Sunday, November 27, 2022

Jar of Goodness 11.27.22: Dormer Siding

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for our newly re-sided front and back dormer windows!

The front dormer doesn’t look much different, except much, much better. The workers covered up the old white asbestos siding with white vinyl siding. The new green fascia looks fantastic, too.

The back dormer looks substantially better, too, plus a lot different. For as long as anyone can remember, it has been “sided” with asphalt shingles. In 2006, we had our previous (awful) roofers put shingles onto it. But real siding is a much better choice. It’s also appropriately lined, beneath the siding, now.

The back dormer looks different, too, in that the new siding is kind of a sage green. We’ve been used to be being the same dark green as the shingles, but there aren’t that many choices in siding colors. Anyway, we love it.

So, YAY!

Another thing checked off our to-do list.

WHAT will we be thankful for next week?? Tune in and find out!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Florence Biffle’s Sweet Potato Bake

Happy Thanksgiving!

This fantastic yet simple recipe, titled “Sweet Potato Bake,” is from Mrs. Florence M. Biffle (1914–2006), who was a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Jefferson City. I recently found her obituary online. I’ll bet my Great Aunt Lydia Meyer knew her well, since she was a longtime member of the same church and was also a quilter. Also, I’ll bet my Grandma Schroeder and Great Aunt Minnie Bartlett new Mrs. Biffle, too, since they were all longtime members of Jefferson City’s Hawthorn Garden Club.

I never knew Mrs. Biffle, but I feel I could easily have known her. There’s a good chance I was in the same room with her at some point, and just never knew it. Anyway, I’m grateful to her for this recipe, and for these small connections between our worlds.

I noticed she was buried out at Hawthorn Memorial Gardens cemetery, so in a few weeks when I'm out decorating Grandma and Grandpa Renner's grave, I'll see if I can find Mr. and Mrs. Biffle.

This recipe was on p. 49 of Cooking with Faith: Favorite Recipes of Faith Lutheran Church Women, Jefferson City, Missouri, by the Faith Lutheran Ladies Guild, Jefferson City, Missouri [ca. 1975].

This is an interesting, fruity-glazed alternative to the standard (and I think tiresome) sweet potato casseroles made with brown sugar, pecans, and marshmallows, so common at the Thanksgiving table. I think you’ll really like this for a change of pace.

I’ll offer my tips and suggestions after the recipe.

Sweet Potato Bake

Cook 4 to 6 sweet potatoes until almost tender. Skin and cut to desired size (chunks). Place in a casserole dish.

Combine and bring to a boil:

1 c. apricot nectar
2 T. orange juice concentrate (not diluted)
½ c. brown sugar
1½ T. cornstarch
1 t. salt
½ t. cinnamon
2 T. butter
½ c. water

Pour over the potatoes and bake 30 to 40 minutes at 350°F.

Julie’s notes:

You can peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into chunks, then cook them in gently boiling water if you don’t want to bake them. I have also steamed them, and that works, too. But don’t overcook the potatoes; remember they will be cooking for another half hour in the oven.

I use a 9 x 9 Pyrex baking dish. You will cook it uncovered, so what begins as a liquid dressing reduces to a gooey glaze over the potatoes. Pull them out of the oven when the sauce is gooey enough for your taste.

The dressing mixes up most easily if you first combine all the dry ingredients together before adding them to the liquid.

Kern’s Apricot Nectar, which is no doubt what Mrs. Biffle had in mind, used to be available at all the grocery stores around here, but I haven’t seen it in years. I think the company’s out of business. There’s another brand called Jumex, but I’ve never seen it except online. I’ll bet it’s something to look for at an international store. Both seem to contain high fructose corn syrup and other less-than-desirable ingredients. But it’s no problem if you can’t find apricot nectar. Just take some canned apricots and some of their juice and puree it in a food processor or bullet blender, so it gets to the consistency of a thick “nectar” type juice. You only need a cup. A bonus of doing it this way is that you can decide how much corn syrup to include (since you are selecting your can of apricots—in heavy syrup, light syrup, or whatever). You can even puree the apricot pieces with just water, if you want.

There's no reason you couldn't use dried apricots, simmered in water until they're perfectly soft, then process those in a bullet blender or run them through a food mill, to make them into a liquid puree. I suppose that would be healthier. But I think using canned apricots with their corn syrup is more authentic to the midcentury church ladies cooking style.

Do-ahead tip: You can put the peeled, precooked potato chunks and the uncooked sauce into the casserole dish, dotting the butter on top, covered with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Or out on your unheated sunporch, if it’s cool enough. Finish it in the oven the next day.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Jar of Goodness 11.20.22: Artemis I

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for NASA’s Artemis I.

“We are going back to the moon.” Did you watch the launch of Artemis I Wednesday morning? It was worth getting up early to see! If you missed it, you can see the official NASA broadcast on YouTube here. And here’s a link to NASA’s Artemis I web page.

All the pictures of this post are screenshots from the YouTube video, or else they are photos of that video playing on my computer monitor. Because sometimes you want to remember what it was like, personally, to participate in this event.

This Space Launch System (SLS) and spacecraft (Orion) are designed to get people to the Moon and back, and eventually allow people to travel from the Moon to Mars. The Artemis I mission is un-crewed, operated by programming and remote transmissions, as they’re testing the system before sending living people up in it. It’s also multitasking with several other experiments and stuff.

The biggest deal on Wednesday was the SLS—the massive rocket system that launched the capsule out of Earth’s atmosphere and into space, heading toward the Moon and beyond.

The launch system is simply fantastic. The liftoff was intensely dramatic—like watching a volcano erupt, but on cue and perfectly in control: “Three, two, one, boosters and ignition . . . And liftoff of Artemis I! We rise together—back to the Moon, and beyond!”

After about 1 minute after liftoff, the rocket was going over 600 mph, with 8 million pounds of maximum thrust. About 20 seconds later, it was 1,420 mph. Just 2 minutes and 11 seconds after liftoff, the two solid rocket boosters had done their job and were jettisoned. Soon after that, the rocket was traveling at more than 3,400 mph.

Three minutes into the launch, the speed was 4,060 mph; after another minute, it was up to 5,200 mph. At 5 minutes, the speed had increased to more than 6,800 mph, and a minute later to 8,800 mph. At T+06:20, the speed had exceeded 10,000 mph, and at T+07:00 it was up to 12,000.

Then, after 8 minutes of flight, the main rocket engine cutoff occurred, and the core stage separated from the Orion capsule, which was then considered to be in Earth’s orbit. After that, in following days, it would continue on to the Moon. At the point of main engine cutoff, the speed was more than 16,000 mph.

Do you know how orbiting works? Think about it this way. If you hold a ball in the air and then let it drop, it falls straight down to the earth, thanks to gravity. If you flip the rock sideways a little, it still falls to earth, but it follows a curved path. If you throw or pitch the rock a little harder and faster, the rock travels farther, and its curved path is wider. If you shot the rock out of a cannon, it would travel even farther, tracing an even wider curve, before falling to earth. But what if you shot the rock so fast and far that its curved, falling path actually matches the curvature of the planet? It would continually be falling . . . but it would never fall to earth.

By the way, the current land speed record is 760 mph. The air speed record (by ducted jet engine aircraft, within the atmosphere) is something like 2,193 mph, set by a Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” Mach 3+ jet.

The Orion spacecraft, with its 26-day mission, will eventually take a far-distance elliptical orbit around the moon, traveling a maximum of 280,000 miles away from Earth and 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon. That’s substantially farther than the 1970 Apollo 13 mission, during which the astronauts traveled a maximum of 248,655 miles away from Earth.

This is a big deal, you all! Yes, we’ve sent amazing remote-controlled equipment into space, to Mars, to Jupiter, and beyond. . . . And as for crewed space flights, the various space shuttles and space stations have all remained in low Earth orbit. No humans have truly gone out into space since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Exploring is what humans do. Learning, identifying, describing, making connections, questioning, making predictions, testing, understanding, recording, and communicating about it . . . that’s what humans do. That is our superpower. It’s our ministry. It’s in our DNA.

We are the portion of the Earth that is programmed and equipped to allow Earth to see and try to understand itself. We animals are its eyes, brains, and conscience.

And are you excited that NASA is pointing out, strongly, that the Artemis missions will land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon? You should be. It’s an indication that we’re not stuck in the 1950s, even though some people seem to think that’s where we should return. So including all types of our nation’s people in the space program is a strong signal that everyone in our country is encouraged to contribute—because diversity is our nation’s strength. And we need to get back to that thinking!

. . . So that we can rise together!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Jar of Goodness 11.13.22: Sunporch Storm Windows Done

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for having the storm windows be up.

I’ve blogged about our storm windows before, and you know I have mixed feelings about them. Enough that we’ve come to rate each spring and fall transition to and from screens and storms on “the cussometer” scale. Some years, it’s been an 8 on the cussometer. This year, Sue gives it a 0.5, which is about the lowest it’s ever been. “It went just like clockwork.”

The fall operation involves moving furniture and blinds on the sunporch to clear space for the operation. Removing the screens (blissfully lightweight) and wiping down the sills and other framework. Hauling the storms out of the coal bin (which is a storage area in our basement), and cleaning them. Carrying them out the basement doors, up the steps into the backyard, across the backyard, up the porch steps to the porch. Fitting them into place. Putting everything back together.

A subcategory is putting the storm window in the porch door, which involves a screwdriver.

Another subcategory is using a screwdriver to stuff styrofoam insulation noodles and bits of fiberglass into the gaps. It really makes a difference on windy days. I’ll get to that this next week.

Another subcategory is removing screens and putting in storms (plexiglass) into our front storm doors. I did that yesterday. That has its own kind of cussometer.

But regarding today’s project, I gave it more of a 3, since my left shoulder’s been painful, and it just seemed like more of a chore—something I really didn’t care to do.

BUT having it done is a lovely thing. Being able to have the sunporch windows all closed means it can be more like a little greenhouse out there on sunny days, even when it’s cold outside. We will get some more weeks, or at least days, of being able to enjoy the sunporch.

And Lois is going to be able to enjoy sleeping in the sun in the mornings.

I said I have mixed feelings about these elderly storm windows. No one today still has heavy wooden storm windows that have to be hauled in and out of place each year. In all honesty, it’s a bitch. They’re unwieldy. We’re always having to futz around with them. (This year, one of the hooks came out of the wood, so we’ve got to fix that.) Why not get modern, expensive, do-everything windows that stay in place 100 percent of the time, and you just, like, open them temporarily, if they came with an openable, screen feature? (Wait, do people open their windows anymore?)

The answer for me has something to do with that sense of transition. It feels completely different out there, now, with the storm windows in place. It’s not breezy and open anymore; it’s cozy and protected. The outdoor sounds are muffled. And there’s a genuine feeling of warmth—like having that first bowl of ham and bean soup on a crisp fall day. There’s a perfection, and a rightness, to it.

Likewise, it’s a real pleasure to switch them to screens in spring. Suddenly, it’s like being in a treehouse! I feel a sense of glee—like if you have a convertible, and it’s the first day you can drive with the top down!

But also, why would we need to replace something that isn’t exactly broken?

Monday, November 7, 2022

You Say Apothem, I Say Opossum

Today I am sharing with you a little blast from my past. Have I always had a thing about opossums? No, I tell you, NO! I’m a cat person!

But then, thanks to the miracles of social media, I recently reconnected with my geometry teacher from ninth grade, and she graciously supplied me with images of a spoof geometry textbook a friend and I had concocted and gave her as a present.

Was it a present? In it, we poked fun at math, geometry, and her. The joke were all stupid. It is a testament to her good-naturedness and easy sense of humor that she was able to laugh with us. She could see that creativity impelled our spoof, not anything that resembled real dissatisfaction with the subject, the class, or our teacher. (Indeed, we all adored her.)

And she actually kept our little gift after all these years. Seriously, it was spring of 1981 when we finished up ninth grade and geometry class.

So, it was two of us who made our little spoof geometry book. Here’s what we looked like in 1981.

And here’s our spoof alongside a copy of the actual textbook we were using. Notice that I reversed the design of the original book. (How did I do that? Did I use a mirror?)

I’m omitting the names of everyone here to protect both the innocent and the guilty, plus I’m long out of touch with my co-conspirator. He might be a lawyer or politician or something these days, or even have some kind of respectable career, and we don’t want his shady, geometry-ridiculing past to haunt him. What if he became a mathematician? Horrors; he might never live this down, you know?

But when you’re a ninth grader, how can you not make fun of stuff like sober, humorless definitions of the things like “lines” and “points”?

And then they go and name something in geometry an “apothem.”


Come on! They were just asking for it.

There’s a HILARIOUS photo in our junior high yearbook (yes, where I found the old pictures in this post), no doubt taken within five minutes of the picture of our geometry instructor above. It shows four of us while we’re sitting in geometry class. WHAT is going on with our expressions? We look despondent, horrified, bored, disbelieving! Yeah, that’s my head in the upper left, and it looks like I’m rolling my eyes. (Yeah, I have eye alignment problems in a lot of old photos, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the case by ninth grade.) It just cracks me up! Seriously, we didn’t usually look like this in class. At least, that’s not how I remember it. Maybe some other math classes, but not geometry. We all liked geometry.

Okay, maybe we were reacting to a student photographer being in our class. Or maybe it was our usual look about an hour after lunch. We all ate hamburgers, hot dogs, or pizzas, with french fries and a sea of ketchup, every day at lunch. It’s a wonder we didn’t get scurvy. (Or indigestion.) But this was just months before ketchup was deemed a bona fide vegetable, so maybe we were ahead of our time.

I’ll have you know that I did okay in math, including geometry. It’s true, however, that one year of high school math was as far as I got. Boy-howdy, that was my limit. So I jumped for joy when I successfully tested out of math in my college entrance exams, so my undergraduate GPA didn’t have to suffer. Hallujah!

Anyway, remembering this spoof book (and others I did later on) makes me think that a career in book publishing maybe wasn’t such a stretch for me. The surprise might be that I went into editing instead of graphic design.

Because, yeah, there were more. In high school English class, when we had to go to the school’s Language Arts Resource Center and check out paperback copies of whatever novel we were supposed to be reading, I’d always select a copy that had a completely destroyed cover, or one that was missing.

I would use some card stock and some pens and watercolors to sort of reconstruct the book cover, but I’d do something different. Like when we read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, I copied the cover design exactly, but I had my copy say “As I Die Laughing.” I’d use contact paper to laminate the new cover and affix it to the book. I was really careful. These were sound, decent book covers . . . except for the spoof. I can’t remember any others, but there were a lot of them.

I’d always nonchalantly return them to the LARC at the end of the unit, with a perfectly straight face. I’d make sure my copy wasn’t on the top of the stack, however. But what were they gonna do to me? They were actually in better shape than when I’d gotten them. When I checked them out, I’d note “Condition: no book cover.” When I checked them back in, well, now they had a cover!

Today I wonder how I had the time to do all this nonsense . . . but look at me blogging now, about this and that.

. . . Everyone needs a hobby, huh?

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Jar of Goodness 11.6.22: Little House Books

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.

Dad’s been clearing out their garage and giving me boxes of children’s books and other items of my childhood. He’d packed them away so well, it’s kind of difficult to get to them. Thus, here I am in my fifties, receiving boxes of my old stuff.

I told you about the old Nancy Drew books. Well, I also got a box containing my old Little House books.

I read these in elementary school, too. I didn’t read all of them, however. I owned four of them and only read about 2.3. The two that were most engrossing were Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek. I only got partway through By the Shores of Silver Lake before giving up on it. My old bookmark, in which park-ranger Snoopy encourages us to prevent wildfires, was still in place.

Why didn’t I plow through the whole series? . . . I think it was because the books started to focus on social situations, frontier technology and town-building, and sewing. It might also have been that the Little House television show quickly went from amazing (in my kid view) to sickly sweet.

In the books, I liked the parts about spunky young Laura, who walked around in nature, barefoot—in the prairie, along the creek—and noticed things. Kind of how I did as a kid. I was always looking in creeks. Like Laura, I was always peering under creek rocks to see crayfish.

. . . Or wondering at the beautiful glinting snow, or marveling at the array of wildflowers that grew, for free, in the woods.

I distinctly remember reading part of On the Banks of Plum Creek one sultry summer afternoon at Columbia’s Camp Takimina, then the local Camp Fire camp. My parents were probably helping do some kind of maintenance with other adults. I sat on the camp’s one wooden bridge, my feet dangling over the little creek. Then I set the book down and walked around on the big, flat, smooth limestone rocks that formed the creek bed. I saw tiny black toad tadpoles moving around in the water. There were water striders, too.

You never know what things will influence you in certain times of your life. You can’t predict which influences will be profound, or in what ways. Somehow, I never outgrew my childhood curiosity about nature. Rereading Laura Ingalls Wilder recently has reminded me how important those books were for, well, empowering my sense of agency, my willingness to explore, to have outdoor adventures.

Or, let’s put it this way: if I had read these books, and not been able to follow-up with my own outdoor adventures, I would have been frustrated indeed. Instead, I had our backyard, the big drainage ditch and creek behind our house, and Mrs. Ridgeway’s property nearby. And my parents were always taking us on hikes.

So it has been a blessing to reread these Little House books, aloud, with Sue. We discuss them as we read them. And we will continue reading them, including the ones I hadn’t finished reading way-back-when. We will buy the books I didn’t have, and we will plow through all of them.

And then, perhaps next spring, when we ((((finally)))) have a new, reliable car, we can visit Mansfield and see the house where Laura ended up. Who knows, maybe we can do a trip to South Dakota and Minnesota, to see the sights there. Why not?