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Archive for November, 2008

Earth Mother in an RV


I decided this afternoon that since Halloween and Thanksgiving are now officially over, it was probably time to do something with the two little pumpkins that have graced my outside table with their orangey autumn presence since I got here in October. They’ve been outside the whole time, and since the weather has been mostly temperate during the days and frigid at night, they still look pretty good. The earth mother in me refused to just throw them in the trash; somehow that didn’t seem right. There aren’t any cows nearby to eat them. Hmm…guess I could cook them. I used to cook pumpkins all the time. But, that was before microwave ovens. The whole process was messy. Cut them up in cubes, boil on the stove, let cool, then scrape the insides out. Oh, and be sure to save and roast the seeds. I never thought of just baking the things, so it’s probably a good thing pumpkin-cooking time only came once a year.

Because of a dealer-error, my little RV has only a microwave oven. When I want to bake something, I use my Kenmore toaster/convection oven on the counter. Well, it’s not really on the counter since there really isn’t a counter. Actually, I removed the lid from the three-burner propane cooktop and balanced the toaster oven over the back two burners. I’d never use them anyway. That leaves the large front burner accessible. Perfect. But, no way was I going to bake pumpkins in the toaster oven. Nope, it would be the microwave or the trash.

I cut open the little creatures and scraped out their guts and seeds, then cut them into fairly large pieces. Stuck them, by turns, on a microwaveable-plate, covered them with plastic wrap, and proceeded to nuke them until their insides turned soft. Cooled them off on a tray, then scraped out the insides. So easy! No watery mess to contend with; just nice, soft pumpkin guts, perfect for pies, soup, bread, cookies. . . .mouth watering yet?

A few days ago I wrote about needing to garden. When my son asked me what I wanted for my birthday and Christmas this year, I went to the Amazon.com website and made a wish list which included three container gardening books. Wonder if you can grow a garden on top of an RV? Pumpkins might be a bit much, though.

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Shooting in Toy’s-R-Us in Palm Desert, California

This headline caught my eye mainly because my brother lives in Palm Desert. Unfortunately, that might say something about how commonplace shootings and killings in large cities have become; I noticed it only because it hit home personally. Although the shooting might have had nothing to do with a fight over merchandise, the fact that two people were killed in a large children’s toy store would be reason enough for some justifiable outrage. I have a very hard time understanding how a person’s life could be considered less important than a personal turf war, a popular must-have plastic toy or a piece of electronic junk. Do we have absolutely no sense left? Are we that brainwashed? I think we’ve become so inured with reports of the “collateral damage” in Iraq that murders just get swept aside with a shrug and a “that’s too bad.”

Despite my best intentions, I did go to Wal-Mart this morning, really the only store in town, but only because I very ambitiously wrote my Christmas letter and wanted to find some Christmas-looking paper to print it on. No luck, however. I bought a few toys for the 10-year-old boy on the Salvation Army gift tag I got from the tree, then rapidly fled the store. Instead of fancy printing paper, I printed the letters on plain white paper and decorated them with inexpensive Christmas stickers I bought at one of the dollar stores. And they turned out just fine.

I spent a quiet afternoon addressing envelopes for the first Christmas cards I’ve sent in two years, then took them to the Post Office. I’ve been realizing that this nomadic life style sometimes plays havoc with keeping in touch with old friends, especially the ones who don’t use email. Perhaps a New Year’s Resolution should be to write more letters and send more cards. It’s worth thinking about.

P.S. A friend just sent me this one.

Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down

What is WRONG here?

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Thanksgiving Day Walk


Verdigris River

Around three o’clock this afternoon, after a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at the Armory with at least 150 other Amazon workampers and former workampers, I felt a little sleepy. When my son the produce specialist phoned, he assured me the sleepiness wasn’t only the result of the tryptophan in turkey, but was also caused by the much larger amount of food we usually eat on Thanksgiving. It makes sense, but my head was still drooping, so I decided to take my second walk of the day–and I don’t even have a dog!

The area around Walter Johnson Park in Coffeyville is a perfect place to walk. It has very little traffic, it’s quiet, and there’s a lot to see. Although I usually stroll around the perimeter of the park, including on the levee next to the river, today I decided to explore the baseball field first. Taking a seat at the top of the bleachers, in the tenth row, I imagined baseball players running out of the stands of oak and pecan trees, kind of like the players appearing from the cornfield in “Field of Dreams,” one of my favorite movies. Maybe Walter Johnson himself would pitch. Although the end of November in Kansas is no longer baseball season, the grassy outfield is a brilliant, lush green. It wasn’t hard to hear the cheering fans, smell the hotdogs cooking, and see how the game was going on the large scoreboard above the outfield fence. But, the game was over – time to continue my walk.

I crossed the street to walk next to a field filled with huge rolls of hay. In Oregon, they’re usually wrapped in white plastic and look exactly like gigantic marshmallows. I’ve always wanted to find a couple of large graham cracker-colored squares of something along with some dark chocolate-brown oozy stuff. Wouldn’t it be fun to drive down a country highway and see a big, delicious-looking s’more out there in a field?

A flock of geese cruised by overhead, honking to let me know they were there. Pecan and oak leaves fluttered across my feet with the slight breeze. The sky was gray, not a brilliant blue as yesterday. It’s supposed to rain a little tonight.

Continuing my walk, I headed to the levee next to the Verdigris River, a usually fairly placid body of water. But, last summer that river overflowed its banks after a month of steady rain, flooding most of the eastern part of Coffeyville. As if that wasn’t enough, “a malfunction allowed the oil to spill from the Coffeyville Resources refinery on Sunday, while the plant was shutting down in advance of the flood heading toward it on the Verdigris River. There was so much destruction and horrible watery goo that the refinery bought most of the destroyed homes and tore them down. What’s left is block after block of empty fields, most of them still with concrete foundations from those houses.

The levee extends along the river for several miles and provides a wonderful view of the river, the park, and some of the nearby businesses in Coffeyville. It’s pretty unbelievable how the river got as high as it did.

While walking, I thought some Thanksgiving Day thoughts. I’m thankful for the privilege of being here with so many friendly people in a beautiful place, somewhere I’ve never been before. I’m grateful that I’m healthy and able to travel from place to place like this. I’m thankful for my family around the country: in Oregon, Ohio, California, and Washington. I’m so very glad my mother and aunt are still living, active, and in good health. I’m grateful for my almost-three-year-old-granddaughter in Washington whom I’ve never seen, at least not yet. I still have hope for a thaw between my daughters and me. I’m thankful that my ex-husband has found a new wife and extended family with whom he’s very happy. And I’m thankful for my wonderful friend Lou, without whom I’d never have discovered my love of the desert nor realized how much it’s possible to care for someone.

I hope all of you have had a great Thanksgiving Day with lots of delicious food, friendship, and fun. I hope your favorite football team won. And I hope the rest of the holidays are just as fine for you.

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Turkey Shoot

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Three of us from the Umpqua Unitarian Universalist Church in Roseburg, Oregon made this “Puzzling Pieces” quilt for the wall behind the pulpit. We used 99 different fabrics and introduced the quilt April 30, 2000 in a service entitled “Building Community Piece by Piece: Our Celebration Quilt.” We used various community and jigsaw puzzle quotes as well as “stories from Aunt Jane,” from the book, A Quilter’s Wisdom—Conversations with Aunt Jane by Eliza Calvert Hall.

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Once upon a time, there was a woman who loved to make beautiful fabric wall hangings. And she was paid well for making them. So, she wasn’t really surprised when a friend asked her to make one for her home and wanted to see some patterns. So, the woman gathered up most of her patterns and loaned them to her friend.

About two weeks later, a very excited friend showed a picture to the woman. “Look at this pattern!” she exclaimed. “Can’t you see it as representing our congregation? I’d love to make it for our church!” Of course, the quilter agreed because she was also fascinated with the idea and the pattern. They both pictured a beautiful quilt hanging at the front of their church – a work of love for everyone.

So, that’s how this project began. I was the quilter and Judy my friend. Knowing Peggy was an excellent quilter, we asked her to join us. And, of course, the church is all of us.

You probably remember the small sample we hung on the wall in the coffee area a few months ago. We also asked you to contribute small amounts of fabric that you liked or that you felt represented you in some way. And many of you did. After getting your contributions, Peggy and I raided our own huge stashes for pieces to complete the quilt. One thing about us quilters – we visit fabric stores and take checkbooks wherever we go so we only had to buy about 8 fabrics for this project, mostly the shiny ones. Judy did her part by making more than 100 photocopies of each pattern piece.

We then laid out 99 different fabrics in rows upstairs in our loft, the largest undisturbed floor area we could find. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds because wanted to make sure we used fabrics that might represent various people here and that the pieces also looked good together. After spending about two hours rearranging them, we finally decided it looked just right. I’m sure some of you remember seeing all of those hunks of fabric on our floor and wondering what in the world we were doing with them.

About 2 weeks later, I spent several days scrunching around down on the floor, marking each pattern piece with which fabric to use. Then I soaked in the hot tub every night to get the kinks out of my back.

Peggy, Judy, and I then began the exacting work of cutting out pieces of fabric for each block. The best part of this was we spent a lot of time talking and got to know each other much better. I spent a few weeks sewing the blocks together and completing the top. We hung it up at the church one Saturday afternoon several weeks ago and just marveled at how wonderful it looked, even partially finished. The look on Judy’s face when she saw it hanging for the first time was priceless and I hope we’ll see that same look on some of your faces this morning as well. Peggy finished the quilt by sewing on the black border and the back, and Judy arranged the method to hang it.

All along, we agreed that we wanted to do a service, both to unveil the quilt and also to talk about the community it represents. Like the Grateful Dead song we played at the beginning of this service, the quilt idea was a “ripple in still water” that spread out to embrace the community of all of us.

Notice the jigsaw puzzle pattern of the quilt. Do you see how each block fits into those around it? I found a quote that describes perfectly why we selected this pattern. In the words of Rabbi Shapiro:

Consider a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has its place and no other piece can fit that place. Yet no one piece makes sense on its own. Each piece needs the whole for its integrity and coherence. And the whole needs each piece to fulfill its purpose and bring meaning and order to the puzzle.

“What is true for a puzzle is true for Reality, with one exception: There is no hand putting us in our place. We must do that for ourselves. We must discover our place and take it. And when we do this, we discover the integrity and meaning of the whole.

The binding thread of this quilt is the love that intertwines itself through the making of the quilt, through people’s relations with each other. Sometimes that thread gets broken or cut. Sometimes it is very strong, like quilting thread, sometimes very thin, like silk thread. But, it is still there to some degree. And, it holds everything together.

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After the closing circle, members of the congregation gathered up front to touch the quilt and pick out blocks they felt represented themselves in some way. As one person commented, “I think part of me is in every block.”



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If you’ve ever bought anything online from Amazon.com, one of their largest fulfillment centers in the world is located here in Coffeyville, Kansas. I answered an ad in Workamper News for people to come here to work their holiday rush. We’d get a free RV site and hookups as well as be paid an excellent salary. I figured, “why not?” I’d never driven further east than New Mexico and was looking for a little different adventure after three months at the end of a 22-mile stretch of dirt and rock road in the middle of the mountains.

When I left San Diego the first part of October, regular unleaded gasoline was about $3.65 a gallon, sometimes more. I was supposed to begin work on October 16, so I allowed plenty of time to get there. Halfway to Kansas, I received an email letting me know that because of the horrible economic situation in the country, my start date would be pushed back to Nov. 2. However, I’d still get my site and hookups until then.

I’ll write more about the trip and Coffeyville at a later time. For now, though, I’d like to take you on a short tour and tell you a little about the life of a “picker.” I wrote this a week ago, BEFORE I’d had enough because my feet and knees hurt too badly to continue.
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Good morning, at least I think it’s morning – things have a tendency to run together lately. Today is the end of my second week working here and I wasn’t sure I’d get through last night. It was the first time several of us were assigned the entire place, not just our training area. Yes, that’s because we’d been doing well, our “numbers” were on target. However . . . . This picture shows just a tiny, tiny part of one of the fulfillment centers, not necessarily Coffeyville but probably similar. Last night I think I covered just a small part of it—but my little pedometer read 7.8 miles this morning. The picking procedure is, simplified: 1) find the area, a challenge in itself 2) find the bin 3) scan the bin number 4) if needed, open the box (or boxes) 5) scan the barcode on the item/items 6) drop it/them in the tote 7) when the tote is full (or too heavy), put it on a conveyor belt. 8) repeat over and over and over . . .for ten hours, upstairs, downstairs, in my lady’s chamber. By the middle of last night, every part of my body hurt so badly I almost cried but had to keep going for more and more and more hours, until 3:30 a.m. Drag myself out of bed around noon to prepare to do it again tonight. The only thing I think about is the money and that it’s only until Christmas. Then I never have to do it again, ever! First paycheck this morning. Talking with other workampers here, most of them have been counting the days for a long time. We work and sleep, that’s about it. Watching people at breaks or lunch, the first thing most of us do is pull out the Ibuprofen or Aleve or Advil bottles. On Dec. 24, I’m getting the heck out of Dodge and heading someplace warmer to SIT and watch the sky, the river, and so forth.

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I could afford to quit for a couple of reasons. First, I had applied for early Social Security and began to receive it in the form of widow’s benefits. Second, gas prices have been steadily dropping like boulders. Yesterday, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, I paid $1.48 per gallon. I’m sticking around the campground until December 12 because the $8.00 per day fee for a full-hookup site can’t be beat. Most important, I’ve made some wonderful friends and become part of a small, temporary community here.

In some ways I envy the people who have been able to stick it out because the money is great. However, I still don’t have any health insurance and don’t want to risk any serious problems with my knes or feet.

So,. all of you who have been working so hard on those concrete floors, you’re doing great. Only a few more weeks left.

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Eat Your Veggies

I’ve been reading a new book by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. She and her family moved from their Arizona home to a rural farmhouse in southern Appalachia and vowed that,” for one year, they’d only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it,” in order to see if they could stop relying on what she calls “industrial food.” The idea struck chords deep down inside me.

One of the things that would convince me to quit this nomadic life would be the lack of a vegetable garden. Sure, I tried while working in Kanab, Utah last summer. I bought all kinds of pots, filled them with good soil, and planted a variety of veggies: Sweet 100 tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, and even a few flowers, anticipating some homemade salsa and Japanese cucumber salad by season’s end. The results were less than gratifying. For one thing, it was way too hot in Kanab during the summer. It was almost impossible to keep the plants well-watered and fed, especially in plastic pots.

I miss my gardens. We once lived on an acre of land in southern Oregon, down the road from a highly aromatic turkey ranch. I bought a rototiller, dug up half the yard, and planted EVERYTHING. We also raised some chickens and rabbits, with the chickens being allowed to range, as chickens like to do. We not only ate and gave away eggs with yokes that stood straight up at attention, but everything GREW like crazy! Lots of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, beans…you name it, we ate it. I canned, froze, and dried what we didn’t devour fresh, and we ate like royalty the rest of the year. Once my daughters decided the “cute little bunnies” also tasted okay, they gave up naming all of them, except the pets, and we had meat from the chickens and rabbits as well. It was a good life.

We also planted gardens in Portland on a much smaller plot of land. I built some raised beds and we trucked in some expensive soil. And, those gardens produced like crazy! Before my husband and I got divorced and sold the house, we’d planted raspberries as well as a variety of dwarf fruit trees: cherries, plums, apples, pears, and apricots. And that, for the most part, was also a good life.

And then the divorce and my move back to southern California, to the land of wonderful weather and apartments packed row upon row with no place to grow anything except a pot or two of flowers outside the door. And I decided to take to the road.

This summer I worked at a shareholder-owned lodge in the Trinity Alps of Northern California. The chef loved heirloom tomatoes, so we served–and ate—lots of them. They had a flavor like no other tomato I’d ever tasted, even the ones I’d grown, the “engineered” ones. But, I don’t want to spend a fortune for them, especially if they have to be trucked hundreds or thousands of miles. I want to grow my own.Last night I spent a few hours online requesting seed catalogs from various heirloom seed companies. I’ve been eating way too much processed food from unknown sources lately. Although I’m not sure yet how I’ll grow a garden, by the time planting season comes around, I intend to have one of some kind. Just need to figure out the best way to do it.

Here are a few sources of heirloom seeds in case you’re interested.

Nichols Garden Nursery
Seed Savers Exchange
Merchants and Purveyors of Heirloom Seeds
Seeds of Change

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