Monday, March 31, 2014

Waking Up the Garden

    Among the mounds of crunchy leaves, little plants are starting to wake up. Hyacinths popped up with a burst of beautiful color sharply contrasting their dull coverings; pink, blue, and white. The snow drops long lost their blossoms, but stand quite stately there in place. I spotted tiny buds forming on the tea roses- they will surprise me one morning, I'm sure of it. Easter lilies are green and hearty- maybe we will see a bloom this year (though we rarely get any).
     All matter of seedlings are peeking through the soil: cucumber, squash, beans and melons. They are finding their place next to the spring peas, carrots and lettuce we are harvesting daily. It's so nice to have fresh veggies again! During this bounty we preserve as much as we are able- dehydrating, freezing and canning.

        There are no berries quite yet save a strawberry or two. Blackberry canes are leafing out beautifully- I spotted several new ones pushing up straight and tall. Blueberry bushes are loaded with little berries, requiring quite a bit of watering to keep them healthy and strong. My afternoon garden stroll revealed plenty of green strawberries hidden among the leaves and pretty white flowers. Even our fruit trees are perking up! Asian pears, apples, peach and jujubes are loaded with bloom, while the figs, pomegranate, and goji berries are just leafing out. Citrus trees are nice and green- no sign of blossoms just yet.
         Sometimes the garden holds other secrets- it seems our guineas are nesting in the herbs and under a utility cart. I was quite surprised when one chased me through the nettles to keep her secret safe. A goofy hen seems to have left a few of her eggs in the guinea nest- mother guinea quickly scooted them out, leaving them in the nettles for me to take away. How funny, guess she wasn't interested in fostering.
            It seems we are all enjoying the waking up of the garden; hens and herd reap the blessing of intense weeding sessions while Doc stands guard- he favors the nettles to chickweed. Students in my program kneeled wide eyed and amazed to find tiny seedlings popping up where there had been only soil just last week. Budding fruit trees hosted ladybugs causing quite a bit of excitement when we watered school gardens today. Waking up is a magical thing- one I am blessed to experience and even more humbled to share.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

We Have Been Celebrating...

Someone funny..
blessed with good health
and a strange sense of humor.
A person of knowledge
and wisdom..
of character
and strength.
One I could not live without
and sometimes don't know how I live with.
My love..
my friend..
my better half.
 Happy birthday, Donny!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pinned It, Nailed It, Made it Our Own

    So, my pregnant daughter is staying with me right now. That said, some serious cooking has been going on in this house.. serious cooking. Recent cravings led us to cruise Pinterest for some tasty copy cat recipes. Oh the things we found there, one of which was this recipe for a chicken and gnocci soup. You see, she once worked for a particular Italian restaurant and a particular soup was her favorite 'at work' meal. Time to stretch my cooking skills.
    Never in my kitchen do we ever use large amounts of butter, cream, or half and half.. and gnocci.. never, ever made it before, however, duty calls. After a necessary trip to town (after a now routine doctor visit) our little kitchen became a 'test kitchen' for food never seen before. Much chopping, sautéing, and whisking.. a little tearing up - onions were to blame, along with some rowdy giggles- before a beautiful aroma bubbled up from the bowl.
     Oh my goodness- fresh carrots, spinach, and herbs from the garden paired with a home grown oven-roasted chicken to produce a creamy, savory, and oh-so-easy-to-overeat bowl of shameful yumminess. It is terrible (how many bowls we ate)... just terrible. Well, there was one voice of dismay.. farm boy was less than impressed with our frivolity (but that didn't stop him from eating a hearty helping of it).
      Before I go, let me say... I just can't leave well enough alone. Once tasted, I tweaked it a bit to fit my flavor. The recipe seriously lacked salt, so a well rounded dose of natural salt was added along with a reckless amount of red pepper flakes; next time I will pile a bit more garlic in as well.
      And so it goes.. that we say.. we pinned it.. we nailed it... and we made it our own!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Great Disconnect

    More and more I see it; all around me, in the eyes of others: a great disconnect. Separation from reality, from culture, from the very foundation of our being. We have become a people lost and no longer searching- disconnected...
      ...from our food.. where it comes from.. the labor it takes to grow a tomato.. or can fresh beans..
          ....from our families... parents from children.. from grandchildren.. from a sense of home..
                ....from our culture.. who we are.. where we came from... what they strove for..
                       ...from reality.. pain, truth, action/reaction... choice and consequence..
                           .. and for what? why? there is no sense to it
      In my daily wonderings I become more and more aware of this vast divide.. but also for the lack of willingness to change it. Set in our ways, comfortable with our lot... we settle and we shake our heads. They are unwilling, so why shouldn't I be. complacent and content, we go about as if we have not seen.. as if unaware.
       I will not be complacent.. not disconnected, because in the disconnect I see hope. There are some eager and willing.. interested in restoring and returning. In there eyes a spark that opens the door to reeducating and redirecting. Every one that crosses our path teaches us and learns from us. Why do I do what I do? Why do I live the way I live? Because I can.. I want to.. and I am willing to share it with others who are interested.
        With each seeds I plant, each tender plant I care for I am painfully aware of many who will never experience the satisfaction.. the patience it takes to harvest a bean from the seed you planted.. or can a tomato you cared for from the beginning. That knowledge pushes me forward to teach those willing to learn and eager to discover. Some will scoff.. some will give up.. but some.. not many, but some.. will start the process.. take the step.. and stop the great disconnect. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Unreasonable Pace

    I hear it all the time- co-workers, family members, even a friend here and there. It seems I maintain an 'unreasonable pace'.. one not found in nature or normal people. From the time me toes hit the hardwood it seems there is constant motion. My mind is ever thinking, focusing, concocting this and that. When do I sleep? Hardly ever..
    Sadly, the phrase is often used as a excuse.. for who could keep up with such a life? The reality is, no one. It is my pace. I have a deep burden, conviction, if you will, to fill every minute of my day with productive activity, learning, teaching, sharing, creating. Seeing seeds sprout, a quilt come together, embroidery take form... the spark of knowledge in another's eyes.. that drives me to the pace I keep. I never expect anyone to keep it.. it is mine. However...
     A person with my pace, my passion to be productive, struggles to see why you are not. My sense of - just get up and get it done - often clashes with a more laid back personality. To me, there is no excuse not to do your job, keep your job, or even maintain the task given to you.. and that often causes strife. It's a challenge.. and I am working on it.
     My personality is unique, unusual, and to most people down right exhausting. I have to remind myself that to others I may seem abrasive or harsh.. even over zealous in my activity or my productivity, remembering also that we are all different and we all must learn from each other.
     The reality is, we are all put here for a purpose.. we are to work together.. and to compliment each other. My unreasonable pace is reasonable for me, and your pace is reasonable for you. So, let's make a deal- I will try not to knock your pace and you try not to knock mine.. just work together and let's get things done:)

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Go Lady Moment

    Right before a recent cooking demonstration, a shy, rather quiet, girl approached me. Her seriousness had me a bit concerned, but in the end the moment was priceless.

Join me here

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Waiting to Grow

The daffodils and buttercups opened their beautiful blossoms as the warm spring sun found it's way to us. What simple beauty and delicate charm can be found in such things. It causes me to imagine and dream of all those things just waiting to grow.

Spring Poems for Kids - Children's Spring PoetryWaiting to Grow

by Frank French
Little white snowdrop just waking up,
Violet, daisy, and sweet buttercup,
Think of the flowers that are under the snow,
Waiting to grow!
And think what a number of queer little seeds,
Of flowers and mosses, of ferns and of weeds,
Are under the leaves and under the snow,
Waiting to grow!
Think of the roots getting ready to sprout,
Reaching their slender brown fingers about,
Under the ice and the leaves and the snow,
Waiting to grow!
No seed is so small, or hidden so well,
That God cannot find it; and soon he will tell
His sun where to shine, and His rain where to go,
Making it grow!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Peek at My Stranger Side

   The rumors are true, I admit, when it comes to gardening I tend to lean toward strange extremes. When at my Master Gardener's classes, prayer and deep breathing help me reign it in and it is generally under control when I help with garden layout or design. Here on the homestead my weird and wild notions are left unchecked. My poor family...
   Today's peek at my 'gardening on the wild side' reveals intentional unruly patches of garden. Here in lies the areas where the natural bend of the soil and environment are left to themselves producing as they will. These 'wild wonders' reside along the fence nature several feet of room to roam. So, why on earth do I do this when other gardeners would absolutely faint over it?
   Reason number one: my critters. These patches of crazy growing goodness are treasured resources for my flocks and herds. Daily salads are gleaned from here to supplement their pastures, especially when they are heavily grazed. On occasion I have been know to tie out a young buck to mow down a patch or even set a kennel over an area for hens or does with kids. Over the many years of this madness, it has worked well for me, so I just keep doing it.
   Reason number two: wildlife. Let it be known Mrs. McGregor has nothing on me. My garden is for us not those pesky rabbits, yet, I am not without a heart. The outer borders of my garden often show signs of their nibbly visits. No, it doesn't exactly keep them out of the main garden, but it doesn't hurt either.
   Reason number three: Wild edibles. Okay,, we aren't starving. This year I have taken it upon myself to learn weed identification and learn what is edible, what isn't and why. The outer wild growth allows excellent reference and identification areas.
   There you have it. One of my dirty little secrets..I garden on the wild side (or with wild on the side..ha ha). So as you ponder your plot considering all the possibilities of your good earth, are you considering 'native growth' borders?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Natives are Restless

         There is a hint of spring in the air and the 'natives' are restless. It seems everything has a restless energy just waiting to get out. Little mama-to-be goats frolic in burst of enthusiasm (quickly followed by a nap in the sun) and Hadassah jus can't quick chasing everything in sight. Chickens are eagerly exploring every inch of the property in search of tasty fresh nibbles. Even Doc has been strangely energetic, kicking up his heels a bit. They are eager for spring!
          Standing in the garden today a few anxious bees were out seeking early blossoms- the apples and pears have just opened their dainty petals. I had missed their buzzy busyness. The warm afternoon even had birds signing; I spotted a bluebird and a cardinal dancing about a fallen pine branch. Their song was so joyful and pretty.
          I too am ready for spring- seeds need setting and tomatoes are ready for transplant. Winter has seemed so long- so cold, this year.. I don't think I can take another week of gray. So here I sit gazing out my window, realizing the honeysuckle is blooming in the woods and Easter lily shoots are springing up in the flower bed. Yes, we are very restless and eager to see spring.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Freeze or Can? What's the Plan?

    I find myself ever so slowly uncovering the garden; holding my breath as nervous fingers brush away the protective covering of fallen leaves. Beneath a heavy blanket of mulch I found a lovely row of Danver carrots just right for harvesting.
    My basket loaded with lovely green tops and hearty orange root, I made my way to the kitchen offering them their first bath; a firm scrub gave them quite a shine! The snippets of top went off to the barn where greedy goats and noisy hens tousled them; a perfect afternoon snack. As for the shiny roots, well, that was quite a quandary.
    When it comes to preserving the harvest, several factors must be considered before I decide the method to approach. Time: how much do I have available right now to contribute. After all, pressure canning vegetables can take a few hours or more. Space: Is there more room in the freezer or the pantry? Quality: Do they rehydrate well; prone to freezer burn or mush? 
     Several years ago I canned a whole hearty harvest of carrots, proudly lining them along my pantry shelves. They were beautiful- and did I mention growing carrots here has been a serious challenge for me? A few months later I eagerly went to pull a jar for the evening meal only to find them swimming in a milky goo; not at all appealing to say the least. Every jar had sealed properly, yet every jar was horribly ruined. Note 1: always pressure can veggies. Note 2: seriously sterilize everything. Note 3: despite your best efforts, canned goods in the deep, humid south can ruin.
      Often in preservation experience is the best guide for determining direction. I do not can carrots, greens, or cabbage- the results were never kind to me. Green beans, southern beans, tomatoes and such- even corn can beautifully- but do take a day to accomplish. Dehydrating- well, I love to snack on dehydrated veggies, but have rarely tried rehydrating them (unless in a soup).
       In the end, this batch of beauties were blanched, portioned, and frozen for later use. I didn't have time for the canner and images of past slimy 'copper pennies' just did me in. The challenge isn't over- today I spotted three more healthy rows of carrots that should be about ready to gather. Maybe I will brave the boil and can them... but, probably not.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

New Arrivals!

     Today marks week one for our newest arrivals. Red Ranger chicks arrived just in time for my spring break-away! These sweet little peepers have been my all-day focus and regular source of entertainment.
      Upon arrival, our littles are introduced to the water fountain and given a little time to explore the brooder before feed is given. Due to crazy weather flux, we have them inside our shop building instead of the actual brood house (the brood house has several trees surrounding it and some have dropped large branches lately) Routine checks for water, warmth and food are round the clock activity.
       In year past, we raised the Cornish cross rocks required by our 4H/Fair program. This year we opted out of the fair system, choosing to raise a more traditional and less modified meat flock. While they are completely contained right now, the goal is to introduce soil/green to them as soon as they move to their brood house and raise them free range once they have feathers and are a suitable size.   Along with a more free range/open system, we are focusing more intently on natural practices as well keeping our eye on their forage, feed, and supplementing as naturally as possible.
       Now, off to check them one more time- it's a bit chilly tonight!

Friday, March 14, 2014

All In a Day

last season's seedlings
    It's amazing, the things that plague our minds. Today found me bouncing from one emotion to another as my to-do list came face to face with the near end of my week of escape. Winter has been a challenge to us- so many things turned upside down. Spring is nearly hear and I am in no way ready for it.
    I stood in the sunshine defeated- unable to find where to start. Nettles and I are at war; baby chicks struggle to acclimate to this up and down weather; seeds need set; transplants need replaced; mulch, much and burn. All I could do was sigh, leaving the to-do's for another unexpected appointment.
    Evening news brought my tedious fretting to a halt. A loved one, a partner in crime, a soul I grew up with faces a true battle. It hit me- that feeling I have felt twice before- the devastating, life-changing, stop-your-heart feeling that consumes every function of your body when the word 'cancer' escapes the lips. Everything, I mean everything, changes. It's devastating.
    No longer does my list seem so important. These things are just normal, everyday life bumps in the road. Cancer changes perspective in a way only cancer can. Weeds in a garden matter little; chickens never cross the mind; a job is a place you wish you could go- this normal I am fussing over is something longed for and greatly missed. Prayers become indiscernible utterances only God can comprehend.
    By the end of day, it hit me: let it go. The weeds, the worries, jobs and all their drama; the crazy irritations that flip a day- All you can do is let them go. Just like the nettles, life will sting a bit, and when it does we have to let go and take a new look before be grab it again.
    Prayers uplifted; perspective shifted; tomorrow it will all look differently.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Lost My Camera

    Really?!? Yes, really. For two days I have been searching, seeking, digging and unearthing every inch of everywhere in an attempt to locate the missing item.. but, to no avail. How on earth do I survive without my camera? Baby showers, garden plantings, new spring arrivals, and all the glories of spring unveiling themselves.. what will I do?
    The answer: I have no idea. New items and I don't rush toward each other- I like my stuff. I don't like having to replace my stuff (ask me how old my cell phone is- on second thought, better not). Here in begins the dilemma. The arduous task of talking myself into a new one. The realization using a new one will require learning it's quirks. Biting the bullet and forking out the money for a new item I shouldn't need to replace except for the fact I lost it. Uhg.. I struggle.
    Better sip some coffee and think on it. Better yet, I should work out my aggravation in the garden!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Grandbaby Quilt

Michele Scaife's photo.
A mad rush of stitching and snipping hit the homestead this weekend. Join me here to read all about it!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

While I Was Away...

    Please excuse my absence from blog world; I have been quite busy running here and there. Days have been filled with all manner of extremes; thunder and rain, ice and sleet, gray cold, mixed in amongst sunshine and warmth. These crazy days forced me to find creative ways to get it all done while getting to work- and to work out. Sometimes, there just aren't enough hours in the day.
      My herbalism classes keep me quite intrigued and busy. I find it quite amazing how our body responds not only to illness, but to medicines. The knowledge of plant, nutrient, environment health is not only an inspiring challenge, but a lifelong journey. It amazes me, the foresight God had to place all these things before us.
       A bit of canning came to be as I have been part of some canning classes our extension office has been hosting. Though ,my experience does not always match up with the scientific end of canning, it never hurts to familiarize ourselves with the education that is out there and be a resource for novices learning their way.
          Mad-rush quilting blew through the sewing room this weekend along with a baby shower! Our oldest is expecting the first grandbaby which means a quilt must be made- not just any quilt, but a quilt just right for her. Needless to say, it came, I completed, now I breath a sigh of relief. The shower was lovely, the food was tasty, and the quilt was beautiful (as was the mommy-to-be). The best part of it all was time together with family. These days we don't see each other as much as we'd like to.
        Oh my goodness - look how old that picture must be! Hurried preparations are being made for spring chicks set to arrive tomorrow. This year we are branching back to non-hybrid birds seeking to return to production as close to heritage as possible. Our plan to order a little later and avoid the battle to keep warm has been spoofed. This week is not only a wet one, but a cold one as well. Tonight we set the brooder inside instead of in the brood pen.
        Recent weather, unfortunately, left us with frozen seedlings. Most of the summer crops we started in January/February are lost leaving us with a few scraggly new starts to work with. This year tomatoes and peppers may have to be purchased instead of home raised. You just never know what will hit your greenhouse during a wild winter storm.
          Much to our surprise, outdoor cool weather crops seem to have survived the crazy, out of place storm. Spinach, carrots, lettuce, kale and broccoli look wonderful; herbs and fruit trees look like they faired well. Just today, apple blossoms popped open as pears and pomegranates leaf out along with the figs. I spied blueberries among the leaves today! That's an encouraging sight. On the down side, the strawberry bed seems to have suddenly been taken over by stinging nettle. I'm trying to decide weather to harvest and dry the nettles or just tear them out with a hoe.
          In the end, I am taking deep breathes- trying to stay centered and focused. I have spent time with my work, time with my husband, with each of my children and with my mother. Learning to embrace the change is a challenge, but each day we get through it in a different way. Painful changes come and new challenges arise- that is life.
         This week finds me stepping away from my office and into my garden- seeking the center I long for; the Lord I feel so distant from. I look forward to soil under my nails and earth beneath my feet. It is time to cut out new patterns and test a new recipe.. to return to the balancing nourishment I crave and find rest in the simple things.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Rise of the Doodle

     A day of ice, drizzle, and cold stirred with in me the need to bake something. Those who know me are well aware of the family rut- I have been baking the same chocolate chip cookies for over 20 years with no end in sight. My children have grown up with little variance to that; changing my pattern always made me feel as if I were cheating on the standard favorite.
     While my challenge to the norm is rare, it seems over that past few years that another favorite has crept into the family. The farm boy has made his plight known- the chocolate chips are tradition, but a new competitor has risen. I introduce to you, the doodle, best known as the snicker doodle.
      I have no idea where the longing came from, or where it was first introduced. My mother-in-law started making them regularly a few years back; I had made them many years ago... but where did the farm boy get such a craving for them? Who knows. Maybe this is a teenage rebellion? A stepping out into male dominance? Either way.. there is a new cookie in town.. and he aims to stay.

Farm Boy's Snicker Doodles

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
  *2 teaspoons each cinnamon & sugar for rolling cookies in
  Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift together dry ingredients. Cream butter, shortening and sugar together before stirring in the eggs. Stir in dry ingredients until well incorporated. Shape by rounded teaspoons into balls, rolling them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture. Place on a parchment lined (or lightly greased) baking sheet 2" apart- they do spread. Bake 8-10 minutes or until set. I cool mine a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
  You can store them in an airtight container with a slice of bread to keep them soft and chewy. We place ours in zip bags and freeze them.
    Whatever the reason for this rising new favorite, there will never truly be a replacement for the standard chocolate chip cookie. Believe it or not, I made both today.. satisfying the cravings of both my hard working men and quieting my inner baking yearning.
     Now, enough of this out of place ice storm nonsense- I'm ready for sunshine and gardening! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Of Ice and Simmering Sorts of Things

     From a beautiful afternoon in the 70's to an icy night at 26, we went from weeding empty garden beds to breaking ice in the water troughs. Morning dawned with bitter cold as frozen water made everything a challenge. A perfect day to settle in and focus on simmering things.
The canner simmered with jars of delicious jams, jellies, and sauces; I just couldn't resist some beautiful jars hissing and popping on the counter.
The coffee pot simmered, warm and ready to warm cold hands and soothe chilled bodies. I suppose coffee doesn't actually simmer, but you get the picture.
The soup pot simmered as hearty beef stew bubbled and boiled. Heaping bowls were accompanied by tasty corn muffins; perfect remedy for the howling wind haunting us.
The diffuser simmered with thieves blend, releasing a warm and soothing aroma into the air. Dry, cold wind gave great need for a bit of moisture in the house.
The tub simmered (well, again, use your imagination) with hot mineral bath; much needed after all the chores were finished tonight.
    And so it seems the simmering ends- beneath layers of quilts we lay our heads, breathing in deep the fragrance of home. Tonight my prayers are lifted for the cold, the hungry, and the ones without shelter- may God's grace find them and bring them comfort and direction.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Do You....

    Several years ago, at the beginning of my journey as a mother of adolescent teens, a woman told me they will break your heart. Shocked and dismayed I refused to accept it- after all, I had worked so hard to build healthy relationships with my children, my family. We bonded through thick and thin; we had shared our soul and trained them up. No. This would not be my family's fate. I wouldn't let it. So I attempted to push those words away from me; hide them beneath my own words of encouragement. I deluded myself with the fantasy- if I pray enough it will always be okay.
     These days I strive not to wear the reality to plainly on my face, however, some who know me find it there. One afternoon a friend and fellow mother of teenagers stopped by my office and asked- how do you get up every morning? A deep breath and heavy sigh preceded my hesitant answer- by the grace of God. The reality is, sometimes it is nearly impossible.
     Hiding the truth is exhausting; facing it is no less wearing. Teen years are difficult and they don't end just because they hit 20. I have had to face the truth, because I had been lying to myself- despite my efforts I was ill prepared to face my children growing up, moving on, and making mistakes. My self deception has been difficult to face.
     In reality, it is time to let it go and realize He is where I cannot be, working where I cannot see, reaching avenues of our hearts I will never know. Letting go does not mean there is no care, concern or means I let it go from my hands to His. It means peace in my heart and the ability to move forward. I've been stuck in the pit of worry and denial long enough.

     Tomorrow is a new day and I will face it one moment at a time. I will move on and embrace this new season. I will blog even if no one reads it. I will quilt, and create.. I will teach and learn despite the opposition. I will lay my head down in prayer and wake up with it every morning. That is how.