Category Archives: Montana Life

Social commentary on life in the late 20th and early 21st century in Montana

The Feeling is Mutual

This afternoon I’m starting my next series called “Ruminating with the Ruminants:  Conversations with the Cows.”  I’ve been chewing my cud  for the last 4 weeks on the notion of charity and philanthropy.

I’ve been going to various summer fundraisers and appreciation picnics.  Here in beautiful Big Sky country with its rivers running through it, the summer residents have arrived.  Summer is the perfect time for community groups to invite these people to partake in the community by giving them an opportunity to rub elbows with the locals and to contribute monetarily to the various non-profits that vie for scarce dollars in a county that has only 3500 people in it and is the size of the state of Rhode Island.

I often sigh a lot when I’m eating my plate full of food at these affairs.  By and large, the people that run these organizations and those that sit on their boards  are dedicated and goodhearted folks.  The reason that I sigh is that I wish we didn’t need these charities.  I wish everyone made a living wage so we didn’t have to help people get decent food to eat.  I wish everyone made a decent living with short work hours and work weeks so that they could spend time with their kids instead of having after school volunteers take care of them.  If we had free college education, we wouldn’t need to have fundraisers for scholarships or to buy a kid a tuba.  If we banned chemicals and other crap from our crops and our cows,  we wouldn’t need as many cancer care groups.  If we really embraced community, we would take care of our retirees and respect their wisdom and reward their work years with decent pensions.  In a my wishful world, everybody would be at the picnic because everything would be done in mutual support of each other. There would be no classes of the haves and have nots.

Summer Sweet Grass Picnics Continue reading

Pioneering the Martha Stewart Way

Nope, I’m not a Pioneer Woman.  I may be somewhat of a pioneer in my business life, but in my domestic life it’s Martha Stewart I turn to and not to the butter and bacon Pioneer Woman of the Food Network.

So last night I invited some friends over to watch Larry David’s “Clear History” on HBO with an out of this world comic turn by Michael Keaton proving he is still one of the most unique comic talents around.

I made her Quinoa Salad with Zucchini, Mint and Pistachios in the September issue of “Living”.  We served it with my husband’s potato and onions with his secret rub (Ok, it’s Sirracha and Smoked Paprika), and a Thomas Keller rubbed pork tenderloin from his “Ad Hoc at Home”.   I had purchased the zucchini, fresh potatoes right out of the ground, and onions from the Hutterites who sell produce in town every Saturday. P1000848

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The mint was from the garden.  Pistachios from the Community Co-op.  I served Martha’s Pistachio and Strawberry Semi Freddo for dessert. Strawberry Pistachio Semifreddo

Welcome to my world.  It’s as Schizo as ever.

A Perfect Western Backyard

Plenty of Time

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….” ― Noam Chomsky

I like lively debate outside the box.

We have a local lawn service that employees some Latin American workers.  The children work alongside the grownups.  They work hard but take good breaks and quit by 4PM.  I worked for my Dad in the summers and loved every minute.  At the breaks, we got a donut in the morning and one Pepsi in the afternoon.  Heavenly.  My Dad was a history major and loved to talk about long ago and far away.  He talked of the war and of growing up in The Depression.  He taught me how to hammer a nail and to tighten a screw.  I knew what the difference was between a wrench and a pliers.  I helped him build a boat and a small horse barn.  I helped him plant trees and pour cement.  He taught me how to mow a lawn straight.  That was the worst as my wandering mind and boredom led me to start making circles instead of lines. Then I would get hollered at.

I’ve changed my mind about education.  From where did I really get my learning?  I read a lot of books from the local public library.  My parents bought an encyclopedia and a huge book on the Civil War.  I know that Robert E. Lee’s horse was named Traveler because I read a book about it.  At the same time I learned to question what I was reading.   Mostly I learned from the stories my Dad and Mom told me of how they grew up in vastly different ways.  I’m pretty sure I would have been fine without being stuck in a cinder block cell called a school room for 7 hours a day.

I had the fortune to be raised on the grounds of the school for the handicapped that my Dad ran.  So I followed him like a puppy dog my mother said anytime I got the chance.  My Dad wasn’t stuck behind his desk all day in some far away office is some building in downtown Chicago.  Yes, I was fortunate.  He didn’t make a lot of money, but he had plenty of time for me.  I think that all children should have parents who have plenty of time.

There is child labor abuse like having little children work in coal mines.  But then there was also adult labor abuse in those mines.  Back breaking work in the fields in hot weather with no breaks is abuse.  But so is sitting in a cement box all day being taught to take tests.

In Dimitry Orlov’s “The Five Stages of Collapse” he tells the story of how he as a young boy in the Soviet Union would fake an illness so he was sent home for weeks.  There his grandmother would home school him for 3 to 4 hours and the rest of the time he would sled or play fetch with his dog.   He also read a lot of books.  His desk mate at school turned out to be a gypsy who scoffed at book reading and said that none of that was real and that his people kept everything in their head.

The powers that be hate leisure time for the riff raff.  Leisure is for for the elite.   Work is for the little people (to paraphrase Leona Helmsley).  And if they have too much leisure time it leads them to question the prevailing order of things.  The whole hierarchy thing comes into question.  Why do some people get to loll around while others have to work their butts off?  Yeh, why?

I was fortunate.  I got to do meaningful work  spending time with my Dad.  I want that for everybody.

2013_08_11_12_35_52.pdf000Me and Dad with the model ship “we” put together in the classroom where he taught his first classes at the Elim Christian School for the Exceptional Child.  My father was quoted as saying “Children should be custom made not mass produced.”  The children at his school learned to make a car, build a boat, cut and bale the hay field, take care of 2 steers and 5 horses along with reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.

Mowing the Lawn the Cowboy Way

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A week or so ago the lawn mower died.  What to do when the lawn mower blows up?  “Buy a new one?” I asked.  “Or maybe get a high school kid to come mow? ”

Rancher husband shakes his head “No” to both.

“How about I call “Down to Earth” yard guys?”

Mr. No strikes again.

So I wake up and there has appeared magically a rope across the yard and our three horses are now munching the grass.  Trouble is that in that week’s time when the grass grew, the weeds grew faster.  Finicky horses don’t like the weeds so the result is not exactly the well manicured suburban lawn or even that tidy of tidy ranch wives’ lawn on “The Pioneer Woman”.

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Now I am not a neat freak, but the backyard looks like crap, literally.  The grass is chewed down well enough, but besides the tall weeds there is a whole lot of  horse poop.  So this is not a lawn you’d want to roll around in with your dog let alone have a lawn party.  My whole “Out of Africa” kind of vibe I had going is shot. (Yes, I see myself more like Meryl Streep than Ree Drummond.  And I’m more inspired by Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay than the local church cookbook.

I’m looking forward to Rancher husband’s (should I call him Bud Lite Guy like Pioneer Woman’s Marlboro Man?”) next idea.

Vegetable Medley

In my last entry I described a dish I made this week, Tikka Masala.  It’s an Indian dish with a rich blend of flavors.  As I stirred in the spices to the simmering onions and tomato paste and waved my hand over the pan and towards my nostrils just like I’ve seen chefs do on The Food Network,  I sighed, “Ahhhh”. Already the meal was satisfying.  And later when we ate it, we sighed again and commented on the complexity and the surprises in this exotic dish.

But if I go out to dinner in this tiny Montana town, “The steak (chop, fish, chicken) comes with either a baked potato or “our vegetable medley.”  The vegetable medley is so bland that I can hardly tell you what’s in it.  I think it’s got some zucchini, carrots, and those odd tasteless things with the odd texture, the sugar snap pea.  The spice is butter with a little salt.  Ho hum.

It came to me the other night that the “vegetable medley” is the apt description for the people that inhabit this place.  Having lived in New York City for over fifteen years with its rich blend of peoples, I often long for the sound of foreign accents, strange headgear, and different skin tones.

This is not to say we don’t have our local eccentrics (and by now I’m sure I’m considered one of them with my hats,  horn rimmed glasses, and big scarves).  IMG_0558 - Version 2

There is some satisfaction here in conformity and the sameness of even the vegetables with your entree.  There is comfort in the same Parmesan cream sauce over penne and the cream of mushroom soup. The ideas and the conversation can be much like that bowl of soup or that vegetable medley; a little weather conversation and concern about rain mixed with news of old Sally tripping over a frozen cowpie and breaking her hip while sorting cows.

When I long to talk about the protests in Taksim Square or the NSA spying crimes, I bite my tongue and talk of how to make the perfect Manhattan or why Hendriks gin is better than Bombay sapphire as an alternative to the endless discussions of drought and how the tomatoes are growing.  Instead of talking about Booz Allen Hamilton, I talk just booze.

Fortunately with summer comes the summer tourists.  Every once in awhile somebody slightly more like Tikka Masala than Vegetable Medley comes through the door and we engage in asking questions about each others’ countries and customs.   I savor these conversations like I do a good Chimichurri sauce accompanying my flank steak.

Staff and Workers and Big and Small

I shop at a huge supermarket/organic food combination store in Bozeman, MT.  Their organic department is quite good.  I was  going to remake a delicious Chicken Tikka Masala recipe from Bon Appetit’s April issue.  I had made it the night before to much praise by finicky husband.  I had all the exotic ingredients like Garam Masala, turmeric, chiles de arbol, cardamon pods.  I did not have Ghee (clarified butter) and was told to substitute vegetable oil.  It also said to use yogurt but not Greek.  I only had Greek.
So the point and relevance is coming, I promise you.
I am standing starring at the yogurt section.  Oddly, there now is very little old type yogurt.  Mostly Greek.  As I’m pondering, the usual helpful employee asks if there is something she can help me  with.  I usually say, “No, I’m fine”.  This time I mentioned there being no “regular” yogurt.  She explains the difference between them is mostly texture and how she has a hard time eating regular because the thickness of the Greek is so satisfying.  I tell her that I used the yogurt with the Indian spices to marinate the chicken.  We both pondered and decided to stick with the Greek since I had more of a variety of container size and whatever was left over I could eat.  I then showed her the jar of Ghee and asked about using that or the vegetable oil.  She immediately said, “Oh, the Ghee, of course.”
I thanked her profusely and went on my way to checkout where the bagger asked if he could assist me to the car (whispering as they always do), “I’d like to get outside. It’s so nice out.”   We chit chat all the way to the car.
I realized that the woman who helped me probably felt some satisfaction in helping me and it was a nice change from stacking shelves.  And with finally a nice sunny day, who wouldn’t want to get outside and see the beautiful snowy mountains and breathe fresh air?
Then off to Costco I went where the same people have been helping me for 15 years.  The same woman admires my flowers and I tell her that they last at least two weeks.  I talk to the checkout guy and ask how his son with cystic fibrosis is doing.  He has insurance which is much needed.
Why would anybody shop at Wal-Mart other than hoarders of cheap crap?
By the way, our local store is not all that great although it’s trying for more “organic” and the check out people are mostly kids or tired looking adults who none the less do smile and ask “How’s it goin’?”

I do  wish the “big” stores had lower ceilings and didn’t feel so…well…big. But the happy helpful staff makes up for that. (Although I do wish the bagger last week hadn’t coughed and sneezed all the way to the car.  No paid sick days?)  And I do wish the smaller stores weren’t so strapped that they can’t afford to pay decent wages to  their workers so that they felt more like…well… “staff”.