Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Van Duzer Corridor

Every now and then, Rachel and I need to just get away and relax. Our favorite direction to head is west, toward the Oregon coast, which is only about an hour from home. We usually take the dog, and the plan is to do some beachcombing and just walk in the wet hard-packed sand, breathing in the briny air and watching the seagulls.
Getting there is half the fun. Highways 22 and 18 from Salem to Lincoln City first pass through farmland, wineries and vineyards, logging operations, and a casino. Following the casino is our favorite stretch of road: The Van Duzer Corridor. We love the winding highway, passing lanes, moss covered trees, Salmon Creek, and the summit over Murphy Hill.
Sure, it’s one of the more dangerous stretches of road due to high traffic volume, limited passing, tight curves, sharp drop-offs (guardrails are a luxury item,) and roadbed undermining, but there’s something magical about it.
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On one particular trip, we didn’t have time to go all the way to the coast and back, so we stopped at the rest area at the west end of Van Duzer, just before Rose Lodge. All of these pictures were taken at the rest area in October, but the lush moss and vibrant greenery stay this way all winter long.
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That’s the beauty of Western Oregon – when winter arrives, everything turns all green and beautiful.
Our winter climate is like a wet refrigerator; cool and damp.
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Caesar took a break at the rest area and explored a little. Here he is, King of the Tree Stump. This was either a Douglas Fir or Redwood, with a cut diameter of about 4 feet. It was quite a jump for Caesar to get up onto the stump, too, since it’s about 4 feet high.
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I can never get enough of the moss. It comes alive in the fall and coats the trees in its various forms: thick dark moss, minty green lichen, chartreuse velvet… I don’t know any of the moss names, so I refer to them based on how they look. Some moss clings tightly to trees, some looks like a fur coat, other forms drip from the branches.
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Either way, it’s breathtaking.
The Van Duzer Corridor may be a dangerous stretch of road, but it’s like a magical fairyland.
We love it.
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

Purple Camera Memory Card 016It’s the best time of the year.

I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer.

Oh by golly, have a holly jolly Christmas this year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ratilda, our new… pet?

A couple weeks ago, I was taking pictures of Ollie on the roof of our carriage house. He was more interested than usual in the jasmine bush, which he is sniffing here in this photo. Later that night we realized there was something good to be sniffed in that spot.
See the suet feeder cage hanging from the eaves, just behind and under Ollie?
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That evening, when the pooch was let out to go check his pee-mail, that suet feeder was swinging back and forth wildly.
No wind. Huh, that’s odd.
After posting my curiosity on Facebook, my Midwestern friends suggested a raccoon or a nocturnal squirrel.
(I thought it might be a possum. Surely nutria can’t climb, right?)
I grabbed the camera and watched. Here’s the carriage house at night.
What’s that on the suet feeder?
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Oh my goodness, it’s a rat!

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This is the best I could do with the camera, being nighttime, and I couldn’t get very close.
After our little fiasco with getting a hamster (in 2006) our household is now very familiar with rodent gender identification, and this suet- eating rat is a girl.
We names her Ratilda.
She will not become an indoor pet. I promise.
Sorry, Frank and Rachel, but you cannot change my mind on this one.
Our lease prohibits feeding stray animals, and if we are caught placing food outside, it will be considered a pet and we will have to pay a deposit for it. On the other hand, bird feeders are allowed, and I love having bird feeders outside my kitchen windows. The birds haven’t been too interested in either of the suet feeders this year, and the suet cakes are about a year old, so I really don’t care who eats it at this point. But I suppose since we are feeding a rat, it would be amusing to consider Ratilda our pet.
Just until I can get some D-Con into Ratilda’s suet, anyway.
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So what’s the dealio with the swinging suet? I stepped to the the edge of the deck steps to get a better picture and she jumped from the suet to the jasmine.
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Then she scampered up the trellis into the rain gutter, ran to the downspout, and disappeared.
Aha! She lives in the city storm drains.
Ratilda came back every night and ate the suet until it was down to a thin wafer at the bottom of the cage. Her acrobatics on the suet feeder amused us, but she gave up on hanging upside down, fighting to eat the last little bit, and hasn’t come back.
Time to untangle the feeder from the jasmine and move it to a more bird-friendly spot. With a fresh (and D-Con free) suet cake.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Last Garden Update of the year

Last weekend I started the winter yard cleanup. There are still shrubs to be trimmed, rose bushes to cut back, and more leaves to vacuum up (lawn mower with bagging attachment.)
Last weekend’s project included vacuuming the yard and picking the last of the tomatoes and peppers. I’m not sure if it will work, but we’re saving the seeds from our favorite vegetables and herbs for planting next spring.
So this past spring when we were buying veggie plants, we saw artichoke plants selling for 75c each. They’re a perennial plant, so we gave it a try, not knowing what to expect. All summer long we watched this big leafy plant grow and grow, but no artichoke. Now that it’s fall, the plant is about 30” tall and I have kind of given up on it for this year. Maybe it needs a year to establish and will produce next year.
To my surprise, when I walked around to the north side of the yard to get the last of the tomatoes off the monster sized tomato plant, our long-ignored artichoke was there, ready to be picked.
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Can’t wait to see what it produces next year!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Marshmallow Pops

I don’t meditate. I try and I just can’t. Meditating usually ends up with me napping the day away.

On the other hand, I have been told that I need to meditate or find some way to make my mind quiet so I can manage my stress.

Aha! This is my excuse to start baking! Over the past week, I have baked cinnamon rolls, loaves of bread, taught the teenager how easy it is to make bread from scratch, and now I’m starting on holiday goodies. Tonight’s project: Marshmallow Pops

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The idea came to me when I saw these puppies for sale in the grocery store’s fancy-schmancy bakery case. They sell regular sized marshmallow pops for 75c each and 99c for pops made out of the jumbo marshmallows. Outrageous, right? So I stole the idea.

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Start with pretzel sticks and chocolate meltys. Oh, and don’t forget the marshmallows. I used up the last of the caramel marshmallows along with some white marshmallows.

No Mom, I don’t eat marshmallows All The Time. I just happened to have a lot left over from summer.

You’ll also need baking decor sprinkles, chopped nuts, mini M&Ms or other tasty things. I grabbed whatever I could find in my box of baking supplies.

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Stick two pretzels into the top of each marshmallow. You can see I tried 3 sticks in that white one there, but it was kind of crowded. The jumbos will need 3 sticks to hold the weight of the chocolate.

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Nuke the chocolate for 30 seconds, check it and nuke it again for another 30 seconds. Repeat until it’s goopy and perfect for dipping.

By the way, chocolate chips are a little too soft for dipping. Use almond bark or, if you can find dipping chocolate use that instead. (Dipping chocolate can be found at a baking and candy supply store or in the candy making area of a craft store – I get it in bulk at Winco here in Oregon.)

Dip and swirl your marshmallow into the chocolate. The pretzels make a great handle.

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Let the chocolate cool for a few moments, then dip in some baking decor sprinkles. My chocolate kept dropping into the sprinkles until I scraped the extra chocolate off the bottom before dipping into the sprinkles.

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Halfway through, I found paper liners for mini muffins. They made these treats look fancy. Like 75c worth of fancy.

I also tried dipping the pretzels into a little chocolate before stabbing them into the marshmallows. Made no difference with getting everything to stick together, but you can’t go wrong with more chocolate, right?

Pretzels are kind of fragile and a few broke during the stabbing process. I dipped the little pretzel stubs in chocolate and stuck them into the marshmallow. I figured the extra chocolate would make up for the broken pretzel. Kind of like a chocolate apology.

I wonder if a chocolate apology would be acceptable in other situations, too?
Sorry I burned your dinner. Here’s some chocolate.
I’m sorry that I didn’t pick you up right away after your appointment. I brought you some chocolate.
Heck, I’d become demanding and impossible to please just so I can have more chocolate.
Oh wait, I already do that.
…It’s proof that it works!

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I got bored with sprinkles so I grabbed slivered almonds and what I thought were chopped pecans. Turns out the “pecans” were really Andes minty chocolate bits.
Even better!

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I couldn’t help myself. I had to taste one of the almond dipped ones. I love almonds.

Blech. Now I see on the package that these nuts are best before November 2010. They’re rancid. Oh well, two marshmallows for the trash.
They sure looked nice, though.

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The rest of these look pretty darned nice, too. This was just a practice run with ingredients I already had on hand. I saw they have pumpkin marshmallows in the store this year. That would be nice with white chocolate and maybe a dip in cinnamon sugar and a dusting of nutmeg.

Meanwhile, I’m going to pack most of these up and give them to the neighbors. Not as a chocolate apology, but as a thank you for being friendly, helpful neighbors. (If a chocolate apology is a good thing, than a chocolate thank you must be a great thing.)

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rx Organization

You probably know that it’s easier to be frugal if you’re organized. It saves you time and you never have to buy duplicates (unless it’s a really really good deal!)

Here’s another frugal organization tip – it’s easy for the whole family to keep organized and easy for the CEO (that’s the mom in most cases) to know when it’s time to go shopping.
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We have an old dresser that we keep frequently used items in. In past homes, the drawers have been used to store office supplies, prescription medication, baking supplies, craft supplies, sewing notions, frequently used tools, and grilling supplies/tongs/skewers. In our current home, one drawer is for prescription medications. Due to Frank’s interesting year, our family has a large variety of these at the moment. Right now the dresser is in the kitchen, and houses the coffee station on top. (And apparently some vitamins that don’t fit in the medication drawer…)

Here is our medicine drawer. Yes, it’s full. And so anal retentively organized that any one of us can find exactly what we’re looking for in an instant.
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First, look at the lids of each bottle. When we get a new bottle home from the pharmacy, we write the first few letters of the medicine on the lid. There is always a black Sharpie in the drawer to make this a quick task. One bottle is even marked with a specific time, since that’s an important detail for that med.

Do you see the little boxes in the drawer? Frank has his current pills in one box, medicines that are currently on hold in another box, ones that need to be cut in a third box (with the pill cutter,) vitamins in a box, and my pills in my own box.
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The boxes are the ends of empty cereal boxes. I just cut them down with a paring knife and scissors, then covered them in turquoise duct tape. I could have just left them the way they were, but they look nicer and more streamlined with the tape. Maybe I’m a dork; I’m just happier when it’s pretty. These two boxes are Frank’s, and they’re taped together. He knows which pills are on each side of the box divider.

Yes, there is a bottle with "Oxy Wow" written on the lid. I'm sure you can figure out which painkiller that one is. That's what we call it - because you take one and Wow.

You may be lucky to not have so many medications to manage, but this could come in handy if you take vitamins and supplements, if you have a lot of spices, or you need to organize your packets of taco seasoning and Lipton onion soup.

In our case, with all the medicines, each bottle has a home, and they’re all put away after the daily dose. When one bottle is getting close to needing a refill, the bottle is left out on the dresser. That’s the only time it’s not put away. When I see one sitting out, I call it in to the pharmacy. The bottle stays out until we pick up its replacement. Then the new lid is marked with the name and it’s put away. That’s just our easy way of managing all the meds without having to talk about it and risk missing a dose due to poor communication or a missing pill bottle.

Oh – with all the pill bottles we’re tossing into the recycling bin, I asked our pharmacist what we should do to protect ourselves against id theft. She said to peel off just the part of the label with our name and the prescription #. If the med is a narcotic or something with a street value, peel the medicine name off as well. Those parts of the label go in the trash and the bottle goes to recycling. 

Do you have a super-abundance of pills or spices or something else that you have all magnificently organized? Do tell.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to lose 60 lbs in 40 days

This special weight loss diet is easy because all you have to do is lay around in bed for 5 weeks and then exercise like heck during the last week. Plus, you get to eat as much lemon jello as you want.
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Here's how to do it:
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Step 1. Have a relatively simple surgery.
Step 2a. Develop serious complications.
Take ambulance ride to another city for an emergency surgery. Ask if they’ll put on the flashing lights for the hour-long road trip.
Oh, they’re already on.
You’re probably too sick to be excited about all the attention, though.
Step 2b. Have entire large intestine removed.
That's 4 pounds gone that you won't gain back.
Step 3. Spend 2 weeks in the ICU. Remember, you have a breathing tube in your throat, so you will get your fluids from your IV for the first full week.
You are allowed exactly 4 ice chips, so enjoy them while they last.
Step 4. Plan on having about 8 more surgeries, one every other day, so no food after midnight on even numbered days and morphine for dinner on odd numbered days. When you get a break between surgeries, you're on clear liquids only, so you can have more jello and tea and broth until the next midnight deadline.
Yum yum. Don’t you just love jello?
And don’t forget, red food coloring makes your insides red, which is a no-no for intestinal surgery, so you only get lemon jello.
Lots and lots and lots and LOTS of lemon jello.
Step 5. Let the nurses hook you up to a TPN bag so you can get all of your nutrition through your IV instead of by mouth.
Be sure to joke with the nurses about strapping on your “feed bag.”
Step 6.  Slowly add more food to your diet but don't go too fast.
Try drinking Boost. It'll kill your appetite for anything else.
Step 7. By now you have been lying on your back in bed for about 3 weeks or so. You should have lost at least 40 pounds via muscular atrophy alone. Good job. (And don't worry about that huge scar across your back. It may look like you have been hit with a bullwhip, but it was just a sheet wrinkle bedsore, we promise.)
Step 8. By week 4 you should be mostly back to your old diet. Sorry the food is so bland; our diabetic menu is also heart healthy.
Why did you only eat half of your dinner?
It was gross?
Do you want some lemon jello instead?
Step 9. On week 5, you're going to re-learn how to get out of bed, walk, put on your socks, and sit in a chair. It's hard work, but you've got to get those muscles working again. 
To get the most out of your workout, call your physical therapist names and he/she will work you harder.
Feel the burn… and the stabbing pain… and the cramp…
Oh nurse, when can I have more pain pills?
Step 10. If you are losing weight too quickly, grow some facial hair. The weight of a mustache and/or beard should help to offset your rapid weight loss.
By the beginning of week six, you should be near your goal weight.
My goodness, you look thin. Nice job.
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Little Girl Bugs

This morning I spied an odd looking bug in the back yard. It’s black with a spiky back and two yellow stripes running down each side from head to tail. I wonder what it is?

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Here are more odd looking bugs on another leaf of the same vine. There are lots of these bugs and the spiky bugs all over this vine. These papery, shedding bugs are frequently sitting next to the spiky bugs, so I suspect they are the same bug at different stages of its growth.

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Aha! The spiky bug and the shedding bugs are all baby Ladybugs.

Huh. What would a baby Ladybug be called? Little Girl Bugs?

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ollie’s New Cat Toy

The other day, I had a plate full of tomatoes from the garden.

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The next day, a whole bunch of cherry and pear tomatoes were ready.

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I also plucked two red jalapenos off Frank’s plant. (Aren’t these colors beautiful?)

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I had to run up to visit Frank at the hospital that afternoon, so I put all the tomatoes and both red peppers on a plate to wait for me to get back and do something with them.

The next morning, one of the peppers was missing. It was later discovered on the floor in the hallway. I thought that was odd, but picked it up and put it back on the plate.

An hour later, one of the tomatoes had rolled off the plate and onto the floor.

At lunchtime, I wandered into the kitchen and saw Ollie on the counter, tossing the tomato and pilfering the pepper … again.

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“Whut?”

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I sat quietly with a book until there was a commotion in the hallway. It was Ollie and the red jalapeno.

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The fun ended up in the bathroom…

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… and due to cat teeth marks and the fact that it was batted around on the bathroom floor means that this poor pepper will not be eaten by humans.

I’m not sure where the pepper is at this moment, but right now Ollie is very interested in something under the couch.