Video: Sammy the Friendly Jay

Earlier in the month I wrote about Sammy, our blue jay of happiness. Sammy is the semi-tame jay who loves Kris. (Well, he loves her peanuts, anyhow.)

Last weekend, I set out my camera and filmed ten minutes while Toto and I sat at the picnic table, eating fresh strawberries and feeding the jays. I’ve trimmed that down to the following three minutes, which Kris and I think are fun.

Be warned, however, that when Andrew watched this he was unimpressed. “This is boring,” he said. I’m sure most of you will find it so. But I like the way this captures late spring/early summer at Rosings Park — the lazy pace, the birds, the cats.

A Good Idea

We had dinner last night at Pok Pok with Lisa and Craig. Warm summer evening. Good friends. Good food. Yum. The only thing that would have made it better? If I could have eaten more chicken wings for dessert.

During our conversation, we discussed the present state of foldedspace. I’m trying to put stuff up here, but it’s sporadic, I know. Craig pointed out the readers of foldespace may not actually read Get Fit Slowly or Get Rich Slowly. He suggested that I could reuse stories from those other sites here.

He has a great point.

For example, have I mentioned that we just had the knob-and-tube wiring replaced at Rosings Park? I don’t think so. Have I obsessed about running? I don’t think so. Have I discussed how I’m hiring contract employees for blogging? Nope.

So, based on feedback from my dinner companions, I’m going to try to extract the best bits from the other blogs and repurpose them here, as well as posting funny cat stories and favorite music videos. Those of you who read the other sites might get some repeats, but everyone else will get a little more to read.

Happy Gates-Day

Kris Gates, my wife, partner, and best friend, turns 38 today. She’s not as old as I am, but she’s catching up!

To celebrate, Simon decided to play games this morning with a toy mouse. He’s managed to ignore this toy mouse for lo these many years, but today its doom had come. And the doom of the two houseplants he knocked over. “Happy birthday, mom!”

What am I going to do for Kris’ birthday? Why, clean the bedroom, of course!

Happy birthday, sweetheart!

Old Man

Here’s a little story demonstrating two ways in which I am getting old…

I biked to the gym this morning to do my upper-body lifting.

Because the aerobics floor was vacant, I started by doing my stretching there. I touched my toes. I crossed my legs and touched my toes. I crossed my legs the other way and touched my toes. (Note that when I say “touched my toes”, I actually mean “reached toward my toes”. My doctor says I have the flexibility of a two-by-four. He’s right. I can’t even come close to touching my toes.) I stretched my quads. I stretched my IT band. I did some crunches. I did my pushups for the day.

When I’d finished, I went downstairs and lifted weights. I did dumbbell bench presses. I did some triceps exercises. I did some biceps curls. I worked on my shoulders. (The weights I’m lifting are relatively still light, but I don’t care. I’m getting stronger, and I know it.)

After working out, I biked home.

I checked my e-mail, checked the web sites, and then hopped in the shower. When I had scrubbed and shampooed, I stood at the sink to shave. I used my favorite lime-scented shaving cream. (I love the stuff. Love love love.) As I shaved, I thought about what I was going to write for the day.

When I’d finished, I used a damp towel to scrub the remaining shaving cream from my face. But it wouldn’t all come off. As I thought about Individual Retirement Accounts, I wiped my face again. Still the cream wouldn’t come off — it was stuck to my beard.

“That’s strange,” I thought, dampening the towel once more. I scrubbed harder. Still nothing. Lots of white cream on the beard.

Then it dawned on me: that’s not cream. That is my beard.

Man, I’m getting old.

In the News

Yesterday morning a crew from KGW (Portland’s channel 8 ) stopped by Rosings Park to interview me about my personal finance blog, Get Rich Slowly. Both Amy Troy (the reporter) and Rod Stevens (the cameraman) were awesome. They were interesting and fun to talk to. Most of all, they were very understanding when I explained how irrationally nervous I become when dealing with radio or television. They did their best to put me at ease.

The strange thing was that I was perfectly relaxed when I knew the camera wasn’t on. I could chat and carry on a normal conversation. But as soon as I knew Rod was filming, I became self-conscious. I could feel myself trying to analyze my words as I spoke them, could feel myself garbling what I wanted to say. But I was powerless to stop it! Craziness.

Amy and Rod were at our house for 90 minutes to produce a 90 second segment for the evening news. About 20 of those minutes were spent doing a formal interview on the couch in the parlor. The rest of the time was spent in my office and in the yard.

The final cut of the interview that aired is okay, though I wince at some portions. I think I look like a big dork. “No you don’t,” Kris told me. “I thought it was nice.” I do think it’s hilarious that they kept my ad-libbed pea-munching. I was just goofing around.

The KGW web site also has a couple minutes of me in my office talking with Amy about money saving tips. This part is less successful. Kris doesn’t like it. I had cleaned my desk before the crew arrived, but Rod said, “Don’t you have anything you can put up there? Stuff to make it look like you’re working?” I laughed and pointed at the stacks of paper on the floor. “Yeah,” he said, smiling. “That’s more like it.”

So I put some stuff on my desk, including the notebook I’d taken with me to England and Ireland last summer. While Rod began filming, I flipped through the book and randomly stumbled upon a page listing a bunch of money-saving ideas that I’d brainstormed while on a train out of Dublin. I read them aloud to Amy. I knew Rod was filming, but I never imagined the footage would appear uncut on the web site!

There’s nothing really wrong with it, I suppose. I just look like an even bigger dork. Heh. My friend Stephen comforted me via e-mail: “I often thought I was a dork on television interviews until I got used to em.”

Anyhow, I’m glad I did it. And I’m glad that Amy and Rod were the crew dispatched to film me. The best part of the experience was spending time talking with each of them about their own experiences with money. It’s those sorts of interactions that make what I do exciting.

“If you really do get nervous, you should join Toastmasters,” Kris said after we watched the interview.

“I want to do the Dale Carnegie course,” I said.

“Yeah. But why spend thousands of dollars when Toastmasters is free?” she asked. She has a good point. Time to talk with Dave about Toastmasters again, I think.

Age of Consent

Sometimes when I was a boy, my father would hear a song on the radio and go all crazy on me. “I remember this song,” he’d say. “I used to love it.” When the movie Stand By Me came out in 1985, the soundtrack threw him into a nostalgic reverie. It never really made much sense to me.

As I’ve grown older, it’s made more sense, of course. I understand now what might have made him misty over the songs of his youth. But until today I never fully understood.

Just now “Age of Consent” by New Order came on XM44. This is a song that I used to love when I was in high school. But it may actually have been 20 years since I heard it. Listening to it (it’s still playing) gives me a visceral reaction — it feels like 1985 again, and I can feel the emotions I felt then. Mentally, I’ve been transported in time. I can feel myself working out in the box factory, sulking, listening to this song. (I had two New Order LPs that I would play over and over again while making boxes.)

I wonder if that’s what happened to Dad. Remember: back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, music was not so ubiquitous. It wasn’t as easy to hear the songs you used to love. I’ve spent my adult life with Tears for Fears and U2 and Duran Duran. But my father didn’t have that luxury. When the radio stopped playing the Del Vikings and the Chordettes, he was forced to move on.

Me? I can go to YouTube and watch “Age of Consent” over and over and over again. (No official video exists that I can find.)

Bonus trivia: I’m the same age now, listening to “Age of Consent”, as my father was in 1985 when he heard the Stand by Me soundtrack.

The Democratic Race in Eight Minutes

As you know, I don’t do a great job of keeping up with the news. Kris often shakes her head and mutters to herself when I reveal my ignorance about current events. This has especially been apparent during the primary election season.

Fortunately, Slate has produced a great nine minute video that summarzies the events of the 2008 Democratic primary:

I was enamored with Obama after his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. I’m still enamored with him. But that’s probably not enough to make me vote for him. (I think McCain’s okay, too, but I like Obama better.)

As usual, I’ll be voting for the strongest third party candidate — a small and feeble expression of my discontent with our current political system.

My Psychic Wife

As a birthday present to myself, I bought the complete DVD set of Upstairs, Downstairs, an award-winning British drama from the early seventies. Kris and I have been digesting episodes slowly ever since.

“You know who would like this?” I said after tonight’s episode.

“Not Lisa,” she said.

“Buh. Buh,” I said. “How did you know who I was going to say? And how do you know she wouldn’t like it?”

“I know my husband,” Kris said. “And Lisa and I have talked about this before. She thinks the show is boring. She says it’s like a soap opera.”

“Boring?” I said. “Boring?”

We went downstairs to bake peanut butter cookies before the next episode. I looked out the window. It wasn’t raining. The sky looked almost blue. I was taken aback. “You know what?” I said.

“You want to mow the lawn,” Kris said.

“Buh. Buh,” I said. “How did you know what I was going to say?”

“I know my husband,” Kris said.

Either that or she’s psychic.

(p.s. I finally got the lawn mowed! Just in time to mow it again…)

How to Make Your Own Small-Batch Strawberry Jam

Making your own jam doesn’t have to be a big production.

While it’s sometimes most efficient to do things in bulk with all the right gear, the small-scale option can be better if you’re just starting out and want to make jam without much initial investment. Also, for the home gardener it’s common to have only a few cups of berries ripe at any one time, rather than the 6-8 pints called for in many recipes. Small-scale jam-making also allows you to try new flavor combinations. So, if you’ve got a bowl of berries on hand, here are two recipes to inspire you to get cooking. (Although these are recipes for strawberry jam, other berry preserves use similar techniques and ingredients.)

Strawberry-orange freezer jam
For gift-giving and long-term ease of storage, jam in sealed glass jars is the best choice. But for ease of preparation, freezer jam wins hands-down.

Some people (like J.D.) prefer its flavor, too, because it tastes more like fresh fruit than cooked preserves. The dominant flavor in this jam is the strawberry, but the orange lends a nice subtle note and also stretches the berries.

Some canning recipes for call for bottled lemon juice rather than fresh. This is due to its constant level of acidity, rather than fresh lemons, in which acidity can vary. It’s not crucial for jam, which is often high in both sugar and acidity to keep it safe in storage, but can be important when canning low-acid foods like tomatoes or beans.

When making freezer jam, you can use plastic tubs with tight-fitting lids. If you plan on storing this for more than a couple of months, better plastic tubs mean better taste. I actually prefer to use glass canning jars with screw-on white plastic lids (often sold with the canning supplies). Either way, be sure to leave a little headspace for expansion as it freezes and write a “use by” date on the lid. (Freezer jam will keep for up to a year.)

Strawberry-Orange Freezer Jam

  • 11 ounce mandarin oranges, drained & crushed
  • 1-1/2 cups crushed strawberries
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 box powdered pectin

Mix together crushed fruits. Add sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Let stand 20-40 minutes.

In a saucepan, mix water and pectin thoroughly. Bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down and boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat and mix pectin into fruit, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Ladle into sterilized containers, wipe rims and add lids. Let jam set overnight. Store in freezer for up to a twelve months.

Makes approximately 6 half-pints (6 cups). Source: Linda Ferrari, Canning & Preserving

At our house, we tend to make a bunch of jam in the summer and then eat it mostly in the fall and winter when we’re craving those summer fruits. When spring rolls around, I try to move any one-year-old freezer jam to the front of the freezer so it gets used soon. But if your freezer space is limited, you might opt for the following recipe for cooked jam instead.

Small batch strawberry jam
In the following hands-on video, Marge Braker demonstrates the easy steps to make a jar of cooked strawberry jam in about 20 minutes of work. This cooked version doesn’t call for added pectin to make it set up, so learning to judge when the berries are done cooking can take a bit of practice. If you misjudge it and don’t cook them long enough, you’ll end up with strawberry syrup rather than strawberry jam, but that can be a happy mistake. Jam cooked too long will be stiff and will have lost that wonderful homemade berry brightness.

I frequently make small batch cooked jams later in the summer when my caneberries are ripening gradually. It’s also handy when I want to try a new combination like gooseberry-currant or elderberry-apple that I’m not sure will be a success.

Marge Braker offers a wealth of general canning tips that every beginning canner can benefit from. If your mother never taught you, now’s your chance to learn from a pro!

Jam on!

About the Weather

It is June 6th, just two weeks from the start of summer. Here are the current weather conditions:

  • The temperature is 10 degrees centigrade (or 50 degrees fahrenheit for those of you in Oregon City).
  • The wind is from the south at 18 miles per hour, with gusts up to 28 miles per hour.
  • The sky is completely overcast. It looks like a winter’s day at the Oregon coast.
  • There’s a 90% chance of precipitation. Translation: it’s going to rain off-and-on today. Mostly on.

What I’m trying to say is that it feels like November, not June. I am cold. I am sick of the rain. It’s bad news when even life-long Oregonians are frustrated by the weather.