Sunday, March 27, 2016

Existential Easter

It occurs to me that if Christ is risen today, he will likely behave like the groundhog when it sees its own shadow and quickly trot back underground for at least another six weeks. There are times, many and ever increasing times, gentle readers of blahdeblahblah, that I find that despair seems like the only rational reaction to the world. The American presidential campaign is an ongoing source of horror with so many of my fellow Americans behaving despicably. Today, of course, there is the horrific slaughter of so many Pakistanis who just wanted to have a nice day in the park and instead they're blown up. It's so wrong. Just. So. Wrong. Were there a bright side, and there's not, there can't be, it would be at least on this particular day my government wasn't directly responsible. That's less than cold comfort. The sense that there is nothing I can do--that, it seems, anyone can do to stop the horror--is, as I hint, pretty close to overwhelming. And Scott tells me that the sort of scheme I propose, in which all the people who want to kill someone are sent to live with each other well separated from those who just want to live in peace, that sort of scheme so rarely turns out well. In fact, he asked if I hadn't read The Gulag Archipelago.

But, by gosh, I watched a lot of Shirley Temple movies in my youth and, by gum, I've got pluck. Rather than filling my pockets with stones and head to the Duwamish, I send money. And, between rain showers, I sit in the yard and look at the flowers and birds.

I spread out a load of warm sheets and towels fresh from the dryer for Gradka to snuggle into.

And, most of all, I make gingerbread. I pay absolutely no attention to those negative Nellies who warn against raw eggs, and I lick the spatula, and I ask myself why I don't make gingerbread more often. It's quick; it's easy; it's made with ingredients most of us in our comfortable middle-class American homes have on hand. Here's the recipe:

 In a large bowl, sift:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. cloves

Put into blender and blend until smooth:
2 eggs
1/2 c. molasses
1/2 c. sour milk*
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. white sugar

*You can sour milk by adding a spoon or so of vinegar or lemon juice to fresh milk

Pour the contents of the blender into the bowl with the sifted dry ingredients. Stir until smooth (a wire whisk works well). Shift contents of bowl into a greased 8-inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 30 minutes, or until the center is solid and it looks like gingerbread.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Leavenworth: Part Two

People who blog regularly must have time machines I've decided. Or that device that Hermione gets in Prisoner of Azkaban that allows her to be in two places at once. Any time that I'm doing anything interesting enough to meet my admittedly low standards for a blog update, I'm too busy doing whatever it is to write about it. And when I do have time, it feels too distant or too dull or I'm just too lazy to want to write. I realize that plenty is written--and written well--not about doing things but about whatever the writer is thinking about. You know, inspirational, thinky blogs. At least I recognize that's a shot I don't have.

But on Monday I declared there would be a second Leavenworth report in which I'd reveal my new life bird and also make use of this photo which I found hysterical at the time:

Doing my stretch in Leavenworth
Get it? Doing my stretch in Leavenworth? Is there anything funnier than prison puns? Surely not. We did a fair bit of walking on the trip--along the Wenatchee River and then supposedly not far from the Columbia (at Wenatchee Confluence Park where high waters prevented us from reaching the part of the park from which, presumably, we'd actually see the Columbia again) and around in endless loops in town. Walking on flat terrain doesn't make me long for a good stretch the way a bike ride or hills might, but I'm not one to miss the opportunity for a good pun--or a nice stretch.

It was at Confluence Park that I saw the bird that is currently being seen here and there in Western Washington where it doesn't really belong at all, at last not this time of year: the Say's Phoebe. But it was new to me in Wenatchee and a pair of them posed nicely for me time and time again so I could get plenty of photos from which to make a positive identification. And it's a pretty little bird too.
Say's Phoebe on a lovely bit of barbed wire fencing
The Wenatchee Confluence Park (featured in Day Hiking Central Cascades and also what you find if you Google "birding" and "Leavenworth area") is a nice little park. There's a bike path that runs along and, I believe, beyond it which had us wondering if one could rent bikes in Wenatchee and/or just what sort of car we'd have to rent to transport our bikes across a pass or two. Without bikes, we walked. The weather was varied and it was early in the year, but we saw a great many birds, including a downy woodpecker, a passel of chickadees, a pair of yellow-rumped warblers, a red-tailed hawk, some wood ducks, quite a number of violet-green swallows (which I am now able to identify by their bowties, even if said ties are closer to their tails than their heads), and a mess of other birds that I'm not remembering just now (while I write sitting in the backyard, keeping an eye on Gradka, and so some distance from my birdlist). We saw signage about owls, and nestboxes for owls, and later I heard reports about a barn owl said to be in the park, but we saw no owls. Still, a lovely park of the Montlake Fill sort and well worth a ramble in whatever absurd costume one happens to have on hand.
High fashion in central Washington

Most of the clothes I'm wearing in the above photo went into the dirty clothes pile when we finally returned to the hotel because we stopped en route at Smallwood's Harvest which might be more appropriately called the Peshastin Petting Zoo. Oh, we bought a bag of pink lady apples which have been truly excellent, but I didn't insist upon making the left turn across US2 on the drive back to Leavenworth for apples. No, it was the goats. They have a surprisingly extensive collection of animals (goats, pigs, llamas, miniature donkeys and cows, rabbits, a peacock or two and a turkey, to name those I remember best) available for feeding and, coincidentally, they sell small bags of grain for a dollar. Scott did not care for the way the business turned the animals into beggers and I worried a little about their health during the high season but they all seemed to have a reasonable amount of room and to be spry enough so, well, I got my hands slobbered on and my clothes splashed with mud. Good times.
Goat habitrail at Smallwood's Harvest
But goats and cows aren't the only ones who have to eat and the next day, after the snow and slushy roads, we were pleased to see the sign for Rico's Pizza in Gold Bar. The pizza was surprisingly excellent.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Three Pass Expedition

Leavenworth, Lit Up Like a Christmas Tree for Lent
Leavenworth, how is it that I've never walked your ah-maz-ing streets before? That is what I might have found myself asking this weekend, were I in the habit of addressing towns in such a manner. It was, truly, one of the finest minibreaks of my experience, although it turns out that Leavenworth is not the best destination for the Lentan vegetarian. (Travel tip: the sweet potato enchilada plate at South is excellent--and will leave you with lunch later as well.)

Scott's new hat with some Shakespearean additions
In short,  it was a fine time, if sadly bereft of owls and snowshoeing. We did some shopping (Scott bought yet another hat; that man is now obsessed),  and some walking by the river in all weathers, and some gawking at the stars (who knew they were so bright?). The Shakespeare Suite at the Innsbrucker Inn was considerably nicer than it appeared on the website although the kitchen facilities consisted of a refrigerator, a microwave, and a coffee maker. We bought an electric tea kettle in town, and improvised a shaker, having oddly opted not to pack one. In addition to being the Three Pass Expedition, this was also the "Mary Attempts Not to Overpack" Trip. You have no idea how pleased I was with myself when I found that I had worn absolutely every stitch of clothing I'd brought with me.
Atmospheric Wenatchee River in the gloaming
On arrival, it was a little rainy and definitely foggy. Saturday was overcast but not actively raining and, at the Wentachee Confluence State Park, we actually saw sunshine and blue sky for a bit -- until it started raining again. On Sunday, we woke to snow which only got heavier as the day progressed. Saturday night was the starry night and it was truly gobsmacking; we walked as far as we could on the dark dark dark island in the Leavenworth Waterfront Park, hoping not to surprise the bobcat or the bears that various signs warned about. It strikes me that I am a serious liability for my employers: it is inevitable that my lack of preparation and laissez-faire attitude about the outdoors is going to lead to an unpleasant--and unpleasantly graphic--demise one of these days.
The Minimalist Packer on a snowy hike on our last day

But that day was not yesterday--nor either of the previous days neither. No, we survived snow and rain and drunks wandering around the streets of Leavenworth: "Where's the car?" "Dude, they totally towed your car!" "Dang! Where's the bar we just came out of?" "Dude! your car is totally towed." We wondered at today's youth that becomes so incapacitated before ten on a Saturday night but then found that the two bars we meant to visit had both already closed for the night; maybe today's youth is just more familiar with Leavenworth's crazy-early-last call.

On the drive over we traveled across Snoqualmie and Blewett. Scott opted for Steven's Pass on the way home, theorizing that it would mean less time in the mountains where it was snowing, rather. It wasn't pretty though nothing like so bad as the rain and wind as we approached Kirkland/Bellevue. Now that was downright nasty.

Coming up: The NEW life bird and doing my stretch in Leavenworth

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Masonic Lodge Now Open For Business!

Before the Fall
It has been a few hours since Scott said to me, "You'll have an extensive error report." During those few hours I've done some more work on the Grapevine Fence Gentrification Project (hereinafter GFGP), and I've raked up piles of fallen camellia blossoms and trimmed back the rhododendron that threatens to block off the front stairs, but it's not like I haven't all the while been mulling over the error report. Personally, I'm not sure it has to be that extensive, at least not yet. And it could be that the errors are really responsible for the experiment's conclusion, viz to wit: Install the new clotheslines before you mount the mason bee house on the clothesline support. This very helpful tip is not, I'm sorry to say, included in the forthcoming Mason Bee Revolution (MBR) an oversight I can explain only by saying that the book went to the printer some weeks ago.

 Last week about this time I ordered a modest quantity (20) of mason bee cocoons as well as some wooden trays that, placed together, make a dozen bee holes. (How the trays and holes work out is explained, quite adequately, in MBR.) The bees arrived in charmingly tiny box which truly was like an itsy bitsy treasure chest when I opened it; the little hives looked like jewels. I put them in the humidibee (part of last year's leafcutter package) which I put into the refrigerator behind the eggs. But, you know, it's a stressful thing having bee cocoons in the refrigerator. Did I add enough water to the padding? Too much? What if I keep them in there too long? And my apricot is blooming now.  As are plenty of other flowers which, surely, would provide adequate food supplies for a handful of bees. One way or another after a week of monitoring the temperature--and noticing that some other bees are buzzing about--I decided that the house could go out today. Then it poured down rain and it was cold and I decided it should wait. Then the sun came out and I decided it should go out. You get the picture.
Selection of tasty flowers now in bloom locally
 A few years ago, pre-MBR, we made a lovely bee house and bought some tubes for bees to nest in and put it out and absolutely nothing happened with it. It was disappointing, but we saved the house because, gosh darn it, it was pretty. Now I know that you're more likely to succeed if you actually buy some bee cocoons or at least put up some sort of bee-attracting pheromone sheet thing. This year, in short, I'm more optimistic. But then there's the error report.

 We (which means Scott) affixed the bee house to the east-facing side of the clothesline support (which I had noted gets morning light by about 10:00 a.m.). I then added a bed of broken-up dill stalks on which to rest the bee tray block and gently placed the bee cocoons atop the block, some ways back, before adding some more stalks and bits of stuff around the edges. It was quite lovely if I do say so myself. But why take my word for it? See the photographic evidence above. Sweet or what?

Feeling a sense of accomplishment, I then remembered that I wanted to replace the ratty and mossy lengths of clothesline with the new line that's been sitting on the kitchen table for a few weeks now. It all went fine while Scott was cutting away the old line, but I grew impatient and decided I should try to free one section myself. Which resulted in enough disturbance to the support that all the contents of the beehouse, including the bee cocoons, came tumbling out. The trays themselves landed in the overgrown garden bed.

Second Installation. This time with magnolia backdrop
Eleven of the cocoons plummeted to the patio. The other nine are, well, someplace, I'm sure; maybe they'll even hatch and find the house. (Note: There are a lot of things that look like bee cocoons in one's garden bed. It's quite remarkable, really.) Regardless, the majority of the recovered cocoons were fortunately females, and none of them seemed damaged. We finished installing the new lines, and then Scott reassembled the beehouse interior construction, this time adding a string across the front to prevent the trays from sliding out next time there's a disturbance in the force. Fingers are now crossed for the mason bees to hatch, mate, and reproduce successfully, obligingly doing some pollination of the fruit trees in the process.