Friday, August 31, 2007

Buying Toothpaste

Why does it have to be so complicated to buy toothpaste? My son needed a new tube, and was making the choice for himself (without regard to what younger siblings might like) for the first time. It took a while, because there are so many choices for him to look at. Our relatively small grocery store carries 25 styles of Colgate toothpaste (not counting different sizes) and 19 styles of Crest. And those are only the two brands with the most shelf space. In the end, he chose Aim, because there was only one style to consider. Maybe that is why Aim is my favorite, too - I can just grab it, instead of stopping to think about exactly which flavor it is that I like.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Still Out of Water

It's funny how being out of water at home is different than not having water while camping. When you go camping, you acknowledge that your routines are going to change, that meals will be more casual, that things are going to get dirty, and that laundry will be done when you get home. Heating up water during dinner so you can do dishes afterwards is just part of the camping routine.

But at home, being out of water is NOT part of the routine. I didn't plan on not doing laundry for ten days, or I would have gotten more done before the water went out; I'm putting off a trip to the laundromat, but won't be able to for much longer. It's nice doing dishes in a sink instead of a plastic tub, but boiling the water is odd and takes forever. Normal at-home dinners take more pans than camping dinners (although I am learning to compromise pretty fast); the good news is that going out to dinner is easier. Since we are in town instead of the woods, we still need to take showers, so that's another trip to my parents' house every two days. And porta-potties get old really fast when there is no outdoors romance associated with them; you know you've been out of water too long when Forest Service pit toilets look good!

In some ways, the weirdest part is having electricity but no water. I can use the microwave but not the sink. How odd. I will definitely appreciate indoor plumbing more when this is over - whenever that is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Swamp Cooler

I've used the term "swamp cooler" regularly this summer (see "Enough Already" post), but never really thought about what one is until one of my kids asked. I was embarrassed to say, "Something they used on M*A*S*H," so I stuck with "I don't know, I'll look it up." I did, and now I know what one is when I say I'd rather add a swamp cooler to the house than an air conditioner. Which I might do if the summers stay as hot as this one was.

According to WonderQuest, "a swamp cooler (more formally called an evaporative cooler) is essentially a large box-like frame containing a big fan and walled in by water-wetted pads, usually made of cedar shavings or cellulose. The fan whooshes the hot outside air through the dripping pads (which are continually soaked by a water pump), cooling the air by about 20 ºF as the air evaporates water molecules from the pads. The fan then blows the water-cooled air through the house and out a deliberate vent." They work well where there is low humidity and "are popular in the southwest because they are relatively inexpensive, use a quarter as much electricity as a refrigerated unit, are easy to maintain by the average do-it-yourselfer, and add a comfortable level of humidity to the dry desert air. "

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hard to Find the Truth

A couple years ago, I included information about the Armenian genocide during WWI in my modern history curriculum. Only recently, when I was reading Turkish Reflections, did I realize that the information I had was pretty one-sided. The Turks probably didn't just, one day, decide to kill all the Armenians because they wanted the land; rather, it was the latest in a centuries-long conflict between the two groups. Unfortunately, it is still hard to get accurate information easily, so figuring out what happened is more a matter of balancing biased accounts rather than finding an unbiased source.

According to Wikipedia, the Armenians have been a nation since roughly 190 BCE; they have had several independent kingdoms, interspersed with rule by Persians, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans.

So far, I know that the Armenian-Turkish conflict goes back to before the First Crusade, in 1097, when some Norman Crusaders broke away from the main army and tried to set up an independent Armenian state in Anatolia. The Armenians at first welcomed the Normans as liberators who would free them from the tyranny of the Byzantines and the Turks, but then figured out that the Normans were only interested in setting themselves up as rulers for the status (and money) it would bring. At least this far back, there was conflict between the Turks and the Armenians; it probably goes back to 1071, when the Muslim Turks beat the Byzantine army at Manzikert and took over rule of Anatolia, including the Christian Armenians.

I am reasonably sure that nine centuries of intermittent conflict later, the Russians were encouraging the Armenians to break free of the declining Ottoman Empire and set up an independent Republic of Armenia; since this was occurring during WWI and the Turks were on the other side of the war, it isn't surprising that they considered it treason and took action to stop it, including moving all Armenians out of Anatolia, on forced marches, to the desert near the coast. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire had been fighting Armenians since 1894-6, and might have used the Russian connection as a pretext for the mass deportations. According to Wikipedia, "The events of 1915 to 1923 are regarded by Armenians and the vast majority of Western historians to have been state-sponsored mass killings. Turkish authorities, however, maintain that the deaths were the result of a civil war coupled with disease and famine, with casualties incurred by both sides." (But who wrote the entry? It refers to the "Ottoman yoke", so it isn't unbiased.) It is hard to find out what really happened; it couldn't have been as one-sided as many of the Armenian websites claim, if for no other reason than that life is seldom that simple. The truth may never be known, even approximately - which makes it really hard to incorporate into my modern history curriculum.

Taking a Second Look

Having a new driver in the car saying things like "Mom, you didn't come to a full stop" or "what is the speed limit here?" makes you take a look at how you are driving. And it's amazing how informal you can get after 30 years of driving. I'm surprised at the number of roads I don't know the speed limit for - I just drive the speed that seems appropriate (which luckily is usually pretty close to the speed limit, but not always). I think I learned the speed limit once and simply incorporated that knowledge into my driving habits... but I'm not sure. Then there's all the nearly-full stops, where I could easily get completely stopped if I needed to but that aren't actually complete stops. Or stopping where I can see both ways, instead of stopping at the stop sign and then moving forward to where I can see. Or forgetting to look both ways when I cross a train track with the arms and lights that are supposed to warn me about a train - but could fail.

Even more surprising is the number of things that most competent drivers do that aren't actually legal. The most common one is creating a right-turn lane out of the shoulder, in order to bypass the cars stopped at a stop light. I found out the hard way that it is legal to pull up to the right of ONE car and turn, but if you pass a second car on the way to the corner, that is passing on the right and illegal. And don't even think about getting one tire off the pavement onto the shoulder - that gets expensive if a policeman catches you. Then there are all the rolling stops that allow the driver to slip into the flow of traffic on a busy street, where coming to a full stop would create a long wait; hopefully, the driver has gotten a good look both directions, but even so, it is illegal.

And then there are the things that sound illegal but aren't. According to driver's ed, there are lots of rules about pulling a U-turn which pretty much come down to "only if there is no one around to see it". But I see lots of drivers turning south onto N. 7th from Baxter Lane, because they aren't allowed to turn north, then pulling a U-turn around the median at the next stop light and heading north. I called the police department, and an officer said that in Montana, U-turns are legal as long as there is no sign prohibiting them and you don't impede traffic. So the N. 7th U-turns are legal as long as you can make the full turn without backing and filling, and someone turning right onto N. 7th doesn't hit you. U-turns are even legal on Main Street as long as it doesn't impede traffic.

What else should I have asked the officer about when I talked to him? What other habits are going to get me in trouble some day?

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove

Laura Schenone's book is subtitled "A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances", but one of the most interesting parts is when she compares the different contributions that men and women have made to food. Through the ages, cooking was done by women, and men pretty much stayed out of the kitchen area unless they were camping - hunting or fighting. Providing nutritious food from whatever was available was women's work, a daily chore as well as one of the few creative outlets available for them. However, this all changed in the mid-1800s, when fewer Americans had land to grow food or kitchen facilities to cook it, and the Civil War created a huge demand for field rations. At this point, there was lots of money to be made in producing food, and men joined the game eagerly. They started with canning vegetables, fruit, and meat, then moved on to canned milk ("No teats to pull, no hay to pitch, just punch a hole in the son of a --."), refrigerated meat, and infant formula.

"And so the industrial men proceeded forth. Theirs was a sort of creativity that America cherishes - a creativity that could be applied in a profitable way toward making products available to the masses. Here was a prototype for the democratizing forces of industry - more stuff for more people but of lower quality. ... It is fascinating to consider that men took over the foods and processes that women had originally invented for baking, butchering, dairying, and vegetable gardening. Whereas women had previously carried out these jobs for the intimate uses of family, tribe, and kin, men did so for profit. ...

In general, the male emphasis on commercial food was mass scale and uniformity, made possible by machinery. One batch is exactly the same as the previous. ... Quite to the contrary, the female emphasis on cooking and food preservation has always been dominated by the personal and the local. A woman cooks based on the individual quirks of what's in her pantry or garden at a given moment, food is flavored according to her own taste, and dinners according to her acumen or lack of skills in roasting, baking, and frying. Judgment, attention to detail, mood, and the number of children hanging on to one's legs all contribute to the unique results." (p. 192-3)

This starts to sound a lot like the current movements towards eating local or artisan foods, as fresh as possible, and celebrating the foods that are unique to a region.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Honeydew Soup

Last week, I bought two melons raised in Montana, then promptly put them in the refrigerator and forgot about them. I finally pulled out the honeydew and made a cold soup out of it for dinner - very tasty on a warm summer day. Now I just have to figure out what to do with the other, larger one; I think it's a Crenshaw, and I have no idea what that tastes like.

To make the soup, I quartered the melon and removed all the seeds, then scooped out the melon and dropped it into the blender, one quarter at a time. I added about a tablespoon of lime juice, 1/2 to 1 cup of vanilla yogurt, and 1/2 cup of buttermilk (or plain yogurt, which would make the soup a little thicker) per quarter, and blended it all. It was great! with smoked pork chops (also local) and some baguettes. To half of the batches, I added 1/4 cup of sambuca (a licorice-flavored liqueur). My honeydew was so large that each quarter will feed 4 people as a side dish; I froze three batches for later use.

The Dreaded Brain-Dead Stage

A couple years ago, a good friend commented on the brain-dead stage her daughters had gone through when they were 12 to 13 years old. I think it has been the most useful information I've ever had for parenting teenagers; they all seem to go through this brain-dead stage, although for boys it tends to be around 15 years old. I think it has to do with the full flush of adolescence, as they adjust to their new body and their brains try to catch up.

How to tell if a teenager is in the brain-dead phase: They forget that you told them about grandparents coming for dinner. They definitely forget chores that you have told them about three times (or more). They leave coats, cell phones, or clothes at friends' houses or in cars. They have trouble focusing on schoolwork. They get school assignments done but forget to turn them in. It can be infuriating, but they really aren't doing it on purpose - they just don't have enough brain cells available to cope with their physical and emotional development AND with the outside world. Knowing that it is just a stage is tremendously reassuring; it's nice to know that my formerly-competent child is just absent for a year or so, not gone forever.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Well, Well

Don't ever have a well. City water services are much easier; if you pay the bill every month, you'll have water. You won't have dry taps and a well driller in the hospital.

Every summer, our well starts to run dry in August; we have enough to run the house, but not enough to keep the lawn from turning brown. Three years ago, we almost re-drilled the well, but figured out that if we got a fancy new sprinkler controller, we could avoid the hassle and expense. This year, we started running out of water in June, and by August, we were too low on water to run the house smoothly. It turns out that our water level has dropped from 165' below the ground surface to 215' down - in a 220' well. So it was time to redrill the well; we would drill back down the same hole rather than drilling a replacement well because redrilling is cheaper and the paper work for the DNRC is easier.

Our favorite well driller put us on his schedule, fitting us in soon because it was getting urgent. He said it would be a two-day job, possibly three if things didn't go smoothly. On Monday evening, they brought the trucks up. Tuesday, they pulled out the fence and a couple small aspens, set up the drill rig, and pulled the casing out of the well. Wednesday, they drilled to 310', but had trouble putting a new casing in because the sides kept caving in. Thursday they tried Plan B to get past the cave-ins, then went to Plan C (this is starting to get expensive...). On Friday, Plan C was going smoothly; they had to replace the cable for the drill weight, but that didn't take too long. Saturday (day 5, if you are counting) was a beautiful day, and the drillers were looking forward to finishing a difficult job and getting us hooked back up to water. Instead, the drill weight, a 50# ball, fell from the top of the drill rig and hit the driller in the side, knocking the wings off several of his vertebrae. So he is now in the hospital, in serious pain, his daughter is looking for a driller to finish the job, and we have no idea when we will have water again. It's enough to make a monthly water bill look good.

While I was looking for some information on well drilling, I found a nice explanation of why well pumps are at the bottom instead of the top of the well.

Off to College

It's funny how exhausting it is to take your first-born off to college. The move itself was easy, since he really didn't take much with him; even the older students helping us carry things in were asking "Is that all?" when the truck was empty. And saying good-bye only took a few minutes; I kept a (mostly) stiff upper lip so that he would be ok, told him to have fun, not to do anything illegal, not to do anything stupid, not to get kicked out of college, then hugged him good-bye. Just to lighten the mood, his younger brother sucker-punched him, the last in a long line of traded surprise attacks, then escaped from the room while he caught his breath. The tears didn't come till I got in the car - driving in an unfamiliar town while crying is not recommended. Now I feel drained, and it won't take much to make me get teary again. I guess it's normal for such a major transition to take a few days to get over; but the absence where a kid used to be will take longer to adjust to.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Shopping with Kids

Here is a great description of what shopping with little kids is like. I only had four with me at that stage, but I can sympathize! It is amazing how much stuff can find its way into the shopping cart without your knowledge. One of the delights of having kids grow up is that eventually they are old enough so that you can leave them at home while you go shopping by yourself. Even better is when they are old enough to go grocery shopping for you - although then the unapproved-item count goes back up, since they take advantage of the task to stock up on energy drinks, chips, and junk food. That is, in fact, the bait that convinces them to spend an hour at the grocery store buying detergents, bread, and toilet paper.

Of course, having a husband along is an even more effective way to fill up the cart with things you don't have on your list. I remember a shopping trip years ago with my dad to get three things my mom needed; we ended up with an entire grocery cart full of exotic things my mom had to deal with, like a watermelon and a pineapple and all kinds of odd cookies and condiments. My husband has learned to deputize our youngest son to get Oreos on every trip, so he doesn't even have to go to increase the grocery bill.

Nope, Not One Book

A new poll shows that the man who hadn't read any books since high school isn't alone. It turns out that 27% of adults didn't read any books in the last year; and chances are good that a fair number of them didn't read any books the year before, or the year before that. There are so many things available to do with spare time - sports, internet, TV, video games, movies - that it's not surprising that some people never get around to a book, especially if there is nothing in their background to suggest that reading a book is worthwhile.

Of people who read books, the median number of books read was 7; 27% read 15 or more books, including 8% who averaged at least one book a week . Roughly half the respondents read non-fiction, either history or a biography; nearly 2/3 read the Bible or a religious book, and over half read popular fiction. The political pundits are having fun with the fact that liberals read (slightly) more books than conservatives, with the liberals saying conservatives just want sound bites and conservatives saying liberals are verbose.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wicked Creek Fire Slowing Down

We have finally gotten some cooler weather, even a little rain, which is making life easier for the firefighters on the WH Complex fires. It has stablized at just over 28,000 acres and is now 40% contained, but the fire managers are settling in for the long haul when it comes to putting the fire out completely; it will take snow or lots of rain to finish it off in the rugged country of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. The weather has been advantageous for us, too - the air is much clearer than it was a week ago.

Pickin' Peppers

We went to Rocky Creek Farm to pick peppers today, and it was beautiful. The field next to the pepper rows was in full bloom, a tapestry of purple, lavendar, and white blossoms that filled the air with a scent similar to lilac, but lighter; it is alfalfa that was cut once for hay earlier in the summer and has escaped its second cutting somehow. The pepper plants fill three long rows and come in a dozen varieties from sweet to very hot, from smaller than your pinkie to longer than your hand; my son picked a nice selection to freeze for adding to salsas over the winter. Another idea would be to make a hot sauce out of them.

I spent the time picking tomatillos. I have never seen them on the plant before and didn't expect them here, so I was excited to have a chance to pick them. The tomatillo plant is very similar to a tomato plant, expect that instead of round globes, papery husks like chinese lanterns grow from the branches. According to the CSU Extension Service, the fruit should be picked when it is as large as the husk or when it grows large enough to split the husk; I picked some of them too early. Earlier-picked tomatillos are light green and tart (which suits me), later-picked ones are more yellowish-green and sweeter. I'll use them with some of the peppers to make salsa verde, or maybe try this tomatillo chutney.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


My mother has a wonderful old crabapple tree with fruit that is good to eat. Unfortunately for her, the black bear that lives in the canyon behind her house thinks so too; every fall, it comes down to eat the fruit and breaks the branches, pruning the tree in ways my mother doesn't appreciate. So this morning, on an overcast day that discourages the hornets, we went to pick the crabapples before the bear gets to them. The greenest fruit is yellow-green at the bottom, shading to a apple-red at the top. Riper fruit is the color of a ripe peach, golden with a rose blush; riper yet, they are a deep red, with only a trace of gold showing. But the ripest crabapples are a deep crimson, a red so deep it is nearly purple, and they glow among the green leaves.

Today we picked enough crabapples to add to the tubs of apples we will take to Rocky Creek Farm tomorrow to be pressed into cider, to make it tart; we'll put the cider in the freezer and enjoy it all winter. And we'll make some of it into hard cider, which tastes wonderful with fall dinners. My kids are trying to convince me to make crabapple jelly (which I foolishly mentioned when I saw the golden-rose fruit that reminds me of it) with a later, larger batch; we'll see if they pick enough, and if I have enough energy to tackle the long process.

Science Curricula

When it comes to homeschooling high school students, science is the hardest subject to find a textbook for. The Christian homeschoolers have filled the void for their needs with a variety of Bible-based texts on biology, chemistry, and physics, but there is just about nothing out there for secular homeschoolers. I used entry-level college textbooks when my oldest was a junior and senior in high school, but the level of detail included doesn't work for freshman and sophmores, or for all students. Textbooks for schools don't seem to work out well, either because they have too much busy work, they try too hard to be relevant, or because they assume a teacher who knows the subject well. Science books for a general audience can be great, but they don't always have the formal organization that is part of what I am trying to teach at this age. Some popular surveys, such as the Smithsonian's Science 101 series which covers 101 facts and topics in 202 pages, cover a wide range of topics too briefly to be useful as the primary text. Videos from the Teaching Company have been good for astronomy; they are expensive, but the teachers present all the material well, and follow the same kind of structure that I want. I think the only option I haven't tried is online courses, because they don't suit our routine very well. For now, I organize their science around a popular science book and supplement with reference materials, websites, and lab activities; it works, but it takes a lot of time, and I know it could be, should be better.

What do I want? A book that oganizes the material in the usual formal way (for instance, by kingdoms in biology rather than by ecosystems), that provides hard science but not so many details that the student drowns in it. It needs to be interesting but not cutesy, without a lot of sidebars filled with distracting information or attempts to be relevant to modern teenagers; it should address the reader as an intelligent partner. It should have ideas for related lab experiments or field trips. Ideally, it would include some history, so that my kids get a sense of how science developed and is developing. I want them to see that science is interesting for its own sake, that it changes and evolves over time, that understanding it can help us make sense of the world in ways far outside the classroom. All of which may explain why I can't find it...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Reading Turkish Reflections, by Mary Lee Settle, I discovered that Aslan is Turkish for lion, and is used to denote a brave man, a fighter, a soldier. If you want to be a novelist with good names for unusual characters, it pays to know a less-popular foreign language.

Sooner Rather than Later

I received this in an email from my mother; I think she was trying to generate sympathy for herself. The problem is that my sister and I both exhibit the symptoms already, so apparently the age that activates it is nearer 40 than 60. My hunch is that it has to do with having kids; once you do, your brain cells are never the same again.

A. A. A. D. D., or Age-Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.

This is how it manifests: I decide to water my garden. As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car and decide my car needs washing. As I start toward the garage, I notice that there is mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mailbox earlier. I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car. I lay my car keys down on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full. So, I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first. But then I think, since I'm going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage, I might as well pay the bills and mail them, too. I take my checkbook off the table, and see that there is only one check left. My extra checks are in my desk in the study, so I go inside the house to my desk where I find the can of Coke that I had been drinking. I'm going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Coke aside so that I don't accidentally knock it over. I realize the Coke is getting warm, and I decide I should put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold. As I head toward the kitchen with the Coke, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye--they need to be watered. I set the Coke down on the counter, and I discover my reading glasses that I've been searching for all morning. I decide I better put them back on my desk, but first I'm going to water the flowers. I set the glasses back down on the counter, fill a container with water and suddenly I spot the TV remote. Someone left it on the kitchen table. I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV, I will be looking for the remote, but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs, but first I'll water the flowers. I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor. So, I set the remote back down on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill. Then I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day, the driveway is flooded, the car isn't washed, the bills aren't paid, there is a warm can of Coke sitting on the counter, there is still only one check in my check book, I can't find the remote, I can't find my glasses, and I don't remember what I did with the car keys. Then when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I'm really baffled because I know I was busy all day long, and I realize this is a serious problem, and I'll try to get some help for it, right after I check my e-mail.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Cult and Religion

When does a cult become a religion? After all, Christianity was originally one of many mystical and apocalyptic Jewish cults; so when did it become a religion instead of a cult? By 313, when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and decreed that its practice would be allowed in the Roman Empire, it was a religion. But what is the dividing line?

According to sociologists, a church is an established religion that follows mainstream practices and are part of the prevailing culture;, such as the Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Baptist churches in the United States. Sects are splinter groups that have broken away from the churches; they usually follow stricter rules than the churches, but have mostly mainstream beliefs, such as the Amish. Cults are religious groups that follow non-mainstream practices, based on the surrounding culture; in these terms, Baha'ism, one of the ten largest world religions, with 6.1 million followers, would be considered a cult in North America, while Christianity might be considered a cult in India. Based on these definitions, a cult would become a church if its practices become mainstream, either by changing the practices or by becoming so large that it comes to help define mainstream; this is what Christianity did in the first three centuries after Christ.

According to Christian theologists, a cult is a Christian-based religion that does not base its theology strictly on the Bible; it usually denies one or more basic tenets of the Bible or adds more prophets, and centuries ago would have been called a heresy. In these terms, Mormons would be a cult rather than a religion; but Wicca is not a cult because it is not based on Christianity. The only way a cult can become a religion is to let go of the practices and beliefs that contradict the Bible.

The anti-cult groups have another definition: A cult is a religious group that brainwashes its members and controls their lives in unhealthy ways, such as isolation or sleep deprivation. Traditional examples of cults in this case are the Krishnas and the Moonies.

A more useful definition may be "a small, recently created, religious organization which is often headed by a single charismatic leader and is viewed as a spiritually innovative group." And possibly the most honest is from Leo Pfeffer: "...if you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps 'the' religion; and if you do not care one way or another about it, it is a sect; but if you fear and hate it, it is a cult."

So where does this leave the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT)? When the church moved from California to Montana in 1981, at the height of the publicity about the Krishnas and Moonies and deprogramming cult members, it was definitely considered a cult by the local community. And according to most of these definitions, it was: it had non-mainstream practices, was led by a charismatic leader, and was feared by the locals. Whether theologians would consider it a cult depends on whether it is considered to be Christian-based: the church incorporates some elements of Christianity along with elements from seven other world religions. With its apocalyptic teachings and closed-in mindset, it was one of the cults fought by the anti-cult groups.

But over time, CUT has settled in and, to all appearances, grown up. Members of the church who used to live on church land are moving into surrounding communities and blending in with people who follow the traditional religions. The charismatic leader has retired, due to Alzheimers. CUT hosts teen retreats, just like Methodists and Baptists do. The church has contributed land for wildlife on the edges of the Yellowstone ecosystem. The housing development, originally for church members only, has been opened to other people. Church members interact with other locals, hiring each other, patronizing each other's businesses, and socializing. It has shed many of the attributes of a cult, but it is not a church or sect. So I still don't know where this leaves CUT.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Time for More Structure

Last year was a tough one for our family, and so our homeschooling was pretty basic - English, math, science, history, French (for the older ones). I didn't have time or energy to focus on weaknesses such as spelling or handwriting, or to add "electives"; which maybe just as well because I'm not sure my kids had the energy to focus on them. I didn't provide a lot of structure, either; I gave the kids their assignments on Monday and hoped they were done by Friday. It mostly worked, we kept school going, and we learned plenty of life skills.

This year, things look a lot better for all of us, and I am looking forward to filling in some gaps and adding some structure. That's the beauty of homeschooling: if things slip one year, either because you didn't provide them or because the kids didn't learn them, you can always catch up the next, rather than expecting kids to move forward without the skills they missed. It does make this year's list of things to cover a little intimidating, but I can double up a lot of it - keyboarding and spelling, writing and grammar. The only tricky part will be getting my high schooler used to a set routine again; he liked last year's "flexible" schedule (but had a hard time keeping up with his assignments). Actually, the really tricky part will be keeping my attention focused on the schedule, so that we really get things done, rather than letting it wander off to something shinier and more interesting.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Not One Book?

A while back, I was sitting near three men in a restaurant. The only part of the conversation that I overheard was when they were discussing the new Harry Potter book and one of them, in his early thirties and looking like he is a manager for a chain retail store, maybe car parts, said, "I don't think I've read a book since I was in high school." Not one book? Not even a mystery or a thriller? I have a hard time understanding how someone could deprive themselves of the pleasure of a sustained argument or a well-told story - even though I have one son who would rather be doing something physical, even chores, than reading a book. I see him avoid reading, but I still don't get it.

I find so much to value in books, so much understanding of the world around me and how other people think, that I can't really imagine how an adult would choose not to read. Althought the man probably reads the newspaper and maybe some magazines; he did say "a book", after all, not "anything". But those are short bits and pieces of thought, not a well-thought-through world such as those of Terry Pratchett or JK Rowling or JRR Tolkien or the better mystery writers, or any number of other authors. And they aren't a thoughtful narrative of how the world works or came to be the way it is. But books required sustained attention, and that is hard to come by in our culture unless you make a real effort - and read quickly enough to make it a reasonable effort. From his tone of voice, I don't imagine that the man set out to avoid books, it just happened, along with life; he sounded a little surprised. Maybe he will sit down to read one of the Harry Potter books this winter, and add at least one book to his list of reading.

Dinner Didn't Work

Well, I tried sauteeing the baby artichokes last night, but it wasn't a success. I guess I was too tired to be operating a heat-producing implement. I overcooked the pasta until it was mushy, then left too much in the pan when I added the vegetables. The artichokes would have been better if I had covered them while they simmered in the lemon butter, so that they were a little more tender. My loving family ate it and said it was good, but the texture was so bad that I couldn't eat more than about three bites. Sigh. I suppose you can't win them all. I think I'll order pizza tonight.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Vive le Difference?

In western culture, men have always defined pornography as being about sex. The women in men's porn act like stereotypical men - they enjoy wild sex without attachment, sex that becomes all about accomplishment, about racking up trophies. Women's pornography was always assumed to be the mirror image, featuring men instead of women, and with maybe a little more plotline.

But someone finally asked women what really turns them on, and the result is Porn for Women - a funny (and reasonably clean) look at what makes women hot. The men in the pictures are sexy, but what makes it women's porn is what they are doing - cleaning, nurturing, listening, asking directions. They are, in fact, acting like stereotypical women. So porn appears to come down to wanting the other sex to be more like the viewer's - an odd conclusion that goes a long way to explaining why neither sex tends to appreciate the other's porn, why women get so annoyed at Playboy under the mattress; it's because women know instinctively that the fantasy isn't about real women. And men will know instinctively that Porn for Women isn't about real men (although real men could learn a trick or two from it). But still, what woman wouldn't like a man to stock the house with good chocolate?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Whose Job Is It?

I was reading a series of hints for young people facing a first job interview recently. Most of the list seemed to make sense - be on time, dress appropriately, etc. But then it said "Don't bring your mom to the interview". What?!? You mean some parents would actually want to go to a child's job interview? We're talking college grads here, not 14 year olds. That's unreal. But from other things I've read, it is all too real - the boomers aren't bowing out gracefully when their kids reach nominal adulthood and are intervening with college professors or going to job fairs with (or for) their children; so I guess going to a job interview is the next step.

I find this astounding. After all, these are parents who presumably take parenting seriously; but apparently no one told them what the point of parenting is. As a parent, my job is to get my kids ready to go out into the world on their own, make their own mistakes, find their own path. It is NOT to make sure they make the same choices or mistakes I did, much less to have them make choices appropriate for a 40-something parent. By the time my kids graduate from college, they should be ready to make their own choices; after having 21 years of my good advice inflicted on them, it is time to see if they can put it into practice. Continuing to parent them as if they were middle-schoolers doesn't help them become fully-functioning adults.

Of course our kids will make mistakes - that is their job. And many of what we call mistakes may be exactly the path or the lesson that they need then. Kids need to learn by doing, and if that means losing out on a desired job because they couldn't get themselves out of bed on time, well, maybe next time they'll get up earlier. And if they pass up a prestigious job to take a more laid-back job, then either they are too laid back to be happy with the ambitious job, or they will discover that they are bored and really want something higher powered. These should be their choices, not mine. It's their life; let them live it. And stay away from their job interviews - it doesn't reflect well on the applicant.

Wicked Creek Update

According to an article in today's paper, the Wicked Creek fire is now at 19,600 acres. The much smaller Hicks fire is 9 miles to the east, across the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, has been lumped with the Wicked Creek Fire as the Wicked Hicks or WH Fire Complex. Luckily, most of the fire movement seems to be into the wilderness area, where it will be allowed to burn into the fall. For the moment, it is stable - as is the smoke hanging in the Gallatin Valley; we are in our second or third day of 16-hour twilight.

It doesn't look like the fire season will be over any time soon. A fire management officer for the Gallatin National Forest notes that small trees contain less moisture than a kiln-dried 2x4 that you buy at the lumber yard, and the big trees are approaching record lows for moisture. The rivers aren't going to help, either: the Yellowstone River is at record low flows, matching levels last seen in the Dust Bowl years, and most streams in Montana have at least some restrictions on fishing due to low water levels. Even the dirt is dry: 86% of topsoil is short or very short of moisture. I guess I'll just have to get used to the smoke.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Salsa Verde and Cucumber Soup

I need to stop going overboard at the Farmers' Market. I didn't think I got that many veggies last night, just carrots, two bags of basil, cucumbers, green beans, fresh corn, baby artichokes, and pie cherries, along with some focaccia bread, hummus, pork chops, and sausage. I spent most of the morning making pesto, salsa verde (oh, yeah - I found the tomatillos at the Co-op when I went to buy parmesan and pine nuts for the pesto), and cucumber-yogurt soup. Pesto freezes well, although the basil darkens, so I put three jars in the freezer and kept the rest out for dinner later this week. I finally gave up on eating the last batch of fava beans, so I shelled, blanched, and froze them; given how large most of the beans were, they will be better in soups this winter than in salads now. I plan to trim the artichokes, then sautee them in butter and lemon juice. For the corn, I'll peel back the husks, remove the silk, add butter, chili powder, and some lime juice, close the husks back up and tie them, then grill them; I haven't done it before, but it sounds good.

The salsa verde is really easy to make: pull the papery husks off the tomatillos and pop them in a pot of boiling water. Let them boil for about as long as it takes to read three sections of the local paper; they are done when they are yellowish green and one or two of them have split open. Carefully fish them out with a slotted spoon and drop them into your blender. Add finely sliced or chopped hot pepper (serrano, jalapeno, etc) and chopped onions. Blend until pureed. Then decide how to eat it - with tortilla chips, in pulled pork, on tacos, or on a spoon. If you have the will power, freeze a jar or two for later.

The cucumber soup was more challenging because I can't find the recipe I used last year and I had to work from (faulty) memory. I took peeled and chopped cucumbers and blended them with plain yogurt, buttermill, dill weed, minced garlic, and salt. It's not quite like the one I made last year (I'm wondering if the recipe had some lemon juice in it), but it's still pretty good. It will be a nice complement to pulled pork with salsa verde tonight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Homeschool Statistics

It is surprisingly difficult to find any recent statistics on homeschoolers. The last nationwide survey was in 2003, and it is tough to find anything more current. According to the NCES, "about 1.1 million students ... were being homeschooled in the United States in the srping of 2003", up from an estimated 850,000 in 1999. This reflects an increase in the percentage of children being homeschooled from 1.7% in 1999 to 2.2% in 2003. Extrapolating from this, and figuring on some homeschoolers not reporting openly, the percentage of U.S. children being homeschooled in 2007 is probably closer to 4% than 2%.

Locally, there are 394 elementary homeschoolers in Gallatin County, compared to 7336 elementary kids in the county, or 5% of the total. There are 123 high school homeschoolers (which is probably low, since many high school students are older than 16 and therefore don't have to register), compared to 3183 high school students, or 3.7% of the total. Both numbers are probably a little low because some homeschoolers don't register, especially if they have had problems with homeschooling in other states. But 5% is probably pretty accurate for local numbers.

Struggling with Stereotypes

I don't believe in stereotypes. I want my boys to know how to cook and sew, my girl to change tires and wield a hammer. So I'm teaching them all to do laundry at 10, how to cook in 8th grade, how to change tires at 15 with driver's ed. I was happy to see my boys wanting to work on cars, use tools, and do other tasks that allow them to work with their dad. But now my daughter is interested in cooking and prefers doing indoor chores to outdoor ones, and I have a struggle. I don't want her to be stereotypically female, focused on running a house - but if that is what she is interested in, why is it any different than the boys being interested in fixing cars? That is just as stereotypically male. Why is it ok for the boys to take on tasks their father does but not ok for my daughter to take on tasks I do? Why is using a stove or sewing machine less worthy than using a hammer or wrench? After all, I enjoy both cooking and sewing, and see them as creative outlets.

I guess it isn't the being interested in running a house that bother me, it's the idea that she might stop there, never push herself to try other things, follow other interests. But now that I think of it that way, she's not likely to do that; after all, this is the child who is teaching herself Japanese so she can read manga in the original. Maybe I just need to trust her a little more...

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Vegetannual

I've been trying to pay more attention to the season when I buy fruits and vegetables, but sometimes it is hard to figure out what is in season locally and what has just been shipped a long way (which says a lot about how disconnected the grocery stores are from the natural round). Some of the seasons are counter-intuitive: it seems obvious that lemons should be best in the summer, when we want lemonade, not in December (when they are). But even for the less confusing vegetables, it can be trying to keep track of what is ready when. I finally found one good way to think about it when I don't have the time or inclination to do research: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, introduces the Vegetannual.

The vegetannual is a hypothetical plant that provides all plant foods, from roots to fruits, in sequence. First it puts out fresh leaves, then flowers, then seeds and fruits; in the fall, it plumps up the bigger fruits and stores sugars in its roots for winter. So the first vegetables in the spring will be greens - lettuce, kale, etc - herbs, and garlic scapes; followed by the early stems such as rhubarb, asparagus, and green onions. I think artichokes are a flower, which is why they are a spring vegetable, along with head lettuces, broccoli, and cauliflower. Mid-summer, the seeds and fruits will show up: peas, fava beans, green beans, raspberries and strawberries, summer squash, tomatoes, cucumbers. Late summer brings the bigger fruits, such as melons, peppers, and corn. Fall is the time for apples, winter squashes, pumpkins, and the tubers such as potato and yam.

The vegetannual has helped a bunch, but I still don't understand why citrus fruits, which seemingly should be ready in August, ripen in mid-winter.

Wicked Creek Fire

It had to happen sooner or later: there's a big fire near us. The Wicked Creek fire, started by lightning south of Livingston, was at 5 acres Thursday night, grew to 100 acres on Friday, to 500 acres on Saturday, and up to 5000 acres yesterday. Last night, we could see the smoke column from our deck, and it was pretty impressive. This morning, Inciweb lists it at 8500 acres, and the smoke in the Gallatin Valley is so thick we can't see the mountains from our house; visibility is 2 miles or less. The fire is currently 0% contained, but fire fighters are hoping that it will slow down as it moves into areas burned in recent years.

The Inciweb site is so busy that it is overwhelmed.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

August Dinner

It may be the ultimate August dinner: grilled beef, corn on the cob with lots of butter, fried rosemary, and chunky Capri salad, with ice cream for dessert. I made the salad by cutting the tomatoes in half in each directions (into eighths) and tossing them with basil; I cubed fresh mozzerella and tossed it with balsamic vinegar. Just before serving, I combined the tomatoes and mozzerella. To fry the rosemary, heat a skillet of oil until very hot, then drop in one sprig of fresh rosemary at a time; fry for about 30 seconds on each side. Place the rosemary on paper towels to drain, then sprinkle with salt. It's a great combination of seasonal flavors, and easy to make - best eaten outside with good friends.

Noises Off!

The Firehouse 5 in Livingston is performing Noises Off!, by Michael Frayne, and I had heard it was funny, so we went last night. It is a play within a play, or more accurately, a farce within a farce (you can tell it is a farce because there are seven doors leading off the stage), and it was funny, but not very satisfying. The first act does a nice job of setting up the entertainingly eccentric characters and the potential conflicts; the second act develops the conflicts and hints at a few more; but the third act leaves it all lying in pieces. The director is wooing the nubile starlet and has apparently slept with the stage director (since she tells him she is having a baby), but who gets whom is left unresolved. The female lead appears to be successfully making one male lead jealous with the other; by convention, she should end up back with the first, but instead she appears to lose her sanity. It's hard to tell who is pursuing whom, and several innuendos are left hanging. All the conventions of theater that require some kind of resolution, and the specific conventions of farce that require that all the romantic or lustful confusion be sorted out by the end, were ignored, with nothing solid to replace them. It feels like the playwrite got bored halfway through and just wrote up something quick to get rid of the characters. It wasn't worth the over-three-hours running time.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Advocates of evolution combat creationism all wrong. People who believe in creationism believe in it as a matter of faith, not as a reasoned conclusion, and there is no way that hammering them with facts is going to change that faith. Any fact that contradicts creationism can be handily disposed of by the existence of an omnipotent god: dinosaurs didn't exist, they just appear to because the fossils were placed in the ground by God to test the faith of believers. Discounting the scientific evidence for dinosaurs becomes an confirmation of faith. The only way to counter faith is with faith, or at least a plausible story; evolutionists tend to rely on lists of facts, which will only convince those people who were already questioning the creationist story.

The funny thing is that belief in science is a faith, too, the faith that the world can be best explained by deductive reasoning and experimentation. Science has been a very useful and productive paradigm, but there is still a leap of faith needed at the beginning. For people who have made a different leap, it is easy to use the things that science hasn't explained yet to discredit science as a whole: What came before the Big Bang? Why do we feel so strongly that we exist beyond our physical bodies? And some science advocates are as fundamentalist as the religious types they oppose, declaring that science is the only way to explain the world and that anyone who doesn't believe in it is damned to hell - well, terminally ignorant and irrational, anyway. At that point, science becomes just another religion.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Driving Challenges

Each new driver has a particular challenge to overcome with driving. My oldest son was good at dealing with masses of incoming information - it kept him focused on the task at hand - but tended to be erratic controlling the car. My second son has great intuition for the vehicle, but is easily overwhelmed by too much information. My problem is that I like to look at the surroundings and have to force myself to focus on the traffic, especially in new places. I want to see what the buildings look like, who is on the streets and what they are wearing, what trees are growing here, etc. Where the other cars are is much less interesting - but more urgent. (This is why I prefer to navigate in strange cities and let my husband drive.) Other people get caught up in their thoughts and forget to pay attention to the road, or notice all the cars nearby and not see the traffic patterns. Each personality brings its own challenge, and you could probably create a personality test by watching how people drive.

Summer Tomatoes

One of the best things about August is real tomatoes! I try to avoid fresh tomatoes in the winter, opting for canned ones instead; even early summer tomatoes are pretty disappointing, since they still have to be trucked in. But then, in early August, the local tomatoes start ripening, and they are completely different. The tomatoes from one local producer who sells at the Co-op are incredible, even better than the ones we grow in pots in our backyard. When you cut them open, the inside is nearly all flesh, instead of lots of open space and seeds, and the color is a deep red (or orange, or yellow, as the case may be); the flavor is all tomato. Fixing them for dinner is as simple as quartering them and sprinkling some herbs and a little salt on them; last night, my husband ate nearly a dozen medium tomatoes this way. Sometimes I add a little vinegar to the herbed tomatoes, then save any vinegar/tomato juice in the bottom of the bowl for vinegar-and-oil salad dressings. I bought more tomatoes today, and will serve them with cubed mozzerella drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and some fresh basil. We'll eat local tomatoes regularly between now and the first hard frosts (usually in early September) - when they are only available one month, you have to pig out!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Crusades

I'm reading The First Crusades by Steven Runciman, preparing for the Medieval History we'll study this year. I had thought that all of the fighting took place in the Middle East, but it turns out that the first crusaders to get going, the People's Crusade, decided that there was no point in waiting and started killing Jews in Germany; although the Jews were generally under the protection of the local bishop, the bishops were unable or unwilling to protect them. The killing only stopped when the crusaders got to Hungary, where the army refused to allow it.

The usual exhortation in the massacres was that the Jews had killed Christ and deserved to be killed in return. But since Christ was also Jewish, it seems more likely that the real reasons were economic rather than religious. The Jews were the only group allowed to charge interest (usury was prohibited to Christians), so nearly all loans were made by them; this meant that churches, nobles, kings, and peasants were all indebted to them - and no one likes the person they owe money to. The charge of Christ-killing appealed to the emotions of the crusaders, but the massacres were possible because the medieval Jews were already marginalized and distrusted.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tank Tops

My daughter and I have a running disagreement over whether tank tops are appropriate for her to wear in public (i.e. the Sweet Pea Festival). It sounds like a trivial argument, but it really isn't. It involves issues of feminity and sexuality, of safety, of comfort vs appearance: all the body issues a young woman has to wrestle with as she passes through adolescence. I want her to be comfortable in her body, not ashamed of it - but how much skin is too much skin at this age? Does it matter that the skin is below her collar bones? What is the difference between feminity and sexuality? Where is the dividing line between looking attractive and looking available? How does the line move with her age and the setting? Her swimsuit shows more skin, so why is that ok but not the tank top?

In a perfect world, she could wear anything she liked and it wouldn't matter - but this world isn't perfect, and so she needs to learn where the boundaries are to give her a better chance of staying safe. Like it or not, appearance matters, and boys will treat her differently depending on how she is dressed; the clothing sets a limit of sorts on what a boy sees as permissable, and so when he pushes the boundaries, as he will, it is good to have them set conservatively. And yet she finds the tank tops comfortable in the summer heat, and that matters too. Maybe we can compromise by finding her some tank tops with a shallower neck scoop.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


My memory of logic class in college is so clear and it seems so simple, but when I look for sources to teach my kids formal logic (or Boolean algebra), I can't find anything useful. Some books are so caught up in arcane terminology that they are pretty much unreadable. Other books are focused on critical thinking and only include formal logic as one aspect of it. And the largest selection of "logic" books are full of puzzles that are entertaining but have nothing to do with formal logic. The best options I've found are books on Boolean algebra for people interested in learning about computer programming - at least they are readable and coherent.

What I want is a book that explains, clearly and concisely, the ways to think about connections between statements: not, and, or, if/then. I want it to distill what I learned in the college philosophy class plus the logic I learned in math classes, so that I can teach my kids how to think carefully about the statements that they make or encounter. It's about thinking clearly and analytically, not about learning jargon or being able to deconstruct an advertisement. So far, I've found one book on critical thinking that has some chapters I can use, supplemented by a computer science book and my memory of set theory and Venn diagrams (which I love).

The other thing I want to teach them is the most common logical fallacies, or false arguments. I at least have a book that I can use as a guide for this, but it is bible-based so I will have to rework most of it before I give it to my kids. Fallacies are fun to spot in arguments, especially when kids can catch adults in them, and they lead to better thinking. I don't care if my kids remember that "ad hominen" means "against the man", but I do want them to recognize that attacking the person making an argument does not invalidate the argument.

Deconstructing advertising can wait a year or two.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Great Basin Wild Rye

The sod farm down the road has finished harvesting their Great Basin wild rye. The tall green leaves and narrow golden seed heads first gave way to windrows of mown rye, then after the combine followed the windrows, to hay. The sod farm grows the rye for the seed, which is used in native plant mixtures. When I first heard that, I was sceptical - I had never noticed it, so it couldn't be "native", could it? At least not around here. Either I have become more attuned to it or the farm has sold a ton of seed mix, because now I see it in ditches along lots of local roads.

But it looks like it is native: According to Plants of the Rocky Mountains, Great Basin or giant wild rye grows from British Columbia and Alberta to New Mexico - right across Montana. Wild rye seeds were used by some Indians for food; according to other sources, the plant is eaten by animals in the winter. More recently, it has become a favorite plant for xeric landscapers for its drought-resistance and its dramatic form. That drought resistance also makes it good for seed mixes for roads and reclamation projects - hence the sod farm down the road.

Smoke in the Valley

Last night, we had over 4/10 of an inch of heavy rain (along with wild lightning), so the air should have been clear this morning. But the smoke is as bad as it has been all summer; visibility is easily under 5 miles. As far as I can tell, almost all the forest fires are still to the north and west of us, and none are close - which means that the fires are pretty bad. Montana currently has 20 fires covering 256,829 acres, and only 4 of them are contained. Five of them are listed as 0% contained; one fire northwest of Missoula is listed that way "only because there isn't a lower number", according to a fire information officer. On the Forest Service map, the nation's fires are clustered in western Montana and central Idaho, with a few in Oregon and Washington. So as long as the wind is coming from the north or west, we will have smoke in the valley.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Cherry Crepes

I hate to admit it, because it's always more fun to keeping adding one more ingredient, but sometimes simple food is best. I am working through a 20# box of Flathead cherries I got in July, and decided to make cherry crepes with almond whipped cream - it was fabulous! To make them for 6 people, you need 12 crepes, 72 pitted cherries and the whipped cream (beat 1 pint whipping cream and 1 tsp almond flavoring until nearly stiff, then slowly add 1/2 to 1 C sugar, depending on how sweet you like it, while beating until stiff). On each crepe, run a soup-spoon's worth of whipped cream down the center, then place a line of 6 cherries on the cream, and roll up the crepe. Place two rolled crepes on a plate and top with another spoonful of whipped cream. Yum!

Sweet Pea Traffic

Against all odds, the construction crews got Main Street pretty well ready for Sweet Pea, and the parade was able to follow its accustomed route. The foot race before the parade had some challenges with routing on side streets, but it worked. The only unfinished project impinging on the festival was the foot bridge from the new library next to Lindley Park, which was supposed to be installed before the festival (an entrance gate there shows up on the Sweet Pea map); the bridge is in but the dirt work and paths aren't done, so the area is surrounded with construction fence. I'm sure it will be lovely next year.

Sweet Pea goes to great lengths to manage the parking of all the cars associated with the event. All the close-in parking is reserved for handicap parking and loading/unloading. The hospital allows them to use three of its lots, and a school bus runs back and forth between the lots and the festival all day. Shuttle buses also run around downtown all day, so you can ride from home if you live in the nearby neighborhoods, or you can park in the empty lots downtown and catch a ride. Or you can walk down the linear trail from the southside neighborhoods and end up right in the park. It's a pretty well-thought-out system.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Phone Numbers

For reasons I don't understand, phone numbers stick in my head, sometimes for many years. My kids have learned that it is faster to ask me for phone numbers than to look them up, even in a short list like a cell-phone's. I still remember the phone number of my best friend in second grade, even though I haven't called it in years. When I pull something like that out of my brain, the kids are more appalled than impressed (kind of like remembering the Frito Bandito jingle). Just don't ask me to remember what someone said two weeks ago - that I probably can't do.

Different phone numbers take different techniques to memorize. If there is some kind of a pattern with the numbers, such as 582-2044, it's easy and I may memorize the number visually in just a few phone calls. Sometimes I can find relationships between the numbers; I can remember 587-7049 by 7x7+0=49. If there is a good speaking rhythm, as in 585-5775, I'll remember it verbally. Other numbers are easier to learn by the dialing pattern, especially if they form a nice triangle like 3493. Some I learn kinesthetically, by writing them (or drawing them on my arm with a fingernail, if all else fails) repeatedly. And then there are a few numbers that I simply have to learn through brute force, by repeating them over and over until I remember them.

The problem with this is that I don't always memorize whose number it is as well as I do the number - so when I want to call the dentist, I still have to look it up to find a number that I recognize immediately.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Missing Hawthorns

The meadows in Bridger Canyon used to be edged with hawthorn bushes, which formed a transition between the grass and the aspen. Hawthorn grows about 6' tall in very dense thickets that cattle love to hide in on a hot summer day; they are in the Rose family and have woody thorns about 2" long, so horses and cowboys don't like to go through them at any time. Which may be one reason cattle love the thickets. However, in the fall, hawthorn make up for their barbarity by turned a wonderful orange-red that shades into purple; the contrast with the golden aspens and green pines is incredible, and has made Bridger Canyon highly photographed.

Hawthorn provides good cover for wildlife, and is well used by birds during the nesting season and when the fruit ripens. Hawthorn also has a long history with people, filling many roles besides cattle-den. It is used for herbal remedies, especially for heart problems. "The Greeks and Romans linked it to hope, marriage, and fertility. Greek bridesmaids wore fragrant hawthorn blossoms, and brides carried a bough. The Romans placed hawthorn leaves in babies' cradles to ward off evil spirits. Christianity changed hawthorn's image dramatically. Christ's crown of thorns was reputedly made of hawthorn, and as a result, it became a symbol of bad luck and death." (Source)

A few years ago, the hawthorns in Bridger Canoyn caught a rust that killed off all the leaves. At the time, the local paper said that the rust wouldn't kill the plants; but the next summer, the branches were bare and no leaves grew. The rust might not normally kill the hawthorn, but it seems to have overwhelmed drought-weakened plants this time. Now the meadows are edged with grey bands that just get darker in the fall. New growth is slowly appearing, but it will be several years before the fall colors are spectacular again.

The interesting thing about the rust, called juniper-hawthorn rust, is that its life cycle requires two hosts to complete: juniper and hawthorn. The rust spends about a year and a half on the juniper, without doing much damage, then migrates to the hawthorn (or other plants in the Rose family, such as apple trees) for a few months. Without both hosts, the rust won't survive.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Forest Fires

I'm not sure it's worth being proud of, but Montana now has the highest-priority fire in the country, the Meriwether fire near Helena. We have the next three priorities, too. The fire season isn't supposed to start until August, but it started in mid-July this year and has been going strong since then; we have had smoke in the valley for weeks (but luckily no fires nearby). For a thorough listing of the state's fires, see Inciweb; click on any fire for more details and maps. The line of fires doesn't stop at the state border, and Idaho has been hit pretty hard, too; for a map of large fires natiowide, see this Forest Service site.

Montana is in its 8th year of drought (so long that it isn't news anymore), leaving the trees and ground pretty dry. On top of that, a wet spring was followed by a dry, hot summer, producing lots of grass and vegetation nicely seasoned for fires. I suspect that we have many more smoky days ahead of us.

For a great chart of historical precipitation, see this New York Times graphic from 2002; now if they would just bring it up to date so we can see how this drought compares to the Dust Bowl.

Dill Beans

My daughter and I made 12 pints of dill beans yesterday. I forget how long it takes to cut all the beans to the right length for the jars - my knees and back were sore by the end. I also forgot to get dill and couldn't find any on my emergency run to the grocery store, so I used dill seed; I hope it works properly. But it was cooler yesterday, and that helped.

For 12 pints of dill beans, get 6-7# fat, straight beans (right...) and cut them to the same height as the canning jar (I find that wide-mouth pints are a perfect fit for the beans). Heat 8 C. water, 8 C. white vinegar, and 3/4 C. canning salt to boiling. Place in each sanitized jar 1 garlic clove (peeled) and a head of dill (or teaspoon of dill seeds, if you are too unorgnaized to get dill), then pack the beans in as tightly as possible. Pour the vinegar mixture over the beans and top with seals and rims. Process in boiling water for 15 minutes.

Trimmings from long beans can be blanched and made into a nice salad with diced carrots.

Caution: If you haven't canned before, don't consider this a thorough recipe - it isn't. Please use a good source for canning, like Joy of Cooking.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hot Spell

July had 21 days with high temperatures of 90 degrees or higher; the last five weeks have had 25 such days. That is way too hot for western Montana! Normally we don't have more than about 10 days of this hot weather. At least the nights are starting to cool off.

Green Beans

I needed veggies for a family dinner Thursday, so I went to the smaller Farmer's Market last night to stock up (I forgot on Saturday). What a bonanza! I stopped at three stands and left with plenty to keep me busy today. Thanks to slightly cooler weather and determined watering by the farmer, I was able to get salad mix again. I also found more artichokes (and learned that they grow all summer, as long as they are being cut, so I may have plenty of time to experiment with them). Fava beans, green onions, and lots of carrots found their way into my bag. But the bonanza was green (and yellow and purple) beans - the first I have seen this year. I bought ten pounds for eating and for making into dill beans. I'll blanche some and combine them with the carrots for tomorrow night; that and a salad should provide something for everyone. I'll can the rest, as soon as I can find my other box of pint jars.

Summer Traffic

Summer is the time I always start thinking about moving to a smaller town, maybe even someplace less scenic. After the lull that follows college graduation, tourist traffic comes as something of a shock. Suddenly the main roads are packed and it takes 25% longer to get anywhere. Add to that the fact that summer is contruction season and Bozeman is growing, and you have a recipe for a truely ugly driving experience. Our downtown is under construction, with not one but three projects going on; if we are lucky, Main Street has one lane of traffic each way. Worse yet is the changing pattern of side-street closures: just when you think you know how to wend your way around the Road Closed signs and get where you are going, they all move and you have to go around and around again, trying to figure out today's pattern. I'm starting to feel like a rat in someone's experiment on how much confusion drivers can stand and still drive well.

The cherry on top is Sweet Pea. Every summer, the festival takes over the east end of downtown with cheerful chaos. This year will be more chaotic than usual, since at least one of the construction projects was not timed so as to be done in the area during the festival. One of maybe three critical chokepoints for festival-goers headed to Lindley Park is nearly closed off; I have no idea how the parade will get through the intersection. With luck, the contractor will get things cleaned up in time for the weekend. I would cheerfully avoid downtown this weekend, but one child is in a performance for the festival, so I'm stuck. I will just have to remember that being stuck in traffic is a chance to practice Zen calm...