Last weekend my husband and I were both exhausted so went out for dinner (well, just pizza, but at a homey Italian place we enjoy in the town where the kids all went to high school).
The small restaurant was filled with high schoolers all decked out for their homecoming dance later that evening. We enjoyed checking out what was in, what was out in terms of boutonniere, wrist corsages, lacy short short dresses, and cute bow ties and suspenders. I was thrown back to my Senior Homecoming weekend in 1969 in Blountstown, Florida. Oh my.
You may recall my history of moving with my family to north Florida which was my senior year of high school. I didn’t mind the move because I had always wanted to be “the new girl in school.” Well I got my chance, and with it, was nominated to be on the homecoming court. I know that happened only because I was a new girl and some of the other girls were being snubbed by classmate votes because of … who knows … but somehow I lived the dream of many young teens–to ride through town on the back trunk of a convertible, waving. To walk on the field at a homecoming game, smiling. To walk up to be on stage in the old gym, heart beating out-the-kazoo over who would win. Along with most others in the school, I expected the queen to be the drum majorette who dated the star of the football team, but you never know.
My dress (above) was the dress I wore for my oldest sister’s wedding earlier that year, before we moved. My mother hurriedly sewed me a beautiful green corduroy suit to wear to the game. And for the parade, she remade another formal dress we had on hand. More-with-less.
But the reason I’m sharing this is my delight in this past year at being able to reconnect with two of the girls who I got to know much better by being on the homecoming court, Suzanne Knight and Sandra Stokes. I first stumbled on to Sandy through a mutual friend on Facebook, and then Sandy got me connected with Suzanne (not knowing who either married prevented me from doing searches before.)
The three of us got dressed for the homecoming ceremony together at Suzanne’s house. And while I was not allowed to go to the dance (Mennonites did not dance in those days!) I loved going to the homecoming football game, which was actually the very first football game I ever attended. Imagine my chagrin in telling the shy but handsome young football player I asked to be my escort that I couldn’t attend the dance, but would he be my escort for the other festivities anyway? (We were allowed to go to football games, but at my small Mennonite high school in Indiana, the fall sport was soccer, not football.)
Going to a public school that year ended up being a hard, lonely year; I’m thankful for the few friends I made, Suzanne, Sandy, Delilah, and Becky among them, and for the experience of being lonely. Moving into a town and then leaving a year later for a church voluntary service program and then after that college meant I never put roots down there. But I treasure the girls who did reach out to me that year and am overjoyed to follow their lives a bit through the technological homecoming “dance” that is Facebook.
Did you ever have to sit out some activity everyone else got to do?
What difference did your church or faith make in your activities as you were growing up?
For the full scoop on what I did the year after high school, read a copy of my old “memoir” of a year spent in Voluntary Service in Kentucky, titled On Troublesome Creek. Published by Herald Press.
Happiness is not perfect until it is shared.
I was pleasantly surprised to be included in this Amish Wisdom giveaway–but happy because the timing ties wonderfully to the yearly “Family Dinner Day” emphasized in my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner? which encourages families to keep regular family meal times, even when it isn’t always easy or everyone is glued to their “devices.”
Suzanne Woods Fisher and the Amish Wisdom contributors want to celebrate the changing of seasons with a special Harvest Bounty giveaway! Enter the giveaway widget below for the chance to win to a set of 14 books, plus autumn-inspired goodies handpicked by some of the contributors. See below for a list of participating authors and prizes. One entrant will win, and he or she will be announced next Friday, September 30th, on the Amish Wisdom blog.
The Devoted and an Amish potholder set
Signed copy of Leaving Lancaster and folding tote-bag
Winner’s choice of book, a dishtowel, potholders, a prayer journal and an adult coloring book
Honeybee Sisters Cookbook and mini beeswax candle
Signed copy of Snowfall and an Amish-made potholder
The Amish Bride and a fall-themed item
The Longest Road and an Amish-made pot holder from Lancaster county
Signed copy of A Dream of Miracles and a Starbucks giftcard
The Amish Clockmaker, an autumn table runner and fall-themed decorative container
Grace’s Forgiveness and potholders
Mattie’s Pledge and a fruit of the Spirit coffee mug
*Only U.S. addresses are eligible to win.
Earlier this year, we went solar. My husband called it his “retirement gift” to himself. Some men get sporty red convertibles or take a month long cruise: we spent the money on 24 panels on top of my husband’s shop, which is wired up to our house. This has resulted in electric bills of only $15.30 for the entire household each of the last 3 months. Those bills rock! So our bills have fallen to the bare minimum (basic fees and local taxes) we pay our electric company, Shenandoah Valley Electric, while still “on the grid.”
So yes, we are still on the grid and also feeding back power into the grid for other users. That’s the part that feels really really weird, and good! We, or rather God’s creation up there called the sun, makes possible electrical power that we are able to use ourselves, and when we (plus the sun) “manufacture” extra, the literal power is “banked” and used by others.
We have learned a lot and that is perhaps the best part of this whole endeavor: learning how it works and also learning to know some new people in the process. Last fall we began exploring the options through a local branch, Massanutten Regional Solar Co-op of a larger cooperative, Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods (VA Sun), which provided numerous educational opportunities (and lobbying at the state level, we learned). Any and all interested parties who wanted could go the next step to sign on to this cooperative in seeking competitive bids for our individual solar projects. My husband and I could have done the same thing on our own (researching and shopping), but it was helpful to go to informational meetings and then be part of an actual meeting where we reviewed bids from about five nearby solar companies, including voting on which company we would go with as a cooperative. The numbers (bids) they gave us are proprietary to the companies and not for public information.
Some of the niftier electronic aspects of the project were how the cooperative was able to do a roof review, using GPS and Google Maps of our property regarding where we wanted to put our “solar array” (as a set up is called), whether it was at a good slant for the sun, and whether trees or other obstacles would cast too much shadow.
If you’re interested in the technicalities, we got a 6.84 kW solar system with these specs:
- 22 x 285w Solarworld
- 22 x P 300w Optimizer
- 6kW SolarEdge Inverter
The installation company we worked was Independent Solar Solutions LLC out of Bluemont, Va. and they were wonderful to work with, even though it took longer than expected due to winter weather and the total number of customers they were working with from the cooperative at the same time. We signed on in January and were functional by the end of April. We paid an initial 10% deposit down, another 20% when they ordered materials, another 30% when materials were delivered to the job site, another 30 upon completion of installation, and 20% after they got the inspection completed with the local building folks. Something we overlooked going into this was the need to add additional homeowners insurance on our house and property. It was not a big increase, but just saying.
Money wise, we hope to take advantage of the U.S. energy tax credit of 30% and at this time, we have no battery storage with the system—battery storage being pretty expensive. In Virginia, we are eligible for the net-metering program.
The bonus for us was being able to have electricity in our building, (including them digging a trench for the conduit to the building) which we’d been hoping to do for five years. So we can plug things in out there! My husband plans to finish wiring the rest of the building for his shop.
After the array was installed and we were up and running, the company also provided our own webpage or monitoring platform (you can see a sample, although this doesn’t take you to our personal platform which of course is password protected) to keep up with our daily status. My husband loves this and is as regular with checking our usage as I check status updates on Facebook.
We are happy we made the system as big as we did (adding 2 panels at the last minute when the installers discovered there was room for 2 more on that roof). Husband is already saying he’d have been kicking himself the rest of his life if he hadn’t added that additional capacity. A really good day is when we generate 40 kilowatts of electricity. A mediocre cloudy day results in production of 10-15 kws.
Payback: Where electricity rates rise 3% a year, payback is considered complete in about 12-13 years, according to notes I have from one installer (not the one we went with).
As my husband also says, “This is more for future generations than for us. It’s just something we wanted to do for a long time.”
Since May 1 this is what our little system has done for the environment:
Here’s someone else’s great list on “Why go solar.”
Postlude to a post: after a long hiatus ….
I have been away too long—not posted anything on this blog for almost 2 months. The reasons are myriad (which will be obvious as I hope to resume posting regularly or if you read my Another Way column where things will leak out too), but I have missed this part of my life so much. It is here where I pause and try to make sense of both the routine, and the game changing. When I look back over notes about things I want to write about, and scroll through photos I have taken but not written about yet, it is like snippets of life have escaped me without true pondering and processing—and remembering.
I dreaded looking at my blog stats; surely they had dwindled to almost nothing. But no! They are driven by a few bellwether posts that somehow show up when people search for “Rise N Roll Amish Donuts,” or “How to plan a different 60th birthday party,” or this time of year, “Sweet Midget Pickles.” My stats are only down by about half. An amazing number of people each month are still reading what I write and connecting and even signing up to receive new posts. So I’ve been able to have a blog vacation without loosing too much ground.
So here’s back at it: sporadic, eclectic: partly for me and partly for friends/relatives/fans and sometimes complete strangers that I haven’t met yet who nevertheless seem to find something here worthwhile. I’m also celebrating a regular gig for Amish Wisdom, supplying a recipe and food photos every other month which began Sept. 1. A big thank you to loyal fans and welcome to new ones.
Flyover: Christmas in July, or How Green is My Valley?
We live on one of many flight paths to Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, although we are about two hours out (without traffic). I often look up from gardening, hear jets slowing down their engines as they gently decrease their altitude, and imagine the flight attendant’s or captain’s voice coming on saying “We’re beginning our approach to Dulles Airport serving the metropolitan Washington D.C. area, where the weather is …”
I sometimes look up and wave just for the sheer silliness of it, knowing no one up there can see me down here, but just because I love traveling and the places planes take me.
We also frequently see small planes flying over, sometimes dusting crops but more often, just sightseeing.
One day my husband said casually, “I’d love to be able to fly over our place and around the valley,” I made a mental note to check into such an adventure maybe for a Christmas gift for him. He’s gotten to the place in life where he doesn’t really need another drill or saw, so excursions and special events and family occasions are high on our family list of things to give to him. He’d been up in a small plane once before with our youngest daughter for a birthday present to her when the Shenandoah Valley Airport at Weyers Cave offered trial flying lessons for just $25.
Last Christmas this is what he got from me. The pilot, Don Shank, said there was easily room for 2-3 passengers and he had 30 years experience, including being a commercial pilot for Piedmont Air back when they still flew in and out of the above airport.
We had a beautiful, restorative time.
But more than just checking out how big the neighbor’s new pond is, or being able to peek in at our old home and find to our delight the new owners are still planting a garden down the back hill there, I realized what the flyover reminded me of was feeling like I know so much of our community. This has been home now for over 45 years.
There’s where I went to college. (On the slight hill near the top left of the photo, right under the airplane support.)
Yonder’s the brick office building that I’ve called home for 41 years. (Directly across from the lovely high rise grain towers.)
We flew over our church since 1975.
Above is where one daughter went to college. Below is where one went to the old high school and the other two sweated out middle school.
Here are the rivers and valleys and hills that have threaded through and framed our views. I don’t think it would have meant nearly as much to do a flyover of a new area or someplace I didn’t know. I glimpsed a little of why our pilot said he takes people up just for a hobby because he enjoys flying so much.
As a person who believes in God, my mind couldn’t help but soar even higher in the heavens and contemplate the perch God enjoys looking at our planet and even the larger universe. Being up there takes you to another place where problems are maybe positioned more in scale. I could not see any weeds in my garden! I couldn’t see my to do list, or the edges of our yard that hadn’t been trimmed.
I knew the streets and boroughs of our fair city have problems a plenty, but nothing felt as immediate. Hopefully, the time above restores one’s soul for the problems below.
There was only one scene that marred our sweet flight and that was flashing red lights of a fire engine and rescue squad out in a nearby field, with what looked like the wing of a small airplane peeking out from under a tree. Could it be a plane wreck? The pilot thought so, which was sobering to all of us, and his wife had messages waiting for him on his cell as soon as we landed. She had heard news of a crash that happened just minutes before we took off. A father and son went down and the father pilot was airlifted to University of Virginia Medical Center, and thankfully survived although his recovery may take awhile. His son was treated and released at the local hospital. Their plane had not cleared trees at the end of a farm runway. I’m kind of glad I didn’t steal a shot of someone else’s misery.
I breathed some quiet prayers for those in the accident, recalling another small plane I had once been in with a load of teens heading to our Mennonite church youth convention in 1970 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. The pilot from our church taxied three times down the small local town’s airport runway in Blountstown, Fla. He was not getting up enough speed to clear the tall pines at the end. Wisely, he made the call to have us all get out, have his wife drive us to a larger airport 25 miles away in Mariana, Fla., meet him there with his plane, and then safely take off. Which we did.
There are inherent risks anytime we drive to town, or even head down or up the stairways in our homes. Somehow the risks seem bigger (even though the odds smaller) of having an accident when we go up in the air, and yes, I said my prayers.
I thanked the good Lord again for safety when we touched ground, for the beauty of creation; and after learning the people in the accident would be ok, thanked God for that too.
Easy Zucchini Soufflé, or Zucchini Casserole
I have never raised zucchinis (always get plenty from everyone else) except for the years my daughter lived at home after college and she twisted our arms to raise a number of things she wanted to try.
But this year I set out one plant because she gave me an extra one she had and of course it is flourishing. So now I’m facing the great zucchini question of every gardener: what to do with them.
I do like them roasted in the oven and on the grill; I also enjoy them sliced and coated with crumbs and fried; they also do fine n breads, brownies, cakes, and pancakes. The pancakes have been my favorites.
But I ate a squash (yellow) casserole last year that was so delicious that I thought well, I’ll try a zucchini casserole recipe. Which, of many, to pick?
Esther H. Shank’s Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets to the rescue. Esther, who wrote an endorsement for my own cookbook, Whatever Happened to Dinner, compiled her rich resource initially for her own daughters to learn all the basics of cooking, and includes more than 1,000 recipes.
I made this dish for a recent staff lunch celebrating the 88th birthday of our office janitor, Doris. Yes, you read right, she’s 88 and going strong, which I wrote about last year over on Mennobytes.
There was only one spoonful left of zucchini casserole so I couldn’t shoot artful photos of the dish, but at any potluck when there is only one spoonful left, you know people enjoyed it. And a number of folks commented on how good it was. Sweet music to a cook’s ears.
Without further ado, here’s Esther’s recipe, adapted slightly. With all the eggs in this recipe and the cheese, and the buoyancy added by the bread crumbs, I like the exoticism of calling it Zucchini Soufflé.
But call it whatever you want. Assembly is super easy!
Favorite Zucchini Casserole or Zucchini Soufflé
3 cups shredded raw zucchini (I leave the peelings on for more nutrition)
1 ½ cups dry bread crumbs (I used Stove Top Stuffing that has some herbs and flavoring in it)
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed basil leaves
4 eggs lightly beaten
1/3 cup milk
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese (reserve half)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (reserve half)
Combine all ingredients and pour into greased 2 quart casserole or 8-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle reserved cheeses over top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.
Yield: 6-8 servings
Adapted from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes and Kitchen Secrets, Esther H. Shank, Herald Press, 1987.