Saturday, December 25, 2010

'Tis the Season

It seems strange.  Other states are getting a pounding of snow and rain.  My cousin, Sue, wrote to tell me that Charlotte, North Carolina, is getting its second white Christmas in recorded history.  My friend, Harold, reported seeing Noah's Ark floating past his house in Palm Springs, California.  Currently, it is colder in Houston than it is here in Denver and it's only 33 degrees in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Here in Denver, we are having one of the mildest and driest seasons in years.  Despite our daughter's ritual snow dances and loud renditions of "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow", we've only had a couple of dustings so far this fall.  The weather has stayed obstinately warm.  There have been no school closings and my snow boots have remained in the closet, gathering spider webs.  

We've had an interesting challenge because of the weather.  Our ducks and geese think that it is spring and the males have become interested in fulfilling their role in procreation.  The problem is that our male duck, Louis, is madly in love with our female goose, Madeline.  Augustus, our male goose, has been casting his eyes on our female duck, Thelma.  If the weather doesn't cool them down soon, we'll have to take them aside for a lesson in basic biology.  Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I love the whole Christmas season, so it's not hard to get into the spirit, even without the snow.  It took a little longer this year.  We were in the second week of Advent and lighting two candles each night before I had our wreath made.  Now, it's Christmas Day.  All is quiet, mostly because everyone's in bed, except for me.  Sometimes, I tell my family, I can be well rested or sane.  I can't be both.  I need some time to myself. 

The time between Christmas and Epiphany is a time to look back and look forward.  Where have I been and where do I go from here?  Most days, the answers to these questions are simple.  I've been in bed.  Now I'm up and going into the kitchen to make tea.  If, however, I have some time to myself over the next twelve days, I'll ponder this question a little more. 

'Tis the season!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gifts for Animal Lovers

Since my blog is in the top 1.5 million blogs on the internet and is read religiously by at least 4 people, two of which aren't even members of my family, I thought I would use my influence to suggest Christmas gifts for the animal lovers on your list:

1.  Hamsters - Their names are Pip and Squeak and I promised to provide foster care for them till they find their permanent home. 

2.  A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.  The highest praise for this book comes from his daughter, who told me, "Sometimes my dad writes something good."  This wonderful book, about a dog who lives numerous lives, reincarnating until he can find his purpose in life, is filled with Bruce's gentle humor and his obvious love of animals.  No one was surprised when it made the New York Times and the LA Times best seller lists.  It was only natural to hear that Dreamworks Studios is turning this into a movie.

3.  Hamsters - Did I mention that they're free?

4.  Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather both by Bob Tarte.  The first book had us laughing and remembering similar adventures on our urban farm.  Bob and his wife, Linda, began accumulating animals shortly after they were married.  Before long, Bob found himself setting up pens for ducks and geese, hand-feeding parrots, rescuing baby robins, and nursing an injured turkey.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.  As Bob says, "Try living with a parrot and you may end up on Zoloft, too."  The second book is on my wish list.  (hint, hint)

5.  Hamsters - Call soon and I'll throw in the hamster race car and race track.

6.  A St. Nicholas Story by Terri Reinhart and illustrated by Patrick Reinhart.  The classic story of the fiercest little animal in the forest who meets up with St. Nicholas.  The year I first told this story to my kindergarten children, I had a number of fierce, grumpy little pine martens in the class.  The usual St. Nicholas story wouldn't do.  I didn't write down the story for another year.  Within a couple of years, I learned that my little story had been shared around the world and had even been performed as a puppet show. 
I'm excited and pleased to announce that it is now available in Dutch and Swedish (soon) and available as an app for Android  Soon it will also be available for iPhone and iPad!

7.  Don't forget the hamsters. 


Christmas Bunny

I think I overdosed my husband on animals early in our marriage.  It wasn't intentional; some things just happen.  It was really Chris who started the whole thing, anyway.  He once had a blue and white parakeet and he suggested that perhaps we could get another one.  Pitou joined our household early on and started off a long line of pets that would include:  another parakeet, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats, cats, ducks, geese, goats, and a donkey.

It's not surprising that Chris eventually put his foot down and set some limits on our pets.  "No more dogs and no cats," he informs me on a regular basis, just in case I come across a puppy or kitten that is irresistible.  He hasn't mentioned other animals.  This leave room for some creative pet possibilities.

Georgia, the lovely young woman who works with a local rescue organization, knows she can't call us to foster dogs or cats.  I let her know we'd be willing to help out with other animals, if she ever, possibly, once in a great while, needed that.  To my dismay, we were immediately offered the opportunity to foster a couple of llamas.  We have a nice big yard, but it's not that big, so I put the word out to everyone I knew who had land and experience with animals, including the entire list of Alpaca breeders in the state. I trust someone gave them a home.

A couple of weeks later, I agreed to take the three roosters that the municipal animal shelter was anxious to have taken off their hands.  Before we could take them, however, a rooster rescue group had sprung them from their prison, offering them a life free from the possibility of ever ending up as rooster noodle soup.  I immediately pictured little old ladies taking their pet roosters for walks and hand feeding them bits of cookies.
It was quiet on the animal front for a long time.  Then, two days ago, Georgia contacted me again.  This time, there was a rabbit and a couple of hamsters that needed homes.  Fortunately, Chris and just finished reading the book, Enslaved by Ducks, by Bob Tarte.  Chris agreed that we could adopt the rabbit and I suspect that he was grateful I wasn't suggesting adding a parrot or a turkey to our family.

We already have two rabbits, Bunnicula and Carrot, and they are 9 and 10 years old.  Another one  wouldn't be much trouble.  We'll foster the hamsters until we find a home for them, which I'm sure , will be very, very soon; not more than a day or two.

The rabbit's name is Inky, which poses a problem as we have a niece, Ingrid, who goes by that nickname, and our son's cat is Enkidu, or Enky for short.  We're not up for the energy it takes to deal with all that confusion, so we'll change her name to Binky.  Binky is an honorable name.  We borrow it from the Terry Pratchett "Discworld" novels.  I always loved the character of Death in these books. Death is much less foreboding when pictured as the tall, skeletal being with a permanent grin, a love for cats, and a horse named Binky.

The hamsters' names are Pip and Squeak, by the way.  If anyone in interested, call right away.  Now.  If you call before Christmas, I'll throw in our old (but in perfect condition) hamster racetrack and race car.  What a deal!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Boss

While we go through ups and downs with our kids and my parents, it's comforting to have the daily routine of taking care of the chickens, ducks, geese, and rabbits, and preparing the garden for winter.  There's always something happening and it's always interesting.  Sometimes it's entertaining, too.
Today I heard loud squawking and looked out the window just in time to see our miniature rooster, Napoleon, pick a fight with our giant goose, Augustus.  Napoleon loves to assert his authority.  Whenever we go outside, he insists on accompanying us, just to make sure we won't do anything to threaten his hens.  Maybe he wants to make sure we know who's boss.  He will perch on the fence right next to us then proceed to crow loudly, two or three times, just in case we didn't know he was there.  He's not the loudest rooster we've had, but when he is less than three feet away and on the fence, which is ear level to me, it's startling, to say the least.
If he's on the ground without a high perch close by, he will inevitably go into attack mode.  He goes for our shoes with a vengeance.  Most of the time, we experience this as "something just bumped into my leg", and instinct kicks in, literally.  I'm afraid that Napoleon has gone on several short trips flying backwards after my leg shot out, unintentionally, at his first attack.  Never one to give up after the first go, Napoleon comes right back for more.
He reminds me of the chicken hawk in the old Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.
He got more than he bargained for today when he picked a fight with Augustus.  With wings flapping, he jumped at the goose, over and over, with claws out.  Augustus simply bent down and picked up Napoleon by the feathers on his back and stood there, holding him, while our little rooster protested and kept on trying to get at the goose with his claws, wings, and beak.  Haven't I seen something like that in a cartoon?
I didn't let it go on.  Augustus is incredibly strong and might have hurt or even killed Napoleon, without meaning to.  I ran outside in my bedroom slippers.  This sight alone must have startled Augustus into dropping the rooster.  Whatever it was, the goose was content with letting go.
Napoleon, however... that was another story.  He puffed himself up, mortally offended that I had come to his rescue.  He looked at me as if to say, "I was doing fine.  I almost had him there.  Why'd'ya have to ruin it?"
I suggested to Napoleon that he might be a bit more grateful.  I had just saved his life, after all.
He pretended to ignore that comment and glared at me sideways...
until I turned to go back in.  That's when he attacked my slippers.
We know who's boss.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

When is Dementia not Dementia?

Modern medicine is amazing.  I know that first hand.  As much as I respect and prefer natural and homeopathic remedies, and a holistic approach to medicine, I also know that modern medicine can be nothing short of miraculous.  I take a miracle drug called Sinemet.  When I take it regularly, I can walk, talk, breathe, and move, in a relatively normal manner.  If I am without it for a full day, all of those tasks are more difficult for me.  In fact, walking is not possible.
I also know that modern medications can cause as many complications as they cure.  That is why we look to the doctors to tell us what medicines to take.  They are the experts, or should be, anyway.  Sometimes they get it pretty mucked up.
For the last year, we have been helping my parents cope with my mom's diagnosis of vascular dementia.  She has had major ups and downs, times when she didn't realize what city she was in and thought my dad was her older brother, George.  Sometimes she packed her paper bags and purse and demanded to go home, even though she was already at home.  This sounds like typical dementia.
I wasn't totally convinced but I trusted the doctors' judgment.  They've had experience with many patients with dementia; they ought to know.  What confused me was that Mom could remember many details about conversations that she'd had over the previous week.  She could remember what was coming up in my schedule and remind me about it.  She might not know what town she was in or what year it was, but she knew that I was going to the eye doctor the next day.  This does not sound like typical dementia.
An attempt to convince our parents to go to geriatric specialists didn't go over well.  They had gone to their doctors for years and that was that.  At last, things progressed beyond what we could handle without support and we were able to sign both our parents up for Total Longterm Care, a managed Medicare/Medicaid program. 
This has truly been a blessing.  Their new doctor, Dr. Pham, is a geriatric specialist and the first thing she did was to meet with a pharmacist and go over all of the medications that my mom had been taking.  They made a number of changes.  I had the opportunity a couple of weeks later to talk with a psychiatric nurse practitioner, who confirmed the importance of the changes that were being made.  The previous combination of medicines were, according to this nurse, a "recipe for delirium". 
This means that we don't know whether Mom really has dementia or whether her confusion issues were solely due to the medications that had been prescribed to her over the last years.  Mom has been clear and not confused at all over the last couple of weeks. 
Our new challenge is the withdrawal symptoms she is experiencing after going off certain drugs.  She is extremely anxious, nervous, shaky, and at times, she goes through deep depression.  She is still on medication to treat these symptoms; however, until some of the old drugs clear out of her system, there will be some withdrawals.  She understands what is happening and, though she sometimes says it would be easier to be confused, she is determined to get through this challenge.  At least, she was more determined last night than she has been so far.  It continues to be a day to day battle.
We've all learned a lot.  Doctors are good but not infallible.  It's important to ask questions and to seek another opinion, especially when you are taking a lot of medications.  At 81, going through drug withdrawals is hell.  I keep telling her that this will be worth the effort.  She might just buy some time to actually enjoy life for awhile. 
That would be an incredible gift.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

What's in a name?

Chris and I went for a walk today.  We enjoy walking through one small park that is planted all in native grasses, then meandering through the lovely area that is by the Wheat Ridge Senior Recreation Center.  We are lucky to have this place so close to us.  We don't make use of it much now, but we probably will as we get older.  They have lots of activities, classes, and trips for those of us who are over fifty years old.  I suspect, however, that most of their participants are somewhat older than fifty.
Something has changed since we last walked by.  They've changed their name from "Senior Center" to "Active Adult Center".  Huh?  Is "Senior" not an appropriate term anymore?  Maybe the city thinks they'll get more fifty-somethings coming to the center now that they've changed the name?  Or maybe they think the current participants will feel younger if they are now known as "Active Adults"?  It certainly doesn't make me feel younger, just tireder.  It brings back the memory of getting up early, getting children ready for school, working all day, driving kids to after school activities, coming home, cooking dinner, going to a school meeting, coming back to dirty dishes and that last load of dirty laundry, then going to bed to start it all again in a few hours.  That's an active adult.  Chris was hoping for an "Inactive Adult Center", with plenty of recliners, free beer, and a large screen TV.
I thought that "senior citizen" was already the politically correct term for "old person".  Just for the sake of research, I looked up the synonyms for "senior citizen" and found no mention of "active adult".  There are a few other synonyms that might work.  We could have the ""Antiquated Adults Center" or the "Venerable Time-worn Adults Center".  I'm not so sure about "Moth Eaten Old Fogey Center".  That might offend a few people.  Compared to these names, "Senior Center" doesn't sound so bad!
It was comforting to know that there was a senior recreation center around the corner where I'd be able to go and be social with other creaky old timers some day.  I hope the city remembers that the people who most make use of this center are the matriarchs, patriarchs, golden-agers, doyens and doyennes, elders, and old folks - not fifty-somethings.  I'm not sure I'd look forward to going to an "Active Adult Center"; an active SENIOR adult center, maybe.  At least that changes the picture for me a little.
I know!  Let's call it the "Center for Older People who have Time to Do Things They Want to Do".
The new "Invesco Field" is still known and called "Mile High Stadium" by nearly everyone in Denver.  I suspect that the new name of our center will not be used much.  Fortunately, whatever it's official name, it will undoubtedly remain our Wheat Ridge Senior Recreation Center.  At least it will to me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Battle of the sexes

When we got our chicks, we made sure we were buying females.  We wanted hens for their eggs and that was that.  Of course, when we arrived at the farm and I saw the ducklings... so cute... well, we just had to bring a couple of them home.  It's not so easy to tell the sex of a week old duckling but we took our chances.  The young gal who chose the ducklings for us was experienced enough with birds that she could make an educated guess.  
I had already decided that we needed to have geese again, too, though we had to wait another week or two before the goslings were hatched and ready to sell.  Our same young gal chose the goslings for us, again hoping for two females.  Our backyard flock was complete.
Then I saw the ad on Craig's List for a banty hen and rooster.  They were almost giving them away and, well, they were right on my way home.  Why not stop and take a look?  Banty hens are marvelous setting hens.  We could certainly use a good setter if we wanted to hatch some eggs next spring.  We used to have a banty rooster named Bertie.  He was really gentle and let Patrick (age 7) pick him up and carry him around the yard.  A banty rooster should be no trouble.
Fast forward six months.  We got lucky and, other than Napoleon, all our chickens are hens.  We are getting between 8 and 12 eggs per day.  The ducks and geese ended up being pairs.  We have one male and one female of each.  This will be great if we want ducklings or goslings next spring, but what do the males contribute the rest of the time?
Most of the time, they are a pain in the neck.  Our male goose, Augustus, started nipping our ankles when we walked through the yard, especially if someone unfamiliar came into the yard with us.  At first, I would chase him down and hold him upside down by his feet for a moment, and scold him.  I was determined that we were not going to have a biting goose.  Now he's too heavy to hold upside down, so I put him by himself in our garden.  He's in time-out for a bit.  
Napoleon has gone on attack now, too, jumping and pecking at our feet as we walk by.  He's so small that he seldom can do any real harm, unless we're wearing sandals, but he's in danger of being accidentally punted across the yard, just by startling us with his sudden desire to do battle with one of our shoes.  That doesn't slow him down at all.  He comes back, just like the little chicken hawk in the cartoons, and attacks again.  
Augustus would be in danger of becoming Christmas dinner, if he didn't have a name.  How could we possibly eat something we've named?  One of my friends suggested we rename him "Dinner".  Napoleon is not in danger of being eaten, at least not by us.  He wouldn't make more than an hors d'oeuvre.  
Now, we're stuck with two really annoying male birds (the male duck is okay) that I insisted we have.  What good are they?  
I had considered the options of giving them away or keeping them penned up all the time.  They were of no real use to us, anyway.  Then one day, I saw something interesting out back.  The geese had suddenly started running back and forth across the yard, flapping their wings and making all sorts of loud noises.  I looked for the chickens and they were all heading into the chicken pen!  Napoleon was standing on top of the ladder, inside the pen, making a noise which we hadn't heard from him before.  I think he was calling the hens back in.
It was then that I realized we hadn't had any foxes or other predators in our yard at all, ever since we've had the birds outside.  After seeing this scene repeated numerous times, I had to conclude that the geese had seen a predator and had chased it off while Napoleon made sure the hens were safe.  That's a big accomplishment for a goose and a miniature rooster!  I silently apologized to our goose and rooster for considering eating them.  They have a job to do, protecting all the female birds and they're taking it seriously.  Augustus will still go into time out if he bites me, but I'll be more understanding.  
They're just watching out for the girls.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

News from the yellow brick road and a few farm adventures

I'm almost finished with the plum chutney.  The recipe said it made 8 pints.. my first batch made 10 pints.  I'm running out of jars and I can't find my handy dandy little tool with the magnet on it, so I'm fishing lids out of boiling water with a fork and burnt fingertips. 
Aaahhhh!  The end of a lovely and long day.
Mom now has a ride down the yellow brick road.  It's a big bus with Total Longterm Care written on the side.  The bus driver helps her on and takes her into a center where she will see her doctors, eat lunch, have physical therapy adapt her walker so it doesn't slip, take part in activities, and then her driver will find her and take her back home.  For the moment, she is going once a week.  Soon, we hope to increase those days. 
Dad got a welcome break today.  He rested and then went to the store.  Mostly, he was able to spend a few hours NOT worrying about Mom. 
Total Longterm Care is a PACE program (Programs for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) in Colorado and I am sold on it already.  Even throughout the process of applying, they provided invaluable support for me.  I am grateful, especially, to Janice Morrow-Siebenaler, for so much, including numerous long phone conversations. Now that Mom is enrolled in the program, she also has an aide who comes out twice a week to give her a bath.  Maggie came out yesterday for the first time.  Mom LOVED her bath and thoroughly enjoyed being spoiled by her aide. 
Now, I can spend a bit of time not worrying about Mom.
The rest of the chutney should be done before long.  I have 4 quart jars, 2 pint jars, and 1 half-pint jar.  Hopefully that will be enough.
We got ten eggs today from our hens.  The hen house desperately needs to be cleaned and the yard needs to be raked.  I didn't get to it today because we spent the afternoon watching our grandson.  Teo discovered just how entertaining his Grandfather's beard can be.  Chris was so patient as Teo repeatedly tugged on his beard.  They will have a special relationship. Tomorrow we'll watch Teo, too.  I guess I won't clean the chicken house tomorrow, either.

Now...back to the chutney.....  

Plum Chutney Recipe

The best plum chutney:

12 cups sliced plums (I used Italian prune plums from our tree)
1/2 - 1 finely chopped green pepper (I prefer the larger amt)
1 1/2 cups raisins
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup grated ginger - I freeze my ginger root so I can take it out and grate it easily when needed
3 cups vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp whole allspice

Combine all ingredients except spices.  Tie up the cloves, allspice, and cinnamon in a double layer of cheesecloth or just put the cinnamon sticks in the pot and put the cloves and allspice in a tea ball.  Tie a string on the tea ball and let it into the mixture.  Tie end of string on the handle of the pot.  Bring it all to a boil, stirring frequently, unless you want to spend lots of time scrubbing the pot later.  Turn heat down and simmer for about 2 hours. 
Prepare clean jars and clean tops!  
Remove cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.  Fill the jars.  Cool and store.

Cleaning the jars - I put the jars in the dishwasher.  The lids, I put in a large stainless steel pot and pour boiling water on top.  Cover the lids completely with water and bring to a boil.  Simmer till time to use them.  I got a nifty little gadget with a magnet on top to lift the lids out of the boiling water. 

This should make at least 8 pints of chutney. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pictures from The Reinhart Farm

The garlic's been harvested now. 

Hanging in the bushes.  It's nice and cool in there.

What do you think?

Napoleon - the biggest little rooster
Our first two eggs!  They're so tiny.... that bowl is just 5" across.
The duck and goose brigade

Gramma (me) and Mattheus, the future farmer
Chris, Mattheus, and Emma discussing important farm stuff.
It's a jungle in here!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Zucchini Pickles

Pick the zucchini when it's small, 1 to 1 1/2 inches around.  If you pick them all this small, your plant will produce more than if you let them go till they're the gigantic variety.  If you happen to miss one and it ends up looking like a zucchini on steroids, you can have it for dinner.  Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and place cut side down in a large turkey roasting pan that has about 3 inches of water in it.  Cover and cook on the stove (using two burners) until it's fork tender.  Serve with butter and Parmesan cheese.  Easy!

Now the pickle recipe:

4 quarts small zucchini, unpeeled, sliced thin
3 large onions, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup salt
4 cups cider vinegar
4 cups sugar
2 tsps celery seeds
4 tsps mustard seeds
2 tsps turmeric
1 tsp dry mustard

Combine the zucchini and onions.  Sprinkle with salt and let stand for two hours.  Rinse with cold water.
Combine remaining ingredients in a large pot and heat till boiling.  Boil for two - five minutes.  Add the zucchini and onion.  Remove from the heat and let stand for another two hours.
If you are preserving the jars of pickles, now would be the time to make sure the jars and lids are sterilized.  After two hours, bring the mixture to a boil again and let it boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and fill the jars.  Put caps on.  
Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes to make sure you have a good seal.  Makes approximately 8 pints of pickles.
We don't usually bother with processing as we eat the pickles fast enough that it's not a problem! 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Urban Farming

We've been urban farmers for a long time, even before it became popular.  We've had chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, goats, and even a donkey.  We've also tried to garden, with mixed success, all in a suburban neighborhood, just a half mile from the city of Denver.

That was awhile ago.  We then went for a short spell with only our three elderly rabbits as our urban livestock. That was okay, but I didn't think it would last.  Sure enough, one Christmas, our son gave his father a book called, "Living with Chickens", by Jay Rossier.  Chris began reading and was soon convinced that we needed to have chickens again. 

Then Chris retired.  This was the time to plunge into our urban farming. 

Last spring we bought 14 chicks, 2 ducklings, and two goslings.  The ducklings and goslings were my idea.  Geese are sociable creatures who love to follow us around while we do our chores.  They are also good at keeping anyone or anything who doesn't belong, away from our property.  We also started a very large, ambitious garden.  About a month later, two bantam chickens, a hen and a rooster, joined the flock.

The little rooster, whom we named Napoleon, is a fierce protector of our hens.  The tiny hen, who could only be named Josephine, is a golden seabright, a rare type of hen who actually crows!  She is amazing to watch as she darts in and around the large hens, often stealing food right from their mouths.

Our August farm report: 

The chokecherry jam was not an amazing success, however, chokecherry syrup is great on French toast.  Maybe someday I'll make a batch that gels but doesn't turn into chokecherry leather.

We have our first eggs!!!  One of our first layers is Josephine.  Her eggs are tiny and pale pink.  At least one more hen is laying because we got a brown egg today.  We cleaned the chicken house and added a couple of nesting boxes.  Anything to encourage more of those beautiful little eggs to come.

The garden has produced peas, carrots, radishes, lettuce, beets, zucchini, peppers, garlic, kohlrabi, and there are potatoes and tomatoes still to come.  I'm planning on trying a fall planting of radishes and fennel.  I'm not sure if it'll work, but it's worth a try.  We've had beet greens for dinner, kohlrabi in our salad, and peas that rarely made it into the house.  We also made pickled beets, in addition to our chokecherry syrup.

Today, I made zucchini pickles.  I will include the recipe in the next post.  This and plum chutney are my favorite garden treats.
The girls, wondering about the changes in the chicken house.  They are a suspicious bunch!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chokecherry Jam

How to make Chokecherry Jam

1. Talk the summer camp kids into coming out and picking the berries for you.
2. Make a deal with your offspring.  Take over one of the chores that they do not like to do if they will pick all  the leaves, stems, rocks, and dirt, out of the basket and wash the berries.  Don't tell them how mind numbing tedious this job is. 
3.  Get LOTS of sugar from the store.  And a candy thermometer.  Do NOT forget the candy thermometer.
4.  Make sure the younger generation measures the chokecherries as they are cleaned and put in the big pot.  For every 4 cups of berries, add 1 cup of water.
5.  Cook on low heat until the berries are very tender and will squash easily with the wooden spoon.  This takes awhile.
6.  Put the cooked berries through a sieve.  Ours is a good one.  We don't have to take off all the tiny stems first.
7.  After everything has gone through the sieve, measure out all the good stuff and put it back in the pot.  The pits and other bits still in the sieve are not used.  Maybe the chickens will eat some of it.
8.  Add an equal amount of sugar to the pot.  This refers to how much of the good stuff is left after getting the pits out.  If you started out with 23 cups of chokecherries, you will have about 10 cups of good stuff.  To the 10 cups of good stuff, add 10 cups of sugar.
That's right.  This is basically a recipe for chokecherry flavored sugar.  Or syrup.
9.  Cook on a medium high flame, STIRRING CONSTANTLY CONSTANTLY CONSTANTLY, which is, of course, a job for the heirs apparent, until the candy thermometer....
reads 220 degrees.  This is hot.  Really hot.  Be careful!
Do not....I repeat, do not let it get hotter than this.  You will end up with sticky, chokecherry goo.
10.  Put into sterilized jars and seal with sterilized jar lids.
11.  Process jars to seal them properly for storage
Find lots of friends to give them to.  Tell them to eat it right away.
Supposedly it goes well on ice cream. 

12,  Repeat.  If you have five chokecherry bushes, like we do, find lots of friends.  

(if it doesn't turn out, it's obviously because the kids did something wrong.)

Next..... taste test.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Here is our studio!  We're hoping that there will be a deck added on soon.  We are inheriting a nice wooden deck from John and Coco's new house.  Now, if we can only find a way to move this 8' by 16' monstrosity the 14 city blocks between houses. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We have an open door policy at Studio Foxhoven

Good Hedges/Good Neighbors

When we moved into our house, nearly 20 years ago, we immediately fell in love with the quiet neighborhood and the many lovely tall trees and bushes.  The latter has been a mixed blessing as the trees and bushes all require lots of care.  Leaving an elm hedge go for a season means doing battle with an elm fortress the next season.  Elms also have a nasty tendency towards disease.  Dying elms are not beautiful to look at nor is it healthy to keep them around.  Some of those nasty diseases spread to the other elms in the yard and the neighborhood.  
I've been battling our elms this summer. I'm determined to take out the elms and let the lovely honeysuckle, lilac, and chokecherry bushes take over.  At the moment, it's so crowded you can hardly tell what's what.  Now, when I'm lucky, I have about two hours in the morning when I can do this work, so it's proceeding very slowly.  I started on our south side where some of the bushes were completely dead.  
I thought I was doing a good thing until our neighbor informed me that they did not want me to take down any of the bushes by their property.  They like their privacy and, if I decided to take the bushes out, could I let them know?  They would immediately go out and buy 8' tall trees to replace the bushes.  They like their privacy.  I explained that the bushes were dying, many of them were dead already, and that we had decided to take out all the elm bushes.  
She told me I would be sorry if I did because it would be so open.  "Just watch.  You'll get a lot more visitors if you do that."
She said it as though having visitors was something to be avoided at all costs.  I looked at her, puzzled, and told her that I would like that very much.  Privacy is one thing.  I was feeling claustrophobic.  I can't imagine purposely closing myself in, and other people out of my life. I realize that our neighbor has some significant health challenges which explain her reclusiveness.  I am trying to be understanding.
For me, my health challenges have made me much more aware of how dependent I am on having others around me, both for my physical health and for my emotional health.  I go to the other extreme and try to make sure people feel welcome to stop by any time.  Open up the doors and the windows!  Come work in the studio for awhile!
If cutting down the elm hedges bring in more visitors, then by all means, cut them down - cut them all down!  

Friday, July 9, 2010

Make it Beautiful

I wrote this in 2008 as a preview for my writing and, just perhaps, an introduction to a book in the future.  Who knows?  I do a lot of dreaming.

If one were to look through the work of our first graders, they might wonder at a few things they saw. Every now and then, in the middle of their words or sentences, there would be drawn a lovely flower or heart, or maybe even a cat. Why was this drawing in the middle of their sentence? It’s because they made a mistake. When you are writing with a crayon, there isn’t a way to erase a mistake. At first, many of the children become frustrated every time they “mess up” and want to tear up their paper and start over. But this is not allowed. The teacher gently instructs the children that when they make a mistake, they must turn it into something beautiful.
Sometimes I think that this is the most important lesson they learn at our school. Wouldn’t it be nice if that were a rule for all of us? What might happen if, every time we made a mistake, we turned it into something beautiful? Just think. When we say something we shouldn’t or hurt someone in any way, we would begin, out of habit, to find a way to fix it. Not by tearing it up and starting over, ignoring the fact that we blew it, but by seeing what we have done and finding a way to fix it. We’re not allowed to tear up our life and start over. Turn it into something beautiful.
I guess that is what I hope to do with my writings. I want to take all my blunders, my failings, the moments when I stumble the most, and make them beautiful. Or at the very least see the humor in my own stumbling and, if I am really lucky, make someone else laugh.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Not Bored Yet

It's been nearly three years since I asked the nurse practitioner about disability and was told that I was not disabled at all.  All I needed to do, according to this expert, was to stay at home and do nothing for six months.  After that, I would certainly be bored enough to want to get a part time job, maybe at a local library where I could get out and see people.
When I told my kids, they started laughing hysterically and my oldest son looked at me and asked, "Doesn't she know you?"
It's been nearly three years and I'm still waiting.  There are moments when I think a boring day would be nice.  I'm not fooling myself, though.  I can't imagine how my life would be without all my projects. 
Fortunately, my doctor didn't agree with the nurse.  She told me that people with Parkinson's disease come to a point in their lives when they can no longer be gainfully employed but that doesn't mean they can't be active.
I'm glad she said that because in the time I've been retired, I have taught a few art classes, written numerous articles, and created a website for my art work and writing, in addition to a few other odds and ends.  At the same time, I've become a mother-in-law and a grandmother.  Grandmothers have no reason to be bored.
I'm also on the yellow brick road.  That's what I tell my dad when I visit and help take care of my mom, who has dementia.  "Don't worry, Dad," I say, "we'll go down this road together, one yellow brick at a time."  It's a challenging road for all of us, but the tremendous gift has been the chance to really get to know my dad.  He has a wicked sense of humor!
Dad's never been bored, either.  At 85, he finally decided he won't go up on the roof anymore and he willingly lets my husband or son mow his lawn.  I did get a little worried today, though.  When I checked in with him, he said he had called the plumber to fix the leak in the shower instead of trying to fix it himself.  Of course, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few months ago.  Maybe it's time he can slow down, just a little.
If he gets bored, maybe I'll suggest that he find a part time job at a local library.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Becoming a Blogger

When I started publishing my writing on my website, I was told by a few people that I had to write shorter articles.  A blog entry should be no more than 400 words.  I immediately felt chastened and for the next few weeks, I tried hard to restrain myself when I was writing.  It was a disaster.  No matter how hard I tried, my articles ended up with too many words.
Maybe this has something to do with being female.  When our friends came back from their trip to California, we heard two different accounts of their adventures.  The first version was from the female point of view and included a wonderful description of the disasters they encountered as they house-sat; including the dog being sprayed by a skunk and the washing machine overflowing and flooding the studio.  There was more to the story and I delighted in listening to it all.
The male version was somewhat different.  "We had an exciting holiday in California and we are very glad to be home."  That was it.
In regards to my articles, I decided that whatever rules were being tossed around about "blogging", who was going to enforce them?  I'm not getting paid to write so there isn't an editor telling me what to do, either.  I figured I could do what I'd like and my articles could be as short or long as I wanted them to be.  Oddly enough, the people who told me to write short articles were reading my long ones regularly, without complaint.  My articles just weren't blog-worthy.  So, I decided not to have a blog. I'd have an online journal instead.  That's my Studio Foxhoven website through Squarespace.
So, why am I here?   Well, first of all, it is free.  Then I puttered around and found that I could create a blog page that matches my business card almost perfectly.  Wow.
I also realized that Blogger was popular and included stuff that I could not do on my website, like match my business cards.  I can have a feed directly from my website, so you will be able to access all my articles from here, as well as anything else from my website.  I'll try to be good and make my posts 400 words or less.
We'll see how it goes! 
I won't do twitter, though.  I don't want my writing turned into tweets.
More to come....