So many people these days cannot write cursive, much less read it, thanks to the insistence on “new technology” in classrooms.  Keyboarding takes place of learning how to write using a pencil or pen.  Printing seems to be the only thing taught, and mastering it is not even encouraged.  It’s funny to think that the hours I spent in the classroom learning to print, to write cursive, and to touch type are now returning to being recognized as skills more valuable than just being able to communicate.  Eye-hand coordination, fine motor control, neurological benefits.  I probably could do some research and list a thousand things.  All this automation and such makes life easier – no doubt!  I love my dishwasher! – but the satisfaction of working with your hands is completely lacking.

Cursive has become a foreign language to students born in the last 30 years.  They cannot read it.  It’s not just U.S. students who should learn cursive, but students coming in from other countries could also benefit from it.  Other languages have other alphabets, and their beauty is certainly something to be appreciated.  Good handwriting is really an unfancy form of calligraphy.  The practicality of good cursive is just as it was advertised years ago – it is clear and readable.

I’m revisiting what I learned ages ago, and it is a lot of fun.  I’m using a fountain pen, and I am using a dip pen.  A dip pen is not so hard to master, once you learn how to hold it and adapt to holding it at the right angle and tilt.  Once there, it is smooth sailing.  Repeating letters and practicing strokes, curves, and circles is very soothing.  Like coloring, there is something that simply refreshes, like a deep meditation.

Anyway, because I was blundering around on YouTube, I came upon the above video, which I totally enjoyed.  It’s informative, classic, and if you like fountain pens, wait until the end – you will learn a few things you may not have known!

Dang! Water!


Over the last 24 hours, we got 4 inches / 10 cm. of rain.  Here, the soil is clay, and drainage is very poor.  As well, the infrastructure for handling massive amounts of water is not the best because we don’t get rain.

Rain?  What’s that?

We haven’t seen much in the past 6 years!  In our own back yard, we were flooded, literally, with inches of water creeping ever closer to the back patio doors.  Finally, Josh took a submersible pump and hooked it up; we pumped out about 1800 gallons based on a 2-hour run with 900 gallons / hour (about 3600 l. / hour).  He ran a hose from the back yard to the corner of the sidewalk, and the water poured into the street.  And this was in the dark of the night . . . 


So, what do we get out of massive rain besides mudslides, flood damage, fallen trees, tipped-over fire trucks, and general chaos?  Greenery!  New flowers!  Mossy rocks!  Mud!

And to celebrate – and explore – I returned to the park I went to last weekend, different cameras in hand.  Just in a week’s time, new growth is more than evident – buds are now tiny, bright leaves; the water in the creek is a bit higher.  There were little changes, too, such as the mossy rocks are greener than before, more palm trees are dead(ish) – for which I say, “Hooray!” – and little mushrooms coming up from under the fallen leaves.

Mushrooms in the Leaves

And more rain is on the way!


Mucking in the Muck


Here in the U.S., “mucking” means “to play about in something” and “muck” mostly means “mud.”  I think it may mean other things in other parts of the world, such as all the debris in a barn.  So, here I am referring to mud, glorious mud!

We have been in the midst of a 6-year drought in California; this year, with heavy precipitation, the snowpack in the northern mountains is more than it has been in 22 years, but with warmer weather, the snow may melt.  Then what?  We do not have good water storage in much of the state, as in cities like Los Angeles, the water is drained to the sea.  Where I live, we don’t get snow (but can admire it on the distant mountains).  We get rain (when we get it).  It has been a regular rain for the season for the past two months, and this week promises another two or three storms.

Thus, our skies are dark and grey, and the roads are a mess.  So are the trails everywhere.  You can see footprints and paw prints and bike tracks.  It’s not a good time to go along cliffs as the potential of a landslide is pretty serious.  The ground becomes saturated and slips.  Houses along the ocean cliffs have been known to tumble.  Sadly, people are also killed because of the slippage, or seriously injured.  Just a few weeks ago, a colleague slipped and fell, and though I do not know the details, I wonder if this is what happened.  I’ve lost a couple of other friends the same way, on local trails.  Another friend fell and was seriously injured, but has made a good recovery considering all the metal in his back.

But the lure of the outdoors is there – the smell in the air of new growth, the light, the rush of water in usually dry creeks, the songs of birds and croaking of ravens and the screeches of the hawks.  It is all there to be savored and enjoyed, quietly, listening.

I took my old beat up Nikon FM2N with me, and a roll of Provia 100, and a 28mm lens from 1970 or so.  It does close ups, too.  I am looking forward to seeing what comes from the roll, as it was dreary outside, and the light in the late afternoon was not good.  I also brought my phone with me, partly for a potential emergency – hiking alone – but also to capture an image or two that might be worthwhile.  So, above, is a picture taken last night before I turned to go home.  The rains bring new growth, the first of which is this lovely white-flowered wild cucumber.

Going Crackers

Parmesan Corn CrackersThe world is driving me crackers, so I thought I should make some.  I have never made any, but figured they should be easy to do, and produce something of some value.  If you can roll out a pie crust, you can make crackers.  As with pasta, I think the key is to let the dough rest wrapped in plastic for about 30 minutes or more.  It is very easy to roll out if you keep your pastry surface lightly floured and flip the dough periodically.

Lately, I have been in a cornmeal mood, meaning cornbread, polenta and so on.  I have lot on hand, so I looked up recipes for crackers with cornmeal.  The one I settled on is the following:

Parmesan Corn Crackers

1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
3 T. soft butter
3/4 t. salt (I thought it was too much after tasting the crackers)
3/4 c. cool water
herbs for topping

Preheat oven to 400 F. Use two large cookie sheets.

Mix together the flours and cheese and (optional) salt. Cut the soft butter into the flour mixture, mushing between fingers or using a pastry blender until consistent in texture throughout. Using a fork, slowly mix in the water from the center. When it is ready, you should have a rather soft ball of dough. Knead for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured board.

Cut dough into 2 or 4 pieces (depending on the surface you plan to roll the crackers out upon), and wrap in plastic. Let rest for at least 30 minutes.

On your floured surface, roll out dough until 1/8 inch thick with your rolling pin. Add some powdered herbs to surface and press in with one or two more rolls. Flip the cracker dough routinely to prevent it from sticking to the board, adding extra flour to the board if necessary.  Dust your rolling pin, too.


Before cutting, prick with fork. If you forget, and cut the crackers first, go back and prick the crackers. You need this to help them bake properly. You can cut them into about 2×2 inch squares, or rectangles, or whatever your like. Maybe hearts for Valentine’s Day? I used my pizza cutter and all was well.

Using a spatula, remove crackers to cookie sheets. Bake about 10-15 minutes, or more if necessary, depending on thickness of cracker. Check your oven about half way through and change the pans on the racks. (My first batch burned as the heating element is on the bottom, and the crackers are quite thin.) I backed two pans at a time, twice.


Cool on wire racks. Store in container and eat with . . . whatever!

Altogether, it took about two hours to make these.

Kitchen Sink Soup


Toward the end of the month, and with $0.02 left in the food budget, we have to get creative.   Hence, Kitchen Sink Soup!

In the freezer, I found a cut-up chicken. I put it in a stew pot, added water, celery, onion, tomato slices, bay leaves, peppercorns, a carrot, and some herbs. I brought it to a boil, turned it down to a low simmer, covered, and cooked the chicken. I pulled out the chicken, and set it aside for a pot pie or something else for tomorrow (after all the soup is gone). I ran the broth through a sieve, set it aside, discarded the cooked veggies (put them into your compost if you have it), and washed out the kettle. From there, I did this:

Kitchen Sink Soup

2-3 T. olive oil
1 andouille or other sausage or leftover meat (or none), chopped
4-6 cloves grated garlic
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced,
1 zucchini, diced
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes (I used Cento’s San Marzano Plum Tomatoes)
1 15-oz can Great Northern Beans
1/2 c. pasta (I used orecchiette)
broth from the chicken I just stewed (you can use regular broth, about 6-8 cups)
salt, pepper, etc.
Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat stew pot, add olive oil. Place chopped onion in pan, saute over low heat until clear and golden. Add meat (if using) and saute a bit. Stir in grated garlic. Add remaining diced vegetables, saute until cooked. Once the vegetables are at the desired degree of being done, pour in the can of tomatoes. Mash up the tomatoes (I used my potato masher), and cook a bit more. Put in the chicken broth or whatever stock you are using. Bring to a boil, add pasta and beans. Drop to a simmer and cover pot. Watch to make sure the pot does not boil over from the cooking pasta. Check pasta for al dente. Ready to serve!

Ladle into bowls, sprinkle grated cheese on top, and eat with good bread. (We used our homemade sourdough.)