild life for the most part. (Of course anything with claws can climb. But it would have to face Whitey first!)

This is important when you live in Cougar and Bear country.

There are a few families with homes along the main road going to the river. (A gravel two lane winding road). After that, wilderness to Mt. Rainier and beyond, although we only live two miles from our little town going in the opposite direction. The first part of the wilderness is owned by big Timber Companies. Consequently there is always logging. The foothills are patch-worked with clear cuts. But they always replant and it is surprising how fast it grows back. This opens up tracks of land for deer and elk. And blackberries for bears.

It is only a quick river crossing to us.

We have a steep little back corner of our property that we have never explored. It is deep and dark.  It is our mystery corner. You just know not to go there. It is like a big sign that says, 'Keep Out'.

The land slopes and the forest is thick, so we let it be.

We are only temporary residents. This forest belongs to the natives.

We can all share and live together.

But stay off my deck. And I'll stay out of your back corner.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October's Life Lessons

Sunrise this morning

October is a beautiful month in the North West. The days are still warm enough to enjoy outside, and the beautiful fall colors turn everything into a feast for the senses. The crisp air, the fall leaves, the bright sunshine all add up to a glorious end of the last warm days. There is the harvest moon, the brilliant sunrise and sunsets, apples, pumpkins, squash, berries. What's not to love?

Russian Ash tree planted as sapling years ago.

Not only that, but October is my birthday. This year I am turning 56. I still can't believe it, the time went by so fast. I can honestly say that I still feel like a young girl. Except when I over do it. Then I feel the aches and pains. But for the most part, I consider myself very lucky. Every year is a blessing and a chance to consider all that I am grateful for.

After 56 years I have learned a few things. And that makes life so much easier. One of the things I have learned is that life is definitely too short to accomplish everything you want to do and that sometimes the 'dreams' you might have once held dear, were impossible dreams due to life's circumstances and it's o.k. to let them go and enjoy life the way it is. As John Lennon famously sang, 'Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans'.

I've also learned that keeping up with the Jone's, Fashion, or the Kardashians is a futile waste of time and it is much more satisfying to just be yourself.

The more you 'get', the more there is to clean, maintain, and pay taxes on and maybe all that work just isn't worth your time and energy. It's more important to take care of and appreciate what you already have than to acquire more stuff that will just end up in our overburdened landfills. There is nobody I really want to impress with stuff. I would rather devote my time to acquiring and improving things that don't cost a cent; knowledge, good character, love of nature, learning to cook a great meal, art, spending time with loved ones. Those are things worthy of my time and energy.

When I was young it seemed important that everyone 'liked' me. And while I do try to be likable, I have learned that you can never please everyone. I've found that the most important thing is to be 'pleasing' to myself, so that when I go to sleep at night, I have very few regrets. This means doing and acting in ways that I can be proud of, not to impress others, but to advance my own worthiness. And in the process, I do no harm to myself or anyone else. I always try to treat others the way I would like to be treated. But I am still a work in progress.

This involves knowing when to keep my mouth shut. Listening more and talking less, because I have learned that once something leaves your lips - like the Internet - it is out there forever and can never be taken back. This I have learned the hard way, by doing it myself and by having it done to me. So, as I have advanced in age, I have learned the wisdom of never saying things in anger. Sometimes words can cut deeper than a knife and the scars remain for life. My motto now is, 'Compliment more, Criticize less', and hopefully, never. Like I said, I am a work in progress.

I have learned to be kind and thoughtful, but not a doormat. If someone has proven over and over that they don't have my best interest at heart, (betrayal, lying, hurting) and I have given them at least three chances and they still don't understand (and they are not my child or significant other who would never treat me that way, anyway), I have given myself permission to let them go, or disengage myself from them, but I always leave the door open if they choose to meet me halfway. I have forgiven myself and them if they don't choose to. I have learned that nobody will respect me if I don't respect myself. And it allows me to focus on the relationships that are healthy and loving. This took me a long time to learn. But loving myself makes me stronger and much more loving to the ones who really matter.

Most important of my life's lessons is to always strive to be kind, especially to small children, the elderly, the homeless and disabled, the sick, the grieving, and all innocent animals. 'For as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me'.

Kindness is like throwing a stone into a quiet pond. The ripples radiate outwards, expanding on themselves. One act of kindness, creates more and eventually comes back to itself. Having been the recipient of kindness when I have needed it the most, I know the impact it can have. And so, as I enter into the Autumn of my life, I hope to expand upon the lessons I have learned, some of them the hard way. And maybe in some small, quiet way, I can leave a mark upon the world. But one that ripples outward. That is my new 'dream'.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Our Life Together: First Dance

It was the first dance of my first year of high school and I just had my second meeting with the cute boy I met over the summer, 'Blue Eyes'. He had asked me if I was going to the dance that weekend and also asked for my phone number.

I was nervous about asking my parents if I could go. I wasn't sure if they would let me. So I waited until they were in a good mood and then I asked. I was so excited when they said, 'Yes'.

Blue Eyes had called me and told me to meet him inside the front lobby before the dance.

I picked out one of my favorite dresses to wear. It was the sweetest little dress, brown corduroy, umpire waist, little puff sleeves and a very full gather of soft fabric to just above my knees. I had the cutest little brown leather 'Mary Jane' shoes to go with it. I wore my long reddish brown hair parted in the middle and curled. I wore very little make-up, just a tiny amount of blush, mascara and lip gloss. I was the typical teen of that time. 'Baby Doll' dresses and 'The Natural Look'. Ali McGraw was the top model and my idol. She popularized that look. She had just graced the cover of the new Teen Magazine, 'Seventeen'.

My Father drove me to the High School and dropped me off, telling me to look for him at 11 when he came to pick me up. There were groups of students milling around on the front steps. My little group of girlfriends ran to greet me, telling me that 'Blue Eyes' was inside with his friends. Off we went to join them. I was so excited to see him again. He was a grade above me and we didn't see each other very often in school. We didn't even share our lunch together. He confessed that he had been late to his next class that day we met in the cafeteria. He stayed to see if he could catch my attention.

We heard the band start to play and made our way inside. Blue Eyes told me that he knew the drummer and that the band practiced in his barn all summer. The band was named 'Utopia', and played at every school dance through-out our High School Years. They were very popular and also played at some of the surrounding high schools and church dances. They had a singer, two horns, a guitarist, bass, and drummer. They played all the popular songs of the day, including those by 'Blood, Sweat and Tears', 'Chicago', 'The Guess Who', and the 'Temptations', all bands that had horns.

At first we didn't dance, being very young and shy. We stood around and chatted with our friends. But then, 'My Girl' ( originally by the Temptations) started to play and Blue Eyes asked me to dance. It was a 'slow' song, and so he put his arms around my waist and we sort of just stepped around, with both of us stepping on each other's toes more than actually dancing. We started to laugh and couldn't stop. Then one of my girlfriends ran over to me and whispered that my dress was up too high and in danger of giving everyone a show! Because it was so full, whenever it was pulled close to me, it also pulled up. I was so embarrassed, but it made us laugh even more and pretty soon we were laughing so hard we couldn't dance.

But Blue Eyes took my hands and we ended the dance that way, in a little jitter bug, swinging our arms and twirling around, laughing like crazy. And from then on, 'My Girl' became our song. To this day whenever we hear it, (and it is not very often these days) we get that silly, fluttery feeling of tenderness and nostalgia, of memories of a lifetime together, all beginning with one little song. 'Our Song'

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fall Table, Hutch, and a Hearty Beef Stew

When I was a little girl, my Mother had a set of brown dishes with cream colored edges. We lived in New England and the dishes went perfectly with her Colonial Style Home. Every Saturday night we had Boston Baked Beans with Brown Bread. Served on the beautiful lustrous dishes, it was a homespun, heartwarming meal. Only one piece of that dish set remains, a 'chip and dip' platter, which I have. I have looked for that particular style of stoneware for years, but have not come across any of it. But I have collected a few similar pieces.

They seem to go well with my everyday blue dishes and are perfect for fall and winter. I have enough  covered soup pots now to serve my whole family when they come to dinner. There are 10 of us now, what with Hubby and I, the 4 'kids' and their significant 'others'.

These dishes fill my heart with nostalgia. Humble little reminders of days gone by. I also have a little collection of small brown crocks with locking lids. I don't know why I love them so. Years ago you could buy them with a particular brand of spreadable cheddar cheese, called 'Port Wine Cheese'. You can still buy the cheese in the little plastic tubs that fit inside the crocks for serving. But the brown crocks are a thing of the past. You can still find them in antique stores occasionally.

I have had this pretty soup tureen since I was a young bride. My Dear Mother bought it for me on my 23rd birthday. We had both just moved to Oregon and were far from home, setting up new households with what little we brought along with us. It is hand painted in the beautiful fall colors of my birthday month, October. My Mother was still a young Mother herself, with 3 daughters still to raise. I was a new Mother with another on the way. We had moved to a new state, not knowing anyone, and we became very close, as we only had each other for female companionship.

This soup tureen represents that time in my life. Whenever my parents and sisters came to visit, I served Beef Stew out of this tureen. It was the one recipe I could prepare that I knew would turn out well every time. I was just learning to cook.

I have always kept it on my highest kitchen shelf, but here I have moved it into my 'Kitchen Queen' along with my small collection of cream cookware. It seems to fit perfectly here, and it is right where I can enjoy it's sentimental beauty every day.

My Beef Stew recipe is the one she passed down to me. She gave me the little cookbook that she had used since she was a new bride. It is called 'Betty Crocker's Good and Easy Cook Book'. Inside is the recipe. She made it her own by adding her own personal touch, as I have done. But the basic ingredients are still the same.

My family loves this recipe and 'Stew Night' was always greeted with anticipation. This stew is even better the next night, as the flavors mellow and mingle overnight. Here is the recipe:

Hearty Beef Stew
With Dumplings 
Serves 6-8

2 lb. boneless top round, bottom round, or sirloin tip Steak, cut into bite sized cubes
1/2 cup flour
3-4 Tbsp veg. oil
1 clove minced garlic
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

2 (32 oz.) containers Beef Broth
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
4-6 small Bay Leaves (be sure to remove before serving- can tie in cheesecloth bundle if desired)
1/4 tsp Ground Allspice
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp sugar

26 oz. can (family size) Cream of Mushroom Soup

4-6 thin skinned potatoes cut into bite sized pieces
4-6 carrots (can use frozen cut carrots)
Various other vegetables as desired, such as rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, cauliflower, small peeled onions,  and - or mushrooms (I use turnip, frozen pearl onions and mushrooms)

Heat oil and garlic on med-high heat in a heavy stock pot.

Mix the flour, a little sprinkle of salt and pepper, and beef cubes until beef is completely covered in flour mixture.

Brown Beef on all sides, adding Worcestershire sauce towards end of browning, sprinkling over all. Meanwhile add sliced onions and mushrooms and cook alongside beef until all are golden.

Add the beef broth, lemon juice, bay leaves, salt, pepper, sugar, and allspice. Bring just to a boil, then turn down heat to med-low and keep it at a slow simmer for about 1 and 1/2 hours.

After simmering 1 and 1/2 hours:
 Right before adding vegetables, stir in Cream of Mushroom Soup (this thickens the stew) 

Cut potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables into bite sized cubes and add to beef stock. Bring back up to a low boil.

Meanwhile, prepare dumplings.

I use the Bisquick recipe on the side of the box, but if you don't have Bisquick, here is a Biscuit recipe that can be used for dumplings.

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Sift these together. Then using a pastry blender or a fork, add 4 Tbsp cold butter cut into small chunks, until coarse crumbs form.
Add 3/4 cup Milk 
Mix until soft dough forms.
(At this point you can either make biscuits or dumplings.) To make biscuits, roll out on a floured board and cut out with round cutter and bake in baking pan at 400 degrees for 10-12 min.
or;  to make dumplings, simply drop the dough by large spoonfuls into simmering stew. Cook uncovered for 10 min. Cover and cook 10 min. longer.
Remove dumplings to a serving platter
Ladle stew into bowls and top with a dumpling. Serve with a nice green salad, if desired.

This stew will keep in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Autumn in the Countryside

We are just starting to see some Fall color here in Western Washington State. On the way to my eldest daughter 'H' and her Hubby, 'E's house for dinner Saturday, I took these photos of the countryside. This little field is where we used to take our two little ponies to graze. The elderly woman who owned the field welcomed the ponies to keep the grass mowed. She never charged us a cent. There is a little apple tree alongside the gate that grew from the apples we would feed the ponies. The ponies are long gone now, passed away from old age, as is the kind elderly lady. But the little apple tree remains. It is full of apples this year. The circle of life goes on.

This is the view from our little post office. There is a long park that runs the length of the town, built along old railroad land that is now owned by the 'city'. There are beautiful trees and plantings along the paved walking trail that runs the whole length of the park and for miles the other way. There is a volunteer committee that has been raising funds for years to create the 'Mountain to Sound - Rails to Trails' walking trail system. They convert the old rail lines into walking trails. It is not yet complete, but the idea is to have a trail system linking Puget Sound to Mt. Rainier. This is part of that trail.

We take the back roads to visit my daughter. It is so much more enjoyable to drive along and see the fields and farms, rather than traffic and highways. It takes just as much time either way, so why not enjoy the view? This little tree was so bright against the blue barn. I love old trucks, they have so much character.

When my children were teenagers, one by one they all learned to drive in our old truck, and used it as their first vehicle. It was a 1984 Ford Ranger, painted a bright blue-green color. The kids all nicknamed it 'The Greenie'. Everyone in town knew my kids drove 'The Greenie'. So whenever Hubby or I took it to run errands occasionally, we were always being waved at or flagged down by some teenager thinking we were one of the kids.  

It became a little legend among the kids in town and to this day they all talk about 'The Greenie'. I can imagine what tales that little truck could tell. What I don't know won't hurt me, as I always say! Anyway, that little truck seemed to know it had to keep going until the last one left home. It even had enough life left to trade it in for my youngest son's first car.

We spotted it not long after, riding down the road with an elderly gentleman inside. Hopefully 'The Greenie' found a nice home and is being taken care of kindly.

Or maybe it has been put out to pasture like these old beauties. Don't you wish that they could talk and tell you the places they have been?

Don't you just love the yellow one?

Speaking of yellow..... Isn't this the most amazing barn? The owners just put the new green metal roof on her. This old farm used to have cows, but the elderly farmer is gone now. I think his grandson bought the farm though, and has worked very hard fixing the old place up. I love to see that happen.

I love this old barn. She still houses cows and this is the farm that keeps the old trucks in the field.

These girls look so happy. This once was an area full of dairy farms. But during the 80's, the government bought out all the cows and the dairies shut down. There are still a few left, but very few. I can't remember why the government did that, I will have to look into that further. It is like all the mom and pop grocery stores and gas stations. The big corporations buy out all the competition and then control the pricing. I think that is what happened with the dairy farms. It makes you understand why the protests are going on right now over corporate greed.

But I am getting off track now. Back to the beautiful fall color!

We had a lovely dinner at my daughter's home. She and her Hubby are both excellent cooks and they served us a pork loin, slow cooked in apple cider with sweet potatoes, cranberries, and sour kraut. It was so tender and delicious. I made an apple crisp for dessert and her Hubby's cousin and family joined us and brought along homemade chocolate truffles and 'bark'. Oh my, we surely did enjoy ourselves. That is the one nice thing about having an empty nest. You get to go to their home and get treated to a nice meal once in a while.

A beautiful ride in the countryside and good food enjoyed with family. Those are the best things in life. It's the simple things that mean the most. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, too, with family and friends.

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