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Cold Weather and Catching Up

December 16th, 2008

Let it snow!  The landscape is beautiful after a light patch of snowy weather came through the area. Not enough for a snowman, but just enough to appreciate even though the roads are a mess. It’s early morning, and a travel show is playing in the background on the television.  Looks like Australia… one day I’d like to spend the holidays in the land of the kangaroo.  It looks really warm…

Not warm here though, with temperatures in the teens and the high well below freezing. We’re going through firewood like crazy. The birds appreciate the feeders in this weather, and are gathered all around the house.

Light snow in December in Missouri

Did you see the full moon last Friday?  It was beautiful, and big!  It rose slowly beyond the trees, and seemed to grow larger and larger for the next hour or two.  It was one of those magical, clear nights.  Seems I’ve taken to the moon in recent months… either that or we’ve just had clear weather on bright moonlit nights.  So in case you missed it, here it is again.

 December Full Moon in Missouri

I saw a Bald Eagle circling slowly overhead last week too.  We don’t see them often, but they usually arrive in Missouri this time of year on the way to our rivers and lakes.  Here they can take refuge in open water areas where they can still find food.  Most of Missouri’s rivers and lakes remain free of ice through winter, and if they do freeze it only lasts for a week or two.

Bald Eagle circling in the sky

Closer to home our little kitty is growing up fast.  And she still loves to play with the yellow lab- who also loves to play with her.  She claws and chews and pulls and smacks him with her paws… and he doesn’t even seem to notice it.  I think he secretly enjoys the attention, and they’ve become buddies. He doesn’t even mind sharing his bone.  Isn’t she a neat cat?Her name is Spotty… she has six large black spots on her white coat (I wanted to call her Domino!). 

Yellow Lab and Cat

Speaking of attention… something really got mine the other day.  Have you ever heard of “Floam”?  It’s a kid’s toy, supposedly akin to Playdough.  Ever used it? I think it was invented by someone with a warped sense of humor.  It comes in very attractive, colorful packages.  We’ve had a few lying around for a while.  The young boy was home sick last week, the day we spent cleaning his room.  He decided to play with a tub of pink Floam.  Good idea I thought, something to keep him busy.  I was wrong… very wrong.

Floam- an icky, sticky mess

I mean this stuff is downright nasty.  Could be that it doesn’t age very well.  But once it’s on your (supposedly wet) hands, it’s there for a long, long time.  The boy finally said, “Yuck! This stuff is too sticky… it won’t make anything!”  Whoever thought goop and recycled styrofoam balls would make a good toy?  You need water to wash it off your hands, but who’s going to wash styrofoam down the sink? I can’t imagine a worse clog.  So I carefully picked his fingers clean with a wet paper towel, and then he kept trying to wash them clean.   After which we collected all the Floam tubs and out they went, right into the trash.  I honestly don’t know how the company makes any money from the stuff.  Maybe there’s a secret to it, but if Floam is around in a few years I’ll be very surprised.  But if you have a different experience, I’d love to hear about it.  Ah well, when Santa comes there will be other toys to play with.   

Changing the subject again, I had to share a picture of the sun on the pond.  So different from today’s snowfall. It was late afternoon last week as the ice was melting, and the picture came out with a neat blaze from the bright sunlight.  Not a very good picture really, but it was just so bright and…  well I would say warm, but it wasn’t.  It just looked warm! 

Sunlight on Fox Haven Pond

And by the way, are you still around Ron?  Have a feeling you’re moving the site to a new home. Time to catch up on a few more indoor projects this week.  I hope everyone is staying warm!

Building Character, Helping the Community

November 22nd, 2008

It was a big day for our Cub Scouts and the annual Scouting for Food campaign.   This is a national community stewardship project to help alleviate hunger in local communities, with all levels of scouting participating.  In our area, around 25 of our cub scouts collected over 5,700 food items from a couple of nearby small towns.  Thanks to generous donors and more kids in our pack, we beat last year’s collection by almost 2,000 items, mostly canned goods, and brought it all in to a local food pantry.  This one day of food collection provides almost 50% of their annual operations supporting families in need in the local area. 

Cub Scouts and Scouting for Food Campaign

 

We covered half of a small town this morning with our vehicle, and it only took about 90 minutes going from house-to-house. There are a lot of generous people out there, and most of the bags were heavy with food. The bags from what just our family collected almost covered the entire back floor of a pickup truck.  Lots of other vehicles were full of food too.  It was a chilly morning for the kids!

 

 

 

 

Scouting for Food

 

 

  

Equally important however, the boys were learning about helping other people, and “doing good deeds” with their labor.  Last week they walked through towns and neighborhoods placing empty bags on doorknobs.  And today they walked back to every one of those houses, brining back a lot of canned goods.  And when we pulled up to the food pantry, all the scouts pitched in to unload the vehicles.  What a great way to help the local community- and to share food at a time when many people are struggling.

 

 

After the food drive we had a neat “Raingutter Regatta” which is a balsa wood sailboat race in 10 foot gutters- real rain gutters!  The kids built and decorated their sailboats at home in preparation for the race.  Today they raced each other down the raingutter by blowing on the sails.  Some of them were very creative with the little boats, and everyone had a lot of fun.  I’m a den leader for the 2nd grade scouts, and I was very proud of them today!

Cub Scout Raingutter Regatta

What Does “Living Green” Really Mean?

November 21st, 2008

The coldest day of Autumn arrived last night with temperatures around 15 degrees F.  The wood stove is a constant roar of fire and warmth, and the little birds outside are clustered around the feeders.  Have I said how much we enjoy the wood stove?  I think it’s my favorite “investment” I’ve ever made… (better than a lot of others recently!). But the thing works really well and we get a lot of use out of it.  Of course it also helps to lower the heating bill and save on electricity.  And it’s a low-carbon emission stove… so what’s not to like?  I figure in four more years, the money we’ve saved on electricity will have paid for the stove itself.

    Buck Wood Stove

I bought a frozen turkey yesterday and since we didn’t have freezer/fridge space, I just left it outside.  Nice to have winter temps to keep things cold.  Along with a pot of venison chili I made yesterday… yum!  It was a little thin, so I’m going to thicken it up today- it was frozen when I brought it back in.   No, I haven’t taken a deer yet this year, but this finishes the last of the frozen ground venison for the chili.  

Venison chili

Speaking of wild game, this morning was funny- the boy and I are having breakfast and he says, “Daddy, guess what so-and-so brought to school yesterday?”  “Ah, I’m not sure, what?” I reply.  “Well they brought in a deer hoof and a deer tail, and the hoof was kinda bendy,”  he says.  “Hmmm…interesting… What did the teacher say?” I wonder out loud.  “She thought it was really cool!” he said.  I was impressed- his 2nd grade teacher didn’t think it was some weird or strange thing.  

I can’t help but wonder what a teacher’s reaction would have been in a more suburban environment?  For me it was a reminder of the difference between the schools here in the country and those an hour down the road.  In some places they would probably freak out if a kid brought not just a wild animal to school, but parts of that animal, still fresh!  Around here it’s just part of life and the food that feeds the family during the year. 

Living in the country and in small towns is awesome in so many ways (and inconvenient at times and a lot of work). I wouldn’t trade it for anything, at least while I can handle the work.  But in many areas the landscape (of people and places) is changing.  People are buying up the land and building bigger houses in rural areas.  Sometimes it’s called sprawl, with a negative view for unchecked population expansion.  And some of the people moving to the rural areas have a different mindset about a lot of things.  Not necessarily bad, just different.  

Leaves in the barn gutter

 

 

(Gutter cleaning time for the barn!  Need to find those gutter helmet thingies to keep the leaves out some day… but the leaves make great compost.  I got lots of exercise on the ladder. Those are the beehives in the background, wrapped for the winter.)

In some cases that population growth brings positive change and affluence to formerly depressed areas.  For now development is coming slowly in our area with the downturn in housing.  I’m certainly not against growth or the choices people make for where to live.  I am definitely for strategic planning and zoning based on community needs and considering local needs and interests in complying with state and federal law. 

I don’t think we should all be closeted away in clones of planned communities near the cities.  That’s fine if you choose to live there (and I might too one day), but I think it’s also okay to move out and find your own place in the country.   Last time I checked it was still a free country, though there’s some debate about what it will be like in a few years…

 

 

It also seems like there is a movement of people who want to live a simpler life, with sustainability as the theme.  Gardens, some livestock and natural living- a choice to find balance in life, maybe to “live green”, or to seek a more frugal and independent lifestyle for one’s family.  It makes me wonder how the contrasts and dynamics will play out between suburban and rural values?  Being “green” is quite fashionable these days.  Who doesn’t want a healthy planet?  We all do. But I think some people simply embrace the idea and fashion of a cultural change in being “green” while many others actually make hard choices about living it everyday.  

(Isn’t this a cool picture with the contrast of sky and trees?  The leaves just came off last week, and I’m still getting used to how open the sky feels.)

Treetops bare of leaves against November sky

Sure, lots of folks choose “green values” and adopt the “green movement” with recycling, organic and sustainable food production, and low-carbon transportation choices as leading themes.  And yet I think a lot of folks living in the country do the same thing everyday in ways that present challenges and choices that our more urban friends often don’t understand.  I wish I could speak more for myself in terms of sustainable living or homesteading like Ron’s and Karl’s families do.   We’re not there yet by a long shot, but we’re focused in other ways on growing food naturally, canning, planting trees, managing resources for wildlife, recycling materials on the land…

But the dynamics are so different from that of our friends an hour down the road.  Many of us also use bigger vehicles, engines and fuels to support family, agriculture and farming, we burn wood for warmth and even for reducing the fire hazard of too much brush around the property.  And we have to drive longer distances for schools, shopping, medical care. 

I guess my point (yes, I think I have one) is that it bugs the heck out of me when some ninny half a country away thinks they have all the answers based on the context of their lifestyle choices.  Living a “green lifestyle” can mean different things to different people, with many of the same goals in mind.   While the choices I make might be different from the choices another person makes, we can work toward those same goals for a healthy planet and find a balance with the reality that exists for our family’s needs.  

Now it’s time to go stir those “green” chilies in the pot again…

Wood Stoves and Warm Thoughts

November 10th, 2008

Time for a few chores once again.  With the temperatures much colder, the leaves are mostly gone from the trees now.  And I haven’t seen a bee outside its hive in days.  I decided to wrap the hives with some insulation for the winter.  They are first year bees in new hives, and I’m trying to help ensure they make it to March. 

Nothing like a warm fire to start the day however.  I got up early to get a blazing fire going for everyone.  The lady of the house is a teacher, and before running out the door she likes to dry her hair in the hot air coming off the stove.  Is there anything better?   The young boy gets up before school and runs to the fire to warm up too.  After breakfast I’m looking everywhere for him, trying to get him packed up- where is he?  Sitting by the fire reading the sunday funnies.

Warm fire in the wood stove

Also have an old wood stove that’s been in the barn for a couple of years and I’ve finally decided to get it set up.  The picture above is from our newer “clean-burning” wood stove.  You can have a roaring fire in the thing, but when you look at the chimney outside there’s hardly any smoke coming out at all. It’s called “non-catalytic” technology, and the heated air is recirculated to burn most of the hot gases and emissions using a method called “secondary combustion”. 

The old stove in the barn is not as efficient as today’s catalytic or “reburner” woodstoves, and I’m sure it produces a little more smoke.  But we really like saving on energy costs and usage.  Heating with wood really helps as well as provides a more self-sufficient lifestyle.   Even though this older stove isn’t quite like the newer stoves, it’s in great shape and should work just fine.  I probably won’t use it that much, but I’ll be glad to have it. 

So this weekend I finally managed to a) remove all the rust, and b) finish repainting the old wood stove.  Heck, the thing is a beast- close to 400 pounds and over 25 years old- not too far from the time I was going to those Mizzou football games with my Dad.  I still need to cut down 4-5 trees that have died over the last few years, so we have a lot of wood to use.  

The stove is set on bricks on a concrete floor, and will be close to 4 feet from anything else.  It should provide enough warmth to help get those winter chores done inside the barn and shop, just enough to take the chill off.  It still looks fairly plain in this picture with some of the hardware removed, just after finishing with the “high-temperature” paint that comes in a can. 

Repainting a wood stove

I guess it looks a lot better- it was pretty rusty before.  It’s made of cast iron and welded steel plate, and should last longer than most of us.  I’m looking forward to getting it going, and maybe I can finally clean up the work bench I’ve been putting off for a couple years :)  I’ll take another picture when it’s set up with the chimney and such… soon as we have another warm day or two! 

Fall Football Fun

November 9th, 2008

Cold and crisp this weekend, just perfect for watching football.  The boy and I drove up to the Mizzou Tigers game against K-State- it was a lot of fun.  I remember driving to the Mizzou games back in the 1970’s with my father and brother.  We would bring a bucket of KFC, and sit in the bleachers on Saturday afternoons a couple times a year.  I remember wondering why we drove for a couple hours to watch college football, especially since they always seemed to lose to Nebraska and Oklahoma at the time.  In hindsight I think I understand it was my father’s way of introducing a larger perspective of college for us.  The University of Missouri is a really big school, but I don’t remember being inclined to go there by watching football games!  Honestly I remember it as a lot of fun though, and a chance to do something together.  I think I was also amazed by all the hoopla.  In retrospect it seemed kind of intimidating at the time, and I couldn’t believe so many people would go to one place to scream and yell for a game. 

Come to think of it, after driving up yesterday I’m still amazed, and the boy was too.  We must have seen 50 “tiger tails” hanging out the back of cars on the highway.  The University and surrounding city has grown twice as big it seems, and I did a double take when driving by the schools fundraising sign.  Get this-  the University of Missouri has raised over $1 Billion dollars during their fund drive.  That’s kind of staggering really- they said something at the football game to the effect that they are one of only 19 universities that have achieved that goal in the nation.   I hope that’s a good thing, and that the money can help a lot of folks with educational support.

Finding parking was a hoot, eventually being packed in among fraternity houses, campfires and BBQ grills. The hoopla has been multipled many times over since I attended years ago, especially since the Tigers are nationally ranked these days and the games are televised and played at night (watching the Tigers is a lot more fun than watching the Rams this year…).

I don’t know how many people were in that stadium, but the roar of M-I-Z! … Z-O-U! from both sides was just awesome.  We were sitting pretty high up in 35 degree weather, but it wasn’t too bad.  The boy hung in there, all bundled up, and really enjoyed the half-time show.  Missouri was leading for the win in the 3rd quarter, so we beat the crowds for the long drive home.  It was a good trip, and even included a  short visit with relatives.

Perspective is Everything

September 18th, 2008

If you subject yourself to the news lately it has been a bit heavy with so much going on in the financial markets. Not to mention our military and economic challenges.  But in large measure it seems to me we’ve created this mess and now it’s time to work out of it.  And I use the term “we” very loosely.  There’s a bit of an overhaul due on the economic front of course, and whoever wins the election this fall will have quite the agenda going forward.  I could just be uninformed of course, but I think we’ll turn the corner just fine.  I’m a fairly optimistic guy normally, perhaps because I just don’t believe in entertaining the negative hype.  There are good days, and not so good days.  But they are all days.

Fox Haven pond in the rain

In any event I always find the dynamics of perspective enlightening.  One minute you can be whistling pleasantly in the garden, walk into the house for a drink of water, and then hear the media describe how the world’s ending.   That gives just about anyone a good reason to head back into the garden!  Or you might be walking in cold drizzle and fog, and then an hour later find yourself at 32,000 feet in bright sunshine, looking out the airplane window at the bright, puffy clouds below, everybody cheery as can be.  Perhaps those are physical shifts of perspective that foster the mental shift.  But that mental shift is a choice for most of us too, isn’t it?   We can do the same thing wherever we are, if we choose to.  I know for me that choice isn’t easy at times, but it’s always there.

Really I don’t mean to make light of the challenges the nation faces, but I remember a familiar refrain of my mother while growing up: “This too shall pass.”  Whether she was reminding herself of that truth while rearing four boys, or helping us to understand the same I don’t really know.  Probably the former!  But it’s true really.  Looking back over the last 20-30 years, how well do we remember the challenging economic times for the nation?  There are a few highs and lows of course, and the market crash of 1987 comes to mind.  But even that was a short event over time, and the grand pace of history has a sort of rhythm to it that most of us remember fondly even with the challenges.

Fox Haven pond in late summer

I think my point is that it helps to look at the long haul, to gain a distant perspective, and to try not to give in to the negative extremes that pervade so much of our media’s reality.  There’s a lot of good in the world, and many of us know first hand how lucky we are to live where we do.   We have much to be thankful for, and much to work for positively in our lives.  “This too shall pass” helps frame events in that larger perspective.  Hope and faith are important.  And there are always so many ways to look at things.

When I look at the landscape, and think of the history we’ve traveled, I know my lifetime is simply measured as one part of a greater whole.  I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I hope to make the most it.  And there’s another great secret about shifting perspective if you can find it.  Many of you already know this, or remember it.  Take a walk with a young child, through the woods, or in a park, and place yourself in that beautiful, imaginative place they know so well.  It’s really, really neat.  At least until they want you to start climbing trees and playing in the mud.  Then it’s time to fix a mower or something!  Have a great day.

Dawn in summer at Fox Haven

 

Cane Pole Fun

September 8th, 2008

After taking care of some chores last night we were looking at the pond and I thought out loud “It looks like a good time for fishing…”  The young boy jumped at the opportunity.  The air was cool and the water calm, and the evening had that late summer peacefulness with the droning of insects in the treetops.

We found his fishing pole in the barn.  Nothing fancy, just a simple cane pole with a hook and a bobber.  He has some other colorful fishing poles with fancy reels and superheroes.  But he appreciates the straight-forward approach to pond fishing with a long cane pole.  You just find a few worms and a good spot on the bank, throw the line a few yards out in the water and sit back and relax.

After getting a few worms from the garden we headed down and picked out a likely spot.  He put the worms on the hook all by himself, and threw the line in the water.  He had just settled down on his stump when Bloop! his bobber plunged under water.  “I got one!” he yells, telling me to “Come here! Come here!”  So I watch the smile on his face as he tussles with the fish and help him to pull it in through the weeds.  

Catching Bass with a cane pole

He’s not too sure about sticking his thumb in that great big maw to get the hook out, but knows the reason they call them Largemouth Bass.  We do it together talking about why the fish has such a big mouth.  He holds a tenuous thumb on the bristle-brush jaw of the fish while I help him take out the hook, and then he throws it back into the water and jumps up clapping his hands.

He catches two more after a while, getting more comfortable with the fish.  We let them go and soon we run out of worms.  “That was fun!” he says as we head back to the house.  It surely was.  He loves that cane pole, and I do too. 

Life and Ice Cream Dreams

August 31st, 2008

Why is it we surround ourselves with living things?   No matter where we choose to live, we seek life in the world around us.  We join with others to begin families, develop friendships and seek things greater than ourselves that inspire us and fire the imagination of the soul.

Sometimes it’s the simple things, and we choose kittens or other creatures to share our lives with.

Kitten drinking milk

Maybe we just appreciate the life that exists in the world, and go see it when we can.  Life is pretty simple when you think about it.  For all that we do, life is really about growth.  And age doesn’t matter.  What happens when something stops growing?   Can something stop growing and still be alive?  I don’t think so, at least not very long. 

Bullfrog at the pond

Sometimes we seek life in growing plants and flowers, and find joy in nature’s abundance.  Whatever choices we make in our lives, we yearn for something more, we seek to make our lives, and the lives around us, matter in some way.  It may be with fame and fortune, or it may be with simple moments and small kindnesses.

Sunflower and a butterfly

A few months ago one of our favorite ice cream stores closed at a nearby small town.  It was run by a family dairy for decades, and the patriarch of the family had passed away.  He could be seen quite often sitting behind the counter, smiling at customers who loved this home-made goodness.   It was his dairy, his ice cream store, and his life.   After he was gone the rest of the family didn’t want to continue operating the ice cream store and it closed.  But I still see his smile when I think of the times we visited, and the smile on my father’s face when he got one of those cones.  I’ve yet to find a butter-pecan quite the same.  What was so special about that place?   I don’t know.  Maybe it was sharing it with family, maybe it was the quaint little store, or maybe it was the ice cream.  Maybe it was all of that and more.

There are many chapters in our lives that close for one reason or another too.  But we don’t stop looking for more.  That seeking and questioning during the journey of our lives is part of our growth, even in the midst of our greatest confusion and challenges.   However complex we try to make it, life is simply about living. 

And maybe life is a little like ice cream too.  So many flavors, so many choices…  Now, what kind of life do you want to have? 

Jam and Jelly Skies in Summer

August 28th, 2008

The past few days have started a fun-filled week of outdoor activities, fresh air and just good ‘ole fashioned country living.   Which translated means getting a lot of work done and not writing on the blog nearly enough.  But it seems many of the trees have been shedding branches this summer, so it’s been round-up time for the big burn pile.  Next time we get a good day or two of rain, we’ll think of burning some brush.

Catching up with the grass and garden is also part of the mix, and we’re seeing what may be the last of the hot summer days this week.

But what is it about a beautiful sunset that fires the imagination?  Cutting the grass in the evening the other day I watched the sky turn to dusky orange, pink and purple.  For a brief moment the pond and the sky are almost one, glowing with color.

Sunset at Fox Haven © Fox Haven Media - 2008

Which reminds me of the colors of elderberry jam and grape jelly.  Those Concord grapes from a few days ago?  I decided to mess up the kitchen and they’ve already been converted to delicious, gooey jelly.  Beautiful purple and very grape tasting, with a little tart flavor to go with the sweet.   Here’s a bowl of concord grape juice after cooking only 3 pounds of those grapes down for about 20 minutes.  It’s so neat to have something from the yard turn into something you can use in the future.

Homegrown Concord Grape juice ready to make jelly

But even better is the Elderberry jam, at least I think so.  From the middle to late August, the elderberry plants are full of fruit, with heads or corymbs of purple-black berries.  It’s a strange little berry that doesn’t taste very good by itself.  Some folks believe the berries are toxic if not cooked first.  Never made it before, but after learning about elderberries I thought it would be a neat experiment.  I combined the elderberries with a little of the Concord grapes and the flavor is wonderful.   I’m no expert with jam or jelly, but it seemed to turn out pretty well.

Corymb of fresh Elderberries

Where did I get the elderberries?  Some were found on our property, but even more from driving the countryside and spotting a bush here and there.  Today I even spied a few full heads of berries off a main road (one used for this picture!), and I had to park quite a ways down and walk back.  I just couldn’t let them be wasted… so there I was, feeling guilty walking past several country houses, standing in a roadside ditch cutting off heads of elderberries.

I know the folks driving by wondered what in the heck I was doing. And yes, these are little berries, not much larger than BB’s.  How do you get them off?  It takes time with a fork or nimble fingers (which will turn purple in a short while).  One of the easiest ways is to freeze the whole bag full of the heads of elderberries.  Then bring them out and the berries pop off much easier, as well as much more “bug free”!  But although tedious, the end result is worth it.

There are many types of elderberry around the world, and a few that are too toxic to eat.  Even our local Sambuca nigra can be toxic if one eats the leaves or stems, and some say the raw elderberries are toxic as well.  As I said, the berries don’t taste very good fresh, but when made into jam or jelly it becomes very special.

Dad making Elderberry jam and Concord grape jelly

So I cooked 2+ pounds of elderberries down for about 20-30 minutes, and then combined them with pressed Concord grape juice from about a pound of grapes.   Of course both the elderberries and grapes went through a food mill after cooking them down in order to remove the seeds and skin, resulting in the juicy, pulpy mix above ready to make jam or jelly.  Some recipes use cheesecloth or something to strain the cooked berries to a clear juice, but I love the pulpy mix in the jam or jelly, so the food mill helps retain a thicker mix.

Homemade Concord Grape jelly

And look how much jelly that same juice has made!?  I’m amazed what you can do with a few pounds of grapes.  Homegrown and homemade from the garden in less than a week.  Not sure I can see doing this very often however, as it’s a messy business.  But the family enjoyed eating the grape jelly after helping to pick, stem and make it.And it’s Oh so good!  Just a little tart and yummy sweet combined, awesome for toast or biscuits.

The grape jelly set beautifully within in a few minutes, but my first time at making it meant that the elderberry jam is a little thin still and hasn’t set quite yet.  And I even made it twice to try and get it to set!  Think it needed more sugar, but I was trying to keep the sugar content as low as possible.  No matter, as we’ll use it for syrup or a health tonic.  Some believe elderberry juice can help ward off cold or flu and serves as an immune booster.

There is a product I like called Sambucol which is an Israeli-developed elderberry syrup that has been shown to have anti-viral effects for flu.  It’s not cheap, and who knows if it really works. But they make a good argument for the health effects, and maybe those old-timers knew something we didn’t about elderberry syrup and wine?  Elderberry was also revered as a magical plant in 17th century Britain and Europe.  They say that fairies live and play around elderberry plants and that on the Isle of Man every house has an elderberry nearby to ward off evil spirits.   Around here those fairies must dance a lot to avoid getting run over by cars with all the elderberry plants on the roadside! ;)  But most of the literature involves the medicinal aspects, and apparently a host of folks use the early summer flowers as a tonic or for herbal teas.

I don’t know much about all of that or the health aspects, but the jam sure has a unique flavor and if it’s even remotely healthy that’s good enough for me.  As with the grapes, I need to find a wine-making mentor…  and that will be whole ‘nother matter!  Have a great Labor Day weekend.

Homework for All of Us

August 20th, 2008

It’s been a week for catching up, as the price paid for being away.  Not a bad trade really, especially with the beautiful weather we’ve been having. And the young boy is now a second grader, just starting this week.  He’s back in school and his Mom is back in the classroom too.  Hard to believe he’s growing up so fast though, but he really likes school.  I wonder how long that will last?!  We had a blast canoeing last weekend.  A gravel bar and a rope swing provided lots of fun in the afternoon.

Rope swing over river in Missouri

But it’s time again for homework!  So far the days have been busy with grass cutting, an overgrown garden and too many weeds. I must have picked about 5 pounds of tomatoes, a sackful of cucumbers and a couple pounds of green beans.  I hope the tomatoes and beans keep coming, but the cucumbers are just too much!  It’s time again for pickles though, so that’s another something for the list.   What else can I do with cucumbers to keep them longer? 

I’m not sure how it feels where  you live, but fall is in the air around here.  The light just seems different, and the walnut tree leaves are turning yellow and falling to the ground.  Not to mention the morning temperatures are in the high 50’s and low 60’s.  That’s very unusual for August in Missouri, and we may get through a whole summer without hitting 100 degrees F.    My kind of weather.

It also means it’s wood-cutting time again too.  I cut up and hand-split several oak trees over the past couple of years, after which my forearms were destroyed for several months.  This year there are 3 trees on the ground and those 3-4 more that I need to cut down.  So I’m contemplating buying a wood splitter.  I don’t like the idea of having another engine to maintain, but if we’re going to cut up trees and burn wood, that will be a big help.  We’ll see… for now, we can enjoy the last weeks of summer. 

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