Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: the last photo shoot. He was the best dog on the planet.

Tomato Madness

Tomato Madness
The author of Mark's Work

Hollyhocks and zinnias

Hollyhocks and zinnias
Why I grow flowers

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
Air-borne bees

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast

HeadSodBuster and BossLady at the coast
Love is the greatest power.

Tomatoes are us.

Tomatoes are us.
Smoked paprika catsup, here at HappyDay Farms

Packing some heat...

Packing some heat...
These peppers know how to party!

Halloween fun

Halloween fun
Lito and Keelee

Our house

Our house
The snow season approaches...

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

bellspringsmark@gmail.com

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pork or Beans for Dinner?

We will see Pork or Beans on the menu all winter long, here at HappyDay Farms, available at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Bacon for breakfast, pulled pork sandwiches for lunch or pork chops for dinner, we will be reaping the benefit of our two pigs, Mr. Pork and Ms. Beans, as a result of yesterday’s industry.

I was not a party to the final curtain call, as HeadSodBuster, SmallBoy, Tim and a fellow who came up to help out, handled the proceedings. Tim is the farmhand who choreographed Pork and Bean’s dance of life, here on-farm, providing them with care at least twice a day, if not more.
Honored dinner guest...

Whether setting aside appropriate remnants from the produce grown on-farm, or out gathering acorns for his rotund charges, Tim orchestrated their care the way a maestro conducts the Philharmonic Symphony, with enthusiasm and dedication.

Yesterday, Gluten-Free Mama and I collaborated on breakfast first, before the chore had been started, and then later, lunch. We set out a feast for the crew comprised of slow-roasted pulled pork, from SmallBoy’s last pig.

There was a circle of continuity in this meal that felt satisfying and rewarding at the same time. The hard work the goes into the process of raising pigs, is reinforced every time you gain nourishment, strength and enjoyment from that which you are producing. 

When asked if he was sure he wanted to be there for the final act, because the job could have been done by three, Tim had responded that he was indeed, certain. 

Maybe he felt he owed it to his two summer sidekicks to be there, as though abandoning them to their fate without him, were some sort of additional punishment, not to be allowed.

I never did the 4-H thing, but plenty of my middle school students did, and I knew what kind of intestinal fortitude it required, to go from beginning to end. I knew that it was part of the rural culture, just as hunting and dogs were a part of the rural culture.

Raising pigs is also part of the farm culture, a huge part.
...and guest

I can’t help but compare the act of going to the meat counter at Long Valley Market, and selecting some Farmer John bacon, to that of going to our freezer and pulling out a white, paper-wrapped package of Pork or Beans.

Yesterday, the gloom of the rain plus the day’s agenda, had brought on the “feels,” as HeadSodBuster so eloquently put it. The knowledge that our short-lived quadrupeds, with their own unique personalities, were soon to be packed away in the freezer, was sobering.

That was the one end of the spectrum; the other is the purpose and motivation for taking up residence on a mountain in the first place, 35 years ago: to become self-sufficient. Well, that and all that ground pork, ready to be made into sausage, the kind that does not contain any poisons.

To not experience emotion at the processing of the two pigs, would be contradictory to human nature. Just as the 4-H kids experienced the pain of separation, so did we all here on-farm. But it all comes back to that point of origin of your breakfast bacon: corporate America, with its association with questionable practices, or Pork and Beans, raised with care and devotion, and a sizable chunk of love.
If you're a pig, there are worse places to be raised.
Yeah, I know, that’s corny. Maybe it’s because I have been watching “Lonesome Dove,” yet again, as I work my jigsaw puzzles. That darn Gus brought those two pigs from Lonesome Dove, on the trail to Wyoming, becoming in Gus’s words, the first two pigs to walk from Texas to Wyoming.

Those two pigs made me smile all the way through the series, but the truth is, they were nothing but a product of Larry McMurtry’s active imagination; they did not really exist. Pork and Beans existed, they continue to exist, and we will celebrate their lives every time we sit down to a meal which includes some meat provided for us, by them.

And if that isn’t reason enough to make me smile, I don’t know what is.








Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Outasite!

“On one thing, tho, all agree, if anyone can keep his head together, Mark can.” 

I heard this so much from my older brother Brian, that I actually started to believe it. Now, as I pour over the pile of letters, news clippings and photographs, I continue to be amazed at the level and volume of support for me, when I was caught up in the military.


From the day I left for Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, on January 10th, 1972, until I returned home for good in October of 1973, Brian was one of my staunchest supporters. Except for Mama and my girl, Nancy, no one wrote more letters to me than Bro Brian.

He was 24 when I was drafted, and going to school full-time out at Loyola University, in Los Angeles. He had an apartment out in Manchester, with Noel, that was about six blocks from L.A. International Airport. Unlike the time that he had spent at Cal Poly, Pomona, majoring in business, his time at Loyola was completely the opposite, with his interests including studies in philosophy and theology.

He expanded his circle of friends, and from my perspective, his mind, during his time at Loyola. His language had blossomed into that of a hip radical, and I loved it. Gone was his focus on work and his white shirts and ties; in their place were classes of interest, a determination to improve communication, and a genuine distress at my plight.


He sent me Los Angeles Lakers clippings while I was at Fort Leonard Wood, during that magical season when they won 33 consecutive games, and the title. He sent me spring training clippings of the Dodgers while I was at Fort Dix, and then regular season clippings all summer long (not a baseball season to be remembered by the fans for very long).  

His letters were a combination of news from Manchester Avenue, and one subject that frequently came up, was that of our commune, even then in the planning. He hosted many gatherings where my plight was discussed and I always got an infusion of correspondence out of these gatherings. At one point he wrote,

“Your letter, received yesterday, was so fantastically outasite!  Picture the typical situation, if you will (this is a Wednesday at the apartment that I'm referring to): Brian comes straggling in from school and nearly everyone is here: Noel and Sharon, Nancy, Janet (just arrived on the scene), Joanie, and John Bryan from San Diego. What is everyone standing around doing? They are all reading letters from Markie, and saying, 'Hurry up and open your letter, we haven't got all day!...Wait a shake, Jack, hold on...What IS this? Gimme a chance.'

Outasite.  Later, Dave, Jean and Matt showed up...By the way we are anxious to get preparations underway for the all-time most classic party of them all when Markie gets back.”   

Wow. For a guy unaccustomed to getting attention, by virtue of my placement dead center in the family structure, this was good stuff.  

Brian had to go to court more than once to settle little logistical challenges for me, but he took up the gauntlet and appealed to the judge for justice for me, who was “defending his [beloved] country while on hostile shores.” He wrote me all of the sordid details, including a copy of the transcript of the dialogue in the courtroom, which he recreated from memory.   


In the end it added up to a brilliant defense by Brian, and a dismissing of the case of the judge. Prior to departure, I had been cited by the CHP for a smog violation on my '64 Nova, and Brian had gotten the whole thing tossed out, including the fifty to five hundred dollar fine that accompanied the citation. Now that's what I call support.

During my time in the service, Brian ended up down in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he was doing pre-med work. He wrote of his experiences, as he explored the possibility of going into medicine. Frankly, I was not surprised.

All through my time in the army, Brian kept me up-to-date on the scene back home. Early on, when I experienced a momentary breakdown of resolve, and had sent home an SOS, declaring that I could not handle it any more, Brian sent reassurance, along with Noel, who told me, “Do not touch any guns.”

These were my big brothers, having my back, along with my oldest brother Eric, who was also in South Korea at the time, in the Peace Corps, if you can dig the irony of that. Noel communicated with me more on the astro-plane, than with actual words, but Brian always had time in the middle of a German class, or while listening to the Lakers, to scribble-or type-a few words to me.
Our friend, Joannie, sent me this.

I have those letters, still, Brian having saved them and returned them to me at some point in time, and I am astonished to this day, at the emotion and passion he was able to express. His willingness to do so, for me while I was so down, has always blown my mind, to use the vernacular of the period.

His confidence in me to “handle the situation” further amazed me, lending me much of the strength I needed, to make it through without doing anything rash. Because there was a window of fragility there in Missouri, about two weeks in, through which I almost threw a brick.

I simply wanted to go home. On one particular occasion, one morning when I had KP, an eighteen-hour-long stint, I awaited the arrival of my company, thinking I would josh around, and make with the palaver. I kept an eye on the entrance, as I went about my tasks.

When they appeared, I was overwhelmed at how much they resembled robots. No one was allowed to talk, you had to keep your eyes fastened to the back of the head of the guy in front of you, as you went through the chow line, and therefore, no one knew I existed.

Then I realized that I was the same as the rest of them, every morning, and I almost barfed.

I had a full-blown panic attack, right there in the expansive mess hall, and had to pull it together, before I drew the attention of the salty sergeant-major, who liked nothing more than to make trainees’ lives more miserable. 
Letter from Guadalajara...

He was quite adept at the task, and I did not want to be one of the two poor bastards, who had to spend the day outside, in freezing weather, doing whatever it was that the mess hall needed to have done in the way of deliveries, garbage, et all. 

The net result was that I fired off a letter to Noel and Brian, telling them I was considering bailing out. Both were immensely supportive, and wasted no time letting me know that they were there for me. I did, indeed, survive.

One reason was that steady flow of communication from the world. Included was an article about Vin Scully, the revered broadcaster of the Dodgers, who retired just last year, and just exactly why it was that he was switching over to the Angels, to be their new broadcaster. 

Wow. I had completely “forgotten” all about that. It seems Vinny did it for the money.


Not until you get to the bottom of the article, do you think to check the date of the yellowed newspaper clipping: April 1, 1972.

Got it.

Unfortunately, it took me another eighteen months to extricate myself from the April Fools joke that was the military.

Thanks for the help, Bro Brian-I haven’t forgotten it.










Nancy and Mama with me in 1972

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Brian Check, Please!"

I started off early in life, conjoined to my older brother Brian, via glove: baseball glove, that is. In our baseball-ready family of nine kids, Brian and I were the two southpaws, or lefties. Not too far into life, we would be able to align ourselves with the great Sandy Koufax, one of the most dominant southpaws of his era and-gasp-a Los Angeles Dodger.


This would have occurred back in my unenlightened days. Nonetheless, here was an athlete who retired at the remarkable age of thirty, so as not to risk permanent damage to his left arm, in the pre-Tommy John days of long ago, at the top of his game.

The glove we shared, of course, belonged to Brian, the idea of actually acquiring my own never seeming to crop up on the radar. Therefore, by definition, Brian and I were always on opposite teams: We had to be in order to share the glove.

The glove was not mine by right; it was mine only by the grace of Brian’s good will. Possessing it came with certain stipulations, an infraction against any one of which, was enough to lose the privilege. The cardinal rule was to never let the mitt touch the ground. Tossing it to Brian as I raced off the field was a no-no: Handing it to him directly was the proper protocol.

I did try my best to remember this rule. Alas and alack! What can I say?

The second rule was connected to the third one: Do not mess with the laces and KEEP THE GLOVE OUT OF MY MOUTH. I mean, what else was there to do out there by the concrete water tank in right field, while waiting for some action?

We played ball all summer long, either on the vacant lot next door, or across the street, on another vacant lot. The two venues weren’t perfect, but then, they didn’t have to be. We were extremely good at innovation, in an age where electronics consisted of transistor radios and hand-held calculators, the latter making the slide rule obsolete. 

With so many kids in the family, luxuries were few and far between, and thus all the more cherished. Playing baseball with neighboring kids, and being able to keep it going all day if we wanted, if Mama’s chore lists were taken care of, was priceless.

Not too far into life, Brian and I became attached in another way because we both worked for Augie, I mean, Sunrize Market. Augustus Ramirez was the manager and Brian’s mentor, and he groomed Brian to be a polished grocery man. Brian, in turn, groomed me.

We both came to work in tennis shoes, and hustling from the back of the store to the front, when the announcements, “Brian check, please! Mark box, please!” boomed out, was not only encouraged, it was expected. We would holler from the back of the store, "Coming up!"
The uniform: dress slacks, white shirt
 and tie.

Augie was on record as saying, "If it's a Kennedy, vote for him; if it's an O'Neill, hire him. There were five O'Neill boys employed under Sunrize Market's domain one summer, counting Noel woking in the meat department, and Matt and Tom serving as bottle boys and alley-sweepers. We all hustled.

That’s how I clawed my way up, on the time schedule, to head box-boy: by hustling. Head box-boys got any choice hours that were to be had, and never had to mop or clean the bathrooms, unless there were no other peons around. 

Brian and I team-tagged Sundays, where every week with a skeleton crew, we would manage to condense all of the remaining merchandise in the backroom, to make ready for Monday morning’s delivery of reinforcements.

I lost my head box-boy status at one point to Jimmy Richardson, because I came back from a three-week jaunt to NorCal and Oregon, with three weeks’ worth of fiery red beard. I’m not sure what I was thinking-or expecting-when I showed up to work with sideburns down to my navel and a ‘stache.

Earth to Mark: Seriously? Augie was not impressed.

After I became an apprentice, and learned to use the cash register in the pre-computer days, when you had to enter each price “by hand,” there were Sundays when the only time I left the cash register was to enjoy one of Carl’s Sunday feasts.

Carl worked in the meat department, and when he was in the house, he was certain to hook us up with something tasty. If Carl wasn’t there, then you had Dale, one of the box-boys, sticking TV dinners in the oven for his lunch.

When spotted once by visiting brass putting four of the Banquet specials into the oven, Dale was asked, “Putting lunch on for the crew?” He stifled a smirk and responded, “Actually, this is my lunch,” and strolled past without looking back.
 
"One large combo pizza and a meat ball sandwich,
please." "Is there someone joining you, Sir?" "Uh, no.
I'm just hungry..."
For me one of the coolest connections with Brian was Pompeii Pizza, right around the corner, where Augie had his own table. Here he held court and those of us in the inner circle had a standing invitation to join him. You achieved entry into the inner circle in one way only: by dint of hard work. Brian and I had lifetime membership cards.

Once there, I was never allowed to pay for anything. 

Somewhere in the fall of 1971, I chose to ignore a generic notice from the admissions office at Cal Poly, Pomona, warning me that I had neglected to swing by the infirmary and get the mandatory chest x-ray, required of all students.

I think it was part of a bigger plan, but nonetheless, it was enough to cost me my school deferment from the draft.

Next: Military Madness and Brian’s connection



Friday, November 10, 2017

The Spin-o-Meter

The Spin-o-Meter

I am revving back up again, after almost a month of quasi-normalcy, defined primarily by the increased amount of sleep I have gotten each night, dating back to the night that we lost the Doze. Inexplicably, I slept more per night during the last month, than I have at any point since I was still teaching.

I attribute it to a low-grade depression, which allowed me to just wallow under the blankets for long periods of time, in a completely sanctioned mode. The “long periods of time” happened to coincide with that time of the 24-hour daily cycle known as night.

For the manic, nights are forever. The four hours from 7 until 11 generally pass in an eye blink, with the remaining eight hours dragging along like Marley’s chain, only a lot quieter. I pound coffee and cannabis, two elements that mesh with mania, the way gasoline and a lighted match mesh: Something’s bound to happen.

The last five days have been a whirlwind of industry, with me processing the last comprehensive tomato harvest. These tomatoes included a huge vat of Heinz tomatoes, the ones I like to use for thick sauces and salsas. Additionally, just prior to the rain, I stripped the Ace, Evita and Roma tomatoes, leaving me with enough tomatoes to make a difference in Puerto Rico, if I had some way to get them there.
Otherwise, being in the best frame of mind possible for such a venture, I set out to process hot sauce and two different kinds of chunky salsas. This was ground-breaking territory for me, never having ventured into these waters before, not successfully at least, if I remember correctly.  

There may-or may not-have been an effort back in the early years which was both too runny and too vinegary, and most likely ended up being converted into barbecue sauce by the talented Gluten-Free Mama. This time around, I not only had her expert guidance, I had fresh homegrown Anaheim, poblano and jalapeño peppers, along with fresh onions, garlic and cilantro.

All I had to do was figure out how they all went together.

For the layperson, I find it challenging to adequately explain how complex this process is. It’s not like canning tomatoes or even marinara sauce which are immeasurably simpler. Even the catsup, which up until now was my main claim to fame, is relatively simple compared to making salsa.

Again, Gluten-Free Mama not only directed my first two efforts (of three), she donned gloves and entered the ring with me. She roasted and peeled vast quantities of Anaheims and poblanos, and she did the same, albeit separately, with a dozen or so jalapeños, which just happened to come from my own greenhouse. 
Anaheim and poblano peppers

The Anaheims and poblanos came from the Pepper Pot, the garden over on SmallBoy’s spread, where we also grew our eggplant. You would generally use the Anaheims for a dish like Chile Rellenos, and poblanos are similarly mild, but flavorful. So we used these for flavor and the jalapeños for heat.

I wanted the salsa to make my face warm, but stop short of making my eyes water. Sheer perfection.

GF Mama roasted onions and garlic and pulsed them, along with the Anaheims and poblanos through the Vita-Mix, with incremental power bursts, so as not to pulverize one of the chunky components of our salsa. She also prepped the fresh cilantro that HeadSodBuster had furnished for me, earlier that morning in the midst of the mizzle.

Meanwhile, I had blanched and peeled sixty tomatoes, varying from medium to large in size, and then I had diced them. I say that casually, but it was hard on my back and took longer than I like to remember. I then set out to drain as much of the water as I could, prior to assembling the rest of the ingredients.

The first of the two batches, I did a lousy job of this, being content to simply let the tomatoes sit in their respective red colanders, one in each of the two kitchen sinks, and do their thing-drain. The second time I did it right: I placed each of the large colanders into a huge silver bowl, and propped each up on wooden spoons, so that there was air space between the bottom of the colander and the bowl. In this way, there was a place for the water to drain, and I emptied the bowl every fifteen minutes of at least a quarter-cup to a half-cup of water.
That meant that the second batch of salsa was much thicker than the first, but it took time and patience.

Then I had to contend with scoring some jars. Having put up more than twenty gallons of tomato products-so far-I had stretched my jar supply to the limits. I moseyed up to BossLady’s spot, and hit her up for every pint jar she had, and it was almost enough.

In the end I had to choose to fill four quarts, instead of sixteen half-pints, because I did not have enough seals. I did not want to can quarts, necessarily, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to open that much salsa at a time.

Then SmallBoy and Dancing Girl stopped by and I offered them a taste. Based on their reaction, I decided doing quarts actually made more sense. After all, it’s less work for SmallBoy to open the one quart than the four half-pints…

As if processing more than six gallons of hot sauce/salsa over four days was not enough, on the fifth day I had to find a place to store it all. “No problem,” said my spin-o-meter. “We have plenty of room on the dial-we’re nowhere near the red.”

So I emptied the right half of the pantry, put new newspapers down on the shelves, reorganized the entire contents, and ended up putting the canned goods on two shelves that were essentially empty to begin with.

The pantry is one organized mo-fo, though, I will admit, a byproduct of a spinning Markie, bless his pointy little head.

Today, I plan to do nothing more than finish my jigsaw puzzle, not moving from the living room, while watching reruns of the best part of the 2017 World Series.

We all know which part of the World Series that was, my sincerest condolences going out to those fans of LA, nonetheless. I am inordinately cautious about flapping my jaws when it comes to kicking an opponent when it is down.

The baseball gods have long memories.









Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Quilt Squares

The quilt of farm life is complex, brilliantly colored and serves as a constant reminder of our roots. The thread which binds us all together, winds through this quilt in a most circuitous fashion, criss-crossing itself multiple times, as lives interact and continue to add quilt squares to the image of farm life we have created.
Farming is not so much a business as it is a lifestyle. In relocating from the Bay Area back in 1982 for good, Gluten-Free Mama and I did not consider ourselves to be back-to-the-landers, so much as escapees from the asylum.

Raising kids on the streets of San Jose was not an enticing thought, so the move up to Bell Springs Road came about not long after we found out that we had a little Sod-Buster on the way. After all, it’s awfully hard to grow produce in downtown San Jose.

Having purchased my twenty acres in 1975, I had been making my monthly $68.00 payment to the Bank of Mendocino for seven years already, with another six to go. Even in 1982, a sixty-eight dollar monthly payment for twenty acres seemed ridiculously puny, and we paid it with a smile.

By virtue of the fact that my folks had already made the move from La Puente, in SoCal, up to The Bell in 1977, GF Mama and I moved into a three-generational living arrangement up here on the mountain. I built our home only ten minutes’ walk-or two minutes’ drive-from the ‘rents.

Papa had just turned sixty. I slipped into a role of providing support for various endeavors of his, including his little cannabis patch. It was entirely in the shade and located where footing was treacherous, at best.

In addition to hauling his home-made soil amendments to this site, I also performed the task of sexing his plants. He just never trusted his eyes and relied on me to be Johnny-on-the-spot during that crucial time span in the spring, when these matters were determined. 
Papa helping me with my foundation in June, 1982.

For the last fourteen years of his life, I was part of the support system for him and Mama, along with my brother Matt and sister Laura-and Rob-simply because I lived next-door to Papa on the mountain. When he passed in 1996, I continued to provide support for Mama, who remained here on the mountain by herself in a big, open house, for another sixteen years.

This co-existence with three generations in our community continued until 2012, when Pauline moved down to Willits to be closer to her doctor. She was 89 at the time and still commuting from up on the mountain, to Willits and Ukiah to shop and seek medical care.

From 1996 onward, Mama was cared for up here on the mountain, primarily by me, Matt, Noel and Laura/Rob. I handled the day-to-day things that could be penciled in on a calendar, such as keeping the wood box filled, emptying compost and ash buckets, and other chores that made her life a little easier. 

Matt handled the emergencies, such as the generator not starting, in the middle of a snow storm, or the car not starting the same morning Mama had a doctor’s appointment down in Willits. Every summer I spent a couple of weeks weed-eating over there, and I grew a little kitchen garden for Mama, so she’d have fresh tomatoes and squash.

The things we did for their grandparents, did not go unnoticed by the three boys growing up in this household, especially since they were often part of the woodbox-filling and compost-emptying processes. They were taking notes even as they did so, whether they knew it or not.

Fast forward to the present and we can see that the lessons these notes recorded are coming into play now: 
HeadSodBuster installing
new metal roof.

Somehow the new metal roof was installed this fall, by HeadSodBuster, on the original part of my house. Whereas I was an expert at providing cold water and rolling phat bombers, I was not encouraged to go any higher than the bottom two or three rungs on the ladder. For my own protection, you know.

Stir-fry veggies, miso soup and other Gluten-Free Mama favorites continue to arrive in our refrigerator.

I was able to go up to HeadSodBuster’s spot and filch a pick-up truck of firewood the other day, to tide me over until we get some reinforcements.

Not a day goes by, hardly, that we are not asked if we need something from “town.”

It was BossLady and HeadSodBuster to whom I turned, not that long ago, when GF Mama had that scary brain seizure in the wee hours. I was never as frightened in my life. 

When I inquired about the availability of greens, cilantro, garlic, and onions, yesterday, HeadSodBuster dropped what he was doing, barely missing his foot, and hustled out into the rain to cut some fresh greens.

“Tell Mama there are plenty of collards and mustard greens,” he instructed me. I did so, accordingly.

When I obliterated that two-inch ag water line last summer, adroitly nailing it with my mattock as I am prone to do, it was SmallBoy who bailed me out… As for my propensity to destroy water lines, I can only say, it’s a gift.
HeadSodBuster and Jason

And, of course, there is Sacramento, and the commute every two weeks for GF Mama’s immunotherapy. I have yet to make one of these runs, which means that others step up each time to make this happen for GF Mama.

We do not have a unique situation up here on the mountain, as multi-generational living arrangements are as old as mankind, but we have created a community-oriented environment that has a built-in, mutually beneficial structure in place with strong selling points on both sides.

GF Mama and I had HeadSodBuster and BossLady over here Friday night for a taco extravaganza and a film (“Why Him?”), and again on Saturday night, along with SmallBoy and Dancing Girl (Roast chicken and Jack Nicholson’s “As Good As it Gets”).

GF Mama and I have the time and inclination to cook; the younger set is always on the go, their business and political demands vast and insistent. Therefore, if we can hook them up with a breakfast on the fly, or a leisurely dinner, while propped up in front of the entertainment center, then I feel we are helping to balance matters out.
Dicing jalapenos

I had the time and motivation this summer to put up 33 quarts of cold-pack tomatoes, three huge batches of marinara sauce, and two extraordinary efforts at catsup, the second one featuring smoked paprika. Additionally, I processed tomato paste, pizza sauce, hot sauce and finally, chunky salsa.

I encourage everyone to hammer these tomato products because I want them gone by this time next summer, when the process starts all over again. As I mentioned, a mutually beneficial arrangement if ever there were one.

There are many such efforts that we, the more mature set, can offer which help provide support for the younger set, including keeping an eye on little ones, when that joyous time arrives. It’s all part of the program, the one which follows an ageless script.

Logistically, a multi-generational living arrangement is most challenging for most, either because of distance or because of invisible walls. I recognize that we are most fortunate. I stop short of saying we are lucky, because luck had nothing to do with it. 

We created the foundation for this existence, one wheel-barrow of firewood at a time, and I am inordinately aware of-and grateful for-that which is being done for GF Mama and me.

With that in mind, I feel a dinner of shepherd’s pie coming on, and I have been saving Ben Affleck’s “The Accountant” for just such an occasion. Maybe I’ll run it up the flagpole, and see if anyone salutes it…
Breakfast "on the fly."























Sunday, November 5, 2017

No Stretching Required

Label me old-fashioned if you feel so compelled, but I make mammoth batches of popcorn on my stove-top, I dry my laundry out on the clothesline, or on racks inside if the weather is inclement, and I still enjoy working jigsaw puzzles.

I separated the pieces from the sky, canal and stone wall.
Take “Proverbidioms,” my current project, the puzzle I chose to assemble while welcoming in the 2017 Holiday Season. A 1,500 piece puzzle, this is at least the third time I have put it together, a miracle in and of itself because it means the pieces must be either all there, or close to it.  Otherwise the puzzle becomes starter fuel for the morning fire.

Let’s face it: You either love or disdain jigsaw puzzles because there can be no middle ground. No rookie ever sidled up to a 1,500-piece-puzzle, without getting slightly dizzy at the prospect of searching through so many similar shapes, to find just one. Only one will fit despite the best efforts-short of a hammer-to convince imposters to at least try.

Conversely, no puzzle-freak ever sidled up to a 1,500-piece-puzzle, without getting slightly giddy…at exactly the same prospect.

The reality is that almost no puzzle worker worth his salt would ever waste his time in such a low-production mode. Everything comes to puzzle pieces which wait, including the right spot, so why slow down the process for the sake of 1/1,500th of the whole picture?

That being said, there is no correct way to put together jigsaw puzzles no matter how many pieces there are. Convention would seem to dictate that one must start by putting the frame together, so I have automatically rejected that approach almost my entire life. 

To me it is unnecessary labor because as the puzzle develops, the outside edges become nothing but the icing on the cake and extremely easy to fit together, once the interior has been finished.

No one can argue with the first step, though: All puzzle pieces must be arranged so that they are face-up. Nothing can be done until this takes place, or almost nothing. I actually start by selecting two or three possible beginning points, and then as I turn all of the pieces face up, I separate these points of interest. 
I place the edge pieces together on one card.

In “Proverbidioms” I chose the sky, the canal and the stone wall alongside the canal, and culled out all of the pieces I encountered, placing them on three separate pieces of cardboard. You can use any size you like; mine are more or less one square foot and I "inherited" them from my mother, Pauline, who was the most avid jigsaw puzzle worker I have ever met. The tomato dosen't fall far from the bush, I guess.

The cards stack easily and allow me to have a better chance of being able to see all the pieces on each card, with none double-stacked. The other component of the puzzle I separate in this initial organizational process, is all pieces that have straight edges, including the four corner-pieces. 

I then pretty much ignore these straight edges until it becomes apparent that I have reached the edge(s) of the puzzle. One obvious reason for beginning with the frame, is that one can then work from the outside into the center, and have a multitude of possible starting points.

Which brings me to one of the most important reasons why jigsaw puzzles can serve as the perfect Holiday prop: Everyone is equal on the “playing field,” no matter how much expertise you do-or do not-possess, or where you are sitting. All it requires is that you pick up a random piece, peer intently at any part of the puzzle, and if anyone asks what you are doing, furrow your brow, glance over for a nano-second and then patently ignore such a stupid question.

You’re working the puzzle. Besides, no one would ask such a dumb question, because everyone is too busy chatting about the family nut case.

My progress, as of Sunday morning...
If you’re not certain who that is, chances are it’s you.

One can get up from a puzzle at any time without disrupting the rhythm of the assembly. There is no need to stretch before resuming work. Perfect for solo going, or working in a crowd. 

And if you are lucky, no dog will chew up either the box or any of the puzzle pieces which have had the misfortune of landing on the floor.

Or no toddler will chew up a puzzle piece, as I did to my older brother Brian’s puzzle, when I was of an age. I’m not sure he ever forgave me, though he hasn’t brought it up for a while now. [Editor's note: Wasn't that last New Year's Eve?]

Who knows? As a toddler, I may have been sorry, or I may have simply been hungry. 

A guy has got to eat, you know?







Thursday, November 2, 2017

Before the Rain

The oak leaves crunch underfoot, everywhere I walk these days, here on the ridge, as the summer weather is about to reverse itself, with rain and freezing temperatures coming our way as soon as tonight. I have completed the most difficult of chores that are on my list of to-do things, before the rain commences.

I had to split up a pick-up truck load of kitchen wood, tailored to fit the small firebox of our antique Superior stove. This stove will occasionally appear in the background of a photograph, as it did the other evening when SmallBoy and Dancing Girl stopped by on their way to the Hill-oween Party, up here on the Bell.

I could put on the outfit, but I could never rock it.
These folks nailed it to the wall.
The firebox is no more than eight inches wide by eight inches tall, so I split the wood into two-by-four chunks, more or less. For such a small source of heat, the stove does an excellent job of warming  the kitchen, while serving as a crock pot at the same time.

I had to move the wood from HeadSodBuster’s spot to my own, and then relocate it to the wood-storage shed, which used to serve as a generator/battery-storage facility. When the shed is stuffed, it gives me about two weeks of protection from the elements.

The second task I had to do was make the arduous trek down off the mountain, all the way to the metropolitan area of Laytonville, where I needed to replenish my supply of groceries. This particular chore is made ten times more challenging, by the arbitrary-and relentless-nature of the road construction. 

Never in 35 years has this willingness to continuously DO SOMETHING to the highway at all times, been so rampant. Yesterday, they cordoned off more than five miles of the highway, to do something as of yet undetermined, and it created twenty-minute delays. 

Why five miles? Why not a more reasonable length, so that the motorcade crawling back and forth incessantly, does not have to crawl so far? Just asking.
Hello my pretties!

And then, because my morning was going so well, I encountered the grader on Bell Springs Road. And you wonder why I do not like to leave this tranquil paradise?

When I got home and put away the supplies, I then did the laundry, which is still hanging outside now, even as I write. I will bring it back inside, after taking down Gluten-Free Mama’s laundry from the inside racks, and hang it up in here for the rest of the job.

I was just a tad too late getting it out there on the line, yesterday, to get it dry in time. I suppose if I had a dryer, I could eliminate these kind of glitches, but I would add that if it were that important to me, I would have done so at some point in time in the past.

A little excitement attached to doing the laundry is an OK thing.

Today, the biggie is getting the tomatoes off the vine and into the house. If I can get it together to do this before the rain, then we are good to go without the splitting which invariably takes place. Even if the tomatoes are still green, they will ripen over the next few weeks.

It’s just that there are so many tomatoes still out there.
Our peppers are hot!

The name of the upcoming dance is salsa, and I am raring to go. We have fresh onions, peppers, garlic and plenty of tomatoes. A lot of us like it spicy, so there will be at least one batch of the good stuff.

I doubt that this winter can be as bad as the historically wet season we encountered a year ago, but I can say with a degree of certainty, that we will have a lot of rain and probably our share of snow too. 


It’s a good thing we’ll have some heat in the pantry to keep us warm, in addition to the fire in the stove.