Category Archives: Personal

Persecution: a chilling reminder of the Holocaust

Persecution: noun. Hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race, political or religious beliefs

Today I hiked up to Portland’s amazing Japanese Garden. Close by is the small but extremely poignant memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

Almost 25 million civilians perished in Europe in World War II, almost 6 million Jews and millions of others [homosexuals, liberals and intellectuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, labor leaders, etc.] fell victim to racial hatred and premeditated murder carried out by Nazi Germany and its collaborators…  Hitler blamed these people for the country’s post- WWI woes and promised stability.

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At the memorial are bronze castings of the things that the men, women and children had to leave behind as they fled for their lives (only to die of starvation or gassing soon after). A doll, a broken violin, a book, a boot and some spectacles, a teddy bear.

These were people who lived and loved, worked and played, just like you and me. Am I being melodramatic? Maybe. But enough hate has been unleashed since the election of DT that we see America’s underbelly. The man himself is a narcissist and sociopath with zero compassion for others. Nor do the people he wants to appoint instill any faith in me.

Someone named Elliott Lustzig wrote about Hannah Arendt’s book on the rise of totalitarianism what  a couple of days ago:

Decent liberals in of 1930s Germany would “fact-check” the Nazis’ bizarre claims about Jews, as if they were meant to be factual. What they failed to understand, she suggests, is that the Nazi’s Jew-hating statements were not statements of fact, but declarations of intent. So when someone would blame the Jews for Germany’s defeat in WWI, naive people would counter by saying there’s no evidence of that.

What the Nazis were doing was not describing what was *true*, but what would *have to be true* to justify what they planned to do next. 

Did 3 million “illegals” cast votes in this election? Clearly not. But fact-checking is just a way of playing along with their game. So… Trump may be saying that 3 million illegals voted, but what he means is: I’m going to steal the voting rights of millions of Americans.

This has already happened in several GOP-led states where they’ve used voter ID laws, restricted voting sites and restricted voting hours, to make it very difficult for minorities, immigrants, students and the poor to vote.

Fact-checkers are exhausted trying to keep up with the blizzard of lies coming from Trump and his representatives. And they don’t give a fuck.

Yeah. I’m upset.

Prunes! er…dried Plums!

Prune: A plum preserved by drying, having a black, wrinkled appearance

Plum: A prune before it’s preserved by drying…

Around the first of September the Italian plum trees begin to drop their fruit and I swing into harvest frenzy.

A block up the street from my house are two derelict plum trees I consider my own. Every morning I make my way up the hill to “my” trees, with a couple of plastic bags that once held the morning paper. I call the trees mine because the absent owners of the lot they sit on seem neither to care either for the trees nor their produce, but I do. If I don’t collect the plums they just rot and get eaten by ants, birds, and yellow jackets.

Picking plums is like hunting Easter eggs, because the plums hide in the tall grass under the tree like so many blue-frosted Easter eggs. (Prune plums aren’t ready if you have to pluck them off the tree; they have to drop. Commercial pickers shake the trees.)

I come home laden.I make one batch of plum jam each fall (the best jam in the world), then transform the rest into prunes.You slice them in half, remove the pits and place them on racks in the food dryer for a couple of days per batch.

Since I don’t use any chemicals on them, I bag them up and keep them in the frig or freezer.Prunes are of course famous for helping with “regularity”, but in more recent years nutrition experts extol their anti-oxidant content.

Whatever. I love them. My family loves them. My friends love them. A baggie of my home-dried prunes or a jar of the jam is a cherished hostess gift or stocking present.

I know I said that my favorite dessert in the world was blackberry cobbler, but I forgot my other favorite dessert: plum kuchen.Keep reading: the recipe is at the bottom of this post.

Yesterday I drove past MY trees on the way back from an errand and noticed someone standing under one of them.She had her hands full of MY plums. It turned out to be my dear friend Kathi!

“What are you doing picking MY plums?” I demanded.

“Have you got a baggie in your car?” she responded. “My hands are full and I’ve got a ways to walk yet.”

Kathi and I are going to have to duke this one out. She can go find her own damn tree because there are other derelict prune trees in the ‘hood. In fact Clark County WA, where I live, used to be one of the top prune-growing areas in the US. No kidding.

These trees are vestiges of an agricultural crop that sustained the area for about fifty years starting in the 1880s. By 1900 more than 435,000 prune plum trees were producing 819 tons of fruit a year. I’m not sure whether that was fresh or dry weight.

Prunes were popular because they could be shipped long distances without spoiling. Records from that time suggest that 75% of the crop went to Germany, Austria and Poland.They sold for fifteen cents a pound until after World War I.

After the 1930s California began producing prunes in greater variety and more cheaply and local business declined. A World War II embargo banned shipments to Germany. Then an insect infestation destroyed many orchards, and growers turned to other crops.

Most of the old trees, including mine, are still small, gnarly, sickly. Most are missing at least half their branches, and the branches that remain are often dying or thickly covered with small branches known as water spouts.

And yet, every fall the miracle happens – perfect purple plums plop from the tired old branches – and I am so grateful.

Plum Kuchen (from Gourmet Magazine, ca 1975)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Sift together into a mixing bowl:

2 c. flour
2 T. sugar
½ t. salt
¼ t. baking powder

With a pastry blender or two knives, cut into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks mealy:

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter.

Pat an even layer of the mixture firmly over the bottom and halfway up the sides of an 8” square baking pan. (I prefer an 8” round spring form pan – when you remove the side it looks more like a French tart.)

Over the bottom pastry, arrange:

1 lb. Italian prune plums, halved and pitted.

Sprinkle the fruit with a blend of:
¾ c. sugar
1 t. ground cinnamon

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Beat together and pour over the fruit:

1 egg
1 c. sour cream
,.

Continue the baking for 30 minutes longer. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Purple poop: blackberry season

Purple: adj. a color intermediate between red and blue

Poop: n. excrement (but you knew that).

I’m a blackberry addict (and not the phone).  As much as I love eating blackberries, my addiction is actually to picking them…

I know when they’re ready for picking without tasting a single one; I just look down at the sidewalk near my house and see purple seedy bird droppings. From the color of the walk, we’re now at the height of the season.

It’s Blackberry Central here in the Pacific Northwest.  The bushes (Rubus, spp.) can be found wherever the dirt remains untended in vacant lots, by the road, along the walking paths. They are hardy and ingenious plants, doing whatever they can to ensure the survival of the species.

The long vining branches take root wherever they touch the ground – and with a plethora of thorns they protect these rooting branches from their human enemies who would destroy them.

To prevent the thicket from becoming too thick, blackberry bushes use their fruit to entice birds to spread the gospel far and wide.  In a bird’s belly, the berries mix with certain chemicals that help the seeds germinate once they hit the ground in plops of purple poop.

Over the years farmers have bred fancy berries that have no thorns, that are plumper, that are bigger – but IMHO none of them can compare to the deep flavor of the real “wild” thing.  Some of the most important commercially grown brambles are actually blackberry/red raspberry hybrids. Think Boysenberry, Loganberry, Marionberry and Youngberry.

Blackberry picking is part treasure hunt, part dance, part meditation. First you have to find the right bushes. Some look promising as you speed by in your car, but when you return later with the pail you discover that the berries are dessicated, under-ripe, or much less accessible than it first appeared.

New rule: However tall you are, the best berries dangle just six inches higher than you can reach.

If you find a good spot, and no one has beat you to it, you have to activate special berry sensors. The best berries often lurk just out of sight a few inches into the bush, so you have to “be with” the bush for a few minutes before your eyes calibrate on your tender targets. Your fingertips ever-so-gently palpate each berry to feel if it’s plump enough to pluck.

But no grabbing! Carefully rock the berry off its stem. If it resists at all, it’s not ready. If one of the drupelets near the stem is still red, the berry will be sour. Leave it. (A berry is made up of a collection of fleshy drupelets, each one encasing a seed.)

Retrieving berries without ruining your clothes or shredding your skin is where the dance comes in. Counter-intuitively perhaps, it’s best to wear a short-sleeved T-shirt (unless you’re picking at dusk when the mosquitoes are out).  This way you can snake your arms into the bush past the thorns without getting snagged in a bunch of fabric.  It’s a dance.

Time stops because you can think of nothing else when you’re picking berries. You have to be totally present to do the dance without getting hurt. You have to be totally present to sense and corral your prey. And finally, if the briar-patch is big enough, the quest keeps on, and on, and on.

“Just this one more cluster…”

“Oh, and THIS cluster… ”

Once a season, I make my favorite dessert of all time: blackberry cobbler. Served warm with vanilla ice cream. Omigod.

I freeze most of the berries, though, so I can enjoy them on my cereal through the long winter, reminding me that summer will come again.

Les petites palmiers – treat from Trader Joe’s

Petite: adj. French word for small

Palmier: n. a crunchy, buttery, slightly sweet multi-layered French pastry

Deux petites palmiers et un rose

Deux petites palmiers et un rose

I am addicted to these little pastries.  Although they’re wonderful with coffee, I prefer something more healthful for breakfast. So I have one (two? they’re small…) for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up with a cup of Earl Gray tea.

TJ’s sells them in a box of ten (twelve?), and they stay fresh for at least a week – maybe more – but they don’t last long enough around here to test that hypothesis.  Fortunately for my waistline, TJ’s is all the way on the other side of town, so I only get over there occasionally.

In the regular grocery store I never buy prepared foods because I do a much better, healthier and safer job of cooking from scratch. But I always find myself succumbing to TJs treats.  Have you had their cashews coasted with a spicy Thai lime seasoning??  Their little cookies … like the triple ginger, or the lemon wafers. They have the best canned tuna anywhere (in olive oil). Don’t get me started.

I always leave TJs happy, feeling like I’ve been on a great hunting expedition and scored!  This guy’s illicit TJs video “commercial” pretty much says it all:

Pickin’ Peas

Pickin’: v. vernacular for harvesting fruits or veggies

Peas: n. heavenly spring legume

The freshest peas ever

The freshest peas ever

My friend Judi is away and asked me to mind her Ps (no Qs).  Last night I walked up there with my little pickin’ basket and minded those Ps right into my basket.

Not as easy as it might seem. It’s hard to judge the pea inside by the fatness of the pod.  I picked about 20 pods that looked and felt right, but when I popped them open, some were still semi-fetal.

“Sorry, babies,” I said to them, feeling like a second trimester abortionist.

Nonetheless, I dropped them all, semi-fetal and mature, into boiling water for about 30 seconds, drained them, added a bit o’ butter, a pinch of sea salt and a grind of pepper ….

OMIGOD.  Like eating sweet green caviar. Their round shapes roll nicely on the tongue and then pop when caught between my upper and lower molars.  Total yum.

Props for crops

Prop: n. something that holds up or sustains

Pole bean props - with twine

Pole bean props - with twine

With the help of my ex, I’ve created the necessary support systems for my bean-crop-to-be. Two 7′ pieces of scrap wood and four screws (cost $2.48) are now screwed to my raised bed, and soon the vines will be hauling ass up the strands of twine till they’re way out of my shrimpy reach at harvest time.

My family is famous (in our tiny circle of string bean fans anyway) for our Blue Lake pole beans. My parents grew so many that I swear my mom spent her entire summer slicing them (on the diagonal, if you please) and blanching them for a freezer full.

I’m not big on frozen beans but I make a mean dilly bean.

—–

Other crop prop projects:

My ex and I also encased my four LOADED blueberry bushes in a cage of bird-proof netting. The bushes are about six feet tall and at least that wide. This year I’m going to have to borrow freezer space again because my freezer will be berried out by mid-July.

I’ve encased my tomatoes in cages, which they will overrun within a month. Why do they make them so wimpy?

Finally, my ancient grape arbor is tottering under the weight of an unusually hyperactive vine. I’m going to be inundated come September. Maybe this year I’ll figure out an easier way to make raisins… (wine??). Meanwhile, after hacking back the grasping tendrils, I harvested a bag full of tender grape leaves I’ll try brining.

grape arbor

Panorama of paradise: Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge

Panorama: n a complete or unobstructed view of a wide area

Paradise: n. a place or state of bliss, felicity or delight

Eat your heart out. This is where I was on Saturday:

Columbia River Gorge from Dog Mountain trail

Columbia River Gorge from Dog Mountain trail

The Dog Mountain trail is one of the very most beloved in all the Gorge – particularly when the wildflowers are at their peak, which was this week.

Everybody and their brother (and some of their dogs and kids too) were on the mountain, but rather than seeming crowded, it was like a jolly meetup. Everyone greeting each other, encouraging each other, sympathizing with each other.  The encouragement and sympathy gush forth because it’s a dog of a hike.  Pretty much unrelentingly UP – like 3000′ in 3 miles.

Slow slogging... only halfway there

Slow slogging... only halfway there

Most people use hiking poles (land version of ski poles) to take some of the burden off the thighs and knees, and on the way down to brace you lest you slip on little rocks.

Any excuse to stop is a good excuse. Water, photograph, shoelace adjustment…

Photographing a hillside of balsam root in bloom

Photographing a hillside of balsam root in bloom

It was a glorious sunny day and you could see way down the river both east and west. At the top you could also see Mt. Hood poking up behind the Oregon palisades, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier off the back sides of the mountain.

Mt. Rainier, looking north from the top

Mt. Rainier, looking north from the top

We got to the top around noon, and joined a happy throng having lunch and savoring the opportunity to sit. Problem was… how to get up again.

About half way down my legs got so shaky I was afraid they’d just give way, so I stopped often to admire the flowers:

Balsam root, lupine, indian paintbrush, snow-in-summer, buttercup

Balsam root, lupine, indian paintbrush, snow-in-summer, buttercup

Truly the Gorge is one of the most awesome places in the world, and this hike on this lovely day was something I’ll never forget. My quadriceps won’t either.

President Peter: Rev. Morales heads UUA

President: n. leader of an organization – by election, appointment or personal decision

Peter: n. my old friend Rev. Peter Morales

Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President!

Just returned from Salt Lake City, where a couple thousand Unitarian Universalists from around the country convened for their/our annual General Assembly or GA. Although the workshops, talks, worship services and meet-greets are always worthwhile, this year I went to pimp for Peter – working on the campaign to elect him president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

And he won! Decisively – with 58% of the votes. I call him “Pope Peter”.  (“President”  is the closest UUs get to pontiff status.)

A combination of factors that led to his victory, IMHO:

  • A clearly articulated platform, with specific goals
  • An opponent whose platform was fuzzy and vaguely stated
  • A richly varied background of multicultural experience ( including in the business world), world travel, education, success
  • Skillful ease with public speaking – without notes
  • Personal charm and sense of humor

I was particularly invested in the campaign because it was I who first brought Peter and his family to a UU church in 1994. The exposure took, and the rest is history.

Now the real work begins. Ours is a venerable but TINY denomination, not natively given to evangelism. Either we grow in numbers and presence or watch ourselves become an interesting footnote in American religious and intellectual history.  The budget has been slashed by 20%.  So whatever gets done, must be done with less.

I send him white light…

Piano paralysis

Piano:  n. a musical instrument having steel wire strings that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard

Paralysis: n. loss of the ability to move a state of powerlessness or incapacity to act

Our piano

Our piano

[Cross-posted from Getting to Less…]

The piano is a dying fixture in the American home.  So claims a recent story in the Los Angeles Times.

105,000 acoustic pianos (upright and grand) were sold in the US in 2000. By 2007 sales had plunged to 54,000.  Given today’s economy, we could be chopping them for firewood in a few years.

People are buying electronic keyboards instead – keyboards that are light, portable, and include attachments that control the furnace, shampoo the carpet,  and flip pancakes.

This is very bad news for me.

I am the keeper of a 1936 Steinway baby grand – a gift from my mother to my son, who is a talented pianist. Maybe I should say was a talented pianist. We refurbished it at great expense and he played the heck out of it from age 11 till he left for college in 2001.

A few months later I bought a too-big home  because it had a living room spacious enough to accommodate his precious piano which he would return to claim any minute.

Right.

First issue: he’s scarcely touched it in eight years, even when he was living at home the last few months.

Second issue: he’s globe-trotting for the forseeable future. A baby grand will not fit in his backpack. And when he returns it will probably not fit in some shoebox bachelor apartment either.

Third issue: my own future cottage/condo/shoebox won’t have space for a piano unless I put a mattress on top of  it and call it my bed.

There’s so much history with this piano. My grandparents bought it for my mom as a college graduation present  ($990 for the piano, $10 for the bench = $1,000 total).  She taught singing for 70 years with it,  playing it so much the brass sustain pedal was worn to a nub.  My two sisters and I  shed tears of frustration on its (real) ivory keys at our daily practice sessions.

After being refurbished and refinished the piano was appraised at $40k.

Needless to say it’s one of the biggest and most emotionally loaded THINGS that must be dealt with in this downsizing process. Not to mention  the deep pain in my heart that my son’s connection to the piano seems to be over.

He and I need to have a little talk about the piano’s future…

Meanwhile here’s more from the LA Times story…

The piano has been the center of many American homes for generations, not only a proclamation of a love of music but also often a statement about striving for success.

“In a very traditional sense, the piano did stand for something. It was a symbol of mobility, moving up,” especially among immigrant families, said Joe Lamond, president of the International Music Products Assn., based in Carlsbad and known as NAMM. Some real estate agents still will move a piano into a house that’s for sale to class it up, he said.

In many homes these days, a piano isn’t so much a musical instrument as it is just another piece of furniture.  ….

In the 21st century, the acoustic piano seems to be a relic of another era. Jeffrey Lavner, a piano teacher at the Colburn School in downtown L.A., puts it this way: “I think piano playing is a little like black-and-white movies.”   [ouch!]

…   Many forces have contributed to the acoustic piano’s troubles. Start with electronic keyboards and digital instruments, with their improving quality and alluring gadgets such as metronomes, USB ports, headphones and recording devices. Not to mention their generally lower price.

“We live in a digital age,” said Brian Majeski, editor of Music Trades magazine. “You have to redefine the instrument.”

And in a time of foreclosures and downsizing, the expense of a traditional piano — which can run from a few thousand dollars to $100,000 or more — may seem untenable, especially for a child who may be eager to play but has no track record in the rigors of daily practice. What’s more, for students, there is ferocious competition for the hours between school and sleep: Homework or video games? Soccer or ballet? Facebook or TV?

In a survey of piano teachers conducted in 2005 for the Piano Manufacturers Assn. International, 89% said that the primary reason a child drops lessons is “too many other activities.” …

Pink peonies

Pink: adj. a color blend of  red and white

Peony: n. a flowering plant native to Asia, southern Europe and western North America. Most are herbaceous perennial plants about 3′ tall, but some are woody shrubs up to 6′ tall. They have compound, deeply lobed leaves, and large, often fragrant flowers, ranging from red to white or yellow, which bloom in late spring and early summer. They love it here in the Pacific Northwest.

Yesterday a friend brought me an amazing bouquet of pink peonies from her garden when she came over for lunch. These are peonies with profuse petal and perfume power.

Peony petals

Peony petals

The fragrance from this glorious bouquet perfumes my whole entry area:

From Flossie's garden

From Flossie's garden