Summer’s here y’all

The temperatures are venturing into the 90s. The tomatoes are loving the hot weather and warmer soil. Plants that get watered regularly are greening up and leafing out while those that don’t wither and brown. And the mosquitoes. They multiply exponentially every day. So we wear our bug spray, and we search for those amazing bits of summer that can happen in our corner of southeastern Oregon. We watch the mama grebe usher her young onto the creek and teach them how to seek out a meal. We catch the iridescent flash of a humming bird as it dashes to the feeder to chase off some competition. We see massive black beetles waddle across the ground. We marvel at the nighthawks that sit parallel to the tree branch or fence post instead of perpendicular like every other bird in existence. We yell “boom, little buddy!” when the terns take a dive in the creek. We study the frogs that have found a cool place to sit under the swing set. We pick and eat ripe red strawberries off the vine. And on those days when the storm clouds gather, we wait in anticipation for the lightning to strike and the thunder to clap. Summer is here.

A view of the road on our daily walk.
We planted a bunch of strawberries and didn’t expect much of a yield this first year, but we did get a few!
We have apples beginning to take shape on the apple trees in the orchard.
Hot peppers in the hot sun.
Frog in tree
This little guy likes to sit among our potted trees.
These roses are a burst of color in the orchard.
And we have spinach.
The resident egrets have returned for the season.
We planted these columbines last year, and they never bloomed, but they overwintered and are beautiful this year.
A cabbage head begins to form.
I love the dragonflies. Don’t they look like something out of “Jurassic Park”?
Iris sunset
The irises were plentiful this spring. They were waning a bit at this point, but still work well with a pretty sunset in the background.
These two are certainly ready for summer. Boys in hats. Gotta keep the sun off the face, ears and neck. And don’t forget the sunscreen!


Friday Flix: What we’ve been watching

It’s been a while. I kept feeling like I should post something about the whole Bundy takeover of the Malheur Refuge but every time I went to write something, writer’s block struck. Then I wrote something that will probably forever stay locked in the documents folder of my computer. The whole thing is still a bit raw. In truth, I’m still processing it. So instead here’s an entertainment roundup of what we’ve been watching in the last couple of months. Considering the serious nature of the recent wildlife refuge occupation, our viewing habits have been decidedly light for the most part (with the exception of “True Detective”).

JurassicWorldJurassic World: Fun, frothy entertainment about a dinosaur theme park one generation removed from “Jurassic Park.” The operators of the new park have the whole thing down to a science, which thrills patrons by allowing them to interact with real dinosaurs. Think a cross between Sea World and a zoo, but with prehistoric behemoths. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, the career-driven woman who runs the park from the lofty vantage of her sterile high rise office. So we know she is ripe for a come-uppance. Chris Pratt (who will forever be Andy from “Parks and Rec”) plays the seasoned velociraptor trainer, Owen, who is forced to help Claire deal with the chaos created by scientists playing God with dino DNA. Claire’s nephews add a little levity to the situation when the dinosaurs are inevitably let loose. But of course, they also provide plenty of CHILDREN IN DANGER moments to create forced pathos from the audience. I thoroughly enjoyed the CGI dinosaurs, and while the plot was a bit derivative and the characters were stock stereotypes, it was a nice two-hour diversion.

SanAndreasSan Andreas: A movie about a giant earthquake swallowing up San Francisco could hardly be considered light. But hey, it stars Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, so you know it’s not going to be an Oscar contender. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Rock, but he is known for more action-oriented films than period dramas. On the action front San Andreas does not disappoint. The CGI is so believable you’ll feel like the impending disaster is about to break through your living room walls and engulf your house. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen. However, a side plot involving The Rock and his ex-wife felt shoe-horned in and was completely unnecessary. There are plenty of DAMSEL IN DISTRESS moments and the Rock’s movie daughter has a few heroic moments herself. Gotta say I really enjoyed this one too. Just know that it is what is. No apologies.

VacationVacation: If you’re up for an hour and a half of potty humor and sight gags (which I totally was) then this is the movie for you. An update of the original “Vacation” (1983) starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, this one stars Ed Helms and Christina Applegate. And the film’s whole premise banks heavily on the likeability of its stars, so thank heavens Helms and Applegate fit the bill to a T. As Rusty Griswald, Helms is a nice guy who is tired of the jerks of the world having all the fun. He decides to recreate his childhood road trip to Wally World, dragging his somewhat reluctant wife and kids along for the ride. As Debbie Griswald, Applegate has just the right blend of skepticism and spontaneity. She’d rather vacation in France, but since Rusty’s so gung-ho, she’ll make the best of it. Older son James and younger son Kevin were cast perfectly. James is at the dorky stage of adolescence, and Kevin’s potty mouth will shock those of us who grew up in households where “shut-up” was considered a bad word. It’s one horrifying misadventure after another, and I laughed out loud more than once. That’s a win in my book.

TrainwreckTrainwreck: If you’ve never seen comedian Amy Schumer’s stand-up, I’d recommend searching her out on YouTube before you watch this one. Her brand of humor is one of those that you will either love or hate. She is sexually frank and upfront about things most people would not own up to in polite conversation. And she’s hilarious. This film basically takes all her stand-up routines and puts them in a coherent rom-com format. She plays a single magazine writer who plays the field and can’t see the benefit of a long-term relationship thanks to growing up with a Dad who couldn’t stay faithful to her mother. I liked the relationship between her and her sister. That felt realistic to me. Her relationship with celebrity sports doctor Aaron played by SNL’s Bill Hader, not so much. Hader is a likeable enough guy, and funny in his own right, but I simply didn’t buy him as her love interest. But I suppose that’s OK. This is Schumer’s movie, and she shines enough to overpower the elements I didn’t like.

TrueDetectiveDVDCoverTrue Detective, season 1: This one is dark folks. But I’ll admit that I couldn’t wait for the successive DVDs to arrive after we’d watched the first 3 episodes (yes, we are stuck in the dark ages out here with no streaming, it just eats up too much data). Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson star as a pair of odd couple type detectives partnered to work a ritualistic murder of a young woman in rural Louisiana. The show works because the pairing of McConaughey and Harrelson is pure genius. It’s a who-dun-it told in flashback with McConaughey and Harrelson playing older versions of themselves looking back on the case, so the show’s continuity is all over the place and yet, oddly compelling. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is a hot mess with a tragic backstory and a deeply wary view of the world. He’s such an intriguing character that I think the writers must have felt like they hit the jackpot in writing his dialogue. Harrelson’s Marty Hart is a troubled family man with a wandering eye. His easy-going persona bumps up against Rust’s cynicism, and I loved the interaction between the two characters. The mystery of the case is interesting and macabre in its own right, but it is the interplay between these two detectives that will have you coming back for more.

In addition, we’ve been watching PBS “Frontline” episodes on fantasy football, childhood poverty and terrorism. Our guilty pleasure has been FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” So now I want to know, what are you watching?

New Year’s bonfire

2016 bonfire 02

We decided to start a new tradition by having a bonfire on New Year’s day. We had a bunch of branches that needed to be burned, so we added our Christmas tree to the pile. We bundled up ourselves and the boys to brave the 4-degree chill and lit the match at dusk.

2016 bonfire 04

As the light in the sky faded and the fire grew bigger, it made an impression on the boys.

2016 bonfire 03


It’s a new year, a fresh slate. Welcome 2016!

2016 bonfire 01



The coolest thing we saw today

The deer moved in this fall and think they’ve found a sweet deal in their new digs. This is everywhere.

Deer scat

It’s in the road, all over the meadows, scattered across our front lawn, in the fenced backyard. You can’t walk 10 feet without running into deer poop. Which also means these are all over:

Deer Tracks

We’ve seen a group of does with a 3-point buck. But the other morning we were having breakfast when DJ’s jaw dropped and he pointed at the window (sorry for the reflection).

Deer window

“Deer,” he said quietly so as not to scare it away. That’s how close it was – literally a few feet away from the window and us inside the house.

“Big deer,” Li’l E said.

It was easily the coolest thing we saw that day, all while sipping our morning coffee.

Deer Buck
Can I join you guys for breakfast?

Fall details

There are so many things I love about autumn. In one last burst of glory the trees shed their colorful leaves much like revelers slipping off their costumes after a ball. The greenery of summer turns into the khaki of fall. Color leaches from the landscape as everything steels itself against the coming winter. It’s time to start adding an extra layer or two as we get ready in the morning. And scarves and hats make their way back into rotation. Hot tea and cocoa replaces iced tea and lemonade. Comfort foods like chili and a hearty chicken noodle soup appeal to the senses. As the holidays approach, we anticipate fun times with family and friends. It really is a good time of year.

Here are some shots from around our place of the changing season.

2015 Fall wood
We’ve been stockpiling wood and just had our first fire this last week.
2015 Fall leaf
A colorful leaf caught in some field fence.
2015 Fall creek
Green fades to brown along the creek.
2015 Fall thorns
Thorns on a rose bush.
2015 Fall leaves
Leaves collect next to the front step.
2015 Fall rocks
Leaves and rocks and feet.
2015 Fall rose bush
Remnants on a wild rosebush.
2015 Fall pumpkins
Halloween pumpkins hang on a little longer.
2015 Fall Lil S
Li’l S checks out an old iron wheel in the orchard.
2015 Fall mulch
Li’l E plays in the mulch covering the potatoes.


Friday Flix: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury RoadI really didn’t think I would like this movie. I think I was a little prejudiced from what I knew (or what I thought I knew) about Max Max movies from ’70s and ’80s. So imagine my surprise when I not only liked this film, I loved it.

For a movie that is basically one huge car chase, “Mad Max: Fury Road” also packs an emotional punch with the amazing Charlize Theron acting as the soul of a movie that could easily have been a mindless action thriller. There are some truly ridonkulous moments, but if you can suspend your disbelief long enough to accept the crazy world that is Mad Max, you will accept the ridiculous and perhaps even embrace it by the end of this epic road rage trip.

We meet Max as he is being chased by an insane roving band called the War Boys. They capture him, but not before he puts up quite a fight. They bring him back to their city, which is … bizarre. They live in a system of caves called the Citadel ruled by a tyrant called Immortan Joe. In this post-nuclear holocaust world the desert landscape stretches far and wide and water and greenery are highly prized. Immortan Joe hordes both of these things, which maintains his power but creates much animosity between himself and the rest of the people who reside at the Citadel. Another thing in short supply is gasoline. So Joe sends one of his lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa, on a mission to lead a caravan to collect more fuel. Theron plays Furiosa with such steely focus that at first you’re not sure which side she is on. But it soon becomes apparent that she’s got her own agenda when she veers off course on the gas run. She’s done the unthinkable and taken Joe’s most prized possessions, his five wives. Upon discovering this, Joe is enraged and assembles a war party to chase down Furiosa.

The imprisoned Max, played by Tom Hardy, gets caught up in the mix as he has been designated a universal blood donor and is being used to give transfusions to a sick War Boy. Max is literally attached to the War Boy by a tube and so inevitably has to go on the war path when Joe amasses forces to go after Furiosa. The action from here on out is relentless. The urgency of Furiosa’s mission is palpable and the tension between herself, Max and the wives is ever present. There is very little trust between anyone in this post-apocalyptic world where resources are so few. You look out for yourself or you are dead. That is why Furiosa’s self-imposed mission to free Joe’s wives is so interesting. Along the way, Max develops a begrudging respect for Furiosa, and she in turn appreciates his help but also his ability to stay out of her way.

This movie could have been all about Max saving the wives from returning to Joe’s clutches, but it truly was about Furiosa and her female agency. This was her movie, and I appreciate director George Miller’s trust in his characters and the viewers to let it be Furiosa’s tale. It ended up being a far more intriguing story that way. Hardy’s Max was actually an excellent foil to Theron’s Furiosa. After seeing her in action, he does the smart thing and lets her lead. He recognizes her capability and knack for survival and wisely steps back so she can enact her plan.

There was actually a lot left unsaid about Furiosa. For starters, she is missing a hand. How did she lose it? We never find out. Nobody ever mentions it, probably because she is just as capable with one hand as most people are with two. It’s just not an issue. How did she get to be a lieutenant in Joe’s army? We never find that out. She is an enigma. But her emotional intensity is what makes us like her. She is nearly invincible yet somehow vulnerable. She is almost a mythic figure in the physical feats she accomplishes and yet, she is down-to-earth and practical in her approach to saving the wives. She is a character worth building a franchise around, though I suspect they will continue on featuring Max in future installments seeing as how the films are named after him.

If you’re up for an unyielding road chase through an amazingly detailed desolate desert landscape with characters that are captivating and defy stereotypes, then “Mad Max: Fury Road” should be right up your alley. It kind of blew my mind, in a good way. Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

To can or not to can?

Our tomatoes came on late this year, but when they finally ripened, oh baby, we had more than we knew what to do with. We attempted a bit of canning last year with mixed results. A salsa recipe that we got from the local extension service was … interesting. The amount of vinegar in the recipe nearly rendered the whole thing inedible. So that was a bust.

However, we rallied and decided to try our hand at tomato sauce and that was a success. I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much work canning would be. When you start out with a big mound of tomatoes and end up boiling it down to fill five jars, it’s a little deflating. Especially when those five jars in the supermarket would cost you a little over $5. But we had five jars of very flavorful sauce and the knowledge that the tomatoes that we grew didn’t go to waste and were used in delicious sauces and other recipes during the winter … at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves.

So this year, in addition to tomato sauce, we also canned tomato paste and a roasted roma sauce that will pair nicely with pasta and spinach. In all, we probably canned about 70 pounds of tomatoes.

Here’s a little photo essay of our tomato sauce process:


In this instance, we started with about 8 pounds of homegrown roma tomatoes.


We removed the stems and rough chopped the tomatoes to let them soften and cook down on the stove for a bit.


Here was the problematic, messy part. We then ran them through a foodmill to remove the seeds and skins. However, the darn thing broke (the handle fell off) halfway through the process. So we did the best we could with what we had to work with. But it was a much bigger headache than it needed to be.

Empty jars

Once the seeds and skins were removed, we took what was left and cooked it on the stove until it concentrated a bit. Then it was time to fill the jars. We added a little salt and some lemon juice to each jar as per the directions.

Sauce in jars

Aren’t they pretty? Like I said before, it was a little disheartening to have all those tomatoes boil down to five jars. But it is what it is.

Boiling jars

The last step was to process the jars in boiling water to seal the lids and make them shelf stable.

As we live and learn here, we’d love to hear any tips you may have for canning, so feel free to sound off in the comments.





Next year’s garden …

Our tomato crop came in a little late.

We went to the local farmers market this year to sell some produce, jewelry and baskets. We originally envisioned our booth overflowing with beautiful, lovingly grown vegetables. Baskets of shiny red tomatoes, bags of crisp, dark, leafy greens, loads of corn and potatoes. Sweet carrots and peas that taste like candy. Well, that didn’t happen. And rather than sound like a whiner and complain about why we didn’t have the bounty we wanted, I’ll just say it’s hard to grow things out here. And yet … we are determined to learn from our mistakes. Next year will be better. The garden will be fenced with hardware cloth to keep out the bigger critters that do the most damage. We are testing our soil to see where our deficiencies (and strengths) lie. We will plant more garlic and potatoes and fewer salad greens. There will be more corn, more peppers, more fresh herbs. So we live and we learn and next year we will be back and better than ever. If you’re wondering what we’ll do with all those tomatoes pictured above, stay tuned. They’ll be a post on canning soon.

On a positive note, the cosmos that we grew from seed finally bloomed in September. It literally took all summer, but here it is. Beautiful, right?

Cosmos in bloom ... finally!
Cosmos in bloom … finally!


From bay to table

We recently took a trip to the Oregon coast to visit my folks and while we were there, we got to go crabbing for Dungeness crab (the best kind IMO). While we had a blast motoring around Nestucca Bay on a perfect fall day in the boat, the real fun came when we pulled up the pots full of tasty crab. Of course, we had to throw back most of them, which were either too small or female, but we ended up with 3 sizeable beauties to take home for dinner.

Here’s the journey to the table:

It all started with the boat, which belongs to my dad. He was kind enough to take us out early one morning to catch the incoming tide.Crab boat

If you want to catch some crab, you’re going to need some traps. These sturdy box traps allow the crabs to enter, but prevent them from leaving. They also keep the seals from stealing your bait (we used chicken) and crab.

Crab trap

These were the catch of the day! Aren’t they pretty?

Crab alive

We boiled them for about 20 minutes.

Crab pot

And when they come out of their hot bath, they look like this. Gorgeous.

Crab cooked

We like crab. A lot. We like it with some crusty bread and clarified butter, on salad with French dressing or just plain by itself. But one of our favorite ways to eat it is in cake form as in crab cakes. Here are all the ingredients, the most important being Dungeness crab.

Crab cake ingredients

We bake them in the oven on a cookie sheet, which is healthier than frying and allows us to do more than just a couple at a time in a pan on the stovetop. We use a recipe from Cook’s Country.

And then we have the finished product: crab cakes.



Crab cakes 2Give them a squirt of lemon and they are ready to eat. From bay to table. Easy as pie, or should I say cake?

Friday Flix: Longmire

longmire-season-3-dvd-cover-01We were a little late to the party on “Longmire,” a TV series set in a small Wyoming town about a sheriff and his small posse of deputies who solve crimes. There’s an inordinate number of murders that occur in sparsely populated Absaroka County, Wyoming. When we first discovered this series last year, I was instantly drawn to the strong, silent Sheriff Walt Longmire, played by Robert Taylor. He lives in a rural log cabin, drives a beat up old bronco, drinks Ranier beer and eschews most forms of technology, especially cell phones. Since his wife died, under somewhat murky circumstances, he seems to have isolated himself to the point where his daughter and staff are very concerned. Walt’s solution is to throw himself back into work.

The supporting cast includes Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackoff), a forthright young woman who is the deputy most often at Walt’s side when investigating crimes. She is devoted to Sheriff Longmire both professionally and personally, in ways that might not be completely appropriate for someone who is married. She is brash, acts first and asks questions later, which can get her into trouble. But I can’t help but like prickly Vic. Sackoff has created a multi-faceted character, and while I might not agree with her decisions, she always feels true to character. She’s tough but vulnerable, which can be hard to pull off for an actor.

Deputy Branch Connally (Bailey Chase) fills the role of the up-and-comer with his eyes on Walt’s job. He’s also got the sexy, brooding cowboy thing going on, but although he’s a bit more accessible than Walt, he lacks experience and knowledge of the community. Branch also comes from a wealthy family and is used to having things handed to him, something that is in direct opposition to Walt’s hardworking background.

Deputy Ferguson “The Ferg,” played by Adam Bartley, adds the comic relief as he is a bit of a bumbling clown, though he does things by the book and gets frustrated with Walt’s unconventional problem solving methods. I’m hoping they give Ferg’s character more to do in upcoming seasons because I feel like there is a good backstory there. Both Vic and Branch have had their stories fleshed out, but Ferg remains a one-dimensional character at this point.

Walt’s best friend is Henry Standing Bear, a Native American played by Lou Diamond Phillips. While Walt and Henry have a long-standing friendship, there is still quite a bit of animosity between Walt and the leaders of the nearby reservation. The tribal police don’t trust Walt or his department and go to great lengths to keep them off the reservation. I like that even though Walt is clearly the hero of the story, the Native Americans don’t see him as a savior who is going to solve all their problems. One moral, well-meaning white man is not going to erase decades of mistreatment. It’s a complicated relationship between the people of the reservation and the community of people Walt serves as sheriff. The grey areas between races are layered and steeped in this country’s history, and I hope the writers continue to treat it with care and compassion.

Based on the “Longmire” novels by Craig Johnson, the series ran for four seasons on A&E before it was cancelled. However, Netflix has picked it up for a fourth season! If you haven’t seen Longmire yet, it’s worth a look. While the episodes are constructed like a typical crime drama with the sheriff and his deputies solving a crime each episode, the greater character arcs do offer some originality. I can relate to the small town, rural atmosphere. The actors, particularly Taylor, Sackoff and Phillips portray their characters in a way that feels true to life. There’s nothing easy about the decisions they make, and that keeps me coming back for more.

We must not be the only ones. On a recent trip to Bend we were following a motorhome with plates from back east that had a bumper sticker that read “Honesty & Integrity, Walt Longmire, Sheriff Absaroka County.”