Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018!

A new year! A new year is a time for me to reflect and to plan to re-center myself and my intentions.

I don't make resolutions, generally. If you've been reading me for a while, you have heard that before. For me, trying to be better, do better, learn more and so on is an all year thing and not something I try to take on in one big bite at the beginning of the year. I still try to reflect on the past year and consider what I learned, the mistakes I made, the things I could be doing better.

There is an old superstition that says that whatever you do on the first day of the year, you will repeat all year long. While I don't believe the superstition, I think it's a fun exercise in setting your intentions for the upcoming year.

So in the spirit of both the remembrance of a year gone by and the plan for a happy and successful 2018, I will share my thoughts and plans with you.

2017 was our first full calendar year in our new home. I had always looked forward to seeing each new season unfold here, and 2017 is the year that happened. Each season was beautiful to behold, in spite of the fact that last winter was fairly brutal (the worst in 20 years, we were told) and this winter is shaping up to be about the same. So we labored through many, many feet of snow, the constant need for a fire to keep us warm. This taught both of us some important things, like to push the snow way back from the beginning of the plowing/shoveling, because there will be more coming and you run out of room to stack it.

We learned that some things grow very well here, and that our garden needs something. I'll be reading about that. Zucchini plants should not be yellow, and should be able to set fruit. But the lettuce and beets did fantastic. My kale was grand, the tomatoes were lovely. Broccoli Raab and Broccolini are NOT the same thing and I don't care for the former. The best of all, I think, were the green beans. Wow did we ever have beans. We ate them fresh often. I pickled some, froze a bunch of them. My basil did great, the lemon thyme was wonderful, mint and oregano and parsley... yes. This is good country for culinary herbs.

2017 was the first year we had nice guest accommodations, and the visitors to use them. Oh, what fun that was! We had a grand time with a series of guests, enjoying different activities with each one, but enjoying wine and food and beautiful Montana with all. Each one made us feel so blessed to have them in our lives. I absolutely do judge people by their friends, and by that measure, I am friggin awesome.

It was also the year of my gut's salvation. It was nearly a year ago that my cherished friend Michelle succeeded in convincing me to try kefir. I bless her every day for that, for words do not do any justice at all to the transformation in the way I feel. It was also the year I learned much more about making a traditional sourdough culture and using it successfully in bread. The combination of those two things has given me a freedom in my health that beggars description. I don't think I will ever be 100% free of IBS issues, but I am so much better that thinking about it almost enough to bring me to tears.

2017 was also my Year of the Mushroom. My natural reaction to a mushroom was to recoil. 2017 taught me about hunting for morels, new ways to cook mushrooms, new types to try, and (thanks to my darling youngest son) taught me about the health benefits of mushrooms. I love learning new things and learning about new delicious things that support good health is even better.

The year saw me circle back in my work life, returning to full-time work in insurance. The woman I work for is an amazing and inspiring boss and I love working for her. I have gotten old enough that I am not looking for a grand and growing career anymore. I just want to do good work for a good place and use the skills that come most naturally to me. This seems to be that place, and Teresa allows me the space and the tools to do it.

2017 was the year the first year in which I did not see my youngest son for an entire year, since he was born. Our oldest son was able to be here several times, but it didn't work out for the youngest, or for me to go to him. There are no words to describe how achingly I miss him and his sweet Risa.

So what will I do today to set 2018 off on the right foot?



  • I will cook a real dinner, with homemade bread and whole, healthful ingredients. I believe in the value of eating real food as strongly as I believe in God.
  • The house is straight.
  • I am writing. There is a new book swirling around in my head, unformed and unwritten. 2018 should be the year to see it begin to take form.
  • I took my damn nutritional supplements. I really struggle to remember to take pills of any kind and always have. Even if I leave them on the counter, near the coffee which I NEVER forget to have, I can look right past them. For the record, when I remember, I take flaxseed oil, lion's mane mushroom, a joint-health blend, turmeric and cinnamon.
  • I drank my kefir. The food I love to hate. It is totally weird to me that something I detest makes my mouth water. I figure that is my gut's message that this is good food which I need. 
  • I'm going to spend some time reading and some time playing my guitar. 
  • I will reach out to friends and family and just let them know I care about them.
  • Right now, I'm going to carry some firewood up so that Sweet Hubs doesn't have to. For, of all the things I should devote time to every day, my marriage is at the top of the list. 
What will you do to set your intentions for 2018?



Small Life, Small Stress, Small Wonder

I sit here drinking sweet, creamy coffee and enjoying the falling rain (which we so desperately need). You may have seen news reports about the fires in Montana. I think the state has suffered more acres of fire than it has since the Great Burn in 1910. While we haven't had any fires very near our house, we have of course been on high alert and have been thoroughly smoked. The rain is a relief and a blessing.

We have enjoyed a summer of hot days in the lake, plentiful eating from our garden and some amazing quality time with dear, dear friends. Now it's time for fall fishing, dinners outside by the fire and long talks in the hot tub.

What can be better for your health than near-zero stress, plenty of activity, good, fresh food, two good dogs and few worries. We are both working at jobs we like, with options available for growth in other arenas.

And yet I feel like I am not doing as much as I could, should...would. I intended to cook more with Holly. I intended to hike with Michelle. I have a book that wants to come out. Practice my guitar until I don't struggle so much with playing an F chord. My garden needs weeding, and I didn't get around to planting much of a fall crop. Oh, I also intended to get more blogging in. LOL.

I started a second job recently. Back to the world of insurance. What was I thinking? :-) Switching gears gets more difficult as you age, you know. I answer the phone and have to really think about what to say. Where am I?

We entertained some new friends a few days ago, and I hear of all the cool things they're doing (they're retired) and I don't even make a picture of that kind of free time. Maybe someday. My days are full and my life is full. They're full of good, fun things, full of a strong loving relationship, full of warm thoughts of beloved friends and family, even when I haven't talked to them in a long while.

The largest stress in my life these days is a constant concern that my loved ones know how deeply I care for them. So to you, my dearest ones, I send all my love and warm thoughts.

Community

I've been struggling to frame my thoughts on this subject for the last several days. As so often happens, tragedies around me put me into a quagmire of overthinking and a heart aching for the pain of people I might not even know.

The story made national news. Ten people were killed by a flash flood in central Arizona, near the town of Payson.

Payson was our home until last year. Sweet Hubs grew up there, and I lived there for 35 years. When I think of what makes a community special and admirable, it is clear to me that Payson has those qualities. It was a lovely place to grow our family and we lived there very happily.

The people come together to help neighbors and strangers alike. They care for strangers who have been evacuated from their homes. They support neighbors who have huge medical bills. In this particular case, people from Payson helped with the search, brought great support to the searchers and prayed with all their strength. Now they grieve with the survivors and families.

Maybe I am over-generalizing here, but it seems as if being part of your community for a city dweller consists of things like paying your HOA fees and maybe serving on the board, and attending assorted fundraisers to support the museums or organized charities you favor. Being a part of your community in Small Town, America means bringing a covered dish to the bereaved, cookies and Gatorade to forest firefighters, cash to the benefit to support the young family with the stricken child, blankets to your neighbor whose furnace went out and dinner to the elderly neighbor down the way. It is a personal, hands-on approach to helping others. You help them one at a time, as needs arise. It is not the same as donating money to a cause; it is putting your own actual hand out to touch another human being in need.

When you know the people who are affected by some tragedies, I think it opens your heart to hurt for and want to help the strangers who suffer other tragedies. Yes, Payson people (me included) often grumble(d) about the huge influx of summer visitors from the desert, the ones looking to cool off in the pine trees after spending all week in the cactus and asphalt. But let something like this tragedy at Water Wheel happen, and it doesn't matter that these were visitors. Payson people were there, searching, comforting, supporting, waiting, helping in any way they could.

So here we are, the "new neighbors" in rural Montana. I see the same small-town attitude toward community here, and I love that. It's good for my soul to see the generosity and kindness in people. It offsets the headlines by reminding me that people really are good and kind and caring. No, that isn't the kind of story that makes the headlines. It's the story of life. It's the story of community.






Of Ticks and Radishes

What a strange day it was!

I found a tick burrowing into the skin of my neck. Horrid little creatures. Have you ever noticed how, after having an encounter with a tick, spider or mosquito, we imagine every little twitch and itch must be another creepy crawly thing on us? Alas.

I also got a thistle sticker in one finger and slammed another finger in the door. These three things made me think it was going to be a bad day, but I was wrong. For the sun came out, I got to work in the garden a while and picked some radishes and salad greens.

Radish tops are lovely things, pretty as the bright radish root itself. It has always felt like a waste to me to throw those tops away, so I looked around for ideas. I tried roasting them like you would kale for chips. Total disappointment. Don't bother. The flavor is good, but the texture is just..... not.

Then I saw a recipe for radish top soup. Hmmm. I changed it up a bit, using what I had on hand, and bless my britches, it was good! Be advised that if potato soup makes you fart like a steer, this will too.



Radish Top Soup

4 good sized potatoes, peeled and diced.
About 4 cups of loosely packed radish tops, trimmed of the tough middle rib.
1 leek, well washed and sliced thin.
2 ribs of celery, with the leaves, diced.
About 4 cups of good chicken stock, homemade is best. 😉
1/2 cup of half and half or heavy cream.
Salt and pepper.
Two tablespoons or so of butter.
Chenin blanc to taste.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and celery and saute until translucent, while sipping some of that Chenin blanc. Add the potatoes and radish tops and saute until the tops start to soften. Sip some more. Add the chicken stock and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, until the potatoes are soft soft soft. 30-40 minutes should be ample time to finish your first glass of Chenin blanc.

Puree the cooked potatoes and radish tops in a blender or using your stick blender (my method). Return to the saucepan and bring back to a good simmer on low heat. This should only take about 5 sips. Stir in the half and half or cream, add salt and pepper to taste, garnish with a few thin slices of radish and serve with more Chenin blanc and some good bread.

Well, OK. You got me. I actually made my soup with Guinness to taste, but still......

I served this with grilled chicken drumsticks, a salad fresh from the garden and yesterday's sourdough bread. Strawberries for dessert and life is good.


Garden of Discrimination

I worked a while in my happy little garden.

Seeds are germinating, the transplanted tomatoes and peppers, etc., are settled in happily. Among these are three artichoke plants I am excited about having. I love artichokes!

I planted them in a bed of good soil, deeply dug and well drained. I formed a little well in the bed so that water will stay in the bed to soak in, instead of running off. I pulled weeds that were already showing up in there.

One of those weeds was a thistle. We have a lot of thistles around; they are a ubiquitous weed here. The irony struck me that I was battling thistles I didn't want in a bed of thistles I did want. Thistle discrimination is what that is. Right?


Help Me, Rhonda!

OK, so I went a little bonkers in the garden and am sure I overplanted it. If half of what I planted actually grows, it will be a jungle out there.

If anyone out there has a tip for how to just frickin' chill when you're deciding what to plant, I'd love to hear it. It doesn't help that I love vegetables and fresh foods and it's spring! Spring time makes me hungry for bright, fresh foods, green things, sunshine, tank tops and long, quiet evenings outdoors.

I look forward to the waxing warmth and coming summer every year. And every year, I look forward to the cool, crisp autumn with its beautiful change of color and light. Then I look forward to the first snowfall. This past winter, I sure was looking forward to the LAST snowfall!

The change of seasons, the seasons of life, growing babies, new adventures... each thing is a wonder to behold and I love seeing it all unfold.

Last night, Sweet Hubs and I were sitting on the porch looking down at the lake and I saw something I couldn't identify swimming out there. So I got the binoculars and had a look: it was a pair of Canada geese with their gosling. To quote my friend Alita, Oh My Giddy Aunt! That little fuzzball was swimming around with all the joy and abandon of childhood, mumsy and pops keeping a close eye for predators, and I was charmed right down to the marrow. Then Sweet Hubs pointed out another family of geese, and this one had five goslings paddling their little flat feet around that bay, little dabs of fuzzy yellow on the green-blue water. Naturally, I just melted into a puddle of goo at that point. Is there something out there that is cuter than a fluffy gosling or duckling?

It's easy to see that some of the deer are pregnant, the way their midsections are bulging unevenly, one side pushed out forward, the other side back and that sort of thing. Even after their fawns are born, we won't see them for a while. Mommas keep them carefully hidden for a good while. If you happen to stumble upon one, curled into a dappled red ball, the adorableness of it is almost painful.

I'm sitting here, drinking sweet, creamy coffee and watching the day wake up. My house is a mess, thanks to time spent in the garden instead of doing my indoor chores, and I have a long list of to-dos. That's a good feeling, because at the end of the day I know I'll be able to stand back and see what I accomplished. The pleasure of a visible result for your labors is one of my favorites.

But it's spring, and I really want to be outside.

Foraging and Other Dirty Stories

It's morel season in this part of the world and this was my first year scrounging around for the little yummy mushrooms. 

A nice, quiet walk on my own property, Sweet Hubs watching our four-legged furry babies, since the dogs kinda take all the peace out of it for me, and looking around for fungus. Aren't they a beautiful thing? I've found enough to have them with dinner several nights now. Morels are very expensive to buy. Finding some on my own patch of ground relieves me of the desire to buy some, just so I can experiment with how to cook them. Foraging is the most frugal kind of living of all, right? Oh, and just to be clear: yes we are hunters, and apparently gatherers, but I didn't collect the snail there to eat that, too. 


My darling Sweet Hubs has been working on a garden patch for me. He built the fence, put together the raised beds, and now all he needs to do is finish a gate since a fence is pointless with a giant hole in it, right?

Is there a more beautiful place in the world to garden than this? Wild berry bushes on the right side there, a view of the lake beyond and a screen of trees around me make this a favorite place. I will probably want to put a little bench near there so I can just sit and look. Happy, happy sigh.


I planted the seeds yesterday and my nails are stained that happy garden-dirt kind of stain. There is a bit of a mud hole right at my feet when I stand at this vantage point and our clay soil sticks to my shoes like crazy. It's dirty work, but that's a big part of the fun. 

Kudos to my Sweet Hubs, too, for his tact. He is a far more experienced gardener than I, but he is letting me try this on my own. He is sweetly answering my questions and giving advice when I ask for it, but he is letting my do it myself. I know that is difficult to watch a greenhorn try something and you see them making mistakes (which I am sure I am!), and letting them learn for themselves. How I love that man!

So my boots are all muddy and my nails are stained. I have sticks and things in my hair from pushing through trees to get at the mushrooms. Sweet Hubs pulled a tick from my hair before the little monster bored into my skin. It's a dirty, sweet life.

Mom

She doesn't know that it's Mother's Day. She still remembers that she has children, but doesn't always remember how many. She never remembers how old we are.

She loved the yellow roses, but she doesn't recall that she got them. Even when she sees them there in their vase, they mean nothing. When I call her, she won't be able to carry on a sensible conversation, but I'll call anyway. It doesn't mean anything to her, so I'll call for me. And I'll hang up feeling worse, but I'll call anyway.

There are thousands upon thousands of people like me in the country: people whose mother is still living, but who no longer have the mother they once had.

Who was the mother I once had?

She was complicated. She was strong willed, stubborn, creative and intelligent. She kept her feelings closely guarded and didn't generally allow people to get too close. She had her sister and her mother, all of them having gone through the war together, and so she never felt the need for any friends. She was both thrifty and extravagant. She was both selfish and generous. She was honest, and yet she was manipulative. In other words, she was just like all people: full of contradictions.

Mom taught me how to cook, sew, can and bake. She taught her children to not be wasteful, to try new foods with an open mind and be grateful for all that we had. And yet, she is one of the pickiest eaters I've ever met. We were allowed to walk in after school and tell Mom we were hungry, but say "I'm starving" and you'd get a lecture about what real starving was.

She left religion up to Dad. She also left breakfast up to Dad. She could pull off a Thanksgiving dinner for 40 people and no one brought anything, but she made the worst cookies. She was the tenderest nurse if one of us were sick, but I can not recall my Mom ever telling me "good job" or "I'm proud of you". Mom taught me how to look for the intent behind the actions, rather than having to hear the words. She taught me to do things for my own sense of accomplishment, rather than for the praise of others.

She was a formidable woman, who kept a sense of balance in her life that was worthy of a high-wire act. She was the strong one, the wise one, the one who wasn't nervous or full of anxiety. She was the best cook, the best seamstress, funny, witty, wise and bratty, too. She was an indoor girl of the first order. Going for a walk or tending a garden held no interest for her at all. But she loved to dance. She still loves to dance, come to think of it.


She insisted on excellent table manners, but she would sometimes tell a dirty joke. She never wore makeup but dressed to the nines for a dinner date. She had amazing legs (still does for an 87 year old woman) and exquisite nails, and hated the cowlicks in her hair.

In these late years, she focuses a lot on saying that she was a good mother. She has also said that her children think she was not a good mother. Is that dementia talking, or does she question her own parenting so much that it even affects her dementia? None of her children, to my knowledge, has ever said she was not a good mother. She was a good mother! She was not like any of my friends' mothers, that's for sure. Even with all the many years of hindsight, I still don't know if Mom intended to teach the lessons we learned, or if she was working out her own demons. She was complicated. She was profoundly affected by the traumas of her life, but buried those things and got her balance back. Somehow.

My Mom.