June promise

June 2nd and another month presents itself. Already half through this year, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the tasks I listed for 2014.

I really wanted to improve my blog this year, and I’ve done that in fits and starts. Like all my rhythms, writing often takes a back seat to travel and routine, or lack of one. But I’ll admit that’s often just the excuse. The root of what I’m missing is not a better grasp of technology, it’s the discipline to sit down, even when I’m time-zone challenged, and power on my lap-top, put words on the screen instead of reading them off.

I signed up for Writing 101 to put some structure around my goals, and this is my beginning. I’m sitting surrounded by the stacks of packing, getting ready to go back to Ketchikan tomorrow, back to work, away from days of sun and camping. But I stopped my sorting, sat down to gather my thoughts. Packing is just another distraction, and it will wait.

Today we ran errands out in the hot California sun, the little red pick-up we keep for getting around down here feeling oven-like until the blast of the air-conditioner cooled us down. I’m going back to Ketchikan with specialty cheeses and my favorite pasta sauce and Panzanella crackers. I stocked up on some farm stand corn, the first of the season down here. Got a burger at In-N-Out, satisfied the fast food craving with crispy fries and animal style.

I drive around and wonder if I could ever live here, back in the hustle-bustle after years of small town life. I don’t know. I toy with the idea. Some days I think I could, then the traffic gets to me, or the big box stores seem too big, and I’m happy to find myself out on the rural roads that lead back to the campground. The slow speed of a winding road suits me better than interstates and freeways.

Driving here is a lot like the life I’m living: it’s either the fast lane and overwhelming, or it slows down to a pace I enjoy, and I find myself daydreaming, mesmerized by the scenery.

It’s easy to get lost in your own life, so caught up in the details of living that you forget — you forget you had a plan, and goals, and a timeline. I call it the “where am I?” — you know, that dazed look that says you’re trying to catch up… what state am I in?  what space I’m in (house, trailer, apartment?) and the commitments I’ve got the next day…which clinic am I in? What food do I have in the fridge, and is the bed made, and what season of clothes do I need for tomorrow?

I’m making it sound worse than it is, but at that I’m often disjointed enough. I don’t know how people who travel every week manage. And while I love it, I’m also weary of it. Ready to stand still for a while, find my feet on solid ground. Ready to put the details of life on auto-pilot and give my attention to the things that matter. Still, or again, finding my focus. The funny thing is, I read over these words and it sounds like I’m self-absorbed. But I think the opposite is true. I’m not paying enough attention to the life I’m living. I’m largely floating on the current of events that carry me along. And that’s not what I want. I don’t want to be driftwood in the current of life.

What’s the secret formula? I already know. I just have to reclaim it for myself. The secret is service, and giving, and living with such purpose, such intention, that my busyness finds meaning again, and my work is a labor of love, not just a labor.

And so I promise anew. I promise to make life matter, not just mark the days off the calendar. I promise to notice the details that are worthy, and let the insignificant be just that: insignificant. I promise to love, to cherish, to fill each day with some task that is meaningful and powerful.

Thank you Writing 101! Thanks for the reset, thanks for the reminder. Maybe that’s the power of a blog…the self-reminder that each life matters, and if so, then my life, my contribution, matters too. I just have to find the way, and at the same time, promise not to take it all too seriously. Wouldn’t want to do that. 🙂

The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

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California burger

 

 

Summer corn

Summer corn

California rambling

Seaside

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Pacific blues

The travel trailer

The travel trailer

 

Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp. 🙂

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me 🙂 )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

Country roads

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Rob and I are taking a breather. After a couple of months of intense work, we’re in sunny California setting up a new second home. Well, it’s a second home for us. Really it’s a new travel trailer. We said good-bye to the Class C RV the last time we were down, and now we’re adjusting to our new space.

We’ve been roaming the north/central part of California the last couple of years, slowly getting to know this region a bit. Sacramento is the big city hub, but we’re only there briefly, picking up a vehicle from storage and then leaving the hustle and bustle behind. No doubt about it, California has hustle.

But once you drive out of the city, into the countryside, you’re in a completely different world. And that’s the California I love. You leave the multiple-lane freeways and find yourself driving on two-way rural roads that probably look the same as they did 50 years ago. The houses you pass may be newer construction. But often, the barns and homes are old fashioned too. They’ve stood the test of time and weather, and look a little rugged, like some chiseled movie star from an old black and white film. They may be repurposed and give the small towns the quaint flavor of historic meets tourist. Or they may be falling down, remnants of a past century and past usefulness that won’t last many more years.

This is historic gold country (as in the ’49..that’s 1849… gold rush), farming and ranching country, dotted with wide spots in the road, all boasting some hole in the wall restaurant that’s probably a gem in disguise. The winding roads take you round hills and streams and seem to be going nowhere in particular. Nothing out here runs straight.

I’ve decided any road that takes me past rounded green hills, grazing cows and standing horses, vineyards and fruit orchards growing hot in the mid-day sun, old pick-ups and farm stands selling farm to table produce…take any road that runs past these delights, and I’m charmed.

I’m completely fascinated with the scale of it all. The landscape is amazing, the rolling hills spreading far to the horizon and a faint view of snowy mountains, barely visable to my eye. But the buildings that dot the land along side the two-lane roads, they’re scaled to human size. Nothing is big-box shaped, overwhelming, giant structures that make humans seem like ants in comparison. Everything in the country, except the land itself, seems tailored to people. I guess because when a lot of this land was settled, that’s who they were building for.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the convenience of big shopping and all that goes with it. There’s a place for that, I guess. But all in all, I’m still small town at heart. Maybe it’s in my veins, the way my mom and my grandmothers, and surely their mothers before them, all grew and lived in small communities with human-sized stores and buildings.

There were farmers among my ancestors, and maybe that old influence is why I love the sight of cows and the acres of fields we pass. I remember my dad could always identify the crops, and I wondered how he knew what was growing in the fields when he wasn’t a farmer. But he grew up with that heritage, and so he knew.

I am not a farmer, and I can’t always guess the type of crop in the field we’re passing. But I love it, and I identify (a little guiltily, feeling like I’m faking it) with the rural spirit of the region. I love to support the local markets, love to think I’m contributing to a family’s way of life, and an American heritage of growing food and making it, encouraging the little guys with their small farms. It’s a nod to our shared past, a nod to my parents, the road warriors of my youth, and an acknowledgement that for a lot of people, farming and rural living is still an everyday way of life.

So I’m enjoying the new trailer, and getting settled. But to be honest, I’m almost as excited to see the cows again.

Doesn’t seem romantic, really. Until you get out on those open roads. And then I know I’m home, honoring the American spirit, loving the freedom, the space, the independence.

Aaahh…

See you out there!

What do you find that’s charming on the road?

Clean up and clean out

We’re in California for a few days. Came down to take a short break from winter, and just missed a big storm in Ketchikan. Perfect timing!

Winter, at least here in north-central California, is minimal. Nights are cool, with temps in the 40s, but so far we haven’t needed more than a light jacket. That makes spending a few days in the RV very doable, even though we’ve been inside more than out.

But our main task is not relaxing, it’s cleaning. We’re trading the RV for a travel trailer, and we’ll turn the RV in to the dealer when we leave at the end of the week. We don’t pick up the replacement until spring. So we have a gap. We have to store everything coming out of the RV until we get back: bicycles, beach towels, coffee mugs, and all the little extras we’ve picked up along the way. All extremely valuable (!) and now has to be sorted and evaluated. Sort of like, in a real move, when you come down to cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer. Lots of little odds and ends of stuff, about most of which I wonder: a) what is this? b) where did it come from? (closely followed by, “who’s been filling up my RV?!”) and c) should I keep it or throw it out?

Yes, it is a slow process.

We bought the RV in the fall of 2008, so we’ve had a few years to squirrel away. We’ve cleaned out a bit, now and then, but we’ve never had to empty it. So now we know. We know just how much we’ve packed in, and how much we’ve used all those little things we thought might come in handy. You know…the things you keep…just in case.

So guess what our new resolution is?! That’s right, we’re not going to fill up our new space. We’re going to be picky. Very, very picky. Only the useful, the really essential things are allowed in. 🙂

Guess how long that will last?

Well, it’s a nice fantasy to entertain. We’ll start out strong. But it’s only a matter of time.

I’ve known for a long time that the best way to stay on top of accumulation is a move. That’s it. It forces you to sort and thin and see what you’ve stashed. And now I know that’s true, even in vacay mode.

So, we’re off to rent a storage unit…a very small one. We’ll be down to essentials, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. Right?!

Road trips

Road trips

Fresh from California

Biscoff spread. Has 5g of sugar so it's out of...

Biscoff spread. (Photo credit: programwitch)

So here I am, back in Ketchikan on Labor Day Monday, ready to work the rest of the week. My end-of-August flirtation with California sun and big beach hats is done, and I’m moving into work mode.

I got home today to find that summer is still here. That was a surprise. I haven’t seen the weather forecast for Ketchikan the past ten days, and I figured we’d used up all the available sunny days we’d be allotted for the season. But not true, there are several more on tap this week. I rode across on the airport ferry standing outside the cabin…that doesn’t happen often. My car was delicious, the warmth causing it to release its lingering new car smell (after 4 1/2 years…that should tell you how much this vehicle is used!) My house was roasty and welcoming in the afternoon light streaming in the big front windows.

And to add to the summer temps lingering a little longer, I imported seasonal flavors to enjoy the next few days. We took frozen salmon down with us to grill while we were camping, and I made use of my emptied fish box to bring back tomatoes, corn, squash, peaches, and a jar or two of Biscoff Spread. (No, no, that’s not produce…just an item I can’t find in the local market.)Would you believe the last time I bought a jar of this delight and tried to bring it back with me in my carry-on luggage, TSA took it from me?!  This stuff is definitely not a liquid. I was assured that the staff can’t consume anything they confiscate, they’re required to dispose of food. That’s almost worse than thinking of some stranger eating my Biscoff. Seems like a waste all around!

Of course I can buy all the fresh produce in Ketchikan. But the charming thing was that I bought it yesterday at a farm stand in California. Whenever I have the option of buying produce from a roadside stand, I’m drawn like a moth to flame. What is it about the farming heritage that makes produce at a farm stand more alluring than neatly stacked fruits and vegetables in a lovely market setting? I always think it’s my grandmothers’ farming blood singing in my veins. Although I’ve grown little beyond tomatoes and rhubarb and flowers, I like the idea of farm fresh. Never mind that I have seen enough of the work side of gardening to know that it’s not the glamorous occupation it’s cracked up to be!

So, when it occurred to me that I could dine on home-grown tomato sandwiches all this week, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring up just a few things. A couple of guys at the airport this morning saw my fish box and wondered aloud why I was taking fish to Alaska. You see these iconic cardboard boxes all summer as tourists and fishermen take home their catch, flash frozen and ready for travel. Well hey, I figured if the styrofoam-lined box can keep fish frozen on a trip down to the lower 48, it could keep veggies in good condition to travel back up. And I’m happy to report that I was right. All produce survived amateur transportation. My sandwich was delicious! I know I’ve waxed eloquent about my favorite summer feast before…just can’t help myself. A sign that I’ve had almost enough tomatoes is that I begin to get mouth ulcers from all the acidity after overindulging. But I’m not even close yet. Maybe after this week. It’s a painful condition for a day or two, and I’ve never been successful at timing…I only know I’ve had too many tomatoes when the little ulcers begin to appear. But this is my dedication: I’m willing to suffer for the mayonnaise-and-tomato-on-soft-white-bread symphony. Especially when the best flavor is only a summer treat.

We went to a huge flea market last week. Found a beautiful straw hat, very Audrey Hepburn style. I loved the hat so much I wanted to bring it home. But that seems a waste as it’s likely to get more wear when we’re RVing. Not really much occasion for Audrey big hats in Alaska.  Well, this is not exactly how my hat looks. But it is lovely, take my word for it, and big enough I could have sailed a small vessel with it. Very useful for shading small countries that are lounging at the pool and have forgotten sunscreen.

15 apr 1963

15 apr 1963 (Photo credit: fred baby)

I also found a couple of elegant glass bottles for holding sparkling water or juice…whatever…really the contents don’t matter. My clear glass fetish kicked in and I was compelled to buy these two lovelies. Rob just looks at me like I’ve grown a third eye or something equally hideous. He cannot understand my need for clear glass objects. Most of the time I control it very well. But let’s just say one day I’ll have a thing or two to leave some like-minded clear glass aficionado. You know who you are. I think I raised one of those people, so that will probably work out to be my son-in-law’s storage issue eventually.

So, home, treasures unpacked, and a few eaten, and on to next. September and pumpkins and all things fall. I had a maple latte at the airport this morning. Aaahhh, it begins!

All done!

                          Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

We made it! Six weeks of RVing and exploring California! Doable because we are traveling light and pretty inexpensively. That’s one thing about camping…doesn’t cost a lot after the initial set up.

What a state! We’ve spent time in California before, largely in San Diego, with a little time in and around San Francisco. This trip allowed us to visit areas we haven’t seen in the past. The diversity of landscape is amazing, and the biggest surprise of all is how rural a lot of California truly is. I’ve been buying California produce forever in the grocery store…well, it seems like most of the fresh fruit and vegetables come from California….and it makes sense now. From at least the middle of the state north, what part isn’t desert or forest is farm or cattle land. Beautiful, and a wonderful change from the huge population centers of southern California. I’m not really a farm girl…didn’t grow up in that environment. But I love the rural countryside!

I think we’ve found all the winding roads possible, and especially the ones that are difficult for RVing…Rob has had a few complaints about my choice of routes! What can I say? I’ve been driving a little pick up, and he’s been following in the RV. So I’ve had a great time! Driving Highway 1 on the coast, or some of the twisty highways crossing the mountains has been beautiful, and my need for road tripping is temporarily satisfied.

We aren’t souvenir buyers, for the most part. I think we picked up two coffee mugs, designed by a local potter, and Rob bought a baseball cap…his standard reminder of trips we’ve made. Other than that, our biggest purchases have been produce and gas. We hit farm stands and local markets and I’ve had almost enough fresh tomatoes and peaches and strawberries and corn. Almost! Not sure I ever really get done with those flavors. But what a treat to get all of that and more, straight from the fields!

We’ve had pain at the pumps. Try filing two gas hogs on a regular basis! Good for us that our other expenses during this trip have been low. As it is, we’ve done our share of shoring up the oil industry for the past few weeks. Not that it seems in danger. Regardless of the economy, there are people everywhere. Or maybe we’ve just been traveling in popular areas. Maybe we’re just seeing summer in a busy tourist state.

From Yosemite to Lake Tahoe to the broad central valley around Sacramento, and on to San Francisco and the coast, we’ve roamed and crisscrossed. We have some favorite spots and favorite views, and places marked to visit again. We’ve found a few campgrounds that would be perfect to bring our kids to. We’ve remembered all the little tricks to success with road tripping, and RVing in particular. And now we’ve tucked our little caravan away for the next several months, stored in a new place in California, and waiting our next adventures.

                              Coast, northern California

                                          A giant Sequoia

                       Can’t get enough of those big trees!

Camping

We are in camping mode.

We used to tent camp/car camp when our kids were with us. We had some great times doing that. But when we decided to spend some extended time traveling, Rob wanted to go the RV route. I think it’s the boy scout in him…the fixer…you’re always fixing things on an RV…who loves a challenge. Some people buy boats or get into hunting or fishing. We own an RV. Or more correctly, our RV owns us, at least when we’re using it for travel.

We have a fridge and freezer in the RV, but we keep an ice chest going too, so we monitor ice. We monitor water levels, grey water and black water (if you don’t know these terms, use your imagination.) We monitor how much fresh water we have, if we’re not connected to water at a campsite. For the uninitiated, there are all sorts of campsites. You can have full hookups, which can include everything from water, sewer, electricity, up to cable and internet. Or you can do just water and electricity, or you can camp without any hookups at all, as long as you have enough water to supply your own needs. The generator runs off gas, so you can turn it on to supply electricity needs. The stove and oven operate off propane.

For purists out there who think this is all faux camping, let me just say: you’re right! No backpacking in over miles of trail for us, and no freeze-dried meals either. I’m sorry, the camping gene just barely made it on board, this is the best I can do. Well, I once could do tent camping, in my former life, but now I’m spoiled to being a turtle and having my portable house with me. I’ve done a pretty good job. I have my Bialetti coffee maker, my cutting board, some favorite knives, a pillow top mattress on the bed, and candles to go with dinner…among a few other comforts. Yes, part of the fun is re-creating a homey environment. But…in national park settings! How cool is that?!

One of the good things about owning vs renting an RV is that over time, we’ve stocked it with a lot of the essentials, like citrus reamers and beach towels…you know, the really important stuff! So when we take it out, we only need groceries and gas and we can be ready to go…providing it’s not been sitting for a year and needs new batteries…but that was yesterday’s post. Anyway, it can be pretty simple to launch.

The hardest part is remembering from visit to visit if we’ve left something in the RV for future use, or if we need to bring something on the next trip. I always think I’ll remember, and I never do. I sometimes make lists, but invariably, if I can’t find something at home, I begin to wonder, did I leave that in the RV? Or, the other question, do I need this for the RV? I’m finding, over time, that it’s easy to have duplicates of a lot of small items. Because if, for example, you find a kitchen gadget that you like for your home, you begin to think, “I could really use this in the RV!” Whether or not that’s true, that’s what you think. Because of course, camping wouldn’t be quite right without the gourmet tools you’ve come to know and love, would it?

Sometimes I just have to stop myself and repeat: We are in camping mode.

                                               Home sweet home!