Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I HATE it When My Dad's Right...

He said I haven't updated my blog lately, and it has been a week...

In a few short days, I will be leaving on that trip I've talked about from time to time. I told myself last week, "Self," I said, "you may not leave home for the next two weeks. Unless it's on fire. Or there's a dire emergency. Or Cheryl decides to let you know when she can meet you for coffee. Which is almost the same as that second option, doncha know?" You know what happened, don't you? Three trips to Suburbia; one for lunch with the aforementioned father-person, and two to pick up some traveler at the airport. Well, I'll show them! That'll be me in a coupla days! I had a day at the doctors' office, and another I split between sitting in a library, waiting for Miss Mary's driving lesson to end, and sitting in the dentist's chair, waiting for the hygienist to finish. (My life is too fast-paced. Gotta slow down!)

Long story short, I've financed a small Arab country with my gasoline bills from the past week, and I've gotten very little done toward getting ready for our trip. I have a top and skirt which need to be sewn; ain't gonna happen. I have flower and veggie beds that need planting and weeding; ain't gonna happen. I need to attend that grammar class; ain't gonna happen. But the trip will!

I have scrapbooked past trips, and, although I love my friends who scrapbook and I love their scrapbooks, I would rather stick an icepick into my eye, repeatedly, than make any of my own. (Yes, Kristi, I will finish the ones for my grandmother and mom!) But I really would like to journal/chronicle this trip-of-a-lifetime. Would it surprise you that I'm thinking of blogging about it?

I've been working on a new blog, that will run while I am gone traveling, and will be my journal of this trip. I've been playing with fonts and templates and colors. Tune in Saturday, when I debut that puppy.

Or Friday. I can't decide which.

Maybe Sunday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

Today is not Monday, it's Tuesday. Just as Marley was dead, we must make that fact understood.

Monday disappeared in a fog of fumes from an internal combustion engine. In plain English, I spent the day in the car, with short breaks to jump out and deal with something important. A doctor appointment, a trip to the pharmacy, and some grocery shopping. Mundane, housewife-y things. Except for the Italian class last night.

Today will be cleaning, and baking, and drinking coffee while writing pokey blog posts.

On the farm front, horses are confined while it rains, rains and sometimes, snows. April is acting as March this year, with cold rain and surprise flurries. Daily, baby chicks are being successful in their search for Death. 8 of them, so far, since Friday. This is unusual, so I'll be calling Sue at the feed store today to find out how many others are having this issue. Pigs are growing, despite the dogs' attempts to kill them. Veggies are shivering in the garden, although the Chinese cabbage seems happy that it's cold and wet. And all this rain is just foreshadowing the fact that, someday, we'll have to mow the lawn.

Well, someone will. I'll be in Europe.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday Farm Report: Pinkopolis Edition

That's the name of the color. Who thinks up these things? And doesn't it coordinate nicely with the scars? That's why I picked it! (OK, no.) I am thinking of decorating my foot further. I'm thinking I'll give the scars a bit of fading time, and then I'll get.......a tattoo. A sprig of lavender, my favorite. Between that and the pedis, that left foot will be durn purty. What say you? Maybe I'll make a movie about it... (obscure reference for my readers who are Daniel Day-Lewis fans)

Today is another grey, rainy day on the farm. I headed out to check the veggie garden, and learned that my greenhouses/bed covers are not quite as spiffy as I first thought. It's a soft rain today, nice for seedlings and newly growing plants. I decided to remove them to let the rain fall. Those puppies are doggone heavy! I also found a leak in our hose system, right at the spigot, so I couldn't even water the plants deeply enough. And I felt pretty silly, standing there in the rain, running a hose on them! Even after 28 years of this, gardening is a learning experience.

I have been informed that someone near here has a cow and heifer calf he wants to sell. The price is decent and I am tempted. So I'll be sorting through that whole thing these next few days. Calf is almost weaned, and turning Mom into hamburger (shut up, this is a farm, you ninny!) would net us enough beef to sell and make back the money we'd spend on them. Calf can then be raised as a pet (yes, you read that right; John misses having cows here) and could be bred for a yearly freezer animal (schizophrenia, much?) But...do we want another animal/two to care for? I mean, he's not letting me get sheep, for cripes' sake, because we're leaving for Europe soon and he doesn't want to be worrying about caring for them. Ah, well, the soap opera that is Pine Ridge Farm.

Hey, how many other blogs do you visit that start out with pictures of pedicures, discuss tattoos, and end the conversation with beef cattle? Bunny trails. Just one of the services we provide.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cold and Rainy

Well, NOAA has been predicting rain for a week, and, finally, it's here. But did it have to be a cold rain?

Mary and I headed out this morning, with my aunt, to be girls. We had manicures and pedicures. Finally, it was me getting the pedicure, not some horse. We intended to go to the garden center, to do some research on some plants I'm thinking of adding to the gardens, but not after we walked into Panera for lunch! The temperature had dropped since earlier, and the wind was just plain nasty. On the way home, the rain started. Awful weather.

Remember I told you about my friend, and how she says that baby animals are just looking for a way to die? Well, the meat chicks I ordered came in today. 28 little critters that will someday be barbecuing on my grill, unless they manage to kill themselves first. (See what I did there?) Starting out on this cold, rainy day is a good attempt. Another attempt was made by one who decided to jump into our terrier's mouth shortly after they arrived. Set that bird straight right quick, I did.

Our new little cat, Burr, gave Mary a bit of a scare. Burr was heard meowing at the window in the itty bitty tiny hours of the night, but did not show up for breakfast this morning. While I headed out to pick up birds, Mary headed out to hunt down the cat. She was found in a prone, slumbering position, toasty warm, up in the hayloft. No dumb puddy, that one; she holed up for this nasty day.

Have I managed to convince you that it's a miserable day today? Good. Now you can go back to your more fun one!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Daily Brew

For years, I didn't see feel the love for coffee that so many have. It was a great-smelling brew, but tasted nasty. I preferred tea; straight, sugar-and-milk-like-the-Queen Lipton's, but tea. Of course, this was back in the day when Lipton's was tea, unless, like me, you had Canadian relatives, who smuggled Red Rose over the border. (Years later, we learned that Red Rose was owned by Lipton. But that's another post.)

In college, I began drinking a little bit of coffee with my cream and sugar. That was for survival; I needed to be able to be wide awake while drawing geological sections, structural diagrams and maps late, late in the night. (I also smoked briefly at this time, because nicotine helped, too. Thank God I stopped that early on.)

When I married into a family that had attached coffee mugs to their hands surgically, I began drinking the stuff to "fit in." It was still more of a slurry of ground beans with my cream and sugar, often with flavorings like almond or hazelnut added, but coffee it was. About the time I grew accustomed to this, I was delivered harsh news by a guy with OB/GYN after his name; NO MORE CAFFEINE. Did he realize what he was asking? But I was sensible, endured the caffeine withdrawal headache for about 5 days, and entered the world of decaf. Remarkably, during this time, I still needed that cuppa. I think it was the ritual. Measure, pour, sit over the mug, inhale the delicious steam, drink. The health issue I was fighting disappeared. I endured the contempt of some waiters and waitresses, the most notable being at Dick's Last Resort, where my brew earned a huge DECAF written in marker on my placemat. Over the years, I've drunk lots of stale decaf. People don't seem to read. If they did, they would learn that decaf becomes stale in about half the time caffeinated coffee does. It needs to be re-brewed more often, which led me to ask before ordering, "Is it fresh?" Very few waitstaff will fail to offer to brew a new pot. After all, the tip-o-meter is ticking.

Then I went to Austria, and had my first cup of coffee. Sitting in Cafe Demel one fine afternoon, I faced a Sachertorte and a cup of steaming, fully caffeinated, Austrian coffee. Coffee in Vienna is almost a religion, and, after my first sip, I was converted. Legend has it that coffee was a gift from God after the Seige of Vienna. The army went out into the Ottoman camp, found bags of beans left behind after their hasty retreat, and brewed up a batch; ostensibly, to go along with the first croissants. Those were baked with the last flour and milk/butter left in the city. In gratitude for their deliverance, the bakers used the crescent-shape so important to the Turks, and, well, culinary history was made. But I digress.

Although my Austrian interlude was fully caffeinated, bringing back a resurgence of the medical problem I was avoiding in the first place, it was a blissful time of full-strength, full-flavored deliciousness. Coffee there is not a bottomless cup. Each offering came on a silver platter, with sugar cubes and ice water (My Viennese friend told me that coffee without the ice water is not good coffee.) and is meant to be savored, enjoyed with a little smackeral and good conversation with a friend (old or new, doesn't matter.) I returned home with a sampling and a new attitude. I did, however, switch back to decaf.

A couple of years later, I took a college class on coffee. Not realizing such things existed, I laughed when my son suggested it. But he told me the instructor was very good, and very enthusiastic about the topic. He'd even written two novels about the coffee trade in South America. The class was very informative; it was actually a geography class about the coffee-growing areas of the world. We learned about economics, politics, agriculture and gastronomy in 4 very different areas of the world. And I learned why some coffee is just swill. It's not coffee snobbery; it's how it's harvested and processed. See, coffee grows on trees like cherries. While we eat the cherry and throw away the pit, with coffee, we throw away the cherry and brew the pit! In this video, you see Brazilian coffee harvesters "stripping" the cherries from the trees. In the process, they take the ripe cherries, the underripe, the overripe (and rotting) cherries; they don't discriminate. In other countries, selective harvesting is employed. Only the ripe cherries are picked, producing better quality beans and yummier brew.

Try this. Brew a cup of Folger's, or Maxwell House. Place it side-by-side with a Starbuck's medium roast, (not Pike, which uses some Brazilian beans) or Caribou, if you prefer. That after taste in the Folger's? Brazilian overripe beans.

Now you know a little more about coffee than you probably wanted to. If you've lasted this long, you'll soon know what inspired this tome.
This article explains some of the health benefits of drinking caffeinated coffee, in fact, some of the reasons I started drinking it. I'm back to half-caffeinated morning brew, motivated by this information and also by my reaching "a certain age." Now my caffeinated morning is not necessitated by late nights studying and partying, but by desire to avoid certain nasty diseases. I want to die in my sleep, not screaming in fear, like the other people in the car.

(By the way, our "house blend" here is Starbuck's Espresso blend, half- caf. In case you're wondering.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Homeless No More!

Last night, as I snuggled in to watch Lost, the phone rang. Heidi said, "Melody, do you think you'd like a hen?"

Seems a friend of a friend of hers had found this hen walking down a city street. Not a small town street, but a Chicago street. (Melrose Park, to be specific.) These friends worked together, and had asked a Chicago cop what they could do. "Put it in a box, and toss it in the dumpster." Well, that did not sit well with them, so they called Heidi.

"Sure, Heidi," I said. But how would I get it? I'm a nice person, but I was not driving into the city for ONE hen. (Although we did that once for 8 Black Java chicks hatched at the Museum of Science and Industry...but I digress.) Heidi said, "Well, she works there, but lives here, so she'll bring it home tonight. Except she won't be here until after 11. Is that a problem?" "Nah. I'll just stay up and watch more Lost."

So, about 11:15, Erma arrived. Erma is most likely a meat bird, not a laying hen. In fact, she was found with her wings tied; most likely trussed for butchering, which she probably fought vehemently enough that she managed to escape. When found, she was walking down a street, and, when the finder called out, "Here, chicken," she walked right over, as if they were old friends.

So now she has a new home, and a new job. Remember these guys?

Well, I moved Erma into our chicken hut today. Shortly after, I moved the chicks in with her. She looked at me as if to say, "What the heck am I supposed to do with them?" I told her, "They're yours to take care of. Don't let me down."

About half an hour later, I went to check on them. She was helping them find some yummies along the wall.

I think she figured out what to do with them.

You know, Erma could be an Edward. I'm not good at sexing chickens until they crow, which this bird won't be ready to do for a couple of months yet. Someday I'll tell you about my rabbit-sexing fiasco.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Amaryllis By Morning

Despite my discussion of plants, my green thumb is very pale, and is a recent development. So, imagine my surprise when my amaryllis bloomed off a second stalk this year! If this is normal, please don't let me know. I'm basking in the thought that I may be a Gregor Mendel. Or a Booker T. Washington. Or some other Super Gardener.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday Farm Report

It's a grey, damp day here at Pine Ridge Farm. The sun is brightening up the clouds, but a cloudy day is predicted.

This week I made a little progress on the garden and kept the pigs and chicks alive. My friend Wendi likes to say that young animals "are just looking for a way to die," and I've come to see that that's not too far from the truth. Case in point; our little chicks started making a ruckus about 10 minutes ago. For now, they're living in a small trough/tub in our breezeway, until I can get them securely outside in the coop (before the end of the month.) When I went out to check, I found that two had managed to get themselves out of the tub, where the cat was eying them. They were not unaware of their predicament, hence the ruckus. We caught them and put them back. So to say that I kept these little critters from doing themselves in is saying quite a bit.

I've been putting broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower starts out in the "greenhouse," the cattle panel/plastic cover I showed you on Thursday, in a process called hardening off. My plan was to plant them outside for good today or tomorrow, but we've had some rain. Although the ground in the bed is dry, the ground in the paths is wet, and I just don't feel like tacking that today. I think I'll stay inside and sew.

If I can. Although I had some help in getting my sewing skills hauled out from the dark recesses of my brain, I'm still not the most skilled seamstress. Despite measuring, trying on, readjusting, remeasuring, trying on again and making what I thought were final adjustments, when I put my newly made black skirt on for church last week, it was still about 3" too big for me. So I'll be making some further adjustments to that today. It won't turn out as nicely as I would like, as a result, but, it is what it is.

And tonight I'll be meeting my sisters and our men at Olive Garden for dinner and a discussion of our European itinerary. -squee- It's now 23 days until we enter that slim metal tube to be hurled across an icy ocean and hopefully land, not on some mystery island, but on a runway outside of Rome. I thought it might be time to discuss some particulars. And if there's garlicky breadsticks, gorgonzola sauce and merlot to help the conversation, well, all the better!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Garden Notes

If every day started like today, I'd spend many more days crawling back into bed. Good thing they usually don't!

But there were errands to run (more milk, some tires I scored on Freecycle, gasoline to buy, bank deposit to make.)

The tires? I requested them because I want to hang another tire swing in the yard. I also want to plant mint, and it's really invasive. That creeping Charlie you fight in the lawn? Mint. I don't want to put it in with my other herbs, but I want to have it available for Thai and middle Eastern cooking, and for tea. I've tried growing it in pots, but I end up with too many pots inside for the winter, anyway, and it really doesn't overwinter well for me, inside or out, in a pot. So I am going to try and use an old tire as a planter. I'll fill it with compost and plant it with mint. If it works really well, I'll have to keep pruning it so it doesn't escape. If it doesn't work as well, then I won't have the work of pruning. Talk about your dilemmas...

Once I was home, I tackled my morning routine. It usually takes about 2 hours to eat breakfast, feed critters, check in with my people, (I have people) and work out. I started at 10. At 1:30, I had had enough, even though I hadn't worked out yet. I ate lunch, and headed to the garden.

It's that time of year, when I work compost into the beds and try to jump the gun on getting things into the ground. About two weeks ago, I took PVC tubes and plastic sheeting and tried to make hoop houses. I wanted to warm the beds and have a place to harden off seedlings. The PVC worked OK last year, but this year; major fail.

They don't look all that great. Last year, I use floating row cover, which was in 2 1/2 foot wide strips that blew off too easily. When I looked earlier in the season, I found this white plastic. I was assured that sunlight would get through, but I wanted clear, and it wasn't available. Well, for warming the soil, the white worked, but I recently found some clear plastic and wanted to switch. In addition, the tubing doesn't weigh much, so they flop over and blow around some. I finally decided to take them out and put up something else. I tied cattle panels together along one long end which became the top, set them over the bed in an A-frame, and covered it with clear plastic. My high-tech clips for holding the plastic on are binder clips from Office Max.

This appears to be working well, and I'm planning to put some seedlings in the ground outside under this one this weekend.

Right now they're spending their days in there, getting used to the cold, cruel world. I bring them in at night so they can be cuddly warm.

I also turned over another bed. Then I added a layer of compost, turning that over, also. Fertile soil is all about the mixing.

(That photo looks a little odd. The bed is one that is still under the PVC-and-white-plastic cover,and that white on the edges is the extra sheeting, tucked under to keep the rain out.) (Yes, it probably would have been easier to just go out and take a better picture than to explain this one!)

I guess I worked out today, after all!

I am so glad we switched over to raised beds. The soil is fluffy and wonderful to work with, partially from not being stepped on as we work it during the growing season. It has also helped to cover these beds since about March 1. It finishes off the compost we put on there last fall and keeps the rain off so things can dry out. No more waiting until the end of May to be able to till and get things started! I love it, even though my first crops of cauliflower and broccoli are going to be ready when I am still in Germany...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring Break

Last week our grandkids had spring break.

"So, Sweetie, what did you do during spring break?"
"Grandma, I went to cheerleading camp!"

"And you, Punkin'," what did you do?
"Remember, Grandma, we were right in your backyard?"

You can bet we don't worry about gender role confusion here!

For the record, the girls had fun and got some good exercise every day. The boys worked with their dad and uncle for two days, getting a good education in gun safety, loading, cleaning, etc. (They made sure, for example, that their hands were off the triggers and the guns were unloaded while I took their picture.) Sean had shot before, but this was Justice's (orange jacket) first time. They both did very well on their targets.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hunting and Gathering

Yesterday was a gorgeous, sunshiny, warm day. Well, warm for the last day of March in Illinois. So that meant it was a day to be spent driving around in a pickup truck. And, while I did that, I did some errands.

We were out of milk. So I went to a local farm and picked some up. (Yes, my refrigerator could use a cleaning. Are you volunteering?)

We have been running low on beef, so I had arranged to buy a half beef. (I have two friends who raise yummy, grass-fed beef. I admit to some guilt for not buying from them. But, ladies, this is local beef, raised a mile from my home. Am I forgiven?) I picked up the whole beef, conveniently wrapped and frozen for me, brought it home, gave half to the friend who "went in" on this cow with me, divided it into sorted boxes...and then had a moment of concern when I realized I might not have room for all this beef. We have a large chest freezer, a half chest freezer, and two refrigerators with freezers, so not having enough room is a high class, silly problem. But I was able to pack it all in.

And in.

By the way, here's a tip for you who buy beef by the half. The second major problem people have with buying beef this way (the first being paying for the beast) is ending up with a box of ground beef at the bottom of the freezer, having used all the "fun cuts" (steaks, roasts, etc) first. Maybe this idea will help. When I bring home the beef, I empty all the boxes and make a count of each cut. I then divide these into three or four mixed boxes, which I stack in the freezer. I use up the top box before opening the lower. That way I have an assortment of cuts available to me all the time. I have further refined this by making a "summer box" (heavy on steaks and ground beef for grilling) a "fall box" (more cutlets for frying than steaks) and a "winter box" (roasts, etc, for those comfort foods.) If that's helpful, you're welcome. If not, eh, you have your own style; good for you.

I also stocked up on some necessary items.

There's some new varieties in there; we'll be experimenting over the next few days. I also bought myself a special treat.

Today is supposed to be grey with a "wintry mix" falling from the skies. So far, they're half right; no sunshine to be seen. Looks like a shoe shopping day!