Wood Ducks 2018

It’s that time of year again: wood ducks are pairing up and looking for nesting spots.  Thanks to our neighbor Jon we have a great wood duck box (is it a duck box that is made of wood or a box for wood ducks?)

If I remember their habits correctly, at this time of year, the female goes into the nesting box for about an hour each morning to lay another egg while the male keeps watch. I think this is the female checking out her spot. They hang around a while to make sure the coast is clear.

This is not it; this is an old chickadee box that has had its tiny entrance expanded by a remodeling squirrel.

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There’s her bigger box in the back ground.

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Dudette has a mullet!

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One of these years, I hope to get pictures of the ducklings falling from the box – though it can be a bit of “Wild Kingdom” with crows and red tail hawks hanging out like they are lining up at a buffet.


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Black Beans in Pressure Cooker

I’ve cooked black beans and rice a couple of times using an America’s Test Kitchen [this used to be free – now maybe not.] recipe: in January 2017 and originally in May 2013. In that dish the rice takes a big part of the stage – and it’s a long cook in a Dutch oven; I mean, it’s really, really good but we wanted just beans. We were planning on making Yum Bowls (if you live in the Portland area you may have had this delicious treat) – which is rice, beans, shredded cheese, avocado, tomatoes, and briny kalamata olives. All topped with Yum Sauce.  So I wanted a quick pressure cooker recipe.

The basic approach would be like my pressure cooker pinto bean recipe; but black beans are much smaller than pintos – how much would I have to reduce the cooking time? Seems like a simple question; I was hoping to find a nice chart with beans and cooking times. I had to search the web quite a while to get a good answer.  I finally stumbled upon Letty’s Kitchen which discussed cooking time for black beans.

  • Overnight-soaked beans with natural pressure release (6 minutes)
  • Overnight-soaked beans with quick pressure release (9 minutes)
  • Unsoaked beans with quick pressure release (20 minutes)

I kind of used her recipe – using beans brined/soaked overnight. To save myself searching again next time I make black beans, I made some notes for myself including an adjustment or two.

  • I like her idea of adding a dried red chili or two – I usually have some in the pantry so I removed the seeds and did it.
  • I chopped my onion as she suggests rather than adding 1/2 whole onion as I would normally do.
  • I didn’t mince the garlic – I skinned and squashed it, then added the squashed  cloves. Mincing would be fine – I was lazy and just wanted to save myself washing my garlic press.
  • I added 1/2 teaspoon cumin – I love cumin in my beans and it makes the kitchen smell great.
  • I had a cup of homemade chicken stock taking up space so I added that along with the water. Letty doesn’t call for that since hers is a vegetarian recipe.
  • Her recipe (and most others) call to cover the beans with water about 1 1/2 inches above the level of the beans. Dried beans are variable; for this cook, my one pound of beans expanded to about 2 quarts after soaking. Using a ruler the called for water came up to the 3 1/2 quart line in my Instant Pot.
    **** THESE ARE MY MEASUREMENTS FOR THOSE BEANS ON THAT DAY ***** Different beans will call for different amounts of water.
  • Sometimes people new to pressure cookers have a let down when they find that cooking something at pressure for 6 minutes doesn’t mean it only cooks for 6 minutes – you have to account for the time for the pressure to build. On this day, with my beans, and my water, it took the pot ~20 minutes to come to pressure followed by 6 minutes of cooking at high pressure, then followed by at least 20 minutes of natural release time.
  • Now that I re-read Letty’s recipe I realize she calls for starting with hot water. That would probably reduce the cooking time a bit – and would be super easy if you have an electric kettle.

The beans were excellent. Start with Letty’s recipe first and adjust to your own taste – if needed.

Where are the pictures? Well, I was cooking beans to stash in the freezer and refrigerator for later in the week. We were having friends over for a light bite to eat and I was in a bit of a hurry. And later in the week when we had our beans and rice I just didn’t get my camera out – next time.

While searching through the internet I started with Mike Vrobel’s Dad Cooks Dinner site and I was reminded of his post on Rancho Gordo beans and his post about Santa Maria Pinquito Beans.  I love Tri-Tip the main dish that goes with pinquito beans and I can’t find them here in Portland. So I went on-line to RanchoGordo.com and ordered some beans.

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Saturday Afternoon in Chicago

After naps and lunch on Saturday the six of headed into Chicago for a quick excursion. We drove up to Oak Park to board the ‘El’ Green Line. The skyline is visible through the haze from the platform.

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After about a 20 minute ride we reached the Loop. So many tracks and cross overs

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We walked next to the Chicago River for a few minutes to take in the view.

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Then down to the esplanade on the river. I seek out this building every time we go into the Windy City. I love the parking below and the apartments above. This might be on the opening credits of the original Bob Newhart Show.

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Then I saw its reflection in a glass building across the river.

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We made our way back up to street level

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and up to the El again for our ride home. We had a couple of happy but tired boys when we got home. It’s a good thing we had leftovers we could heat up – they wouldn’t have been happy about waiting much longer for dinner.

[NOTE: A few hours after original publication.
I used a Sony RX10 camera which I’m really pleased with. It’s lightweight and has a terrific zoom.  One area it has problems with is architecture photos. I went back into the Transform panel in  LightRoom ]to fix the problems. Um, now that I think of it, that information doesn’t do much good for you since I deleted the originals and we can’t compare. But for example,

  • In the last photo of the series, the building just behind the El on the right had a bit of a curve to it.
  • The photo of the columnar tower and the red bridge in the foreground had a bigger problem. I tried to fix it manually and got the building in the foreground straight, but the bridge looked like it was going uphill. LightRoom Automatic Transform to the rescue. However, if you look closely that building on the left seems to be tilting slightly to the right,

LightRoom did a fine job for my needs – but if you are taking architectural photos professionally you’ll need to take a close look at the results to see if this camera is for you.]


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Riverside Trains

When we travel to Riverside, Illinois, you know I will spend some time trackside at the Metra station. We found a Metra train with a new paint scheme.

New paint scheme for Metra trains on the BNSF line

New paint scheme for Metra trains on the BNSF line

Then a Chicago bound grain train showed up.

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We were there with the grandkids and the engineer of this outbound bare table train gave the kids a wave.

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Even though it’s late March it was cold out – mid 30’s; so we didn’t stay very long.

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Garfield Park Conseravtory – Chicago

On our Chicago trip today we went with our son (our daughter-in-law had performances all day) and grandsons to the Garfield Park Conservatory in west Chicago. It’s a huge building with lots of different temperature and humidity controlled rooms for different types of vegetation.

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

As we walked in we were met my a beautiful reflecting pond

Winter may have still been holding on ourside – low 40’s – but inside it was spring and summer at every turn.

Chicago Garfield Park Observatory

Chicago Garfield Park Observatory

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

One room even had a beautiful tile mosaic

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago Garfield Park Conservatory

We had a great time with the kids and we are looking forward to more fun outings in the coming days.


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Reading: The Final Days of Jesus by Mark D. Smith

SubTitle: The Thrill of Defeat, The Agony of Victory: A Classical Historian Explores Jesus’s Arrest, Trial, and Execution

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Finished: March 21, 2018





[Image from Amazon]

As the subtitle explains, this book is an historical view of Jesus’ death, not a theological one.

“… this book differs from other books. It comes from the pen of a classical historian and from the perspective of ancient Roman culture, both of which promise a different, richer, more nuanced understanding of the people and issues at play that make the Passover of AD 33 so compelling and endlessly fascinating.” [Loc 162]

In an early chapter Smith provides a short review of the scholastic historical approach. “In particular, we will discuss five [principles]: proximity [in time], corroboration, consistency, cui bono (‘to whose good’), and authorial intent” [Loc 575] He likens classical history to building a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle with only 100 pieces – many of which are broken and scuffed – and with no picture to guide the process. A Classical historian puts the pieces in place to his/her best ability and details the rationale.

Smith explains how three people came together over the Passover to change history: Pontius Pilate – a “marginally competent governor of an obscure Roman province: Judea”; Chanin ben Seth – known in the New Testament as Annas – “a self-made man from a minor priestly family who had risen to the position of high priest of Israel from AD 6 to 15”; and Jesus – “an obscure itinerant Jewish teacher … far from the urban bustle of Jerusalem” [ Locs 151 -156]

“Pilate appears int he pages of [the chronicles of] Josephus more a an oaf than an ogre.” [Loc 1460]. He had gotten crosswise with the Jews over three problems: “Affair of the Standards, the Aqueduct Riot, and the Affair of the Shields” [Loc 1353]. In addition, Pilate’s mentor had been executed for treason. Therefore, Pilate couldn’t afford many more problems without raising a red flag with the emperor. By AD 33 Pilate knew he needed to support the priestly families in order to have their support.

Smith – using the historical approach outlined above – pays close attention to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Jesus was not against animal sacrifice nor the presence of money changers “but the ruthless profiteering and exploitation perpetrated by the high-priestly establishment in the name of God.” [Loc 229] Jesus was threatening the lucrative business of the Jewish leaders. “From Jesus, perspective, if there was anything that needed cleansing (or perhaps purging is a better word), it was the leadership of the house of Annas.” [Loc 2308]

The high priestly families were cognizant of the large group that followed Jesus, so they had to act carefully. In order to prevent a scene, Annas had Jesus arrested at night and brought before a small private gathering of Annas’ loyal supporters in his home. Annas needed to share the responsibility with the Roman leadership, so he charged Jesus with “the specific charge, ‘King of the Jews’, [which] carried with it an implicit threat” against the Roman Empire. [Loc 3048]

Smith makes the point that

“for the trial under Pilate, our evidence is even stronger that the very strong evidence for the high priests’ inquest. Our evidence is early, multiple, includes both strong and weak corroboration, and provides opportunity for cross-examination. That there was a trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate is supported by at least six different sources. It is the highest probability event of anything under consideration in this study and one of the most probable events in all ancient history.” [Loc 3337]

Pilate had learned from his earlier problems with the Jewish priestly families. He made sure that Annas and his compatriots expressed themselves clearly that they wanted Jesus to be executed. “[he] forced Annas and his supporters to declare themselves with the utmost clarity” [Loc 3581] … “For all his blunderings in this early years, from the perspective of Roman governance this was PIlate’s finest hour.” [Loc 3591]

The book is much more detailed than this (lengthy) summary provides. Smith expertly lays out his evidence in reconstructing the events.

So, of course, Jesus was crucified. Smith is an expert on Roman capital punishment and provides extensive evidence on the methods employed. He warns that this part of the book is grim. He isn’t kidding. Smith addresses the topic of whether Jesus was buried.

“[John Dominic] Crossan’s [argues] that it is unlikely that Jesus was ever buried after the Roman’s crucified him, for, he asserted, denial of burial was part of the standard punishment the Romans meted out to those they executed.”[Loc 121]

In fact, Smith argues

“According to Roman law, criminals condemned to death must be buried. Only in the case of the highest form of treason … was denial of burial permitted (but not required.”[Loc 4105

I came upon this book because the author is a history professor where I earned my B.A. – The College of Idaho. With Easter approaching and this being related to one of my areas of interest, reading it was a no-brainer. Mark D. Smith outlines the rules of classical scholarship and shows how he uses them in his study. I hope this doesn’t need to be said – but it can be a crazy word sometimes, Smith is not making the case that Jews bear the responsibility for Jesus’ crucifixion. So, let’s not go there.



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Reading: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan

Rating ★★★


Finished: March 3, 2018


My review and rating – as for all my reports – reflects how I react to the book and should not be seen some sort of objective score. I did not love this book but it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 – so obviously the experts see it differently from me.

When I first picked out a couple of Jennifer Egan’s novels to read I decided to start with Manhattan Beach because the structure of this one sounded daunting – if flashes back and forth from past to present to future focusing on different characters of a loosely bound group. Additionally the point of view switches between first, second, and third person. So, you have to be on your mental toes while reading – I wasn’t.

The two main characters are Bernie – a music producer and Sasha – his one time assistant. The books starts with Sasha then jumps to other people who know her or Bernie. It is like a set of short stories rather than a novel – except the chapters all revolve around the two main characters and couldn’t stand on their own. In other words – exactly like a book of short stories except they aren’t.

When one of the characters – who earlier tried to commit suicide – is high he points to the central point of the book:

“…and the question is, which one is really ‘you’, the one saying and doing whatever it is, or the one watching?” [Loc 2718]

As we work our way through the story, that is our job: which version of this person is the “real” version. But of course we change through our lives and we are the accumulation of all our history.

We read a couple of direct references to the goon squad; I’ll leave it to you to read so I won’t spoil it here.

This book really never grabbed me; as a result I’d put it aside for a few days and when I picked it up again the next chapter was in a different time with different characters and a different point of view. As a result I had to keep going back to remind myself who is/was who. My advice is dive in and swim through it quickly. That way it will likely hang together more may resonate better. The stories and characters themselves are interesting and the writing saves this from being a two star book – for me. The story about La Doll – Dolly’s – fall, comeback, and retreat is especially good.

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