November 2011

Today the Pathfinders had an off-season yard sale. We usually have one on the Monday of Memorial Day Weekend, but since we’re trying to raise money for our trip to the Holbrook Indian School, we decided to have an extra one this year.

Va and I did manage to spend some time yesterday in the basement going through our junk – errr… treasure. We rounded up four boxes of goods to donate. We are glad to have that out of the house now.

Other than having the sale on Black Friday, the other thing we did that was different was to use some big YARDSALE signs. We made these on Sunday after our Pathfinder meeting. We had a bolt of white cloth leftover from our last yardsale, and I thought a good use of that would be to make a couple of signs. This was way better than having kids stand out by the road with poster boards. They tend to position the signs such that a person across the street could read it, vs a person driving along the road. By hanging these huge signs on our kitchen shelter, I didn’t have to worry about that. We used fabric paint, but I think latex would have worked well too. I sewed up the ends Wednesday evening and added grommets to the corners yesterday. Unlike the poster board approach, these signs will be reusable.

And we did pretty OK! We didn’t have as much traffic as we usually do, but I attribute that to it being an off-season yard sale event. And even though traffic was not heavy, we had very respectable receipts.

I am not going to push for a yard sale every Black Friday though. It’s nice to have some down-time built into the schedule.

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)
That lily pad looks like a halo.

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos)
I saw these ducks at Sandogardy Pond today. I heard them before I saw them. They did not seem to have any fear of me (or Penny) whatsoever. Penny had no interest in them either, as she was busy bringing me sticks. While I was insistent in photographing the fowl, she was insistent about me throwing a stick. She barked several times, and the ducks just sat there. I was less than 20 feet away from them. That is nice because my camera doesn’t have a very good zoom on it (too much zoom makes a grainy photo).

I took about 50 shots, and I think these three are the best. Penny and I set out for the house, and when we got there our Thanksgiving feast was nearly ready. And it was good. Penny didn’t get any because turkey makes her unbearably gassy! I gave her some stuffing though, which consoled her a little.

When we finished eating, I ran a load of dishes. Then Va and I went to the basement and started going through some boxes. We threw away a lot of stuff and came up with four boxes full of things for the yard sale. I loaded that into the car and Beth and I drove it to the church. Even though we didn’t have it plowed, the parking lot is clear. We might shovel a little bit of the entry tomorrow when we get there for the yard sale.

All in all, it was a very nice day.

We got three or four inches of snow last night. As is typical of early-season snow, this is wet and heavy.

Beth got out of school yesterday for the Thanksgiving break, so I didn’t have to worry about whether school was canceled for her. Jonathan did have school though, so I rolled out of bed around 7:00am to see if his was postponed or canceled. It was postponed, so I went back to bed for a while.

I got up early enough to clear the driveway. I got as far as rolling the snowblower into position and filling its tank with gas. But then I looked at the snow. It wasn’t even three inches on the driveway, so I decided to skip it. Why waste the gas, when I can get through it just fine and it’s supposed to melt in the next couple of days?

We made it to Concord with no mishaps, though I did not travel as fast as the speed limit allowed. That would have been folly.

Tomorrow I plan to do a little cleaning in the basement. The Pathfinders are having a Black Friday yard sale, and I hope to unload a few things there. Once I have some space in the basement, I plan to move stuff out of the attic so I will have room to resume my insulation project up there. Yeah… still not done with that, but it’s only been in the works for seven years…

Today we took the Pathfinders to the pool to work on their swimming honors. One of the kids needed a ride, so we swung by her house and picker her up. Then we set out for the pool. I passed a parked police car, and checked my speed – good! But the next thing I knew, she was right behind me with the blue lights going.

My registration had expired.

When we lived in VA, they would send us a notice in the mail, so we never ever forgot to register. But NH does not do that. They rely on you to remember all by your own self, and I have forgotten twice now in seven years. The first time I got a warning. This time, I got a $103.33 ticket. :-/

The officer told me that technically, I was not to operate the vehicle until it was registered, but that she would drive down the road and not notice if I did. So what was I supposed to do? Call a cab and abandon my car until I could get down to the town clerk’s office? “Luckily,” she drove down the road, and I scooted out. But I was paranoid the whole time, just waiting to be pulled over again for the same offense.

We got to the pool and got busy. David stayed on the sidelines to take record of who completed what requirements. I gave him my camera, and he got several shots.
Beth in the pool
Beth earned her Beginner’s Swimming honor.

We worked on the honors for two hours, and then it was time to get out. The boys were out of the dressing rooms in 15 minutes or less. Then we waited another 20 minutes for the girls (and nearly all of the kids are girls). Apparently, they had to dry their hair.

Then we drove (some of us illegally) to the church for our regular meeting. I stopped at Taco Bell and got some lunch (as did several of the other kids).

Beth’s class had our worship service, and they presented the story found in John chapter 9, wherein Jesus healed a man born blind by putting mud over his eyes. Melissa (Beth’s counselor) concocted some mud with chocolate pudding and crushed Oreos. The kid playing Jesus smeared it on our “blind man’s” eyes:

Jesus heals a blind man

Jesus heals a blind man

The kids loved that – especially the one playing the blind man, because as she wiped this stuff off her face, she got to eat it!

We also had our Adventist Community Services director stop by and tell us how she operated our food closet. There was a lot there that I didn’t know. As soon as we read an article on world hunger, we will have met every requirement for the Food Ministries honor (which is a new one). The can collecting and sandwich making we did in October and November also counted towards this one, and we had already done those things when I found this new honor.

Now I’m pretty tired after breaking the law all day, swimming for two hours, and running a Pathfinder meeting. Time to relax!

West Road Bridge

West Road Bridge

Last weekend Beth and I went for a walk after church. We decided to walk around an old bridge over the Merrimack River. As you can see from the photo, the bridge is no longer functional. It used to connect Canterbury to Boscawen, but it hasn’t done that since around 1965. And yet, here it is still.

Both Google Maps and my Tomtom GPS recommended this as a good way for me to get to Concord from my house. I disabused my Tomtom of that notion and reported the error to Google. Google eventually saw the wisdom in my recommendation to remove this bridge from its database, but it took them a year (they did get back to me on that though).

Penny loved it here. I let her off her leash as there were no people around. This is a popular swimming hole in the warm months – not so much now though. Penny kept us supplied with sticks, as is her wont.

There is a geocache in this area too. I looked for a it a couple of times but was not able to find it. Then I noticed one day that it had been stolen from its original location, replaced, and hid somewhere else. No wonder I couldn’t find it. Armed with the new coordinates, Beth and I made quick work of finding it.

There was another one upstream from there, but I didn’t think we’d be able to get it. It is supposedly located on an island. I figured that if the river level were down enough, we could probably reach it, so we set out in that direction.

There are some fields along the river here, with signs that say something to the effect of “The walking public are welcome, but snomobiles and ATV’s are not.” That’s my kind of place! We walked through a post-harvest cornfield and found this fly in a milkweed pod:

Fly on Milkweed

Fly on Milkweed

I tried to get his picture while he was still inside the pod, but that disturbed him too much, and he made a quick exit. I guess it was too cold for him to go very far though, so I managed to get this shot.

American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)

American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)

There was lots of this stuff growing on the banks. I didn’t know what it was, though I have seen it before. When I got home I looked it up and found that it is American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). It should not be eaten (unless you want to vomit).

When we got far enough upstream where I could see the island, I could tell there was no way we could cross over to it without swimming. By then Beth was ready to go back home (though Penny was not), so we turned around.

Last week I found myself at the church with a few minutes to kill, so I picked a gallon of autumn olives. The kids had already stripped most of them off the bushes, but there was one bush tucked out of the way, and not dead-easy to reach, and it was still loaded. It took me 15 minutes to pick a gallon of berries.

When I got home I washed them and ran them through my chinois.

Autumn olives in the chinois

Autumn olives in the chinois

Note how the berries look nothing like olives. The leaves of the bush look a bit like olive leaves though, so I’m going to assume that that’s the origin of the name.

Squishin the pulp through the holes into the pot!

Squishin the pulp through the holes into the pot!

A chinois is like a conical sieve with a conical mortar. The basic idea is to squish the fruit through the holes and catch it in some sort of vessel. The vessel in my case is the pot I intended to boil it in. Why get two dishes dirty when one will do the trick?

I got a little too wild with the chinois at one point, and slopped some whole-ish berries over the edge. I tried fishing for them, but couldn’t find them in the pulp and juice below. They disappeared into the crowd.

Once I had processed all my berries through the chinois, I moved the pot to the stove, added an equal volume of sugar, and set it to boil.

As it boiled, the seeds that were in the whole-ish berries I slopped over the edge came to the surface, and I spent a lot of time fishing them out. I do believe I got them all, but it was a lesson I will try to remember – don’t slop berries out of the chinois! That makes it harder.

This is NOT tomato soup!

This is NOT tomato soup!

As the berry pulp was boiling, I set a second, smaller pot full of water to boil as well. I washed my jars and dumped them in the water, two at a time. I let them boil for a few minutes, extracted them with tongs, and then added another jar (plus lids). I guess that’s sterile enough.

After the berries boiled for 40 minutes (which was about twenty minutes too long according to Mom), I ladled it into jars.

I got five pints, plus three very small jars full. The small jars each hold about a tablespoon. I snagged these when I was at the ACS training weekend in Connecticut this summer – they seemed perfect for giving away small quantities of autumn olive jam.

I’m not worried about whether the little tiny jars will keep the jelly from spoiling. I’ve got them in the fridge right now and will instruct the jam recipients to do the same. These are not canning jars, and I don’t trust them for that purpose.

Unfortunately, the jam did not set. Autumn olive berries are very tart, and I couldn’t find anywhere on the innerwebs that said I needed or did not need pectin. Since they are so tart, I decided to try it without. Mistake!

But not a mistake I can’t correct. Last night Va brought some pectin home with her (at my request). I opened all my jars of liquid jam and dumped them right back into the pot. Then I added the pectin – a whole box of SureJel. As I brought it back to a boil, I washed the jars and re-sterilized them. I let the jam boil for ten minutes, and then ladled it back into the jars. In this process I lost a half pint of jam. 😦

It still didn’t set up like I wanted it to, but it’s far more solid now than it was before. And indeed, it is acceptably solid now, so I’m not going to fret about it.

I brought the half-pint of jam with me to work this morning, stopped at the bakery downstairs from us, and bought a loaf of multi-grain bread.

Most people’s reaction was something like “Olive jam?” and I would have to explain to each person that it was not olives, it was autumn olives, and they are nothing like “regular” olives. They are a berry, and they are not native to North America. Indeed, they are quite invasive, but they do make excellent jam. Would that all our invasives were as tasty as this. (OK, I stole that line from Samuel Thayer, who wrote “Nature’s Garden” – an excellent book about wild foods).

Then my co-workers would try it and rave about how good it was. Hoorays!

Now I have to decide who will get the three tiny jars. I am going to keep the four pints I have left for myself, and hope that they last me until something else comes into season next year.

Or maybe I should break out the blackberries I froze a few months ago…

This afternoon I was sitting at my desk working when I noticed that the sun was shining through some slots in the blinds creating dappled light on the storage cabinet just outside my office door. The dappled circles were overlapping. The circles made by dappled light are actually projections of the sun. They are round because the sun is round, and the cracks through which the sun is shining are acting like pinhole cameras. During a solar eclipse, the dapples are not round at all – rather they are circles with moon-bites taken out of them.

When I was finishing up my masters degree in 1995, I had to go to the university offices to fill out the application to graduate. There was a solar eclipse going on, and the trees were casting thousands of dappled crescents on the ground. If that happened to me today, I would probably have a camera handy, but back then I was not in the habit of carrying one with me everywhere I went.

Today things are different. When I saw the dappled light, I opened the blinds. Then I grabbed a large sheet of paper from my bookcase, poked a nice round hole in it, and taped it to the window. I needed a large sheet of paper so that it would block enough light for the pinhole effect to manifest itself. The first hole I made was indeed a pinhole, but it was too small. I enlarged it by jamming a Phillips screwdriver into it – all the way up the shaft.

I wanted a round hole – though I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary. I’ve projected the sun using my fist before. Just make an OK sign with a small opening in your fingers and rotate your hand around while watching its shadow. Eventually, the light will seep through a crack in your fist and you’ll see the sun’s projection on the ground.

The storage cabinet was about 15′ from the window, and the projection I was getting through my screwdriver hole was about an inch and a half around. And I could see sun spots. Or sun stripes. I watched for a few minutes. Then I remembered my camera.

I wanted a better screen than the beige metal surface of the storage cabinet, so I taped a sheet of paper over the projection. Then I took several shots. Here are three of them in a slide show.

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I scaled and cropped them in an attempt to get them all looking roughly the same. I watched a few minutes as the sun’s image traveled across the paper.

Check out those stripes! It looks more like Enceladus than Sol. I ought to study up on pinhole cameras and see if I can improve the focus. I’m guessing better focus can be achieved by altering the diameter of the pinhole in relation to the distance between the pinhole and the projection screen.

At the Taco Bell

At the Taco Bell

Apparently, somebody at the Taco Bell does not know how to park.

That aside, I took a walk during lunch today. There were still a few autumn olive bushes with fruit on them. Some of the fruit was huge (for autumn olive, anyhow).

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

This handful was delicious. A little further down the tracks there was another bush loaded with fruit – but it tasted awful.

Pretty near to that was some butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris) still hanging on.

Butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

Butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris)

I kept walking and found some wild grapes.

Wild and Grapes

Wild grapes

The ones on the left tasted pretty good.

That was my day in a nutshell.

Tonight I bought 19 plane tickets to take our Pathfinder Club from here to Arizona. Well – the plane will only go so far as Albuquerque, NM. That’s about the closest commercial airport to Holbrook as is feasible.

The original plan was to buy the tickets yesterday. However, we wanted to talk to the “group travel desk” and they don’t work on the weekend. So we opted to wait another day.

On Saturday night after sunset, I went to our local grocery store and rented three Rug Doctors. My five African refugee club members showed up at 6:00pm, and we spent the next three hours cleaning the carpets. Beth came with us and kept our 8 pitchers of water full. The machines would spew the hot water onto the carpet and then suck it back up again into a waste tank. The water was filthy when we got it back, so I know the carpets are much cleaner than they were before we started.

The girls cleaned the fellowship hall and then we did the Sanctuary (which was twice the size of the fellowship hall). For the Sanctuary we had to move all the chairs to one side, clean, and then move them to the clean side and repeat. The hard part was getting them all back into a reasonable place.

So they have earned their plane tickets and I am very proud of them.

I met Shaun after work and we called the group travel desk at Southwest. Before we called though we had a prayer with the Pastor (who was still there). We prayed that the Lord would keep us all on the same flight and that we would get a good price – it’s His money after all.

Then we called. The only advantage I could see to group travel was that all 19 tickets would be for the same flight. But they wanted more than double what we eventually paid. Instead, we opted to buy them online – eight tickets at a time.

The first eight were far less than the prices they had listed yesterday. The return flight went up $25 on the second batch, and that was still $25 better than yesterday’s price. That price held on the last batch of three tickets too, and we all made it onto the same flight.

I am excited! We have tickets, and it didn’t take all the money we had saved up! Now I guess we can afford to eat, and if we raise some more money, we should be able to pay for ground transportation from the airport to the reservation.

There has been a lot going on this week with my Pathfinder Club. We are busy raising money so we can go on a mission trip to Holbrook Indian School in Holbrook, AZ. The school is located on a Navajo reservation, and when we get there at the end of February, we have a week’s worth of projects lined up. We will repair 50 bicycles, make window screens, and present some craft sessions for the younger kids there. The crafts will be based on a handful of Adventurer Awards (for which they can receive some insignia, which we will bring with us).

The deadline for the Pathfinders to raise their portion of the money was November 1, but I still have a handful of kids who did not make their goal. So they will be cleaning the church carpets this Saturday evening after Sabbath ends, and I will be there with them to rent the equipment, show them how to use it, and supervise. And help.

I had a couple of donors step forward who wanted to give these kids the money they needed for the trip, but I want to get them out of the habit of receiving hand-outs. So I asked these donors if they would instead donate money to pay the kids to clean the church carpets. It hasn’t been done in about three years.

The way I see it, everybody wins on this one. The donations are tax deductible (and wouldn’t be if they were directed to fund any particular kid’s trip fee). The carpets get cleaned without costing the church anything. The kids learn the value of work, and the Navajo will benefit from their service.

The plan is to buy plane tickets this Sunday for everyone who has either paid up, or who has earned their portion by cleaning the carpets.

The money the kids raise is only a small portion of the total cost. We have been raising money for this project since 2009, and are still going at it.

One of our bigger money-makers has been selling citrus fruit. Sales have been down this year to the point that I was incredibly discouraged. But then at the last minute more orders came in, yay! We almost never have a big enough order to have it delivered directly to our church. For that, we’d need to order 100 cases or more. Luckily, we can have it delivered to a few other places nearby (well… within a two hour drive). But sometimes I get lucky.

Another group from Manchester is ordering this month, and I got a call from them asking if I would pick up their order in Freeport, ME. Ugh. Even though I was willing to do that, I don’t think I could have. Another friend of mine has recently been assigned as pastor of a church in Rutland, VT, and they were also wanting to place an order and have me pick that up.

So I added up the orders for these three organizations – my Pathfinders, the Manchester group, and the Rutland group. It came to 93 cases. I bumped my order up by 7, and it will be delivered directly to our church in two weeks. Yays again!

There’s no way I could haul 93 cases of fruit in Ken’s pickup truck. We’ve hauled 72 cases before, and it was full that time. Adding another 33% on top of that is just too much. The fruit company delivers it in a semi for a good reason.

The other thing I have going on is our annual project for Friendly Kitchen. On the first Saturday of November, the Pathfinders prepare about 80 sack lunches for them. Friendly Kitchen is Concord’s only soup kitchen, and we have been helping them out like this for several years now. They also receive any extra citrus that we buy but end up not being able to sell. That’s the main reason I don’t mind ordering an extra seven cases.

I figure that if the Lord wants us to raise money for our mission trip, He will send buyers. But if He would rather feed His homeless people in Concord, we can do that too. It’s up to Him!

When we make lunches for Friendly Kitchen, I sometimes go out and buy all the supplies we need (food, sandwich baggies, etc) the day before. But this year we made an appeal to the church membership. They have signed up to bring nearly all of it (I wait until last, so I can get whatever we lack).

This approach always makes me nervous, but I guess it shouldn’t. If I’m not the one buying everything, I can never be sure that everything we need will be there when we need it. It’s easy to sign up, buy the food, and leave it at home. It’s really hard to make PB&J sandwiches without bread.

In spite of my fears, I agreed to ask the church to help us out. But tonight I also called all the people who signed up. And I asked for enough supplies to make 100 lunches this year instead of the usual 80. I guess I was hedging our risk – if some people forget, we should still be able to make something. We will give all the leftover food to Friendly Kitchen after the lunches have been made. Their need is perpetual.

My faith still has more growing to do. If I can trust the Lord with the citrus, why not for the homeless lunches too? This is a case where I have “fearful faith” – I force myself to step out even if I’m nervous about it.

I wonder if Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were nervous when they refused to worship Nebuchanezzer’s image?