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Archive for May, 2012

 

There was this lady.  Her name was Ellen.

 

I’ve never met Ellen, but I have had conversations with her for a long time.  Years, probably.  She was a kind lady, and thoughtful.  We haunted a couple of the same internet forums on homesteading and the like.

 

Ellen died this week, of a fast-moving cancer.  She had shared that she was ill, and had been updating us on the forum, but we had not heard from her in a couple of weeks.  We had been worried.

 

I did not know Ellen at all, really; how much can you claim to know of someone whose face you’ve never seen, whose voice you’ve never heard?  And yet, I feel a loss.  She was part of my community.

 

It’s not a huge community, and I don’t know everyone’s real name, but it is a community nonetheless.  You see, these are people I turn to when I have a half-frozen baby goat who’s been rejected by his mama at 3am.  Or when I don’t know which heirloom tomato is best-suited to the hot, dry bed on the south side of the house.  People who have shared some small parts of their lives with me on line; some sorrows and some joys, as well as some mundane moments that really only another gardener would understand anyhow.   People who have congratulated me on my pregnancy, and commiserated when I whined that I was too fat to be able to plant my own tomatoes this year (Hubby’s doing that for me, as I type).  People who cared enough to send flowers to Ellen when she was ill, and to send a baby gift to me.  People who understand, instantly, why I would choose to live in the middle of nowhere and keep goats and chickens.  Good people.

 

I think there are lots of different kinds of communities, and I think it is a mistake to dismiss online communities as having no value.  Though I may never sit and have a cup of tea with these folks, I have turned to them for advice and support, and gotten it.  I value their opinions.  I appreciate the company when I’m up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep.   And, like people who’ve met on a dating site, the friendships can continue beyond and outside of the online world.

 

I will never meet Ellen, now.  I doubt her family knows anything about me, or most of the online community who has been breathlessly waiting for news.  People who, in their own way, were touched by a near-stranger, and are now mourning her loss.

 

Goodbye, Ellen.  Maybe we’ll meet someday.

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There are a lot of random things I put up just because they sounded cool, without really having a plan for how we would actually use them.   The rose petal jelly, for instance – it’s too strong for us to just eat on toast, though the flavor is lovely.   Last year, I put up a ton of things in alcohol (vodka and rum) and vinegar, since it was such a simple way to preserve things.  The alcohol is pretty easy to use up (though, of course, I can’t until after baby comes), but the flavored vinegars are a bit more of a challenge.

 

I made vinegars in a variety of flavors, including raspberry, saskatoon (serviceberry), basil, blueberry, and rose.  My favorite of the vinegars is the blueberry.   We filled pint jars with loosely packed berries or herbs as they came into season, then poured white wine vinegar over them, and left them soak through the winter.  The raspberry has a nice flavor, but the blueberry has a nicer color, and the taste is more exotic, somehow.   I have taken to making a salad dressing out of it, which is just stellar on spinach salads (particularly spinach salad which includes fruit, like grapes, strawberries, or mandarin oranges).

 

Unfortunately, I am not the sort of cook who carefully follows recipes (if I even begin with a recipe; mostly, I don’t), nor am I much good at measuring out what I am doing.  Since vinaigrette is really mostly to taste anyhow, this shouldn’t be an issue, even if you prefer clear-cut recipes; just start with a small amount of whatever ingredient, and taste as you go until it seems right to you.

 

For the blueberry vinaigrette, I start a couple of days in advance, by soaking coarsely ground black pepper in the blueberry vinegar (with the blueberries strained out).  I would use maybe a teaspoon or two to a pint of vinegar.  Starting a bit in advance allows the flavors to mingle better, though it is not strictly necessary.  Then, I add a bit of salt (a quarter teaspoon?  Half?)  and some sugar to balance the acidity (probably a couple teaspoons of sugar, but again, it depends on what tastes good to you).  Right at serving time, I pour the seasoned blueberry vinegar and some olive oil in a jar, at a ration of about half and half, and shake well just before pouring on the salad.

 

Our usual spinach salad is pretty simple – spinach, some chopped cucumber and maybe red or yellow peppers, and some sliced strawberries or grapes.  Sometimes, I also add canned mandarin oranges, and also pine nuts, if I happen to have them.   The blueberry vinaigrette sets off the sweet/savory of this salad very well.

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…Yeah, what can I say.  The strawberry plants are up and filling out, but it will be a while yet before we have any strawberries.  Same deal with the rhubarb.  Our early peas are up, but only a couple of inches, so I won’t be snacking on them anytime soon, either.   The lettuce and spinach and radishes I planted a while back are growing, but are a long ways from being big enough to harvest.  Even the dandelions are just beginning to flower, now (I’ve been waiting – if I can find enough dandelions, and enough energy to pick a couple of gallons of them, I might make wine…)

 

The tomatoes and other plant starts are getting leggy in the window, but we’re still a couple of weeks from last frost date for this area.  We’re zone 2, and I believe June 1 is considered the “safe” date.  We may push that a bit, as the weather has been very nice, and really, we have lots of sheets to cover the tender stuff if we need to.  Having said that, though, we’re still just too early.   Hubby has been out turning garden beds and getting everything ready; with all that prep work out of the way, planting should be a breeze, once we decide it’s time.  Maybe, maybe, we can get away with it by the middle of next week, but not a whole lot sooner…

 

I got a call from one of the tree nurseries that one of our tree orders shipped yesterday.  If I remember correctly, that one was a couple of pear trees, plus a plum, I think, and maybe some raspberries.  I started out with the intention of getting a single pear tree to replace the pollenator that never did grow last summer…I should have known better!  I will have to figure out where to put the extras, and also I will have to run to town to pick the trees up from the bus station when they get in, which makes it hard to plan my day for today and maybe tomorrow.  We have another order coming sometime soon, from another place, that is mostly berry bushes; again, we will need to decide where to put everything.

 

Baby is due in just four weeks, now.  We had an ultrasound yesterday, and baby is in excellent health, though measuring quite large.  The doctor estimated he was just over 8 pounds already, even with a month left to go.  Now, I am not a little lady, and Hubby is also a tall guy, so I was not expecting a petite 5-pounder, but I was sort of hoping baby wouldn’t be too big…I may be completely out of luck with that.  We still have a lot to do before I will feel ‘ready’ for baby to arrive – finish the painting in the house, clean carpets, get all the furniture back into its designated rooms, assemble baby furniture, plant the garden and the trees, plus some routine stuff in the barn like trimming hooves and such; I don’t know if we’ll get it all done or not.   We might, if baby does not come early; I sure hope he sticks to his due date, though I know better than to hold my breath on that, too.

 

Between trees and seeds and things I’ve ordered and packages people are sending, I am checking for the mailman every hour, almost.  We only get mail twice a week – Tuesdays and Fridays – but our mailbox is big enough that the mailman often brings smaller packages right out, instead of just leaving us a pickup notice.  Hopefully he’ll be early today, but he usually does not get here until the afternoon.  It would be good if he came before I had to run into town for those trees – then I could collect any other packages that happen to arrive.  It’s a little early for the things I have ordered, but a girl can hope…

 

We have company coming all summer – new babies make a family popular, I guess, and a number of people were planning to come out and see the place anyhow, so now we’re doubly so.  Our first guests will be arriving in about three weeks – just before the baby does.  Hubby’s brother and sister in law are coming up from the States with their three kids, and we’re excited to see them.   The house is nowhere near ready for company, though, so we’ve got some work to do – the aforementioned painting and furniture re-arranging, in particular.  We’re working in the master bedroom, right now, so our bed is in the livingroom, while the dressers and shelves are in the nursery…certainly, there is no space for five extra people until we get that sorted out!  Hubby is working like a madman, though, and plans to have the bedroom done by the end of this weekend, so we can start getting organized after that, which should go fairly quickly.

 

With the plants and the trees and the packages and the baby, it feels a little like a waiting game, even though we’re plenty busy.  I do stop frequently to put my feet up and rest, which gives me entirely too much time to think and fuss, but if I open a book to distract myself, I tend to get a little too distracted, and finish the thing before I get up again.  This has led to yet another amazon order, as I started two different fiction series that I did not have all the books for, and they’ve both turned out to be very engaging, but they’re not available at the bookstore in town.  So now I’m waiting (impatiently) for books, too…

 

 

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On Food and Pregnancy

“You are what you eat.”

 

I’ve always kind of known that food and health are inter-connected, but it has never been so obvious as the last few months, since I have been pregnant. We normally eat pretty well; we cook mostly from scratch, bake a lot of our own treats, and generally tend towards home-grown, whole wheat, organic, and the like.  However, that has always been balanced by an occasional (or not-so-occasional, depending) trip to A&W or some other fast-food joint, the odd store-bought cake, and sometimes even pop, chips, and cookies.

 

If I eat those things now, however, I suffer.  I mean really, really suffer.  Heartburn so bad I end up throwing up in the middle of the night, or just plain old nausea that lingers for hours.  Greasy fast-food burgers, I can understand, but we got a fresh black forest cake from the store last week, and that was just as bad.  Same deal with even a lot of supposedly “good” restaurant food; I am down to about two places in town we can go for a special occasion without running too big a risk of being ill for the next day or two.

 

What’s even sillier is the range of stuff I can eat, as long as we make it here at home.  Chili?  Sure.  Pizza?  You bet.  Refried bean burritos with spicy salsa and gobs of sour cream?  Bring it on.  Pancakes and bacon?  Anytime.  Grease, spice, whatever; if we make it here, it does not seem to bother me.  And yet, some brands of cranberry juice kill me.  I just haven’t figured out what the ‘forbidden’ ingredient is…some artificial color, maybe?  Glucose-fructose (high fructose corn syrup)?  I just don’t know.

 

I’ve been eating pretty healthily throughout the pregnancy; breakfast is usually organic yogurt with fruit, or cottage cheese, and I snack so much on raw fruit and vegetables that I am currently probably the only person I know who actually gets ten servings a day.   My big ‘splurge’ is my evening smoothie, made with frozen fruit, milk, and a bit of sugar.   Or popcorn, made on the stove.  And, with restaurant food being out of the question, my lunches and suppers are mostly ‘good’ stuff like chili, spaghetti and meat sauce, soups, stir-fries, roast veggies, and the like.  I do admit, I eat a fair bit of chocolate, but that does not seem to bother me at all for some reason, and everyone needs a bad habit or two!

 

There are several other pregnant ladies where I work, and some friends and family as well, so I have had a lot of opportunity to compare my pregnancy to other folks’ experiences.  I have to say, I’ve had it easy.  Really easy.  Enough so that I am almost embarrassed to answer honestly when people ask how I am feeling, because mostly, I feel great, and that’s not the answer folks seem to expect.   My morning sickness was a couple months of feeling queasy, which was easily remedied by snacking on fruit and veg.  There’s been no swelling, headaches, back pain, bladder issues, constipation, mood swings, or other major misery.  The heartburn has all been self-induced, by eating ‘forbidden’ restaurant or store-bought stuff that I knew I shouldn’t be eating.  My biggest issue has been pelvic pain, but even that is only if I sit in the wrong sort of chair for too long, which makes it manageable, as I can trace a cause, and do something to avoid it.

 

Now, having said all that, yeah, I’m still pregnant; there are some odd aches and pains, sometimes, and I don’t have my usual level of energy.  In fact, my stamina has gone completely out the window.  I get the weirdest dreams, and I have to make sure I pee every time I enter or exit a building with a bathroom, or I end up regretting it five minutes later.  I don’t bend so well (it gets hard to breathe), and planting the garden is harder work that it really ought to be.  Still, though, for being this big, and this late in the pregnancy, I don’t have much to complain about.

 

When I say stuff like this to other pregnant ladies, or mothers (especially folks who’ve been pregnant two or three times), I keep hearing “wait until”.  Wait until you’re 20 weeks, you’ll start swelling.  Wait until you’re 30 weeks, your back will start acting up then.  Wait until you’re in your third trimester, you won’t be able to eat a thing without heartburn.  So far, they’ve all been wrong.  I’m well into my 35th week, and still waiting for all the major misery that I’ve been threatened with.  Maybe I’m just exceptionally lucky, but I was braced for a whole lot worse than this, especially considering my age and the terrible shape I was in when I got pregnant in the first place.

 

Hubby is convinced that how we eat has a lot to do with how good I’ve been feeling.   I have to say, I tend to agree with him.  Between all the good stuff I’ve been shoveling in there, plus the lack of stress from having Hubby at home and dealing with the majority of the work, I think I have had a lot of advantages that have made this whole pregnancy business much, much easier than it might have otherwise been.

 

Wait until I’m 38 weeks, though, I’m sure I’ll start suffering then…

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Well, it’s May already.  The root cellar is looking pretty bare, now, and we’ve been running out of frozen goods, too.  The fruit, in particular, is all gone, and we’ve pulled up the last couple of bags of green peas to the top of the freezer, to be used up.  Hubby has been rationing the salsa very, very carefully, and informs me that we *still* have three jars left.   The canned goods are otherwise holding up well, though that will change as the weather gets warm and I start craving chilled canned pears and peaches.   As it is, I have started my other late-spring ritual, of making (and drinking) gallons of home-made iced tea.

 

Amazingly, the potatoes are still entirely edible, even after more than seven months.  They are starting to sprout a bit, but remain firm.  The sprouting is just in time for early planting in the garden, and in a few weeks, we’ll plant our main crop from what is left in the root cellar.  The onions are similarly in great shape, though we’re down to just a few golf-ball sized teeny-tinies that we’re really only keeping around to see how long they will last.  The store-bought cabbages from last fall are still fine, as well, under the papery dried out leaves.  There are a few spaghetti squash remaining, and they are in good shape, but all of the other squashes had to be eaten or disposed of a while back.

 

We have been planting the early seeds over the last couple of weeks.  We got the peas in just in time for a long, cold rainy stretch, but a couple of days of warmer weather had them poking out of the ground.  Those sunny days dried things up enough for us to get back in the garden and plant some broccoli, radishes, and spinach, as well as some short rows of carrots, potatoes, and beets for summertime eating; the main crops will be planted between the end of the month and the middle of June, to be maturing just as the fall weather turns cold.   Of course, we had to race the rain again to get them in, and it’s been wet ever since.  The onion sets arrived a day too late to plant (darn rain!), and are waiting on the kitchen table for a few days of drier weather.  Meanwhile, I have started entirely too many tomatoes, peppers, melons, herbs, and such under the grow lights in my living room; I am always overly enthusiastic in my planting, but that’s okay.  At least there will be plenty of tomatoes for salsa!  We have been much more organized about planting and seed starting, and we’re hoping that getting things into the dirt in such good time will result in better crops this summer and fall.   Weather permitting, of course!

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