Bean Counter

Somewhere between Elementary School Teaching and All Things Cooking, I took care of people’s money. I fell into it really. Conventional teaching was playing havoc with my health, and a vendor of Spouse’s needed someone to help get the invoicing done. I stepped up. Quickly, and on-the-go, I learned the basics of balance sheet accounting, and before anyone could say Fixed Asset, I was a bookkeeper. Accounting was orderly, systematic, and while it offered drama via cash flow, it never left me sleepless at night, worried that I wasn’t doing enough for the accounts, that I wasn’t reaching the real need of the ledger, that I needed to find a more integrated way of connecting with the vendors. Teaching, as I knew it, was gone.

For the 20 years that followed, I worked for small companies, primarily connected through the printing and graphic arts industry. The size of company, the industry, and the region we were in made for a very small, connected world. Our Graphic Arts firm was a hub for the bevy of small printing companies in the area, each vying for market share, suspicious of each other, yet all smiles and handshakes when they happened on each other in our foyer. I knew the ones who paid us promptly, the ones who were past due because of disorganization, and the ones who wanted us to help bankroll their own expansion by not paying their due. I liked the company I worked for. It was a true sole proprietor-owned, Small Business. We had birthday lunches, baby showers, and Holiday Parties. We fought, we apologized, we gossiped, we were dysfunctional like most families. As the technology of the industry began to shift, graphic arts companies were the first to feel the changes. When my work didn’t require as many hours, I began to help out a printing company and a bindery, both small companies, giving me accounting experience, and industry knowledge, which spanned the entire process of producing a printed product.

I did all right as a bookkeeper. Not a Lover-of-Math in school, basic concepts that I would need for bookkeeping had finally been made clear for me when I had to teach kids how to perform the same operations. There is real-world application for math, up though beginning algebra, for most people. I occasionally had to “solve for x” and I was happy to know how. I learned, on the job, how to manage cash flow, anticipate sales income, manage depreciation schedules and accruals, amortize, negotiate with vendors, the importance of customer service, and all the ins and outs of State Tax Reporting. While I had a requisite amount of attention to detail, I was not fastidious with those details, finding myself on a rollercoaster of tidy/filing/all-ducks-in-row to papers piling/entries missed/catching everything up at the last minute. I wasn’t a REAL accountant and didn’t care to be.

Like basic algebra, most people practice a level of real world accounting: paying bills, balancing checking accounts, figuring how much interest they would have to pay on a loan. The IRS requires that we keep wage, banking, and tax deduction records to support our tax returns for any number of years. Less tangible accounting is experienced emotionally. As a child, I was taught, “Love keeps no record of wrong,” a warning against keeping track of offenses. My parents extrapolated the meaning of this to include that if I chose to forgive someone, I was responsible for forgetting the wrong done to me. I will spare you any details of inner unmet expectation and the resultant bouts of guilt, but simply say that forgiving equalling forgetting is bull shit. I do believe that “keeping a record of wrong” is also a load of hooey. Filling ledgers with offenses done to me, petty or otherwise, turns me into Scrooge himself: empty of life, alone and haggard, unable to allow joy or light into my space. I still remember the offense, sometimes acutely, but each time I do, I look to see what I have that’s good, right in that immediate moment: spouse? child? shelter? ability? my garden? or that I am simply still breathing? This exercise helps me begin to let go of the offense, and to continue to let go, over and over if necessary.

Growing up, I thought that not keeping records of wrong was about loving the offender. Now I know it is an exercise of love for my own well-being. And though I often don’t completely forget (it is amazing what an overtired, stressed-out brain can dredge up from the past), the pain, the anger, the twisting effect of those events, lessens. When I stop this negative accounting, when I work on loving myself by offering forgiveness, I can try to practice another adage taught by my parents: Love your neighbor as yourself. Impossible?

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August and Everything After

I stopped writing. I certainly stopped writing here. Since August, I’ve inexplicably watched many, many episodes of BBC detective dramas, as well as, after decluttering, been held captive in the vortex known as Selling On eBay. However, it’s time now to move on. I’ve re-read Anne  Lamott, again, and it’s time. I’ll ease myself back in with pictures and captions. Tiny assignments.

Picnic beach sunset

Picnic beach sunset

A day's offering from the garden

A day’s offering from the garden

Dinners outside

Dinners outside

Weather warm enough for Puget Sound beach play

Weather warm enough for Puget Sound beach play

Spieden Island wishing us goodnight

Spieden Island wishing us goodnight

Flour mill mishap

Flour mill mishap

Leading to a much more organized, downsized pantry

Leading to a much more organized, downsized pantry

Why I found myself on eBay

Why I found myself on eBay

We bowled

We bowled

caught dried flower arrangements on fire

caught dried flower arrangements on fire

lost teeth

lost teeth

harvested potatoes

harvested potatoes

did DIY raisins from the concords out front

did DIY raisins from the concords out front

collaged

collaged

made bread

made bread

continued karate

continued karate

celebrated some saints

celebrated some saints

put on an art show

put on an art show

got a little snow

got a little snow

celebrated Christmas

celebrated Christmas

and stopped sending breakables through the mail.

and stopped sending breakables through the mail.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Reunion

My mind is full this morning, crowded with memory, melancholy, snippets & vignettes of a long-ago life. Faces brought forward into the now, twenty years older, trapped in the what was: the Who I Was, the What I Did, seemingly uninterested in knowing the Who I Am Now, myself guarded, wary of reveal. Bits of sadness, remnants of joy, remembered pain carelessly inflicted, the reality of relationship not to be, clamor & jostle for place.

Gratefully, with the meditative repetition of legs moving, lungs filling, body alone under white cloud-blue sky, safe among guardian firs, refreshed by the gentle morning breeze, the melee slows, then evaporates. All that eyes, ears, nose, even skin take in brings back the present, the important, the connection. It is true that “way leads on to way”, but here is where I am, and for today, here is where I am meant to be.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost

Urtica Dioica

Abundant in Northern Europe, Asia, and North America, the moisture-loving stinging nettle thrives in the Pacific NW. Where I grew up, on 5-acres, next door to 5-acres, next to three additional lots of 1.25 acres, with, respectively, a small woods, wetland ravine, large vegetable gardens, and pasture for a cow named Buff, followed by a Shetland pony named Poncho, then a sheep whose name I don’t remember, there was ample habitat for nettles.

Nettle

Nettle

Those with experience taught, and I learned early, that nettles were evil-touch one and you’d feel a painful sting followed by itchy bumps as your body tried to expel the injected toxins. Exploring the woods, picking late summer blackberries, playing kick-the-can at dusk, riding a bike down the ravine road, were all tinged with the danger of potential nettle stings. One summer, my then 14-year old cousin, legs hanging clown-like at Poncho’s sides, was either “let go” by or simply fell off the pony into a ripe patch of summer nettle. I think I’ll always remember how this tough-talking teen came howling from the woods, wearing only cut-offs, running home to be slathered in the soothing paste of baking soda plus water, the unfazed pony clip-clopping back to the pasture gate, and waited to be let in.

We had family friends, who alone from anyone else I knew, and long before I would ever strive to do the same, practiced clean eating. They all had amazing, radiant, fresh-from-the-Alps skin, grew the largest easy-to-pull carrots, had a proper compost pile, and, as they lived within the city limits of our town, in a “real” neighborhood, had pavement on which to ride their bikes. So exotic. The most exotic thing, however, was that their mother used nettles for food. I didn’t actually find this exotic, I thought she was crazy: how could a person even think about eating a nettle? While our families got along, my mom and aunt also thought the Mrs. was odd, a sentiment I gathered while overhearing their bits of gossipy chatter. At that time, my parents didn’t embrace many new ideas. They had a compost pile for grass clippings and kitchen scraps, but they never used this on the garden. Their convention dictated animal manure as the way to fuel a garden. The food we ate was that of economy and, with my mom back to work a few days a week, ease. There were many ways to stretch and serve a pound of hamburger, thanks to Hamburger Helper, packaged taco or Sloppy Jo seasoning, etc. We ate our share of processed, industrial food-like products. For my parents, anything outside of their mutual box never received a blink of consideration.

Fast forward more years than seem believable; through all of school, university, living off the grid, hanging out with yuppy suburbanites, semi-reclusive libertarians (before I ever knew that was a thing), far-east King County gardeners and goat keepers, hippies, middle school math teachers, recovering abuse victims, musicians, writers, all people living their lives different from mine. These experiences, followed by the seismic changes brought via parenting, made me want to embrace the new, to Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway.

One of thing I have embraced is nettle. Figuratively, as they really do sting, but wholeheartedly, perhaps as homage to Mrs. P and her preferences, which no one ever considered might be helpful for me to understand, those many years ago. Most of my nettle inspiration has come from the aptly named Susun Weed, the face, voice, and pen of The Wise Woman Way. Ms. Weed is seriously into the wild plants that grow in/around our homes, gardens, roads, etc., especially, nettle and dandelion. While nettles are good eating braised, pureed in soup, kneaded into pasta dough, scattered on pizza as leaf or pesto, I prefer them dried, then infused into a nutrient dense beverage. I use nettle to supply most of my calcium, and to nourish my body in general.

A nod to our Urban Farm Co-op

A nod to our Urban Farm Co-op

Areas around my parents’ home have nettle growing with abandon. Last fall, I encouraged them to not attempt any weed-kill, but let the nettles be. I told them they were sitting on a goldmine at $15/pound for dried nettle retail. Come Spring, motivated by a Christmas-acquired food dehydrator, wearing gloves, long sleeves, and long pants, I happily advanced on the outcroppings of nettle, just beginning their push through the rich, undisturbed loam. I filled a grocery  bag quickly, then returned home to wash, pat dry, and dehydrate. Herbs and plants like nettle don’t need a high temperature for drying. The dried plant will retain more nutrients if the air temperature stays around 90 degrees F, and since nettle comes packed with goodness, most notably calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, I am careful to not overheat. With the dehydrator filled, I sat back and waited for my “free” nettle. No longer would I need to visit the bulk herb section at my co-op, or order online from Eugene.

Drying

Drying

The papery-dry leaves crumbled easily as I gathered my stash for a weigh-in. All combined, the grand total of a grocery store bag of nettle now dried was: 1/4-ounce. This is what 1-ounce looks like:

image-1

1-0z. dried nettle awaiting boiling water.

loosely filling 1/3 of a quart jar.

4-8 hours of infusing

4-8 hours of infusing

After infusing, then straining out the spent nettle, there is about 24-ounces of liquid in the jar. I drink 16-ounces a day. As the math calculations began rolling around in my head, I was quick to realize that what I buy for $15/pound is a LOT of fresh nettle, and requires a much larger dehydrator than I own. In fact, when researching for this post, I came upon this blog, whereby this particular section confirmed my conclusion:

My home-made dehydrator is 5 feet high, 4 feet wide and 4 feet deep with 7 trays made with wood frame and screening. It has a fan in the bottom and a heating coil. My nettles dry in about 2 – 2 1/2 days. I keep my herbs in 5 gallon buckets as my business demands a high volume of plants.

5ft x 5ft x 4ft. I was clearly not going to have the means to supply my nettle habit. I did collect nettle on two more occasions, dried it, and infused it. My local, extremely fresh dried nettle, was a vibrant green, and while nettle infusion has an alfalfa-y taste, the nettle I collected and dried tasted nothing but green. So green it was a little scary. It was WILD food.

I will continue to collect nettle, and may someday build a monster dehydrator of my own, but I will also take time to enjoy nettle as a fresh food. Feeling completely irresponsible and

Stinging nettle on purpose.

Stinging nettle on purpose.

a bit wild myself, I offered up one of my secondary raised beds to transplanted nettle. Now I can gather fresh leaves easily, quickly, and  economically. Tea anyone?

Dregs

Dregs

Bean Day

As long as I can remember, there has always been a vegetable garden at my parent’s. This space, on the north end of the front yard,  was a sizeable rectangle that enjoyed all-day sun. The garden space grew larger when my dad hauled Granddad’s tractor from his eastern Oregon home to ours.

Grandpa E sometime early 70's

Grandpa E sometime early 70’s

Each summer, the same panoply played out: beets, carrots, chard, potatoes, sweet corn, squashes, and green beans. The green beans were a pole-growing variety, and they, towering along with the corn, provided great hiding places, their slightly sticky leaves attaching to my shirt, pant leg, or hair when passing by. While I detested pulling weeds and removing rocks, I enjoyed the garden as a whole. I can still feel the slight resistance, the meager defense of a carrot being pulled from that sandy soil, soil perfect for growing root vegetables. I soaked in the beauty, wonder, and bounty that is a summer vegetable garden. This is also where I learned of a garden’s potential tyranny.

Bean Day. This was usually a one-day event in August. We would all descend upon the garden, paper grocery sacks in hand, and start picking the beans. When at least 2 bags were filled, my dad would stay behind picking, while the rest of us found knives, cutting boards, and space at the kitchen table, working around the mountain of just-picked beans in the center. One or two, including my mom who can work freakishly fast, had the job of “tipping” the beans, using a small paring knife to remove both the stem end of the bean, and the pointy end. Mom was insistent that the pointy end be removed. These beans formed a new pile to the side where the cutters could get working. We stacked the trimmed beans like cord wood, cut into 1-inch pieces, then placed them in a large bowl or pot. The trimmers whittled down the center pile just in time for Dad to empty another bag, recreating the mountain we started with.

When a few large containers were filled with cut beans, the beans would get a rinse, then find their way into the hot, sterilized pint jars next to the sink. These jars would be topped with some salt, hot water, a canning lid with ring, then placed into the pressure canner. The lid would be fastened, and the heat would be applied.

Pressure canner

Pressure canner

It never seemed to take long before the steam inside the canner began escaping at a wild rate, whereby Mom would place the regulator on to the steam valve and the jiggling would begin. The jiggling regulator needed to move at a steady pace, so Mom watched and listened carefully. We had heard stories of pressure canners exploding, but Mom was vigilant, always respecting these monsters of the stove.

We were saving food to eat throughout the winter and spring. Our freezer would hold pie-ready apples, cut-from-cob sweet corn, squares of squash, and the other usual items brought home from the store, so my mom used canning for most other fruits, and green beans. There are few options for preserving foods low in acid. Green beans are one of these foods and can be pickled, frozen, or pressure canned. Pressure canning increases the processing temperature beyond that of boiling, creating an environment inside the jar hostile to harmful bacteria. If the seal of a jar fails or is otherwise compromised, bacteria can take root. Mom taught us to open any jar of beans with care and awareness, listening for a hearty release of the jar’s vacuum. To this day I will only eat home-canned foods prepared by people who I know take careful precaution in the kitchen.

While the pressure canners jiggled away on the stove, we continued to pick, tip, and chop, growing increasingly weary, the center pile eroding slowly, my mom trying any means to prod us to the finish. With the last bean chopped, the crisp vegetables sat ready for rinsing, awaiting their turn at processing, until the canners left the stove, and cooled completely before the next batch could begin. We were free to do as we pleased while Mom continued the pack-salt-load-jiggle routine, often pulling the last jars from the final load just before falling into bed, exhausted. For my sisters and I, Bean Day became a dreaded day.

As an adult I can completely respect my parents’ relentless effort to provide for their family. A garden offers the highest quality food and home canning makes that food available throughout the coming year. My mother, then and now, has an incredible capacity for work. She tackles projects. When the beans were ready, so was she. I don’t know what my sisters felt, though my older sister has had little love for green beans to this day, but I never felt put upon. My parents weren’t mean, there was just a job to be done, a job that benefited our whole family, so the whole family helped out.

Beauty

Beauty

These days, we eat the beans as we pick them, most days of the week during the growing season, usually cooked just until tender, pointy ends intact. They are sweet, with a slight resistance to the bite, then soft, not fibrous unless picked too late. If I have excess beans from my garden I blanch, then freeze them. I prefer the flavor and have no wish to offer any sacrifices on the altar of the Presto 01781 23-Quart Pressure Canner.

Catch Up

Spouse and I have always loved Apple computers. We started out with one of these:

our first computer

our first computer

Our next box was a 6100 something or other which we used for a long time. Then I brought home the occasional hand-me-down Mac from the office. I worked for a graphic arts company, which needed the latest, best, fastest, a change that occurred, at least, every 2 years. There were always castaways muddying up the back hallway. These computers were big, more than enough for our home use.

Both Spouse & I had great computers at work, connected to the internet with whatever was the best service available at the time. At home, we were fine with dial-up to get access to our email. Our last home computer was a cast-off G4, running OS9.2, unable to be upgraded to OS X. We continued with dial-up for a few more years, but finally, in 2008 got a box that would run the current OS, and we connected to DSL.

The world opened up. I started using Facebook and I started a blog about my garden. Then I started a blog about life in my kitchen. Then we made a blog to use at Christmas. I started another blog about my artist friends, which waned when I was unable to get follow-through for blog material. Most recently, I started this blog, writing primarily about my life. All of this is to explain that I have 3 active blogs, of which I am not yet ready to combine into one. For the last few weeks, my kitchen has grabbed all the attention. Here’s a link. Cheers!

Rain

I live in the Pacific Northwest.  I have lived here always. The PNW, especially western Washington, is a place of exquisite natural beauty. When the sun shines with a crystal blue sky, everything below green green green, it takes my breath away. Still. After all these years. To maintain the green, however, we live with rain. Despite popular myth, it does not rain all the time. We do, admittedly, experience long periods of rain during the winter, which definitely become oppressive. 40F and 30 days of rain? Everything soaking and sopping, mildewing and molding, with a chill that stays? I don’t know even one native who would answer ‘Yes, please!’ The rain we’re having today, though, is welcome by me.

It is true that the enormous hydrangea out front needs to be shaken off periodically or lose branches to breakage; it is true that parts of our gutters do not behave, and though we use the collected water on a garden bed, parts of the porch roof are probably going to rot;  it is also true that raspberry bushes hold lots of water and are happy to share that water with me when I’m picking; and most true of all, I don’t commute long distances everyday, nor do I call a cardboard shelter home. It seems like a luxury for me to enjoy the rain. One aside that never fails to surprise me, is how much rain it takes to actually water the plants. It is raining hard as I write this, perhaps Walter will refer to it as a ‘good old fashion soaker’, but the soil will most likely be dry just one half inch below the surface. A day of rain and I may still need to water.

While we don’t experience rain all the time, what we do have during the summer months is known as Marine Layer. This is a cover of cloud blown in from the coast which will usually hang around, the sun not burning through until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Somedays the sun never burns through. Summers don’t get swimming warm with a marine layer in place. Perhaps this is why our reputation for rain all the time persists. Unfortunately, the days stay cool but dry, so the grass goes brown and the gardens wilt. Such First World problems, I know.

For today, though, I am grateful for my dry, cozy home. Grateful for a day of rest from gardening chores and expectations. I am happy to make soup for dinner, to watch the green get a free watering, happy for raincoats, boots, and umbrellas.  I am also grateful for Homeless Shelters, and that Tent City finds new places to set up and that they have tarps. The rain reminds me of all that I have. Though meager in the eyes of some, having eyes to see What Is makes me the richest person I know.

By Any Other Name

IMG_1934

A former dairy farm; our building was the tiny one

When we called the smallest building in the photo above home, Spouse announced that he wanted to grow roses. He wanted to start raising them right then and there. This former milk shed turned cute tiny house was only temporary between the Little House With Blue Trim on Tolt River Road and Trail’s End, and while I voiced opposition due to the temporary nature of the proposed garden, Spouse prevailed. An arbor was soon erected and Cécile Brünner moved in, the first of 3 residences for the well-travelled plant.

Since these very humble beginnings, we’ve grown many roses. The roses we, and by we I mean mostly Spouse, chose needed to have great fragrance, and needed to be old. Old garden roses are  essentially wild roses, grown on their own roots instead of being grafted onto a generic root-stock. Not bred into submission, they don’t confine themselves to tidy garden patches,  preferring plenty of space to move, and often withstand colder winter temperatures. We purchased most of these mail order, pre-internet, from nurseries in Central Coast California and Colorado. We had climbers covering arbors and pergolas; we had seemingly tame plants grow into unwieldy shrubs, snuffing the life from unlucky nearby flora.

Our gardens at Trail’s End had such residents as La Reine Victoria, Honorine de Brabant, Blanc Double du Coubert, Jens Monk, Thérèse Bugnet,  and the single petals of the rightly named, Dainty Bess. I also remember Erfurt, the musk rose with the pale pink, single petal blooms, and grey-green stems. It was pretty even with no foliage in winter. Cécile Brünner enjoyed several years keeping watch over the large fenced chicken run.We had other roses, tamer varieties purchased from local nurseries; roses like Chicago Peace, SunSprite, Sunbright, and Mister Lincoln. We had a rose garden in the middle of NoWhere.

The garden

The garden

When moving time came, not all the roses were still alive. The garden had gone through some changes, some of the plants had succumbed to illness or wandering, marauding herbivores. Cécile was alive and would move with us. It was a significant chore to uproot the plant, grown quite large, digging deep and wide to keep as much of the extensive root intact. Cécile’s next home, again temporary, was at my sister’s, taking some corner garden space until we got ourselves sorted. He didn’t thrive here as much as he existed, and waited 5 years until we and he  planted ourselves in our current home.

IMG_1937

Looking back toward to house

When we moved into our current space, we had room for plants but needed to make many landscaping improvements. As with all the improvements we’ve done to this home, the garden has progressed in starts and spurts, removing unwanted fixtures, poorly growing sod, bringing down a misplanted tree or two, bringing in soil, and adding a fence. Small beginnings brought to light all that would need to be done. Cécile found a new home when the Sears metal shed moved away. He enjoyed many years living at the edge of the patio, providing a foliage and bloom welcome to the fledgling perennial border.

Where we live now, where we garden now, is far smaller than the space at Trail’s End. We lived with only Cécile for a few years, then added a Dainty Bess and Thérèse Bugnet. Others have since joined our company.

IMG_1922

Madame Hardy

Madame Hardy, a Damask rose, presides at the east end of my back yard garden, just beyond the jungle of raspberries. When in bloom, she still surprises me each time I visit that far corner of our world. The herbs next to the patio also include some of my Grandpa’s phlox and a hybrid tea named Just Joey working to stay free of the phlox’s embrace. Just Joey has big blooms, glossy dark foliage, and a scent that invites all into the garden.

Just Joey

Just Joey

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Near Joey is William Shakespeare, a David Austin English rose, given to us by my in-laws for an anniversary. This rose explodes with bloom, is really susceptible to black spot, and the aphids love the buds as much as I do. I pick off the leaves, and remove the aphids, reminding them that this rose is mine. English roses are meant to be planted in crowded borders, limiting any view of the less than perfect foliage. I intend to introduce William S. to some of the busy-handed phlox.

rose 2

Grandma Betsey Rose

rose

Julia Child

The gardens in the front yard have a little pink rose that I don’t know the name of, have no photos of, but one that blooms early, as well as throughout the year, sometimes even at Christmas. On the fence climbs what I call my Grandma Betsey rose, pieces taken from my Grandpa’s home and planted to climb on the fence for viewing from the yard and street. It could easily be New Dawn. Also in the front yard is our newest addition, Julia Child, an aptly named butter-yellow flower.

Unnamed Moss Rose

Unnamed Moss Rose

Last and not least, is the out of control rose presiding over the street-side perennial bed, whose name I don’t remember. Very thorny canes, profuse blooms, the sticky residue covering the buds,  define the flower as a moss rose.

Sadly, Cécile did not survive a move from the patio to the front yard gardens. He needed to move to make way for the outdoor kitchen slowly taking shape in his place.  I think we were a bit hurried in the digging and the new assignment wasn’t a match. Oddly, these roses past and present feel like friends. They were and are each unique, whether they have a given name or not. Perhaps I’ll decide to call my street-side moss rose Moss in homage to IT Crowd. It will still be just as thorny, just as profuse, just as sweet.