Monday, November 30, 2009

It's A Dirty Job, But Somebody's Gotta Do It

I told Roy not to add any wood to the stove when we got up yesterday morning because I had to clean out the ashes. They had built up to the point where the Jotul burped some out every time we opened the door.

There is a certain amount of "dirt" involved in heating with wood . . . and cleaning out ashes (at least with the style stove we have) is not nice. Some wood stoves have an ash pan underneath the fire box which is like a drawer that can be pulled out and taken out-of-doors to be emptied. Not so with our good o' Jotul #4 Combifire.

As you can see by the above picture, the ashes build up on the floor of the stove and must be shoveled out periodically by hand. Note the tools of an ash cleaner's trade: gloves, spray bottle full of water, small shovel and ash can with lid.

I give the ashes a good spritzing of water to help hold down the ash dust which is the most hateful part of the operation.

Trying really hard not to disturb the ashes enough to send too much dust flying into the air, I scoop up a shovel full of ashes and dump it into the waiting ash can quickly closing the lid after each shovel full. No matter how careful I am, it's amazing the quantity of ash dust particles that spiral up into the air and lazily drift away to settle on every surface in the whole house. (Or at least it seems that way to me.)

At last, the stove is empty of its accumulated ash build-up . . .

. . . and the ash can is full.

I used to spread newspapers under the stove to catch some of this yuck, but that only caused more ash dust to fly into the air when I picked up the newspaper.

So now I just deal with a little more clean up. (Don't I look like Cinderella at the hearth? Where are the ugly step-sisters? Heck, where's my Fairy Godmother to take me away from all of this?)

By this time, it's usually getting a little cool in the house so I'm eager to get a fire started in the ash-free stove.

Ah, there we go. Now we're cookin' with gas again. Or rather, heatin' with wood.

Now I should go vac and wipe up all that rasty ash dust that filtered through the air. Or not. I know it will be there later when I get around to it. Nobody ever said heating with wood was perfect.

P.S. Well, phooey on all you readers out there who refused to join in on my "Pay It Forward" challenge. It would have been fun! Only two people chose to sign up . . . thank you, Kate and MaineCelt. (Won't they all be sorry when they realize I was planning to send everyone $1,000 stuffed in a pair of hand knit socks!)

P.P.S. I have a new seasonal blurb on my Home Page on my Mama Pea Quilts website. And have also posted my Monday morning Featured Quilt of the Week on my quilting blog. If you're interested, I'd love to have you take a peek. Thanks!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Knitted Treasure

This morning I wrote on my quilt blog just how close to the ground my wagon is draggin' today. I also told a bit about our Thanksgiving yesterday so I won't repeat that here.

We often put up our Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, but I'm gonna need a heavy dose of zip, vim and vigor before that happens this year. I'm developing a theory: When you have a full life and can never seem to find time to fit in everything in a normal day's time that you want/need to do, throwing in holidays (and all that entails) has a tendency to push one over the edge. My whole body is rebelling today and refusing to get out of first gear.

No segue here (none, zero, nada) but . . . last year Ruthie of Nature Knitter posted a "Pay It Forward" blog in which she said she would send a handmade gift to the first three people who left a comment for her. I was one of the lucky first three commenters and I received my "Pay It Forward" package in the mail this past week.

Look at this! She made this GORGEOUS multi-colored hand knit shawl. She thought I might like it because the knitted pattern resembles quilt blocks.

It's an ample 16-1/2" wide by 66" long. And so soft, and so warm. (I wonder if the livestock will fully appreciate it when I wear it out to do chores?) No, no, no, never worry. I'll be saving this lovely gift for special occasions . . . far away from chicken poop.

So . . . now it's my turn to "Pay It Forward." I will send a handmade gift to the first three people who leave a comment on this post requesting to join this Pay It Forward exchange. I don't know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise. The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog after you receive your gift from me.

Come on now. Don't be shy. The gift you receive or in return send doesn't have to be large or complicated, simply something you have made with your own little hands. (Personally, I lean toward working with styrofoam egg cartons and glitter. Just kidding!) I'd love to make something for each and every one of you . . . but only the first three will qualify this go-round. Anybody?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving To You All

As I was working away in the kitchen yesterday getting as much advance preparation done on the food for the Thanksgiving meal today, it struck me that out of the forty-six years we've been married, I'm pretty sure I've fixed a turkey with all the trimmings every year except maybe five, at the most. (Boy, that's a lot of tryptophan.) Even during our years of vegetarianism, we had a turkey for Thanksgiving. We never had ham for Easter or goose for Christmas; but we had turkey for Thanksgiving. (I should spend some time analyzing that.)

Roy and I have both read a lot of writing by Scott and Helen Nearing. They were back-to-the-land, self-sufficient homesteaders who believed in living the simplest of lives. Scott also was a social activist in his earlier years and wrote a lot of social philosophy later in life.

They were not afraid to buck the norm and each year on Thanksgiving Day to demonstrate against gluttony for gluttony's sake, went on an all-day apple fast. Apples were all they ate on Turkey Day.

Hmmm. There are times when that sounds like a darn good idea.

Whether you are dining on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner or much simpler fare, I hope you have a very pleasant, relaxing day. I'm grateful to be spending the day with friends and the people I love most. All in all, I know I'm one lucky lady. For which I'm very thankful.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The Debut of the Mama Pea Quilts Website

A day or so ago I was yammering on about how very short my days have seemed for the past few months. I never seem to be able to accomplish what I set out to do.

Sometimes we need to have the obvious pointed out to us. Husbands can be good at that. Mine reminded me that I've been putting more time and energy into my newly debuting website, Mama Pea Quilts, than I realize.

I'm fortunate in that I've been able to call on my daughter to do the web design part of the site. Because we live a 55-minute drive apart, we've spent countless hours e-mailing back and forth, collaborating, changing, improving, trying to come up with the best possible website from which to sell my one-of-a-kind, handmade baby quilts.

We've also spent many hours together photographing the quilts. (I now have new-found admiration for photographers!) Getting the truest representation of the colors in each quilt is quite the challenge, to say the least. We've taken at least over thirty photographs of each quilt in order to end up with what you see on the website. We know it's not perfect, but we have worked hard at it. (The wish for a professional photography studio and all the advantages that would offer is a ways down the list at this point!)

It's been a tremendous amount of work, this website designing, but we've both managed to make it through to the finish unscathed. Almost. More or less. Kinda sorta. Conversations have gone like this:

Daughter: "So what do you think of this layout? How do you like it?"
Me: "Phffthpp." (That's computerese for giving the Bronx Cheer.)

Me: "Can you make the picture a little smaller?"
Daughter: "How's that?"
Me: "A little smaller still?"
Daughter: "Hang on . . . ."
Me: "Is that as small as you can get it?"
Daughter: "Well, now nobody can see it without a magnifying glass!"

Me: "But why CAN'T we do it that way?"
Daughter: "MUTH-er! It. Just. Doesn't. WORK. That. Way!"

And then there's the time I've tried to squeeze in working over-time at my sewing machine in order to be able to showcase this nice selection of quilts. Sometimes when you can't sleep because your mind is going a mile a minute, getting up and quilting at 3 AM can be very productive.

But this is all behind us now. Today I'm very proud to announce that the website from which I will sell my baby quilts is up and running! And I'd be very happy if you could find the time to go take a look at Mama Pea Quilts. Perhaps you'll even see something you like. Something you can't resist. Something that will make a wonderful Christmas gift, baby shower gift, or keepsake quilt in which to bring a new bundle of joy home from the hospital. 'Tis a perfect time of the year to think about quilts and keeping warm and cozy, don't you think?

P.S. Please don't hesitate to contact us with any comments, questions, or suggestions you may have regarding Mama Pea Quilts. And if you'd like to be put on the website's mailing list announcing specials, new quilts, give-a-ways, etc. from Mama Pea Quilts, just leave your name and e-mail address on our Mailing List page. Thanks so much!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I Think We'll Steal Her

You don't usually see pictures of little ones on this blog. We don't have grandchildren so there aren't a lot of little people running around our house.

Our daughter is a nanny for a couple of babes with another to be added in a week or two. One of her little charges is an almost two-year old. Daughter grew up with this adorable child's father and his brother. The munchkin's grandparents moved to this area right about the same time we did so the family connection goes way back.

Often on a Friday, Daughter and Munchkin will stop by of a morning for a visit and stay for a little lunch. Such was the schedule yesterday.

As soon as Munchkin came in the door, she wanted "Papa Roy" to read a book to her. He explained that he couldn't right then but would a little later.

And so, this is after lunch, snuggled on the couch.

Although the book was interesting . . .

. . . Munchkin soon found something else to capture her attention so Daughter took her place on the couch with her dad to hear the end of the story.

Although barely two, she already knows many letters of the alphabet, can count, and sing the Alphabet Song . . . when the spirit moves her. Drawing with colored pencils is fun!

As you can see, she already has quite the inborn fashion sense.

We ended up with three extra bantam pullets that hatched this summer which Daughter said she'd like, so here they are ready to be transported to their new home. Papa Roy asked the munchkin if she would like to feed them a little grain. And indeed she did. Can after can after can. They left well supplied for the journey.

There are so many people who love this little child that we would never be able to get away with stealing her . . . but no doubt about it, she's stolen our hearts.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Mom's Fruitcake

I made my first batch of fruitcake of the season yesterday. When it's cooled, I wrap it in foil and refrigerate it over night before slicing it. My husband wasn't up and going too long this morning before asking, "Is any of that fruitcake cut yet?"

Part of the mixture for the fruitcake needs to be started the night before the baking. so when I impulsively started it late Wednesday night, I found myself a little short of the dried fruit I wanted to add to complete the recipe first thing yesterday morning. I was thinking especially of dried cherries and apricots . . . which I didn't have in my pantry.

But I knew no one would refuse to eat Mom's Fruitcake made with raisins (both regular and golden), craisins, dates, and dried apples so I'm calling this my first batch of the season (one loaf is already missing quite a few slices and one loaf just left with my daughter), and when I shopped yesterday afternoon, I got my dried cherries and apricots for another batch.

I once asked my mom why it was necessary to start part of the recipe the night before and let it sit before continuing with the mixing and baking the next day. She replied that she had no idea but did know that once she rushed the process by doing it all in one day, and that fruitcake wasn't nearly as good as usual. So there you go. You'll need to plan ahead just a little should you try this recipe.

My Mom's Fruitcake

Mix together in large saucepan and boil for 5 minutes:
1-3/4 C honey
1/4 C molasses
1 C butter
1 pound raisins
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 C hot water

(Once the above mixture starts to boil, I turn the heat down so that it just keeps gently burbling for the 5 minutes.)

Remove from heat and let mixture sit on counter over night.

Next day, pour cooled mixture into large mixing bowl. Add:
3-1/2 C flour (white, whole wheat or combination)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 C chopped nuts
1 C chopped dates
1 C chopped dried fruit of your choice

(Gotta admit I sometimes go a little overboard on the cup of dried fruit. But it never seems to hurt the fruitcake at all. Just has more yummy chewiness to it.)

Grease and lightly flour three loaf pans. Spoon batter (it will be thick) into pans and smooth out with a spatula.

Bake in a 300° oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Remove to cooling racks. The fruitcake will slice much easier if you wrap the loaves in foil and refrigerate over night. They also freeze very well. (If not frozen, I always store mine in the refrigerator.)

If you desire, you can wrap the loaves in cheesecloth, soak with liquor of your choice and let mellow in a cool place for a month or so. Mmmmm, good!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Ducks

I'm obviously on a duck kick. Here are some more mallard pictures. When I came in the driveway yesterday afternoon, there were upwards of 40 mallards (they move so fast it's hard to count) swimming in the pond.

Where's a good wide-angle lens when you need one? This is just a small section of them. (The two white blobs are domestic geese making sure all goes well in THEIR pond.)

"Grain? Did I hear the sound of a can of grain?" Here are the hungry troops waddling up for a snack.

"Where's the corn? I like that yummy corn!"

"Here it is, here it is! Mmmmm, gobble, gobble, gobble."

Okay, enough. I'm done. I've had my wild duck fix for the day. (Aren't they beautiful though?)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Compost Pile Was Revolted

Guess who found three huge cucumbers that had been picked from the garden and stored in the crisper drawer in the spare refrigerator? Stored there, oh, about three months ago. Guess who found them today?

Be glad I'm showing you the picture of the crisper drawer drying on the table AFTER it had been emptied, scraped, scrubbed, sand blasted, and disinfected rather than before. Be very glad.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What Did You Do Today?

We didn't set an alarm this morning so I've gotta admit we slept in a bit. Didn't get up and navigating well until close to 7:30.

I started the day by somehow catching my shirt on a knob of the stove and tearing off a button. Huh. How did I manage to do that?

We hadn't had any dessert in the house for a while so I baked a Dutch Apple Pie. Something bad happened to it at lunch time.

I went up to the dairy to get a fresh supply of milk.

Made a batch of cottage cheese.

Washed and dried our weekly pile of laundry.

Did a big bunch of dishes . . . two times.

Folded the laundry and put it away. (Yes, my non-ironing friends, that basket in the foreground is my ironing to do tonight.)

Also spent parts of the day here and there, on and off, working (via e-mail) with my computer guru daughter putting the finishing touches on my website through which I will sell my handmade baby quilts. (You can get a preview peek of some of my work by checking out my quilting blog.) Stand by for the exciting debut which should happen later this week!

I made a quick trip to town and on the way back, up ahead of me in the road, I saw the flashing lights of a school bus.

"What the heck," I said to myself. "Why is the school bus letting off kids in the middle of the day? Did they close school for some reason?"

Whoops. Checked my watch and it was 3:45. Hmmm. I was thinking it was about 1 o'clock. Guess it just goes to prove that time flies when you're having fun.

What did you do today?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Of Ducks and Dirt

For the past several years, we've had a core group of about a dozen mallard ducks that stay on our pond for several weeks each spring and then again in the late fall. Often there are more than the basic twelve that come and go. Every now and then we have up to 30 or 40 quackers spending a day or two.

(Apologies for quality of pics in this post. They were taken late yesterday afternoon in the rain.)

The pond is within the area that we have fenced in for our domestic fowl, and everyone seems to co-exist peacefully.

Morning and night when Roy goes out to feed, the mallards all troop up into the yard for their share of the goodies.

For a couple of years, we put out extra feed for the wild ducks but then realized that we were spending a LOT more than our budget would allow on feed. I think the mallards would gobble up about 25 pounds of laying mash a day if given the chance. (Wouldn't be bad if they'd leave us some eggs . . . )

We had to reposition feeders inside houses/shelters but continue to toss some whole grains outside for everybody twice a day. The wild ducks will often fly up into our lawn area where they do a good job of cleaning up seeds under the bird feeders.

It's a treat to see the beautiful wild mallards. They seem to like our small pond . . . and the free lunch.

Now for the "dirt" part of this post . . .

The sun is out today. Oh. My. Gosh. It looks like a different world out there. Seriously, we have had nothing but gray, damp, drizzly, wet, foggy, misty, hea-VY weather for weeks.

Everyone has complained about it, and I think it's even affected my mood and state of mind. This morning seeing the sun gives a whole new perspective to my life and sense of well-being. There is hope. I will survive. I've found the will to go on. (It's also making me more than a little melodramatic.)

The downside to the bright sun is the glaringly honest light it's bringing into my house. I've been over-due for a serious housecleaning . . . like pulling books off the shelves and sucking up inches of dust with the vacuum cleaner type cleaning. This morning the necessity of such a cleaning is quite evident, shall we say. (I'm NOT including pictures in this part of the post!)

And our windows! Despite promises that we would get the windows washed inside and out this fall, it hasn't happened. And, boy, does the sunshine ever bring that fact to light. (Pun intended.) If cleanliness is next godliness, I'm goin' straight down the tubes today. Time to roll up my sleeves and get this hovel shoveled out!

Or maybe I should just go sit outside in the sunshine and watch the ducks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Night Visitor

Check out this little guy we spotted on a feeder on our front deck last night.

It was right before bedtime when Roy looked outside and saw movement on the hanging feeder on the deck. A flying squirrel! We hadn't seen one of them in a very long time.

Years ago they seemed to be much more prevalent in our neck of the woods. We would hear what sounded like a crash landing on the roof, and then one would go tromp, tromp, tromping to where he could make a short flight onto a feeder.

This fella wasn't shy at all about having his picture taken. Even as I crept closer and closer, he just kept munching away.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aunt Jeanette

Got the news this morning that my Aunt Jeanette died yesterday evening. She would have been eighty-six next month. Bless her.

She was my mom's sister, the one just younger than Mom. Grandma and Grandpa raised a family of seven children, one boy first and then six girls. Aunt Jeanette was right around twenty years old when I was born.

After World War II ended, she married my handsome Uncle Don. They then moved to southern Illinois and lived in a teeny-tiny trailer while he went to school and Aunt Jeanette worked to support them. After graduation they came back home to northern Illinois.

Some of my earliest memories are of being taken places by them. Ice skating in our city park, to a carnival, on hikes, to Uncle Don's mom's house where they were doing some painting. I distinctly remember picking up the paint brush when all adult backs were turned and quickly painting my white leather shoes.

All seven of the aunts and uncles (my parents included) lived and raised their families within a few miles of each other. There were thirteen of us cousins that grew up together. All the families celebrated every holiday and birthday together. Later on when I was in high school, there was a rash of little babies again which added six more to the extended family.

Aunt Jeanette had four children of her own . . . two boys first and then a little later two girls. She did day care for twin boys (toddlers) at one point . . . who would have guessed that it would be in preparation for the arrival of her own twin granddaughters when she was seventy-two! At that point, she jumped in with both feet to help her youngest daughter with the babies for months often staying overnight.

She was the ultimate homemaker creating a warm, comfortable home. Great cook, fantastic baker. I know she gave away millions of pounds (I'm not kidding) of baked goods and was forever packaging up meals to deliver to someone in need or sending goodies to kids away at school . . . or to us living six hundred miles away. Uncle Don often said he should buy stock in 3M because she went through so much tape and wrapping material.

I talked to her sometime last week. Even though the conversation was difficult because of her heavy medication, her sunshiney outlook and quirky sense of humor still came through. She had what sounded like laryngitis and said she would call me when her voice was better.

Aunt Jeanette was the very last of a generation. The last one of my aunts and uncles to go. Her passing truly does signify an end. I think I'll always remember all of them as they were when I was growing up. My daughter says that's how it should be.

I told Aunt Jeanette often that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. I'm still working on it. She gave me a lot to shoot for.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Update On How Our Honey Bees Be

Yesterday we went out to check on our bee hives. Here Roy is opening up the first hive. All of the pictures included in this post were taken then.

In northeastern Minnesota, the long, cold winters are devastatingly hard on bees. This past winter was just such a typical winter, and our bees suffered. We made sure to leave them plenty of food for over-wintering, but because of extreme conditions, it didn't seem to do much good.

We went into winter with five hives. This spring was cold, wet and gray which made things worse for the bees. After having to stay clustered together in an effort to stay warm all winter and not moving about in the hive to get to their stores, their "hibernation" season was made even longer by the bad spring weather. With no sunshine, no warm days for them to get out for cleansing flights or even realize winter was over(!), more of them died.

When the queen bees started laying brood in late winter, the bees had to stay in a yet tighter ball cluster to keep the brood alive. The main aim was still to keep themselves, the queen and the brood alive which took too much of their energy.

Bottom line, when Roy checked the hives in early April, we found we had lost four of the five hives.

The remaining one hive had a handful of bees and a queen but no live brood. Roy was doubtful that there were even enough bees left to rebuild the hive. Never underestimate the strength and determination of a honey bee though. Gradually through the late spring and summer, that rag-tag little bundle of bees built themselves up into a moderately strong hive.

A good friend that we had gotten started in beekeeping a few years ago fared better over winter than we did. He lives approximately 40 miles away and must have a micro-climate that is kinder to bees than we do because his consistently seem to do better than ours. He gave us two splits from two of his hives in early June. Splits consist of two frames of bees including eggs, some partially sealed brood, some completely sealed brood plus a queen cell. Those two splits situated in their new home (on our homestead) developed through the summer into strong hives.

The above is a shot of our bee enclosure. We have them totally enclosed in a chain link cage including a chain link covering on top. This is because we've got black bears that would love nothing better than to get their big paws on some honey. The whole enclosure is inside an electric fence also. The chain link fence might not keep out a determined, very hungry bear (after he went through the electric fence) but hopefully it would cause enough noise that we could get out there before the hives were totally destroyed.

So we ended the season this fall with three moderately strong hives although they hadn't put by much honey due to having to use all their energy to build themselves up over the summer. Needless to say, there was no honey for us to take off our hives this year.

Without a good supply of honey in the hives, we knew the bees were going to need a little extra help over this coming winter, so this fall we fed sugar water.

Below is the sugar syrup feeding tray which sits on the very top of the hive.

Each of the three hives took about twenty pounds of sugar along with some biodynamic additions to enhance the syrup mixture. We fed until the bees stopped taking the syrup and at this point, Roy feels they're ready for winter. We're now waiting for seriously cold weather to wrap the hives with 1" thick foam insulation to help keep them warm. Then we hope for a bee-friendly winter, early spring, and bountiful summer for them to flourish in. Then maybe, just maybe there will be enough honey for us to take some for our own use next fall.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

But You Look Clean and Don't Smell . . .

When we first moved here to the great state of Minnesota, it was to 80 acres of land out in the boonies which had originally been homesteaded in the early 1900s, but then deserted since the early 1920s. There was no house on the property (it had long ago burned down), and what had once been hay fields and garden area were overgrown with trees that were over 50 years old. The only building left on the property was the hand-hewn square log barn. The roof had caved in, but the four walls were still standing.

In order to have shelter, we had an 8' x 50', 15 year old house trailer moved up here from Illinois. It had very little insulation and was truly like living in a tin can.

There was the original hand-dug well on the property that, we were told, had been boarded over to keep animals from falling into it. We had a terrible time locating the well because it was well hidden by a mass of brambles grown over it. But once we found it, my husband pumped it out, went down into it (it was lined with rock) and cleaned it up the best he could. We built a new platform over the top and put a hand pump on it. The water came into the house by the bucket full and that was our water system for the first few years.

The old well served us well (no pun intended) but it faithfully went dry twice a year . . . in August when the ground water seepage dried up and in March when the ground water froze so that it didn't flow into the well. In August we took jugs down to the shore of Lake Superior and got our water there. In March I melted snow (a slow, laborious project) for all of our water.

Our bathroom facilities were located at the end of a meandering path through the woods. There was a large window in our outhouse with a scenic view. I kept our biffy clean and odor-free which, contrary to what some people think, is not hard to do.

We either took sponge baths or filled the old aluminum wash tub on the kitchen floor. Primitive though our water situation may sound, we had a system that worked well for us.

Our second year on the homestead, a Montessori School opened in town. Because our daughter was an only child, we thought it would be beneficial for her to get some socialization with other children her age. The school encouraged parents to be involved so we had a good number of meetings and committees involved with the curriculum.

One of the mothers I met and was involved with was . . . how shall I say this? More than a little on the up-tight side and basically, I think, unhappy. Her family had come to northern Minnesota because her husband, who worked for the Department of Natural Resources, was transferred here. She hated being 130 miles from a shopping mall, she hated the lack of cultural events, she hated the weather, basically she didn't want to be here.

At one of the school functions, someone asked me where we lived. I told them and they commented that we didn't have electricity that far out, did we? The discussion continued about our lifestyle and when the up-tight mother heard me explain that we didn't have running water or plumbing in the house, she got a look on her face like she had just eaten a bad piece of fish and said, "Oh, my God! But . . . but you always LOOK so clean."

Yep. I was clean. We were all clean. I kept a clean house and we ate off clean dishes. Our level of hygiene was right up there and none of us ever got sick. Each year we refined our own alternative electrical and water systems a little more. We ended up with quite adequate systems and many people coming to our home didn't realize we weren't hooked up to grid power.

Then came the year when public utility power came down our little back road, and we brought it in to the house. We actually became quite "modranized" (as one old, salt of the earth, backwoods gal in the area used to say). Why, we even had (ta-dah!) running water and indoor plumbing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

You Won't See My Neck Until Spring

I'm comfy this early morning in my turtleneck, sweatshirt and stretchy pants. The house is still a mite on the chilly side because we're not enough into the winter season to bank the wood stove for a serious overnight fire.

The sun is just starting to peek through the east tree line into the front yard. Sun?!? Great balls of fire, are we going to actually see some sun today? One can only hope! How welcome that would be.

As you can see, all of our trees have lost their leaves except for the apple trees which seem to hang on to them as long as they possibly can. Bare November. No snow cover right now. We've had a few light coverings that quickly melted. The grass is still mostly green which is nice for the poultry still eager to get out every morning to do their thing.

Here are Mr. and Mrs. Shetland Goose taking a morning drink of fresh water. You can see the shards of ice behind them that formed on the water pan overnight with our 28° temp.

The Virginia Creeper that is so beautiful all summer and fall is now naked and shivering this early morning. Looks uncared for and disheveled, doesn't it? (Kinda like my hair right at the moment.)

We're back to having cooked grains/cereals for breakfast a few mornings a week . . . it just seems right now. This morning it's kamut. I take mine with a little brown sugar, a sliced banana and milk. Roy prefers butter and soy sauce. Each to his own. C'est la Vie. Whatever turns your crank or floats your boat.

Now I'm gonna go add another little piece of wood to the fire and be grateful that it's turtleneck season again. Yup, time to snuggle in and dream about that illusive long, slow winter we'd like to experience.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Creepy Corn

Annie over at Maple Corners has mentioned "creepy" corn in her last couple of posts. Corn as in corn stalks. As in fields of standing corn stalks. As in acres and acres of standing corn stalks.

For those of you who have never lived in corn growing country, corn stalks often grow very tall. Taller than you can see over. If you walk down a corn row and lose sight of the end of the field where you entered, you can very quickly become disorientated and a kind of cornfield claustrophobia takes over.

I grew up in Illinois and when I was fifteen and too young to get a "real" job, I de-tasseled corn for a summer. The crew was made up of about 30-40 girls, mostly young teens but some in their late teens also. We met in a city park each morning at 6 AM where a semi-truck picked us up. We rode in the back of the truck on benches that had been bolted to the floor. Sort of like cattle, only cleaner, and at 6 AM, quieter.

Each day we were hauled out into farm country, to a different farm (or different field) where we worked until 3 or 4 in the afternoon de-tasseling corn.

When we got to the designated field, we would spread out at the ends of the rows of corn, and each girl would head into the field walking in between two rows. As you walked down the row, you de-tasseled each stalk (reaching up above your head, grasping the tassel at the top of the stalk, pulling it out and dropping it on the ground) working both the row on your right and the row on your left.

The first couple of hours in the morning were the best (sort of) because the temperature was as cool as it was going to be all day. But the corn was usually heavily covered with dew and you were soon drenched with water from rubbing up against the stalks. As the sun climbed in the sky, it got hotter and hotter, muggier and muggier, and then it didn't matter that your clothes were wet from the dew because you were sweating so much.

Even though the temperature most days reached the 90s, you had to wear a shirt with long sleeves and long pants because as you moved down the rows the blades of corn would inflict cuts on exposed skin. Usually, in a week's time, at least one girl fainted from the heat. Hot, dirty work.

So where does the "creepy" corn come in? Some of the fields were huge . . . and we never knew how big they actually were or how long it would take to reach the end of the rows. (Often it would take hours to work to the end of a field.) Some of the older, more experienced de-tasselers worked as fast as they could so they would come out on the end and have time to lie down and rest and visit before being picked up by the truck and taken either to a spot to eat our brown bag lunches or to a new field. Some were naturally slower in their work habits so although we all started out at the same time, we didn't finish our rows at the same time.

To say de-tasseling corn was a boring job is an understatement. Sometimes a friend and I would try to stay moving down the rows together at the same pace, but often I would come out of my 15-year old reverie and realize I was totally alone in an endless field of corn stalks. How long had it been since I had heard or seen anyone? How much longer was the row? Was I ahead or behind everybody else? Was I so far behind that the truck at the end of the field would leave without me? Would I be lost forever and die in the middle of this creepy corn?

Halloween mazes cut in fields of dry, standing corn couldn't be much creepier than those I worked in that summer back in Illinois. How much did I earn? Sixty-five cents an hour. But if you worked the whole summer de-tasseling season (seven days a week) without missing one single day, your pay went up to a whopping eighty-five cents an hour. Few of us made the bonus.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Blast of Dynamite

This morning I'm feeling like it will take an explosion, or at least someone wielding a big stick, to get me moving. "Tis a frosty morning (gray and drippy AGAIN) that made our new flannel sheets feel mighty good. And, yes, I did sleep in a little . . . had to do something profitable with that extra hour we gained last night.

November 1st today. How did that happen? I truly feel September and October went by faster this year than July and August. Anybody else notice that? I'm still struggling with the "summer" jobs not yet completed. The time is fast approaching when I need to throw in the proverbial towel and face reality. They are not going to get done this year. Dang. Seems I'm always fighting summer chores in the fall, fall chores in the winter, on and on. I want to go skippingly along rather than step . . . trip . . . step . . . trip.

Eggs? Eggs? Anybody got eggs? The lack of daylight (could have something to do with total lack of SUN light, too) has thrown our chickens into a molt and, as my husband, puts it, we're getting 1/2 an egg a day. Our daughter, Chicken Mama of the Northwoods, isn't in any better shape. The farm where we buy our milk has had a "Sorry, no eggs right now" sign on their cooler for a couple of weeks. Times like this sure do point up how very much I use fresh, organic eggs in my cooking.

I'm looking at the (dusty) Halloween decorations around the house this morning knowing they need to go and make way for the Thanksgiving ones. Turkey Day will be here in about 3-1/2 weeks. Also time for me to make my annual batch of fruitcake from my mom's recipe. It's not your usual fruitcake. (You know, dry, heavy, sweet but tasteless and can be used as a doorstop or boot scraper by the back door.) Mom's is more like a moist, heavy spice cake and has no candied fruit in it but rather a mixture of dried fruits: dates, apples, apricots, raisins (or craisins), and peaches. Made with honey rather than sugar which adds to the moistness. It's baked in loaf pans and is so good. I give our daughter a loaf as soon as I get it baked, and she soaks hers in spirits . . . rum or brandy or some such . . . until Christmas time. Not a bad little treat if you're home for the evening and in your jammies prior to indulging.

I've been sitting here sipping my morning latte while typing, and I think I'm getting sleepier. (Something's not working!) So I fear the only solution to my oncoming stupor is to get up, and do something a little more physical.

Look out ghosts, bats, goblins and ghoulies! You're gonna get packed away for another year. And it wouldn't hurt if I dusted and vacuumed either.