Because you can never have too much random in your life.
Just another green blog
My newest hobby was actually encouraged by Wesley. A few months ago, I was completely impressed by his ability to remember the difference between a woodpecker and a hummingbird and a cardinal, so for his birthday, we bought him a bird watching book and a pair of binoculars.
Our yard is definitely a bird haven. Surrounded by woods and empty pasture, there are many varieties of birds. Alice’s favorite, and the only one she can “identify” is, strangely, a vulture. As they soar over head, she screeches and yells, “A legal! A legal!”
We have a hummingbird feeder hanging above our kitchen window, and all of us enjoy watching ruby-throated hummingbirds come to feed. We fill a feeder full of seed and hang it in a tree for a wide variety of birds to visit.
If you want to hang out a hummingbird feeder of your own, there is a much cheaper way than buying the solution in the store. All you have to do is boil some sugar in water, let it cool, then put it in your feeder. Don’t add food coloring, because it isn’t necessary, nor good for the birds. Your water and sugar should be at a four to one ratio: one cup of water, 1/4 cup sugar. Super simple!
Our current favorite is the blue jay. We have a mama blue jay living in a bush in our yard, and we’ve enjoyed keeping watch on her eggs, and now, watching her babies grow.
Only three of the eggs hatched, and one baby died after the first day. But the other two jays appear to be thriving.
Their mama seems very attentive to her hatchlings. I’ve seen her bring nice, juicy worms to them several times.
I wonder if Mama Jay didn’t quite think the location of her nest all the way through. There is their bush, to the left of my clothesline. It’s so close to the clothesline that I actually have to be careful when hanging out sheets not to drape them into the bush. (Er…Mama Little House didn’t quite think out the location of her clothesline, either.) And it’s really low, too, about waist-high on an adult. But so far, the babies don’t seem to mind, and Mama Jay doesn’t seem to mind my occasional peek into her nest, either.
Today I did something I’d never done before: I canned something.
It was a lot of hard work. There were a lot of panicky “OMG is this supposed to do that?!?!” moments, and a few times where I wished I could sprout another arm or four. But at the end of my experiment, I ended up with six quarts of beautiful, garden fresh green beans that I hope won’t give us all botulism. (Well, all of us except Wesley, who wouldn’t touch a green bean if his life depended on it.)
I followed instructions on this website, this website, from my canner manual, and from my mother-in-law. (By the way, the first website is a great one if you want to find pick-your-own farms in your area.) Consequently, I spent a lot of time running to my computer or flipping through the book. Sadly, neither the websites nor the manual gave me instructions on growing more limbs so I could do everything in a speedy manner, while everything was still hot.
First lesson learned: Cut the beans smaller.
Second lesson learned: Boiling water is very hot.
It took forfreakingever to get to ten pounds of pressure. Finally it got there, and I processed for twenty-five minutes. Twenty-five minutes fraught with danger, where I kept screeching at the children to stay out of the kitchen in case the whole thing exploded.
But my canner is built like a tank. It’s an All-American, and will probably still be canning long after I’m gone.
Then more nail-biting after the jars came out of the canner. First I couldn’t get it open because it had created a vacuum. The manual suggested a screwdriver to pry it open, but also cautioned, “BE CAREFUL! YOU COULD TOTALLY SCREW IT UP FOREVER!!!” so I was nervous. I stuck a butter knife into a crack and pried gently and it popped right up.
More nerves. Had I put enough beans in? There were bubbles rising to the top. Is that normal? Is it supposed to do that? The second website reassured me that indeed, it was supposed to do that. And from their pictures, I saw that some of their jars had as much empty spaces as mine.
More screeching at the children to stay out of the kitchen, lest a jar explode. I’d just watched an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in which Grace, the cafe owner, has a jar explode in her face and it gets embedded in her cornea, so I wasn’t taking any chances.
Then came the thrill of a lifetime. I felt the way the first caveman who discovered fire must have felt.
The lids of my jars started popping as they sealed themselves. I did a happy dance.
Victory is mine!
We could not have had a more perfect night for the Little House on the Prairie musical. As you can see, it’s an outdoor theater. The weather was perfect. Not hot, and not cold. Not humid, either, which is a Midwestern Miracle. There was a full moon and a light breeze. Like I said, perfect.
There were approximately ten bajillion people there, so my hopes for getting Melissa Gilbert’s autograph were quickly dashed. But that’s okay. Knowing I was a mere two hundred yards or so from someone I’ve watched on TV since I was nine years old was pretty cool. Her voice sounded exactly the same as when she was on the original Little House series. And she looked eerily similar, too. Well, from what I could see through my opra glasses Wesley’s camo bird watching binoculars. And he’s messed something up, so only one eye hole worked. Oh, well. I’m glad I thought to stash them in my purse. (Along with my camera. And my Little House book, in hopes that I could get some autographs. And a pen, you know, just in case. My purse was stuffed.)
I loved the girl who played Laura. Her name is Kara Lindsay, and I thought she did a fantastic job. Her voice was amazing, and she was a great actress. She played Laura as a young girl, all the way up to her marriage to Almanzo Wilder, who was played by Kevin Massey, who was also really great. My very favorite song was called “Faster,” and in it, Laura and Almanzo are riding in Almanzo’s horse-drawn sled over the prairie, on their way from Laura’s teaching job back to her home.
The musical was a compilation of all the books, from On the Shores of Silver Lake all the way through These Happy Golden Years. There were a lot of lines directly from the book, including my favorite scene of all, the one in which Almanzo asks Laura to marry him.
From These Happy Golden Years:
“I was wondering if you would like an engagement ring.”
“That would depend on who offered it to me,” Laura told him.
“If I should?” Almanzo asked.
“Then it would depend on the ring,” Laura answered, and drew her hand away.
A few days later, Almanzo arrives to take Laura on a ride.
Then, driving with one hand, with the other Almanzo lifted Laura’s, and she felt something cool slip over her first finger while he reminded her, “You said it would depend on the ring. How do you like this one?”
“It is a beautiful ring,” Laura said. “I think…I would like to have it.”
That night, after Laura tells her Ma and Pa about the engagement, Ma quietly says,
“If only you are sure, Laura. Sometimes I think it is the horses you care for, more than their master.”
“I couldn’t have one without the other,” Laura answered shakily.
Then Ma smiled at her, Pa cleared his throat gruffly and Laura knew they understood what she was too shy to say.
To sum it up, I was impressed with the entire musical. Everyone was fantastic. I was going to point out the other actresses and actors who were amazing, but I would have ended up listing the entire cast. Kate Loprest, who played Nellie, got a lot of laughs. I was super impressed with the little girl who played Carrie, who was only ten years old. I loooved the woman who played Eliza Jane and Mrs. Brewster.
Of course, no night would be complete without a little adventure. Just before we arrived back at my house, as we were driving down the gravel road, we saw a mass of black fur in the road. Apparently Mama Skunk thought it was a grand idea to give birth smack in the middle of the road. Daddy Skunk must have been a bit apprehensive, because he was pacing around on the side of the road. And of course, once they staked their claim, we were not welcome, and they let us know by lifting their tails and giving us a nice spray as we passed. Thanks for the welcome home, Mr. and Mrs. Skunk!
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you may or may not have noticed that I am a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House series of books. (This is no doubt a shocking statement. Surely I have never mentioned Little House before!)
I first read Little House on the Prairie when I was eight years old, and bored out of my mind. I had found the book in my grandma’s basement, and the back cover sounded exciting, even if the front cover didn’t interest me at all. (The back cover describes a scene where wolves surround the cabin, and Pa and Laura are looking out at their glittering eyes. It’s slightly more sensationalized than what actually happened in the book, but I can forgive that.) I cracked the book open and was instantly hooked. It didn’t take long to devour the rest of the series, plus any and all biographies about Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane.
This is my second set of books, as I read the first set to absolute shreds.
In the fifth grade, I wrote to each of the Little House homesites (this was in the days before the internet!) and they sent me back information, postca rds and bookmarks. I still have all these things stashed in an envelope in my closet.
I have visited the Independence, Kansas homesite three times, Mansfield, Missouri twice, and De Smet, South Dakota and Walnut Grove, Minnesota once each. I have a rock pulled from the banks of Plum Creek, mere feet from where Laura’s dugout once stood. (I like to imagine that this particular rock was tossed into the water by Laura herself.)
I’ve based much of my life around things I’ve read in Little House books. My obsession with small houses started because of these books, not to mention my obsession with living on a prairie. I like to base life decisions around WWLD? (What would Laura do?)
I’ve also seen every single episode of the 1970s drama Little House on the Prairie, starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura.
And now, on Thursday night, I’m going to the Little House on the Prairie musical, starring Melissa Gilbert as Ma!
I am so geekily excited. I’m going with my sister-in-law and neice, and I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled. When she first told me about the Little House musical coming to The City I almost screamed with excitement. Thankfully she didn’t hold it against me, and invited me to go along with her.
I hope she doesn’t recind her invitation when I show up in two braids.
Or if I scream and faint when I see Melissa Gilbert.
And if I get the chance, I’m soooo asking Melissa Gilbert for her autograph.
Don’t worry, though. I’ve decided to leave my sun bonnet at home. I didn’t want to overdo it.
Writing about quilts when it’s ninety-five degrees out with a humidity level of 10,000% seems a little crazy, but I’ve hidden myself inside and turned the air conditioner on, so I’m going with it.
Last November I took a quilting class at a little fabric store, with the hopes of finally covering my beds with beautiful homemade quilts. I was in the class with three other women (all of them in their mid-60s) and was (obviously) the least experienced and slowest sewer of them all. While they were zipping ahead on their quilts and talking about things like ‘cutting on the bias’ and ‘seam allowances’ and ‘selvages’ and other terms that sounded like Greek to me, I was sewing blocks together backwards and ripping out seams and cutting squares that looked more like octagons. (I must say, I rather mastered the use of the seam ripper, though. I’m a grade-A seam taker-outer now.)
And although the other three women graduated from the class with a fully finished quilt top, I came out with a half done quilt top, with mostly crooked squares and no binding around the edges. And I couldn’t be more proud of that crooked ugly thing.
Someday I will actually finish this thing so it can take it’s place on Alice’s bed. All it lacks is one thin border and one wide border. Oh, and batting. And a back. And it needs to be quilted. And a binding around the edges. So…almost done. Right? Well, like I said. Someday.
At least there is one dedicated quilter in my family. Ryan’s grandma does a ton of quilting, and we were lucky enough to be given one of her beautiful quilts. She didn’t make it specifically for us, but she may as well have, because I love the colors and the style so much.
Now, don’t look too closely at the rest of my room, because we aren’t anywhere near done with it. But look at this quilt! Ryan’s grandma hand quilted this. According to her, she has four hundred hours invested in this one quilt! I cannot even imagine spending four hundred hours on anything. I spent a measly three hours on my quilt before I lost interest.
It’s a scrap quilt, and no two blocks are the same fabric, except for the white blocks. And they aren’t a solid white, but a dark white with a faint lighter white flowered pattern on it. I adore the hearts and swirls quilted into the fabric. This was all done by hand. Some of the pencil marks are still on the quilt where she sketched her pattern out. (That orange and blue and yellow flowered block is my favorite in the whole quilt.)
Despite my iffy quilting skills, I actually did a lot of sewing over the winter. Most of the Christmas gifts we gave this year were handmade by me. I’ll be showing them off soon, I’m sure, on the next hot and humid summer day.
But speaking of things I’ve made, the cherry crisp last night came out amazingly, and I don’t even really like cherries.
Unfortunately I forgot to take the picture before we’d devoured half of it. I found the recipe on All Recipes, although I followed some of the suggested changes. I didn’t use any shortening, nor did I add more butter to make up for it. I made it just as the recipe said, just without the shortening. If you use sweet cherries, be sure and reduce the amount of sugar you use. This came out the perfect combination of crispy and chewy. Delicious!
His day started with a fishing trip with his dad and the kids. Although they didn’t come home with any fish, no one was crying or bleeding when they came in the door so I consider that a successful fishing trip. (And of course, it was a very successful morning for me since I got to sleep in. Yay!)
Then it was off to work…in our own yard, that is. Yes, I’m sorry. Another gardening post. Get used to it.
It’s a beautiful day outside. Fluffy white clouds, hot sunshine…and a new pumpkin patch. It’s just to the west of our garden, and will be the comfortable home to my fairytale pumpkins. Yup, that’s a real thing. I chose them because I loved their colors and the deep ridges, and I hear they make decent pies, too. And, let’s face it, they just looked so Harry Potter-ish I just couldn’t help myself.
I just loved the way that little curly-que looked.
I told you I loved those curly vines! Ryan just informed me that they don’t start out curly. They stretch their vines out until they grab something, then they start to curl to pull themselves in closer to their support fences.
These are the blackberry starts from my grandma. We don’t know if we’ll be living here long enough to enjoy any blackberries from them, but if we aren’t, surely someone will enjoy the fruits of our labor. We planted them along a fence behind our garden.
And, last but not least, our backwoods hillbilly way of watering our garden. The spigot on our house stopped working, so we stick a hose through a window and fill the sink (the pot is there to stop the hose from popping up) and through the magic of gravity, we watered our new blackberry starts. This is definitely klassy, no?
Lucky for Ryan, there is more planned for this day than a disapointing fishing trip and work in the garden. We may go swimming this afternoon, and this evening there will be a fantastic dinner, with grilled steaks, mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed green beans, salad, and for dessert, cherry crisp.
I spent several hours today working in my garden, and I feel like I accomplished a lot.
It still amazes me everytime I stick a tiny little seed in the ground and it sprouts and turns into food. I love nature!
Totally organic beans. Some of the leaves are getting a little eaten by something, but the beans are doing fantastically. (And don’t worry: one of my evening tasks was to weed the beans.)
These are something I planted just for fun. They are luffa gourds. (AKA: loufa gourds.) Yeah, that’s right, loufas. As in the thing that you can scrub your body with instead of a sponge. Although they are edible, I grew them with the intention of drying them out and using them as sponges.
I love the way their little vines wrap around the fence.
I took this picture just to admire a wider view of my garden. The plants you see are (on the right, front to back) onions, potatoes, green beans, honeydew melons, popcorn, sweet corn, and (on the left, front to back) jalepenos, pimientos, chili peppers, tomatoes, green beans, kidney beans, anasazi beans, watermelon.
But after I took the picture I looked up and saw the sky.
Then came the wind. It blew over a metal lawn chair and took a plastic bucket halfway across the yard. The temperature dropped twenty degrees. I ran inside and grabbed a laundry basket and ripped the clothes off the line, and Ryan dashed to roll up the car windows. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere…nothing happened. Two raindrops fell and then the wind stopped blowing and the sun came out and it got hot and humid again.
Gotta love Kansas weather!
So I went back out and weeded the beans. The kids played some game that Wesley made up about Mario and Luigi (his biggest current obsession) until he got too bossy and Alice declared that she wasn’t happy anymore.
But green beans do make Alice happy, so all is well.
The day wasn’t over yet. Ryan spent a couple hours tilling in my grandma’s garden, and was paid with a bag of romaine lettuce, two jars of her amazing apple butter, and six blackberry bush starts. Definitely a fair barter!
Our first source for “free” food is our garden. It’s not exactly free, since we paid for the seeds, and we’ve watered it once or twice. (Although the insane amount of rain we’ve had lately has taken care of that for awhile!) And of course, we’ve poured tons of labor into tilling, planting, and weeding. We’ve eaten a lot of fresh green beans recently, because it’s the only thing that’s producing so far. But man, are they ever good! Steamed green beans are Alice’s new favorite food, as long as they have plenty of parmesean cheese on them.
I can’t wait until the rest of our garden is producing! From the looks of things, it’s going to be fantastic.
Of course, there are even free-er sources of food than the sweat and labor of your own garden. Like…the sweat and labor of someone else’s garden. Our dinner last night included green beans from our own garden, and spinach greens from Ryan’s cousin’s garden. Two whole bags full of fresh spinach greens for free. Not bad!
Ryan spent an hour picking cherries for his grandma and brought home a nice size bag of fresh cherries. I spent an hour pitting them, and they are currently in the freezer, awaiting their fate as a cherry crisp. (Can’t make cherry crisp until I make it to the store for whipped cream. Who can eat crisp without whipped cream?)
Thanks to my awesome aunt’s awesome mom, we also get all the farm fresh eggs we can eat, and they’ve given us some (butchered) chickens. Delicious!
So despite our super tight budget, we’re eating better than ever. You really can’t beat organic, garden fresh food. My mother-in-law handed me a squash the other day, and I’m sure there would be more where that came from…if I knew what to do with it! She suggested that I chop it up and put it in stir fry, or fry it up, southern style. I’ll probably go with the latter, even though frying it probably negates any health-benefits of fresh squash!
In the fall we pick up pecans from my mom’s yard, and my stepdad has blackberry bushes on his farm that we may take advantage of this summer.
This is the great thing about living in a rural area. Even if you don’t grow it yourself, you can usually find someone else who does. I’m going to have a ton of watermelon this year, and I hope I can find someone who would like to trade me for blueberries!