Moving Forward in a New Year

Before COVID began running unchecked in 2020 some creative friends and I had asked ourselves, “if you could go to one major class who was your dream instructor?” When you live in a sparsely populated place like Montana it almost always involves travel. Any creative class is a big dollar and time commitment. The group of had identified a couple of classes that crossed over all our varied interest that might have made a group road trip possible. The front runner was in October for four days and had two instructors, one from Arizona and one from the UK. Each of us was looking at how we might make it work in our personal circumstances. Instead in 2020 we stayed home. I had no idea what 2021 would bring, but travel did not seem like something on a plannable horizon. I knew I wanted a chance to expose myself to things that would challenge my creative bent. I choose to enroll in an online year long 28 instructor, 50 week journey with a focus on mixed media and art journaling.

I signed up in November for my 2021 online class. Immediately I got a series of bonus lessons that were there to help ramp up my creativity and tide me over until the class formally started January 1st. I did manage to complete all but three of the preview bonus lessons. I also took this time to look at my personal art supplies and tried to figure out what I had, what I did not have, and what substitutions I could make. I researched and compared finally buying a new art journal for the year.

Each month there is a topic or theme for the next four weeks. This month it was “Reflections.” The first lesson was taught by a mixed media artist from the UK. Her suggested theme was reflection on the previous year. Her techniques was a combination of things I had done before and was very comfortable with and a couple of things that I had to say hold on a minute, before I tried it. In the end I worked my way through all the techniques.

In the end I chose not not look back and reflect but capture my mantra for looking forward into 2021: “This Moment. This Life.” I wanted to focus on the moments and not allow myself to get hung up on big things such that I lost a connection to the amazing moment I was in. I wanted to focus on mu life and what I could do to make it better and let go of things that I can’t impact. This image does not show or capture all the layers that went into this journal page. Mixed media and art journaling tend to have layers of creativity that contribute the the end project, but are not obvious to the viewer. I had been exposed to this in other classes I had taken and often use some of the early layers as an opportunity to get my creative juices going and build on ideas.

One of the pre-class instructions was to find a black and white image that you felt captured how you felt about 2020. I found this in a magazine and fell in love with it. It is a man who appears to be moving very deliberately forward. He is carrying a satchel that looks heavy and for me he is carrying his history, good and bad. It spoke to me and I felt it was perfect not knowing exactly what it was going to be used for when the supply list came out the week before the class. In the end it was just what I needed on my journal page.

Another of the instructions was to add journaling to your page. Usually I write it freehand in a flowing cursive. Sometimes I use asemic writing leaving it up the the reader what they see an what it means. In this case I chose to add words that I had printed. They captured works I am hoping for as we move forward. A keyword journal if you like.

I enjoyed the first class. I learn some things and was encouraged in my art. There was focus on the process but always leaving the door open for you to find your own way. There are several places and ways for the students to share their work. I really like this because it is amazing to see how so many people see and hear the same lesson and yet their work looks nothing like another’s, but you can see things that let you know that they were in the same class as you. It will never be as good as being there in person, but it is better than doing nothing at all.

I finished this before the attack on the capitol. I worried that some folks would read things into this. I debated about going ahead and publishing this post, but decided that I would. I decided that I can not control what others think, nor can I let myself be silenced by worry about things out of my control. It is one of the many times I will chant to myself my 2021 mantra, “this moment. this life.”

Year of the Walk

We are approaching the end of a year of challenges we never imagine. Some of what happened this year was under our control, but other things were clearly out of our control. COVID insured that everyone had things happen this year that were not included in their plans. This year we often were asked to stay home when possible and practice “social distancing” when we could not. It was the year of the pandemic which will be the cornerstone of so many memories regarding 2020. For me this resulted in 2020 being the year of the walk.

We live in rural Montana which gave us lots of advantages over those who live in more urban settings when we were asked to avoid close interactions. I imagine lots of people became stir crazy and suffered cabin fever trying to be safe and smart. We had some of that as well. Even the best introvert needs some time with others, or at least not just those folks who are in the same household.

You can walk forever before you see a sign of another human being. You are also reminded how small you are in the universe and why they call Montana Big Sky Country.

Our first “stay home orders” came in March in Montana. Spring was coming early this year so we were able to bundle up and get out into the sunshine for our first late winter walks. Late spring and early summer brought some relaxing of the Montana standards for COVID protection. We followed what we felt was the science and kept our distance and avoided indoor venues when we could. We became walking crazies. We walked everyday, sometimes twice a day and rarely but it was not unheard of to walk three times a day. We were blessed and fortunate that we could walk out our front door and be assured we would not see another person. If we chose to go somewhere different it too was just a few miles from home with different scenery but no greater risk of running into some one.

Walking outside gave us Vitamin D which I am sure improved not just our bones but also our mood. We were more acutely aware of the changing of the season this year as well. We watched the days lengthen and late evening walks become possible. We felt the warm of the sun intensify as it rose further overhead.

Unlike parks in more urban areas, we were able to take walks and seldom see another walker.

When our first snow came in September we were reminded that we needed to prepare for winter to be more of the same isolation and distancing. The sun no longer warmed us to our core. The sunset was done and dusk set in by 5pm. It was then I talked to RangerSir about our plans for winter.

Our treadmill had died in early 2020 and we had planned on not replacing it until we got to our retirement destination. We like thousands of others put in an order early fall for a new treadmill. It arrived 45 days later just as promised. I’ll admit a treadmill isn’t like walking outside, but it isn’t Montana stinking cold nor is the wind cutting through your outerwear trying to free unnamed parts off. I still get out and take quick little walks outside, but my treadmill is a godsent for me. It allows me to keep active by eliminating the excuse of weather.

So 2020 will be remember for many things for all of us. In some way COVID impacted it all, but I am not going to let it define the year. One of the things 2020 was for me, it was for me was the year of the walk.

Connecting – New Ways, Old Ways, Always

Letters and written are my oldest form of communication that I can remember, outside of talking-. I have reflected on how my favorite way of connecting continues to be relevant today, postal mail.

My first memory of writing something that would be sent via the US mail was thank you cards. My mother was a stickler for them. We were not allowed to enjoy any gift until we wrote a thank you. It made for prompt writing of those notes. My grandparents could all expect written thank you cards for Christmas and birthday gifts. I remember it had to be at least three sentences. That meant you could not say thank you for the gift and call it quits. You had to tell them something about how you planned to use the gift, school or ask them a question. Grammatically those must have been some very strangely composed paragraphs.

When I was in primary school I had pen pals. Some of my pen pals were people I had met at Girl Scout camp. Others were strangers I picked out of the back of children’s magazines that had “pen pals wanted” (can you believe that in today’s world that was acceptable?) I may have had one pen pal as a school project. It was there I learned to love the written word. I loved to communicate with serious thought about composition and actually came to understand sentence structure and how to compose conversational prose.

I spent summers with my grandparents at the cabin. It was there I was introduced to the postcard. The cabin was a vacation destination and there were tons of picture postcards to pick from. I would pick out cards for my parents and my two sets of grandparents at home. It was on those cards every summer where I learned to tell as much about life as possible in that little spot for writing. I suspect that the recipients looked at my disjointed little notes several times before they made sense.

When I graduated from high school and moved away from home to Minneapolis, I continued to use mail as my main mode of communication. Money was tight and phone calls were expensive. I wrote letters to my grandparents on a regular basis telling them about my new life and adventures. My grandparents had been a significant influences on my life and I continued to include them as I found myself as an adult. Letters were a way that worked for both of us

Like may others I moved more to the phone as I grew older, but I never gave up the love of letter writing. The art of letter writing came back to me in full force when RangerSir started his transition into a new career. To get a job with a federal agency at the time required years of seasonal work. I continued to work my corporate job and he started to spend months away from home working at distances half way across the country. I ferreted out things to make my writing special. I found books of postcards, fancy stationary and cards to send to him. His assignments were in guard stations that had power, but no telephone. His home was a sort of bunkhouse that made use of repurposed guard stations and old trailers. To say they were minimalist is being kind. They were out in the woods. He came into town once a week to pick up mail, do laundry and shop for the week. Mail call was a big deal. We both have those letters in our stash of stuff we have moved from place to place. These letters allow us to look back and remember details of our lives long forgotten

Things sent via mail have the chance to last long past a life. One of the things I that was given to me when my Granny had passed away and her house was being cleaned out was a book of post cards. My great grandad, George Clyde, had worked for the railroad and the stories about him were few and generally not flattering. In this book there were postcards he sent home to his children. They were an amazing slice of life of man encouraging his children and providing guidance. They were sent from towns all along the Santa Fe railroad line where his job took him. I love to see his hand and read what he wrote. In spite of his flaws, he seemed to really love his kids. I never knew him, but when I read those I imagine his voice. This is a piece of history that was not lost. It was a piece of history I shared when I gave some of the postcards George Clyde sent to his daughter, to her daughter, his granddaughter. I hope that some of the letters that folks who have to leave their children as part of their job in today’s world will last and give view into people years later in ways that others can’t.

This pandemic has brought back an excuse for me to connect to folks via mail. Sending a letter via mail is a connection that can last long after the moment they open the envelope. It is a smile you can hold on to. This summer I made and sent cards reminding friends were not alone. Most recently I made cards for the eldering in nursing homes. I had worked in a nursing home when I was in high school. I knew the feelings of isolation they suffered in the best of times. I could not imagine the isolation they were suffering now. I made and sent cards to the activity director that could be used to give to a resident who needed the pick up, for a resident to send to another resident, or a resident would have a card mail to a family member that have not been able to connect with on the outside of the facility. I like to think that they made a difference for at least one person.

The holidays brought my annual holiday card making effort. I made cards, with RangerSir composed a letter and used software to create photo collage. It will be last major effort for the year. I am getting the same and am enjoying thinking about all the folks we have met and touched along our lives.

I haven’t yet thought about what 2021 will bring, but I am sure that for the near future it will be much like 2020 has been. I suspect it will include more cards and letters just to say hi and stay connected. It is really all about staying connected new ways, old way….always.

Everything Is Very Much The Same

I have been struggling with what to write about on my blog. I had great plans for what to write about as RangerSir and I explored life as full-time retirees. The places we would go. The decisions we would make. Things that turned out well and things that turned out completely wrong. Times we got more than we planned and times we got a good slap in the face from reality. Instead we got COVID and half the country “hating” those who don’t agree with them. It has made me hesitant to write about my ordinary life for a whole host of reasons. I know I am lucky compared to many other folks, so I did not want to flaunt my lot when so many others are struggling in so many ways. I did not want to say things that would start a firestorm of haters and trolls because I don’t need or want that. Days seemed the same to me and I could not imagine that my ordinary life would be something that someone else would want to read about. I could list many more reasons for why I haven’t been blogging. I have decided that is all about others and how they might negatively view what I write. I have missed writing, but have allowed myself to be talked out of writing. Today I am going to stop all that and start writing again. If I lose subscribers and my numbers go down I don’t care. All I want to do is share things that happen and maybe make you smile or feel like you can when you thought you could not. I want someone to think occasionally I could be in her shoes and that would be worse. I want to prompt someone remember something they forgot and relish the memory. So here goes a jumpstart on an old blog, by an old gal who just likes to write even if it is the ordinary.

In my last post I wrote about my half turkey that I was fixing for Thanksgiving. It is exactly what I did. Turkey dinner for two. I started the prep at the same time RangerSir’s family started the Zoom meeting. It was the first time we had spent the holidays with his side of the family in over 25 years. Family and friends were in all phases of celebrating the holiday. We had some folks who were in the late afternoon celebrating across the pond and we were the furthest west so I was just starting our half turkey. It was different, maybe even a little strange since some of the family were folks we had never met as there had been a couple of marriages that we had not gotten to be there to celebrate. The most interesting part is we were just putting our turkey in when we started and we were taking our turkey out as we finished. It was perfect timing and we really enjoyed the time spent with the family

Our zoom group for Thanksgiving of family.

We made the perfect dinner for two folks who have lived many places and not been home with family for years. We made Minnesota wild rice as a side. It is an old Minnesota family favorite that we had not had as part of Thanksgiving for a long time. I halved or quartered every recipe I made to allow us to have all the sides we thought necessary, but not so many leftovers it would create waste. I revised some recipes making them have a comfort food taste, while making it a healthier alternative. It was a grand adventure in cooking and planning to pull it off.

When RangerSir worked we ate dinner at the table most nights. Since he has retired we have gotten sloppy and started to use the dining room table for puzzles and other things. For Thanksgiving dinner we treated it like a proper meal and set the table. We used Granny’s good silverware and the bank giveaway crystal we collected when we first got married and only get out for special occasions. I dug out the table cloth that we only use when we put a leaf in the table. We spared no extravagance for the special day.

Dinner for two.

I must say we missed folks that we are usually with for Thanksgiving but we did enjoy our dinner together. We talked about many things and it was perfect in its own way. We were thankful for one another and our bounty that was both present and absent.

So I am back blogging. I will share with you thoughts I have as we plug through the adventures of life even when they are quite ordinary. I appreciate your time and support.

New Way of Thinking of Thanksgiving

With the current crazy wave of COVID most of us are choosing a new type of Thanksgiving gathering this year. For most folks it will be a smaller gathering. Just your immediate family. Just your household and one or two friends. It will be different that is for sure.

One of the greatest challenges is how to scale back a holiday that is laden with more food, friends and family than almost any other time. It is full of long standing traditions for every family on what we must do and have. So the idea of making a Thanksgiving dinner for less than six is hard to imagine. You have spent years getting the biggest turkey you could find. You have juggled ovens and timing to get it all done at exactly the same time. Doing the holiday smaller may seem daunting. Scale back may seem reasonable for some things and others elements smaller may seem impossible.

Turkey is one of those things that just doesn’t scale down. However one thing you can do is have your grocery store meat department cut your turkey in half down the breast. I have been doing this for years. There are lots of advantages of having a half turkey this way. It takes less time to cook. You get an assortment of white and dark meat. You don’t need a roaster or huge pan; instead you can use a sheet pan.

Two halves of a turkey, each having one half breast, thigh and the famous turkey leg.

Be forewarned that there are some grocery stores that don’t have meat cutters on site or meat cutting equipment. Our local Walmart has neither. Our local Safeway does have meat cutters working during core business hours. We also have several local meat markets that will be able to help you as well. You need to be prepared to take both halves of the turkey. So if you have a deep freezer this idea will present no problem. If you don’t look for a friend to split a turkey with you.

This half turkey makes and easy turkey dinner.

Another option is to opt out of turkey for some other meat. Chicken is an obvious choice because you can stuff it. Don’t let that be your limit there are game hens and duck. Or maybe you do chicken all the time because it seems to be a healthier choice, so go wild and do beef or pork.

My mother, a high risk individual, is not going to anyone’s home for Thanksgiving, and she doesn’t want to risk any of her children coming to her place. She is geographically unfit for me to take dinner to her. I have come up with a different solution for her. The local grocery is going to have ready-made dinner for pick up on Thanksgiving day. She is going to have plenty of food and lots of left overs, but the grocery store feast promises to be provide her with the essentials for a Midwest Thanksgiving dinner.

I encourage you to look around if this avenue sounds interesting to you. My mother lives in a little town of 4,000 people with one grocery store. I was surprised at the options they have. You may be surprised what your local grocery store will offer.

Another option would to to do pickup from a local restaurant. They sure could use your support right now. It is another case of you not having to cook and having all the special trimmings you want.

One of my dear friends will be doing a turkey picnic on the beach for two. Her food will have elements of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. When you list the recipes you see Brussel spouts, turkey, cranberry, corn and bread but it is all updated. It sounds like a wonderful alternative to a woman who is looking out the living room window as a the wind howls and the third winter storm of the season blows over the mountain.

Maybe what this year is in disguise is an opportunity to update our Thanksgiving traditions. This is being said by a woman who Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. For years I hosted the holiday and rented hall tables and chairs to seat all my friends and family who came from near and far. When I no longer did that I was included with friends as part of their holiday traditions and large gatherings. This year it will just be RangerSir and I. I am just fine with this. It is a moment in time when despite all the changes I have so much to be thankful for.

Is Your Hobby Genealogy or Family History?

With all the new technology people are taking DNA tests to find out about their genetic make up. As a person who has worked on my family history since the miniseries “Roots” I would say DNA is a third line of family research tied a little into both genealogy and family history.

Thousands of people are suddenly interested in where they came from. They want to know more about their family. I am all for it. I believe it is important that we preserve our family stories. They are being lost as generations ahead of us pass on. As the keeper of the story in my family I find that there are members from the next generation starting to asking me questions about who we were and what we did in history. I think that important when sometimes what I am repeating is nothing more than family legend.

Family legends are one of my favorite things because it is an oral history. It is what our family tells about themselves to the next generation. Sometimes, but seldom is it wholly based on the truth. Details have been left out because they are forgotten or someone sanitized our story. Embellishments have been added because someone wishes the tale was a little more like the story they tell. In spite of the fact that I have found oral history to be only somewhat factual, I always record them as they are told and reference them as a family legend. I think that name bestows on them the honor they deserve. Recording it as it is told will also provide clues to actually trace the story. Almost every family legend is based on some fact. That brings me to family history.

Family history is the story the facts tell about our family. Everything recorded as family history has something to prove that what we said is based on fact. Not all facts are equal. Firsthand facts are from the folks who participated in the event or had direct knowledge. Second or third hand facts are from others who probably know, but were not there at the time of the fact. A birth certificate is usually a firsthand fact of a birth date because the doctor was there. I have often found that the birth date on a death certificate is wrong. That is because it is from a child who assumes they know Dad’s birthday, but he lied when he joined the army in WW2 and he has stuck with the story since then . My favorite family history is when you find some one in your family changed their occupation or moved, because census records have shed an unknown fact. It is when I discover this, that I start looking for more information. I am looking for what made them move, why did the take up a new occupation in a era when people did not change jobs as often as we do today. Family history is more than just birth, marriage and death dates if you let it be so.

Genealogy is about tracing your linage. It is about “who am I related to?” My family legend said we were direct descendants of the Morris men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I spent time tracing the Morris men to see if we had a connection. It was completely false. I kept the legend but added a foot note at the end letting folks know it was no more than wishful thinking. No one talked about anyone in my family having served in the Revolutionary War, and yet that was a connection I made accidently after many years of research. It was fun to order up my ancestor’s military pension records and learn much more about his family and service. Some people just want to trace births, marriages and deaths. They want to make those linage lines and connections. It is another different way to study your family. Genealogy can also be used to help support and document your family history.

The latest family research type is DNA. DNA is interesting because we all imagine we are something…Irish…German…Native American. Yet for the most part it is mostly legend. DNA allows us to see if there was ever that Irish ancestor in our family. DNA allowed me to unexpectedly prove that the family legend was not true and what my facts told me was the truth as correct. The legend told me that my Grandad from Oklahoma was significantly Native American. His looks and facial features supported that. There was a family legend that a Great Uncle caught his mother with a man other than his father at a young age. There were no facts to support this nasty tale. So DNA provided me with the opportunity to look at this in a differently light. The DNA results showed neither my brother nor I had any Native American genetic markers. So it is another family legend disproved and the DNA results boosted my factual research.

Winter coming on strong and fast. I can’t imagine that my cautionary behavior is going to change any time soon. So like previous winters I plan on spending time dusting off my shelf of family history and revisit my brick walls, holes in my history, and documenting where I came from. I am also hoping that I can connect to others who may be keeper of a story I have yet to hear.

Exploring Cooking

In these times of hunkering down and staying close to home there are reports about ingredient shortages as folks apparently starting cooking more from home. Many folks out there are first-time cooks, while others returned to their roots and made family favorites. There were folks who took up cooking to take some sort of control over all the craziness out there. Others took up cooking out of necessity to stretch their shrinking budgets. I’ve always cooked at lot from scratch for both enjoyment and for better health. Staying home was not going to change that, but it did.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love making pies.

My cooking style was influenced by my grandmas, all three. I came from a blended family and I had an amazing group of women who influenced my life in so many ways. They all brought something different to the table in my cooking experiences. One of my grandmother’s belonged to a cookbook club and made one new recipe a week for as long as I could remember. So experimental cooking seemed to me to be the norm. Another of my grandma’s was the queen of comfort foods, feeding others, and was well known for her pie skills. She gave to me the importance of sharing food with others and the ability to make pastry by gut instinct. My third granny lived in the city and she exposed me to all sorts of foods with her statement that I had to try two bites of everything on the table. It was a taste palette expansion I don’t think I would have had any other way.

Pandemic cooking has brought two things to our home. Learning to really cook for two and making meals that I had never imagined before. RangerSir always was a trouper about eating leftovers and trying new things. I have always loved to browse cookbooks looking for something new to make. Unfortunately for me my collection of cookbooks is old and full of tried and true, but not much new in there begs to be tried anymore. Cooking magazines are outrageously expensive so they are a very rare guilty pleasure. Lucky for me Amazon “gave” a full year of The Food Network app away just after the lock down started and I suddenly had more recipes to try than I had days in the week.

Half of a chicken dinner done on a sheet pan. Thank you Marc Murphy of The Food Network

The Food Network started me thinking about foods I didn’t really use and provided me with new recipes without breaking the bank. We would watch a food show while we ate lunch. Sometimes it was a “What???” moment and other times it had us thinking we should make that. This chicken was suppose to be a spatchcock chicken cooked on roasted vegetables. Once I split the whole chick down the back bone and flattened it on the pan, I got to thinking ‘why am I cooking both haves at one time?” I put the second half in the freezer for another day. The roast vegetables included leeks, something I saw in the store many times. I had always bought onions, shallots and garlic so did I really need leeks too? This recipe got me to try them. They are one of my new favorites to add when doing fall and winter root vegetables. There are now a staple and no longer shy from recipes that call for them.

Another fun thing about using a TV network show is it has turned into a group effort cooking. I know I can print the recipes, but that makes it a one sided affair. Now days I am in the kitchen prepping foods and RangerSir is assigned remote control. His job is to stop, rewind and start the video as I get out of sync with the TV chefs. It makes this cooking a joint effort and we laugh at ourselves in this crazy synchronization of making dinner. He always asks about the food we eat and this way he is much more informed because he was part of the cooking in a way.

Are you cooking more during these times? If you’d care to share I love to hear about what you are making.