Off They Go

Good bye to Jan and John Davies, who this evening boarded a Virgin Atlantic airplane and headed back to Wales.

Jan and John are two of the nicest people I know. They are the parents of our priest and friend, Father Ian Elliott Davies, and they visit our parish at least once a year for several months. We’ve become good friends over these past 13 years that their son has been rector at St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood.

Bon voyage, my dears, and I will look forward to seeing you at the end of the year. Be safe and say hello to the rest of the family back home.

Hugs all round.

Jan, John and Ian

Ojai Kitchen Progress

Today we made major progress on the Ojai kitchen. Here are pictures to give you a look at what’s happening there.

The platform is finished and in this photo we were seeing how our new cabinets will look. Remember, this is an orange grove with little critters.  We decided these metal office shelves would be perfect for food storage.  We will paint these an aluminum color to match the stainless steel of the Chambers oven and stove top.

beter yet


Here is the big window that will face west (the direction Gregorio and Ray are facing) and it will be directly above the sink.  This was from Restore (Habitat for Humanities retail outlet) and was a great buy at $50.



Here’s the sink, which Ray found in someone’s throwaway pile a while back.


Here is the smaller window that will be on the east (front) wall of the kitchen                next to the glass front door. We have been storing this just for this project.


Here is the glass front door still wrapped up from Restore.  A steal at $100.


The east wall (the one that is not up) will be primarily the glass front door and the smaller window. It’s not showing in this picture because I had to leave before the fourth wall went up.

3 sides up

The cabinets will stack and go in the middle of the right wall next to the refrigerator, which will be in the right front corner.

This oven and stove top from our house in Texas are identical to the ones we will put in the Ojai kitchen.  The only difference is that the oven is going to be counter height and will go on the right of the stove top instead of the left so it won’t be directly by the front door.  The stove top and oven will be on the left wall along with some counter space.

Lyon Kitchen

The height of the room measuring from the floor of the platform will be 8 feet so it’s going to be a tall kitchen.  We figured that would be good.  We might put in a ceiling fan since we’ll have plenty of room.

As you can probably tell, I am excited.  This kitchen has been a long time in coming so this is a major treat.

I hope your day has gone well, my friends.

I will see you tomorrow.

Ojai Kitchen

I am sitting here looking at a pink-purple sky against faraway mountains. Dusk in Ojai.

Ray and I are staying until tomorrow because we have been busy all day buying materials for a freestanding kitchen that will be nestled between two orange trees near the fire-ring and sitting area. This will be an 8 x 10 structure with tin siding and a tin roof that will be our new center for all cooking operations. It will include a Chambers cooktop and oven, a refrigerator, a three-basin sink, a bank of metal shelves on one wall and cabinets above the oven and on both sides of the sink.

Today we went to Restore in Ventura and found a glass door, a huge window, and the stackable metal cabinets. We already own another window that we’ll also be using so the space ought to be light and airy and pleasant whether it’s hot or cold outside. The stove, fridge and sink also are here in storage so it’s only a matter of moving them from a nearby bin to the kitchen when it’s done.

This will be a great addition to the orange grove. Currently when our kids are here or other friends come, we have to carry everything for cooking over from our Spartan trailer and it takes lots of hauling back and forth to get everything set for a meal. This way, we’ll have a kitchen ten feet from where we’ll be eating and it will be fully functional, which is a far cry from our current situation. At this rate, I might actually have a way to host a big family gathering like Thanksgiving up here. That would be a lot of fun without losing any of the benefits of a full menu.

Gregorio, a man who has worked for us for fifteen years, has already built the platform for the little building and tomorrow will start construction of the walls. That was our other stop today – Lowe’s – where we bought plywood and the wood for framing. We are on our way now. I am so pleased. This has been a dream of our since we bought the orange grove a decade ago. The time is coming when we could actually serve a big meal with the comforts of home. Hooray.

Off to head down the road to post this from my neighbor’s Wifi. I have to hurry, though. It is starting to get dark. Ray had begun to light the candles.


Stretching Time

I am sitting here in Ojai. The kids are gone; it’s just Ray, me, and the dogs. I can hear a mourning dove cooing off in the distance, a bird tweeting in a nearby tree and a car shifting gears on the highway, which is at least two miles away. Cordelia – the Corgie – is asleep on the couch beside me; Sammie – the Scottie – is sacked out on the floor. Ray is outside putting food away in our new/old refrigerator that is in the well pump house where there is electricity. (We are thrilled with this new innovation since we have been living with only an ice chest for all the years – a little over ten – that we have owned this acreage.) The wind is blowing enough to move the limbs on the orange trees, the sun is shining, and the temperature is now dropping down to 68 after being about 74 all day.

This is one of those places where time seems to elongate in the best possible way. Twenty-four hours here feels like a week; forty-eight hours, a month. We are unplugged and disconnected except for the occasional glance at a cell phone to do a Facebook status update and to make sure nothing horrible has occurred in the world, and also once a day I pull out this computer to write a blog piece. But to post I have to walk a quarter of a mile to my neighbor’s house and sit on her patio to pick up Wifi. As you might imagine, I try to have everything written before arriving so I don’t feel like a squatter/stalker once I am over there.

I am so used to going, going and going that being this relaxed moves me to near silence. I have nothing to say really. I just want to sit and enjoy the day. That feels strange, but good. As if my body and brain are letting me know that there is nothing new to add, life is good, plain and simple. Let it suffice to say that I am enjoying this rest. The end of the school year is perfect for this. Everything old is ending; nothing new has started up. An in-between time in a quiet place. Nothing but good can come from that.

I hope your holiday weekend has been equally as enjoyable. Please take time to relax this last evening before the new work-week begins.

I will see you tomorrow.


Ojai for Memorial Day

I am standing by our campfire this evening listening to a frog croak nearby. Liz, Ron, Rachael and Ray are all getting ready for bed. The stars are all out and there is a sliver if a moon. It is quiet and peaceful here.  


Ray and I are staying here for a few days. The kids are leaving sometime tomorrow. It is a treat not to have to rush back home. 

Time slows down here. Probably the absence of electricity. We are not staring at television. Instead this afternoon we all play cards for several hours before doing what needed to be done to prepare dinner and build a fire. This evening we have just sat around the fire and talked. 

Wishing everyone a good Memorial Day weekend. 

May the souls of our soldiers who have given their lives for our country rest in peace.  

Mad Max: Fury Road

We have just returned from seeing Mad Max. Ray hated it; thought it was a waste of time. I, surprisingly, thought it was pretty good for the type of movie it is, which is pretty much one huge monster truck chase after another. Still, I have to say that I thought Charlize Theron stole the show with her portrayal of a character who has a calm demeanor coupled with badass strength. Tom Hardy does a fine job as Max, the loner who is tormented with flashbacks of his family’s demise. Together they form the backbone of the film, which is all about survival in the worst of times.

Critics love this film, which is why Ray and I went to see a movie that is so far afield from either of our usual movie preferences. I have heard or read at least 3 rave reviews from film critics I respect. I haven’t seen the other Mad Max films, which surely puts me at a disadvantage in terms of assessing how much better or worse this one is versus the others. However, I can say that as far as films of this type go, this was right up there in the stunt, chase, and tension-producing department. The visual effects were impressive, the sound track compelling and the chemistry between Theron and Hardy palpable.

This movie is for a particular type of film-goer, most likely those fans of the past Mad Max movies. For those of you who fall in that category, I believe I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. For those of us who are not so much into this type of action adventure/chase film, I would suggest you find a quieter, more contemplative movie to spend your money on. But if you are with people who truly want to see this movie, then go ahead and see it. You might find yourself unexpectedly drawn into the story and worried about the fates of the main characters.

I will certainly not need to see Mad Max a second time, but it was undeniably quite a show. But do not go if you’re hoping for catchy dialogue or a deep storyline. Those two aspects are missing from this film. Instead, you will get some of the best visual effects you’ve seen in a very long time and perhaps find yourself wondering how you might survive in a futuristic dystopic world where people are forced to band together to protect themselves against marauders and despots. Certainly a question worth contemplating.

To go or not to go? That is a question only you can answer.


5-Star Recipe: Chocolate Eclair Cake

This recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen, and even after I modified it to use agave syrup rather than refined sugar it is still awesome. The combination of homemade pudding with whipped cream, graham crackers and chocolate syrup creates such a wonderful taste blend that the only word that does it justice is delicious. This is also a make-ahead cake, which is great as well.

I am including the original recipe, but will add my notes along the way.

Chocolate Eclair Cake

America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 12-15

1 1/4 c. sugar (I used the same amount of agave syrup)

6 tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. salt

5 c. whole milk (I used nonfat dry milk here)

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into chunks

5 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. water

1 1/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin

2 3/4 c. heavy cream, chilled, divided

1 box honey graham crackers

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips (I used freshly grated dark chocolate here)

5 tbsp. light corn syrup (I used agave syrup)

1. Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk milk into sugar mixture until smooth and bring to boil (medium high heat), whisking frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.

2. Once mixture reaches a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook, whisking frequently for about five minutes, until mixture thickens.

3. Turn off the heat and add butter chunks and vanilla. Whisk until smooth and then transfer pudding to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate for at least two hours.

4. After pudding has chilled, stir water and gelatin together in a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Then, microwave for 15 seconds. Set aside.

5. Whip 2 cups of the cream (THIS IS NOT THE WHOLE AMOUNT OF CREAM IN THE RECIPE) with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Pour about a tablespoon of cream into the gelatin mixture and stir – this will keep it from clumping when added. Add gelatin in a thin but steady stream while beating cream. Continue to beat another minute until stiff peaks form. Soft peaks mean when you lift the mixer the cream comes off it like the way a kid draws an ocean wave – stiff peaks means it makes a point that doesn’t list to the the side at all.

6. Whisk a third of the cream into the chilled pudding, then scoop the rest of the cream on top and fold it in gently using a rubber spatula.

7. To make glaze, microwave chocolate chips (or shaved chocolate), remaining 3/4 c. cream and corn syrup (or agave syrup) for about 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool about 10 minutes.

8. Line a 9×13 baking dish with graham crackers, breaking them to fit if necessary. Scoop half of the pudding/cream mixture onto graham crackers and smooth with an offset or rubber spatula.

9. Top with a second layer of graham crackers, then spread the rest of the cream mixture evenly on top.

10. Top the cream with the remaining graham crackers.

11. Drizzle glaze over the top layer of graham crackers and smooth to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 6 or up to 24 hours. Cake will keep, refrigerated, up to 2 days.

I can’t say enough about how tasty this cake is.  If you try it, please let me know what you think.  I am confident that you will be as impressed as I am.