Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Update

I know it's been a while since I last posted. How time flies, eh? For a quick recap, our Ed turned 29, Cousin It turned 31, and Lara turned 33. Tom and I are married 41 years, and our Yellow Lab, Sandy, is a creaky 12 years old. Dad turned 86 and is doing much better since he hooked up with the VA hospital in Iron Mountain. We had a family Father's Day gathering that turned out great. Just about everybody came.

Dad and brother-in-law John

Ed and Lara

Cousin It (Sarah) and Tom
 The big news and main reason I have not blogged is that I am participating in a weight loss study that keeps me on my feet and off the computer. Honestly, by supper time I am tired! (I'm only blogging now because I took the day off from exercising.)  Since January I am down 32 pounds and half of that since I started participating in the study. I am learning a lot about exercise, nutrition, shopping and eating habits, and strategies for dealing with eating in various social settings. I am enjoying all of it and am really working hard at making lifestyle changes. I would love to lose another 30 pounds by the end of the year.

The weather and the wild critters have been my plagues this year in the gardens. I had to replant my garden boxes three times because of squirrels. One morning I woke to find a turkey hen taking a dust bath in my greens box. Every so often she would kick up dirt and then deftly stick her neck out and snatch a bite of lettuce or mustard. Sheesh! The pole beans were eaten by bugs so as a last resort I have planted some in pots in the greenhouse and hope to harvest something this Fall. The deer have eaten most of my winter squash and pumpkins over at the big garden I have by Dad's, and because of all the rain we've had the grass has overtaken that garden, as well, though I am doing my best to keep the crops visible. It's hard to work that garden properly because of my family time constraints. There are still some tomato plants, a few green beans, and my Fisher's Earliest corn (I'm keeping my fingers crossed on the corn because there is a Sandhill crane nest in the field about 10 feet from the back of Dad's barn) that survive and I need to weed by hand. I'm starting some perennial plantings in that garden and started this year with putting in about 10 black chokeberries (aronia). Only one has died.

Speaking of tomatoes, my garden box that hosted tomatoes last year sprouted a number of volunteers this year, and amazingly they are my strongest plants anywhere in the gardens! Yesterday I cut some poles and staked them all. I have to mention that the Russian tomato varieties I planted this year don't look so hot, but I will give them another chance next year before I make my mind up about growing them after that.

Garden boxes in the front yard
The garden boxes in the back yard don't look nearly as good as the ones in the front yard and I will have to take a picture of them for you. About half of those boxes are dedicated to perennials now. There is a box for blueberries, one for bush cherries, one for domesticated raspberries, and I am in the process of making another box for just herbs, both annuals and perennial, culinary and medicinal. After I harvest the garlic, I will amend all the empty boxes and replant them for a late harvest.

Forest garden path (chop and drop)
I am learning much from my forest garden experiment and continue to read as much as possible about permaculture practices. I have found that by leaving everything to grow together as they will there is much less insect damage and increased harvest. For example, bindweed left to twist and climb becomes a natural trellis for raspberries, grasses, and red currants. Dogwoods seem to favor grouping with basswood trees and elderberries. Raspberries and ferns like fruit trees. Bergamot loves spreading in the sunny grassy areas. The black and red currants are simply overflowing with berries. My mugwort decided it didn't like being next to my hazelnut bushes and has, on its own, migrated to my hugelkultur bed next to the hops I have growing on the trellis fence. The grapes seem to like being left to climb where they will. The blackberries are definitely not happy and I expect that at some point I will move them elsewhere. Horseradish and rhubarb love the hugelkultur bed, and all of the apple and plum trees seem to be happy. Even the "iffy" pear trees have settled down and are beginning to gain growth. This year I added two apricot trees. I don't expect them to survive the winter, but I thought I would give them a try anyway.

Canning season has officially started for me. I wish your gardens a heavy harvest!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Computer Woes

Well, I'm ready to run around the house shrieking because of our computer trouble.  It all started when I was accepted into a weight loss for rural seniors research study from the University of Kansas that our clinic is partnering with. Part of the study requires video conferencing. Well, my computer has no camera and runs on Windows 7. So, I bought a camera and tried to set up Skype (which won't redeem the prepaid voucher I bought). Then because my computer frequently blue screens on me Tom and I decided to buy a new lap top computer. That one runs on Windows 10 and has a camera built into it. And, because I like to read a lot I bought a little Kindle Fire to ease the wear and tear on my poor old desktop. OMG! Trying to get everything to work together has been a nightmare. Now my old computer constantly crashes Firefox, and it and Internet Explorer are besieged with pop-up ads despite my installing the latest Kaspersky Total Security. I finally downloaded Google Chrome on the old computer and so far I can at least function. (I am able to be posting this!) My Kaspersky Total Security tells me everything is fine as does Windows, but I can't seem to get rid of the annoying pop-upson Firefox and Internet Explorer. I even reset the computer to an earlier time and reinstalled Firefox. At least the Kindle Fire seems to be OK. Now I have to figure out what is wrong with Skype (when I chatted with their people they couldn't find anything wrong even though I'm getting an "internal error" message). My husband thinks the Skype problem has to do with our being located in an area where cell phones don't work. I just don't know how that would affect a computer program. Ugh! Anyway, progress is being made slowly but surely and we are being dragged kicking and screaming into an updated computer era.

We are well into mud season now and most of the snow is gone though we could very well see more of it. May 15th is the latest I've seen it snow here, and the cold will be here a while yet because the frogs down in the marshes aren't peeping. Our town has instituted the annual weight limits on the roads and will no longer give a permit to the garbage collector to collect our garbage so we have to take our garbage down the road a ways (about four miles) to a drop off point in Ashland County. You'd think we'd get some type of refund or credit on our contract for having to do this because, after all, we are paying them to collect the garbage from the end of our drive, but no, not a word from either the town or the garbage company about that.

I cleaned out the chicken coop on the first nice days we had, and the ladies and gents approve. They are having great fun scratching through the old bedding. When I can I will shovel it all into the trailer and haul it over to the garden by Dad's. He wants me to learn how to run the tractor so I bought a can of diesel fuel and when the grounds firms up I'll give it a go.

And speaking of Dad, Mary bought him one of those emergency buttons you wear around your neck that you can press for help if you fall and can't get up. And she was able to get him signed up at the VA in Iron Mountain for health care. He seems satisfied and liked his doctor. She told him he needs "eyes, ears, and feet" and they will get him glasses, hearing aids, and send him to someone to check his feet out. We got a kick out of the appointment reminder:  "You must report to . . .", just like military orders. And so long as he doesn't get hold of any alcohol, he's ok. He also just turned 86.

I started seeds out in the greenhouse earlier in the month, but yesterday I brought the trays into the house and put them down in the basement because we are supposed to get a really cold spell toward the end of the week. I am trying several new varieties of tomatoes and would hate to lose the seedlings to cold. The seed trays with all the herbs I left in the greenhouse because they like a couple of weeks of cold before they decide to sprout.  My sunflower tray was ravaged by a mouse -- twice -- so the last time I went to town I picked up some mouse traps. I am now out of Fat Mama and Maximilian sunflower seeds but did find a pack of Burpee's American Giant seeds in my stash so all is not lost for a sunflower border around the garden.

No pictures for you yet, but I hope to take some soon. I just love it when the tree buds start to swell. The sand hill cranes are making a racket down by the creek.

Well, I have to get back to trying to fix this computer so I'll let you go. I hope all is well in your world!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Into Another Year

2016 has started out with a bang. Seems like everyone I know is being slammed in some way, mostly by grave illnesses and issues with family members.  For me, it's my Dad. The situation has me so stressed I won't bore you with the details. I will just say that my husband and I will never do to the young people of our family what my father is doing to my sister and me. Never. And that's my polite vent.

Elsewhere, I managed to cook up my first batch of hot process soap. It was a six pound batch using tallow, lard, olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter. I scented it with patchouli essential oil right before I spooned it into my mold. The soap turned out beautifully. It smells so good! I couldn't find a large enough slow cooker so I made a double boiler by using my water bath canner and inserting a 12 quart stainless steel pot inside it. A cast iron trivet raised the 12 quart pot off the bottom of the larger pot, and I added water in the larger canner pot to halfway up the sides of the 12 quart pot. I mixed the lye water out in the garage. As the outdoor temperature was so cold it didn't take long for the lye to cool. I was sure to wear my heavy duty rubber gloves and my "Imperator Furiosa" safety glasses. While the lye cooled in the garage, I melted my fats and oils in the 12 quart pot. When the fats and oils and lye water were the same temperature (100°F), I stirred the lye water slowly into the fats and oils and "cooked" the mixture in the water bath, stirring every half hour. After three hours I checked the pH. Soap that is meant for use on skin should be between 8.0 and 10.0 pH. My batch registered 8.5 on my digital pH meter so I removed it from the water bath and spooned the soap (it was pretty thick) into my freezer paper lined plastic bin mold. I let the soap sit overnight and cut it into bars the following morning before stacking the bars on a shelf to store. That batch is going to last us a long time. I can't wait to make some more.

I'm also cutting out the template pieces for the different blocks for Ed's Hobo Quilt. I have some nice 10" fabric squares to use for it. As ever, a project's preparation takes longer than the project does to actually put together.

This Mercury Retrograde is a doozy. In our spare moments both Tom and I have been shoveling out the house getting down to bare necessities. We've made three trips to local thrift stores so far and I have to say the house is looking much less cluttered.  I got out my Feng Shui book and am working my way room by room through the house. I found a poster advertising a fish vendor in the back of our closet so I bought a frame for it and hung it in the wealth and prosperity section of our bathroom (where, unfortunately, the toilet is located), but I think I'm going to have to move it because since I hung it on the wall we've been having to spend money left and right for unexpected expenses. I'm sure our "wealth" is now going down the toilet because certain persons in the house refuse to keep the toilet lid down and the drains closed. I'll hang the picture in another room's wealth and prosperity area and see if our "money drain" stops.

It's amazing how Feng Shui decorating really does work. I discovered that the main Love and Marriage area of our house is in the garage. What a mess! I cleaned up the garage as best I could and I bought a sign of what I consider to be the happiest kiss ever to hang out there. I'm not sure I put it in the right corner although for sure my marriage is much improved. The one thing I've learned about Feng Shui is that you must make changes slowly and remember what you did because often your results happen quickly and dramatically, and if the results send you bad fortune, you can quickly reverse the change you made. Whew! Believe me, that's important to remember. (Note: if you are looking for a new job, try spiffing up your career and wealth and prosperity areas!) I am also working on our Health and Family areas since I am feeling very stressed dealing with my Dad.

I have a neat little history book for you. It's called Stalag Wisconsin by Betty Cowley. It relates the story of WWII prisoner-of-war camps in Wisconsin. It is interesting that there is actually not a lot of information available on this topic because (if I read the book right) much of the information was deliberately destroyed by the Army after the War. Local newspapers of the time cooperated with the Army by severely limiting news of the camps, and recollections in the book are mostly from people who were just children at the time. I have not finished the book, but so far my favorite recollection relates the tale of an American soldier who was one of only sixteen survivors in his group of over 275 men that were at the Battle of the Bulge. When he returned home he was very angry to find German prisoners of war having a good time in a local tavern together with their guards! Well, the American soldier went home, loaded his M1 carbine, returned to the tavern and told the locals to git. He then proceeded to march the prisoners of war AND their guards back to the camp, whereupon he gave the camp commander a piece of his mind. In short, there were no more tavern visits by prisoners of war and the entire camp was closed not long after! Great little book.

I've ordered some seeds and seed starting supplies, and I'm looking forward to getting the garden going. Lara is looking forward to going to the market again this year, too. I have to find time to take my market scale down to Merrill to get certified by the State, and I want to get another small table and some produce baskets to improve our display.  I am hopeful that we will have a good year. Growing time is rapidly approaching.

Well, I guess that's about all for now. I hope your life is going well. Be safe and take care!