Observations to End the Year

As I look back on 2011, I realize it marks the end of two and a half years of living in Utah.  I’ve seen the cycle of 12 months times 2+ now and I have a better grasp on the decision I made close to 3 years ago to retire, pack up, move west. and reinvent myself.

First, we had a lovely Christmas and I hope you did, too.  There were a lot of karate equipment gifts under the tree, and not just for Ethan, as his parents are also taking lessons at the dojo.  Angry Birds PJs, pillows, shirts, and other such items also brought a smile to Ethan’s face as he’s a big fan of the I-Pad game.  I gave some books and a wonderful pastel of Charlie (the corgi) rendered by my artist friend back east, Madeleine Kelly (putting a shameless plug in for her) to Bob and Lara.  Among an array of kitchen gizmos and a cast iron skillet, I received a bright red Kitchen Aid standing mixer (on my Santa wish list) as a group gift from my kids.  It will make baking and cooking a lot easier!  Thanks!!!!

Charlie pastel by Madeleine Kelly

Besides family, my life has devolved to church and museum commitments, gardening in the planting season, and reading.  It’s settled into a quiet routine, which starts most weekday mornings with lunch-making for those who still work and then Charlie and I head out to get the newspaper; my morning doesn’t start right unless I solve the cryptogram and crossword puzzle.  Paging through the paper I can check Dear Abby and local news.  Last week, one article caught my eye as a real sign of the times, and not just in Utah: a remainder and  used bookseller was closing his doors after 40 years of business in Ogden.  With Kindles, Nooks and I-pads, no one wants to deal with owning actual paper books.  It’s sad, as I still prefer old books that others have read and perhaps left a dog-ear bend or, if you’re lucky, glossed a margin with a comment or note.  I usually borrow books from the library–am currently reading a bio on Alexander Hamilton, and have seen personal sticky notes for the next reader!  There’s something really organic about paper pages that turn: easier to snuggle and read in bed (for me, at least), the ink and paper has a great aroma, and it’s battery-free–very low-tech.  I, for one, mourn the eventual passing of books, and apparently teaching cursive writing in school is also on the scrap heap of “unneeded skills.”  There was recently a newspaper article about that, too.

Okay, off my soap box now….  At the museum, it looks like history articles will still be needed by the Syracuse Islander, so that will continue.  We’re holding another essay contest for local school students in the spring like last year, but this time the topic is “A Museum Treasure Hunt.”  The concept being for students to visit the museum, select an object from our holdings, research it, and write a creative essay on it.  It will get them in the door and, hopefully, we’ll receive some nifty, creative, original essays.  The museum is also presenting a new special exhibit starting in February on the farming and food canning history of Syracuse, called “From Seed to Shelf.”  It will run from February to sometime in summer.  I’ll share more on that plus some photos early in 2012.

At St. Peter’s I’m busy with being head of the Altar Guild and that meant me and the others on the guild getting the altar in the sanctuary through Advent and redecorated for Christmas.  I sewed and gave–in memory of my mother and her mother–a deep blue cloth altar frontal (drape) and wide bookmarks for the lectern.  It is midnight blue satin with blue velvet bottom edging  along the 3 wide scallops.  The velvet is separated from the satin by thin dull silver roping.  It looked really elegant during Advent.  Next project is to sew a green frontal, which is used many Sundays out of the year–sort of “ordinary time” hanging.

This year saw the passing of my mother, Jane and my daughter-in-law, Marj’s, father, Harvey.  Events like this are always seismic in some way and always leave their marks.  Jane and Harvey, you are missed.

So, 2012 looks like a repeat of 2011 in day-to-day activities: food shopping, chatting with Mark and Lance at the butcher’s shop, karate lessons chauffeur, blog writing, working on the family tree (just found more on my father’s mysterious half-brother!) meal-plannng and cooking,  but there’s something comforting about repetition.  I just wish we’d get some snow.  So far this year, there’s been scant snowfall, even in the mountains.  The ski areas are wringing their mittened hands as there’s hardly any base upon which to add man-made snow.  In fact, since I moved here, our valley area of Utah hasn’t had any major storms; you all back east have faced winter’s brunt!  Well, we still have January and February to go, and if all else fails, there’s always March.

I look forward to 2012 and all the surprises it brings.  Here’s to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day with the parades and football games.  If you party, party safely.  Safe traveling to all on the road coming or going anywhere.  Good-bye to the old and welcome the new!

Published in: on December 27, 2011 at 6:10 pm  Comments (1)  

Merry Christmas 2011

Well, Christmas is almost upon us, again and it’s time to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

The Yule logs burn by the tree.

I’m taking a break from my blog other than to send greetings and to attach some holiday photos to make this posting worthwhile.  I’ll return next week. 

It’s been an up and down year on many fronts: new babies (of former students of mine) were welcomed in Germany and Hong Kong, the passing of several family members altered our lives, and birthday milestones were achieved.   Ethan;s smile says a lot about spreading cheer, especially when standing next to Santa, aka Father Christmas.

Ethan and the jolly old elf, himself!

So, if I missed you with a personal greeting, many digital this year, have a blessed Christmas and a grand New Year!

Ethan contemplating a cookie.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm  Comments (1)  

A Snowy Update and a Big “Cheat”

Today we have a surprise snow–no one really saw this coming.  It’s just a light dusting, but it’s still drifting down as I write and it sure does look pretty, like confectioner’s sugar.  Feels more like Christmas now.

It’s about a week and a half to go for Christmas and I’m busy baking cookies–10 kinds this year–this week and next.  Today is Lucia Day for all you Swedes out there.  I still make the saffron Lucia buns, but just half a recipe now.  The dough is rising and we’ll have them tonight for dessert.

Packages arrive daily at the door–many for the dog!  (Doggie chew toys that are hard to find in stores.  Gotta keep the Corgi happy!)

Our trees have been up and decorated since Thanksgiving weekend and last night neighborhood carolers came around and entertained me with their rendition of “Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer.”  So the excitement is mounting.

It’s lunchtime and I’ll have to get Ethan his lunch (he’s off-track from school til early January) and then bake more cookies and the Lucia Buns, so I’m going to cheat and tack on an emergency history essay I wrote several weeks ago for the Syracuse Islander on lighting with oil lamps.  I don’t want to miss a weekly posting and next week will be something for Christmas.  So if you’re not too busy as well, read on….

Let There Be Light

We don’t even think twice about it: flip a switch and voila! light floods the room.  Electricity has become such a common part of our lives that we take it for granted.  Electric runs our gadgets and appliances, fires up our computers, may heat our homes–it can even fuel our cars.  But take away electricity and our world changes drastically, and probably one of the uses where we would notice it first is lighting our world, especially at night.

Even if you only travel back about 160 years, the options were still limited: candles and oil lamps.  Both required work and specialized equipment, as you probably had to make your own candles or purchase an oil lamp and keep it working with oil and wicks.  Since by the 1860s most people chose to use oil lamps throughout their homes, and since the Syracuse Museum has several examples of oil lamps–often nicknamed hurricane lamps as they would stay lit in a heavy wind–let’s focus on that source of light.

Even though primitive-design oil lamps have been around for millennia, by the 1860s the design we know today as an “old-fashioned oil (or kerosene) lamp” had been developed.  The base is usually glass, metal, or ceramic and forms some sort of pedestal to stabilize the lamp and includes a reservoir or “fount” for holding a quantity of oil.  Attached firmly to the fount is the apparatus known as the “lamp burner”  This holds the braided cotton wick, one end of which will extend into the liquid fuel and the other end can be adjusted upwards into the glass chimney held in place on the fuel burner by four clips or prongs.  The wick can be adjusted by turning a knob attached to the “cric,” a toothed sprocket that raises and lowers the wick to increase or decrease the amount of light thrown off (usually about what 6-10 candles could provide).  At the base of the glass chimney, there needs a space or “throat” to allow for drafting and complete combustion of the fuel.  The more oxygen being carried by this draft ensures a brighter, almost smokeless flame.

Before the development of petroleum, or coal-based fuels, whale oil was the fuel of necessity.  The demand for oil fuel for lamps world-wide, along with other uses for whale by-products such as an ingredient for women’s perfume and whale bones (actually the baleen from the whales’ mouths) for corset stays, kept the whaling industry sailing for years.  Only when the formula for kerosene refined from petroleum was patented in the 1850s by Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner did fuel become easier and more economical to produce and the whaling industry declined.  He named his new distillation kerosene after the Greek word for wax, keros (κηρός).  By then a vegetable oil had been created, but kerosene was cheaper and produced a superior flame.  The down side to kerosene was its high combustibility; in 1880 almost two of every five home fires in New York City were the result of defective kerosene lamps.

Often, the care and maintenance of these lamps was the designated responsibility of an older child.  Reliable light at night hinged on the fount being filled, the wick trimmed and hanging in the oil so the oil would absorb up to the cut end in the lamp burner, and the glass chimney being cleaned from accumulated soot and smudging from previous lightings.  Oil and wicks would be obtained from the local mercantile store when a family member would hitch up the wagon and drive into town for other staples and supplies.  Now, the use of oil lamps–often with fancy scented oil–is viewed as atmospheric and romantic, but this wasn’t always the case.  Lamps like these were often a luxury and a pioneer family might have only one or two in the house.  Next time you switch on a light, think back to the time before electric when the world was “simpler,” or was it?

The Syracuse Museum’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West.  Stop by, visit us, and check out our collection of oil lamps and other wonderful items on display from the “simpler” times.

Published in: on December 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Epic Windstorm in Northern Utah

Last week it snowed in southern Utah, but due to an unusual weather pattern, northern Utah–our stretch of the Wasatch Front in particular–was hit by a damaging windstorm.  It was like a category 2 hurricane without the rain.  Since Syracuse is nearer the lake and was once farmland (no old growth trees) we didn’t have as much damage as the towns like Kaysville, Centerville, and Bountiful, that are nearer the mountains.  Those communities lost trees, power and had structural damage to buildings and cars.   Winds were sustained at about 70 mph, with gusts clocked at 102 mph.  And this storm just didn’t last an hour or two; it raged for about 20 hours.

Aftermath of a large tree falling on a car in Ogden

I know I complain that I miss trees and that Utah has few trees, but that’s where we live; closer to the mountains, folks have landscaped and planted trees, so they were hit hardest.  All we lost was a section of our backyard vinyl fencing, easily snapped back in place.

Tree fallen on a house--a too common sight

During the storm, TV news reports updated us on what was happening.  When it was all said and done, 15 tractor-trailers on Interstate 15 had flipped on their sides in a 10 mile stretch. 

Two 18-wheelers over on I-15 (our exit is 332)

One golf course lost 100 trees from their landscaping, turning it into a links-style course.  Some towns just got their power back, after being without for about 5-6 days.  And apparently, California got it worse than we did.  I believe these are part of what is called the Santa Ana winds.  I have a new understanding of what the canyons experience near Los Angeles when there are wildfires and the winds whip up.

Clean-up began at once as another windstorm was in the offing (it never really materialized).  Reports came in that there was a mile-long back-up to enter the Davis County landfill with all the green debris and chain-sawed tree limbs.  This landfill is where we take our recycling, so I am familiar with the winding road into the landfill entrance.  I think spokespersons said well over 20.000 tons of trees and other damaged debris has been brought so far and they’re not sure where to put it all.  Then to make things worse, scammer contractors are showing up and bilking people of money by clean-up and repair promises, taking a deposit, and then never showing up.  Folks around here remarked that the last windstorm, in 1999, was bad, but not like this one, which broke some records.  The city of Bountiful estimates $8 million in damage to the town.   Gov. Herbert even called out the National Guard to help.

All I know is that the wind howled, the fence shrieked, the dog got blown sideways when out in the backyard doing his business, and we were all thankful we had all but dismantled the trampoline, or it would probably have been blown into the lake or beyond to the western desert!

Published in: on December 6, 2011 at 9:19 pm  Comments (1)