Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ukulele Class

   I took Linda with me to my ukulele class this week. This is a free class held every Tuesday night at the Lake Stevens Senior Center.  This was only the second time I've managed to go, but I'm going to try to make it a higher priority in the future.  We're currently working on four songs for an event at the Seattle Center in September.  Two of the songs are in Hawaiian and two are in English. The problem is I have a very difficult time remembering the tunes when I try to practice them later. The only tune I can consistently remember is "There's No Place Like Hawaii". The other tunes often come to me while I'm driving or doing something at work. I just can't remember them when I'm holding my ukulele.  I was planning to record them on my iPhone this week to help my poor musical memory. However, I apparently wasn't the only one who needed help. They recorded all of the songs this week and are going to distribute practice CDs.  After two hours straight of strumming my little heart out my fingers were pretty sore by the time we drove home.
Recently varnished folding wooden chair

    Before leaving for Wyoming, my friend Quentin gave me six old wooden folding chairs. They looked pretty rough as there was no finish, but they seemed to be fairly sturdy.  I used them at our Pioneer Day booths this past Saturday. Their very rustic nature contributed to the ambiance. On Tuesday I put a few coats of my propolis varnish on a few of them and they were magically transformed.  Linda had seen a few unvarnished chairs leaning up against our big cedar tree and had intended to ask me if she could burn them. Now she no longer considers them to be potential firewood and is actually happy to have them in the house. I'm planning to use a little black rustoleum paint to dress up the metal parts.

      On the subject of Pioneer Day, that went very well. I responsible for our ward's two booths and I also brought an observation bee hive. Since our booths were honey taffy and dipped candles it wasn't inappropriate for me to handle that. The honey taffy turned out great. The observation hive and the candle dipping are always very popular with the kids. What's not to love about hot wax and stinging insects!  My one regret is that I forgot to take pictures for the blog.  In addition to the booths I played my fiddle for about 15 minutes with Brother Huntsman playing the guitar as backup. I played Ashoken Farewell, Saint Anne's Reel, King of the Fairies, and Arkansas Traveler.  I feel a lot more stress playing my fiddle for the public than I do playing the ukulele. It was a very busy day and I was glad I got through it okay.

   I'm going to include the honey taffy recipe we used. It is very very simple. All it requires is honey, some butter, a pot, and a candy thermometer.  I tried out a more complicated recipe which involved honey and cream. It took much longer and the taffy didn't turn out right. It was very delicious, but it ended up perfect for carmel apples. I suspect that was not the recipe's fault, but rather that I misread the candy thermometer and failed to get it quite all the way up to the right temperature.


Ingredients:  1 cup honey
                      butter for fingers and to butter the pan, counter, or baking sheet
  1. Heat honey in a sauce pan, continually stirring, until it reaches 285 degrees fahrenheit (soft crack). After my first failure I didn't completely trust the candy thermometer so I went up to 290 degrees.
  2. Pour hot honey onto a buttered marble slab, baking pan or cookie sheet.  Let it cool until the edges can be touched with your fingers.
  3. Roll the edges up to form a long roll and start pulling the taffy. Continue until the the taffy becomes light colored and porous and small strings start to form.
  4.  Pull the taffy until appropriately sized and cut into pieces with buttered shears.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Linda's Flowers

  My sweet wife has been off in China somewhere doing volunteer work at an orphanage with our grand daughter, Rachel.  I took a few photos of some of Linda's flowers for inclusion in my blog so she could see what they looked like in their prime. At lest that way she can see what she missed. Her peony and the big  rhododendron tree out front both bloomed while she was in Rockville, Maryland visiting our daughter Lia.
A somewhat fuzzy photo of Linda's clematis

One of Linda's Hydrangeas coming into bloom 
Linda's other hydrangea

Lapins Sweet Cherry
    We're doing very well on fruit this year. I've never done so well with my sweet cherries as we have this year. I've bottled cherries, eaten cherries till I was actually getting tired of them, and invited several friends to come and pick cherries.  My best sweet cherry tree this year is an unknown variety. I purchased it from Home Depot labeled as a Montmorency Pie Cherry.  I know it isn't a Bing, Hudson, or a Lapins as it ripens a little later than the Lapins and a little before the Hudson.  I was contemplating replacing it with a pie cherry. Maybe it overheard me mention that to someone. Anyhow it was loaded with fruit. It has a tactical advantage over our other sweet cherry trees in that it is located further away from the Maples where the squirrels have their nests. The squirrels raid the Lapins pretty heavily, but never seem to get over to my unknown sweet cherry tree.

    I have two little pie cherry trees. One is a Morello type named Northstar. The morello pie cherries have a dark red juice so they make a very pretty pie. The other tree is a Montmorency pie cherry which has clear juice. Between the two trees I got enough pie cherries to make four cherry pies. I baked one cherry pie my grand daughter Autumn as a pie making lesson. I gave enough cherries for a pie to a good friend who came to pick sweet cherries.  I baked one cherry pie for myself and I still have one quart of frozen and pitted pie cherries in the freezer. Last year I only got enough pie cherries for two pies. The pie cherry trees are still fairly young so they are just starting to get serious about producing fruit.  I've considered replacing a few of my sweet cherry trees with additional pie cherry trees.  the pie cherries don't split if it rains, they are self fertile so pollination is less difficult, and they bloom a little later so it tends to be less rainy when they bloom.  Even in Western Washington pie cherries usually produce every year, whereas sweet cherries are more hit and miss. The main problem is that the two least productive cherry trees are holding up my hammock.

    Meanwhile, the vegetable garden is doing fairly well.  I have tomatoes ripening, pole beans running up their poles, zucchini and other squash setting fruit, and my Painted Mountain Flour Corn has started to tassle.  I have a second corn patch out back of Reid's Yellow Dent Corn. A good friend gave me the seeds so I thought I should try it. Unfortunately, our former dominant drake trampled a good part of the patch down flat as he was attempting to eliminate his two young rivals.  I was tired of all of his needless conflict so the corn patch was the final straw.  I added duck plucking to my "To Do" list and dispatched him on the spot.  Only a third of that corn patch survived. I planted potatoes in part of the newly opened space. The duck pen is much more peaceful now.  This wasn't his first offense.  We lost more than half of our ducklings earlier in the year due to his bad behavior.  I expected him to be tough as he was at least three years old. He turned out to be much more tender as a roast duck than he ever was as a father duck....

Linda's needy cat attempting to get me to stop picking cherries to pet her.
    One consistent problem whenever Linda is gone for a significant period is that her cat becomes extremely needy. After Linda has been absent for a few days, the cat starts following me around to demand petting. She picks some rather odd circumstances. In the above photo I was picking cherries at the top of a fourteen foot tall orchard ladder when the cat decided she needed petting and she needed it right now. I thought briefly about testing out that old saying about cats always landing on their feet.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ukulele and an Unintended Vocal Solo

    As Second Counselor in our Bishopric, I have the responsibility to conduct our church services every third month.  I have to confess that  I feel more than a little bit of stress about conducting meetings. The opportunities to mess up are myriad.  My most spectacular foul up thus far stemmed from an unintended spoonerism when I presented someone's name as "Fat Pawcett" rather than Pat Fawcett.  Fortunately Pat is a woman with a good sense of humor and it only took a home baked pie to set things right again.

      On the first Sunday of my scheduled month, I am also responsible for presenting a spiritual message to the children in Primary (ages 3-11). I've always found the Primary message to be a bit of a challenge.  I don't have any problem speaking to the older children, but I have a hard time engaging the younger ones at the same time.  This past Sunday, I had decided to talk about the importance of music. I started by telling them how music can help us feel the spirit and feel closer to God. I also talked about the difference between a regular song and a hymn.  Then I challenged them to memorize some of the hymns from the Children's Songbook. In order to make my message a bit more fun, I brought out my ukulele and led them in enthusiastic renditions of two hymns I had recently memorized from the Children's Songbook, "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission" and "Called to Serve".  The Children's Songbook helpfully includes guitar chords along with the piano music.  I played the ukulele at the podium so the sound would carry better in the large chapel. The children enjoyed it and sang along enthusiastically.  Five minutes later, after the Primary children had been dismissed to their classes, a friend informed me that someone had left on the foyer speakers which had broadcast my performance to the random group of adults gathered there. The mike hadn't picked up the ukulele or the enthusiastic children singing, but just me belting out Primary songs.

     I intend to continue expanding my repertoire of Primary songs that I can play on the ukulele.  My biggest limitation stems from the fact that I only know about a dozen chords.  I also have some difficulty with quick chord changes. Also, some of the songs are a bit high for my bass voice. I'm thinking maybe I should try transposing a few of them to a slightly lower vocal range.  Anyhow,  I think it has the potential for good times with the grand kids.

    My daughter, Sarah, was visiting with her kids for a few days this past week. She had driven up from the Portland area in order to send Linda and her daughter, Rachel, off to China to work in an orphanage for for three weeks.  Yes, that means I will have no adult supervision for the next few weeks.  During her visit, Sarah expressed an interest in learning to play the ukulele. We had a few lessons and now she is off and running.  I think that brings the total of ukulele players in the family up to about eight.  We now have at least one designated ukulele player in each family among my children and grand children.  We have a family campout planned for August at the beach in Oregon. I'll be interested in seeing how many ukuleles show up.

    A few weeks back I attended a Hawaiian ukulele group that meets every Tuesday evening at the Lake Stevens Senior Center. I had an absolutely wonderful time.  There were about twenty people sitting around big long tables singing and strumming their hearts out.  They were working on four particular songs that will be played for an event on September 4th at the Seattle Center.  They will be participating with other similar groups and there are supposed to have about 500 ukuleles in the performance.  It sounded like a fun time. Two of the songs are in Hawaiian so we spent a lot of time learning how to pronounce the words.  Among other things I learned that the word for the rather well-known Hawaiian dress is four syllable word. It is pronounced "Mu hu mu hu" and not "Mu mu".  Best of all, I only have to learn two new chords to be able to play all four songs. I should have taken some photos, but I was too busy strumming my ukulele.