Care to Play?

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We took a trip into Burlington today and visited the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center. We go to ECHO often enough that we have a membership. Seeing the fish and turtles and ocean touch tank are interesting pretty much every time. They also, however, have a rotating exhibit. The current one is called Playing Together, which is all about games. They have games on display, such as a giant chess board and hopscotch and, one of my favorites, skittles. All of them are available to play, so whether the ancient game of Senet or the more modern Backgammon, fun can be had.

We wanted to play chess on the giant board, but it was never available. That thing is popular. My children played Bubble Hockey, which is like foosball, but hockey instead of soccer. My wife played hopscotch several times. We did not come close to playing all the games. We will have to go back.

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Skittles uses a top to knock down pins–the harder the pins are to reach the more points they are worth.

I love games. Before children games were a major source of fun in our house. We still play them at home, but different games and not as competitively. One winter night our pipes froze and my wife and I stayed up all night trying to thaw them out. While we waited for steam to do its duty, we played Quiddler. We played hand after hand and got such high scores we were impressed with ourselves with such an amazing display of wordsmithing. Then we realized we had played several hands too many. We stayed up way too late that night, and the pipes never thawed anyway.

I taught my son chess a few years ago, and then gave him a chess board for Christmas. We play occasionally. I don’t cut him any slack but when I stop paying attention he sneaks up on me. I am not all that good at chess so I imagine he will surpass me if we play enough.

We should get back into playing games more often. We have played a few of them this week, as we are all off for the school break. It would be a good habit to keep up. Maybe another visit to ECHO will inspire us again to make it a regular activity in our house. The exhibit was inspiring. There are just so many fun games to play. Games night anyone?

Tofu Pot Pie

IMG_0686For over ten years now one of the favorite dishes in our house has been tofu pot pie. We got the recipe from a good friend on a visit to Idaho. The recipe (or an approximation of a recipe) was hastily written on the back of a page of a transcript of an interview about a timber sale. It has rudimentary directions but enough for me to understand it and to make the pie scores of times. I made it again last night.

The original recipe is a little different. It calls for mushrooms and not potatoes, but I love potatoes in a pot pie and mushrooms are not always appreciated by some members of our household. It has a few other modifications as well, which were added after many attempts to try something new. This takes some time to prepare, no question, but it is worth it. Here is the recipe:

TOFU POT PIE

Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup butter

1 teaspoon salt

5 Tablespoons water

Mix salt and flour in a food processor. Cut butter into chunks and add to food processor; mix until it forms loose crumbs. Add water in stages until dough starts to cohere. Pack into two flat discs, one slightly larger than the other, and wrap in wax paper. Chill for at least an hour.

Vegetables

1 onion

2 celery stalks

2 large carrots

3-4 potatoes

1 cup peas

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon pepper

salt to taste

1 ½ Tablespoons tamari

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Chop onion, celery, carrots and potatoes into ¼ inch pieces. Cook in large sauté pan in olive oil on medium high heat until potatoes start to get soft. Add spices, salt, peas and tamari. Set aside.

Tofu

14 oz. extra-firm tofu

1/3 cup flour

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

3 Tablespoons olive oil

Cut tofu into ¾-inch cubes. Mix flour, nutritional yeast, salt and garlic powder in large bowl. Coat tofu well in this mixture. Brown coated tofu in hot oil in large sauté pan and set aside.

Gravy

½ cup nutritional yeast

¼ cup flour

1/3 cup olive oil

1½ cup cold water

2 Tablespoons tamari

In dry hot large sauté pan, toast flour and nutritional yeast for a few minutes. Add olive oil and whisk into a paste. Add water and tamari and whisk well until blended. Remove from heat.

Assembly

Heat oven to 400°.

Roll out bottom crust and insert into 10-inch pie pan. Add half each of the vegetables, tofu and gravy, then add the rest in additional layers. Cover with top of crust and seal.

Bake at 400° for 30 minutes. Crust should be slightly browned. Cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8. Total time to prepare and bake: 1½- 2 hours.

More Cameras Out and About

It is really hard to start thinking about something I have been ignoring for so long. I knew that if I wanted to be aware of all the cameras in my world it would take some practice, but I keep forgetting to look. I keep forgetting to try to be aware. Security and monitoring cameras are typically positioned so that they are unobtrusive, sure. They are visible but not noticeable on purpose.

Over the past couple of days I noticed a few cameras taking my picture. Yesterday I noticed three at a local market but I forgot to look when I was at the register area. I was checking out, paying and so on, so I tried to pay attention to the person helping me. I tried to be friendly and to make sure I appreciated what she did. That meant I did not look up to see the cameras around me, but I am sure there was at least one near the registers.

Yesterday I also went into a computer store to get a replacement back-up hard drive. I paid attention to the people around me and to what I sought, but I forgot to look for cameras. I am sure they were there but again, they are not meant to be seen, so I did not see them.

Today I noticed another camera at our local grocery store. There may have been more, but once again I stopped looking. It is really hard to pay attention all the time to looking for cameras when I have been not doing so for so many years. Part of my interest in seeing them is that I want to be more aware, not just of the fact that I am being spied on, but also of my environment, whatever it may look like. I want to practice paying attention. There is far too much in my world that I do not see. That makes sense–there is too much around to notice it all–that would simply be overwhelming. But still, I want to see more of what is around me.

I will keep trying to pay attention. I remember sometimes, after all. If I keep trying I will remember to look most of the time. I guess that is the best I might hope for, at least for now. Once I do really notice them I want to be aware enough that I wave to every one. Why not be friendly? Even to strangers trying to spy on me? Can’t hurt, right?

On Camera Again

Recently I was listening to fairly new podcast from National Public Radio, Invisibilia, which I highly recommend if you like good storytelling and thinking of things in new ways. The episode, Our Computers, Ourselves, examined how computers affect human behavior, for good or bad. One of the themes was the ubiquity of computers in our lives. They did not dwell on this as part of the show, but as I drove through the snow on my way to work, my own thoughts kept curling around the idea. I looked up and saw a video camera on a light pole, and I wondered, how many times does a camera take an image of me each day? I don’t live in a city but I also don’t live in the most rural part of Vermont. So, in the largest city in Vermont, a very small city by the standards of most other states, how ubiquitous are cameras?

Since then I have been thinking I should count them. Could I be aware enough to see the cameras that watch us but that we have forgotten are there? I knew that I would have to pay attention, that I would have to start noticing things I no longer see. I figured I would try it out today, knowing that it would be an imperfect experiment to start.

On the way to my destination for the day I passed at least two traffic camera intersections where I assume my image crossed a screen. I tried to pay attention but got lost in whatever I was listening to and didn’t look for cameras once I exited the interstate. I did go to a school this morning, which meant a camera aimed itself at me as I buzzed the front desk. I am guessing I missed some cameras but that is at least three, all of which carried my image twice. So at least six times today I was filmed (I’ll have to work on being careful with that word as there was no actual film involved) and none of those instances were of my own choosing.

I plan to try to keep an eye out for cameras around here as I drive and work and shop and play. I am guessing I will find some in unusual places. At some point I will try to count them all in a period of time (one day? one week?). If nothing else it will be good practice noticing, paying attention, being aware. I may find that there are fewer cameras than I imagine; I may find there are more. Either way, the question–how often am I camera?–is worth asking.

Cold Wind and Drifting Snow

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The high temperature today was 2 degrees. Cold. The wood stove did its work. The chickadees and tree sparrows and woodpeckers kept busy at the feeders. Snow fell early and clouds passed in and out the rest of the day. It wasn’t summer.

And the wind blew. It howled. It battered the house. It buffeted the windows. It whipped the snow. Snow eddied on the porch and piled against the door. Snow gathered on the lee side of snow banks. It formed drifts in the road. The wind-chill adjusted temperature was about 25 degrees below zero. Not a day for sunbathing.

The driveway drifted in. That does not often happen but this is the kind of day it would drift in. It is a long driveway, next to a meadow, so I suppose it is to be expected. The house came with snow fencing when we bought it. We have never put it up as it hasn’t been needed. Our plow guy made an extra trip today.

This afternoon I took a few laps around the field on my skis. The track that my son and I made yesterday afternoon was almost totally hidden in drifting snow. We had to make that track because the previous one got snowed in. So I followed the track I could  find and broke a new one where the track had disappeared. Snow blasted against my jacket, although I was well covered. My eye lashes froze from my breath’s condensation.

The second time I looped around, much of my track had vanished again and the rest was hard to see. This happened each time. It was not fast skiing. The day, however, was beautiful. The landscape changed by the moment. Snow swirled in misty towers and sped low across the road. The sun shone periodically and the world glowed when it did. I stayed out for while before filling the bird feeders, hauling in more firewood, and settling inside again.

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Ski tracks after fewer than ten minutes

Tonight the low is forecast at -13. That’s exciting. It likely won’t get out of the single digits tomorrow. It has been three weeks since the temperature got above freezing. Looks like that won’t happen again for a while. Still, I’ll get outside and enjoy the snow. Meteorological spring, after all, is a mere five weeks away.

 

Skiing the Meadow

IMG_5839I rose fairly early this morning. After some coffee and some work email, I headed outside for a quick ski. Some winters we don’t get enough snow to make skiing a possibility all that many days but lately we have been getting the white stuff in plenty. I need to take advantage of it.

The sun was not up when I headed across the field but it was light enough to see well. My skis shushed along the ski track I created by taking multiple laps around the field. Yesterday I looped around several times, breaking trail at first, then packing the track down a little more with each pass. Today it was smooth, filled with an inch of new snow. It was nine degrees but I was dressed for it. I only did half a dozen laps, stopping at one point simply to listen.

Last night and again tonight we headed out there after dinner. We donned headlamps and skied in the dark. The world is smaller in the dark, especially with a headlamp, becoming a small circle of light. Turn the light off and the world is less bright but broadens. Four headlamps bounced along last night. Tonight just my son and I skied a few laps. Light snow fell, as it did this morning. This is winter at its finest, morning and evening.

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A Little Afternoon Swim

IMG_5829Every winter Special Olympics Vermont holds the Penguin Plunge, a fundraiser that draw all kinds of people who want to take a quick dip into Lake Champlain. My wife and daughter took part yesterday. Each year the sixth grade class at my daughter’s school (led by a motivated and inspired teacher) raises funds and gets fired up to jump in the lake.

It was about ten degrees yesterday. At least the air was that cold. The lake was just about 32 degrees, so clearly a nicer place to hang out than the breezy waterfront. My son and I watched groups run down the boat ramp and get wet. While a few groups of high school boys did swim the short distance of open water the ice’s far edge, most people were in and out of there fast.

I have been in water that cold and I know that it quite literally takes your breath away. It is hard to breathe and one’s muscles don’t respond very quickly. Staying in for long is not a good idea. There were a few people on the dock in dry suits ready to pull anyone out who needed help, but everyone I saw was pretty motivated to make tracks back up to the warming tent.

The event is well organized and has lots of positive energy. There are two changing tents–for men and for women–as well as a staging tent where plungers wait until their wave is called. Everyone who participated got cold, of course, but not for long. Those tents are toasty. It was enjoyable to watch. It was hard to watch and not to participate, in fact. I wanted to get right in there with them. But somebody had to park the car and take the photos. Next year, however, I may have to take a swim as well.

A couple of times today my daughter mentioned that she went in the lake yesterday. I think she was proud of herself. I told her that went swimming just last week and she pointed out that swimming in Florida doesn’t count. True. Really, I was proud of her too.