Almost Forgot...

The local folk tell us that this part of Montana is enjoying the most snow and the coldest temperatures that have been seen around here for 20 years. That is a source of some amusement to the ones who think that Arizona transplants like us are going to be crying for our mommas over the weather. Ha!

Beside the fact that not all of Arizona is like Phoenix (hello! Pine trees! Skiing! And a white Christmas in our old home town.) the doubters don't know that I grew up in the Rockies.

HIGH up...way high....in the Rockies. The nearest wide spot in the road (we called it a town) stands at an elevation just over 9100 feet. Our house was a little higher. Yeah. We got snow and we got cold.

Being here in this remarkable winter has reminded me of things I almost forgot.

The way the snow crunch-squeaks differently under your feet when the temperature is really cold.

Snow so cold and dry that you can't make a snowball of it. When you shovel it, it's like a shovel full of visible air.

The way that icicles on the eaves will gradually point toward the house as the snow inches down the roof.

Never wanting to be barefoot, even indoors.

The still, quiet air that tells you it snowed again, even before you look outside.

How differently sounds and smells carry when it is snowing.

The way the warmth of your home feels when you walk in the front door, after being out in the cold weather.

The way it feels to step a stockinged foot in a puddle of melted snow on the floor. Darn!!

Snow crystals on the dog's whiskers...and the way snow packs in between their doggie toes.

On the nights that my Ohio grandma was going to be home alone, one or more of her grandchildren was usually expected to "Grandma-sit". She lived just up the hill on the same driveway as we did. When my uncle got home and I would walk back to our house on a dark, snowing night, there was a pristine beauty to the night that defies description. The world seemed to be holding its breath in wonder, the way a mother looks at her sleeping baby. I would walk as quietly as possible, so to not disturb the fragile scene, and to absorb every molecule of the moment that I could. Then, of course, I would walk in the front door, stamp my feet like a buffalo and destroy the quiet.


Riches and Wealth, Silver and Gold

What does it mean to be wealthy? Is it the same thing as being rich?

I don't know the answer to that.

Actually, I don't particularly even care, except from the point of view that I love words and their many shades of meanings. Nuance is fascinating to me.

We were never wealthy, but we have always been rich.

We are rich in the obvious ways: we have each other. We have our wonderful sons. We have our health, and a cozy home and plenty to eat. We have enough money to pay our bills and we have some money in savings and some set aside for retirement. So we are rich.

But when I look at the standard of living across the world, and even across the county I live in, I realize that we are rich in some more subtle ways. We are rich in ways that would be very easy to overlook.

I am rich in experiences. I have:

  • tasted the salt of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, and the Gulf of California, too.
  • scraped my skin on coral and on ice, and I've worn bikinis and snow pants. Not together, though.
  • seen the Aurora Borealis, sat in the hot tub and watched the Perseid meteor shower light the sky.
  • written my initials in the ash of Mount St. Helens, where it fell on our porch in Colorado.
  • been to the borders of our country, east, west and south, and just 8 miles away from the Canadian border. I've been to the Four Corners, too.
  • caught a fish, killed a bison (and ate it), raised a beef and turkeys and chickens.
  • milked a cow. 
  • raised an orphaned quail, who came to me still wet from the egg, until he could go off with other quail as a healthy adult. 
  • tasted foods from many, many cuisines and learned words from many languages.
  • read a wide variety, from classic literature to cereal boxes.
I am rich in education, even though I am only a high school graduate. I have learned:
  • to read. Yes. How simple that sounds, but I often think of how difficult this world must be to navigate if you are not literate. From menus to street signs to the for-sale listings on Craigslist, reading is the only key to some kinds of knowledge. 
  • that I can learn. I am not good at everything and struggle with some things in particular, but I have learned that I can learn. 
  • how to interpret a dress pattern, a road map, a recipe, a parts explosion and a cut sheet. 
  • old knowledge: how to read the cursive handwriting of someone who learned how to write before the 1940s. How to pluck a chicken, make pickles and how a yankee drill works. New knowledge: search engine optimization, spreadsheets, browsers and other fun stuff like that.
  • how very limited what I know really is. There is so much more to know in the world!
How many times do we pause to consider the riches we enjoy? Do you mentally bless your teachers and mentors in life, when something you learned from them helps you succeed at some present task? When you are faced with a new situation, and you can apply lessons from previous experiences to help you conquer this new thing, do you feel rich in experience? 

In some way, every person on this earth is rich. Maybe they are only rich in their ability to love, or to be patient, or to endure. Those might be the richest riches of all.

2017, We're Ready!

Yes, it is already a brand-new year!

As I look back at what changes 2016 brought for us, I'm a little in awe that it all really happened.

One thing that the past year has accomplished for me: 2016 brought my life into a clear, sharp focus. I have been reminded and refreshed about all that is most important to me, about what I think is needed for a life well-lived.

Eight years ago in this space, I wrote about why I don't do resolutions for the New Year. I never really have done them, and don't plan to ever start. Not because I'm already so dang wonderful, but just because I think self-improvement is an ongoing thing, not a flash at the beginning of each new year.

I am reminded again, the New Year, of the beauty of a small life. The Sweet Hubs and I left our good paying jobs in Arizona (his was especially so), with security and seniority and all kinds of good things that attend those jobs. We were each in a position of some authority and autonomy. Some of our dear ones probably wanted to get us some psychiatric evaluations, at the idea of our leaving that kind of security and income to come here and take this chance. There are a few who understood, though.

We are small-life people. Simple people. We each enjoy a good day's work and a sense of accomplishment. Neither one of us feels that something is missing by having a hot tub in the trees, instead of satellite television service.

The cozy house that Sweet Hubs built for us is 1200 square feet, with big covered porches front and back. We don't need more house than that. The kitchen is small, but efficient and enough.

We live a life of that is deeply rewarding and satisfying. We have the room to be creative and expressive in both our daily labors and in our free time. We have the opportunity each day to do things for each other and with each other. We have the time to talk to each other. Really TALK to each other.

We have a small community of neighbors, none of which is too physically or visually near, who care about each other and help each other.

We have two fantastic sons and one amazing girlfriend-in-law who I love as much as if she were my own daughter. We have two good dogs. We have nearly 32 years of marriage under our belts, to have reached a point where we can take on massive changes and projects and still like each other at the end of the day.

It was a frightening, intimidating thing to do, to leave what we had in order to chase this. You hear about those guys who chuck their jobs as CEOs or lawyers or whatever, to go live on an alpaca ranch in Washington, and you wonder if they're bonkers.

They aren't. They figured out something that I am reminded of with the onset of a new year.

There is a price to be paid for "success". The cost of a house is more than just the selling price. The price of convenience can sometimes be very inconvenient.

A really good job can also be a shackle.

Work can be pleasure. It doesn't have to be stress. It doesn't have to be something that you fret over, long after the work day is finished. Your identity does not have to be your job title.

What is my job title now? I don't even know. I work a short schedule as a secretary/bookkeeper/office person. That's what I do for a paycheck. The rest of the time? I'm many things.

A doggie mommy.
A cook, baker, dishwasher, bus girl, house keeper, laundress.
A writer.
A fledgling musician. (OK, I might not even be hatched yet.)
A fire tender.
A hot tub soaker.
A recreational photographer.
A blogger.
A firewood stacker.
A future gardener and small-scale poultry grower.
A host.

Ultimately, eminently, completely satisfied. A small life suits me.

All I Want For Christmas

We don't have a Christmas tree in our house, even though we have fifteen acres from which we could cut one.

No Christmas decorations up at all. They're still packed in a box in a storage trailer.

No stockings.

Sweet Hubs and I agreed that we wouldn't buy each other anything. Not even a Christmas card.

None of it matters even one little bit. We have each other. We have our first Christmas in our new life in Montana. It's definitely going to be a white Christmas, which we haven't had in years.

We have two good dogs. A warm, cozy house. Plenty of firewood. A prime rib for our Christmas dinner. We have good wine, candle light, deer in the back yard, a view of the lake and the smell of pine trees and wood smoke in the cold winter air. Life is beautiful.

The only thing missing is that the children will not be able to spend the holiday with us.

Next year, we may have our holiday things unpacked to the point where I can get at them. But if not, that's OK. I have all I need.


New Release

Releasing a new work of fiction is a lot like sending my children off to their first days of school.

Will they fit? Will they make friends? Did I give them what they need to make it in the world?

Ah, the angst! The worry! The pride, mixed with anxiety. It's deliciously difficult to do. And so, my next child is going to be released on the world on December 25, 2016.

As always, I am nervous and excited. I hope my baby can fly!




SNOW!!!

Our first major snowfall as Montana residents.

About 18 inches of snow fell over the weekend. And it is beautiful!

I can say that because I'm warm and toasty in the house, while Sweet Hubs is on the tractor, plowing the driveway. Wearing his coveralls and trapper hat. Flaps down, of course. He's adorable!

The dogs act like silly puppies, running and wrestling, and putting their noses down in the snow and running like a plow. It's very cute and a little dangerous. There could be stump!

So I baked toffee cookies, oatmeal cookies and bacon-cheese puffs. I also made a big pot of venison stew and some homemade bread. Did all my regular chores and relished being in my cozy home.

In the afternoon, we sat out in the hot tub and sipped moscato while we soaked, and watched the snowflakes drift earthward. I am so glad the hot tub is under a roof. We tried the hot tub in the falling snow thing back in Arizona once and we looked exactly like those Japanese Snow Monkeys:

Image result for japanese snow monkey
traveler.com.au

Soaking under a cover is much, much better. 

115

One hundred and fifteen years.

115.

It was 115 years ago today that my Grandmother was born, in Rotterdam, Holland. She was an amazing woman who epitomized resilience, positivism and even temper.

She was alive, although too young to remember it, when the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.

And she lived to an age where I could fax funny cartoons and comic strips to her in the nursing home.

She endured a life of hardship and loss, and remained a cheerful woman without bitterness.

She was not allowed to marry the man she loved, so she chose to throw herself into the marriage that was arranged for her and grew to love him so deeply that their marriage became a beacon on a hill.

I got to grow up with this amazing woman as an integral part of my life. Most of what I know about happiness and balance came directly from the lessons she taught me.


  • If you look for the good, you will surely find it. If you look for the evil, you will find that too.
  • Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
  • Marriage is not a 50-50 proposition. You each give 100%, and you each get 100%.
  • This, too, shall pass. 
  • You can not un-say an unkind word and you can't un-hurt someone's feelings.
  • Family is the most important, but there are priorities. Your spouse and your children are the first priority. All the rest of the family comes after them. 
  • Happiness is not something that finds you, is given to you, or that someone makes you. Happiness is something you build for yourself, every day, out of pieces large and small.
  • Sleep naked.
Thank you, Grandma, for your brilliant advice, words of wisdom and for your example of a life well-lived. Yours was never an easy life, but you made the most of it while you were here.



Two Ways to Choux (paste)


On a rainy/sleeting/snowy day in Montana, what could be better than making a treat for the family? Even if the family is only two people?

This time, I made profiteroles for the Sweet Hubs, and using the same choux paste, dressed differently, I made some bacon cheese puffs for me, because I'm a salty kind of girl.


There isn't much to choux. Really, there isn't. There it is, right here.  A stick of butter, a cup of flour, a cup of water, a pinch of salt and four eggs. What could be easier?

I've been making this in this same saucepan for over 30 years. It doesn't look over 30, does it? Of course, saucepans don't get wrinkles... anyway. Melt the butter over low heat. Then turn the heat up to medium and add the water and salt.
When the butter-water mixture is boiling, add the cup of flour, all at once, and continue cooking, stirring the whole time, until the mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan.

So that part is easy, right?
When it looks about like that picture on the right, turn off the heat and let it cool for 5 or 10 minutes.
Then you need to add the eggs. Add them one at a time, beating well after each addition. Just as an aside, an old country girl like me breaks each egg in a bowl or cup and examines it before adding it to a batter. You want to check for any blood spots, bits of matter or even just a piece of eggshell. There's nothing like that **crunch** of shell when you think you're biting into a cream puff. Blech. 


Make a little well in the dough, add the egg, and stir it in.The texture is a little funny, I must say. I tried to get a picture of it, but it's difficult to see: your dough is going to have kind of a bunch of slippery layers. Just keep stirring.
After you have added the fourth egg and stirred it in, your choux will look like the photo at right.

Then I get a rubber spatula and spoon the paste into a gallon-size freezer bag.
In this case, I put about 2/3 of the paste into the freezer bag, because I had plans for the other 1/3.

Then just pipe the paste into rounds on a parchment lined sheet, as below.

Do take a butter knife or even a finger dipped in water, and smooth down any little tits. Those get much too brown.

















To the other 1/3 of the choux, I just folded in some shredded sharp cheddar cheese and some bacon bits, then dropped this by spoonfuls onto another parchment-lined sheet. Sprinkled with kosher salt and popped them into the oven, next to the ones that are destined to be a treat for my darling. These were baked at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. 





It's tempting, I know, to open the oven door and check on the progress of your pastries, but you simply must control yourself. Wait until you are starting to worry that you're burning them.  Seriously, you want them to be golden brown all over before you open that door. Can you see how even the little crannies are also golden, and there is nothing very pale anywhere?






It may be indecent, but here's a look at their bottom side: not too brown but definitely not pale.





When the shells are cool, just slice a lid off the top, pull out any gooey bits inside or press them down, and fill with whatever you like: pastry cream, whipped cream, prepared pudding, ice cream, frozen margarita...I don't care.

The chocolate topping I used is also super simple: a heap of good quality chocolate chips, melted over low-low heat, with a splash of heavy cream added so it doesn't become brittle again when the pastries are chilled. 







For my Sweet Hubs, Mr. Sweet Tooth, a profiterole. These are filled with almond pastry cream and topped with chocolate.




For me, who doesn't happen to own a sweet tooth, Bacon Cheddar Cheese Puffs. These are fabulous as a vehicle for spinach-artichoke dip, but they're luscious just plain, too.