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Friday, September 30, 2011

A New Record!

Today we set a new farm (not THE FARM, just farm) record...

It involved this machine.

Any guesses as to what we did and what the record was??

The hardest thing

Do you know what the hardest thing about not having my dad anymore is?

Not being able to ask him questions.  Not the life-changing questions like "What is my calling in life?"  But the little ones like "Dad, where is the air tank?"  "Why doesn't the air compressor turn on?"  Both questions he could have answered in 5 seconds.

This feeling struck me and struck me hard this past week when I spent a couple of days up at the farm (as long as I live I will refer to that place as "the farm" which puzzles the Hubby because he says "We live on a farm".  Yes, honey, we do but it isn't THE FARM.)

Where was I??

Oh yes, I was at THE FARM and wanted to mow some of the vegetation (I refer to it as vegetation because it is so far removed from any resemblance of lawn) in the front yard.  One of the tires on the lawn mower was flat.  And I couldn't find the air tank.  So I drove the mower ever-so-slowly over to the shop.  Then the air compressor didn't have any air in it.  I dinked around and finally got enough air out of the compressor to fill the tire.  And as I was mowing, thought about all the questions that I will have for which my dad cannot answer and I never thought to ask.  Like where is the air tank.

When I parked the mower in the quonset and went to pull the door shut, I saw the air tank sitting on the west side.

And I shed a tear because I knew that had I called him even in Tennessee, Dad would have known exactly where it was.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Giant frogs, Giant frogs...back to you!"

A sign of a healthy ecosystem is the presence and health of amphibians.  I learned that in college.  
If this statement is still true, and I currently have no information to the contrary, we must have a VERY healthy ecosystem here on the farm.

There has been large numbers of frogs on the farm for the past four years.  They provide endless hours of entertainment for all of us.

The chickens go wild when a frog gets in the portable pens.  Think combination Tag and Hot Potato as they chase and run with a frog in their beaks, or pieces of frog in their beaks.  It is a riot to watch!!

Duke loves to chase them.  Through the garden, pouncing, it doesn't matter.  People often ask me how I can garden with small children.  The three of them on their worst day don't do the damage that dog does.  He has never dug a hole in his life, he just thinks that my gardens are his personal beds and play spaces.  He doesn't give me the time of day until I set foot in the garden and then he's my best buddy.  Grrrrr... (that's me, not the dog)
The only reason I tolerate his presence at all is that he's so good with my kids.  I love him for that.

Where was I??  Oh yes, frogs...

We have all sizes and colors.  Some green, some brown.  Some small, some large.  Some gigantic.

I'm not squeamish around frogs, I find them fascinating.  Did you know that a frog can travel up to three miles in a day?  They can!   You may be asking, "Annie, how did they find this out?"  They tied a thread to the leg of the frog.  I'm not kidding...

All summer there has been a huge frog living in our kale patch, I'd see him every Thursday morning when we harvest.  I often catch frogs for the kids so that they can touch, see and watch them up close.  But I don't want to catch that great-big-one, he's just too big!!!  He's bigger than my hand!

The past few days the mornings have been quite cool which makes the cold-blooded amphibians in the neighborhood a bit sluggish.  We found a BIG one on the driveway trying to warm up on the gravel.  The kids were pretty excited to see such a big one.  (And mom was excited that she didn't have to catch that monster!)

Kiddo1 is protecting the frog from Duke who really could not have cared less because the frog wasn't jumping and then it just isn't any fun.  

Giant frogs, good for hours of entertainment...who needs TV??

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Actually helping

The Hubby and I have had the more amazing series of events recently.  Both of us have been doing a job and Kiddo1 has wanted to help.  If you have children, you know how it goes.  They want to "help" but end up being a huge non-help.  But we let them "help" because we want to them to be with us and learn how to do whatever it is that we are doing.

This has begun to pay off!  I was gone and Hubby needed to unload a 40 bushel tote of grain.  This is a two person job and even then it takes awhile.  But it had to happen and it was just Kiddo1 and him so he thought, "Well, if it takes forever, it has to get done."  Kiddo1 has watched Mom and Dad do this chore often this summer and wanted to help so I would let her scoop with her little bucket and pour it in the big buckets.  On the day I was gone, she really did help!  As in, the job went faster because she was there helping!!  It was a red letter day folks!!

I recently had two episodes of this actual help myself.  Last night I was washing up the dishes that didn't fit in the dishwasher and Kiddo1 wanted to help.  Normally, she just plays in the suds, which is fine with me.  But this time, she pulled over a chair, climbed up and began washing a dish.  And she didn't stop until that dish was cleaned to her satisfaction. Then she handed it to me and said, "This clean now Mommy."  And took another one.  All in all, she did four items and she did them well.

Today was laundry day.  Laundry was the first job she ever wanted to help with.  It holds a special place in our hearts.  Here she is, actually helping!!  She's pulling clothes from the dryer and putting them in the basket.  Apparently, when you are three, you must start with the clothes in the back of the dryer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Peaches Don't Come From a Can in THIS House!

There is one blessed month a year that our local Youth For Christ group sends a truck to Colorado to get peaches.  Not just any peaches mind you.  But the most delicious peaches you can imagine putting in your mouth.  

One year I couldn't wait for this glorious day and I bought a bag of grocery store peaches and some cream to get me over the hump.  Never AGAIN!  Not even heavy cream and sugar could make those imitation peaches palatable.

Every year at this time, our family attempts to eat our body weight in fresh peaches.  This leads to a debate betwixt the Hubby and I.  I was born and raised on peaches and cream, that is the way I prefer to eat my peaches.  Hubby thinks cream on peaches is an abomination.  We promised 'til death do us part, so the great peach debate isn't going to put us asunder, but it will make the kids wonder...

What we can't eat fresh, I can so we can savor this wonder all winter long.

Start with two boxes of peaches (half of what we started with!).  Make sure you have good fruit.  I realize this may sound kinda dumb but as my dad used to say "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."  You cannot take not-so-good fruit and can it.  Canning intensifies the flavor of food and you want that to be a great flavor.  Hence the reason I don't can grocery store peaches.  So, moral of story:  Taste the fruit before you buy it and only get the good stuff!

Sort out all the ripe ones.  Why?  Because peeling an unripe peach will make you swear off canning peaches forever, it's awful.

I should note that all of my peaches were ripe and were soon to be headed past ripe because we were eating them fresh.  But if you buy peaches just for the express purpose of canning, make sure you only can the ripe ones.

 While you are sorting your peaches, get a kettle of water boiling on the stove.  This is to help peal the peaches.  I drop them in 4 at a time, just my preference.

 Leave them in for one minute and one minute only.  We are not trying to cook the peaches.  Only the very thin skin.  I use a timer.  This may shock those of you who know my propensity for "winging it", but when it comes to canning THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS!

Remove the peaches one at a time with a slotted spoon of some sort.  Please don't try to do two at a time or they will both roll off of opposite sides of the spoon, onto the floor, leaving a big mess.  

 Plop that peach into a bowl of cold water.  Some people would say ice water but when you're doing as many peaches as I am, Antarctica doesn't have that much ice on hand.

Use your thumbs (thank goodness they're opposable!) to simply scrape off the peach peel.  It really is that easy!  If you have a bit that doesn't come off that easy, chances are it was sticking out of the hot water.  Just slip it off with your knife.

On the peach there is the "line" or "dimple" or "dimpled line".  Using that as a guide, cut down and around with your knife.  This cuts the peach in half at the pit.

 If you are not holding a camera, you would use both thumbs to split the peach in half.

Like this!

 Then feed a slice to your son because he asked oh-so-sweetly "More peaches, Mama!"

Remove the pit from the half that has the pit by grasping and pulling.  Rocket science here people...

I prefer to can my peaches in slices because I have small children and they are easier for them to eat than peach halves.  However, my mom always canned the halves and skipped the slicing step.  Whatever works for you is fine!!
You will want to repeat the above steps many, many times.  Peaches will oxidize and turn brown in the air so I have an 8qt stainless steel bowl that I put 2 qts cold water and a 1/4 cup lemon juice (or there abouts) and keep the peaches in that until I'm ready to can them.

 Check your canning book for the syrup recipe.  I use the lightest syrup I can.

Measure your water...

 and sugar...

 EXACTLY!!!  There are no shortcuts in canning.

Grab your trusty and well-used canning tools!

There's the load of delicious peaches (this was only less than half of my peaches!).  

 So what we have here on my trusty harvest gold stove is a saucepan full of simmering rings and lids, a heavy bottom kettle of boiling syrup, and a canner full of boiling quart jars.

It looks like a steamy witches cauldron, but no.  Just hot jars.

Remove a jar with your jar lifter.  Please, for the love of Pete (and anyone else) get a jar lifter.  I tried a tongs for the first year and I was an idiot.

Pour the boiling water out in the sink, not back into the canner because you are filling that jar with food and putting it back in there and what I learned in college is that two things cannot occupy the same space.  In short, you will overflow your canner with boiling water and no one wants that.

Set the jar on a plate to catch the drips.  There are no shortcuts in canning, but there are messes.
Then put your grandmother's canning funnel on top.  You'll probably have a prettier one, but this one means an awful lot to me!

Use your hands to scoop out the peaches.  Don't use a spoon or ladle as it crushes the peaches.  Hands mean better product!

Only add three or four slices at a time because any more than that will squirt out of your hand and onto the floor and we've done too much work to lose them like that!

When the jar is 3/4 full, give it a good shake to get them to settle.  (Unless you are my sister who would probably artfully lay the peach slices in the jar one-by-one.  I'd make fun of that except she may or may not possess pictures of me in a tube top.)

Once you've gotten all the peach slices you can get without peeking over the neck of the jar, ladle in the hot syrup.

You want to leave the recommended headspace listed in your canning book.

Wipe the rim of the jar to remove any liquid or bit of peach.  If you don't, there's a good chance the seal will fail and frankly we've done too much work and are too close the the finish line to skip this step.

Use your lid lifter to fish out a ring from the simmering water.  

I taught a canning class where one of the gals said she just used her fingers.  What??!!  For a $1.68 you can skip the torture and just enjoy canning.

Get a lid...and please don't use your fingers.

 Tighten the ring and lid onto the jar.  Snugly, but don't wrench it on.

 Place the filled jar on the canning rack and repeat until all the jars are full.  Submerge canning rack and jars into boiling water bath.

Put the cover on and set your timer as recommended in your caning book.  If you have a book on caning.  Otherwise, use the time recommended in your canning book...

When the timer is up, remove the jars with your jar lifter.

Place them on a double thickness of towel on your counter.

 And then cover them with the towel.  Why??  We want the jars to cool slowly, this helps the seal to form and hold.  Just leave them on the counter for 24 hours and then move them to your storage room, pantry, bomb shelter...whatever you have.

This is the second batch of peaches.  Kiddo1 was up from her nap and wanted to help.  Yes, that is a real knife and a real peach and she is just 3 years and 2 months old.  As you can see, she takes kitchen work very seriously.

But then, there's always time to taste the goods!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

True Love

Someday perhaps I'll share the story of how we met, learned to love each other, broke up, got engaged three days later and married.

Today is not that day.  Neither you nor I have that kind of time.

But I will tell you how I know my husband knows me and loves me.

This morning he got up with Kiddo3 at 6am to feed her and let me sleep until 8.  After a bad night of kiddos the night before, I was mucho tiredo.

Then as we debated whether I should go to my mom's with all three kids today, tonight or tomorrow (Because my mom believes that Hubby needs a weekend off from the kids and that makes her his favorite mother-in-law.  Oh, and she wants some much needed snuggle and coloring time with my kids.), he suggested a compromise that combines all of my criteria:  wanting to get to my mom's as soon as possible, getting a bunch of work done, packing and traveling 2 hours with three kids.

This may not seem like a huge deal to you, but for this mom whose love language is "Acts of Service" this is true love.

Now, if the pots and pans are done when I get home I'll be over the moon...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What my kids do

One of the most often asked questions is "What do your kids do while you're outside?"
I'm not sure how to respond to this.  What do you think our kids do?  
I'd like to just say, "Oh, they're inside watching movies."  But that sounds just too close to the truth for some families so I don't say that.

The truth is that our kids are with us.  They have been from the day we brought them home from the hospital.  Kiddo1 and Kiddo2 were both summer born babies (not great planning on the part of the farm family, but we did get Kiddo3 in January) and took lots of naps to the sound of the tiller.  I'll also confess I nursed Kiddo2 often sitting on the ground taking a break from the garden.  (I also nursed him sitting in front of WalMart, when the boy had to eat the boy had to EAT!)

Where was I?  Oh yes, what my kids do...Well, take a look!

Kiddo1 loves flowers so she usually picks some right away.  She also loves carrots and will pick some of those if I don't dig her one first.

Kiddo2 is a dirt man.  That kid loves to play in the dirt.  He could sit there all day, happy as a clam.  But ask him if he wants a tomato and he'll come running!

Kiddo3 is more of a passive observer at this point.  She munches on a kohlrabi every now and then, but is pretty much just there to cheer us on with a smile and a giggle.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

After Anne (and alleged blubbering)

With the threat of frost tonight, I have to admit that my brain prickled at the thought, "Reading season!!"

I love to read.  This should come as no surprise if you have ever seen my living room or the headboard of my bed.  When the hubby and I got married, I moved no less than 500 books to begin our married life with.  (I haven't taken a recent count but they no longer fit on the existing bookshelves...) There are classics like Willa Cather's My Antonia, favorites like Louis L'Amour The Cherokee Trail, text books like Campbell's Biology text, and entire series like Jan Karon's Mitford Series.  In addition, the librarians at our not-so-local library know when I'm done with gardening work because I dust off my library card and max out my book limit (which is 13, just in case you were wondering).

This love of books and reading is genetic.  My mother has gifted me with this gene for voracious reading. And if you think my book number is excessive, my mother has LOST COUNT!  She was awarded a Barnes and Noble Premier Customer card.  Apparently, if you are on a first name basis with the staff because you stop there every time you can, the powers that be at B&N can find it in their hearts to enable you in your addiction.

Anyway, I tell you that story to tell you this one...

My mother has a foster brother who is wonderful.  His wife is equally wonderful.  She and my mom were discussing their recent reading selections and my mom happened to mention that she was re-reading a favorite (she and I tend to do that, alot).  It was Roxanne Henke's After Anne.  When my mom gave this to me (probably 7 years ago) I was headed out to fly somewhere for work so I threw it in my carry-on as she said, "She's a ND author!!"  OK, I have to confess that with the exception of my brother whose book I love and Louis L'Amour, ND authors haven't quite cut the mustard with my literary tastes.

I opened it as we were preparing for takeoff and couldn't put it down.  Literally, I walked on the jetway reading.  I walked through the MSP airport reading, I handed the ticket agent my ticket while still reading.  I was getting to the end of the book and melted down into a puddle of tears.  Not the kind that seep from the corner of your eye.  I was CRYING!!!  (there may or may not have been blubbering)  So much so that the flight attendant brought me napkins and asked if I was OK.

I won't tell you more than this:  If you love books with great characters, great dialog and some fun thrown in with real life, than this book (and frankly, all of Roxanne's books) are for you.  There's only one I haven't read but it's only because my mom hasn't given it to me yet and gardening season isn't over.  (If you have kids, Learning to Fly is excellent!)

You can find the book here.

The fact that Roxanne writes from a little town just down the highway a ways from me is an added bonus.

Get the books, stock up on Kleenex, laugh through your tears...and don't say I didn't warn you!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Boat Ride

One evening, after a very difficult day of garden work and dealing with my dad's illness, we decided to take a family boat ride on our lake.  Our lake is probably double the size due to all the excess water that has joined other low areas into one big water mass.  

You might think "What's so interesting about that?  It's summer after all, and boating is a summer time activity."

You would be correct.  However, when you are forced to use a 15 foot, flat-bottomed duck boat as transportation for 7 weeks this spring when your road was under water, a boat ride just doesn't sound as fun as it used to.  
**As a side note, our old road is still under water.  Thankfully, we have a new road away from the water!**

Hubby got the boat ready.  Our trusty Duke dog supervising.  Duke also rides in the boat with us which isn't my favorite thing.  However, the kids LOVE it and so he gets to come along (grudgingly).  The problem is that he doesn't decide to come along until he's already gone for a swim in the lake and then he'll jump in the boat.  And, for some reason, I'm his best buddy.  I'll let you connect the dots...

So we loaded up the kiddos, each of them in their "life coat" as Kiddo1 calls them.  (Don't worry, Kiddo2 only cried for 2.7 minutes and then he was all smiles!)

We have an electric trolling motor so it is very quiet as we glide along the water.  We watched muskrats, geese, a heron, ducks, seagulls, pelicans and even minnows on our trip around the lake.

Even though it was a discomfort to have to use our boat for transportation this spring, we're so greatful that we have it!!

There are no pictures of the actual boat ride because I had a wet dog and three toddlers in a boat.
I knew you'd understand...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cucumber Sandwiches

I happened to post on Facebook that I was jones-ing for a cucumber sandwich.  My wonderful friend, Laurie (she of the sauerkraut post fame) did not know that you could make a sandwich with cucumbers.  I blame this on her lack of sauerkraut eating...fermented cabbage would have naturally led to cucumber sandwiches.

I promised then and there that I would photograph in exquisite detail the making of said cucumber sandwiches.  We begin...
First, we need 8oz of cream cheese, softened; Miracle Whip or Mayo (I'm not getting in the middle of that debate); lemon pepper seasoning; chunky blue cheese dressing; a large cucumber; dill and chives from your herb garden; and bread, preferably homemade.

Add a glop of Miracle Whip to the cream cheese.  Not a dollop.  And certainly not a blob.  We have to be precise here people and it's a GLOP!

Another glop of blue cheese dressing.

Sprinkle on the lemon pepper seasoning.  (And if you ask me to measure that I'm going to hit you with a  glop of Miracle Whip.)  But if you were my sister and you held incriminating photos of my hair circa 1990 then I would confess and guess that it's probably a 1/2 teaspoon.

Use a kitchen shear and mince your herbs.  But be sure to take all the grass out of your chive bundle.  Grass and cucumbers are not tasty.

I used two-thirds of the handful I brought in from the garden.  (How's that for precise?)  Again, if you hold photos of me in a tube top, there's probably a tablespoon of each in there.  But do what you think tastes good.

Take the stem and blossom end off of your cucumber and feed them to your chickens, or your compost pile, or your toddlers.  I shall not reveal which one of the above happened in our house.

Now slice them up, peel and all.  Unless you bought those horrific waxed imitation cucumbers from the grocery store and then for pete's sake (and your own) peel it!  If you are not a fan of sliced cucumbers (or you're trying to hide them from family members), feel free to grate the cucumbers and mix them into the cream cheese mixture.

Take and ugliest and flattest loaf of bread you've ever made in your life.  (After I baked this, I hid it in the freezer because it hurt my eyes to look at it.  But it works for cucumber sandwiches.)

Slice a few pieces of bread.

Then cut them in half.  (Good grief, did I have to show you how to cut the bread??!!  I think I may be spending too much time with a three year old sous chef...)

Smear the bread with the cream cheese mixture and top it with a cucumber.  Ta Da!!  
Now, try not to eat them all before the rest of the family comes in...
I've made these for bridal showers with a half a cherry tomato on the top, lovely.  Also, the Hubby and kiddos eat them like they're going out of style.  That is when there are some left.

So, Laurie and the one other person who reads this blog, go forth and make cucumber sandwiches!!