• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


This morning I needed to print the schedule for "assignments due" in my science class. We have a very nice, and large printer that we enjoy using - so large it lives in the spare room. I use it often and seldom have trouble with it, only occasionally needing to change an ink cartridge.

Accordingly I took the laptop I am using into the spare room, activated the printer from sleep mode, and attempted to print my schedule. After 3 futile tries I was not only frustrated but a bit puzzled.

After the first try I made sure I had selected the correct printer. We have several options. Check! The correct one was selected in the system tray.

I checked for paper. Check!
I checked ink levels. Check!
Doors and drawers closed. Check!

Hmmm . . .

I pushed scan - Check!!
The printer promptly spit out a blank.
Thanks! now how about my schedule?

No chance! Grrr . . . Sigh!

I tried once more, walked away, got a drink,
and returned to an empty tray.

Oh well, I thought, time for a repair - perhaps.

I reached to unplug the printer,
and felt very foolish.

It wasn't plugged into the laptop!
Duh! Double DUH!!
I wasn't connected to the printer.

Printer worked fine - as soon as I plugged into it.
And I have my schedule.
And a red face.

I am left wondering, though, how many times we have glitches or life problems where we haven't followed a simple proscribed procedure - as simple as inserting the printer plug into the laptop and being properly connected.

Prophets guide us about being connected.
Are we plugged in?
Are we connecting?

Here is an example.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland describes 'Living After the Manner of Happiness'. This is a life changing 32 minutes. We are instructed by an apostle of the Lord - not to mention that he quotes 6 famous people about happiness, and Lynn G Robbins who should be famous for his recipe for [family] disaster!

"Put tempers on medium heat, stir in a few choice words, and bring to a boil; continue stirring until thick; cool off; let feelings chill for several days; serve cold; lots of leftovers."

I looked up the quote by Elder Robbins. 
He spoke in April 1998, General Conference.

I am left ashamed that I have ever been guilty in any way, EVER, of what is described in Robbin's 7 1/2 minute talk. 

Yet I have "expected" happiness.
Like my schedule it often eludes me.

As important as words from the likes of  Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa are, how important are God's words?

How important are the scriptures? 

How important are the commandments?

How important are living prophets?

These things are vital!  
And we can plug in anytime we choose.

What do I want?
What is my heart's desire?
What procedure have I overlooked?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Paleography 130

This week in our class we were assigned readings about historical writing and given a choice of several options to write with/about. Another assignment is to spend some time preserving records.
  • Write a report; 
  • Make a quill pen and ink;
  • Make some paper; 
  • Make a cuneiform clay tablet 
sample letters from Wikipedia reading

I chose
     "Read the “Cuneiform” article at Using modeling clay or salt dough, create a Sumerian clay tablet (does not need to exceed 3" x 5"). Using a stick, create your own cuneiform stylus."

left: cracking marble; center: wet clay marble; 
As a child, my siblings and I sometimes made marbles from slippery mud left as puddles dried after heavy rain. It would crack in slabs and curl in the sun. The back side of the slabs made excellent marbles that we would sneak into the bottom of mother’s oven. Sometimes they would crumble. We never knew which would and which would not. She was very patient, except when they blew up!

Later I learned that clay must be completely dry or it explodes during baking.

As an adult, I decided to satisfy my curiosity about why some clay crumbles and other bakes well. I checked out a stack of books from the public library and read about clay: ancient pottery and people that made it, firing, kilns, types of clay and where it can be located, and colors, etc. I never thought about colors - isn't all clay gray?

View from Google Earth, Sept 2014, of coulee 

Soil in our area was a clay "mixture." There was a ravine/coulee near my home where I remembered seeing layers and characteristics like the books described. I took a couple of buckets, a shovel, a cooperative spouse, and went for a short hike.

In the coulees there were several slide areas. I knew I was looking for the kind of “slick” feeling mud that dries to a brick-like hardness, but when wet is so sticky that it is almost impossible to wash off my hands. We found it, filled the buckets, and hiked back.

The books described a procedure for “washing” the clay to remove debris, dirt, sand, or other impurities. This involve mixing up a very watery slurry, straining it repeatedly, and letting the clay settle to the bottom (often over a period of days, with repeated stirring and straining). The dirt and most vegetation would float higher than the clay and could be poured or dipped off. The sand and small pebbles came out in the screens and sieves.

Eventually I had several small gallon containers of grayish white clay that resembled the clay I have seen in pottery shops. It was fun to play with the clay and mold it but I had no idea how to bake it, or what else to do – back to the library (pre-internet time period). The things I read about were interesting, but much more work than I wanted to attempt.

small container of dried out hard clay
One book described a process to “ripen” the clay by storing it in certain humid, temperature controlled conditions. Another detailed how some oriental artists bury it for 10 to 20 years to “cure” it, and yet another described how to harden it in large bonfires kept burning for days. Mine went into sealed buckets and was soon forgotten – but, even in long distance moves, never discarded. It had cost a bit of time and effort, and maybe someday I would use it for something.

Approximately 10 years later, while working as an ASL interpreter in a high school art class, I mentioned the clay to the teacher when the class did the unit on pottery. Mr. Brown was excited and curious. He asked if I would be willing to craft a little pot or figurine and let him experiment with baking it.

white spots on back of pig are impurities in the clay
 I made a tiny pig that fits in my hand. He fired it at about 1500° F and it turned a startling reddish-orange. He said that indicates a high iron content. He told me that even though the clay still had a few impurities that it was great, and provided 'firing' details.

before mixing and wedging

I was working 2 part time jobs, and raising a family, so the clay went back on my 'someday' priority list, and after another move took up residence in our garage. That was about 20 years ago. Last week when I read this assignment, I pulled out a small container of it, added some water to the rock-hard block, and Monday wedged it on a piece of old cotton dishtowel for the 'bat' I don't have (to help control the mess and improve consistency). A piece of heavy canvas would be better but this is what I had on hand.

Initially it was extremely soft and wet with harder drier areas but, as I kneaded, it soon became a pliable block of good clay again. I love clay! 

I couldn't resist trying a marble.

I cut a hand size lump and flattened it slightly, then folded the cloth over it and rolled it out. This helps to keep it from sticking to everything including my hands (although when clay is the correct consistency it almost cleans the hands as it sticks to itself, but I was impatient).

Yes that is my good rolling pin in the picture, but it has seen more clay than pies or cookies - a baker I am not. I cut a chunk and put the scraps back into the container.

clay sandwiched between cloth

I dug through my junk drawer and found a pair of abandoned chopsticks, and then went on the internet to learn about the writing and making a stylus. At the bottom of our Wikipedia cuneiform reading there is a helpful video about the writing. (Writing ancient Iranian cuneiform on YouTube by subject-matter expert Soheil Delshad.) I watched it several times and realized that the scribe was using one stick and it seemed to be just a simple rectangle on the end.

chopsticks left over from take out 
Cool!! I like easy. My chopsticks were almost the same shape.

wide end of chopsticks need to have sharper,
more defined corners and edges - not rounded

There were many suggestions for making a stylus, but I was gratified to see many of them suggested using wooden chopsticks. They just needed to be squared a little bit. I felt blessed! I knew I was keeping those chopsticks for something!

examples of practice writing strokes
When I went to school at age 5, we began to learn writing by making straight lines, angled lines, and last of all finally curved lines. We practiced pages and pages and pages of lines. It seemed like forever before we actually began to make actual letters, never mind words. With this in mind I did not attempt to make actual letters or words on my clay 'tablet.' I attempted to just practice the strokes and shapes I had seen and watched.

First I tried it on a scrap of clay.

I learned a lot about patience.
Clay takes a lot of patience. 
I knew that. 
I had forgotten.

Writing takes a lot of patience. I remember shedding buckets of tears when I learned to write with a pen. I kept finding mistakes in what I had already written. My father showed me how to “fix” many mistakes with some creative thinking. For example a 6 that should have been an 8 can just have the extra parts of the top half drawn in place. Whew! I didn't have to be perfect yet.

I still don’t. My tablet was a fun experiment. First I pressed a curved plastic lid along the edges to constrain the ‘text block’ and make it have a bit more eye-appeal. Then I pressed a metal set of leaves onto the lower left corner like a ‘seal,’ or stamped symbol. (When you work in clay you should always inscribe a mark that identifies your work.)

Next I drew along a straight edge with the stylus to divide the writing areas. In the top row I pressed the stylus into clay at many angles, sometimes lifting it higher and sometimes laying it almost flat. I also rotated the stylus so the wider edge was vertical and horizontal. It wasn't looking much like the triangular marks of cuneiform, so I watched the video again. I also reviewed some pictures from our Wikipedia reading.

Extract from the Cyrus Cylinder(lines 15–21),
giving the genealogy of Cyrus the Great and an
account of his capture of Babylon in 539 BC.

Phoenician alphabet

Sumerian inscription in monumental archaic style,
c. 26th century BC

I noted angles and direction of the imprints more carefully, and also noticed that for some of the broader marks the scribe pressed the stylus into the clay more than once at various different angles. I had better success when I tried again.

Then I tried to make ‘writing’ from different places and times on the second row. With my pocket knife, I shaped a smaller stylus with a longer narrower area to 'draw' or make longer marks.

trying other shapes and strokes with smaller stylus

The clay was a lot drier now and almost ideal to draw on and press marks into. It was somewhat stiff but still soft. On the third row I finally tried to mimic some of the letters/words pictured as cuneiform. Some were more pleasing than others; some were a mess. When I left it overnight to dry, it was the texture of leather and could be handled easily. 

This next morning I couldn't even tell it was drier, except that it was no longer like leather - it was stiff. It rained off and on today and my AC kept coming on – likely to remove humidity.

When making marbles it was important to keep them
similar in size to commercial marbles so that we weren't 
accused of cheating.

I got impatient, put the clay on a rack and turned my oven on low. I left the door ajar and set the rack above the open door. After a while, the top was getting fairly dry so I turned it over. The third time I did that it cracked along one of my dividing 'score' lines - maybe they were too deep.

Slip often becomes very 'creamy' but when the piece is dry
and baked only texture differences will be noticeable. 
It also dries more quickly.

I attempted to put ‘slip’ (a thin slurry of clay and water used to stick leathery unbaked clay to itself) on the back.

I wanted it to have the same texture as surrounding areas so I laid the cloth on it and pressed. DUH!! That was silly – and not patient. It broke in several places. That is when I remembered that a "slab" should have uniform thickness. To roll it to an even thickness you place it in between two matching slats of wood. You can also use a ‘form’ or ‘mold.'

I repaired the breaks using the slip and left it to dry. But I just couldn't seem to leave it alone. I moved it again and all my repairs came apart. Lucky for me I already had pictures. I had made it quite thin hoping it would dry quickly - maybe a bit too thin.

When clay is not baked, but has been shaped, it is called greenware. It is very, VERY fragile. I knew better than to move it around. My slab was in a very tender greenware stage, when just uneven finger pressure can cause damage. It was also not uniform in thickness, so even light pressure on the back caused it to crack. To handle a slab at that stage it would need to be moved lying on a flat surface. I didn't handle it properly.

When clay is baked it is much stronger. If this slab was properly fired it could be handled like any pottery plate of the same thickness. When glaze is added it is adds strength to the clay as well as a finish. This clay appears a deceptive soft- white gray, but when fired will become the common rusty, orange-red of a clay pot.

On some web sites showing cuneiform the tablets look much thicker than mine and show a more rounded sloping edge. This might make them much less fragile. If it is not baked, clay can also be recycled. As soon as water is applied, the clay readily returns to a lump that can be reworked.

soaking to become blended with main lump again

This has been a fun experiment and my tablet is going back into the lump – and likely, until my semester is over, back out to my craft room.

Shake a couple times and this is all just 'dirt' again. 
To reuse as clay I would stir and then let some moisture 

Friday, September 12, 2014


Stuffed Crookneck Squash

Crookneck squash are a yellow summer squash with a tender, edible skin (unless cross pollinated and over large), and lots of vitamins and minerals. They may be almost any shade of yellow from orange-ish to green-ish, and have smooth or bumpy skin. Some may have very little 'crook,' and some may have a deep curl. Some may be cucumber or ball shaped.

From 'The Good Cook: Vegetables'
I found a delicious recipe a few years ago.
I make it when I have crooknecks.
Some crooknecks grow without a crook.
This year I was gifted some that are like baseballs.
Thanks, Jodean. I love them!!
Perfect for dinner.

ready to go into the oven

I found the recipe a bit confusing.
If you use it, read it ALL THE WAY, carefully.

I find it best to get an overall picture in my mind of what I am trying to do. In this case, I am going to cut a slice from the top of the squash, clean out the seeds, and fill it with a mixture of soft breadcrumbs, chopped squash (from the slice I cut from the top), and seasonings (onions, parsley, Parmesan, butter, salt and pepper).

I like to get all the ingredients and utensils ready, and then start cooking.

When I actually have a crookneck squash that is 'crooked' I cut a slice along the length - just enough to give me access to the seeds. The sliced top piece, and if the squash is larger often some of the solid, 'crooked' end (where there are not seeds); I parboil, chop finely, and use as part of the stuffing.

Step 1: READ the recipe!
            All the way through!
            Go shopping if you need
                  real butter,
                  fresh Parmesan,
                  fresh parsley etc.

Step 2: Pick the squash, (just saying!) or beg it from someone that has too many.

Step 3: While you are in the garden, pull an onion and pick lots of nice fresh parsley. If you didn't grow any parsley, think ahead and buy it. Fresh parsley is a key ingredient. Next year you will know better and grow some. Yes, dried parsley can be used, but I just don't think it tastes very nice - it tastes - well - dried!

Warning: Parsley tends to grow where it wants to and not where you plant it. Deal with it. The flavor is worth it.

When you come in, after you wash up, and have a snack (if you didn't have enough while in the garden eating green beans, a cuke,  and possibly a carrot or two you rubbed clean on your jeans) start a large pot of water (add a shake or two of salt) to use to parboil the squash.  And dig out the perfect sized casserole dish/pan - and turn on the oven (375°F).

just rinsed and dripping dry

Step 4: Wash the parsley and drain it well. Pat it dry if needed. Chop it into small flakes until you have a generous 1/4 cup. (I clip it with my scissors.)

Also peel the onion, and finely chop about 1/2  cup.
Set aside the onion and parsley in separate bowls to use in the stuffing.

Here you see my 'baseball' squash with a slice cut from the top.
The first cut wasn't deep enough so I just sliced deeper.
Then wash the squash, and trim the stem, blossom and any defects. I do not peel them.

If you cut a bit deep just hollow the seeds out of the 'lid.'

Step 5: Cut a slice from the top - just enough to access the seeds and clean the seeds out of the cavity. Clean all the seeds and mushy stuff out - get down to the solid flesh. Mushy stuff is yucky. No one wants mushy stuff in their mouth.

These were too small to have much 'shell.' 
Some squash may have heavy walls that need 
to be thinner.
Toss all the squash into the pot of boiling water, just long enough to partially start the cooking process. Although the recipe says to boil for about 5 minutes, if the squash are young and tender less time is needed.

Squash shells and pieces, just starting to boil.These are round 
but squash come in many shapes. On the right notice the one I 
dug too far into and took out the bottom. I chopped it and
added it to the stuffing.
Step 6: Drain and cool the squash.

How much is 1 1/2 cups?- about 4 slices. I tend to use a 
third more stuffing ingredients. I like the stuffing best, and 
sometimes make extra to pack around the squash to fill the 
dish completely. 
While the squash is cooling, I cube 5 or 6 slices of bread - or 8 . . . use lots. Do I use white or brown? Yes. I use either or both. What ever I have on hand.

I make a 'boat' of each squash so it has a shell about 1/4 -3/8" thick, depending on the size of the squash, chopping any extra flesh along with the 'slice.' I usually dice the extra into very small cubes.

Set the chopped squash bits aside with the onion and parsley to use in the filling (don't mix them yet as they cook different amounts of time).

Yes, real butter. Yes, heaping tablespoons.
Step 7: melt the 2 Tablespoons of butter and saute the onion just until clear.

I like onions. I use lots of onion. What ever 'feels' good today.

chopped squash sautéing with onion

Step 8: add the chopped squash, and stir for a minute or two until hot and then add the parsley. Stir well, tossing ingredients together thoroughly. Keep stirring.

I use lots of parsley. LOTS.
My 1/4 cup is pressed down and running ov'r
I work quickly over high heat in a cast iron pan.
Just keep stirring.
I like to get the job done.

Next add the soft bread crumbs/cubes to the same pan. Keep stirring.

Step 9: Taste - needs more butter for this much bread! Keep stirring, but keep it fluffy and light. Avoid compacting it - you may need a fork.

Next add a little salt and lots of freshly ground pepper, and last but not by any means least the freshly grated Parmesan - Be generous, and turn off the heat now.

And I needed more pepper. I like pepper. Keep fluffing.

I admit I used bottled Parmesan. I refuse to make a trip to the store for only that! However, don't tell the taste police! I could be apprehended without excuse. I know better. It really does make a difference.

Pack each shell full of stuffing. 

Step 10: Now you are ready to fill the cavities. If you have any stuffing leftover just pack it around the shells. Top with some Parmesan and bake for about 15 minutes. (My oven tends to be 'hot.')

Bake until the squash is completely tender and the stuffing hot.

Finally: Enjoy! This is excellent served with any meat or as a stand alone meal. It is tasty and filling. We have leftovers for tomorrow. We enjoy them hot or cold.