Friday, December 23, 2011

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Something old, something new.

Lee and I cooked homemade caramels yesterday afternoon.  Patiently I stirred , switching from left to right hand.  Periodically, Lee bent over to read the candy thermometer.  It smelled heavenly and burnt my finger when I scraped the spatula. Today the caramels were still in the glass pans, as smooth as troweled concrete and just as hard.   Except for a few fractures on the edges made by Lee's knife with the newly bent tip.  Drat!  What to do? Lee was loath to consign her 8x8 Pyrex to the trash; I hadn't planned to get her 8x8 Pyrex for Christmas!  We set the unyielding confection on a pan of boiling water to warm and finally peeled the now flexible candy and freed the pans.  Hurry!  A pizza cutter balked at rolling through the entire surface, but quick action with the poultry shears yielded shiny squares, promptly wrapped in waxed paper.  The candy looked great, but the wrapping pretty well screamed amateur.  Something new.

After that escapade, it was a relief to fall back upon the tried and true.  We experimented for several years with different sugar cookies before settling on a Harms' family recipe. With the help of Silpat, every tray of bells, candy canes, snowmen, and angels comes out perfectly. Those too hungry to wait for frosting now have to depend upon the fragility of reindeer horns, or Santa hats, or camel feet for their warm cookie fix.  From experience we bake one day and decorate the next, knowing from Christmases past that the fun factor drops like a stone as cookie baking and frosting enters into its third hour. Something old and familiar

Cookie frosting and sprinkling takes place after Ann gets off work and the kids are up from their naps.  Its Annie and Matt's anniversary, a memorable one with a zero at the end. On one of our zero anniversaries, I hauled mums somewhere northward in Iowa, listened to Clint Black on the radio and picked up a frozen shrimp cocktail at the HyVee in Shenandoah.  High times.  Ann and Matt take a similar tack, opting for a home cooked meal and basketball: in the midst of the Christmas season, they take a pass on the night out but celebrate nonetheless a momentous occasion: Josh's first steps.  Something new.

I made six loaves of apple bread this afternoon.  After frosting the cookies, my jeans threatened to stand by themselves.  Today I broke out the Hoe, Hoe, Hoe Christmas sweatshirt: I'll attempt to wash out the food coloring and powdered sugar and re-don my gay apparel once again on Christmas Eve.  The kids, gratifyingly, noted the trowels and carrots trimming the tree and the wellie clad scarecrow atop acting angelic.  Tomorrow I'll overdo on dairy, producing a cheeseball and cream cheese coffeecake or two.  Tradition!  Something old.

This past week I was happy to see my parent's little Manger scene laid out amid burgundy fabric and cedar branches even though they haven't trimmed a tree in years.  Much of our extended family will gather for wine and cheese and family prayer, reminding me of Grandpa and Grandma Hurst, who never attended this particular get together.  Annie was Grandma Nelson's first great-grand child to wed; I treasure the pictures from that ceremony and the memories of Christmas Eve visits to her home. After soup and crackers together to celebrate Grandpa H's Christmas Eve birthday and family communion at our candlelit church, we'd head north to the St. John's neighborhood. A burst of steam would escape the front door as we'd step in; the biggest pile of coats ever were flung willy nilly across her bed.  Every available corner, cushion and arm rest was occupied by some family member, local or just visiting.  Christmas Eve wasn't complete until we'd dropped by Bruce and Janice's commodious home to deliver apple bread, pick at the dainties laid out on the kitchen counter and pin our wishes on the Yule log smoldering in the huge hearth.  Happy ghosts of Christmases past.

Here's a Christmas Eve tradition new to you, I'll bet:  the annual Christmas Eve Hurst family greenhouse covering.  Yup, while other families are traveling, or finishing up their shopping, or wrapping presents or baking up a storm, this family tends to gather in the morning fog or frost to pull 30x100 or 22x100 sheets of 6 mil plastic over slippery metal frames.  Our early Christmas prayers are for calm winds; we are vocally grateful when blessed with a still morning.  There are worse ways to head into a holiday feast than to work up a decent sweat and complete a completely crucial task.  Family bonding anyone?  A tradition older than our greenhouse.

The blessings of togetherness will have to wait until New Year's this year.  The good news is a plethora of weddings beginning with Brett and Shelby's...ready made New Year's Eve party!!  The bad news is waiting for Ben and Kenzie to be in Tarkio.  More good news:  stretching out the days of celebration nearly to the lauded dozen of song and tradition.  Ample opportunity for a houseful of guests filling the table with conversation and the rooms with laughter.  Having company will make deconstructing the tree less melancholy. The New Year will be upon us with its unpredictable mix of ups and downs. We can consider ourselves fortunate: there are already a couple of celebrations built in.  With our family, church, jobs and friends, we are the lucky Mr. Magoo Ebenezer for us!  Our ghosts of Christmas past are loving ones and while we laugh over the dry Christmas when the cow fell into the well, or the cold Christmas with the power out, the inedible chocolate pies and the obnoxiously loud toys gifted and re-gifted to families with youngsters, out of sight but not out of mind are parents, grandparents and friends whose absence is most acute when we are most together.

How trite is the trope that Christmas is for children?  'Yet in the dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light'.  The Kids Korner kids donned white gloves for the finale of their program, then the audience oohed and aahed when the gym lights dimmed and the white gloves fluoresced under the blue light.  The music played 'Silent Night' and the children's gloves danced the lyrics in sign language.  But tears came to my eyes when I watched my grandchildren mouth the old familiar verse as they made the motions with grace surprising for four year olds.  Out of the mouths of babes. Something new.

I don't know which year in particular births this memory:  it is a crunchy Christmas Eve and we are on our way back from Grandma Nelson's.  It must be can only be this frigid with snow on the ground.  Besides, we are all five in the pickup so route B is hazardous.  This is before the days of crew cabs.  Lee would have been straddling the gear shift scrunched next to her dad with Annie squished in the middle sharing her seat belt.  Ben was on my lap with my two arms around him.The defrost roars in a vain attempt to keep up with all that breathing.  Back in those days, KMA's programming on Christmas Eve consisted of replays of various school Christmas concerts.  Orient-Maxwell, Carson-Macedonia, Red Oak, Clarinda, Lewis Central....fuzzy tapes of middling quality featuring soprano voices in carols familiar and foreign.  The kids were  sleepy and quiet.  Orion blazed brighter than the pickup lights.  The road was dark and silent but for our passing.  Our little family headed to its warm home and beds with thoughts of Bethlehem and the Babe in Mom and Dad's heads.  This night is imprinted on my heart.  It comes to mind every Christmas Eve as I turn down the fire and turn out the tree lights.  Something so old.  Come ye, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hard Labor

Monday afternoon I was threading my needle and preparing to sew candy canes onto Abbie's costume for the preschool Christmas program when she pulled herself up next to me on a tall stool and asked, 'Grandma, can I help?'  One of the blessings of grandparent-hood is the ability to say, 'sure, I wish you would!'  Unfortunately, with a sharp needle as a tool and an index finger already bleeding, I was forced to decline Abbie's generous offer and received a crestfallen countenance in response.  I hated to break her helpful 4 year old heart, but was buoyed yet again by her willing spirit.  For any parent, or grandparent, or teacher, or any other adult, rejoices to hear the request: 'Can I help?'  

There is a magic moment in a child's life when he knows he is no longer a baby and believes he is equal in many respects to mommy and daddy. ( This belief is apparent during daylight hours, but disappears inconveniently after 10 o'clock at night.)  Kids don't mind making their beds, will put their dishes in the sink, might attempt to put their clothes away, and even go through the motions of picking up toys.  I can remember this stage, because my vision of a clean room was so diametrically opposed to that of my father.  Unfortunately, this stage doesn't last.  All parents know there is an inverse relationship between a child's age and his willingness to be a useful contributor to the household and society past some critical point, probably not long after first grade.  Not surprisingly, this may also coincide with the Biblical age of accountability 

(Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Genesis 3:17). Toil is one of those words that sounds ugly, invoking sludge, mud, repetition , brain numbing, Sisyphean and even pointless labor.  It contrasts, at least to me, with the word 'work', which implies movement to a goal, an accomplishment, something of value and worth.  The good news is that most children do not recognize the nuanced differences between the words, 'toil' and 'work'.  The bad news is that, the older they get, they most certainly realize that 'toil' is not only hard, but also the only kind of work they are given.

This long muse is a result of powers way above the level of parental intervention.  The United States government wishes to take the burden of taskmaster off the shoulders of moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas as far as farm work is concerned.  No more of that nasty toil, dirt, grime, heat, cold, and other character building adjectives.  Nothing should be too hard for 'the children'.

I could regale you with tales from my childhood.  My father was in charge of hard, hard work and my sister and I kept our feelings to ourselves whenever he called us out and assigned us our chores.   I learned  to complete a task and maintain a stoic, if not cheerful, expression at the same age I learned the meaning of the word. Even while working on our own, we assumed our parents were omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, just like the Trinity, as far as work was concerned.  Unlike cleaning our room, we took our farm work quite seriously.  I do not remember ever attempting to 'slide by' on any assignment my parents gave me, though their memories may differ.  

In many cases, working FOR our parents meant working WITH our parents.  That's how Blake grew up and that has been the experience for all three of our children.  It is difficult to feel picked on or punished when working alongside your father, grandfather, mother or grandmother.  Our greenhouse business has been the incubator for more than one work ethic.  When we first began building, there would be a kid on one end of the string making the straight line for posts.  There would be a kid fetching tools.  Or a kid holding the ladder.  Early on, covering a greenhouse was a family affair....even the youngest was heavy enough to sit on a corner of plastic and keep the wind from getting underneath.  Everyone took turns filling pots with potting mix; everyone was expected to help carry pots and flats.  The cardinal rule was: no bathroom break, no coffee break, no lunch break, until your plants or seeds are watered in.  Not all work is life or death, but some is.

When kids work, its not just about productivity or the bottom line.  One of Grandpa H.'s favorite aphorisms still holds true:'A boy is a boy; two boys is half a boy, and three boys is no boy at all!'  No, kids work for a host of reasons, very few pecuniary.  Moms and dads "take a kid to work" to keep them out of trouble; to teach by example; and, to spend time together.  The hardworking dad at our place confessed more than once that he recruited his kids' help because he liked the company, not just because they were "good help".

On weekend mornings in the spring, its hard to keep track of all the kids at the greenhouse.  Aaron is old enough now to be commandeered by his daddy to help feed pots or trays into the dirt machine, or help at the transplanter,   He's eight; he's spent parts of every spring of his life in these structures, crawling through the potting mix, untagging tagged flats, watering constructively and destructively moment to moment.  When his kindergarten class came to visit,  Aaron was the proud in-house expert.  I am proud of his knowledge and of his parents for starting him out right.  The younger kids will be almost five: too young to really work, but they will still push buttons on and off, help tag sporadically, push carts along the sidewalk, and plant the occasional flat of petunias or impatiens.  What they will mostly do, and quite responsibly, is take care of themselves and each other.  They'll amuse themselves, secure in the knowledge that they are on home turf and mom, dad, uncle, aunt, cousins, and grandparents are all within shouting distance.  

A farm, or a greenhouse, admittedly, can be a dangerous place.  So is the rest of the world.  But whatever rules and regs are imposed upon small businesses and family farms will not make them safer than the schools, playgrounds, shopping centers and parking lots kids frequent.  All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, the nursery rhyme says, but the lesson our kids learned early and often was to never let on, or speak the fateful words: 'I'm bored!'  Working with adults builds ties that bind closer than gifts or treats.  The kids "own" their accomplishments; they know what Dad and Mom do for a living, and have a sense of how difficult it can be. If you spend your weekend holding sheetrock on your head, or straddling the metal framework of the  endwall of a greenhouse 16' feet in the air,  or watering the same 3000' sq.ft. of tomatoes that you watered the day before, you truly appreciate Sunday afternoon off.  And you will also know, for a fact, that you have accomplished something tangible.  These are lessons taught by life, by moms and dads who seem heartless and tone deaf, to kids who will suffer these torments, silently or no.  These same tales of hard work and "hardship" will pass into family legend, to be resurrected for the edification and example of the next generation of kids drug away from the cartoons to hold the tape measure or fetch the socket set.  

 Why do kids work with their folks?  

'What's bred in the bone...'

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day by Day

 When I am deeply engrossed in a good book, I struggle to focus on the tasks at hand, to remember where I am and what I should be doing, to separate myself from the reality of the world in my mind.  It is a mixed blessing to lose oneself in an alternate creation.  More than once I have carried the feeling of loss and exhaustion from an emotionally taxing tale into my oh-so-prosaic and predictable work-a-day world.  Irrational?  Of course.  As time passes, I gradually regain my footing during the day and sleep without dreams at night.....

The text in late October was from Kenzie.  With her characteristic blend of dedication and enthusiasm, she sent out a call for companions to join her in a reading equivalent of an eight hundred meter race: read the Bible in 90 days.  Why an eight hundred?  No time to stop; not much time to slack off.  Not a marathon; not a sprint.  A commitment with rewards unmeasured, but known.

Impulsively, I answered right back.  Yep, I said, I'll take this on.  I took it as a direct hint, something louder than the still voice after the whirlwind.  Ok, Kenzie, I'll join you.......and everyone you jostled with the notion.  Here's the website; here's the app.  Pick your version; pick your reminders, or not.  Here's God talking to you, right on your iphone.  Just in case His own holy Book isn't close enough.....

Forgive me if you find this conversation irreverent. With excitement and a sense of adventure and anticipation I dove into the familiar words of Genesis 1.  I played with several translations before settling.  I tinkered with the website's features,watching each chapter check off electronically as it was completed. 

Genesis flew by.I was there among the people listening raptly by fires under the stars.  These are not written words; these are spoken tales, handed down from generation to generation.  Exodus: tyranny, slavery,origin of a people wandering from land to land. Here was all the drama of great literature: testing, trials, blessing and ingratitude, crime and punishment, the eternal and ongoing struggle of a virtual and literal wilderness.  

As the days wear on, I find myself falling into the rhythm.  I read in the car, while I heat water in the microwave, while coffee is brewing, while I wait for the car to fill with gas.  The Bible is habit forming in the finest sense. The cadence carries one forward, even if the words consist of names so unfamiliar they might be people or they might be places.  The rules of Jewish law and sacrifice roll off the tongue of the reader, wave upon wave, long distance breakers past to present.  

And not just history.  Passion, loyalty, love, betrayal.  Hope.  War.  Strength. All the agony and ecstasy of humanity's paradise lost. Kings and queens, prophets and seers, blood and glory and heroes wage epic battles on the pages of the Old Testament long before Shakespeare was a glimmer. Reading Job, I found myself constantly bookmarking some of the loveliest, most muscular poetry in literature.  

I am yet but forty percent through my 90 day pilgrimage.  It is a journey of discovery and re-discovery.  We are accustomed to our Bible in anecdotes, but  it gains additional mystery and power read page by page.  The rigid and artificial schedule has unexpectedly led to a lyrical, vivid and lively reading experience.  Is it disrespectful to have both a Facebook and a Bible app on the same screen?  Not when God's word leads you to read Psalms........rather than checking your status.....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Decline and Fall of the Fluff Salad

Here in central Missouri, November belies its pedigree.  The viburnum remains vibrant; the pastures green; the oaks bronze not brown.  It is 60 degrees by day and the last rose lingers like a Redoubte' painting in the the courtyard of my parents' house.

Yet November can be a cruel month.  More than twenty years ago, we stood around Grandma Eunice's casket in a fierce windblown rain.  It rained three quarters of an inch that day, violent but brief, buffeting the tent and the  family within.  It was a drought year; we memorize our losses, weather included. Grandma would have appreciated the rain.  

Just last week we mourned another grand lady.  A pillar of the community, admired for her many contributions and talents, present and past.  A woman of style and substance, she was blessed to be eulogized by people who knew her very well.  Instead of a snow white dove, she was gathered 'cross the river on the wings of music, heartfelt, soulful, iconoclastic, God's most universal and unexplained blessing poured out on humankind.  When we can't find words, we play..........

If you stay in one place long enough, you bury your ancestors, blood or cultural.  You bury your Sunday school teachers, the ladies your mom played bridge with, the woman who "ran" 4H, the person who handed you library books, the Republican ladies, the Democratic ladies, the election judges, the doyennes of the garden club, the missionary ladies............

According to Herodotus, prince Cadmus brought the alphabet to the Greeks.  In mythology, he slew the dragon guarding the spring of Ares.  The goddess of wisdom, Athena, told him to sow the dragon's teeth and fierce warriors sprang from the ground.  In small town life, our bringers of civilization bear no arms (unless a sharp tongue qualifies!), but they have always seemed to spring up straight from the ground like the dragon teeth warriors of old.  Where are our Athenas for the future?  Will we "look upon (their) like" again?

I don't intend to wax morbid or to imply a failure of community leadership or decomposition of the foundations of civilized society in the hinterlands.  But a recurring theme popped up yet again this past week and there is no good way to answer this question: who will be the church ladies?

Who is going to make the fluff with mandarin oranges and nuts?  Who will perpetuate golden glow salad?  Who will mix pineapple, lime jello, cream cheese and Cool Whip?  (I even had to look this one up!)Who will persist in mixing vegetables, shredded cheese, and orange jello?  I still have the frozen cream cheese and cherry molded salad recipe from my mother, but I have never taken it to a church or funeral dinner.  Nor do I prepare the cherry jello mold I adored when I was young.  But the same women who brought multi-hued salads whipped into peaks with mystery fruits and nuts disguised amid the Miracle whip and marshmallows led every conceivable volunteer organization in our little town and most big towns outside the formerly male bastions of Lions and Kiwanis.  One need not be a statistician to correlate the declining population of our cultural underpinnings with the reduced number of female produced and consumed fluff salads.

I don't know the answer.  The women I know keep the balls of family, vocation, volunteerism, and homemaking in the air to an amazing extent.  They do all this and keep up on Facebook too!  We scale back where we must and double up where we dare.  They the seat of their pants when necessary.  It isn't easy to be unselfish with time, our most limited resource.

As I wipe the syrup from the tables of our fellowship hall, or wander the kitchen looking for the right drawer for serving spoons, I will continue to admire the iron and lace, stocking clad standard bearers of our past even as I admit how far my efforts fall short.  As they reap their heavenly reward, I'll raise my spoonful of Snickers salad and think of them partaking in..............ambrosia.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Red Barn

Redbarn has never been my home; my parents lived up Nelson Drive in the late seventies, not far from the State Highway Patrol headquarters.  The house on Nelson was a perfectly pleasant, rock solid red brick ranch built on  an east facing slope like most of the homes in Jefferson City.  The grassy backyard was terraced twice, but that did little to mitigate the struggle of summer mowing.  In wet weather, water ran into the basement like a burbling spring from the base of Missouri bluffs. In the summer, inhabitants of the red brick house baked like loaves in a New Mexican hornos.  Despite these shortcomings, the straw that broke the camel's back was development across the creek below their home, at the bottom of that big back yard.  They had traded the land in Calloway county with its fossil filled creeks and fescue fields for the pastoral landscape of pasture and crop of Moniteau county.  This farm boasted a lovely topography with an upland pasture wending down to a classic limestone creek rimmed with a riparian meadow.  The north field was planted to milo in those days.  Across route T, a gravelly track curved steeply down to the bottom lands of Moreau Creek. A spring did bubble out in the middle of the small field.  The wood at the base of the bluffs was especially lovely in the early spring, before the underbrush and bugs kept interlopers out.  Early spring was the best time to hunt arrowheads as well.  The geology changed across the Missouri; no more brachiopods, no more crinoids.  But a wanderer with her head down could still spy treasures of the past in the ground and I rarely hiked back up the hill without some knapped stone in my hand.

Projects were an integral part of my upbringing.  Whether this situation was a natural result of German frugality or a desire to make everything better than when you started or both is not a question that need to considered.  Suffice it to say my parents always saw diamonds in the rough, and when that didn't pan out, they made the absolute best of what they had to work with.  The farm in Moniteau county certainly met that description. The ponds were surrounded by thickets of impenetrable honey locust; the fields were riddled with ditches; the fencing was in need of repair.  The outbuildings were solid but peeling.  The last owners had attempted to operate a dairy; there was a solid little concrete parlor, a tin pole shed and an immense Dutch barn surrounding a paved lot.  These were all assets in my father's eyes despite their disrepair.

The house was something else. In retrospect, my folks like to say they should have pushed it over while they had the chance.  But that has never been their way.  It was a shotgun house built around the original two room cabin, with high ceilings and tongue and groove cabinets built in for storage.  There was a big bay window facing east in one front room.  Three different front doors opened onto the south facing porch.  The main features of the front yard were two antique cedars posted as sentinels on the west side of the house nearest route T.  The previous owners had cobbled together a bath of sorts and put in some ugly cabinetry surrounding a new kitchen sink.  The back part of the house was a labyrinth of dark little rooms that I assume had originally been the kitchen. The heating system comprised two propane stoves.  It wasn't a very hospitable place, but it rested squarely on limestone blocks. The house wasn't a factor in the purchase of the farm, a not unusual situation.

I was in college then but spent time on the farm during holidays and helped haul brush, paint barns, and weed the garden my folks established with the aid of my grandfather's aged tiller.  The little red and gray Ford tractor from the Calloway farm took up residence and the brush hog was put to use.  I walked the fields with my father to hear of his plans for rebuilding the battered fields, fencing the ponds and designing a cattle handling facility in the lots around the barn.  My parents used every bit of the aged manure in the barn to doctor the garden spot near the house; interestingly enough, it was very nice soil for mid Missouri. There was the requisite percentage of chert chunks, but not the tendency to slab.   I'm spoiled now, of course; when I dig here at home, I may turn up chunks of brick, but I can hardly remember what its like to hit rock!

Over time the old house got a new lease on life.  My folks built an addition with a full basement, a heat pump, a nice big kitchen and a master bedroom with bath.  They tore up floors and poured concrete beneath to keep the outside from taking up residence.  It has been a constant battle to keep coons, mice and other vermin from crawling in the walls, dying, and stinking up the place. The ceilings have all been paneled after one fateful winter night when the entire plaster ceiling of one front room collapsed.  The lovely old furniture from my grandparent's home, much of it built by my grandfather, settled gracefully into the light filled rooms of the old farm house. Stained glass windows in the front door and the guest room door as well as a rose window in the library gave the place a touch of elegance.
 Our family visits were joyful occasions.  An orchard marched in tidy rows in the field south of the house.  North of the house, a well maintained hay field had replaced the milo. Up on the ride beyond the creek grew a new warm season grass pasture.  We would pick walnuts in the fall, hike the creek, or down the road to the bottom, or through the woods to see the big new house the neighbor had built.  We would walk behind my mom's new four wheeler to pick boxes of apples to take home or store in the market.  At Christmas time we'd fill the house with family, Laura and Mark in the library, Blake and I in the big blue guest room, Lee and Ann in the little alleyway bedroom in between. Ben slept in our big room when he was a baby, but graduated to the day bed in Grandpa's ham shack when he was older. The wood stoves would crackle; the propane stoves would glow and our boisterous family would fill every room with laughter and noise.

The orchard is much reduced now: advancing years and the unforgiving humidity of Missouri both contributed.  But the cattle facilities are still used, the pastures maintained and the sprouts and windfalls held at bay.  The milking parlor is now an observatory and the market still serves as a shady spot for a mid morning refreshment and summering houseplants. The basement is a proxy for a life of varied interests: canning jars of fruits, QSL cards from all over the world; a virtual operating museum of old radio equipment, some hand crafted; a library of music and collection of instruments; a full ping pong table sized model train display with my mother's childhood train and the Missouri river bluffs as scenery; a wood stove to keep all dry and cozy in the wintertime.

One Christmas I made a barnboard sign for my folks' farm.  Laura and I pondered long and hard what phrase to paint and finally settled on 'Ruhegarten', German, we hoped, for a place of contentment and bounty.  Years of working land and maintaining gardens has led me to understand better why my father turned that sign over and painted another motto: "Erhalt!"   Conserve!  We will never rest in peace and contentment on this side of Eden; we must be vigilant, with spade and hoe in hand, or clippers, or Roundup, or hammer, or paint, or portable drill with self tapping screws.  Disorder lurks outside the gates like a ravening wolf.  Maintaining the status quo is the daily grind, but making your mark on the land is a life long pilgrimage. 'Erhalt!' is a worthy motto for the folks at Redbarn, who consider stewardship of land and the works of builders past God's own work.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Out of the Closet

'Nights are long since you went away..
I think about you all through the day.
..My buddy, my buddy,
 your buddy misses you...
Gus Kahn wrote these lyrics way back in  1922, but the sentiments are repeated in farm homes every fall when the greens of summer fade and the behemoths of harvest emerge grumbling and whining from metal sheds.  Magazines and newspapers pile up on the table and favorite TV shows queue up on the DVR. As the days wear on, the cooks scramble their brains and surf the Web for something, ANYTHING new and different, palatable when lukewarm and possible to serve in a Rubbermaid container.  The mantra begins:  when we get done with harvest, we'll.............

Cell phones and XM have lessened the isolation of the guy in the combine from home and Fox News, but bringing in the sheaves still leaves the folks on the home front with lots of "free" time between meals and at night.  After the leftovers have been stowed and the trash disposed of, the laundry hauled from the basement and the mail sorted, the sun may be down, but there are hours, rather than miles, "to go before I sleep."

What to do, what to do. Kids and women of all ages have packed up to visit pumpkin patches and parades.  We've had movie evenings with chick flicks and musicals. Reading, writing, washing windows, hanging pictures: so much more time for fall cleaning than spring. 

In that vein: pull out the hobby mess that has languished all those lovely balmy evenings of summer.  Behind closed doors in my living room resides half a lifetime's photo record, stacked willy nilly in unsteady sedimentary layers under the assorted dress coats and jackets.  There are thin albums with yellowing edges holding the little square fading Instamatic pictures of our early married years.  It was a big event to finish a cartridge of film in those days.  My Instamatic used flash cubes; holidays required careful rationing so that film and flash came out even at the end of the event.   

It was a marvelous birthday when I got my first SLR in 1982.  The first roll of pictures documents two little girls playing under the falling golden leaves of the silver maple in the front yard of our house on 4th street.  The amber sunshine, the red plant shelves, their bright smiles all blaze from the prints in the slightly more real than life hues of Fujifilm.  

There is no rhyme, reason, or particular rationale in the albums, but I can begin the sorting process by remembering which album style followed another.  There are square fake leather post albums that hold a mere two prints a page; these are late '80s and early '90s models.  Much of the nineties is contained in Hallmark post albums with colorful fabric covers.  They are oversized in more ways than one. Each page hold four or five prints, but I have extended the binding beyond all reason and many of these albums are more like antique folios: the story is told leaf by leaf held between covers only by gravity.  Some sturdy but elegant albums were another online purchase.  No adhesive here: the photos are sleeved.  Very efficient but not conducive to souvenirs, brochures, maps, and the other ephemera of travel.  One of these albums is devoted to our only overseas trip, a 2005 family odyssey to Ireland with Millie, Charlie, Nancy, Kevin, Blake, me and the three youngest boys.In these albums are pictures of at least three graduations and two weddings.  These albums blend seamlessly into the smaller albums of Target provenance.  Holding 250-300 photos, they are impossible to overstuff and stack firmly.  But they are indistinguishable from one another; it is quite possible to lose track of what exactly it is one is looking for while going from album to album. Aaron makes his first appearance in one of these faceless albums.  And after him....the deluge.

Clearly, this is all terribly anachronistic.  Blake gets a great deal of pleasure from his tall tales of my digital photography.  I guess he has the right: he bought me the digital camera in 2008 after Lizzie, Gabe, and Abbie came along, after Ben and Kenzie were wed, and before our second sailing cruise.  (To be honest, I don't think I took MORE digital pictures than I did print the second time.) He insists FedEx brings me yellow Shutterfly envelopes on a hand truck...or perhaps it is a Yellow Freightline truck with a pallet jack and a forklift..........well, you get the picture.  Firm in traditional storytelling mode, he accompanies these tales with exuberant hand gestures and exaggerated eye rolls.  

The price I pay for being the family historian.

At any rate, the closet in the living room was good for several evenings of harvest entertainment.  Some albums encompass no more than the month of December: Farm Bureau Annual meeting, the Live Nativity, preschool programs, cookie parties, wrapping presents, trimming the tree, untold instances of culinary creativity and consumption. The creative destruction and general hilarity of multiple Christmas day celebrations. All recorded, year by year, every one precious.  

Now they are stacked in chronological order, more or less, earlier to later, back to front.  To an untrained eye, the whole arrangement may not look like much progress.  But that's how it is with harvest activities:  some are more productive than others; some more practical.  My scrapbook project is finished for the time being.  On to another time honored harvest past time:  home improvement!

....the paint samples are in the back of the car.............

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Counting Candles

My Father is rich in houses and lands,
He holdeth the wealth of the world in his hands!
Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,
His coffers are full, he has riches untold.....

And the hymn continues, 'I'm a Child of the King, a child of the King, With Jesus my Savior, I'm a child of the King...'

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies....

How better can I describe the wonder and thankfulness I feel on the eve of another birthday. It is a good thing to give thanks, to count our blessings, to recite a litany of all we receive that we do not earn, or deserve.  "We should at all times, and in all places, give thanks."  And we shouldn't wait or delay, even if our only prayer is a heartfelt, 'Thank God.'  

I am a child of the King, but I am also rich.... not merely comfortable and safe.  I too hold the wealth of the world in my hands........whenever I lift Josh to see the cow plates on the wall or show him his toothy reflection in the mirror.  My coffers are full of untold riches when I draw chalk pictures on the front porch, play catch, sing songs and dance, or take aim at the bad guys.  My cup overfloweth.

We gather together in the October sunset.  Having an October birthday means taking the party on the road, but pares life to its most essential elements: family, fields, food, fellowship. I take advantage of my station to eat the caramel frosting off the top of Abbie's cake which she has dropped into the bean stubble.  One serving is never enough.  Josh has already eaten, but his auntie sneaks him a bite.  Start 'em young.

Next week I'll get spoiled by the East coast family; I know this from previous experience.  The Virginia countryside will display the beauty of the earth, rain or shine.  It will be a greener landscape than our dusty fields of stalks.  Their home will be mine for a couple of days.

'For the love, which from our birth':  the care and attention and unselfish love of  our parents; the joys, cares, worries, and pride of being parents; the wonder and amazement of being grandparents; the awe we feel as we realize our Heavenly Father embodies all of these and unending compassion, patience and forgiveness.  All of these are treasures of this world and the next.

'I don't feel very different these days; I know its strange.  I guess I've gotten used to these little aches and pains.'  Matraca Berg reminds me grandmas can wax poetic too.  Our house overflows.....with Legos, with books, with photos, with music, with evidence of two souls living in partnership and harmony that is close, if not always in tune.   A limp here, a snore there: badges of honor as the birthdays pile up.

Yep. Lord, all I ask for this birthday is that you continually nudge me, whisper to me, or downright yell at me when I forget to be thankful.  After all You've done for me, I must do no less.  

Monday, October 10, 2011

Legends of the Fall

"Tonight the moon was out, it was nearly full.
Way down here on earth, I could feel its pull.
The weight of gravity, or just the lure of life...."
Mary Chapin Carpenter's verse whispered in my ear as I made my way back to the Jeep from the cab of the combine.  To be accurate, the moon was a mere romantic sliver fading into the western horizon.  The Milky Way wrapped up the arch of the sky like a giant package. I looked up the sky chart for October 1 to put a name to the planet dominating the eastern sky.  Jupiter....I'll be watching you these harvest evenings as I reacquaint myself with the rising fall constellations.  Its a Friday night: I can see the halo of the lights on Burlington Junction's football field.  The air is still: I can hear fireworks at the football game in Tarkio.  Things must be going well for the Indians.

I've pretty well quit looking at the weather forecast, September has been so dry.  I haven't watched the ten o'clock news either.  But the wind yesterday was memorable enough that I checked out NOAA to see when it would end.  Our corner of the world had the dubious distinction of a red flag warning AND a chance of frost.  Fire and ice....Robert Frost...
Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

One terrible dry year I nearly burned our farm down.  We've always burned our paper trash in the deep hole we use to dispose of greenhouse and garden debris as well as downed tree limbs.  One frosty morning in November, I burned our household trash as usual, and then the kids and I went shopping. While we were gone, a north wind akin to the one that filled the air with dust yesterday churned through and caught some random spark left from my fire.  When we returned home, the rural firemen were gone, but a good portion of the harvested bean field around the greenhouses was blackened.  I could see where the fire had crossed the driveway within licking distance of two greenhouses.  It was a sobering and sickening experience.  This spring was dry as well and we weren't so lucky.  Somehow a bit of fire escaped the notice of at least ten people and melted the plastic and all the wiring of one greenhouse.  We have often lost plastic to the wind. We have frequently lost plastic to ice; losing one to fire was a first.  Fire is terrifying.  Ice is depressing.  To farm is to have fear of the Biblical plagues bred in your bones.  I tremble in deep rooted sympathy for folks in sere landscapes of the South.  I stand four square in the middle of the ancient Greek elements: earth, air, water, fire .

Harvest present conjures up harvests past.  Both combines feature GPS monitors. The children enjoy the moving mosaic of red, violet, green and yellow following the little green combine icon across the screen.  Various bells, whistles, beeps and buzzers monitor the vital functions of the monster mechanical beast.  When the grain tank is full or the unloading auger running, aggravating, repetitious beeps act as an audible cattle prod to the operator.  Still, the driver must treat the combine like the expensive Thoroughbred it is, feeling the rumble of the stalks feeding into the header and gauging speed, humidity, and yield faster than the photons can make it to the monitor. Push any factor too far and the whole symphony ends in a discordant chord.  We run much longer hours than we did years ago.  I assume the rotary machines are technologically superior and better able to process the larger volume of beans and stems.  Most evenings the beans would stop pinging against the windshield about the time the sickle bar quit shearing the stems.  This year, for a change of pace, the stems are still soft inside even though the beans themselves are down to a minuscule moisture below eight percent.  The dust is fierce; last week one combine caught on fire and spread sparks with each blast of the extinguisher.  With the advent of our grain wagons and diesel tractors, we haven't suffered the wildfires in the field of years past.  One memorable harvest, we burned two trucks, a pickup and Nancy's jeep....over the course of just two weeks!  

Fire and ice....twenty five years ago, we finished picking the bottoms after an ugly winter storm dumped snow up north and dropped temperatures into single digits in Atchison county.  We paid the price in spring in dead trees and shrubs, but farmers on the bottoms tested the strength of the frozen ground gingerly with their combines and trucks and brought the harvest home. The year we came back to farm, the men would chip enough frozen mud from the tread of the combine tires to keep them moving through the ruts of the bottom fields.  One Halloween, we set out to trick or treat Grandma Nelson with rain spitting and threatening to freeze.  By the time we got there, the power was out.  Grandma had her flashlight ready and treats waiting!  We crept back home over routes B and C that night.  In the morning, the Jack o'lanterns were coated with more than an inch of ice.  The elms in our yard were a wreck and power was out everywhere but our house.  We were warm but dry...there was no electricity to the well.  These fall ice storms are memorable for their rarity; winter ice storms for anxiety, exhaustion, and lingering aftermath.

Most evenings I do some housekeeping in the cab before I serve up supper.  The coffee Thermos,  squished water bottles, sections, fingers, sockets and three gallons of water require arrangement or disposal. I used to perch on the armrest in combines past.  Now there is a real live padded seat and room to stretch my feet out to the windshield. We used to think FM radio was a luxury. During the baseball playoffs or Saturday afternoon Tiger games, the farmers would vie for the catbird seat of the combine with its ear open to the sports world. Whether truck or tractor, the radio, or more likely, the antenna, would have given up its ghost a year or so into the hard life of Hurst Farms.  We've gone whole hog these days, realizing the thin line between work and torture may reside in the ability to listen to Special Report, Diana Krall, the Ricochet podcasts and Dave Ramsey. No longer do the markets and a.m. radio suffice: Blake sets his i-phone on the Sirius XM Sky dock and he is connected. None of these communications wonders is cheap, but blood pressures and tempers are in it for the long haul; communication, the experts say, is at the heart of a successful marriage. 

Riding the combine this year has been a less bone jarring experience thus far: one benefit of a drier year.  We shouldn't expect the washouts on the hillsides or the sticks and logs on the bottoms from toad stranglers or floods.  I am certain there will be dead falls on the sides of the fields though, judging from the sycamore limbs I've hauled off from my yard this summer.  Did you know there is an actual government wildlife program to encourage the downing of trees in the field margins?  "Feathering" is the technical term I remember.  When I heard of this, I was dumb founded.  Mother Nature not blowing down enough trees for you? Field borders require constant vigilance in our big combines with the long unloading augers.  The auger seldom escapes unscathed in a close encounter of any kind with branches or REA poles.  A wise man leaves a wide turning row and misses the big stick..........

'The weight of gravity'....or perhaps just the weight of harvests past.  We begin harvest in late September most years, but I remember filling the silo on my birthday one year in mid October.  We  typically finish harvest by Thanksgiving, but Blake's dad and grandfather finished in January. As much as the soil and slopes of our hills, the ditches and wet spots of our river bottoms, the winds, wets, warms and colds of our weather, our harvests bind us together over time and give us common history.  


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Deep or Wide

Before she decided to use pig farms as the villain in one of her books, I enjoyed reading Martha Grimes' murder mysteries.  Though an American writer, Ms. Grimes is an Anglophile; her milieu is England; her characters recognizably British, or at least literary British, meaning they exist only between the covers of a book.  There is sufficient romance, angst, atmosphere, and irony to make these adult entertainments slightly less fluffy than the food equivalent of key lime pie.  The stereotypes come with a twist, like reflections in an antique mirror. But they all have a redeeming sense of humor and don't take themselves too seriously.

This is not a review of Martha Grimes' writing though.  Rather, one recurring minor character keeps popping into my mind.  This gal dresses elegantly, is coiffed beautifully, and is described as a natural at the art of the cocktail gathering.  Diane DeMorney knows a little about everything.....literally.  She can participate in a conversation about any subject............for a sentence or two.

Superficial?  Shallow?  Well, maybe.  But, in a way, I'm rather envious of Diane DeMorney.  She may only grasp a factoid or three, and perhaps knowledge this narrow does not truly constitute knowledge at all, but she does know something.  Like the Peggy Lee song, ' I know a little bit...about a lot of things....', this gal is all surface and no depth.

'That wouldn't make you a shallow person, would it?'  Lyle Lovett putting thoughts into words.  How much knowledge does it take to exceed the epithet  superficial?  Is it a sin to know 'a little bit about a lot of things?'

I stand tonight in defense of factoids, trivia, and anecdotes.  We can't all be PhDs.  I can't know it all.  But I earnestly desire to be 'a jack of all trades' even if I'm a master of none.   I eagerly participate in the lyrics game between Lee and Ben, whenever it comes my way.  Next line of a song, show tune or country.....let me think on that a bit....and I'm not above Google.

I 'll never win at sports trivia; I don't love all sport.  But I want to recognize the birds of the air and the blooms of the field where ever I roam. (I know a bit about biology).  I am frustrated because I don't remember the winter constellations.  I want to recognize basic geology (I'm a little gem at geology) whether fossil, glacial, or tectonic.  I want to name names.....

When the kids were in school, they memorized the countries of Africa (thanks, Mrs. Schneider) and the kings and queens of England (thanks, Mrs. Schmidt).  We memorize the books of the Bible and the Apostles' Creed. Elementary school kids are responsible for states and their capitals and the United States Presidents.  We learn the names of dinosaurs, clouds, continents, bones, and Indian tribes. We follow the Pilgrims across the Atlantic, Custer to Little Big Horn, and Grant to Appomattox. This is our common culture, our common knowledge.

Maybe I have this name fixation because I have an eight year old grandson.  The four year olds ask 'why' of subjects equally serious and absurd (the time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things...of shoes and ships and sealing wax.  Of cabbages and kings.)  But Aaron can exceed his grandmother's cognizance on more than one front...machines for instance.  Thank goodness for grandpas, I say.

Google is my co-pilot on this quest.  Ask me about Nevada, Missouri (it burned to the ground in 1863 during the Civil War), Tillamook, Oregon (those are blimp hangars from WWII outside town), or Dumbarton Oaks (the owners commissioned Igor Stravinsky to create music for their thirtieth wedding anniversary).  Did you know the Beatles took a day off in Oregon county, Missouri during their first US tour?  Hey, maybe all that staring at cell phones is part of an ongoing search for knowledge!!

I wish I knew more. I wish I remembered what I once knew.  Why?  I can't tell you, beyond a desire to take advantage of God's beautiful world and the life of the mind.  I am reading a Kathleen Norris book about her months as oblate in a monastery . I envy the depth of their immersion in Scripture even as she describes their renunciation of individuality for the good of the community.  William Least Heat Moon's book PrairyErth is an example of a non fiction 'deep map' of a limited geographical location, including, by one definition, archeology, folklore, memories, weather, natural history and interviews.  Wendell Berry espouses the same devotion to a place through time in his novel, Jayber Crow. The protagonist in this story tries out the rest of the world before settling down for the remainder of his life in the town near his birthplace.  He has decided there is nothing of value from the outside world he cannot find in his geography, narrow in span, but spiritually deep.

As denizen of a small place; as occupant of a home with a past; as part of a family with ties to the same wet spots and dry hills, I am sympathetic to this view.  But it strikes me that this mindset confines our wandering minds and adventurous spirits. When I was a child.....I read the same beloved books over and over.  These days,  I am exquisitely attuned to the volumes on my shelves I have not cracked, much less the tantalizing tales and untapped knowledge in the electronic world.  I tend to make the tried and true treats over and over, even though a new recipe might be a new favorite.  Thankfully, I seldom have to choose where to travel.  The decision between a known, beautiful and fascinating quantity and trails unfamiliar is too much.  

Do I go deep....or wide?  Anecdote or monograph?  In the end, I guess no one is keeping score.  Diane DeMorney or Jayber Crow? 

Not a Renaissance man; not a polymath. I'll have to hope I can remember more than I forget.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy Apple Bread

Just back from a stay at a splendid city hotel where we enjoyed breakfast each morning under a substantial crystal chandelier surrounded by bucolic murals of gazebos, doves and vines. The breakfast buffet was on par with the decor, including cheeses of all matter of cloven hooved critters; hot and cold fish and fowl; and a mosaic of sliced seasonal fruits. Strawberries and melons, pineapple and citrus, blueberries and raspberries. Mmmmm. For three mornings, I luxuriated in a bowl of red raspberries with a dollop of whipped cream atop Red raspberries and cream for breakfast is a pretty fair distillation of the essence of a getaway.

Today, back to earth because earth, in the tactile, grainy, windy sense, is where I operate. Back to bringing in the sheaves, aka large scale mum deliveries, when we gather the fruits of our labors four by four and load them into the arks of the delivery trailers for their voyage to the cities. It concentrates the mind on the pressure points of finger tips and shoulders and knees. Back to harvesting another fruit, a humble fruit, not featured on the china plates at the Mayflower. Many of the apple trees on our farm are barren this year, victimized by chilly nights and unfriendly days for either bees or blossoms. But the quartet of trees with fruit bear heavy burdens on their branches. The apples are not perfect, but they are remarkably scab free and blush beautifully where the sun bathes them in the afternoon. These are apples I would not have to hide from my mother and father.

We had a Red Delicious and a Yellow Delicious in our side yard in Orland Park. These two seemed to grow with a cylindrical habit, without the muscular wide spread branches of the orchard at Granny and Grandpa's house. Somewhere along the line though, my folks learned how to grow fruit trees. They planted hundreds on the contour along the terraces of their farm in Moniteau county. They ran drip lines under the infant trees to forestall mortality during inevitable droughty summers and to promote fruit size and prevent fruit drop as the trees grew. They pruned and guyed, sprayed and raked up drops as the seasons demanded. One of the old buildings was refurbished into a market with an insulated, airconditioned room to keep the fruit in condition after it was picked. The last boxes of the best keepers were taken down to the fruit cellar in the pump house to be rationed deep into the winter until nothing was left of the apple but the sweetness.

Raising apples in mid Missouri is an art as much as a science. The glossy recommendations of New York catalogs bore little fruit, forgive the pun, in a climate with winter might rocket from minus 10 to 75 degrees like a pin ball machine. Trees would come and go, replaced with another more tolerant and tough. The window of opportunity for protective spraying could be but a sliver as well. Good spraying weather bears many similarities to good greenhouse covering weather, with the addition of a threat of rain. Meticulous growers that they were, they got those sprays in, because beautiful fruit was what they wanted to grow. Remember the lost Entwives of Tolkien's Middle Earth? In my father's judgement, my mom descended directly from the Entwives, so ordered and bountiful was their garden. In the summertime, we would all cool off in the shade of the market with statice and globe amaranth drying overhead, a few peaches ripening on the picnic table and the rows of tidy fruit trees marching on to the edge of the view like a vision of the Shire.

The apple season at Redbarn began in July with harvest of the immense flattened green Lodis. Lodi apples are thin skinned and don't store, but they peel easily and virtually sauce themselves. Lodis made thin applesauce that required liberal additions of sugar, but they came on early and were harbingers of good things to come, like the first robins in spring.

We weren't down there to catch every apple of the seasonal progression, but my folks kept boxes of their favorite keepers until we visited. Paula Reds were tasty handfuls for eating, but came on when the weather was warm enough, they didn't keep long either. McIntosh had to be watched like hawks; waiting one day too long for some color could mean the entire tree's fruit would be on the ground. And that would be such a shame! McIntosh applesauce is just about the best; the big apples left peels two foot long. They cooked down into a lovely pinkish hue with just enough fruity texture to have substance. A shelf of canned McIntosh will look completely different than a shelf of canned Delicious, or Ozark Golds, or Jonathans.

August brought in the Ozark Golds and the Galas. I don't know if my folks have any of these two trees remaining, though we have a couple at the farm. Galas are so beautiful, heart shaped fruit with a hint of blush on the side and so sweet and crisp! You can buy them in the store, but they won't originate in Missouri. The Ozark Golds were not as sweet, but they were a wonderful multi purpose apple and would tide a golden apple lover over until the fall apples were ready. You could munch an Ozark Gold out of hand, slice it for cinnamon sugar apples for a treat for the kids, or bake it into pies. The rootstock for the trees was just not sturdy enough for the repeated freezings and thawings of mid Missouri though and many of the Ozark Golds uprooted and blew over.

Finally the crown jewels of Missouri appledom would be ready, the wonderful main attraction in my opinion, the queen of fruity versatility, the Golden Delicious. Our family rejected the Red Delicious out of prejudice born of the thick skinned mealy fruits available year round at the stores in those days. My folks raised a few and no doubt they were tastier off the tree, but there was no getting around that thick skin. The Golden Delicious were not quite as pretty, bearing some rough cosmetic patches most years. But they stored well, made great pies, and could be canned into sauce or apple butter. We ate a dozen a day between snacks for school and harvest and lunches for all. These years of bountiful Golden Delicious were the years I started preserving my parents' apple harvest in the form of apple bread.

My mom made the apple bread first. The "old" Farm Bureau cookbook has the recipe which she would make for us when fruit was in season. When you have four boxes of apples and lots of friends and neighbors to bake for, it doesn't take long to connect the dots, head to the HyVee for sugar, eggs, flour and Crisco, and sharpen the paring knife. The apple bread recipe is just about fool proof in both construction and baking. It can be made successfully from a wide range of varieties, orchard fresh or store bought. It freezes just fine and actually slices more neatly after frozen.

I bet I've made hundreds of loaves in the big yellow Rubbermaid mixing bowl and worn out one set of loaf pans....for home, for family dinners, for holiday dinners, for funeral dinners, for breakfast, for birthday treats, for teachers, bus drivers, choir directors, piano teachers, Sunday school teachers and pastors. For gifts for friends. As giveaways for campaigns.
Just last week for Abbie's breakfast. Just today for a Farm Bureau supper.

Its a gift that keeps giving.....share the recipe, share the delight. I love it when someone walks up to the door and says, 'That smells WONDERFUL'. Its not rocket science and its no big secret.

It is a harbinger of cooler days, a pleasant reminder of fall at my parents' place, a 'remembrance of things past' that connects all the happy busy times spent with the oven warming, piles of peels in the sink, and family in the kitchen.

Happy Apple Bread.....

4 cups apples, peeled and diced
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Crisco oil
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups flour

Mix sugar, oil and eggs. Add apples and stir. Add other ingredients and stir. Batter will be stiff.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 in 2 ungreased loaf pans. Let cool then tip out. Freezes well.

don't use off brand oil....for some reason, it doesn't work as well.